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Group reads > May 2019 - They Rang Up the Police by Joanna Cannan - SPOILER Thread

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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9308 comments Mod
First published in 1939. this is the first, of two, books to feature Inspector Guy Northeast.

Born in 1898, Joanna Cannan was the youngest daughter of Oxford don Charles Cannan, and his wife Mary Wedderburn. Part of a family of authors, Joanna Cannan was cousin to novelist and playwright Gilbert Cannan, sister to poet May Wedderburn Cannan, mother to fellow pony-book authors Josephine Pullein-Thompson, Diana Pullein-Thompson and Christine Pullein-Thompson, as well as to screenwriter and playwright Denis Cannan, and grandmother to cookbook author Charlotte Popescu.

Cannan worked as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse during WWI, meeting her her future husband, Captain Harold J. "Cappy" Pullein-Thompson, in Oxford, during the course of that work. They were married in 1918, and Cannan (who never published under her married name) became the primary breadwinner for the family, after he was severely injured during the war, publishing approximately one book per year. Most of her pony books for children were written before and during WWII, at which point she began turning to detective novels for adults. Cannan suffered from ill health in the 1950s, and eventually diagnosed with tuberculosis. She died in 1961.

This book sees the introduction of Guy Northeast: When murder strikes in the quiet English countryside only Inspector Guy Northeast of Scotland Yard sees the vital clue.

When Delia Cathcart and Major Willoughby disappear from their quiet English village one Saturday morning in July 1937, it looks like a simple case of a frustrated spinster running off for a bit of fun with a straying husband.

But as the hours turn into days, Inspector Guy Northeast begins to suspect that she may have been the victim of foul play. On the surface, Delia appeared to be a quite ordinary middle-aged Englishwoman content to spend her evenings with her sisters and mother and her days with her beloved horses. But Delia led a secret life — and Guy turns up more than one person who would like to see Delia dead. Except Delia wasn’t the only person with a secret…

Please feel free to post spoilers in this thread.


message 2: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
Did anyone else think it is a bit too misleading near the start when it seems as if Delia is sneaking off to meet a lover - this convinced me for ages that her killer must be a man she had been meeting.

I found it pretty unbelievable that a woman could sound like her lover (the groom?!) whistling.


message 3: by Rosina (new)

Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 630 comments I am uncertain whether Delia did have a lover or not, but she does seem to have employed the groom for reasons other than his ability with horses, so I suppose it's possible.

Has anyone else read The Warrielaw Jewel (first published in 1933)? There are some similarities in the 'method', and in part in the characters. Are we reading the Jewel next month?


message 4: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
I've got The Warrielaw Jewel on my Kindle but haven't read it yet. I nominated it in a poll recently but it didn't win so we haven't got it scheduled at the moment.


message 5: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 704 comments You’re right about the misdirection, Judy, and it’s a problem that could have been easily fixed. Instead of Nancy whistling so Delia would investigate possible misbehavior on the part of a servant, she could have previously observed Delia meeting a lover (such as the groom) and then, on the fateful evening, whistled to imitate that person.

You must have better ears than I, because I can’t tell the difference between a woman’s whistle and a man’s!

BTW, my review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 6: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 170 comments I agree that the mentioned sequence was a deliberate distraction, but it was also contrived, not only by the character who was kind of pathetic and definitely naive, but by the author. She needed something for this shell who was finally fighting back to use to be a lure so she used a whistle. Considering Delia's personality or lack thereof, I'm not surprised that she wanted to stick her nose in and got killed for it.


message 7: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9308 comments Mod
I wasn't sure why she was sleeping on the lawn in the first place? Did that not seem odd to anybody else? I mean, summer or not, it tends to rain, particularly early in the morning...


message 8: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 704 comments Sleeping out was a big thing in the days before air-conditioning. In the USA, big mansions all across the country had sleeping porches, open-air extensions off the bedrooms often with hammock-style beds for air circulation all around the sleeper. It didn't faze me that a tough, outdoorsy woman like Delia would do it.


message 9: by Judy (last edited May 02, 2019 05:57AM) (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
That's interesting about sleeping out, Abigail. I think it is much more unusual in the UK - I've never previously heard of anyone sleeping out in their garden here without a tent! Of course, the vast majority of homes still don't have air conditioning in the UK, though this may start to come in with climate change, sadly.


message 10: by Bicky (new)

Bicky | 332 comments I could not figure out the motive even though from the begining there was something odd about the household. The problem was that 'the man of the family' was a woman and the oppressive domination is portrayed subtly. This of course is in contrast to Christie's Appointment With Death.

The murderer had become quite clear but the mismatched clothes were a problem and so the colour blindness was definitely unfair in what is otherwise a good mystery.

In today's world instead of a police procedural this would have been a novel of psychological suspense.


message 11: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1272 comments Abigail wrote: "Sleeping out was a big thing in the days before air-conditioning. In the USA, big mansions all across the country had sleeping porches, open-air extensions off the bedrooms often with hammock-style..."

I was having trouble wit it, too. Now that I recall I once lived in an apartment where my room (maid's room by the back door) had a sleeping porch. It was 1/2 block from Lake Michigan.


message 12: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9308 comments Mod
I think, if you were going to sleep out, it would have to be in a warmer climate than here.

The fact that the man of a house was a woman, as Bicky puts it perfectly, was very subtly done - as was the unlikely idea of her running off with a man, even if that seemed the obvious solution.


message 13: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 170 comments I agree that throwing in the fact that a key character is color blind to explain away a major question in the case so late in the story is not exactly in the rules of good writing. In fact, some would say that's a real "no-no." Thanks for the info about sleeping out.


message 14: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
Good point about the colour blindness, Bicky and Betsy - I was also unaware that women could be colour-blind, so for me this would be another indication of the killer being a man - though I think by the time it was mentioned we knew it was a woman?


message 15: by Susan in NC (new)

Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2320 comments Betsy wrote: "I agree that throwing in the fact that a key character is color blind to explain away a major question in the case so late in the story is not exactly in the rules of good writing. In fact, some wo..."

Thank you, I wasn’t sure if it was just me, but this red herring about color blindness did seem a bit unfair to be thrown in so late in the story.


message 16: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 704 comments And it seemed unnecessary to conceal it. I don't think I would have made the connection between the odd selection of clothes in the valise and her color-blindness.


message 17: by Bicky (new)

Bicky | 332 comments Abigail wrote: "And it seemed unnecessary to conceal it. I don't think I would have made the connection between the odd selection of clothes in the valise and her color-blindness."

The problem was as suggested in the book itself, the mismatched clothes suggested a male murderer.


message 18: by Susan in NC (new)

Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2320 comments I didn’t pick up on that until Guy actually went to the library and looked it up - up until then, I thought he just thought the contents in the suitcase were “odd” but didn’t specify what it was that was odd about them - I think the colors of the items weren’t really mentioned, so as a reader I didn’t really register that they didn’t match!


message 19: by Bicky (new)

Bicky | 332 comments Susan in NC wrote: "I didn’t pick up on that until Guy actually went to the library and looked it up - up until then, I thought he just thought the contents in the suitcase were “odd” but didn’t specify what it was th..."

At location 74% where Guy discusses with Sylvia or Miss Smallbone, the colours of the clothes and that they do not match, specially the sandals -green instead of brown.

Later on at 76% where Guy is making his list and awarding marks to suspects - 'And now he could apply his recent deductions. The murderer (or his accomplice) had packed the bag with garments that didn’t match: what was the probability of each of his suspects making such a mistake? Ames, hurried, ignorant and a man, must score five marks. Elspeth, working for Forbes, refined and with taste as good or better than Delia’s, was most unlikely to have erred; and Forbes scored nothing. Jessie was a rougher type than Elspeth…well, one mark to Funge. Mrs. Willoughby? She dressed sloppily but to the character that she invented for herself, and that argued clothes sense. Nought for the gallant Captain.'


message 20: by Susan in NC (new)

Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2320 comments Thanks- that’s what I get for skimming...


message 21: by Susan in NC (new)

Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2320 comments Susan in NC wrote: "Thanks- that’s what I get for skimming...also, I really didn’t grasp Northeast’s system of rating his deductions.


message 22: by Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ (last edited May 06, 2019 12:40PM) (new)

Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂  | 591 comments I really enjoyed this, even though I didn't like the murderer's long exposition at the end.

Cannan had a gift of making each character memorable. I'm wondering if Heyer & Cannan developed these gifts after "workshopping" their early works together.


message 23: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
Re the earlier mention of The Warrielaw Jewel, please can we use spoiler tags for mentions of any plot points, as some of us haven't read it yet - I may nominate it again next time we have a vote though, as I am still keen to read it.


message 24: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ wrote: "I really enjoyed this, even though I didn't like the murderer's long exposition at then end...."

I didn't like the long exposition either. Did anyone have any sympathy for the killer in this book? I've seen a couple of reviews where people said they did, but I didn't really.

I found it hard to believe she was really so downtrodden as she made out, especially as she had her own car which nobody else was allowed to drive. If she could cook up this plot, surely she could have instead taken steps to be more independent?


message 25: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 170 comments Long expositions at the end of mysteries often annoy me. This story included. It's as if the author thinks the reader isn't smart enough to figure out what's going on. Sometimes I appreciate a summing up, but it wasn't needed here unless you felt sorry for what Nancy had endured and you wanted to see what explanation she wanted to give. Was anybody disturbed by the Chief Constable letting Nancy know what was happening and then ending the book with no confrontation about his decision?


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂  | 591 comments Betsy wrote: "Long expositions at the end of mysteries often annoy me. This story included. It's as if the author thinks the reader isn't smart enough to figure out what's going on. Sometimes I appreciate a summ..."

Yes that is another thing! Like the Upper Classes shouldn't face the consequences of their actions.

I would think though that Nancy would end up in an asylum rather than prison, so maybe Carruthers had a reason for his compassion.


message 27: by Susan in NC (last edited May 06, 2019 02:15PM) (new)

Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2320 comments Judy wrote: "Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ wrote: "I really enjoyed this, even though I didn't like the murderer's long exposition at then end...."

I didn't like the long exposition either. Did anyone have any sympat..."

That’s what I was thinking, and I thought I was being too harsh - glad someone else thought she was rather unrealistic- I couldn’t help thinking she was quite passive-aggressive with her mounting resentment, and feeling she was a victim.

As for the long exposition, I’m usually not a fan, but in this case I don’t know how else the motive, weak as it was, could be made clear. I guess the author could’ve just summed it up through Guy’s reading.


message 28: by Susan in NC (last edited May 06, 2019 02:19PM) (new)

Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2320 comments Betsy wrote: "Long expositions at the end of mysteries often annoy me. This story included. It's as if the author thinks the reader isn't smart enough to figure out what's going on. Sometimes I appreciate a summ..."

Yes! (view spoiler)Sorry, I was over cautious, forgot I was already in the spoiler thread!


message 29: by Sandy (last edited May 06, 2019 04:04PM) (new)

Sandy | 2498 comments Mod
I didn't feel much sympathy for the murderer. I could see why she didn't like her life but murder is a bit drastic and I doubt if her life would change much until she actually left home.

And many of the GA books allow the upper class to take the honorable way out. This time, the murderer being a woman and a friend, it was almost expected.

The explanation at the end of this book went on too long for me. I got the point early. Writing this all in her diary might be proof of her instability.


message 30: by Bicky (last edited May 06, 2019 04:10PM) (new)

Bicky | 332 comments The long exposition is required because so many readers, including members of this thread, thought in the beginning of the book that the family was too sweet!


message 31: by Sandy (new)

Sandy | 2498 comments Mod
So very true Bicky! Better to have an honest dysfunctional family.


message 32: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 704 comments I do get tired of the “gentleman’s way out” in the mysteries of this period. I get that it’s a holdover from the laws of an earlier century, but get over it, already, British writers!


message 33: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 704 comments I’m aware, though I would enter the caveat that by the early twentieth century it was a relic, not a true reflection of the current state of British law or custom. A bit of nostalgia, if you will. And I think it was the cliché solution; would prefer to see more inventive endings. I don’t think I’m applying twenty-first-century values by asking for more variety. It’s like in late twentieth-century American detective fiction where there always has to be a confrontation where the perp pulls out a gun and points it at the detective—there are other possible resolutions.


message 34: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
I do suspect the "gentleman's way out" didn't happen nearly as often in real life as it does in mysteries!


message 35: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9308 comments Mod
Yes, doubtful, I would have thought. I thought the oddest was in a Nicholas Blake book, but I won't give the title, in case people haven't read it!


message 36: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
My review:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Something we haven't got into so far in our discussion is the stereotyping of spinsters, which for me does get a bit much in this novel to be honest - it's obviously of its time, but Agatha Christie for one tends to be much more positive in the way she portrays unmarried women.

I also felt it was a bit predictable that the murder was due to spinsterly frustration (although, to be fair, it wasn't quite as predictable as it would have been for me because I was led up the garden path by Delia's supposed assignation!)


message 37: by Bicky (new)

Bicky | 332 comments Great review, Judy. I was unable to review this book because I felt the moment one wrote anything, it would be a spoiler.

Re 'Delia's supposed assignation' - if it was not an assignation, then what was it? What was she waiting for that night?

Regarding spinsters: I think the author was making a point which is slightly different from the normal putting down of spinsters. She was criticizing the view that sex is unnecessary, which does not necessarily translate into a criticism of those living without mates.


message 38: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
Thanks, Bicky. I meant that I assumed the whistle was an agreed signal from someone Delia was actually meeting.

I wasn't clear whether she did have a meeting planned on that night or was just hoping the groom, or whoever her lover was, might come along.


message 39: by Bicky (new)

Bicky | 332 comments Judy wrote: "Thanks, Bicky. I meant that I assumed the whistle was an agreed signal from someone Delia was actually meeting.

I wasn't clear whether she did have a meeting planned on that night or was just hopi..."


Agreed. But then the whole thing goes away. Never explained.

Furthermore, it was unnecessary - we would have come up with the idea on our own!


message 40: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
Yes, it's that paragraph where she is wondering if "he" will come and meet her that I find distinctly misleading!


message 41: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9308 comments Mod
I agree that was misleading. I think the whole plot was difficult to solve - not that I often try to work out 'whodunnit.'

What did we think of the detective? The author seemed to drop him fairly quickly - just one more book and she started a new series. Was he too nice? A little plodding?


message 42: by Tania (new)

Tania | 375 comments I found it misleading too. It never went anywhere in the story, so didn't need to be there.
The detective, I didn't mind, but I found him to be a bit forgettable. There is nothing that stands out about him for me.


message 43: by Tracey (new)

Tracey | 236 comments I think it worked well the detective coming from a farming background so he was able to pass judgment on Ames. There were hints of an interesting character, with his failed previous case, and trying to appease his seniors.

I suspected the family from the start, as they were just too sickly sweet. Though I thought it might have been more likely to be the mother, especially as she was quite negative about her dead husband. At one point I wondered if she'd killed him too.


message 44: by Sandy (new)

Sandy | 2498 comments Mod
I will probably read the second, and last, Northwest book as I own it but, while I found him fine while reading he has not stuck with me. Nor was I thrilled by the plot of the book: holes, mis-directions and the long diary explanation at the end . Why would anyone write all that down!


message 45: by Bicky (new)

Bicky | 332 comments Sandy wrote: "...and the long diary explanation at the end . Why would anyone write all that down! ."

I do not find it strange. Given. her feeling of being dominated, not being able to talk to anybody and the normalcy of diary keeping in that period


message 46: by Jill (new)

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 1811 comments I agree with Bicky, lots of people write things in diarys that they wouldn't say to anyone, and it was very common for women to keep them at the time.


message 47: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1272 comments I have started the second book, Death at the Dog. The murder has just occurred and Northeast hasn't come into the case yet.


message 48: by Lesley (new)

Lesley | 383 comments I agree with Bicky and Jill regarding the diary, but also agree that it was a little bit of a tedious way to end the book. I can make allowance for the plot holes being the first of her books in the series. I'll read the second and then decide whether I'm disappointed she didn't go on to write more in the series, or not.


message 49: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8318 comments Mod
I rather liked the detective and will definitely read the second book, despite having some reservations about the plot of this one.


message 50: by Frances (new)

Frances (francesab) | 340 comments Judy wrote: "Thanks, Bicky. I meant that I assumed the whistle was an agreed signal from someone Delia was actually meeting.

I wasn't clear whether she did have a meeting planned on that night or was just hopi..."


Nancy whistles in imitation of a young man calling one of the maids out, knowing that Delia will try to catch them.

"D's always fussing about the maids and their young men...I shall give one of those whistles that the village boys call after their girls with...When D hears it, she's sure to get up and come to see who it is...she's so interfering.

So in the end I don't think there was any affair on Delia's part, other than a likely attraction to Ames, without any proof that anything had come of it.


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