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Saturday, 25 November 2017

Mini reviews #10

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson. Ian Rankin considers this a detective novel -- and the best one ever written -- so it belongs here. I would call it a gothic novel, and rather old-fashioned for its time, although incredibly accessible. It's a beautifully crafted and blatantly important novel. We all know the story but, I think, 99% of readers will stay engaged from beginning to end.

The Bar on the Seine (1931) by Georges Simenon. An extremely enjoyable and astute novel which begins with a conversation between Maigret and a man he has captured, who is facing the death penalty. It's the kind of book you read quickly, forget quickly, and remember bit by bit.

Rogue Male (1939) by Geoffrey Household. My goodness, some men need to get over themselves.

And Then There Was No One (2009) by Gilbert Adair. Without a doubt, objectively and unquestionably, the best postmodern detective novel of all time. But don't just read this one -- read the whole Evadne Mount trilogy.

A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes (2011) edited by Joseph R.G. DeMarco. This is a collection of short stories, focussing on the central Sherlock Holmes characters from a variety of LGBTQIA perspectives. The stories range in quality quite dramatically, and I think the best is Katie Raynes' 'The Kidnapping of Alice Braddon'.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

An April Shroud by Reginald Hill

I’ve not seen a single episode of the BBC’s long-running series Dalziel and Pascoe and, I must admit, I’ve never wanted to. There’s something about TV police procedurals that irritates me: I don’t know what it is, but I can’t get into them in the same way I can get into police procedural books. However, I’m glad to have finally read a Dalziel and Pascoe novel, although An April Shroud (1975) is more of a Dalziel-featuring-Pascoe novel.

Reginald Hill died in 2012, and, scanning his obituaries and tributes for a small academic project, I was struck by the fact that fellow crime writers talked about him in a specific and unusual way. They didn’t mention his prose – it’s almost as if they hadn’t read his books – but talked instead about him as a person: in an incredibly affectionate and very slightly condescending way. A similar thing happened when Colin Dexter died earlier this year.

All of this piqued my curiosity, and, when I saw An April Shroud in a charity shop, I bought it and read it. Before anything else, I was fascinated by the cover, because it includes three praiseful quotes. One from the Times describing Hill as ‘consistently excellent’ (the word ‘consistent’ always makes me want to read the whole review), one from the Observer calling him the best purveyor of ‘homebred crime fiction’, and one from Val McDermid which strikes me as praise so fully qualified that it’s rather faint: ‘The finest male English contemporary crime writer’ (McDermid being, of course, Scottish).

Inspector Pascoe is on his honeymoon, leaving Superintendent Andy Dalziel alone, on a lakeside holiday. Dalziel is large and gregarious, with a deliberately unrefined manner and an obsessively indulgent attitude to everything in life – including police work. He forces himself to enjoy his holiday in the first few pages of An April Shroud, while standing on a bridge and watching the river beneath:
No! Sod it! This wouldn’t do at all. The holiday was the thing. Fresh air, commune with nature, bathe in beauty, pay homage to history. An English holiday, tired policeman, for the revitalization of.
Any corpse comes floating this way, I’ll say Hello sailor, and goodbye, avowed Dalziel and as an act of both symbol and necessity he descended to the water-lapped limit of the bridge, unzipped his flies and began to pee in the flood.
He is, of course, interrupted by the arrival of a corpse in a boat (okay, it’s in a coffin in a boat; he witnesses a funeral procession). Before long, a combination of harsh weather and greedy curiosity means that Dalziel not only gets to know the entire funeral party, but also ends up staying under their roof.

The family is hardly in mourning, Dalziel notices – they are aloof and uncomplicated toffs. Moreover, the deceased’s widow, Bonnie, causes numerous stirrings in his trousers. When he finds out that that Bonnie is buried two husbands – and the circumstances under this one died – the Superintendent embarks on a busman’s holiday.

Although I’d hate to meet him in real life, I really enjoyed reading about Andy Dalziel. He’s a totally gross human being, but presented so skilfully that when we laugh at him it’s with an appreciation for what’s going through his mind: we appreciate how ridiculous the world around him is, and his refusal to go along with social niceties is almost laudible. I have previously read that Dalziel and his hard-working subordinate Pascoe are a kind of rip-off of Joyce Porter’s Inspector Dover and Sergeant Wilson – and, although I haven’t read any Porter, I’ve always enjoyed them on the radio. However, Dalziel is much more interesting than Dover – who is grotesque and lazy and pretty much hates the idea of work of any kind – because Dalziel has to do police work, even on holiday. Hill explains:
time had to be passed and the habit of professional curiosity was as hard to change as the habits of smoking or drinking or taking three helpings of potatoes and steamed pudding.
So, the character is more considered and therefore more interesting. I also enjoyed his/Hill’s pithy insights into character: one man is introduced as ‘unrepentantly Liverpudlian’, another man’s idea of tasteful d├ęcor is likened to ‘a bourgeois Taj Mahal’, and when some Americans roll up we are told that ‘they might have been gang leaders, astronauts, presidential aides or Mormon PR men, but they were unmistakably American.’

To my mind, the novel drags on a bit. It’s 326 pages long, which I think is 100 too many. The story itself isn’t substantial and, by around p. 150, the observational humour and Dalziel being Dalziel starts to get repetitive. That said, the ending is very nice, with everything tightly resolved but enough ambiguity and human emotion in dialogue with legal justice to be genuinely interesting.

I’m willing to accept that An April Shroud is not the best novel in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and I’m sure I’ll read another one, one day, but I shan’t be rushing out and stocking up any time soon. Perhaps if I’d already been invested in the two policemen – had actually cared about who Pascoe marries or how Dalziel spends his down-time – I’d have loved it. As it is, I found the book fun and forgettable.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

Forgive the horrible cover -- I always try to post the edition I read, and this is it!

Seriously, my opinion on Sayers changes with every new moon. At the moment, I like her books a lot, although a reread of Whose Body? (1923) does little to cement the notion that we're dealing with one of the greatest minds in twentieth century crime fiction.

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) remains a fascinating figure. One of the first women to graduate from Oxford University, she initially started writing detective fiction for pecuniary reasons while working in an advertising agency. Whose Body? was her first novel, and it was an immediate success -- so she went on to write about her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, in several more volumes. As the series progressed, she also sought to stretch the possibilities of the crime fiction form, introducing ethical questions and thematic experiments. The ending of Busman's Honeymoon (1937) is rightly well-known for the unusual attention given to the psychological impact of sending a murderer to the gallows. Ultimately, Sayers abandoned crime writing in favour of translation and quite bad theology.

Sayers was very good at quotable quotes. Among my favourites is this, from Have His Carcase:
I always have a quotation for everything -- it saves original thinking.
But I also like a little poem she wrote (not sure where it comes from, as I've only ever seen it quoted):
As I grow older and older
and totter towards the tomb,
I find that I care less and less
who goes to bed with whom.
The first Sayers I read was Murder Must Advertise. I was quite young and determined to hate it because all the glossy crime scholarship I'd read sneered at the 'highbrow' pretensions of 'Miss Sayers' (use of the prefix should have been my clue that these were not discerning critics). So I was kind of annoyed to thoroughly enjoy it. I just told myself that I didn't like it because the murderer was easy to spot -- although that was very much the point. I then started reading her again at university, and now have two novels and a few short stories left to tackle.

But Whose Body? was a re-read. I'm sorry to say that I enjoyed this book less the second time around, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy it at all. It begins with His Lordship dashing out to an art sale, only to be assailed over the telephone by his mother, the Duchess of Denver, who informs him that a body has been found in a bathtub. And not just any body. This is the corpse of a man wearing nothing but a pair of pince-nez.

The plot is okay, but not substantial. It's not really a whodunit, because there are so few characters you spot the killer straight away and have fun watching Wimsey catch them. The best bit about the book is certainly Wimsey himself, who appears here fulfilling his author's stated aim: to create a hero who was 'part Fred Astaire and part Bertie Wooster'. His first dialogue is 'Oh, damn!' (this may sound silly, but the comma shows that the author takes the written word seriously), and these words -- which also open the entire canon -- are a rather nice way to set things off. When we meet Wimsey, he is described as possessing a 'long, amiable face [that] looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola.' Phwoar.

Agatha Christie loved this description of Wimsey, and when Sayers gave her hero more depth, and a girlfriend, Christie got miffed and wrote a gloriously passive aggressive account of Sayers' (and others') work for a Russian newspaper. She concluded that Wimsey's marriage, which happens somewhere between Gaudy Night (1935) and Busman's Honeymoon (1947) had made him 'a good man spoiled.'

Even at this early stage, however, Wimsey has more psychological nuance than many of his peers. He suffers very clearly from shell-shock, and there is a genuinely shocking scene in which he experiences night-terrors, reliving his horrific experiences on the front line in France during the First World War. This scene also gives Bunter -- in many ways, a cross between Wooster's Jeeves and Poirot's George(s) -- more depth than one might expect from such a conservative writer. We see his servile position as one based on mutual dependence, friendship, and the great equalising consequences of war.

There are some issues in this book that I don't think we can ignore. Many of the golden age crime writers were downright anti-semitic, and I don't think we can excuse this as being 'of its time'. I think it's important to call it out.  Writing in a Jewish e-zine, Amy E. Schwartz has called Whose Body?  'a welter of obsession with Jews': it begins with an apparently Jewish corpse, proceeds through numerous problematic quips (outlined in the linked article), and ends quite unrepentantly in the same vein. Apparently, the first draft of the novel had Lord Peter wowing the implied reader with his cheekiness by pointing out that the body in the bathtub cannot be that of a Jewish financier because it isn't circumcised.

Of course, Sayers toned down the anti-semitism in later novels, once she became aware of the problem's extent and reach -- nearly all the guilty writers did this, whether by design or co-ercement (and it's an area where Agatha herself falls regrettably short). This book, on one level, so drenched in problematic attitudes that it's about anti-semitism. But, at the same time, it's equally indulging-while-pointing-out hilarious snobbery, the death of class security, and the conflict between post-war trauma and post-war nostalgia.

Whose Body? is not a great novel. It's the work of an author still finding her feet, and working out what she wants to do or say with the genre. But any assessment must bear in mind what it spawned -- one of the most significant and interesting series of the golden age.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Mini reviews #9

With Murder on the Orient Express still in the news, and about to be dropped in the USA, some themed mini reviews are in order. So here are my thoughts on 5 screen interpretations of Hercule Poirot.

Lord Edgware Dies (1934), directed by Henry Edwards. Yes, Austin Trevor as Hercule Poirot has no moustache. He also has a barely discernible accent and is generally without personality. However, this 80-minute film is surprisingly enjoyable, and astonishingly faithful to the book, notwithstanding Lady Edgware (Jane Carr) bursting into song half way through.

The Alphabet Murders (1965), directed by Frank Tashlin. There have been some real stinkers but The Alphabet Murders uncontroversially ranks as the worst ever Agatha Christie film. Tony Randall plays Poirot -- and Austin Trevor plays a butler -- as a creepy French pervert, with Robert Morley as a best of British Hastings. The tagline tells you the tone of this film: It's really no mystery how this girl can be MURDER ... it's as simple as ABC if you look hard enough! I spent years trying to find this film, and I will be spending years trying to forget it.

Death on the Nile (1978), directed by John Guillermin. Peter Ustinov's first and best outing as the eccentric Belgian detective, with a super-starry supporting cast. The scenery is beautiful, Ustinov is entertaining, with his own spin on the character, and the other players have delicious fun hamming up their roles. I feel like a whole generation of homosexuals needs to be told about this film, in which Angela Lansbury plays a drunk and Bette Davis and Maggie Smith have a waspish double act.

Murder on the Orient Express (2001), directed by Stephen Harrigan. Giving The Alphabet Murders a run for its money, this television movie comes in the worst-Christie-ever stakes at a close second. It's set in the modern day, which means that when Poirot (Alfred Molina) finds himself stuck in a train with a dead body, he just whips out his laptop and Googles the victim, thus instantly finding out who is lying about not knowing him.  The number of suspects was changed from 12 to 9 -- with devastating results, if you know the story -- and the Orient Express seems to have become a train that people take on their daily commutes. Molina is actually fine as Poirot -- i.e. fine as a modern detective with a European accent -- but the whole film is so egregious and pointless that it's impossible to watch without drowning in a pool of despair.

After the Funeral (2005), directed by Maurice Philips. David Suchet played Poirot in seventy episodes of the long-running ITV series. Some outings were better than others, and After the Funeral ranks among the best. For many, Suchet is the definitive Poirot, in that he has the detective's mannerisms and physicality to a T. He has taken large parts of his characterisation directly from the books, but he also takes Poirot himself seriously; we're encouraged to laugh with, not at, the detective. After the Funeral is one of those examples of dramatists trusting their source material, too: no extraneous sex or violence has been added and the result is a fast-paced, ingenious, and ultimately creepy 100 minute mystery drama

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Tangled Web by Michael Bond

It was news to me that Michael Bond (1926-2017), the creator of Paddington Bear, wrote a series of comic crime novels in his last three decades. I learnt this fact when, browsing a charity shop, I came across a pristine copy of Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Tangled Web (2015), the last entry in the series, which began in 1990.

As soon as I saw the book, and ascertained that the author was the Michael Bond, I knew I had to own it. Paddington was a big part of my childhood, and although my lovely blue omnibus has long since gone missing, I remember it vividly. I still have my Paddington’s Christmas picture book. So, yes, without even reading the blurb, I forked over 75p and took the book home.

Unfortunately, it’s going straight back to the charity shop. Perhaps the series went downhill as the author approached his nineties, but somehow I suspect that all the instalments are pretty naff. At any rate, I’m not going to find out. This was my first and last brush with Monsieur Pamplemousse.

The hero of the book is a completely uninteresting retired policeman-cum-food critic in France. Accompanied by a massive talking dog called Pomme Frites, he gets embroiled in various capers and meets a range of characters who are, I think, supposed to be eccentric. The case here has several strands which are woven together at a late stage, and it starts with a Pamplemousse deciding to show Pomme Frites a massive, expensive truffle and being shocked when the dog eats it.

Meanwhile, a gangster’s niece is due to arrive at the offices of Le Guide, where Pamplemousse works, and a disgruntled diner complains about the state of his steak. Before long, the restauranteur responsible for the bad steak is murdered. As these problems weave together, I think the tradition is supposed to be French farce, but it is a curiously innocent and insubstantial take on the genre. Perhaps Paddington is too much in my head, but this book felt like something an eight year old might write in collaboration with their eighty year old grandfather.

I gather that the series’ USP is supposed to be detailed descriptions of food and wine. There were a few food-y descriptions in here but they were the passages I skipped and I’m afraid I neither marked nor can find them. There were also no memorable, identifiable, or endearing characters (some people might disagree with me when it comes to the dog, but, really, I found him to be boring as hell).

The whole thing has left a bitter taste in my mouth — a shame, because I wanted to taste the rich French wines in which I imagine the author indulged to get the creative juices flowing. Now I feel like Paddington can’t have been as wonderful as I remember (to be honest, I’ve had my doubts about that bear ever since I saw the trailer for the jingoistic claptrap that’s masquerading as a movie). Sadly, this book was not for me.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (20th Century Fox)

I'm lucky enough to be married to the most understanding person in the world. Alan didn't mind when I described the Murder on the Orient Express release day as 'the happiest day of my life'; Alan spent about three hours travelling to and from the cinema despite coming straight from work; and Alan happily allowed me to garner judgey looks from passers-by as I tried to take the perfect selfie next to a cardboard Poirot. So, Alan is pretty cool. Or, as a nurse might say, accepting.

And yesterday meant a great deal to me. Kenneth Branagh's new film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express is the first English-language Agatha Christie movie in my lifetime. Like Taylor Swift, I was born in late 1989 (there the comparisons end), and the last Christie movie in English was Ten Little Indians, earlier in that year. Believe it or not, I got through school, college, and even the first year of university encountering only a handful of peers who'd even heard of Christie or Poirot. And I genuinely think that's a lot less likely to happen to a young reader now. It means a lot that Christie and Poirot are back on the silver screen.

Sir Ken's turn as director-star has been panned in early reviews: in the Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and by nearly all my friends who've seen it. The expression 'The Orient Express has run out of steam!' is almost as common now as 'he truly was the People's Pope' in 2005. Branagh is weird as Poirot, say the reviewers, with a terrible accent, too much macho action, and a travesty of a moustache. His direction, they say, is ludicrous, with big aerial shots that distract from the actual detail of the scenes. And the final criticism that's coming up a lot concerns the legendary cast, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi, Olivia Colman, Josh Gadd, some attractive male ballet dancer who can't act, and loads of other celebrities I've already forgotten. 'No one gets enough screen time!' cry disgruntled commentators. 'I came for Pfieffer/Depp/Dench/the attractive male ballet dancer who can't act, and s/he was barely on the screen because of all the other celebrities!'

While these are legitimate criticisms, I don't agree with any of them. I actually loved Branagh's fresh interpretation of Hercule Poirot, a much-visited character. He plays Poirot as a troubled, lonely man with an outrageous ego -- and that is very much in the books. Of course, Branagh's Poirot is not exactly like Christie's petite detective with the egg-shaped head and a bourgeois approach to -- well, everything. But it's no more different than David Suchet's interpretation, and a lot more respectful to the source material than Albert Finney's, Peter Ustinov's, Tony Randall's, Alfred Molina's, or Austin Trevor's -- and of those, the first two undeniably gave wonderful performances.

Branagh's Poirot gets most of his dialogue directly from three books: Murder on the Orient Express (1934), The Labours of Hercules (1947), and Curtain (1975) and, more than any other portrayal, it's an authentic one. The accent is less Frenchy than in previous manifestations; there's a bit of Flemish in there, because he's supposed to be Belgian. I have no idea if it's any good but it sounded fine to me. For the first time in cinematic history, Hercule Poirot is not the most ridiculous character in the drama. He's a flawed but brilliant man in the middle of an insane social masquerade.

Branagh acheives this partly by having Poirot's prissiness -- his OCD as he measures the sizes of eggs, and his dainty way of eating a cake -- become essential parts of his character. These are things that make up his unique psychological profile, as they do in Christie's books, rather than being little quirks to garnish the character (Suchet learnt the mannerisms brilliantly but never did anything to justify them; they became a simple signature). That's brilliant.

And let's talk about Branagh's moustache. It's magnificent and ludicrous. It's meant to be. As it is in the books, after all. You know how every now and then in The Simpsons, someone asks Marge why she has hair that is quite that tall and quite that blue? The same thing happens all the time in Poirot's world: why is he making such a statement with his huge, neat, and dramatic moustache? Agatha Christie loved the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express but, famously, her main criticism was of the detective's lip-hair.  ‘I wrote that he had the finest moustache in England', she said, ‘and he didn't in the film. I thought that a pity — why shouldn't he?’ It strikes me as criticism taken fully on board this time around.

Why don't people like Branagh's Poiorot, then? I suspect it's simply because he isn't David Suchet. His is a very different interpretation -- but, I think, a lot more interesting. Suchet learnt the mannerisms and then rewrote the character to work out some kind of religious guilt, all the while donning a tiny moustache that I've always thought Agatha Christie would have hated. He gave a brilliant but imperfect performance -- and that's also what Branagh has done. I don't visualise Suchet when I read the books, and I'm not going to start visualising Branagh. But if I wanted to see an actor, rather than to imagine the character in a unique and personal way, I'd watch films or television instead of reading in the first place.

That said, the goatee needs to go. Fox is using the moustache to garner lots of attention, and has even partnered with Movember this year.

The direction in this film surprised me. When Branagh was announced as the director attached to the project (back in the days when Depp was being rumoured for the role of HP), I was pleased. He's not a good director, but he can do flash, he can boast over lavish sets and crank up colour filters and basically revel in style over substance. Remember Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing? Both technically awful but sumptuous and beautiful. And, based on the 1974 version of Orient Express, with its panoramic shots and its equal claim to star power (the tagline was 'The Who's Who of the Whodunit!'), I figured the new film would be much in that vein -- and that Branagh would be perfect to direct it.

So I was surprised and utterly thrilled to see the subject matter sensitively treated. A huge concern in this film is the distinction between good and evil -- something that fascinated Agatha Christie throughout her career. After all, the victim in Murder on the Orient Express is described in the book as 'tangibl[y] evil', the backstory is based on a real case of child-murder, and the solution ... well, even if you're of the ultra-conservative 'it's just a puzzle!' school, you can't deny that the solution and how Poirot deals with it both have something to say about social justice and criminal justice. Unlike Sidney Lumet in 1974, Branagh in 2017 tackles these themes head on. From the opening scene, in which Poirot rounds up a priest, a rabbi, and an imam, then explains that the chief of police is framing them all for a crime, to the revelation of whodunit, with the suspects lined up in a parody of the Last Supper, there is an ambitious and sensitive focus.

And this is why it's so interesting. Because the film could so easily have been flashy and panoramic, with each superstar actor having an Oscar-bidding five minutes, but instead it's ended up a real ensemble effort, in which the story comes first. The film has the star power of the 1974 version but more substance, and the ethical urgency of the ITV version but more fun. And it goes without saying that it's better than the 2001 US TV travesty starring Alfred Molina.

Speaking of the story, the writers have injected some action and a tiny bit of violence, clearly afraid swimming in stagnant waters with a crime-interviews-solution format. This is understandable, but I also see why so many people are cross that, for instance, Poirot chases a suspect down scaffolding, gets shot at twice, and uses his cane like an action man. There is also a second stabbing, which isn't in the book. However, silly as these may sound,  I don't think they take anything away -- and Poirot's action is never out of character. That, I think, is crucial. He's a man who does what he has to do, and he prefers to sit still and think, but sometimes that isn't possible.

However... a note of caution. Because the writers are clearly so palpably afraid of getting boring, some things are sacrificed -- such as major plot points. There is some confusion over a few key clues. This is hard to discuss without giving away the solution, but there are several red herrings. They are laid for very specific reasons -- but Poirot never explains why. Instead they just exist and are then forgotten. Again, I can't go into details, but if you know the story, keep an eye out for explanations surrounding the governess and the embroidered handkerchief. Because neither of these is properly explained.

There's also an incredibly silly scene where Poirot has tea with Mary Debenham outside in the middle of a snowdrift. The idea is to break up the monotony of interior scenes, clearly, but they sit outside in the snow, and occasionally their hair changes colour because of the green screen. There's a teapot between them, but neither drinks from it. Partly because -- I imagine -- the tea would have frozen(?!) but also because there are no teacups! It's all very uncalled for.

None of this stopped me enjoying it, as someone who already knew the story very well. Judging by the annoying people who sat behind us in the cinema, it's also extremely enjoyable if you don't know the plot (or who Michelle Pfeiffer is, or what a rabbi is, or whether the Orient Express was a real train... there was very nearly a Murder at the Picturehouse).  For a while now it's been an open secret that Branagh wants to do Death on the Nile next, and this is directly hinted in the funny final scene of Murder on the Orient Express.  Wallander fell through as Sir Kenneth's retirement project, and he's keeping an eye on how Orient Express fares. I hope it does well at the box office, if not critically, because I'd dearly love the franchise to continue.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Mini reviews #8

The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins. T.S. Eliot called The Moonstone ‘the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels.’ Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers made similar remarks. And — while each of those points is demonstrably not true — the remark holds, idiomatically. The Moonstone is a fascinating novel that blends sensationalism and realism. Most major crime fiction has its origins in this book (I’m looking at you, A Study in Scarlet), and the whole thing is compulsively readable. I’ve never met anyone who dislikes The Moonstone, and I think that every crime fiction fan should read it.

No More Murders! (1967) by Maria Lang. Enjoyable escapism from ‘Sweden’s answer to Agatha Christie’ — and, for once, the accolade seems well-earned. Reading this book in translation made me feel the closest I’ve ever felt to reading a new Christie book. It’s not quite the same, and Lang has her own voice, but the complicated plot, the sense of fun, and the poetic beauty of the setting all work brilliantly. I derived considerably more pleasure from No More Murders! than from the TV adaptation, which I also enjoyed.

Country House Murders (1989) edited by Godfrey Thomas. This is one of the best of those massive Michael O’Mara anthologies from the 1980s and 1990s. It features an impressive roll of authors: Christie, Rendell, Marsh, James, Allingham, Innes, Sayers, Wodehouse(!), Chesterton, Blake, Collins, Brand, Orczy, MacDonald, Doyle, Hare, Freeman, Barr, Wills Crofts, Carr, Ethel Lina White, and James Miles — only the last of which was new to me, and all stories are on the classic country house theme.  Besides featuring the titles you’d expect (James’ ‘A Very Desirable Residence’; Doyle’s ‘The Adventure of Abbey Grange’), it includes some unexpected delights, such as ‘The Man on the Roof’ by Christianna Brand, and ‘The Worcester Enigma’ by James Miles, in which Sherlock Holmes inspires Elgar’s Enigma Variations. So, now we know!

An Expert in Murder (2008) by Nicola Upson. Upson’s first book to feature Josephine Tey as a detective is set in the West End in the 1930s. It’s a nice nostalgic whodunit, with a really interesting plot. I did find, however, that the narrative didn’t really suit Tey — either as a writer or a character. Upson’s Tey bears no resemblance to Elizabeth Mackintosh herself, but is a kind of everywoman-Scottish-crime-writer, and the story architecture bears little resemblance to her own. I’d have enjoyed this more if the sleuth had been an original character… but, then, in all honesty, I probably wouldn’t have heard of it, let alone read it. So props to Upson.

Magpie Murders (2016) by Anthony Horowitz. The only thing worse than ripping off Dame Agatha is ripping off Dame Agatha without understanding what she was doing.