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Tuesday 28 February 2023

‘Sherlock Holmes and the Persian Slipper’ by Linda Stratmann

Published by Sapere Books,
10 February 2023.
ISBN: ‎978-1-80055903-5 (PB)

These stories are taken from the memoirs of Doctor Arthur Stamford, who preceded Watson as the first biographer of Sherlock Holmes. The stories are set at the time when Holmes and Stamford are students at Barts Hospital: Stamford is studying to become a doctor, while Holmes is following his own esoteric studies to perfect his detective skills. Although Stamford has been involved in several of Holmes’ previous cases, this is the first time that he has had a personal involvement. Stamford’s cousin, Lily, tells him she is worried about her friend, Una. Lily is a pretty, frivolous girl but Una has always been sensible, strong willed and hard-working. Because her face is disfigured by a red birthmark, it had seemed unlikely that Una would ever marry and would always work for her living, but she inherited a house in Essex from an elderly cousin who had failed to make a new will when his daughter died. Lily had been surprised when, within a few weeks of receiving her inheritance, Una married John Clark, a man she had only recently met. Clark is reputed to be a wealthy man with properties in several parts of the country, but Lily is worried about Una, who has sent her some letters expressing concern about her husband’s secretive ways. She mentioned that he keeps a small gun concealed in one of a pair of embroidered Persian slippers in the drawer of a cupboard next to his bed.

Stamford tries to involve Sherlock Holmes in Una’s situation but he appears more interested in the experiment he is carrying out in the Barts’ laboratory. Una asked Lily to destroy her letters and has told her not to visit her. Lily has kept the letters but knows she must obey the command to stay away, so Stamford travels down to the rural Essex village where Una lives to check she is all right. He takes the letters with him, hoping to discuss them with Una, who he has met occasionally in company with Lily.

Stamford’s first view of Una’s house horrifies him because of its dilapidated state but worst is to come. He is greeted by a policeman who informs him that John Clark has been found dead in his bed, shot by the gun he kept in the Persian slipper. Una and her husband did not share a bedroom and she and Mrs Pettigrew, the housekeeper, both claim they did not hear the shot. This is not a locked room mystery, but it does seem to be a locked house mystery, because Mrs Pettigrew insists that she locked and bolted both front and back doors and there was no access via the windows.

As Una and Mrs Pettigrew do not believe anybody could have been concealed in the house overnight, it appears that either Clark committed suicide or he was murdered by one of the two women who were known to be in the house. This is the theory adopted by the detective who has come to investigate Clark’s death and, as Mrs Pettigrew is a well-known and respected local woman, Inspector Mackie’s suspicions settle on Una. When Mackie interviews Stamford his questioning technique flusters the young student doctor into revealing the existence of Una’s letters to Lily and their contents add to Mackie’s belief that Una had murdered her husband.

Overwhelmed by anxiety and guilt because he has made Una’s situation worse, Stamford sends an urgent message to Sherlock Holmes begging him to come to Essex to investigate. Holmes does come but Mackie will not allow him to participate in the investigation. However, the doctor who has been called in to examine the corpse and later to do the post mortem is more obliging and allows Holmes and Stamford to assist him. Unfortunately, none of the medical experts can believe there is any likelihood of Clarke having committed suicide. Inspector Mackie arrests Una to try to make her confess to murdering or conspiring to murder her husband. He also pressurises Stamford to admit that he was Una’s conspirator, whom she had admitted to the house to commit the crime. Stamford knows that he was blamelessly at home in his lodgings, but he cannot prove it, unlike Holmes who has the alibi of his somewhat destructive experiments in the Bart’s laboratory.

Fortunately for Stamford, Holmes is convinced that he is innocent and, despite Inspector Mackie’s attempts to exclude him from the investigation, he continues to consider other suspects. Holmes also wants to work out how an outsider could have entered the house and is determined to discover more about Clark’s background than Una can know after such a brief courtship. Lily comes to stay with Una to support her with her friendship and, remarkably, it is frivolous Lily who supplies Holmes with a vital clue.

Sherlock Holmes and the Persian Slipper is the fourth book in the early adventures of Holmes, narrated by Arthur Stamford. It is an excellent series with an authenticity that makes it easily believable. The plot is cleverly constructed and Stamford is an engaging narrator with a voice and character that is different to Watson, despite the fact that they are both doctors. Sherlock Holmes and the Persian Slipper is a fascinating book which I recommend.

Reviewer:  Carol Westron

Linda Stratmann was born in Leicester in 1948 and first started scribbling stories and poems at the age of six. She became interested in true crime when watching Edgar Lustgarten on TV in the 1950s. Linda attended Wyggeston Girls Grammar School, trained to be a chemist’s dispenser, and later studied at Newcastle University where she obtained a first in Psychology. She then spent 27 years in the civil service before leaving to devote her time to writing. Linda loves spending time in libraries and archives and really enjoys giving talks on her subject.

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 5 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
The Curse of the Concrete Griffin
click on the title. 

Sunday 26 February 2023

‘Open Season’ by Quintin Jardine.

Published by Headline,
10 November 2022. 
ISBN: 978-1-4722-8287-3 (HB)

Sir Robert (Bob) Skinner, former senior police officer, is celebrating his son Ignacio’s 21st birthday with family and friends.  Relationships within the group are complicated and the family is described as ‘a jigsaw puzzle’.  Ignacio organises a run for the following morning, and he, DCI ‘Sauce’ Haddock, (an in-law), and Ignacio’s young brother, James, set out in the aftermath of Storm Boromir. As the runners move along, they can see the effects of the storm - the forest planted years ago to mark the birth of another family member has sustained major damage.  It becomes clear that James is going to win, and so Sauce and Ignacio jog quietly along behind, only to catch up with him - he has stopped and is looking at a fallen tree, its roots exposed and entwined with a human skeleton.

An investigation into a 30-year-old death begins and itself becomes entwined with other investigations and investigators.  Bob is still standing in as Chairman of one of the businesses his family is involved with (Xavi, the actual chairman has taken time off to sort his life out, following the death of his wife) and Bob is enjoying this new role.  However, though no longer a police officer, his knowledge of and involvement in previous cases and his connections with serving police officers result in him becoming involved in this new investigation and having to face up to his own mistakes.

This is a fast-paced novel, with the action moving between countries.  It has a large cast and tells an interesting story, in which historical crimes are revisited and unexpected relationships revealed.  Despite being the latest in a long line of books, it does work as a standalone, and may encourage new readers to dip into the thirty-three previous novels in the series.

Reviewer: Jo Hesslewood

He writes two other series featuring Primavera Blackstone and Oz Blackstone.

Quintin Jardine ditched a token attempt to study law for more interesting careers in journalism, government propaganda, and political spin-doctoring. He moved into media relations consultancy, before realising that all along he had been training to become a crime writer. Now, fifty-three novels later, he never looks back. He can be tracked down through his blog and website.

Jo Hesslewood.  Crime fiction has been my favourite reading material since as a teenager I first spotted Agatha Christie on the library bookshelves.  For twenty-five years the commute to and from London provided plenty of reading time.  I am fortunate to live in Cambridge, where my local crime fiction book club, Crimecrackers, meets at Heffers Bookshop .  I enjoy attending crime fiction events and currently organise events for the Margery Allingham Society.

‘Where God Does Not Walk’ by Luke McCallin

Published by No Exit Press,
9 December 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-84344-717-7 (HB)

Gregor Reinhardt is serving as a lieutenant in a Stormtrooper battalion on the Western Front in 1918.  He’s young for the responsibility but war provides opportunities for those who survive.  When a bomb kills a number of other officers at a meeting, one of Gregor’s men is accused of murder and then tries to commit suicide.  Gregor does not believe he is guilty and, in between the more pressing realities of life at the front, he tries to find out what exactly happened.  His investigations gradually reveal what appears to be a conspiracy within the German army, one which is being organised to ensure the war ends on terms that suit those who want Germany’s future to resemble its past. 

His resilience in the face of setbacks, misleading information, and personal danger begins to pay off as he identifies those involved.  In the process he starts to consider his own ideas of duty and devotion to his country in the light of the callousness and corruption he has encountered. 

This is the fourth in the Gregor Reinhardt series and is, in that sense, a good introduction the previous novels, which are set in the Second World War.  Gregor is an interesting and compelling character and the vivid descriptions of life on the front line provide a real sense of place, atmosphere and history.  His travels and his meeting with his father add the civilian element to the picture of life in a war-torn country.  It’s a tense and gripping story with a gradual unfurling of the plot.

Reviewer: Jo Hesslewood
Other books by this author:  The Man from Berlin, The Pale House, The Ashes of Berlin

Luke McCallin was born in Oxford, grew up in Africa, was educated around the world, and has worked with the UN as a humanitarian relief worker and peacekeeper in the Caucasus, the Sahel, and the Balkans. His experiences have driven his writing, in which he explores what happens to normal people put under abnormal pressures, inspiring a historical mystery series built around an unlikely protagonist, Gregor Reinhardt, a German intelligence officer and a former Berlin detective chased out of the police by the Nazis. He lives with his wife and two children in an old farmhouse in France in the Jura Mountains. He has a master’s degree in political science, speaks French, is learning Spanish, and can just get by in Russian. When he’s not working or writing or spending time with his family, he enjoys reading history, playing squash, and keeping goal for the UN football team.

Jo HesslewoodCrime fiction has been my favourite reading material since as a teenager I first spotted Agatha Christie on the library bookshelves.  For twenty-five years the commute to and from London provided plenty of reading time.  I am fortunate to live in Cambridge, where my local crime fiction book club, Crimecrackers, meets at Heffers Bookshop .  I enjoy attending crime fiction events and currently organise events for the Margery Allingham Society.