A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed two old fashioned murder mysteries or thrillers; I enjoyed Creasey's The Enemy Within, but didn't have a lot of time for Underwood's Crooked Wood. A little later, and after an exploration of abebooks and the Oxfam bookshop, I have read three more: J J Marric's Gideon's Day, Lionel Davidson's The Chelsea Murders, and Freeman Wills Crofts Fatal Venture. They are a varied collection, of different moods and qualities, and I enjoyed two but found the third a great disappointment.
I read The Chelsea Murders because I couldn't immediately find Kolymsky Heights, of which Philip Pullman said - "The best thriller I've ever read, and I've read plenty. A solidly researched and bone-chilling adventure in a savage setting, with a superb hero." Sadly, I can't say The Chelsea Murders deserves that sort of praise. It was written in 1978, and is self-consciously modern, but with a rather old fashioned approach. There is a serial killer addicted to tipping off the police in advance with a piece of poetry, and numerous rather unattractive bohemians and students. In the end, it gets so confusing, that it was very difficult to follow the individuals and the plot. But there was something there, a kind of raw passion for the story, and a number of goodish devices - so while I wouldn't recommend this particular book, I won't be put off following up Mr Pullman's recommendation in due season.
Freeman Wills Crofts is an older vintage altogether, writing elegant but rather artificial mysteries in the first half of the last century - most famous, probably for Inspector French's Greatest Case. Before he committed himself to writing full time, he was a railway engineer, something you can detect in some of his books. Inspector French is in Fatal Venture, too, cruising round the British Isles on a well appointed gambling ship (to check that it is not breaching British law by allowing gambling in territorial waters) when the owner of the ship is found murdered ashore in Northern Ireland. The story up to the that point is a tale of commercial derring do, with plenty of rather shady practice to assist a vigorously entrepreneurial eye for the main chance, which was exciting enough in a restrained sort of way - but which will outrage anyone studying (as I am at the moment) the law on the duties and responsibilities of directors! But it is an essential prequel, and engaging enough one, to the main story. The prose is calm, violence is emphatically off-stage, and the sensibilities of ladies young and not so young are carefully consulted. French and a Northern Irish colleague investigate the crime with various false trails en route, but come to the correct conclusion after tumbling to an ingenious piece of trickery with a ******** and an alibi. It won't get the blood racing round your heart, and you'll sleep fine, but it's an elegant piece of work from a fully paid up member of the old school of crime writing.
My third book was the first of the Gideon series by J J Marric (John Creasey), Gideon's Day. George Gideon ("GG") is a Superintendent at Scotland Yard, and this book, published in 1955, is a strikingly modern approach: it's driven by police procedure and a realistic approach - though not a particularly violent one - to murder, child molesting and drugs. The story, unusually for the genre, keeps several different plots going forward at the same time, and the action takes place within the span of a single day - just slightly less than 24 hours. It's traditional enough in some ways - the villains are caught and the main police character is decidedly attractive - but it pays real attention to some of the less attractive truths, such as a disrupted personal life, police corruption, and the hard facts of detectives failing as well as succeeding. It feels more modern than the 1950s, and I enjoyed it, and look forward to digging out more of the series in due course. If you enjoy the crime novel without too much blood and gore, but pretty realistic, you might well find these books worth a look.