Light on a crime

Postcard of former lighthouse, Delfzijl, Holland: built 1888, set on fire May 1940 by Dutch troops, rebuilt 1949, then demolished (1981) for a harbour extension

Georges Simenon: Maigret in Holland
Un Crime en Hollande (1931) translated (1940) by Geoffrey Sainsbury
Harvest / Harcourt Brace 1994

A tale that features the beam from a lighthouse, a young woman who eventually marries a lightbulb salesman and Jules Maigret, a police inspector who is expected to throw light on crimes, is — paradoxically — full of shadows and dark corners. Knowing a little about the Chief Inspector’s reputation we can expect him to deliver the goods in his steady methodical way, but the investigation will be hampered, first by his not being able to speak Dutch, and secondly by a small cast of characters who as expected have their own secrets to hide from him and from the close community they all live in.

Maigret travels to the northern end of Holland to assist a French criminology lecturer, Professor Jean Duclos, who has been caught up with the murder of a teacher in the Dutch port of Delfzijl. Duclos was found in possession of the revolver that killed Conrad Popinga, but there soon emerges a houseful of suspects and bystanders who could have had a motive for murder. And one common denominator among these motives turns out to be unrequited love.

Continue reading “Light on a crime”

Uncomfortable cozy

window reflection

Charlie Lovett First Impressions Alma Books 2014

Murder is not nice, ever. And yet cozy mysteries — a popular sub-genre of crime fiction, often termed cosy crime in the UK — absolutely thrive on murder — their life-blood, as it were. Cozies are where violent death can be regarded with a polite shudder from the comfort of an armchair, perhaps curled up by a cheerful fire. Details are rarely visceral; the sleuth is usually a talented amateur; and the malefaction has a purely parochial significance. First Impressions certainly partakes of these aspects, but it also shares elements of the academic mystery: here the amateur detective is often a scholar, or the crime takes place in collegiate surroundings or some such bookish environment. In Lovett’s novel the deed is done close by the well-stocked library of a bibliophile.

But First Impressions includes yet another genre, the historical novel, because alternate chapters are set at the turn of the 19th century, focusing on the just-out-of-her-teens Jane Austen. But this is not a now fashionable mashup of Regency heroics and zombie apocalypse either: no, this is the follow-up to Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale, his first whodunit with a literary theme.

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Still underwhelmed

oxford skyline

Guillermo Martinez The Oxford Murders Abacus 2005

A series of crimes:
are they related, and are
they indeed all crimes?

With its history, architecture and unique atmosphere Oxford is a great setting for novels, films and TV series, and has appeared in works as diverse as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials sequence and Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series. I’d have high hopes for any novel with Oxford in the title, anticipating it would have that particular mix associated with the city, blended with classy writing. This was claimed to be a clever whodunit using mathematics and symbols to create a very Borgesian mystery, and the reader would surely expect to have their brain cells on high alert for a large proportion of this murder mystery.

However, I was underwhelmed when I first read this novel a few years ago, and remained underwhelmed on a later reading. Continue reading “Still underwhelmed”

A tortured but decent sleuth

Marsh Hall
Audley End, Essex

Kathryn L Ramage Death Among the Marshes:
A Murder Mystery Set in the Twenties
Edited by Ginger Mayerson
Storylandia, The Wapshott Journal of Fiction Issue 10
The Wapshott Press, Summer 2013

The detective with a notebook is a commonplace in murder mysteries, and Death Among the Marshes pays homage to this trope, not once but twice – the investigating police detective brings one out, as does Billy Watkins, the manservant of the main protagonist Frederick Babington. Set in the early twenties, this clever novella also gives specific mentions both to the Sherlock Holmes stories and to the first of the Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). Set in the fictional Norfolk pile of Marsh Hall, seat of Viscount Marshbourne, by the village of Marshbanks, Death Among the Marshes is Kathryn Ramage’s way of having fun with the country house mystery genre while also acknowledging that living in the aftermath of the Great War was no less difficult for many returning soldiers than surviving the actual conflict.

As with the detective the reader may well resort to a notebook to make sense of the complicated relationships and possible motives of the actors in this story. Continue reading “A tortured but decent sleuth”