Tag Archives: Wilkie Collins

Saxby Smart’s Detective Handbook

I’d like a small pile of detectives on my bedside table, too. Just like Saxby Smart. He’s a detective who keeps other detectives nearby at night in case he needs them. Ah, no, I see now it’s books he’s got. Though I still quite like the idea of the detectives stacked up. As long as they can keep quiet.

Feeling vaguely Sherlocky today, after watching the Sherlock repeat on television on Sunday, so decided to tackle the detective handbook. I’ve not read any of Saxby’s own criminal adventures, but I suspect they are a lot of fun if this guide is anything to go by. It’s got everything. Or so it seems.

Most importantly it has a list of cons you can try, from phishing to dropping pigeons. Quite zoological. (I’d say, don’t try this at home. Just in case.)

Simon/Saxby explains the history of crime from body snatchers via the Lindbergh baby to Watergate. The difference between peelers and the FBI. Stuff on blood, and also why the butler did it.

The great names like Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie and hardboiled eggs all get a chapter. A DIY lesson in detecting, which I’m far too lazy to even contemplate, but would suit the younger reader.

Finally there is a guide to Saxby’s own bookshelves, with introductions to some of the best crime novels in existence. Not so necessary if you have a crime lover nearby who will initiate you to the ways of crime, but for everybody else this is an invaluable list.

Great to find such a humorous book which takes crime seriously. Apparently they have overcoats in Chicago. That’s good because I believe it gets cold there. But what does a mere dame know? Though I do wish he’d mentioned Knox’s Chinaman. Chinamen are amusing.

And there is information for those of you who need to know how to rob a grave. Which is not the same as snatching bodies, btw. One has come further than the other.

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Is it safe to come out now?

Chris Priestley’s books and I have travelled together more than most. Each time I get sent one of his books I think to myself that it looks wonderful and I must read it. And so far I’ve just not managed it, but I hope Chris is pleased by the large number of trips we have made together.

When The Dead of Winter arrived I was book-free, which is very unusual, so I grabbed it and began reading it right there and then, just to make up for earlier near misses. It doesn’t say when it’s set, but has the feel of Victorian Gothic. It is wonderful. It’s also a little bit scary. Actually.

The recently orphaned Michael has to go and spend Christmas with his new guardian, who lives in a large – and possibly haunted – house near Ely. Possibly haunted? What am I saying? Of course the place is haunted. Very haunted. And Michael is a sensitive boy (not sure what age he is) who feels these things, so he is uncomfortable from the word go.

The plot is superficially quite obvious, and there are few surprises, until… Well, if I told you there would be nothing to worry about.

This is a nice and short book, written in the style of classic authors such as Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allan Poe. In my aspie-ness I have to mention that there are a couple of overlooked inconsistencies, although only one of them matters.

You know exactly where the story is going, and it seems to follow a standard recipe until the day th……….

A Victorian spy agency

I adore Victorian crime novels. By that I mean books set in Victorian times. Not that there is anything wrong with Wilkie Collins. There isn’t. But I quite like a little modern flavour to a Victorian plot. I’m sure Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart could not have been written in the 19th century. Having said this, I feel that there may be just a little bit too much modern thinking in The Agency; A Spy in the House by Y S Lee, which I’ve just read.

The setting is very nicely Victorian, as it should be, since Ying has a PhD in Victorian literature and culture, and came over from Canada to London while doing research. It shows, and maybe a little too much. I think what I mean is that there is obvious Victorian research, coupled with a very 21st century mindset in some of the characters.

But it is a really good adventure and a great read. So if you want a female Alex Rider in Victorian London, then this is for you. Once I’d disconnected the modern women from the era of Wilkie Collins, I enjoyed A Spy in the House a lot. It’s the first in a trilogy about ‘The Agency’, which seems to be a secret women’s spy organisation. Female because women don’t count, so are not noticed, which is a nice premise. Perhaps nice isn’t the right word. Handy, is more accurate.

A Spy in the House

Mary Quinn (alias Lang) is only seventeen, but seems more mature, which could have something to do with her difficult early life. Apart from her own little secret, which she has so far not shared with anyone, she is very much a cousin of Sally Lockhart’s and she encounters her ‘Fred’ while on assignment.

The adventure is rather like The Ruby in the Smoke or The Moonstone, with smuggling, sinking boats, opium and Chinamen. Like Alex Rider Mary is surprisingly capable, but that’s good in a heroine. Her spy bosses are awfully 21st century, and I’m not sure I like them so much. Did enjoy James, Mary’s ‘Fred’, though. I trust we’ll see more of him.

I somehow missed this book when it was published in Britain last year, but it’s out in the US in March, and has been given a great Victorian cover, which I suppose they like ‘over there’.