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Friday, 22 September 2017

‘The Blood Card’ by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus,
3 November 2016.
ISBN: 978 1 78429 668 1. (HB).
2 November 2017.
ISBN: 978 1784296704 (PB)

In this, the third Stephens and Mephisto mystery, the whole of the United Kingdom, indeed, the world, is waiting for the coronation of the young and beautiful Queen Elizabeth which will take place in a few days’ time on 2nd June1953. But prior to the coronation, life has not stopped, and in Brighton Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is looking into the death of the famous gypsy fortune teller, Madame Zabini (aka Doreen Barton). Then he is called away from the investigation by a telephone call from a General Petre who insists that he must immediately come to London. Once there he finds that an old wartime colleague, Max Mephisto, has also been summoned. Both men had served during the War in a secret unit called The Magic Men whose task was to create illusions that would mislead the Germans. As a music hall artiste whose speciality was magical tricks, Max had been an ideal choice whereas, Edgar who had been wounded during the ill-fated Norway invasion had simply been recruited into the Secret Service by the unit’s commander Colonel Cartwright. And now, General Petre informs them that Cartwright has been murdered in his flat. And on the body is a playing card, an ace of hearts, which magicians call the Blood Card. Another possible magic connection is a newspaper cutting referring to a mind-reading exhibition given by Wild Bill Hitchcock at an Albany State Fair written on which is a U.S. phone number. Petre tells both men to go to Albany to see what the connection might be; Max refuses because he is in a variety show at a London theatre, the Theatre Royal, and with live theatre apparently dying due to the increasing popularity of television he cannot afford to walk out of the show. Edgar, however, does go but finds when he gets to Albany that Wild Bill was run over and killed the day before. And then Edgar himself is nearly run over. Two accidents so close together? Hardly.

Meanwhile, back in Brighton, Madame Zabini is about to be buried. Edgar and Sergeant Emma Holmes visit the family the night before the funeral at the request of Madame Zabini’s son Tol (Ptolemy); there has been a hand-delivered letter to their house referring to the Magic Men. And in Madame Zabini’s caravan there is a flyer referring to a variety show in pre-War Liverpool starring a mind-reader, not Wild Bill, but one Tony Mulholland who had also been in the Magic Men. And the same leaflet had been found in Colonel Cartwright’s flat.

This is only an indication of the maze into which Edgar, Max and Emma must penetrate before finding out what is behind it all. And to prevent a catastrophe which would totally disrupt the coronation.

This cleverly-told story, with its many characters and incidents in the authentically-portrayed early 1950s setting, constitutes an immense yet well-controlled labyrinth which mirrors the world of deception and illusion forming so much of the world in which it takes place. Recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Elly Griffiths is the author of a series of crime novels set in England’s Norfolk county and featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. The first in the series, Crossing Places, earned a good deal of praise both in Griffiths’ native country, England, and in the U.S. The Literary Review termed it “a cleverly plotted and extremely interesting first novel, highly recommended.  Since then Elly has written eight further novels featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. Recently she has written a second series set in the 1950’s featuring magician Max Mephisto and DI Stevens. There are three books in the new series.

Click here to read a review of Elly’s latest Ruth Galloway book
The Chalk Pit

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

‘Lessons in Loving thy Murderous Neighbour’ by Charlie Cochrane

Published by The Right Chair Press,
14 August 2017.

It is 1922 and Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith have settled back into their academic lives at St Bride’s College, Cambridge. Scarred both physically and emotionally by the Great War, Jonty and Orlando have reached the security of middle-age and a stable relationship, although they are still passionate about their love for each other and about investigating any intriguing crimes that come their way.

However, they do have their doubts about taking on the latest investigation offered to them. There has always been a bitter dislike and rivalry between St Bride’s and the despised ‘college next door.’ This loathing is particularly intense when it comes to the college’s master, Dr Owens, a man who once tried to blackmail Orlando and Jonty by threatening to reveal their relationship to the world. Owens had also attempted to molest the deeply respected Ariadne Sheridan, before she became the wife of St Bride’s master. Now Owens has been arrested for the murder of one of his students and, to Orlando and Jonty’s surprise, it is Ariadne Sheridan who is advocating that they investigate the crime to establish whether Owens is guilty or not.

Jonty and Orlando agree to look into the case, partly to oblige Ariadne and her husband, partly to defend the honour of the university, but mainly because they cannot resist a mystery. With the help of Dr Sheridan and the delightful inventor, Dr Panesar, the basic facts are soon uncovered.

The victim, Olivier Seymour, was an unlikeable young man, whose family had bad back-history with Owens’ family. Because of this, Owens had gone out of his way to avoid accusations of victimisation and had given Seymour more warnings than he deserved before sending him down from the university. On the day of Seymour’s death he had gone too far and Owens had resolved to dismiss him. A noisy quarrel had ensued. A short while afterwards, Seymour was found dead, his head staved in by a knobkerrie, a heavy weapon that Seymour kept on his wall for display. Owens’ fingerprints were found on the weapon.

The sleuths soon discover that Seymour enjoyed upsetting people and had given many people in his college good reason to wish him harm. Faced with ‘a locked college mystery’ they have a race against time to establish whether their old enemy is innocent and to prove it before his career is destroyed and the reputation of the university is tarnished.

This novella follows ten full-length novels featuring Jonty and Orlando and, as a fan, I read their return story with great pleasure. It is a neat story, cleverly plotted, with a remarkable number of red herrings. Jonty and Orlando are delightful protagonists, as are their allies in investigation. I especially like the eccentric but brilliant Dr Panesar. There are many deft touches of humour, as when Orlando and Jonty individually experience the salutary realisation that the members of ‘the college next door’ are, in the main, pleasant and intelligent people, and that many of them regard St Bride’s with the same degree of disdain as the St Brides’ Fellows have always felt for them.

Lessons in Loving thy Murderous Neighbour is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team— so she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries.  A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and International Thriller Writers Inc, Charlie's Cambridge Fellows Series, set in Edwardian England, was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her latest book The Fragility of Poppies was published 10 June 2016.

Read a review of Carol’s latest book
The Fragility of Poppies