Saturday, October 15, 2016

The #1947 Club: Death in the Wrong Room by Anthony Gilbert

Anthony Gilbert is the pseudonym of Lucy Beatrice Malleson (1899-1973), member of the Detection Club and author of some seventy novels, a majority of which feature Arthur Crook, a lawyer from London, whom Gilbert deliberately created, in 1936, as a foil to the aristocratic amateur detectives who dominated the literary crime scene at the time.

Death in the Wrong Room, featuring Arther Crook, was published in 1947 and reflects the changes that came in England during the war years. This review is offered as part of the #1947 Club being hosted @ Stuck in a Book.

Colonel Anstruther retires from the British Army in India and settles down at Sunbridge with his daughter Rose and faithful family-retainer Jock. Rose entertains a little but otherwise the family has little contact with the others. But then Rose - described as having stepped out of The Primavera -:


 falls in love with Captain Gerald Fleming and elopes with him. The colonel builds himself a new house, named The Downs, which becomes the talk of the town. Six years after her elopement, Rose returns to her parental home and is welcomed by the Colonel and Jock but her father warns her that her husband should not follow her. Rose reassures her father that there was no cause for such a thing happening: Captain Fleming was dead. An incorrigible gambler, after having run through his wife's money and jewels, he had finally shot himself. "Living is very expensive," Rose tells her father, "but life itself is very cheap." Rose once again takes up her maiden name and life continues as it was before. Soon afterwards the colonel's brother Joseph Anstruther joins them. Crime is his hobby and he thinks that The Downs is the ideal site for committing a murder.

But then comes the war and life changes. The rationing begins, servants become a fickle lot, and finances become strained. Meanwhile Sunbridge sees an influx as the Blitz drives people away from London to the countryside. Realizing that sooner or later they will have to give shelter to these 'refugees' on government order, Jock hits upon the brilliant plan of taking in lodgers. The lodgers could stay in one wing of the house, use one of the two staircases, have meals and tea at different times than the short the Anstruthers will never have to sully themselves by interacting with the lodgers. The plan is put into action and the lodgers come and go, paying the Anstruthers but never really interacting with them, all the transaction being handled by Jock.

But then towards the fag end of the war comes Lady Bate with her niece Caroline. A harridan, she takes offense at this arrangement which not only doesn't allow her to meet the family on an equal footing but also makes her share the arrangements with the other two lodgers: the chatterbox Mrs. Hunter and the deaf Miss Twiss, whom she doesn't consider her equals. As Miss Bate's resentment simmers things start turning uncomfortable. Meanwhile Caroline meets the handsome Roger Carlton who, after being introduced to her aunt, impresses the old lady so much that she starts thinking of changing in her will in his favor, much to the chagrin of Caroline. As things reach a breaking point in The Downs, Joseph Anstuther's prediction that it was an ideal place for committing a murder come true.

Unlike two of Gilbert's novels read earlier: The Clock in the Hatbox and Death Knock Three Times, this doesn't have a knock-out punch in the end but it still made me feel apprehensive and very-very aware that I was reading it while all alone in the house and made me very conscious of the creaks and other noises. And the humour is delicious. Gilbert is very good with tartar old ladies and the conversation among LadyBate, Mrs. Hunter, and Miss Twiss is a joy to read. Also the novel is very good in depicting the snobbery of the English upper crust even as the sun-set for them and the British empire.

With this, I have read six of Gilbert's novels and all of them have been more or less good with the two mentioned above being absolutely brilliant. I don't know why publishing houses do not bring out her books. Rather than an umpteenth edition of an Agatha Christie, I would like authors like Gilbert to be republished.


First Line: THE HOUSE stood on the side of a hill, with a windmill for background, and behind that a wide expanse of pale sky with nothing to interrupt the view but a few trees, and in the far distance, a tall pointed spire white as limestone against the grayer clouds.

Publishing details: NY: Detective Book Club
First Published: 1947
Series: Arthur Crook #17
Pages: 188
Source: Open Library

Other Books read of the same author: (Among Others): The Clock in the Hat Box

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Baker's Dozen: From the Delhi Book Fair 2016

 I love reading about the newest book acquisitions of others and recently there have been quite a few blog posts about this. TracyK set the ball rolling when she posted about her visit to the Planned Parenthood book sale: here and here;  Prashant talked about his unusual restrain when visiting Books by Weight exhibition: here & here; Bev hit a gold mine at the Hossier Hills Book Fair; Peggy Ann got extremely lucky at a flea market while John continued to unearth buried treasures: here and here.

Inspired by these posts, I thought of making a list of books I purchased at the Delhi Book Fair last month. So here are 13 non-fictional texts that I picked-up, mostly at throw-away prices from the fair. They are in no particular order, except the the books featured first and last are the ones I am most excited about. The descriptions are mostly from GoodReads.

In 1959 German journalist Norbert Lebert interviewed children of prominent Nazis: Hess, Bormann, Goring, Himmler, Baldur von Schirach (Hitler Youth creator) & Hans Frank (governor of Poland). Not knowing what to do with the interviews, he boxed & stored them. After his death, his son Stephan--also a journalist--inherited the files. Fascinated by what he found, he set out to re-interview the same people 40 years later. Revisiting his father's subjects, Lebert explores how each of them deals with the agonizing question: What does it mean to have a father who participated in mass murder? For the most part, the Leberts found that the children remained intensely loyal to their fathers, regardless of their crimes. Gudrun Himmler, for example, lives in a Munich suburb under her husband's name, keeping secret contact with other nostalgic Nazis. In fact, Niklas Frank is the only one who rejects his heritage. But when he writes in a popular German magazine of his rage against his father--charged with 2,000,000 deaths--hundreds of letters pour in from outraged readers. Whatever your father did, fathers must always be honored. Remarkable in both its content & its narrative power, "My Father's Keeper" is an illuminating addition to the dark literature of the Nazi past & of how the past haunts the present.


He was a 1930s golf legend and Hollywood trickster who adamantly refused to be photographed. He never played professionally, yet sports-writing legend Grantland Rice still heralded him as “the greatest golfer in the world.” Then, in 1937, the secrets of John Montague’s past were exposed—leading to a sensational trial that captivated the nation.


The formation of Pakistan and the search for an Islamic identity are inextricably interlinked, says journalist Haroon Khalid. Of the wider issue of global politics, he reasons, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has been a side effect. And religious intolerance places the minority communities of the country in a precarious position.

They have to come to terms with a rapidly changing situation. A White Trail is an ethnographic study of these communities and the changes they are having to face.


In the Inspirational and often hilarious memoir, the author recounts her experiences in India using Hindi as the lens through which she is given a new perspective on the country.


 In November 2013, Sachin Tendulkar played his final test against the West Indies at the Wankhede. Final Test traces those fateful two and a half days as Sachin takes to the pitch one last time.


 Not many people have heard of IIM and IIT graduates becoming bestselling writers or chief ministers. The professional career path chosen by many people is as plain as daylight and can be predicted many years into the future. But Sonia Golani's book, My Life, My Rules: Stories of 18 Unconventional Careers, catches the imagination of the reader and provides valuable insights into the inconceivable ways a person's career can proceed. It is a collection of eighteen different stories, each featuring an individual who has dared to walk the less-traversed path.


 A sparkling collection studded with wit, passion and insight, the essays are personal reflections on genres of cinema: Hollywood blockbusters, Hindi noir, horror — and any other kind you may have sat through wide-eyed in a million small-town halls or metro multiplexes — and the effect they had on individual lives.

Ranging from the sparse, undemonstrative work of Finland's Kaurismäki brothers to a boisterous Punjabi masala movie that may or may not be about a foot fe- tish; from a writer's first — and hilarious — experience of watching a film in a theatre, to one who performs a Helen dance in drag at a Brooklyn square … each of these essays reveals to readers a completely different side of their authors.


 Have you heard of Footpath(1953), perhaps the most Left-leaning film in which Dilip Kumar gave one of his most nuanced performances? of director-actor Chandra Shekhar's Cha Cha Cha(1964), a fascinating musical where the 'Harijan' hero becomes a fabulous pop dancer? of Gaddar(1973), perhaps the finest example of film noir in popular Hindi Cinema? Of the Amol Palekar-directed Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jayen (1990), a rare true-blue musical with Nana Patekar at his best?Of Sehar(2005), one of the most underfeted gangster movies by Bollywood? Of Antardwand(2010), a movie on shotgun weddings that gobsmacks you with it's authentic portrayal of mofussil Bihar? National Award winning film writer Avijit Ghosh takes a second look at 40 such compelling Hindi movies that have been largely forgotten. Speaking with the directors, producers, cinematographers, music directors and actors behind these, he explores how and why they have been fallen through the cracks of our memory.


The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the fountainhead of Indian literature and religion have served as model and source of theme and treatment for countless number of works in Sanskrit and other regional languages...


 By turns humorous, sympathetic and hair-raising, this delectable travelogue-cum-memoir is the unique account of a young Englishman travelling through the India of the 1920s for the first time.


Emphasising collaborative learning strategies, the authors explore and challenge the nature of learning within the national curriculum, looking at ways of including diversity in science, history, maths and poetry.

12 & 13: Two books which I am very happy to have purchased, dealing with the pain and sufferings of people put behind bars for their convictions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Love in Mysteries: Trent's Last Case & Before the Fact

Recently Curt Evans @ The Passing Tramp wrote a very interesting post where he discussed certain rules laid down by writers Kurt Steel and S.S. Van Dine as regards the writing of mysteries. One rule that struck a chord with me was this one laid down by Van Dine:

#There must be no love interest in the story.  To introduce amour is to clutter up a purely intellectual experience with irrelevant sentiment.

I don't know why but somehow I too find that a romantic angle involving the detective often puts my teeth on edge.

So while reading E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case, when I came across these lines, it set alarm bells ringing:

But I am under an intolerable dread of Mabel being involved in suspicion with regard to the murder. It is horrible to me to think of her delicacy and goodness being in contact, if only for a time, with the brutalities of the law. She is not fitted for it. It would mark her deeply. Many young women of twenty-six in these days could face such an ordeal, I suppose. I have observed a sort of imitative hardness about the products of the higher education of women today which would carry them through any thing perhaps. I am not prepared to say it is a bad thing in the condition of feminine life prevailing at present. Mabel, however, is not like that. She is as unlike that as she is unlike the simpering misses that used to surround me as a child. She has plenty of brains; she is full of character; her mind and her tastes are cultivated; but it is all mixed up with ideals of refinement and reservation and womanly mystery. (258-259)

Delicacy, Goodness, Brains,Character, Cultivated Tastes, Refinement, Reservation, Womanly Mystery!!!!!!!!!!!!! No wonder our hero Philip Trent falls in love with the woman even before seeing her and of course her first glimpse is enough to strengthen his ardour all the more. So even while suspecting her of being part of the crime, he cannot really bring himself to pronounce her guilty because there is one part of him which confesses to the woman that: a man who, after seeing you and being in your atmosphere, could associate you with the particular kind of abomination I imagined is a fool.

And so our hero not only does not make public the evidence he has collected, he loses his integrity to such an extent that the murder he was investigating becomes a matter of joke. To be discussed with a laugh while partaking food and drinks.

Give me a break!

The other novel which discusses another aspect of love is Francis Iles' (Anthony Berkeley) strange Before the Fact. Lina McLaislaw is known for her brains but that is before she meets Johnnie Aysgarth. She becomes so infatuated with the man that she overlooks all his faults: lying, cheating, stealing, extra-marital affairs and even murder. All that seems to matter is that she has to save Johnnie from making that fatal mistake that would put him in the clutches of the law. So Lina who thinks of Johnnie not only as her husband but also as her child continues to pamper his wishes.

A very-very strange story but with an acute description of emotional manipulation. Did Iles write it as a warning to women? The sub-title calls it a "Murder story for Ladies". But I doubt whether any woman would be as accommodating (and dumb) as Lina.

First Line: Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely.

Title: Trent's Last Case
Author: E.C. Bentley
Publishing Details: NY: Random House, 1941
First Published: 1913
Pages: 164
Source: CERF [823.808 C 3351 TH]

First Line: Some women give birth to murderers, some go to bed with them, and some marry them.

Title: Before the Fact
Author: Francis Iles
Publishing Details: NY, Random House, 1941
First Published: 1932
Pages: 233
Trivia: Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion is based on this novel.
Source: CERF [823.808 C 3351 TH]

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Forgotten Book: Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler

The only kind of spy stories that I am fond of reading are where the world is not divided between those wearing white hats and black hats and where the emphasis is on the emotional estrangement and entanglements of the secret service agent(s), something like Somerset Maugham's Ashenden or Graham Greene's The Human Factor.

And thus towards the end in Eric Ambler's Epitaph for a Spy as the protagonist Josef Vadassy reflects on his ordeal, he finds that all he can hear is an agonizing scream:

Now I knew who had hit me on the head, who had searched my room, who had slammed and locked the writing room door. Now I knew, and it did not seem to matter that I knew. In my ears was still that last agonized shriek. (157)

It does not seem to matter because what made that person take to spying might have been greed or divided loyalties or it might very well have been a certain compulsion as which constrained Vadassy himself. But I am getting ahead of the story.

Josef Vadassy is a man without a nation. The redrawing of borders after the first world war has left him without a country to call his own. He lives in France working as a teacher of languages. Through hard work, he has been able to save some money and buy a Zeiss camera to indulge in the one hobby he has: photography. When the novel opens, he is enjoying a hard-earned holiday in the French Mediterranean town of St. Gatien. Trouble begins when he goes to collect the photographs that he had given the local chemist to develop. Over there he is arrested as the film contains photos of sensitive naval installations at Toulon and he is accused of espionage. For Vadassy, his biggest nightmare has begun as the French officials threaten him with imprisonment and deportation:

I could put up with a prison - even a French one - but deportation! I began to feel sick and desperately frightened. If France expelled me there was nowhere left me to go. Yugoslavia would arrest me. Hungary would not admit me. Neither would Germany or Italy. Even if a convicted spy could get into England without a passport he wouldn't be permitted to work. To America I would be merely another undesirable alien. The South American Republics would demand sums of money that I would not possess as surety of my good behaviour. Soviet Russia would have no more use of a convicted spy than would England. Even the Chinese wanted your passport. There would be nowhere I could go, nowhere. And after all, what did it matter? What happened to an insignificant teacher of languages without national status was of no interest to anyone. No consul would intervene on his behalf, no Parliament, no Congress, no Chamber of Deputies would inquire into his fate. Officially he did not exist; he was an abstraction, a ghost. All he could decently and logically do was destroy himself. (13)

There is only one route left for him. He persuades the investigating officer to give him a chance to apprehend the real spy, the one who did take the photos and who must be one of the guests staying in the same hotel as Vadassy. For this he returns to the hotel and interacts with the other handful of guests staying in the same hotel: English, French, Americans, Swiss, Germans, trying to solve the mystery. What he doesn't know however is that the officials have not told him the complete story.

With a handful of suspects under the same roof, this is not so much a story of espionage as a country-house mystery. Like the other Amblers I have read, this too was a good and moving read. I am thankful to Tracy K @ Bitter Tea and Mystery for pointing the book out to me. Other reviews of the book can be read @ Vintage Pop FictionsEla's Book Blog, & Books and Boots.

Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase. Please head over there for the other entries.

First Line: I ARRIVED in St. Gatien from Nice on Tuesday, the 14th of August.

Publishing Details: NY: Bantam, 1958
First Published: 1938
Pages: 166
Trivia: The novel was made into a movie Hotel Reserve in 1944.
Source: Open Library
Other Books read of the same author: A Coffin for Dimitrios, The Light of Day, Dirty Story, Journey into Fear, The Schirmer Inheritance,

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Mount TBR: Checkpoint

It is time for the third-quarterly checkpoint at the Mount TBR reading challenge hosted by Bev @ My Reader's Block.

I am climbing at a snail's pace on Pike's Peak having completed only two books so far:

1. The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy

2. Ponies and Mysteries by Mary Gervaise

Here's something interesting that Bev has asked us to do:

Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search.  Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.

The word I have chosen is Witch and here's a pic of one:

Macbeth, Mystery, Christie, & Memories

An A still....

I am happy to note that I am still carrying on well in The Reading Assignment challenge hosted by Michelle and Berls. I have been able to read one book each for the nine months of this year.

Here are the books read:

Friday, September 30, 2016

Forgotten Book: The Rome Express by Arthur Griffiths

Call it the romance of the railways or whatever you like but mysteries set on trains hold a special fascination for me. So when I came across The Rome Express by Major Arthur Griffiths I was all eager to read it.

A soldier who fought in the Crimean war and who later became the Inspector of Prisons, Major Arthur Griffiths was also a prolific writer who wrote more than 60 books in his lifetime. The Rome Express, first published in 1896, begins with the approach of the train to Paris. However, things are not fine as the calls for the conductor go unheard. Finally he is found snoring heavily in his bunk and hardly awake goes about his duties in a dull, lethargic way. When his knocks on a compartment get no response, he enters it and finds to his horror that the occupant has been brutally murdered. Suspicion naturally falls on the other handful of people travelling in the same car. They include two Frenchmen: a salesman and an agent; two English brother: a general and a clergyman; an Italian detective; a countess and her maid who does a disappearing act.

The investigation is undertaken by M. Flocon, the chef of the Surete, a judge, and a commissary of police. The English general and the French officials are soon at odds with each other since the latter suspect the Countess while for the general it is inconceivable that a beautiful, aristocratic lady can do anything unsavoury.

The mystery is fairly simple to unravel but it is the humour- in the words exchanged between the chef and the general; in the bungling of the French officials; in the comments by the author - that gives the book its charm. If you are looking for something light and pleasurable to while away a couple of hours, this is the book for you. This is also the opinion of fellow-blogger Prashant whose delightful review can be read over here.


First Line: The Rome Express, the direttissimo, or most direct, was approaching Paris one morning in March, when it became known to the occupants of the sleeping-car that there was something amiss, very much amiss, in the car.

Publication Details: London: Claremont Books, 1995.

First Published: 1896

Source: DSPL [823 G822V]


Submitted for FFB @ Pattinase. Head over there for the other entries.