Last year, I lost my blogging voice. I was still reading, voraciously, but I couldn't figure out anything to say about what I was reading - at least not in a blog post. Over the past few weeks, I've had that feeling again, of wanting to share something about what I am reading, both the new books I am discovering and the old favorites I am savoring again. That's why I started this blog in the first place. So here I am again, at least today.
I am not usually a fan of short stories, but I have really enjoyed the collections of mystery stories that Martin Edwards has edited for the British Library Crime Classics series. (I've enjoyed them a lot more than the full-length novels from the series, to be honest.) I've met some familiar and favorite authors, and I've been introduced to many new-to-me writers and their characters. I took an immediate liking to H.C. Bailey's Reginald Fortune, and I wanted to read more. In the introduction to one story, Martin Edwards noted that Agatha Christie was a fan of Fortune, and that she paid homage to Bailey in Partners in Crime, where Tommy and Tuppence channel famous detectives (including Fortune) while running their own agency. Edwards also wrote that Bailey's books fell out of fashion after the Second World War. That unfortunately means that there aren't a lot of copies around now. But I did find this "Reggie Fortune Omnibus," published by The Book League of America in 1942, and designed to introduce Reggie to readers in the United States.
Reggie is a medical doctor who works for the Criminal Investigation Department in London as a scientific expert. He reminded me immediately of Peter Wimsey in his piffling conversation and his constant quotations. His speech is much more mannered than Wimsey's, though. He repeats himself, he moans, he murmurs, and he purrs (he is also a cat person, if that explains the purring). Like Wimsey, he is a demon driver, when he can be bothered to take the wheel. Unlike Wimsey, he is indolent by nature and quite the gourmand - or maybe a glutton - and he is a heavy man, who complains bitterly when he has to walk to a crime scene. I noticed that he doesn't seem to drink alcohol, taking a glass of soda while others are adding whisky to theirs. He is an expert in medical questions but also in general science, particularly natural science. He often spots clues in plants found at the scene of a crime or on a body. In two stories, his identification of moths plays a big part. Throughout the stories, Fortune shows great concern for people caught up in the cases, particularly children and those he believes to be unjustly accused. He takes pleasure in upending cases that his colleagues on the force think neatly solved, particularly when he believes they have ignored evidence in a rush to declare someone guilty. He has a very competent wife named Joan who handles him neatly. She occasionally involves him in cases but is firmly shunted off to the side in investigating them. H.C. Bailey wrote these stories in the 1930s and early 1940s, and his police force has no women constables, even for dealing with women suspects and victims.
The collection starts off with a novella, "The Bishop's Crime," centered around Badon Cathedral, an important medieval pilgrimage site. Its golden image of the Virgin Mary was lost at the time of the Reformation, sunk in a shipwreck on its way to Henry VIII's treasury. It is quite an exciting story, which draws on both the Cathedral's history and its library of rare books. At different points the Bishop and the dean, who have been in conflict over various matters (including the library), both come under suspicion of murder. (The Cathedral politics of course reminded me of Anthony Trollope.) The rest of the book consists of stories originally published in earlier collections. Some are set in London, others in country towns. I particularly enjoyed "The Greek Play," set at the top girls' school in the country.
I am hoping to find copies of at least some of H.C. Bailey's many books of Fortune stories. Two full-length novels have been reprinted by Rue Morgue Press, and they at least are easily available. Bailey's stories are also in two of the Crime Classic collections I still have on the TBR shelves, Capital Crimes and Resorting to Murder (but not in Crimson Snow, which I want to read while it's still technically winter). I would love to see the British Library republish some of his books in addition to the stories.