Bleeding Hooks by Harriet Rutland

Bleeding HooksWelcome to Aberllyn, a village in Wales, and in particular The Fisherman’s Rest, an inn that provides accommodation for those individuals who think nothing more enticing that sitting at the side of a lake (or, should the mood take them, on a boat), dangling their flies into the water on the off-chance that a passing trout or salmon should be stupid enough to put it in their mouth. You can probably tell that I’m not an angler – there’s probably more to it than that.

Needless to say, there’s a spider at the heart of the fishing community, going by the name of Mrs Mumsby, who is up to something. But before her plans can come to fruition, she is found dead, with a fish-hook buried in the palm of her hand. Everyone seems perfectly happy to accept that she died of shock from the accident, except for Mr Winkley, recently arrived from Scotland Yard for a break. He suspects murder and with the help of his younger friends (brace yourself) Piggy and Pussy, sets about finding the right bait to trap a killer…

This is the second of the three books written under the pen-name of Harriet Rutland by Olive Shimwell, the first being Knock, Murderer, Knock! and the final one being Blue Murder, all three recently re-released by Dean St Press. I loved the first one and there’s a similar set-up here are well – a small group of individuals grouped together – although there isn’t the sense of a serial killer at work here. In fact, most of the characters don’t seem to think that Mrs Mumsby died a suspicious death at all, hence going about their normal business, i.e. fishing.

I don’t think this is as strong as Knock, Murderer, Knock! for a few reasons. First off, the suspects weren’t as interesting. As with that book, we go from encounter to encounter with one or two of the suspects – either seeing conversations with Winkley or Piggy and/or Pussy – but I didn’t find them desperately distinctive, especially as the conversations have to be vague to avoid mentioning murder. As such the middle section of the narrative drags somewhat. Unlike A Bird In The Hand, where such a drag wasn’t an issue as I found the bird-watching stuff fascinating, fishing bores me rigid, so that didn’t help fill the lulls in the plot.

The other problem is the younger generation – aren’t they always? Piggy and, in particular, Pussy, are irritating as hell. There are sections, including one towards the end, where it’s not clear if Pussy’s actions are deliberate or due to genuine stupidity – unfortunately, I think it’s the latter. I’m amazed that a female writer would create such an annoying female character.

The uncertainty introduced at the end of the tale is something new to me, but I’m not sure it works. If the questions posed apply to [BEING VAGUE HERE] both things, then I’m totally confused as to what was supposed to have happened. I know that I can emulate a bear with little brain at times, but I’m honestly at a bit of a loss. It’s a brave way to end a tale, but I’m not sure it worked for me.

But there is a lot to like here. I think it pushed a lot of my buttons, unfortunately, but there are clever ideas at the heart of it and it is a proper mystery, unlike some Golden Age works. Rutland’s voice is entertaining, despite her tendency to have a pop at literary detectives (Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Sexton Blake) – she has some very distinctive turns of phrase that bring a smile to the face of the reader, for example when she describes a character’s breasts as “no larger than those of a heavyweight boxer”. In fact, she’s a bit breast-obsessed in the opening chapters, but she calms down a bit after that.

So, another decent read from a voice that was deserved to have been heard more. I personally preferred the first book, but it’s still Well Worth A Look.


  1. I actually enjoyed this book more than Knock Murderer Knock, as the mystery was more complex, she pulls off some clever twists (including the ending, where I think again she is having a last laugh at her detective) and the dark humour was really good. However, I completely agree on Pussy and Piggy being incredibly annoying, especially the former. Out of the three I think Blue Murder is the best. Will you be reviewing that book also? As I would be interested to read your views on it.


    • Will definitely be looking at Blue Murder soonish, thanks to Dean St Press.

      I agree things are more complex here, but I had trouble caring about the suspects this time round, which is always a problem for me.


    • Yup. Even “funnier” is the repeated use of the phrase “making love” which used to just mean flirting. But for most of the book, the phrase is used about actions behind closed doors. It’s only when a character is accused of making love at the dinner table that you remember that it doesn’t mean what it means these days.


  2. Just got around to reading all three. Leaving a comment on this one because I think she is very cleverly satirizing the “golden age mystery genre” in real time so to speak. Pussy and Piggy are somewhat very annoying but I found them hilarious in a sort of meta sense because I think she is really having fun with the Tommy and Tuppence archetypes.

    “Even “funnier” is the repeated use of the phrase “making love” which used to just mean flirting. But for most of the book, the phrase is used about actions behind closed doors. It’s only when a character is accused of making love at the dinner table that you remember that it doesn’t mean what it means these days.”

    Puzzle Doctor – I think this is a clue to what Rutland is really doing here – at the end she explicitly declares the making love Piggy and Pussy are up to in her room is actually the real thing – shocking the detective. She is tweaking Agatha C and Dorothy S. and the genre of the expert detective throughout this story which I found to be absolutely hilarious.

    That – imo – is what the end was all about and it was sensationally funny. Neither of the victims were poisoned and the Welsh county doctor was right all along! Of course they were both supposed to be poisoned and fortuitously died anyways but the detective was in fact wrong about the cause of death and the local MD was right – that was hilarious!

    It undercut the detective being so incredibly smart and better it didn’t really matter (he did in fact solve the mystery after all) It was put in because the whole story was making fun of the genre and the detective gets shown to have thought too well of himself, been too smug about the “key to solving the mystery” as these genius detectives are in the genre. The humor in all three of Rutlands books are so damn droll, understated and subtle (and often very skillfully inserted by the minor/secondary characters). I think this book perfectly sets up Blue Murder which is a masterpiece in meta commentary (that is probably to exalted a term) on the English country house murder genre. The first two books are a great set up for what is her true pièce de résistance: Blue Murder. Thanks for reviewing these books – enjoy everyone’s commentary here immensely.



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