Sunday, March 1, 2015

Capital Crimes - edited by Martin Edwards

I'm a big fan of the British Library crime classics series, it's a great idea which has lived up to expectations - and who can ask for more than that? There are also times when it far exceeds expectation and this is one of them.

In 'Capital Crimes' Martin Edwards, for want of a better word, curates 17 short stories of murder and murderous intent with a common theme of London as their setting. The order is roughly chronological and spread over about half a century starting with Conan Doyle in what feels like a distinctly Victorian London and ending in a post war pea souper. The golden age queens of crime (Christie and Sayers) are not specifically represented although their work and influence is discussed - but then they really don't require much introduction and one detail I really like about this book is its introductions. Each story is prefaced by a paragraph or two - enough to be useful without being distracting.

The Conan Doyle exhibited is 'The Case of Lady Sannox', Holmes and Watson are entirely absent and the story is everything that Edwards promises - it is clever, cruel, and totally chilling, as much horror as it is crime and sets a high bar for what's to follow.

Other highlights include Thomas Burke's 'The Hands of Mr Ottermole', the twist at the end might not be the greatest surprise, but the build up of suspense is masterly, also it was the wrong thing entirely to read on the bus home. The subsequent walk through town was not quite as carefree as usual. Ethel Lina White's 'Cheese' is similarly atmospheric, concentrating almost entirely on the very understandable fears of an intended victim.

E. M. Delafield's contribution also takes a good look at an intended victim, but with an entirely likely lack of sympathy. A couple move into a boarding house where the outgoing attractive husband easily makes friends but his nervous and awkward wife does not. Her fears that her husband wants to do away with him only alienate her neighbours - but what if she's right?

H.C. Bailey's 'The Little House' is chilling for different reasons, the details may set it sometime in the 1920's but the bones of the story could appear in any current crime drama. After that the ingenious problem solving elements of Margery Allingham's 'The Unseen Door' or Anthony Berkeley's 'The Avenging Chance' are a positive relief.

Altogether it's an extremely satisfying collection which has unearthed plenty of obscure gems along with its better known contributors. Apart from that dark walk home I've enjoyed every moment of it.

8 comments:

  1. I'm always on the lookout for short crime fiction, and these stories and the series look great. Thanks for sharing this post.

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    1. It's been a really interesting series so far, and this is an excellent collection of shorts

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  2. I'm halfway through this and loving it, though I'm not usually a fan of short stories. Yes BL the series is great -- long may it continue.

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  3. I'm very much a fan of short stories, and particularly like anthologies. They're pefect for the daily bus journey. This collection has some absolut gems in it too. Very much looking forward to seeing your thoughts on it.

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  4. Oh, what a nice collection - I'll definitely be reading this. Nice!

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    1. It's a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying collection! Highly recommended :)

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  5. You know crime isn't really my thing, but every time I see one of these editions I think that I may be missing the boat. They look cozy. Are they? Much in the way of gore or violence?

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  6. The gore and violence is minimal and even then only implied. If you like Agatha Christie (I can't remember if you do?) then this should be very appealing. Plenty of locked room style puzzles and atmosphere and very much the sort of book that gets labelled cozy. There's also enough variety to keep it interesting, and nothing very long so they're perfect for filling the odd twenty minutes or half an hour. Worth a punt basically.

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