I do like a locked room mystery and I can heartily recommend Derek Smith’s Whistle Up the Devil (1953) and newly republished. It’s a fairly short novel, which for me is in its favour, and I read most of it over the course of a train journey. It is a familiar set-up – family curse, eldest son murdered in a locked and guarded room at midnight – but done with tremendous verve. The first murder is followed up by one almost as mystifying, but in a different location. I was gripped from beginning to end. The clues were planted perfectly fairly, but the trick with this kind of novel is to keep you reading at such a lick that you go galloping past them without noticing. Which is exactly what I did. I could have kicked myself at the end, when the solution was revealed.
There are a few weaknesses. Algy, as the gifted amateur sleuth respected by the police, is a pallid imitation of Lord Peter Wimsey, and the characterisation – particularly of the women – made my eyebrows shoot up at one or two points. But no matter, this was a terrific read. In fact I enjoyed it a lot more than John Dickson Carr’s The Case of the Constant Suicides, which I read around the same time, and found rather feeble in comparison.
Martin Edwards’ blog with the wonderful title: ‘Do You Write Under Your own Name?’ is a favourite of mine and I often pick up tips for books I might enjoy, especially in his forgotten books section. Not long ago he wrote a review of a novel by Fredric Brown which made me think that I’d like to reread a novel I hugely enjoyed when I first read it, Brown’s NIGHT OF THE JABBERWOCK. I took it away to read on holiday. I don’t think I’ve read it since I started writing myself and this added a whole new dimension. The first time I just read on, heart in mouth, absolutely mesmerised, really unable to put it down. This time I marvelled at the plot, which dovetailed like a piece of finely made furniture, appreciated the economy of the style and admired the skill with which Brown enlists our sympathy hor his quizzical, down at heel and humane narrator. It’s scary, suspenseful, and funny, too. I laughed out loud. It would have to figure on a list of my all-time favourite crime novels. Martin, if you read this, I want to know if you have read it. If not, you have a treat in store.
Another of Martin’s recent commendations was THE BURNING COURT by John Dickson Carr. Carr specialised in locked room mysteries, and there are two in here. I partly guessed the solution to one of them, but I am not terribly attracted to the puzzle novel, and what for me really distinguishes Dickson Carr’s novels is their creepiness. This one is truly sinister. I won’t spoil the ending, suffice it to say that just when I thought I knew what was going on things took a turn that I really did not expect and I ended the novel feeling, well, gobsmacked, really.
A while ago I blogged about Anne Fadiman’s little book, EX LIBRIS, and a kind reader let me know that she was giving a lecture in Sheffiel last night so I went along. She spoke about the difficult relationship between Coleridge and his son, Hartley, drawing on their correspondence. It was excellent, and when I spoke to her afterwards, she was charming. I’m going to hunt out some of the other things she has written.