Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bout of Books 23

For those of you who don't know what the Bout of Books is, here's the info straight from the source:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 20th and runs through Sunday, August 26th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 23 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

I haven't participated for quite some time, not because I haven't wanted to but because it tends to fall right when I'm busiest at work. And that's true this year too. BUT I am woefully behind on the number of books I planned to read this year and I figure a read-a-thon's got to help. Right? Right! So, here goes....I'm officially signing up to see how many books I can knock out this week. Want to join me?

I'm not sure if I'll stick with these or not, but here are some books that I'd like to get done if possible:

Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery & Detection by various authors; edited by Reader's Digest
The Blind Spot by John Creasey
Angels in the Gloom by Anne Perry
Thank You, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
Raisins & Almonds by Kerry Greenwood

Friday, August 17, 2018

Dead Man's Folly: Review

As I mentioned in my last review, I have been watching the last episodes of Agatha Christie's Poirot with David Suchet. Several of the episodes (I am especially looking at you, The Labours of Hercules and The Big Four) were extraordinarily disappointing--straying far from the original material and making the stories much darker than Christie ever intended. Dead Man's Folly, however, was a more satisfying episode. And after reading the novel again for the first time since junior high school I was pleased to see that it is pretty faithful to the original story. There's a bit of fiddling at the end, but it doesn't change the central plot or the murderer. 

We still have Mrs. Ariadne Oliver devising clues for a Murder Hunt at the village fete to be held at Nasse Hall. While scoping out the grounds and thinking up clues and red herrings, she gets a sense of evil and believes that murder at Nasse Hall may wind up being not so very fictional after all. She calls upon her friend Hercule Poirot ostensibly to hand out the prizes for the Murder Hunt, but in actuality to help her discover if something really is amiss. Her intuition proves correct when the Girl Guide who had been cast as the Hunt's victim becomes a victim in reality and the Lady of Nasse Hall disappears from the grounds. Poirot does not immediately spot the killer (in fact, he returns to London, having failed to come up with the answer). But never fear; the little grey cells come through in the end.

I enjoyed this every bit as much as I did the first time I read it. The setting is perfect and the characters are distinct, interesting, and a bit exotic and/or eccentric. It was good to visit with Mrs. Oliver again and follow her slightly disjointed ways of thinking and speaking. Her personality is a bit much for the policemen who have to interview her after the murder and it was very amusing to watch their interactions. 

I would be interested to know whether I would have remembered whodunnit if I hadn't just watched the Suchet production. It's often the case that if I hadn't reread a Christie novel since that first time years ago then Dame Agatha manages to fool me again. But this time I was reading more for comparison to the televised version than to play detective myself. An enjoyable experience either way. ★★★★ 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Challenge Complete: Cloak & Dagger

CDChallengebadge2016Stormi at Books, Movies & Reviews! Oh My! is a mystery and crime novel fan (like yours truly), so she wanted to do a challenge that incorporated all the different types of mystery and crime type novels. When the blog that use to do Cloak and Dagger Challenge gave it up, she decided to take it on and tweak it a bit to make it her own and she also asked Barb from Booker T’s Farm to help cohost it. They've given it another little tweak this year--changed the levels up a bit. I'm all about mystery books, so I'm definitely in for another year of criminal capers. There are several levels to choose from and some basic rules to check out. If you'd like to join the fun, click on the challenge name link above.

I signed up for the Sherlock Holmes level (56+books) and have now finished 57 books in the mystery and crime field. I definitely don't have a problem reading the mystery books! Thanks to Stormi and Barb for keeping this one going!

1. The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham (1/1/18)

2. A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh (1/7/18)
3. Red Warning by Virgil Markham (1/25/18)
4. Act One, Scene One--Murder by A. H. Richardson (1/30/18)
5. Lament for a Lady Laird by Margot Arnold (2/3/18)
6. Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh (2/7/18)
7. Avalanche by Kay Boyle (2/8/18)
8. Another Woman's House by Mignon G. Eberhart (2/10/18)
9. Beverly Gray's Secret by Clair Blank (2/13/18)
10. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (2/14/18)
11. The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird (2/16/18)
12. With Blood & Kisses by Richard Shattuck (2/23/18)
13. Odor of Violets by Baynard Kendrick (2/27/18)
14. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (2/28/18)
15. Dog Will Have His Day by Fred Vargas (3/4/18)
16. The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh (3/10/18)
17. Green for a Grave by Manning Lee Stokes (3/13/18)
18. Payoff for the Banker by Frances & Richard Lockridge (3/15/18)
19. About the Murder of Geraldine Foster by Anthony Abbot (3/22/18)
20. The Sign of the Book by John Dunning (3/23/18)
21. Scotland Yard Photo Crimes from the Files of Inspector Black, Vol. 1 by Henry Black (3/24/18)
22. Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (3/24/18)
23. Murder Out of Turn by Frances & Richard Lockridge (3/27/18)
24. The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson (4/3/18)
25. Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio Marsh (4/7/18)
26. The Zero Trap by Paula Gosling (4/8/18)
27. Death of a Hoosier Schoolmaster by Marlis Day (4/10/18)
28. A Vow of Penance by Veronica Black (4/11/18)
29. The Hound of the Baskervilles [Illustrated Classic] by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (4/11/18)
30. Mrs. Malory & the Lilies That Fester by Hazel Holt (4/13/18)
31. The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen (4/24/18)
32. Terror in the Town by Edward Ronns (4/26/18)
33. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Seventh Bullet by Daniel D. Victor (4/27/18)
34. Then There Were Three by Geoffrey Homes (4/30/18)
35. Death at the Dog by Joanna Cannan (5/4/18)
36. Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh (5/7/18)
37. Untidy Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge (5/9/18)
38. Rear Window by Cornell Woolrich (5/16/18)
39. The Body in the Basket by George Bagby (5/22/18)
40. By the Light of the Study Lamp by Carolyn Keene (5/25/18)
41. The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie (5/28/18)
42. DeKok & Murder by Installment by A. C. Baantjer (5/30/18)
43. The Hellfire Conspiracy by Will Thomas (6/1/18)
44. Terror in Times Square by Alan Handley (6/5/18)
45. Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh (6/17/18)
46. Some Beasts No More by Kenneth Giles (6/22/18)
47. Gun in Cheek by Bill Pronzini (6/27/18)
48. The Trouble in Hunter Ward by Josephine Bell (7/18/18)
49. Nothing Venture by Patricia Wentworth (7/19/18)
50. Time of Terror by Hugh Pentecost (7/20/18)
51. Women Sleuths by Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini (7/21/18)
52. The Babes in the Wood by Ruth Rendell (7/22/18)
53. Murder at Midnight by C. S. Challinor (7/23/18)
54. Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh (7/26/18)
55. The Lacquer Screen by Robert Van Gulik (7/28/18)
56. The Haunted Showboat by Carolyn Keene (8/2/18)
57. The Big Four by Agatha Christie (8/12/18)

Challenge Complete: Family Tree Reading Challenge (still reading!)

Family Tree Reading Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews (sign up)
January - December 2018
# of books: minimum 3,

Love reading? Love family? Love researching family history? Want a family-friendly reading challenge? 

Goal: To read a book from the birth year of your selected family members (at least three books). You do not have to mention them by name, unless you want. But do please list the years you'll be reading. You may include yourself in your 'family tree.'
For more details, see the sign-up page (link above).

My stated goal was to read at least five books--one for me, my husband and son as well as my mom and dad. I was able to complete that goal with a book for my dad on 8/5/18. This was a fun challenge and I appreciate Becky putting it together. I'm now going to try and finish off books for my dad's side of the family (sister and brother and their kids.

Original Family Commitment
Mom (1947): Another Woman's House by Mignon G. Eberhart (2/10/18) Dad (1948): I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (8/5/18) Husband (1966): World's Best Science Fiction: 1966 by Donald A. Wollheim & Terry Carr, eds (1/9/18) Son (1992): The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Seventh Bullet by Daniel D. Victor (4/27/18) Me (1969): The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird (2/16/18)

The Big Four: Spoilerific Review

The Big Four (1927) by Agatha Christie....or "Christie does Sax Rohmer complete with evil Chinese genius and secret society." Also--Poirot does a Sherlock Holmes on his dear friend Hastings and co. So, yeah. I read this one long ago and far away during my big Agatha Christie binge--from elementary school through junior high. And I thought it was pretty good--of course, I think evil geniuses trying to take over the world have a greater appeal to a younger mindset. And I didn't catch the parallel to Holmes--with Poirot allowing his friends to think he was dead so he could work on catching the criminals.

This time around I found myself much less enthralled with Poirot taking on the secret society. I don't think Christie was at her best when she wrote thrillers, but I enjoy her thrillers more when they are stand-alones rather than inserting Poirot into the mix. There's still an element of fun in watching him track down the elusive Big Four and a bit of humor in the introduction of his brother Achilles. But I certainly can't give it the 3.5 stars my younger self handed out. ★★ and 1/2.

This book may not have had as great an appeal to my middle-aged self as it did to the younger me--but it is still WAY better than the Suchet production (keep in mind that I like Suchet as Poirot) and don't even get me started on the production of The Labours of Hercules (though I will talk about that in a minute...). I mean, megalomaniacs who want to take over the world make for good, over-the-top adventure when one is in the mood for it. But to take that and reduce it to the machinations of one guy who is out to impress a girl who rejected him several years ago? Seriously? I'm sorry, but no. Give me the honest to goodness evil geniuses any day.

And Labours of Hercules? They took an enjoyable series of short stories built around Poirot performing detective tasks in the mode of the tasks performed by Hercules smooshed several of them together (and left out others) to make a horrible mishmash whose point seemed to be to highlight Poirot's overweening pride, and to make the series even darker and more depressing. My little gray cells may not be all that, but even I knew immediately what an astoundingly bad idea it was for the guard to show the woman at the beginning the "secret" knock out in the open with a dozen or so people all around. And Poirot just stands there and watches her do it and didn't think a thing about it.

[Finished 8/12/18]

Friday, August 10, 2018

Station X: Decoding Nazi Secrets

Station X: Decoding Nazi Secrets (1998) by Michael Smith

Publisher's Synopsis: When Captain Ridley's shooting partyA" arrived at Bletchley Park in 1939 no-one would have guessed that by 1945 the guests would number nearly 10,000 and that collectively they would have contributed decisively to the Allied war effort. Their role? To decode the Enigma cypher used by the Germans for high-level communications. It is an astonishing story. A melting pot of Oxbridge dons maverick oddballs and more regular citizens worked night and day at Station X, as Bletchley Park was known, to derive intelligence information from German coded messages. Bear in mind that an Enigma machine had a possible 159 million million million different settings and the magnitude of the challenge becomes apparent. That they succeeded, despite military scepticism, supplying information that led to the sinking of the Bismarck, Montgomery's victory in North Africa and the D-Day landings, is testament to an indomitable spirit that wrenched British intelligence into the modern age, as the Second World War segued into the Cold War. Michael Smith constructs his absorbing narrative around the reminiscences of those who worked and played at Bletchley Park, and their stories add a very human colour to their cerebral activity. The code breakers of Station X did not win the war but they undoubtedly shortened it, and the lives saved on both sides stand as their greatest achievement. 

I'm going to be honest and tell you upfront that the primary reason I read this book was that the title had an "X" in it and I needed that badly for one of my challenges. There just aren't that many titles available from my library that have an X as a word or at the beginning of a word and that sound interesting to me. X-Men and X-Factor graphic novels just don't do that much for me. So, when a search of the library catalog produced this non-fiction account of the code breakers at Bletchley Park, I was thrilled. Especially since the synopsis sounded so interesting. 

I just wish it had lived up to the synopsis. Not that the workings of Bletchley Park aren't interesting in and of themselves (they are), but Smith tells the story of Station X in such a dry-as-dust way that "their stories [didn't] add a very human colour to their cerebral activity." Smith provides a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of detailed explanations on how the Enigma wheels worked and how intricate the codes were and exactly what happened when the code breakers worked on breaking the codes and how rivalries between the various branches of service slowed things down. So much detail reeled off in a "just the facts, ma'am" manner doesn't exactly produce riveting prose. He also tells us just how eccentric and downright weird a lot of these brilliant people were--but he doesn't really give interesting examples to prove it. There just isn't much human color in this story at all--and the quoted bits of stories from those who worked there are such tiny bits that they don't liven the prose up either. This has a very text book feel to it rather than engrossing history. ★★ and 3/4.

[Finished 8/10/18--I'm finally caught up on my reviews!]

Thursday, August 9, 2018

I Capture the Castle: Review

I Capture the Castle (1948) by Dodie Smith is really the diary of Cassandra Mortmain, a 17-year old girl in 1930s England. She fills three notebooks over the course of six months and tells us about her eccentric family life. The Mortmains live in a dilapidated English castle (with moat and everything!), barely any money, and barely enough food to continue living. They have come down in life quite a bit since Cassandra's father James Mortmain was the darling of the United States with his first novel Jacob Wrestling. James retreated with his family to the castle when writer's block plagues him. He hoped the atmospheric setting would inspire him. There's been no inspiration for years and Cassandra's sister Rose is desperate to escape their genteel poverty--but how's a girl trapped in a broken-down castle in the back of beyond supposed to meet eligible (rich) young men? No worries...enter the handsome,wealthy, and single young Americans Simon and Neil Cotton who have just inherited nearby Scoatney Hall.

Cassandra hones her writing skills as she describes life in the castle before and after the Cottons arrive. And she pours out her feelings as Rose determines to marry Simon (the elder--so therefore richer of the brothers), Simon falls hard for Rose, and Cassandra realizes that she loves Simon. There is a triangle or two in the romantic entanglements. We mustn't forget Stephen, the Mortmain's handyman-come only source of income, who loves Cassandra OR Neil who loves....well, that would be telling. Needless to say, most of these issues sort themselves out by the end of the novel--even James Mortmain's writer's block seems to be broken. The only real question at the end is whether Cassandra will wind up with the man she should. But that's left as a cliff-hanger....

This is a charming story about a quirky girl and her even more quirky family. It is good reading for those who enjoy Jane Austen and/or a clean and pleasant romance. A lovely portrait of England in the 1930s with a dose of humor mixed in. A definite time-travel to a simpler time that deals nicely with the issues facing the girls who are trying to sort out romance and more difficult life problems. ★★★★

[Finished 8/5/18]

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Challenge Complete: What's In a Name

What's In A Name 2018 logo

With A Summer in the Twenties I've just finished the What’s In A Name challenge, originally started by Annie, handed to Beth Fish Reads, and now continued by Charlie at The Worm Hole. Thanks to Charlie for sponsoring this. Can't wait till next year!

Here's the full list of books read for the challenge:

  • The word ‘the’ used twice (The Secret By The Lake; The End Of The Day, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time)
  • A fruit or vegetable (The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society; The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake)
  • A shape (The Ninth Circle, The Square Root Of Summer, Circle Of Friends)
  • A title that begins with Z – can be after ‘The’ or ‘A’ (Zen In The Art Of Writing; The Zookeeper’s Wife, Zelda)
  • A nationality (Anna And The French Kiss; How To Be A Kosovan Bride; Norwegian Wood)
  • A season (White Truffles In Winter; The Spring Of Kasper Meier; The Summer Queen; Before I Fall; The Autumn Throne)
Here are some possibilities from my TBR stacks (I will confirm and link reviews as I go):

"The" Twice
The Sign of the Book by John Dunning (3/23/18)

Fruit or Vegetable

The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher (6/12/18)

Terror in Times Square by Alan Handley (6/5/18)

Begins with "Z"
The Zero Trap by Paula Gosling (4/8/18)

The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen (4/24/18)

A Season
A Summer in the Twenties by Peter Dickinson

A Summer in the Twenties: Review

A Summer in the Twenties (1981) by Peter Dickinson is specifically about the summer of 1926 (and the lead-up to it). Tom Hankey's father has his fingers on the pulse of the business world and related fields and knows that the General Strike is looming for the summer. General Hankey calls Tom back from a holiday (where Tom has fallen hard for the headstrong heiress Judy) because he wants his son to learn to drive a train so he can help keep the coal moving. He tells Tom:

I've got a bit of sympathy for the miners and not much for the owners--after all, I know quite a pack of them--but if we let the unions close the country down and keep it closed for a month, we're done for.

Tom is willing to do his bit--after all, it will give him a chance to prove himself since he was just too young for the Great War. He gets more than he bargained for....he winds up involved with Bolsheviks and dockworkers and vigilantes. He takes part in workers' meetings; he starts reading Marx; he is arrested in a police raid (nobly winning the release of unfairly arrested workers); and, though convinced that there is indeed a real Bolshevik menace in Hull, he becomes fond of his new worker friends. . . and more than fond of leading agitator. There is an air of mystery to this seemingly straight-forward bit of fiction. Someone is playing dirty in the ranks and Tom's sense of honor forces him to unearth the one who is playing both sides off of one another and nearly gets himself shot for his trouble.

This is a splendidly atmospheric historical story--a grand mix of adventure, romance, and a political dilemma. It's strewn with eccentric characters and a bit of comedy and it gives a good look at the gentry learning how the working class lives. Some of the train bits run a bit long, but overall an interesting story about the period between the world wars.  ★★

[Finished 8/2/18]

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Challenge Complete: Reporter's Challenge

Sponsored by Ellie at Dead Herring 
Thru Goodreads Group: The Challenge Factory

The challenge runs from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018.

Who? What? Where? When? How?
Why? – because it’s fun to read!

Read books that fulfill the various categories under the reporter's standard questions.

I signed up initially for the Cub Reporter level and completed that in February. I have since been working my way through all the categories to finish as a Pulitzer Prize Winner. Thanks again to Ellie for sponsoring this one!

Cub Reporter complete: 2/27/18
Columnist complete: 4/3/18
News Anchor complete: 4/11/18 
Editor complete: 5/22/18

Newspaper Mogul: 25 books (5 from each category) 

BONUS CATEGORY: Pulitzer Prize Winner (Newspaper Mogul plus Bonus Category) = 30 books 

Here's my list:

Protagonist is a religious person (priest, nun, cleric, minister, deacon, etc):A Vow of Penance by Veronica Black (4/11/18)
Victim is in the medical profession (doctor, nurse, EMT, hospital staff, etc.):The Trouble in Hunter Ward by Josphine Bell (7/18/18)
Main Character is a dead person (ghost, skeleton, vampire, zombie…anybody who is dead): The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson & Lloyd Osbourne (4/3/18)
Victim is a John Doe (identity of victim is not known immediately): The Body in the Basket by George Bagby (5/22/18)
Not your typical protagonist (deaf, blind, wheelchair-bound, ADHD, Aspergers, etc.): Odor of Violets by Baynard Kendrick [blind detective] (2/27/18)

Animal in the title: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (2/28/18)
Title is at least 5 words: 
Lament for a Lady Laird by Margot Arnold (2/3/18)
Color in the title: The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham (1/1/18)
A Cold Case (crime investigated is over 10 years old): The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (2/14/18)
Time in the Title (minute, week, clock, year, hour, etc): Murder at Midnightby C. S. Challinor (7/23/18)

Set in a Southern town: The Haunted Showboat by Carolyn Keene [New Orleans] (8/2/18)
Set in a mansion or hotel: The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird (2/16/18)
Set in a state beginning with the letter ‘I’: Death of a Hoosier Schoolmasterby Marlis Day (4/10/18)
Set in Europe (anywhere but England): Dog Will Have His Day by Fred Vargas [France] (3/4/18)
Out of Town (protagonist is not in his/her hometown): Red Warning by Virgil Markham [American hero in France] (1/25/18)

Set during a competition (Olympics, ballroom dancing, cooking contest, rodeo, etc.): Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman [during an online Book Scavenger hunt competition] (3/24/18)
Centers around a celebration (holiday, birthday, wedding, etc.)
Set in the 1800’s: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ripper Legacy by David Stuart Davies [late 1890s] (1/31/18)
Set during bad weather (blizzard, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, etc.):Avalanche by Kay Boyle [Avalanche/then snow storm later in the book] (2/8/18)
Set during summer: Green for a Grave by Manning Lee Stokes (3/13/18)

(Method of Murder)
Poison is murder weapon: The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh [hyoscine poisoning] (3/10/18)
Knife/stabbing is murder weapon: Payoff for the Banker by Frances & Richard Lockridge [2nd Murder = stabbing] (3/15/18)
Gun/shooting is murder weapon: Another Woman's House by Mignon G. Eberhart (2/10/18)
Drowning: Act One, Scene One--Murder by A. H. Richardson [2nd Murder = drowning] (1/30/18)
Rope/strangulation is murder weapon: Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh [2nd Murder=hung with rope] (2/7/18)

WHO - Protagonist has a connection to newspaper industry: A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh [The "Watson" Character is a Journalist] (1/7/18)
WHAT – Your name (first, middle or last) is the same as the author’s name (1st or last) or protagonist’s name (1st or last):  Beverly Gray's Secret by Clair Blank (2/13/18)
WHERE – “Locked Room” mystery (not necessarily a room, as long as the scene is contained): With Blood & Kisses by Richard Shattuck [snow storm keeps them all in the house] (2/23/18)
WHEN – Book set pre 1800: The Lacquer Screen by Robert Van Gulik [China 7th Century A.D.] (7/28/18)
HOW - At least 3 different people killed by 3 different means, all in one story: Some Beasts No More by Kenneth Giles [several murderers--having used different methods themselves--killed by various methods] (6/22/18)

August Key Word Reviews

August Key Words: Yellow, Sun, Beach, Boat, House, Few, Help, Camera, Above

Please note that you may also post any catch-up reviews here as well--just be clear when you name your link-up if you are posting for a previous month.

The Haunted Showboat: Review

The Haunted Showboat (1957) by Carolyn Keene [Harriet Adams] finds Nancy invited to New Orleans at Mardi Gras time. Bess & George's uncle had planned to move and restore the River Princess, an old river showboat that's been abandoned in the swamp. He wants the boat in good order in time for a gala celebration--a costume ball to celebrate the engagement of his daughter Donna Mae to Oxford graduate Alex Upgrove. There are just a few problems....the boat is rumored to be haunted; no one is willing to move the boat; and every time any repairs at all are done onboard they are immediately destroyed. The uncle specifically requests Nancy to come to the rescue (I'm guessing Bess & George have been bragging to their family about all of Nancy's detecting skills--'cause how would he know otherwise? )

So, the girls get all set to head south in Nancy's blue convertible when it gets stolen! But, no worries, Carson Drew comes to the rescue with a brand new yellow convertible (because he was planning to get her a new one for her birthday anyway). There's a bomb scare and acid on car bits and a game of hide-and-seek with the culprit all along the way--but they arrive safely in New Orleans and Nancy is ready to get busy solving the mystery. Except Donna Mae seems determined to prevent any detective work--which makes absolutely no sense when you consider the party planned for the boat is supposed to be for her. Of course, she seems to be very jealous of Nancy and afraid that our detective will run off with her boyfriend. It doesn't help that Alex seems way more interested in what Nancy's doing than in his fiancĂ©e. Fortunately, Nancy doesn't let a little interference stand in her way and soon she's taking night-time boat trips to the swamp and learning about pirate treasure. Ned Nickerson and his pals Burt & Dave show up in time to help Nancy tackle the bad guys. 

I'm not entirely sure why this one wasn't a bigger favorite of mine when I was younger. There's a lot to appeal to the young reader--a car race of sorts as Nancy, Bess & George try to out-distance their pursuer on the way to New Orleans; a spooky old showboat with a ghost in the middle of the swamp; and a hidden treasure! What's not to love about that? And yet--for some reason, this was a "one and done" book for me. I initially read it because it was part of my mom's six-book collection, but as far as I can remember I never picked it up again. Until I found this Cameo Edition to add to my own collection and decided that I needed to give the book another try. It definitely has a stronger mystery element than many of the stories and makes for quite an exciting adventure. ★★★★

[Finished 8/2/18]
*Nancy and her friends are invited for the Mardi Gras (in addition to solving a mystery), so this counts for "During a Recognized Holiday" on the Golden Notebook Checklist.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Lacquer Screen: Review

The Lacquer Screen by Robert Van Gulik was published in 1962, but is set in the China of about the 7th century. Van Gulik was not only a Dutch diplomat, but also a well-known authority on Chinese history and culture. He drew his background from Chinese literature of the period and used the actual historical figure of Judge Dee  (Ti Jen-chieh or Di Renjie), a magistrate of the Tang court. This particular book finds his protagonist, Judge Dee, and his right-hand man Chiao Tai taking a break from magisterial duties and arriving incognito in the small town of Peng-lai. He pays a courtesy call on the senior magistrate of the town who is feeling quite unwell. Teng Kan, the magistrate, shows Judge Dee a beautiful lacquer screen that originally portrayed two lovers. Now it has been changed to show one lover stabbing the other. Teng Kan fears that he is going insane and is doomed to murder his wife as depicted on the screen. It seems he is right when Silver Lotus, the wife, is found murdered in the marshes. Judge Dee is determined to discover the truth of this murder and also finds himself involved in the death of a local banker. He continues to act undercover--even to the extent of insinuating himself into a gang of robbers--in order to get to the bottom of it all.

I have to admit that Van Gulik obviously knows his stuff. He produces  the China of the period with great detail and flair and I fel as though I were really visiting a small town of the time period. He gets full marks for historical detail and atmosphere. He is also very adept at writing in what purports to be the style of the period. However, as I mentioned in my first review of his work, I just don't think the style of the period is for me. It's not that it's bad; it's just not that gripping and the method of building the story isn't quite to my liking. It's certainly not in the classic detective style where clues are paraded before the reader and misdirection is employed to lead us up the garden path. It's pretty obvious who killed Silver Lotus--but it's not quite so obvious what the motive is. But Judge Dee (who is perceptive enough to see all) will explain it to us. A middle-of-of the road read: ★★

[Finished 7/28/18]