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June 2018

THE DEAD ON LEAVE . . . Between the covers

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Leeds, Yorkshire. 1936.
The once thunderous clatter of its mills and factories is now a hesitant stutter. Although the Great Depression is over, like the plague passing over biblical Egypt it has left many victims. Work is scarce, and men live in fear of being unable to put bread on the table for their wives and children. There is state relief, but it is a grudging pittance. When a widely disliked Means Test Inspector – a man paid to snoop around people’s houses rooting out efforts to cheat the system – is found garotted, there are few to mourn him. But murder is murder, and police detective Urban Raven must find the killer.

TDOLIt appears the dead man is a would-be follower of Sir Oswald Mosley, charismatic leader of the British Union of Fascists and, after an appearance in Leeds by Mosley and his Blackshirts turns into a riot, it is tempting for the police to think that the murder is politically inspired. As Raven tries to make sense of the killing, he has his own demons to face. Like many other Yorkshiremen, Raven is a Great War veteran, even though his war was brief and horrific. Only able to see active service in the dog-days of the conflict, he was unlucky enough to be close to a fuel dump which was hit by a stray shell. There’s a line from a song about that war, which goes,

“Never knew there was worse things than dying..”

Those words might be an extreme take on the scars of war, but Urban Raven’s face is a shiny and distorted mass of scar tissue, and he has become adept at ignoring the fascinated horror on people’s faces when they see him for the first time. His disfigurement might do him no favours with ordinary people, but has learned that it gives him an extra edge when dealing with criminals.

Against a fascinating background of the attempts by British fascists to emulate their German and Italian counterparts, and the ongoing saga of a member of the royal family who wants to marry an American divorcee (plus ça change?) Raven’s problems become deeper and wider as he falls foul of the secretive Special Branch, begins to suspect his wife’s fidelity and then – as if his problems weren’t serious enough – finds himself mired in a a political and criminal conspiracy.

As in every other Chris Nickson novel I have read, the city of Leeds is the central character. Whether it’s Richard Nottingham, Tom Harper, Lottie Armstrong or, now, Urban Raven treading its grand thoroughfares and mean ginnels, Leeds remains gritty, grimy, home to all manner of beauty and bestiality, but always vibrant. There is a wonderful feeling of continuity running through the books; it’s as if each police officer is carrying the baton handed on by a predecessor; Nottingham to Harper, Harper to Raven, Raven to Armstrong. The characters inhabit the same city, though; The Headrow is ever present, as are Briggate and Kirkgate, their suffixes names testifying to their antiquity.

NicksonThe Dead On Leave is very bleak in places. Hope is in short supply among the working people in Leeds, and men have no qualms about building a wooden platform for Moseley to rant from, because a job is a job; consciences are a luxury way beyond the reach of folk whose families have empty bellies. Nickson (right)  is a writer, with social justice at the front of his mind and he wears his heart on his sleeve. I doubt that he and I agree on much in today’s political world, but I can think of no modern British author who writes with such passion and fluency about historical social issues.

Make no mistake, though. The Dead On Leave is not a sermon, and it does not wag a finger in admonition. It is an excellent crime novel, a perfect example of a police-procedural and it ushers on stage another compelling character in Nickson’s Leeds Dramatis Personnae. The book is published by Endeavour Quill and is available now in Kindle and as a paperback.

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THE DEATH OF MRS WESTAWAY . . . Between the covers

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What would you do if you were all alone in the world, with no family, scraping a living reading Tarot Cards in a shabby booth on Brighton Pier, threatened with violence by loan sharks, and then you receive a letter from solicitors telling you that you have inherited a fortune? Hyperventilate? Punch the air with joy? Sing a hymn to whichever god you believe in? Harriet ‘Hal’ Westaway does none of these things. Because she knows that there has been a terrible mistake. She shares a surname with the deceased woman, but that is it. End of. Hal knows that she is not connected to the Mrs Westaway who has gone to meet her maker, leaving a vast rambling estate in Cornwall – and a prodigious bank balance – to her long-lost granddaughter.

TDOMW coverHal Westaway is no crook. She is not an opportunist. She has a conscience. She instinctively understands the difference between meum and teum. And yet. And yet. The gangster from whom she unwisely took out a desperation loan is angry and anxious for his 300%. Hal’s Brighton flat has already been turned over, and she knows that broken bones are next on the agenda. So, she accepts the invitation from the late Mrs Westaway’s solicitor to travel down to Cornwall to meet the family she never knew she had.

In a glorious take on the classic Reading Of The Will trope, Hal meets her new found family, principally Mrs Westaway’s three disinherited sons. Now, at least according to the the solicitor, Harding, Ezra and Abel Westaway are her uncles and, boy oh boy, are they in for a shock as Mr Treswick looks over his glasses, pauses for dramatic effect, and announces that Hal is the main beneficiary.

Once this irresistible set-piece is out of the way, we learn that Trepassen House has some dark – and I mean seriously dark – secrets. Ruth Ware milks the forbidding Manderley-style atmosphere for all it is worth, and she even gives us a Mrs Danvers in the person of the baleful and embittered housekeeper, Mrs Warren. Hal discovers that her late mother was once a part of the Trepassen household when she stayed with Mrs Westaway’s daughter Maud, to whom she was a distant cousin. But why on earth did Mrs Westaway think that Hal was her granddaughter. Was she mad? Simply perverse in wanting to humiliate her own children? And just what happened at Trepassen in that long hot summer of 1994?

RWRuth Ware (right) is not the first writer – nor will she be the last – to explore the lurid charms of a decaying mansion, its ghosts both real and imagined, and the dusty terrors of death, but she makes a bloody good job of it in The Death of Mrs Westaway. Hal Westaway is a delightful character, and you would require a heart of the hardest granite not to sympathise with her and the exquisite dilemma she faces. The plot is a dazzling mix of twists, surprises, and just the right amount of improbability. The Death of Mrs Westaway is a thriller which makes you keep the bedroom light on, and long for the safety of daylight. It looks like being another bestseller for Ruth Ware, and you can judge for yourselves on June 28th, when the book will be published by Harvill Secker.

 

NOW, HERE’S THE BEST BIT!

If my review of this cracking novel has tickled your what-not, and you want your own copy, you might just be in look. Either email me at the address below, putting Mrs Westaway as the subject:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

OR

Click the image below which will take you to the Fully Booked Facebook page. Simply ‘like’ the post, and your name will go into the digital hat. I’ll draw a winner from all the entries after the competition closes at 10.00pm on Sunday 1st July. Due to postal costs, the competition is only open to readers from the UK or the Irish Republic.

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THE HIDDEN BONES . . . Between the covers

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Strangers to the south of England may be unaware of the rolling uplands known as the Malborough Downs. Also known as the North Wessex Downs, the area is full of important Neolithic and Bronze Age sites as well as being the setting for much of Hardy’s Jude The Obscure and the 1972 best-seller by Richard Adams, Watership Down. Now, the area provides a brooding and often menacing backdrop to The Hidden Bones, the first of a new mystery series written by Nicola Ford.

THB coverClare Hills is an archaeologist who is struggling to hold her life together after the death of her husband. Her grief at his passing is tempered by the fact that he has left her virtually penniless. When she is invited by her former tutor, Dr David Barbrook, to help explore and archive the papers of Gerald Hart, she welcomes the chance to use her expertise. Hart was a gentleman archaeologist whose Palladian villa, Hungerbourne Manor, was the centre of his life’s work – investigating the Hungerbourne Barrows. The Bronze Age burial sites were Hart’s obsession, but whatever secrets they held, he seems to have taken them with him to his grave.

As Hills and Barbrook are soon to discover, Gerald Hart’s work was not without controversy, much of which centred around the discovery of a beautiful ornament known as a Sun Disc, evocatively described thus:

“In his hand he cradled the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Not much bigger than a ten pence piece, an orange-red disc lay at its centre. The ruddy amber disc was encased within a circle of gold decorated with four delicately incised concentric grooves that ran right around its rim.”

Archaeologists must expect, from time to time, to uncover human remains, but these are usually nothing sinister except, perhaps, in the masterly ghost stories of M R James. The problem is, however, that one of the discoveries made by Hills and Barbrook do not date back four millennia: far from it – they are much more recent, and have a chilling significance.

Gerald Hart, like many obsessives, collected friends and enemies with equal ease, and most of these are still in the land of the living. As Hills and Barbrook delve deeper into the affairs of the late archaeologist, they themselves become potential targets for a killer who was involved in the original excavations at Hungerbourne.

Nicola_Ford_smlI have many guilty pleasures, and one of them is being a sucker for a crime novel where the landscape plays a vital part in the plot. My two particular favourite writers in this regard are Phil Rickman and Jim Kelly, but with this excellent debut novel, Nicola Ford (right) has elbowed herself into their company.

The Hidden Bones has all the best elements of a cosy crime novel mystery, but is spiced with both fascinating historical detail and a definite touch of the macabre. It is published by Allison & Busby and will be available on 21st June.

Nicola Ford is an archaeologist who works for the National Trust at Stonehenge, and under her working name of Dr Nick Snashall she regularly appears on national television and radio.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Allen, Brown & Jewell

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IT’S A DEPRESSING THOUGHT, but another week will see Midsummer – and thereafter the steady drip, drip, drip of the days getting incrementally shorter. Still, there’s Wimbledon, the World Cup and Test Cricket still to come – and some pretty impressive looking books on offer. Let’s start with:

THE POLISH DETECTIVE by Hania Allen

Hania-Allen_CarolineTrotter-Photography_2017Detectives come in all nationalities these days. Anya Lipska in her Kiszka and Kershaw series has explored the Polish angle, while one of the most formidable female operators in fiction, Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski is, of course Polish on her father’s side. Now, Hania  Allen (left) introduces us to DS Dania Gorska, described as “a stranger in a foreign land.” Crime however is multi-lingual and knows no national boundaries, and Gorska is assigned to the Police Scotland Specialist Crime Division in Dundee, on the banks of the River Tay. The Polish-born police officer becomes involved in the investigation of a bizarre series of killings which seem connected to a druidic cult.The Polish Detective is published by Constable and will be out in paperback on 9th August.

PRICE OF DUTY by Dale Brown

Dale BrownThis international military thriller also has a Polish connection. A despotic Russian president has built a devastating new weapon, and its first strike is against Warsaw, via malware which destroys the country’s banking system. As the rest of Europe’s financial world goes into a fatal tailspin, the President of The United States has to meet fire with fire, and she calls in flying ace Brad McLanahan and his deadly Scion team to thwart the ambitions of the megalomaniac Gennady Gryzslov. Price of Duty, by Dale Brown (right) was previously published in hardback and Kindle, but will be available as a Corsair paperback from 5th July.


WATCHING YOU by Lisa Jewell

 

Lisa JewellWhen Josephine ‘Joey’ Mullen – plus her new husband –  return from four years working abroad with nowhere to stay, they are grateful for the opportunity to crash in Joey’s brother’s house in Bristol, just until they get themselves settled. Joey’s older brother Jack is a respected consultant heart surgeon, with a staid and rather disapproving wife. As Joey looks for work, she becomes interested – too interested – in Jack’s next-door neighbour. Tom Fitzwilliam is a successful Head Teacher, brought in to re-invigorate a failing school. He is twice Joey’s age, but in spite of husband Alfie’s charm and good looks, she becomes obsessed with the fifty-five year old. What follows is a gripping and tense study in recklessness, obsession- and murder. This psychological thriller from Lisa Jewell (above left) will be published in all formats on 12th July.

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JIM KELLY: A Landscape of Secrets

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Jim Kelly’s brooding and atmospheric crime novels are set in the eastern counties of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. I am a huge admirer of his books, and you can click the link below to watch a short video which tries to distill the essence of his work into a brief juxtaposition of images and music.

JIM KELLY: A Landscape of Secrets

LAST TIME I LIED . . . Between the covers

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Riley SagerI was working in Australia when Peter Weir’s 1975 film Picnic At Hanging Rock premiered. I remember pub and dinner party talk for months after being dominated by interpretations and explanations about what might have happened to the ‘lost girls’. In the endpapers of Last Time I Lied American author Riley Sager, (left) acknowledges his debt to this film (and the short story on which it was based). Instead of a 1900 Melbourne, Sager beams us into up-country New York State in, more or less, our times.

When Emma Davis, a skinny and gawky thirteen year-old just on the verge of young womanhood, wins a place at a prestigious summer camp for privileged teenagers, she falls under the spell of three older girls with whom she shares a cabin. In particular, the assured and sexually aware Vivian captivates Emma, just as she has captivated the other two, Natalie and Allison.

Camp Nightingale was created by a timber baron in the early years of the twentieth century. His master design featured a lake and, as there wasn’t one to hand, he simply evicted the inhabitants of a nearby valley, dammed the river and created his own huge water feature, Lake Midnight. Now the property is in the hands of his descendant, Francesca Harris-White, who presides in benign dictatorship over the gathering of rich city girls every summer.

LTILEmma’s summer idyll is destined to come to an abrupt and tragic end, however, when the three older girls in the cabin disappear one night, never to return. Despite the massive search and rescue operation, Vivian, Natalie and Allison remain missing, and Franny is forced to close the camp in disarray.

Now, fifteen years on, Emma Davis is a successful artist who is on the verge of giving up her day job in an advertising agency to paint full time. Her huge canvases create a stir in the New York art world, but they contain a hidden image known only to the artist. Each painting begins as a depiction of the three missing Camp Nightingale girls, who are progressively painted over by ever more intense foliage until only tantalising glimpses of them remain.

Emma is shocked when she receives an invitation to have lunch with Franny, and her shock turns to panic when she learns that the heiress plans to reopen Camp Nightingale and wants Emma to return for the season as artist in residence. Can she bear to relive the tragic events of that fateful summer? What is Franny’s real motive for reopening the camp? And, most importantly for us as readers, is Emma providing us with a classically misleading unreliable narrative?

Emma does return to Camp Nightingale and, naturally enough, since this is a thriller all about fate and coincidence, she has to sleep in the cabin called Dogwood – the selfsame one which she shared with Vivian, Natalie and Allison. Her new companions are Miranda, Krystal and Sasha. But now, of course, they are the giggly fifteen year-olds, and she is the mature and experienced woman.

Riley Sager packs the story with the literary equivalent of Improvised Explosive Devices, destined to go off at any moment with devastating consequences. We have Theo, Franny’s adoptive son, the subject of Emma’s massive and breathless crush all those years ago. There is Ben, the moody ‘bit of rough’ who has always been the camp maintenance man. Added to the mix are Lottie and Becca, both ‘survivors’ of the first downfall of Camp Nightingale. Above all – or, better, beneath all – is the moody presence of Lake Midnight itself, beneath which lie the stone memories of the displaced villages from over a century ago. Incidentally, if anyone can think of something more dramatically Gothick than Sager’s drowned lunatic asylum, whose roof appears only when the lake suffers from drought, I will give them a prize!

Bitte bei Verwendung Hinweis an: bilder@joexx.de

Last Time I Lied cleverly alternates between Emma’s recollections and the present time. Events in the reopened Camp Nightingale come to resemble nothing more nor less than a disturbing re-enactment of a cold-case crime, where the spectral presence of the fifteen-years-lost girls looms larger and larger with every page.

The eventual solution to what happened to the three girls is dazzling, ingenious, gasp-provoking – and fairly improbable – but, hey, this is a cleverly constructed and blissfully entertaining novel and no lesser person than Aristotle, in his Poetics, declared

“for it is probable that many things may take place contrary to probability.”

Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a New Jersey author who has published several mysteries under his own name, Todd Ritter. Last Time I Lied is published by Ebury Press (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and will be out on 12th July.

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PAST TIMES – OLD CRIMES . . . The Best of Winter’s Crimes

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MR BULMER’S GOLDEN CARP by John Bingham (1971)

Author John Bingham, the 7th Baron ClanmorrisMr Bulmer is a uniquely repulsive little man who manages a dry cleaning shop in Mayfair, and uses the opportunity of searching through the jackets and trouser pockets of wealthy individuals to service his own very profitable blackmail industry. His malignant little sideline has provided him with a regular income – and driven at least one of his victims to suicide. When he seizes upon what he sees as the opportunity of a lifetime, he is unaware that is about to be snared by his own hook. John Bingham, in addition to being a writer of distinction, was also a highly placed official in British Intelligence operations.

WE KNOW YOU’RE BUSY WRITING… by Edmund Crispin (1969)

crispinCrispin, aka Robert Bruce Montgomery, is best known for his Gervase Fen novels but here he spins a delightfully black tale of a struggling writer whose hospitality is impinged upon by a pair of runaways, both seeking a new life away from their spouses. Crispin intersperses the narrative with vivid accounts of a writer desperately searching for the words which will bring his latest novel to life. Sadly for the would-be lovers, their fate is to be organic fertiliser for Mr Bradley’s vegetable plot.

INDIAN ROPE TRICK by Lionel Davidson (1981)

DavidsonDavidson’s internationally themed thrillers were his bread and butter, but we must not forget that he was a writer of immense sensitivity with a wide range of influences. His own upbringing as a child of a hard-scrabble Polish-Jewish family might have made it unlikely that he would compose a chilling tale of murder on the banks of s Scottish river frequented only by rich Englishmen with the money to buy the rights to snare incoming salmon. A man whose sexual abilities have been devastated by a potentially fatal illness plans revenge on a friend whose libido remains undiminished. The denouement takes place on the banks of Scotland’s sacred salmon river – the Spey.

AT THE LULU-BAR MOTEL by Colin Dexter (1981)

DexterColin Dexter? Cue Oxford, an irascible senior policeman, pints of English beer and crossword puzzles? Think on. When this story was published, Dexter was already four books into his Inspector Morse series, but the TV adaptations were still six years away. In this tale, Dexter takes us to, of all places, rural America, where a coach load of middle-aged and elderly tourists take a rest stop at the eponymous wayside hotel. The action is centred around a game of vingt-et-un, designed to empty the wallets of the gullible travellers. Dexter describes a scam-within-a -scam -but saves until the last few paragraphs a chilling finale in which the scammer becomes the scammed.

DEATH OF AN OLD DOG by Antonia Fraser (1978)

FRaserPeople might forget that Antonia Fraser, as well as being the daughter of Lord Longford the widow of Harold Pinter and a superb historical biographer, is no slouch when it comes to crime fiction. Here, she taps into that strange love affair that English people have with their dogs. Richard Gavin is a successful barrister (is there ever another sort?) who has kept his upper lip stiff and tremble-free during the death of his first wife, and remarried. The new lady of the Gavin household is Paulina – young. bright and adorable. Her judgment, however is brought into question, when her decision to put an aged, smelly and incontinent spaniel out of its misery coincides with Richard opening an ominous letter from his London doctor.

THOSE AWFUL DAWNS by Patricia Highsmith (1977)

HighsmithThis is the most shocking and slap-in-the-face story in the collection. I would go as far as to suggest that it would not have been written – let alone published – today, with our heightened awareness of child abuse and domestic violence. As an account of casual violence, domestic cruelty, alcohol abuse – and the pervasive power of the Roman Catholic church – it makes for uncomfortable reading. Highsmith’s misanthropy can never have been more glaringly or honestly displayed. her publisher wrote:
“She was a mean, cruel, hard, unlovable, unloving human being…I could never penetrate how any human being could be that relentlessly ugly…. But her books? Brilliant.”
Otto Penzler was right, and his verdict resonates in every single sentence of this account of the misfortunes of Eddie, Laura – and their children.

MARY by PM Hubbard (1971)

hubbard1Like Hubbard’s longer works, which are examined in this feature, a dream-like quality pervades this story, but the dreams are not necessarily pleasant ones. The first words are:
“The nastiest house I have ever been in was the Margesons’ house at Marlowe.”
Bill, the narrator is referring to the style and decor, rather than anything more sinister, but the darkness is about to descend. The lawn stretches down to the river and one day when Bill is sitting outside with Gerald and Janet Margeson, a waif-like teenage girl dressed only in a swimming costume walks up the path from the river. The girl, Mary, has thus invited herself into the otherwise humdrum world of the Margesons, and so  begins a subtly erotic tale of obsession, betrayal and, ultimately, murder.

THE GIRL WHO LOVED GRAVEYARDS by PD James (1983)

PD JamesThis exquisite masterpiece tells of a nameless girl, an orphan, who is brought up in a loveless terraced house in east London, the home of her Uncle Victor and Aunt Gladys. Her only joy is the adjacent cemetery which becomes a place of mystical and endless attraction:
“Even the seasons of the year she experienced in and through the cemetery. The gold and purple spears of the first crocuses thrusting through the hard earth. April with its tossing daffodils. The whole graveyard en fête in yellow and white as mourners dressed the graves for Easter. The smell of mown grass and the earthy tang of high summer as if the dead were breathing the flower-scented air and exuding their own mysterious miasma. Seeing the cemetery transformed by the first snows of winter, the marble angels grotesque in their high bonnets of glistening snow.”
Amid the poetry, however, James does not lose sight of the fact that we readers are in search of shocks and sensation. When the girl becomes a young woman, and is determined to find the grave of her dead father, we sense that her quest will end in tears. And so, in a drab suburb of Nottingham, so it does – but not quite in the manner which we have been led to expect

The Best Of Winter’s Crimes 1 has long been out of print, but as it was meant for mass circulation there are plenty of second-hand copies available from dealers such as Abe Books for less than the price of a pint.

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PAST TIMES-OLD CRIMES . . . The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill

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CRIME FICTION HAS A DISTINGUISHED LITERARY PEDIGREE and although the label has sometimes been used in a pejorative way, wherever and whenever people read books, CriFi will continue to entertain, shock and engage readers. LP Hartley said, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Yes, CriFi from times past can be very different. Language changes, as do social perceptions. But one thing remains constant. People do bad things to each other, and there will always be (mostly) decent people, either officers of the law or concerned individuals, who believe that actions have consequences, and that bad deeds should not go unpunished. In this series, expect to read about old favourites but also novels which have, for whatever reason, slipped below the radar.

THE BIG BOW MYSTERY by ISRAEL ZANGWILL

The locked room mystery and its variants – a murder that could not have possibly been committed by human hand because of the aforesaid bolted and barred door, or some other restraint – are an endearing and enduring feature of crime fiction. Not so frequent these days, true, but occasionally modern writers take up the trusty sword and use it to good effect. Witness Christopher Fowler’s latest – and delightful –  Bryant & May mystery, Hall Of Mirrors. An early – but not the earliest – example of the genre is the 1892 novel The Big Bow Mystery, written by Israel Zangwill (below).

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Zangwill was the child of a Latvian father and a Polish mother. He was expensively educated in the best British schools, and became widely admired abroad, particularly in America. He was also that rarest of beasts – a social campaigner with a wicked sense of humour.

BBMThe ‘Bow’ in the title is not some fabric adornment, but the working class district in East London. If you were born within earshot of its church bells, then you were said to be a true Cockney. It’s December, and the nineteenth century is on its last legs. A dense morning fog, aided and abetted by the smoke of a million coal fires, swirls around the mean streets.

“From Bow even unto Hammersmith there draggled a dull wretched vapour, like the wraith of an impecunious suicide come into a fortune immediately after the fatal deed.”

At 11 Grover Street, however, the landlady is unconcerned. Zangwill describes her thus:

“Mrs Drabdump was one of the few persons in London whom fog did not depress. She went about her work quite as cheerlessly as usual,”

bigbowmysteryilloThe formidable lady has overslept, but after lighting the downstairs fire, she remembers to wake one of the lodgers. Arthur Constant is an idealist, and a campaigner for workers’ rights. She bangs on his bedroom door, then makes the day’s first pot of tea. Taking a tray upstairs, she calls again. Still no response. She peeps through the keyhole, but the key is firmly in place. As she pounds on the door once again, she has a premonition that something is very, very wrong. So she summons her neighbour, the redoubtable retired detective Mr George Grodman. He batters down the door, which was locked and bolted from the inside, and is forced to cover Mrs Drabdump’s eyes from the horrors within…

Constant’s demise is investigated by the coroner, and his verdict sets up the mystery beautifully. He explains.

““It seems clear that the deceased did not commit suicide. It seems equally clear that the deceased was not murdered,”

What follows is a hugely entertaining journey through the social and legal conventions of late Victorian society. The cast includes a scolding wife, an alcoholic poet, a bumbling policemen and – in a masterstroke cameo appearance – even William Ewart Gladstone. The Dickensian names like the policeman Edward Wimp and Mr Spigot QC add a sparkle to the dialogue. Zangwill wrote the book in 14 days and it was serialised in the The Star, an evening newspaper already well known for printing letters signed by Jack The Ripper. The serialisation meant the author was able to engage in lively public exchanges with readers as to the identity of the killer, which must have been like a wonderful early version of the modern day phone-in, interactive TV, or even Twitter.

220px-Diary_of_a_Nobody_firstSome contemporary critics were puzzled and irritated by Zangwill’s satirical style. They felt that there was no place for comedy in the tale of a young man, dead in his bed, his throat cut from ear to ear. The exchanges in the court scenes between pompous officials and outspoken ‘low life’ types on the jury are delightfully reminiscent of similar encounters between Mr Pooter and disrespectful tradesmen in that classic of English humour, The Diary of A Nobody.

Zangwill may not have been the first to use the humour of cruelty, nor will he be the last. However, in the trial scene – which takes up most of the second half of the book – he takes aim at almost every social convention and literary stereotype available to him, and his arrows find the target every time. Thirdly, and most importantly, he fools us with the solution to the murder of Arthur Constant. I missed several clues and I suspect, unless you have the most forensic of minds, you may well miss them too, as Zangwill is a master of misdirection. Some years after the publication of The Big Bow Mystery he added an introduction which is a little masterpiece in its own right, full of elegant use of language and subtle humour. He says:

“The only person who has ever solved The Big Bow Mystery is myself. This is not paradox, but plain fact.”

If this brief review of an enchanting novel has whetted your appetite, you will be delighted to know that you can download a digital version for the princely sum of £0.00 by clicking the image below.

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