Friday, February 27, 2015

Forgotten Mysteries in February

The mysteries read in the month of February:


THE MOTOR RALLY MYSTERY by  JOHN RHODE (1933)



Rhode's novel is centered around the great annual motor rally at Torquay. Robert Weldon takes part in the rally hoping to win a prize driving his 20 h.p. Armstrong Siddeley Saloon. Accompanied by Richard Gateman as the second driver and Harold Merefield as the map reader, he begins well. But on the second day, their luck turns. First they are waylaid by a fog and then in the dead of the night they come across another car from the rally which has met with an accident, killing both the driver and the man accompanying him. The coroner returns a verdict of death due to accident (and the coroner inquest is narrated in the most humorous manner) but then an astonishing fact comes to light and it is left to Dr. Priestly who is the employer of Merefield to solve the case. I wasn't too impressed by the one book of Rhode that I had read prior to this but this one I really liked and hope to read more of him.

First Line: The British Motor Car Rally of that year, organised by the Royal Automobile Club, was generally voted to have been a huge success.

Alternate Title: Dr. Priestly lays a Trap


Publication Details: London & Glasgow: Collins, 1934
First Published: 1933
Pages: 252
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: Night Exercise





MURDER AT THE BLACK CROOK by CECILE HULSE MATSCHAT (1943)



Cecile Hulse Matschat (1895-1976) was an American botanist and geographer who published a number of books on gardens, rivers, and the Okefenokee Swamp. In addition, she also published two books related to mystery and murder, both of which featured the Ramsays: Andrea and David. In this, their second adventure, the Ramsays are asked by the Military Intelligence to pose as guests in the house of Robert Brook, an oil magnate whose oil is being siphoned off to help the Axis in their war effort. The Ramsays go to Brook's plantation house, Black Crook, and meet a motley crew of family members, friends, and staff. The house is putting up a play The Black Crook and during the rehearsals a man is grievously injured and dies soon afterwards. The Ramsays find themselves caught in family politics as latent tensions come to the fore. Could the killing be related to the smuggling of oil? I found this novel to be okay. None of the characters except for the murderer and the murdered man really came to life.

First Line: David Ramsay sat at his desk in the New Orleans office of the Department of Government Housing.

Publication Details: London: Cassell & Company, 1945
First Published: 1943
Pages: 170
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: None

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THE OVAL TABLE by J. JEFFERSON FARJEON (1946)



J. Jefferson Farjeon (1883-1955) was a British writer of crime and mystery. Belonging to a family of artists and authors, Farjeon was himself a prolific writer who published more than fifty novels and plays in his lifetime.

Leonard Boyd arrives from Australia with the idea of meeting a certain Mr. John Coleby. However, as he descends from the London train, he seems to be a wee bit reluctant to meet Coleby, spending his time drinking tea at the station. While at the tea room, he happens to see a few other people: a red-faced heavy set man; a human rat; a young couple. Finally as he makes his way towards Coleby's house, he is almost run down by a speeding bike. When he reaches Leak Hall, the home of Coleby, he finds that the latter is hosting a dinner party and the people he had seen at the station are all guests at the party besides a few more. As one of the guests hasn't turned up, Coleby invites Boyd to take his place - there have to be thirteen at dinner, you see.

At the oval table were thirteen little skulls mounted on slender ebony pedestals holding the thirteen name-cards in their teeth. These skulls gave an unpleasantly symbolic character to the white lilies in the tall silver vase.

The guests are naturally uncomfortable and their discomfort increases as time passes and Coleby declares that he has received anonymous letters threatening to kill him. So he has invited all these people who would gladly kill him and challenges them to carry out the threat.

The cloistered community, the claustrophobia, the paranoia... all combine together to create a novel where the atmosphere is the king. I definitely want to read more of this author.

First Line: Leonard Boyd was one of the thirteen people who sat round John Coleby's dining-table at the last meal he ever ate.

Publication Details: London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1946
First Published: 1946
Pages: 192
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: None

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COUNTERSTROKE by ANDREW GARVE (1978)



Andrew Garve is one of the pseudonyms of English journalist and writer Paul Winterton (1908-2001).

Robert Farran is a troubled man. The once popular actor is on the downslide after the death of his wife and his drinking problem. When Sally Morland, the wife of a popular politician is kidnapped and the kidnappers demand the release of Tom Lacey, one of their accomplices caught in an earlier raid, Farran sees a way out. He offers to impersonate Lacey in order to get both the ransom offered by Sally's husband as well as the chance to show the world his acting skills.

This novel begins well and the tension is well-maintained as Farran prepares to become Lacey. However, mid-way through the book, the writer decides to put in a romantic angle and introduces a trope which I have always found mightily irritating with the result that the book loses its steam and instead of the tension becoming unbearable, Farran's act to hoodwink the kidnappers becomes almost laughable.


First Line: The night the news broke out about Sally Morland I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

Publication Details London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1978
First Published: 1978
Pages: 182
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: None

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Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase

8 comments:

  1. I've liked nearly every book I've read by John Rhode. He was very clever in coming up with ingenious ways to kill people. I've not read anything by B. L. Farjeon's son Joseph Jefferson (named after his actor grandfather, BTW) but I hope to find THE OVAL TABLE some day. Sounds right up my alley.

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    1. John, this was my second Rhode and I am glad I picked it up despite being disappointed in the first one. Now after your praise, I definitely want to read more of him.

      THE OVAL TABLE is good especially in the evoking of the tense atmosphere. Hope you are able to find it soon.

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  2. Farjeon seems to be having an extraordinary resurgence of late - he''s been topping the crime lists in the UK of late - who could have guessed? And I have to read some Rhode really soon, clearly - great selection Neeru, thanks.

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    1. I am glad that somebody other than Christie is getting appreciation from the publishers and the reading public. Please do read Rhode soon, I hope you like him. Thanks for liking the selection, Sergio.

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  3. Neeru - Thanks for highlighting these books. You've given me a welcome reminder that I need to read more of Rhode. Very soon. I'm glad you found a few winners among these.

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    1. Thanks Margot. Look forward to your reading and reviewing of Rhode.

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  4. The all sounds interesting and new to me, but I'm still stuck on the human rat thing in The Oval Table.
    Great review!

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    1. Thanks Freda. The human rat struck me too, so I had to put it in this review. :)

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