It’s August and here in the UK it’s the height of summer (as I write this it’s pouring with rain!). When I was a kid, I was often encouraged to go outside and play in the lovely weather. Truth be told, all I really wanted to do was to curl up in a corner and read a book, hoping that the summer holidays would pass quickly and I could go back to school. I absolutely loved school, and I couldn’t stand the hot weather, so six weeks off was like torture. Luckily, I loved being at home, too, and I created reading areas in the shade. One year, my neighbourhood friends and I used my dad’s trailer shelter as a den. It was pretty good reading in there, too, if somewhat dark! (This same den is fictionalised in my Hearts & Crimes novel, The Secrets That Haunt Us).
Suffice to say that summertime became a reading frenzy for me. If you’d like a bit of mystery-oriented summer reading, then just maybe I can help you out with my August Spell the Month in Books list.
Anthem for Doomed Youth – Carola Dunn
This is the 19th Daisy Dalrymple book, and I am hooked on them! I have really enjoyed following Daisy’s exploits and the developments in her life. Daisy herself is perfectly feisty and astute, while maintaining a great wit and managing her relationships with her “interesting” family members, and her romance with DCI Alec Fletcher.
Anthem for Doomed Youth sees Daisy visiting their daughter at school – to the relief of Alec’s boss who warns Alec to keep Daisy from meddling in their newest case. Three unidentified bodies have turned up in Epping Forest, shot through the heart and Scotland Yard wants it cleared up ASAP. But just because Daisy isn’t there, doesn’t mean she’s not entangled in murder. And she can’t really help herself because a teacher at their daughter’s school ends up dead…
If you like 1920s murder mysteries with a light-handed touch, then the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple might just be your cup of aristocratic tea.
Unexpected Guest (The) – Agatha Christie (play novelised by Charles Osborne)
I became a real fan of Agatha Christie’s plays a number of years ago, some of which I have as an original stage play, and some which have been novelised. My version of The Unexpected Guest is a novelisation of Agatha Christie’s play, written by Charles Osborne, but I’ve linked above to the original stage play.
A man manages to send his car into a ditch in South Wales on a dreadful foggy night. Having escaped the car, he seeks out shelter and finds an isolated house. When he enters through the patio doors, he discovers a woman standing over her exceedingly dead, wheelchair-bound husband, complete with a gun in her hand. The man says he will help her create a cover story. But it’s clear that the woman is not guilty of murder – so who is she protecting? There are a whole house-full of suspects, and it must be one of them. But who?
I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this book. Christie’s original play is fantastic and this novelisation has been exceedingly well written by Charles Osborne. The mystery runs hand-in-hand with suspense. What I particularly love about this is that the narrator is not completely clean cut and innocent – after all, he does offer to concoct an alibi for someone who appears to be a murderer! I’m really glad I chose this book for my August list as the play itself had its debut performance on 12th August, 1958 and it’s been performed many, many times since!
Guilty Consciences – Ed. Martin Edwards
This is a crime collection I have had on my shelf for a while and am ashamed to say that I haven’t yet read from cover to cover. Of course, books of short stories have the advantage that you can read them (usually) in any order.
This anthology brings together seventeen stories by members of the Crime Writers Association, and includes stories by esteemed authors such as Ann Cleeves, Peter James and HRF Keating, among others. The stories I have read so far have all the hallmarks of great mysteries and I am absolutely sure that I’m going to love reading the entire collection.
I would have loved to have linked to this book for you, but I haven’t been able to find it at the time of writing. If I do come across a copy, I’ll add it in here as an update.
Unnatural Habits – Kerry Greenwood
I first came across Kerry Greenwood’s mystery novels set in 1920s Australia and which give us the exploits of the high society Phryne Fisher as a series on the TV. I enjoyed the Phryne Fisher Mysteries series so much that I began buying the novels, and I haven’t been disappointed.
Phryne and her maid-sidekick, Dot, get to investigate when young, pretty, blonde girls begin to go missing from the Magdalene laundry. All of them are pregnant and there’s a big cover-up afoot. But Phryne has no intention of allowing these girls to vanish into oblivion.
What I really enjoy about Phryne is her feistiness and her refusal to give up on anyone, regardless of race or class. She treats everyone equally and, despite social tensions, she has the ability to cross those invisible borders and isn’t above investigating the most heinous and lowlife of crimes. Her sense of justice is profound. She is one of my favourite high society female sleuths.
Something Wicked – David Roberts
Originally, I think I bought this book for two reasons: firstly, I had just completed my Masters dissertation which I wrote on Agatha Christie, and the main text that I worked with was the Tommy and Tuppence novel, By the Pricking of my Thumbs; secondly the title reminded me of the Ray Bradbury book, Something Wicked This Way Comes. It was a bit of a foregone conclusion, therefore, that I’d end up buying Something Wicked!
However, I have not actually read this book (hence no recommendation link), but I can tell you what it is about. This is book 8 of a 10 book series about Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne. Verity has returned to England with suspected tuberculosis, and also now engaged to Lord Edward. She checks into a clinic where – surprise, surprise – Edward has to go and investigate a series of murders. He’s there because his dentist has died rather suspiciously, and so have two other patients. As war approaches and hangs over them all, Edward and Verity need to find out what, or who is casting a shadow of threat over them.
Two for Sorrow – Nicola Upson
This novel is part of the series of mysteries which fictionalise the author Josephine Tey as sleuth. In this novel, Josephine wants to write about the perpetrators of a thirty year old baby farming case. Her friend, Inspector Archie Penrose, is on a case involving the murder of a seamstress which at first glance seems to be part of a domestic fight. But it becomes clear that her death is linked to another murder – and someone wants the past to remain buried.
I find the Josephine Tey books to be extremely in depth and darker than a lot of “cozy” mystery fiction set in between the wars. Personally, I like this more sinister element of the cozy. To my mind, cozy crime fiction does not have to be light-hearted; its defining feature is that it does not have bloodshed “on the page”. Nicola Upson’s series delves deeply into the darker motivations and means of criminals, and it feels to me very much like historical crime fiction. Maybe it’s because my own work has a dark edge that I like the Josephine Tey series as much as I do.
Well, there you have it: my Spell the Month in Books for August. As always, for transparency, some of the books I mention contain my affiliate links for US readers. I only ever use affiliate links on books I have personally read and have enjoyed. You can search for the books without clicking through on this post, of course! 🙂
I hope that a book or two that I’ve mentioned here might encourage you to try a new author or a new crime and mystery-filled book, be it a novel or a short story collection. Have you read any of my August list, or are any of them among your favourites? Be sure to tell me in the comments.