Posts Tagged: benson

Mystery review: ‘A Case of Conspiracy in Clerkenwell’ by Clara Benson

June 28, 2017 Review 0

Book 3 of the new Christie-esque murder mystery series by the author, featuring Freddy Pilkington-Soames rather than Angela Marchmont, which gives the books a very different flavour. Angela was very much a lady, so her sleuthing was conducted over cups of tea and genteel dinner parties, whereas Freddy is a man about town, and there’s a certain amount of creeping about in the middle of the night, and he gets physical from time to time. Unlike Angela, there’s no mysterious past to be gradually revealed, and Freddy’s very much London-based. I’m rather hoping he’ll escape the town setting at some stage; I miss the country house setting of so many of Angela’s stories.

However, this outing for Freddy has a good array of eccentric characters in the ladies of the Temperance Society and the (mostly) gentlemen of the Communist Alliance, who share the same local community hall. When one of the ladies is stabbed with a paper knife, Freddy is roped in by British Intelligence to investigate both the murder and a revolutionary plot.

I never quite got the communists straight in my head, so I had very little clue what was going on there, but it didn’t matter much. The plot unfolds in the regular way, with a great deal of dry humour, Freddy’s usual willing but bumbling style and some implausible drama at the end, before all is revealed, plots are foiled and the day is saved. I’m not a big fan of the spies-and-revolutions theme of this series, and I’d much rather return to the body-in-the-library country house style, but this is still a totally enjoyable read. Four stars.

Divider

Mystery review: ‘A Case of Murder in Mayfair’ by Clara Benson

January 23, 2017 Review 0

This is the second in the spin-off series from the author’s Angela Marchmont series or murder mysteries set in the twenties. This time, Freddy Pilkington-Soames, insouciant man-about-town, finds himself in the middle of a drugs-and-murder case amongst a set of film people. A famous Hollywood actress somehow falls from a high balcony during a party announcing her landing a plum part. She wasn’t the nicest person in the world, so no shortage of suspects with a grudge against her, including another actress, a cameraman, a producer, the actress’s sister and so on. Freddy joins forces with another journalist, the less than scrupulous Corky Beckwith, to investigate.

This series has one advantage over its predecessor – Freddy is able to take a far more active part in events than the ladylike Angela. So there’s a great deal of creeping about at night, sneaking into suspects’ houses and getting into fights. Freddy’s also rather resourceful, although there’s sometimes an element of luck involved in placing him at just the right spot for things to happen.

This one wasn’t quite as light-footed as the first in the series, and I’m hoping that Freddy gets out of town occasionally in future books. Angela got about quite a bit – Cornwall, Scotland, Italy spring to mind – and several of her books had a country-house feel to them redolent of Agatha Christie, which I marginally prefer to the seedy side of London. But a good entertaining romp, nevertheless. Four stars.

Divider

Mystery review: ‘Angela’s Christmas Adventure’ by Clara Benson

December 23, 2016 Review 0

A short and sweet Christmas story for fans of the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s. There’s snow and presents and some missing jewellery, stolen in a seemingly impossible crime, which Angela and the irrepressible Barbara set out to solve in their own inventive but persistent way. There are walk-on parts for Angela’s maid and chauffeur, and of course, the delicious Edgar Valencourt. If the mystery isn’t terribly plausible, it doesn’t matter in the slightest, because it’s all jolly good fun. Four stars.

Divider

Mystery review: ‘A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia’ by Clara Benson

September 11, 2016 Review 0

For anyone who read all ten of the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s, this spin-off series is an absolute must. Featuring the gloriously insouciant Freddy Pilkington-Soames, this first book in the new series has all the author’s trademark elegant phrasing and delightful humour, combined with twenties glamour and a gentle murder mystery to be solved. I was a little concerned that Freddy, a comedic bit part in the Angela series, might be too lightweight to carry an entire series on his own, but I needn’t have worried. Freddy turns out to have a very deft hand in managing affairs so that the murderer is brought to justice without his society cronies missing the cocktail hour.

Here’s the plot: the magnificently named Ticky Maltravers is the toast of London high society, adored by everyone—or so it seems, until somebody poisons him over dinner. Now it turns out that numerous people with secrets to hide had every reason to wish him dead. But which of them murdered him? It’s not a spoiler (because it’s in the title) that a number of society figures are being blackmailed by Ticky, so the trick becomes one of keeping all those secrets out of the hands of the police and the newspapers, while also ensuring that the killer doesn’t get away with murder.

In a book like this, the plot isn’t really the point. I guessed the murderer’s identity very early on, so I was able to feel pleasantly smug when I was proved right, but that just means the author dropped enough clues and didn’t cheat by pulling out a long-lost identical twin at the end. The real joy in these books is the authentic writing style, which cleverly evokes the era. The slightly Bertie-Wooster-esque humour had me laughing out loud on almost every page. The danger with this style is that it can veer perilously close to slapstick at times, but for me it never went over the top and worked perfectly to leaven the sometimes lengthy sentence structure.

This book was a joy to read from the very first word, and I loved seeing Freddy taking charge and behaving responsibly, yet without losing his ineffable Freddiness. There was a mild romantic interest, too, which was a nice touch, and I applaud the author for not making the police into idiots or buffoons. Highly recommended. Five stars.

Divider

Regency review: ‘The Lucases of Lucas Lodge’ by Clara Benson

May 6, 2016 Review 0

This is a real treat for Janeites, or anyone who read Pride and Prejudice and wondered what happened to Maria Lucas after big sister Charlotte married Mr Collins, and three of the Bennet sisters all found husbands. Clara Benson wondered, too, and this is her imagined answer. It’s a charming and light-hearted tale of muddles and misunderstandings, written in a style that any Janeite will love.

There are no Bennets in sight, just Maria Lucas, her parents, Miss King (the heiress saved from Wickham’s clutches in P&P) and some new characters renting Netherfield Park. I found all the characters (except one!) to be rather too nice, and perhaps not as quirky as genuine Austen characters, but this just made them all the more realistic. I particularly liked the way Miss King, a tiny bit-part in P&P, is given a great deal of depth here. Nicely done.

The setting is quite confined, just Lucas Lodge, Meryton, Netherfield Park and a rather puddly lane nearby, which has a starring role in a number of scenes. I was a little surprised that Maria is at home so much, when she has so many rich friends and relations now who could invite her to stay, but the author does explain this.

This is a wonderful, readable book with a delightful romance, lots of humour and all the charm of a Jane Austen novel. I couldn’t put it down! One word of warning: the book is an excellent pastiche of Regency wordiness, with no concessions to modern language, so anyone who finds Jane Austen’s phraseology tricky will have the same problem here. A very good four stars.

Divider

Mystery review: The Shadow at Greystone Chase by Clara Benson

December 31, 2015 Review 0

The tenth and final outing in the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the twenties. Most of the books of this series can be read independently of each other, but this one is the exception: it follows on almost directly from The Scandal at 23 Mount Street and has many spoilers for that story, so if you haven’t read the ninth book yet, read on at your peril.

After the sombre courtroom drama of the previous book, things are almost back to normal here, with ladylike amateur sleuth Angela and her aristocratic reporter sidekick Freddy investigating a murder from several years ago. But it isn’t quite normal, because the murder in question is the wife of Angela’s love interest, jewel thief Edgar Valencourt. And because she feels guilty about the events of book nine, she agrees to try.

The mystery isn’t particularly complicated. I guessed the identity of the murderer, and most of the reasons, within about five minutes. I also spotted some important clues along the way. That doesn’t make it any less interesting or enjoyable to watch the story unfold, and see Angela and Freddy circle closer and closer to the truth. This is, in many ways, a classic country-house murder mystery, with all sorts of family secrets lurking behind the wealthy exterior.

But to be honest, the murder isn’t the focus of this one, so much as the ramifications of the previous book, the weight of guilt and decisions made and actions taken which can never be undone. So there is a heavier tone than in some of the earlier books, and an all-pervading sadness. So can the author wrap things up and bring not just this mystery but the whole series to a satisfying conclusion? Of course she can!

This was another wonderful read, and although (like the previous book) it suffered a little from the backstory-heavy plot, I can’t in all conscience give it less than five stars. And for anyone wondering about the creator of the Angela Marchmont mysteries, you will find a little more information about the reclusive Clara Benson at the end of the book.

A brief word about the series as a whole. They say that many series take several books to establish themselves, and so it is here. The first book, The Murder at Sissingham Hall, is quite slow, and features Angela only as a side character, an odd stylistic choice. The second book, The Mystery of Underwood House, is much more readable, and I’d almost say you could start the series here without losing anything. By book 3, The Treasure at Poldarrow Point, things are beginning to pick up and the humour is finally showing through. By book 5, The Imbroglio at Villa Pozzi, the writing reaches glorious heights of charm, and this and book 6, The Problem at Two Tithes, are among my favourite reads of the year. The rest of the series is magnificent. Highly recommended for fans of cozies and Agatha Christie-style country-house murders.

Divider

Mystery review: The Scandal at 23 Mount Street by Clara Benson

December 31, 2015 Review 0

The ninth and penultimate outing in the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the twenties is a complete change of pace. After the light-hearted, almost flippant, tone of the last few books, suddenly life takes a very grave turn for Angela, when her past comes back to haunt her and she has a fight for her very life on her hands.

The mystery this time isn’t so much in whodunit, which is almost incidental, but how on earth Angela is going to get out of the mess she’s in. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler if I say that I never doubted that she would get out of it, but even though I guessed something of how it would go, there was a surprise in store at the end. In fact, there were a lot of revelations about the past, although one of them I’d guessed a while back.

This wasn’t the riotous entertainment of some of the previous books – the tone was too sombre for that. Angela makes some difficult choices in this book, and the very different plot meant that the writing style felt a little denser than usual. However, the courtroom scenes were very well done, Angela’s friends rose to the occasion splendidly, and the biggest reveal of the lot was suitably dramatic. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this as much as the earlier books – it was too traumatic for that – but the constant tension kept me on the edge of my seat, I tore through it in record time and I very much liked the way it ended [*], so that’s another five stars and straight on to the tenth and final book in the series.

[*] The reported tragedy near the end? Nope. Don’t believe that for one second.

Divider

Mystery review: The Trouble at Wakeley Court by Clara Benson

December 31, 2015 Review 0

The eighth outing in the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the twenties sees our heroine drawn into her most preposterous case yet, as a foreign princess is threatened with assassination at the private girls’ school attended by Angela’s god-daughter, Barbara. I won’t attempt to describe the plot – let’s just say it’s convoluted, and leave it at that.

I’m pleased to report that I guessed the identity of the villain right from the start here, but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment in the slightest. For those who enjoy boarding school stories, complete with middle-of-the-night chases across the lawn, creeping about with torches in the attic and teachers who are not all they seem, this will be right up your alley. I particularly enjoyed the games mistress’ robust attitude towards dealing with intruders.

Angela solves the case, as usual, and all the loose ends are neatly resolved. This one wasn’t quite as laugh-out-loud funny as the previous outing, but still very enjoyable. Five stars.

Divider

Mystery review: ‘The Problem at Two Tithes’ by Clara Benson

December 20, 2015 Review 0

Another bundle of fun in the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the twenties. This is the seventh, and the author is absolutely on top form. After the wonderful outing in Italy in The Imbroglio at the Villa Pozzi, here we are back in the heart of England, at the very respectable village home of Angela’s brother, Sir Humphrew Cardew and his wife Elisabeth, two of the most pompous, stuffy and dull people imaginable. They disapprove of Angela and everything about her, and although she sets out not to ruffle their feathers, naturally she can’t help getting into trouble almost immediately.

The village setting, and the murder that takes place against a backdrop of the village fete, is redolent of Midsomer Murders, or perhaps the Miss Marple series of Agatha Christie. There are eccentric characters in abundance – an elderly lady on a bicycle, the gossipy vicar’s wife and so on. Angela’s aristocratic reporter pal, Freddy, turns up, as well, together with an even more outrageous reporter from a rival newspaper, who proceeds to trample all over the case, and, when facts are in short supply, makes things up. And then there’s the brother’s mother-in-law, who isn’t quite the meek little old lady she appears to be.

The local police are augmented by Inspector Jameson, but even so, it takes Angela’s determination to solve the case. However, as usual in this series, the murder takes second place to the characters and the little side-stories which are so cleverly woven into the story, such as the sister seemingly about to marry a very dull man for lack of other options, and Angela’s maid trying to find out what, exactly, her mistress got up to in Italy. And the humour, of course. The Cardews are perhaps my favourites for laughs here, but with Freddy, the rival reporter, the old lady and the vicar’s wife, I was entertained from beginning to end. And a charming little romance, as well. An excellent five stars.

 

Divider

Mystery review: ‘The Imbroglio at the Villa Pozzi’ by Clara Benson

December 18, 2015 Review 0

Good grief, that was the most amazing fun. The sixth Angela Marchmont amateur detective series, set in the twenties, sees Angela holidaying in Italy, tangling with spiritualists and meeting an old acquaintance, a certain jewel thief by the name of Edgar Valencourt, last seen charming Angela in The Treasure at Poldarrow Point, book 3 of the series. I always hoped he’d turn up again, but his reappearance was even better than I could have imagined.

The mystery this time is nothing terribly convoluted, but I enjoyed trying to puzzle it out, getting it wrong and watching Angela resolve everything with an airy wave of her hand. But the murder takes a back seat to the characters, and their personal lives. The mysterious Duchessa, for example, who pops up from time to time. The fidgety English clergyman and his long-suffering wife. The almost-convincing medium and the daughter who ‘sees’ things. Even the Italian hotelier and the relaxed ask-no-questions local policeman. All of them feel very real, and the author has cleverly resisted the temptation to resort to caricatures or stereotypes.

But for me the big attraction is Mr Valencourt. He’s a charmer, of course, but then, he’s a con-man, so that goes with the territory, and Angela should know better than to fall under his spell. She does know better, in fact, but somehow she can’t resist him, and he can’t resist her either, even though she knows his criminal background and could give him away. And oh so gently they circle around each other. Their conversations are an absolute delight, every scene sparkling with wit and charm and affection, in a manner completely lost in modern-style books where the romantic couple simply dive into bed together. I loved it.

This book was a joy to read. Italy was the perfect setting, the mystery was plausible, the characters were entertaining and the romance – oh, the romance! If Mrs Marchmont and Mr Valencourt don’t make a match of it eventually, I shall be sorely disappointed. Although Mr Marchmont would seem to be something of an obstacle.

This series just gets better and better. Five stars. At least.

Divider