The Long Arm of the Law by Martin Edwards (editor)

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The Long Arm of the Law by Martin Edwards (editor)

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: An antidote to all of the amateurs making the cops look useless, this is golden age crime puzzlement where the policeman always gets his man. Good old-fashioned entertainment.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: August 2017
Publisher: British Library Publishing
ISBN: 978-0712356879

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When we think of the 'golden age' of crime fiction, we think of the brilliant amateur forever putting the official P.C. Plod to shame. Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Father Brown and so on. I'll admit to being a fan of all of those, but they aren't the whole story. The other side of the coin shows the official police doing their job and getting their man.

I salute the British Library Crime Classics team for bringing back to our attention many gems from an era when crime novels were much more about the puzzle than they were about the blood, guts and gore in the committing of the foul deed. Not that I don't love a Scandi-noir as much as the next person, but there is room in the reading room for a broad spectrum, and the crime-as-puzzle genre (now often sadly and wrongly derided as 'cosy crime') has perhaps a broader audience. I count myself among them.

Among the books resurrected are many novels (including some reviewed on this very site), but editor Martin Edwards has been assiduously looking for the classics in the short form and pulling them together as thematically as possible. This particular volume eschews the amateurs and focusses on the professionals. So yes, let's let the policeman have their day!

We have here 15 tales of wrongful deeds caught out -' ah, well, actually, no -' rarely indeed caught out by plodding PC work, most caught out by the same flashes of insight that we normally ascribe to the side-liners. It just so happens that this time the people having the insight are those who are actually paid to do so.

As is customary with the series, we get an introduction to each tale, which quite sensibly stays away from the story about to unfold and gives us a wider insight into the author and their work. Quite often they are famous authors and this is a little known piece; elsewhen they are long forgotten and not-deservedly so.

The nature of short stories is that they are difficult to review without giving away too much of them, so what can I say? There's Mr Grimsby, the butler, who believes his employer is poisoning his wife. Breaking the rules, PC Reggie Vane, brings in his fiancée as an under-cover operative to find out what is really going on at Chenholt. A suitable puzzle, but one potentially undermining the premise of this book at the outset since with the amateur Violet forging the way in to the lair of the crime.

P.C. Hirley shows us how the negotiating technique of saying nothing can help in getting a suspect to incriminate themselves.

The Midsummer Night and The Cleverest Clue are classics of misdirection, whilst the undoing of Mr Dawes is simplicity itself.

The Man Who Married To Often would have been my favourite tale if the author had not contrived to give away the solution in the title. Longer than most stories, it is one of the few to give a real insight into the characters and I wanted there to be a happier end to this tale – even though the genre dictates that could not be so.

Naturally there must be an apparent suicide which cannot be so, and – given the era we're dealing with – also the beginning of forensics, the ultra-modern skill of fingerprints which are as telling by their absence as by their presence (surprisingly a thought that escapes even modern criminals as they wipe clean the evidence of their passing).

Cotton Wool and Cutlets is another pointer to the way detection was headed, the beginnings not of forensics as such, but of the general public (and the criminal fraternity?) taking an interest.

No such collection would be complete without a foray into the seedy, scenery, world of the theatre…with all of the glamour, glitz and squalor associated with what goes on back-stage. A touring company is full of family feuding and blackmail which is all held in check until the leading lady is murdered…

We have a blind witness in one story, a young child in another…

…whatever trope you want there'll be something to approximate it here.

And if that sounds like a criticism, it isn't.

By modern standards these stories are very simple and very simply told – but actually, they're none the worse for that. Some I worked out quite quickly, some I kicked myself for having missed the clues. All of them were entertaining.

Short stories are designed to be read at a sitting. Short story collections are designed to be read in multiple sittings…but the best of them…like this one...simply have you getting to the end of one story and wanting another. No connection between the one and the next, just…that child-like tell me another…getting you to turn the page. That above all is what tells me there is quality in the writing.

It does what it is designed to do: entertain.

Read it quickly, liked it a lot. I feel a bit mean lopping off half a star, but have to acknowledge that many crime fans will find it a bit tame.

If you enjoy this, then check out more of Edwards’ findings in the archives with Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries – or consider his analysis of the golden age of detective fiction in The Golden Age of Murder.

Buy The Long Arm of the Law by Martin Edwards (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Long Arm of the Law by Martin Edwards (editor) at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Long Arm of the Law by Martin Edwards (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Long Arm of the Law by Martin Edwards (editor) at Amazon.com.

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