Category Archives: Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2011

J is for … THE JUDAS WINDOW (1938) by Carter Dickson

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter J, and my nomination is …

J is for … The Judas Window (1938) by Carter Dickson.

I began my last post for the Alphabet Crime meme by declaring my lack of enthusiasm for the modern Grisham-style legal thriller – and then proved it was all stuff and nonsense by praising Scott Turow’s latest example of the genre to the hills. And this week I’ve compounded my lack of credibility by picking another courtroom drama, but this time at least I’ve got some mitigating factors I can offer in my defence: not only is it from the golden age of detective stories, not only is it by my all time favourite mystery author John Dickson Carr, but it’s a stone cold classic of my favourite subcategory of the genre: the locked room mystery. In fact this is a book that ticks so many boxes for me that I am also offering it as the third of my eligible books as part of the 2011 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge over at Bev’s Reader’s Block website (check it out, it’s amazing – I just don’t know where she finds the energy or the time to do all that reading and blogging – she’s a true demon and an inspiration that one). Continue reading

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PLAYBACK (1958) by Raymond Chandler

“Guns never settle anything. They are just a fast curtain to a bad second act.”

Some detectives get go out in a blaze of glory like Poirot in Agatha Christie’s near-posthumous Curtain or Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse in The Remorseful Day; more often than not though the law of diminishing returns has set in long before their final farewell. Certainly one wouldn’t want to remember Lord Peter Wimsey only through Busman’s Honeymoon or Albert Campion in The Mind Readers or John Dickson Carr for The Hungry Goblin, to name just a few. Christie it should be noted employed a particularly ingenious solution to try to bypass this problem as the novel has in fact been written over 30 years earlier – certainly, if one compares it with the final books she completed, such as Elephants Can Remember (the actual final Poirot book) or Postern of Fate, the contrast is very stark indeed so as to make one even more grateful for her foresight.

Playback (1958) is generally agreed to the be the least of Chandler’s novels, with its slender plot and small cast of characters; but on the other hand this works to its advantage in the broadcast medium as discussed in the review of the recent BBC radio version over at Audio Aficionado Continue reading

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Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2011

Over at My Reader’s Block Bev has started (and in fact already completed!) a year-long challenge for 2011 – to read a pre-determined number of classic detective stories of a pre-1960 vintage. There are several challenge levels to commit to and one can of course change as it progresses – these levels are:

In a Murderous Mood: 4-6 Books
Get a Clue: 7-9 Books
Hot on the Trail: 10-12 Books
Capture the Criminal: 13-15 Books
Take ‘Em to Trial: 16+ Books

OR

The Golden Age Girls: Read 5-7 books from female authors from the vintage years
Cherchez Le Homme: Read 5-7 books from male authors from the vintage years

Having begun late, I have set myself the task to read 16+ eligible books before the year is out … could be a near thing frankly. Having started late, I shall present a revision of one I wrote at the end of January … The Beast Must Die (1938) Continue reading

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THE BEAST MUST DIE (1938) by Nicholas Blake

Over at My Reader’s Block Bev has started (and in fact already completed!) a year-long challenge for 2011 – to read a pre-determined number of classic detective stories of a pre-1960 vintage. There are several challenge levels to commit to and one can of course change as it progresses – I will attempt to read 16+ eligible books before the year is out. So, 1 down and 15 to go with a classic pre-war mystery that begins as follows:

“I am going to kill a man. I don’t know his name, I don’t know where he lives, I have no idea what he looks like. But I am going to find him and kill him … “

So opens this 1938 Nicholas Blake novel which is regarded by many to be the author’s finest work and which certainly must rank as his most distinctive. It tells the sad story of mystery novelist Frank Cairnes who, following the death of his son in an unsolved hit-and-run accident, vows to track down the driver of the car and exact revenge. The first part of the book, approximately 40% of its length, is taken up with entries from Frank’s diary spread over a period of two months as he confides all his unspoken range, anger and guilt over the death of his young boy, with whom he was particularly close having brought him up almost single-handed with his housekeeper after the death in child-birth of his wife. It is unusually sensitive and well written for a crime novel of this vintage and is undeniably the most significant aspect of the book. Blake himself was well aware that some mystery fans might balk at this extended interior monologue and uses Frank as an alter ego to comment on this at one point, writing:

“I am unable to convince myself that detective fiction is a serious branch of literature”.

Continue reading

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