books monthly june 2017

This month I concentrate on the (nearly) new Retro magazine from Yours... it is sublime!

 In this issue:

Home Page

Adult Fiction

  Crime and Thrillers
  Science Fiction & Fantasy

  Children's books

  Nonfiction & Reference
  The Nostalgia Page
  The Military History Page

  The Jerry Dowlen Column

Freeman Wills Crofts: The Groote Park Murder


Published by The Detective Club 20th April 2017


From a murder in South Africa to the tracking down of a master criminal in northern Scotland, this is a true classic of Golden Age detective fiction by one of its most accomplished champions. When a signalman discovers a mutilated body inside a railway tunnel near Groote Park, it seems to be a straightforward case of a man struck by a passing train. But Inspector Vandam of the Middeldorp police isn’t satisfied that Albert Smith’s death was accidental, and he sets out to prove foul play in a baffling mystery which crosses continents from deepest South Africa to the wilds of northern Scotland, where an almost identical crime appears to have been perpetrated. The Groote Park Murder was the last of Freeman Wills Crofts’ standalone crime novels, foreshadowing his iconic Inspector French series and helping to cement his reputation (according to his publishers) as ‘the greatest and most popular detective writer in the world’. Like The Cask, The Ponson Case and The Pit-Prop Syndicate before it, here were a delightfully ingenious plot, impeccable handling of detail, and an overwhelming surprise ‘curtain’ from a masterful crime writer on the cusp of global success. This Detective Club classic is introduced with an essay by Freeman Wills Crofts, unseen since 1937, about ‘The Writing of a Detective Novel’.


A brilliant package, as always, and with the added benefit of a short story by Monica. These stories are among the finest ever written for youngsters, faultless writing, brilliant characters and the GGBP package is as superb as ever.





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Edmund Crispin: The Case Of The Gilded Fly

Published by HarperFiction 1st June 2017


The very first case for Oxford-based sleuth Gervase Fen, one of the last of the great Golden Age detectives. As inventive as Agatha Christie, as hilarious as P.G. Wodehouse, this is the perfect entry point to discover the delightful detective stories of Edmund Crispin - crime fiction at its quirkiest and best A pretty but spiteful young actress with a talent for destroying men’s lives is found dead in a college room just yards from the office of the unconventional Oxford don Gervase Fen. Anyone who knew the girl would gladly have shot her, but can Fen discover who did shoot her, and why? Published during the Second World War, The Case of the Gilded Fly introduced English professor and would-be detective Gervase Fen, one of crime fiction’s most irrepressible and popular sleuths. A classic locked-room mystery filled with witty literary allusions, it was the debut of ‘a new writer who calls himself Edmund Crispin’ (in reality the choral and film composer Bruce Montgomery), later described by The Times as ‘One of the last exponents of the classical English detective story . . . elegant, literate, and funny.’ This Detective Story Club classic is introduced by Douglas G. Greene, who reveals how Montgomery’s ambition to emulate John Dickson Carr resulted in a string of successful and distinctive Golden Age detective novels and an invitation from Carr himself to join the exclusive Detection Club.


Classic Detective Club fare, this time featuring amateur sleuth Gervase Fen in a locked-room mystery that is seemingly unsolvable... Edmund Crispin used to feature large in my old public library back in the 1950s but has sadly faded into to obscurity - Harper Collins deserve a note of thanks for resurrecting him. Superb.


Paul Alverdes: The Whistler's Room

Published by Casemate 28th April 2017


The Whistlers' Room is the surprisingly gentle, sensitive story of a section in a German hospital where three soldiers try to recover from battle injuries. They are known as the Whistlers, as all were shot in the throat and their breathing results in a sound "like the squeaking of mice". The author vividly captures the strong young men the soldiers used to be and the battered, wounded people they have become. Pointner, whose obstinacy in holding onto an English sniper's cap means he is mistaken for the enemy, is the worst injured of the trio. Kollin continually dreams that he is cured, and for a brief, heart-breaking moment his breathing appears to be free when he awakes. The precarious balance of life in the hospital shifts when Harry, an English prisoner of war, becomes another whistler. His initial reception by the other patients, and his eventual acceptance into their group, reminds us of what must be so blatant day-in day-out in a hospital: men are all the same regardless of the country they fight for. The story progresses through a simple series of vignettes which are delicately presented without demanding empathy or flinging the reader into a maelstrom of emotion. It is all the more rare, precious and powerful as a result.  


The latest title in Casemate's brilliant war fiction series, The Whistlers Room was first published in 1929, this edition having been translated from the original German. Alverdes himself was wounded in the throat and what he describes in the book was largely based on his own personal experiences. Extreely atmospheric and poignant. A real gem.


W F Morris: Pagan

Published by  Casemate 28th April 2017


Charles Pagan and Dick Baron, who served together in WWI, embark on a walking holiday in the Vosges Mountains in France, in 1930. En route they meet Cecil and his sister Clare who is recovering from the loss of her fiance during the war. Pagan and Baron pitch camp at a guesthouse, but the strange behaviour of locals piques their interest in the surroundings: in particular the old battlefield nearby. They express an interest in visiting it and are told by their host in no uncertain terms that it is not the place to go at night. When they discover they have been locked in their bedrooms, the pair lose no time in putting a rope out of the window and shinning down it, intent on exploring the forbidden territory and viewing the apparition Pagan thinks he has glimpsed briefly by moonlight.

Pagan, like W. F. Morris's preceding novel Bretherton, is a mystery story, but one which could only have been written as a result of the war. Bretherton himself is mentioned in passing by his brothers in arms. It is exciting, spine-chilling, funny, and romantic, but the Great War taints all these elements like a colour filter on a camera. The war is only a decade away and wounds, both mental and physical, are raw. The novel works brilliantly as a thriller in its own right, but also a commentary on post-war Europe.


Pagan is reminiscent of a Richard Hannay adventure by John Buchan - a forerunner of a whole raft of spy/adventure stories that proliferated in the 1930s. Stirring stuff.


Liviu Rebreanu: The Forest Of The Hanged

Published by  Casemate 28th April 2017


During the First World War, just behind the eastern front, there was a forest, where Austrians and Hungarians used to hang deserters. To this place came Apostol Bologa, a young Romanian officer eager to serve his country. Born in a Romanian region of Transylvania which was then under Hungarian rule, he had naturally enough joined the Austro-Hungarian army. But soon Romania itself entered the war, and Bologa found himself fighting his own people. The Forest of the Hanged asks a fundamental question about war: namely, why does a man fight? Apostol condemns an officer to death for desertion and attempting to give information to the enemy. He watches the execution of the officer with satisfaction until he witnesses a fellow soldier's grief and pity for the dead man. At this point his world shifts. His growing self-doubt and uncertainty lead him to question beliefs he once held without question. Unprepared for his own reaction when he is once again called to sit on a court martial, he finds that he too must go to the forest. This very rare, richly descriptive novel lays bare the inner conflict engendered by a total war, yet seldom expressed.


A dark and depressing story with little to uplift the spirits until Bologa's moment of enlightenment, but nevertheless a valued and essential reprint of a classic war fiction work.

Yours Retro Magazine Issue 5

Published by Yours Magazine (out now)


I'm not sure how I came to miss this one, but miss it I did, until issue 5 sort of leaped off the stand in the newsagents and into my hands. I'm now on a mission to find and purchase copies of issues 1-4! Two of our charity shops, the RSPCA and Break, sell magazines at 50p per issue - all of my Nikon photography mags came from these two shops, and I have seen copies of Yours magazine in them, so I'm quite hopeful, but I wouldn't mind if I had to pay the cover price for them... Then there are the various car boot sales we go to, some of the stalls often have magazines for sale. Somehow I will find them! Now to the magazine itself... When I was a young teenager, I often went to my aunt's house after school if Mum was out somewhere. Aunt Cissy and her husband Uncle Owen had a huge collection of pulp fiction paperbacks which I would sit and read whilst waiting to go home. They also bought copies of Reveille, TitBits and The Weekly News each week; it was in TitBits that I discovered the joys of Angelique, by Sergeanne Golon (Serge and his wife Anne Golon). They also had copies of Photoplay in their vast collection of reading material, all of which I lapped up with relish. Yours Retro Magazine is a heady mix of Reveille, TitBits and Photoplay magazine - the only thing missing is the fiction! Every article is written well and illustrated to perfection - in the article on Lana Turner, for example, I learnt that my favourite movie Tarzan, Lex Barker, abused Lana's daughter Cheryl for many years, raping her first and then consistently abusing her until Lana found out and ordered Barker out of her house with a gun to his head! I recently discovered also that Barker was a racist - it's amazing how you come to find out how people you used to admire on the big screen turn out to have been monstrously bad people! There are excellent articles about the Gabors, Sinatra, some amazing revelations about The Wizard of Oz, and a terrific article about Gainsborough Studios, one of the UK's premiere film companies before the second world war turned everyone's lives upside down. This is a brilliant magazine, eighty-four pages of pure nostalgia from start to finish, and I have made a note of when to look out for the next issue - May 25th. I cannot recommend this magazine highly enough for anyone with an interest in nostalgia - absolutely superb! Full marks to Yours magazine for a truly fantastic reading experience! In my opinion, this is the finest magazine of any kind on the market right now!


Malcolm Saville: Where's My Girl?

Published by Girls Gone By Publishers (out now)


We were a little unsure about whether to reprint Where’s My Girl? but the number of requests we have been receiving has made us certain that we should. We are delighted to say announce with it we shall be including in it the Lone Pine story, The Flower-show Hat. This was first published in 1950 by the Girl Guide Association in The Guide Gift Book and then was reprinted in 2000 by the Malcolm Saville Society in a single hardback volume. 
   Where's My Girl? is the 19th title in the Lone Pine series. Set on Dartmoor, the story opens with a shocking accident in Shropshire. The scene then moves to Dartmoor, to Kings Holt, now owned by Penny Warrender's father. She and Jon don't really feature in the story; it is left to the others to resolve the mystery which rapidly comes into focus when they gather at the house for a holiday.  On the way to the station, the Mortons witness a vicious crime and are glad to reach the peace of the countryside. However, Dartmoor is not very peaceful, thanks to the twins!
   Penny is the main participant in The Flower-show Hat. The story starts with the arrival of an attractive girl at the Gay Dolphin Hotel one summer's day wearing a light flowery hat. It is the hat which catches Penny's eye, and her disgraceful purloining of the item leads her into a great deal more trouble than she expects. The story was illustrated by Bertram Prance 
   Where's My Girl? with The Flower-show Hat was published on 28th March. 


A brilliant new edition of a comparatively little-known Malcolm Saville Lone Pine adventure which also contains the shorter novella The Flower-Show Hat. I would never have expected the normally straight-laced Penny of being capable of stealing someone else's hat - you need to read this superb story to find out what happens next! A beautiful package from GGBP...


Elinor M Brent-Dyer: Trials For The Chalet School

Published by Girls Gone By Publishers 28th February 2017


Trials for the Chalet School is no 41 in the series, and had very major cuts in the Armada edition. The Chambers hardback was only printed once and so it is not easy to find.
   Scarlet fever, a flood, an avalanche, a pantomime in which the lights behave oddly are enough trials for any school. This Easter term also sees a new girl who was admitted against all the usual practices and she really makes the staff and prefects feel thankful as the term comes to an end. But not all the trials are unpleasant. The Junior Middles try to get their own back on the prefects, and are ‘most horrifically hoist with their own petard’.  
   Lisa Townsend has written a sensitive short story about Naomi's struggles to settle down in the school following the events of the St Moritz trip, with the help—or otherwise—of the other girls. Lisa is well qualified to write about disability, being profoundly deaf herself, and having also had the experience of supporting someone with cerebral palsy. She is the author of A Difficult Term at the Chalet School.  


A stunning cover for this latest volume in GGBP's reprint of a comparatively rare Chalet School title. Classic story from, for me, the most important and influential of all the school story writers. Magnificent!

Simon Brett Ed.: The Sinking Admiral

Published by HarperFiction 23rd February 2017


The Floating Admiral was the first of the Detection Club’s collaborative novels, in which twelve of its members wrote a single novel. Eighty-five years later, fourteen members of the club have once again collaborated to produce The Sinking Admiral. ‘The Admiral’ is a pub in the Suffolk seaside village of Crabwell, The Admiral Byng. ‘The Admiral’ is also the nickname of its landlord, Geoffrey Horatio Fitzsimmons, as well as the name of the landlord’s dinghy. None of them are as buoyant as they should be, for the pub is threatened with closure due to falling takings. Tempers are already frayed due to the arrival of a television documentary team when Fitzsimmons is found dead in his tethered boat. The villagers assume a simple case of suicide and fear that their debt-ridden pub will now sink without trace. The journalists seem determined to finish the job by raking up old skeletons, but they weren’t banking on the fact that this story has been written by 14 extremely competitive crime writers – arch bamboozlers who will stop at nothing to save a good pub. The Sinking Admiral, edited by the Detection Club’s outgoing President – author and broadcaster Simon Brett, OBE – continues a tradition established by the Detection Club’s founders in 1931 when Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts and eleven other esteemed authors wrote The Floating Admiral, a ‘collaborative novel’ to challenge themselves, fox their readers and help to pay for the Club’s running costs. Now, 85 years later, 14 of today’s leading crime writers have repeated this unique game of literary consequences, producing an original, ebullient and archetypal whodunit that will keep readers guessing right up to what crime lovers insist on calling the dénouement…

The contributors to The Sinking Admiral are:
all members of The Detection Club.


This is an amazing piece of fiction, with no less than fourteen writers pitching in to create something quite unique and something to be treasured in the annals of British crime fiction. Brilliant!

Anthony Berkeley: The Wychford Poisoning Case

Published by HarperFiction 23rd February 2017


One of the earliest psychological crime novels, back in print after more than 80 years. Mrs Bentley has been arrested for murder. The evidence is overwhelming: arsenic she extracted from fly papers was in her husband’s medicine, his food and his lemonade, and her crimes are being plastered across the newspapers. Even her lawyers believe she is guilty. But Roger Sheringham, the brilliant but outspoken young novelist, is convinced that there is ‘too much evidence’ against Mrs Bentley and sets out to prove her innocence. Credited as the book that first introduced psychology to the detective novel, The Wychford Poisoning Case was based on a notorious real-life murder inquiry. Written by Anthony Berkeley, a founder of the celebrated Detection Club who also found fame under the pen-name ‘Francis Iles’, the story saw the return of Roger Sheringham, the Golden Age’s breeziest – and booziest – detective.


This is the first of two Roger Sheringham mysteries to be published this month - first published in 1926 and 1928 respectively. From the Golden Age of British Crime, and reproduced quite brilliantly by HarperFiction, this and The Silk Stocking Murders are collectors' items and examples of the high quality of crime fiction that flooded the bookstores in the 1920s, when everyone was trying to outdo Agatha Christie. Superb facsimiles in this brilliant series.


Anthony Berkeley: The Silk Stocking Murders

Published by HarperFiction 23rd February 2017


A classic Golden Age crime novel, and one of the first to feature a serial killer. Investigating the disappearance of a vicar’s daughter in London, the popular novelist and amateur detective Roger Sheringham is shocked to discover that the girl is already dead, found hanging from a screw by her own silk stocking. Reports of similar deaths across the capital strengthen his conviction that this is no suicide cult but the work of a homicidal maniac out for vengeance – a desperate situation requiring desperate measures. Having established Roger Sheringham as a brilliant but headstrong young sleuth who frequently made mistakes, trusted the wrong people and imbibed considerable liquid refreshment, Anthony Berkeley took his controversial character into much darker territory with The Silk Stocking Murders, a sensational novel about gruesome serial killings by an apparent psychopath bent on targeting vulnerable young women.



The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.