The British Library has been unearthing forgotten murder mysteries from its stacks for a while now, all with delicious matching covers that look like the old paintings you used to get in separate railway carriages (Anyone remember? Bueller? Anyone?)
To be honest they’ve been a mixed bunch, with some dated stinkers mixed in with the gems. My advice; look for the short story collections which Martin Edwards has curated, for the Golden Age expert possesses an infallible eye for quality.
Which brings us, it seems, to his most recent collection, stories with a London setting. Like all such volumes you get a mixed bag, but the general standard here is exceptionally high.
Topping and tailing the book are two of the most disturbing tales I’ve ever come across. I’d read Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Case of Lady Sannox’ before, but had forgotten its main trick, which is that although the reader has guessed the solution, foreknowledge only makes it more sinister and upsetting. The tale involves poison, surgery and betrayal; let’s leave it there, but if you haven’t you may be surprised at its level of darkness,
In ‘They Don’t Wear Labels’, we find the grimmer side of the usually sunny EM Delafield. The story is so simply constructed and seemingly gentle that its punchline, involving of all things, a Christmas tree, is genuinely shocking. The story is based on a true case which also formed the basis, via Frances Iles’ novel ‘Before The Fact’, for Hitchcock’s ‘Suspicion’.
In truth, London’s streets aren’t particularly exploited in the stories – at least not in the same way that Graham Greene’s ‘A Little Place Off The Edgware Road’ did, but the mystery’s the thing. Look out for other collections, ‘Resorting To Murder’, which features holiday mysteries, and ‘Silent Nights’, which are Christmas murders.
Here’s the full running order of tales in ‘Capital Crimes’;
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case of Lady Sannox
John Oxenham, A Mystery of the Underground
Richard Marsh, The Finchley Puzzle
R. Austin Freeman, The Magic Casket
Ernest Bramah, The Holloway Flat Tragedy
J. S. Fletcher, The Magician of Cannon Street
Edgar Wallace, The Stealer of Marble
Robert Eustace and Edgar Jepson, The Tea Leaf
Thomas Burke, The Hands of Mr. Ottermole
H. C. Bailey, The Little House
Hugh Walpole, The Silver Mask
Henry Wade, Wind in the East
Anthony Berkeley, The Avenging Chance
E. M. Delafield, They Don’t Wear Labels
Margery Allingham, The Unseen Door
Ethel Lina White, Cheese
Anthony Gilbert, You Can’t Hang Twice