Last week, I was getting through a book a day, mostly crime novels. I’ve never been a great fan of Agatha Christie but who could resist two bags of her books in those editions with facsimile covers for £5.00? Not me, for sure. They are all Poirot stories and those I read most recently are: Peril at End House; Cards on the Table; Death in the Clouds and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Death in the Clouds was by far the best and also had the prettiest cover. I couldn’t enjoy The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as much as I might have done because, although I hadn’t read it before, I already knew, just from general reading, what the twist at the end would be.
The Crime Classics Readers’ Club book for the month was Death on a Quiet Day by Michael Innes. It was originally published in the UK as Appleby Plays Chicken and has been republished by Agora Books. It has a slow start for a murder mystery: a group of students and their tutor having an old-fashioned reading party on Dartmoor and a lot of chat, learned and otherwise. When one of the students finds a body and has to run for his life, it gets quite exciting; I was reminded of Rogue Male. Appleby is on the spot, as usual, to untangle the mess. As with Operation Pax (which I much prefer), the interest is more in all the chasing about than in the complicated plot and it’s disappointing that we never know exactly what the villains were up to. Not one of Innes’s best.
Dean Street Press are bringing out a number of crime novels by Brian Flynn later this year. They sent me an iBook of The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye, which features amateur sleuth Bathurst. It starts in a similar vein to A Scandal in Bohemia, with a minor foreign royal coming to Bathurst for help in avoiding unwanted publicity. There are also echoes of The Moonstone. The plot gets complicated when the girl the prince was previously involved with (the thing he wants covered up), appears to have been murdered while visiting a dentist. But is she the same girl? I found this book infuriating because it’s absolutely impossible to guess the murderer from the clues given.
The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye has been unavailable (except at great expense) for ninety years, yet Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and other crime writers have never been out of print. Why so? I think it comes down to how interesting the detective is. Poirot, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion are all interesting characters in their own right, yet I find it difficult to tell tall, lean Bathurst from all the other tall, lean detectives in books which have not stood the test of time. The good books are not just clever puzzles but good novels.
After this little crimefest I moved on to spy thrillers by Helen MacInnes. I’ve read them all before but so long ago that I might as well be reading them for the first time. Assignment in Brittany was first published in 1942 and deals with a British agent sent to Brittany to impersonate a French soldier. It’s an incredibly dangerous operation and there are plenty of thrills. I really rate MacInnes, perhaps preferring her later books. I’m now on The Double Image.