An Afternoon to Kill (1953) by Shelley Smith

An Afternoon to Kill by Shelley Smith

9 Stars (9/10 stars)

“People never recognize sin in themselves, do they? We are always innocent in our own eyes.”

Lancelot Jones is way off course. Not only has his plane been forced to land in the middle of the desert due to mechanical difficulties, but it’s the wrong desert altogether. The landscape seems utterly desolate. The building in the distance must be a mirage; this is the last place in the world anyone would choose to build a home.

The lady of the house, Alva Hine, is happy to welcome a stranded traveler. Over the course of the afternoon, this seemingly harmless old woman tells Lancelot the story of her life. “It is all so long ago now,” she tells him. “It cannot matter.” It may be the last story he ever hears.

An Afternoon to Kill is a brilliant meditation on the art of storytelling. Alva’s tale does not unfold as a straightforward monologue; rather, she fields interruptions and objections from her listener and designs her narrative to keep him listening even against his own better judgment.

Alva tells the story of a dysfunctional Victorian family straight out of the most bloodcurdling sensation novel. Lancelot, who is terribly young and earnest, with no appetite for fiction, listens with great condescension. These poor Victorians, seething with complexes yet too innocent to realize it. Alva’s reaction is only the first of many surprises Lancelot will receive this afternoon.

“I don’t think you quite understand,” said Lancelot Jones kindly.

“But I do,” she said cheerfully. “You think I do not realize that I was in love with my own father; yet that is exactly what I have been at some pains to describe to you, my dear young man, in the simplest language possible, so that you could not fail to understand. It was a tragedy, and from it came tragedy. There is no need to veil ones meaning behind the timeless antics of Greek mythology.”

They are an ordinary middle-class family, until all at once they are not. From this moment forward, the entire family will be plunged into a maelstrom of love, hate, and violence, one which will drive Alva to the ends of the earth.

Although the events Alva relates are far from ordinary, her experiences as an awkward teenager trying to navigate family life, society, and dating despite being woefully ill-equipped for any of it are universal. However, a nasty little undercurrent runs beneath it all. Perhaps these are not just the typical calamities of adolescence, but rather the unheeded signals of disasters to come.

I have already said that I was self-conscious and gauche, and it pleased her to seek out all my sore little spots of unconfidence and call my attention to them in public as dulcetly as one could imagine. At the end of an afternoon’s tea party I would feel as full of pin-pricks as a dressmaker’s dummy and not half so handsome or useful.

An Afternoon to Kill by Shelley SmithHer account is so compelling because it is a collaborative effort between speaker, listener, and reader—The Princess Bride, but make it crime. Lancelot is never afraid to challenge Alva, questioning why she took a certain course of action or pressing for more detail on a point she is trying to gloss over. He is determined to solve the mystery before the end, and she is just as determined that he will not have the satisfaction. Many of his interjections are intelligent. Others reflect his own prejudice, which Alva delights in deflating. Lancelot is disgusted, for instance, by the sight of Alva’s Arab servant handling food unhygienically, only to learn that the man picked up those habits while training in the best kitchens of Europe. He is eager to impose modern standards upon nineteenth-century people, but his questions also require Alva to examine her own assumptions. Separated as they are by age and gender, the two are so different that neither can take anything for granted. There are several different kinds of stories being told here, and it’s up to the reader to sort it all out.

The sinister atmosphere of Alva’s story begins to pervade the modern-day narrative as well. Lancelot has come down in the wrong place, in the middle of nowhere. Not even his pilot knows where he’s wandered off to. Periodically, Lancelot grows bored or apprehensive and tries to leave. At these times, it’s clear that Alva is adjusting the way she tells the story in order to keep him engaged (and, of course, Shelley Smith is doing the same for the reader). Lancelot, and the reader, cannot help wondering: is Alva simply lonely, or does she have some other reason for keeping him there? Is he even free to leave at all?

An Afternoon to Kill is a masterclass in how to craft a compelling mystery. Stories are never really passively consumed—books are always a conversation between the author and the reader, built upon unspoken assumptions on both sides. Alva’s account is fascinating, yet the way the tale is shaped by its audience, and the way the audience is shaped by the tale, is the real story here.

Second Opinions

Crossexamining Crime

All in all, I would say this was a great read, with what I would describe as a delicious ending.

Only Detect

Smith writes crisply and with a light touch, and the novel is as admirably brief as it is dense and sly. Each of her two tales concludes with a firm snap that, like all good endings, combines a note of surprise with the clear knell of inevitability.

Pretty Sinister

In An Afternoon to Kill (1953) she explores the talent and skill involved in storytelling and makes a sound argument for it not only being a true art but also a powerful tool.

Availability

An Afternoon to Kill is available as an ebook from Lume Books

Policemen in the Precinct (1949) by E. C. R. Lorac

Policemen in the Precinct by ECR Lorac

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

She was a menace! So many people must be thankful to know she’s dead. It’s a dreadful thing to say, but it’s true.”

Lilian Mayden has always been an invalid, so her death from a heart ailment is not unexpected. The only surprising part is that Lilian had a heart in the first place. Even in the cathedral town of Paulborough, whose residents consider gossip a holy calling, Lilian’s brand of gossip is exceptional for its malice.

The only person who seems dissatisfied about Lilian’s death is her doctor, since her condition was stable the last time he saw her. The postmortem results are astonishing: Lilian Mayden died of electrocution. How could a woman be electrocuted in her own sitting-room?

There is nothing flashy or spectacular about Policemen in the Precinct. It’s simply a superb detective story with a well-realized setting, a hateable victim, and plenty of sympathetic yet fallible suspects. The murder method is definitely unusual, and actually quite frightening—every light switch or appliance is fraught with danger. Chief Inspector Macdonald and his cheerful sidekick Inspector Reeves must immerse themselves in the community as they painstakingly prove their case, with all of the clues cleverly planted by Lorac.

No Place for Murder by ECR LoracMrs. Mayden is the sort of person who writes poison pen letters and proudly signs her name to them. The mere sight of an envelope from her in the postbox is enough to strike terror into the hearts of her neighbors. The people of Paulborough have long wondered at the source of her information, since ill health has confined her to her home for years. No one blames her handsome, immature husband Guy for seeking solace in alcohol (and maybe other things as well) behind his wife’s back. Lilian’s only defender is her old friend Allison Bentham, who remembers Lilian’s emotionally abusive childhood with her religious-fanatic father. “When a woman’s mind is warped there’s nearly always a reason for it,” Allison asserts. “Do you think anyone is happy when they turn everyone against them? She made enemies of all her friends, and she knew it. She was the most unhappy creature I have ever known.”

Massage therapist Gillian Arkholme can’t feel any sympathy for the dead woman. She hasn’t forgotten that Lilian tried to ruin her career by spreading news of a wartime liaison with Captain Yealand, a married man. While Gillian did spend the night with a serviceman, it wasn’t Captain Yealand—it was her own fiancé, who was killed soon after. In the days before her death, Lilian was starting to circulate the old, false story again, perhaps because Yealand is back in the area. Gillian is distressed by the rumor’s resurgence; she is newly engaged, and a headmaster’s wife must be above reproach. Macdonald is very interested to learn that Gillian uses electronic massage equipment on her patients, including Lilian.

The Scotland Yard officers discover that these crimes—Lilian’s blackmail and Lilian’s murder—have their roots in the culture of Paulborough itself. The presence of the cathedral encourages outward shows of virtue that inevitably breed secrets and hypocrisy. It’s not that the people of Paulborough are so bad, says Reeves sardonically. “They only seem worse than other people because they profess to be so much better.” Allison warns Gillian to be careful in her interactions with townspeople.

You weren’t born and brought up in Paulborough, my dear. I was. I know that under the very shadow of the great Abbey there is more envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness than in any godless ramshackle township in the Middle West. Plant a seed of slander in this soil and it will grow. You should know that. You said just now, “She tried to ruin me.” In any other place than this she wouldn’t have had much chance of succeeding, would she?

A murder investigation is Paulborough’s worst nightmare, as outsiders come in to expose their hidden lives. Even Macdonald sometimes finds it difficult to reconcile the beauty of the cathedral, its stained-glass windows climbing up to heaven, and the less-then-divine behavior of its parishioners. Their idea of decency has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with appearances. Macdonald, however, feels that “It’s not my province to be decent. It’s my job to get at the truth.” This isn’t The Nine Tailors—Macdonald turns down the chance for a guided tour of the cathedral, viewing it as an unnecessary distraction. As it turns out, however, the cathedral may have a closer relationship to the murder than police initially suspect.

And Then Put Out the Light by ECR LoracMacdonald develops a rapport with several suspects, especially cynical organist Silverdale and kindly widow Allison Bentham, who was once in love with Guy Mayden and might still be. While never forgetting his suspicions, Macdonald nonetheless reveals a bit about his personal life during their interactions. A “London Scot” and First World War veteran, Macdonald’s attempt to resume his interrupted education after the war was dashed by the death of his father. No longer able to afford further studies, he left university to join the Metropolitan police. For twenty years, he shared rooms with a manservant, his batman from the war, but this man was killed during the Blitz in 1941. Since then, he has lived alone, not without occasional moments of melancholy. London is very different than it used to be but, then again, so many things are.

Macdonald’s capacity for taking interest in others is apparent as he and Reeves circulate around the area, picking up leads in the most unlikely places. Their most important clues come from simply interacting with local residents and paying attention to what they have to say. One major break results from Reeves taking time out of his day to help a woman stack her firewood, only for her to casually reveal new information that changes the whole course of the investigation. The culprit is not too difficult to figure out—if there is one flaw to Policemen in the Precinct, is the small list of suspects for a murder that should have had people lining up around the block to commit it—but I will admit that the biggest clue is right out in the open, yet I missed its significance entirely.

Policemen in the Precinct has a comforting solidity. It is just what you would want a village mystery to be, with plenty of secrets and surprises unfolding within a reassuringly familiar framework. Macdonald is described as a “humane” man, and this is certainly a humane book. Murder is committed, murderers are arrested, and life goes on Paulborough, just as it has for a thousand years.

Second Opinions

The Grandest Game in the World

It comes close to Crime Queen territory: a splendidly drawn cathedral town full of pious hypocrisy and class consciousness; good characterisation […] and a solid, well-constructed plot. 

Martin Edwards

In fact, I found her portrayal of the small world of the Abbey precinct even more interesting than the whodunit puzzle. In saying this, I must add that the “mystery” element of the story is certainly not weak or flimsy.

His Futile Preoccupations

I managed to guess the identity of the murderer and I suspect that most die-hard crime fans will do the same. Still this is an entertaining read that recreates post WWII Britain and its shifting socioeconomic and moral landscape.

Availability

Policemen in the Precinct (also published as And Then Put Out the Light and No Place for Murder) is out of print, with a few, rather expensive, used copies available.

The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) by Ellery Queen

The Spanish Cape Mystery by Ellery Queen

3 Stars(3/10 stars)

“Don’t you folks realize what you’re up against? What the devil does a little personal trouble mean when it’s a case of life or death? This is murder, Mrs. Godfrey–murder!”

Normally, there is no more peaceful spot for a beach vacation than Spanish Cape. That is why business tycoon Walter Godfrey has built his summer home there. One night, however, that peace is unexpectedly shattered by a modern-day pirate. Walter’s daughter Rosa and her uncle David Kummer are snatched from the terrace of the mansion, and Rosa must watch in horror as her uncle is dragged away to meet an unknown fate. By the time she is rescued by Ellery Queen, David Kummer has vanished without a trace.

When Ellery arrives at the Godfrey home, he discovers an even more bizarre crime: the nude corpse of houseguest John Marco sitting on the terrace. Ellery learns that nearly everyone at the house has reason to want Marco dead. When it comes to identifying the killer, however, the naked truth is much harder to find. Continue reading “The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) by Ellery Queen”

The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934) by Ellery Queen

The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“I find homicides quite stimulating.”

Not even Ellery Queen has ever encountered a crime scene quite like this one. Everything about the murder is topsy-turvy—quite literally. The dead man’s clothes are on backwards, furniture and paintings have been turned to face the wall, and a pair of African spears have been thrust up the victim’s trouser legs. The only other clue is a discarded tangerine peel. Ellery and Inspector Queen will have to turn themselves inside out if they hope to stamp out this killer.

The Chinese Orange Mystery pairs a snappy, well-paced narrative with a mystifying crime. The solution, though complicated from a logistical standpoint (honestly, I still don’t understand the mechanics of it) is psychologically sound. Everything about the crime fits perfectly with the personality of the murderer, lending a satisfying air of just-rightness to the conclusion. And while none of the characters are especially deep, all of the suspects are at least human enough to make the reader care about the outcome.

The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery QueenThe opening chapter is almost cinematic. Miss Diversey, the nurse who attends Donald Kirk’s father, is kicked out of the Kirk apartment by her irascible patient and makes the rounds of the Chancellor Hotel. Her journey introduces most of the major players, as well as explaining the layout of the setting. Donald Kirk has taken over for his father in running the Mandarin Press. However, he finds it convenient to keep an office near the family’s suite at the Chancellor for business related to his stamp and jewel collections. As Miss Diversey wanders the hotel corridors she runs into Donald Kirk’s two love interests, glamorous Irene Llewes and down-to-earth author Jo Temple. Unfortunately, the nurse’s real goal, to flirt with Kirk’s secretary Osborne, is derailed by interruptions. A stranger drops by to see the absent Kirk. Glenn Macgowan (Kirk’s best friend and fiancé of his sister Marcella) turns up as well. Forty-five minutes later, one of these people will be dead.

This sequence provides a lot of exposition with the greatest of ease. It makes the layout of the crime scene clear. All of the suspects and their relationships are introduced organically, leaving just enough mystery to tantalize. There is also something eerie about Miss Diversey’s lonely wanderings through the hotel, past a sea of closed doors that could be hiding anything. Every encounter is fraught with tension, hinting at the violence to come.

It seems providential that Donald Kirk has invited Ellery Queen to dinner on the evening of the murder—Ellery is actually on hand when the body is discovered. Once the corpse is revealed, however, everyone clams up, refusing to tell Ellery why he was summoned. While Inspector Queen marshals all the forces of the NYPD to identify the victim, Ellery is focused on the inverted crime scene. “It’s not crazy; it’s clever. It has meaning.”

Experience has taught me that rarely does a criminal do something positive—as opposed to an unconscious act—without purpose. This was a positive, a conscious act. It required hard work and the expenditure of precious time in the accomplishment. I was justified in saying at once, therefore, that there was reason behind it; that while its manifestations seemed insane its purpose, at the least, must have been rational.

Conveniently, nearly all of the suspects live in the hotel, but that also means they have easy access to the waiting room. The one who does not, who is careful to keep himself out of the inner circle, is Kirk’s business partner Felix Berne. The inner circle is probably relieved. Berne is completely unbearable, beyond any level of normal human behavior (though it is pretty funny when he refers to Inspector Queen as a “vest-pocket Lucifer”). With Ellery, he is even more direct: “I dislike you intensely. I don’t know when I’ve disliked a fellow creature more. Go to hell.” Irene Llewes makes for a much more enjoyable foil, a femme fatale who knows how to play the game without ever taking it too seriously.

Several of the major players have ties to China: Jo Temple grew up there and has written a book about her experiences, while Kirk and Macgowan both collect Chinese postage stamps. Ellery is quick to note that Chinese writing is “backwards,” and many of China’s customs are polar opposites of American ways. I was braced for the worst when this topic arose, but it’s handled fairly sensitively. Jo fiercely defends her birthplace, while explaining the reasons behind some of its traditions. Ellery acknowledges that “backwardness” is relative, “purely a matter of perspective.”

“The greatest revenge your enemy can wreak on your head is to kill himself on your doorstep…”

“Indeed?” said Ellery gently. “That’s most interesting, Miss Temple. Good of you to recall it. And what’s the brilliant notion behind that little ceremony, may I ask?”

She murmured: “It bares to all the world the secret of your enemy’s culpability, and marks him eternally with public shame.”

“But you’re—uh—dead?”

“But you’re dead, yes.”

Everything moves along at a sprightly pace, at least until the Challenge to the Reader. Ellery has a unique plan for confirming his suspicions. He is probably right to do a dress rehearsal prior to the denouement, given how elaborate the scheme is, but this does not require a full, rather lengthy (and necessarily unrevealing) chapter all to itself. When I see a Challenge to the Reader, I expect a solution more or less imminently. If Ellery needs to faff around, he can do it before the Challenge.

The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery QueenOnce the solution finally arrives, however, the reasoning behind it is wonderfully straightforward. To a certain extent, Ellery doesn’t even need to stage his demonstration. All he needs is a single fact. The moment he shares it, the reader knows, just on the basis of the suspects’ situations and personalities, exactly who the guilty party is. It’s one of those electric moments when everyone realizes the truth in the same second, and the reader is a part of it. (Mind you, this single fact isn’t one that would have occurred to me unprompted, but the moment Ellery says it, you instantly know who the culprit is, so the seeds of the solution have certainly been planted.)

The Chinese Orange Mystery is a slightly shallow but marvelously entertaining detective story with a solid mystery at its core. There are many goofy subplots and red herrings, all which I thoroughly enjoyed. While some aspects of the solution come across as window dressing, added to make the mystery seem more complicated than it really is, the psychology behind the crime and its staging makes perfect sense. As a mystery reader, it’s worth a lot to have that one moment when a single sentence from the detective makes everything clear. The Chinese Orange Mystery delivers that, and it’s an instant of pure joy.

Second Opinions

Countdown John’s Christie Journal

So was the hook worth it? Did it justify buying six books in one go? Definitely, yes! 

In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

Maybe I’m being too picky – for 90% of the book, it’s great, but I thought the ending was disappointing. It’s entirely possible that you won’t/didn’t.

The Invisible Event

Mark this down as an overall success, in spite of its flaws.

Only Detect

 If almost anyone else had written Chinese Orange, it would stand as a fine example of classic detective plotting. But within the canon of early Queen works (a canon that features such masterpieces as The Egyptian Cross Mystery and The Tragedy of Y), it qualifies as only a modest achievement.

Vintage Pop Fictions

The Chinese Orange Mystery is for my money one of the most completely successful of the early Ellery Queen mysteries. Very highly recommended.

Availability

The Chinese Orange Mystery is available as an ebook from the Mysterious Press in paperback from American Mystery Classics.

It was filmed in 1936 under the title The Mandarin Mystery; this film is now in the public domain and can be viewed at the American Mystery Classics link.

Murder Rides the Campaign Train (1952) by the Gordons

Murder Rides the Campaign Train by The Gordons

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“I want to win this election as much as you do, but I don’t want to arrive at the White House with a corpse.”

Governor Wallace X. Martin knows his presidential campaign won’t win over every voter. Still, he never expects one of them to take a shot at him during a speech. Even worse, however, is the discovery that the shot was fired from his own campaign train. As election day draws nearer, the Martin train speeds across the country, carrying the Governor’s family, campaign staff, supporters, press…and at least one killer. Continue reading “Murder Rides the Campaign Train (1952) by the Gordons”

A Case in Nullity (1967) by Evelyn Berckman

A Case in Nullity by Evelyn Berckman

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

“Think of being hated that much, by a man that warped. Like some infection. All around you.”

Auriol isn’t quite sure how she ended up married to Ivor Hailes. Not that it matters very much; after the loss of her fiance, she doesn’t expect to fall in love again. Auriol does long for companionship, however, and Ivor will do just as well as any other man. Even better, really. Her new husband is handsome, wealthy, and brilliant, with exquisite taste in everything. Marriage to him should be easy. At least, it should be.

Instead, Auriol finds herself bound to Ivor–not by love, but by the dreadful secret they share. The only way she can escape is by revealing this secret to the world…but how far will Ivor go to keep that from happening? Continue reading “A Case in Nullity (1967) by Evelyn Berckman”

20 Books of Summer 2020

20 Books of Summer 2019

As much as I love making New Year’s resolutions, I feel much more capable of actually keeping resolutions when the sun is shining, which is why 20 Books of Summer is one of my favorite reading challenges. And this year, a little structure is even more welcome than usual. For no very good reason, all of the books on my list this year are classic mysteries published during the same year, 1934. Continue reading “20 Books of Summer 2020”

The Imaginary Bookshop 1934

Walking Library 1930s

For my 200th post, we’ll be traveling all the way back to 1934. Despite (or perhaps because of) the Depression, this was a banner year for mystery fiction that would see the publication of many future classics, most notably Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, and Fer-de-Lance, the debut of Rex Stout’s iconic detective Nero Wolfe.

Orient Express is only one of three novels Christie published in 1934—one of which, Three Act Tragedy, actually appeared in the United States prior to its UK publication in 1935. (The UK got its revenge this same year, as Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? made its debut there well before American readers got their hands on it.) Since the covers below are American editions, representing what a reader like me might be able to find in their local bookstore that year, it becomes especially obvious how many titles were changed for the US market during this time.

The year’s other prolific authors include John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, who produced three books under two different names; Erle Stanley Gardner’s three Perry Mason novels; and grand champion John Rhode/Miles Burton with four. Not all of these titles are pictured below due to their repetitive cover designs, but they would certainly have tempted any discerning book buyer of 1934.

Death of a Ghost by Margery AllinghamOut Went the Taper by R C Ashby

  • Mr. Pidgeon’s Island by Anthony Berkeley
  • Plan XVI by Douglas G. Browne

Mr Pidgeon's Island by Anthony BerkeleyPlan XVI By Douglas G Browne

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M CainThe Eight of Swords by John Dickson Carr

Mr Parker Pyne Detective by Agatha ChristieMurder in the Calais Coach by Agatha Christie

  • Murder in Three Acts (aka Three-Act Tragedy) by Agatha Christie
  • Death in the Quarry by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole

Murder in Three Acts by Agatha ChristieDeath in the Quarry by G D H and Margaret Cole

  • End of an Ancient Mariner by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole
  • The Brandon Case (aka The Ha-Ha Case) by J. J. Connington

End of an Ancient Mariner by G D H and Margaret ColeThe Brandon Case (The Ha-Ha Case) by J J Connington

Wilful and Premeditated by Freeman Wills CroftsThe Plague Court Murders by Carter Dickson

The White Priory Murders by Carter DicksonThe Cat Screams by Todd Downing

The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G EberhartSinister Inn by J Jefferson Farjeon

For the Defense Dr Thorndyke by R Austin FreemanMr Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard by David Frome

  • The Case of the Lucky Legs by Erle Stanley Gardner
  • The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Case of the Lucky Legs by Erle Stanley GardnerThe Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

  • The Hand of the Chimpanzee by Robert Hare
  • The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

The Hand of the Chimpanzee by Robert HareThe Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

The Lesser Antilles Case by Rufus KingSettled Out of Court by Ronald Knox

  • Still Dead by Ronald Knox
  • The Manuscript Murder by George Limnelius

Still Dead by Ronald KnoxThe Manuscript Murder by George Limnelius

  • The Greenwell Mystery by E. C. R. Lorac
  • The Chianti Flask by Marie Belloc Lowndes

The Greenwell Mystery by E C R LoracThe Chianti Flask by Marie Belloc Lowndes

  • The Clue of the Dead Goldfish by Victor MacClure
  • Give Me Death by Isabel Briggs Myers

The Clue of the Dead Goldfish by Victor MacClureGive Me Death by Isabel Briggs Myers

The Puzzle of the Silver Persian by Stuart PalmerThe Divorce Court Murder by Milton Propper

The Adventures of Ellery Queen by Ellery QueenThe Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

  • Poison for One by John Rhode
  • The Robthorne Mystery by John Rhode

Poison for One by John RhodeThe Robthorne Mystery by John Rhode

  • The State vs. Elinor Norton by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

The State vs Elinor Norton by Mary Roberts RinehartThe Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers

  • Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout
  • For the Hangman by John Stephen Strange

Fer-de-Lance by Rex StoutFor the Hangman by John Stephen Strange

  • The Talking Sparrow Murders by Darwin L. Teilhet
  • Richardson’s Second Case by Basil Thomson

The Talking Sparrow Murders by Darwin L TeilhetRichardson's Second Case by Basil Thomson

Criss-Cross by Don TracyThe Casino Murder Case by S S Van Dine

  • The Visiting Villain by Carolyn Wells
  • Fear by Night by Patricia Wentworth

The Visiting Villain by Carolyn WellsFear by Night by Patricia Wentworth

  • The Case of the Gold Coins by Anthony Wynne
  • Death of a Banker by Anthony Wynne

The Case of the Gold Coins by Anthony WynneDeath of a Banker by Anthony Wynne

There were also quite a few notable titles that, as far as I can tell, were UK-only releases that year—including a number of future British Library Crime Classics.

  • The Case of the 100% Alibis by Christopher Bush
  • Insoluble by Francis Everton

The Case of the One Hundred Percent Alibis by Christopher BushInsoluble by Francis Everton

  • Death at Broadcasting House by Val Gielgud and Holt Marvell
  • The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer

Death at Broadcasting House by Val Gielgud and Holt MarvellThe Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer

  • Murder at the Bookstall by Henry Holt
  • Obelists En Route by C. Daly King

Murder at the Bookstall by Henry HoltObelists En Route by C Daly King

  • A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh
  • Henbane by Catherine Meadows

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio MarshHenbane by Catherine Meadows (UK)

Quick Curtain by Alan MelvilleScarweather by Anthony Rolls

  • Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg
  • Constable Guard Thyself by Henry Wade

Death of an Airman by Christopher St John SpriggConstable Guard Thyself by Henry Wade

It’s honestly mind-boggling how many great books were published in this single year. With summer, and therefore the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, just around the corner, my plan is to immerse myself in 1934 reading. The only question is which twenty to choose…