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Rutabaga

"Golden Age" Detective Fiction

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Of course most people are familiar with Agatha Christie as an author of detective fiction, and to perhaps a slightly lesser extent Ngaio Marsh, but I have recently been discovering two of their contemporaries from the 1920s onward:  Freeman Wills Crofts, and his "Inspector French" stories, and Anthony Berkeley, and his Roger Sheringham stories.  My local public library has both authors available in e-book form (more of Berkeley than Crofts) and I am enjoying the quaint style of these books.  In contrast to today's typical styles, both authors lean heavily to an omniscient style where the narrator (and the narrator's point of view) becomes an integral part of the story.  

I have also been sequencing through each of Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn stories, guided by a list of them in order that I found online.  It turns out that there is a definite sequence to them.  Again, the local library obligingly offers them in Kindle e-book form.  

R

 

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7 hours ago, Pedro said:

Several of her Lord Peter Wimsey stories were televised way back in the early 1970’s.

Yes, indeed -- I love the Edward Petherbridge portrayal of WImsey, which rings very true.  I actually have all of those TV episodes on DVD.

I had not thought of Sayers at the time of my original post, but I think she is pretty well-known.  I have read all of her Wimsey stories (wish there were more).  For some reason I had not heard of Crofts or Berkeley until recently, and there are probably some other dark-horse authors in there as well.  

I'm finding it much easier to locate Berkeley compared to Crofts at the library.  Of course all of this is just to fill the time awaiting @Nigel Gordon and his next series in the "Living with Johnny" saga.

R

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I finished reading "Death in a White Tie" by Ngaio Marsh just 5 hours before the library ebook loan was going to expire.

I now want to check the library collections for titles from John DIckson Carr and Elizabeth Daly.  

R

P.S.:  Two other authors I am looking for are Margery Allingham and Edmund Crispin.

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1 hour ago, Cole Parker said:

When you're done with those, venture into Rex Stout.  There's a guy who knew how to write mysteries.

Absolutely!  Nothing cozy about those mysteries.  When I was a kid I wanted to be a detective like Nero Wolfe until I discovered how hard it was to grow orchids. 

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George Bellairs, Brit author active 1941-1982. His Inspector Littlejohn novels are more character-driven, often wittily so, rather than puzzles - no locked-room mysteries. Really entertaining. Lots available as free reads if you have Kindle Unlimited on Amazon.

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3 hours ago, Rutabaga said:

P.S.:  Two other authors I am looking for are Margery Allingham and Edmund Crispin.

Crispin's Gervase Fen mysteries are pricelessly witty, with farcical moments and occasional forth-wall beakage. I've read all the novels and many of the short stories via Kindle editions from Amazon. Very re-readable just to immerse yourself in the world, the characters and Crispin's style.

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9 hours ago, Paul said:

Crispin's Gervase Fen mysteries are pricelessly witty, with farcical moments and occasional forth-wall beakage. I've read all the novels and many of the short stories via Kindle editions from Amazon. Very re-readable just to immerse yourself in the world, the characters and Crispin's style.

I found "The Case of the Gilded Fly" at the library and was heartily amused by Crispin's overwrought and hilarious description of the arrival of a passenger train at Oxford at the opening of the book.  If this is any sign then I'm sure I will enjoy the book.

R  

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9 hours ago, Paul said:

George Bellairs, Brit author active 1941-1982. His Inspector Littlejohn novels are more character-driven, often wittily so, rather than puzzles - no locked-room mysteries. Really entertaining. Lots available as free reads if you have Kindle Unlimited on Amazon.

This is a name that was new to me (one of the reasons I initially started this thread, actually) and I discovered that the public library has a bunch of books by Bellairs.  I have borrowed "Death of a Busybody" to start out with.  Thanks for the recommendation.

R

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11 hours ago, Cole Parker said:

When you're done with those, venture into Rex Stout.  There's a guy who knew how to write mysteries.

I love the Nero Wolfe books, and I believe I have read all of them, although it has been some years ago.  The pictures of Rex Stout make him look like quite a character in his own right, and as skinny as Wolfe is corpulent.  I have fond memories of reading about Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, Fritz Brenner, Saul Panzer, and the others in Wolfe's coterie.

My reading was a combination of checking physical books out from the library (the main library was across the street from my office) and buying inexpensive paperbacks back when such a thing still existed.  Now I will have to do some review to see whether I missed any of them.

R

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8 hours ago, James K said:

Do spy novels count, because I absolutely love spy2.jpg

My favorites are Smiley's People and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  I still get out my DVD of the film version of Tinker, Tailor to watch again every once in a while.

R

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I now have finished "The Crime at Halfpenny Bridge" by George Bellairs, and it is even better than the last one of his I read.  The twists at the very end really are a surprise.

The one quirk he has that can be bothersome is his proclivity to throw in sentence fragments (no subject or verb) from time to time, often in the context of descriptions.  Now that I know that this tends to happen I am less jarred when it does, but sometimes the fragments lead to ambiguity about what they actually refer to.  

The other thing of note is that (and I say this after reading three Bellairs tales) we never learn very much about the lead character, Inspector Littlejohn.  We know he is married and has a wife named Letty, but we get very little insight into him or her.  Rather, he is an instrumentality for investigating, talking to suspects and witnesses, etc.  We are told when he dislikes someone or some surrounding, but not why that should be.

All in all, though, this was a good recommendation.

R

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4 hours ago, Rutabaga said:

The other thing of note is that (and I say this after reading three Bellairs tales) we never learn very much about the lead character, Inspector Littlejohn.  We know he is married and has a wife named Letty, but we get very little insight into him or her.  Rather, he is an instrumentality for investigating, talking to suspects and witnesses, etc.  We are told when he dislikes someone or some surrounding, but not why that should be.

The more of them you read, the more bits of Littlejohn's history and character you'll find, and also of his wife. There's also a side character who's a close friend from Littlejohn's past on the Isle of Man. He's a elderly cleric, and several times becomes involved in the cases that call Littlejohn back to the island. The cleric's protective housekeeper is a scream. But none of these side characters, or Littlejohn himself, get involved in any distracting, personal soap opera-type plotting, thank heavens; the mystery is always the focus.

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53 minutes ago, Cole Parker said:

R, you should just send me those books.

I, on the other hand, have reverted almost exclusively to e-books these days.  It gives me a wide selection of things to choose to read at any moment, and eliminates the need to keep providing more and more bookshelf space.  

When I check out one of these books, it frequently offers a Kindle download option, which works pretty well.  A few other titles have to be downloaded to the Libby app or viewed in the Overdrive app.  In all of these cases, when the loan period expires, they electronically vanish from my devices.  I'm not sure how I could send you anything, but I'm open to any ideas.

R

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4 hours ago, Rutabaga said:

I, on the other hand, have reverted almost exclusively to e-books these days.  It gives me a wide selection of things to choose to read at any moment, and eliminates the need to keep providing more and more bookshelf space.  

I'm not a shill for Amazon, but I do use them for Kindle books, and it's the way I've read dozens of Bellairs mysteries over the past few years. Right now there I see there are 37 of them available as free reads if you have the Kindle Unlimited service.

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I also like the fact that I can access such a wide selection of things without having to plan in advance.  In the old days, when I was heading out with plans to read, I would often grab two or three books at once because I could not decide which one I really wanted to read.  It's geek heaven.

R

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Me again.  I just finished the first book in Margery Allingham's "Campion" series, entitled, "The Crime at Black Dudley."  I confess I don't exactly know what to make of it.  The mysterious and rather unlikely figure of Albert Campion does appear here and there, and he has some meaningful involvement in certain of the events, but ultimately the solution of "whodunit" comes from a different character (the POV character, Abbershaw).  It's a long volume -- about 600 pages in the e-reader, although it is unclear how that would compare to a print version -- and the final truth does not come out until the last handful of pages.  At the same time, we end up learning very little about Campion, except that he is a very odd duck, and was known (in connection with a court case) to Abbershaw under a different name.  Campion's trademark behavior is to blither on about seeming nonsense or irrelevance, although it's clear that he has some great intelligence under this façade.

I recall trying to watch the television version of Campion some time back.  It stars Peter Davison in the title role.  At the time I switched it off after 15 minutes or so, because it just seemed a little too weird.  Now that I have read this book, I may try it again to see if it works any better for me. 

Allingham is apparently a particular favorite of J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame.  I have one other Campion title, later in the series, to sample.  Hopefully more info about Campion himself will be revealed.

R

 

 

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As promised/threatened in the last post, I have gone back to watch some of the "Campion" episodes with Peter Davison on British TV.  (A Britbox subscription makes this possible.)  In the first season there are eight episodes, with each pair comprising a single story.  I watched episodes 3 and 4 ("Police at the Funeral"), 5 and 6 ("The Case of the Late Pig"), and 7 and 8 ("Death of a Ghost").  I skipped episodes 1 and 2 since this first story must have been what I found off-putting when I originally sampled the series some time ago.

Having now made a good sampling, I must say that I did not discern the quirkiness that I observed in the "Black Dudley" novel.  Campion seems much more normal and conventional, and less inexplicable, than that book made him out to be.  All told, the three television stories I watched seemed like pretty mainstream whodunits.

I have not checked to see if any of the three stories mentioned above actually trace back to novels by Allingham, or whether they are original writing for television.  I have another Campion novel called "Mystery Mile" on my phone to read, but I need to finish something else that is due back to the library more urgently.

One thing I also noted in the television series is that Campion has a manservant/sidekick named Lugg who I am not sure appears in the Allingham books (at least not until later in the game).  Again, I have not confirmed this with the original novels.  

Now back to my other library book.

R

UPDATE:  With a bit of research I find that the three episodes mentioned above do, indeed, correspond with Campion novels of the same title, and the summaries on Wikipedia match what I saw in the TV versions.  Lugg, indeed, appears in these novels, which are a bit later than the first couple that I have been reading.  

At this point, honestly, I'm not sure what my problem was when first watching that initial Campion episode.  I have not gone back to watch it, but may do so at some point.  My dim recollection was that it seemed kind of tedious and boring, with nothing actually happening, and the Campion character himself seeming kind of vague and pointless.  Oh well.

 

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