Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Case of the Second Chance

The Case of the Second Chance (1946) by Christopher Bush is the thirtieth book in his Ludovic Travers novels and was recently reprinted in May 2019 by Dean Street Press. Travers has had a semi-official position with the police and developed a relationship with Superintendent George Wharton after assisting with several investigations as a gifted amateur. The current story begins with Travers  on leave from the army when Wharton is called upon to investigate the murder of a well-known actor/producer Charles Manfrey. Manfrey is an unsurprising murder victim--Wharton and Travers soon find that the actor had ruffled feathers in a number of quarters. There is Henry Nevall, the actor who played Brutus to Manfrey's Cassius and whom Manfrey tried to upstage repeatedly. There is Victor Yarnell, a handsome young actor who has had great success in his current play and hopes of taking the part into the movies--but Manfrey has bought the rights with a stipulation that anyone but Yarnell be hired. There is Violet Lancing, the actor's secretary who longs to be on stage and has an eye for the main chance--and may have found the odds too heavily against her. And there is May Clarke, the housekeeper who seems to have a heart of gold but may have had enough of her employer's ill-temper.

The plot has an interesting construction. It is laid out in three parts. We begin with Manfrey's murder in his own library and follow the investigation and interviews only to end part one with Wharton and Travers as puzzled as when they began. There are plenty of suspects, but everyone seems to have rock-solid alibis. Wharton even asks Travers to break one of the alibis and he is unable to find a way to do so. So...the first part ends with an inquest verdict of "Murder by some person or persons unknown."

Travers returns to the war and then a year later is demobilized for health reasons. He returns to his specialized work at the Yard and it seems like the Manfrey murder will never be solved. In 1945 he completes a special assignment and--in preparation for starting up private inquiry business with the soon-to-be retired Wharton--goes to work for the Bond Street Detective Agency. One of the first cases to come along involves blackmail. Bill Ellice (current owner of the agency) agrees to meet the prospective client who has insisted on complete confidentiality but is wary enough of her story to ask Travers to sit in the next room where a conveniently thin door will allow him to hear all. He wants Travers to signal him (through an elaborate buzzing system from the secretary)whether he thinks it sounds fishy enough to decline the job. 

Despite the fact that he is certain the woman is lying all over the place, Travers gives the "go ahead" signal. Why? Because he's recognized the woman's voice as belonging to Violet Lancing. And he's darn curious what she's being blackmailed about. Could it have anything to do with that Manfrey case in her past? There are links...but the answer to both mysteries are going to be a bit more involved than just "Violet killed Manfrey and now X is blackmailing Violet." Travers, Wharton, and Ellice will each contribute to the solution.

This was my first taste of Christopher Bush's work and I found it to be an interesting introduction to Travers and Wharton. The mystery itself is fairly well done, though it does drag just a bit in the middle while the investigation languishes and the plot uses a couple of well-worn tropes (well-worn even by 1946. These issues didn't dampen my enthusiasm, however. I found our protagonists to be so well-defined and their relationship to be so engaging that I enjoyed myself thoroughly. And--even though the plot devices have been used before, Bush works the trick expertly enough that I didn't mind. Quite good fun! ★★★★

Spoiler! [highlight the apparently blank area if you're curious] I just realized that the cover of my edition (pictured)--as sparse as it is--manages to give away part of the solution.

[First Line] This is the story of a second chance, and second chances, as we're often told, are pretty rare things. I've already said, I like people. All sorts interest me, and always have. I like to know the whys and wherefores of things and what makes the wheels go round. (p. 40)

Motives don't matter at the moment. What does matter is that he's got a perfect alibi. Bust that alibi and then we can talk about motives. (Superintendent George Wharton; p. 52)

Curious how we don't give other people credit for having the same perspicacity in things we've come to regard as our own particular property. I thought George had been a long way from an accurate summing-up of Violet, and yet there he was, hitting my own nail shrewdly over the head. (p. 62)

George has never quite accepted the evolution of myself from the apprentice stage, but it does me no harm to listen and it gives him pleasure to talk. (p. 63)

Deaths = 3 (one hit with poker; one strangled; one shot)
Mystery Bingo = Item in Newspaper; Maid/Housekeeper; Gun; Bare Hands; Fireplace; Library

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

December Virtual Mount TBR Reviews

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December Mount TBR Reviews

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December Monthly Keyword Reviews

December Key Words: Star, Night, Christmas, Angel, Gift/Present, Tree, Wise, Dear, It

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December Just the Facts Reviews

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December Calendar of Crime Reviews

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

Challenge Complete: Color Coded

Every year I think I may have used up all my titles with "Brown" (or a shade of brown) in the title. And every year I prove myself wrong. I'll keep signing up for the Color Coded Reading Challenge until I run out of titles (I'm determined to only use titles and not covers). 

And with When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple, I have completed another rainbow year of reading. See you again in 2020...

1. Read a book with "Blue" (or a shade of blue) in the title/on the cover.
2. Read a book with "Red" (or a shade of red) in the title/on the cover.
Where the Snow was Red by Hugh Pentecost (2/16/19)
3. Read a book with "Yellow" (or a shade of yellow) in the title/on the cover.
The Fate of the Immodest Blonde by Patrick Quentin (9/22/19)
4. Read a book with "Green" (or a shade of green) in the title/on the cover.
Mystery of the Emerald Buddha by Betty Cavanna (6/29/19)
5. Read a book with "Brown" (or a shade of brown) in the title/on the cover.
The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie (4/13/19)
6. Read a book with "Black" (or a shade of black) in the title/on the cover.
Black Aura by John Sladek (9/9/19)
7. Read a book with "White" (or a shade of white) in the title/on the cover.
The Cream of Crime: More Tales from Boucher’s Choicest edited by Jeanne F. Bernkopf (5/26/19)
8. Read a book with any other color in the title/on the cover.
When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple by Sandra Martz [ed.] (11/28/19)
9. Read a book with a word that implies color in the title/on the cover.
Said With Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)

What's in a Name? 2020

Andrea at Carolina Book Nook is back with another round of the What's in a Name Challenge. This has always been a favorite of mine, so of course I'm back for another round as well. The format is the same--six categories and one book required for each one. For full details, see the link above.

Here are the categories and my preliminary list:

1. An ampersand: The Ampersand Papers by Michael Innes
2. An antonym: The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall
3. Four letters or less: Kept by D. J. Taylor
4. A given/first name: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turtin
5. Reference to children: Blotto, Twinks, and the Ex-King's Daughter by Simon Brett
6. One of the four natural elements; Murder on the Waterfront by Michael Jahn

Saturday, November 30, 2019

2020 SpaceTime Reading Challenge

I've still got science fiction books hanging out on the TBR mountainscapes, so I'm going to jump on board Jemima's spaceship again and sign up for her 2020 SpaceTime Reading Challenge. This works better for me than the limited challenges I used to participate in since I'll have a whole year to read science fiction rather than trying to arrange my January reading schedule around SF. Here's the brief description of the challenge (for full details and to sign up follow the link above):

paceTime Reading Challenge

You choose your book, from any part of the science fiction genre universe – hard scifi, military, scifi romance, space opera, first contact, time travel, whatever.  It’s up to you.  You add the book to your list of books read, with a review, as short or long as you like.  Make your own rules about ‘only Hugo winners’, or ‘only space opera’…  as you wish.

There are several levels. I plan on starting with the first level 

~5 Books: Planet Hopper


Book Challenge by Erin 12.0

Basic Rules
~First and foremost, have fun. Don't stress. No one is being judged, graded, or penalized. Even if you finish only one book the entire challenge, if you enjoy it and it's an accomplishment for you, then that's awesome. 
~The challenge will run from JANUARY 1, 2020 to APRIL, 2020. No books that are started before 12 a.m. on January 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on April 30 will count. (We live in different time zones – follow this according to your own time zone.) 
~Each book must be at least 200 pages long. Audio books are fine too.
~For full details see Erin's page on Facebook: Book Challenge by Erin 12.0

Here are this round's categories and my preliminary choices:
*5 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages 
Murder on the Waterfront by Michael Jahn (256 pages)
*10 points: Read a book that starts with “I” 
Information Received by E. R. Punshon (272 pages)
*10 points: Read a book written by two or more authors
Spin Your Web, Lady! by Frances & Richard Lockridge (218 pages)
*15 points: Read a book with a picture of a tree (or forest) on the cover 
Deep Lay the Dead by Frederick C. Davis (304 pages)
*20 points: Read a book with one of the following words in the title: who, what, when, where, why 
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Alison Hoover Bartlett (274 pages)
* 20 points: (selected by Vinay) – Read a book set in Africa
Death in Kenya by M. M. Kaye (208 pages)
*25 points: (selected by Darlene) – As a nod to our female family members, read a book that has one of the words in the title: mother(s), sister(s), wife/wives, grandmother (or variation of), daughter(s), niece(s), aunt(s) 
The Crying Sisters by Mabel Seeley (252 pages
*30 points: (selected by Deborah) – Read a book that has won an Edgar award 
Mystery of the Haunted Pool by Phyllis A. Whitney (219 pages; Best Juvenile Mystery 1961)
*30 points: (selected by Debdatta) – Read a “locked room mystery” book 
The Plague Court Murders by Carter Dickson (312 pages)
*35 points: Read a book from the lists given in Show Us Your Books faves from 2018 (because they haven’t posted 2019 faves yet.)
Palaces for the People by Eric Klineberg (277 pages; from Jana's list of favorite nonfiction)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

When I Am An Old Woman

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

I first encountered this poem in my teens and loved it. I collected it in my treasured poems and quotes and brought it along with me into middle-age. I loved the sense of defiance that runs through it. That the speaker doesn't plan to go quietly into old age, but will go in bright colors and doing all the things that girls who behave have been taught they shouldn't do like wearing slippers in the rain or eating only bread and pickles for every meal...for a week. When you've grown up, you should be allowed to do what you want (within reason). 

Then in 2012, I found this anthology of poems and essays all about women and the aging process at the local library's used book shop. When I saw that the title and leading poem was my long-held favorite, I knew it had to come home with me. And, as often happens, I set it aside while other books on the TBR stacks claimed my attention. It has finally worked its way into the "read" column. 

It is a wonderfully insightful book full of the musings of women (and a few men) on what it means to grow old as a woman. Memories of mothers, aunts, and grandmothers fill the pages. A few women speak with the voice of experience--having already walked that road themselves. The poems are beautiful. The essays are poignant and sometimes disturbing...but they all are worthwhile. A book to reflect on as well as enjoy. ★★★★

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old and start to wear purple.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

2020 Six Shooter Challenger

I'm heading out to the shooting range again with Rick and his Six Shooter Mystery Reading Challenge in 2020. The goal is pretty straight-forward--read six books on the same target (by the same author) to complete your round. Any targets started in 2019 but not yet complete will carry over to the new year. Check out the full details at the link above.

As with his other challenges, Rick doesn't ask for a commitment. But I will set a personal goal in order to claim the challenge complete for 2020. Last year I set it at two targets--I'm going to up the ante and set my goal at four targets this year.  Most likely those will include Agatha Christie, the Lockridges,  and possibly another round of Ngaio Marsh.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Challenge Complete: Family Tree

Becky at Becky's Book Reviews hosted another round of the Family Tree Reading Challenge. This year there were more options to choose from but I stayed with reading books that were published in family members' birth years.  For 2019, I planned to read 10 books total for immediate family including my parents and my husband's family. I have now finished my last book.

Phil (my dad): 1948 Blueprint for Murder by Roger Bax (10/25/19)
Gloria (my mom): 1947 Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh (2/14/19)
Bev (me): 1969 The Cream of Crime edited by Jeanne F. Bernkopf (5/26/19)
Brad (husband): 1966 Eyes at the Window by George Selmark (11/25/19)
Kyle (son): 1992 The Noel Coward Murder Case by George Baxt (11/20/19)
Beverly (husband's mom): 1944 Killing the Goose by Frances & Richard Lockridge (6/24/19)
Elvin (husband's dad): 1940 Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd (4/26/19)
John (husband's step-dad): 1946 Let's Kill George by Lucy Cores (10/1/19)
Kristal (husband's sister): 1968 Death on a Warm Wind by Douglas Warner (5/8/19)
M. Alex (husband's brother): 1976 Mystery of the Emerald Buddha by Betty Cavanna (6/29/19)

Said With Flowers

Said With Flowers (1943) by Anne Nash

'Twas the week before Christmas when all through the flower shop....there was a wailing and gnashing of teeth. Dodo (Doris) Trent and her partner Nell Witter are in such a pickle. Their deliveryman has fallen and broken his leg. How will they ever survive the Christmas flower rush? As Dodo (our narrator) puts it

Under the happiest conditions a florist's shop at Christmas is nothing more nor less than a madhouse. I've never discovered a way to avoid it. People leave flowers, plants, and decorations till the last minute. Then they storm in frantically. They say it with flowers to all those whom they'd forgotten earlier  or to the ones left on their lists for whom they couldn't think of anything better.

The ladies have no idea how they will meet the rush and get everything delivered on time. And then, in walks Barney Miller. 

Who is Barney Miller? No one knows. He's a stranger in town. He claims to be a writer who is checking out the area. And he just happens to know plants and flowers. Nell and Dodo have a brief moment of worry--after all there is that dreadful Karp Killer on the loose, what if Barney is the Killer. But they promptly shake off any misgivings when they see what a nice way he has with the customers and how quickly he can put together a festive flower box. He hustles and bustles around the shop, taking orders and placating their pickiest clientele like he was born to the job and then zooms out to deliver all the goods. It looks like Santa Claus has given them their Christmas present early.

Their worries return, however, when one of their dearest friends is found murdered in the alley behind their shop. She's been stabbed with one of their pruning knives, but on her body is pinned the Karp's calling card--a hand-drawn picture of a fish. Could they have hired a killer? The odd thing is that the Karp seems to have broken his own rules for killing. All of his victims so far have been young and beautiful; and he would hide the bodies so there would be a delay before the murder was discovered. Rosalind Vance is a middle-aged woman. She isn't ugly by any means, but the bloom was definitely off her beauty. Why has the Karp gone of his script?

Or, more alarmingly, what if the Karp isn't responsible? Who in the small town of Pinehurst could have had reason to kill Rosalind? As far as Dodo and Nell know, their friend had no enemies. When Mark Tudor, a detective, arrives on the scene with his specially trained dog Svea, they join forces and try to figure out who killed Rosalind. Was it the Karp? Was it Barney...and is he the Karp in disguise? Was it Rosalind's younger sister? Sheila has been hiding something from Rosalind. Was it a secret worth killing for? Is it possible that Rosalind's perfect marriage with her husband James wasn't all that perfect after all and he is the culprit? Or maybe it was Jenny--Rosalind's long-time friend and supposedly devoted companion. But Dodo thinks she sees guilt and fury in Jenny's eyes. Of course, Dodo has worked herself into such a state that she's jumping at shadows and suspecting everyone. 

This is a fun little mystery. Very nice small-town atmosphere in what seems to be an early version of the current cozy craze for mysteries set in bakeries and bookshops and what-have-you. Dodo does get on the nerves a bit with her foreshadowing and borderline hysteria, but fortunately her fiery tempered friend Nell is on hand to liven things up and keep things from getting to be too much "Had I But Known." I spotted the killer straight away and even sussed out the motive, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment. It's not a deep puzzle, but it's a quick read and definitely worth time. ★★ and 1/2.

For a much more in-depth look at the book, please see John's review from 2016 over at Pretty Sinister Books

Quotes (don't read the last one if you don't want a spoiler)

[First Lines] The tragic affair ended at last. Excitement simmered down, life got back to normal, and then everyone began hounding us to write about the events.

Good. Intellectual processes--so called-- often enough block our intuitions, hunches, whatever. Let's hope in our present passive state we'll be receptive to any flashes of insight that might be lurking about. (Mark Tudor; p. 73)

Detach yourself from the personal element; this case is merely a problem to solve. Not for our own personal satisfaction, but for the possible safety of numbers. At this point we don't know what's important, what's insignificant; we'll have to assemble every scrap of material available, then sift and discard.

[Last Lines] "I used to think Jenny was so--so sort of--unapproachable. But now I know how grand she is...I'm going to be as faithful to you, Barney, all of my Jenny was to Rosalind." [Sheila] A high note on which to end.

Deaths = 2 (one stabbed; one fell off cliff)
Murder Mystery Bingo: Alley; Store (flower shop); Nonbarking dog; Mysterious stranger; Knife

Monday, November 25, 2019

2020 Murder Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge

Here is the latest from mastermind Rick at the Rick Mills Project: the 2020 Murder Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge. And it looks really awesome. Use the four bingo cards provided to collect weapons, crime scenes, clues & cliches, and red herrings from your mystery reading. Fill a card and win a prize! The challenge runs through all of 2020, but Rick is opening the Bingo Hall now. Click on the link to see the full details.

As with all his challenges, Rick doesn't require a commitment to participate. My personal goal will be at least one Bingo per card. Once I have that, I can count the challenge as complete for my challenge tally. But--I love mysteries, so you know I'll be doing more.


Knife/Dagger: Said with Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)
Gun: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)
Bare Hands: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)
Fireplace Poker: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)

Crime Scenes
Library: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)
Alley: Said with Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)
Store/Restaurant: Said with Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)
Stairs: Death Knell by Baynard Kendrick (12/5/19)

Clues & ClichĂ©s 
Item in Newspaper: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)

Red Herrings
Maid/Housekeeper: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)
2nd Gun/Knife: Death Knell (Baynard Kendrick (12/5/19)
Non-Barking Dog: Said with Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)
Barking Dog: Death Knell by Baynard Kendrick (12/5/19)
Mysterious Stranger: Said with Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)