Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Dutch Shoe Mystery

The Dutch Shoe Mystery (1931) by Ellery Queen takes place in the Dutch Memorial Hospital in New York City. It features not one, but two murders carried out--practically under the nose of Ellery Queen himself (in the first instance) and a whole posse of NYC policemen (in the second). The hospital's wealthy benefactress, Abigail Doorn has an accident that requires an emergency gall bladder operation. Since she is a diabetic and her health is a bit fragile there is some concern, but her surgeon, Dr. Francis Janney, is absolutely confident that she will pull through the operation with no problem. 

Ellery has stopped by the hospital to consult his friend Dr. John Minchen over a medical point impacting another case and is asked if he would like to watch the operation. The men sit in the operating theater and watch as the patient is brought in. Ellery immediately notices her odd coloring--but puts it down to her ill-health until Dr. Janney bends over the patient, turns and crooks a "forefinger furiously toward Dr. Minchen." Ellery's friend rushes down to the operating table, looks at the neck of the patient (where Janney drew his attention), and then beckons to Ellery.

Ellery rose. His eyebrows went up. His lips formed one soundless word, which Minchen caught.
Dr. Minchen nodded.
The word was: "Murder?"

Yes, it's murder. Someone, somehow has managed to strangle the elderly woman without the hospital staff noticing until that moment in the operating theater.

It's soon revealed that Dr. Janney visited the patient in the prep room prior to surgery and was left alone with her while the attending nurse exited the room on his indication of a need of sterilization materials for his hands (no words were exchanged--gestures were all that were necessary). This, the doctor denies categorically--as Ellery and Minchen know he was called away to attend to a visitor during the time period indicated. And when a discarded set of doctor's clothes, including the cap and mask, are found in the hallway telephone booth, it begins to look like the killer masqueraded as Janney, imitating his characteristic limp, in order to create the opportunity for their deed.

Ellery sorts through all the clues--including the impostor's white canvas shoes with broken lace and folded back tongues--and all the suspects. The suspects include Dr. Janney, Dr. Minchen, Dr. Kneisel (all of whom benefit directly or indirectly from the woman's will), Hulda Doorn (Abigail's daughter), Sarah Fuller (Abigail's companion--who has had an on again, off again raging argument for years), the mysterious Mr. Swanson with whom Janney met (and whom Janney will not assist the police in finding...), and various members of the hospital staff. Ellery thinks that he has begun to see daylight when Dr. Janney is murdered, strangled in exactly the same way as Mrs. Doorn. This time while sitting peacefully at his desk. Ellery is stumped by how the murderer managed to slip behind Janney to deliver the knock-out blow (which allowed the murderer to strangle his victim with no fuss). There's no window behind the desk. In fact, when Ellery enters the doctor's office there is absolutely nothing behind the desk except a blank wall. He can't see a legitimate reason for anyone to go behind the doctor while he was at his desk. It isn't until Dr. Minchen idly mentions that something was removed before Ellery arrived on the scene that our detective has his eureka moment.

This is a decent mystery outing for Ellery. The initial set-up and the two murders are portrayed well. And I'll go along with Ellery's wrap-up. Mostly. One thing Ellery didn't explain: what exactly did the murderer hit Janney upside the head with? According to Dr. Prouty, he was hit by "some heavy blunt instrument" [emphasis mine]. What on earth could the murderer have carried back there (in their legitimate mission explained by Ellery) that wouldn't arouse Janney's interest? "I say, what are you doing with that hammer [insert any suitable blunt object]..." And, apparently, it was something they carried in and out with them because there wasn't anything in the room that was identified as a possible weapon or anything mentioned as missing (like, say, a paperweight always kept on the desk).

Also, I cry foul on the "you have all the evidence" business. Yes, I figured out the main part. But there is a final piece of evidence (which I can't mention without spoiling) that I don't see how the reader was supposed figure out. After all--we didn't get to actually see a certain bit of evidence that is vital. Also, I couldn't figure out the relationship between two characters based on what we were actually told and shown--and it's a relationship that's kind of important to the whole motive thing. 

I agree with Ben over at The Green Capsule that there is way too much mulling, interviewing, and reviewing the evidence going on in between murders and solution. If the point was fair play to the reader--waving evidence under our noses repeatedly--then it doesn't come off (see previous paragraph). In actuality, this 305 page book could have been cut to maybe 250 (251, if we add in a portion to at least hint a bit better at the crucial piece of evidence). Still, it was a good plot with a nice bit of misdirection. So-- ★★ for a solid, mid-range mystery.

Deaths= two (both strangled)
Golden Vintage card = Where: hospital

Friday, October 11, 2019

Hand in Glove (with a few spoilery bits)

Hand in Glove (1962) by Ngaio Marsh

April Fool's Day seems to Lady Bantling to be the perfect time to throw a scavenger hunt dinner party. Known for her outrageous parties, she goes all out, sending her guests on a village-wide hunt for rhyming clues that will lead them to the grand prize--a magnum of champagne. But the festivities come to a disagreeable end when Mr. Harold Cartell is found dead face down in a drainage ditch the next morning. A drainage ditch that was the site for one of the clues. Superintendent Alleyn and company are called in right away so the trail is fresh and the evidence (such as it is) as undisturbed as possible.

The question Alleyn will have to answer is whose hands were in the gloves that set a fatal booby for the disagreeable elderly lawyer Mr. Cartell? Leading up to the fateful night, there are all sorts of relationship troubles. The sweet but snobbish bachelor Mr. Pyke Period has been forced by post-war circumstances to share his lodgings with the prickly Mr. Cartell. It causes all sorts of domestic upheavals from unexpected (dare I say unwanted) extra guests at meal times to the outrageous antics of Cartell's disagreeable dog Pixie to Cartell's indelicate references to Period's claims of ancestry. But has Mr. Period's life been disrupted enough to cause him feel murderous towards his housemate?

Then there's Cartell's relationship to his sister Connie--a childless woman who has taken an unaccountable fancy to a "poor orphan girl" (of 20 or so, mind you) and is willing to turn a blind eye to anything Moppet (what a nickname) and her disreputable boyfriend might get up to. When it becomes apparent that Leonard (said boyfriend) is a thief and a man out to con a local garage man out of a fancy car, Cartell lowers the boom. Connie must disentangle Moppet from her boyfriend or Moppet and Leonard will face the police. Would Connie kill her brother over a girl who's no relation? Would Moppet and/or Leonard kill to prevent a more minor run-in with the police?

We mustn't forget Lady Desiree Bantling and her delightful (key sarcasm font) third husband Bimbo (who is not Lord Bantling). Bimbo was mixed up in some unsavory doings at a club in London. Would he kill over that ancient history? Or are there more recent doings to cover up? Nor should we overlook Lady Bantling's son, Andrew. Cartell and Period are the trustees of Lord Bantling's will and Andrew has had a fairly heated argument with the lawyer over his future plans. Andrew paints (rather well according to Troy Alleyn who should know) and wants an advance on his trust funds to start his own gallery. Cartell refuses to consider such "nonsense" and insists that the young man stay in the Guards and stick to a proper job. Would Andrew kill for his dreams or would his mother kill to help her son?

Warning: A few spoilery bits in my observations below....

Marsh's characters in this one are a little more intensely eccentric than usual. P.P. (as he's known) is definitely larger than life as a man snobbishly aware of breeding. And Connie's snorting laugh is a little much (but definitely better on paper than when heard--as in the filmed version with Patrick Malahide as Alleyn--more on that in a bit). But--even with characters that take a bit of believing in at times, this is still a quite enjoyable mystery with a good dose of comedic turns. One might question the motive of the killer, but the theme of twisted love/devotion is a popular one (Sayers addressed it Gaudy Night). Becoming obsessed with the love object, whether a lover or a child, does strange things to people.

And...while I enjoy Andrew and Nicola (temporary typist for P.P.) and their blooming romance...wouldn't it have been interesting if just once Dame Ngaio had made one of her charming young lovers (or both in cahoots) the guilty party? It's a sure bet that if you've got a pair of young things making eyes at each other in a sweet way (not the antics of Moppet & Leonard!), then neither of them did it.  ★★ and 3/4.

Me wondering: Why shoehorn Troy in?
I followed up my reading of the novel with a viewing of the televised version starring Patrick Malahide. In general, I like Malahide's portrayal of Alleyn very much and the series as a whole is well done overall. I do take exception to two things in this particular episode. One--even though the story clearly takes place in the Marsh canon after Alleyn and Troy are married, we've changed that here. Troy is still waffling on whether she wants to become part of a couple. In addition, we've changed the plot to include an entire new thread involving fake Troy masterpieces and Troy plays junior detective (and nearly gets bumped off in the process). The writers kept the same murderer and just threw in this extra plot line to muddy the waters even further. Totally unnecessary--other than it seems to be a device to bring Troy into a story that didn't feature her.

Just the Facts Silver: Why (Author Not from My Country)
Calendar of Crime: April (April Fool's Day)
Deaths = One (smothered)

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Handmaid's Tale

In 1985 Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid's Tale, a dystopian novel depicting a future United States (and most particularly, the New England area) where the government has been overthrown and replaced by a theonomy called the Republic of Gilead. It is implied that this has taken place in part as a response to the growing numbers of infertile people and those who have deliberately chosen not to have children. The new regime affects women to the greatest extent. It is now illegal for women to hold property, work at paid jobs, read and write, or have any autonomy at all really. They are divided into various classes--women of the ruling class who may or may not be capable of bearing children; Handmaids who essentially serve as broodmares for those in the ruling class who are infertile; Marthas who do all the household chores for the ruling class; Econowives, legitimate wives of the lower classes; Aunts who train and discipline the Handmaids in preparation for their lives as broodmares; and the illegitimate women (Unwomen and Jezebels), those who fall outside the boundaries of these highly regulated categories.

The story follows Offred, a woman in her thirties who remembers what it was like before the militaristic theonomy took over. She had a husband, who was not allowed to keep her because he had been divorced, and a daughter, who was taken from her parents and given to one of the new regime's Commanders. She had work and money of her own. A great deal of Offred's thoughts makes it appear that she is trying to accept the new order and just fit in and yet she also speaks of wanting shears or scissors (anything with a sharp blade). We're sometimes not sure if she wants them to do away with herself or if she wants to use them on the Commander or his wife though she often makes a point of how anything that might be useful to a suicide has been kept out of her reach.

I thought this was a shatteringly good novel when I first read it for a college English class in 1988. At that time it was an interesting look at a dystopian society that could happen, but to a child of the 70s and early 80s it seemed unlikely. Though positive change was slow, it was happening and seemed to be trending to keep happening. So, I read it as more of a cautionary tale. Reading it now with the background of the United States from 2016 on, it is even more shattering. It doesn't seem so far-fetched that so much could change so quickly--that a free woman could find herself stripped of her autonomy and enslaved in the ways that Offred and her fellow Handmaids are. Because so much has changed so quickly in the last three years. It is so easy to take a way of life for granted--but this book (and current events) show us has dangerous it is to take anything for granted...even the basic rights promised to us in the Constitution. Even battles already fought in the courts can be reversed and taken from the victors.

It also teaches us how easily humans adapt--how quickly we conform. How much the average person doesn't want to upset the apple cart...even when the cart becomes filled with rotten apples.  There will always be those who will take advantage of opportunities to wield power over others (the Aunts and those who inform on anyone who steps out of line). There will always be those who assume it isn't really as bad as it seems and will buy the party line that things are "better now." But as the Commander says, “Better never means better for everyone... It always means worse, for some.”

This is an incredible story made even more incredible by how very relevant it is thirty-some years later. ★★★★

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Let's Kill George

Let's Kill George (1946) by Lucy Cores

George Banat was a film script writer trying to make himself into a playwright. He also liked to cast himself in the starring role of god in his little world. It amused him to arrange the lives of others and to disrupt them where he saw fit. His wife Sophie didn't seem to mind and even tolerated his Zeus-like need to indulge himself with the pretty mortals who came into his orbit. His daughter Monica also seemed to go along with his decrees on her marriage arrangements. His son didn't care much for the way George exercised his powers, but Mons Banat had joined the army and traded his father's orders for Uncle Sam's so he isn't home much. Jacques Mariner, his contemporary, also takes issue with George's assumption of god-like powers. And Shelley Ames...well, Shelley is George's latest protege but she doesn't quite understand the designs he has on her virtue and the plans he's laid ready for her. 

She's a naive young actress who thinks the great man has taken an interest in her career and plans to help her. But attendance at a weekend party with her boyfriend Ralph in tow gives her a quick education in George's methods. By the end of the weekend, Ralph is no longer her boyfriend, George has ticked off several in the house of them badly enough that they decide to end George's interference for good. Shelley is surprised to find herself a suspect and also finds an unexpected ally in Mons (who has come home for a spot of leave). 

This is a decent mystery, but quite honestly it wasn't as entertaining as I anticipated. I definitely didn't mind that George got knocked off--he really was a nasty man--but I also didn't find myself having much sympathy for those around him. I'm quite sure we're supposed to sympathize with Shelley at the very least, but she spends the first part of the book as a weak character who obviously doesn't know what she's doing and then suddenly at the end she transforms into a little firebrand who is equal to anything Mons can throw her way. And she somehow acquires in depth insight into his character even though she's been horrible at character analysis up till then. Quick learning for a weekend. Her boyfriend is pretty brutal to her--totally willing to take the word of a man (George) whom he just met over that of the girl he supposedly loves. Mons spends two-thirds of the book being pretty offensive as well and the rest of the crew are not much better or--in some cases--worse. 

Cores does a fairly good job of spreading the suspicion around and keeping the reader guessing till the end. I didn't see the solution coming and had picked out someone quite different. ★★ and 3/4.

Calendar of Crime: January (Author's Birth Month)
Deaths = 2 (hit on head)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Restless Corpse

The Restless Corpse (1947) by Alan Pruitt

Don Carson, the Chicago Globe's top crime reporter, is tapped by "Old Man Holiday," the newspaper's publisher, to track down his wayward daughter April. April has run off from the family home in New York City and Holiday is afraid she'll get herself into some kind of trouble that will splash her name across the pages of other people's newspapers. Carson catches up with her twice--only to be outwitted by the bewitching brunette. He finally catches up with her at an apartment in Chicago (which she has taken under the clever pseudonym of April Hall) where she is hosting one stop in a traveling apartment party in the high-class building where she's living. 

April admits defeat and promises to go home like a good girl, but she can't resist one last trick. She doctors Carson's drink and he wakes up hours later in a darkened room with a fresh corpse on the other couch. The murdered man is Archie Hertz, husband of a rather promiscuous woman who may have been looking to inherit the means to let her hook up with a younger man. Carson decides his first duty is to the boss's daughter and he's intent on keeping her out of a murder inquiry. So, they take Archie and station him on a convenient park bench far from the apartment, congratulate themselves on quick thinking (and no observers), and head back to the apartment....only to find that Archie has reappeared. He's the corpse that won't stay put. 

Since the scheme to ditch the body doesn't work, Carson figures he might as well start investigating and solve the murder before the police discover it's been committed--outwitting whoever is trying to pin the rap on April and, incidentally, picking up a huge news scoop along the way. But then another of April's odd friends winds up dead and the cops thinks she's acting mighty suspicious. They arrest her before Carson can solve the case and he manages to get himself fired. To save the day, he has to make his way through all the suspicious characters hanging about the apartment building--including a well-known con man, a few Germans looking for a white jade Buddha (that seems to move about as much as Archie's corpse), a painter with a bohemian lifestyle, and a chess champion. Of course our hero triumphs--finding the murderer, landing a major news story with April cast as the heroine, and getting the girl in the end.

This is a fast-paced mystery with lots of action and a good rapport between Don and April. I liked that she could get the better of him and he didn't resent it. In fact, he admired her for it and decided it would keep their life together interesting. He also has a friend, Butch, that he can call on when he's in a jam. Butch is a "reformed" member of the criminal element who isn't above putting his former talents to use in a good cause. His muscle helps Don get people to talk who might have been just a tad reluctant. 

A great deal of fun is had by all (well...except the victims and the villain who is going to get well-acquainted with the justice system). Very entertaining. ★★
Golden Vintage card: "Simon Says"
Deaths 2 (with method given): one hit on head; one shot [one previously killed--but method not given]

The Murder Book of J. G. Reeder

The Murder Book of J. G. Reeder (aka The Mind of Mr. Reeder; 1925) by Edgar Wallace is a small collection of short stories featuring the mild-mannered, bland-looking Mr. J. G. Reeder. Reeder works for the Public Prosecutor and those who see him might mistake him for a simple office clerk. But those who attempt to operate outside the law do so at their peril. 

Mr. Reeder wore whiskers and a frock coat--he always carried an umbrella--his strongest expression was "Dear, dear!"--but he spread grim death through London's underworld.

Many a criminal has taken one look at Reeder and thought how easy it was going to be to put one over on the little man...only to find themselves inside a prison cell before they knew quite what had happened. He claims that his secret is simple: "You see, I have a criminal mind." Apparently, if he had wanted to he could have (as has been said about Holmes) made a formidable crook. Instead he uses his insight into the villainous mindset to help him trap the villains.

An interesting collection of stories from the early 20th Century. They lean a bit towards the Holmes style--not all (and sometimes not many) clues are displayed for the reader. But still an enjoyable, short read. ★★

Observations: there is less murder going on in the "Murder Book" than one might suppose from the American title--fraud, theft, kidnapping, forgery abound and Mr. Reeder is more often investigating these less violent crimes. When murder does rear its ugly head its usually tangential to the crime which has initially caught Mr. Reeder's attention. Despite his preference for the "lesser" (if you will) crimes, he is perfectly up to the task of catching a murderer out...evidenced by the second story in this collection, "The Treasure Hunt." Reeder uses a criminal's intention to take revenge as a tool to (quite literally) dig up evidence of an ingenious murder.

Other stories:
"The Poetical Policeman": Despite evidence implicating the bank's manager, Mr. Reeder is convinced that there is another answer to the question of who masterminded the operation. A policeman's poetical tendencies help illuminate the problem.

"The Troupe": The investigator takes on a jewelry fraud with artistic ties to a theatrical group.

"The Stealer of Marble": A story about embezzlement and a housekeeper's inordinate interest in acquiring chips of marble.

"Sheer Melodrama": Two members of the criminal fraternity combine forces for a spot of forgery and an effort to do Mr. Reeder down. They should leave the melodrama behind in the theater when they ambush Mr. Reeder and his young lady one evening. 

"The Green Mamba": Mr. J. G. Reeder, outsmarts one of the leading master-criminals in London at the very moment when he is on the verge of his greatest criminal coup. Mo Lisky has held sway in London for quite some time, but when he crosses Mr. Reeder he finds that his power can't protect him from a strike as deadly as that of a poisonous snake.

"The Strange Case":When a wealthy government minister dies, suspicion falls on the man's heir who stood badly in need of money. But Mr. Reeder suspects a much deeper plot.

"The Investors": Mr. Reeder becomes curious about a number of mysterious disappearance--but he becomes very concerned when there are hints that the disappearances may be related to a certain investment opportunity. An investment opportunity that his young lady is now taking part in.

Finished on 9/28/19
Deaths = (three poisoned; one shot)

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Challenge Complete: You Read How Many Books?

hosted by Gina at Dragon's Lair

Guidelines are pretty simple. Choose a level to aim for and submit your list at the end. My reading has slowed down the past couple years, so I'm going for the Teen level (104 books) in 2019. 

I have now completed my 104--still hoping that I'll exceed that....  

Thanks for hosting, Gina!

My List:
1. The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman (1/2/19)
2. The Winter Women Murders by David A Kaufelt (1/5/19)
3. Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh (1/7/19)
4. I Am Capatin Kirk by Frank Berrios (1/8/19)
5. I Am Mr. Spock by Elizabeth Schaefer (1/8/19)
6. An African Millionaire by Grant Allen (1/10/19)
7. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers (1/12/19)
8. The Dead Shall Be Raised by George Bellairs (1/13/19)
9. The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs (1/14/19)
10. A Whiff of Cyanide by Guy Fraser-Sampson (1/15/19)
11. The Haunted Man & The Haunted House by Charles Dickens (1/16/19)
12. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1/18/19)
13. Tales of Terror & Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/23/19)
14. Hitler's First Victims by Timothy W. Ryback (1/24/19)
15. The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes by June Thomson (1/25/19)
16. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (1/25/19)
17. Tower of London: A Chilling Interactive Adventure by Blake Hoena (1/26/19)
18. Terror on the Titanic by Jim Wallace (1/27/19)
19. Blind Corner by Dornford Yates (1/27/19)
20. A Death in the Night by Guy Fraser-Sampson (1/30/19)
21. Zion's Fiction by Sheldon Teitelbaum & Emanuel Lottem, eds (2/6/19)
22. A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary & Vincent Price (2/13/19)
23. Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh (2/14/19)
24. Blood of the North by James B. Hendryx (2/15/19)
25. Where the Snow Was Red by Hugh Pentecost (2/16/19)
26. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (2/17/19)
27. Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins (2/19/19))
28. No Patent on Murder by Akimitsu Takagi (2/21/19)
29. Monsieur Lecoq by Emile Gaboriau (2/27/19)
30. The Lucky Stiff by Craig Rice (3/1/19)
31. Code Talker by Chester Nez w/Judith Schieff Avila (3/9/19)
32. Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (3/9/19)
33. A Wreath for Rivera by Ngaio Marsh (3/11/19)
34. Murdered: One by One by Francis Beeding (3/16/19)
35. Books to Die For by John Connolly & Declan Burke (3/22/19)
36. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (3/23/19)
37. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (3/24/19)
38. Becoming by Michelle Obama (3/27/19)
39. The Man Born to Be King by Dorothy L Sayers (3/31/19)
40. A Knife in the Back by Bill Crider (4/2/19)
41. Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh (4/4/19)
42. Mossflower by Brian Jacques (4/8/19)
43. Swing, Brother, Swing by Ngaio Marsh (4/6/19) [audio novel version]
44. When in Rome/Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh (4/11/19) [BBC audio]
45. The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie (4/13/19)
46. Gallows Court by Martin Edwards (4/13/19)
47. The Pocket Detective: 100+ Puzzles by Kate Jackson (4/19/19)
48. Murder at the Mardi Gras by Elisabet M. Stone (4/20/19)
49. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter (4/22/19)
50. Trixie Belden & the Mystery on the Mississippi by Kathryn Kenny (4/23/19)
51. Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L. Sayers (4/23/19)
52. The March Hare Murders by Elizabeth Ferrars (4/23/19)
53. Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd (4/26/19)
54. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (4/28/19)
55. Is Skin Deep, Is Fatal by H.R.F. Keating (5/1/19)
56. Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer (5/3/19)
57. Murder at the 42nd Street Library (5/5/19)
58. Spinster in Jeopardy by Ngaio Marsh (5/6/19)
59. Death on a Warm Wind by Douglas Warner (5/8/19)
60. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (5/11/19)
61. Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie (5/12/19)//
62. Miss Agatha Doubles for Death by H.L.V. Fletcher (5/16/19)
63. The Lover by Laura Wilson (5/17/19)
64. The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers (5/19/19)
65. Beverly Gray's Island Adventure by Clair Blank (5/21/19)
66. The Cream of Crime edited by Jeanne F. Bernkopf (5/26/19)
67. The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur W. Upfield (6/1/19)
68. River of Darkness by Rennie Airth (6/3/19)
69. The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie (6/6/19)
70. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (6/13/19)
71. Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh (6/16/19)
72. The Father Hunt by Rex Stout (6/18/19)
73. Killing the Goose by Frances & Richard Lockridge (6/24/19)
74. Mystery of the Emerald Buddha by Betty Cavanna (6/29/19)
75. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (7/1/19)
76. Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh (7/7/19)
78. The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams (7/12/19)
79. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (7/21/19)
80. Tenant for the Tomb by Anthony Gilbert (7/28/19)
81. 4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie (7/28/19)
82. The Mystery of the Fire Dragon by Carolyn Keene (7/29/19)
83. A Hard Rain by Dean Wesley Smith (7/31/19)
84. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (8/2/19)
85. Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes by J.R. Campbell & Charles Prepolec (8/5/19)
86. Family Affair by Ione Sandberg Shriber (8/6/19)
87. Murder in the Maze by J. J. Connington (8/10/19)
88. Death After Breakfast by Hugh Pentecost (8/10/19)
89. Singing in the Shrouds by Ngaio Marsh (8/17/19)
90. The Swimming Pool by Mary Roberts Rinehart (8/21/19)
91. Dr. Fell, Detective & Other Stories by John Dickson Carr (8/24/19)
92. The Spanish Cape Mystery by Ellery Queen (8/28/19)
93. Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers (8/31/19)
94. And Hope to Die by Richard Powell (9/2/19)
95. The Holmes-Dracula File by Fred Saberhagen (9/4/19)
96. Black Aura by John Sladek (9/9/19)
97. His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (9/11/19)
98. The Case of the Ill-Gotten Goat by Claudia Bishop (9/14/19)
99. False Scent by Ngaio Marsh (9/15/19)
100. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (9/16/19)
101. Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh (9/19/19)
102 The Fate of the Immodest Blonde by Patrick Quentin (9/22/19)
103. The House on Downshire Hill by Guy Fraser-Sampson (9/23/19)
104. The Two-Pound Tram by William Newton (9/24/19)
Challenge Complete

Challenge Complete: The Official 2019 TBR Pile Challenge

I was very glad that Adam from Roof Beam Read started hosting the Official TBR Pile Challenge on a regular basis again. This is one of the first challenges I did when I started blogging and I love the ones that help me knock out some of those books that have been sitting around for a while.
I've now completed my original twelve books as well as the alternates on the list. Thanks, Adam!

Here's my list:

1. An African Millionaire by Grant Allen (1897) [1/10/19]
2. Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh (1947) [2/14/19]
3. The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams (1862) [7/12/19]
4. The Man Born to Be King by Dorothy L, Sayers (1943) [3/31/19]
5. The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur W. Upfield (1929) [6/1/19]
6. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter (1909) [4/22/19]
7. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (2012) [3/23/19]
8. The Lover by Laura Wilson (2004) [5/17/19]
9. Dr. Fell, Detective & Other Stories by John Dickson Carr (1947) [8/24/19]
10. Miss Agatha Doubles for Death by H. L. V. Fletcher (1943) [5/16/19]
11. And Hope to Die by Richard Powell (1947) [9/2/19]
12. The Fate of the Immodest Blonde by Patrick Quentin (1947) [9/22/19]

13. The Two-Pound Tram by William Newton (2003) [9/24/19]
14. The Cream of Crime: More Tales from Boucher's Choicest edited by Jeanne F. Bernkopf (1969) [5/26/19]

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Two-Pound Tram: Mini-Review

The Two-Pound Tram (2003) by William Newton (aka Dr. Kenneth Newton) follows the lives of two brothers, Duncan and Wilfred Scrutton, during the early years of World War II. Originally, they live in a big sprawling house in the country and spend their time catching butterflies, hiding out in an old railway carriage, and using catapults to catch their dinner (rabbits, small birds, etc.). When their parents' marriage falls apart--their mother runs off and their father takes up with a succession of women, they decide to London with the bit of money they have saved up and buy their dream...a two-pound tram. Their story leads them through all sorts of adventures from buying the tram (and a horse to pull it and the horse's dog companion, Tiger) to joining up with a young woman who loves the idea of selling tickets on their tram to serving as emergency light signalers when the war descends on Britain to a decoration of valor for Duncan from the royal family. 

This is a marvelous, heartwarming little book that tells a coming of age story smack in the middle of the Second World War. Duncan and Wilfred go through rough times, but they manage to survive and thrive in the life they make for themselves. Duncan fulfills his dream of becoming a tram driver as well as being a hero and Wilfred is his loyal and supportive brother. It's a story of perseverance and loyalty and doing what you can on the home front during the war. It was a delight to read. I hate to give it such a short review--but, on the other hand, it's a short book and I don't want to give it all away.  ★★★★

The House on Downshire Hill (possible spoilers at the end)

The House on Downshire Hill (2018) by Guy Fraser-Sampson, begins, as all good detectives novels do, with murder. Well...first we have a concerned neighbor reporting that she has seen no signs of life from her neighbor's house for about two weeks. It's not unusual for Conrad Taylor to not be seen for long stretches of time--after all he is known to be a curmudgeonly recluse. But there is that weird young man named Raj who has lived with him for the last two years and nothing has been seen of him either. The Hampstead Heath nick has a bit of down time (they've just closed up an involved murder) and Superintendent Collison asks DC Priya Desai to follow up on the neighbor's report. At first, Priya thinks she'll be paying a courtesy call and nothing more--after all Taylor was a 60-something adult who didn't seem to be in any danger and adults do odd things sometimes. But the longer she talks with the neighbors (including a second, less-reclusive, slightly less-curmudgeonly older man) the more she believes that something really is wrong. Long story short--the team winds up breaking Taylor's door in and discovers him dead from the proverbial blunt instrument to the head.

The house is piled with papers everywhere and the team isn't sure if they will find the house mate's body somewhere among them or not (not). Finally, they're left with several questions: Who is Raj and what's happened to him? Why did a recluse let a total stranger live with him? What happened to the family who lived in the house before Taylor? And why did they disappear so abruptly and completely? Why is Special Branch so interested in the case? And what does the second body (buried about the time the family disappeared) have to do with it all--if anything?

[Possible Spoilers Ahead: Continue at your own risk.]

So, I keep waiting for Fraser-Sampson to hit one completely out of the park (I'm quite sure he's got a five-star book in him). We're closer this time. But still not quite there. In reviews of previous entries in The Hampstead Murders series, I've commented on situations when various team members (or multiple team members) have had forehead-smacking moments where they say something like "why didn't we see X or Y before?" and I'm thinking "Yeah, why didn't you? I did." This time that wasn't part of the dialogue (yay!)...but there is a moment long before they recognized it when I was saying "hasn't it occurred to them that the big, 40ish man might be Conrad's son"??? It seemed to take quite a long time for someone to come up with that idea. Most of the "gotcha" moments come at the end right after a witness has been re-interviewed and that worked very well, showing how Priya put together little clues from earlier interviews and conversations to pinpoint the culprit.

Another little quibble: this is the second book in a row where one of the team members gets personally involved with one of the suspects/witnesses and that creates a separate set of tensions. This time we double the tension by straitjacketing Collison and Metcalfe with Special Branch instructions that specifically tell them they can't let Priya in on why she's being particularly instructed not to share anything with her new girlfriend. It just seemed unnecessary, especially since that whole Special Branch connection seemed to fizzle out. 

And,finally, (and this really isn't a big just niggles at me)--why on earth did we introduce the whole "papers all over the house" thing and make a big deal of devoting all those manpower hours to digging through every last one of them if there wasn't going to be some major revelation? Yes--we did discover Raj's full name and that he was diddling a corpse out of funds. But surely to goodness we could have just had a pile of unopened mail in the letterbox/inside the front door and gotten there just the same. It made it seem like there really might be something to the whole Special Branch side of things and, again, that just fizzled out.

However--even with quibbles--this is a fine addition to the story of Collison and his team and another nicely plotted mystery with hat tips to Golden Age methods. The personal side of the story continues to grow and I'm still enjoying watching the developments. We continue to get signals that Collison may be moving up in the world soon--maybe to Special Branch and Karen Willis may be joining him. I'm interested to see what Fraser-Sampson has in store for the Hampstead team. ★★★★

Deaths = 2 (one strangled; one hit on head)