Monday, June 12, 2023

Death Among Friends & Other Detective Stories

 Death Among Friends & Other Detective Stories (aka Best Detective Stories; 1959) by Cyril Hare (Alfred Gordon Clark)

A collection of thirty short stories, most of which use Hare's background in the law. He also has a positive mania for short stories with a sharp twist in the tail. Nearly all of the stories have a surprise ending--some are more obvious to long-time mystery fans, but most did catch this mystery fan out. It is a very strong collection which I heartily recommend. My favorites are "Where There's a Will--," "Weight & See," "It Takes Two...," "The Heel," and "Monday's Child." ★★★★

"Where There's a Will--": When Julian Symondson's aunt dies leaving him an inheritance with strings attached, he knows just enough about the law to think he's found a way around the strings. But you know what they say...a little learning is a dangerous thing.

"Miss Burnside's Dilemma": Poor Miss Burnside has discovered an unscrupulous, but perfectly legal bit of trickery on the part of someone she and the community admire...what on earth is she to do about it?

"Name of Smith": When a judge who was known as a competent lawyer yet with a somewhat scandalous personal reputation passes on, his colleagues finally learn the reasons behind his most infamous court room summing-up. There was method in his apparent madness after all...

"Murderer's Luck": It's no good to commit the perfect murder if the results still aren't quite what you expect...

"The Tragedy of Young Macintyre": A Wodehousian story of a young barrister, elocution lessons, a Mexican dance, and the lure of Hollywood.

"Weight & See": An apparently unbreakable alibi is smashed to bits by hefty policeman with a very apt name.

"It Takes Two...": The title tells us that it takes two to make a murder--the murderer and the victim. But the story itself proves that sometimes it takes three...and no one was more surprised by that than the murderer.

"Death of a Blackmailer": When a wealthy married woman has a fling with a ne'er-do-well, she oughtn't be surprised when she finds herself blackmailed. But Mrs. Mainwaring is a stubborn woman and doesn't submit to blackmail easily. 

"The Old Flame": A man gets a nasty surprise when he plans to snuff out an old flame before marrying a rich, young bride.

"'As the Inspector Said...'": Another case of the best-laid plans going awry. When a local inspector stops by to warn Robert French about a ruthless burglar thought to be in the area, his wife and her lover see a perfect opportunity to clear Robert out of the way. Maybe...

"Death Among Friends": This story has one of Hare's most ironic twists. Here we have another man plotting a murder that will revenge not only himself, but his only friend. But fate has something else in mind...

"The Story of Hermione": Hermione goes from penniless daughter of an explorer lost in a mountaineering accident to heiress of her uncle's estate in a very short time. And then becomes engaged to a very eligible bachelor. It's a bit odd that he abruptly breaks off the engagement...or is it?

"A Surprise for Christmas": When Jimmy Blenkiron's nieces and nephews decide to give him a surprise for Christmas, it turns from a pleasant sugarplum dream into a nightmare--all because they wanted to give him a Christmas tree.

"The Heel": Have Americans been killing each other while stationed in England for the war? Or is one particular American using his fellow Yanks as cover to avoid justice of another sort?

"The Rivals": When a young woman is killed, it looks like one of her violent young boyfriends is responsible. But the policeman in charge of the case can't find solid evidence that points to just one of them. But the Chief Constable can...just goes to show, murderers should always pay close attention to what they wear when the commit murder and concoct a cover story.

"The Ruling Passion": It's a terrible thing when a passion for collecting leads to murder.

"The Death of Amy Rossart": Inspector Mallett uses the old "reconstruct the crime" method to flush out the killer of a young actress--was it the jealous wife? The director who's film was losing money but who had insured the actress's life? Or maybe the lover had tired of her?

"I Never Forget a Face": It doesn't help that our narrator never forgets a face when he can't for the life of him remember the name that goes with the face...especially when it comes to picking up strangers at train stations.

"A Life for a Life": Can a man make amends from the grave for having taken someone's life? 

"The Markhampton Miracle":The managing director of the Football Pools asks William White, formerly Detective Inspector and now private inquiry agent, to investigate what looks like a massive fraud--53,619 residents of Markhampton all submitted the correct numbers for the Pools. How could anyone have worked a fraud that big?

"A Very Useful Relationship": Another fraud story--this time surrounding the building for for new town hall. Evil nephews (or nieces) are all the rage in detective fiction, but what about other relatives?

"Sister Bessie": A tale of a man and his blackmailer. Just when he thinks he's free of the blackmail...he finds himself drawn more deeply into the web.

"Line Out of Order": Like any technology, automated phone calls are great for anonymity--but not so great when something goes wrong. A spy network has a bit of trouble with the phone line.

"Dropper's Delight": A man tasked with "dropping" (passing) counterfeit notes thinks he's come up with the perfect plan to get rid of them

"Monday's Child": A museum director arranges for a decoy to cover an art theft. Except he didn't tell the decoy about his plans...and she wasn't pleased.

"Tuesday's Child": A pastor giving a much-used (memorized) sermon solves a crime from the pulpit.

"Wednesday's Child": A little matter of dates is all it takes to prove whether a young woman really was the fiancee a now-dead rich young man.

"Thursday's Child": A man seeking mineral rights on a small Scottish island finds another secret hidden there.

"Friday's Child": A slick confidence man is done out of his expected coup by the mark's need for a drink.

"Saturday's Child": When a persistent policeman dogs his footsteps, an exhausted young doctor begins to wonder if he's done something illegal during a few periods of blackouts.

First line (1st story): Julian Symondson reached the crest of the hill and stood for a moment looking across the valley at the agreeable little house for which he was making.

Last lines (last story): "Good day, Doctor, and if I might presume to advise you, take a long rest. You look worn out."

Deaths = 35 (eight natural; two shot; one hanged; nine hit on head; two drowned; one strangled; two car accident; one mountaineering accident; one hunting accident; three poisoned; one electrocuted; one stabbed; two fell from height; one plane crash)

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