Quick Curtain by Alan Melville – Book Review

Quick Curtain (British Library Crime Classics)Quick Curtain by Alan Melville

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One day, when browsing in a book shop, I discovered the British Library Crime Classics series. Yes, the British Library has reissued a collection of crime stories from bygone days. I read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was younger so I decided to give this collection a go. I have bought a few from the series and, apart from the Christmas short story collection – Silent Nights- this is the first one I’ve read.

Briefly, the story is set around the opening night of a new musical “Blue Music”. On stage in front of the entire audience on opening night, an actor, instead of just pretending to get shot, is actually shot- dead.

I’m not sure how I feel about Quick Curtain to be honest. It was light-hearted, (you know, for a story that contains a murder), and there is some nice quirky banter. However, you do wonder how the detective ever solves any crimes. He and his amateur assistant, in this case his journalist son, seem a bit absent-minded and slightly incompetent;  but this is meant as a humorous novel so that’s alright as far as it goes. I found it amusing in places with some interesting character observations.

For me, what let it down was the ending. It didn’t feel satisfying. It didn’t feel true or convincing, which you expect, even in a book with an element of tongue in cheek spoof about it. I don’t want to give anything away so I wont comment on why it felt unconvincing. I can see what the writer might have been trying to accomplish and it’s an interesting take but for me it doesn’t quite work as it is.

All in all, I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. It’s a bit of a light-hearted adventure. It’s a nice casual read  but ultimately a little let down by an ending that could have been managed better.




Lot No.249 by Arthur Conan Doyle -Book Review

Lot No. 249 (Penguin Little Black Classics)Lot No. 249 by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A while back I was browsing through the list of Penguin’s little black classics when I came across Lot No.249 by Arthur Conan Doyle. It wasn’t one I was familiar with. It was described as the first story to feature a supernatural mummy. Not being overly familiar with mummy literature, excepting the ring of Thoth, also by Conan Doyle and of a different variety, the mummy not being the supernatural element, when I was obliged to buy some books for my next course I decided to treat myself to this one at the same time; well it would be rude not to. For £1 it seemed worth a try.

The story centres around three students who occupy rooms in a secluded part of their college. Life is quiet until a series of strange occurrences begin to take place on campus.

The story is dramatic with moments of tense and atmospheric action. There is also the traditional element of an unbeliever finding the truth thrust upon him.

Yes, to the modern reader the plot may feel familiar and obvious but for the first mummy story of its kind I can imagine this was something of a spine chiller back in the day.

It is as well written as we have come to expect from a Conan Doyle story and I found it to be a fun, quick read. Being a Little Black Classic this was short but sweet and well worth the investment of £1 to discover a new (to me) Conan Doyle horror and one of the best of his that I’ve read in this genre so far.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – A Review

Northanger Abbey is infused with Jane Austen’s usual wit and charm; but unlike her other works Northanger Abbey is also a delightful tongue in cheek satire of the early gothic novels. The book begins by pointing out how unsuited the young heroine Catherine Moreland is for the role by her failing to be possessed of either the appearance or the distressed circumstances required of a literary heroine.

Catherine’s over active imagination fuelled by the reading of gothic novels leads her astray and she eventually begins to understand that fiction and reality can be worlds apart.

Of course there are also the usual Austen themes of  romance and marriage market scheming. If I have one criticism of this book it’s that Catherine’s innocent naivety towards certain characters is pushed to the point of disbelief. I found myself wondering how she could be so fooled for so long. Perhaps that’s because I’m viewing the book from a cynical 21st century standpoint but I did find Catherine’s total naivety a little unbelievable; but then some of the male characters are apparently just as foolish.

John Silence – Book Review

Today I’d like to introduce you to John Silence Psychic investigator the creation of Algernon Blackwood. It’s almost impossible in describing John Silence to avoid allusions to Sherlock Holmes but he is something of a psychic Sherlock. He uses reason and logic and combines them with his psychic training to help people suffering from psychic afflictions. In the sense that he is curing maladies rather than solving crimes he might be better compared to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesser known Dr Martin  Hesselius whose cases feature in the collection’ In A Glass Darkly’ . Continue reading

Uncle Silas by J.S Le Fanu – A Review

A few weeks back I read Uncle Silas a tale of Bartram Haugh  by J.S Le Fanu; I had intended to write a review after finishing it but unfortunately as you may have gathered from an earlier post I’ve not felt up to it. I’ve been totally unable to write lately so I though I’d break the ice with a brief review.

Uncle Silas,

what is the books about? :

The book is the Story of Maud Ruthyn; Maud lives a solitary and quiet life, but a happy one. She lives with her father, a quiet  man of unorthodox religious opinions and solitary habits. Her mother died when she was young and so the main female influences in her life are the maid and the housekeeper, both of whom she is very fond of.

But Maud’s peaceful life is interrupted suddenly when her father decides she is in need of a finishing governess. The woman he chooses brings terror and mystery to the nervous Maud. Another female influence also enters her life early on, cousin Monica, a wealthy widow who speaks her mind and does as she pleases.

Early on in the book we learn of Maud’s fascination with the portrait hanging in her home of a handsome young man of fashion. The portrait is of her Uncle Silas in his younger days. Her fascination with the mysterious character of the uncle she has never met grows with the reticence of those around her to talk of him. What she does learn is told in half disclosures and hints.

Eventually she comes to learn the story of Silas Ruthyn and the events surrounding his isolation from his family. All these events go on to play a part in Maud’s future life; When Maud eventually comes into the path of her mysterious uncle she is faced with many dilemmas of trust and loyalty.

Is it worth reading?


What did I like about it?

The story itself is a good one, aside from writing style and other considerations. I liked the character of Milly, Maud’s cousin. She is less educated than Maud and clearly neglected by her family. Although the book is a little bit harsh on those not trained to reserved Victorian society such as Milly, she is one of the warmest and most genuine characters in the book. At the other end of the scale is her cousin Lady Monica, she is well versed in the social graces but she takes no prisoners once she sets her mind to something.

There is a creeping sinister feeling throughout the book, peoples motives aren’t always clear and the isolated houses involved add to that feeling that Maud is totally at the mercy of others.

What didn’t I like about it?

It may have served the tension in the story well for those in the know to not reveal everything at once to Maud but rather to drip feed half disclosures but it does sometimes lead to frustration. I found myself being annoyed with the characters from time to time. They would tell Maud just enough to frighten her but not enough for her to be able to prepare herself to face what was coming. As a result it did sometimes feel like she was left flailing around in the dark while someone was hiding the candle.

What are the main elements of the book?

A locked room mystery, a mysterious uncle, a family scandal, a vulnerable girl, a large inheritance and an isolated house.

A good old fashioned Victorian gothic novel this; One that’s worth a good read. Don’t look it up on Wikipedia first because it tells you the entire plot and that really spoils the fun doesn’t it?