It’s time for more book reviews of the British Library Crime Classics!
One author which I discovered through the BLCC that I really liked is Mavis Doriel Hay. Of all the BLCC books I’ve read so far, hers have probably come closest to the bar set by my beloved Agatha Christie. Sadly, Hay only ever wrote three crime novels in her lifetime. Her third and last novel was published just a few years before WWII began. It was a time of tragedy, especially for Hay, who lost not only her husband in the war but also saw two brothers killed, one when his plane crashed in the Malayan jungle and another who was captured by the Japanese and died working on the Thailand-Burma railway. She never wrote another mystery and returned instead to writing about the British rural arts, a subject in which she was well-known for her expertise. It was, I felt, a real loss for the Golden Age of British crime writers.
Murder Underground was Hay’s first ever detective crime story and it revolves around the death of Euphemia Pongleton (what a name!), a rich elderly spinster who was found strangled on the steps of – you guess it – the Underground at Belsize Park Station. ‘The Frumps’, as Cissie Fain calls Ms Pongleton’s fellow boarders at the Framptons Private Hotel, are all agog and can’t help sharing their theories on who could have done her in. Suspicion falls first on Bob Thurlow, a young man who ‘goes with’ the maid at the Framptons and who Ms Pongleton had caught as a thief. But this suspicion soon spreads instead to her nephew Basil Pongleton, a writer who is also seeing Betty Watson, a fellow boarder at Frampton, and who may or may not benefit from his aunt’s will.
What follows is actually a sort of comedy of errors involving several characters and a pearl necklace as the inept Basil attempts to shift suspicion from himself with the result being he looks even more suspicious than ever. The competent and long-suffering Betty (who, in my opinion, is much too good for Basil) does her best to aid him as does Mr Slocomb, another one of the ‘Frumps’, while others still attempt to solve the mystery of who killed Ms Pongleton. But if Basil didn’t commit the murder and Bob Thurlow didn’t either, than who did? There are clues scattered throughout book, including in the Framptons, which which reminds me a lot of another boarding house set in Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock.
Murder Underground was an entertaining read and definitely one which I’d recommend to fans of Agatha Christie. It’s not quite as bloodthirsty as some of Christie’s books (only one murder!) but it’s a fun cozy mystery that had me laughing out at certain points, including one point toward the end where everyone begins to congregate at a police station. It’s certainly left me wishing Ms Hay had written more than just three crime novels because I would have loved to see what else she would have come up with.