ATTENTION CHALLENGE PARTICIPANTS

2015 Editions of the Color Coded , Mount TBR and Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenges--as well as Read It Again, Sam (due to popular demand)-- have been posted. I am also introducing my newest brain-child: Super Book Password. Please check it out!

As in the past, I will post sidebar links for sign-up posts as well as review headquarters once the new year begins.


Some of Bev's Favorite Quotes...



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oxford Knot: Review

Kate Ivory is an author of historical fiction who is used to receiving letters from her readers--usually telling her all the mistakes she's made. But then she receives a package with a gold knot-ring and no explanatory note. She has little time to think about it though, because she also receives a phone call from her publicist asking her to take part in a last minute bookshop tour to promote her latest novel. Never mind that the tour was really intended for another author--Kate should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to push her book. She won't be alone on her mad dash around England though--she'll be appearing in tandem with Devlin Hayle, author of a series of historical bodice-rippers and known as "The Man Who Understands a Woman's Heart." 

What Kate understands is that Hayle is a boozing, gambling womanize who seems to have a collection of bookie's tough guys, irate husbands and brothers, and others hot on his trail. A whirlwind of mayhem follows them wherever they go. There are a couple of attacks on Hayle, but when murder finally strikes, it happens to someone much closer to Kate than her book tour companion. Was Hayle really the object of the arsonist and the would-be killer or is there another agenda? And does it have anything to do with her unknown admirer?

Once upon a time I read the first "Oxford" series book by Veronica Stallwood (Death and the Oxford Box) and apparently thought it was good enough to assign it three stars (that would be in the days before blogging, so I don't really remember it all that well). I also thought enough of it to pick up Oxford Knot in 2011. I have to say, I'm not quite sure what the great appeal was. Kate is a fairly likeable character, but certainly not the most memorable. Slogging through the first chapter where she's trying to work on her book and her friends and neighbors keep interrupting got old real quick--totally could have skipped that part and headed straight to the tea party and opening the box with the ring. So, the writing is not all that crisp and engaging.

There's also not a whole lot of crime-solving going on in this "mystery." The police make a brief appearance when the murder occurs and Kate spends more time trying to figure out how many of Hayle's stalkers are in the audience at each stop on the book tour, than she does trying to figure out who sent her the ring and then who killed the person close to her. The mystery really just solves itself. Speaking of that murder, Kate speaks for me when she says that it would have made a lot more sense if Hayle had been murdered. The death that occurs is so senseless. I realize that often happens in real life--but this isn't real life. This is fiction and the point should be to produce a murder that the reader cares about seeing solved and which makes a certain sense in the grand scheme of the book. Given who the victim is (I'm trying not to spoil things here), I definitely want the killer caught, but the wrap-up is so disappointing and murder so senseless that there is little joy in the denouement. ★★ and I doubt I'll be reading any more of the series.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Challenge Complete: A-Z Mystery Authors





Every year I'm excited to get an email from Michelle saying that her A-Z Mystery Author challenge sign-up is ready to go. I love trying to fill out the alphabet with mystery authors.

My declared commitment for 2014 was for the letters A-M. But I'm an over-achiever, so I go for the entire alphabet (with a slight cheat on "X"). As you can see, I completed my commitment last month and I have now finished off the rest of the letters.

Here's my list (normally, I fill it in ahead of time--this year I'm going to fill them in as they come:
A: Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (2/4/14)
B: Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland (2/16/14)
C: Shelf Life by Douglas Clark (2/6/14)
D: The Skeleton in the Clock by Carter Dickson (1/8/14)
E: No. 9 Belmont Square by Margaret Erskine (6/21/14)
F: By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (5/23/14)
G: Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes (9/4/14)
H: The Xiblaba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14)
I: Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes (10/8/14)
J: Decoded by Mai Jia (4/5/14)
K: The Mangle Street Murders by M. R. C. Kasasian (8/5/14)
L: Death on the Aisle by Frances & Richard Lockridge (1/24/14)
M: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell (1/5/14)
Commitment Complete 10/8/14
_____________________________
Bonus:
N: Death of a Dutchman by Magdalen Nabb (11/18/14)
O: Where There's Love, There's Hate by Silvina Ocampo & Adolfo Bioy Casares (2/5/14)
P: The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker (6/19/17)
Q: Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual by Ellery Queen, ed (2/22/14)
R: Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell (1/13/14)
S: Gambit by Rex Stout (2/8/14)
T: The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry (1/26/14)
U: Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson (9/27/14)
V: The Winter Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1/23/14)
W: Darkness at Pemberely by T. H. White (1/30/14)
X: A Death for a Dancer by E. X. Giroux (9/28/14)
Y: The Dark Ring of Murder by Misa Yamamura (11/19/14)
Z: The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi (4/26/14)
 
 

The Dark Ring of Murder: Mini-Review

The Japanese police are rather busy with a rash of seemingly motiveless murders--the stabbing of a political philosophy professor from Kyonan University, the poisoning of a popular Tokyo nightclub owner and songwriter, and the hit-and-run death of a recently elected member of the National Diet. In each case, the person who would benefit most from the death has a solid alibi and beyond that person, no one else seems to have reason them dead. 

Natsuhiko Hino is the political science tutor who moves into the vacant professorship at the university. His fiancée, Chisako Tanaka, is worried. Worried because Hino has been different ever since his two-year scholarly trip to America. Worried because of his apparent ties to Aki Kiriu, the beautiful singer/songwriter whose career has soared since the death of her rival. And worried because he seems to be marking time that has nothing to do with the number of days until their marriage. She can't resist doing a little investigation on her own with the help of a reporter who has been covering Kiriu's story. Then when a fourth murder--close to home--occurs, an intricate plot is uncovered.

Misa Yamamura tells an elegant, but very formal story. Whether she has her characters bowing ceremoniously or not, the very writing makes it seem as though they are--continuously--which gives the story an odd feel, but that also may be due in part to the translation. The story is very smooth and the characters are interesting. Yamamura uses a half-inverted method for the plot. She doesn't tell you upfront who did it--but the the unfolding of the story makes it very obvious who and how. The real mystery to me was whether the police (who did not seem to handle the murder sites very professionally--but maybe that all happened "off-stage" as it were) would ever catch on to what was happening. The story is most interesting for its characters and for the peek at Japanese culture and relationships. ★★ 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Death of a Dutchman: Review

Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia's superiors are all for calling the death of a Dutch jeweler a suicide. They'd actually like to be able to call it an accident--just to make it easier for the widow. But Guarnaccia, who found the dying man when he was paying a visit to an elderly recluse, doesn't believe it. He can't forget the jeweler's last words, "It wasn't her" and he can't forget the way the room looked and the fact that the elderly woman had heard the jeweler and an unknown woman fighting earlier. The dedicated officer is puzzled and suspicious and must work his way through official red tape, complaining tourists, rumors of terrorists, the oppressive July heat, and the dead man's troubled past in order to discover the truth.

I really want to like Marshal Guarnaccia. I really do. Other reviewers on GoodReads have compared the Marshal to Columbo. I'd say that the Marshal doesn't even have the confidence of Columbo. He has no self-confidence whatsoever--even though he is obviously a much better detective (and far more dedicated to the truth than some of his counterparts and superiors). He is a likeable character in a Droopy, the cartoon dog, sort of way. He's so self-conscious you feel obligated to like him. But I've finally decided that these books just aren't for me. This is the third Guarnaccia book I've read and I find it hard to want to read a story where you feel like the main character is swimming upstream the entire time. He continually has no confidence in himself and tells us over and over that he doesn't have the authority to investigate. As an author, why in the world would you want to saddle yourself with a "detective" who's a member of the official police force but who really doesn't have the authority to conduct investigations. But does anyway? And solves them--but isn't really recognized for doing so and doesn't get to have authority to solve future ones....

This story seemed particularly convoluted to me and despite the blurb from Kirkus Reviews on the back of my edition, I see no connection to Agatha Christie plots whatsoever and no real evidence of "gentle Italian comedy." Given what happens to one of the younger officers at the end...it's more of an Italian tragedy. McNabb's best quality is still her ability to describe Florence in such an appealing manner and to make the reader feel as though they are there. This would be why I'm givng a ★★ -rating and not just one.

Bev's Best 100 Mystery Stories 2014

Back in April of 2012 Yvette from In So Many Words dangled the idea of sitting down and listing the Top 100 Mysteries in front of me....or at least My Top 100 Mysteries for right now.  'Cause you know the list is always changing.  I said that if I made the list "tomorrow" (or say two and a half years later) that I was sure I'd add a few and replace a few.  I recently was contacted by a gentleman putting together a volume of essential lists of books. He was interested in my 2012 list and wanted to know if I had updated it. I hadn't--but it got me thinking that I'd read quite a few mysteries since 2012 and I wondered what that list would look like now.
So, here goes.  Bev's Top 100 Mysteries (right now). I've tried to put a little more thought into order this time round.

1. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  I still believe it belongs in its place at the top.  Holmes was my first "real" mystery love.  Nancy Drew was first and those books were my gateway--but those aren't exactly real intellectual puzzlers.  And Doyle's tale of the gigantic hound is just as good every time I reread it.  [And since 100 really is a tiny number given the masses of mysteries I've read over a lifetime, we're going to let The Hound represent all my favorite Holmes novels & stories--from The Study in Scarlet to "The Red-Headed League" and "The Blue Carbuncle" to The Sign of Four.]

2. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers.  The turning point for Wimsey.  He falls in love and the remaining novels in the series see a great deal of character development in Lord Peter.  I love all the novels--but if I have to pick a favorite, this is it.

3. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I know that there's a camp of mystery-lovers who like The Woman in White but I much prefer this tale of the theft of an enormous diamond originally stolen from an Indian shrine.
4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.  The first Christie I ever read.  And I fell in love.  Consider the Express to be standing if for all my favorite classic Christie stories--from And Then There Were None to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd to Cat Among the Pigeons
 
5. The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov.  The master of science fiction mixes his speculative fiction with murder....and does just as well with mystery as he does with SF.
6. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Fast-talking, high-drama, action-packed mystery. A strong, flawed detective. A mysterious woman with more curves than mountain road (and that's just in the stories she's feeds to our hero). A terrific read...and that comes from someone who doesn't enjoy the genre. If you've seen the movie, but haven't read the book--you should. If you've read the book, but haven't seen the movie--you should. Great stuff in both formats.
7. The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout.  And all the other Wolfe and Goodwin stories. The story itself was a good one--entertaining, finely drawn characters, a nice twist ending, and worth the price of admission just to listen to (or read) the scene where Archie is drugged and then tries to fight his way out of the stupor.
8. A Suitable Vengeance by Elizabeth George.  Elizabeth George had my full attention in the 1980s and 90s with her Inspector Lynley novels.  They're a little more up-to-date and real-life than my usual, but the characters are so strongly developed that I didn't mind.  This novel is the fourth written, but is a prequel--giving us the backstory to so many of the characters. George lost me completely in 2005--I can't forgive her for With No One as Witness.  But the early books--well worth it.
9. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.  The first novel I ever read by Tey.  And it hooked me.  Love Inspector Grant's "investigation" into the murder of the Princes in the Tower.

10. The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas. The best part of the novel for me has nothing to do with the mystery. Oh, that's good. It's well-plotted and allowed me to figure it out just before the denouement (which is the way I like it). But...the best part is the interaction of the three evangelists.

11. Bodies in a Bookshop by R. T. Campbell.  Mixing bookshops with murder.  What more could a mystery lover want?

12. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley.  See above.  Add tons of marvelous book-lover quotations gleaned from its pages. 

13. The Moving Toyshop and/or Holy Disorders by Edmund Crispin.  Academic mysteries with the wonderfully quirky Gervase Fen.

14. What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen.  A literary mystery with a twist on the Jack the Ripper murders.

15. Shroud of Darkness by E. C. R. Lorac. A murderous attack in a foggy train station in London.

16. The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen. Murder at the theater in the first Ellery Queen novel.
17. The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird.  Another more modern series.  Nicely done police procedurals with Inspector C. D. Sloan.

18. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert.  Inspector Hazelrigg is called in when two murders take place on the premises of a London solicitor.

19. Don't Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli.  Supposedly a cult classic in the UK since its first publication in the 1970s, this is a hilarious and dark-humored crime thriller featuring the Honorable Charlie Mortdecai: degenerate aristocrat, amoral art dealer, seasoned epicurean, unwilling assassin, and general knave-about-Piccadilly.

20. Nine Man's Murder by Eric Keith. Not just anyone could take the classic Christie theme (a la And Then There Were None/Ten Little Indians) and create a satisfying read. And it takes a lot of courage to try. Keith just does a good job with his sleight-of-hand and distracts the reader to keep us from noticing when a real-live, honest-to-goodness pointer is staring us in the face. And, he takes some of the Queen of Crime's tricks and puts his own twist on them. 
21. The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards. This is the sixth book in Martin Edwards' Lake District mystery series. And it's good enough to make me wonder what I was doing with myself when the other five came out. Fortunately, although it might have been useful to have the back story on our leading characters--Daniel Kind and DCI Hannah Scarlett--it's not absolutely necessary to have read the previous five to enjoy this entry. This is a well-plotted mystery with lots of red herrings and plenty of suspects. 
22. Laura by Vera Caspary. Detective Mark MacPherson investigates the apparent murder of Laura Hunt, a beautiful New York advertiser. McPherson spends his time interviewing suspects, looking through Laura's letters, and reading her diary in an attempt to understand this woman and who might have wanted to kill her.  He'd like Carpenter to be the villain of the piece, but he's not sure he can make it fit. 

23.  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.  "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..."
Du Maurier's skill as a writer amazes me. Even knowing the ending (having read it several times), I still feel the thrill of the building pressure on de Winter. The twist at the end is brilliant and I can understand why this book has won the Anthony Award for best novel of the century.
24. Beast in View by Margaret Millar.  Psychological suspense at its best. Millar weaves a very convincing tale of the disintegrating mind. She plainly shows her hand--revealing the seeds that will grow into the full-fledged psychological trauma and yet she still fooled me. I didn't see the final twist coming and I should have. It was all there. A masterful tale that fully deserved the Edgar--and fully deserves to be read today for the classic it is.
25.  The Man Who Could Not Shudder by John Dickson Carr (and many other Dr. Gideon Fell books): What happens when six rational people are invited to Longwood House and one of them is murdered by a gun that comes off the wall by itself and hangs in mid air! Only Dr. Fell can solve the perplexing problem of who shot the man who could not shudder, and what he finds makes him destroy the evidence!
26. Fog of Doubt (London Peculiar) AND Green for Danger by Christianna Brand. Fog makes for an interesting murder mystery when there is no palpable, discernible reason for the death and all of the suspects know and like one another to the point of covering up and being willing to confess or at least be arrested to protect someone else. It isn't uncommon for authors to use that theme with one character, but I don't believe I've read a novel where the confessions were quite so numerous. Danger is set in a military hospital during the blitz, this novel is one of Brand's most intricately plotted detection puzzles, executed with her characteristic cleverness and gusto. When a patient dies under the anesthetic and later the presiding nurse is murdered, Inspector Cockrill finds himself with six suspects--three doctors and three nurses--and not a discernible motive among them.
27. A Pinch of Poison by Frances & Richard Lockridge: One of the best poisoning novels by an American. Pam & Jerry North are at dinner with Lieutenant Weigand and his girlfriend are having dinner when a call comes through that a woman has been poisoned at a nightclub. Also Accent on Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge.  One of the few Lockridge books to have an academic twist.  This one is an Inspector Heimrich novel.

28. The List of Adrian Messenger by Philip MacDonald.  Ten people on a list.  Being murdered one by one.  By whom and why?  What links them together?
29. Such Friends Are Dangerous by Walter Tyer. I have to give a shout out to John over at Pretty Sinister Books for this one. Such Friends Are Dangerous by Tyrer grabbed my attention over a year ago when I read his review of the book over on gadetection. He promised a "gasp of surprise in the final chapter" and he was certainly right. Although I had the culprit pegged, I still didn't expect that final twist. Kudos to Tyrer for providing a very entertaining story with well-drawn characters. I don't know if he was the first to provide this particular twist, but he certainly did it right.

30. Dead Man Control by Helen Reilly. One of the most standard police procedurals of those that I've read by Helen Reilly. First published in 1936, it follows McKee of Centre Street--the other strong effort which I read previously. Reilly was one of the first authors to feature police procedure in her novels and she does it quite well here. I much prefer her stories where Inspector McKee shows up early and often.

31. Death in a White Tie AND Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh.  Two of the best Roderick Alleyn books.

32. Seven Suspects (Death at the President's Lodgings) OR Weight of the Evidence by Michael Innes.  Two of his academic-related mysteries.  They both have that particular brand of Innes wackiness...You either love it or hate it.  I love it.
33. Through a Glass Darkly and Cue for Murder by Helen McCloy.  A nicely done, atmospheric piece that also happens to be an excellent detective novel. Often thought to be McCloy's masterpiece, Glass is certainly the best I've read by McCloy so far. But Cue is also very good. Unlike most theatrical mysteries, which usually involve productions of either Hamlet or Macbeth, this Cue is set during a wartime production of Victorian Sardou's melodrama Fedora, which offers a unique opportunity for a stage killing.

34. Death and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt.  When Jake Seaborne's car breaks down on a lonely, rainy road, he goes to the nearby manor house where he is greeted with all the enthusiasm normally reserved for a traveling salesman, stopping over at a farmhouse belonging to a suspicious farmer and a host of beautiful daughters.

35.  Death Before Wicket by Kerry Greenwood (and all the Phryne Fisher novels).  Academic mystery with Phryne Fisher--the grown-up's Nancy Drew.

36. I Am the Only Running Footman by Martha Grimes. Police procedural with Richard Jury.  Two young women strangled with their own scarves.  What connects them?

37. Was It Murder? by James Hilton.  Crime at a British boys boarding school.  

38. Death of an Expert Witness by P. D. James.  Excellent modern crime fiction starring Adam Dagliesh.

39. The Beekeeper's Apprentice AND The Moor by Laurie R. King.  I love the new take on Holmes.

40. The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  WAY out of my usual thing.  Not generally into such gruesome thrillers.  But it hooked me with its historical appeal even while it seriously creeped me out.  

41. Murder Being Once Done by Ruth Rendell.  Inspector Wexford series. A corpse found in the last place you'd expect.

42. The Herring Seller's Apprentice by L. C. Tyler.  A send-up of classic mysteries.  Funny and well-done.  Enjoyable series too.

43. The Hanging Captain by Henry Wade. Did the captain commit suicide or did someone hang him?  The chief constable wants to hush it up, but our detective has too many questions to answer.

44. Too Many Cousins by Douglas Browne.  Another killer with a list.  This time its a list of cousins who need to be bumped off.


45. Clubbed to Death by Ruth Dudley Edwards.  Again standing in for the series.  I love these mysteries starring the irreverent, irrepressible Baroness "Jack" Troutbeck and her able assistant Robert Amiss.  This one takes place in that most British of establishments, a gentlemen's club.

46. Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross. Regency-era historical mysteries starring Julian Kestrel.

47.  The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl.  Murders based on Dante's Inferno.  A very nice weaving of the literary clues and the murders. Pearl's best work.

48. Murder on the Blackboard by Stuart Palmer.  I love his Hildegarde Withers mysteries.

49. Killed by Scandal by Simon Nash (Raymond Chapman).  More academic murder & mayhem!

50. The September Society by Charles Finch.  Historical (Victorian) mystery series starring Charles Lenox.  This one is set at Oxford.  I do love me a good academic-related mystery. 
51. Why Kill Arthur Potter? by Ray Harrison.  Debut novel in a Victorian police procedural series.  When a shipping clerk is bludgeoned to death for no apparent reason, Constable James Morgan sees his chance to prove his abilities by tracking the murderer.
52. An English Murder by Cyril Hare.  Warbeck Hall is an old-fashioned English country house and the scene of equally English murders.  
53. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.  It is the year 1327. Franciscans in an Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, but Brother William of Baskerville’s investigation is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths. With one of the most awesome libraries in fiction. 
54. The Mystery of Hunting's End by Mignon G. Eberhart.  My first Eberhart book and one of the first locked room mysteries I ever read. Very atmospheric. 
55. The Wench Is Dead by Colin Dexter.  Inspector Morse (like Tey's Inspector Grant before him) finds himself in hospital and needing something to occupy his mind.  He decides to "investigate" the notorious 1859 murder of Joanna Franks aboard the canal boat Barbara Bray.  Has history gotten the verdict wrong? 
56. Arrow Pointing Nowhere by Elizabeth Daly (and all the rest). Gamadge has been receiving missives suggesting that all is not right at the elegant Fenway mansion. He will ultimately, of course, unravel the mystery, but even more delightful than the solution is the peek at what the New York Times called New York at its most charming.
57.  Death's Bright Dart by V. C. Clinton-Baddeley.  It was just another conference in a Cambridge College during the vacation – or so it seemed. But there were some disturbing features about it. For one thing rather too many people there knew rather too much about some very nasty poisons. Then someone stole a lethal blow-pipe from a local exhibition. So elderly but spry Dr Davie turned detective. 
58. Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce (Sgt. Beef Mystery) A murder is committed behind closed doors, in bizarre circumstances. Three detectives take the case. Each arrives at his own solution, startling in its originality, ironclad in its logic. Meanwhile Sergeant Beef sits contemptuously in the background. 
59. Dead Man's Shoes by Leo Bruce (Carolus Deene Mystery) Everyone knew there'd been a murder, everyone knew who the murderer was, and when this murderer committed suicide by jumping overboard from the cargo boat Saragossa, they thought "Good riddance." Everyone, that is, except Carolus Deene. 
60. Death in a Tenured Position by Amanda Cross. The first of her Professor Kate Fansler mysteries.  An English professor after my own heart. 
61. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Great Victorian mystery classic, beautifully plotted, suspenseful; praised by Thackeray, Boucher, Starrett, others. What happened to beautiful, vicious Lady Audley’s husband?   
62. The Sad Variety by Nicholas Blake. Nigel Strangeways is asked by the Security department to guard Professor Wragby and his daughter. Wragby has a secret the Russians are out to get. But by the time Nigel arrives, the Russians have already kidnapped the Professor’s daughter. The Professor will do anything to get her back … and Strangeways is thrown into a bizarre game of hide-and-seek where the prizes are a terrified girl, a deadly secret and a slab in the morgue.   
63. The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley. A great puzzle mystery classic of England's Golden Age of crime fiction; plot involves a group of upper-crust amateur sleuths who set out to solve a murder that has baffled Scotland Yard; catnip for fans of Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham. 
64. Death of an Old Goat by Robert Barnard. Professor Belville-Smith had bored university audiences in England with the same lecture for fifty years. Now he was crossing the Australian continent, doing precisely the same. Never before had the reaction been so extreme, however, for shortly after an undistinguished appearance at Drummondale University, the doddering old professor is found brutally murdered. 
65. The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The chilling third novel in the Martin Beck mystery series by the internationally renowned crime writing duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, finds Martin Beck investigating a string of child murders.In the once peaceful parks of Stockholm, a killer is stalking young girls and disposing their bodies.
66. An Author  Bites the Dust by Arthur W. Upfield.  The story takes super-sleuth Napoleon Bonaparte to the house party of Mervyn Black, famous author and critic, where the host is found murdered among his literary friends. 
67. The So Blue Marble by Dorothy Hughes. Once the dashing, top-hatted twins had the marble, they would do to Griselda what they had done to others. Her estranged husband, Con, a thousand miles away, could no longer save her. A bloody trail wound about the so blue marble, years of theft, torture, violence, whispers of secret riches, gold, diamonds, rubies as big as the moon. 
68. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.  Sort of gothic, but there is definitely the mystery of who the woman in black is/was and what exactly is going on in that old house.  
69. The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green. Horatio Leavenworth is a New York merchant whose material wealth is matched by his eminence in the community and reputation for good works. He is also the guardian of two striking nieces who share his Fifth Avenue mansion. Mary, her uncle's favorite, Is to inherit his fortune at his death. As this mystery opens, that lamentable event has just occurred. Leavenworth has been shot to death and circumstances point to one of his young wards.
70.  Dancers in Mourning OR The Tiger in Smoke by Margery Allingham.  Classic British mysteries starring Albert Campion. 
71. Death Lights a Candle by Phoebe Atwood Taylor.  There's been no shortage of trouble on Cape Cod that March. A house party of men and women has been snowed in--and cut off from the world outside. The host is murdered. Poisoning, the doctor says; probably arsenic. But almost everyone is found to have arsenic among his or her possessions.   
72. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.   After the World War I, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.  
73. The Murder Stone by Charles Todd. This is an absorbing, gripping story. Told with all the assurance of good research, Charles Todd made me absolutely believe that I was in England during World War I. There is an air of tension running throughout that is tied not only to the mystery itself, but to the backdrop of the conflict. As other reviewers have pointed out, this is more of a Gothic mystery story than a straight crime or detective novel. But it is a Gothic mystery done well. Highly recommended.
74. Wilder's Walk Away by Herbert Brean. A classic suspense novel in which each member of the Wilder family seems marked for death until Reynold Frame, a young writer, happens on the scene.  
75.  The Shortest Way to Hades by Sarah Caudwell. It seemed the perfect way to avoid three million in taxes on a five-million-pound estate: change the trust arrangement. Everyone in the family agreed to support the heiress, ravishing raven-haired Camilla Galloway, in her court petition--except dreary Cousin Deirdre, who suddenly demanded a small fortune for her signature. Then Deirdre had a terrible accident. That was when the young London barristers handling the trust--Cantrip, Selena, Timothy, Ragwort, and Juli-- summoned their Oxford friend Professor Hilary Tamar to Lincoln's Inn. Julia thinks it's murder.  
76.  Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer.  A twist on the old plot.  This time the butler didn't do it....he got done in.  
77. Abracadaver by Peter Lovesy. A sadistic practical joker is haunting the popular music halls of London, interfering with the actors and interrupting their acts by orchestrating humiliating disasters that take place in view of the audience. Then the mischief escalates to murder. Or was murder intended all along?  
78. The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry (1st Charlotte & Thomas Pitt novel). While the Ellison girls were out paying calls and drinking tea like proper Victorian ladies, a maid in their household was strangled to death. The quiet and young Inspector Pitt investigates the scene and finds no one above suspicion. As his intense questioning causes many a composed facade to crumble, Pitt finds himself couriously drawn to pretty Charlotte Ellison.    

79. Death Under Sail by C. P. Snow.  Roger Mills, a Harley Street specialist, is taking a sailing holiday on the Norfolk Broads. When his six guests find him at the tiller of his yacht with a smile on his face and a gunshot through his heart, all six fall under suspicion in this, C P Snow's first novel. 
80. One Step Behind by Henning Mankell.  On Midsummer’s Eve, three role-playing teens dressed in eighteenth-century garb are shot in a secluded Swedish meadow. When one of Inspector Kurt Wallander’s most trusted colleagues–someone whose help he hoped to rely on to solve the crime–also turns up dead, Wallander knows the murders are related. But with his only clue a picture of a woman no one in Sweden seems to know, he can’t begin to imagine how. 
81. Death in the Garden by Elizabeth Ironside. In 1925, Diana Pollexfen was found innocent of killing her husband, but the accusation shadowed the rest of her life. Sixty years later, Diana's grandniece resolves to determine just who did kill George Pollexfen in that sunlit garden between the wars. 
82. The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippmann. Lippman's Tess Monaghan novella turns the intrepid Baltimore PI's at-risk late-pregnancy bed rest into a compellingly edgy riff on Hitchcock's Rear Window. 
83. Death in Willow Pattern by W. J. Burley. A terrific story in which Dr. Henry Pym and his secretary, Susan, are invited to a manor house in the country to look over some old manuscripts. But the real reason for the invite is that the current baronet is receiving threatening letters accusing him of involvement in the disappearance of two young women, because an ancestor of his had been involved in a similar crime two centuries earlier. 
84. Where There's Love, There's Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo. Translated into English for the first time in 2013. Casares and Ocampo managed to produce an interesting mystery in the "British country house" style that is a clever murder mystery, a witty parody of those same Golden Age novels, and a highly literary piece of fiction all rolled into one. 
85. A Murder Too Many by E. X. Ferrars.  Retired botany professor Andrew Basnett returns to Knotlington, where he finds the controversy over the murder of artist Carl Judd still rages, and takes on a challenge to finally expose the truth. 
86. Murder As a Fine Art by David Morrell. This is as fine a historical novel as I've read. David Morrell tells us in the Afterword that "for two years, [he] lived in 1854 London." For two days, so did I. He so expertly weaves his research about Thomas De Quincey and Victorian England into his story that I expected to look up from the pages and see a hansom cab go by in the thick London fog.  
87. The Ninth Guest (aka The Invisible Host) by Gwen Bristow & Bruce Manning. Eight people received the invitation.  All arrived at the fabulous penthouse suite prepared for a memorable evening.The evening was  memorable indeed. Soon they discovered that they were prisoners in this place, and that their mysterious host would kill them one by one unless they could solve his riddles. All eight guests suddenly realized that they had a companion. The ninth guest was death. 
88. Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie. Set in Cambridge, the story involves several mysterious deaths, present and past, including the presumed suicide of poet Lydia Brooke. As a student in the '60s, Lydia claimed literal and spiritual kinship with legendary Edwardian poet Rupert Brooke. 
89. The Dark Place by Aaron Elkins.  This finds forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver on a trail that stretches from prehistoric times—to present danger. 
90. An Old Fashioned Mystery by Runa Fairleigh.  Readers will either love or hate this puzzler, built around the "Ten Little Indians" idea. A group of guests are invited to spend the weekend on an island off the coast of Canada; one by one they are murdered. Be sure to read the introduction. 
91. The Murder League by Robert L. Fish.  For the small sum of one thousand pounds the group would perform the killing for whatever the reason, love, hate, money, fun. All the client had to do was drop a line in their post box and the deal was done. The murder league, three ex-mystery writers, perform their dispatches with a cool demeanor and the utmost dignity, with only their goal of ten heads on their minds. Soon the spice has returned to their lives, but that's until everything begins to go wrong.    
92. Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas. An engaging historical mysteries set in Victorian England. Very atmospheric and informative--informative without being pedantic. Thomas gives us a new look at the Holmes and Watson/Wolfe and Goodwin detective team. Lots more action than most of the Holmes stories and Barker is far more mobile and physically involved than Nero Wolfe generally is. I thoroughly enjoyed this new addition to the ranks. 
93. Murder by the Clock by Rufus King.   Lieutenant Valcour in his best-known case must solve the murder of a man who was murdered twice. At 8:34 P.M. the body is discovered by police. By midnight the corpse had been revived by the injection of adrenalin into the heart. By one o'clock he had been murdered again. 
94. The Footsteps at the Lock by Father Ronald A. Knox. Urbane mystery, set in the pastoral reaches of the upper Thames, concerns the disappearance of young heir to a fortune. Insurance company investigator Miles Bredon takes on the case. Delightfully tongue-in-cheek tone, baffling clues, challenging mystery counterpointed by poetic evocation of the river and countryside. Fine novel by author of 10 celebrated "commandments" for writing detective fiction. 
95.  An Oxford Tragedy by J. C. Masterman. The dons of the college are enjoying some moments of fellowship in the Common Room--indulging in port and cigars and listening to Ernst Brendel, a visitor to the college, discuss law (his profession) and crime and detection (his personal interests). It isn't long before Brendel has a chance to put his amateur skills into practice. An unpopular tutor is found shot to death in the Dean's lodgings and the police are baffled.
96. India Black: A Madam of Espionage Mystery by Carol K. Carr. Historical mystery set in Victorian England. This debut novel in the India Black series is nearly perfect. First off, let me just say that this book has what has got to be one of the top ten greatest introductions that I have ever read. Introductions and prefaces usually don't exactly knock your socks off. Some people skip them altogether. Trust me, if you read this book (and you should), then you definitely want to read the preface. It gives you India Black in a nutshell--her wit, her straight-forward manner, her independence...it's all there in three pages.
97. A Spark of Death by Bernadette Pajer. Set in the Seattle of 1901, this novel feeds two of my mystery habits--historical and academic. Pajer has done a terrific job with this debut novel of what promises to be a wonderful historical mystery series. She's obviously done her research and expertly evokes the time and setting of early 20th Century Seattle. 
98. Watson's Choice by Gladys Mitchell. Mrs Bradley investigates the murder of a young woman following a Sherlock Holmes themed party.  
99.  A Six-Letter Word for Death by Patricia Moyes. A crossword puzzle compiled by a mischievous group of mystery writers leads Chief Superintendent Henry Tibbett and his wife into a murder case involving a horrifying twenty-year-old secret.  
100.  The Yellow Room by Mary Roberts Rinehart.  As a child, Carol Spencer had always thought of Crestview as a place of light and laughter. But Carol was a young woman now, a lovely young woman, and a badly frightened one. The old mansion on the hill was no longer a refuge from the world. It was a prison from which even the man she loved could not rescue her...a nightmare from which she could not awaken...where every heart beat brought her closer to the strange menace of--The Yellow Room.

October 8 Challenge: Square One


As I mentioned back in October, my friend Noah, Golden Age Detection (GAD) aficionado and participant in my Vintage Mystery Challenge, has put together the October 8 Challenge. A Bingo-style Golden Age mystery essay challenge, to be exact. My goal, overall, is to complete one Bingo and to fill in at least one square in 2014. Now, I have to say, I'm not quite the mystery scholar that some of my fellow-GAD folks are--but I'm out to do my best. 

For my first effort I present a little examination of three books published in 1946--brought to my attention by Rich's monthly book-of-the-year challenge (November is 1946). They came to me all nicely bound together in a well-preserved Detective Book Club Edition. How much more convenient could you get? The leading story is The D.A. Breaks a Seal by Erle Stanley Gardner and it represents my first experience with Gardner's series featuring Doug Selby who serves through most of the series as the District Attorney in fictional Madison City, California. Seal is the seventh in this nine-book series and, apparently, is the odd-book out--covering Selby's only adventure during the period in which he served in the military as an intelligence officer during World War II. 

The story finds Selby on a week's furlough before heading back to the war in the Pacific. He decides to stop in Madison City to visit with old friends--Sheriff Rex Brandon, reporter Sylvia Martin, and fellow-lawyer Inez Stapleton--and immediately finds himself drawn into mysterious circumstances surrounding a contested will, people wearing white gardenias, and the murder of an unscrupulous lawyer. He plays a few spectacular hunches and manages to help Brandon arrest a killer, Stapleton win a court battle, and give Martin the inside scoop on a the story behind it all.

The D.A. Breaks a Seal was first published in 1946, but obviously covers some time earlier because Major Selby is headed off somewhere unnamed in the Pacific to, as his friend Brandon tells him at the end of the novel, "Clean up the Japs." So the war isn't quite over for Selby. There is also mention of difficulties for anyone wanting to travel purely for pleasure--a point of interest when Selby is investigating one of the gardenia-wearers and how she managed to travel by train to Madison City. Of course references to mass train travel and Pullman cars also give a hint to the time period, but overall the story has a rather timeless feel to it. You know you're reading about early- to mid-twentieth century, but beyond the few mentions of Selby's military service, there isn't much to nail it down tighter than that. And the war doesn't really overshadow the story in any way.


Next in the line-up is Murder Within Murder, one of Frances and Richard Lockridge's light, comic mysteries featuring Pam & Jerry North. In this one, Miss Amelia Gipson (note that's with a "p" and not a "b"--she'd have you know), a retired instructor from girl's college in Indiana, is doing a bit of research for North Books. Her current project is to track down info on several murder cases of the near-past (near to 1946, that is) to provide facts for the authors who will write the cases up for an up-coming North publication.  She winds up poisoned while sitting in the New York Public Library, hard at work on her note-taking. Pam and Jerry naturally have to help Lieutenant Bill Weigand and Sergeant Mullins get to the bottom of things.

The Lockridge book makes it clear that the war is over. Our first look at Jerry North is at home reading a manuscript about the post-war world and he realizes that he's hearing a buzzing sound:

"It must be admitted," the manuscript said, "that in the post-war world we face an increasing agglomeration of--" Clearly, Jerry North decided, it was the manuscript. The post-war world was buzzing at him. Its shining machinery, made to a large degree out of plastic was whirring at unimagined tasks, turning out things made largely of glass. Whatever the post-war world might finally be, it would inevitably also be a buzzing in the ears.

Of course, there really isn't any post-war machinery whirring away in his living room. He looks up to find his wife sitting on the sofa, earnestly trying to beat cream into butter with an egg beater. Just one sign of the post-war world they live in--Pam has already used up her ration points for butter and has decided to make her own. This book is a very good snapshot of New York City at the end of World War II.  There is mention of the difficulties of post-war housing when the subject of how rigid Miss Gipson had been about her apartment comes up. "The manager...said Miss Gipson wanted them to fire the maid. He pointed out that it would have been much easier to replace Miss Gipson; there was a suggestion that he had tactfully, conveyed this fact of post-war housing to her." There is also discussion of what life was like for the soldiers returning from the war. Even Deputy Chief Inspector O'Malley shows the influence of the war in his fondness for the use of snafu in reference to the Norths participation in Weigand's police work. "...the trouble with you, Weigand, is that you let the Norths ball things up. Here you've got a nice simple suicide and you let the Norths ball you up. Snafu!"


The final book in this collection is Hilda Lawrence's The Pavilion. Which features 20-something Regan Carr in a Southern Gothic mystery. When Regan's mother dies, she receives a letter from her cousin Hurst Herald inviting her to come live with him. She last saw him when she was six years old. But she arrives at Herald House, battered suitcase in hand, to find that Cousin Hurst just passed away--yesterday. Her welcome committee isn't very warm and she needs to find a few friends...for it seems like every Herald family member who comes home to the house dies.
 
Lawrence's book is the least tied to its time period. There is no mention of the war. The only possible reference might be found in a conversation with the old family doctor when he mentions the use of gasoline that brought Regan and her cousin Fray to visit him. But that's it. Otherwise, with the number of servants and the atmosphere in the house, this could just as easily be a Mary Roberts Rinehart book set well before World War II or a Christie country house mystery from between the wars. There is the eccentric group of family members and nervous servants, the feeling of oppression and lurking evil in the house, and the gradual clues that Regan and Fray find in Hurst Herald's papers that seem to indicate that someone just a little bit crazy is knocking off the family one-by-one. Quite the little period piece without being tied to a particular period.