Saturday, January 20, 2024

Murder by the Book: Mysteries for Bibliophiles

 Murder by the Book: Mysteries for Bibliophiles (2022) by Martin Edwards [all stories pre-1990]

Another terrific collection of little-known and never-before-collected short stories from the British Library Crime Classics series. This time the mysteries feature books and the written word--from collectors to writers to disgruntled mystery lovers. We have dying clues left in books and clues that could only be understood by someone who is well-read. There are seemingly impossible murders and inverted mysteries where we wonder if the investigator will catch up with the criminal. In fact, we have a little something for everyone. And what book and mystery lover could resist a whole anthology full of book-related mysteries? Not me! My personal favorites: "A Lesson in Crime," "Malice Domestic," "A Savage Game," and . I would have ranked "Murder in Advance" among them but I just don't see all the indications that Dacre says indicates the guilty party.  ★★★★

"A Lesson in Crime" by G. D. H. & M. Cole: A disgruntled (and slightly crazy) mystery fan decides to show a famous detective novelist what the perfect murder is really like. [one strangled]

"Trent & the Ministering Angel" by E. C. Bentley: Philip Trent's friend Arthur Selby presents him with an odd incident which occurred just before Gregory Landell died and asks for Trent's advice. After hearing details of a business transaction that didn't need to take place, Trent decides he simply must view the late Landell's rock garden. And there he finds clues to a hidden will. [one poisoned]

"A Slice of Bad Luck" by Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day-Lewis): At a very Detection Club-like dinner, the mystery writers get a chance to see murder up close and personal when one of their number is stabbed when the lights go out. [one stabbed]

"The Strange Case of the Megatherium Thefts" by S. C. Roberts: When a couple dozen books go missing from the Megatherium Club, Sherlock Holmes is called in to discover which member (or members) is behind the thefts.

"Malice Domestic" by Philip MacDonald: Carl Borden's friends noticed that things just didn't seem right between the writer and his wife. His doctor and his friend suspects even more when Carl has a bout of sickness. And his suspicions seem to be well-founded when he finds arsenic in Carl's food during another bout. But Carl refuses to believe his wife is trying to kill him... [one poisoned]

"A Savage Game" by A. A. Milne: Coleby, a mystery writer, declares that detective novelists are just as good as the police at taking a bunch of clues and devising a story from them. His friend, Colonel Saxe--the Chief Constable, dares him to come up with the correct story to explain the stabbing of an elderly miser. It would seem that one of his heirs must have done it...except circumstances seem to prove that neither one of them could have. [one stabbed]

"The Clue in the Book" by Julian Symons [one poisoned]: A collector of books and manuscripts is killed just after Quarles contacts him about examining certain documents in the manuscript collection. He quickly determines who poisoned the elderly man. *SPOILER: Can I just say that Symons could be rather severe in his critiques of other mystery writers. And the major clue in this one is so absolutely obvious that he might well have just told us in the first sentence who did it. There is zero mystery here. None.

"The Manuscript" by Gladys Mitchell: When one brings former lawbreakers into one's home, one shouldn't be surprised when trouble follows--no matter how reformed they might be. A writer hires a maid with a police record--precisely because she has a record. That fact will be useful for his current book. When her usefulness to him is done with, he fires her and she retaliates by throwing his manuscript in the fire. She's later found dead with her neck broken and the police think there is an obvious answer. But maybe not...(one neck broken)

"A Man & His Mother-in-Law" by Roy Vickers: A fairly self-centered man who thinks his wife should be the "yes-woman" in his life, is brought to grief by his mother-in-law, his wife, and a copy of a book by his mother-in-law's favorite poet. (one natural; two by enemy fire in WWII; one strangled)

"Grey's Ghost" by Michael Innes (J. I. M. Stewart): A man's ghost writer exacts revenge on his ungrateful employer. That'll teach him to underpay the help...

"Dear Mr. Editor..." by Christianna Brand: A very disturbed young woman who tried to kill her sister once and was "punished" (I read put into a facility for the mentally disturbed) is released. She received a letter from a literary editor requesting a murder mystery, so she decides to kill her sister again. But just for the story, you know. (one natural; one shot)

"Murder in Advance" by Marjorie Bremner: A playwright is killed after having announced the premise of his next play--about a man who is blackmailed into leaving his job. Some of the details mirror the fate of his friend, a man who recently died in an airplane crash. When the playwright is shot, Inspector Dacre thinks there must have been something in that blackmail story.... (one shot; two airplane crash; one car accident):

"A Question of Character" by Victor Canning: A well-established mystery author finds himself constantly coming up second to his wife--not just her books, though once she starts writing, they're bestsellers; but also in golf and gardening and...anything she decides to take up after he's shown interest. He meets a nice girl and decides to devise his most fool-proof murder plot ever. (two in a fire)

"The Book of Honour" by John Creasey: A man in the book business in Bombay witnesses the feud between a local man who has become his friend and the man's son--as a result of the son's insolent and illegal behavior. When his friend seems determined to suffer dishonor rather than betray his son, Graham takes matters into his own hands....

"We Know You're Busy Writing..." by Edmund Crispin: What's a man to do when the people in his life--friends, family, neighbors, bare acquaintances--won't leave him alone to do his writing? (two hit on the head)

"Chapter & Verse" by Ngaio Marsh: Timothy Bates, a New Zealand bookman who had become friends with Alleyn when the inspector was in that country, arrives in England with an old Bible with odd inscriptions. Alleyn is not at home & Bates tells Troy that he's got something a bit in Alleyn's line...but he dies in a fall from the church tower before Alleyn gets home.  (four fell to their death)

First line (1st story): Joseph Newton settled himself comfortably in his corner of a first-class compartment on the Cornish Riviera express.

Las line (last story): "And she ought to know," Alleyn said and turned back to the cottage.


Susan said...

I'm not a short story fan, but some of these sound really clever and compelling. I might have to reconsider my dislike for this medium!

Bev Hankins said...

Susan, they are quite good.