Sunday, December 10, 2023

Sound of Revelry


 Sound of Revelry (1943) by Octavus Roy Cohen

Steve Harrison and Judy Morgan are a dancing duo. They work for a dance instruction studio--giving dancing lessons to the rich with two left feet or to those who just want to polish their social skills. They also do exhibition dancing at select parties...and hope that one day their connections will get them a well-paid position at nice supper club or night club or even a break on Broadway. One of Steve's clients asks for the couple to come to a party and teach her guests some Latin dances. Judy isn't particularly keen because she knows a certain Babs Willard will be there and she's sure that Babs is trying to corner the market on Steve. She should know better. Steve's in love with Judy, though he hasn't exactly come right out and said so. And he convinces her that the job is all that matters.

After their dancing obligation has been fulfilled, the sneak out onto the building-length balcony for a little quiet time. When Steve realizes that Babs is on the hunt for him and headed towards the balcony, he draws Judy into the shadows where they won't be seen. Babs misses them and is about to go back inside when a loud noise is heard from the penthouse across the way. Judy has already identified the place as belonging to one of her regular private lesson customers--a fiftyish man by the name of Jonathan Tate. Judy thinks it was just a car backfiring, but Steve is positive that it was a gunshot. Before any of the three on the balcony can react properly to the noise, a couple comes casually out the penthouse door. They notice Babs and ask, "Did we scare you?" The tale they tell is the "usual old story." Showing off a pistol that was thought to be unloaded. It wasn't. Gunshot. Everybody startled. 

Apparently reassured, Babs goes in. After a few moments, Judy goes in. Babs comes back out, corners Steve and plants a big ol' kiss on him. Judy misunderstands, is a bit miffed, and leaves Steve at the party. Babs, being the nice helpful girl she is, offers Steve a ride home. They haven't gone far before a car pulls up beside them and the next thing Steve knows there's more gunshots, Babs is hit, and the car runs into a lamp post. He wakes up in the hospital with Lieutenant Max Gold waiting to hear his story. When it becomes apparent that Babs was killed because of what she saw on the balcony, Steve can't understand why Gold isn't more interested especially when Steve later sees the woman and tells the detective he can identify her. In fact, he can't understand much of what goes on after that because everyone is keeping him in the dark--even Judy. That's when he decides to do a little detecting of his own.

So, this was a delightful read. I have (including this one) six Cohen books on my shelves. And this is the first one I have tried. I didn't know what to expect (there is no blurb on the back or in the front cover) and the only clue was the cover photo indicating shenanigans at a party. Which is true...sortof. The character of Steve is great. Poor baffled Steve. He knows that bad things are happening, but he's not sure why. Judy inherits a nightclub and everything else from Mr. Tate and after that and after Gold enters the scene she starts acting weird. But insists she's not. Perfect strangers start pumping Steve for everything he knows about Tate and Judy and anything else. And the cops don't care. Steve starts playing a lone hand and finds a mysterious key, a large wad of cash, and a few more dead bodies. But in the end, his lone detective work turns up trumps and nails the bad guys for the cops. A lot action and a lot of fun.

Of course, the whole thing turns on the fact that the cops keep Steve in the dark...and there is my only quibble. Obviously, for things to work out the way they do, Steve has to play a lone hand. But--it makes no sense for the cops to take Judy into their confidence as much as they do (and they don't tell her everything) but not Steve. They rule the couple out of the suspect category, so why not tell both of them what they tell Judy? In real life, it's more likely that not telling Steve and him going off on his own would only throw a wrench into the police work--or tip off the bad guys in some way. You'd think the cops would want to keep random civilians from gumming up the works if possible. 

But--that point aside, this was a good story. More adventure than mystery--we know most of the solution well before the end, But it is a lot of fun following Steve around and watching him figure things out...or stumble into them, as the case may be.  ★★★★

First line: Judy is lovely when she's angry.

Last line: She did.

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Deaths = five shot

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Reprint of the Year 2023: The Big Sleep


  The Big Sleep (1939) by Raymond Chandler [Reprinted by Penguin/Random House]

Introducing...Philip Marlowe. Chandler's first detective novel gives us the educated, streetwise private eye. A man who can handle himself, a gun, and all the dames and tough customers that life throws at him. In his debut on the investigation stage, Marlowe is hired to make the drop on a blackmail payoff for elderly General Guy Sternwood. But the detective is blunt and honest and he can't stand to see the old guy get bitten. 

As honest as you can expect a man to be in a world where it's going out of style.

So Marlowe takes on more than he's paid for and finds himself in the middle of a murder spree that seems to have connections to the disappearance of Sternwood's ex-bootlegger son-in-law, Rusty Regan. He also tangles with the daughters--both of whom alternately seem to hate him and want him in their beds...but for all the wrong reasons.

I don't mind your showing me your legs. They're very swell legs and it's a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights.

Marlowe doesn't seem to fall into the mold of the hardboiled detective who jumps into bed with every dame that gives him the glad eye (even if he suspects she might be out for his blood). He keeps his head and his eye on the investigation. He's determined to find out what's really behind the blackmail...and, just maybe, find out what happened to Rusty Regan along the way.

"Hard-boiled, mean streets" detective novels aren't normally my thing. But I picked up this edition of the novel because it was a digest-size paperback (pictured at right) and I love those. And Chandler is kind of a big deal in American detective fiction. I read it this year because I needed a book that "everyone has read" and I chose to interpret that as the most people from my Facebook friends group. I presented them with a listchallenge with all the mysteries on my TBR pile (there are A LOT) and asked them to mark all the ones they had read--whichever book was marked the most would be the one. 

So, as an entry for the Reprint of the Year Award it seems only fitting to nominate The Big Sleep, a classic crime novel that "every one" (or at least the most) of my online friends have read and, as a reprint, we can hope that the novel will be introduced to a whole new generation of detective fiction enthusiasts.

Marlowe is my kind of private eye--honest, courageous, and ready to help out an old man who wants to believe his daughters aren't as naughty as they really are. I enjoyed meeting Philip Marlowe and following him as he tried to get to the bottom of the blackmailing game. The mystery was well done and Chandler certainly knew how to handle language. I was right there on the mean streets with Marlowe and I believed every moment of it. A very good American private eye story that is deserving of your vote.

Each year Kate Jackson rallys the Golden Age troops and asks us to decide on our nomination for the Reprint of the Year. For more information on the ROY Awards, please see our sponsor's webpage: Cross-Examining Crime.

Friday, December 8, 2023

TBR 24 in '24

 

 
Gilion at Rose City Reader is sponsoring her yearly TBR-conquering challenge--this year TBR 24 in '24--that fits right in with my Mount TBR Challenge, so...here I am signing up for another challenge (Surprise!). For full details check out her blog a the link above. Basically--just read 24 books from your owned TBR stacks. Here we go...
 
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Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

 

 
Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader will be hosting the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge again this year. I've still got a couple of historical series to work on and plan to join in for another round.. If historical fiction is your thing (or you'd like to see if it is), take a peek at the details at the link above.

I'm going to sign up for the Victorian Reader level (5 books). I may wind up venturing further, but if I reach my initial goal then I will claim the challenge complete.
 
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Victorian Reader
 
 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The Clue in the Jewel Box



 The Clue in the Jewel Box (1943) by Carolyn Keene

A mystery which begins with Nancy looking for the pickpocket who has relieved several of the citizens of River Heights of their wallets--including her own father, Carson Drew soon expands to include a search for the missing grandson of a European queen living incognito in the States. Nancy, Bess, and George assist Madame Alexandra when the frail older woman requests their help in seeing her home--she has suddenly felt ill while out shopping. When the girls are invited to her house for tea, they learn of her aristocratic heritage and while showing them some of the treasures she brought from her home country, they see a picture of a little boy in a sailor suit. Madame Alexandra tells them that he is her grandson Michael who has been missing since he escaped the country with his nurse. She'd given anything to find him. And Nancy promises to do everything she can. Her investigations turn up a man who seems to have the proper credentials--but is he really the long-lost prince? His manners certainly don't seem to be very princely. A clue left by Michael's nurse in Madame Alexandra's jewel box will help Nancy determine who the real Prince Michael Alexandra is. Along the way, she and her friends will also catch a sneak thief or two.

It's a good thing I don't go back and read Nancy for the believability of the plots. Me--I'm just in it for a nice stroll down memory lane and, when I've found the original text version, to see if I spot any differences from the versions I read as a child or spot things that I never even thought about as a child. So--the first thing that stood out to me this time? Where is Nancy's roadster? The girl is biking, walking, or taking a taxi everywhere--no roadster in sight. When I look at the publication date, I realize that because of WWII, it probably wasn't a good idea to have Nancy bopping all over the place and wasting all that gas during wartime. And yet...her old school friend Helen Corning shows up in this one and announces that she and her dad had just returned from a glorious trip to Paris. Say what? Paris? In the middle of WWII? Maybe Nancy could have kept her roadster. 

The other thing is more intangible. Something about this one just doesn't feel right overall. All of the characters seem a bit off to me. And I'm not quite sure what it is--except in the case of Ned and Nancy's other friends. When the man originally identified as Prince Michael gate-crashes their boating trip/picnic, Ned and company decide it would be great fun to strand the guy on the other shore. Nancy protests a bit that it wouldn't be nice--but she's actually more worried about Madame Alexandra's disappointment in her than abandoning the guy. Sure, he's been a rude boor, but I don't remember Ned and the others being so mean-spirited--willing to capture proven bad guys? Certainly. But playing dirty tricks on those who are rude? Not so much. 

I enjoyed the mystery and watching Nancy solve it. I just wish the characters had behaved more as I expected them to. ★★

First line: "No a silver pen isn't exactly what I want," Nancy Drew explained patiently to the jewelry salesman in the department store.

Last line: " I'll turn over the organization task of the new company to Dad, and my share of the profits to his pet charity, the Boys Club!"

Murder on Fifth Avenue


 Murder on Fifth Avenue (1998) by Michael Jahn

It's the holiday season in the Big Apple and Captain Bill Donovan is on partial leave--hanging out at the hospital with his wife Marcy, awaiting the birth of their late-in-life son. Marcy is on bedrest due to various complications and a city grateful for Bill's handling of a recent unusual criminal case is more than willing for him to take some time off to take care of his wife. But on the day after Thanksgiving, the dad-to-be is standing in line with the other Black Friday shoppers waiting for a popular toy store to open when shots ring out and a wealthy CEO of an international company is killed while shopping for jewelry for his fiancee. One of the disturbing features of the crime is that Mr. Melmer was shot through an industrial bullet-proof window and the bullets used are from a highly illegal weapon designed specifically for assassins. 

When a stock broker from Connecticut is shot a few days later while shopping in a high-class lingerie store and the bullets match the weapon in the first murder, the Midtown Merchants Association (which represents most of the shopping district on Fifth Avenue) receives a message demanding ten million dollars to stop the killing spree and keep the holiday shopping season merry and bright. Donovan's leave is cancelled and he's told to find the perpetrator(s) pronto. Which isn't going to be easy. In both cases, the shooter was dressed as a "Santa's Angel"--and there are scads of those fellows all up and down Fifth Avenue (and all of downtown Manhattan, for that matter). They seem to be in the bell-ringing, charity line a la the Salvation Army. One or two on every block. 

The message comes from a group calling themselves the "Mountain Brigade"--but are they really the Afghan group of mountain fighters? Or are they a home-grown bunch of radical survivalists from Montana? In the course of his investigation, Donovan learns that Paul Duke, host of one of the New York national morning shows, believes the killer is really out to get him. Is he right and, if so, what is the motive? Could it be that an angry husband is seeking revenge for one of Duke's flings? Especially that Russian mobster? Or maybe it's a woman scorned. But there's also the disgruntled son of Tuttle's (home of the expensive lingerie) who had a bad war in Afghanistan and was edged out of the family business because of his lingering issues from battle (PTSD). He's said to bear a grudge...and he's mighty good with a gun. A third murder helps to clarify the real target of the killer, but Donovan still has to figure identify the killer and the motive.

As I randomly find more entries in Jahn's series, I continue to enjoy the character of Bill Donovan. He's just the right mix of tough-guy cop and intelligent, widely read man--he makes it easy to believe that he just might know something about everything or if he doesn't that he'll soon be reading up on it and have a mastery of the subject. He also manages to convey his knowledge without sounding like a know-it-all. The supporting characters are also good and Bill has excellent interactions with them all. I really like how Marcy tries to keep him in check. They have a good, bantering relationship. Jahn also tells an interesting, fast-paced story that is fun to read. 

There are just a few quibbles with this one. First, I honestly can't believe that Bill would invite all the suspects down to the hospital where it just might put his wife and unborn son in danger. Seriously? Why not gather them all at the the morning news show building since a fair number of them work there or have shops in the area? Second, the ending just didn't land right. I get the motive--but the lead-up didn't make it seem as inevitable as it should be. And there really wasn't enough clues to help the reader get to the right solution. But, this is still an entertaining mystery and I'll be keeping my eye out for the remainder of the series. ★★

First line: Friday, November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, was brilliantly sunny but very cold.

Last line: And then he held his son to his heart and limped on

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Deaths = three shot

Sunday, December 3, 2023

The Mystery of the Silver Spider


 The Mystery of the Silver Spider (1967) by Robert Arthur

The Three Investigators go from a near-miss car accident with a European prince to being invited to Prince Djaro's home country for his upcoming coronation. 

Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews, and Pete Crenshaw are being driven home in the Rolls Royce Jupe won free trips in when Worthington, the chauffeur, has to do some fancy driving to avoid an accident with a limousine that doesn't pay attention to a stop sign. As the two drivers hash out their differences over who was in the wrong, a young man exits the limo and his air of authority puts an end to the dispute. Prince Djaro tells his chauffeur that he was absolutely in the wrong and must obey the traffic laws. He compliments the boys' driver and soon the four young men are on their way to becoming friends. Jupe gives the prince one of their cards, not thinking that Prince Djaro will need to call on the services of the Three Investigators.

But it isn't long before they receive an invitation to visit Prince Djaro at his home in Varania. Ostensibly, they have been invited for the prince's coronation as king, but in truth the prince needs their help. When the next ruler is crowned in Varania, they must wear the Silver Spider, a valuable jewelled representation of the country's emblem. The spider was adopted because of a legend that says a spider saved the life of the first king of Varania. And now...the Silver Spider is missing and Prince Djaro wants the Investigators to help track it down in time for the ceremony. Meanwhile, the boys have also been contacted by the U.S. Secret Service. There are rumors of unrest in this normally placid little country and they want the boys to keep their eyes and ears open while they pose as typical young tourists. Both assignments will put the boys in danger and they'll be locked in a dungeon before they can find the Spider and save the day.

So, this was a bit different. Usually, the young people from different countries are in the United States and wind up in the middle of a mystery with the Investigators. This time, the boys travel to another country and get involved in mysterious adventures there. It was a lot of fun to see them out of their element and watch how they adjust to the new surroundings. Not a whole lot of mystery here--we definitely know who the bad guys are from the beginning. The real mystery is what happened to the Silver Spider after the boys found it the first time. It takes a meeting with a mystic to make Jupiter realize just where the Spider is. A good, fun adventure in the fictional little country of Varania. ★★

First line: "Look out!" Bob Andrews cried.

Last line: "Could we have something to eat?" he asked.

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Deaths = one natural

Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Toff & the Runaway Bride


 The Toff & the Runaway Bride (1959) by John Creasey

In this 41st mystery in the series, the gentleman adventurer Richard Rollison, aka the Toff, is up to his top hat in a tangled web of bigamy, blackmail and murder. He watches his friend Major Guy Lessing wed the beautiful Barbara Lorne. She makes a stunning bride...and when she catches the Toff's eye on her way out of the church--a frightened one. When she appears at his apartment a few hours later, sans new husband, she's terrified. Terrified of what she's gotten herself into. Because an anonymous well-wish has sent her a copy of a marriage license that says Major Lessing is already married. She doesn't want to believe it's true and she asks "Rolly" to find out the truth.

The first thing he finds is the supposed first wife dead in the honeymoon cottage Lessing had rented for his new bride. He also found a world of hurt when the killer snuck up on him and gave him a fair beating. Once recovered from that little contretemps, the Toff next finds a third Mrs. Lessing in the flat Lessing had recently shared with his friend Major Carruthers. What seems like deja vu hits when this Mrs. Lessing is strangled as well. It's beginning to look like Lessing is a modern Bluebeard--at least that's what the papers are saying. The Toff is sure his friend is innocent, but with the evidence piling up and Scotland Yard on their heels, he's going to have to work fast to prove it.

This was a fun read--very much like Jeeves and Wooster crossed with the Saint. Except the Toff is quite a bit more on the ball than Bertie Wooster. There's not a lot of detective work going on here with the Toff rolling along from one murder to another to a kidnapping. But if you like thrillerish adventures in while buzzing about in a Bentley and dressed up in morning clothes and top hat, then the Toff is definitely the adventurous gentleman for you. Definitely a different style of book from Creasey's Inspector West and Gideon series. I've one more Toff book on my TBR pile and I look forward to sampling it in the future. A little over ★★

First line: On that beautiful morning in May, the Honourable Richard Rollison certainly lived up to his sobriquet, for he was known as the Toff, and he looked like one.

Last line: "There is her message, sir," said Jolly.

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Deaths = two strangled/neck broken

Friday, December 1, 2023

My Reader's Block 2024 Reading Challenges

 


Just a reminder that all the new Reader's Block challenges for 2024 are posted and ready for sign-up. If you're looking for a challenge to join, then please check out those I have on offer. Click on the links to view  the details for each one. I'd love to have you join me for one...or a few...or all of them!



Mount TBR is for those who accumulate books faster than they can read them and need incentive to read more from their own stacks.


The Virtual Mount TBR Challenge for those who read masses of books from the library or other non-owned sources.



The Vintage Scavenger Hunt Challenge is for those who like their mysteries with a bit of age on them. Two levels are available: Golden (Pre-1960) and Silver (1960-1989 inclusive). Read mysteries that fit various Scavenger Hunt categories by finding specific items on the covers.


Calendar of Crime: Read mysteries from any era that fit various calendar-related prompts.


Reading by the Numbers: 2024 is the third year for this challenge whose main goal is to log all your books. No pre-set challenge levels. You decide your goal for the year and then just keep track of the books you read. I put it together primarily so I'd have a handy place on the blog to track absolutely everything I read in one place.


The Color Coded and Read It Again, Sam challenges are both housed at the same page. In the first, readers choose books based on color names in the titles or cover colors and the second is for those who enjoy rereading old favorites. 

December Reading by the Numbers Reviews

 


You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

December Vintage Scavenger Hunt Reviews

 


You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

December Virtual Mount TBR Reviews

 




You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

December Mount TBR Reviews

 




You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Murder in Bloomsbury


 Murder in Bloomsbury (2018) by D. M. Quincy

Please know that while this review will not contain spoilers about the mystery itself, those who have not read the first of the Atlas Catesby series will have part of the overarching story spoiled. There is some mystery surrounding both Atlas and the woman he rescues in the first book. We don't learn until the end who she is. This review assumes you have already found this out.

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Knowing that his station in life is well below Lillianna's (Lady Roslyn) as the sister of the  Duke of Summerville, Atlas Catesby has kept his distance over the last year. But then his valet awakens him one morning with an urgent message from Summerville asking for him to call. The brother of Lillianna's maid has been found dead with a belly full of arsenic. The coroner's court has saw fit to rule it an accident, but Gordon Davis's sister is sure that he was murdered. Given his success in solving the murder of her husband a year ago, Lillianna would like Atlas to investigate. Or rather--she wants them both to investigate, putting Atlas back in temptation's way. For he has grown susceptible to Lillianna's charms and he just might forget his position if he's not careful.

As the investigation proceeds, they find that Gordon Davis was not as charming as Lillianna's maid believed. He has left a trail of broken hearts, irate fathers, and jealous lovers behind him as well as men he maneuvered into the clutches of gaming dens. There's no shortage of people who might have wanted the handsome wastrel dead--but who had access to arsenic as well as the opportunity to give it to Davis? And can they find out in time to prevent another death?

This second novel is even better than the first (and I enjoyed that a great deal). Atlas and the recurring cast are terrific and it is interesting to watch the relationships grow. I enjoyed the parts that Lillianna and Atlas's friend Charlton played in the investigation. If Charlton's not careful, he's going to let his brains outshine his dandy persona. Each of them play a vital role in uncovering clues to what really happened in the poisoning of Davis. There has also been a slight movement in the mystery surrounding Atlas's earlier life and I anticipate that book three will see more development in that area. Hopefully, with his growing abilities as an investigator, he will be able to lay that mystery to rest--with a happy result.

The murder itself is loosely based on a famous poisoning case and those familiar with true crime of the era may recognize the trappings--but be warned Quincy puts her own spin on the story with good result. Another good historical mystery for those who appreciate the Regency period as well as good plotting. ★★★★ 

First line: "Sir, are you awake?"

Last line: He stepped closer, pulled Lillianna into his arms, and kissed her for all he was worth.

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Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one fell from height)

Cloak & Dagger Reading Challenge


The Cloak & Dagger Challenge is back at Carol's Notebook. Those who have participated before will recognize the rules and format--check out the link for full details and to sign up. Since my primary reading genre is mysteries, I will be joining in again at the Sherlock Holmes level of 56+ books in the mystery and crime fields.

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