Tag Archives: Mavis Doriel Haye

Death on the Cherwell

Death on the Cherwellby Mavis Doriel Hay

One of the British Library Crime Classics series, this 1930s crime novel is a bit of a lost treasure. Not exactly a gripping page-turner in the way modern readers would expect, it is typical of the period. What makes it stand out from the crowd is the focus on its female characters.

Set in a pre-Morse Oxford, a group of young ladies from Persephone College discover the body of their Bursar floating down the Cherwell, things begin to get very un-ladylike.

Reading Death on the Cherwell is like peeking through a window onto another world. As much as it is a crime story, there is a secondary theme of prejudice and attitudes to women, particularly in academia. Today we expect to see strong female leads, but this has not always been the case. In 1930s Britain, young ladies were not really expected to put too much effort into securing a higher education. After all, what use would that be once they had married, which was their first primary goal anyway!

Whilst Sally, Daphne, Gwyneth and Nina – our would-be sleuths in this tale – do their best to uncover the truth behind their gruesome find, the male characters, particularly the police, display an embarrassing level of condescension towards them. But this was the attitude of the time and its reflection in this work is only to be expected.

I enjoyed the book but found the plot itself a little strained at times. Like many others in the series, it is the insight into the period that makes it interesting.

Murder Underground

murder undergroundby Mavis Doriel Haye

Over the past year or so I have read more crime novels than ever before, but so far they have been of the thriller style. “Murder Underground” is a very different kind of book. First published in 1934, Murder Underground is a very traditional murder mystery, very much the kind of book I have avoided for the past few years. I have nothing against these kind of stories, it’s just that I actually prefer watching the TV and film adaptations (there, I have admitted it!). 

“Murder Underground” is part of a series of long-lost books being re published by the British Library and is one of a couple my wife bought whilst we were on holiday last year. I wouldn’t normally have bothered reading it, but I can’t resist a “classic”, which is how this series is being promoted.

I was actually very pleasantly surprised by the book. The plot is a little weak, but the characters are endearing, particularly the bumbling Basil Pongleton, nephew of the murder victim, who is a little reminiscent of Bertie Wooster, but without the money.

Set on and around London’s Northern Line, the story focuses on several characters, most of whom are residents of the Frampton Hotel, a small boarding house close to Belsize Park Station, the scene of the dastardly deed. We never “meet” the victim, Miss Pongleton, as she is already dead as the book starts, but we do get insights into her character through the conversations of her fellow boarders and family. It seems she was not the easiest person to like, giving several people ample reason for wanting to bump her off.

“Murder Underground” is very much a book of its type and time. The pace is slow and the characters lack depth, but overall I found it a pleasant, though not particularly challenging read. Mavis Doreil Hay wrote just three crime novels and if I come across either of the other two I will defiantly give them a go.

If you enjoy classic 1930s detective stories, this would be right up your street. If you prefer your murders to be a little more grisly and complicated, then give this one a miss.

July 19, 2015