“Perfectly chosen stories” – Murder Takes a Holiday ed. Cecily Gayford

IMG_26Apr2021at153242Profile’s series of ‘Murder’ anthologies draws on a similar list of the writers in the British Library’s series of Golden Age crime novels and, for many of these writers, the short story might present them in a better light than the fuller length of a novel.

This collection of short stories again puts together some great writers, Arthur Conan Doyle and Ruth Rendell, with stories from less familiar names but all the stories are so consistent in their ingenuity that every story in this anthology is a delight (a fairly rare thing in an anthology). We meet some writers, such as Anthony Berkeley, that may wear the reader down over a longer distance but, here, it is a joy to see him. Berkeley’s story, ‘The Mystery of Horne’s Copse’, is set in the society best suited to this type of entertainment: “We were sitting in the drawing-room of Bucklands after dinner, Sir Henry and Lady Rigby, Sylvia and I.” The seemingly impenetrable mystery that follows is solved with a smooth explanation that is a pleasure, even though the unravelling is largely done off the page.

Edmund Crisp provides a story that would occupy a full episode of Columbo but over its six pages the crime is outlined, evidence provided and solved “over tankards in the pub.” Its brevity highlights Crisp’s mastery. Ngaio Marsh’s reliably efficient story, with Superintendent Alleyn as the worldly detective, proceeds with the sort of confident charm typical of his writing. These are stories written for pleasure, no gritty realism or the focus on societal problems that contemporary crime writers tend towards. As Michael Innes’ story of murder in a Cornish villa, ‘Death in the Sun’, acknowledges, it is a “hoary old piece of melodrama.” Yet, if there are few surprises to be had, there are also no disappointments. Every story is written by an eminently safe pair of hands, well-chosen and cleverly slotted together to make a satisfying whole.

Any Cop:?  A great example of the anthologist’s art, perfectly chosen stories that slot together into the ideal entertainment for a lazy day.

James Doyle

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