"The Mask of Dimitrios” by Eric Ambler (published by Penguin Books)

Digging around in the past can be a bad idea

This 1939 book is sometimes rated as the best of Eric Ambler’s novels, which can be taken either as a big plus considering that he wrote 18, or as a very subjective judgement for the exact same reason. Overall, Ambler forged a considerable reputation, ...

“The Black Lizard” by Edogawa Rampo (published by Penguin Books)

A horror in more ways than one

The 20 paperback books republished this year by Penguin Random House in their Crime and Espionage series were written from 1928 to 1978 by 15 authors from the United Kingdom, United States, Belgium and Japan, all dead now except one, some that we recognised, ...

“Brat Farrar” by Josephine Tey (published by Penguin Books)

A suicide reappears, or does he?

That’s a fairly terrible title for a book –“Brat Farrar” – but, as someone somewhere once said, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and no doubt this applies equally to titles too. Still, this one came out in 1949, and it’s a ...

"Game Without Rules" by Michael Gilbert (published by Penguin Books)

Even the dirty world of spies can entertain

A senior partner in a firm of London solicitors at Lincoln's Inn, Michael Gilbert made good use of the 50-minute commute by train from his home in Kent to write some 500 words each day. This was an art he had learnt in World ...

“The Franchise Affair” by Josephine Tey (published by Penguin Books)

Monstrous lie turns town against ‘odd’ women

Seemingly a fairly straightforward crime book, this one is actually deeper on a couple of levels, including that it is based on a true case in 1753 and it slips in some social commentary on media responsibility and accountability, and the way communities take ...

“Beast in the Shadows” by Edogawa Rampo (published by Penguin Books)

Mystery and imagination at play again

Considerations arise when reading a 1928 Japanese crime novel. On the plus side, we stand to learn something of a unique culture in pre-global village days. But we are in the hands of a translator – will any of the author’s style be lost? ...

“Call for the Dead” by John le Carré (published by Penguin Books)

Telephone sets alarm bells ringing

People who have enough spare time to enjoy themselves ranking an author’s books – and you’d need to have read all 26 of John Le Carré’s to do so – don’t often include this one among the very best. But it still fares well ...

"Fall Out: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to The Prisoner” by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore (published by Telos)

Why a TV program continues to captivate

What a program that was. British TV viewers had never seen anything quite like it when "The Prisoner” aired for 17 episodes in 1967-68, each as inscrutable as the last. What was it – spy story, sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, allegory, dream? A bit of ...

"The Night of the Hunter” by Davis Grubb (published by Penguin Books)

A good bloody yarn, or a bloody good tale

Davis Grubb’s 1953 novel about slayer Harry Powell is based on real-life Dutch-born American five-time killer Harry F. Powers, who was hanged in Moundsville, West Virginia, in 1932 for the murders of two widows and three children, earning him nicknames such as "the lonely ...

“Journey Into Fear” by Eric Ambler (published by Penguin Books)

All aboard with a hired killer

“Journey Into Fear” is a title to entice, as it has been doing on and off for 83 years. Who is taking the journey? From where to where? By car, boat, train or plane (well, there is a boat sailing into the distance on ...