Martin Edwards is an expert in classic crime springing from the Golden Age so I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of Gallows Court, a book written in the model of all the greats. His study of the sub-genre combine with the fact that I have experienced nothing but pure joy when reading his modern crime series set in the Lake District set my expectations high; they were met.
The main setting is London in the smog but we are also drawn back to the past to an island off the coast of Ireland by way of some letters. Two more atmospheric places would be hard to find and Martin Edwards sets his pen about making sure we know it.
On the Island of Gaunt a young girl, Juliet Bretano pens her thoughts on Rachel Severnake, the woman she believes murdered her father. Ooh I love a female killer, particularly from this age as you know that there has to be some ingenuity involved.
But then in London the headless corpse of a woman is found and Scotland Yard are determined to find the killer. Meanwhile Jacob Flint has been trying to make his name at the crime desk for The Clarion and he has his eye on Rachel Severnake who recently solved a high profile case to Scotland Yard’s embarrassment. Rachel Severnake is the daughter of the man who was known as the ‘hanging judge’ but as he aged his behaviour became something of a concern and he took himself off to the island of Gaunt with his young daughter. But Rachel is in London, a London where no respectable lady would dream of walking in the particular darkness of the smog where visibility is so poor you don’t know who is lurking around the next corner.
That’s all I am going to say about the plot itself. The writing as you might expect is brilliant. The plot is complex and depends on those false clues not least what part does Gallows Court play? The fantastic scene setting mentioned earlier has a big part to play, the author using both the dangerous darkness of London and the remoteness of Gaunt to their full advantage. The characters are for the most part wily and definitely not those you should put your trust in and also for the most part are of the higher reaches of society. So far so Golden Age but I felt that the bodies piled higher and the murders more ‘on stage’ with some more modern themes as motives than perhaps you’d expect to see from that time. It is a clever author indeed who can play such obvious flattery to a style and yet gently update it for the more modern taste in crime writing. This book did have the feel of a more modern day thriller with the tension perhaps higher than those solved by our favourite crime detectives from the age. Make no mistake the stakes are high for our characters and no-one is safe until the culprit is found!
I absolutely modestly raise my cloche hat to the ingenuity of Gallows Court. I was totally immersed in trying to solve the puzzle and would like to say I was ‘on it,’ but I wasn’t really until fairly near the end.
First Published UK: 6 September 2018
Publisher: Head of Zeus
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Blog Tour and before anyone points out to me that I’ve posted this on the wrong day – let’s just say there was some confusion!
I finished this book having realised fairly early on that I had approached what I was about to read from totally the wrong angle. This is one fiendish puzzle with complexities that are beyond devilish.
The premise of the book is seemingly one of a Golden Age mystery where our chief protagonist has to solve the puzzle of who killed Evelyn Hardcastle. He has eight days to do so. So far so simple the clock is ticking and the clues are presented and you put them together and try to get there before he does. Oh, you are sadly mistaken if you think that is all there is to it!
The problem is far more complex in that our man inhabits different characters for each of these eight days and the same day keeps repeating. So he starts of as a doctor and he sees some stuff going on from that character’s perspective but when he wakes up again he is someone totally different and finds some new clues but also sees different aspects to the stuff he learnt the day before. All the while he is trying to keep hold of his true self whilst inhabiting what are mostly a disagreeable bunch of people.
Thrown into the mix is a nineteen year old mystery, linked to the return of Evelyn Hardcastle from her stay in Paris. There are also plenty of other dastardly goings on from blackmail to murder all to be kept on top of. Allies are formed but whether they are wise ones or not remain to be seen.
So it’s complex and ideally, to have any hope of keeping track of what’s going on, I would have needed an entire wall of notes to keep track of various characters and their actions because sometimes the chief protagonist jumps back in time. This means that character is for example unhappily at midday on day four or rather in his fourth host, anticipating where they need to go next to find a missing piece of the puzzle and then it’s back to the second host to pick up where he last left off. To be fair the author gives the reader pointers and reminders but it is a book to throw yourself into and hope that you can keep manage to hold enough information in your head to keep pace.
Now I’ve reached the end I’d ideally go back and savour just how clever the whole book is, but if I’m honest my brain hurts from the effort. Which has left me with a problem on how to rate the book. I really admired both the premise and the execution (of the book not Evelyn Hardcastle) and I did nearly work out one strand of the mystery proving that I wasn’t completely confused by it all, but I’m not used to a book being such hard work. Ideally this would have been better as a holiday read, it’s not a book to escape a hard day’s work with, it is a fiendish puzzle that won’t let you go! If all that isn’t enough this tale told in the first person present tense, which is entirely fitting, also poses philosophical questions which soon become apparent. Now I have the answer to the mystery I can ponder those at my leisure.
I take my hat off to Stuart Turton for the most original read I have read for a long time.
I’d like to thank Bloomsbury Publishing plc for the chance to read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle prior to publication on 8 February 2018. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.
First Published UK: 8 February 2018
No of Pages: 528
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
The Queen of Crime surpasses herself on the sheer ingenuity of the mystery in this book, one which I don’t remember reading before, with a closed house murder set at the dentist’s office.
As well as an inspired setting of a dentist practice with only one entrance where everyone is admitted by the slightly goofy doorman with a penchant for American detective stories the author also provides us with a good selection of easily identifiable characters. There are the two dentists, Mr Morely who is shot dead, initially a possible suicide and Mr Reilly who has a drink problem but appears to have an affable nature. With Poirot’s teeth fixed he leaves the house and passes Mrs Sainsbury Seale who loses the buckle of her shoe when exiting the car, she goes into the house. Apart from her there is the mysterious Greek Amberiotis and the brilliant banker Alistair Blunt.
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe features the wonderful Inspector Japp who is called in when Mr Morely’s body is found and soon discovers that his secretary Gladys Neville was called away to visit a sick aunt on a false pretext, the telegram she received was a hoax.
This is quite a political novel with Alistair Blunt standing for the old order where overspending is frowned upon and his careful management of the country’s money seemingly vital but there are many who want to try a new way, those that believe that the conservative old guard are stopping the country from moving forward, the American Howard Raikes being one of them. Howard Raikes despises Blunt’s policies but he does like his niece Jane Olivera. Another body is found and Poirot is persuaded that Blunt is the target, something backed up when unsuccessful attempts are made on his life.
As is often the case in an Agatha Christie novel we are presented with many pieces of the puzzle as the characters and the lives they lead are revealed but it takes a better reader than me to fit them into any semblance of order and find out whodunit. This is another spectacular ending, not quite as ingenious as Murder on the Orient Express, but not far off.
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe was first published in 1940 and is one of my favourite sets of Agatha Christie Novels, those that feature the line of a nursery rhyme.
I recently picked up a 1972 edition of Murder on the Orient Express at a book sale for the princely sum of 50p and then spent a very pleasant time reading this, one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels for the first time in years.
Reading a book when you know what happens, particularly when that book is from the mystery genre, may seem a little bizarre but what I’m realising is that I now notice nuances that perhaps evaded me before I immersed myself in crime fiction and so there was plenty to keep me amused on this fascinating journey, mine being more successful than the Orient Express’s as I didn’t encounter any snow-drifts.
This book was originally published as a novel in 1934 following Christie’s trip on the train where she noted down all the details required to perfectly recreate the scene, yes the placing of the lock on the interconnecting doors was researched to that level of detail! Christie used the real life disappearance of the abduction of Charles Lindbergh’s son as inspiration for the plot indicating that the Queen of Crime relied on real criminals to recreate in fiction, something that some commentators complain that it is disrespectful for our contemporary authors to do.
Anyway back to the plot, a closed room (or train) mystery featuring Poirot who just happens to be on the Orient Express on his way back to London from Istanbul to deal with an urgent matter, after all travelling days on a train was the response to something urgent in the 1930’s. Once aboard the train which is unusually full for the time of year Poirot is approached by a Mr Ratchett who tells him that his life is being threatened and he needs protection. Poirot having taken a dislike to the man while at the hotel in Istanbul declines to take on the job stating ‘I do not like your face Mr Ratchett. On the second night of the journey Mr Ratchett is stabbed to death and since the train is stuck in a snow-drift the Yugoslavian Police are unable to attend so it falls upon dear old Poirot to carry out the investigation.
The plot is peppered with clues and the characters each drawn to enhance the differences of culture and class so that the reader is easily able to follow the various suspects and their actions so that while the amateur sleuth is pitted against the far superior little grey cells of Poirot they still have a chance to solve the mystery, and what a mystery it is!
I love this book the plot is ingenious, the pace fast and the victim a man who is despised by all so not a moments sorrow is wasted upon the deceased instead the pleasurable seeking the clues and fitting them together into a fitting scenario but best of all is the ending where with all the travellers are called to the fine dining car as Poirot outlines two possibilities of what could conceivably explain what happened in carriage number 2, and I can’t imagine a more perfect finale.
This is one of my finds from the book sale chosen because although I’ve read many of her books I don’t actually own any.
Hickory Dickory Dock was first published in the UK in 1955 and was the first full length story to feature Hercule Poirot’s ultra-efficient secretary Miss Felicity Lemon, although she had previously appeared in some of short stories featuring the Belgium detective.
When Miss Lemon makes an uncharacteristic mistake, or three, in a letter Poirot realises that something is amiss with his usually precise secretary. His questioning leads him to discover that Felicity Lemon has a life outside her work, and she is troubled by a problem her sister is having. The delightfully named Mrs Hubbard is the warden of a boarding house in Hickory Road, London. Items have gone missing and others have been destroyed.
Fortunately, Poirot doesn’t have any murders to solve and is at a bit of a loose end so he decides to lend a helping hand. When he meets Mrs Hubbard he congratulates her “unique and beautiful problem.” As in the best Christie tradition the number of suspects is contained to those living or working in the house and as their lives are gently probed by the detective secrets are revealed. Soon there is a death and as tensions in the house reach fever-pitch Poirot is determined to find the perpetrator.
As much as I enjoyed the story, I found this book equally fascinating as a snapshot of the time it was set in. The boarding house is home to a number of students, both English and foreign with the house split in half to ensure proprietary between the sexes although they all mixed on the communal ground floor. There are frequent references to communists and the way some of the foreign residents are portrayed made me wince at times, not just because of what was said but because the author was clearly writing for her audience and the prevailing views of the times. However this book also features more modern crimes with the police grappling with drug smuggling which I hadn’t realised was a concern in the 1950’s.
This is a clever little puzzle with the clues available for the amateur sleuth to attempt to compete with the brilliant mind of my favourite detective, Poirot.