A Knife for Harry Dodd is another Inspector Littlejohn adventure by George Bellairs. So far, I’ve enjoyed all the ones I’ve read. Harry Dodd is an agreeable, popular chap, who’s made a mistake. He had an affair with a younger woman and now shares a house with her and her mother, while leading a separate life. The women are generally disliked. Who dislikes Harry Dodd enough to kill him? That’s the mystery Littlejohn has to solve and the answer lies within the complicated relationships of the Dodd family. I liked this until the last chapter or so, when the solution seemed a little too pat. Bellairs is one of those crime writers being reprinted whom I think is worth the effort.
This was the most recent Crime Classics Club offering, which the publishers now make available through NetGalley.
Furrowed Middlebrow books coming in August
Spam Tomorrow is an unusual wartime story in that most of it is about getting married and having babies. Verily stubbornly marries an older man who is not in good health and plans to have lots of babies. Things don’t go smoothly and she’s very ill. I found the account of her post-childbirth illness harrowing although she writes about it impersonally, rather in the style of Betty Macdonald. It's lucky for her that she's so well connected. It’s a slight book but I think the subject matter makes it a worthy addition to the canon of second world war novels about life on the home front. The book is an eye-opener for those who only know Anderson’s Brownie stories.
I’d previously read Doreen by Barbara Noble and liked it. The House Opposite, not so much. The chief character, Elizabeth, is the type of heroine who always annoys me: one having an affair with a married man, knowing he won’t leave his wife for her. The book is an account of the effect of the Blitz on various people living in a middle-class suburb. Elizabeth and her father are both on duty at nights and take it all quite calmly. Her mother is much more frightened than either of them realises. In ‘the house opposite’ lives a young man who has previously disliked Elizabeth but as they work together, a comradely friendship develops. By the end of the book they’re all still alive and Elizabeth has lost her illusions about her lover/boss. That’s it, really.
Of the two books, I preferred the Anderson, which at least has some humour. As an account of London in wartime, neither is a patch on A Chelsea Inferno, which is still my favourite of the Furrowed Middlebrow books I’ve read.
The Art of Dying is a sequel to The Way of all Flesh, about medicine and murder in nineteenth century Edinburgh. The prologue is written by a murderer but we have no idea yet of any killings; the murderer’s thoughts are spaced throughout the book, without giving anything away. We then travel to Berlin, where Raven, the chief protagonist of the previous book, is studying with his friend Henry; he gets himself into violent trouble, as is his wont. He’s an able chap but flawed, with demons he finds it hard to control.
On his return to Edinburgh, Raven is working closely with Dr James Simpson and his (sometime hair-raising) experiments with chloroform. He is displeased to find that in his absence Sarah (the housemaid bright enough to have become Simpson’s assistant and hungry for more medical knowledge), has married another doctor, but he has only himself to blame because he foolishly thought her beneath him and therefore an impediment to his career. The two still work closely when professional jealousy amongst the medics of Edinburgh starts a rumour that Simpson has killed a patient. They find that there have been too many deaths of a certain kind to be a coincidence and eventually they suspect murder. The reader knows from the parallel narrative that there is indeed a murderer at large but not how the murders are achieved. Raven’s past comes back to haunt him in the form of criminals who think he still owes them favours. This actually works to his advantage as the story reaches its crisis. I found this just as good a thriller as The Way of all Flesh: gripping. The authors even pinch a joke from Crocodile Dundee!
I read this thanks to Net Galley and it’s out on 29th August.