Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Crying Sisters

The Crying Sisters (1939) by Mabel Seeley

Janet Ruell is a small town librarian who is taking her first vacation without her mother. She's escaping her humdrum, rural life where the most "exciting" thing to happen to her is a proposal from the dull, older banker (the only eligible bachelor in town). She's determined to accept the attentions of the first man she meets and to take on any adventures that come her way during her month's stay in northern Minnesota. She gets her chance at both when she makes an unexpected stop at a small tourist camp along the way.

There she meets Steve Corbett and his young son "Cottie." She is immediately charmed by the little boy--though not quite so much by his father. Steve is a man of little words, short-spoken, and often mysterious. But he offers her an adventure of sorts--come with him to Crying Sisters lodge and look after his son. When she agrees (unaccountably after the rudest offer ever made), she finds herself stepping into a life of deception--pretending to be Steve's wife and the mother of Cottie. As soon as they are installed in their cabin, Steve hands her a gun--to protect herself and the boy--and starts making late-night excursions around the camp. He won't explain anything and tells her to just keep her mind on the boy and her nose out of his business. Before her adventure is over, she hears screams in the night, stumbles over a dead man who disappears and then reappears in the most unlikely places, is locked up with Steve as possible murderers, becomes briefly associated with gangsters, witnesses an explosion at the gambling den across the lake, and shoots a crazed killer. She certainly gets her wish for excitement in spades....

I seem to be in the minority on Goodreads (not rating this a three or higher)...but I honestly could not get over the opening and the heroine's whole reason for getting mixed up in this murder mystery. Here we have a supposedly level-headed librarian who just ups and goes off with a surly man she just met and winds up pretending to be his wife and mother to his small son. She's sure he's up to something, but she is so starved for adventure in her life that she's going along with it. Really?! And then, of course, once the nasty things start happening, she's gotten so attached to Cottie that she can't possibly leave. Again, really?!

The mystery plot itself is fairly solid. I did think throwing in the obvious red-herring gangsters was a bit much, but other than that, it was a nice, tidy mystery with a decent amount of clues sprinkled around. The reader might not figure out the whole story, but there is enough to point in the right direction if you know what you're looking at. I enjoyed that part of the book the most and have given all the star-rating based on plot alone. If our protagonists had been more engaging and the behavior of Janet had been more believable, then the rating would be higher. I will say that I do admire her strength at the end--managing to foil the murderer's plan to leave her to die and shooting the villain in turn. But, not enough to change the rating. As it is...★★

~~Spoilers ahead! Continue at your own risk.~~

I also find the sudden romantic ending to be totally unbelievable. Here's a man who has gone to all this trouble to search for his wife and has constantly been more than rude to the woman currently caring for his son and out of the blue he just proposes to her? Sure--maybe he's trying to keep his distance from her to keep her and Cottie safe. But there is absolutely no undercurrent of feelings between these two people. If you want a romantic ending, then please lay a little groundwork for it. Even if it's just a few hints of romantic tension here and there. But don't just give us nothing...

Calendar of Crime: August (Primary Action)
Pick Your Poison: Recovery (missing person)
PopSugar: has a map
Deaths = 6 (two poisoned; one hit on head; one stabbed; two shot)

First Line: I still pinch myself and say it isn't true.

Small towns never forget, not when they can take malicious triumph in remembering. (p. 8)

Last Line: As well as I could I curved my bandaged hands upward around his face.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Beatles Yellow Submarine

The Beatles--Yellow Submarine story adapted by Bill Morrison (2018)
~based on a song by John Lennon & Paul McCartney (1966)
~from the Screenplay by Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, and Erich Segal (1968)

Climb aboard the Beatles' Yellow Submarine and take a 60s psychedelic journey to Pepperland where the boys will help Young Fred, Old Fred, and the Mayor restore music, peace, happiness, and love to the land that has been attacked by the dreadful, music-hating Blue Meanies.

This is a beautifully rendered graphic novel version of the Yellow Submarine movie. The colors are vibrant and it was fun to revisit the story. I hadn't seen the movie for decades. The only way it could have been better would be if the music played when you opened the pages (like the greeting cards that come with sound). It was a shame not to hear "All You Need Is Love" playing in the background at the end. Highly enjoyable nonetheless. ★★★★

Pick Your Poison: Movie Quotes (I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way: Graphic Novel)

Death in Kenya

"You know," he said, "this is painfully like one of those detective novels in which just as the plot is getting littered with clues and corpses, the heroine holds up the action for three pages with a sentimental scene." (p. 350)

Death in Kenya (original title: Later Thank You Think; 1958) by M. M. Kaye takes us to the Rift Valley in a period during the latter part of the Mau Mau uprising (referred to as The Emergency by white settlers). Emily DeBrett and her grandson Eden, along with his wife Alice, have lived through an attack on Flamingo, their sprawling home in the Valley only to have a poltergeist invade their home. Emily's family treasures are broken and then her favorite dog is killed. The feeling that tension is mounting and that all of this malicious mischief is leading to something more dangerous is revealed to us through the eyes of Alice DeBrett. An English girl who has never felt at home in Kenya, Alice becomes more uncomfortable as the incidents increase in severity. Even Emily, who is tough as nails and helped repel the Mau Mau attack on her home, is feeling the strain and sends for her niece Victoria Caryll to come and help her with secretarial duties that she doesn't feel up to anymore.

Victoria was once unofficially engaged to Eden DeBrett and worries that she's made a mistake in agreeing to come. She's sure of it when she arrives and is told first thing that Eden's wife has been murdered with a Mau Mau weapon. She felt safe in coming to Kenya when Eden was married and unattainable--now she's afraid that old feelings will crop up and make an unpleasant situation unbearable in more ways than one. The police seem to be wavering between thinking this may be the start of a new revolt and believing that the murderer is someone within the DeBrett's small social circle. There are certain clues that don't add up (and which I can't reveal because spoilers) and until they can get the math right, the killer is going to get away with it. More deaths follow and even Victoria finds herself in danger....

Kaye's novels are always terrific visions of another place and time. She sets her mysteries in locations where she and her husband have lived and the vivid descriptions ring completely true. Her mystery plots are solid and she managed to fool me completely in this one. Considering that the vital plot point has been (in some variation) important in at least three vintage mysteries I've read in the last three months, you'd think I would have picked up on it. But the way it was presented (and even repeated...yes, I was that dull-witted) this time made it seem impossible. Just remember...appearances can be (and often are) deceiving. ★★ and 1/2.

Previously read Death in Zanzibar (click link for review)
Deaths = 6 (two shot; two stabbed;one killed with axe; one poisoned)
Vintage Mystery Gold 2011 (#2 towards Murderous Mood)
Calendar of Crime: August (Author DOB)

First Line: A flock of pelicans, their white wings dyed apricot by the setting sun, sailed low over the acacia trees of the garden with a sound like tearing silk, and the sudden swish of their passing sent Alice's heart into her throat and dried her mouth with panic.

ED: My dear Drew, all women are excellent actresses when circumstances force them to it; and the sooner men realize that, the better! (Emily DeBrett; p. 369)

DS: People who are desperately and deeply in love are probably capable of anything. There are endless examples in history and the newspapers to prove that love can be a debasing passion as well as the most ennobling one; and a stronger and more relentless force than either ambition or hate, because those can be cold-blooded things, but love is always a hot-blooded one. Men and women have died for it--or for loss of it. They have committed crimes for it and given up thrones for it, started wars, deserted their families, betrayed their countries, stolen, lied and murdered for it. And they will probably go on doing so until the end of time! (Drew Stratton; p. 373)

Last Line: It had ceased to be a Graven Image demanding sacrifices, for its High Priestess was dead and it was only a pleasant, rambling house whose windows looked out across green gardens to the wide beauty of Lake Naivasha and all the glory of the Rift Valley.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

If I had to reduce him to a sentence, I'd say that Gilkey is a man who believes that the ownership of a vast rare book collection would be the ultimate expression of his identity, that any means of getting it would be fair and right, and that once people could see his collection, they would appreciate the man who had built it. (p. 251)

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (2009) by Allison Hoover Bartlett purports to be the story of John Gilkey, rare book thief, and the man who helped catch him, Ken Sanders (book detective or "bibliodick" as he is dubbed). It is also Bartlett's tour of the world of rare books--the dealers and collectors and supposedly is a peek at what makes them tick. The cover announces that it is "Compelling with elegant suspense." Uh, no. Not compelling. Not the least bit suspenseful. And quite frankly, as a journalist, Bartlett leaves a lot to be desired. She inserts herself into the narrative--accompanying Gilkey on little jaunts to book dealers he has conned, to pay phones he has used in his scams, and generally behaving like a book thief's groupie. One wonders if his book-thieving ways has rubbed off on her--she opens the book by telling us that a rare edition of a 1630s German herbal medicine book has made its way to her desk. She makes an effort to track down the library that it belongs to--but by the time the book ends we don't know what she did with the thing. Last we know it's still on her desk and she's musing "...did not returning it make me a thief? Or was I a thief only as long as I kept it?"

Overall: This book is like a song with a single verse and chorus--played on repeat all day long every day that you read it. Bartlett is looking for what makes a person jump from law-abiding book collector to book thief and repeats this observation on Gilkey's book-lifting habit ad naseum throughout the book:

While many collectors build images of themselves through their collections, most of them do not cross the line between coveting and stealing. It was not just a collection Gilkey was building but an image of himself for the world....The leap between collector and thief is a huge moral and ethical one. {you don't say...}

She appears to think that the reader will see these comments as some sort of stupendous revelation--every. single. time. she makes them. [Most readers should be astute enough to get it the first time. And probably already knew it.] She jumps back and forth between saying that Gilkey is just like other collectors (the more books they get, the more they want) and not--because of that whole "thieving is bad" thing and he's a thief.

I also have a small issue with the title. Gilkey did not really love books. He loved having books that he thought others valued and in some twisted way he thought "owning" them would give him prestige. He felt like he had a right to them and if others had valuable books, then he ought to have valuable books too. He reminds me of the rich man who has a trophy wife. He doesn't actually love her--he loves having a beautiful woman on his arm and considers it to reflect on him--his good taste, his position, he ability as a man. It's all about him--not her. And with Gilkey--it's all about him, not the books. He also seemed to get a bigger thrill out of stealing the books than actually having them.

The best thing about the book is the peek at the world of rare books. More of that would have gone a long way. And I think I would have been much more interested in a book that focused on Ken Sanders and others who hunted down book thieves. ★★ and a half--leaning more towards two than three. 

First Line: At one end of my desk sits a nearly four-hundred-year-old book cloaked in a tan brown sack and a good deal of mystery.

After all, much of the fondness avid readers, and certainly collectors, have for their books is related to the books' physical bodies. As much as they are vessels for stories (and poetry, reference information, etc.), books are historical artifacts and repositories for memories--we like to recall who gave books to us, where we were when we read them, how old we were, and so on. (p. 20)

A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents, and from my perspective, this fair was a concentrated celebration of this fact. (p. 21)

Gilkey has a strong sense of decorum, which comes through on the phone, and a complete lack of guilt about ripping people off, which does not. (p. 106)

Last lines: Not long before this book went to press, Sanders, nominally retired "bibliodick," had nevertheless alerted colleagues of Gilkey's most recent theft: stealing a book from a Canadian dealer. Gilkey was not arrested. The story never ends.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Silver Wings for Vicki

People have to dream, darling--dream, and make their dreams come true. Why, that's how the world goes on. (p. 6)

Silver Wings for Vicki (1947) by Helen Wells is the first book in the Vicki Barr Flight Stewardess series and there is a lot going on. It begins with Vicki having just finished two years of college and not being terribly excited at the prospects of going back. She knows her father, Professor Barr, would prefer that she finish her education--but she sees an ad in the newspaper with the headline

To Girls Who Would Like to Travel
To Meet People -- To Adventure

and she just knows that she's one of those girls. What she wouldn't give to go flying around the world in one of those big silver birds.

So, even though she knows she's a little young and doesn't have quite all the experience asked for, she decides to go to the interviews and give it a try anyway. Her father, knowing how much it means to her, is willing to let her go for her dreams.

To her amazement (but not to the reader's--because after all we've been told that this is the "Flight Stewardess" series), she convinces Miss Ruth Benson, the interviewer, to give her a chance. Before she and her family know it, she's on her way to New York City for an intense training session where only girls who score 95-97% (there are no perfect scores) make the grade and earn their silver wings. Vicki is a personable young woman and quickly makes friends. Of course, she and her five closest friends pass the class. They set up house in a shared apartment with a housekeeper-cum-house mother who makes sure they get fed properly, get plenty of sleep, and she sends any male callers home at a reasonable hour. The girls settle down into their flight routines, getting used to managing flights on their own and then Vicki falls headlong into a mystery involving suspicious travelers and ostrich-leather bags. She helps the authorities capture the bad guys and winds up a heroine on the front page of all the papers.

Vicki is another strong, independent character that I would have loved had I discovered her when I was reading Nancy Drew. She is a career woman who wants to be a flight stewardess--not because it's glamorous, but because she loves the idea of flying and helping the people who travel. She is intelligent and notices when passengers are behaving oddly and this leads to many of her adventures. The mysteries aren't terribly intricate, but they are good fun, especially for young readers. Silver Wings was an excellent beginning for the series. ★★★★

Calendar of Crime: Author DOB
Vintage Mystery: Rule #13 (No Corpse)

First Line: There it was, as big as life, in the Fairview Sunday paper.
Last Line: Give my love to Dean and the girls and tell them I'll be back--soon!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Red Threads

Red Threads (1937) by Rex Stout

Millionaire Val Carew is found bludgeoned to death in his wife's tomb. It's a high-profile case that the powers-that-be would like to see wrapped up quickly and neatly. But all the clues that the police find seem to lead nowhere, so the NYPD recall one of their finest, Inspector Cramer, from a well-deserved vacation to take over the case. He manages to uncover a few new clues--including a discarded peach pit, an ancient red thread, and a whippoorwill's call--but with every witness telling lies, it's going to be difficult to pin the murder on any of them.

I'll just tell you upfront: this is not one of Stout's all-time best novels. I think he hit his mark with the combination of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin working in what often seems to be opposition to the official police represented by Inspector Cramer. Red Threads is billed as "an Inspector Cramer mystery"--which I guess it is if only because Nero Wolfe is not here (must be too busy with his orchids). Cramer is an honest, hard-working cop and he does his bulldog best to track down the killer when his superiors drag him back from his first real vacation in years. But it takes clues supplied by fashion designer Jean Farris to get him on the right track.

The biggest failing in this one (in my opinion) is the lack of interesting characters. Even in his worst Wolfe novels, the characters have a bit of interest and force to them. Jean's character starts out nicely but rapidly loses steam about midway--even her fight to find answers that will prove that Guy Carew (the love of her life) didn't kill his father didn't particularly interest me. I would say to skip this one unless you're a Stout completist. ★★

Deaths = One (hit on head)
Calendar of Crime: October (Author DOB)
Vintage Mystery (2011): 1st book towards Murderous Mood level

First Line: Eileen Delaney heard the door of the noisy old elevator close behind her, and the diminuendo of its bang and rattle as its ascent progressed up the shaft.

Last Line: He sang the boastful Cherokee song a little later.

Deep Lay the Dead

Deep Lay the Dead (1942) by Frederick C. Davis

Rigby Webb, gifted math instructor, is quite sure that someone is sabotaging his life. It started when the job he thought was secure was pulled out from under him. And when he applied for other jobs--even though interviews initially went well--it seemed he just wasn't what the employer was looking for. Then out of the blue he gets a letter from Dr. Duncan Chandler, talking to him like they're old friends and inviting him to his home in rural Pennsylvania to work for him on some mysterious project. 

Rigby heads out there, struggling through a snowstorm, but not (he tells himself) to take the job. He wants to give this Chandler fellow a piece of his mind and tell him to stop messing with his life. Because he's as sure as sure can be that Chandler has arranged for him to be out of work so he'd have to take the job. Once he arrives, Dr. Chandler reveals that the reason he's been maneuvered into coming is that his country needs him and they couldn't be obvious about it. Rigby wrote a ground-breaking article on ciphers and codes and the government wants him to help Dr. Chandler (who is pretty spiffy with codes himself) develop an unbreakable code that can be used to defeat the Axis powers.

Meanwhile, Chandler's wife Claire, has been feeling neglected because her husband shuts himself up in his office for hours on end and has once again invited a houseful of weekend guests to keep her amused. We have Nick Winston who may or may not be having an affair with Claire; Tony Raye, a dancer with a gambling problem; Erica Kerrington, Tony's dance partner and possible girlfriend--though she's had her eye on Rigby for quite some time; Arnold Barclay--man about town, society gossip extraordinaire, and host of "The Midnight Tattler" radio show; and Jill Chandler, the daughter of the of the house. Into the mix is thrown Max Harwick, a talented pianist until an accident forced Dr. Chandler to operate and amputate some of his fingers, and Harwick's son Ross who is representing his father in a negligence suit against the doctor. The Harwicks had come to try and convince Chandler to settle out of court and are forced by the snowstorm to stay for the weekend.

Added to the tension of a house party trapped by the snow--and making do with no electricity in the bargain--are various other factors from the possible affair between Nick and Claire to the open hostility between Tony and Arnold (Tony blames Barclay's gossip mongering for the break-up of his marriage) to the Harwicks' anger at the doctor. To make things even more interesting, Dr. Chandler receives word from Washington DC that there is a spy in their midst and a courier is on the way with proof of identity. But the courier is shot and killed as soon as he comes within sight of the house. And he's not the first to die...Dr. Chandler's previous assistant was killed in a very suspicious car "accident." Chandler and Webb are working against the clock to complete the code--all the while knowing that a spy is working against them and willing to kill for what they want.

Rick Mills recommends reading this when you have a blizzard brewing. Well...Indiana doesn't seem to believe in real, snowy winters much anymore, but the first little flurry of flakes made me think it was time. This is an enjoyable little mystery that ticks of several boxes on the vintage mystery reader's favorite's list: Country house scene? check. Snowbound and cut off from help? check. Small group of suspects? check. Suspicious circumstances all around? check. Davis fixes us up with some interesting and likeable characters as well as a truly despicable villain (once all is revealed). A nice classic good versus evil setup with a satisfying denouement. ★★★★

DJ--not mine, unfortunately

Deaths =  (one shot; one "car accident")
Vintage Golden Rule #19: spy elements
Calendar of Crime: January (Primary action)

First Line: The snow started coming down at exactly the wrong time, shortly before noon, just as Rigby Webb rolled out of the Holland Tunnel, westward bound.

Everybody pretends to despise gossip, but everybody strains their ears to hear it and runs to repeat it. (Arnold Barclay; p. 149)

Last line: A snowplow was boring down the road.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Deal Me In: "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants" & "Murder on St. Valentine's Day"

Jay's Deal Me In Challenge has us reading one short story per week; one per card in a deck. For details, click on the link and my list of chosen stories may be found HERE.

I have gotten behind, so this post will cover two stories in one. Last week's story was "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants" by Robert A. Heinlein (found his short story collection 6 X H) and was chosen by drawing the ten of hearts from the deck. 

John Watts used to be a traveling salesman and his wife, Martha who loved to travel and see new things, would go with him on the road. They loved visiting all the carnivals and festivals and country fairs that they found along the way. Even after John retired, they still traveled, claiming (to those whose curiosity was such that they just had to know why they traveled so much) that now John "traveled in elephants." And now--now Martha is gone and John is keeping the tradition alive by traveling on his own. But then the bus he's on has an accident and he finds himself at the most fantastic festival he's ever seen.


Next up, after drawing the eight of spades, is "Murder on St. Valentine's Day" by Mignon G. Eberhart (found in Ellery Queen's Anthology 1966 Mid-Year Edition (Vol. 11).

One way and another, my widows have caused me considerable mental anguish, due in the main to their recurrent impulses to invest money in nonexistent oil wells, or to finance expeditions for the discovery of buried treasure.

Our narrator, James Wickwire, is a senior vice president at the local bank. He manages the estates of various widows who are clients of the bank. Most of them cause him anxiety--but not Clarissa--she had always kept her head when it came to money matters. Could balance a bank book with the best of them and never fell for wild cat schemes. That is until the day a young assistant cashier brought him a check for $20,000 written in lipstick on a dainty, lace, heart-shaped handkerchief from Clarissa to an unknown handsome young man. He thinks Clarissa has finally fallen for a slick line...but he didn't expect it to lead to murder.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Spin Your Web, Lady!

DJ--not mine, unfortunately
Murder is a strange thing, Mr. Burden. A strange action. A hard thing to understand, naturally, for most of us. I've seen a good deal of it, you see. I don't know that I understand it. But usually, it seems to me, a man or woman who murders is reluctant. Isn't happy about it, wishes there were some other way out and can't find the other way out. There is another way, naturally. But the murderer can't find it. If he could, he'd be glad to take it. You see what I mean?....But the one who killed this girl perhaps wasn't like that. You say she was hated. That's a very good word. Hated so much that the murderer enjoyed killing her. [Captain Heimrich]

Spin Your Web, Lady! (1949) by Frances & Richard Lockridge is an early entry (#3) in their series featuring Captain Heimrich and the first to feature him in a huge way. We begin the story with John Burden who is making his first trip back to the countryside in New York since his wife was killed by a drunk driver. He sold their home and buried himself in work in NYC. His friends Ed & Fee Woodring had encouraged him to visit them and he finally feels like he can face the quiet country nights again. 

But the country doesn't stay quiet for long. Ed and Fee take him out for dinner at a place that has opened since he headed to the city. But he never does get dinner. They run into a young woman sitting at the bar who seems to have the power to make all her acquaintances (I don't think she has any friends) fall in with her wishes. John is amazed to watch the forthright, opinionated Ed toe the line when Prudence "Prue" Gaillard says that of course he and Fee and their guest will join the party. A lot of drinks are consumed and John realizes pretty quickly that everyone in Prue's party at least dislikes her if not downright hates her and...fears her in some way he doesn't understand. Everyone from Ed to Prue's twin brother Danny to Dorothy (Dot) Ford to war hero Vince Odlum to Mary Lou Laney to Bill Cunningham.

Danny Gaillard spends the evening getting drunker than anybody and more combative with his sister. John hears whispers that Dot (to whom he has become instantly attracted) and Vince are couple--well, at least they were until Prue decided she wanted to annex the war hero. Mary Lou used to be an item with Danny, but something went sour with that...and John suspects Prue had something to do with that as well. Bill Cunningham for some inexplicable reason loves Prue with a faithfulness that puts her sheepdog Woof to shame. There are currents running under the surface that John can't understand. 

Early the next morning (after the party moves to another restaurant--still no dinner--and finally to the Gaillard's house--where there are finally sandwiches), word reaches the Woodring home that Prudence has been found murdered. Murdered in the most vicious manner--strangled with wire and hung up in a net of vines on the terrace of the house, looking for all the world like something caught in a spider's web. Only from all the hatred and fear centered on the woman, it seems she was the spider caught in her own trap.

Captain Heimrich arrives on the scene and begins sifting through those who hated Prue Gaillard. Looking for reasons why they feared her and felt like they had to do what she wanted. He gives them room to make mistakes...and making one of his own before finding a way to make the killer reveal him/herself. 

This early Heimrich novel has many of the elements that make the series enjoyable. Good characters and interesting character interactions. Heimrich doing his best, naturally, to make the character fit the crime and make the culprit uncomfortable enough to make mistakes and flush them into the open. I will say that the final scene where he gathers all the suspects into one room and says he's going to keep them all there until he finds out what he wants to know felt a little forced. The suspects start talking--but why? In most of the books where he uses this strategy there is (as he loves to say) a catalyst, something that gets the ball rolling. But this time, there wasn't. They just start talking--maybe because they couldn't take the silence anymore, but, as mentioned, it felt forced.

I'm still glad that I was able to get hold of this fairly rare book (in great condition) and have a chance to read it. Not the all-time best in the series, but still an enjoyable read. ★★

My copy

Spoiler: I was quite sure with the way Danny's drunken driving kept being a thing that it would wind up that he actually caused the accident that killed John Burden's wife--throwing suspicion on Burden as well. I didn't think Burden would wind up being the killer (it's a pretty sure bet in a Lockridge book that if two people--in this case Burden and Dorothy--show a romantic interest in each other then they didn't do it), but I did expect some sort of suspicion to attach itself to him. I wasn't expecting the twist on Danny's drunken driving episode that we did get

Calendar of Crime: January (Author [Frances] DOB)
Deaths = 3 (two strangled; one shot)

First line: The train moved like an inch worm.
Last line: "Or wherever you want to go, I guess," she said. "Wherever you want to go."

Friday, February 7, 2020

Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh is a young adult historical fantasy set in feudal Japan when samurais protected the royal class and young girls were raised for one purpose--to make good marriages that would bring honor to their families. Mariko is the daughter of a samurai and she never seemed comfortable preparing for her role--she asked too many questions, her mind was always busy, and she was a gifted alchemist. But when the time comes and one of the Emperor's sons offers for her hand, she gives in to destiny. But fate has a way of twisting things up...

On the way to her bridegroom's palace, her convoy is attacked by what seems to be a horde of bandits who go by the name the Black Clan and who have been hired to kill Mariko. Miraculously, she survives and vows to find out who is beyond the plot to kill her and dishonor her family. She cuts her hair and disguises herself as a young peasant boy. Soon, she finds herself in the position to infiltrate the Black Clan and discover their secrets.

Meanwhile, her twin brother Kenshin is hunting for her. Despite the wreckage and burned bodies left behind by the attackers, Kenshin is sure his sister survived and he's determined to find her. He's not alone, Raiden--her intended--is also looking. But is his concern for her safety or do other motives drive him?

When I was looking for an award-winning book to read for this month's entry in the Monthly Book Award Challenge [2018 Southern Book Prize--Children's/Juvenile category], this sounded like a really interesting option. Young samurai daughter setting out on a quest to avenge herself on the bad guys who attacked her caravan and tried to kill her. You bet. Strong female character. Lead me to her. But honestly--she spends a great deal of time talking to herself (inside her head) like she's trying to convince herself that she's as tough as the book blurbs said she was. Not a whole lot happens for about two-thirds of the book. And the bulk of the action happens in the last 30 pages--all crammed together.

The writing is okay, although a great deal of the time I felt like the prose was trying too hard--too hard to be lyrical and descriptive, too hard to be all fantasy-like in a historical Asian setting. Some of it may have been an effort to duplicate the feel of translated Japanese works. I've read several books translated from the Japanese and it has an entirely different pace. But it never came off. Overall--a decent story, but I didn't quite feel that it was good enough for prizes. ★★

Pick Your Poison: Birds of a Feather (wings or feather on cover)

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Information Received: "Mr. X in the Billiard Room with the Revolver"

...when you have got the truth, everything fits. I think that's the main test of truth. It fits, it makes a harmony, one pattern all through. (Bobby Owen; p. 241)
Information Received (1933) by E. R. Punshon

Constable Bobby Owen is three years in the force and getting a bit bored with the routine duties of walking a beat. But all that is about to change as he waits about on a Hampstead street for his sergeant to meet up with him. In quick succession, the butler of "the Cedars," the imposing home of Sir Christopher Clarke, comes out and tells him to watch out for elderly, grey-whiskered man with a grudge against Clarke; a sandy-bearded gent comes along and evinces great interest in the Cedars; a ruckus erupts in the neighboring yard when a young man goes running through (initially thought to be an apple thief); and then a man comes out of the French window at Sir Christopher's house and cries "Murder!"

Owens enters the billiard room and finds that Sir Christopher himself has been shot twice in the chest...and the weapon is nowhere to be found. At the other end of the house, Sir Christopher's safe is found wide open and a bundle of easily-negotiated securities and a cache of diamonds is missing. Are the two things related? It seems unreasonable that the thief would have come all the way through the house to try and escape after the robbery, run into Sir Christopher, and decided to shoot him? But, then, is it reasonable to think that a robbery and a murder just happened to occur at practically the same time in the same house? To further complicate the case, the securities that are missing had just come home with Sir Christopher that day. They were the bulk of a trust fund that Clarke was a trustee for...and his lawyers had held the funds. It seems that there may have been some hanky-panky going on with the accounts and rumors of fraud are running amok. Perhaps Clarke was killed to prevent the fraud from being discovered? And who has been sending Sir Christopher tickets to the latest revival of Shakespeare's Hamlet (three sets of tickets over several days)? And why did the sight of them make Clarke so afraid?

Owens secures the scene of the murder and reports to his superiors and soon Superintendent Mitchell from Scotland Yard is on the case. He takes a shine to the young constable and the two begin gathering information about Sir Christopher's relations--Jennie and Brenda, his daughter and step-daughter, respectively, and their young men: Peter Carsley, who not only is a partner in the law firm in question but who is also secretly married to Jennie (quite against her father's wishes--thus the secret), and Mark Lester, who is Brenda's approved suitor. They also take an interest in various others, like Basil Marsden, the other partner in the law firm, who initially admits to Carsley that there has been a bit of fraud going on but then denies it categorically after the murder. There's Doctor Gregory, Clarke's doctor, who had "just happened" to stop by the Cedars on the night of the murder and discovered the body. Not to mention the two mysterious gentlemen who had been loitering in the neighborhood as well. Oh...and what became of Mr. Belfort, the man to whom Clarke was going to turn over the trust securities that very night? 

After a great deal of dogged footwork on the part of Owens (some sanctioned and some not--though Mitchell appreciates a man with initiative) and Mitchell looking into all the things he declares "will bear some looking into," the two men solve half the puzzle. But it isn't until the right Information has been Received that all the pieces fall into place. 

This was the first E. R. Punshon novel I've ever read and an excellent debut novel for Bobby Owens. Punshon tells a right good story and he put things over on me good and proper. I was absolutely certain that I knew who the culprit was as soon as they walked on scene for a goodish bit. I was sortof right, but Punshon takes the story and gives it a good shake and it wound up that I had the right answer to the wrong question. If only I had picked up on that one clue that was staring me in the face throughout the entire book.

I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Owen and Mitchell. The Superintendent takes the younger man under his wing--without him really knowing it. He wants to test him to see if he's got the stuff good detectives are made of, but Bobby is never sure if the test is working out until the very end. It's interesting to watch the young detective tentatively stand up for his ideas but never sure if he's being well-received. At one point he's given 24-hours leave--reportedly for the hard work of the previous few days, but he's not sure it isn't to get him out of the super's hair. But his detective's instincts drive him to go check into things on his own and he's surprised to find that Mitchell expected him to all along. And Mitchell's pleased about it though he tries to cover it under his sardonic humor.

Overall, an excellent beginning to the I just need to get my hands on the next one.  ★★
Vintage Mystery Gold: Rule #6 (Unmotivated Confession)
Deaths =  4 (three shot; one poisoned)
Calendar of Crime: June (Author DOB)

First line: Since the formidable personage, Sir Christopher Clarke, square built, square jawed, iron of fist and will, with fierce little eyes that gleamed from under bushy brows as though they sought whom they might devour next, was by far the most important and influential client of Messrs Marsden, Carsley, and Marsden, Lincoln's Inn, the well-known and long-established firm of solicitors, it is perhaps no matter for surprise that a certain nervousness, or even more than that, was apparent in the senior partner of the firm as he rose to greet him.

Remember it another time, that is if you are one who can learn from your mistakes. It's rare, most people only think of how to excuse them. (Superintendent Mitchell; p. 47)

BL: I knew there was life. I knew there was death--but I never knew love was--like this...real.
ML: It's more real than life or death. Life doesn't last so long and death's soon over, but I think love goes on.
(Brenda Laing, Mark Lester; p. 72)

Bobby decided to take a stroll through the gardens and see what he could find there, and as he did so he felt he knew nearly as much about the household as if  he had lived there for years.
  "More," he told himself, "for then I should only have my own ideas and they would be all wrong, but now I've got the ideas of four women and one man, all wrong, too, of course, but adding five all wrongs together should get one somewhere near the truth--" (Constable Bobby Owen; p. 74) this sentiment all cordially agreed, for they had all read the same thing in the paper that morning and naturally therefore they all believed it. (p. 82)

Of course, you can never tell, any trifle may give the clue you're looking for and clear up everything, only there are so many trifles and only one that hides the clue. (Bobby Owen; p. 85)

Feeble sort of story, but it might be true, feeble stories sometimes are, most likely because truth's a feeble growth in this world. (Superintendent Mitchell; p. 98)

You can'd always be sure of an alibi. When you are sure of it, it's conclusive. But alibis are often faked and always have been from Dick Turpin on. (Bobby Owen; p. 123)

One or two of  the other customers had also chatted with him occasionally, and could report that he was rather fond of muttering vague threats against someone against whom he cherished a grievance, but a there is nothing on earth so absolutely devoid of all interest as other people's grievances no one had paid him any attention or had any idea to what or to whom he referred. (p. 134)

There's two kinds of luck if you've noticed. One is the kind you take of advantage of. The other is the kind you don't. (Superintendent Mitchell; p. 182)

I expect Harrison could tell us if he chose, but I expect you're right and he won't talk--hate's a silent thing, not like love; love's on the chattering side, every lover likes to tell you all about it but hate keeps quiet. (Superintendent Mitchell; p. 184)

Never believe anything, my boy or disbelieve it, either. Nothing's too bad for human nature. Nothing's too good, either, thank God, or else a few years in the police service would drive you clean out of your mind. (Mitchell to Owen; p. 199)

BO: There's such a thing as being too clever by half.
SM: So there is and it's fatal. You can be not clever enough, and get away with it all right, but when you're too clever, then, sooner or later, you crash.
(Bobby Owen, Superintendent Mitchell; p. 224)

SM: Got any sandwiches?
BO: No, sir.
SM: A good detective never forgets his sandwiches. That's the first law of all sound detective work--don't forget the sandwiches. We may have to wait there all day.
(Superintendent Mitchell, Bobby Owen; p. 229) is very difficult to tell what is being good when one is only five--and when one is older, then it is more difficult still. (p. 244)

He was a man with a great gift for not understanding--especially when he did not want to understand. (p. 251)

I wonder if there are other houses like ours, houses that look so calmly prosperous, so placidly content, proud houses where doubt and fear and guilt brood day and night. (p. 253)

In police work, you never know anything till you can put it in a report, with all the "i's" dotted and the "t's" crossed--" (Superintendent Mitchell; p. 268)

Last line: As for Constable Robert Owen, he has received his transfer from the uniform ranks to the C.I.D., where, as he is known to stand rather well with Superintendent Mitchell, he will probably be called upon to play his part in any other difficult or complicated case that may arise.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Deal Me In: Two Stories

Jay's Deal Me In Challenge has us reading one short story per week; one per card in a deck. For details, click on the link and my list of chosen stories may be found HERE.

I have gotten behind, so this post will cover two stories in one. Last week's story was "The Tragedy of Papa Ponsard" by Vincent Starrett (found in Ellery Queen's Anthology: 1966 Mid-Year Edition) and was chosen by drawing the ten of spades from the deck. Papa Ponsard is a book store owner who dreads parting with his books and yet he knows he must sell some or be ruined--for he owes 300 francs in back rent and fears every day that Monsieur Gebhart will show up and kick him out of his shop. But few customers enter his store these days. So he starts cataloguing his books so he can try to draw in customers through the mail. Then an innocent change (on the part of his daughter's suitor) in a book's price results in an unexpected twist of fate--both wonderful and tragic.

Without his books Papa Ponsard would have been lost. But he no longer read them. Instead he catalogued them....For what is more delightful than cataloguing one's books, and what is more sorrowful than writing after them a price? (p.223)

Papa Ponsard was in his way a scholar; but better still he had been for most of his life a reader. (p. 225)


Up next, with the draw of the jack of spades, is "The Silver Curtain" by John Dickson Carr (from the same anthology). Jerry Winton is having terrible luck at the gaming tables. Then a man comes along and offers him ten thousand francs to just go to a doctor's house and pick up some pills. Sounds like an easy way to earn some much-needed cash. But then that same fellow winds up dead with a knife in his back outside the doctor's establishment...and there's no one around but Jerry. And he didn't do it. Fortunately, Colonel March of Scotland Yard is on hand to explain what happened and who really did it.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Death of a Joyce Scholar

The Death of a Joyce Scholar (1989) by Bartholomew Gill

From the back of the book (my comments in italicized brackets):

Who stabbed Irish author/professor/philanderer Kevin Coyle to death on Bloomsday [and who really cares?]--Dublin's annual citywide celebration honoring its most beloved literary figure? who brought the promising career of the brilliant scholar to an abrupt and bloody end on Joyce's own "Murderer's Ground?" [repeat chorus: and who really cares? Apparently not his wife and her "Sisters."] The list of suspects seems endless [Is anyone surprised after learning about the man? Not me.]--from deceived wives to cuckolded husbands to spike-haired street punks. And Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr is about to discover that the motive for homicide can hide as easily in the pages of a classic book as in the twisted passions of a human heart.

This novel makes about as much sense to me as Joyce's Ulysses.

There. That's my review in a nutshell. But if you must have more, then here we go. Kevin Coyle is not a victim that you care about. Despite McGarr's wife moaning and groaning about the loss of such a brilliant mind, the man himself wasn't anything to write home about. Reading murder mysteries, one generally has some sort of sympathy for the victim. Or at least is on the side of law and order and wants to see justice served. But, honestly, it didn't matter much to me if McGarr figured out who did it.

And I had no patience with the whole "Sisters" moving the dead man's body around and having some kind of allergic reaction to calling the police. They took him from his position propped up against an alleyway wall, toted him in a cart a couple miles, and propped him up in his own bed. And left him that way for three days before his wife (one of the "Sisters") bring McGarr into it. And then she keeps on insisting (for every daft thing she and her friends do along the way) that "Kev would have wanted it that way." [Annoyed the crap out of me--best thing about that is it helped me to fulfill the "character that frustrated you" category on one of my challenges.]

I really don't have anything positive to say about this one. The mystery plot didn't do much for me. The intertwining with Joyce and Ulysses did even less. And there weren't even good characters that could make the thing more palatable. One of the few academic-related books that I'll probably kick off my book stacks permanently. 

Vintage Mystery Silver: Rule #12 Must have a detective
Calendar of Crime: July (Pub date)
Deaths = one stabbed
Mystery Bingo
  Clues & Cliches (card #1): Bloodstain
  Crime Scenes (card #2): Alley

First line: It began during an unprecedented period of June heat.
Last lines: There was a pause, and then his smile changed, and eyebrow arched, and his eyes flickered toward the bed.

and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Nine Tailors

The Nine Tailors (1934) by Dorothy L Sayers
[read by Ian Carmichael]

This was a comfort read (listen) for me. I was sick last week and spent a couple of days on the couch (when not sleeping) with Lord Peter Wimsey. The Sayers books are always comfortable reads for me. I love them so and I have read/listened to them so often that it's like settling down with a good friend for a nice quiet chat. It was especially nice to have that chat with Ian Carmichael reading in my ears. Carmichael does Wimsey so well and gives such life to Sayers's other characters that it is always a delight to listen to the audio versions. I don't have much new to say--so if you'd like to see more of my insights into The Nine Tailors, please click either of the two links above for previous reviews--the title will take you to a previous listen of the audio version and Sayers's name will take you to a review of the printed copy. ★★★★ for the audio version.

I also spent a bit of time watching Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter in the 1970s BBC version. It's unfortunate that they altered the storyline--but I acknowledge the reasons for doing so. I just wish it didn't give so much of the plot away too soon. It was nice to see scenes of Major Wimsey and Sergeant Bunter in the war and the reunion of the two prior to Bunter's entering his lordship's service--even if that did go off-canon as well.

Vintage Mystery Gold Rule #14: More than one detective (Wimsey & Superintendent Blundell)
Calendar of Crime: New Year's Eve
Deaths = Two (one "other" [to reveal how would be a spoiler]; one drowned)
Mystery Bingo:
  Clues & Cliches (card #2): Seen by Moonlight
  Red Herrings (card #2): Someone tied up; Someone faints; Mysterious stranger

First line: "That's torn it!" said Lord Peter Wimsey.
Last line: "I'll wish you good-morning, gentlemen," he said, and went out.