Thursday, August 31, 2017

Death in the Tunnel with a 'Maiden's Prayer'

This is the last of this series of books and booze posts, and probably the last cocktail I'll drink in a while (or maybe not, I've started to get into the habit now, and those bottles of vermouth need using). It's been a real pleasure doing the research for these drinks, after an enthusiastic attempt to master the art of cocktail making about 20 years ago I thought it was something I was really not very good at. It turns out that all I needed were good quality ingredients (vital) and to find drinks I actually like and that are simple to make at home. It's been just as much of a pleasure to take a good look at the British Library crime classics as a series rather than as individual books.

I've always been a fan of vintage fiction - for all sorts of reasons, so these books are absolutely my thing. It's fair to say that as novels some are considerably better than others, but even when I've not been totally convinced by one element of a book I've found other things of interest in it, and I've enjoyed every one of them I've read. The short story collections are, without exception, excellent, and just generally I'm looking forward to seeing whatever they turn up next.

Meanwhile 'Death in the Tunnel' (by Cecil Street writing as Miles Burton) is a good example of a bit of plotting that I didn't love, but a book that I still really enjoyed. Sir Wilfred Saxonby is traveling alone in a locked compartment on the 5 o'clock from Cannon Street. The train stops in a tunnel, and when it emerges again a few minutes later Sir Wilfred is dead, shot through the heart by a single bullet. The obvious conclusion is suicide, but something doesn't quite add up about that...

The Maiden's Prayer is fr Sir Wilfred's niece, Olivia Saxonby. Around 40, unmarried, and dependant on her uncle she acts as something between a companion and a housekeeper for him. Burton gives her circumstances (she is after all a possible suspect) quite a bit of consideration and in the process we get a sidelight on the options available for the interwar generation of surplus women. Living with her uncle, subject to his whims and strictures, doesn't sound like a lot of fun for Olivia, but her job options would have been limited anyway by both education and opportunity so giving into family pressure and filling this particular role makes sense.

Given the outlook for middle aged maidens it's not surprising that the Maiden's Prayer is essentially a stronger version of a white lady. 3/8ths Gin, 3/8ths Cointreau, 1/8th lemon juice, 1/8th orange juice all well shaken over ice and strained into a coctail glass (from Ambrose Heath's 'Good Drinks'). The relative sweetness of the orange juice initially disguises the alcoholic heft of this drink (though now I've finished it, I have no doubt at all about it's kick) but this Prayer is heartfelt, and means business.

And that's the end of this books and booze series.


  1. Am I being obtuse or is there a good reason to lock a train compartment?

  2. If I remember/understood correctly, it was the sort of train compartment with 6 seats (?) where you could enter from either directly from the platform or a door from the corridor that ran down the side of the train. If the guard locked the corridor door no one else could get in that way and you'd have the compartment to yourself. And so you get a locked door mystery!

  3. Desperate Reader - Thank you for your wonderful reviews of the British Library Crime series complete with drink(s) recommendations. Such fun - great concept. Love the covers - want every one of them. I'm off to start Riviera. Thanks Deborah at

    1. Thank you! It was certainly fun finding combinations.