Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Mind-Murders: Review

So....I've gone from a mystery with a headless corpse (see previous review) to a book with a headless teddy bear. Named Brom.Yeah, I didn't believe it either. The Mind-Murders (1981) by Janwillem van de Wetering reads like it was written while the author was on an acid trip. It's got hippies, dancing policemen, a couple of cops named Ketchup & Karate (I tell you I'm not making this up), and is written with a dream-like quality that makes you think of the Sixties and sex, drugs & rock-n-roll. The only mind that seems to be murdered is that of the poor reader who valiantly tries to follow the story line to its logical (?) ending. I would quote passages that would prove my point, but I don't want to melt your brain as well. Please pardon me if I seem to mindlessly babble....

The novel is actually two police cases in one. In the first, Adjutant-Detective Henk Grijpstra and Detective-Sergeant Rinus de Gier are drawn into what looks to be a murder without a corpse. It opens with Karate & Ketchup having flung an unruly man with a crutch into the canal in order to "calm him down." De Gier jumps in to help Karate rescue Frits Fortune before he drowns. Later, in the course of explaining the situation to their superiors, K & K happen to mention that Mrs. Fortune has disappeared--taking the entire contents of the house with her including Fortune's beloved poodle Babette. Grijpstra's stupendous detective abilities (of which I have seen no evidence to this point, but heavily implied by the author) immediately make him realize that Mrs. Fortune must be dead and her husband must have killed her and stashed the body somewhere. But where? Aha! says Gripstra. The road crews have been digging up the streets and filling in holes all over the place. Fortune must have dumped the body in one of the holes and the blind bulldozer operator didn't notice the very non-earthlike lump in the hole and just filled it right in so it could be covered with bricks. Obviously the thing to do is to plant a tail on Fortune and every time he twitches near a section of new road we'll have the road crew come back and dig it all up again. Anybody got a guess what we'll find? You got it--a big fat nothing. The police, you, and I will all be very surprised where Mrs. Fortune actually is....
(Oh...and the headless bear? Supposedly, when Fortune was a wee tot he beheaded his teddy bear named Brom and buried him in the garden. Proof positive that he's a murderer.)

And...in what seems to be an intermission we have another lead-back to my previous read....a dwarf! Yes, indeed. Here's the reference (de Gier is explaining why something--can't tell you what, it would be a spoiler--didn't make him suspicious): 

I've seen worse in the city, perhaps my mind no longer registers abnormalities. All sorts of apparitions appear these days. There was a dwarf, for instance, dressed in a yellow cape. He rode a scooter, a monkey sat on the handlebars.

There is much banter back and forth between Grijpstra, de Gier and the Commissaris (their otherwise unnamed superior) with the chief observing that his previous boss had claimed "that the police are by definition stupid, because intelligent men will not apply for boring work at low wages. He said that stupidity hardly matters in our profession, provided our brainlessness is compensated by zeal." (Now there's a testimonial for police work....) The Commissaris also tells some pretty pointless stories. [end intermission]

Onward to weird-o case number two, which seems to be a little less psychedelic-feeling: This time round Grijpstra and de Gier become involved with what appears to be a corpse and no murder. And it's de Gier who insists they have a case rather than Grijpstra. An added bonus for their team is Astra, a sexy, young policewoman, who can seduce de Gier and take down a criminal all in the same night.

Despite the pathology report which tells them that Jim Boronski, a man who was found dead, covered in blood, in the trunk of a stolen car, died from natural causes--a bleeding ulcer, de Gier is convinced that there is a murderer somewhere. Their investigation leads them to a sloppy, rude German (who made a brief appearance in the first case) and the possibility of drug-running. But the only evidence of "foul-play" they can find in connection with Boronski is a series of harassing events--the man's car was switched, there was trouble with his laundry, and a missing watch--but as their Commissaris points out, "You can't arrest anybody for harassment." (At least not this kind of harassment in the Netherlands in 1981). They do get to make an arrest and there is a nice sense of symmetry with the first case and it all ends happily with the Commissaris saying: "Everything is all right....Security will be restored."

I was just a teensy bit satisfied with the wrap-up of the second case. That pretty much sums up any good feelings I have about the book. The treatment of Asta (and other women) is VERY sexist--we get an opinion on Every. Single. Woman's. Breasts. Every single one. (All the women in Amsterdam apparently have perfect boobs. Or maybe the men whose point of view we're sharing aren't picky. Or they just love boobs and no matter what they look like, they're perfect.) At first I thought Asta was just along as eye-candy and to identify the entire outfit that one of the women concerned in the case was wearing--but she did get to kick some butt in a nice arrest scene. I'm still not sure whether that was thrown in just so de Gier could be duly impressed and lust after her a little more--after all what's better than perfect breasts? Perfect breasts in action.

The rumor mill on Goodreads tells me that this may not be the most spectacular example of van de Wetering's detective novelist talents. That may be so. But then there are also those who gave the thing four and five stars. I'm not sure that I'm brave enough to try another one.   and one-star only.

This fulfills the "Author Never Read Before" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card and gives me another Bingo. 



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Challenge Commitment Complete: Author, Author





When I signed up for the
Author, Author Scavenger Challenge (found on GoodReads in All Challenges All the Time), it was a year-long challenge--running one year from my start date (7/22/14) and ending on July 21, 2015. But I also said that my personal goal for the rest of 2014 would be to read at least 8 of the required 16 books to count my commitment completed for my 2014 Challenge List. I have now read 9 books for the challenge (and one more on the way) and my commitment is complete for 2014.

My Chosen Author: Michael Innes (1906-1994): John Innes Mackintosh Stewart was born in Edinburgh, educated at Oxford, and taught English in universities all over the world. His scholarly career includes successful works on Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy, but he is better known as mystery writer Michael Innes, whose legendary character, Inspector John Appleby, inspired a lasting vogue for donnish detective fiction.

CHALLENGE TASKS COMPLETED SO FAR:
1. Read TWO books by the author you’ve chosen for this challenge.
*Appleby's Answer (10/17/14)  
* Lament for a Maker (10/8/14)


2. Read a book whose total number of pages includes one of the numbers from the year your chosen author’s first book was published.
Be sure to tell us when your author's first book was published. (1936)

Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (468 pages) [7/22/14]

3. Read a book whose title begins with one of the letters in your chosen author’s last name.
 
Introducing C. B. Greenfield by Lucille Kallen (8/6/14)


6. Read a book set in the location where your chosen author’s most recent book took place – or the most recent book that you’ve read by your chosen author.
Be sure to tell us the location. [Location from: Appleby and the Ospreys-- English Countryside or British Country House]

Death on Allhallowe'en by Leo Bruce [small English village in the countryside] (10/11/14) 

8. Read TWO books published the same year as the year your chosen author’s most recent book was published (or is scheduled to be released).
Be sure to tell us what year the author's most recent book was published.  (Appleby & the Ospreys, 1987)
* Seventh Son by Orson Scot Card (8/19/14)


9 . Read a book whose title begins with one of the letters in your chosen author’s first name.
The Mind Murders by Janwillem van de Wetering (half done)


10. Read a book by an author who’s written a blurb for one of your chosen author’s books. 

 Head of a Traveller by Nicholas Blake (blurb on back of Lament for a Maker) [10/29/14]


11. Read a book with the same number of words in its title as any book by your chosen author. ALL words count!
Be sure to tell us the title of the book by your chosen author.
[Innes book: Lament for a Maker = 4 words]

Who Guards a Prince by Reginald Hill (7/23/14)


12. Read any other book you can somehow relate to your chosen author. Be sure to explain the connection!

Date With Danger by Roy Vickers [British Classic Mysteries] (8/11/14) 
 
 

Head of a Traveller: Mini-Review

Found: One corpse floating in the Thames.
Lost: One head to said corpse.
Wanted: One cold-blooded killer.

Nigel Strangeways, poet and sometimes amateur investigator/gentleman detective, is invited by his friend Paul Williamson to join him for lunch with the famous poet Robert Seaton. At first appearance, the Seatons seem a charming family, but even at first meeting Nigel can sense undercurrents of anxiety and strain. Then two months later, Nigel receives a telegram from Paul:

BODY IN THAMES 1 1/2 MILES UPSTREAM FROM HINTON LACEY STOP ARE YOU INTERESTED QUESTION-MARK

Nigel's answer:

NO WHY SHOULD I BE STOP FISH IT OUT IF IT WORRIES YOU STOP VERY BUSY.

It isn't until Paul's next telegram that Nigel does get interested:

POLICE BESIEGING PLASH MEADOW STOP JANET SEATON IN GREAT FORM O/C THE DEFENCE STOP HAS ALREADY CLONKED INSPECTOR STOP ARE YOU INTERESTED NOW YOU OLD VULTURE QUESTION-MARK

Nigel gets hold of his old friend Superintendent Blount (who just happens to be in charge of the case) to see what details he can glean before heading Hinton Lacey. All signs point to the body having floated from Plash Meadow, the Seaton family home. Nigel uses his (authentic) interest in Seaton's poetry gain entrance to the house and soon begins probing for alibis and motives and explanations of relationships. There's the dwarf Finny, the family servant who may be more than just an underling. There's the relationship between the Seatons and their tenants Rennell Torrance and his daughter Mara...is there a whiff of blackmail in the air? There's the evident tension surrounding Seaton's current wife Janet every time his first wife is mentioned. And there's the tempestuous relationship between Seaton's son Lionel and Mara Torrance. Lots of drama, an appearance of secrets, and everyone seems out to protect Robert--the Great Poet. But eventually Nigel digs to the bottom of the case to find the answer to this case of ruthless murder and very bloody murder.

It may just be the mood I was in yesterday--I spent my morning in a meeting where I felt like the speaker was an adult in a Charlie Brown special. Nothing he said sounded like real language to me. And then last night when I was finishing up Nicholas Blake's Head of a Traveller, he just wasn't making sense to me. *Spoiler: I definitely wasn't buying the whole "everybody seems to be in a conspiracy to protect the Great Poet" thing nor "the Great Poet sacrifices himself at the end to protect his wife" (whom he doesn't even love) thing. And I'm afraid that, much as I generally love Blake's writing and plotting, the whole story just came across as a convoluted mess. Much more convoluted than necessary for the purposes of mystifying the reader--I didn't feel mystified. I felt frustrated with everything from the opener (Nigel Strangeway's journal entry--in first person present while the rest of the novel is in past tense) to the bizarre characterizations (a gibbering dwarf? seriously?). This one was quite simply not up to Blake's usual par--at least not for me. Others have rated it quite highly, so your mileage may vary. ★★

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Challenge Complete: Mount TBR


At the beginning of the year I signed up for my very own Mount TBR Reading Challenge (click link for rules and sign-up page).My bookaholic ways had not changed at all and I headed back to Mt. Everest. With my latest read, I have scaled the heights and planted my flag on Everest's peak. Challenge Complete! But I've packed my bags for Mars and am going to see how far up Mount Olympus I can get before the New Year...
 
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s


1. The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [on TBR since 8/11/12] (1/2/14)
2. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell [on TBR since 11/3/11] (1/5/14)
3. Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak [on TBR since 1980s] (1/6/14)
4. The Skeleton in the Clock by Carter Dickson [on TBR since 6/27/12] (1/8/14)
5. Dangerous Visions #3 by Harlan Ellison, ed [on TBR since 5/13/13] (1/11/14)
6. Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown [on TBR since 11/3/11] (1/12/14)
7. Triumph by Philip Wylie [on TBR since 5/16/13] (1/18/14)
8. Seven Footprints to Satan by A. Merritt [on TBR since 5/16/13] (1/22/14)
9. The Winter Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine [on TBR since 10/12/13] (1/23/14)
10. Death on the Aisle by Frances & Richard Lockridge [on TBR since 10/13/12] (1/24/14)
11. The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry [on TBR since 10/4/13] (1/26/14) 
12. Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald [on TBR since 1/19/93] (1/26/14) Pike's Peak!
13. Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton [on TBR since 10/4/13] (1/27/14)
14. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep [on TBR since 12/30/11] (1/29/14) 
15. Darkness at Pemberley by T. H. White [on TBR since 12/31/12] (1/30/14) 
16. Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold [on TBR since 6/23/09] (2/4/14) 
17. Shelf Life by Douglas Clark [on TBR since 12/31/11] (2/6/14) 
18. Gambit by Rex Stout [on TBR since 9/27/09] (2/8/14) 
19. Death Walks on Cat Feet by D. B. Olsen [on TBR since 4/13/13] (2/13/14) 
20. Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos [on TBR since 10/12/12] (2/18/14)
21. Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual by Ellery Queen, ed [on TBR since 1/19/13] (2/22/14)
22. The Purple Parrot by Clyde Clason [on TBR since 10/4/13] (2/25/14)
23. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick [on TBR since late '80s] (2/27/14)
24. The Darker the Night by Herbert Brean [on TBR since 5/16/13] (3/3/14) Mount Blanc!
25. India's Love Lyrics by Laurence Hope [on TBR since 6/12/89] (3/4/14)
26. Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret Lewis [on TBR since 10/4/13] (3/5/14) 
27. Vicious Circle by Douglas Clark [on TBR since 12/31/11] (3/11/14) 
28. Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison [on TBR since 12/25/12] (3/17/14) 
29. The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout [on TBR since 3/23/13] (3/23/14) 
30. Tut, Tut! Mr. Tutt by Arthur Train [on TBR since 8/18/11] (3/15/14) 
31. Grimms' Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm [on TBR since 12/12/09] (3/28/14) 
32. The Clue of the Leather Noose by Donald Bayne Hobart [on TBR since 1/5/13] (3/31/14)
33. The Coral Princess Murders by Frances Crane [ on TBR since 10/4/13] (4/5/14) 
34. A Hangman's Dozen by Alfred Hitchcock, ed [on TBR since 12/31/10] (4/7/14) 
35. Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg [on TBR since 11/14/09] (4/8/14)
36. Gale Warning by Hammond Innes [on TBR since 2/16/13] (4/15/14) Mt. Vancouver!
37. Murder at the Museum of Natural History by Michael Jahn [on TBR since 7/14/12] (4/18/14)
38. My √Āntonia by Willa Cather [on TBR since 3/5/11] (4/20/11)
39. Dorothy Dixon & the Double Cousin by Dorothy Wayne [on TBR since 9/29/10] (4/26/14) 
40. For Old Crime's Sake (aka Lucky Jane) by Delano Ames [on TBR since 6/29/12] (4/29/14)
41. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain [on TBR since 9/28/11] (4/29/14)
42. Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer [on TBR since 12/18/11] (5/1/14) 
43. Death at the Medical Board by Josephine Bell [on TBR since 7/30/11] (5/16/14) 
44. Bed-Knob & Broomstick by Mary Norton [on TBR since 12/17/11] (5/16/14) 
45. Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka/The Fiction of Harlan Ellison by Yerka & Ellison [on TBR since 12/25/13] (5/22/14) 
46. By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford [on TBR since 2/8/13] (5/23/14) 
47. Red Herring by Edward Acheson [on TBR since 6/1/13] (5/25/14) 
48. Beyond Uhura: Star Trek & Other Memories by Nichelle Nichols [on TBR since 12/25/14] (5/29/14) Mt. Ararat!
49. Invisible Green by John Sladek [on TBR since 6/26/12] (6/2/14)
50. Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell [on TBR since at least 2011--but I know it was longer, just didn't log the date on this one for some reason] (6/5/14)
51. The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo [on TBR since 3/29/12] (6/8/14)
52. Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark [on TBR since 12/21/11] (6/11/14)
53. A Hearse on May-Day by Gladys Mitchell [on TBR since 10/4/13] (6/15/14)
54. Undead & Unpopular by MaryJanice Davidson [on TBR since 11/7/13] (6/17/14)
55. The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker [on TBR since 9/1/12] (6/19/14)
56. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie [on TBR since 5/13/12] (6/23/14)
57. DeKok & Murder in Ecstasy by A. C. Baantjer [on TBR since 4/20/13] (6/27/14)
58. The Day They Kidnapped Queen Victoria by H. K. Fleming [on TBR since 10/1/11] (7/2/14)
59. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott [on TBR since 12/31/10] (7/3/14)
60. The Chief Inspector's Daughter by Sheila Radley [on TBR since 3/26/11] (7/5/14) Mt. Kilimanjaro!
61. On the Beach by Nevil Shute [on TBR since the 1980s] (7/7/14)
62. Selections from the Essays of Montaigne by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (trans & edited by Donald M. Frame) [on TBR since 2004] (7/7/14)
63. The Forgotten War by William R. Forstchen [on TBR since 2000] (7/9/14)
64. Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout [on TBR since 12/30/11] (7/12/14)
65. Murder at the Villa Rose by A. E. W. Mason [on TBR since 11/17/12] (7/14/14)
66. The Tattooed Man by Howard Pease [on TBR since 11/3/12] (7/17/14)
67. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis [on TBR since 1993] (7/20/14)
68. Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child [on TBR since 12/2/12] (7/22/14)
69. Who Guards a Prince by Reginald Hill [on TBR since 12/22/12] (7/23/14)
70. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym [on TBR since 7/9/09] (7/25/14)
71. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley [on TBR since 11/10/12] (7/31/14)
72.The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Angel of the Opera by Sam Siciliano [on TBR since 5/26/11] (8/4/14)
73.  Introducing C. B. Greenfield by Lucille Kallen [on TBR since 6/29/12] (8/6/14)
74. Date With Danger by Roy Vickers [on TBR since 10/4/13] (8/11/14)
75. Button, Button by Marion Bramhall [on TBR since 10/4/13] (8/13/14) El Toro!
76. Book of the Dead by Elizabeth Daly [on TBR since 10/4/13] (8/14/15)
77. Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card [on TBR since 1990s] (8/19/14)
78. Zingers, Quips, & One-Liners by Geoff Tibballs,ed [on TBR since 10/10/13] (8/25/14)
79. The Bigger They Come by A. A. Fair [on TBR since 5/13/13] (8/28/14)
80. The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh [on TBR since 1/27/11] (8/29/14)
81. Red Cent by Robert Campbell [on TBR since 9/8/12] (9/10/14)
82. The Herb of Death & Other Stories by Agatha Christie [on TBR since 11/2/13] (9/14/14)
83. Death Takes a Sabbatical by Robert Bernard [on TBR sine June 2011] (9/16/14)
84. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy [on TBR since 1980s] (9/21/14)
85. The Footprints on the Ceiling by Clayton Rawson [on TBR since 10/4/09] (9/25/14)
86. Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson [on TBR since 12/14/12] (9/27/14)
87. A Death for a Dancer by E. X. Giroux [on TBR since 4/13/13] (9/28/14)
88. Bleeding Maize & Blue by Susan Holtzer [on TBR since 9/4/10] (9/30/14)
89. Blood on the Stars by Brett Halliday [on TBR since 10/1/11] (10/4/14)
90. The Witch's Grave by Philip DePoy [on TBR since 12/2010] (10/5/14)
91. Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes [on TBR since at least March 2011] (10/8/14)
92. Death on Allhallowe'en by Leo Bruce [on TBR since12/31/11] (10/11/14)
93. Only a Matter of Time by V. C. Clinton-Baddeley [on TBR since 10/4/13] (10/13/14)
94. Murder on Mike by H. Paul Jeffers [on TBR since 10/12/13] (10/15/14)
95. Appleby's Answer by Michael Innes [on TBR since 11/14/09] (10/17/14)
96. The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart [on TBR since 10/1/11] (10/19/14)
97. Too Many Doctors by Holly Roth [on TBR since 9/28/12] (10/22/14)
98. Madman's Bend by Arthur W. Upfield [on TBR since 3/29/12] (10/24/14)
99. Roast Eggs by Douglas Clark [on TBR since 12/31/11] (10/24/14)
100. Nor Live So Long by Sara Woods [on TBR since 3/26/09] (10/25/14)

Nor Live So Long: Review

Antony Maitland, lawyer and sometime sleuth, and his wife, Jenny, are looking forward to a holiday visit with old friends in the little village of Burton Cecil. Despite having run into a murder there some seven years before, they certainly don't expect more of the same when they come to stay with their crime-writing hostess Emma Antsey. But just before they arrive a young woman by the name of Dilys Jones is strangled and Emma's nephew Stephen Antsey is lined up to advise (and possibly instruct counsel for the defense of) the girl's boyfriend Peter Dutton. The stubborn Inspector Wentworth, appointed to the case from Rothershaw, has fitted Dutton up as suspect #1 and doesn't seem willing to pay much attention to other options. Nearly the entire village believe in Dutton's innocence and want to blame Philip Wainwright, a newcomer who is rather eccentric and who has ran shy of getting acquainted with his new neighbors. After all, nothing like this happened until he arrived.

Stephen has just recently started practicing and has little experience, so he (with Emma's encouragement) approaches Maitland for help and guidance. Maitland is willing to help, but quite frankly tends to agree with the authorities that Dutton does look to be the most likely candidate. But when a second young woman and then a third are strangled in just the same way, Maitland agrees that while he could see the young lover killing his girl in a fit of passion, Dutton doesn't fit either the homicidal maniac profile or the role of cool, calculating murderer killing additional girls to distract from his motive for Dilys's death. Wentworth, however, is very attached to that idea and ultimately arrests Dutton. It isn't until Antony sees the pattern with its inspiration in the murders of the past that he is able to convince the inspector to investigate another far more suitable suspect.

First published in 1986, Nor Live So Long by Sara Woods certainly comes on the scene long past the Golden Age of detective novels. But the small village setting and the various drinks and dinner parties definitely give the novel a Golden Age atmosphere. There is also the very amateur detective feel to Maitland's investigation. For even though he is a lawyer by trade, his questioning of various villagers comes off as very casual inquisitiveness rather than a representative of the court cross-examining them and this makes the novel seem more cozy than crime. 

Not that there isn't crime and dark deeds to be had--very nasty strangulations and fearful villagers bearing pitchforks and burning things down throw a very dark shadow indeed. In the hands of a lesser author, the pitchfork scene might even seem a bit over-the-top, but Woods uses it effectively to convey atmosphere of fear and mistrust that has taken over Burton Cecil in the wake of the murders.

Woods always entertains and delivers solid mysteries with interesting characters. It was nice to see Antony and Jenny on holiday--a busman's holiday as it turns out. Good classic feel.  ★★★

Quotes: 
...one can't blame someone else for committing a sin one isn't likely to be tempted to. (Antony Maitland; p. 173)

She knew her husband well enough to be sure already that whatever idea had come to him would prove to be the right one; but she also knew that he had far less confidence in his own instincts than she had. (p. 190)

This fulfills the "Size in the Title" (Long) square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card and gives me two more Bingos!


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Roast Eggs: Review

Roast Eggs (1981) is the 14th book in the Masters and Green detective series by Douglas Clark. It offers up a double-twist in its set-up: a twist on the inverted mystery combined with a twist on the police procedural. Per the usual inverted mystery scenario, we know up-front whom the police consider the guilty party. James Connal has been charged with setting up some kind of timed device to burn his house down and murder his wife. The prosecuting counsel has what looks like an easy, open-and-shut case and, after Clark gives us the background and events leading up to scene in court, we find ourselves ready for the closing moments of the trial.

The prosecution has presented its evidence and examined all its witnesses. The defense has done the same and it looks pretty black for Connal. But then he takes the stand in his own defense and Sir Francis March, appearing for the Crown, can see his case going up in smoke as the charming, deprecating villain begins to sway the jury. A weekend recess is called just before Sir Francis's opportunity to cross-examine Connal (timing for which he is incredibly grateful) and he and Detective Hill have a little pow-wow to see what they might do to prevent a particularly callous and diabolical murderer from walking out of court a free man.

The solution? Call upon Sir Francis's friend and Hill's former boss, Chief Superintendent George Masters, to look over their case and read the court transcripts to see if there is anything they missed and any way (legally) to save the prosecution in the upcoming cross-examination. Masters brings along Detective Chief Inspector Bill Green and the four men settle down for a weekend of intense work.

For me to be asked to investigate a case after the criminal has been arrested and charged is an oddity. And that, I claim, allows me to use odd--unusual, if you like--methods. We're all out of our depth because we're doing a job arse-about-face and so, where we would normally get facts and then make deductions, I now have to make deductions and hope that as a result I get facts. (Masters)

The situation, as Masters notes, is an odd one. He takes Sir Francis's and Hill's estimation of Connal's guilt as his only starting "fact" and begins what Hill calls a guessing game--producing hypothesis after hypothesis until he begins to unearth Connal's fiendishly clever plan. A plan that called for him to tried for the murder...and acquitted. Masters and Green manage to unearth evidence to support their suspicion of this plan--but it will take a show-stopping bit of courtroom drama (and a hopefully sympathetic judge) to allow that evidence to come before a jury. Will they be able to pull off a miracle when court resumes?

Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of inverted crime novels. I prefer to work alongside the detective and see if I can figure out whodunnit and how before the sleuth reveals all. But Clark managed to reel me in with his twist--it was great fun watching Masters and Green come in to the case cold and try to unravel it before the weekend was out. Adding the "beat the clock" motif really spiced up what could have been (for me, anyway) a rather bland inverted mystery. And Sir Francis's bit of courtroom dramatics (turning the courtroom into a "three-ring circus" as Judge Cleghorn puts it) was worth the price of admission all by itself. They wanted to shake Connal out of his self-satisfied, calm assurance of "Not Guilty" and Sir Francis's presentation surely does the trick. But how they find the evidence and how they shake him in court is what really makes this a satisfying read.   ★★★ and 3/4 stars for the clever twists on mystery standards.

With "Eggs" in the title this fulfills the "Cooks/Food" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo Card.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Madman's Bend: Review

Arthur W. Upfield's Madman's Bend (aka The Body at Madman's Bend) 1963 presents us with two murder victims--one who provokes our sympathy and one who seemed born to be murdered. William Lush--has there every been a more appropriately named character in a detective novel? Lush is a hard-drinking, hard-fisted squatter who married a widow with a bit of land and what he thought was a good bit of money (and his ticket to a fortune). When he discovered (after the wedding) that most of the money was tied up in a trust for his step-daughter, Jill, he took his frustration out on his wife and in drink. 

As the book opens, he has beaten Jill's mother one to many times and Jill is waiting with a rifle for him to come back home from another bout of drinking. The doors and windows are locked and barred and when he discovers he can't get into the house, he takes an axe to the offending front door. Jill fires a warning shot into the ceiling and then fires at the door when Lush spews abuse and the axe hits the door again. The night goes quiet and Jill sits up all night--fully expecting to find Lush injured or dead outside the door come morning.

But there is no sign of him the next day. And when Jill's mother dies from her injuries, the police become involved. They don't know, however, if they are looking for a drunken murderer sleeping off a binge or the body of a murdered man. Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte ("Bony" to his friends) is in the area and becomes interested in the case. There are lots of men who had run-ins with Lush, there were several who had the opportunity and/or the means...but Jill Madden had them all and a major motive as well. But without a body and the flood-waters of the Darling River headed towards Madman's Bend, Bony will be hard-pressed to prove murder and find sufficient evidence. Patience and time usually work to the detective's advantage. Unfortunately, time is the one commodity that he doesn't have....

This is a interesting twist on the "locked room" mystery--only instead of the impossible crime of "how was it done?" we've got an ever-decreasing amount of space for Bony to examine and the question becomes "will he find all the clues before they're swept away?" He's got to find the evidence in time to pick the murderer out of fourteen possible suspects. Most of what he finds eliminates the innocent without pointing a steady finger at the killer. He has to take a dangerous boat ride over the flood waters before he gets on the right track. The clues aren't thick on the ground, but there is fair play and a decent, interesting mystery to try and unravel.  ★★

This fulfills the "More Than One Title" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Too Many Doctors: Review

Trehane operated on a basis of thoroughness: do everthing, do it properly, follow up, check. If he had ever had a moment of intuition, he had slept it off.

Too Many Doctors by Holly Roth (1962). The passengers aboard the M.S. Tilburg, a small German ship, expect a pleasant, uneventful trip to the Far East. But before picking up the last of its European travelers, they have already lost a member of the crew--the ships's doctor--to apparent food poisoning and are forced to take on a replacement as well as passengers at Southampton. 

The ship hasn't even left British waters when an attractive young woman falls downstairs on her way to her cabin and the new doctor has his first patient. Or perhaps she was pushed? Her injuries seem a bit extensive for an accidental fall. If she was pushed, her assailant is lucky--she is suffering from amnesia as a result of her fall. One of her fellow passengers, Dr. Maxwell Owings, is a famous neurosurgeon and he is called upon by the ill-tempered captain to give assistance. Before he can make a complete initial examination, the woman is attacked with a razor blade. 

Dr. Owings begins to smell a rat...the ship's doctor insists the new cuts are simply reopening of wounds sustained in the fall and the captain takes great offense to a suggestion that a report needs to made to the officials ("I am the official!"). Then when another passenger is shoved into an empty swimming pool and is evading questions about who she think did it, Owings becomes even more insistent on an investigation.

Back in London, a psychoanalyst is found shot to death in his office and Inspector Richard Medford begins investigations that involve the doctor's previous involvement with an abortion ring, possible blackmail, and maybe even drug trafficking. Then a body is fished out the Thames--surprise, another doctor! Connections are made with the German shipping line and an autopsy report reveals that the Tilburg's doctor was, indeed, poisoned...but not by food. Medford is sent to meet the ship in Genoa and to establish whether all these apparently unrelated events are part of the same murderous spree. His colleague, Inspector Trehane, follows up clues from England, Germany, and America to help Medford tie it all together.
 
Well, the title says it all. "Too Many." Too many doctors. Too many dead doctors. Too many people who don't know who they are. Or who aren't who they say they are. Too many injuries and illnesses. Too many suspects. Too many motives. Too many random connections. And one "too much"--as in a plot twist that reminded me a little too much of one of Dame Agatha Christie's well-known ploys. [Spoiler: highlight apparent empty space, if you don't mind a reveal] While Owings is not the narrator, his involvement is very like that of the narrator in Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. We, the reader, get to know, like, and trust him. I, for one, was disappointed with his part in the murders and attacks.

What Holly Roth does well is character. This is no 400+ pager with the long-drawn out passages of detail that seem to be the norm in the door-stop-sized detective fiction of today. It tops out at a mere 204 pages and Roth manages to give us snippet snapshots (such as the opening description of Trehane) that tell us exactly what kind of person we're dealing with. Trehane is a careful plodder, but his checking & double-checking are essential and his thoroughness complements his colleague's (Inspector Medford's) tendency to make leaps of intuition. They sometimes irritate one another, but make a very good team. The short descriptions of the crew and passengers are also well-done and instantly draw the reader's sympathies or suspicions.

The mystery plot itself is quite convoluted--with none of Christie's expertise at pulling all the threads together in one coherent picture. A couple of lines would have been plenty and would have made for a much smoother narrative. ★★ mostly for character and Medford's valiant attempt to explain how it all related.

This fulfills the "Medical Mystery" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Challenge Complete: I Love Library Books

You Read How Many Books?
Reading Challenge
2014

This year I joined new host Gina @ Book Dragon's Lair for a "read as many as you can" type reading challenge.  Amy at My Overstuffed Bookshelf had hosted the 150+ challenge the last few years, and allowed Gina to host this year, with changes :-).
This time 'round we hadthree levels to choose from--having sailed along at the 150+ level for a couple of years, I signed up for Level 2 (at least 150).

Here are the books read for the challenge:

1. The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle(1/2/14)
2. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell (1/5/14)
3. Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak(1/6/14)
4. The Skeleton in the Clock by Carter Dickson (1/8/14)
5. Dangerous Visions #3 by Harlan Ellison, ed (1/11/14)
6. Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown (1/12/14)
7. Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell (1/13/14)
8. The Wonder Chamber by Mary Malloy (1/15/14)
9. Triumph by Philip Wylie (1/18/14)
10. The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14)
11. The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux (1/20/14)
12. Seven Footprints to Satan by A. Merritt (1/22/14)
13. The Winter Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1/23/14) 
14. Death on the Aisle by Frances & Richard Lockridge (1/24/14)
15. The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry (1/26/14)
16. Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald (1/26/14) 
17. Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton (1/27/14)
18. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1/29/14) 
19. Darkness at Pemberley by T. H. White (1/30/14) 
20. Death by Chick Lit by Lynn Harris (2/1/14) 
21. Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (2/4/14) 
22. Where There's Love, There's Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares & Silvina Ocampo (2/5/14) 
23. Shelf Life by Douglas Clark (2/6/14) 
24. Gambit by Rex Stout (2/8/14) 
25. You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts (2/9/14) 
26. Dandy Gilver & the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson (2/12/14) 
27. Death Walks on Cat Feet by D. B. Olsen (2/13/14) 
28. Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland (2/16/14)
29. Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos (2/18/14)
30. XCIA's Street Art Project by Hank O'Neal (2/20/14) 
31. Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual by Ellery Queen, ed (2/22/14)
32. The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie (2/25/14) 
33. The Purple Parrot by Clyde Clason (2/25/14) 
34. To Kingdom Come by Will Thomas (2/26/14)
35. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick (2/27/14) 
36. The Darker the Night by Herbert Brean (3/3/14) 
37. India's Love Lyrics by Laurence Hope (3/4/14) 
38. Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret Lewis (3/5/14) 
39. The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd (3/8/14) 
40. It's Not All Flowers & Sausages by Jennifer Scoggin (3/10/14) 
41. Vicious Circle by Douglas Clark (3/11/14) 
42. A Girl Walks Into a Bar by Helena S. Paige (3/12/14) 
43. Endless Night by Agatha Christie (3/13/14) 
44. John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars by Roland Hughes (3/17/14) 
45. Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison (3/17/14)
46. India Black & the Gentleman Thief by Carol K. Carr (3/19/14) 
47. A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan (3/21/14) 
48. The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout (3/23/14) 
49. Tut, Tut! Mr. Tutt by Arthur Train (3/25/14) 
50. Grimms' Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (3/28/14)
51. The Clue of the Leather Noose by Donald Bayne Hobart (3/31/14) 
52. The Coral Princess Murders by Frances Crane (4/5/14) 
53. Decoded by Mai Jia (4/5/14) 
54. After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman (4/6/14) 
55. A Hangman's Dozen by Alfred Hitchcock, ed (4/7/14)
56. Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg (4/8/14) 
57. The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Denis O. Smith (4/13/14) 
58. Gale Warning by Hammond Innes (4/15/14)
59. Murder at the Museum of Natural History by Michael Jahn (4/18/14) 
60. My Antonia by Willa Cather (4/20/14)
61. Death by the Book by Julianna Deering (4/21/14) 
62. The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi (4/26/14)
63. Dorothy Dixon & the Double Cousin by Dorothy Wayne (4/26/14) 
64. For Old Crime's Sake (aka Lucky Jane) by Delano Ames (4/29/14)
65. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (4/29/14) 
66. Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer (5/1/14) 
67. Ships of the Line by Doug Drexler & Margaret Clark (eds) [5/1/14] 
68. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin (5/6/14)
69. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw (5/9/14) 
70. Death at the Medical Board by Josephine Bell (5/16/14) 
71. Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton (5/16/14)
72. Sinners & the Sea by Rebecca Kanner (5/21/14)
73. Whispers of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers (5/21/14) 
74. Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka/The Fiction of Harlan Ellison by Yerka & Ellison (5/22/14)
75. By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (5/23/14) 
76. Red Herring by Edward Acheson (5/25/14) 
77. Beyond Uhura: Star Trek & Other Memories by Nichelle Nichols (5/29/14)
78. Steampunk Poe by Edgar Allan Poe; illustrated by Zdenko Basic & Manuel Numberac (5/30/14) 
79. Invisible Green by John Sladek (6/2/14)
80. Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (6/5/14)
81.12.21 by Dustin Thomason (6/6/14)
82. The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo (6/8/14) 
83. Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark (6/11/14)
84. The Corsican Caper by Peter Mayle (6/11/14)
85. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein (6/12/14)
86. Total Harmonic Distortion by Charles Rodrigues (6/12/14)
87. A Hearse on May-Day by Gladys Mitchell (6/15/14)
88. Undead & Unpopular by MaryJanice Davidson (6/17/14)
89. The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker (6/19/14)
90. No. 9 Belmont Square by Margaret Erskine (6/21/14)
91. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie (6/23/14) 
92. This Private Plot by Alan Beechey (6/26/14)
93. DeKok & Murder in Ecstasy by A. C. Baantjer (6/27/14)
94. The 7 Professors of the Far North by John Fardell (6/29/14)
95. The Day They Kidnapped Queen Victoria by H. K. Fleming (7/2/14)
96. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott (7/3/14)
97. The Chief Inspector's Daughter by Sheila Radley (7/5/14)
98. On the Beach by Nevil Shute (7/7/14)
99. Selections from the Essays of Montaigne by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (trans & ed by Donald M Frame) [7/7/14] 
100. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (7/8/14) 
101. The Forgotten War by William R. Horstchen (7/9/14) 
102. Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout (7/12/14) 
103. Murder at the Villa Rose by A. E. W. Mason (7/14/14)
104. Death in an Ivory Tower by Maria Hudgins (7/16/14) 
105. The Tattooed Man by Howard Pease (7/17/14)
106. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (7/20/14) 
107. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (7/21/14) 
108. Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (7/22/14)
109. Who Guards a Prince by Reginald Hill (7/23/14) 
110. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym (7/25/14)
111. Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell (7/30/14)
112. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (7/31/14)
113. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Angel of the Opera by Sam Siciliano (8/4/14)
114. The Mangle Street Murders by M. R. C. Kasasian (8/5/14)
115. Introducing C. B. Greenfield by Lucille Kallen (8/6/14)
116. Date With Danger by Roy Vickers (8/11/14) 
117. Button, Button by Marion Bramhall (8/13/14)
118. Book of the Dead by Elizabeth Daly (8/14/14)
119. Book Clubbed by Lorna Barrett (8/16/14)
120. New Orleans Requiem by D. J. Donaldson (8/17/14)
121. Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card (8/19/14)
122. Zingers, Quips, & One-Liners by Geoff Tibballs (8/25/14)
123.  The Bigger They Come by A. A. Fair (8/28/14)
124. The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh (8/29/14)
125. The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh (8/30/14)
126. The Shakespeare Mask by Newton Frohlich (9/2/14)
127. Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes (9/5/14)
128. Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh (9/6/14)
129. The Unfinished Crime by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (9/8/14)
130. Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet by Harry Kemelman (9/8/14)
131. Red Cent by Robert Campbell (9/10/14)
132. Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie (9/11/14)
133. The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (9/12/14)
134. The Herb of Death & Other Stories by Agatha Christie (9/14/14)
135. Death Takes a Sabbatical by Robert Bernard (9/16/14)
136. The Edison Effect by Bernadette Pajer (9/20/14)
137. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (9/21/14)
138. The Footprints on the Ceiling by Clayton Rawson (9/25/14)
139. Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson (9/27/14)
140. A Death for a Dancer by E. X. Giroux (9/28/14)
141. Bleeding Maize & Blue by Susan Holtzer (9/30/14)
142. Blood on the Stars by Brett Halliday (10/4/14)
143. The Witch's Grave by Philip DePoy (10/5/14)
144. Death by Hitchcock by Elissa D. Grodin (10/6/14)
145. Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes (10/8/14)
146. The Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie (10/11/14)
147. Death on Allhallowe'en by Leo Bruce (10/11/14)
148. Only a Matter of Time by V. C. Clinton-Baddeley (10/13/14)
149. Murder on Mike by H. Paul Jeffers (10/15/14)
150. Appleby's Answer by Michael Innes (10/17/14)
151. The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart (10/19/14)

Challenge Complete!