Capital Crimes

Reading & Writing


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

6 comments on “Capital Crimes”

  1. Jo W says:

    Chris, I’m halfway through this book and read The Hands of Mr.Ottermole yesterday. I thought Thomas Burke’s description of the alleyways of East London through which the first victim walks had an almost Dickens like feel to it. If I had been wearing a cardie I would have wrapped it round a little more,it had that sort of feel.
    Agree with you about Lady Sannox-shuddering now,thinking about it.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the Silent Nights compilation and have a copy of Resorting to Murder on the pile of books to be read. I also have another five British Library Classics waiting in the wings and of the novels I’ve read,I think I like John Bude best,but have found J Jefferson Farjeon slow going.
    Must end now, another story is calling. 😉

  2. Brian Evans says:

    Thanks for the tip. Have just sent off for the Kindle version

  3. Chris Hughes says:

    Sounds very good! I’ve got several in this series and you’re right, some are much better than others. And yes, I remember the single carriages and the pictures – and the netted luggage racks. My favourite poster was for Ramsgate – a ram with a very lively eye leaping over a five-barred gate.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    For several years now we have had a calendar showing the advertising posters done for the Great Western or other of the British lines. This month’s is a lovely painting of deer in a forest glade with Windsor dimly visible distantly through the trees, an advertisement for Great Windsor. August was Whitby, with the ruined abbey prominent.

  5. Brian Evans says:

    Have just read “The Case of Lady Sannox” by Conan Doyle. It’s wonderfully macabre and I was shocked at the ending which I didn’t see coming. Excellent.

  6. Davem says:

    Thanks for this

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