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Sunday, 24 September 2017

Mini reviews #5

Death on the Cherwell (1935) by Mavis Doriel Hay. A whodunit published in the same year as Sayers’ Gaudy Night and, like that novel, set in a fictional Oxford college for women. But unlike Gaudy Night, Death on the Cherwell might as well be set in a boarding school, and is riddled with every cliche that Sayers tried to fight. It’s cruel to compare a minor name to a titan, but given the timing, comparisons are inevitable, and Hay comes out of them much worse.

Deep Water (1957) by Patricia Highsmith. A loveless marriage in a small town provides the backdrop to an utterly chilling, sophisticated thriller with every ingredient that makes Highsmith the foremost voice in 1950s American disillusion. I have no idea why this fantastic novel is not better known.

The Last Woman in His Life (1970) by Ellery Queen. Extremely disappointing novel that is offensive both in terms of its content and its quality. Apparently this one was ghostwritten.

'Inside Story' (1993) by Colin Dexter. I genuinely — and unpopularly — think that Inspector Morse is at his best in short stories. This might have something to do with the author not trying so hard to write, or to plot. You’ve probably guessed the set-up from the title: a contained narrative holds the clues to the surrounding mystery. Recommended.

The Golden Age of Murder (2015) by Martin Edwards. A majestic history of crime fiction in its heyday, and essential reading for fans and scholars of the genre.


  1. Yes most of the later Queens were ghost written. Not the biggest fan of Queen I have to admit. But The Chinese Orange Mystery is one I enjoyed a lot.
    Very much enjoying these mini reviews. Very impressed you can condense your thoughts into a couple of lines. Not my strongest skill! I probably enjoyed Hay's novel a bit more than you, but then I wasn't comparing it to Sayers' book. I think they had much different aims in mind.
    Glad you enjoyed Martin's book. Really fun read as well as informative. Have you read his latest one?

    1. Thank you, Kate - I'm glad you enjoy them. Honestly, the reason I make pithy remarks is because I don't always have that much to say!

      I haven't read Martin's latest book (is this The Story of Classic Crime? He's so prolific, it's hard to keep up!). I'm hoping someone will buy it for me for Christmas, along with the Anne Meredith.

  2. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Last Woman in His Life was not ghost-written -- in fact, I think it might be the first book Dannay and Lee worked on together after a series of collaborations with Theodore Sturgeon and Avram Davidson (one of them left the partnership for a while, I always forget which one...).

    I beliebe it was the penultimate book they worked on, followed by A Fine and Private Place, and everything after that is ghost-written with neither Dannay nor Lee involved in any way.

    Sometimes the people we love just write terrible books, I'm afraid. I have the same thing with Carr and Papa La-Bas...

    1. Sad news indeed but very good to know -- and thank you for reading!

    2. I also meant to say, I agree with you about the Morse short stories being superior to the novels. Morse is a pompous arse in the books, but the shorter form generally catches him excellently. Th sole exception in the novels perhaps being The Wench is Dead, but that's such an unusual book that I think Dexter was too busy to put in any of the usual leering, arrogant idiocy that so mars that character for me.

    3. Absolutely agreed about The Wench is Dead!