Tag Archives: Mysteries

The Toff at Butlin’s by John Creasey

John Creasey was a writing phenomenon, one of the most prolific authors of all time, with at least 700 titles published. Creasey was not only prolific, he was fast. He could write two or three full-length novels in a week. To read them, you would never know that they were written at speed. They are quality examples of crime fiction.

Although, Creasey is best known as a crime writer, he also wrote romances, westerns, thrillers – the cross-genre list goes on. As a crime writer, Creasey is up there with the best. Think of his creations; The Baron, The Toff, Gideon of the Yard, Inspector West, the Department Z novels – the list goes on and on.

When I was younger I used to see dozens of Creasey titles on the racks everywhere; in bookshops, railway stalls, newsagents – all with their distinctive covers. He was well regarded in his profession. The Crime Writers’ Association give awards in his honour.

I’ve been meaning to write about Creasey’s books for some time, for he is one of the masters of the craft.

His character the Hon. Richard Rollison, better known as The Toff, made his first appearance in Thriller magazine in 1933, his first book outing Introducing the Toff appearing five years later. There were about 60 Toff books published, Creasey would often write several in a year – four of the titles appeared after the author’s death.

The premise of the Toff is that well-brought up gentleman Rollison goes into the East End of London to fight crime, acquiring a reputation and the nickname. He has a calling card showing a gent complete with top hat and monocle, wearing a bow-tie and sporting a cigarette holder. He has an eye for the ladies and a rather nice flat in Gresham Street in Mayfair.

But really Rollison belongs to what the thriller writer Geoffrey Household called “Class X” – he fits in as well with the slum-dwellers of the East End as he does with posh society.

The trappings of the upper-class are present in these stories, but there is none of the dreadful snobbery you get with writers like Sapper and Wheatley. Rollison is a righter of wrongs, with friends he values right across Britain’s ridiculous class divide.

Like all good crime-fighters, the Toff has a winning supporting cast; there is his “man” Jolly, who puts on a pretence of being thoroughly miserable; Superintendent Bill Brice of Scotland Yard, who doesn’t really approve of Rollison, but welcomes his help; Bill Ebbut, who trains fighters in the East End and provides muscle to the Toff when needed. All of them delightfully drawn by the author.

Now, although I’ve been re-reading the Baron stories by Creasey, I hadn’t read the Toff for many years. Then, browsing in an antiques shop in York, while researching backgrounds for my next William Quest novel, I came across a battered copy of The Toff at Butlin’s. My copy had clearly originated at the Butlin’s Camp at Filey, for it is autographed by many of the redcoats working there during the 1954 season – including at least two who went on to become famous in the UK – the comedian Charlie Drake and the entertainer Eddie Keene, although the story is actually set at a Welsh holiday camp.

Now, for readers outside the UK, Butlin’s was and is a very famous holiday camp enterprise, set up by Billy Butlin in the late 1920s. Holidaymakers, usually on limited incomes, could come to Butlin’s for a fixed fee holiday, which included lots of entertainment provided by the famous redcoats (many British variety stars began their careers as redcoats). It was cheap, but it was very cheerful, for Billy Butlin was the complete showman in every sense of the word.

At some point, and I don’t know quite when it started, Billy Butlin approached several writers asking them to set books in one of his holiday camps. Dennis Wheatley, an arch-snob, famously turned him down. But several rather forgotten writers accepted, and two writers at least who are still highly regarded – John Creasey and Frank Richards, creator of Billy Bunter.

Now, the thought of the Hon. Richard Rollison staying at Butlin’s to investigate the disappearance of a trio of redcoats might seem strange, but it works wonderfully. Mostly, because Rollison is never portrayed as a snob and can mix with anyone.

And, by the 1950s, the Toff is rather hard up, putting out his sleuthing skills for money. He has to pay the bills so, when Billy Butlin (who makes a cameo appearance in the novel) invites him to his holiday camp at Pwllheli to investigate why redcoats keep vanishing, Rollison is quite eager to go – spurred on, it has to be said, by the photograph of a pretty girl on the cover of the Butlin’s brochure. His man, Jolly, thinks it all rather undignified and is outraged at the suggestion, but then, well, they do need the money. Some of the most amusing scenes in the novel explain Jolly’s conversion to the Butlin cause.

But what is the mystery which brings the Toff to Butlin’s? Well, I’m not going into any detail, for this is a wonderfully entertaining novel that you really should read for yourself. Sufficient to say that, along the way, there are robberies, the disposal of stolen goods, murders, and the Toff himself under threat from deadly opponents. And just who can the Toff trust? Not everyone can be trusted.

Never has a holiday camp been so menacing in a work of fiction – or so much fun. And the reaction of the campers when they discover that a celebrity like the Toff is in their midst is wittily drawn.

I would think that Sir Billy Butlin must have thought the book a hoot. It’s certainly as readable and fresh as the day it was written.

I shall certainly re-read the Toff novels as I find them. I know his agent is working very hard to make these titles more widely available. But how lovely it would be to see the paperbacks, with the original cover art, back in the bookshops.

And, I must say, I rather like this idea of setting a crime novel at Butlin’s. Sir Billy Butlin is long gone, but if anyone from Butlin’s would like to offer me a chalet for a week or two, I’ll see what I can do…

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On Writing Darker – A Guest Post by Crime Author M.K. Graff

This week we’re delighted to welcome American crime author Marni Graff, to tell us about her latest novel The Golden Hour. We love Marni’s Nora Tierney English Mysteries series. They’re a wonderful blend of contemporary murder mysteries with the best elements of classic Golden Age whodunits and it’s fascinating to read about England through the eyes of a crime novelist from ‘across the pond’!

When I decided to write a mystery series, one of the things that I was determined NOT to do was to write the same book all the time. In my Nora Tierney English Mysteries, American children’s book author Nora has solved murders in Oxford and the Lake District. However, all three, starting with The Blue Virgin, through The Green Remains and The Scarlet Wench, have been “Whodunits,” as I’ve wanted to explore what would made a person feel it’s reasonable to take another human’s life.  goldenhour_cover_final_front.jpg

When it came time to plot the fourth, The Golden Hour, I wanted to do more than vary the setting. I decided to veer into new territory for me, and instead wrote a “Cantheystophim” mystery, featuring a psychopath named Viktor Garanin, whose life’s goal is to destroy the English people. There are scenes in Brighton, Cornwall, and Oxford, with a hefty dose of action taking place in Bath.

The theme of this book revolves around “defining family and home.” We see Nora and her partner, DI Declan Barnes, deciding where they will live and what their future together looks like. Declan is handed a very difficult case in Oxford, the death of an Ashmolean Museum art restorer, just as Nora is leaving for a week, first to travel to Cornwall to bring her almost-year old son for his first visit to the home of his paternal grandparents. Despite the death of her fiancée, which occurred before The Blue Virgin opened, Nora is slowly developing a relationship with Sean’s British grandparents. She’s bringing a teething baby to an estate filled with priceless antiques and art, and is trying not to feel overwhelmed.

After that brief visit she heads to Bath for a friend’s home and her first bookshop reading and signing on the occasion of the publication of her second children’s book. The twist is that just before she leaves, she tells Declan she feels she’s being followed and hands him a bug she’s found in her cavernous bag.

How her stalker ties in with Declan’s case, and what those ramifications will be for the young family, will have startling consequences once Nora arrives in Bath.
The new book is decidedly darker than the previous three, and beta readers have told me they think Viktor Garanin is a grand character. The surprising reveal to me as a writer, with three other books in print in this series and one in my second series, was how much fun I had developing this psychopath’s character. Viktor is a super baddie, yet likes his garden and has fond memories of his grandmother—but don’t let that fool you. He’s as evil as they come.

THE GOLDEN HOUR is available on Amazon.com and through Bridle Path
Press: http://www.bridlepathpress.com. In trade paperback, Kindle and soon on Audible.

From the award-winning author of three previous Nora Tierney English Mysteries comes her most chilling novel to date.

Nora Tierney’s decision to move with her young son from Cumbria back to Oxford means house-hunting with her partner, DI Declan Barnes, even though she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed. Declan’s new case, the death of a young art conservator, brings international concerns and an unexpected partner. How these overlap when Nora heads to Bath for her first bookstore signing will find her fighting to save her child and the family she’s trying to create.

Award-winning author Marni Graff writes The Nora Tierney English Mysteries and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries, in addition to her crime review blog, Auntie M Writes: http://www.auntiemwrites.com
Praise for THE GOLDEN HOUR:

Elly Griffiths (The Ruth Galloway Mysteries; The Magic Men series): “Nora Tierney tackles her most complex and captivating mystery yet.”

Ausma Zehanat Khan (Among the Ruins, The Unquiet Dead): “One of the best things about Marni Graff’s latest Nora Tierney mystery, The Golden Hour, is the down-to-earth depiction of family life coupled with the tightly paced build of a twisty, time-honored puzzle. A meditation on love, loss and motherhood, The Golden Hour blends touchingly real domesticity with tongue-in-cheek humor, as the backdrop to a tale of art theft, germ warfare, and international conspiracy. The reflections of a reprehensible villain on the shortcomings of the British add just the right note of comedy to these otherwise weighty concerns. Added to this is a wonderful sense of place—Bath, Brighton, and Oxford are vividly rendered and charmingly true to life. Come for the crackling mystery, stay for the steady companionship of debonair detective Declan Barnes and feisty heroine, Nora Tierney, who offers warmth and smarts in equal measure.”

Sarah Ward (The DC Childs Mysteries): “The Golden Hour is a compulsive read with a narrative that both charms and surprises. I love Nora Tierney and can’t wait to see what happens next.”

 

 

 

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The Victorian Underworld by Kellow Chesney

If any one book inspired me to write my William Quest Victorian thrillers it’s this one, Kellow Chesney’s very readable and scholarly book on the Victorian underworld. It was first published in 1970 and – for me – is the standard work on this fascinating subject.Victorian Underworld: Chesney, Kellow

I first encountered it when I was an undergraduate at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Although I majored in literature, I did a minor in nineteenth-century social history. The underworld was only a small part of my studies, but discovering Kellow Chesney’s book sent me of on a wider reading programme, both in secondary reading and the primary sources.

When I’m asked to recommend a book on the Victorian underworld this is the one I suggest as a first read. There are several other titles I like – and I hope to give these a mention on the blog in the coming months – but Kellow Chesney’s book is the most comprehensive and the best introduction.

It’s all here, starting with a walk through the mid-century streets of London – and how vividly the author portrays the place. This is no dull work of scholarship, it’s a page-turner as exciting as all the best mystery thrillers.

Then from the main streets frequented by the richest members of society, Kellow Chesney takes the reader to the borders of the underworld, the places where the dispossessed and those forced into crime to survive are obliged to lurk – and the boundaries between the rookeries and the smart streets of society are often back to back.

We are then taken on a journey into the rookeries themselves. Kellow Chesney conjures them up in all their awfulness. It is impossible to understand the Victorian criminal underworld unless you can understand the causes of crime.

Here are the beggars, the pick-pockets, the footpads and the swell mob. The skilled cracksmen who break the safes and steal the jewellery of the richest members of society. Here are the magsmen, gonophs, macers and shofulmen. The screevers and the Newgate mob. (I’ll talk more about these in a blog early next week.)

There were perhaps 80000 prostitutes in Victorian London alone. Kellow Chesney deals sympathetically with their plight, whether they were working the poorest streets in the East End for pennies or selling themselves for much more in the night houses in the West End.

The book is wonderfully illustrated, mostly with the sketches of the great Gustave Dore, adding to the feeling of being there so brilliantly evoked in Mr Chesney’s words. If you can, seek out one of the original hardback editions – the pictures are not so well reproduced in the paperback editions.

When I came to write William Quest, Kellow Chesney’s book was the first I re-read. If you want a good understanding of the Victorian underworld, I commend it to you.

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The Language of the Dead by Stephen Kelly

The Language of the Dead, published in 2015, is the first in a series by American author, Stephen Kelly. I’ve read very little crime fiction set in the Second World War, though I enjoyed the detective drama series Foyle’s War. However I was intrigued by the synopsis saying that the main character, Chief Inspector Thomas Lamb, was still haunted by his time in the trenches.

The Language of the Dead: A World War II Mystery by [Kelly, Stephen]

The novel is set in the summer of 1940, where the murder takes place in a village in Hampshire. The setting had me hooked as I grew up in a small Hampshire village. It’s a county that’s not often used in crime fiction – although on television, Hampshire provided the locations for St Mary Mead, (real life Nether Wallop) and Chief Inspector Wexford’s Kingsmarkham (Romsey).

I enjoyed The Language of the Dead very much, despite a couple of issues I’ll come to later. Crucially important, I really liked the three leading detectives. They alone make me want to read the second in the series. Chief Inspector Lamb is an appealing character, a happily married, family man, deeply affected – twenty-two years on – by his experiences in the First World War. A fair man who takes his job seriously.

His side-kick Sergeant Wallace has his own problems and is the focus of a well-written sub-plot with a noir-like feel. The author made me ‘see’ those particular scenes like a black and white film. When the third of an uneasy trio is introduced, Inspector Rivers is a figure from Lamb’s past. This debut novel sets the scene for some interesting development in future titles. Stephen Kelly’s characters and their motivations are very believable.

The plot concerns the bizarre murder of an old man, while he was hedging on farmland. As the author mentions on his website, this was partly inspired by a real unsolved murder which took place in Warwickshire in 1945. Inspector Lamb’s daughter is the village A.R.P. warden.

Stephen Kelly is good at catching the atmosphere of rural southern England thrust into the desperate summer of the Battle of Britain. Traditional village life with its lingering superstitions is shown changed almost overnight by R.A.F. camps, gun emplacements, rations and the blackout. Everyone is nightly watching the sky where the flames of Southampton and Portsmouth can be seen. The villagers are already tense and fearful before they have a murderer among them.

Because Stephen Kelly writes so well, I was disappointed that he didn’t convey any real feeling of Hampshire. I’ve no problem with adjusting the map – that’s necessary for writers and we certainly do that in our own novels – but most writers keep an authentic atmosphere of place. I’d have liked some description of the fictional village of Quimby and the old cathedral city of Winchester, home to the detectives’ police station. The sparse details we do get are inaccurate, Hampshire doesn’t go in for glens or stone-built villages.

But the main jarring factor for me, was the constant use of Americanisms and sometimes lack of knowledge of British ways. Part of me feels mean saying this but American terms ‘jolt’ me out of the British fictional world that’s been created. It seems fashionable among American authors to write historic crime fiction set in England and I do understand the attraction and difficulties. I enjoy Charles Todd’s period crime novels but sometimes find the same problem. 

Despite these caveats there was so much I enjoyed about The Language of the Dead. I will read the second book The Wages of Desire and look forward to finding out more about the series’ characters.

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The Holly House Mystery – in paperback, on Nook, Kobo and Kindle

Our new detective novella The Holly House Mystery is now available on Nook and Kobo as well as on Kindle and in paperback.  Thanks to everyone who has bought the book so far.  THE HOLLY HOUSE MYSTERY: An Inspector Chance Murder Mystery (An Inspector Chance Mystery Book 2) by [Bainbridge, John]

The new book is set on the Sussex downs in 1931, in the days between Christmas and the New Year, and features Inspector Eddie Chance of the Tennysham CID.

If you enjoy the book please do leave a review on the online selling sites and Goodreads. And if you could share this and tell your friends about The Holly House Mystery we’d be very grateful. Reviews help Indie Authors stay in business.

Here’s a bit more about the book:

December 1931. Inspector Chance investigates a country house mystery in a snow-bound Sussex village. Family and guests are gathered for Christmas at Holly House. A body is discovered near the ruins in the grounds. And only one set of footprints in the snow…

Can Inspector Chance solve the murder before Scotland Yard is called in?

The Holly House Mystery is a 34000 word novella, complete in itself, the second book in the Inspector Chance Mystery Series.

What Readers are saying about Inspector Eddie Chance’s first appearance in The Seafront Corpse

“An excellent depiction of good old fashioned detective work.”

“An enjoyable trip down memory lane, authentically written.”

“Excellent period detective piece. Couldn’t put it down.”

“The mystery was good, the characters were GREAT!!”

To order just click on this link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N4GCWHR/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1482419497&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Holly+House+Mystery

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The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

The Zig Zag Girl is one of those detective novels that linger in the mind. I enjoyed reading it so much that I was sorry to part company with the lead characters. Fortunately the second novel in this new series is out next month.

The setting is Brighton in 1950. A time when Britain was still exhausted by winning the war. Limping into a new world past bomb-sites and still clutching ration-books. I know Brighton and the other south coast resorts featured very well and Elly Griffiths captures them perfectly. This novel has a wonderful sense of time and place.

In fact it offers everything the reader of crime fiction desires, a terrific plot with a fascinating theme, an engaging pair of detectives – one is unofficial – and a dazzling conclusion.

Inspector Edgar Stephens is diffident, likable and has a very believable background. He also has an intriguing back-story from the war. One theme of The Zig Zag Girl is the world of variety and magic; backstage showbiz with its seedy, spurious glamour, all distraction, mis-direction and illusion. A wonderful setting for the twists and reveals of a detective novel.

When a girl is murdered in singular circumstances, Inspector Stephens turns to his old friend Max for advice. Max Mephisto is a famous stage magician, uniquely well-placed to help Edgar find someone who performs the deadliest of tricks.
Edgar and Max are brilliantly written, making you want to know what they do next. The most minor characters are vividly brought to life in a few lines. A tense, flowing plot makes it hard to put the book down and all sorts of small loose ends are satisfyingly revealed.

One of my best finds this year. The next novel Smoke And Mirrors is out next month.

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