Sunday, August 14, 2022

Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death (Spoilers!!)


 Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death (1996) by Helen Chappell

Synopsis (from the back of the book): Hollis Ball Just Received An Odd Request From Her Ex-Husband, Find The Person Who Murdered Him... When charming, wealthy Sam Wescott dies in a fatal boating accident, few mourn his untimely death. But perhaps the person most shocked to shed a tear is reporter Hollis Ball, his former wife who was abandoned by him ten years before on their honeymoon. Now he is gone.  Or is he?  For Sam's ghost brings Hollis the interesting news that his "accidental death" was really murder, and pesters her to find his killer. She would like to say now. but ever susceptible to his no-good upper-class wiles--even in their somewhat spectral form--she says yes. and plops down into the middle of a whopping big story that involves Sam's old-money family, a group of ecoactivists, and some very hot political potatoes...

**********Spoilers Ahead. I can't explain why I didn't care for the book without spoiling the plot.***********


I'll just be honest--this book didn't do a whole lot for me. I'm not a big fan of mixing paranormal in with anything--romance, mystery, what-have-you. The few mysteries I've read with ghosts working with the living (Aunt Dimity books; The Ghost and the Dead Deb to name a couple) have been okay...but not more than that. This one doesn't even hit okay with me. The primary reason would be because the whole premise is a fake. Sam was NOT murdered. He just wasn't. He doesn't have a legit reason to make Hollis go digging up dirt and stirring up all her rich ex-in-laws. Does Hollis find out about corruption? Sure. Are there real murders to solve later? Sure. But Hollis probably wouldn't have been involved if Sam hadn't suckered her into the whole mess by using his charm to get her to investigate his "murder." And...just maybe those other murders wouldn't have happened.  

First line: If you were Sam Westcott's ex-wife, you'd go to his funeral too.

Last lines: Maybe having Sam as a guardian angel wasn't such a bad idea. I could live with it.

*****************

Deaths = 4 (one explosion; one drug overdose; two shot)

Saturday, August 13, 2022

The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 6


 The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 6 (1910) by Eugene Thwing (ed)

One volume of a ten-volume set of early detective stories. This particular volume is not nearly as strong as the previous two I have reviewed. Holmes is entertaining as always and "The Eleventh Juror" by Vincent Starrett is the best of the rest with "On Top of the Tower" (LeBlanc) following closely, but most of these are poor pickings, indeed. There are no crimes at all involved in Starrett's other two offerings making them weak mysteries at best. "The Three Liars" would have been far more interesting if there had been a real detective following up real clues rather than looking into people's eyes and then doing some sort of early version of the Vulcan mind meld a la Mr. Spock. I hope the other volumes I own will meet the higher standards of Volumes one and seven. ★★

"The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: A man with an unusual last name is promised a share of riches if a third man with the same name can be found. [Deaths = one shot]

"The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" by Doyle: Holmes sets out to retrieve the stolen Crown diamond. He knows who has it, but can he force him to reveal where the diamond is?

"Missing Men" by Vincent Starrett: Three men vanish at practically the same time. If Lavender, famed detective of Chicago, can discover what happened to one, he will discover all.

"The Other Woman" by Starrett: A wealthy woman asks Alexandre Dulau to discover where her husband goes when he disappears periodically for one - three days. She's sure he is seeking the company of another woman. She may be right...

"The Eleventh Juror" by Starrett: All but one juror is sure the man on trial is guilty. Why is the eleventh juror so sure that Murray, caught standing over the murdered man with a gun in his hand, is innocent? [Deaths =  one shot]

"On the Top of the Tower" by Maurice LeBlanc: Hortense Daniel has been done out of her inheritance by her uncle. Prince Renine helps her regain it...but discovers murder in the process. [Deaths = two shot]

"At the Sign of Mercury" by LeBlanc: As part of an extraordinary bargain forged at the end of "On Top of the Tower," Prince Renine fulfills his obligation to track down a jeweled clasp for Hortense Daniel. She's not sure she wanted him to succeed...

"Three Liars" by Henry C. Rowland: Three people are telling lies about how the abusive Count Miguel met his death. Jacques Hughes, a mentalist detective, will determine where the truth lies. [one fell from height]

"The Subconscious Witness" by Henry Smith Williams: While early blood testing helps Dr. Goodrich whittle down the identity of a murderer who took advantage of a car accident to two suspects, he must use hypnosis to make the final determination. [Deaths = one hit on head]

"D'Artagnan and the Duel" by Alexandre Dumas: King Louis XIV orders D'Artagnan to investigate a duel which has left a man severely wounded. 

First line (1st story): It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy.

Last line (last story): "In that case, you are not human, Monsieur d'Artagnan, for I believe you never are mistaken." 


Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Abrus Necklace Mystery


 The Abrus Necklace Mystery (1956) by Elizabeth Seibert

Three years ago, seventeen year-old Katy Browning's baby brother was kidnapped by a temporary nurse during the family's summer holiday in Massachusetts. The Browning family hasn't been the same since. Her mother is a shadow of her former self and currently is fighting off a bout of pneumonia. Her father has lost the twinkle in his eye and has turned into a terse, tense man. It doesn't help that there is now hostility between Mr. Browning and other "Gold Coast" home owners (those wealthy enough to have summer and winter properties) and the local inhabitants over fishing rights and right of passage through the cove.

Katy is uneasy as she heads home from her school up north. It may be the Christmas holiday, but it sure doesn't feel like they have much to celebrate. But a random memory of a red abrus necklace gives Katy reason to believe that someone from the area may be connected with her brother's kidnapping. Is it possible that after three years of fruitless searching by the family and private detectives that Katy has a real lead?

With the help of Randy Watrous, a local young man whom Katy has befriended despite the general hostilities, Katy collects more clues and despite resistance from the cove's inhabitants and without thought of personal danger she follows them where they lead. And they lead to a ramshackle tar-paper shack that's hidden on an island in the cove where danger stands between Katy and a final answer. Will Katy and Randy be able to make a happy Christmas for the Brownings after all?

This is a fine young adult mystery. It doesn't take long to figure out what happened with little Davey Browning, but there are good clues and plenty of suspenseful action to keep younger readers interested. Katy is a really good character. It's obvious that she cares about her family and only wants them all to be happy again, but she is also very compassionate towards the local inhabitants who think their livelihood is in danger and even towards the one who has had Davey all this time. I enjoyed her relationship with Randy and they way they worked together regardless of the hostilities between the adults on each side of the cover. A good, solid read. ★★

First line: "Christmas on Cormorant Key," said Katy to herself as the silver streamliner sped through miles of Florida palms, pines, and white sand.

Last lines: Out of the paper fell a scarlet abrus-seed necklace, the black-tipped seeds glistening fiery red. Oblivious of the fact that it clashed with her suit of rosy tweed, Katy slipped it about her neck, and peered at herself in the narrow mirror between the windows, her eyes dancing.

Deaths = 2 (one natural; one car accident)

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Bad Quarto


 The Bad Quarto (2007) by Jill Paton Walsh

The book opens with a tragic accident--at least that's what the inquest determined. There is a place at St. Agatha's College, Cambridge, nicknamed "Harding's Folly--a gap between a window in the tower room of Fountain Court and a pediment on the New Library. Though discouraged by college authorities, it is a tradition among the "Night Climbers" to try and leap the gap. The Night Climbers scale all sorts of buildings--not only in Cambridge--for sport. 

The tragedy occurs when John Talentire a brilliant, outspoken research fellow attempts the leap and falls to his death. Imogen Quy, the school nurse and sometime amateur sleuth, is on the spot just after the accident. The inquest is over and the death declared accidental while his friend Martin Mottle is away from college. When Mottle returns and hears what little has been released, he can't believe that Talentire, an expert climber would have died just that way. He manages to get an amateur drama society to put on a production of Hamlet and (unbeknownst to the rest of the players until it actually happens) substitutes his own "play within the play" which dramatizes what he believes happened the night his friend dies. The play may not be the thing wherein he'll catch the conscience of the king, but he does hope that it will expose a murderer. The odd thing is...Talentire's father insists that Mottle drop his investigation. And both Mottle and Miss Quy wonder why....

Paton Walsh does well with the academic setting. And she does superb scenes about the life of the mind and question of scholars escaping from the real world that does tribute to Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night in the most gratifying way. In fact, if she had managed to capture Sayers' spirit this well in any of the Lord Peter continuation novels I would have enjoyed them far more. It seems to me that she is far too aware that she's writing someone else's characters and it spoils the effect in the LPW stories. But--when she is writing her own stories with her own characters she excels at capturing the academic atmosphere.

I wish the mystery had been stronger. Previous Imogen Quy novels have featured Imogen's detective skills in a much better light. Here her investigations just aren't as interesting or inspired. Mottle really does the work of exposing the culprit and then the ending really isn't satisfying, at least not in the way the culprit is revealed and justice is meted out. ★★ --primarily for the academic setting and atmosphere.

First line: It was much later than usual when Imogen Quy, the college nurse of St. Agatha's College, Cambridge, locked up her office in the college and went to fetch her bike for the ride home.

Last lines: "Some super-human perspective," said. "Some great simplicity."

***********************

Deaths = 4 (one fell from height; one natural; two shaken to death)

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Twyford Code (Spoilerific)


 The Twyford Code (2022) by Janice Hallett

Synopsis (from the book flap): It's Time to Solve the Murder of the Century...[according to audio files given to the reader in transcript form] Forty years ago, Steven Smith found a copy of a famous children's book by disgraced author Edith Twyford, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. Wanting to know more, he took it to his English teacher, Miss Iles, not realising the chain of events that he was setting in motion. Miss Iles became convinced that the book was the key to solving a puzzle, and that a message in secret code ran through all Twyford's novels. Then Miss Iles disappeared on a class field trip, and Steven has no memory of what happened to her.

Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Steven decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. Was Miss Iles murdered? Was she deluded? Or was she right about the code? And is it still in use today? Desperate to recover his memories and find out what really happened to Miss Iles, Steven revisits people and places of his childhood. but it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn't just a writer of forgotten children's stories. The Twyford Code has great power and he isn't the only one trying to solve it...

Fair warning: There is no way I can discuss my response to this novel without spoiling bits of the plot here and there. Read on at your own risk!

Okay. Let's just start with the first part of the blurb: It's Time to Solve the Murder of the Century. Except, yeah, no, it's not. There is no murder of that kind of importance here. In fact, some of the murders we're told about apparently didn't even happen. They're made up for the sole purpose of misdirecting the reader. In the big reveal at the end, we discover that one of the most important "murder" victims is, in fact, alive and well and living in comfort not too far away. A second victim is living in about the same circumstances as when we saw him last (before being told he was dead). And those who are killed just don't, I'm afraid, warrant a "murder of the century" label. It would be more accurate to say that it's time to solve the crime of the century (though that is still pushing it as far as hype goes). There's definitely a major crime to be solved. After all, that much gold and jewelry is kind of a big deal.

Next up: I really felt let down after the big build up of Twyford and her code and the secret WWII gold and Nazi spies and all that. I was quite excited that Steve and Lucy were on the track of a major WWII secret and I thought it terrific that children's books had been used to convey a code during the war. But, hey, that's all completely made up! For no real reason at all--except to give Steve a story to tell in audio form so he can hide clues to the real gold that he stole in a way that (supposedly) only his son (a genius math/puzzle guy) will be able to figure out. 

Last of my big quibbles: The ending is left hanging. Does Steve's son go and find the gold? Who knows. Did all of the other murders we're told about really happen? Again, who knows. I'm not even sure that Steve's mom and dad were killed at all, let alone in the ways described. The only one I believe in is the one Steve got put in prison for (and he didn't even do...). As a murder mystery, this leaves a lot to be desired.

Now we'll turn to the positives. Is this a clever book? Oh, yes. I enjoyed the use of the audio transcripts as a means to convey the story. It completely hooked me. I'm not so good at secret codes and anagrams and acrostics, so there's no way that I could have figured out the code if it hadn't been spelled out for us, but that didn't dampen my enthusiasm. I was completely sold on the Twyford Code. Hallett is excellent at pulling the wool over her reader's eyes and that is great fun too--within limits (please see above for where I think the limit was exceeded). I enjoyed the (totally made up) search for Miss Iles and the WWII secrets. I wish it had been more real within the context of the story.

I did appreciate the underlying theme of redemption and reconnection. I hope that Steve's story as it comes through the narrative is more or less true, because it shows how one can overcome one's past and connect to a better future. ★★ and 1/2

First line: Dear Professor Mansfield, I am investigating a mysterious case and suspect you may be able to help.

Last line: Emotions are vivid if echoes remain.

***************

Deaths = 6 (one natural; one beaten to death; one hit on head with poker; two shot; one car crash)

Friday, August 5, 2022

The Long Skeleton


 The Long Skeleton (1958) by Frances & Richard Lockridge

The Long Skeleton finds Pam and Jerry taking a hotel room to escape the painters who are redecorating their NYC apartment. They drop off their luggage and their cat, Martini, and go out for dinner and a movie only to return to their room to find something unexpected on their bed. Not a mint on the pillow--but the body of Amanda Towne, a famous television personality known for her ability to get guests on her show to reveal things they might have preferred to keep hidden. Just recently she'd managed to get a prominent judge to drop a few injudicious comments that will probably put paid to his hopes of a lieutenant governorship. But were her interview techniques enough to make someone want to murder her?

And what about our Norths? It soon becomes apparent that finding the body in their hotel room isn't the only link to our murder-magnet couple. There are suggestions that Jerry's most recent best-selling author is involved too. Or maybe the real link is to the past...a past that leads to Chicago and eventually to a suspenseful ending in the hills of Arkansas.

These books are such a delight to me. I enjoy following Pam's illogical logic and watching her make intuitive leaps are always almost, but not quite on target. It's also fun to watch Chief Inspector O'Malley chew through his cigars as he fumes over "those Norths" making everything screwy again. This one has a little more of O'Malley because Captain Bill Weigand is out of town--waiting for Washington D.C. to cough up some information on another case. And O'Malley has had more of the Norths than any Chief Inspector should have to deal with...

"What I want," O'Malley said, "is you to go down there and do the waiting. Get it? And wire Weigand to get the hell back here. Tell him--" O'Malley paused. "Tell him his friends are lousing things. up again. Tell him to get the lead out...Tell him to fly," O'Malley said, and ate half an inch of cigar.

 It doesn't matter that Pamela North just wants to help. Her quirky way of explaining everything is enough to drive a poor Chief Inspector up the wall.

Frances & Richard Lockridge created quite a duo when they came up with Pam and Jerry North. And they created mad-cap mystery perfection when they decided to drop them in the middle of suspicious circumstances in book after book. I recommend these mysteries to anyone looking for light and breezy, comic, madcap mysteries ★★★★

First Line: The sweep hand of the electric wall clock trotted downstairs to "30" and began to trot up again.

Last line: It was an odd way to describe Pamela North, Bill thought, as he walked with them to the train gate.

***********

Deaths = 3 (one smothered; one hit on head; one shot)

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Phryne Fisher Short Stories

 The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions (2021) by Kerry Greenwood 

This is an updated version of A Question of Death (2007)--with four additional stories and a few updates here and there on the previous adventures. It is always a delight to spend time with Phryne Fisher and I was glad to revisit the stories familiar to me (from the earlier edition which I own) and to have four new opportunities to watch Phryne in action. Some of the stories are more puzzle-oriented rather than the murder mysteries we are used to in the book-length works, but they all showcase Phryne as the independent, intelligent woman she is. I read and examined these books in tandem (since Lady with the Gun builds on A Question of Death), the earlier book is even more delightful because it includes color illustrations and recipes for drinks and food mentioned in the Phryne Fisher series. ★★★★

"Hotel Splendide": Why would the manager of an exclusive hotel give newlyweds a room that doesn't really exist and then tell the new bride that she and her (now missing) groom had never registered?

"The Voice Is Jacob's Voice": A man's punitive will results in the death of his twin sons.

"Marrying the Bookie's Daughter": The mystery of the missing bridal jewels reveals a secret that could ruin the wedding.

"The Vanishing of Jock McHale's Hat": An Archbishop asks Phryne to find a football coach's lucky hat. The reason it was stolen isn't the obvious one....

"Puttin' on the Ritz": Phryne retrieves a young man's pearly inheritance from his swine of a father.

"The Body in the Library": In a hat-tip to Dame Agatha Christie, Phryne and Inspector Robinson investigate the little matter of a deceased blonde dumped in the library of a prominent MP.

"The Miracle of St. Mungo": Phryne is on the hunt for another piece of jewelry. This time it's a locket being held by a blackmailer.

"Overheard on a Balcony": When the nasty blackmailing general dies of an overdose of digitalis there is no lack for suspects nor for those who say they did it. But was it really murder...or suicide?

"The Hours of Juana the Mad": Melbourne University's treasure, a book of hours, has gone missing and it's up to Phryne to track it down.

"Death Shall Be Dead": An old man with little money tells Inspector Robinson that someone has tried to kill him and then someone tried to buy his house. But he wasn't selling. The next day his house catches fired, there are three dead bodies in his kitchen, and he is found dead (heart attack from being tortured) on the back porch. Phryne and the inspector will need to figure out why.

"Carnival": Phryne's escort loses a valuable pearl necklace at the carnival. But all is not as it seems.

"The Camberwell Wonder": A business man disappears leaving only a bloody collar behind. One of his staff confesses to killing him, but Phryne knows that it just isn't so.

"Come, Sable Night": A man who jilted one sister in favor of the other dies of anaphylactic shock in Phryne's house. There are others in the party who also have reason to dislike him. Did he have something he was allergic to? Did a bee sting him? Or is it murder?

"The Boxer": Phryne is hunting for a missing little girl. She not only finds her but discovers what happened to her mother as well.

"A Matter of Style": Several expensive items have gone missing while their owners have been at an exclusive beauty salon. Phryne tracks them down and exacts a sweet revenge on a rather unpleasant society lady.

"The Chocolate Factory": A not very dose of mustard is introduced into a new chocolate manufacturer's first batch of nougats. Is it just a practical joke or sabotage?
 
"The Bells of St. Paul's": Phryne unravels a clever code involving church bells. (a hat-tip to The Nine Tailors by Sayers?)

First lines (1st story): "But please! You must know me! Oh, why won't you help me?"

Last line (last story): "Miss Phryne, what's wrong with the bells? They ring them every day." 
[not quite the last line--I forgot to make a note of it before returning the book to the library--but a couple lines from the last story]

**********************
Deaths = 11 (one smothered; nine poisoned; one heart failure)


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Garden of Lies


 Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz)

Slater Roxton is a man of mystery. Once thought dead in an accident on a far-off island while on an archaeological research trip, he returned to England a changed man. Some rumors said that he had returned to England to seek vengeance on his partner who had left him for dead or perhaps on his stepmother whose sons will inherit the wealth of his father--which should have been his. Some rumors said being nearly buried alive had driven him mad. Other rumors said he now followed strange and unmentionable rites in the basement of his house--rites derived from his researches on that island. 

Not all of the rumors about him were false.

Mrs. Ursula Kern has reinvented herself after her husband died and she later wound up a star witness in a nasty divorce trial. With a new name and a fiercely independent determination, she has built an exclusive secretarial service. But she worries that someone will unearth her unconventional past and destroy the success she has worked hard for. 

When Ursula's closest friend and one of her most efficient and reliable secretaries, Anne Clifton, dies unexpectedly, the authorities deem it an accidental overdose (while heavily implying that it was probably suicide). Ursula believes otherwise and decides to investigate herself. Anne had been working for Lady Fulbrook, transcribing and typing the woman's poetry for submission to an American magazine. But she left behind some puzzling items--her notebook, written in her own brand of shorthand, which contains references to a perfume shop and what seem to be instructions for mixing herbs; an empty perfume bottle; and a packet of seeds. There are dark rumors surrounding Lord Fulbrook and his treatment of his lady, so Ursula decides that the best course will be to withdraw from her own current assignment, assisting Slater Roxton in cataloguing his antiquities, and take on the secretarial work for Lady Fulbrook.

Slater doesn't want to lose Ursula's assistance...and not just because she's an excellent secretary. There is a certain something about her that makes him think his solitary life may not be all it's cracked up to be. And when she explains why she is temporarily backing out of their agreement, he believes she's walking into danger. The two work out an agreement whereby they will investigate matters together and they soon find themselves immersed in a world of crime and corruption--ranging from drug dealing to blackmail--with a hired assassin on their trail. A crime lord is wiping out all traces that lead to his discovery and he includes these two meddling amateur detectives on his list.

Under the Amanda Quick name, Krentz writes historical romantic suspense stories. They are quick reads and fairly predictable, but nice for an occasional read. The two I've read most recently (this one and 'Til Death Do Us Part) have been set in the Victorian era and have been very mystery-oriented. The romance is there (including a couple of fairly steamy scenes), but I don't consider the romance to be the main component. The investigation takes center stage and there is much for mystery fans to enjoy. Ursula and Slater make a good team and I think it would be fun if they show up in more adventures in the future...after all Ursula is pushing him towards setting up a private inquiry business there at the end.  ★★

First line: Slater Roxton was examining the strangely luminous paintings on the wall of the ornate burial chamber.

Last line: His mouth came down on hers and she gave herself up to his kiss and the future.

*Personally, I think it would have been better to end a few lines earlier: "It was," Slater said, "the only one that seemed to offer hope."

**************

Deaths = 9 (two poisoned; two drowned; one fell from height; two stabbed; two shot)

Monday, August 1, 2022

July's Pick of the Month

 


It's that time again...time to choose July's mystery star and take a peak at the reading statistics. I've managed to keep the reading mojo going and even upped the ante a bit. I managed 25 books and all but three had a mystery flair. One of the three was all about the paperback covers for the publishing houses which put out a lot of my beloved digest-sized vintage volumes--so it almost counts for mystery. We'll take a look at the mystery star ratings in a moment, but before we hand out the shiny prize/s, let's take a look at the stats.


Total Books Read: 25
Total Pages: 6,170

Average Rating: 3.16 stars  
Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 48%
Percentage by Male Authors: 40%
Percentage by both Female & Male Authors: 12%
Percentage by US Authors: 56%
Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  12%
Percentage Mystery: 88%
Percentage Fiction: 96%
Percentage written 2000+: 32%
Percentage of Rereads: 28%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}    
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 21 (66%)

Mysteries Read
Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Anna Waterhouse (3.5 stars)
Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn (2.5 stars)
Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David (3 stars)
Experiment with Death by E. X. Ferrars (3 stars)
An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch (4 stars)
The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch (4 stars)
The Case of the Gilded Lily by Erle Stanley Gardner (2 stars)
Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer (3 stars)
Stories Not for the Nervous as by Alfred Hitchcock [Robert Arthur, ed] (3 stars)
Voyage into Violence by Frances & Richard Lockridge (4 stars)
And Left for Dead by Richard Lockridge (3.25 stars)
Death in a Sunny Place by Richard Lockridge (3 stars)
Not I, Said the Sparrow by Richard Lockridge (4 stars)
The Body in the Vestibule by Katherine Hall Page (3 stars)
Secret of the White Rose by Stefanie Pintoff (3 stars)
Crossword Mystery by E. R. Punshon (2 stars)
Striding Folly by Dorothy L. Sayers (4 stars)
Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy L. Sayers/Jill Paton Walsh (4 stars)
Murder at St. George's Church by Lee Strauss (3 stars)
The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh (3 stars)
Seven Tears for Apollo by Phyllis A. Whitney (3 stars)
The Suspect by L. R. Wright (3.75 stars)


And now, the moment we've all been waiting for...the selection of the Pick of the Month. As has often been the case, the only five-star winner for July was a non-mystery. Arthur C. Clarke's short story collection The Nine Billion Names of God was just as good 35-ish years later as it was when I first read it. Clarke knocked the titular story out of the park and the remaining selections are all very strong as well. Following Clarke with four stars each are An Extravagant Death AND The Woman in the Water, both by Charles Finch; Voyage into Violence by Frances & Richard Lockridge; Not I, Said the Sparrow by Richard Lockridge; and Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy L. Sayers/Jill Paton Walsh. All but the two Finch books are rereads and, in general, I toss out rereads. But...It has been an extraordinarily long time since I read Not I, Said the Sparrow and I tend to like the books written by Richard alone less than the duo novels, so I'm going to be arbitrary and make Richard a co-winner this month. It was especially fun to read Sparrow after having read two novels by Richard that did not feature familiar investigators and, in one case, took place far away from New York. I was pleased to be back in the company of Inspector Heimrich and Lieutenant Forniss.

Now, we just have to see which Finch book will take home a P.O.M. award as well. An Extravagant Death's plot is a good one. Mystery fans with a lot of reading under their belts may see the particular twist coming, but Finch handles it well and readers who haven't encountered that type of solution before will be surprised. I also appreciate Finch's research and the way he uses it to bring the times and places alive. We definitely get a feel for the opulence that existed during America's Gilded Age. And he underlines the differences between the U.S. and Britain during the same time period without making too much of them and without making the reader feel like they are sitting through a history lesson. Highly enjoyable read.

The Woman in the Water takes us back to the early days of Charles Lenox's career as a detective. He is fresh out of Oxford and has set himself up in a London flat with Graham, who had served him at Oxford, joining him as his valet and right-hand man.  It was interesting to go back to the beginning and see him as he is just starting out. He's got all the cleverness and talent for observation that is evident in the later cases, but he is young and inexperienced and...well, rather a bit sure of himself. But he's also very willing to learn from his mistakes when that sureness leads him down a blind alley and he has to to rethink his conclusions. It's easy to see how he will grow into the detective we recognize later in his life. I also enjoyed watching the relationship between Lenox and Graham in its early stages. There is a youthful exuberance and easy friendship that is fun to read about. The two make a great team even in these early days of the detective collaboration. An entertaining and interesting look a London in the 1850s with cleverly plotted mystery.

Looking back at the full reviews for each of these, I am going to have to give the P.O.M. award to....The Woman in the Water. So, here are our joint July honorees...




 

August Reading by the Numbers Reviews

 


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August Virtual Mount TBR Reviews

 


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August Mount TBR Reviews

 


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August Vintage Scattergories Reviews

 


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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Not I, Said the Sparrow


 Not I, Said the Sparrow (1973) by Richard Lockridge

This is the 21st entry in the Inspector M. L. Heimrich series. Heimrich and his wife Susan are surprised to find themselves invited to a birthday party for "King" Arthur Jameson. The Jameson family is one of the old, moneyed families in the Van Brunt area and have lived on a high hill at The Tor for years. Not the sort of people who mix with state troopers, but Susan used to be an Upton (who were one of those families before losing their money) and that name still means something, apparently. The inspector isn't particularly keen on this type of high-class party, but Susan actually wants to go and he dons his black tie accordingly.

It's an even bigger surprise when Jameson, who is 72 or 73 (no one seems to be sure), announces he's going to marry his secretary, a woman a third his age. The young man who came with Dorothy Selby is very surprised indeed. Heimrich had inferred from their behavior that Dorothy Selby and Geoffrey Rankin were more than just friends (despite what they said when introducing themselves). But the biggest surprise of all is still to come...

Arthur Jameson is found early the next morning in his fishing boat, shot through the neck with a steel arrow. Somebody has made sure that the wedding will not happen. Were his heirs, sister Ursula, son Ronald, and daughter Estelle, hoping to prevent a change in the dispersal of his fortune? If so, they were too late--Jameson made and signed a new will naming Dorothy Selby as his residual legatee the night of the party. Perhaps Dorothy knew about the new will and decided that she'd dispose of her elderly fiance and still get the cash. Or maybe Geoffrey Rankin thought he'd prevent his "friend" from throwing herself away on an elderly husband. 

As Heimrich and Lieutenant Forniss work their way through everyone's statements, they are looking for those with some prowess with a bow and arrow. But then there is another near-successful attempt at murder disguised as accident and their attention is drawn to a previous accident which resulted in the death of Jameson's second wife. Is the answer to the present murder to be found in the past? Heimrich begins to think it is.

It was great fun to return to a more standard mystery with some of the Lockridge series characters after a couple which were either more suspense-driven or missing the familiar faces. Watching Heimrich and Forniss go to work and get to the point where the light bulb goes off is always enjoyable.

Forniss said, "I suppose we're thinking pretty much the same thing, M. L.?"

And, of course, they are thinking the same thing. And they're right. I got there before they did, but they had to find some tangible evidence. Heimrich doesn't utter his standard "the character must fit the crime," but the solution does feature a bit of psychology--figuring out which character fits in with all of the elements. A good, solid read.  ★★

First line: By mid-September in the latitude of the town of Van Brunt, Putnam County, State of New York, one begins to snatch at mild sunny days, which soon will be in short supply.

Last line: He carried tray and a mixer and chilled glasses back to the brightness of the fire and the brightness which was around his wife.

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Deaths = 3 (one shot w/arrow; one natural; one hit on head)

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Death in a Sunny Place


 Death in a Sunny Place (1971) by Richard Lockridge

Enid Towne's mother, who had been house-bound since an automobile accident five years ago, has died. Enid grew up expecting to be comfortably well-off in their large Connecticut house with acres and acres of wooded, hilly land. But her mother's doctor bills and efforts to "keep everything just the way your father always wanted" have eaten up most of the ready cash and Enid finds herself with almost nothing except the "potential" (her lawyer's word) earnings from a sale of the house and land. But the market isn't good. And nobody really wants big ol' houses far from the big cities right now. And spring in Connecticut hasn't quite hit yet and it's dismal and gloomy.

So...when "Aunt" Lillian (a courtesy aunt who was her mother's friend) writes from North Carolina and invites Enid to the private club in the sunny south owned by Aunt Lily and her second (much younger) husband, Enid is very tempted. And there is something oddly insistent about this invitation from a courtesy aunt she hasn't seen for years.

You can't guess what a favor you'll be doing us....How many things there are you can help me with....I need you, Enid.

When Enid arrives, she can't imagine what she can do to help Lily. The place seems to run like clockwork. The staff are so efficient. Neal Stanton, Lily's husband, is the perfect, genial host for Hilltop Club. But from the very beginning Enid senses that something is wrong. Aunt Lily is jittery and jumpy and drinking too much in an effort to calm her nerves. There is a group of men who seem oddly out of place in the middle of the country club atmosphere--a little too intense and little too stand-offish. And there is Mr. Hadley, young man with prematurely white hair, who also keeps himself to himself. There seems to be an air about the place that says something is about to happen.

And then something does. Samuel Thompson, brother of one of the intense men, has disappeared. He had kept to his room because he was supposed to be ill and now he's just not there. And, apparently, he's just not anywhere. After a search of the grounds finds no trace of him and none of the cars are missing, the state police decide to drag the lake. They find Mr. Thompson. And it's not an accident--no one accidently hits his head, gets tied up in a rope with a stone at the other end, and leaps into the middle of the lake. Murder has been done. Does it have anything to do with the men Enid saw talking in the darkness below her window? And what about the "nightmare" Aunt Lily says she had about a man being struck down on the terrace? Enid soon finds herself in a dark nightmare of her own in what was supposed to be a sunny retreat. And the worst of it is she doesn't know whom she can trust.

The Lockridge books definitely lost something when Frances died and Richard started writing on his own. Even the plots that should be a little more straight-forward mystery (like this one) wind up with a more melodramatic suspense feel. And, I have to say, I just don't appreciate the more suspense-oriented Lockridge books (whether written while Frances was still alive or not) as much as the more straight-forward mysteries. The stories written by Richard alone also have fewer instances of the lightness of tone and sparkling humor of the earlier books--I can only suppose that lightness was Frances's doing or Richard lost his firm grip on the light touch when he lost his first wife. 

This particular book has the additional disadvantage that the mystery really isn't much of one. Everything becomes pretty obvious about midway through the book even though Lockridge tries to muddy the waters by making one of the character's behavior and motives seem unclear. But it really didn't work--at least not on me. To be a true mystery there really needs to be more suspects with motives and that is missing here. 

All this negativity makes it seem that I didn't enjoy the book, but I did. This is one of the few Lockridge books that I had never (according to my haphazard record-keeping pre-blog) read before and I had searched for a reasonably priced copy for quite some time before getting my hands on it in 2020. So it was a good anticipation read. I enjoyed the sense of place. Lockridge gives a good look at the Carolina countryside as Enid is driven to the Hilltop Club by Aunt Lily's husband. And we are given a good description of the club itself and its grounds. The writing is good and crisp and the action flows well making this a quick, fun read. ★★

First line: She heard that slow thudding sound which meant that Mrs. Mills was coming downstairs, plodding down, holding carefully to the left hand rail.

Last lines: "Yes, Ted," Enid said, and wondered if she had said more than she meant to say. As he leaned down to her, she decided that perhaps she had not.

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Deaths = 3 (one natural; one plane accident; one hit on head)