1940s Crime

Tragedy At Law – Cyril Hare

Tragedy at Law was originally published in 1942 and P.D. James states that it is

…regarded by many lawyers as the best English detective story set in the legal world.

This book was written during the golden age of crime and it’s Englishness just oozes out of the pages. I was laughing out loud at certain passages, as the society described in this book just doesn’t exist any more. The characters are so posh! There was one section in the book where someone tries to poison the judge with a chocolate which has been cut in half, poison added to the centre and then resealed. It was thought to be a terribly planned crime, and soon discovered, as no-one would be so rude as to eat a chocolate in one mouthful – it is a very good job they don’t see me with a box of chocolates!

The book focuses on Mr Justice Barber, a high Court Judge, who is being threatened with anonymous letters and the chocolates mentioned above. He moves from town to town presiding over court cases in Southern England. We get a detailed look into what the legal system was like during this period of history, and I think that it would be fascinating to anyone in this profession or with a strong interest in the history of justice, but have to admit that some of it went over my head.

The mystery itself is light and fun to read and it was great to be reminded of what life was like 70 years ago, but I think this book is more suited to the older generation who want to reminisce a bit or to real crime fiction fans who like to study the development of the crime novel. I’m pleased that I read it, but don’t think I’ll read any of his other books.


I read this for Cornflower’s Book Group. If you’d like to know what other people thought of  Tragedy at Law then take a look at her blog, as we will be disccusing this book there tomorrow.

1940s Crime Mystery

The Moving Toyshop – Edmund Crispin

The Moving Toyshop is a Penguin classic crime book, originally published in 1946. It is a light, supposedly comic, mystery set in Oxford. The story begins with a poet returning to Oxford late one night. He finds the body of an old woman in a toyshop, but the next morning the toyshop, and the body have vanished. The police are not interested in a crime, which to them doesn’t seem to exist, so the poet persuades his friend, an English professor, to help him investigate.

I found the references to Oxford fascinating, as I was born there, and have visited it fairly frequently. The geography of the city hasn’t changed much in the last 60 years, but the attitude of the residents is very different – people seemed to trust each other a lot more then! The language is very quaint, and it is lovely to read a book so full of Englishness! There was a brief mention of the male nudity on the banks of the Thames, which I was vaguely aware of, but I found a fascinating article about the history of this section of the river here.

My main problem with the book was that it was a bit too whimsical for me. I don’t find this gentle humour very funny, so I think the main attraction of this sort of book is lost on me. There were lots of other little things which irritated me, but what annoyed me most was the way everyone readily admitted their role in the crime. The “I’m going to kill you, but first let me tell you everything I’ve done” scene was the worst offender!

Overall, I found this be be a light, reasonably entertaining mystery, and would recommend it to anyone who loves Oxford.

2008 Crime

The Ghost – Robert Harris

This is the second book I have read by Robert Harris. The first, Fatherland, was a great idea for a story, and was cleverly written, but lacked the special spark of a great book. Unfortunately The Ghost  wasn’t an improvement.

The narrator of Robert Harris’s latest book, Adam, is assigned the task of becoming a ghostwriter for an ex-Prime Minister’s autobiography. The person he replaces in this job has recently died in suspicious circumstances. Adam travels to America to interview the former Prime Minister and begins to uncover some dangerous secrets.

The Ghost comes across as an attack on various political polices rather than as a thriller. The plot is slow, and lacks the intelligence of Fatherland. If you are interested in British politics then it might be worth reading, as I’m sure there are many politicians parodied in this book, but I’m just after a decent plot, and failed to find one. 

The characters were flat, and the plot was highly improbable. By the end of the book I was so bored that I didn’t really care about the twist, I was just glad to have finished it.

Very disappointing.

2008 Crime Richard and Judy Book Club

The Brutal Art – Jesse Kellerman

The Brutal Art begins when art dealer, Ethan Muller discovers a large number of pictures in an abandoned New York apartment. The pictures were the discovery of a lifetime:

Electrified, unnerved, I stared for six or seven minutes, a long time to look at a sheet of 8 1/2-by-11 paper; and before I could censor myself, I decided that whoever had drawn this was sick. Because the composition had a psychotic quality, the fever of action taken to warm oneself from the chill of solitude.

Ethan soon realises that he has stumbled across the work of a murderer, and tries to use the pictures to solve the 40-year-old crime.

The first third of the book was OK, as although the characters failed to engage me, the plot was interesting enough to pull me onwards. As the book progressed, I began to lose interest; the plot petered out to a virtual standstill, and chapters about Ethan’s past made the book seem dis-jointed.

There seemed to be too much arguing over how much everyone was going to pay for these paintings, and not enough crime-solving action.

I was really disappointed.