The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

May 2019

 - Thursday, May 09, 2019
The Count of 9 is a crime novel written by Erle Stanley Gardner, first published in 1958. I loved his books when I read them way back when. Some of them had very lurid covers, even by the standard of the day, and The Count is no exception—perhaps not particularly original, but never the less very apt. The book features two detectives named Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. The pair are hired to protect the treasures of an adventurer, who regularly travels the world, bringing souvenirs from the exotic places he visits—including a six-foot-long blow gun. The mystery is, how was it possible to smuggle such an object from a dinner party, without anyone noticing, especially as the guests were x-rayed on arrival and departure. Cool and Lam are called in to solve the problem, and find themselves involved in progressively more difficult situations, as they deal with a double-locked room, two stolen jade statues, and of course the blowgun along with poison darts from Borneo. If this is not enough, they then face an impossible murder. I found this book great fun, with a cast of colourful characters, and many many twists and turns. At the time of his death  Gardner was the best-selling American author of all time. He was a lawyer, as well as a author of many novels—29 of which featured Cool and Lam. He was also the creator of the Perry Mason TV series. If you are looking for something entertaining to while away a cold Sunday afternoon, I highly recommend venturing into the locked room with Cool and Lam.

As may of you probably know, I am not a great fan of thrillers—being of too nervous a disposition to cope with the tension. However on the odd occasion I foolishly am tempted to pick one up, and am forced to read to the end or never relax again. I picked up Nuala Ellwood’s The Day of the Accident as it looked interesting—and possibly a thriller that wouldn’t be too thrilling. I was right on both accounts, although, towards the end I had to strenuously resist the need to have a little read ahead. Maggie is happily married to Sean, and the adoring  mother of Elspeth. One tragic night, an accident completely overturns Maggie’s life—and when she wakes from a coma, it is torn apart. Her daughter is dead and her husband has disappeared. Utterly isolated, when she leaves hospital she is assigned a social worker called Amanda, who finds her a room in a hostel, after which Sonia takes over as her day to day carer. Maggie is convinced that Elspeth is alive—she keeps seeing her and hearing her voice. Having no memory of the accident she determines to find out what really happened and to find Elspeth. In an attempt to trigger some clarity, she  goes to her old home where she meets Julia, a GP. Julia pursues Maggie when she runs from the house, in tears—offerng her services as a doctor, and luring Maggie into trusting and confiding in her. But this being a thriller, Julia is, of course, not what she seems, and Maggie’s naivety and trusting nature combine to nearly destroy her. It is hard to write about this book, without spoiling the plot, but I hope I have interested you enough to pick up a copy. This was a book that I chose while wandering the aisles, and I really ripped through it. I am going to look out Ellwood’s first book My Sister’s Bones, and look forward to her next one, The House on the Lake.

The latest Bryant and May book by Christopher Fowler is unlike his previous books. It’s not set inLondon, but in the country, and it features a youthful Arthur Bryant and John May—hard to believe that the crusty old codgers were once young, not the difficult  old men they  become. Hall of Mirrors is set in Tavistock Hall—a falling down, once great, old house. The young Bryant and May are members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit—a unit based on one author Fowler’s father worked in during the war. After sinking a barge painted like the yellow submarine, Bryant and May’s superiors look for a nice easy assignment where they, if possible, can cause little or no damage, to themselves or others. They are told to mind Monty Hatton-Jones—a star witness in a prosecution case who is under threat. It seems an easy enough task, but things go awry when Monty insists on going to a weekend house party in the country. Bryant, who detests the outdoors, tries to put a stop to his plan, but May, mistakenly, believes that they will be safer at Tavistock Hall, with other people about.  But a strange lot they turn out to be—including the owner of the house, her son, who is seeking enlightenment through drugs, and his drug suppliers, the group of hippies camped in garden. Of course Mayhem and Murder follow—accompanied by rain, snow, electricity outages, a very macabre death, and numerous attempts on Monty’s life, including the classic—a gargoyle falling from the roof. I was a bit reluctant to read this, because I prefer this duo as dotty old men, but I admit I was pleasurably surprised. I have read a lot of the Bryan and May books, and they are very entertaining. Fowler is an interesting man—the author of many novels, short stories memoirs and more. Oh, and I forgot to add that there are rumours of a mythical black beast, just to add to the atmosphere. Great fun. Janice Wilder