Sunday, August 26, 2012

O is for Anthony Oliver

Today I am featuring the author, Anthony Oliver, for the Crime Fiction Alphabet for 2012 hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. Oliver wrote four mysteries published in the 1980's: The Pew Group (1980), The Property of a Lady (1983), The Ehlberg Collection (1985), and Cover-Up (1987).

Janet A. Rudolph, editor of Mystery Readers Journal, described The Pew Group as a forgotten or under appreciated book in this post at the Rap Sheet:
This is a true British comedy/farce featuring the outrageous Lizzie Thomas and her companion in crime, John Webber. This is the first of four comedic mysteries by world-renown Staffordshire antiques dealer and critic Anthony Oliver.
Rudolph also listed The Pew Group as one of her top ten favorite mysteries (as of 2008) in this post at Jungle Red Writers. (I ran into interesting resources while researching this. They were not new to me, but I enjoyed visiting them again.)

I could not find much other information about the author. He is also the author of a collectors guide, The Victorian Staffordshire Figure.

A few years ago I visited a used book sale and happily found all four of the books in Anthony Oliver's series that features Lizzie Thomas and Inspector Webber in nice paperback editions. I had not been familiar with this author but they looked interesting and for the price I could not pass them up. I have now read two of the series and I found them to be very entertaining.

Inspector Webber is a retired policeman. In the first book in the series, he has recently moved back to the town of Flaxfield following a divorce and his retirement. Lizzie Thomas is also a new arrival in the town, and they get involved in solving some mysterious happenings.The second book is set a few years later and Lizzie and Webber are good friends. All of the books have plots related to antiques or art objects.

I read the first book in the series, The Pew Group, several years ago, and I don't remember much about the story. I do remember that I enjoyed the book and I liked the characters, especially the lead characters. My impression is that it was a comic romp of various characters from the village and visitors looking for a valuable antique object -- called the Pew Group. Lizzie and Webber are introduced in this book, and their relationship is developing, so there is a different dynamic.

This week I read The Property of a Lady. This is essentially the story of a woman who picks up a hitchhiker, and the consequences of that action. It does not go in the direction you expect.

I would describe it as a cozy with dark elements. The story is dominated by the psychological issues of several of the characters. The mystery seems to be more related to who will be killed, or maybe "who has been killed?".

In this book Lizzie and Webber are the stars and most of the other characters are not fleshed out as well. The character of Margaret (who picks up the hitchhiker) is an exception. She is a lonely young woman and her character is nicely developed. Some of her internal dialogues are shared and we share her hopes and fears.

My impression from reading reviews of all four books is that this series is enjoyed as much for the characters and the humor as for the mystery element. I found The Pew Group to be a traditional mystery, but certainly The Property of a Lady has no great surprises or twists. It has dark elements, and is more serious than the first book, but you can see where it is going most of the way.

The review of Cover-Up at Kirkus Reviews indicates a similar view of that novel:
The windup this time--involving the unmasking of a homicidal maniac--is less than satisfying. But inspector Webber and Mrs. T. make a fetchingly offbeat, lowkey pair of lover-sleuths; the supporting locals--including Mrs. T.'s effeminate son-in-law, antique dealer "Betsey" Trottwood--are scruffily charming in their faintly kinky way. And this is witty crime-comedy, never too farcical, for those who like their English villages wry, quirky, and occasionally earthy.
Bev at My Reader's Block has a review of The Ehlberg Collection.

Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter O.


  1. Tracy - I like it that you featured a less well-known author. I do remember The Pew Group (although it's been a long, long time, so I don't have the details straight. Must go back and plunge into this series I think. That's one thing I really like about this meme actually; it reminds me of series like this that don't get the press they perhaps deserve.

  2. Yet another author I haven't heard of before! I think I'd like his books - I hope I can find some of them.

  3. On my list to look for! I'm sure this is right up my alley!

  4. Seems like an interesting series. Would look out for the books.

  5. Oliver is an elusive fellow. I featured him last year for the Crime Alphabet and wasn't able to come up with anything more on him than you have. I have finally gotten my hands on all four books...with Property of a Lady and Cover-up still needing to be read.

    Here's my Letter O.

    1. PS: Thanks for featuring my Oliver review!

  6. Thanks TracyK, sounds a cut above the norm - another to add to my list of new authors!

  7. Love Oliver's character development. I've read two books so far and am on the search for the rest. Only two regrets: He only wrote four of these cosies and I can't find any information about this most lovable author! Andrea Ensminger Lake Tahoe NV

    1. I am also frustrated by the limited number of books available by this author, Andrea. Hope you find more of them.