And we return with yet another BLCC anthology, this time one featuring stories set on the continent. Which I guess is only a theme that could occur to a Briton... "Fog in channel, continent isolated." To be honest, we Scandinavians often use the same term, even though we have even less of a reason to do so - seeing as we are actually part of the continent. Ah well, that's just a short diversion.
By now we all know what a BLCC anthology is about: the theme is a bit loose, more or less just an excuse to feature a smattering of stories by British authors from roughly the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. In this case, as mentioned, the theme is stories set in European places that are not Britain , which is as loose a theme as you could find, really. And to be honest, it might as well have been called French Fiends or something, because the tally is 9 stories set in France, 2 in Italy, 2 in Belgium and 1 in Germany. (OK, one of the "French" stories is set in Monaco and another is set on a train, which however departs from France, but still.)
That also means that it's hard to know what to expect when picking up the anthology. So, I guess it's advantageous that some of us Internet bloggers do it and give readers a better overview, he said, in as non-egotistical a way as possible. Bleh, I do go on a bit. Let's just get started on the stories instead.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The New Catacomb
Julius Burger and his friendly rival Kennedy are exploring the architectural delights of Rome. Burger claims to have found a new catacomb under Rome's streets, and the two decide to explore it further.
Yeah, this isn't much of a mystery, or even a crime story. Doyle as usual has a deft hand with his writing, so it's an easy read, but the plot is very easily seen through and the whole thing is a bit of a disappointment, to be honest.
Arnold Bennett - A Bracelet at Bruges
The young Kitty Sartorius, in Bruges with her friend Eve Fincastle, loses her bracelet when they run into an acquaintance, Madame Lawrence. And in their coterie are further suspicious characters...
Again, this isn't much of a mystery. There's a bit of an early 1900s adventure story in this, but events turn out mostly as the reader will assume. But I still enjoyed reading this one, Bennett writes with enthusiasm. If you don't have any high expectations of a fair play mystery, I think you'll find this a highlight.
G. K. Chesterton - The Secret Garden
Previously discussed in this post.
E. Phillips Oppenheim - The Secret of the Magnifique
Three men meet at a restaurant at Gare de Lyons in Paris, and during that evening they run across several interesting and suspcious characters, and as a result they decide to travel to the French riviera, where many of these characters are also present.
I had a strange experience reading this tale. During the read I thoroughly enjoyed myself, Oppenheim writes with verve and zest, and even though the plot is yet another early 1900s adventure story with very little mystery, the pages whizzed by (even though this is one of the two longest stories present here). But when I reflected on the story some time after, there are plot holes as large as the icebergs breaking off from the North Pole. There are characters introduced in that early part set at the railway station that then just disappear, and it's hard to see what the point of them were. So, like I said, a bit strange. A fun read, but adjust your expectations accordingly.
Ian Hay - Petit-Jean
During the WWI, part of the British army are ensconced at a Belgian farm, close to the trenches. The inhabitants at the farm intermingle with the soldiers, and the officers soon have to deal with a theft.
Here I started to get a bit impatient that we still don't get any true mysteries. The criminous connection is quite tenuous, it's more of a general wartime story. Interesting if that's what you're looking for, I guess, but it's not what I want to read.
F. Tennyson Jesse - The Lover of St Lys
Solange Fontaine and her father are travelling through the French riviera when they run into a couple and their ward. And then the wife in the family suddenly accuses her husband of having had intentions of poisoning their ward!
Another Solange Fontaine story from Jesse (see Blood on the Tracks), and happily this is much more of a mystery than that tale. However, it's not a true fair play mystery in any sense, brimming as it is with melodrama and surging emotions.
Marie Belloc Lowndes - Popeau Intervenes
Hercules Popeau overhears a candid conversation between Lord Waverton and his mistress while at a hotel in Paris, and decides to meddle when he realises that the mistress may have nefarious plans towards Lord Waverton's wife.
It's not only the name of Lowndes' detective that reminds you of a certain Belgian detective, there's quite a lot of his mannerisms in this story that brings that well-known egghead to mind. However, the story itself sadly doesn't remind you much of Christie's works. It's an all right story, but it's definitely not a fair play mystery, instead being more similar to those romantic suspense things. I was interested in reading it because of those similarities I mentioned, but I can't say that I'll rush out to discover more.
Stacy Aumonier - The Perfect Murder
Two ne'er-do-well brothers are more or less destitute and decide to finagle their way into their rich aunt's good graces, but as she grows wearier of them they soon come up with a plan to murder her.
This is story with a riff on the inverted mystery, and one I'd read before. As should be well-known by now, it's not really my thing, but I think those who enjoy the sub-genre should like this one.
J. Jefferson Farjeon - The Room in the Tower
A writer has decided to take lodgings with the Steinbaums, a father and daughter living in a German castle. It seems the castle is haunted by events that happened one generation ago when the wife of the family died together with the father's brother, and the writer, influenced by the ambiance in the castle, decides to investigate further.
I'd call this a horror story, or at least a Gothic melodrama, rather than a mystery. Sure, there are criminous happenings here, but there is no focus on detection or anything of the kind. Fine for what it is, but it should be clear by now that this is not the type of story I'm looking for in these anthologies.
H. de Vere Stacpoole - The Ten-Franc Counter
An elderly lady lets an apartment at the top floor of a building. One day she is found with her head bashed in and the jewels are gone. M. Henri of the Sûreté is on site in Monte Carlo and joins the investigation.
Stacpoole focuses more on the things surrounding a crime and what happens to the criminal than on the mystery itself, though I suppose that the investigation is serviceable enough. A perfectly all right story, but nothing that rises above the average.
Agatha Christie - Have You Got Everything You Want?
Previously discussed in this post (under the title "Express to Stamboul").
H. C. Bailey - The Long Dinner
Reggie Fortune is told of the case where an artist has vanished. There's some suspicion that the artist has been involved in the theft of some jewels from a French couple. But Fortune suspects that there is something more sinister behind the whole thing...
Not as successful as some of Bailey's other Fortune tales, this still manages to pack a bit of a punch. Bailey's stories are generally fairly long - I suppose they could be called novelettes - and in this case, I think the story would have fared better by being pared down a couple of pages. Still, a good read.
Josephine Bell - The Packet-Boat Murder
David Wintringham is told the story about a man who was recently guillotined for a murder on a ship. As the story is told, Wintringham begins to second-guess the police findings...
This was more or less exact the length the story required, no padding or extraneous material. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though it has an ending I'm not entirely enamoured with.
Michael Gilbert - Villa Almirante
Lieutenant Lucifero of the Italian police comes to visit a villa where a party of English guests are residing. He brings them the sad news that one of the party has been found dead on the beach. The lieutenant harbours certain suspicions that the death was not a natural one and begins an investigation that reaches farther and farther.
A rather lovely story that I thought used the least-likely suspect in a clever way. Probably the best story here.
As you've probably seen from my views on the individual stories, this was a bit underwhelming and lackluster. There were just a couple of highlights (the Christie and Gilbert stories, and possibly the Chesterton as well), accompanied by a few stories that were interesting or enjoyable to read but ultimately disappointed in some way. The best I can say about this anthology is that it was fairly varied and that most readers should find something they like here.
1. Miraculous Mysteries - no surprise there, this is an
impossible crime anthology, so it has lots of things going for it that
elevate it above all the other collections.
2. Silent Nights
- the quality of the collections here in the middle of the list is
fairly uniform, but I think this one just manages to go to the top. A
good variety of stories and a few really good ones.
3. Blood on the Tracks - a collection with few standouts and some truly bewildering inclusions, but on the whole it was still a worthwhile read.
4. The Long Arm of the Law
- starts off spottily, but gets better and better, and even though it
finishes with one of the worst stories I've ever read it's still distinctly
5. Crimson Snow - a rough start and ending to this anthology belies
the fact that it collects a solid bunch of stories, perhaps only marred
by the fact that there is no true highlight here.
6. Continental Crimes - a disappointing read on the whole where the great stories are few and far between.
7. Murder at the Manor - I was thoroughly
disappointed that this didn't feature any true country house mysteries. I
think there was one fair play mystery among the whole bunch of stories.
It's fair to say that Kate over at crossexaminingcrime enjoyed this a bit more than I did.
Just a heads-up here: The blog will be taking a pause for a few weeks. My backlog of reviews has dwindled into non-existence, and I need to build it up again. Rest assured, I have several collections and anthologies waiting in my TBR pile, so it's just a matter of time before you'll see my opinions here again. Yay! (I guess?)