Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Fifth Passenger: Review

Edward "Teddy" Young was a British graphic designer, submarine officer, and publisher. In 1935 he joined the then new publishing firm of Penguin Books and was responsible for designing the cover scheme used by Penguin for many years as well as the sketch for the original penguin logo. During World War II he served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and became the first British RNVR officer to command a submarine. He used his wartime experience in the Royal Navy to pen the classic WWII memoir One of Our Submarines. He also puts his naval and submarine knowledge to good use in his 1963 mystery thriller, The Fifth Passenger.

In The Fifth Passenger, Peter Carrington is a London solicitor who served during the war with Captain William Howard. He owes Bill Howard his life and now Howard is calling in his favor. The book opens with Howard on the run. We don't know what he's done--if he's running because he's a traitor or because he's discovered a traitor. When Carrington receives a terse phone call asking him to meet Howard in Brixham, he doesn't know either. All Howard tells him is

I've got myself in a spot of trouble, Pedro. Can't tell you what it's about on the telephone--it's just that I've done something rather stupid and got myself involved in something that's become too big for me....Get down to Brixham as soon as you can...I'll meet you there tomorrow evening or the day after. But keep it under your hat at all costs. Don't try to find me, don't make inquiries about me, don't tell anyone you're expecting to meet me.

Carrington's loyalty to his former commander takes him immediately to the seaside town where there is no sign of Howard, but a large schooner by the name The Black Pearl waits in the harbor. The schooner is waiting on a few passengers and the weather to clear before setting sail for the West Indies. Soon, all the passengers are aboard--except for the mysterious Mr. Hitchcock, the fifth passenger. Carrington's sure that Hitchcock is Howard in disguise and settles down to wait as well. But Carrington isn't the only one waiting for Howard. Who will win the cat and mouse game? And at what cost a win? Carrington finds himself back on a submarine before he discovers the answer.

This book was Young's single foray into the espionage/mystery field. It is a pretty nifty story for a first and only fiction effort. Carrington's adventures as he tries to make contact with Howard--all while avoiding the men who are on Howard's trail (including one of Howard's oldest friends, Tony Gardner)--are played out like a chess match, particularly with Gardner. There is also a love interest for Carringtion that actually fulfills an important role in the game rather than serving as a distraction. Overall, a well-done, yet low-key espionage thriller. ★★★★

This fulfills the "Boat" category in the Vintage Silver Scavenger Hunt. It also fulfills the "Not on land" category for the Mystery Reporter Challenge because all of the climatic action takes place on board a submarine and the schooner.

All challenges fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Charity Challenge, Triple Dog Dare, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Mystery Reporter, Mad Reviewer 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Tuesday Night Bloggers Master List

The Tuesday Night Bloggers have been meeting now for several months with a group of us who are interested in golden age detective writers. Each month we focus on a different The first one was, of course, Agatha Christie (hence the reference in our collective name to The Tuesday Club Murders) and Curt Evans collected them all on his blog, The Passing Tramp. Next up was Ellery Queen--also hosted by Curt. Moira Redmond hosted our look at Ngaio Marsh on Clothes in Books and our musings on Rex Stout, were collected by Noah Stewart. Noah is also responsible for the very fine logo specially created for the February series, about Dorothy L. Sayers which will normally be found at the home of Helen Szamuely over at Conservative History Journal . Our lovely hostess is a bit under the weather this week and I will be doing my best to fill her shoes while she recuperates. 

This week Moira at Clothes in Books takes a look at THAT romance between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane. She thought she might stir up a bit of controversy...but she didn't know which part of the post would draw our attention.

Noah at Noah's Archives considers what may have caused his early aversion to Sayers (and pauses to reconsider) and gives us Dorothy L. Sayers and the excelsior principle.

Kate Jackson at Cross Examining Crime gives us her five favorite Wimsey books...and one not-so-favorite in 5 to Try and 1 to Avoid.

And I tell secrets (sortof) in my Confessions of a Wimsey Fangirl.

My apologies if I've missed anyone. If you've got a post to share on Dorothy L. Sayers, please point me to it and I'll get you linked up! 

The Doberman Wore Black: Review

The Doberman Wore Black (1983) is the first of two mysteries by Barbara Moore which feature Gordon Christy, a recent veterinary school graduate. Christy has been working in Denver, but longs to practice in the mountains. When Dr. Potter needs someone to fill in at his practice in Vail, Colorado, Christy jumps at the opportunity. He hasn't even made it to the mountain resort town when he first encounters the Doberman.

She is sitting in the back of a recklessly-driven MG that forces him off the road. The next time he sees her, she is guarding the body of the reckless driver who has been shot and killed in an elegant condominium. The police call him in to handle the dog so they can investigate the crime scene and then ask him to take her to Potter's clinic and keep tabs on her until the mystery is solved. It isn't long before Christy realizes that they were justified in worrying about their "star witness." Someone takes a shot or two at her when he takes her for a walk and later she is fed antifreeze while in the outside run at the clinic. What is it that the Doberman will do if she sees the killer that has him/her so worried?  Christy's growing attachment to the dog and MG's real owner lead him further into the mystery...until the killer finally sees the young vet as a threat as well.

This is a fairly uncomplicated, light cozy mystery. Christy is not heavy into detecting and there really aren't a lot of clues strewn about. But the setting is good, the veterinary practice makes a nice background and we learn quite a bit about the various dog breeds and treatments without feeling like we're in the middle of a veterinary info dump. The characters are reasonably well-drawn and one has hopes that Moore is able to build on her solid beginning in the second installment. ★★★ for a pleasant, comfortable read.

[Note: I just went on a little hunt for the second book. It looks like one's hopes might be dashed. The reviews I've found are not encouraging and, given that there were no more books after The Wolf Whispered Death, I suspect it did not do well. I'm also mildly confused. A big deal is made about how Christy longs for a job in the mountains. And at the end of the book it looks like he's all set to be a partner in Dr. Potter's practice in Colorado. So, why the heck does the next book have him in Arizona????]

This fulfills the "Dog" category on the Vintage Silver Scavenger Hunt.

All challenges fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Triple Dog Dare, My Kind of Mystery, Mystery Reporter, Cloak & Dagger, Color Coded Challenge, Charity Challenge, Outdo Yourself, 100 Plus Challenge, Women Challenge, Mad Reviewer, What an Animal, Cruizin Thru the Cozies

The Tuesday Night Bloggers: Confessions of a Wimsey Fangirl

The TNB is 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 have since worked our way to Dorothy L. Sayers and her gentleman sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey. February meetings of the TNB Club are being hosted by Helen over at Conservative History Journal (and featured by her in our Facebook Group: Golden Age Detection), so feel free to join the party at her place. Noah Stewart has provided the fine logo for February (photo at right).
I love Dorothy L. Sayers. I can't say it any better than that. I could read her Lord Peter Wimsey novels any time and I've already read them more times than I can count. I reach for Sayers when I need a pick-me-up, a soothing read, good writing, great quotes and references, a good dose of golden age mystery, any or all of the above and more. I also reach for Sayers when any challenge I do calls for me to "re-read an old favorite" or something similar. My only quibble with the Wimsey books is that I have already read them all and I have no new stories to look forward to (unless you want to count those things written by Jill Paton Walsh--I don't, even though they suck me in every time). Oh to be in the position to pick up a Sayers for the first time--that would be bliss.
The Wimsey novels are one of the few sets that I collect in multiple editions. I am always on the look-out for versions that I don't yet own--both hardback and paperback. I'm pleased to say that I own every edition of Strong Poison featured here. And speaking of Strong Poison....This novel is probably my favorite Wimsey novel (depending on when you ask me--sometimes the answer might be Murder Must Advertise) and it definitely is the one that I have read the most often.
Strong Poison marks the beginning of real changes in the Wimsey character. Prior to this he allows himself to come across as a bit of a Bertie Wooster type--but with superior brains.  Starting with this novel and his romance with Harriet Vane, Wimsey peels off more and more layers to reveal what a complex man he is. I thoroughly enjoy watching the "humanization" of Wimsey (as Sayers herself called it) and the developing romance over the course of four books which is much more realistic than the bulk of mysteries that involve a romantic subplot. Quite often hero/heroine meets an absolutely stunning person in the course of the mystery, they undergo various challenges, and by the end of the book the starry-eyed lovers are strolling arm in arm off into the sunset or are clasped rapturously in each other's arms or some such thing. And usually the time period involved is ridiculously short.
The story begins with Harriet Vane on trial for her life. Accused of murdering her former lover, things look mighty black for the detective novelist until Miss Climpson, "a tough, thin, elderly woman with a sound digestion and a militant High Church conscience of remarkable staying power" who also happens to be one of Wimsey's "undercover" typing bureau employees (the "cattery"), decides that Miss Vane did not do it and will not let the jury convict her. A new trial is called and Lord Peter, who has in the course of the trial both decided that Harriet is innocent and that he loves her, has about 30 days to find new evidence to prove her innocence.
What follows is an absolutely delightful investigation which involves everything from Bunter's mild vamping of a cook and a maid to Miss Climpson's posing as a medium to find a missing will. The novel contains some of the best quotations and this is one of my all-time favorites from Wimsey's first visit to Miss Vane in prison:
(Harriet Vane) "But, by the way, you're bearing in mind, aren't you, that I've had a lover?"
(Lord Peter) "Oh, yes. So have I, if it comes to that. In fact, several. It's the sort of thing that might happen to anybody. I can produce quite good testimonials. I'm told I make love rather nicely--only I'm at a disadvantage at the moment. One can't be very convincing at the other end of a table with a bloke looking in at the door."
I also love this book because both the Dowager Duchess and Miss Climpson make appearances and give their own brand of support to Wimsey. But, for me, the book would be worth it just for the scene where Miss Murchinson learns to pick locks from former burglar Blindfold Bill. There is much to love in this mystery--and most of it involves the marvelous characters that Sayers presents us with. Five stars has been my consistent rating every time I've read it.
I could write pages and pages...but not nearly as well as Miss Sayers. I'll just leave it at this for those who have never tried her: If you enjoy good prose by an intelligent writer then you'll want to read this series. Start with Whose Body? and work your way through to get the full effect of Lord Peter's development.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Clue of the Judas Tree: Reviw

And in its way the house at Ivy Hill was incredible as the things that happened in it. In fact, I suppose it was the kind of house that strange things have to happen in. as a sort of ironic destiny. I didn't, of course, know any of that when Cheryl Trent brought the big car to a stop in front of an elaborate oak studded door. (p. 18)
Zenith (Jones) Brown wrote may mysteries under three pseudonyms (Leslie Ford, David Frome, and Brenda Conrad) with the bulk of them written as Ford.  My initial foray into Brown's work was with Homicide House written under the name of David Frome and featuring Mr. Pinkerton--that was long before my blogging days, so I don't have clear notes on that experience. Most of the Leslie Ford books feature her delightful detective duo, Colonel Primrose and Grace Latham. The Clue of the Judas Tree, published in 1933, predates the Primrose and Latham books and is one of two books that feature Lieutenant Joseph Kelley as detective. 

This is the second of the two Kelley novels. Our narrator is Louise Cather, a nearly-thirty journalist who has been sent to the estate of Duncan Trent to ghost write his autobiography. It seems that everyone will be interested in the life of the self-made millionaire. Before she can even begin chapter one, the wealthy businessman is shot to death in the library and everyone suspects that Michael Spur, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I, has had another episode. You see, Michael has killed once before while in a fugue state--the last victim was his father. But Lt. Kelley isn't so sure. Did Michael kill while suffering a relapse? Or did he have a motive and hopes that the shell-shock excuse will keep him from the electric chair? Or...maybe someone else wanted Trent dead and has arranged for Michael to take the rap. Kelley begins collecting clues and when Louise finally tells him all she's heard and seen, he is able to piece together what really happened in the library.
The books written as Ford follow closely in the Mary Roberts Rinehart tradition with female narrators and romantic overtones to the stories. Judas Tree is even more Rinehart-esque with definite Had-I-But-Known tendencies throughout the opening chapters.

I didn't know then that the time had already passed too far along for Mr. Duncan Trent's autobiography to ever be written, or that my stay at Ivy Hill was going to be like a Grand Guignol, with midnight screams and murder and staring-eyed Death meeting you almost at every turn. (p. 24)

Louise Cather experiences many HIBK moments in her introduction to Ivy Hill.

...I had a queer icy fluttering inside of me, in spite of myself. I looked up at the darkening rose window, and at the tattered flags hanging limply from the balcony. For a moment there seemed something almost ominous in the air. (p. 25)

This book doesn't represent Ford at her best. The atmosphere is good and I like the rough-around-the-edges lieutenant. But the explanations at the end are both too matter-of-fact (look, this is how it was done and who did it--because I said so) and yet convoluted. It is pretty difficult to get a handle on the killer's motivation for some of the action. Like Curt at the Passing Tramp (click for his post on Leslie Ford), I was a bit mystified over the title of the book. The Judas Tree really doesn't hold a clue of any sort worth noting. A decent read, but so far I much prefer the Primrose and Latham books for a more complete package of mystery and characters. ★★ and a half.

This fulfills the "Bloodstains" category in the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt as well as serving as a second entry in Rich's February 2016 Crimes of Century feature. Got any 1933 mysteries on tap this month? Come join us! 
All challenges fulfilled: 100 Plus Challenge, Vintage Mystery Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Mount TBR Challenge, My Kind of Mystery, Cloak & Dagger, What's in a Name, Triple Dog Dare, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Women Challenge, Mad Reviewer

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Painted Veil: Review

She alone had been blind to his merit. Why? Because he loved her and she did not love him.

The Painted Veil (1925) by W. Somerset Maugham follows Kitty Garstin, a pretty but self-absorbed and superficial young woman from her debutante days through her marriage. Her mother was bitterly disappointed in her own marriage to a Liverpool solicitor who she thought would go far and help her in her social-climbing ambitions. He didn't. So, Mrs. Garstin pins all her hopes on her daughters--particularly Kitty. Kitty is much prettier and socially adept than her sister and Mrs. Garstin fully expects her to make a brilliant match (i.e. wealth or title--or both). But Kitty fritters away her seasons and turns down what proposals she gets until, at 25, she is fast losing her chance for any marriage let alone a "brilliant match." 

With her mother pressuring her, she finally agrees to marry the shy Walter Fane. Walter is a bacteriologist who's home on leave from Hong Kong and due to return there in a few months. Kitty doesn't love him, but he is a man who obviously adores and there is promise of a vibrant colony social life in Hong Kong. But life in Hong Kong isn't nearly as pleasant as anticipated and Kitty finds herself bored and stuck in a marriage with a man she doesn't understand. That's when she meets Charles Townsend and is swept off her feet into an affair with the married Assistant Colonial Secretary.  Walter discovers her infidelity and offers to divorce her if Charles will also divorce his wife and marry her right away. Otherwise, Kitty will have to accompany him to a remote rural area where he will be fighting the cholera epidemic. Kitty mistakenly thinks that her lover will leave his dowdy wife and they can run away together. She's devastated to find that Charles values his position more than her. So she winds up making a trip with Walter that changes her...and her life...radically.

Kitty isn't really a bad person--she's just self-centered and superficial. She reminds me of Scarlett O'Hara. She chases excitement and an unattainable man when she has love right under her nose. Of course Walter isn't the rogue and adventurer that Rhett Butler is, but he's a good man who loves Kitty way more than she deserves. Unfortunately for Kitty, she is like Scarlett--she recognizes what Walter means to her much too late. She does learn from her experiences and plans to make amends to the father her family always took advantage of and ignored as well as to raise her child to be better than she was. 

Maugham's book is about relationships--those that matter and those that don't. It's also about personal growth and understanding and accountability. It tells a very poignant tale of love, betrayal, and the quest for a life of meaning. 

Friday Memes: Book Beginnings & Friday 56

Book Beginnings on Friday is a bookish meme sponsored by Rose City Reader. Here's what you do: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments section. Include the title and author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you are so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line and if you did or did not like that sentence. Link up each week at Gilion's place.

Here are the two first lines from The Clue of the Judas Tree by Leslie Ford (1933): 

It was just noon when I came out of Mr. McCrae's office and bumped smack into Fate in one of its better disguises. He was tall and large and blond, and awfully good looking, with gray eyes and a gravely humorous mouth.



The Friday 56 is a bookish meme sponsored by Freda's Voice. It is really easy to participate. Just grab a book, any book, and turn to page 56. Find a sentence that grabs you and post it.
Here is the mine from The Clue of the Judas Tree by Leslie Ford (1933): 
I hope you get some sleep. Queen Elizabeth slept in your bed. They say it's well over a hundred years old