Another year, another compilation of short (and not so short) stories from some of the greatest authors of the Golden Age of Detective fiction. Yet again, Tony Medawar has scoured archive after archive to find long-lost short stories from the likes of Edmund Crispin, Ngaio Marsh, Gladys Mitchell et al, stories that have never been reprinted before and some that have never even seen the light of day even once, coupled with fascinating biographies of each author.
The highlight of this collection, the title that should catch the eye – and for some reason isn’t mentioned on the front covers in lieu of Crispin and Marsh – is a 140 page novella by Christianna Brand, Shadowed Sunlight, which I’m sure some people will think makes the book value for money all by itself. But is it?
Let’s take the stories one by one – but well leave Shadowed Sunlight for the end.
- Child’s Play by Edmund Crispin – a surprising dark and unsurprisingly effective little mystery from Crispin concerning a nanny and her new charges. A very good start.
- Thieves Fall In by Anthony Gilbert – an enjoyable tale of double-crossing thieves which makes exceptional use of its five page length.
- Rigor Mortis by Leo Bruce – a Sergeant Beef tale, which would be an impossible crime were it not so bleedin’ obvious. Still, a fun tale, as Beef’s adventures always are.
- The Only Husband by H C Bailey – the script from a radio play featuring that most irritating of sleuths, Reggie Fortune. Actually, he’s not bad in this, it’s his friend Peter Wells who needs a slap. The story’s pretty good, to be honest, so maybe – maybe – I should take another look at Bailey.
- The Police Are Baffled by Alex Waugh – not an author I’m familiar with – he’s the less famous brother of Evelyn. Not the greatest tale plot-wise, to be honest.
- The Case Of Bella Garsington by Gladys Mitchell – a three page script of a radio play, although it’s more a puzzle mystery than a story. A curiosity, nothing more.
- The Post-Chaise Murder by Richard Keverne – not a desperately inspiring tale, although it does have an interesting ending.
- Boots by Ngaio Marsh – a very short tale (it’s really a bit off citing this as one of the highlights of the book on the cover) but it’s a clever tale with an original method of alibi.
- Figures Don’t Die by T S Stribling – a Dr Poggioli tale, but you’d have to know who he was before reading this because he gets absolutely no background. It’s a pretty forgettable tale – I read it yesterday and can’t remember a thing about it.
- Passengers by Ethel Lina White – a first attempt at the plot of The Wheel Spins aka The Lady Vanishes. It’s an interesting read, but a bit sensationalist for my tastes.
The final six stories are all part of a newspaper challenge based on a picture each of the authors was given.
- After You, Lady by Peter Cheyney – written in a rather painful American voice which I found hard to get past, this is not a great tale.
- Too Easy by Herbert Adams – a nice little whodunit. No great surprises, but well told.
- Riddle Of An Umbrella by J Jefferson Farjeon – an odd tale about problems at a signal-box. A thriller, rather than a mystery, but a nice quick read.
- Two White Mice Under A Riding Whip by E C R Lorac – just bonkers. Has to be read to be believed.
- Signals by Alice Campbell – a great little story with a nice twist to it.
- A Present From The Empire by G D H & Margaret Cole – an odd little tale. Honestly not sure if I liked it or not.
Now, onto Shadowed Sunlight by Christianna Brand, the primary draw of the collection, previously published in six weekly parts in a magazine but never reprinted since. It tells of a group of people coming together for a party. The launch of the elderly Edgar Thoms’ racing boat the Cariad is the cause for the celebration, but with all the tension in the air, mostly due to unapproved-of present relationships and unresolved issues from past relationships, it’s clear something is going to happen. First a valuable emerald necklace is stolen from under the owner’s nose and then, after one member of the party shows off his suicide pill from the war, it disappears and guess what? Enter Inspector Davenport.
It’s a good quality story, with an impossible poisoning (as everything eaten by the victim was eaten by at least one person) to boot – an impossible crime that has a solution that I haven’t seen before. I’m not convinced that the crime is particularly well-clued, it’s more of a “find the solution that makes sense”, but it is a satisfying and sensible solution with an emotional kick to it.
It’s written with typical Christianna Brand-style with her distinctive voice and some quite ridiculous character names (Thom-Thom is used far too much for example) but that does give add extra life to the story. If I had to criticise it, I’d say that there are a couple of parts that perhaps could have been trimmed – there are a couple too many scenes of one couple reminding each other that they love each other without adding anything to the plot. Regardless, though, this is the highlight of the collection and well worth bring back into print.
Speaking of the collection in general, this is another top-notch collection as you would expect. I’ve found that the Bodies collections have been the very best modern collections of Golden Age material and this is no exception. Roll on Book 5…