Dean Street Press mines the Golden Age

death-in-the-dentists-chairDeath in the Dentist’s Chair by Molly Thynne; Golden Age mystery; republished by Dean Street Press; list price, $2.99 (USD) for Kindle – but FREE when posted.

Why some mysteries are perennially popular and others fall out of favor is a mystery to me, and always has been, but one of the greatest advantages of digital publishing is the opportunity to rediscover such Golden Age gems as Molly Thynne’s six classic mysteries.

I picked up four of the six for free, thanks to my friend Cindy, who brought both Dean Street Press and Thynne (pronounced “thin”) to my attention recently, but any of them would have been a bargain at the $2.99 (USD) list price, and I recommend all six without reservation.

If you don’t like Golden Age fiction, you wouldn’t like these.  But, if you do, you’re in for a treat!

This week’s free offering is Death in the Dentist’s Chair – a popular place for murder in Golden Age fiction, as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers also disposed of victims in a dentist’s office. Marian Babson did, too, decades later, in her In the Teeth of Adversity. This one is as every bit as good.

It’s a locked-room mystery, a favorite theme in classic crime fiction, returning Dr. Constantine and Detective-Inspector Arkwright, whom Thynne introduced in Death at the Noah’s Ark. Thynne created a challenging mystery with an intriguing cast of characters in a delightful setting, and wrapped it up in well-written prose for a satisfying story – and I could and do say the same about the other five mysteries she wrote.

The only complaint I can possibly make is that she only wrote six. I’d like to read more.

NOTE: Sis borrowed this title from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, then bought her own copy.  The publisher not only made no attempt to influence her review – the publisher doesn’t even know she has reviewed it!

Description: Constantine reflected on the various means dentists have at their disposal should they wish to silence their patients … Mr. Humphrey Davenport, society dentist, has an embarrassing problem – he has managed to get locked out of his own surgery. And to make matters worse, Mrs Charles Miller is locked inside, minus her false teeth. When the door is finally opened, the patient is found with her throat cut. Dr. Constantine, a fellow patient at the clinic, is a witness to the gruesome discovery. He lends his chess player’s brain to solving a locked room mystery with a difference, ably assisted by Detective-Inspector Arkwright. Was the murderer the theatrical Mrs. Vallon? Or little Mr. Cattistick, who recognized the fortune in jewels around the dead woman’s neck? Or perhaps it was Sir Richard Pomfrey, the subject of an unusually venomous look from Mrs Miller shortly before her demise? Death in the Dentist’s Chair was first published in 1932. This new edition, the first in many decades, includes an introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.

Also recommended without reservation:

The Crime at the Noah’s Ark: “There’ll be blue murder here before Christmas!” A number of parties heading for a luxurious holiday spot, are forced by severe winter weather to put up at the ‘Noah’s Ark’, a hostelry they will share with Dr. Constantine, a shrewd chess master and keen observer of all around him. Other guests include bestselling novelist Angus Stuart, the aristocratic Romsey family, a pair of old spinster sisters, and a galloping major whose horseplay gets him into hot water – and then gets him murdered. Who is the masked intruder who causes such a commotion on the first night? Who has stolen Mrs van Dolen’s emeralds, and who has slashed everyone’s (almost everyone’s) car tyres? And are the murderer and thief one and the same, or are the guests faced with two desperate criminals hiding in plain sight in the snowbound inn? Dr. Constantine, aided by two of the younger guests, is compelled to investigate this sparkling Christmas mystery before anyone else ends up singing in the heavenly choir …

The Draycott Murder Mystery: There was something about those hands, with their strangely crisped fingers, as though they had been arrested in the very act of closing, that somehow gave the lie to the woman’s attitude of sleep. A howling gale … A lonely farmhouse … the tread of a mysterious stranger … and then the corpse of a beautiful blonde, seemingly stopped in the act of writing. This is all a bit much for local bobby PC Gunnet, especially when it seems the dead – and aristocratic – woman shouldn’t even have been there in the first place. But nonetheless the owner of the farm, John Leslie, is convicted, and his guilt looks certain. Certain, that is, until the eccentric Allen “Hatter” Fayre, an old India hand, begins to look more deeply into the case and discovers more than one rival suspect in this classic and satisfying puzzler.





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Highly recommending: The Red House Mystery

A.A. Milne’s classic locked-room mystery is was free today Friday, from Mysterious Press

Red House MysteryA hot, drowsy afternoon at Red House, home of wealthy Mark Ablett. Downstairs the servants are resting. Outside the secretary is reading. Then the peace is shattered by a piercing cry for help and a gunshot. Minutes later, Robert Ablett’s body is found in a locked room with no possible means of entry or exit.

A.A. Milne’s classic manor house mystery is one of my all-time favorites, as much a delight to read today as when I first found it on my grandmother’s bookshelves. I know it by heart, yet I still enjoy reading every word of it.

The Mysterious Press edition of The Red House Mystery is free today on Amazon.com, as well as from Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, Indiebound and Kobo, in an optimized for e-reader version.  It’s still a bargain at its list price of $0.99 (USD).  (My apologies to any who missed out!)

Milne, of course, is best known for his Winnie-the-Pooh stories — which I adore — but he was an avid mystery reader and I think he wrote one of the best ever, beginning with the dedication to his father, John Vine Milne. In many respects, it is a typical Golden Age mystery. The setting is an English manor house, the home of an unusual snob and the cousin who acts as his secretary, land agent, business advisor and companion. The snob, Mark Ablett, is fond of house parties — but prefers guests who cannot repay his hospitality — and the house is full when his previously unknown brother arrives unexpectedly from Australia, only to be found murdered behind a locked door in Mark’s office.

All typical . . . yet not at all typical with Milne’s witty writing, pleasing plotting, and a (mostly) charming cast of characters. If you haven’t read it, here’s an exceptional opportunity. If you have only a print edition or the public domain digital edition, here’s an excellent opportunity to upgrade to a properly formatted edition.  Enjoy!

From the publisher: Mark Ablett is not really a snob—not the worst kind of snob, at least. He simply prefers artists to everyone else, and the discussion of his own creative abilities to any other talk whatsoever. His vanities are easily forgiven especially since he is generous with his money—inherited not from his clergyman father but from a neighborhood spinster who took a liking to him—and he is always willing to play the host at the Red House, his delightful country estate.

One lazy summer morning, as his guests enjoy breakfast before a round of golf, Mark opens a surprising letter. His brother Robert, the black sheep of the family, gone some fifteen years now, is back from Australia and plans to call at the Red House that very afternoon. It is the first that Mark’s friends and servants have heard of a brother, but that shock is nothing compared to what happens next: After being shown into an empty office to wait for the master of the house, Robert is shot dead. Mark is nowhere to be found, not unlike the pistol that fired the fatal bullet. It is up to Tony Gillingham, man of leisure, and his young friend Bill Beverley to assume the roles of Sherlock and Watson and solve a crime so clever that Alexander Woollcott pronounced it “one of the three best mystery stories of all time.”

Beloved children’s author A.A. Milne was a great fan of detective stories. MilneHis first and last attempt at the genre is an absolute delight—one of the most original and charming novels of the Golden Age of crime fiction.

The Sussex Downs Murder

by John Bude and Poisoned Pen Press

Sussex Downs MurderThe Sussex Downs Murder from Poisoned Pen Press, Kindle and tradeback editions released May 2015, list price $9.99 (USD) Kindle, $12.95 (USD) tradeback.  Audible version, audio CD also available.

To fans of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude should bring as much satisfaction as a cottage pie or mac-and-cheese hot out of the oven.  The writing is accomplished and smooth, while the plot and the puzzle are as filling as these comfort food favorites.

Bude, the penname of English theatrical director/producer Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901-1957), published 30 crime novels, beginning in 1935, as well as three humorous fantasy novels and a children’s book during his successful career as a full-time writer, but you’d have had better luck solving these mysteries than finding affordable copies to read.  Until now.  The British Library and Poisoned Pen Press are releasing some through the library’s Crime Classics series.  Bude’s first two were released earlier.  The third, The Sussex Downs Murder, originally published in 1936, was released in the U.S. by Poisoned Pen Press in May 2015. Click to see on Amazon.com.

The story begins slowly by modern standards, but Golden Age readers were more patient than today’s, giving an author space and time to set the scene, and Bude does this remarkably well.  Bude provides a map – a staple of the crime fiction written between the world wars – but he also paints a vivid scene.  The time and place come alive, from the “oval cap of gigantic beeches” that dominate the downs at Chanctonbury Ring to the long, low farmhouse at Chalklands, the home of John and William Rother, and William’s wife, Janet, and to its chalk cliffs and lime-burning kilns.

With the disappearance of John – and the appearance not long afterward of a “ ’ooman bone” in a load of lime – the mystery begins, and what a mystery it is!  Superintendent William Meredith, who appears in most of Bude’s crime novels, is scarcely able to gather the clues of John’s disappearance before the discovery of another corpse.  The plot twists and turns in just about every direction, with clues planted from the very first words and Meredith suspecting just about every character in turn.

Bude adheres to the standards of fair play adopted by the Golden Age writers, yet he constructs a puzzle that will test even the canniest of readers . . . not to mention Meredith.  Ah, Meredith.  He isn’t as well known to today’s readers as Hercule Poiret, Lord Peter Wimsey or Roderick Alleyn, but that’s their misfortune.  Meredith is both believable and likeable, determined despite the mistakes he makes early in the case and the dead ends he seems to face as the weeks progress.  And his determination pays off, as he ultimately leads the reader to a satisfying solution.  Meredith doesn’t have a “Watson” – nor a “Bunter” or a “Lugg” – but, in The Sussex Downs Murder, he has Rother’s intimate friend and crime writer Aldous Barnet.  Barnet is delighted to learn from a “real” detective and also serves as a device for helping us to see all the clues that Bude had hidden in plain sight.

All in all, the novel is a pleasant and enjoyable read and a necessary addition to the library of those readers who cherish the classic crime novels, especially those written in the 1930s and those written by British authors.  For myself, I look forward to reading more.

Bude was a founding member of the Norfolk-based Crime Writers’ Association.  His first two novels, The Lake District Murder and The Cornish Coast Murder, are currently available in paperback at many booksellers (list $15.00, but priced lower at online retailers) and for Kindle www.amazon.com ($6.99).

NOTE:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Poisoned Pen Press in exchange for an honest and independent review.  The opinions are hers and hers alone.  Feel free to share your own via a comment.