Monday, June 17, 2019

The Hound of the Baskervilles (audio version)

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
~read by Simon Prebble

Another in a long line of audio versions of books I've previously read. As I've mentioned, I prefer to listen to novels that I've already got a good general knowledge of--it's more difficult for me to focus on the finer details of new stories in audio form, especially if I plan to review them. The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably my favorite Holmes story and it's one that I have read many times. As with other recent audio novels, I will not review Doyle's story itself (please see link above for my thoughts on the mystery) but will give my thoughts on Simon Prebble's narration.

Prebble is a proficient reader, employing a wide range of accents from cockney to country and even the American tones of Sir Henry Baskerville. He does start out a bit flat, but the narration gains flavor over the course of the novel. By the end of the story the listener is fully immersed in the world of Holmes and atmosphere of the dreadful moor. I enjoyed sinking into the Victorian era of gas lights and hansom cabs. Listening to Holmes and Watson come to life through narration was great fun.

The library has several of the Holmes stories narrated by Simon Prebble and I'm sure I'll be checking more out soon. ★★★★


The Secret of Chimneys

The Secret of Chimneys (1925) by Agatha Christie is her third mystery/adventure in her first five years as a detective novelist. It introduces Superintendent Battle who shares a great deal of the spotlight with our mysterious adventurer, Anthony Cade. It has just about everything imaginable--country house party with murder, various characters in disguise (sometimes in more than one disguise), secret passages, missing jewels and a master jewel thief, a secret code, blackmail, secret societies, and the missing memoirs of a recently deceased high-ranking Balkan official. 

So...about that story: It opens in Africa where our hero, Anthony Cade, is conducting tours for middle-age ladies and couples. He'd rather be doing something more exciting--preferably in South American, but you take what you can get, right? His old pal, Jimmy McGrath, arrives on the scene and offers him the chance for a change of scenery. It's not nearly as exciting as a revolution in South America, but at least he won't be flirting with middle-aged women any more. For a share of a thousand pounds, Anthony will need to deliver Count Stylptich's memoirs about the Balkan state of Herzoslovakia to a certain publisher in London. In addition, there is a stack of letters used for blackmail (not by Jimmy) that Jimmy would like to see delivered into the hands of the lady who wrote the indiscreet missives. The lady in question is one Virginia Revel. More of her later.

Meanwhile, back in England George Lomax talks his friend Lord Caterham to host a very special house party at his country estate Chimneys. In addition to any innocuous guests--including his own cousin Virginia (you guessed it--Revel), Lomax wants to slip in some principals in fantastic plot to restore the monarchy in Herzoslavakia and, incidentally, securing oil rights for a British concern. Caterham, unlike his recently deceased brother, has no head for politics and resents his place being used as a combination hotel and embassy--but he doesn't have the stamina to forestall Lomax when the man is in a politically conniving mood. 

Once Anthony arrives in England, the fun begins. He is visited by Herzoslavakian dignitaries and members of the Red Hand (political secret society) who are interested in obtaining the memoirs. The blackmail letters are stolen and he heads out to find Virginia Revel anyway. The waiter who stole the letters visits Virginia, tries to blackmail her and apparently succeeds(even though we find out the signature on the letters is not hers), and then winds up dead in her drawing room. Anthony shows up and immediately is ready to hide dead bodies for the lady. He does so and both he and Virginia head (separately) to Chimneys. Where another dead body is found--this time a member of Lomax's political plot. Superintendent Battle is called in when it's discovered that the murdered man is Prince Michael of Herzoslavakia in disguise and a famous French member of the Sûreté arrives in search of the jewel thief, King Victor, who is rumored to be in search of the Koh-i-Noor diamond which had been stolen some years earlier. Chimneys is one place where it may be hidden, though many searches have not found it. 

Of course, the diamond is found, King Victor is captured, the murderer is discovered, all mysteries are resolved, and a new heir to the throne appears to settle the Herzoslavakian question once and for all. Lots of excitement all round. Anthony certainly traded up in adventures when he abandoned the middle-aged ladies to act as courier boy for Jimmy McGrath. This is pure fun and fantasy--certainly not a down-to-earth murder mystery and definitely not fair play detection. All intrigue and adventure, it makes for a great escape read. ★★ and a half.



[Finished on 6/6/19]
Deaths = two--shot


River of Darkness

River of Darkness (1999) by Rennie Airth

From the author's page: In rural England, slowly emerging from the horrors of World War I, the peace of a small Surrey village is shattered by a murderous attack on a household that leaves five butchered bodies and no explanation for the killings. Sent by Scotland Yard to investigate is Inspector John Madden, a grave and good man who bears the emotional and physical scars of his own harrowing time in the trenches and from the tragic loss of his wife and child. The local police are inclined to see the slaughter as a robbery gone awry, but Madden and his superior, Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair, detect signs of a madman at work. With the help of Dr. Helen Blackwell, who introduces Madden to the latest developments in criminal psychology and who opens his heart again to the possibility of love, Madden sets out to unravel the mystery, even as the murderer sets his sights on his next innocent victims. Darkly stylish, suffused with tension, and rich in historical atmosphere, River of Darkness is a novel of extraordinary resonance and power.

This novel is the first in a very long time to make me stay up reading long after I should have gone to sleep. I kept thinking that I would "just finish this chapter" but then I'd go right ahead and plunge into the next...and the next...until I finally had to make myself quit. Not that serial killers using military-like precision to dispatch their victims are the most pleasant bedtime story fare, but the story and the writing were so compelling that I was drawn in from the opening chapter. Robert Goddard, author of Edgar-nominated Beyond Recall, says, "Rennie Airth takes what seems to be a twenties drawing-room murder mystery and transforms it into an edge-of-the-seat serial-killer thriller. Compelling stuff."And he's quite right. The trappings of the Golden Age mystery are all there--lavish country houses, landed gentry, and the village bobby, but Airth has given it a wicked twist that produces a believable serial killer for the chosen time period.

It's difficult for me to believe that I enjoyed a book that stacks up 16 corpses, all killed in a very violent way. But I did. Inspector Madden and the supporting characters are vividly drawn with many facets to their complex personalities. Readers are given a strong sense of England in the aftermath of the Great War with men struggling to come to grips with their experiences on the battlefield and women adjusting to the changes wrought by the loss of nearly a generation of men and the scars (both physical and mental) that those who returned will carry with them for the rest of their lives. 

I enjoyed getting to know Inspector Madden and Detective Constable Billy Styles. Madden takes Styles under his wing and tries to encourage the young constable without coddling him. This first book shows signs of a good working relationship developing between the two and I look forward to watching it progress in future installments. The mystery here isn't so very great--at least not in the whodunnit category. We know who the killer is from the beginning. The big questions are why does he kill and why does he kill in the manner chosen...and how many will be sacrificed before Madden and his team bring him to justice. ★★★★ for an excellent debut to a new series.



[Finished on 6/3/19]August = primary action
Deaths = 16 (14 stabbed; 2 strangled)


The Barrakee Mystery

Please note that this review may use terms or descriptions from the work itself for those of mixed heritage. No disparagement or disrespect is intended.

The Barrakee Mystery (1929) is the first book in the Inspector Napoleon (Bony) Bonaparte mysteries by Arthur W. Upfield. Even though this is Bony's first recorded case, the half-caste detective already has a formidable reputation--he has never left a case unsolved. When King Henry, an aborigine from Western Australia, is found dead at Barrakee Station, land belonging to John Thornton--a prominent sheep rancher, Bony is sent to investigate because it is thought that the motives, if any, may rest in the aboriginal community. What might have been an accident in the tremendous thunderstorm is soon proved by Bony to have been deliberate murder--a murder using that most Australian of instruments, a boomerang. He will have to use all of his detective abilities to discover why King Henry was on Thornton's land and who had a reason to kill him.

Upfield's novels are always enjoyable. He provides motives for murder that are uniquely Australian as well as introducing readers to Australian life and environs of the early 20th Century. The stories are peopled with memorable characters representing a time and place far removed from my own and he vividly portrays their concerns of the time. We may not agree with some of their concerns--particularly when it involves race relations--but we can't say that Upfield tries to hide anything. Except maybe the murderer. But then that's his job. And he does it well in this debut novel. I did not spot the murderer and was satisfactorily surprised in the wrap-up. ★★★★

[Finished on 6/1/19; Death = hit on head]

Spoilery bits ahead [the prime motive for the murder will be discussed--continue only if you don't mind having that spoiled for you]

As part of the mystery, this book features the question of nature versus nurture. One of the characters winds up being a half-caste like our hero, Bony--but this person doesn't know it. He has been raised as the son of a prominent white sheep ranching couple. According to the story, this young man has lived nearly twenty years of his life looking and acting just as white as his family. No one has suspected that he is not the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Thornton, but that of their dead cook, Mary, and the man who "betrayed" her. Their son died immediately after birth and the "Little Lady" (as Mrs. Thornton is known to all) fell in love with Mary's baby and promised the dying woman to take him as her own. But there are deeper secrets--Mary never revealed who the father of her child was until she lay on her deathbed and told Ann that it was King Henry, a black man. And Mrs. Thornton never told a soul. That secret, of course lies at the heart of the murder.

But my question is this--could a man grow up so light-skinned as to pass for fully white and then suddenly when he hits about twenty begin to turn darker and darker? Wouldn't changes in pigmentation occur sooner than that? Could he be raised in a white family, educated, socialized, and trained to be a man (for the time period) of position and class and then with "the cessation of college life, the return to the native lands of his [as yet unknown to him] father" suddenly give over to the "hereditary urge" and revert to his "ancestral blackness," abandoning the "veneer of civilization?" Upfield puts all of these declarations in the mouth of our half-aboriginal detective. When discussing the complexities of the case, Bony says: "...when Mary whispered the name of her paramour, the father of her child, Mrs. Thornton deliberately took to her bosom a living asp. The laws of heredity are immutable, and it is a very great pity that she did not recognize this." He goes on to say, "In no case does a half-caste rise to the status of the superior parent." He champions the cause of nature over nurture--claiming that no one of aboriginal blood will be able to resist The Lure of the Bush (the alternate title of of this novel).

I would argue that Bony himself is proof that at least some resistance is possible. He works with white colleagues and lives away from the bush. He excels at his chosen field--most likely because of his aboriginal heritage and not in spite of. His expert tracking abilities and knowledge of the bush make him even better as a detective than other officers. Of course, I realize that the customs and prejudices of the times might have prevented Ralph Thornton from being fully accepted once his heritage came out and that is part of the point of the mystery--but I find it hard to believe that his heritage could take him over so completely without it having been known first.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Challenges Complete: Print Only and Strictly Print


I have now completed the commitments for both Print Only and Strictly Print. Thanks to both Tina and Gina for sponsoring these challenges!

 

Like Tina at As Told by Tina, I signed up for Book Dragon's Lair's Strictly Print Challenge last year. But the Book Dragon has been on hiatus in 2018, so Tina put together her own print book challenge: Print Only 2019. The idea is still the same--there are different levels and only hard copy books count (hardback/paperback/any physical book) and there are various levels. For all the details and to sign up, click on the link above.

I am signing up for the Collector's Edition -- 41+ books.


***Update: Gina at Book Dragon's Lair is back and has posted her Strictly Print Challenge again. I am consolidating both printed book challenges and joining both here. For Gina's I will sign up for the Chapter Books level (52 books).





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 Captain 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. The Dead Shall Be Raised by George Bellairs (1/13/19)
8. The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs (1/14/19)
9. A Whiff of Cyanide by Guy Fraser-Sampson (1/15/19)
10. The Haunted Man & The Haunted House by Charles Dickens (1/16/19)
11. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1/18/19)
12. Tales of Terror & Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/23/19)
13. Hitler's First Victims by Timothy W. Ryback (1/24/19)
14. The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes by June Thomson (1/25/19)
15. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (1/25/19)
16. Tower of London: A Chilling Interactive Adventure by Blake Hoena (1/26/19)
17. Terror on the Titanic by Jim Wallace (1/26/19)
18. Blind Corner by Dornford Yates (1/27/19)
19. A Death in the Night by Guy Fraser-Sampson (1/30/19)
20. Zion's Fiction by Sheldon Teitelbaum & Emanuel Lottem, eds (2/6/19)
21. A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary & Vincent Price (2/13/19)
22. Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh (2/14/19)
23. Blood of the North by James B. Hendryx (2/15/19)
24. Where the Snow Was Red by Hugh Pentecost (2/16/19)
25. A Wrinkled in Time by Madeline L'Engle (2/17/19)
26. Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins (2/19/19)
27. No Patent on Murder by Akimitsu Takagi (2/20/19)
28. Monsieur Lecoq by Emile Gaboriau (2/27/19)
29. The Lucky Stiff by Craig Rice (3/1/19)
30. Code Talker by Chester Nez w/Judith Schieff Avila (3/8/19)
31. A Wreath for Rivera by Ngaio Marsh (3/11/19)
32. Murdered: One by One by Francis Beeding (3/16/19)
33. Books to Die For by John Connolly & Declan Burke, eds (3/22/19)
34. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (3/23/19)
35. Becoming by Michelle Obama (3/27/19)
36. The Man Born to Be King by Dorothy L Sayers (3/31/19)
37. A Knife in the Back by Bill Crider (4/2/19)
38. Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh (4/4/19)
39. Mossflower by Brian Jacques (4/8/19)
40. The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie (4/13/19)
41. Gallows Court by Martin Edwards (4/13/19)
42. The Pocket Detective: 100+ Puzzles by Kate Jackson (4/19/19)

Print Only Complete!
43. Murder at the Mardi Gras by Elisabeth Stone (4/20/19)
44. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter (4/22/19)
45. Trixie Belden & the Mystery on the Mississippi by Kathryn Kenny (4/23/19)
46. The March Hare Murders by Elizabeth Ferrars (4/23/19)
47. Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd (4/26/19)
48. Is Skin Deep, Is Fatal by H.R.F. Keating (5/1/19)
49. Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane (5/5/19)
50. Spinsters in Jeopardy by Ngaio Marsh (5/6/19)
51. Death on a Warm Wind by Douglas Warner (5/8/19)
52. Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie (5/12/19)
Strictly Print Complete!

Challenge Complete: Craving For Cozies


Lori at Escape With Dollycas Into a Good Book's Craving for Cozies Challenge goes right along with Yvonne's cozy challenge--so I always sign up for both. And...finish them both at the same time. Again--there will probably be more cozy mysteries served up here on the Block, but I've met my challenge commitment.

Thanks to Lori for sponsoring each year!

Books read for the challenge:

1. The Winter Women Murders by David A Kaufelt (1/5/19)
2. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/12/19)
3. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (3/24/19)
4. A Knife in the Back by Bill Crider (4/2/19)
5. Murder at the Mardi Gras by Elisabet M. Stone (4/20/19)
6. Trixie Belden & the Mystery on the Mississippi by Kathryn Kenny (4/23/19)
7. Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L. Sayers (4/23/19)
8. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (4/28/19)
9. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (5/11/19)
10. Miss Agatha Doubles for Death by H.L.V. Fletcher (5/16/19)

Challenge Complete: Crusin' Thru the Cozies



I actually finished my commitment to Yvonne's Cruisin' Thru the Cozies Challenge back in mid-May, but I neglected to post about it. I always enjoy reading cozy mysteries and joining in on her challenge. I'm sure I'll read more mysteries this year--but my commitment is complete. Thanks to Yvonne for hosting this challenge each year.

Level One (Snoop): Read a total of 10 books.

Books read for the challenge:
1. The Winter Women Murders by David A Kaufelt (1/5/19)
2. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/12/19)
3. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (3/24/19)
4. A Knife in the Back by Bill Crider (4/2/19)
5. Murder at the Mardi Gras by Elisabet M. Stone (4/20/19)
6. Trixie Belden & the Mystery on the Mississippi by Kathryn Kenny (4/23/19)
7. Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L. Sayers (4/23/19)
8. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (4/28/19)
9. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (5/11/19)
10. Miss Agatha Doubles for Death by H.L.V. Fletcher (5/16/19)

The Cream of Crime

The Cream of Crime: More Tales from Boucher's Choicest (1969) edited by Jeanne. F. Bernkopf gives us what purports to be some of the best selections from Anthony Boucher's annual Best Detective Stories of the Year. Just as a point of clarification:"detective stories" implies, to me, that a certain amount of detective work (mystery-solving, tracking down criminals, etc.) will be done by a protagonist who at least loosely fits the "detective" role--whether that be a professional (private eye, policeman, etc) or amateur detective. A number of the stories in this collection do not fit that description--some of them don't even contain what could be called (except in the loosest possible terms) a crime. A few of these could fall into the category of moral crime--but there would be difficulty ever bringing the perpetrator to justice. This makes rating the collection a bit difficult. If I were to rate it purely on whether the product were as advertised, then I would have to give it a very weak three stars. If I rate it purely on story quality (regardless of what genre the stories ought to be listed as), then I would definitely be handing out at least four stars and quite possibly four and a half.

All but two of the twelve stories included here are very fine stories, indeed. I didn't care at all for the parody-pastiche of Sherlock Holmes by Robert L. Fish ("The Adventure the Double-Bogey Man"). I found it neither "hilarious" (as promised) nor a particularly good rendering of Holmes in pastiche. I was also promised that William Wiser "writes like an angel," but if this is the case I certainly didn't hear any harp strings or glad tidings of great joy in his "A Soliloquy in Tongues." Perhaps he writes more like a fallen angel...

In my opinion, the creamiest of the Cream presented are "A Case for the UN" by Miriam Allen deFord, "The Opposite Number" by Jacob Hay (a truly good pastiche of espionage novels), "The Oblong Room" by Edward D. Hoch, and "The Possibility of Evil" by Shirley Jackson. Only two of these (by deFord and Hoch) are strictly speaking detective/crime fiction, but all four are extraordinarily good short stories. DeFord presents a murder committed in full view of a plane full of witnesses, but such a way that it looks like the murderer can never be prosecuted--because no particular country has jurisdiction. There is a famous lawyer among the witnesses. Will he be able to find the loophole that will bring the killer to justice? As mentioned, Hay's story is a very good pastiche--it pokes gentle fun at the spy story and is quietly funny in a way that is much more effective than the blatant attempt at humor in the Fish story. Hoch's "The Oblong Room" was the 1967 winner of the annual Edgar Allan Poe award for best crime short story and it is apparent why. Hoch's story evokes the best of Poe's short stories and provides a simple plot full of atmosphere and a shocking finale. There is also a nice bit of detection included. "The Possibility of Evile" is Jackson doing what she does best--taking the ordinary village life and revealing the evil undercurrents with realistic flair. And the bit of karma that is served up to our "villain" is right on point.

Final verdict, after averaging both methods of rating the collection: ★★ and 3/4. 


****************
Finished  5/26/19
Deaths: 7 shot; 1 poisoned; 1 hit on head; 1 stabbed

June 2019 Calendar of Crime Reviews



So...my linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...




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June Virtual Mount TBR Reviews



So...my linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...
 


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June Mount TBR Reviews



So...my linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...




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June Monthly Kew Word Reviews



So...my linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...



June's Key Words: Dress, Father, Man, Woman, Flag, Happy, Some, Bride, How



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June Just the Facts Reviews


So...my linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible.




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Friday, May 31, 2019

Book challenge by Erin 11.0



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 JULY 1, 2019 to OCTOBER 31, 2019. No books that are started before 12 a.m. on July 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on October 31 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: Join the Book Challenge by Erin Facebook Page. 

Here are this round's categories and my selections:


• 5 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages: 
Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh
• 10 points: Read a book that starts with “F” :  
Family Affair by Ione Sandberg Shriber
• 10 points: Read a book with one of the following words in the title: rain(s), thunder, lightning, or monsoon: 
A Hard Rain by Dean Wesley Smith
• 15 points: Read a book with a picture of a building (i.e. a house, a castle, a school, a hospital, etc.) on the cover:  
Repeat Performance by William O’Farrell
• 20 points: Read a book that the published author uses an initial in his/her name
Murder in the Maze by J.J. Connington
• 20 points: Read a book with an article of clothing or accessory in the title
The Spanish Cape Mystery by Ellery Queen
• 25 points: (in honour of our co-admin) – Read a book set in India
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
• 30 points: (selected by Lyndsay L.) – Read a book that has won or been short-listed for the Booker Prize:  
His Bloody Project by Graem Macrae Burnet (library book)
• 30 points: (selected by Deborah D.) – Read a book about a human with superpowers or supernatural powers: 
Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines (library book)
• 35 points: (selected by Lorraine J.) – Read a book that has the same title as another book in a different genre:  
 Black Aura by John Sladek (mystery) [shares title with Black Aura by Leia Kiuski (fantasy)