Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Augie Wren's Christmas Story: Mini-Review

My first review for the Christmas Spirit Challenge is going to be a mini-review for a mini book. Michelle, our lovely hostess, sent me Paul Auster's Auggie Wren's Christmas Story as part of my prize package for a previous year's challenge. It is a slim volume with a lovely Christmas fable--without Santa or reindeer or snowmen or Christmas trees. The most holiday-type thing in the story is a very unconventional Christmas dinner. How can this be?

It is a tale about a writer who has been asked by The New York Times to write a Christmas story to be featured on Christmas morning. But he doesn't want to write one of those mushy, gushy, sentimental stories that serve as "wishfulfillment dreams, fairy tales for adults." He wants an unsentimental Christmas story even though he knows it is "a contradiction in terms, an impossibility, an out-and-out conundrum. One might as just as well try to imagine a racehorse without legs, or a sparrow without wings." So, the next time he ventures into his favorite cigar store, he tells his friend Auggie Wren his troubles. Auggie tells him that if he'll buy him lunch, he'll tell him the best Christmas story ever. The best because it's absolutely true. 

This is Auggie's story about a shoplifter, a lost wallet, a blind grandmother, and that unconventional Christmas dinner that I mentioned above. It is a fable that encourages us to question whether a lie can ever serve as the truth and who is the giver and who is the taker. Auggie learns a little something about himself and what Christmas might really mean. ★★★★ for a surprisingly lovely unconventional Christmas story.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chef Maurice & a Spot of Truffle: Mini Review (in honor of Hamilton, the mini-pig)

CM: Snatched from below our noses!
AW-S: It was three days ago, Maurice. Our noses weren't even out of bed.
~Chef Maurice; Arthur Wordington-Smythe

When Chef Maurice plunges into the realm of investigation, all he thinks he's going to find is a new source of a very expensive truffle. What a coup for Le Couchan Rouge, his little restaurant in the south of England! But before he knew where he was, he had landed smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation and had acquired a mini-pig in the bargain. Hamilton, the mini-pig, was, of course, necessary--since Chef Maurice needed a champion truffle finder to help him track down the source of the mysterious truffles. But the murder he could certainly do without. After all, the victim was Ollie Meadows his wild herb and mushroom supplier and how was Chef Maurice supposed to make all those delectable mushroom dishes if Ollie was no longer delivering various forms of fungi? Things get serious when Hamilton is pignapped and the inquisitive chef receives a threatening note. He convinces his friend Arthur Wordington-Smythe to play Hastings to his Poirot (no, really--this book is an obvious hat-tip to Christie's creation) and the two are off, Camembert and crackers in hand, to track down the miscreant. The two amateur detectives will encounter a missing dog, a stolen map, an angry gun-totin' uncle, and magic mushrooms before they get to the bottom of the mystery.

I have the Puzzle Doctor at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel to thank for bringing J. A. Lang's delightful cozy mystery series to my attention (click link for his review of Truffle). And he didn't steer me wrong. This book which offers a tribute to Agatha Christie has a plot that definitely follows in her footsteps while injecting a good deal of humor. I laughed out loud several times throughout the story just picturing our heroes in their detective efforts. And this is one of the few times when an author writes from animal points of view and it actually works. Hamilton's take on the world and brief snippets from Wordington-Smythe's dog and a few cows are great fun. Chef Maurice is over the top, but in a good way--he doesn't distract from the plot and, at bottom, he seems like a very nice guy. The supporting case--from his Hastings-like side-kick to his assistant chefs to the local PC--are great fun and the book serves as a very good introduction to Lang's cast of characters. ★★★★ for a fun, cozy series debut.

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Queenly Collections

TNB "cover" designed by Bev*

Noah over at Noah's Archives is hosting the latest round of The Tuesday Night Bloggers, the brain-child of Curtis at The Passing Tramp. It's a weekly gathering of like-minded folk to discuss a mystery author from the Golden Age of Detection. We began our meetings with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and the month of November has been devoted to Ellery Queen. I missed participating last week and wasn't sure if I'd have anything ready for the final Queen posting. But here's a short look at Queenly Collections.

Not only did Queen produce a substantial body of work of their own, but the Queen name has provided mystery readers with collections of high-quality short stories under the Master of Mysteries Series, the Queen's Awards Annuals, and various collections of top-flight stories from the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. EQMM has always had high editorial standards and as a result is one of the few fiction magazines to survive the decline of such publications. It was first launched in 1941 and currently holds distinction as the longest-running mystery magazine. It has always encouraged new writers and still accepts unsolicited submission both by mail and the online submission manager. The feature "Department of First Stories" has introduced readers to hundreds of new writers who have gone on to delight mystery fans for years.

I read a lot of collections under the Queen name during elementary and junior high--nearly as many as the Hitchcock books (I was blessed with well-stocked libraries growing up). My most recent Queen collection read was Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual. It is a collection of short stories that contains an example of nearly every mystery form in the genre--from pure puzzles to spy thrillers; from whodunnits to howdunnits to whydunnits. There are professional detectives and amateurs investigating crimes that cover the gamut from blackmail, theft, frame-up, and sabotage to the ultimate crime...murder. And our authors include well-known names such as Nicholas Blake, Paticia Highsmith and Helen McCloy as well as those unfamiliar to me like A. H. Z. Carr, Holly Roth, and J. F. Pierce. There are serious crime fiction pieces and even a send up of Ellery Queen himself in a lovely little story starring Celery Green.

Every story is a winner on one level or another and several are just flat-out amazing. My favorites are "The Purple Is Everything" by Dorothy Salisbury Davis (when a theft really isn't a theft), "The Washington Party Murder" by A. H. Z. Carr (where Sarah Burton, famous foreign correspondent, returns to Washington DC to discover what really happened the night her husband died), "The Cobblestones of Saratoga Street" (in which we learn the real reason Miss Augusta & Miss Louisa don't want the cobblestones removed), and "Murder Ad Lib" by Helen McCloy (in which Dr. Basil Willing picks up on a clever clue on a "dark and stormy night).  

For those who like their murders in small doses, a collection published under the Queen name is sure to please--whether you pick up an issue of EQMM or dip into the hard-bound anthologies.

Next week at the Tuesday Night Bloggers, we'll be meeting up at Moira's place (Clothes in Books) to investigate the works of Ngaio Marsh. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Murder at the ABA: Review

Darius Just, a second-string writer whose works are just "too good" for the average Joe who wants a good "Best Seller" main stream book, attends the ABA (American Booksellers Association) earlier than planned. His friend asks him to show up a day early to help with a public relations event and thus (in Just's mind at least) starts him down the path that leads to murder. One thing after another happens to put Just in just the right frame of mind to forget another favor that his protégé Giles Devore asks of him. When Devore winds up dead, Just is convinced his sin of omission may have been the catalyst and he sets himself the task of tracking down the killer.

The trouble is, Just and his conscience are the only ones who think there has even been a murder. The hotel security and the police all believe Devore simply slipped in the shower and died when his head met the porcelain.  Just spends the rest oft he conference tracking down clues, interviewing (and annoying) possible suspects and witnesses, and basically composing the plot for the mystery novel that the fictional version of Asimov has been commissioned to write. Just's own life will be attempted and his delirious ravings after being coshed on the head himself will lead him to the last clue necessary to trap a murderer.

Back in the mists of time, I read Isaac Asimov's Murder at the ABA (1976; aka Authorised Murder) from either the local Carnegie library or the school library, I'm not sure which. I think I must have been coming off of an Asimov science fiction high, because I gave it a four-star rating. So, it was natural that I'd want a copy of my very own to reread some day. I picked up a copy sometime before 2010 (I didn't log just when) and when one of my fellow challengers read it for my Vintage Bingo Challenge, I decide it was time to pick it up again. I'm afraid I should have left it as a nostalgia piece.

This time around I was not nearly as charmed with Asimov's thinly-disguised Harlan Ellison protagonist, Darius Just nor with Asimov inserting himself into the narrative as comic relief. And I say that as some who is incredibly fond of both Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison as writers. Just is annoyingly self-centered, despite his deprecating comments, and the peek at the 1970s treatment of women isn't nearly as amusing as Asimov thinks it is. When you add the fact that the killer (and the reason) is blazingly obvious from the chapter when the body is found (less than half-way through the book), I have to say that Mr. Asimov is not up to his usual standard. His Black Widower tales are much better mystery stories. 

★★ for an okay read. IF you manage to miss the clue when Just discovers the body, then it's possible the mystery will entertain--I'm assuming I did miss it back in the 80s. The banter between Asimov and Just, both in the narrative and in the footnotes, is amusing. And the book is a nice look at the 1970s convention/conference scene.

This fulfills the "Read by Another Challenger" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card as well as giving me two more Bingos. Neer over at a hot cup of pleasure read this one (with more pleasure than I did this time round). Check out the review at the link.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Vintage SciFi Month

Vintage SF badge

From Redhead at Little Red Reviewer:
Throughout the month of January, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 I will be reading and discussing as much “older than I am” science fiction and fantasy that I can, and everyone is invited to join me!  We’ll be talking about time travel, laser guns, early robotics, first contact, swords and sorcery, predictions for humanity and the authors who came up with it all. Haphazardly, the defining year for “vintage” is 1979.  Read all about it herehere, and here and most recently here.  The only “rule” for this not-a-challenge is that your blog post must be during the month of January.

You too, can be on red alert for the Interstellar Patrol by using the badge above in your posts, or blog side bar, or wherever you’d like. 

To Join: Go to the Vintage SciFi Not-a-Challenge site.

What Qualifies:
Anything or anyone who created science fiction, or something speculative fiction-ish that was published (or recorded, or put on TV or the silver screen) before 1979.  It can be hard scifi, or not. Have aliens, or not.  Fantasy is OK too.  Jules Verne is perfect, so is Mary Shelley. Or maybe War of the Worlds, original Star Trek, C.L. Moore, Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, Cordwainer Smith, Clifford Simak, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut, James Tiptree Jr, A.E. van Vogt, Frank Herbert,  I can go on forever here.

I am in for another round. As in the past, my commitment will be at least two science fiction reads in January.


Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

November 23, 2015 – January 6, 2016

This reading challenge is hosted by The Christmas Spirit. For full information and to sign-up, please see this post.

I am back for another season of Christmas reading. The last two years, I have been lucky enough to win a batch of Christmas-themed books from the challenge hostess, Michelle. So, I am all set with plenty of books to read. Thanks, Michelle!  I plan on doing my usual Level:
--Mistletoe:  read 2-4 books
It's possible I will do more--I have plenty to choose from thanks to Michelle's generosity.

Here are my reads:
1. Auggie Wren's Christmas Story by Paul Auster (11/25/15)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Perpetual Check: Review

Perpetual Check by Conrad Haynes (pen name for Dana Haynes) is the second in a short academic mystery series featuring Professor Harry Bishop. Bishop is the hard-drinking, black sheep of the political science department at Portland's mythical John Jacob Astor College--a liberal arts school for Oregon's elite. Harry has a taste for scotch and as many naps as he can fit into the academic day. After someone killed the editor of the campus newspaper, nearly adding Harry to the list of victims, and the professor managed to help the police track down the culprit, he also earned a reputation as an amateur sleuth.

So, when Harry is made the reluctant faculty liaison to the Board of Trustees and the most ambitious and obnoxious member is murdered, it is natural for the Chair (and incidentally the number one suspect) to ask the professor to take a hand in clearing things up. Harry teams up with the arrogant young journalist who saved his life the first time around and between them, they dig up enough motives for Richard Llewelleyn's death to ascribe one to every board member. For it seems that the Board's most successful fund raiser was also a successful blackmailer on the side. But whose secret provides the greatest reason to get Llewelleyn out of the way? The dynamically nosy duo had better work quick to find out--or Harry may have another near-death experience.

Haynes writes a competent mystery that touches on some of the intricacies of academic life. Harry Bishop is perfect as the scapegrace absent-minded professor (with a sharp mind for detail when he wants to put it to use). Harry is a likable amateur detective and his relationships with various faculty members and Tucker Nelligan (the journalist) make for interesting interactions. The crime itself is a fairly interesting one. I'm not entirely sure that it is fairly clued, however. And some of the Board personalities came across as stock characters. An enjoyable enough series that I do want to finish if I can manage to find the last entry.  ★★

This fulfills the "Same Initial" category on the Silver Vintage Bingo card (Haynes is almost the same as Hankins--three more squares for full card!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Call for the Dead: Review

On the face of it John le Carré's Call for the Dead is so not my kind of book. I'm not attracted to espionage novels as a rule. The descriptions of George Smiley

Short, fat, and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes, which hung about his squat frame like skin on a shrunken toad. Sawley, in fact, declared at the wedding that 'Sercomb was mated to a bullfrog in a sou'wester'. And Smiley, unaware of this description, had waddled down the aisle in search of the kiss that would turn him into a Prince.

don't exactly inspire great confidence or admiration in those of us whose primary connection with British espionage novels revolves around a man whose name is "Bond.  James Bond." Do spies actually waddle? [And, if they do, shouldn't they be described as ducks and not toads? But I digress....]

On the other hand, this is some book. It introduces le Carré's most famous character, the quite ugly, unfashionable Smiley. Smiley is an intelligence officer who works for "the Circus," Britain's overseas intelligence agency. He had been quite good during World War II, but since the war ended he has fallen a bit from grace and works in a somewhat menial job which includes doing security clearance on civil servants. He is sent on a routine interview to check out an anonymous tip on one Samuel Fennan. Smiley thinks it just "busy work" and reassures the man that the agency has no quarrel with him and that there will be no repercussions.

He is shocked, therefore, to be told the next day that Fennan has apparently committed suicide. When Maston, Smiley's talentless boss (a civil-service bureaucrat who is the current head of service),  sends him to do a quick investigation--purely to tidy the file and mark it closed, Smiley finds the situation is not as simple as Maston would like. There's the matter of the "wake-up" call arranged by Fennan, the lies Fennan's wife tells, and the letter Smiley receives from the dead man. Smiley quickly decides that Fennan has been murdered and resigns from the service when Maston orders him to drop the investigation. With the help of a retired policeman and one of his former colleagues, Smiley finds evidence of East German spies at work....and an old friend at the bottom of it all. But someone is determined to take Smiley out of the game for good. The first try misfires....will Smiley be so lucky after that?

After a beginning that had me wondering if I wanted to finish the book, le Carré reeled me in with his descriptive story-telling. A "toad"-like man may not have been my ideal spy when I began, but I was completely convinced of his abilities and his reality by the end. The picture of post-war Britain that le Carré paints is brilliantly rendered--I looked up from my book in the final chapters fully expecting to see the fog swirling round me and to hear the river traffic below the bridge. The story itself reads less like a spy-thriller to me than a more traditional mystery. Smiley is following up clues in the best Scotland Yard fashion. I absolutely will be on the look-out for copies of the other Smiley books.  ★★

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Review

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900) is an American children's classic. I could just stop right there. Those who have never read the novel are familiar with the basics of the story thanks to the 1939 MGM technicolor musical comedy-drama extravaganza. For years (before VHS, DVD, and other forms of media made it available any time), the film was a fall TV standard that children grew up watching every year. I'm sure that most people are unable to think of the story without conjuring up Judy Garland and the song "Over the Rainbow. For this reason, I'm not going to recap the basic story line. I'm just going to write about my perceptions of the book.

Of course, as is usual when film makers turn a beloved book into a visual piece, there are many differences between the written work and the filmed version. Not the least of these is the fact that in the novel, Dorothy's experiences in Oz are real. She really does travel from her home in Kansas to that magical land by means of the cyclone. The film turns this journey into nothing more than dream--a dream brought about by her injury during the cyclone. Apparently, fantasy films had not been doing well at the box office in the 1930s and the studio felt that the adventures would be better received if it was made clear to the audience that these things Were Just Pretend. 

A great many of Dorothy's adventures are also cut from the film version. There are fewer obstacles to overcome--no great gorge to leap over, no rushing river to cross. There is no land of Dainty China figures, no Hammerheads, no giant spider creature for the Lion to defeat. The flying monkeys are not controlled by a magic crown and Dorothy never needs them to aid her in reaching Glinda the Good Witch. Glinda simply watches over Dorothy and her friends--appearing when she is most needed.

The book is very much a quest story and re-emphasizes this with every challenge the group meets. It also makes much of the value of friendship and cooperation. Dorothy never would have made it home to Kansas if she hadn't found and become friends with the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion because there were certain challenges that could only be overcome with the talents of a particular character. In turn, none of these would have gained their heart, brains, and courage without Dorothy and their adventures together. The film does have these elements, but the condensed version  onscreen loses some of the effect of the novel. 

The book is a wonderful fantasy adventure for children and adults alike. I am very glad that I have finally read the classic behind the film that I loved as a child. ★★★★ and a half.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Red Redmaynes: Review

The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts (1922) helps me fill in another year for the Century of Books Challenge as well as providing the reason that I asked Rich if we could do 1922 as November's year for his Crimes of the Century feature. Eden Phillpotts isn't exactly a household name in 2015. But his protégé is. Phillpotts is known in mystery and detective circles for offering encouragement to a young, hesitant writer by the name of Agatha Miller--later known as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. Phillpotts had a fairly impressive output himself, producing approximately 65 novels and short story collections from 1888 to 1959 though not all were mysteries. For more on this lesser-known crime author, please see Curt's informative piece on his very fine blog The Passing Tramp.

And now, on with the show: The Red Redmaynes is an atmospheric piece, set for the first half of the novel on the sinister, ominous landscape of Dartmoor. The bleak moorland and the beautiful Devon coastline emphasizes the gruesome story of the Redmayne family and the tragic way that its members die. Jenny, the youngest member of the Redmayne clan, marries Michael Pendean against the wishes of her three uncles. The uncles hold the Redmayne fortunes in their hands and can withhold Jenny's portion if they do not approve of her husband. The young couple attempt to win the gentleman over, but before they can find out if their efforts will bear fruit tragedy strikes. 

Robert Redmayne, one of the uncles who has a history of violent temper, begins a relationship with his estranged niece and her husband and all seems to be going well until one evening when the two men are alone at the bungalow that Pendean is building for his wife. When morning comes both men are missing and a bloody bungalow gives evidence that a most heinous crime has taken place. Everyone believes that the "great red devil" (Robert) has done away with Pendean and Jenny calls upon Inspector Mark Brendon of Scotland Yard who is holidaying in the area to take up the case. 

But, despite sporadic reports that Redmayne has been spotted, there are few clues and fewer leads. All signs point to Redmayne having gone mad and killed in an insane fury, but surely a madman would not be so difficult to track down. It doesn't help that Brendon is dazzled by the young widow and is not living up to his stellar reputation as a brilliant detective. Further deaths occur and it isn't until Albert Redmayne's friend Peter Ganns, a celebrated American detective, joins the hunt Italy (where Albert has lived for many years) that culprit is finally run to earth and the mystery is completely solved.

As a mystery connoisseur, there are many things to like about the novel. As mentioned, it is atmospheric and Phillpotts does the sinister undertones very well. It is also interesting historically because it one of the few, if not the only, mysteries with an American detective created by an English author. Phillpotts also provides an incredibly detailed look at both the mind of the detectives, the psychology of the protagonist, Brendon, specifically, and the personality and intellect of the culprit. 

One of the features that detract from the novel is, to put it bluntly, Brendon's lovesick nature. He's the first career detective I've met (so to speak) to go so completely off the deep end in love during the course of an investigation and miss nearly every vital clue put it front of him. It's hard to believe that a man who was so dedicated to and exemplary in his job prior to the advent of Jenny Pendean could fall down on the job so thoroughly. Especially after having his short-comings pointed out quite plainly by the elder detective. I expected him to come to his senses at some point prior to the denouement. Alas. Another problem is its length. There are a great many descriptive passages, whether about the countryside or the characters, that just go on forever and could have been better served in quick summation rather than rambling prose. It makes the reader long to skip pages and perhaps miss something vital. Things move much more swiftly once Ganns is introduced. The quicker pace and more action-oriented scenes provide an ending which helps redeem the novel. It's not difficult to guess the culprit but a few of the finer details may escape all but the keenest eyes. Overall, an interesting entry in the annals of crime, though not one destined to be one of my all-time favorites. ★★

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Bobbsey Twins' Search in the Great City

Originally published in 1917 under the title The Bobbsey Twins in a Great City, The Bobbsey Twins' Search in the Great City is the first book I've read of this series. When I started reading mysteries, I plunged straight in with the teenagers--Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, a few Dana Girls, and Trixie Belden. I always thought the Bobbsey twins would be a bit young for my tastes. So, you might ask, why did I pick this one up now? Well, my mom had mentioned that she had read some of them when she was young and I needed a book published in 1917 for a challenge (it almost always boils down to a challenge for me when it's something off the usual).

Just before setting off on a trip to New York City, the Bobbsey twins meet Jack Whipple, a man who works on an estate turned public park and zoo outside their hometown. When "Uncle Jack" as they decide to call him discovers that they are headed to the big city, he mentions wistfully that he wonders if his long-lost brother and sister (who also happen to be twins) are there. The last he'd heard of them they were supposedly bound for NYC. The twins promise to keep their eyes open for any Whipples they might meet. In the end they help the old man to find his long-lost brother and sister, as well as to catch the man who had robbed the estate and then tried to frame Whipple.

Like so many of these books, there are a great many coincidences involved here. But they are good, simple mysteries and reflect a much simpler time. Could you imagine if the twins got themselves lost in NYC today? The parents would lose their children to Child Services and probably be thrown in jail for neglect. Instead, everyone who comes in contact with the Bobbsey family are friendly and helpful and only want to see the kids safely back where they belong.

It does stretch the imagination a bit that the kids would repeatedly go astray. If my dad had told me not to wander off once, that would have been enough. Pretty posters or music wouldn't have made me disobey repeatedly. And Dad wouldn't have been so good-natured about it if I had. A little bit of discipline would be a good thing. Other than the "can't stay put where they ought to be" syndrome, the kids are good kids--kind-hearted and respectful of the people around them and wanting to help anyone they can. The mystery isn't much, but I didn't really expect 6-12 year olds to be dealing with hardened criminals and murder. ★★ for a pleasant read.

The Tuesday Night Bloggers: The Current Favorite

TNB "cover" designed by Bev*
Noah over at Noah's Archives is hosting the latest round of The Tuesday Night Bloggers, the brain-child of Curtis at The Passing Tramp. It's a weekly gathering of like-minded folk to discuss a mystery author from the Golden Age of Detection. We began our meetings with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and for the next few weeks we will be taking a look at Ellery Queen. 

As I mentioned in last week's post, I haven't read many of the Queen novels. I grew up with the televised version of Ellery Queen and loved those. On TV Ellery, Inspector Queen, and the policemen at the Inspector's beck and call weren't quite as hard-boiled as they seem to be in the novels I first sampled. Not that we're talking Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett here--certainly not. Just a bit harder around the edges. And I had to be in the right mood for it. Apparently my mood was just right when I read The Chinese Orange Mystery in 2011.

Up till then, The Roman Hat Mystery, the first of the Ellery Queen novels, had held pride of place. But this little gem which combines a semi-locked room, a murder of a total unknown, beautiful jewels, rare stamps, and a lunatic old scholar has shoved the Hat firmly aside. Titled The Chinese Orange Mystery, it so easily, as the foreword points out, could have been named The Crime That Was Backwards. From the back of the book: "Turnabout is foul play. There were many odd things about the fat man. No one had seen him enter the luxurious suite and no one knew his name. Somehow all his clothes had been put on him backward, and all the furniture around him reversed. The room in which he was found was locked from the inside, and aside from him, was empty. It was unlike any case Ellery Queen had ever seen--except for two hard facts. The man was dead. And it was Queen's baffling job to find the murderer."

There seem to be absolutely no clues available, only confusion. The man came to visit Donald Kirk--publisher and collector of rare gems and even rarer stamps--but refused to state either his name or his business to Kirk's assistant James Osborne. Put in an anteroom to wait for Kirk's arrival, the man is later discovered dead, clothes on backwards and every item in the room reversed--rug upside down, pictures turned to the wall, and even a fruit bowl dumped and the bowl placed over the fruit. No one in the Kirk household or among his friends claim to have seen the man before and there is nothing on the body to identify him. What did he want? Was he a hopeful author? Did he have a gem or a rare stamp for sale? And why did the murderer take the time for reversal? Answer these questions and you just might beat Ellery to the solution.

I humbly admit that I did not. Not even close. But that didn't bother me, I rarely figure out the Ellery Queen mysteries. They are such well-constructed puzzles that I just don't get them. All the clues are there--just as Ellery states in the challenge to the reader. It's never a case where the reader can cry "Unfair!" Every bit of evidence is dangled under your unsuspecting nose and all you have to do is recognize it for what it is and you'd be home and dry.

Wonderful period mystery. Lively characters--all well-drawn and with enough secrets and hidden quirks to keep you guessing while you try to puzzle your way to the solution. The motive for the murder wasn't quite as strong as I'd like, although I can see the pyschology behind it. That small quibble gives the book four 1/2 stars out of five, rather than the full five-star rating. I highly recommend this one!

*Incidentally, the cover I used to fashion the TNB logo for the Queen edition of the club is an edition of The Chinese Orange Mystery.

Monday, November 9, 2015

TBR Book Tag

This one’s Cleo’s fault – over at Cleopatra Loves Books, she had a go at the TBR Tag Thread, talking about her TBR pile, consisting of 173 books. And it got the Puzzle Doctor thinking over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel. He didn't tag anybody specific--he just threw it out as a challenge of sorts to those of us who read his blog...So, here are my responses to the "challenge":

I keep an extensive spreadsheet which lists all my books and marks which ones I've read. I also keep a list on Goodreads (just in case my laptop eats the list and my backup drive dies as well).

100% Print. I don't own an e-reader and I don't plan to until reading printed books becomes difficult (either for vision or other reasons)

The TBR stacks in the hallway...

A combination of what's needed for one of the zillion reading challenges I'm doing and what strikes my fancy at the time.

Probably The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip Jose Farmer. I've had that one since sometime in the 1980s--back when I was in my major SF phase. There are a number of science fiction books that I grabbed up then but never got around to.

Just picked up a book today as a matter of fact--the graduate students in our department are currently holding their annual book sale. Last year I picked up some mighty fine vintage mysteries. This year was pretty slim pickings--almost thought I was going to walk away with nothing (my husband would have wanted to take my temperature--surely something must be wrong if I could walk away from a book sale without a single book). At the last moment I spied a box marked "detective/crime." Not much there--nearly all late editions of Christie. But I did take a copy of Detective Fiction Crime and Compromise by Dick Allen & David Chacko.

None. I don't buy books based on covers--unless you count my fascination with Dell Mapbacks (and other similar "pocket-size" books which normally have fabulous covers). But the primary reason I want those books is because they are vintage mysteries. The cool covers are a bonus.

Like the Puzzle Doctor, I wonder why people would put books on their TBR stack that they never plan to read. There are a few that have been hanging out for quite some time that you might say it is unlikely that I'll ever read--simply because other TBR books seem to continually push them to the back of the line. But I don't "plan" on not reading them...

I don't have any. I don't tend to read new books and I'm not generally on the look-out for unpublished books. Most of the books I'm longing to read were published many years ago (pre-1960). And the ARCs I've got on my TBR stack at moment have already been published.

Um. I dunno.As I mention in the previous answer--most of the books I've got on the TBR stacks are pre-1960. And most of those are vintage mysteries. I doubt that "everyone" but me has read most of those. I don't tend to go for the books that "everyone" has read. Now...if I had answered these questions about a week or so ago, I could have said Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. Because I remember when it seemed like "everyone" was talking about that book. But I've read it now.

Either Murder in the Maze or Death at Swyathling Court by J. J. Connington. So many of my Golden Age blogging/Facebook friends have mentioned Connington. I'm looking forward to reading more by him (I've already read The Eye in the Museum.)

Murder in the English Department by Valerie Miner. Just got my hands on this one this year--but the title has been on my TBF (To Be Found) list for what seems like eons. I'm a sucker for an academic mystery.

1,364. Really. And those pretty much represent the stacks of books teetering up and down our hallway and in mountain ranges scattered in the back room. A small number (probably under 30) are books that I've added to the Goodreads total when someone mentions a book that sounds good or I've entered a Goodreads give-away that required me to put in on the TBR list.

So, I’m supposed to tag someone to have a go at this – If you're reading this, consider yourself tagged....

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Murder With a Twist: Review

Murder with a Twist by Tracy Kiely features wise-cracking, drink-swilling Nic and Nigel Martini. Nic (Nicole) was once Detective Landis of the NYPD--until the wealthy Nigel swept her off her feet into retirement and off to the West Coast. They return to New York City to spend Christmas with with family and to attend the gala birthday party that dear Aunt Olive is throwing for Nigel's cousin Audrey. A wrench is thrown into the works when Audrey's lounge-lizard, gold-digging husband does a disappearing act.

Considering how well-loved Leo is, you'd think the family would say good riddance and that the holidays would be even more festive without him. But Audrey is an emotional mess and refuses to play guest of honor at her own party unless her beloved is there to share the fun. So Aunt Olive and Nigel's other cousin Daphne rope Nic into donning her detective disguise one more time to track down the errant playboy. She and Nigel soon learn that Leo owed a bundle to a loan shark named "Fat Saul"--a man whose has an unusually low tolerance for welshers. Equipped only with their rapier-keen wits and a bull mastiff named Skippy who’s big enough to swallow Asta in one gulp, Nic and Nigel set off to interview Frank Little, an enforcer who works for the loan shark. But they find few leads. Then when "Fat Saul" and  Leo’s girlfriend, Lizzy Marks, are both found dead, Nic and Nigel realize that even the sharpest of wits may not be weapon enough to keep Audrey safe.

This is a hilarious homage to Nick and Nora Charles of the movies. The snappy one-liners come fast and furious--almost as fast as Nigel can down a martini. And Skippy makes for a terrific third to the comic family. The supporting characters are all well-done, though leaning a bit towards caricatures. Aunt Olive is perfect as the snobbish member of NYC's upper crust with specific ideas of how the wealthy elite should behave. 

The mystery is light and breezy. The perfect read for when you want something fun that doesn't require a lot of brain power. Several plot twists keep it interesting and Nic & Nigel take the Nick and Nora roles right through to the dinner party wrap up scene at the end. I look forward to future installments. ★★★★