Review : Sleep No More by P D James

My next read for the holiday season is Sleep No More : Six Murderous Tales by P . D James which can be a companion read for my previous holiday read . Each of these tales has a murderer committing the ‘ perfect ‘ murder in Agatha Christie ‘ s dictionary – the murder that goes unpunished by law . But can the definition of ‘ the perfect murder ‘ be that simple ? We have few murderers having a witness to their crime who choose to look the other way and for some it makes the reader wonder if a prison sentence would have been a lighter punishment than the futures they are condemned to . Some stories like The Victim & A Very Desirable Residence have you questioning if the victim is the murdered person or the perpetrator . Here’s a quick look at the teasers for each of the stories . Hope they would induce you to pick up this gem of an anthology . My favorite was The Victim – the ending just left me stunned .

As usual , every story in this anthology packs a powerful punch with a brilliant twist to the ending but some pack a mighty powerful punch that leaves you gasping and wondering if you read that right and reading it a second time around . . . As I had mentioned in my previous post , if P D James ‘ murder mysteries are a tad macabre for you for the holidays , then you can pick up this gem for the Halloween . . .

The Yo – Yo ( 2006 ) has a 70 something narrator recount how he came into the possession of the Yo Yo which he finds while rummaging through his personal papers . . .

In The Victim ( 1973 ) , Princess Ilsa Mancelli ‘ s first and the most obscure of ex – husbands is the narrator – when the then Elsie Bowman marries her wealthy employer Collingford , the unnamed narrator decides to do away with the man who stole his wife from him . For a year , he plans the perfect murder and writes threatening notes which are delivered to his intended victim twice a week all through the year . Finally , the deed is done and you might think that now he can move on . . . But is this the ” perfect ” murder which he had planned all year long ?

The Murder of Santa Claus (1984)
Sixteen year old Charles Mickledore has been invited to celebrate Christmas at his step – uncle ‘ s mansion in the country . However , his step – uncle ends up murdered in his Santa costume ( it had been his uncle ‘ s Christmas tradition to deliver his gifts for his guests in the guise of Santa Claus at each of their rooms ) . Charles , eagerly awaiting his Christmas present had been the last person to see his uncle alive . The house party had consisted of his step – uncle ‘ s step – son , an elderly couple who were the previous owners of the manor , a successful actress , the uncle ‘ s secretary – cum – housekeeper and the other servants . Mickledore had soon found that his step – uncle was not popular in the village and had every reason to take any threat seriously . Now a successful crime novelist , Mickledore decides to finally write to the police about what he had really witnessed on that fateful night . . .

In The Girl Who Loved Graveyards ( 1983 ) , we have a girl who has a strange fascination with graveyards and she grows up dreaming of visiting her father ‘ s grave who died of influenza shortly after her tenth birthday . When she goes for a viewing of her maternal grandmother ‘ s house , she strangely begins to act out her subconscious memories which she had repressed all these years . What started out as a story with supernatural overtones turned out to be a whoddunit with a creepy twist . . .

A Very Desirable Residence ( 1976 )
The narrator and his colleague are fascinated by the private lives of their headmaster and his much younger wife who seems to be almost tiptoeing around her husband during their frequent dinners with the couple . One day , the headmaster is arrested for attempted murder of his wife after one of the servants finds her with her head inside the gas oven . What follows the trial is a revelation which you have not seen coming in a million years . . .

Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday ( 1992 )
Mildred and Rodney Millcroft might be cheated of their sizeable inheritance if their father ‘ s confession to the murder of their uncle who left their family the fortune starts making rounds – so they decide to take matters into their own hands and destroy the evidence . . . Every P D J anthology seems to have one story like this one which is a romp and a welcome inclusion for the readers after the mildly unnerving earlier stories . . .

Rating : 5 / 5

If you have already read Sleep No More : Six Murderous Tales , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book  . If you have any interesting Christmas themed recommendations , please do share them . Until the next review then . . .

A Very Merry Christmas to all my readers . . .

Review : Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada ( translated by Louise Heal Kawai )

Plot Summary :

The Crooked House sits on a snowbound cliff overlooking icy seas at the remote northern tip of Japan . A curious place for the millionaire Kozaburo Hamamoto to build a house , but even more curious is the house itself – Hamamoto ‘ s Ice Floe Mansion is leaning at an angle of about 5 or 6 degrees – but that might be the least bizarre thing about it . It ‘ s interiors featuring sloping floors with furniture having legs cut to fit the slope of the floors , strangely situated staircases , a floor plan which somewhat resembles a maze and the owner ‘ s collection of clockwork toys , masks and antique dolls would do much better at shocking any visitor . It ‘ s Christmas time and the eccentric owner of the Mansion is entertaining a party of house guests . Soon , when a man is found dead in one of the mansion ‘ s rooms , murdered in seemingly impossible circumstances , the police are called . But they are unable to solve the puzzle , and powerless to protect the party of house guests as more bizarre deaths follow .

Enter Kiyoshi Mitarai , the renowned sleuth , famous for unmasking the culprit behind the notorious Umezawa family massacre . Surely if anyone can crack these cryptic murders he will . But with Shimada , no information is ” classified ” information – the police force , the detective and the reader have the same clues and he challenges the reader to beat his detective to the arrive at the identity of the person behind this string of bizarre deaths . . .

My thoughts on the book :

As with any closed circle mystery , there is a LOT happening in terms of dynamics between the different characters – I specially enjoyed reading about the tussle between the daughter of the house and one of the visitors ‘ young mistress ( the all – too – familiar tussle between social standing and beauty ) and the conversation between a couple where the wife chides the husband for sucking up to his boss too much only to do the same when she herself comes face – to – face with the same man . . . The dialogue is witty and the crisp narrative keeps one turning the pages . The descriptions of the Crooked House and certain items from it ‘ s eccentric owner ‘ s collection offer something different than the regular mansion mystery . . .

While Shimada ‘ s English counterparts seem to have delighted at making the police their butt of jokes , Shimada decides to attribute their getting help to a sense of duty to protect the inmates of the house from a serial killer . . . They are also more vocal about their frustrations and openly acknowledge that the case is becoming too difficult for them to crack open without some external help ( I don ‘ t remember Japp or Lestrade doing the same – in fact , too often , their confidence peaks only when they are concocting some outrageous theory about the crime . . . ) .

The renowned detective makes his appearance only in the last part and I loved his introduction . If there is one standout thing about this novel for me , it is the entry style of the detective . The detective took it upon himself to provide some comic relief seeing that the officers are not doing much by way of detection or easing the minds of the mansion inmates . . . Holmes would have turned his nose upon this man for his antics but do not under – estimate this man – he is a master at deception . . .

The final denouement is something that not even Christie would have dreamed of . But , truth to be told , I am glad she didn ‘ t because it crosses the line into the preposterous solutions territory . . .

Still , I have to concede that in my opinion , it is a never – before – thought – of – solution in a mansion / locked – room murder mystery . . .

If you have already read the book , please let me know in the comments if you know any other books where the solution is similar to the one in The Murder in the Crooked House . . . Also , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book and this review . . .

Rating : 4 / 5 **

** The rating has been bumped up from 3 . 5 to 4 because Shimada has introduced a new trope in country manor suspense genre . . . Read the book to find it out . . . And I have been seeing some downright absurd endings that I am ready to accept Shimada ‘ s solution without dissecting it too much . But if you are a stickler for logic with a no – compromise policy , then this might not be for you . . .

Until the next review then . .