Friday 28 April 2023

Forgotten Book - The Windy Side of the Law

I'm not sure why I've never got around to reading Sara Woods' detective novels until now. The books were a fixture in the local library when I was growing up. They were published by Collins Crime Club, and because of my enthusiasm for Agatha Christie and Julian Symons, I knew that was a strong brand. But somehow, I was never tempted to try Woods.

This changed when I acquired an inscribed copy of The Windy Side of the Law, which she published in 1965. This is another in her long-running series featuring the London barrister Antony Maitland. And it has a fascinating if not totally original launching point. A man wakes up in a hotel room and realises he has lost his memory. But scrawled in his diary is Maitland's name..

The amnesiac turns out to be a chap called Peter Hammond, who is a friend of Antony's. Good old Antony is keen to help Peter to sort out what has happened to him, but things turn nasty when drugs are found in Peter's possession and even nastier when he finds himself implicated in a case of murder. The complications pile on as it emerges that he was due to marry one woman, but had apparently embarked on a relationship with another.

In his efforts to solve the mystery, Antony acts in a way that I didn't find entirely convincing, taking risks that would terrify most barristers, and sometimes for reasons that I didn't think were sufficiently compelling. Early on, the story becomes thrillerish and although it's a complicated tale, I felt that a key revelation was all too predictable. Not a bad story, then, but not one that entirely fulfils the great promise of the opening. I'd be happy to read more Sara Woods, but on the evidence of this book she strikes me as a competent second rank writer rather than a neglected superstar.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

I Came By - 2022 film review

I Came By is a recent psychological suspense movie which takes a situation that has become overly familiar in the crime genre and tries to do something relatively fresh with it. The result is a well-made film that shifts viewpoints interestingly and kept me fully engaged despite some flaws. This is partly because the lead actors - Hugh Bonneville, Kelly Macdonald, George Mackay and Percelle Ascott - do a very good job, partly because the script is a cut above the average.

We begin with two young graffiti artists breaking into the homes of rich people and leaving the message 'I Came By'. Their thinking is vaguely and crudely political, and throughout the film, points are made (sometimes very effectively, sometimes feebly) about the misuse of wealth and influence. On the whole, though, the didactic elements don't overwhelm the story, even if sometimes they weaken it.

When one of the lads discovers that a wealthy retired judge (Bonneville, in a very nasty role) is keeping a dark secret in his basement, he is appalled and tries to do something about it. But Bonneville is a mate of Tony Blair, whose photo he keeps in the house, and is known for his 'liberal' views. He's also chummy with the senior local cop. He brushes off accusations in a way that is just about credible, though it might have been presented with greater finesse.

Two more characters in turn try to penetrate the secrets of the cellar, with mixed results. One strong point of the story was that the motivations of the characters is presented with clarity, so that even the ex-judge's weirdness is understandable, if not excusable. This is not by any means a perfect thriller, but it's got enough verve to merit watching.

Monday 24 April 2023

The Daggers - and Zooming Around

I'm back home, briefly, from the CWA annual conference in York, a great weekend made even more enjoyable by the fact that two of my books appeared on the longlists for the 2023 Daggers. Blackstone Fell is up for the CWA Historical Dagger and The Life of Crime for the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction. I'm having an incredibly lucky run with the latter book and of course I'm truly gratified by the recognition for my fiction; Blackstone Fell is the fifth of my twenty-two novels to be nominated for an award and such things are genuinely motivating, especially at a time when I'm writing something rather experimental, for which I have no contract; in fact nobody else has even seen it yet....

A busy period of events and trips began last Wednesday with a visit to the Lake District. I was speaking to a book group at the Burn How Hotel in Bowness (above), where by coincidence I once stayed on a research trip. A lovely spot and a great night. There was also time for some sight-seeing at wonderful places like Townend (with its fantastic farmer's library; see the above photo) and Sizergh Castle. The weather was kind and my enthusiasm for writing another novel set in the Lakes was duly fired...

The York conference began with a glitzy reception at which I was asked to give a short talk about the CWA's 70 years of history. I was also able to show members a specially bound edition of The House That Jack Built, by Eileen Dewhurst, commemorating Eileen's long and happy association with the CWA. There were some very good talks and I also enjoyed a river boat trip to Bishopthorpe Palace (see the below photo) on Saturday afternoon. The evening banquet, at the City Museum, was one of the most memorable settings I can recall for a meal. Good to see old friends again and also to meet some newer members.

On Wednesday I'm off for a short but frenetic trip to the US and it's good that crime-related events are now taking place again. One thing we have got used to since the pandemic is the Zoom meeting and I've taken part in several interesting sessions of late. These include a chat with Art Taylor for the CWA's North American chapter and a symposium with fellow nominees for the Edgar award for best critical/biographical book, chaired by Joseph Goodrich. Although you can't beat an in-person event, the fact is that online events mean that you can take part in events that - for travel, cost, or logistical reasons - would have been impossible not so long ago. So a mix of the two is ideal.

Friday 21 April 2023

Forgotten Book - The Libertines

Douglas Clark is an author I haven't discussed on this blog before. Until I read his 1978 novel The Libertines, I'd only read one of his books, a very long time ago, and it made little impression on me. I can't even recall the title. But he retains some admirers, mainly because his in-depth knowledge of poisons (gained from working as a copywriter in the pharmaceutical business) informed many of his traditional mysteries featuring the Scotland Yard duo Masters and Green. 

The Libertines are an amateur cricket team. Each year they get together for a fortnight's cricket at a farm in a small town in Yorkshire, which I'm pretty sure is a fictional version of Pateley Bridge. The discussion of amateur cricket is authentic and I found it a pleasing feature of the story. 

The team members get on well together with one exception. There is a truly odious old guy called Tom Middleton who specialises in antagonising everyone he comes across - I never quite understood why he was so unpleasant. We confidently assume that he will in due course fall victim to murder - but instead another man dies. 

There are some nice ingredients in this story. The detail about poison seems highly authentic, as is the description of farm life. I found some of the dialogue oddly stilted and unconvincing while Green's personality is irritating. Perhaps the biggest flaw is that the motive is concealed until the end. So I definitely enjoyed the book, but felt frustrated - because with more work and perhaps stronger editing, it could have been rather better.  

Wednesday 19 April 2023

The Quest for Jack Griffiths

I bet most readers of this blog, knowledgeable as they are, will not be overly familiar with the name of the crime writer Jack Griffiths. Yet I first came across his work at an impressionable age and as a result I haven't forgotten him. My introduction to the CWA was via an anthology edited by Herbert Harris and it included (as well as stories by the likes of Edmund Crispin and John Dickson  Carr) a tale from south east Asia, 'Two Heads are Better than One' by Jack Griffiths. 

In those days the anthologies did not include bios of the contributors - an omission I find close to inexplicable - and although I later came across other anthologies featuring short stories by Jack Griffiths, I knew nothing about him. Fast forward to recent months, and I established that he was a Welshman and a member of the clergy. I decided that I'd like to track down some info about him, and also to include his story 'Black Mamba' in my anthology of Welsh mysteries. Jamie Sturgeon and John Herrington gave me useful details and the British Library, who go to great pains to trace estates so that copyright permissions can be obtained and due payment made, traced Griffiths' daughter, Sian, with whom I've had the pleasure of speaking and corresponding. She also supplied the above photo of her father. He remains little-known by most crime fans, but I'm really pleased to draw his work to the attention of a new readership. And if you're curious, here's what I've learned about him.

Jack Edward Griffiths was born in Blaenclydach in south Wales in 1902. After studying as a mature student at Aberystwyth University, he was ordained in 1937, became a curate, and married a rector’s daughter in 1939. He served in the Territorial Army as a Captain Chaplain and served on hospital ships and overseas during the Second World War. Later, his ministry took him from Leighton, near Welshpool, to south east Asia; he and his wife sailed to Malaya in 1952 with the apparent intention of staying there long-term and he was Vicar of Penang from 1953-57. In 1960, the family returned to the Welsh Marches, and until retirement in 1975 he was responsible for the three Shropshire parishes of Easthope, Stanton Long, and Shipton, making his home in Easthope rectory, Much Wenlock. He died in nearby Bridgnorth in 1977.

Griffiths’ literary specialism was the short story; although he wrote several novels over the years, none of them seem to have found a publisher. He was writing fiction for the News Chronicle at least as early as 1934 and after joining the Crime Writers’ Association (for which he served as honorary chaplain), he became a regular contributor to the CWA’s annual anthology, which in the 1960s and 1970s focused mainly on reprinting stories that had already appeared in books and magazines. His interest in crime was also reflected in a spell as a special constable. 


Saturday 15 April 2023

Anne Perry R.I.P.

I was sorry to learn of the death last week of the crime novelist Anne Perry. I first met her about 25 years ago, but of course I already knew her by reputation. And unfortunately, where Anne was concerned, mention of her reputation is always accompanied by reference to the murder she committed in her teens, a terrible crime for which she served a sentence in New Zealand.

Anne had come back to Britain and forged a new life under a new name with considerable success - then, with the making of Heavenly Creatures, a film based on the crime, her true identity was suddenly revealed to the world. She was a prolific writer specialising in historical mysteries and she enjoyed huge success in the US in particular. Her main detective, Inspector Pitt, was brought to the TV screens in 1998, but although Keeley Hawes and Peter Egan featured in a quality cast, the show wasn't made into a series.

Anne and I got on well from our first conversation. I found her very interesting and she was consistently generous towards me. She talked to me at length about the experience of being unmasked in that frightening way (a riveting story) but she wasn't self-pitying. We also discussed the writing process and the publishing world in quite a bit of depth and she sent me a draft of her agent's book on the subject of writing a bestseller, in the hope it would encourage me. 

We never discussed the old crime itself; I felt that to ask her about it would be grossly intrusive. Over the years she gave me a lot of support, including truly wonderful endorsements for Eve of Destruction and Dancing for the Hangman and an invitation to contribute to two anthologies that she edited - though I must admit that I felt there was a dark irony in the fact that one of them was called Thou Shalt Not Kill. This was a collection of 'Biblical mystery stories' and my contribution was a pretty chilling tale based on the story of Jezebel.

When I was compiling a CWA anthology of history-mysteries, I reached out to Anne and after some discussion about trying a different historical period from the Victorian era in which she specialised, she wrote an absolutely excellent story for me, set in the early twentieth centry. It was called 'Heroes' which made its very first appearance in Past Crimes. In due course, this story won her an Edgar. In fact, it proved to be the only time she won an Edgar, so I like to feel that I repaid her generosity to an extent. On a couple of other occasions, she and I took part in a panels together at venues in London. 

One time she and I were part of a small group of crime writers who were invited to an event at Oxford Museum. The photo above originally appeared in the Oxford Mail and it's a favourite of mine. It depicts Anne and me (with a cardboard cutout of Inspector Morse behind us!) along with Michelle Spring, Nora Kelly, Bob Barnard, Andrew Taylor, Keith Miles, Judith Cutler, Kate Charles, and Colin Dexter. Quite a group! It's a summer evening that stands out in my memory, more than twenty years later. After Anne moved to live in the US a few years ago, we lost touch, but I featured her in some depth in The Life of Crime and I tried very hard to write about her in a fair and objective and compassionate rather than prurient way.

I'm aware that not everyone found Anne an easy person and there's no point in pretending otherwise.. I suspect that some people couldn't forgive her for the crime she committed and some, including a couple of friends of mine who also appeared on those panels, found her distant and rather chilly and aloof. Anne could certainly give that impression, but I suspect that it was to a very large extent a technique of self-protection. Beyond a certain point, she was unknowable, but then any author who has thought deeply about characterisation is aware that this is true of many people, perhaps everyone to some degree. 

I understand the reservations about Anne but I can only say that my personal experience of her was entirely positive and I've no hesitation in saying that I shall remember her with genuine affection. Yes, she did something appalling and inexcusable in her youth, and it's impossible not to feel profound sorrow for her unfortunate victim. But, thinking about Anne over the years, I've become increasingly convinced that it is right to allow for redemption where the person concerned tries to do the right thing in later life. As far as I am aware, Anne did everything she reasonably could to redeem herself and live a good life. I am glad that I knew her.

Friday 14 April 2023

Forgotten Book - Crime of the Crossword

John Garland's Crime of the Crossword, which dates from 1940, is an obscure book. I have Lucy Bratton to thank for drawing my attention to it. I didn't know anything about Garland and wondered if the name was a pseudonym. The dust jacket blurb suggests that he was an established writer, but gives no biographical information and (like many blurbs) needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. But thanks to Jamie Sturgeon's helpful research, I now know that the Garland pen-name was adopted by Harold William Twyman (1873-1971), a London-born periodical editor and journalist who also published under the name of A. Cartwright as well as under his own colours.

The publisher, Columbine Publishing Ltd of Great Russell Street in London, seems to have been a short-lived concern which went into liquidation a couple of years after this book came out. They don't seem to have made much impact and I imagine they focused on the pulpier kind of fiction. But Garland's writing seems quite professional to me and on a par with that of authors like Gerald Verner or Edwy Searles Brooks. The prose is serviceable rather than enticing and the storyline focuses on incident rather than ingenuity of plot.

One associates crossword puzzles with the more cerebral type of Golden Age whodunit, but although in the early pages I thought Garland was going to set up a whodunit mystery, in fact this is a thriller. There is indeed a crossword (with the solution included at the end of the book, a pleasing touch) but although it provides a clue to a criminal mystery, overall it is just a fun embellishment to a breezy action story. 

At the start of the book a businessman called Kerkoff is found dead in mysterious circumstances. A detective in the gentlemanly tradition, Rex Barringer, is engaged by a rather dodgy character who spins an unlikely yarn about Kerkoff's death, but Rex soon realises that his client has a great deal to hide. This is quite an enjoyable yarn and I'm surprised that (apparently) Garland did not continue to write light thrillers in this vein.

Thursday 13 April 2023

Blackstone Fell in paperback!


Today sees the UK publication in paperback of Blackstone Fell, the third Rachel Savernake novel - with the fourth, Sepulchre Street, due to hit the shelves next month. A writer is never satisfied, but these are both books that I feel particularly happy with, and I wrote quite a few articles about Blackstone Fell at the time the hardback was released, including this one for Booktrail

I've been gratified by the reviews on the blogosphere - and here's a selection from the print media:

‘Rachel Savernake, blessed with wealth and beauty, and Jacob Flint, possessed of a nose for a good story — who previously appeared in Gallows Court (2018) and Mortmain Hall (2020) — return to investigate the many extraordinary goings-on in Blackstone Fell, a creepy village in darkest Yorkshire. Unexplained disappearances, seances, multiple deaths at a sanatorium patrolled by guard dogs and a murderer on the loose provide a lively and eventful trip back to 1930s Britain as depicted in the Golden Age mysteries of the period. Martin Edwards celebrates and satirises the genre with wit and affection: “Lightning flashed over Hawthorn Cottage as a loud knock came at the door.” He leaves you wanting more.’

Mark Sanderson, The Times

‘For his latest classic mystery, Martin Edwards serves up an engaging mix of ingredients familiar to fans of golden age crime. A remote village on the Yorkshire moors harbours secrets: two murders, 300 years apart, have been committed in the close confines of Blackstone Tower. 

When an intrepid journalist, one of the rare women reporters of 1930s Fleet Street, also meets an untimely end, it is left to private investigator Rachel Savernake, beautiful, rich and fiercely intelligent, to identify the guilty and to exorcise the evil that permeates Blackstone Fell. 

What goes on behind the walls of the sanatorium where psychiatric treatment is liable to prove fatal? What can be learned from a spiritualist whose seances, though fraudulent, provide vital clues? 

The plot is intricate but never less than compelling. Martin Edwards holds his own with the best of classic crime.’

Barry Turner, Daily Mail

‘Fabulous locked room mystery…full of suspense, this entertaining and engaging read is a classic whodunit.’

My Weekly

‘First-rate and a must-read for this month… The plot is tremendous…the cross-currents brilliant, the writing pithy, the characters well-realised and the piling up and switches between possible solutions excellent, with “more loose ends than a bowl of spaghetti”. The Cluefinder at the end, the “selection of pointers to the solution of the various mysteries”, serves to demonstrate how far Edwards, the President of the Detection Club, has played fair… There is some humour…whilst many academics will recognise this description of a professor: “He still thinks he’s in his prime, though he does nothing all day but rewrite lectures he gave thirty years ago.” Good length. Rachel Savernake makes an impressive modern Holmes, plus Jacob Flint and Nell Fagan are interesting entrees to Fleet Street with the nature of justice ably to the fore at the end. One to read and enjoy.’

Jeremy Black, The Critic 

‘The third in the Rachel Savernake investigation is perfect for those who love a locked-room mystery…It has a wonderful golden age of crime feel to it.’

Belfast Telegraph

Blackstone Fell is an irresistible Gothic thriller…Edwards’ book keeps you gripped to the very end – you find yourself caring about the characters and their fates. It is intelligently written. The descriptions of Blackstone Fell are vivid and help the reader to appreciate the bleakness of the moors.’

Yorkshire Life

‘As always with this series, the period detail is beautifully observed…Rachel remains an enigmatic figure, but an oddly likeable one too…Blackstone Fell turns out to be an unusually murderous place as the story unfolds: Edwards has a wonderful knack for propelling the action and lacing it with clues (often subtle ones) along the way. This is a thoroughly enjoyable successor to Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall, ingeniously plotted and racily told…Blackstone Fell is more or less impossible to put down – this is Edwards on the top of his form.’

Nigel Simeone, Dorothy L. Sayers Bulletin

‘This is a fascinating novel, with an enigmatic protagonist and a complex, intriguing plot. Rachel is an intriguing character, incredibly clever and cold-blooded and ruthless to everybody but the few people she cares about. The books have the authenticity of the author’s detailed knowledge of the period, plus a darkly clever plot, set in a sinister, brooding landscape. Blackstone Fell is a page turner which I wholeheartedly recommend.’

Carol Westron, Mystery People

Wednesday 12 April 2023

Remploy - The Deerstalker Series and Melvyn Barnes


My recent post about the Hodder crime reprints of the 1960s prompted Melvyn Barnes to get in touch with info about a subsequent library imprint. As a result, I’m pleased to include a guest post from him – and if you’re a collector, you may have a unique opportunity here as well:

‘I was involved with the Deerstalker Series from 1977 to 1982.  They were published by Remploy, the public library bookbinders who also reprinted out-of-print fiction for libraries.  The series consisted of thirty-five volumes of iconic crime fiction that I selected from my first book about the genre, Best Detective Fiction (1975), and what makes them unique is that they are facsimile reprints of early (often the first) editions.

I still have my set of thirty-five, all hardbacks and immaculate in dust jackets protected by plastic sleeves.  As they were produced for libraries rather than bookshops, not surprisingly they have become extremely scarce over the past forty years.


I am gradually selling the vast collection of crime fiction that I have built up since my teenage years. It really hurts, but as they say you can’t take it/them with you!  So I’m now reluctantly offering my whole set of Deerstalker for sale, having preserved each volume since publication day, in one complete lot. Most of them are extremely scarce, because they had a limited print run, were not sold in bookshops, and the public library copies became worn out and discarded.


The series consists of –

BAILEY, H.C.  Call Mr. Fortune.  Remploy, 1979.  Orig pubd 1919, the first Reginald Fortune collection.

BARR, Robert.  The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont.  Remploy, 1978.  Orig pubd 1906.

BENNETT, Margot.  The Man Who Didn’t Fly.  Remploy, 1977.  Orig pubd 1955.

BRAMAH, Ernest.  Max Carrados Mysteries.  Remploy, 1978.  Orig pubd 1927, the third Max Carrados collection.

CARR, John Dickson.  The Hollow Man.  Remploy, 1977.  Orig pubd 1935.

COLE, G.D.H.  The Brooklyn Murders.  Remploy, 1978.  Orig pubd 1923, introducing Supt Henry Wilson.

CROFTS, Freeman Wills.  The Cask.  Remploy, 1977.  Orig pubd 1920, his first novel.

CROFTS, Freeman Wills.  The Pit-Prop Syndicate.  Remploy, 1979.  Orig pubd 1922, his third novel.

DICKSON, Carter.  The Plague Court Murders.  Remploy, 1979.  Orig pubd 1934, the first Sir Henry Merrivale mystery.

EBERHART, Mignon G.  The Cases of Susan Dare.  Remploy, 1979.  Orig pubd 1934.

FLETCHER, J.S.  The Middle Temple Murder.  Remploy, 1978.  Orig pubd 1919.

FREEMAN, R. Austin.  The Red Thumb Mark.  Remploy, 1979.  Orig pubd 1907, his first novel, introducing Dr. John Thorndyke.

GABORIAU, Emile.  Crime at Orcival.  Remploy, 1977.  Orig pubd in English 1871 as The Mystery of Orcival, featuring Monsieur Lecoq.

GABORIAU, Emile.  The Lerouge Case.  Remploy, 1977.  Orig pubd in English 1873 as The Widow Lerouge, featuring Monsieur Lecoq.

GREEN, Anna Katharine.  The Leavenworth Case.  Remploy, 1979.  Orig pubd 1878, her first novel, introducing Ebenezer Gryce.

HARE, Cyril.  Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare.  Remploy, 1978.  Orig pubd 1959.

HUME, Fergus.  The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.  Remploy, 1980.  Orig pubd 1886, his first novel.

LEROUX, Gaston.  The Mystery of the Yellow Room.  Remploy, 1978.  Orig pubd in English 1908, his first novel, introducing Joseph Rouletabille.

MacDONALD, Philip.  The Rasp.  Remploy, 1977.  Orig pubd 1924, his first novel, introducing Colonel Anthony Gethryn.

MacDONALD, Philip.  X v. Rex.  Remploy, 1980.  Orig pubd 1933 under the pseudonym Martin Porlock.

MASON, A.E.W.  The House of the Arrow.  Remploy, 1978.  Orig pubd 1924, featuring Insp. Hanaud.

MILLER, Wade.  Deadly Weapon.  Remploy, 1980.  Orig pubd 1946, the first novel by Bill Miller and Bob Wade under their Miller pseudonym, introducing Lt. Austin Clapp.

MITCHELL, Gladys.  Tom Brown’s Body.  Remploy, 1978.  Orig pubd 1949, featuring Mrs. Bradley.

MORRISON, Arthur.  Martin Hewitt, Investigator.  Remploy, 1978.  Illustrated by Sidney Paget.  Orig pubd 1894, the first collection of Martin Hewitt stories.

MORRISON, Arthur.  Chronicles of Martin Hewitt.  Remploy, 1978.  Illustrated by D. Murray Smith.  Orig pubd 1895, the second collection of Martin Hewitt stories.

ORCZY, Baroness.  The Case of Miss Elliott.  Remploy, 1978.  Orig pubd 1905, the first collection of The Old Man in the Corner stories.

ORCZY, Baroness.  The Old Man in the Corner.  Remploy, 1977.  Orig pubd 1909, the second collection of The Old Man in the Corner stories.

REEVE, Arthur B.  The Silent Bullet.  Remploy, 1979.  Orig pubd 1912, the first collection of stories featuring “Craig Kennedy, Scientific Detective”.

RICE, Craig.  Trial by Fury.  Remploy, 1977.  Orig pubd 1941.

VAN DINE, S.S.  The Canary Murder Case.  Remploy, 1982.  Orig pubd 1927, the second Philo Vance mystery.

VAN DINE, S.S.  The Greene Murder Case.  Remploy, 1982.  Orig pubd 1928, the third Philo Vance mystery.

VAN DINE, S.S.  The Bishop Murder Case.  Remploy, 1982.  Orig pubd 1929, the fourth Philo Vance mystery.

WALLACE, Edgar.  The Four Just Men.  Remploy, 1979.  Orig pubd 1905, his first crime novel.

WIEGAND, William.  At Last, Mr. Tolliver.  Remploy, 1980.  Orig pubd 1950, his only crime novel.

WOOLRICH, Cornell.  The Bride Wore Black.  Remploy, 1977.  Orig pubd 1940.’

I imagine that serious collectors will be attracted to this intriguing set. If you’d like more info, please contact Melvyn on 01449 673777 or (if the link works -not confident!) at 




Tuesday 11 April 2023

Cracks - 2009 film review

Cracks is a film set in a girls' boarding school in the 1930s. It's a psychological thriller which I'd never heard of before, but the fact that it starred Eva Green, Imogen Poots, Juno Temple, and Sinead Cusack - four high-calibre performers - suggested to me that it was well worth a watch. And so it was, despite various flaws. The director is Jordan Scott, director of Ridley Scott, and she does a good job. In visual terms, it's a very appealing film.

Green plays Miss G, a charismatic young teacher who is adored by a group of her pupils. She's unconventional, with an apparently exotic past, and she is particularly close to Di, played by Temple, whose performance I feel is the best in the film. The status quo is disturbed when an attractive but enigmatic young Spanish aristocrat (played by Maria Valverde) arrives at at the school. 

The other girls take a dislike to the newcomer, but Miss G is charmed by her. Inevitably, Di becomes jealous. Our impression that Miss G is not really the exciting charmer she seems to be is confirmed and before long, relationships within the group become febrile. 

The main problem is that the pace is too slow, and that the script isn't as tight as it might have been. One has only to think of that brilliantly sinister school film Unman, Wittering and Zigo to realise that the potential of the situation isn't as fully realised as it might have been. The ironic finale isn't bad, but I felt slightly frustrated that a movie that might have been really gripping didn't work as well as I'd hoped. One of Miss G's girls is called Fuzzy and the storyline of Cracks itself is also rather fuzzy.

Friday 7 April 2023

Forgotten Book - Sweet Adelaide

Sweet Adelaide, first published in 1980, was the second of Julian Symons' three Victorian mysteries. He'd deserted the contemporary scene to write The Blackheath Poisonings, which most people agree is the most successful of the trio. The plot of that book drew on elements of a famous real life crime. With Sweet Adelaide, Symons went much further. The eponymous Adelaide is Adelaide Bartlett, who was tried for the murder of her husband in 1886. Symons invents quite a lot of material, but most of the essentials are factual.

In an interesting afterword, he describes this as an 'experimental' novel, trying to cast light on a real life case by filling in the gaps - in this case, most particularly, the precise means by which Edwin Bartlett died. I realise with hindsight that when I wrote Dancing for the Hangman, I was doing something that is perhaps comparable, although in my novel, there was less invented material: I tried to be rigorous in sticking to the established facts, but also to use my imagination so as to try to see things from the point of view of Dr Crippen. For perfectly understandable reasons, Symons felt that he needed to bulk out his own story by introducing a range of elements of his own devising (for instance, an encounter with the Theosophist Madame Blavatsky). Some of these are definitely plausible, some less so.

When I first borrowed this book from a library, shortly after publication, I was very taken with it, partly because I wasn't familiar with the trial and I found his explanation of events interesting. As I've mentioned before, it's a story that casts light not only on the case itself, but on Victorian life. 

On reading the story again, I focused on trying to understand the techniques Symons employed in bringing the story to life. One of his key methods is to juggle timeframes. So we begin with the death of Edwin; then there is a long flashback about Adelaide's early life prior to her marriage. Another method is to juggle point of view. So we have some extracts from Adelaide's journal, but also scenes presented from the perspective of other people in the story, plus third person narrative, mostly but not entirely seen from Adelaide's point of view. 

I suspect that he used these methods to introduce variety and interest and also to help build suspense. After all, anyone who knows the case knows what happens at the trial (though Symons also adds an interesting coda, set in the US many years after the trial). My guess is that he was worried that the story might become a bit mundane if told in an entirely straightforward way. He does his best to solve that problem. 

It's clear that he did a huge amount of research into the case, and on my latest reading of the book, I found myself reflecting that perhaps he packed too much of it into the storyline, resulting in a slackening of tension. His prime concern was to explore Adelaide's psychology and I think this is done fairly well. However, there is quite a lot of medical/technical detail relating to Edwin's health and what precisely happened to him, and although that was crucial to the trial and its outcome, I felt that it slowed down the second half of the book. An interesting novel, certainly, but - for me - not a complete success on a second reading.    

Wednesday 5 April 2023

The Missing Page - No Peace for the Wicked and other short stories

There's a wonderful episode of Hancock's Half Hour, 'The Missing Page', in which Tony Hancock (of whom I was a great fan) is tormented by the fact that the last page of a crime novel called Lady Don't Fall Backwards is missing from his library copy. It's such a famous show that someone even wrote a novel in tribute called... Lady Don't Fall Backwards. Now I've had my own Tony Hancock moment.

When I'm sent published copies of my stories, it's unusual for me to read my own efforts again, partly through lack of time but mainly because I find myself wondering how I could have improved them. So when my story 'No Peace for the Wicked' - one I very much enjoyed writing, by the way - appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, it took me a while to look at the contents. I started reading the stories and then flicked past my story - only to realise that it ended in a strange place. Further checking revealed, to my horror, that the final part of the story had been omitted! It still kind of made sense, just about, but it was far from what it should have been. To cut a long story short, it turned out that there had been a printer's error and nobody picked it up. The editor, Janet Hutchings, has been a friend for a long time so it wasn't a question of recriminations but simply of how to deal with the situation. And the answer is that the story can now be read online here. So all's well that ends well!

I'm not sure I shall now ever dare to look at any of my published stories ever again, in case lightning does strike twice. However, I wanted to mention three anthologies in which my work has appeared in recent times. The first is a Cornell Woolrich tribute anthology, Black is the Night, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. My story is called 'The Woman Who Never Was'. The idea came to me while relaxing in front of the television one evening and it's a story I really enjoyed writing.

Then there is 'Darling Lorraine', which appeared in Paranoia Blues: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Paul Simon, edited by Josh Pachter. This story had a very different inspiration - a visit to the lovely converted watermill that is the home of one of my writing friends.

Finally there is 'The Outsider', in Edgar & Shamus Go Golden, edited by Gay Toltl Kinman and Andrew McAleer. The stories all pay tribute to the Golden Age and the inspiration for my story came from thinking about an Agatha Christie novel - the setting rather than the plot in this case. I liked the detective duo that I created for this story and one day they may return, as I really enjoyed writing about them

Monday 3 April 2023

The Killing of a Sacred Deer - 2017 film review

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a film by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos which stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, and the presence in the cast of these two fine actors was enough to encourage me to watch. The film is described on Wikipedia as a 'psychological horror thriller', a term which certainly ticks several boxes and it is said that the story was inspired by the ancient Greek tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis

Farrell plays a heart surgeon called Steven Murphy. He's wealthy and successful and married to Anna (Kidman); they have two children, Kim and young Bob. Are they living the American Dream? Perhaps, but the couple's sex life is...unusual and chilly, and from the start, there's something a bit odd about the dialogue - it's spoken in a stilted, unreal way. Given the quality of the actors, we know this is deliberate. We're being set up to expect something strange.

And something strange is what we get. A 16 year old boy called Martin comes into the story. Steven has meetings with him and gives him expensive presents. Is there something sexual going on? Things get weirder when we learn that Steven operated on Martin's father, who died, and when Martin's mother tries to seduce Steven, albeit without success.

Bad stuff starts to happen, with Steven's son Bob the first target. Martin emerges as a very sinister figure indeed, and soon Steven finds himself presented with a cruel moral dilemma - this is where the supposed inspiration from Euripedes comes into the story. The trouble is that Lanthimos swamps his film with too much pretentiousness, so that ultimately it sinks into silliness. 

The moral dilemma would be much more compelling if we really believed in Steven and Anna and their children, and were more driven to root for their survival and to feel their pain. Alas, I felt alienated by the way Lanthimos presented them. There are definitely some interesting ideas at work here, and there are moments in the film which do work well. So I was never bored, just rather disappointed.   

Hodder's Classics of Detection and Adventure series and its successors

The British Library's Crime Classics are, I imagine, by far the bestselling series of 'crime classic' novels and short story anthologies of all time, certainly in the UK and probably elsewhere, with total sales well into seven figures. The series almost certainly boasts the most titles - well over one hundred, and counting. But there have, of course, been plenty of  'classic crime' reprint series over the years. The one that made the greatest impression and had the greatest influence on me was Hodder's series of Classics of Detection and Adventure, with introductions by the great Michael Gilbert. I've been reminded of it by James Dring, one of the many people who have in recent years kindly got in touch with me with questions or information about crime fiction (and who supplied the above image).

When in my youth I was haunting my local library in Northwich in the late 60s and 70s, the appearance of this series (which was, I presume, aimed squarely at the library market) was a source of great pleasure. It introduced me to some wonderful writers and some very good books. The ones that I can remember reading are: Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand, Trial and Error by Anthony Berkeley, The White Crow by Philip Macdonald, Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate, The House of the Arrow by A.E.W. Mason, and The Confessions of Arsene Lupin by Maurice Leblanc. It was my first encounter with each of those authors. Quite an education!

I always read and enjoyed Gilbert's introductions. They were informative, written in his characteristically agreeable style, and concise. I learned a lot from him. An excellent model and I have kept his approach in mind ever since I started writing intros myself in the 1990s, for the Black Dagger reprint series.

To my regret, the Hodder series didn't last long - I don't know why, perhaps something to do with sales or maybe Gilbert lost interest or used up all his favourites. Nowadays, copies of these books are surprisingly hard to find. There was another reprint series at that time or a little later - the Constable 'Fingerprint' books, which included some good titles but lacked intros. My library didn't stock many of them and that series also bit the dust fairly soon. 

Here's a list James has kindly sent me of what we believe to be the full set of Hodder Classics:

The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (first published in 1939; republished by Hodder in 1965)

The House of the Arrow by A. E. W. Mason (1924/1965)

Trial and Error by Anthony Berkeley (1937/1965)

The Lonely Magdalen by Henry Wade (1940/1965)

The Flaw in the Crystal by Godfrey Smith (1954/1965)

The White Crow by Philip MacDonald (1926/1966)

The Little Walls by Winston Graham (1955/1966)

Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand (1941/1966)

Venetian Bird by Victor Canning (1950/1968)

The Northing Tramp by Edgar Wallace (1926/1968)

Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate (1940/1969)

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (1923/1969)

The Confessions of Arsène Lupin by Maurice Leblanc (translated by Joachim Neugroschel; 1913/1969)

Later, Penguin flirted with a few 'crime classics', while Collins' short reprint series in 1980, with intros by Julian Symons, was a hit and prompted subsequent series masterminded by Harry Keating. The Black Dagger series - again aimed at libraries - was a great venture, with intros by many CWA members, but eventually the imprint changed hands and the intros were dispensed with to cut costs - shame!

The reality is that reprinting old crime novels has never been a passport to publishing riches, even if you can make some easy money by turning out-of-copyright books into ebooks. The British Library's amazing success is really an exception that proves the rule. And whatever the merits of my own contributions, which aim to give the series a distinctive personality, there's no doubt that the cover designs play a crucial part in that success. This is because they play a big part in booksellers' decisions about stocking the books. The series is a publishing phenomenon and my association with it is a continuing source of pleasure. And in case you're wondering, yes, there are plenty more good books to come....