Vintage Crime from the Crime Writers Association
This book contains no less than twenty two short stories “Hand – Picked from the Mystery Archives” by Martin Edwards from the archives of the Crime Writers’ Association going back to 1953. In his brief introduction, Edwards points out that the earliest story in the collection is from John Dickson Carr which was reprinted from a 1940 publication, and which I had already read elsewhere. The stories are undated which is unhelpful, but it is made up for by the quality and variety of the contributions which includes stories from such well known writers as Simon Brett, Kate Ellis and Peter Lovesey.
There are some very memorable stories here – as murderers confess, animals leave the solution on show, detectives follow their instincts. There are many stories here to entertain, inform and more, as some murderers just allow things to happen whereas other crimes are meticulously planned. Most, if not all of the stories, reflect careful plotting, while some of the characters really come alive in the hands of practised and skilful writers. In any collection like this, there will be some stories that a reader enjoys more than others, but this is a collection which is strong in all respects. It is not necessarily the oldest stories which are the most enjoyable, or the most recent which reflect one’s own experience. As with any crime story, or short story of any kind, the plot needs to be almost timeless, as could happen beyond a particular set of circumstances. The great advantages of a collection like this is to discover new stories, new authors without committing to a full novel by an author who may be new to a reader. This was my experience with “Inspector Ghote and the Noted British Author” by H.T.F Keating, which manages to demonstrate gentle comedy, a different setting of India, and an excellent plot all in the space of a few pages. Celia Fremlin looks at different sorts of courage, while Frances Fyfield looks at the pressures that an individual can exert on a family in “Cold and Deep”. The famous chef Elizabeth David becomes the unwitting centre of attention in a poisonous story from Andrew Taylor, while a wistful story of past memories of life in Egypt dominate a contribution from Marjorie Eccles. Martin Edwards’ own “Melusine”, inspired by a legend, takes the context of a horrible situation to look at what happens when secrets are exposed. Kate Ellis’ “Top Deck” is an award winning story which takes a small experience and looks at its effect.
This is a book with a story for every mood, every perception of crime, understandable or baffling, turning on small circumstances or major events. I found it a very readable book, with the ability to change moods from story to story. When life is challenging and possibly concentrating on a full novel is difficult, an anthology like this is very attractive as demanding less sustained attention. I did not have to retain clues and motives, circumstances and red herrings over a complete book; it satisfies the need for completion within a short time. I recommend this book as presenting many opportunities for satisfying, distracting reading, with an excellent mixture of stories for every taste and mood.