Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘British Library Crime Classics’

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

I’m always happy to come across a British Library Crime Classics novel and am doubly so when they are large print. Lucky me, The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude from my local library was both.

The story began by introducing the residents of Regency Square in Cheltenham who consisted of a ‘mannish’ woman with yappy dogs, a pair of sticky-beak old maids, a young bank manager and his wife, a man on the brink of financial ruin whose wife was having an affair with another man who lived in the square, a doctor, a vicar and his sister, a shonky stockbroker, a crime writer, a car salesman and a snobby couple who took off for France when the publicity following the murder of one of their neighbours offended their sensibilities.

The murder was particularly newsworthy as the method was an arrow to the head of the victim as he sat with his back to a window in his own home.

When the police deduced that the arrow had been ‘loosed’ (that’s what they call it in archery, apparently) from a certain house in the Square I went back to the beginning to establish who lived where with the plan of cleverly deducing who the murderer might be. As most of the Square’s residents disliked the murdered man I started by suspecting everyone, but put several residents who were members of the local Archery Club at the top of my list.

Luckily, Superintendent Meredith was visiting the crime writer when the murder took place, so he stayed on to assist the investigation. The local police officers were very glad to have Meredith’s ‘first-class brains’ available to them although he was a fairly dull character. The local bloke, Inspector Long was funnier although his dialect wore thin eventually.

I had the murderer in my sights from the beginning of the story, although I didn’t know how or why they managed the murder until the end of the story when all was revealed.

All of the characters were stereo-typed caricatures although I did feel as if the female characters were particularly hard-done by. Miss Boon was made fun of for being a strong character, while the two old maids were made fun of for ‘fluttering’ when they were interviewed by the police. The young, bank-manager’s wife was considered ridiculous for being too in love with her husband and the woman who was having the affair was obviously no-good. Even worse, the vicar’s sister was virtually non-existent.

Eventually Superintendent Meredith and Inspector Long eventually worked out who the murderer was without my help, which was a bit of a miracle because ‘first-class brains’ or not, I was beginning to despair of them ever seeing what I had. Despite their ineptitude and the condescension shown to all of the female characters, I enjoyed the story’s setting very much and think that living in a fictitious Square in Cheltenham would be lovely.

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon

I pounced on Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon from the British Library Crime Classics series when I came across this book in the large print section of my local library.

As always for a book from this series, the cover art is beautiful. In my opinion the team who create these covers always get them exactly right. Golden Age crime novels are well suited to art-deco artwork and I can imagine that some people probably collect these books for their covers.

The story was introduced by Martin Edwards who teases the reader with a brief description of the plot before providing an interesting biography of the author, Joseph Jefferson Farjeon, which included the details that Farjeon’s greatest worry was that he wouldn’t be able to provide for his family financially. This fear spurred Farjeon to write prolifically.

Seven Dead started off with one of the most intriguing first chapters I’ve ever read. The first line, ‘This is not Ted Lyte’s story’ introduced a petty criminal who broke into Haven House on the coast of England with the intention of stealing silverware only to find seven dead people in a locked room.

When Lyte ran out of the house in terror, dropping spoons as he went, he was chased by a passer-by until he ran smack-bang into a policeman who, as expected, asked “What’s all this?” The passer-by was Thomas Hazeldean, a yachtsman and reporter who had moored his yacht in a creek near Haven House. Hazeldean accompanied Detective Inspector Kendall back to Haven House to discover what had frightened the thief. At Haven House, they found the seven dead bodies but could not discover who had killed the victims or why they had been killed.

Hazeldean was intrigued by both the mystery and by a portrait in the house of a young girl which had been pierced by a bullet that had seemingly come from the room with the dead bodies and on learning that the girl in the portrait was Dora Fenner, the neice of the owner of Haven House, Hazeldean set off in his yacht Spray across the channel to France to find and protect her, while Kendall carried on in England.

In France, all was not as it seemed. Hazeldean found Dora and realised she was being guarded by the mysterious occupants of the household where she and her uncle, John Fenner, were staying. Not only that, Fenner was acting strangely.

Unfortunately at this point, I lost some enthusiasm for the story. To begin with, the characters sometimes spoke French and since I couldn’t even guess at what they were saying I lost the gist of what was happening. The writing itself was very good, clear and descriptive enough for me to be able to imagine the characters, the place and to get a feel for the atmosphere, but the plot’s twists and turns once Hazeldean went to France became overly complicated and far-fetched. Not only that, I also found the idea of Hazeldean falling in love with Dora’s portrait from childhood to be creepy. When he met her in real life and she turned out to be someone who fainted constantly from nerves, I couldn’t understand what he saw in her. I guess some people just want to be the ‘protector’ in a relationship.

I had been reading the story with the intention of solving the case, but there was no way I could have done this and to be fair, Seven Dead wasn’t that kind of story. Instead, the murderer’s identity and motive became clear as the story continued. Despite my criticism, I would definitely read another book by this author based on the quality of his writing and that fantastic first chapter.

Calamity in Kent by John Rowland


Calamity in Kent by John Rowland is from the British Library Crime Series. For ages I have been getting the ‘wants’ whenever I see a review of one of these, although for the original poster the book cover come from, rather than for the books themselves.

I won’t lie, Calamity in Kent isn’t the best story I have ever read, partly because it hadn’t aged well. However, I also guessed who the murderer was on first appearance, found the story to be flimsy and repetitive, and the dialogue clumsy. Good editing would have improved this book enormously. Had I not been so enamoured of the cover, I would not have finished the book.

The original posters used on the book’s cover are below.

For anyone interested, the story tells of a tabloid newspaper journalist, Jimmy London, on holidays in Broadgate when he meets a man who has just discovered a dead body locked in the lift that takes tourists from the clifftop to the beach. Jimmy investigates the murder, encouraged (!) in his quest to find the murderer by Inspector Shelley of Scotland Yard.

My fondness for the covers on the novels of the British Library Crime Series continues, despite my disappointment in this particular story.

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