Murder in Midsummer – Selected by Cecily Gayford
A collection of short stories, mainly from the mid twentieth century, is a tempting prospect, especially when they are “classic mysteries”. Despite the setting of the first one from Ruth Rendell, most of these stories take place in Britain, with the unifying theme of them taking place in the summer. The variety of stories and the well known authors who produced them is a guarantee of ten well written mysteries, often revolving around at least one unexpected death and detection. Not all of those who seek the truth and solve the suspicious deaths are professional detectives, some are people who happen to be in the right place at the time. Some of the authors employ their own creations to seek the truth, thus Lord Peter Wimsey is drawn into a murder investigation by his clever observations in Dorothy L. Sayers story, providing possibly my favourite tale.This is a well chosen collection of stories which is always interesting and entertaining, giving a fair range of times and places. I found it a varied and interesting collection which was easy to read, without the need to retain clues for an entire novel.
The oldest story in this book is probably the one written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, featuring a now retired Sherlock Holmes who is drawn in to the investigation of a sudden seaside death. A lot of crime story collections feature one of Conan Doyle’s short stories; proof of his tremendous output with no apparent diminution of quality. Margery Allingham’s “quiet fair man in the horn rims stood listening affably as was his habit” to an extraordinary tale. The story of Campion’s deductions, though brief, is effective and possibly the most memorable in its simplicity. R. Austen Freeman draws a tale of an old death, whereas John Dickson Carr tells of a complicated series of events. Chesterton uses his kindly elderly priest to disentangle a complex story of canine distress. Not all of the tales end with a deduction, but resolution is rarely straightforward.
This is a book of excellent stretches of imagination with much to recommend it, as the setting is always well used and the characters involved well delineated. The only negative is that there is no context for the stories, not even the date, or further information concerning the authors. The “Credits” section at the end gives some copyright details of some of the stories, and copyright holders are invited to communicate their details for future editions. Despite this, this is a well chosen collection of stories which neatly spans the period sometimes called the “Golden Age of Detection”, and is a very readable book.
I chose to read and review this book because it is nearly midsummer as in the title. Of course, many of us are missing out on our holidays this summer, so I was relived to see this book did not always include holiday settings. I wonder if the sort of books being read this year are different from those normally taken away in suitcases or bought at airports? Are more serious books being tackled, or are people seeking (consciously or unconsciously) cheerful novels? Or, if including ebooks, more books of every type being bought and read? Interesting questions?