Saturday, January 14, 2017

Deal Me In Week #2: "How We Lost the Moon"



This is my first year participating in Jay's Deal Me In Challenge . In a nutshell--we line up 52 short stories for the year, we match those stories up to a card in a regular deck of card, and each week we shuffle our deck (of real cards) and draw a card from whatever remains in the deck. I just dealt myself the Ace of Diamonds...which gives me "How We Lost the Moon: A True Story" by Paul J. McAuley. Beware--spoilers below! [It's difficult to talk about the story at all without letting a cat or two out of the bag--besides, the title gives the punch line away....]


image credit


The image above which comes from an original deck of play cards by the artist Adam Valmassoi definitely has a science fiction vibe for me. Which works nicely with this week's short story. "How We Lost the Moon" appears in the 17th Annul Collection of The Year's Best Science Fiction (2000) edited by Gardner Dozois. As Dozois tells us in his introduction to the story, McAuley write many different kinds of science fiction from rigorous hard SF and "New Baroque Space Opera" to Dystopian speculation and Alternate History. This story falls most decidedly in the hard SF camp.

One of the men directly involved in the events on the Moon before it was lost tells us his story--so we'll know the facts behind the "millions of bytes of Web journalism" and the "tens of thousands of hours of TV and a hundred schlocky movies" as well as "thousands of scientific papers and dozens of thick technical reports." Our narrator and his college Mike Doherty were sent to check on some odd readings from a power source on the far side of the moon. As soon as Mike sees the hole in the floor of the crawl space below the power chamber, he knows what's happened--but he won't tell his buddy. After all, he's got the same info as Mike--he ought to know too. But how many people are going to think that a black hole is opening up in the middle of the Moon? 

Given the title of the story, it's not difficult to figure out that the Moon doesn't make it past the ending, but a black hole is a bit of a surprise. McAuley gives us all the fine physics to explain the matter--but I have to say, I didn't take it all in. What did strike me was the interesting concept and the idea that the black hole could be used for a sling-shot propulsion effect for deeper space flight. Oh...and the method used to make it seem like the Earth still had a glowing orb in the night sky....

Black hole beginning: Photo credit

Friday, January 13, 2017

The 24th Horse: Review

If you don't know anything at all about jumping, we take you through a series of twenty-four lessons....The idea is we put you on the gentlest horse we've got first...You go from that to horse number two and so on. When you've ridden the twenty-fourth horse, sir, you know all the answers. 
~Peter Shea (The 24th Horse (1940) by Hugh Pentecost)

Inspector Bradley of the New York Police Department certainly hopes that he won't have to go through the equivalent of twenty-four horses to find out all the answers to who who killed Gloria Prayne and stuffed her in the rumble seat of her sister's car.

He's not terribly pleased when Johnny Curtin, at the instigation of Bradley's friend Mr. Julius, drives the car and the body to his apartment but can't help being interested. Mr. Julius wants to be sure that Bradley is the one to be assigned the case--he's gotten used to him after working with the Inspector in a previous case (Cancelled in Red, the first Bradley book by Pentecost). Mr. Julius is also friends of the Prayne family and wants the case solved as quickly as possible with as little publicity as possible. He knows Bradley will get to the truth without creating too much scandal.

Gloria had been missing for a few days, but nobody thought much of it. The young beauty had been a bit of a wild one, running off for days at a time but always coming back home. Johnny, who was initially interested in Gloria's sister Pat, had fallen briefly under her spell and just come to his senses on the last night she was seen. In fact, when he told her he wouldn't be going around with her anymore, she got a bit miffed, walked out on him, and was never seen again. At least that's his story...and nobody else who knows her will admit seeing her after that. Not her father or her sister or her aunt. Not the man she was engaged to or their two friends. Gloria simply disappeared into thin air and then made her startling reappearance in the rumble seat.

Bradley investigates and discovers the faint smell of blackmail. But it's difficult to decide who was the blackmailer and who the victim was  (or victims were). Gloria left a sealed envelope (sealed with her particular sealing wax) with her friend Linda Marsh--telling her to take it to the police if anything happened to her. But then when something does happen and Linda turns it over to Bradley, they discover nothing but blank pages. 

Another murder takes place and Bradley finds clues that leads him to the story of another woman's disappearance--Dorothy Pelham, the wife of another friend of the Praynes. The more he investigates, the more certain he becomes that the first disappearance is important to the recent murders. But what really happened to Dorothy? Is the secret that she's started another life somewhere? Or was she murdered. And who most wants that secret kept hidden? Until Bradley rides the horse with that answer (and it may take twenty-four after all), he won't be able to solve the current deaths. 

The horse metaphors are all tied in to the opening--which takes place at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden where Pat Payne is taking part in the show jumping event. Pat and Douglas Pelham (the missing Dorothy's husband) also run a horse riding school. And the final show-down takes place at the school--though don't think I'm giving anything away. There's no reason why it had to take place there...other than a good metaphorical tie-in.

I seem to be on a good run of good books. Either that or I'm just in a generous four-star-giving mood lately. This is a fast-paced mystery that is tightly plotted and works well in the short Popular Library digest length. A hundred and fifty-eight pages may not seem like a lot for a full-length novel, but Pentecost works in a good handful of suspects and plenty of detective spade-work to keep armchair detectives guessing. I quite enjoyed meeting Inspector Bradley and appreciated the mix of excellent investigator with a man with a heart and scruples (when it comes to protecting the innocent). Previous to this, I had read only the mysteries starring Pierre Chambrun, hotel manager (which are also quite good). I will definitely be looking for the other Bradley stories. ★★★★

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 This counts for the "Skeletal Hand or Skull" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Snake on 99: Review

You know, catching a criminal's rather like playing snakes and ladders. You plod ahead, square by square; sometimes you get a bit of luck, and a ladder takes you up a row or tow. Sometimes things go wrong and you slide down a snake. It's the same for the criminal, but he has more snakes and fewer ladders than you do, in the end. And when he things he's nearly  through, there's always the final pitfall, the dirty great snake on 99, waiting to drop him right into our arms. ~Inspector Morgan

It took me about half the book to find out what the title, The Snake on 99, had to do with Stewart Farrar's detective novel. When I first spotted the cover at Half Price books last year, I almost passed it up--it kindof screamed Western at me for some reason. And then I saw the little "Chantecler Mystery Novel" logo on the spine and thought, "Hmm, what's this?" The synopsis on the dust jacket intrigued me enough to make me add it to the pile to take home with me. Then Rich over at Past Offences announced that January would 1959 for his Crimes of the Century feature and I was all set. Because my edition says "first published 1959." But...when doing a little sleuthing on the internet for any tidbits I could find on Stewart Farrar I discovered that 1959 is the first American printing but it was first printed in Britain in 1958 and I don't know if Rich will let me sneak it in...Ah well. It was a good read and let's get on with details.

So...Joe Archer arrives in London to start a new engineering position with his company. He takes up residence at a hotel cum boarding house. He quickly learns the ins and outs of his fellow residents. There's Geraldine Graham, a bit of drama queen who likes to play the '20s vamp; Frank Branson, a good-looking brilliant young City Editor who has his eye on...; Jane White, a lovely young lady of eighteen who always sees the best in everyone. But Frank can make little inroads with Jane because there's also her father Anthony White who is ultra-possessive and jealous of any attentions paid to his only child as well as a rival in the person of Peter Knapp, a photographer with a sardonic sense of humor. Also in the mix is Gerald Hardy, lead reporter at Branson's newspaper. 

It isn't long before Archer joins Branson and Knapp in seeking Miss White's company (whenever "Daddy" isn't looking). Branson has the habit of watching for Jane to come home from her art classes and waving at her from his rooftop garden. Archer decides to steal a march on the handsome journalist and meets her at the corner bus stop. They decide to play a joke on Branson--sneaking round the long way and Jane only calls up to him at the last minute. Branson seems to take the joke well--Jane turns to share her glee with Archer and then the journalist jerks with apparent surprise and topples from the rooftop. 

Jane is devastated; she believes their joke must have caught Branson off-guard and caused an accident, but Archer is certain it was no slip and he makes certain to tell Inspector Morgan so when the police arrive. Morgan has a long history of summing people up quickly and he realizes that Archer is no fool and certainly has no reason to sensationalize. He and Sergeant Pitt soon find more motives for murder than you'd expect at your average boarding house--everything from drugs to blackmail. And yet Farrar makes it all fit together.

This was a delightful surprise. Farrar has a way with characterization that make this a great read. The interactions between Morgan and Pitt are fun and realistic--you can tell that the two have worked together for some time and know how to pull each other's leg without stepping on anybody's toes. They make a good investigative team. And the boarding house inmates are also well-drawn and given a fairly good chance at the spot-light, especially when you consider how short the book is at 191 pages. The plot is interesting, though I will admit that old hands at the mystery game will probably spot most of the solution before the wrap-up--I certainly did. But I was interested enough in the characters and finding out the fine details that I didn't mind. ★★★★

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This counts for the "Any Other Animal" on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card and maybe (if Rich is lenient) for the Crimes of the Century feature.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Hidden Planet: Review

Using the last novella I read (Battle on Venus) as a jumping board, I moved on to The Hidden Planet (1959). This is a collection of stories by five authors featuring Earth's sister-planet Venus. Written during a time when we had little information about the planet (the brief introduction details just how little was known), each author gives us a little different vision of what lies beneath the cloud cover of our nearest neighbor. We get stories ranging from the man who made Venus a breeding ground for experiments with people  to the adventurer who went a little too deeply into the depths of Venus's ocean to those who investigated jungles where dangers lurk. As with most short story collections, this is a bit uneven. The best of the bunch are the stories by McIntosh and Weinbaum with Oliver and Brackett a distant second and Del Rey not even even making the race. I just found the story about the bad luck mascot to be annoying. Why not take the thing back where you found it and get yourself back to work so you can have the girl of your dreams? The critter doesn't even sound appealing and would be plenty happy in its swamp....An overall score of ★★ for the entire collection.

"Field Expedient" by Chad Oliver (1954): Tells the story of a childless billionaire who pours all his wealth into creating a colony on the very Earth-like planet. The men of Earth have become very complacent and no longer wish to reach for the stars. Vandervort believes his colony will give mankind back his exploratory vision.

You're never finished with danger. It follows a brave man around.
Maybe, but I'm not a brave man. Never was.
~Virginia Stuart, Warren Blackwell in "Venus Mission"

"Venus Mission" by J. T. McIntosh (1951): A ship is damaged on its way to a city on Venus and crash-lands far from their target. Venus has been hard-won after a war with the "Greys." Little info is given about the Greys except that despite the war being over and a treaty being signed, there are still renegade groups that love nothing more than to capture and torture humans. Will the survivors be able to make it to the nearest settlement?

"The Luck of Ignatz" by Lester Del Rey (1939): What happens when the luckiest man in the universe takes on the unluckiest mascot imaginable? Lots of bad luck for everyone else....and then nobody wants to give him a job or allow him to travel on their rocket ships. So, how's he supposed to rescue the girl he loves?

"The Lotus Eaters" by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1935): Patricia Burlingame, biologist, and her newly-wedded husband Hamilton "Ham" Hammond are asked by the Royal Society and the Smithsonian Institution to investigate the dark side of Venus. While there, they find a species of warm-blooded plants who can move about and share a communal intelligence. The plants reproduce through spores which, when they burst, have an effect on humans that can send them into a comatose state. Will Patricia and Ham escape?

"Terror Out of Space" by Leigh Brackett (1944): Operatives from the Special Branch of the Tri-World Police, Lundy and Smith, have captured an alien who has been wreaking havoc with the males of Venus. Whenever a guy looks at "Her," he abandons whatever he's supposed to be doing and follows Her wherever She leads.  The alien causes men to see the her as the most beautiful woman ever--a dream girl, in fact. Lundy is the only one to survive the encounter and finds himself needing to defend Venus's plant people from Her as well. It turns into a very close call indeed.

2016 Mount TBR Final Checkpoint Winner






Today was an absolutely crazy day at work (it's graduate student admission season at the university), and I almost forgot that it was time to find a winner for the Final Checkpoint prize.  So....without further ado, I will just plug in the random number generator and enter in the parameters....and the lights flash and webpage whirs and we get  (drum roll, please).....Link #2!  That means that Jean @ Howling Frog is our winner!  Congratulations, Jean!  I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list.



Thanks to everyone for participating in the final check-in.  I enjoy seeing your progress and the way you fit the titles to the proverbs (for those who did). Thanks as well to all climbers for joining me in scaling those Mount TBR heights in 2016.  Hope to see you on more mountains this year!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2016 Vintage Scavenger Hunt Winners!


Well, the entries for the 2016 Vintage Scavenger Hunt Wrap-Up and Prize Drawings have closed. I pulled out the Custom Random Number Generator and have selected our 6+ and 12+ prize winners as well as visited the wrap-up posts to find our Grand Prize Winner. After much clanking and whirring, our prize winners are

In the 6+ drawing: TracyK from Bitter Tea and Mystery
In the 12+ drawing: JJ from The Invisible Event

And our Grand Prize Winner, with a full Golden Age card and 37 items from the Silver Age card for a total of 112 items found: Joel from I Should Be Reading.

Congratulations to our Winners (let's have a rousing round of applause)! And thank you everyone who joined me for a year's worth of scavenging. I hope you all are along for the ride again in 2017!

I will contact the winners sometime tomorrow with details on the prizes.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Clocks, Cogs & Mechanisms Challenge





R. A. Vucci is hosting the 5th annual Clocks,Cogs, and Mechanisms Reading Challenge. When this challenge was first created, the world of steampunk was still fairly unknown, but not new. This is a genre that has been inspired by the works of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and H.P. Lovecraft to name a few. For those who have never experienced steampunk, a typical steampunk novel takes place in the Victorian era and involves lots of steam-powered technologies ahead of their time. There are variations and other time periods that fall into this category, but the Victorian era ones are the most common.

Here are the levels to this challenge:
Brass Gears: Read 1-3 books
Flight Goggles: Read 4-7 books
Button-up Boots: Read 8-11 books
Clockwork Corset: Read 12+ book

I have picked up a couple of steampunk mysteries over the past couple years, so I'm going to do the entry-level challenge: Brass Gears.

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The Silent Invaders and Battle on Venus: Review

This is an Ace Double book--so dual novels and dual reviews. Each portion has also been published as a stand-alone book, so I am absolutely counting these as separate steps on Mount TBR and separate entries for my challenges.

Up first is Robert Silverberg's 1963 novella, The Silent Invaders. Welcome to 26th Century Earth! It's a hustling, bustling, over-crowded world where aliens can take on human form and get lost in the masses. And they do. Aar Khiilom is just such an alien. Spruced up as Major Abner Harris, this Daruuiian has been sent to Earth to meet up with fellow under-cover aliens and attempt to win Earthlings over to their side of an intergalactic war with the dreaded Medlins. Every Daruuiian knows what evil creatures Medlins are and it's imperative to have every race on the right side of the battle.

Except....is the Daruuiian side really the right side? When Harris (to make things simple) meets up with an undercover Medlin (who just happens to have taken on the form of a beautiful Earth woman), he begins to have his doubts. And what about the race of super-humans that the Medlins have been encouraging along? Are they set to team up with the Medlins to destroy the Daruuiians? Or is this race the hope of the universe?

This is very early Silverberg and a fairly decent story. Once upon a time I read everything I could my hands on by Silverberg. Then there was a long hiatus from science fiction in general and when I took the genre up again, I read his The Masks of Time--which was an absolute dud (click for review). This one is better. I bought the main story this time. The hook is a good one--aliens among us and all that. I do have a bit of an issue with the super-humans, though. They're supposedly so much better than your average, run-of-the-mill humans (or Medlins or Daruuiians). Beyond all that war and greed and whatnot. And yet...they still think in order to deal with their "enemies" that those enemies should be killed. I'm thinking super-advanced humans ought to be able to come up with a better solution than that. ★★

Battle on Venus (1963) by William F. Temple gives us the first manned mission to Venus. When the crew of the Earth ship break through the thick, poisonous clouds surrounding the planet, they find themselves in the middle of a war that has been going on for years. The war machines are familiar--they look like Earth tanks, planes, and bombs of the past. But the machines are all on auto-pilot. There doesn't seem to be any Venusians running the show.

Their ship is damaged and they need to find a way to repair it before they become real casualties of war. George Starkey (our hero) goes off on an expedition to see if he can find anyone at all who might be in charge, listen to their peaceful pleas, and give them a chance to head back to Earth. What he finds is a beautiful Venusian girl named Mara, an ancient seer who seems to know everything, and a immortal with a nasty sense of humor. Luckily the beautiful Venusian takes a fancy to him and has fantastic thieving abilities which aid him in his cause. But will he be able to stop the war machines long enough get him, Mara, and the rest of the crew off the planet? Or will the immortal practical joker have the last laugh?

This one feels a little more dated than the Silverberg story, probably because we know that humanoid life forms wouldn't be able to survive on the surface of Venus--but it still has a good solid base. George is a good lead character, taking front and center away from the rather weak ship's captain. The most enjoyable portion of the novella is after he sets off on his mission to find those responsible for the war. It also reminds me of a couple of Star Trek episodes: "A Taste of Armageddon" (where two planets have been waging computer war on each other for ceturies) and "The Squire of Gothos" (where an alien child with incredible powers plays deadly games with the Enterprise crew). ★★

Death of a Racehorse: Review

Death of a Racehorse (1959) is the 25th entry in John Creasey's police procedural series starring Inspector Roger West [and, later, Superintendent] of Scotland Yard. It's not ideal to jump into a series mid-stream, but from what I can tell the stories stand well alone. I had no sense of missing vital information about any of the characters. In this particular outing, West has just recently been promoted to Superintendent and is still getting used to the idea. 

When Lady Foley declares in front of witnesses that she will kill her son's racehorse, Shoestring, and Silver Monarch, a horse that looks remarkably like Shoestring, is killed instead--along with a stableman who was charged with guarding the valuable horses, Superintendent West is called upon to sort things out. Having a member of the gentry suspected has made the case a bit of a hot potato for the local police force. Villagers are quite sure that if Lady Foley had done the deed herself then she would never have gotten the wrong horse and she certainly wouldn't have murdered a man in the process. But they're not convinced she didn't hire someone who bungled the job. And then when witnesses come forward to say they saw her at the wheel of her car when the stableman's son was kidnapped and her own son wrecks the car in an effort to hide evidence, things look very black for Lady Foley, indeed. But West believes the evidence may point in other directions and further murders show that the killer is more cold-blooded than Lady Foley appears to be. And the murderer doesn't seem to care who s/he frames for the murder as long as they aren't caught. Was the wrong horse killed? Is there an element of revenge behind the killings? And who is framing whom? These are all questions that West will have to answer before he identifies the culprit.

Despite the fact that I jumped into the middle of the series, this was an excellent introduction to Roger West and his method of criminal investigation. Creasey creates a good balance between descriptive, classic mystery scenes and the standard police procedural. He provides enough twists to keep the reader guessing and still manages to display the clues necessary to solve the puzzle. I did balk a bit at the brutal killings and the total tally is a bit high--but, overall a very satisfying read. Now I just need to go hunt up the previous twenty-four in the series. ★★★★


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This counts for the "Dead Body" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card and for the "Framed for Murder" category on the Mystery Reporter Challenge. there are, in fact, efforts to frame more than one person for the crimes. It is also my first entry in Rich's 1959 edition of the Crimes of the Century meme. If you have any 1959 mystery stories on tap for January, please join us with reviews and discussion.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Vintage Sci-Fi Month [January Only]

Vintage SF badge

From Redhead at Little Red Reviewer: 

Welcome to the Vintage Science Fiction not-a-challenge!  Through out the month of January, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016,, 2017 I will be reading and discussing as much “older than I am” science fiction and fantasy that I can, and everyone is invited to join me!  We’ll be talking about time travel, laser guns, early robotics, first contact, swords and sorcery, predictions for humanity and the authors who came up with it all. Haphazardly, the defining year for “vintage” is 1979.  The only “rule” for this not-a-challenge is that your blog post must be during the month of January. To see previous posts about Vintage Science Fiction Month, just type “Vintage” into the little search box-thing.
 




I'm in again--trying for four SF books in January:
1. The Silent Invaders by Robert Silverberg (1/7/17)
2. Battle on Venus by William F. Temple (1/7/17)
3. The Hidden Planet by Donald A. Wollheim, ed (1/9/17)
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Women Challenge 2017

Sponsored by PeekaBook


Rules:
* anyone can join
* audio, e-books, bound books and re-reads are ok
* create a sign up post on your blog and post the link in the Linky below (scroll down please, it's at the end of the italian translation)
* challenge goes from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017
* here you can link for your reviews. [she has had a link in the past, I'll make it live if she does it again in 2017]
 

Levels:
Level 1: BABY GIRL - read 5 books written by a woman author
Level 2: GIRLS POWER - read 6 to 15 books written by a woman author
Level 3: SUPER GIRL - read 16 to 20 books written by a woman author
Level 4: WONDER WOMAN - read 20+ books written by a woman author


I am quite sure that I will read at least 20 books by women in 2017, so I am signing up for Wonder Woman.

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Deal Me in Week #1: "The Riddle of the Rainbow Pearl"



This is my first year participating in Jay's Deal Me In Challenge . In a nutshell--we line up 52 short stories for the year, we match those stories up to a card in a regular deck of card, and each week we shuffle our deck (of real cards) and draw a card from whatever remains in the deck. My opening card was the seven of clubs...which gave me "The Riddle of the Rainbow Pearl" by Thomas W. Hanshew.


image credit

The image above, which I found in a quick search for the seven of clubs, is really quite apt for the story. Henshew's vignette appears in 7th volume of The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories edited by Eugene Thwing. It first appeared in a collection of stories titled Cleek, The Master Detective published in 1918, and, as the title might suggest, features a clever detective by the name of Monsieur Cleek. 

In this particular tale, Cleek is approached by Maverick Narkom of the Yard to assist in a matter of international importance. The coronation of King Ulric of Mauretania is set to take place in the near future and a scandal of huger proportions threatens the king and his kingdom. He had once gotten himself entangled with a beautiful Russian woman who, when scorned, managed to run off with the kingdom's most prized possession, The Rainbow Pearl, as well as some very incriminating documents. A fake pearl was left it in its place and no one but she and the king know of the replacement. If the king does not agree to install her as a wife (he already has one) in the palace with a suitable allowance and servants before the coronation, then she will wear the pearl to the ceremony--revealing the theft--and publish the damaging documents.

Cleek is asked to retrieve the items, but he is reluctant to do so. He does not admire King Ulric--who deposed the rightful heirs to the throne. His mind is changed when he discovers the Ulric's current wife is the daughter of the previous king--for he has some reverence for her and her family and off he goes to Mauretania to save the kingdom for the sake of the Queen. The Russian lady, when she discovers Cleek on the case, reduces the time frame--giving an ultimatum that the king must do as she demands in three days. Cleek responds and says that he will have possession of the pearl and the documents in two. And he does. The entertainment is in figuring out where the items were kept (the lady's possessions and servants had been searched repeatedly) and how Cleek was able to remove them. 

I couldn't help but be reminded of the Sherlock Holmes story about The Woman. There are several parallels to "A Scandal in Bohemia"--the main difference being that the Russian lady does not get the better of Cleek. 

Birth Year Reading Challenge 2017


I am so excited! The Birth Year Reading Challenge, hosted by J. G. at Hotchpot Cafe, has returned from its hiatus. This was one of the first--if not the very first reading challenges that I signed up for when I first discovered book blogging back in 2010. I zoomed through a large chunk of the famous books published in my birth year (1969...Shhhh!) and later rounds allowed us to use birth years of other people in our lives. Now that the challenge is back--and I've bought several carloads of books since 2010--I think I've got enough books from 1969 to make a good challenge of it. For full details and to join us, click the link above.

Here's my proposed list:

TBR Books
Spice Island Mystery by Betty Cavanna
Room for Murder by Doris Miles Disney
The Fennister Affair by Josephine Bell
Coffin's Dark Number by Gwendoline Butler
Death with Blue Ribbon by Leo Bruce
Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street by William S Baring-Gould

Possible Re-reads (books I read long ago and far away)
The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt
The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird
Death Cracks a Bottle by Kenneth Giles
The Invisible Intruder by Carolyn Keene

Library Books
Bullet Park by John Cheever
The Godfather Mario Puzo
Blind Man with a Pistol by Chester Himes
The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
Master & Commander by Patrick O'Brien
Mr. Tucket by Gary Paulsen
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
The Complete Adventures of Curious George by Margaret Rey
The Cay by Theodore Taylor
I Can Lick 30 Tigers by Dr. Seuss [I know this one isn't long enough to really count--but how could I resist a Dr. Seuss?]


Death at Swaythling Court: Review

I am a little late to the Tuesday Night Blogger's party, but I do have a post to offer up for our New Year's theme. January is hosted by Kate over at Cross Examining Crime and as she says:

It is the start of a new year and with January being the first month, we at the Tuesday Night Bloggers (a group of eccentric eclectic crime fiction bloggers) decided to have firsts as this month’s theme. Such a theme is wide open to interpretation so over this month posts may be touching on first books by authors and first appearances of our favourite sleuths, as well as a host of other crime fiction firsts.

If you haven't already done so, you'll want to head over to Kate's and see what other "firsts" have been offered up in this first week of January.
 
My selection for this first week's session of the TNB hits the "firsts" category on a number of levels. It is my first book finished in 2017. It is my first Golden Age novel of the year. And Death at Swaythling Court (1926) is the first detective novel by J. J. Connington after he began his writing career with a science fiction novel. The novel features some interesting elements for a detective story. First of all we have Jimmy Leigh, an inventor who has developed a Lethal Ray device (straight out of that science fiction world from which Connington had come). He's looking for a backer for his project and approaches William Hubbard as a likely candidate.

Hubbard is a piece of work. He's a collector of beautiful and rare butterfly specimens, but butterflies aren't the only things he likes catch in his net. He's also a thoroughly despicable blackmailer--always on the lookout for a juicy bit of news that will allow him to add another payment to his collection. He hasn't been Leigh's neighborhood long, but he's already gotten his hooks into several in the village and has his sights set on Leigh and his sister (who is trying to settle evidence for a divorce proceeding against her brute of a husband). 

But before Hubbard can either agree to back the Lethal Ray or indulge himself in blackmail at Leigh's expense, he is found dead in his stifling hot study--the apparent victim of a stabbing. Colonel Sanderstead, the local Justice of the Peace, the village constable, and Sanderstead's nephew Cyril Norton go calling on Hubbard to serve a warrant for his arrest for blackmail (the charge to be sworn by the nephew). But Hubbard won't be answering any more summons. The surprise of the inquest is when the doctor testifies that the letter opener didn't kill Hubbard...a good solid dose of cyanide did the job before he could be stabbed. The jury brings in a verdict of suicide.

Sanderstead is an amateur detective at heart and, dissatisfied with the verdict,decides to keep his hand in--noting such clues as a small revolver left in the hallway, the broken butterfly case--with a specimen missing, the candle melted onto the top of the desk, the sharp letter opener in the fireplace ashes, the evidence of a regular bonfire of papers being burnt, and the victim's pet parrot who seems prone to spouting obscenities whenever his cage is uncovered. Other curious aspects involve motor vehicles--there are three motorcyclists in the case, including the victim's butler, and a mysterious car (with a tire which had lost a steel stud). 

Connington's first venture into the detective genre gives the reader an entertaining story filled with humor and a solid murder plot. The Colonel is a grand old fellow--determined to detect on his own and show his nephew that he can put two and two together. He often jumps to conclusions, but he does get to the bottom of several parts of the mystery. He doesn't however quite see the whole picture and the story winds up being "solved" through a confession of sorts. Throughout the story much is made of the evil nature of blackmail and how Hubbard had it coming and so it's no surprise that the suicide verdict is ultimately left to stand and the murder is brushed solemnly under the carpet. This left me slightly dissatisfied, even though I do sympathize with the blackmail victims and the "avenging angel" who released them from their misery. It reminded me a bit of the Holmes story where Charles August Milverton gets his just desserts and Holmes has his sympathies with the criminal and will not investigate the murder when Lestrade asks him for help. Overall, a fun start to the New Year. ★★★★


Winner of the Most Overused Word Award for "Rum." As in:

"We seem to have blundered into the first chapter of a dime novel. Very rum, as you say, uncle. Damned rum, if you ask me. I don't half like it." (~Cyril Norton)

 Norton and his uncle, Colonoel Sanderstead use that word to describe the dastardly doings at Swaythling Court at least six times in as many pages and a few times more later in the story.

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Thanks to John at Pretty Sinister Books for this lovely edition (sans dust jacket). It was part of a prize package for a Mystery Challenge he set for his blog readers back in 2012. If you would like to see his take on the novel, please click the link to his blog.

Reporter's Challenge: Set in England
Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt Card: Revolver