Recent Events

Wednesday 31 August 2022

‘The Click of the Gate’ by Alice Campbell

Published by Dean Street Press,
6 June 2022.
ISBN: 978-1-915014-92-4 (PB)

The book is set a few years after the end of the First World War and opens with Alan Charnwood and Iris de Bertincourt stealing a last evening together before Charnwood returns to East Africa, to continue his job as an engineer. Iris’ fifteen-year-old daughter, Clare, is acting in a play at her school but Iris made the excuse that she was not feeling well in order to spend the time secretly with Charnwood. The reason for this subterfuge is that Iris’ divorce has not yet been finalised and she is afraid, if Clare knows anything about her mother’s new relationship, she will accidentally let something slip to Iris’ aunt, the Comtesse de Castelmauron.

Charnwood cannot understand why a woman as independent and accomplished as Iris should be so anxious about her aunt’s opinion until she explains about her childhood. After Iris was orphaned, her wealthy, aristocratic aunt took her in and supervised her upbringing and education. The Comtesse is an exceptionally old-fashioned, religious and dominating woman who dictated every aspect of Iris’ life and, until Iris was seventeen, she had never been alone with a man. On her seventeenth birthday her aunt informed her that she was going to marry her cousin, Marcel de Bertincourt. Although shocked by this, Iris was also excited because Marcel was a handsome and charming young man. They married and, nine months later, their daughter, Clare, was born. The couple spent very little time together, first because of the War and afterwards Marcel spent his time and money on other women. Iris cannot regret her marriage because it gave her Clare, but after years of subservience to her aunt, she was encouraged by, Helen Roderick, a dynamic American friend to break free and accept the job she offered her. Now Iris is financially independent of the Comtesse and has her own house, albeit in a rougher area of Paris than her aunt approves of. Iris wants a divorce and Marcel says that he is happy to agree, however, their aunt will not countenance the idea of divorce and she is a woman who is determined to get her way.

The romantic evening the couple had hoped for is interrupted, at first is by a man delivering flowers, which contain a card saying they were sent by Iris’ husband, which, in the circumstances Charnwood finds strange. The second interruption is the Comtesse’s butler phoning to say she has heard that Iris is ill and is on her way to visit her. This means that Charnwood has to leave earlier than he had intended.

Every time someone opens the front gate it makes a loud click, which warns those in the house that somebody has entered or exited. Iris heard the gate click every time her visitors arrived and left, and she heard it click again when Clare arrived and then heard her talking to the family that had given her a lift. The gate clicked shut and Iris waited for her to come in the front door. Clare did not come. In the few seconds it should have taken Clare to walk along the path she has disappeared.

Iris is shattered by her loss and the uncertainty about what has happened to her child and the Comtesse grabs her opportunity and takes Iris back to live with her, once again totally under her control. Although it seems that Clare must have left of her own free will, Iris is adamant that her daughter would never be so cruel as to deliberately leave her worrying and wondering. Charnwood is determined to save the woman he loves from a life of submission and her daughter from whatever fate has overtaken her and applies for an extension to his leave. Assuming Clare has not run away, it seems probable she has been kidnapped for ransom, but when no demand arrives Charnwood suspects those nearest to her, primarily the Comtesse. who has made it clear that she will do anything to force Clare’s parents to reunite and abandon their plans to divorce.

Charnwood is a courageous, loyal and dedicated ally, who will do all he can to save Clare and rescue Iris from emotional bondage, but he has little experience of the cunning ploys of a very clever and ruthless kidnapper. Fortunately, Charnwood can call upon the expertise of his good friend Tommy Rostetter, a journalist in Paris, who has the subtlety and deductive skill that Charnwood lacks. Rostetter is eager to help but, with such a labyrinth of mixed emotions and relationships, it is hard to believe that they can find Clare in time to save her life.

The Click of the Gate was originally published in 1932 and has recently been republished. The story is prefaced by a comprehensive and fascinating introduction by Curtis Evans. It is basically a stand-alone novel, although Rostetter does appear in three more of the author’s novels. This is a psychological crime novel which explores the impact of the disappearance of a child on the mother who adores her. The author portrays with skill and sensitivity the psychological make up of a woman who had been raised under ruthless domination and is struggling not to slip back under her aunt’s control, but, at the same time, will make any sacrifice to save her child. Charnwood is an engaging, if somewhat credulous protagonist, and Tommy Rostetter’s lively intelligence lightens the book whenever he appears. The plot is tense and clever and contains fascinating descriptions of life in interwar Paris. This is an excellent read, which I recommend for readers who enjoy Golden Age crime novels.

Reviewer: Carol Westron

Alice Campbell (1887-1955) came originally from Atlanta, Georgia, where she was part of the socially prominent Ormond family. She moved to New York City at the age of nineteen and quickly became a socialist and women’s suffragist. Later she moved to Paris, marrying the American-born artist and writer James Lawrence Campbell, with whom she had a son in 1914. Just before World War One, the family left France for England, where the couple had two more children, a son and a daughter. Campbell wrote crime fiction until 1950, though many of her novels continued to have French settings. She published her first work (Juggernaut) in 1928. She wrote nineteen detective novels during her career.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 6 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.
To read a review of Carol latest book click on the title
The Curse of the Concrete Griffin

‘Seeking The Dead’ by Kate Ellis

Published by Piatkus,
7 August 2008.
ISBN: 978-0-7499-0861-4 (HB)

When Carmel Hennessey moves to the historic city of Eborby in North Yorkshire she is thrilled to secure a flat in Vicars Green, a stone’s throw from the Cathedral.  But she is somewhat disturbed when she starts receiving anonymous threats.  She contacts DI Joe Plantagenet with whom she has a past link and who feels responsible for her well-being.

Joe Plantaganent is investigating a series of murders by a killer who asphyxiates his victims then leaves them naked in isolated churchyards. He has been dubbed ‘The Resurrection Man’. 

Whilst Joe cautions Carmel to be especially careful with a killer at large, Carmel wonders if the threats could be connected to the previous tenant of her flat.  She does a little sleuthing of her own and discovers that the previous tenant just disappeared.  Her landlady Petra Trewlis seems unconcerned.  But soon Carmel has more to worry about when she becomes aware of a presence in her flat.

This is a marvellous first book in a new series.  The mystery kept me guessing to the end and I was so enthralled that I sat up into the early hours to finish it, and then I was too scared to turn off the light and go to sleep.  Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Kate Ellis was born in Liverpool and she studied drama in Manchester. She worked in teaching, marketing and accountancy before first enjoying writing success as a winner of the North-West Playwrights competition. Crime and mystery stories have always fascinated her, as have medieval history and archaeology which she likes to incorporate in her books. Kate's novels feature archaeology graduate Detective Sergeant Wesley Peterson who fights crime in South Devon.  Each story combines an intriguing contemporary murder mystery with a parallel historical case. She has also written five books in the spooky Joe Plantagenet series set up in North Yorkshire as well as many short stories for crime fiction anthologies and magazines. Kate was elected a member of The Detection Club in 2014. She is a member of the Crime Writers Association, Murder Squad, and Mystery People. She is married with two grown up sons and she lives in North Cheshire, England, with her husband. Her most recent series is set post WW1.  Her most recent book is The Stone Chamber.

‘Shadow of the Past’ by Judith Cutler

Published by Allison & Busby,
25 August 2008.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-7941-3 (HB)

 I opened this book with keen anticipation since I have enjoyed many of Judith Cutler’s contemporary detective novels very much.  They have all, I think, featured female protagonists so I was interested to see from the blurb that this book is told by a male character.   This is the first historical crime fiction volume of hers that I have seen although I can see that it is the second in a series.

In 1812 Tobias Campion, rector of Moreton St Jude, welcomes to his parish the widowed Lady Chase who owns Moreton Hall, one of the great houses in that neighbourhood.  Lady Chase is sorrowed by the fact that her son, Hugo, went missing after a skirmish before the battle of Talavera (1808) in the Peninsular War.   Despite strenuous efforts to find him nothing has been discovered.  Soon after the arrival of Lady Chase her putative heir, Sir Marcus Bramhall, and his family make a prolonged and unwelcome visit to the Hall.  Sir Marcus speaks of bringing a court case to declare himself the heir but Lady Chase is reluctant to admit that her son is dead. 

The story rolls on as a body is discovered and a woman disappears.  Tobias is an endearing character with a genuine religious calling and an empathy for the poor that belies his high class origins.   The historical setting is very well done for example the transport issues of the day are smoothly explained as part of the tale.  Class differences come clearly into focus – the anomalous situation of a governess is much to the fore.  Tobias must move between the different worlds of the rural poor, the urban poor, the aristocracy and those who fit in between the 2 extremes; he does so successfully as a man of the cloth should. He is also a very successful detective and he solves the various mysteries with aplomb.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer

Judith Cutler was born in the Black Country, just outside Birmingham, later moving to the Birmingham suburb of Harborne. Judith started writing while she was at the then Oldbury Grammar School, winning the Critical Quarterly Short Story prize with the second story she wrote. She subsequently read English at university. It was an attack of chickenpox caught from her son that kick-started her writing career. One way of dealing with the itch was to hold a pencil in one hand, a block of paper in the other - and so she wrote her first novel. This eventually appeared in a much-revised version as Coming Alive, published by Severn House. Judith has seven series. The first two featured amateur sleuth Sophie Rivers (10 books) and Detective Sergeant Kate Power (6 Books). Then came Josie Wells, a middle-aged woman with a quick tongue, and a love of good food, there are two books, The Food Detective and The Chinese Takeout. The Lina Townsend books are set in the world of antiques and there are seven books in this series. There are three books featuring Tobias Campion set in the Regency period, and her series featuring Chief Superintendent Fran Harman (6 books), and Jodie Welsh, Rector’s wife and amateur sleuth. Her more recently a series feature a head teacher Jane Cowan (3 books). Judith has also written three standalone’s Staging Death, Scar Tissue, and Death In Elysium. Her new series is set in Victorian times featuring Matthew Rowsley. Death’s Long Shadow is the third book in this series.