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Book Review: "Twice Round the Clock" by Billie Houston

5/5 - Atmospheric, shocking and yet, still a lot of fun...

By Annie KapurPublished 3 months ago • 3 min read
From: Amazon

The British Library are known for more than their British Library Crime Classics novels and yet, here I am again reading them all. Martin Edwards makes the strong case for why certain books are lost to history and how sometimes, it can actually be a good thing. However, when we find gems that have been lost for ages, we can often feel like others have missed out on them. Especially when they are classics from an age long past like The Golden Age of British Crime. Yes, we know about the female authors from this time who stood out like the great Agatha Christie, but lesser known authors and perhaps, people who were not even authors to begin with also wrote some fantastic books.

One of these great books was written by vaudevillian actress and dancer, Billie Houston. Named Twice Round the Clock for its meticulous attention to time detail, this book goes around the 24 hours before the crime and the 24 hours that the people must spend waiting in each others company, knowing that one of them is the murderer. In a very almost Murder on the Orient Express styled narrative, this book deals with different people, different motives and different aspects on the crime - showing us whether we should feel any pity for the murdered through their own transgressions whilst also pointing the finger at someone in the room. Both a tale of redemption and criminal behaviour, this book serves to be one the better from the British Library Crime Classics series. A true hidden gem amongst the Golden Age of British Crime.

Left: Billie Houston. Image of 'The Houston Sisters' from: University of Glasgow

Awakened by a scream in the middle of the night, Bill Brent goes to find that his host, Horace Manning, has been murdered. He was stabbed in the back at his desk in his own home. A storm has forced all of Horace Manning's guests to stay within the house for the next 24 hours waiting for it to die down. And thus, as phones lose connection and people lose their sanity, this serves to become a very claustrophobic setting in which any single person that night could have murdered Horace Manning.

When people try to escape, they realise their tyres have been slashed, their cars have been immobilised and there are many other things going wrong apart from simply the murder of their host. With that and the fuel tanks of each car completely empty, they are forced to remain - their escape plans thwarted. The narrative then flashes back on to itself, the last 24 hours explored to find out who among them wanted Manning dead and why.

The characters were a big advantage to this book. Horace Manning for example was not the best man and by most standards he was not even a remotely good man. Ruling over his daughter Helen's life with psychological traps and fear, she is never allowed out of his care or sight. She meets a man named Tony and her father invites everyone over for dinner including Tony's entire family, friends of the family and a man who is deeply in love with Tony's sister, Kay. Horace Manning has something else up his sleeve though - unable to let his daughter wander off into the hands of happiness, he bides his time until dinner is over. After this, he does something so horrible it shocks absolutely everyone in the room.

From: Amazon

A well written masterclass of what is the 'drawing room mystery' - this book often reminds me of many Agatha Christie novels in that they all serve to show the pitfalls of each human being present. There is something quite horrifying about the character of Horace Manning, but that does not mean the other characters are quite perfect themselves. Some of them having flaws in their lives that they would rather not share with the group. The death of Horace Manning could be looked at as a murder, or it could be looked at as a redemption. Until you actually find out who did it, you genuinely do not know from which perspective you are supposed to approach it. That is the beauty of the Golden Age of British Crime Novel.

All in all, I thought this was a compelling story though the last few pages were pretty odd and didn't really fit the rest of the well-crafted nature of the storyline before. I won't take marks off for it though as this book was about as atmospheric and fun as British Golden Age Crime gets.


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

189K+ Reads on Vocal.

English Lecturer.

Film and Writing (M.A)

đź“ŤBirmingham, UK

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