Murder At The Manor edited by Martin Edwards

murder-at-the-manorThe traditional country house. Full of upper-class over-privileged families with a troop of servants from butlers to skivvies dedicated to satisfying their every whim. With more rooms than anyone could ever need, they’re the perfect setting for stories of all sorts – but mostly murders, obviously.

Murder At The Manor is the latest collection of Golden Age mysteries from the British Library Crime Classic range, as compiled by Martin Edwards. With tales from well-known authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Margery Allingham and other, less famous writers, such as J.S. (not J.B.) Fletcher, James Hilton, J.J. Bell and E.V. Knox. So is this a selection of classics? Or were they forgotten for a reason?

Of course not. There are some little treasures here.

Short stories aren’t my favourite aspect of the crime fiction genre. Often there isn’t enough space to generate an intriguing enough mystery plot and it comes down to the writing style. So in a collection with a variety of writing styles (rather than a collection from a single writer) can be, for me, a bit of a mixed bag. And some of these stories didn’t really work for me, but plenty of them do.

The highlights of this collection are:

  • The Murder At The Towers by E V Knox – a bonkers little tale from the brother of Ronald “Decalogue” Knox.
  • An Unlocked Window by Ethel Lina White – a very tense thriller with a clever twist.
  • The Perfect Plan by James Hilton – a tale of a near-perfect crime from a writer who clearly didn’t spend enough time in the genre.
  • The Mystery of Horne’s Copse by Anthony Berkeley – an episodic mystery with a bizarre set-up and a nice line in humour.

I’m sure others will find different favourites in the collection as there’s plenty to choose from – sixteen tales in total – and as with the other collection in the range, if you like short stories, this is Well Worth A Look.

 

12 comments

  1. I was interested to read your opinion on this collection. I am a fan of the short story genre and have read all the collections that the British Library have put out to date. For me, the ‘Capital Crimes’ collection has been the best so far. This one was a bit harder going but maybe that’s because the country house murder lends itself more to novels rather than short stories. Maybe Martin Edwards found it more difficult to source suitable candidates, as there are a couple of real clunkers here – The ‘Problem of Dead Wood Hall’ seems to me to be that it’s almost unreadable today, while W.W. Jacobs’ ‘The Well’, a good story and not well known, really belongs in a collection of supernatural tales. And yet, not a single story by Agatha Christie!!
    Still, there are always ‘The Copper Beeches’ and ‘Gentlemen and Players’ to enjoy; and ‘The Mystery of Horne’s Copse’ reminded me that I really must add some more of Anthony Berkeley’s work to my TBR list. I enjoyed the E.V. Knox tale although I’m not sure I could read too many of his stories without becoming irritated by them. And a great Michael Gilbert story to finish with. All in all, a solid collection and worth adding to any short story lover’s bookshelf.

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    • Yes, the Knox tale works best as a one-off, doesn’t it, and you’re quite right about The Well.

      I’ve not read Capital Crimes yet – I’ve another short story collection, Serpents In Eden, to read soon, and then I’ll probably take a break from them – I do think the novel format is my preference – although little gems like the Knox tale only work as short stories.

      Not much of a fan of Copper Beeches though – more on that one soon.

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      • Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr Chips were enormous bestsellers, and he wrote a bunch of other ordinary-size bestsellers. His screenwriting career was pretty minor by comparison, although he did share an Oscar for his contribution to the screenplay of Mrs Miniver. A number of his novels were adapted very successfully for the screen, which may be what you’re thinking of.

        He invented the name Shangri-La, which has of course entered the language.

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  2. j.s. fletcher’s one of my favorites, his novels anyway; don’t know too much about his short stories. i like the way he can change the “attitude” of his mysteries, so that often they will seem as if written by different authors…

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