Smörgåsbord: Bartram’s Headline Murder, Lauppe-Dunbar’s Dark Mermaids and Ellin’s Speciality of the House

My reading since New Year has been very eclectic. As a result, there’s no neat way for me to link the following novels: they’re a tasty smörgåsbord of different crime writing styles, subjects and approaches.


First up is Peter Bartram’s delightful Brighton cosy Headline Murder (Roundfire Books, 2015). Set in 1962, it follows journalist-sleuth Colin Crampton as he investigates the sudden disappearance of Krazy Kat miniature-golf-course owner Arnold Trumper. As one would expect from this pre-internet setting, the investigation involves lots of hands-on detective work, which simultaneously provides an intriguing insight into a 1960s journalist’s life (complete with amusing rivalry between the Brighton Evening Chronicle and the Brighton Evening Argus). While it took a couple of chapters to get into its stride, I found the novel a highly enjoyable and well-crafted read, with a host of engaging characters. It’s a very good choice if you need a break from the darker recesses of noir or the modern world. Favourite line: ‘Ten minutes later I was in the Evening Chronicle‘s morgue with a large bag of jam doughnuts’.

The novel is the first in the ‘Crampton of the Chronicle’ series, and there are some free short stories available too. ‘Colin’ has a nice website that’s worth a visit (and hats off to author Peter Bartram – who has a background in journalism – for this very neat bit of marketing).Laupe Dunbar

Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s Dark Mermaids (Seren, 2015) is an absorbing debut that’s tricky to categorise: a literary-historical crime novel, perhaps. Set at an intriguing moment in German history – 1990, just a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall – it shows national and individual identities in flux, and the full extent of Stasi (East German secret police) activity beginning to emerge. However, its central focus is the GDR’s shameful use of steroids on young swimmers and the after-effects of that state-sanctioned abuse (here’s a BBC article with a good overview of the scandal). I very much liked the novel’s sensitive depiction of emotionally damaged police officer Sophia Künstler, and how it explores the political complexities of East German everyday life.

Anne is a lecturer in creative writing at Swansea University, and was partly inspired to write the novel by her German family roots.


Stanley Ellin’s The Speciality of the House (Orion, 2002), is part of Orion’s wonderful ‘crime masterworks’ series. A collection of the renowned New York author’s mystery tales from 1948 to 1978, it presents a deliciously dark vision of society. I’m not always a fan of the short story form, but Ellin is a brilliant writer with a gift for criminal invention. His murderers are often outwardly respectable citizens trying to solve financial problems or to climb the social ladder, and there’s a wicked sense of humour at play.

The subject of marriage also gets wry treatment, as this wonderful opening from ‘The Orderly World of Mr Appleby’ (1950) demonstrates: ‘Mr Appleby was a small prim man who wore rimless spectacles, parted his graying hair in the middle, and took sober pleasure in pointing out that there was no room in the properly organized life for the operations of Chance. Consequently, when he decided that the time had come to investigate the most efficient methods for disposing of his wife, he knew where to look’.

I found Speciality by chance while browsing in Swansea’s Oxfam Books – testimony to the pleasures of browsing and finding something completely unexpected, as opposed to being steered towards a predictable set of books by an online retailer’s algorithm…

17 thoughts on “Smörgåsbord: Bartram’s Headline Murder, Lauppe-Dunbar’s Dark Mermaids and Ellin’s Speciality of the House

  1. What a nice, eclectic group of books you have here, Mrs. P! I think that sort of diverse reading can make the reading experience all the better.

  2. My browsing means I have a huge pile of book waiting to read although have picked up some great finds including one up your street Mrs p was ‘ the film explainer’ gert Hoffman. I really like the look of mermaids and I also enjoy looking at some classic crime as well, plan more browsing now!

    • Browsers of the world unite 🙂

      I remember hearing about the Hoffmann a while back, but haven’t had the chance to read it. It does sound like a lovely, absorbing read – thanks for reminding me.

  3. I’ve spent many a happy hour browsing my local Oxfam bookshop, and have picked up a bargain or two along the way. I like the sound of ‘ Headline Murder’. A nice English murder set in a nice English city, just what I need after all the Scandi Noir. I love the line about the doughnuts, that really tickled me. Another to add to my long list of books to read….

  4. I purchased a copy of The Specialty of the House (an older copy) last year, after reading the title story in another collection. I am looking forward to trying more of them this year.

    • Good to hear, Tracy. The great thing about short story collections is that you can dip in whenever you have a few minutes. They act like a little tonic 🙂 Hope you enjoy…

  5. Found the Ellin book on my local library’s web site, so put a request in for it, the Mermaids sounds interesting as well. Half way through the new Bacstrom, be interested to hear your thoughts on it, if you’ve read it yet. Definitely intrigued to see how this one ends! I fear the dreaded
    TV Series has had an influence on this one, there’s even a character from the show, Nadja, his ‘most trusted colleague’, Rusian same as the TV. Regarding the TV, nice joke in the early stages re
    Martin Beck & the TV Series.
    To-night sees the second episode of a new Norwegian thriller on Sky Arts, Ocupied, it’s from a Jo Nesbo idea, well worth catching. Sky Arts seem to pick up some good Scandinavia Dramas. Also to-night there’s a film on BBC 2, I think, called Good. Sounds as if it might be German, set during the rise of Hitler, but no real details about it, will have to look on line. Have you watched Marshland

    • Thanks for the updates, Brian! I haven’t read the Persson as yet, nor have I seen Marshland (but am hoping to squeeze the latter in soon – will report back).

      Just picked up an interesting standalone by Per Wahloo called The Steel Spring – love it when I come across gems like that. Have started it and it looks very intriguing: a kind of dystopian thriller.

  6. I wish Oxfam had book sales in New York City. I’d be there as quickly as possible.
    Sound like some good reads here.
    I’ve been binge-watching European TV mystery episodes. Very habit-forming.

    • …But in the best possible way!

      Are you under a pile of snow at the moment, Kathy? The pictures from the East Coast look extraordinary. Hope you’re tucked up snug and warm.

      Yes, Oxfam Books is marvellous. I very rarely walk out without a couple of interesting new purchases.

  7. Well, well, well, went on line & there are 3 by him have ordered the steel spring from world of books. Seems he did 2 about an inspector Jensson, as you say sounds very dystopian. The 3rd one sounds interesting ‘ A necessary action’ set in Spain about an ex German soldier, think I’ll try that one next. He also has 3 others under Peter Wahloo, but sounds like best to avoid these ones!
    Looked to see if Maj Sjowall had anything, but no luck which is a shame.
    The Bacstrom was brilliant, Wasn’t sure when it first started but my concerns were unfounded! Full
    of his dark humor. It’s 10 years after the last one & he’s Swedens ‘Most famous detective’! Read soon. Although why they chose to change the Swedish title is a surprise, the, the cover art of the Swedish one is much better also. End of June for ‘The Dying Detective’ according to Amazon.
    Michael Fassbender is to play Harry Hole in the ‘Snowman’ which has started filming in Oslo, by all accounts due for release in the States Oct 2017. Perssons latest book ‘The Bombmaker’ has even more female characters & all in leading roles. The last 2 items from the Salomssons website, lots of nice items on Scandinavian fiction.

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