Crime Fiction: The A to Z

When I set out on Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet I promised myself two things.

The first was that I would read nothing just for the sake of filling a slot, that I would only read books that I would have picked up sooner or later anyway.

I’ve managed that, though I did have to bend the rules a little for the difficult letter X and I had to throw in an emergency short story when the book I’d picked for letter Y let me down.

The second was that I would mix things up, and choose some familiar and some less familiar books.

And so my list is made up of:

  • Persephone books for H and X, and a classic short story by a Persephone author for G.
  •  A Virago Modern Classic, and a winner of the CWA Gold Dagger to boot,  for K.
  •  A wonderful anthology of new writers at W.
  •  Victorian crime for S and Victoriana for U. I would have liked to read more of both, but I ran out of time and letters.
  •  Crime fiction in translation at L and V.
  •  A Cornish book, set in very familiar countryside, at B.
  •  Agatha Christie re-reads at A and F. A for Agatha seemed to be the perfect place to start, and once I had re-read one book a number of others called me.
  •  Neglected woman authors, who were published in numbered green Penguins, at E, M, P and R. If I have learned one thing through the alphabet, it is always to look carefully at green Penguins as there are some real gems there.
  •  Male authors from the middle of the last century, who aren’t as lauded as some but really should be, at I, N and Q.
  •  A lovely range of contemporary crime fiction at C, D, J, O, T and Z.
  •  And that excellent, emergency short story at Y.

Mission accomplished, I think!

Here’s the A to Z in full.

A is for Agatha The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
B is for Bolitho Framed in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho
C is for Crombie Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie
D is for Darkside Darkside by Belinda Bauer
E is for Ethel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
F is for Five Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
G is for Glaspell A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell (short story)
H is for Holding The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
I is for Innes Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes
J is for Jane The Burning by Jane Casey
K is for Kelly The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
L is for Läckberg
The Stone-Cutter by Camilla Läckberg
M is for Mary Death and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt
N is for Not Not to be Taken by Anthony Berkley
O is for Other The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah
P is for Potts The Man with the Cane by Jean Potts
Q is for Question A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake
R is for Roth Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth
S is for Study A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan-Doyle
T is for Tyler The Herring in the Library (and others) by L C Tyler
U is for Unburied The Unburied by Charles Palliser
V is for Van der Vlugt Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt
W is for Written Written in Blood: a Honno Anthology
X is for Expendable The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes
Y is for You You are a Gongedip by Sophie Hannah (short story)
Z is for Zouradi The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

And that really is the end of the alphabet.

So where does my crime fiction reading go now? Well, I have The Quarry by Johan Theorin, A Herring on the Nile by LC Tyler, Now You See Me by S J Bolton, and two books by Erin Kelly in my library pile. My own green Penguins and my Agatha Christie collection are calling too, Plus those authors I discovered, and rediscovered, along the way and want to read again. And recommendations I picked up from others along the way ….

No end of possibilities …

Crime Fiction Alphabet: N is for Not to be Taken

I was dazzled by The Poisoned Chocolates Case last year, and that made me want to track down Anthony Berkeley’s other works. They proved elusive. I spotted a couple of green Penguins in a shop window one evening, but they disappeared before I could get there in opening hours. I spotted some lovely reissues from The Langtail Press, but an order will have to wait until I secure a new job. Finally occurred to me to check the library catalogue and I found two books.

I ordered Not To Be Taken first.

A very different book. A more conventional golden age village mystery, but a mystery with the same intelligence and flair that endeared Anthony Berkeley to me the first time I met him.

“It is a queer feeling to reconstruct the past and bring the dead to life again in all the trivial details of everyday life, but I must try to do so if I am to fill in a full background for the picture which I have set myself to paint. And perhaps all of the details were not so trivial either. Or alternatively, if they were genuinely trivial, efforts were to be made later to give them a sinister ring. In either case I will set then down exactly as they happened.”

That picture is painted, and painted extremely well.

First there is the setting. The mid 1930s,  Annypenny, a classical English country village in Dorset, not far from the border with Somerset. I could see it.

And then there is the cast. A very interesting and well-balanced group of six friends  and neighbours. A social set, and i was very interested to look over their shoulders.

First  is the narrator, the speaker of those words. Douglas Sewell is a fruit farmer, and every inch the English country gentleman. But is he reliable?

His marriage to Frances, an intelligent and capable woman, seems happy and their life is comfortable. But is that just a facade?

And then there is John Waterhouse, their nearest neighbour. A man with intelligence, practical skills and a spirit of adventure, he had travelled the world. He settled in Annypenny to please his wife. But has he really settled?

 Angela. She had hated trailing around the world in her husband’s wake. Angela is an invalid, but nobody seems to know quite what is wrong with her, and she does seem to rather enjoy having other running about to do her bidding. Does she enjoy it rather too much?

Glen Brougham, the village doctor, is Douglas’s oldest friend. A warm and open man, he holds his position because it is what his family have always done. But is he really up to the job?

His unmarried sister Rhona is probably a better medic, having picked up so much from her father and her brother, she just lacks the professional qualification. But that shouldn’t prevent her from helping out, should it?

A wonderful, three-dimensional cast offering up so many possibilities.

The plot builds on them beautifully.

John is unwell. Glen diagnoses gastric ulcers, prescribes medicine, and suggests a plainer diet.

Soon John is on the road to recovery, but suddenly he takes a turn for the worse, and dies.

A tragic death. A man who had thought he was indestructible, who didn’t take his doctor’s concerns seriously.

Angela pleads frailty, helplessness, and her friends step into the breach to arrange the funeral, to do everything that needed to be done.

She neglects to mention that John had a brother. His friends had no idea, and so Cyril only learns of his brother’s death after he has been buried.

Cyril doesn’t believe that Angela forgot, or that his brother died a natural death. He insists on exhumation, and a post-mortem.

The post-mortem reveals that John was poisoned.

There is consternation. Conversations and incidents are recalled. papers are examined and secrets uncovered.

And then there is an inquest. Of corse there is much drama, and more revelations before a verdict is reached. Murder by person or persons unknown.

But Douglas thinks he knows who killed John. And how. And why.

But what should he do about it … ?

Anthony Berkeley unfolds this plot perfectly. It twists and turns beautifully, offering up so many details, so many possibilities, so many new details of characters. I changed my mind, re-thought things so many times.

It helped, of course, I believed. The characters, their actions, their conversations all rang true.

The ending baffled me, but when I read it for a second time it made sense.

A perfectly constructed mystery concluded most satisfactorily.


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

So next week, O is for … ?

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkley

Death by chocolate!

Yes, really – let me explain!

Notorious womaniser Sir Eustace Pennefather was staying at his London club when he received a complimentary box of liqueur chocolates in the post. Sir Eustace was unimpressed.

Graham Bendix, another member of the club, needed a box of chocolates. He had lost a bet with his wife and the stake had been a box of chocolates.

And so Bendix took the chocolates home. He and his wife both tried them; he didn’t care for them, but his wife did. And a few hours later Joan Bendix was dead and her husband, seriously ill in hospital.

You see – death by chocolate!

The police were called in and they discovered that the chocolates had been laced with poison; that they had been posted in a box near The Strand the previous evening; that they came with a letter typed on the chocolatier’s notepaper.

But who was the poisoner? Who was the intended victim? They were baffled!

And so they took a most unusual approach. They called in the Crime Circle: a group of six amateur detectives. The members agreed that a week would be allowed for each to investigate and then present their results to the society. 

And so this is a very different Golden Age mystery. As fine a puzzle as you could want!

Six voices, all different, but all had both intelligence and wit.

Each of the sextet picks up on a different detail, takes a different tack, and provides a watertight case. Trouble is, each of the six points to a different murderer!

I couldn’t fault anybody’s logic, and I have to say that the way the book is structured to work as a whole is incredibly clever.

It was a wonderful roller-coaster ride as cases were built and then demolished.

Six people expounding theories could have been dull, but it wasn’t at all. There was plenty more going on, and the outcome was in doubt until the very last page. I had to read the ending twice, and the second time it made perfect sense.

The Poisoned Chocolates Case is, if you will excuse the pun, a confection. It has nothing of importance to say, but it is oh so entertaining.

And it is that rare thing, a crime novel I could happily read many times.


I must thank The Classics Circuit for hosting The Golden Age of Detective Fiction Tour.

It was the perfect excuse to buy the lovely Felony & Mayhem edition of The Poisoned Chocolates Case that I had wanted for so long. In fact, I was so enthused that  I accidentally ordered two copies. So, if you would like the spare give me the name of your favourite book from the golden age of detective fiction is and tell me what makes it special. I’ll pick a winner after 8pm on Sunday.