This week I'm featuring MURDER AND CHIPS by Laurie Mantell. From 1978-1984, Mantell wrote five Wellington-set murder mysteries featuring Detective Sergeant Steve Arrow of the New Zealand Police - her books were published in the UK and the US as well, I understand. She also wrote a sixth crime novel, the standalone MATES, in the late 1990s. Unfortunattely Mantell passed away at the age of 93 last year.
MURDER AND CHIPS (1981) was Mantell's third murder mystery, following on from her debut MURDER IN FANCY DRESS (1978) and A MURDER OR THREE (1980). Although 'Fish'n'chips' have always been a very popular takeaway in New Zealand, and the title is probably a play on that, in the novel the chips in questions are actually wood, not potato.
MURDER AND CHIPS continues the adventures of Detective Sergeant Steve Arrow and his wife’s uncle, Chief Inspector Peacock. Here’s the blurb from the inside flap: “First, Cody Pyke is found smothered in a wood chip pile... Accidental death? Steve Arrow doesn’t think so, but that’s what the coroner, under pressure, decides. And then Carter Ancell is bashed to death. No doubt that it’s murder this time; but is the robbery - of no more than some costume jewellery - merely a cover for what the police call a ‘domestic’ crime? The investigations of the two deaths become most cunningly interwoven, and it might be said that each crime leads to the solution of the other. It’s a beautifully dovetailed plot, and another bright feather in Laurie Mantell’s hat.”
After her funeral last year, her family sent me some rembrances of Mantell. At her funeral service, Ray Mantell spoke of how his mother took everything she saw in, and often used it later in her mystery stories: "When I was young I set up my 8mm movie camera to take time motion of flowers opening & closing etc. One day I set it up on the roof to film cloud movements and thought mum did not even know what I was doing. Then in one of her books there it was a boy who set up a camera with time motion on the roof of his house to film a possum in the tree next door and in one of the frame he had the killer on film... [Another time], Linda & Barry took Mum & Dad down to Nelson and Mum saw the wood chips piles waiting to be shipped so she came up with MURDER AND CHIPS."
Some copies of MURDER AND CHIPS can still be found in secondhand stores (physical and online) and libraries, although the book does unfortunately fall into the 'out of print and hard to find' category. I have sourced a copy, thanks to the family, and I'm looking forward to reading this one. I enjoyed Mantell's Steve Arrow books A MURDER OR THREE and MURDER TO BURN last year.
Have you read Laurie Mantell? Do you like trying some out of print crime fiction from days gone by, from libraries or secondhand stores, to go with the modern stuff on booksellers' shelves?