Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dewey Death - Charity Blackstock

First published 1956 by William Heinemann (UK); pictured is the inside cover of my first edition hardcover copy.

My only resolution for 2007 was to not buy any more books until I've read the 30+ unread books already in my bookcases; some have been there for months, one for two and a half years! I hadn't been looking forward to it, thinking that the only books I wouldn't have read soon after buying them must be the dregs of the mystery/crime world.

But I was wrong: Millar's How Like An Angel had been sitting around since my birthday last September, and it was amazing. Montelheit's Cupid's Executioners, bought from a second-hand bookstore last November, was also unexpectedly good. And Charity Blackstock's Dewey Death, which I bought through eBay in early 2006 and read on the weekend, was almost as good as The Woman in the Woods, another Blackstock mystery which just happens to be one of my all-time favourites.

Dewey Death is set in London's Inter-Libraries Despatch Association, hence the title (taken from the Dewey classification system). Barbara Smith works in the Location Department, and writes successful historical romances in between typing the university lists. The mood in the building hasn't been great, but after Barbara discovers a body in a book bag in the lift, tempers flare even higher.

The body is Mrs Warren, a giggling, absurd little middle-aged woman whom everybody hated. She's not particularly missed, but her death does leave behind a lot of suspicion. Throw in a drug dealer using the library to receive his shipments of cocaine and a young junior librarian determined to solve the mystery, and Barbara is confronted by more danger and excitement than anything in her own stories. It also doesn't help that she's been lusting after Mark Allan, the sole member of the Microfilms Department, a Mr Darcy-type character who is incredibly rude, crude, selfish and prone to violence... yet Barbara can't stay away from him, and I couldn't blame her. For three quarters of the book, I thought he was perfect as well.

Scotland Yard solve the case relatively quickly, but they need to collect enough evidence before making an arrest. Which leaves plenty of time for a second murder to occur, and it's one which cannot be 'forgiven' as easily as the first. Also plenty of time for Barbara to become hopelessly obsessed with the charming but increasingly frightening Mark Allan.

Charity Blackstock (1912 - 1997) was a pseudonym of Ursula Torday, an English writer of mystery and suspense novels. Torday also wrote as Lee Blackstock and Paula Allardyce.

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