Bad Blurbs #2 – Tour de Force (Christianna Brand, 1955)

After mentioning it in my previous post, I thought I should probably dig out my copy of Tour de Force and check that the blurb is really as bad as I thought it was. It is, and it’s made worse because there’s some really good stuff before the cock-up.

If you want to read Tour de Force, but want to avoid spoiling it for yourself, then all you need to know is that the bad blurb is from the Hamlyn 1980 edition, from the Hamlyn Whodunnit series. You can see the cover at the top of this post. There seem to be plenty of other editions, hopefully with spoiler-free backs. If you’ve already read it, or are just interested to learn how bad the blurb is, then do please read on…

[Warning! Spoilers for Tour de Force, which I think is a fantastic mystery. I’d seriously advise against spoiling it.] Continue reading

Solve-Along #3 – The Siamese Twin Mystery (Ellery Queen, 1933)

Sorry to anyone hoping for more Miss Marple goodness. My internet hasn’t been working too well, so streaming Murder, She Said was like trying to watch it through a zoetrope while falling down the stairs. In the end the router gave up altogether. After a few minutes of panic (how can a lazy writer survive without Wikipedia?!) I decided it was an ideal opportunity for a Solve-Along. Rather unfairly, it’s another Ellery Queen book under scrutiny: 1933’s The Siamese Twin Mystery.

As usual I’ll be writing down my thoughts and suspicions as I go, along with a summary of the plot, so no guarantees that I’ll notice all the important clues. Any links I put in should open in a new window, so you can follow them without losing your place.

[Massive spoilers for The Siamese Twin Mystery. Very oblique ones for The ABC Murders and Obelists Fly High] Continue reading

The 4:50 From Paddington (Agatha Christie, 1957)

As detailed in yesterday’s post, from time to time I’m going to pick a mystery and then compare all the different adaptations of it I can find, to see if I can pin down what works and what doesn’t. I’m primarily interested in what adaptations do the actual mystery: have they made it easier/harder, more/less believable, fairer/unfairer etc.? The aesthetic differences will be interesting too, but that’s not my main concern.

But before we can profitably compare adaptations, it’s necessary to look in detail at the source material. First up: Agatha Christie’s 1957 Miss Marple mystery The 4:50 from Paddington

[As you’d expect, thorough spoilers for The 4:50 from Paddington] Continue reading


A few things have got me thinking lately about adapting mysteries: there was an interesting post and discussion about the BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Nemesis on Yvette’s blog; the awful computer game version of Mystery of the Yellow Room I demoed a few days ago; and I finally got round to watching Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island (verdict: better than the book, but maybe all that talent could have been put to a better use?)

[No spoilers] Continue reading

Victorian Mysteries: Yellow Room (Freeze Tag Games, 2012)

I’d told myself I wasn’t going to play any more hidden object games, but when I got an email announcing the release of a game based on Gaston Leroux’s locked-room classic, The Mystery of the Yellow Room, I knew I’d have to at least try the demo. Luckily for my other work, the demo was so bad that I can’t justify playing the rest of the game, even for research purposes. You know something’s bad when even I can’t use it as procrastination fodder!

[No spoilers here, unless you really don’t want to know anything at all about The Mystery of the Yellow Room]

Continue reading

Two Computer Games

In my ongoing quest to find a mystery computer game that doesn’t mangle the mystery side of things, last week I played two: Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull and Special Enquiry Detail: Engaged to Kill. Both had good and bad points, and neither really hit the sweet spot in terms of difficulty, but they’re both genuinely attempted to provide a mystery plot. So things are looking up! Towards the end of the post there’s also a discussion about misjudged plots where characters seem to be aware they’re in a cliché and so leap to conclusions before they’ve got any real evidence, which is relevant to all types of mystery fiction.

[No real spoilers for the Nancy Drew game, but massive spoilers for Engaged to Kill] Continue reading

Death in High Heels (Christianna Brand, 1941)

Christianna Brand has long been one of my favourite mystery authors. She’s mostly forgotten now, remembered mainly for her Nurse Matilda stories which were adapted to make the recent Nanny McPhee films. But before that she wrote a series of exceptional mysteries, the most famous of which is probably Green For Danger, a tense and complex mystery set in a WWII hospital, which was itself adapted into a film starring Alastair Sim as her cantankerous detective Inspector Cockerill.

Brand’s books have a lot of the same charms as Christie’s but her characterisations are sharper and her plotting is twistier – one hallmark of her books is a parade of false solutions at the end, each one so different from the last and rattled off so quickly that it’s almost like watching a really good quick-change act. I find that even if I’ve solved the mystery and am familiar with the techniques she’s used in the construction, it’s no less impressive how she condenses everything into a taut finale.

A negative review of Brand’s Heads You Lose over at the always charming A Penguin A Week blog finally inspired me to complete my collection of the great lady’s mysteries. Which didn’t really seem like a dumb reason until I placed my order!

Heads You Lose is coming from America, so I’ll get to experience one of the great joys of ordering second hand books: forgetting you ordered it and then having it turn up months later as a wonderful surprise. But I also ordered a copy of Death in High Heels, Brand’s very first novel, and that arrived after only two days.

[Spoilers for Death in High Heels, The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side and The ABC Murders, but this is spoiler free until at least halfway through, so you should be able to read on if you’re careful. I’ll put another spoiler warning in when things get dicey] Continue reading

Bad Blurbs #1: Death in High Heels

I don’t have a lot of luck with the blurbs on Christianna Brand books. The back of my copy of Tour de Force spoiled an important plot point, undermining with a single sentence an effect that Brand spends the entire book trying to cultivate. The back of the Carroll & Graf edition of Death in High Heels isn’t quite as bad as that, but it makes up for only providing moderate spoilers by containing some massive factual inaccuracies. Luckily I didn’t read it until after I finished the book!

[This naturally has spoilers for Death in High Heels. If you don’t want to be spoiled then don’t click the link, and don’t under any circumstances get the Carroll & Graf edition! I wouldn’t recommend it even if you vow not to read the blurb. There were tons of printing errors and even an entire page of smudged text!] Continue reading