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.
Airs Above the Ground, by Mary Stewart
I’ve recently read six novels that were popular in 1967, as my library is celebrating its 50th anniversary all year. Frankly, some of the books feel rather dated. This book doesn’t, except for newsreels playing before feature films at theaters. Young English veterinarian Vanessa March is asked to accompany a teen friend of the family to visit his father in Vienna. Puzzled at the request, Vanessa learns that her husband Lewis, currently on assignment in Sweden, was just seen in a newsreel at a traveling circus in Austria. Vanessa and 17-year-old Tim head off to Vienna, where Tim wants to work with the Lipizzaner stallions. Mountain driving, a visit behind the scenes at a small circus, including veterinary work on an older horse, a suspicious fire, plenty of delicious Viennese pastries, suspense, an old castle, the Lipizzaners, and a very unusual chase scene all add to the novel’s appeal. Also, when Vanessa finally sees her husband, he’s in disguise. Vanessa, Lewis, and Tim all work together to solve a mystery, just in time. This book is a real pleasure to read, or re-read.
Plaid & Plagiarism by Molly MacRae
This book is an appealing beginning to a new cozy mystery series set in the Scottish Highlands. Librarian Janet, her daughter Tallie, and two of their friends buy a bookshop in Inversgail with plans to open a tearoom next door and a B & B upstairs. Making a quick visit to Janet’s house to see why her move has been delayed, Christine finds the kitchen full of trash while Summer, a reporter, finds a dead body in the garden shed. Later they find a biscuit tin full of threatening letters at the bookshop, which were probably written by the victim, advice columnist Una Graham. I found the four women a bit difficult to tell apart at first, but it was interesting having four amateur sleuths working together on the same case. There are plenty of descriptions of learning to run a bookshop, remodel a tearoom, and plenty of local colour, although sadly no scone recipes. A good start to the Highland Bookshop series, with some room for improvement.
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.
The White Mirror by Elsa Hart
Stranded by snow at the Tibetan manor of Dhosa, former imperial librarian Li Du, storyteller Hamza, and the rest of their caravan learn the stories of Dhosa’s family, meet several other visitors, and visit a nearby temple, where Dhamo, an elderly monk, painted religious art. On the bridge leading to the manor, the caravan discovered Dhamo’s body, a possible suicide, with the image of a white mirror painted on his chest. A tax inspector, a spy, another artist, and a young monk are included in the large cast of characters. A clever puzzle, and the beautiful setting, complete with hot springs, a painted cave, and a stunning view of the Himalayas, will reward patient readers in the sequel to Jade Dragon Mountain.
The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
A mixture of science fiction, mystery, and romance, this fast-paced first novel is really hard to put down. Elena, chief engineer on a Central Corps starship, reluctantly goes on shore leave on the planet of Volhynia. Unexpectedly, she connects with Trey, a retired PSI captain who’s now the baker at his sister’s restaurant. The next morning, Elena’s crewmate and former boyfriend, Danny, is found dead outside that restaurant. Trey’s arrested, but Elena can provide an alibi. When that isn’t good enough for the local police chief, she asks her captain Greg Foster for help in solving Danny’s murder. His murder may be connected to a nearby wormhole and a long-lost Central Corps ship. Full of intrigue and adventure, this book is a good read-alike for Lois McMaster Bujold, Ann Leckie, and James S.A. Corey. A second book, Remnants of Trust, will be published in November.
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.