Silence Observed (1961) is the 19th entry in Michael Innes's Sir John Appleby series. Sir John has risen to the highest echelons of Scotland Yard andSilence Observed (1961) is the 19th entry in Michael Innes's Sir John Appleby series. Sir John has risen to the highest echelons of Scotland Yard and is concerned with purely administrative duties. But that doesn't prevent him from being pulled into an active role in the murder of a rare books seller. It all begins innocently enough in Sir John's club (whose motto makes up the title) when two of his friends approach him over "something that is just up [his] street." Charles Gribble produces a sheaf of papers--all forgeries of works purported to be by George Meredith. Gribble isn't complaining about the forgeries. No, indeed. It seems that he has been trying to corner the market on famous forgeries and he's quite gleeful about his purchase. Until he holds one of the sheets up to the light (to point out the cleverness of the forger's attention to detail) and he discovers that somebody has produced a forgery of a forgery. He's still not looking to prosecute, however, he's just going to talk to his "book man" and find out more about the providence of the papers.
Next up, is Sir Gabriel Gulliver, a renowned art expert, who tells Sir John of an odd incident involving an unknown Rembrandt. One of the services Sir Gabriel offers through his art gallery is free inspection of family heirlooms to see if someone has a treasure hiding among their pictures. A beautiful young woman arrives with a painting under her arm and both Sir Gabriel and his assistant, an athletic young art expert, immediately recognize the master strokes of Rembrandt. They try to get the woman to leave the painting for and official indepth evaluation, but she isn't having any. She wraps up the painting and leaves them. Sir Gabriel was intrigued enough to break tradition and try to contact the woman--but he finds that she has given a false name and a fictitious address.
Sir John doesn't see how he can justify any sort of investigation into the two incidents, but his instincts tell him that something is definitely afoot. He's proven right when Gribble's "book man" is shot to death and Sir Gabriel's young assistant is found standing over the body with a gun in his hand. Sir John takes on first-hand direction of the investigation when he discovers that the young art expert was the missing guest at the dinner part Lady Appleby had given that evening. There are just too many links to too many of Sir John's acquaintances for him to stay out of it. When he finds a scrap of a painting which shows only a strikingly familiar eye, it looks like a huge forgery operation is in play. He fully enjoys being back in the hunt and eagerly follows the clues...until his investigations get a little too close to the source and the killer decides to use Lady Appleby as a shield to ensure his/her escape.
This is an unusual police procedural--not that this should surprise regular readers of Innes. He does tend to do things a little differently. We follow Sir John around as he investigates, but he really is not following procedure much. He keeps what he finds close to his chest and doesn't share it with his lead detective inspector at all. Fortunately, for the reader, we are privy to everything he finds and can make the connections necessary to come to the same conclusion (if we're paying close enough attention). Poor Inspector Parker only knows what happens in the few witness interviews that Sir John holds while he's present.
I did enjoy the way Innes works the forgery theme throughout the book and I just generally enjoy the character of Sir John even though he's a bit eccentric at times. An enjoyable, if different police procedural. ★★★ and a half. [rounded up here]
Death of a Racehorse (1959) is the 25th entry in John Creasey's police procedural series starring Inspector Roger West [and, later, Superintendent] ofDeath of a Racehorse (1959) is the 25th entry in John Creasey's police procedural series starring Inspector Roger West [and, later, Superintendent] of Scotland Yard. It's not ideal to jump into a series mid-stream, but from what I can tell the stories stand well alone. I had no sense of missing vital information about any of the characters. In this particular outing, West has just recently been promoted to Superintendent and is still getting used to the idea.
When Lady Foley declares in front of witnesses that she will kill her son's racehorse, Shoestring, and Silver Monarch, a horse that looks remarkably like Shoestring, is killed instead--along with a stableman who was charged with guarding the valuable horses, Superintendent West is called upon to sort things out. Having a member of the gentry suspected has made the case a bit of a hot potato for the local police force. Villagers are quite sure that if Lady Foley had done the deed herself then she would never have gotten the wrong horse and she certainly wouldn't have murdered a man in the process. But they're not convinced she didn't hire someone who bungled the job. And then when witnesses come forward to say they saw her at the wheel of her car when the stableman's son was kidnapped and her own son wrecks the car in an effort to hide evidence, things look very black for Lady Foley, indeed. But West believes the evidence may point in other directions and further murders show that the killer is more cold-blooded than Lady Foley appears to be. And the murderer doesn't seem to care who s/he frames for the murder as long as they aren't caught. Was the wrong horse killed? Is there an element of revenge behind the killings? And who is framing whom? These are all questions that West will have to answer before he identifies the culprit.
Despite the fact that I jumped into the middle of the series, this was an excellent introduction to Roger West and his method of criminal investigation. Creasey creates a good balance between descriptive, classic mystery scenes and the standard police procedural. He provides enough twists to keep the reader guessing and still manages to display the clues necessary to solve the puzzle. I did balk a bit at the brutal killings and the total tally is a bit high--but, overall a very satisfying read. Now I just need to go hunt up the previous twenty-four in the series.
A serial killer has been stalking London. Inspector Tom Allen and his team have been investigating for over 15 months without a single break in the caA serial killer has been stalking London. Inspector Tom Allen and his team have been investigating for over 15 months without a single break in the case. The killer has been very clever and left very few clues to his/her identity. When Kathy Barker becomes the fifth victim to be chloroformed, killed with a hammer, and raped by her murderer, Allen is pulled from the case and replaced by Detective Superintendent Collison. Collison has the team start from the beginning and the new approach results in a consultation with a psychological profiler. Things begin to fall in place quickly--a suspect is found and the team builds their case. But will new techniques ultimately trump tried and true police procedure? Will a legal education and fast-track detective techniques serve better than a regular copper's experience and his "copper's nose" for the truth?
Guy Fraser-Sampson has created a company of very interesting characters. Characters who are at once likeable and compelling with imperfections that we can all understand and relate to. He has also, as noted on the novel's back cover, put together a "love letter to the detective novel." A notation that should come as no surprise to those of us who love the Golden Age Detective novel and who are fellow members of a GAD group online, because I would add that it is a love letter to the classic detective novel. The references to various writers from the Golden Age and their creations as well as the most obvious tribute to Dorothy L. Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey are quite delightful. Fraser-Sampson pulled me into the story from the outset and I enjoyed the investigation quite a lot. I also enjoyed the various tensions developed in the story--from the tensions between older and newer methods of police work to the tensions between various members of the team to the tensions involved with bringing in the profiler.
My only misgivings are over some obvious matters of routine that never seem to occur to the investigating officers--going thoroughly into the background of a few of their vital witnesses and checking out the husband of one the victims, if only to be sure that this was, indeed, one of the serial killings and not a copy-cat killing to take advantage of the hunt for the "condom killer," to mention a few. There are a number of instances of "forehead-slapping" where the senior officers say "Why didn't I/we think of that?!" And, I have to admit to thinking, "Well, yes, why didn't you?" Overall, a very solid, entertaining beginning to a new series and I look forward with great anticipation to future installments.
************ Thanks to Guy Fraser-Sampson for arranging the delivery of this review copy. My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate....The book was offered to me for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments in this review are entirely my own honest opinion.
**spoiler alert** Coffin's Dark Number (1969), the fourteenth book in the John Coffin series by Gwendoline Butler, is my second squalid, depressing li**spoiler alert** Coffin's Dark Number (1969), the fourteenth book in the John Coffin series by Gwendoline Butler, is my second squalid, depressing little mystery in row. Generally speaking, I find books that feature murdered children or children in danger to be WAY out of my comfort zone. That became especially true once I was a mother. It doesn't matter that my son is now 24; I can't bear the thought of children, real or fictitious, suffering.
Three little girls--average age eleven--have disappeared from Superintendent John Coffin's district in South London. One minute they were there and the next they were gone. The district is full of unsavory types and cranks. Including Tony Young's UFO Watchers who investigate sightings and just maybe believe that the girls have been abducted by beings from another world. Or maybe they just walked into another dimension. It is an odd coincidence that the watchers were out investigating a sighting every time the girls have disappeared. Is one of the club members responsible--or someone connected to a club member? Coffin investigates through the usual channels and throws his own spotlight on the UFO club. Meanwhile, Tony investigates on his own and dictates his thoughts and findings to a tape recorder. The two methods converge and we expect Coffin to find the answers.
SPOILERS ahead. Read on at your own risk.
This book is jarring on a number of counts. First, as previously mentioned, there is my discomfort with the little girls as murder victims. Then there are the various points of view. We begin with Tony Young as our narrator. He is speaking into a tape recorder and gives us the background on the UFO Watchers, his own history, and his views on the disappearance of the children. This shifts to Superintendent Coffin who tells us that "there's a danger to it [the tape recorder]. I can see you might get to trust it too much...." Which definitely clues the reader in that Tony may not be the most reliable of narrators. Coffin gives us the official viewpoint. Then, there is the omniscient narrator who takes over quite frequently just so we can see everything (or maybe not).
And speaking of unreliable narrators...having our unreliable narrator wind up being so very involved in the murders didn't create quite the surprise one might expect at the end of a mystery novel. Butler perhaps tries to make up for that by making Tony's involvement a little ambiguous. Should you believe that your unreliable narrator is reliable up to a point (ie he didn't actually do the killing) and we should believe him and not his confederate? Or is it the confederate who is reliable on this final point? It's a bit too ambiguous for me.
These earlier novels in the Coffin series aren't nearly as engaging as those I've read in the latter half of the mysteries. The characters and relationships in Dine & Be Dead (the other early novel I've read) were much more interesting and the academic setting helped. The characters here really aren't appealing at all and the relationships aren't very interesting either. ★ and 3/4. Rounded to two here.
N: What's he [Inspector Brent] done? I think he's nice. DF: You would. Flappers and old women do. But they haven't to mess about with the corpses he caN: What's he [Inspector Brent] done? I think he's nice. DF: You would. Flappers and old women do. But they haven't to mess about with the corpses he can't help producing at far too frequent intervals from silk hats and thin air. (Nora [Lady Lenora Vane-Cuff; Dr. Findley)
Red for Murder (1957) by Harold Kemp is next mystery in the Inspector Jimmy Brent series after Death of a Dwarf which I discovered on a shelf at Half Price Books in 2014 and read last January. As I mentioned when I reviewed Dwarf, there isn't much information available on Kemp out on the internet. And I haven't found anything new anywhere else my last review. If anyone come up with something, I'd love to hear about it.
As the title indicates, red is an important point in this mystery. There's the missing red ruby--worth a rajah's ransom--and the red heifers which play a part in the drama and the tell-tale bloody marks that speak volumes to Jimmy Brent and the red-haired detective-constable who goes beyond the call of duty to help his inspector. Inspector Brent is called upon by his superintendent to baby-sit Lady Falcongill precious diamond necklace--which just happens to have the aforementioned ruby dangling as an added pendant. The jewels will be on display in honor of Tony Vane-Cuff's coming of age party as they have been for every coming of age party to date.
Whenever the young Lord Falcongill-to-be comes of age, the manor house puts on a bang-up party. Everyone from the village--from the high and mighty to the hoi p oloi--is invited to a grand bullock roast with dancing and drinking, carousing and toasts to the young master's health. The common folk mill about on the grounds and get their feast in the barn while those of higher rank dine round the large table in the manor's dining hall. The current Lord Falcongill has asked for discreet policemen to be on hand just for safety's sake. And even though Brent thinks the "sparklers" as he calls them are a mighty big temptation, he doesn't expect them to go missing while still in the house. His concern is directed to when Lord and Lady Falcongill would be toddling down to the barn to wish their guests well.
And perhaps that's what the thief (or thieves) expected any detectives to expect. Because the lights go out in the house, Lady Falcongill cries out, a door is opened and then shut, one of the guests disappears, and so do the sparklers. Brent and his detective team will be led a merry chase with all sorts of excitement: two corpses make an appearance, the reappearance of the diamonds--but not the ruby, the apparent escape of a mystery man across the moor, the question of who was the man in the bed at Aunt Kate's house, and what happened in the heifer's barn. It all ends with a surgical operation and chase through archaeological burrows and a pursuit of a murderer in a fast car.
This is the sixth book of seven by Kemp and a solid follow-up to Dwarf. The characters are just as good in this outing and we have the added bonus of Jimmy Brent's interactions with Nora Vane-Cuff. Nora is a no-nonsense, plucky heroine type who helps the detective without getting in the way. The one draw-back (and which shaves off a half-star) is the mystery itself. Oh, it's quite clever and I'm not sure you'll ever find a jewel stolen and stashed in quite this way again--but it's pretty well telegraphed. Kemp didn't do quite the job of mystification that he managed to pull off in Dwarf. Still, a highly enjoyable read and if you ever get the chance to read a Kemp mystery, I suggest you do so. ★★★ and a half.