Friday, October 13, 2017

Out in the Country 2: Crook o'Lune (1953), by ECR Lorac

Here is another story about Lunesdale, written to give pleasure to kind friends from far and wide who have written to me and asked for another book about our valley, not forgetting Giles and Kate Hoggett.  To all of you, in the U.S.A. and Canada, in New Zealand and Australia, I can give an assurance that a place like High Gimmerdale really does exist, in the fells south of Lune.  No inhabitant of "Wenningby" will have any doubt about that.  But will all of you please remember that this is a story, no more.  If I have used some real facts, such as the sheep-stealing on Whernside, and if I have taken liberties with ancient history and adapted Benefactions to the base uses of detective fiction, it is only to make a story whose very roots grow in the place. 

No character in this book is real--except perhaps the Hoggetts, and they bear me no ill-will for even having turned their cows into fiction.  And to those of you overseas who think you might be descended from bygone Teggs and Fells and Shearlings and Lambs, well, the folk in this valley are a fine race, so good luck to all of you.  Incidentally, the house I have called Aikengill is not for sale, nor is it to let.  I live in it myself.


                                                         --ECR Lorac, foreword to Crook o'Lune (1953)

ECR Lorac's foreword to her 1953 detective novel Crook o'Lune suggests her not insignificant role--along with, certainly, Patrica Wentworth and Agatha Christie (with their Miss Silver and Miss Marple mysteries, respectively)--in helping to fashion the "cozy" country mystery so popular today.  I tend to think these books proved even more popular outside of England than within it (as Lorac's foreword suggests)--its often being easier, I think, to idealize something with which one is not actually all that familiar.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say, and distance makes it harder to spot unsightly blemishes.

However, by 1953 ECR Lorac lived in the Lancashire countryside about which she wrote and which she clearly very much adored.  How much do her Lunesdale tales really idealize Lunesdale?  Sure, there's the focal character (another author substitute?), Gilbert Woolfall, who lives in the, well, cozy old stone farmhouse of Aikengill, which is based on the author's own beloved Lancashire homestead, Newbanks.  But the country life Lorac writes about in this novel is not exactly glamorous.  This is not the locale of country houses and genteel life, it's the domain of small freeholders and sheepherders.  It's more Brokeback Mountain (absent same-sex attraction) than Downton Abbey, in other words.  There aren't even, really, any quaint villages, the district where all the troubles take place being too sparsely populated for such.

Newbanks Barn, Aughton, Lancashire: ECR Lorac's Aikengill?

In this sense Lorac's Lunesdale books, especially Crook o'Lune, seem more exercises in rural realism, looking ahead not so much to the modern "cozy" but rather to crime novels of rural realism like Stephen Booth's excellent Cooper and Fry series (set, incidentally, in Derbyshire, home of the hermit's cave I discussed in my last post, which also concerns Lorac).

I don't want to push this comparison too far though.  As I recollect one of the Booth novels I read includes a distressing description of  a woman freezing to death in the snow, including the unlovely detail of a hare stopping by to defecate on her neck as she expires.  This sort of thing you won't find in such unpleasant detail in Lorac's Lunesdale, though the author does include a chilling anecdote about the death of a man who was trapped by snow in his cottage with insufficient provisions.

frontis map in Crook O'Lune

There is, however, not just natural death (or is it?), but murder and arson and sheep-stealing too--the latter crime, perhaps, being the one which most distresses the locals.  Though not exactly the stuff that one associates with classic British mystery in its Golden Age heyday (there's not a single bludgeoned baronet, nor a body in a library for that matter), the plot is nicely turned out; and the local color is impressively sketched indeed.

Perhaps the closet comparison I can think of to Crook o'Lune is another Fifties crime novel, Licensed for Murder by John Rhode, another British mystery steeped in a rural milieu (one with a beautifully dovetailed plot), which I discuss in some detail in my book Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery.  Like ECR Lorac, John Rhode (in real life John Street) wrote lovingly yet realistically about crime and the country in Fifties England.  I might also mention Ngaio Marsh's interesting and folklorish Off with His Head (Death of a Fool in the US), but for Marsh's ever-present preoccupation with the gentry and that great social scourge of Fifties Britain (at least in Marsh's view): "inverse snobbery."

the American edition of
Crook O'Lune
Original touches that are unique to Lorac come through, however.  Her charming farming couple, Giles and Kate Hoggett, make cameo appearances (and their debut novel, The Theft of the Iron Dogs, is nostalgically recalled by Lorac's sleuth, Inspector Macdonald).  Lorac's disdain with canting, cold-hearted clerical moralists is in evidence, especially in its acid portrayal of the local minister.  (Lorac herself was, I understand, a most humane believer, incidentally a Friend of Westminster Abbey who attended the 1947 Royal Wedding of the UK's currently reigning monarch.)  The shepherd Aaron Tegg (the name recalls Lorac's likely, though far distant, country ancestor Aaron Rivett) is a character who attains some poignancy, I think, contradicting those who say that in her crime fiction Lorac only ever fashioned stick men and women.

In highly praising Lorac's Crook o'Lune (in the US Shepherd's Crook) American mystery critic Anthony Boucher pronounced the novel an "almost anthropological study of the mores (criminous and otherwise) of a community...that hardly seems part of this century."  There are some, I suspect, who might well be bored to tears by the tale Lorac spins in Crook o'Lune, but I personally found the novel captivating in its commitment to telling, as the author herself put it her foreward, "a story whose very roots grow in the place."

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cave of Contemplation and Death: ECR Lorac's Death Came Softly (1943) and the Hermit's Cave at Dale Abbey

Rhodian left the drive and walked over the beech mast to the great scarp of rock where was the shadowy entrance to the cave, and stood staring a moment before he went inside.  The entrance was a pointed archway in shape--a lancet--but there was no real arch.  The stone had been hewn away to simulate an arch: it gave access to a chamber in the solid rock, some ten feet by eight and perhaps twelve feet high.  There was another lancet cut into the rock at one end of the cave, about five feet from the ground.  Along one side was a stone slab, six feet long, with a hollow at one end--the hermit's bed.  At its head a niche had been hollowed out of the living rock.  Another cavity had been carved out at the foot of the stone couch, forming recessed stone shelves.  In the wall facing the head of the couch a great cross was carved into the rocky wall.  Rhodian stood at the centre of the cave while his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, green-filtered as it came though the overhanging branches of beech.

Say, there's something fantastic about the place.  It gives me the creeps," he said.  "Do you really suppose anyone lived here?"

"Why not?" Lockersley came into the cave and stood on the dry carpet of leaves which covered the rocky floor.  "I can imagine worse places to live.  It's dry, and surprisingly warm, and utterly peaceful.  Not bad to wake up on a stone bed and look out into the woods, and see the dawn on the lake.  You try it.  It's much more comfortable than it looks.  


The stone couch was strewn with bracken and dead leaves and Rhodian sat down on it and looked through the arched entrance to the golden glory of the woods outside.

"All right in summer, maybe, but in winter--no."

"Why not?  A good wood fire--the door and lancet are so arranged that the smoke clears away pretty well," replied Lockersley.  "It'd be a damn sight more comfortable than many a Norman castle....I like it in here.  I understand how the hermit felt in his house.  Safe from the world."

                                                                --from Death Came Softly (1943), by ECR Lorac


In my recent review of ECR Lorac's Death Came Softly, I mentioned that the scene of the murder of Eve Merrion's beloved anthropologist father Professor Crewdon, menacingly depicted on the cover of the 1943 Collins edition, is a hermit's cave on the grounds of the grand mansion, Valehead House, lately purchased by Eve.  Death Came Softly is set in Devonshire, where a few years earlier ECR Lorac herself (Carol Rivett) had been evacuated from the German bombing of London, but the novel's Valehead House, a  classically symmetrical white Italianate mansion, reminds me rather of Kingston Lacy, in Dorset, of which I included some photos in the review.

remains of Dale Abbey
dissolved and despoiled in 1538
For its part the hermit's cave reminds me of the hermit's cave which is located in the Derbyshire village of Dale Abbey, near Nottingham.  Dale Abbey originally was a monastery founded around 1200.  It remained in existence for over three centuries until 1538, when is was dissolved by Henry VIII and mostly demolished.  Little of the abbey remains but the great 13th century east window, although stone from the abbey was pillaged for local construction.

Also in Dale Abbey is Hermit's Wood, wherein is found a hermit's cave and a holy well, no less.  The cave allegedly was fashioned in the twelfth century by a Derby baker, who had a beatific vision in which the Virgin Mary instructed him to lead a contemplative life of solitude and prayer. 

The cave was later enlarged in the 18th century by Sir Robert Burdett, who entertained in it.  (I'm guessing this explains those larger openings, which a lone contemplative hardly would have needed.)

Did Carol Rivett have this particular hermit's cave in mind when she wrote Death Came Softly?  Maybe there was another, actually located in Devonshire.  Dale Abbey lies about about 100 miles from Harpenden, Herfordshire, where Carol Rivett's mother, Beatrice, seems to have spent the early war years, before she became a patient at Camberwell House, a private asylum in London.  After the Second World War Carol Rivett lived at her mother's house in Harpenden for a few years before moving to Lancashire.

Whatever the inspiration for the hermit's cave in Death Came Softly, it makes a memorable murder scene; and it also speaks to Carol Rivett's growing fascination with (and spiritual sense for) rural geography, a quality she shared with her contemporary mystery writer and Detection Club colleague John Street.  It's a feeling which grows only more pronounced in her works over the 1940s and 1950s.  More soon!


Monday, October 9, 2017

Out in the Country, Part One: Death Came Softly (1943), by ECR Lorac

"Do you ever read detective stories, Chief Inspector?"

"Quite often.  I'm afraid the entertainment I derive from them is not quite what the author intends."

                                                 
--Death Came Softly (1943), ECR Lorac (Carol Rivett)


Pastoral mysteries in the detective fiction oeuvre of Christopher Bush comprise a comparatively small amount of his overall output (among his first ten novels, The Plumley Inheritance, Murder at Fenwold, aka The Death of Cosmo Revere, and The Case of the Unfortunate Village stand out in this respect), yet they became an increasingly noteworthy strain in the work of Bush's contemporary and Detection Club colleague Carol Rivett, who published detective fiction as ECR Lorac and Carol Carnac.

side view of Kingston Lacey and garden, Dorset
This fact is interesting to me, because Christopher Bush's origins were much more immediately rural than those of Rivett.  Although Bush spent his earliest years in London, the majority of his adolescence was lived in the village of Great Hockham, Norfolk, where his father's side of the family farmed the land for generations (and about which he lovingly wrote in his "Michael Home" novels and memoirs).

Rivett, on the other hand, was a third generation Londoner on both sides of her family (though the families originally came from, on her father's side, Suffolk, and, on her mother's side, Wiltshire).

Death Came Softly was published in 1943, several years after Rivett had left London with the dark advent of the German air bombing campaign known as the Blitz, an event that made life in London precarious indeed.  In 1940 Rivett dwelt at the village of Thurlestone in Devon, the lovely county in which Death Came Softly is set.

In the novel wealthy widow Eve Merrion--no relation, one supposes, to Miles Burton's gentleman amateur sleuth Desmond Merrion, though I think Merrion was a family name of the author's-- is desirous of getting away from wartime London, and she comes to Devon hunting for houses. 

murder mars wartime life at the country mansion

Eve's heart alights on Valehead House, "a long Italianate building, so stylised and symmetrical, set among the rich Devonshire woodland," though it is much too big for her, from a simply practical standpoint.  Yet she buys it, just like that! (Must be nice.)  I visualize a bit of Kingston Lacey, though that great house is located in Dorset.

Happily the previous tenants of the mansion were wealthy Americans who, in the aqueous manner of their breed, installed a bevy of bathrooms.  "English people never squander money on anything so superbly luxurious," pronounces Eve, whose creator, Carol Rivett, was the great-granddaughter of the first superintendent of the Marylebone Baths, where much of Marylebone kept clean (or relatively so).

garden at Kingston Lacey
(house shown above)
Rather envious of Eve is her only sister, Emmeline Stamford, married to an absent officer in the Indian Army.  Now back in England with her two boys--who like Eve's three children are conveniently absent from the narrative, being away somewhere at school--Emmeline is loathe to leave London for the wilds of Devonshire (including, of course, Eve's grievously understaffed Italianate mansion of forty-one rooms--if you include those bathrooms).  However, straightened financial circumstances force Emmeline to take just that course. 

Also on hand at Valehead House when murder inevitably strikes are Eve's and Emmeline's father, the distinguished anthropology professor Dr. Crewdon; the professor's private secretary, Roland Keston; swarthy American explorer Bruce Rhodian; fair poet David Lockersley; and Eve's live-in servant couple, Mr. and Mrs. Carter.

Even more than Valehead House itself, Eve is enraptured by the gardens which surround it: the author, whose sister Maude Howson had an advanced degree in botany, lavishes, like Agatha Christie in Hallowe'en Party (1969), long descriptive passages on the horticultural wonders of the estate, which comes complete with an inhabitable "hermit's cave." 

the cave where Professor Crewdon meets his demise

Professor Crewdon enjoys sleeping in this cave (you tell me), and it is in this cave that he is found dead one morning, from the fatal effects of carbon monoxide exposure.  Was he accidentally killed by the coal in the brazier that lit the cave at night?  The Yard's Chief Inspector Macdonald, Lorac's redoubtable series detective, thinks not, and we know he can't be wrong!

hermit's cave, Dale Abbey, Derbyshire
This Lorac has quite a lot of the elements fans of British mystery like to see, but it didn't quite cohere for me.  The author initially devotes much time to building up the personal tension that exists between saintly Eve (who seems something of an author stand-in) and bitchy Emmeline, but in the end this plot thread is prematurely snipped.  (I'll leave you in suspense as to how.)  I felt less engaged with the second half of the novel than the first.

The presence of Rhodian and Lockersley feels somewhat artificial, as if imposed by the need of the author to expand the suspect list during wartime, when the presence of military eligible male characters had to be rationalized somehow (and perhaps one of these men actually is guilty--I'm not saying!).  The murder is gadgety without having the genius of that genius death-dealer John Street or some of the other "Humdrums."  Nor is the local color as strong as it could be.

Still, the book does offer an honest-to-goodness formal problem puzzle, and there's always something to be said for that.  Also, as is often the case with Carol Rivett, the political and social commentary is interesting and definitely not the hidebound Toryish stuff traditionally associated with British mystery at this time.

Eve and Emmeline, after a fashion
The sisters Eve and Emmeline rather remind me of the Margaret Whitton and Teri Garr characters in the short-lived 1991 American sitcom Good & Evil--Eve is so very, very admirable and Emmeline so anything but. 

It's hard to imagine Agatha Christie laying down her cards quite so forthrightly, unless it was a ploy to pull a last-minute super-surprise switcheroo!

Eve is the widow of Axel Merrion, a metallurgist who was "a man of great intellectual powers yet of marked humanity, interested in all that pertained to the advancement of human knowledge and well-being."  His influence on Eve, too, as beneficent, to say the least:

Led by his wisdom, fired by his enthusiasm for all that was noblest in human thought, Eve Merrion had developed from a kindly, lighthearted girl into a mature woman of wide information and generous mind.

Emmeline's marriage to an Indian Army officer, on the other hand

had crystallized all that was conventional in her.  "Empire, Prestige, Dignity"--these were Emmeline's values, described laughingly by Eve as "E.P.D."  In the narrow sphere of army life and thought, Emmeline had grown into what her sister ruefully described as "a perfect lady, perfect within the limitations of social convention."

Rivett's cocking a snook at Empire is especially striking given the book's publication date of 1943, when British was fighting desperately to hang on to what was left of it.

Soulful and warmhearted Eve--"Beautiful she was not, smart [i.e., stylish--TPT] she was not, but she had some quality which was as lovable as the still evening light which irradiated the quiet air."--has tired of city life and wants to dwell in the country, an attitude that apparently reflected that of the author herself at this time.  This exchange between Eve and her cook/housekeeper Mrs. Carter concerning the evening's dinner menu at Valehead House is telling:

gooseberry tart
for recipe see thepassionfruits.com
"Very good, madam.  Duck and green peas and gooseberry tart--and I've scalded some cream for you, the cows are doing that well."

"Goodness, how lovely! Though I feel guilty over having so many good things.  Isn't it glorious being here, Mrs. Carter?  I can't bear to think of living in a town again, ever."

"There's certainly  a lot to be said for the country these days, madam," replied Mrs. Carter, and her tone made Eve laugh.

"You're a real Londoner, aren't you?" she said as she turned away."


Eve's shallow and superficial sister Emmeline loves city life, however.  Yet on returning to wartime London Emmeline was most disappointed to find that

Everything seemed to be a problem--food, service, even laundry, all those things which had been taken for granted so gaily in the old world, were now major problems, crises occurring afresh week after week.  

When Emmeline suggests to Eve the county of Surrey as an alternative London getaway, Eve scoffs, lecturing Emmeline: "....Surrey is really a glorified suburb.  It's all tacked on to London, a sort of dormitory and week-end resort for wealthy stock-brokers, rather than real country."
"I always says you can't beat a bloater for tea."
"Bloaters on a piece of yellow paper" (1889)
Vincent Van Gogh
What finally drives Emmeline out of London to Eve's rarefied Devon refuge is an encounter, on a "hot and stuffy bus," with a "large and stout member of the proletariat...probably a hard-working and honest charwoman," who has brought a rather ripe fish along with her for the ride. 

The good woman chattily confides to Emmeline:

"A bit on the 'igh side maybe, but I always says you can't beat a bloater for tea."

A classic collision of the classes in Golden Age British crime fiction this is, but the author's sympathies here lie not with the distressed gentlewoman, but with the cheerful char.  And if you think it's only Tory mystery writers who in their fiction, at least, looked down on the haitch-dropping class, take a look at Socialist Margaret Cole's mysteries.

Speaking of left-wing ideology, another character, Chief Inspector Macdonald's journalist friend Peter Vernon, is spared a moment to praise the International Brigade ("Stout fellas," he avows.)

Camberwell House Asylum, now residential housing
for the Camberwell School of Art
--appropriately so, given Carol Rivett's love of art
Another interesting element that seems biographical is found in Eve's reaction to the death of her parent.  As I have discussed in a previous post, Carol Rivett lost her father when she was but six years old.  Afterward she lived for many of her adult years, first in London and then on Piggotshill Lane, Harpenden, Herfordshire, with her widowed mother, Beatrice. One presumes that the two women shared a close relationship.

Beatrice is recorded as having died at the age of 75 on May 17, 1943, at Camberwell House, a private asylum.  In Death Came Softly Rivett mentions the Camberwell district where the asylum was located when the servant Carter tells Macdonald that all of his and his wife's personal papers were stored in a room that was "Bombed flat.  Lavender Terrace, Camberwell,  Just wiped out it was, in November, 1940."  During the Second World War a high explosive bomb landed on the grounds of Camberwell House.

Commenting on her death of her father, Professor Crewdon, after the case has been solved by the perspicacious Macdonald, Eve Merrion declares, "Now I feel I can put it it all behind me.  I'm not going to sorrow over my father.  He was happy, and he died happily, in his sleep, without knowing pain or fear.

Was this the author's attitude about the death of her mother?  To be sure, Professor Crewdon died at his mental peak in a hermit's cave in rural Devonshire, Beatrice Rivett is a private asylum in London, presumable when suffering from dementia.  But it seems more than a coincidence that Carol Rivett would have tackled this subject in her fiction the same year that her own mother died.

former gardens at Camberwell House
Something more than a curate's egg (it's definitely good in more than a few spots), Death Came Softly is an example of a certain type of Carol Rivett novel, the less successful type in my view: the one that falls between two stools, what you might call the puzzle stool on the one hand and the manners stool on the other. 

The puzzle interest in not as strong in this novel as one finds in the best of the Humdrums's work (nor is the misdirection as ably handled as it is in Christie), but the characterization is not as strong as one finds with the "manners" Crime Queens (Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham).

Carol Rivett was a very prolific author, arguably too much so I think, in that some of her books are definitely weaker than others.  Death Came Softly gets a middling mark from me, but, rest assured, the next book I review by her will be ranked higher.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Roger Scarlett Reissues I: The Beacon Hill Murders (1930) and The Back Bay Murders (1930)

Here are Coachwhip's posh new editions of the Roger Scarlett mysteries, published between 1930 and 1933 by Evelyn Page and Dorothy Blair, two recent college graduates (from Bryn Mawr and Vassar respectively) who had worked for a few years at the Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin before commencing on a joint detective fiction career as "Roger Scarlett."  These new editions draw on the reverence for distinguished (if sometimes sadly decaying) domestic architecture that positively permeates the Scarlett novels, which are filled with veritable murder mansions (and numerous floor plans).




The first two Roger Scarlett novels, The Beacon Hill Murders and The Back Bay Murders, both appeared in 1930.  The first novel details the murderous outcome of the invasion of Boston's exclusive Beacon Hill district by the Suttons, a family of well-heeled parvenus.  That notorious "stock exchange gambler," Frederick Sutton, is determined to make his way into Boston society, but Boston society has remained rather dubious about the bumptious questing capitalist, with only the charming Mrs. Anceney, a prominent society widow, taking up his cause.

Something sinister is afoot in Beacon Hill!
Can Inspector Kane discover who daringly slew
Frederick Sutton in his his private sitting room?
Sutton's attempted social ascent is brutally cut short when he is shot in his sitting room after a dinner party he hosted at his Beacon Hill mansion, in what is the first of two ingenious "impossible" murders in the novel. (The second one takes place, most brazenly, right under the noses of the police.)

Brilliant Inspector Norton Kane of the Boston police is soon investigating the bizarre murder case, assisted (if that is the right word) by dutiful though not overly astute Sergeant Moran and his rather dim minion in blue, McBeath.  Also on hand is the chronicler of the tale, the prim attorney Mr. Underwood, who was Frederick Sutton's disapproving attorney as well as a staunch friend of Inspector Kane.

Inspector Kane ventures into another quaint Boston neighborhood in the The Back Bay Murders, this time in a case concerning horrid slayings committed among the genteel paying guests of Mrs. Quincy's refined brownstone boarding house. 

In The Back Bay Murders
a brazen murderer strikes
seemingly with impunity

Kane's investigation again is chronicled by Underwood, who still finds the idea of murder in such surroundings incongruous indeed.  He is lectured by Kane: "[Y]ou ought to be better prepared to meet the unforeseen.  You ought to know that under the surface of normal existence there are hidden currents which sometimes burst through.  You shrink from them with horror, but I'm trained to expect their manifestations."

Although there is no locked room problem per se in The Back Bay Murders, the second murder in the novel presents aspects of one and the mystery plot overall is highly ingenious and pleasingly outre, presenting such teasing clues as bloodstains which are not actually blood and a cat toying with a feather.

It was this last feature of the novel that inspired the title of the most extreme plagiarization of a mystery novel known to me: a line by line swiping of The Back Bay Murders, done by an Englishman with seemingly no sense of shame whatsoever.  It might have been enough to launch a second Boston Tea Party, as far as Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page were concerned.  More on this next post!

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Murder Mansions of Mr. Scarlett: The Classic Golden Age Detective Novels of Roger Scarlett (Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page)

Murder among the Angells (1932)
a devilishly difficult problem composed
by a diabolically ingenious author 
Roger Scarlett, author of five classic puzzle mysteries published between 1930 and 1933 (The Beacon Hill Murders, The Back Bay Murders, Cat's Paw, Murder among the Angells and In the First Degree) that have been reissued by Coachwhip, was a front man behind whom stood two ingenious women: Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page.  During the Golden Age of mystery, it was not unknown for women to publish their work under pseudonyms of masculine, or more often ambiguous, nature--Anthony Gilbert, Ngaio Marsh, ECR Lorac and EX Ferrars (the latter of whom went as Elizabeth Ferrars in the UK) immediately come to  mind--but "Roger Scarlett" offers an unusual instance where two women collaboratively wrote under a male pen name.

Dorothy Blair (1903-1975) was born in Bozeman, Montana, where her father, James Franklin Blair, a prominent local doctor, and his wife Elizabeth had settled the previous year, having departed from Bridgewater, Massachusetts, where James Blair had practiced medicine at the State Farm Institution (today the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane).

For her part Evelyn Page (1902-1976) came of a prominent Philadelphia family.  Just four months older than Dorothy, Evelyn enrolled in college a year prior to her future partner (both in life and in crime--fictional crime that is).  Evelyn graduated from Bryn Mawr (Pennsylvania) in 1923, while Dorothy graduated from Vassar (Poughkeepsie, New York) in 1924. 

Evelyn was quite active in student affairs at Bryn Mawr, serving as class vice president and treasurer during her senior year and as an editor on both The Lantern, the college literary magazine, and The Sportswoman, a nascent periodical that was of the first to be devoted exclusively to women's athletics.  (The latter publication had been founded by Constance Applebee, a native Englishwoman who directed athletics at Bryn Mawr for nearly a quarter of a century and today is best known for having introduced field hockey to the United States.)

For several years in the 1920s Dorothy and Evelyn worked as editors at the prominent American publisher Houghton Mifflin, headquartered in Boston's Back Bay, which is where the two women met each other.  The pair left Houghton, Mifflin in 1929 to establish their own writing careers as detective novelist "Roger Scarlett," a name I speculate that they drew from Nathaniel Hawthorne's landmark novel The Scarlet Letter.  (One of the major characters in the novel, which is set in the seventeenth century Massachusetts Bay Colony, is Roger Chillingworth, Hester Prynne's coldhearted and vengeful husband.)

Dorothy and Evelyn set all five of their novels in Boston, where they resided together for part of the time they spent writing them.  They later moved to a remotely situated early 1800s stone farmhouse in Abington, Connecticut, where they dedicated their mornings to writing and the rest of their daylight hours to such strenuous physical tasks as preserving, cooking, washing, wood-chopping, gardening, painting and plastering.

Harrison Gray Otis house, mentioned in one of the Scarlett novels

Each Roger Scarlett detective novel is set in an old Boston mansion or townhouse, of which, typically, several plans are provided (and are essential to the plot.)  Indeed, in Murder among the Angells, no fewer than nine floor plans are provided!

The novels--all of which are fine formal examples, both in terms of setting and plotting, of the American S. S. Van Dine and Ellery Queen baroque puzzle school--were well-received in the United States, though they were never reprinted (until now) and today are extremely rare in their original editions.  Interestingly the Scarlett mysteries were embraced in Japan by the prominent 20th century detective novelists Yokomizo Seishi and Edogawa Ranpo, the latter going so far as to include Murder among the Angells in a top ten list and declaring of it "this is the style of writing that I like best, that's what I think as I read every line.

More recently blogger Ho-Ling Wong has cited Murder among the Angells, like S. S. Van Dine's The Greene Murder Case (1928) and Ellery Queen's The Tragedy of Y (1932) as an archetypal example of the yakata-mono, or mansion story:

With many maps throughout the story, rooms that have doors at the weirdest places and the way people have to move to get around from one place to another, this novel practically screams yakata-mono.  The strange architecture practically functions as a silent extra characters not unlike the House of Usher, and succeeds in providing a very entertaining location for the murders.  The movements of the suspects inside the mansion also play a big role within the story, with both murders being strongly connected with the way the mansion is built and the way the mansion has been divided into two wings.  The Angell mansion is a very impressive force within the novel. 

Endpaper floor plan in Cat's Paw

This is true, though to a somewhat lesser degree, of the other novels in the Roger Scarlett opus, all of the headlined by Inspector Norton Kane, who though a policeman has the attributes of the Great Detective (including, in four of the novels, an admiring Watson figure, the prim Boston attorney Mr. Underwood).  In the murder mansions of Mr. Scarlett, readers will find genteelly dysfunctional families, murders in locked rooms and all manner of mysterious manifestations and miracle problems.  These books are the real deal, folks, and they come highly recommended.  I wrote a 7500 word introduction for the series, which I am most pleased to see back in print in English after more than eight decades.

Coming soon: some more on the authors, who were two extremely interesting women, and the remarkable case of plagiarism to which Roger Scarlett was subjected by a dastardly Englishman!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Edith Caroline Rivett (1894-1958), aka ECR Lorac and Carol Carnac

As ECR Lorac and Carol Carnac, Edith Caroline Rivett (1894-1958) was one of the reliable "second-string" of British writers of the Golden Age generation for nearly three decades.  Like John Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Christopher Bush and Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson), for example, she was published on both sides of the Atlantic (with some unfortunate gaps that make some of her titles very rare indeed today) and was a member of the Detection Club.

Since her death nearly six decades ago, Rivett has become one of the most sought after vintage mystery writers by collectors, with only a few of her titles ever popping up in reprint edition, the most common being Dover's Murder by Matchlight.  A few titles produced by Ramble House also popped up for a time.  Now I understand that the British Library is reprinting the author's Bats in the Belfry and Fire in the Thatch, which likely is a prelude to others by her coming your way--major news in vintage mystery.  Since Carol Rivett is an author I have read and researched (I was attempting to get all of her books reprinted), I thought I would discuss her on the blog.


First off, I have to admit that I agree with those esteemed pure puzzlists Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor's criticism of Bats in the Belfry in their Catalogue of Crime.  I don't want to quote their entry on the book, because of spoilers, but let's just say they nailed the book's issues as a puzzle in just three sentences.  However, the book has, as Martin Edwards has noted, a lot of the appealing milieu of classic crime fiction from the 1930s (who wouldn't love a place like "The Belfry"?), and for many modern fans of vintage mystery that may well be plenty.  It's also, to be sure, a great title for a mystery novel.  And the old Collins jacket is simply smashing--so superbly evocative.

After Bats in the BelfryFire in the Thatch is the very next entry in Barzun & Taylor's COC, and B&T are much higher on this one, again I think justly.  However, were I making recommendations for future reprints to the BL (which I'm not, unless this blog post counts), my choices would be, among the postwar Lorac titles, Policemen in the Precinct (previously reprinted in the 1980s by Collins with a nice introduction by HRF Keating), Murder in the Mill Race and Murder of a Martinet. Among the prewar titles which I have read it would be Murder in ChelseaMurder in St. John's WoodA Pall for a Painter, and Death of an Author.


I also would love to see The Organ Speaks reprinted, as it is an extremely rare title that I have not read and one that Dorothy L. Sayers, then on her own church musical kick with The Nine Tailors, praised rather highly, though Martin does not like that one as much as Bats in the Belfry

The early, prewar Carnacs also are fantastically rare, and it would be nice to see those reprinted too. Among the Carnacs that I have read my favorite is The Double Turn. (Another one I like a lot is It's Her Own Funeral.)  Reviewer Anthony Boucher was of the opinion that Rivett's best work dated from the Fifties, and she certainly had some good titles in that decade. However, whatever I think--or Martin, or Anthony Boucher, or Barzun & Taylor--ideally all of Rivett's detective novels (71 of them, and one that was never published, according to Martin) should be reprinted, so that the vintage mystery fans out there can judge for themselves.

Paddington Station
Surprisingly little has been written, to my knowledge, about Carol Rivett, as she was known.  Even Martin Edwards' The Golden Age of Murder, for example, gives Rivett and her work little attention, particularly in light of the extensive coverage afforded many other writers.  In the book there is much more about GDH and Margaret Cole, for example, who were much less consistent (and committed) detection writers than Rivett, one of the consummate British mystery genre professionals of the era.

To be sure, the Coles led rather more interesting lives, both politically and personally, at least as far as we know. 

But just what in fact do we know about Carol Rivett?

Carol Rivett was born Edith Caroline Rivett in Hendon, London in 1894 to Harry and Beatrice (Foot) Rivett.  Harry Rivett was a commercial traveler in silver goods (I'm reminded of the line in Bertolt Brecht's unfinished novel The Business Affairs of Mr. Julius Caesar, as translated by Charles Osborne, "How often do I have to remind you lot that we waged war in Spain; we didn't do business. Now he wants to march back into town like a commercial traveller in silver goods!"). 

Harry's wife, Beatrice, was the daughter of Edward Smith Foot, who worked first as a railway cashier for the Great Western Railway (of Paddington Station fame, bringing to mind John Rhode's The Paddington Mystery and The Murders in Praed Street) and later as a rate collector in the district of Marylebone.

Carol Rivett wrote about London rather well, as Martin notes, because she knew London rather well indeed. Her parents were lifelong Londoners, Harry and Beatrice both having grown up in Marylebone, where Harry's father, John Charles Rivett, owned a china and glass shop, and Beatrice's grandfather, Edward Smith Foot, Sr. served for 35 years as Superintendent of the Marylebone Baths and Wash-houses.

at the baths
a dirty job, but someone had to do it

John Charles Rivett moved to London in the 1850s, but he was born in the village of Carlton, Cambridgeshire, the son of John Rivett, a farm laborer originally from Hundon, Suffolk.  John Rivett's father, Aaron Rivett, had originally trekked with his family about ten miles from Hundon to Carlton.  Although the family was a humble one, Aaron Rivett did rate a page in the October 4, 1851 edition of the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, on account of his great longevity:

The hill country in this neighbourhood has long been remarkable for the long period of existence allotted to its inhabitants.  A year or two since a woman lived to the age of 102 in this village [Carlton], and at the present time a man named Aaron Rivett is 92, and bids fair to arrive at 100.  He has one daughter aged 70, living at Twickenham, and so many great-grandchildren that eh finds it difficult to reckon them up.  Rivett has been a moderate man all of his life, fond of his glass, but never to excess.  It is said that he has not been so well since he tried to do altogether without it. 

Alas, Aaron died two years after the publciation of this article, still a half-dozen years shy of a century.  He was probably a grandson of a Moses Rivett of Hundon, who died in there in 1753, but there the lineage fades into obscurity. In the Rivett's case, as in so many others, the move from country to city was a hugely significant event for one branch of the family.

The Foots--or the Feet, recalling the Proudfoots/Proudfeet debate in Tolkien's saga--also moved from county to city, though their roots were in trade, not in the land per se.  The father of Edward Foot, Sr., Joseph Button Foot, was a saddler in the small Cotswold town of Cricklade, Wiltshire, who after his marriage moved with his wife to the market town of Cirencester, Gloucestershire, where in 1817 he tragically drowned at the age of 26 while bathing in the River Churn, a tributary of the Thames.  The family returned to Cricklade, where daughter Frances Foot wed John Hopkins, a tailor, and son John Foot became a draper's assistant, but Edward headed for London, again markedly changing family fortunes.

For much of the 1840s Edward worked as a saddler in London, but in 1849 he and his family moved into the newly-constructed Marylebone Baths and Wash-houses.  There Edward would serve as superintendent until his death in 1885 and his wife, Frances (a cousin, I believe), as matron until her death in 1875, when she was succeeded by Beatrice's Aunt Annie.

The Rivetts, in the 1890s, probably
shortly before departure for Australia
Gladys upper left, Maud upper right, Carol seated
(photo from "An Account of a Sea Journey")
Beatrice Foot's 1890 marriage with Harry Rivett produced three daughters, but the union was destined to prove tragically short-lived, with Harry a decade later dying at sea from tuberculosis on a months-long voyage from Australia to England.

This voyage was detailed over six decades later in "An Account of a Sea Journey," a memorable short memoir by Carol Rivett's sister Maud Rivett Howson, republished with addenda by her nephew-in-law George Howson, in Contrebis, the journal of the Lancaster Archaeological and Historical Society. (See here.)

The Rivett family originally set out from London for Australia in 1898 aboard the Oroya, arriving on December 9 in Melbourne, where Harry's older brother, William Charles Rivett, who had been employed in England as a clerk in a wool brokerage business, had previously settled. 

Sadly, Harry did not get better in the warm Australian climate, and a little over a year later the family booked a slow passage back to England, the terminally ill Harry hoping to die at sea.

Harry, Beatrice and their three young daughters, Gladys, Maud and Carol, left Australia on March 2, 1900 for England on the Illawarra, "an iron-built, three-masted, full-rigged sailing ship," commencing a sea-journey of 15,000 miles and five months around southern Africa that Harry would not survive. In telling this story Maud Howson speculated that future generations might have difficult believing that "an ordinary family, in the opening months of the twentieth century," could make such a journey

with only the wind as their motive power; with only paraffin for their lighting; with no heating for the small cabins and saloon in which they had to shelter from tempestuous weather; with only small signal flags as a means of communication with passing vessels, who alone could report their news or condition to a land-based port.

Oroya
Illawarra

It is a fascinating short account that I urge you to read.  Concerning the baby of the family, Carol, who was about six years old at the time, Maude mentions that despite the supervision of their mother and a merchant navy cadet "who was absolutely devoted to her," the young child "took the opportunity of climbing on the taffrail" when the crew were signalling another ship as the Illawarra neared South Africa:

Mother, happening to look around, just saved her from going overboard, when the ship began to move again.  We elder ones all climbed on the taffrail at times, though we were forbidden to: it must have been about 3 ft or 3 ft 6 ins from the deck and a most insecure perch.

off St. Helena

On June 6 the ship reached St. Helena, once remote home to the exiled Emperor Napoleon and at the time home to some 2000 Boers, prisoners of the then ongoing conflict with Great Britain.  Down to L5 in cash and with her husband near death, Beatrice stayed on board with her children, though she did mail the letters home that were later consulted by Maude when she wrote her travel memoir. 

Three days after the ship left St. Helena on June 9, Harry died and was interned in the ocean, 55 miles from Ascension Island.  The crew, Maude notes mordantly, was rather glad to see Harry shuffle off this mortal coil:

[T]hey had regarded my poor father as a man with death in his face, ever since he had boarded the ship at Melbourne; and, according to the superstitions of their calling, they regarded him as the bearer of the ill-luck which had beset the voyage.  When he had been safely buried, the crew said that the luck would change; there appears to have been something in it [as we had] good weather and no serious setbacks in the North Atlantic.

wide sargasso sea
Not long after passing the island, the Illawarra crossed into the North Atlantic, giving the crew occasion to prank Maude and her sisters, who

were all hoodwinked by the officer holding up a thread across binoculars at the noon sight, so that we could say we had seen the Line when we crossed it.  I think I was suspicious, but Carol said that she boasted for years that she had seen the Equator.

The same month the ship passed into the seemingly boundless Sargasso Sea:

[T]he surface was like a meadow, so thick it was with golden-green seaweeds.  Of course, all the children were violently excited, and acquired (or made) hooks and lines of every kind to fish up the seaweeds from the water and land them on the deck of the ship; again, why we never went overboard in our excitement, I cannot imagine.

The soon-stinking mess that accumulated on the ship deck was met with something less than pleasure by the crew and officers, however: "We got into more trouble...over this business than over anything else on the whole voyage.  Luckily, we did not know what bad language meant, but we were often threatened with a rope's end."  (Here I am reminded of the title of one of Carol Rivett's detective novels, Rope's End, Rogue's End.)

underground at Baker Street
Their home in London, after they finally arrived in the City on August 3, 1900, was 13 Marlborough Place, St. John's Wood, where resided in Victorian patriarchal majesty Beatrice's father, as well as his unmarried children, sons Edward and Herbert and daughters Chloe, Janet and Annie.  With widowed Beatrice and her three daughters joining the household, there were ten individuals all told, along with one, no doubt very busy, house-servant. 

Maude and her sisters found their arrival in London bewildering indeed:

However, my mother was a Londoner, born and bred, and off we went by rail to Fenchurch Street and thence by the old sulphurous Underground Railway to Baker Street.  There, Mother's last pennies had given out and we all packed into a hansom-cab, knowing that there would be someone to pay the fare when we arrived.

It was streaming with rain and heavily overcast when we reached "home."  I can remember the crowd of aunts and uncles who greeted us, but only very faintly.  My clearest recollection of that night as we all sat around the supper table is Grandpa saying "It's dark; turn on the light": somebody pulled the string of the 'by-pass' light on the fixture of an old-fashioned incandescent gas burner. 

I was nearly blinded by the sudden illumination and stared in amazement: it seemed miraculous after the dim oil lamps of Illawarra.  I did not know that such an indoor light existed anyway on sea or land.  This must have been what Mother meant by "home."

As part of her father's household, Beatrice was put on the government payroll (joining her sister Chloe) as an assistant to her borough rate collector father, while another of Beatrice's sisters in the household, Annie, worked as a draper's assistant.

Athabasca Hall
where Maud Rivett lived when a teacher
at the University of Alberta
The Foot family may seem rather conventional and "bourgeois," if you will, but one of their number, Beatrice's brother Herbert, in 1903 was an actuary who was elected to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, which puts him in company with William Hogarth, Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith, Charles Dickens and Karl Marx.  (There's even-handedness for you.) 

Another of Beatrice's sisters, Edith Maud Foot, married James Edward Forty, a freemason and the beloved headmaster, from 1893 to 1926, of Hull Grammar School.  They sometimes were visited by Carol Rivett.

Beatrice's middle daughter, Maud, went into education herself, obtaining a B.Sc. degree in botany the Royal College of Science, Imperial College London and teaching for a short time at the University of Alberta before in 1922 marrying John Howson, headmaster of Bicester Grammar School in Oxfordshire. A native Lancastrian, Howson upon his retirement in 1941 returned to Lancashire with Maud, where the couple was active in local community affairs.  This move greatly influenced Carol Rivett and her later detective fiction, as we will see.

The Rivett domicile (left half of central building)
The oldest Rivett sister, Gladys, appears to have become a private nurse.  The youngest, Carol, was given a good education at South Hampstead High School, one of the first girls' day schools in London, and the Central School of Arts and Crafts, established in 1896 as an outgrowth of the Arts and Crafts movement. 

As she did not publish her first detective novel, The Murder on the Burrows, until 1931, when she was 37 years old, I am not clear how she supported herself up to that point, but her mother Beatrice-- with whom she lived at the now rather posh and pricey 71 Carlton Hill, St. John's Wood up to the outbreak of the Second World War--seems to have made Carol her primary heir when she died in 1943. There seems to have been some money in the family that made its way to Beatrice and Carol.

Thurlestone Hotel
During part of the war Carol Rivett was evacuated from London to the Thurlestone Hotel, a luxury establishment in Devon still in operation today.  There Carol shared space with students from Ravenscroft (this possibly the boys' prep school at Yelverton, Devon, which was requisitioned as an officers' mess in 1941), causing her to remark in a letter (dated 8 November 1940) that "the combination of boarding school and luxury hotel is even more fatuous than the establishments separately!" (See here.)

After the war, Carol moved away from the world of "fatuous" luxury hotels to an isolated locale in rural Lancashire (where her sister Maud and Maud's husband John already had gone), having fallen in love with the countryside there.

Although many of Carol's prewar detective novels were set in London, her postwar books more often take place in rural England, frequently in the north country. Several novels are specifically set in Lancashire's lovely Lune Valley, along the River Lune.

Indeed, one of her later detective novels is named Crook O'Lune (Shepherd's Crook in the US), after a picturesque turning in the river that was painted by JMW Turner.  It is a sequel of sorts to her novels Fell MurderThe Theft of the Iron Dogs and Still Waters.

"Crook Of Lune, Looking towards Hornby Castle" (c. 1816-1818)
by Joseph Mallord William Turner

By the 1950s Carol Rivett lived at an adored stone cottage named "Newbanks" in the Lancashire parish of Aughton.  The house itself served as the setting for her novel Crook O'Lune.  Sadly, however, Rivett died at the age of 64 in 1958.  She left an unfinished novel behind her (and one unpublished one, apparently completed years earlier).  An extremely prolific author, Carol produced 71 detective novels in 27 years. (There were two mainstream novels as well, published under her own name.)

In 1958 alone there appeared, under her two pseudonyms, Death in Triplicate, Murder on a Monument and Long Shadows, followed in 1959 by two posthumously published novels, Death of a Lady Killer and Dishonour among Thieves (as stated above what was evidently intended to be her third 1959 novel was left unfinished). 

Had Carol Rivett been granted the same more generous spans of life as Agatha Christie (1890-1976) or Gladys Mitchell (1901-1983), say, and lived until the late 1970s, she might well have published well over 100 detective novels, rivaling John Street as perhaps the most prolific of true Golden Age detective novelists. It's strange to think that she might still have  been publishing into the Thatcher Era.

St. Savior's Church, Aughton, copyright Ian Taylor
http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2710861

Carol's sister Maud survived her by a decade and both sisters are buried, along with eldest sister Gladys, on the grounds at St. Savior's Church, Aughton.  Although I do not believe, as some notable authorities of the day urged, that Carol Rivett quite belongs in quite the same rank with Christie, Mitchell, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Georgette Heyer and Christianna Brand, she is nevertheless most definitely one of the more notable figures in the second tier of Golden Age British mystery, and I hope that soon enough all of her books will be back in print, for fans of vintage mystery to enjoy. 

Coming soon: a discussion of the matter of Carol Rivett's pen names, and a review of one of her novels.

Graves of the Rivett sisters (Edith Caroline Rivett on the right)
http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMFZF2_Edith_Caroline_Rivett_Aughton_Lancashire

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Back in the Bushes: The Christopher Bush Detective Novels Reissued

"Chris" (Christopher Bush)
 in military dress 

Things continue to move in vintage mystery news as we head into the fall of 2017.

First up, we have developments with two of the most reliable and prolific British Golden Age detective novelists, both of them, like Margery Allingham, John Dickson Carr, Nicholas BlakeGladys MitchellAnthony Gilbert and the recently revived E. R. Punshon, Thirties inductees in the Detection Club (indeed, they were among the last inductees before the Second World War): Edith Caroline Rivett (1894-1958), who published 71 detective novels as ECR Lorac and Carol Carnac, and Charlie Christmas Bush (1885-1973), who is better known to classic mystery fans as Christopher Bush, author of 63 detective novels.  (Besides detective fiction, Charlie Bush also wrote regional mainstream novels and war thrillers under the name Michael Home.)

Two of Carol Rivett's ECR Lorac three score and eleven detective novels are being reprinted by the British Library in the spring, I hear, and the first ten Christopher Bush detective novels are being reissued in just under two weeks by Dean Street Press, who is going reissue the whole series.

For this Bush series I have written a sizable general introduction, as well as shorter introductions for individual titles. Years ago I had named Cut-Throat as one of my favorite Golden Age detective novels, but I have concluded over the years that Bush contributed additional classics to the genre, as did Carol Rivett, a longtime favorite of mine. (I'll have more to say about her soon.)

The first ten titles Christopher Bush titles are as follows (scroll down for further discussion):


Through the generosity of a private collector, the incredibly rare The Plumley Inheritance is now back in print, for the first time in 91 years.  It's the novel in which debuts Christopher Bush's series sleuth, the lanky and bespectacled Ludovic "Ludo" Travers, who appears in all 63 of Bush's detective novels.  Travers and his entourage likely will remind readers heretofore unfamiliar with the series of what they find in the detective fiction of Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham, creators of, respectively, Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion. 

Travers is another member in the swank ranks of well-born and independently-wealthy gentleman detectives, though he is also a successful author of simultaneously learned and popular treatises on economics.  He is single (in the first ten books), but happily has a most devoted "man," the raven-like Palmer, to take care of him.  Over the first ten books Travers slowly moves to dominate the series, elbowing out (politely of course) two other characters: Geoffrey Wrentham, an old school friend of Travers, and private detective John Franklin, Travers' colleague in the great advisory firm of Durangos, Ltd.  Remaining with Travers in the series for many years, however, is Scotland Yard's Superintendent George "The General" Wharton, who in my view is one of the more significant and credibly conceived policemen in British Golden Age detective fiction. 

Christopher Bush was a stalwart of the Golden Age of detective fiction, popular with critics and the public alike.  Charles Williams, with JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis one of Oxford's distinguished "Inklings," once approvingly commented that "Mr. Bush writes of as thoroughly enjoyable murders as any I know."  Additionally, modern authority Barry Pike has aptly summarized the appeal of the detective fiction of Bush, whom he calls "one of the most reliable and resourceful of true detective writers," as "Golden Age baroque, rendered remarkable by some extraordinary flights of fancy."  More recently blogger Nick Fuller has noted the frequent ingenuity of Bush, comparing him as an adept of the alibi problem to the great lord of the locked room, John Dickson Carr. 

The Plumley Inheritance is a lighter treasure hunt mystery (though murder makes it way into the picture as well), but three years later Bush scored a great hit with The Perfect Murder Case, which has some resemblance to a serial murder novel (though it really isn't one, in my view).  The device of the letter taunting the police that a perfect murder is going to be committed seems to have been inspired by the notorious Jack the Ripper killings, which took place when Bush was living in London as a very young boy.

Dead Man Twice, which in my opinion should be considered the third, not the fourth, novel in the Travers series (there's a disagreement about this), concerns the mystery of the double deaths of a gentleman boxer and his butler, while Murder at Fenwold (in the US The Death of Cosmo Revere) is a full-fledged country house and village mystery, with all the trappings.

A classic Christmas season crime, Dancing Death, followed.  It takes place mostly during a snowbound country house party, a classic situation that never fails to appeal to fans of vintage mystery.

Next there was Dead Man's Music, which takes advantage of Bush interest in classical music, a love that was shared by his son, the late composer Geoffrey Bush (1920-1998).  And then the excellent, seemingly time-altering, Cut-Throat, influenced by contemporary British politics.

Finally there are the first three of Bush's "The Case of" mysteries (this was the title format for the rest of the series): The Unfortunate Village, The April Fools and The Three Strange Faces.  As the title indicates, Village is another one of Bush's takes on the rural mystery, in a story bearing certain resemblance, in my view, to Miles Burton's The Secret of High Eldersham, recently reprinted by the British Library, Gladys Mitchell's The Saltmarsh Murders and Agatha Christie's Murder Is Easy.

April Fools is another country house murder story, a highly ingenious one making use of the conventions of April Fools' Day, while The Three Strange Faces is partially a train mystery, set in France--the first, though not the last, of the Bush detective novels with this setting.

I'm very excited about this new vintage mystery reissue series, as it concerns one of the most important Golden Age British mystery writers who had remained out of print.  Making all these books accessible again to fans of British mystery is another significant step in the ongoing recovery of Golden Age detective fiction in all its splendor, something that was almost unimaginable, at least in this scope, only five years ago.