Odds Against, by Dick Francis
Former jockey Sid Halley has spent the last two years at a London detective agency, but is assigned only routine cases. After fourteen years as a steeplechase jockey, he’s restless and unhappy. On a simple assignment, he is shot in the gut and can’t eat solid food for a while. While he recovers, his father-in-law, Charles Roland, invites him for a visit, even though Sid and his wife Jenny are separated. Charles has borrowed an expensive gem and mineral collection and wants Sid to help him impress and investigate another guest, Howard Kraye. Kraye may be connected to a string of bad luck at nearby Seabury Racecourse. Sid learns that a developer wants to buy out Seabury’s shareholders and build houses on the land. At a visit to a stockbroker, Sid encounters secretary Zanna Martin, who hides an injury from the world, just as Sid does with his damaged hand. Thefts and explosions add to the suspense of this intricately plotted mystery, published in 1966. During an exciting pursuit behind the scenes at Seabury, Sid’s injured again, and his future at the detective agency is uncertain. I enjoyed the fast pace, well-developed characters, and some witty dialogue. Sid appears again in three more mysteries, and this book was made into a television series, The Racing Game.
British Library Crime Classics
Recently I’ve read three of the British Library Crime Classics, mysteries originally published in 1935 and 1936. The series is described as “forgotten classics from the golden age of British crime writing”. 18 titles so far have recently been published in the U.S. by Poisoned Pen Press. I think that the books I’ve read will have broad appeal today.
The Cornish Coast Murders, by John Bude, is set in a small village on the coast of Cornwall. The mystery is discussed and partly solved during fireside chats in Reverend Dodd’s study, where he meets with the local doctor and Inspector Bigswell. When a local magistrate is apparently shot through a picture window, there are very few clues, suspects, or motives.
Death in the Tunnel, by Miles Burton, involves the death of a wealthy semi-retired businessman while alone in a locked train compartment, in a railway tunnel. There is no obvious motive for murder or suicide. The mystery is solved by the combination of careful detective work by Inspector Arnold and other, unnamed police officers, and the imaginative ideas of of Arnold’s friend, amateur criminologist Desmond Merrion.
Death on the Cherwell, by Mavis Doriel Hay, is set at a woman’s college at Oxford University. An unpopular member of the college staff is found dead in a canoe on a cold January afternoon by several of the students, who proceed to help police investigate the death.
The settings of these novels are charming to a modern reader, the intricate plotting is first-rate, the violence level is low, and the writing is compelling and richly detailed, making for quite a pleasant reading experience.
Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders
Kate Saunders, the author of a number of books for children and adults, introduces Victorian widow Laetitia Rodd in her first mystery. After her clergyman husband’s death, Letty moves to an unfashionable part of Hampstead, London where she rents a townhouse from Mrs. Bentley. Letty’s brother Fred, a barrister, pays her to make discreet inquiries for his clients. Letty is sent to the Calderstone estate, Wishtide, as a governess to the young ladies of the house, although she’s really there to investigate the background of Helen Orme, a widow that young Charles Calderstone is determined to marry. Naturally, there is a murder or two, and hints of scandal. Letty, her brother, and Letty’s inquisitive landlady use their skills and contacts to unravel the mystery and save an innocent man from death. Appealing, well-developed characters, clever plotting, and a variety of settings, from drawing rooms to London inns, a prison, and the kitchen of Letty’s home add to the charm of this debut British cozy. I look forward to enjoying more books featuring Mrs. Rodd.
Into the Dim by Janet Taylor
After her mother’s funeral, teen Hope Walton reluctantly travels to Scotland to meet her aunt. She learns that her mother is alive, but is trapped in London in 1154. Homeschooled Hope can remember everything she reads, is claustrophobic, and has recurrent nightmares. Only the memory skills are helpful when she travels back in time to the coronation of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II with her cousin and her new friend Phoebe. Caught up in the drama and intrigue of London and the Court, Hope’s cousin gets arrested and Hope encounters Bran, a handsome teen she met in Scotland. Is Bran going to help Hope and Phoebe, or is he one of her family’s enemies? Fearful Hope is an unexpected heroine, but pretty good company in this first novel full of drama, adventure, fights, and some romance. The historical London setting is vividly drawn, and readers will look forward to Hope’s next time travel adventure. Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red trilogy is a good readalike.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Four Londoners and an African-American boy face World War II in very different ways, as they try to figure out what it means to be brave in wartime. Wealthy Mary, 18, wants to be a spy, but is assigned to be a teacher, where she meets young Zachary. Later, Mary drives an ambulance with her friend Hilda, who trains as a nurse. A double date with school administrator Tom and art conservator turned army officer Alistair has unexpected consequences. Air raids are danced away to loud music, and entertainers, like Zachary’s father, work all night. Alistair is shipped to Malta, like the author’s grandfather was, and endures a siege. Letters from home are the only thing that can distract him from the war, but some letters go astray. Hilda and Mary’s friendship is strained, and Tom has trouble relating to Alistair. Absorbing and alternately witty and sad, I kept turning the pages in hopes that the memorable characters would make it through to the peace they deserve.
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
The Invisible Library has a huge collection of rare books. Irene, the daughter of two librarians, is a junior librarian assigned to retrieve a unique version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from an alternate version of London, along with her new apprentice, Kai. The London they’re visiting has magic, vampires, and steampunk elements. Unfortunately, the book has been stolen, and they need help from a handsome Londoner. Murder and mayhem ensue. The pacing is fast, there is humor and intrigue, an unexpected dragon, and possibly a romance in the sequel if Irene can get back to this London and keep the library’s big secrets. A fun fantasy adventure, with a sequel, The Masked City, being published in September. For readers of Diana Wynne Jones, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Patricia Wrede. This first novel is a June Library Reads selection.
Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley
This sequel to The Rook was worth the long wait. Britons with supernatural abilities are raised by the Checquy, a secret government agency which investigates crime. The Grafters, the Checquy’s longtime Belgian enemies, are in England for talks. Pawn Felicity is assigned to protect Odette, a young Grafter surgeon, but it’s not an easy job. Plenty of suspense, adventure, and some humor. The title is unclear until the last part of the book; a nice touch. If you’re in the mood for a quirky book with fast pacing and intriguing characters, enjoy!