To treat myself after a very busy period at work, I recently bought myself a set of British Library crime classics from the golden age of crime fiction. Having enjoyed reading John Bude as part of this series last summer (see my blog), this seemed like the perfect turn-my-brain-off escapism. I started with the little known author Mavis Doriel Hay, reading a very satisfying Murder Underground and an even more satisfying Death on the Cherwell, set in a all women’s college in Oxford (a subject close to my heart having attended an all women’s college in Cambridge, though no murders were committed whilst I was there).
Murder Underground is a great little read. Someone no-one is liked is murdered walking down the steps at Belsize Park tube station, a feat that would be hard to achieve these days, with so many more people choosing to take the stairs rather than the lift. Meanwhile, one of the chief suspects gets himself in a right pickle, as one lie leads to another and more elaborate stories are concocted to hide the fact he came across the body before anyone else did. Lots of walks on Hampstead Heath take place, and the characters struggle to get hold of each other in the days long before mobiles and texting. But all is well that ends well, except for the un-loved murdered Aunt of course.
There is something about Oxford and fictional murder that to me will always go together, having become an Inspector Morse fan in the 1980s and enjoying the Lewes and Endeavour TV spin-offs since. This tasty morsel of crime fiction didn’t disappoint – a lot of crumpets toasted on an open fire are consumed, a bit of amateur sleuthing is conducted, there are some fishy Dons, there’s a bit of messing about in boats and a rather cross College President. Thankfully the ingenuity of the Undergrads wins out and the murderer is caught, but not before conjuring up for me memories of cold winter days by the Cam.