Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Night She Died

The Night She Died (1981) is the first in Dorothy Simpson's Inspector Luke Thanet series, and Miss Lemon is afraid that it is not her best.

It's not that the premise fails to intrigue. Quite the opposite. In The Night She Died, a young woman named Julie Holmes is found stabbed in the foyer of her home. The only fingerprints on the knife are Julie's.

Even the briefest enquiries produce a long list of suspects. From her husband, who discovered her body within minutes of her death, to a woman who once knew Julie's now-dead mother. What the enquiries don't produce is much certainty about the dead woman's private life. Thanet knows she had a jealous ex-boyfriend, who is a presenter for the BBC. She also had a boss, who seemed to be harassing her. What he can't account for is where exactly all of these people were on the night Julie Holmes died.

All of this is terribly interesting to Miss Lemon. So perhaps the problem is that this novel suffers from the first-timer writer's compulsion to trust too little in the reader and to tell too much.

The painstaking description of Thanet's every inner thought she found especially tedious. And in his relationship with the less experienced DS Mike Lineham, Thanet is depicted as being both priggish and condescending.

None of this, however, was so annoying that Miss Lemon couldn't get to the part where she learns whodunit.

Lest her dear readers give Mrs. Simpson a miss entirely, Miss Lemon suggests that they start with Close Her Eyes, where Thanet is less tiresome and the pacing is at perfect pitch. Or perhaps an even later entry. For a full bibliography of the Inspector Thanet series, one need only consult this handy list on Fantastic Fiction.

Ah, the joys of Internet communication. Miss Lemon feels very modern.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Coffin Scarcely Used

One of the things Miss Lemon finds especially charming about the classic British mystery is the vast number of murders that take place in small villages, like Midsomer. Or in the vicinity of certain persons, like Miss Marple.

Things are no different in the small and forgotten English seaport town called Flaxborough, where bodies drop like the proverbial fly. Indeed a coffin is scarcely used before the makers of such capacious conveyances to the netherworld are called upon to provide once again their ministrations for Death. Unnatural death, in this case, caused by person or persons unknown.

Coffin Scarcely Used (1958) has many of the Flaxxy features Miss Lemon has come to expect from Colin Watson -- including a cast of fantastically named, if not fantastically quirky, characters. To wit, there's Harold Carobleat, proprietor of Carobleat and Spades, and the first to find his coffin lowered to the earth.

Carobleat's cohorts include Dr. Rupert Hillyard, with grotesquely splayed teeth and an innate love of scotch; Rodney Gloss, solicitor; Marcus Gwill, owner of the Flaxborough Citizen and a repugnantly self-indulgent eater of sweets; and, lastly but not leastly, Mr. Jonas Bradlaw, undertaker and one-time joiner of said coffins.

But in some ways, Coffin Scarcely Used didn't quite live up to Miss Lemon's expectations. Perhaps because this one is missing the inimitable Miss Teatime -- the yang to Miss Lemon's yin. Or perhaps a slightly overwrought phony antiques racket unnecessarily complicates an already complicated motive for mass murder.

But it's still all in good fun, and Miss Lemon regrets not a moment she spent in the company of the Carobleats, Glosses, and Gwills, traipsing with Inspector Purbright through Flaxborough and looking for the clues that will unearth a gentle murderer.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Miss Lemon's Top Ten for 2009

My dear readers, a new decade is upon us. To tidy up the one that went before, Ms. Kerrie Smith, of Mysteries in Paradise, made the splendid suggestion of drawing up a list of 'Favourite Crime 2009'.

And so Miss Lemon will do just that. Miss Lemon loves lists. Almost as much as she loves mysteries.

1. Taken at the Flood, by Agatha Christie. (Dame Agatha at her cleverest.)

2. Lonelyheart 4122, by Colin Watson. (Features the unparalleled Miss Teatime.)

3. A Pocket Full of Rye, by Agatha Christie. (Who can resist a nursery rhyme that ends in murder?)

4. The Small Hours of the Morning, by Margaret Yorke. (An underappreciated mystery novelist of formidable skill.)

5. The Sittaford Mystery, by Agatha Christie. (The perfect read for a wintry afternoon.)

6. Written in Blood, by Caroline Graham. (The Midsomer Murders at their apex.)

7. Gentlemen & Players, by Joanne Harris. (What one learns at school never ceases to surprise....)

8. Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days, by Jared Cade. (Not precisely a crime novel, per se –- but it reads as well as one and concerns one of Miss Lemon’s favourite principle characters.)

9. The Chinese Bell Murders, by Robert Van Gulik. (Featuring the inimitable Judge Dee, based on a real magistrate from the T’ang Dynasty.)

10. The Lodger, by Marie Belloc Lowndes. (Inspired by Jack the Ripper, this is the moodiest, most atmospheric mystery Miss Lemon has ever read.)

Best wishes to all and happy reading in 2010.