Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Dead Shall Be Raised: Review

In The Dead Shall Be Raised (1942) by George Bellairs, Inspector Thomas Littlejohn and his wife are set to spend a quiet Christmas holiday in the small town of Hatterworth. The story begins cozily enough--with a warm welcome from the local police superintendent and a visit from the village carolers. But the Christmas night performance of Handel's Messiah (with Superintendent Haworth in a starring role) is interrupted by the announcement that members of the Home Guard have dug up a skeleton while practicing maneuvers and fortifications on the moor. 

Materials found with the skeleton soon allow it to be identified as Enoch Sykes, a man thought to have murdered a former friend and run off after a falling out over a young woman over 20 years ago. Apparently someone else had it in for both Jeremy Trickett and Sykes and thought burying Sykes's body would allow their crime to go undetected...they've been right (and lucky) up till now. Haworth asks the Scotland Yard man if he'd like to take a busman's holiday and lend a hand in digging up the past. It's going to be a difficult job--half of the participants are dead, hrough old age, illness, or having perished in the current war. It isn't long before Littlejohn and Haworth discover that there were those who knew more than they told at the time and they had their reasons for holding their tongues. One of those in the know think it better to try their hand at blackmail than to take their knowledge to the police...and, of course, they meet the end destined for many blackmailers in detective fiction.

The Yard man and the local policemen work hard to track down clues on a very cold case. And they come down to being a hairsbreadth away from laying their villain by his/her heels. It will take the wiles of the 80-year-old retired Inspector Entwhistle to give them the evidence that allows the final confrontation.

This is delightful Golden Age mystery that I am so very glad the British Library Crime Classics decided to reissue. Bellairs writes about the English countryside during wartime with a sure hand yet gives the reader a pleasant, homey description of the village. Inspector Entwhistle is (to borrow a GAD phrase) a caution and I only wish that he had been allowed to participate more fully in the investigation. The characters are introduced with warmth and descriptions that make them seem like remembrances of real people rather than just characters in a novel.

Sometimes these Golden Age writers who produced mysteries during the war years appear to have been trying to forget that there even was a war going on. Perhaps they wanted to provide their readers an escape from the horrors. In fact, some of the novels could have been written just about any time, given how little current events make their way into the story. Bellairs brings references to the war into his narrative so easily that it places the book firmly in that era without making the story itself seem dated. Mrs. Littlejohn and Mrs. Haworth sit at home and knit scarves and other warm necessities for the soldiers. Ration books and identity cards are a necessary addition to life on the war-era home front. He also allows us to look back at a time when tramps were a common sight and farm laborers, game keepers and poachers were part of the country landscape.

The one draw-back as a mystery is the fact that there are fewer suspects than might be desirable to keep the reader mystified. There is, however,  a portion of the solution that allows for a bit of a surprise which almost makes up for the lack of suspects and red herrings. Overall, a good entry in the Littlejohn chronicles and I definitely look forward to moving on to Murder of a Quack--the second novel in the British Library Crime Classics reprint edition. ★★ and 3/4.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Virtual Mount TBR, Calendar of Crime, Century of Books, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Mystery Reporter, Medical Examiner

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Clouds of Witness: Review

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. ~Hebrews 12:1

Clouds of Witness (1926) by Dorothy L Sayers (read by Ian Carmichael) is an old favorite. The Lord Peter Wimsey stories are comfort reads for me. I have read them many times since I first discovered them in my late teens. When I found this audio version at the library, I could not resist. I own several of the audio novels read by Ian Carmichael, but this is not one of them and I wanted to hear him read this early story in the Wimsey mysteries. He does a fantastic job giving each character their own voice and it's quite lovely to hear him as Lord Peter again.

On this particular round of Clouds of Witness, I was quite taken with the trial scene at the House of Lords--all the pomp and circumstance and Sir Impy Biggs for the defense. It is all quite theatrical and impressive. And it made me wish I had kept the "trial/courtroom scene" square on the Just the Facts Detective Notebook. It's not everyday that one reads about the trial of a peer of the realm. Another delightful part of the story is the friendship of Lord Peter and Parker. Their interactions while detecting in the grounds of Riddlesdale Lodge are great fun and Carmichael does justice to the humor and good feeling between the two. Overall, another wonderful visit to the world of Lord Peter Wimsey. ★★★★

For more on the story itself, please see my previous REVIEW from 2011 when I reread the Wimsey stories in their entirety.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Virtual Mount TBR, Calendar of Crime, Cloak & Dagger, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, PopSugar Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Craving for Cozies, Century of Books, European Reading Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Mystery Reporter, Medical Examiner; Brit Crime Classics

An African Millionaire

An African Millionaire (1897) by Grant Allen is one of the first books to feature a "gentleman crook." Colonel Cuthbert Clay (his alias) is a master of disguise and an ingenious con man who sets his sights on the South African Millionaire, Sir Charles Vandrift. Vandrift is a man of dubious morality himself who has not been above shady dealings if it would get him what he wanted--whether that be diamonds for his wife or a diamond mine. In a series of twelve stories Clay transforms himself through skillfully applied make-up and his ability to mimic the behavior of others into a Tyrolean Count, a humble parson, a Mexican Seer with psychic powers, and even a detective employed by Vandrift to catch himself. Clay repeatedly eludes capture until the very last story--where, although he faces prison, he still manages to humble the financier who has been his prey.

The book was a somewhat disappointing read for me--primarily because the blurb on the back of the book made it seem as though we would be reading about the exploits of this magnificent con man from his point of view. That we would see how he plotted his schemes to take in Sir Charles. Instead we follow the millionaire about and see everything from the point of view of his "Watson"--his faithful brother-in-law and secretary/companion. Since the stories were told from this side of the confidence trick, it would have been more effective if we, the readers, hadn't been told that the same thief was pulling these jobs off. Then we could have been mystified until the final reveal at the end. As it was, the tales were fairly anti-climatic and we could only shake our heads at how gullible Sir Charles (and his brother-in-law) is. He is particularly so considering how often we are told that not just anybody could fool him, that he wouldn't have made his millions if he was taken in by confidence tricks. And yet...even though he knows that Colonel Clay has targeted him again and again, he never suspects that he's falling into another trap. 

What does work here is the social satire--revealing just how greed and vanity can lead even the greatest of millionaire into folly. Clay's job is made all the easier because Sir Charles just can't resist getting his hands on a diamond or a rare painting by a master--especially if he thinks he's underpaying. It is also satisfying to see the unscrupulous financier cheated himself. 

A decent read that might have been better if the blurb hadn't been so misleading. But then, perhaps the blurb-writer has a bit of Colonel Clay in him... ★★

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Died in the Wool: Review

Died in the Wool (1945) by Ngaio Marsh finds Inspector Alleyn still in New Zealand hunting spies in World War II. Alleyn had already been hard at work in the counter-espionage business in Marsh's previous novel, Colour Scheme. This time he's asked to investigate the death of a member of New Zealand's Parliament--Florence "Flossie" Rubrick. The Rubricks own a large country property which includes sheep herds and wool processing quarters. She had gone missing one evening after announcing she was headed to the wool shed to practice an up-coming speech. It isn't until sometime later that her body is found packed into a bundle of wool that has been sold.

Her nephew, Douglas Grace, fears that a spy is at work on the farm. He and Fabian Losse (nephew to Flossie's husband Arthur) have been working on a top-secret, hush-hush gadget that will greatly aid the war efforts and Grace is certain that Flossie must have discovered proof of the spy's identity and been killed because of it. Losse doesn't believe in the spy theory, but he does want the murder solved and after the local police flounder for over a year he writes to the "big wigs" and asks for Alleyn to drop in...dangling the possibility of a spy in front him as justification.

Since the case is so cold (no clues lying helpfully about to be picked up), Alleyn spends most of his time listening to every member of the household's account of the night in question and their impressions of Flossie. Arthur is no longer around--he died shortly after Flossie disappeared--but the two nephews, Flossie's ward Ursula Harme, and Terence Lynne, Flossie's secretary all give Alleyn their version of events. It isn't long before Alleyn realizes that there are several currents of motive running beneath the surface. There's a local boy who was Flossie's favorite until they had a grand row. And there's the growing affection between Terry (Terence) and her employer's husband. Not to mention the sudden fall from favor that Douglas experience with his aunt. A late-night hunt in the wool shed (yes--even all this time later) is called for and Alleyn becomes the target for the murderer himself before the curtain falls on this one.

What is particularly nice about this one is the way Alleyn's interviews so clearly underline that no one is the same person to each person they interact with. Every member of the household produces a different Flossie for the Inspector to understand. Marsh uses the psychology of each person's version to help Alleyn to understand what Flossie did in the days leading up to her murder that made her death imperative for the killer. Some may find this a bit slow going--there's a lot of talk and little action until the last third or so of the book--but in this instance I think it works. A good closed group mystery with excellent setting and background. ★★ and 1/2.

Mount TBR Challenge, Just the Facts, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, PopSugar Challenge, Ngaio Marsh Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, World at War, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Back to the Classics, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, Mystery Reporter, How Many Books, Six Shooter, Medical Examiner

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

2018 Just the Facts Prize Winners

It's that time again...when all the detectives don their Inverness capes and deerstalkers OR monocles and top hats OR pick up their knitting bags and magnifying glasses and gather for the gala prize event here on the Block. I see that we have the usual suspects in the winners circle this year as well as a couple of new challengers to give the old hands a run for their money. 

I'll just drop all the detective notebooks into the Custom Random Number Generator and we'll see which detectives will come out on top this year.....

Drawing #1 (all who met the minimum): Aidan who completed the Gold Detective Notebook


Drawing #2 (2nd chance for all who found 12 or more): Reese who competed on both the Gold & Silver Notebooks

Congratulations to you! I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list. And thank you to all the super sleuths who joined me on the hunt for clues. I hope you all are joining me for another round of Just the Facts, Ma'am in 2019.

2018 Mount TBR Final Checkpoint Winner!

I just warmed up the Custom Random Number Generator and fed all the entries for my challenges into it. First up here on the block...we have the winner of the Mount TBR Final Checkpoint prize.

And the winner is...Link #3 Barbara H! Congratulations! I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list. Thanks again to all of yo for donning your hiking boots and joining me on another trek up the mountain range. Hope to see you on the 2019 trail.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Star Trek Little Golden Books: mini-review

My husband surprised me. Back in December, he pre-ordered these two Star Trek Little Golden Books and they just arrived today. So, I sat right down and read them immediately. Since they were pre-ordered in 2018, they count for this year's Mount TBR Challenge.

I Am Captain Kirk by Frank Berrios (2019): This is a lovely children's book for young Star Trek fans or Star Trek parents who want to introduce Start Trek to their children or older Star Trek fans who just want a fun ST book to add to their collection (that would be me). The illustrations are wonderfully done and the only thing that prevents this from a full five-star rating is the fact that the author doesn't seem to know that Chekov exists and while he includes Nurse Chapel in one of the illustrations he doesn't mention her at all either. Also--the book really focuses more on the "world" of Star Trek (introducing the crew, spelling out their mission to "Boldly Go," etc.) than it does on Captain Kirk himself. Perhaps the book should have been called This Is Star Trek★★★★ and 1/2.

I Am Mr. Spock by Elizabeth Schaefer (2019): Another lovely children's book for young Star Trek fans and those of us who are older ST fans as well. This one is more focused on Mr. Spock than the I Am Captain Kirk book is on Kirk and talks about what he does in the crew and his relationship with Kirk and McCoy. A good introduction to the character and his place in the Star Trek universe. Again, the illustrations are wonderfully done. An excellent, fun book. ★★★★

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2019 Medical Examiner Mystery Reading Challenge I lied. Here's another one...because I'm quite sure that Rick is determined to tempt me into signing up for an even 40 challenges this year. He's put together another dandy little mystery challenge that I can't resist. For full details, check out his post on the Medical Examiner Mystery Reading Challenge. Basically, just read mysteries and log the murder methods on his handy form. Compete for prizes!

Rick doesn't require a sign-up post, but in order to claim this one as complete on my own personal challenge tally sheet, I must submit at least 20 death certificates. With the number of mysteries I read per year, this shouldn't be too difficult.

List of Books Read and Deaths Recorded:
1. The Winter Women Murders by David A. Kaufelt (3 murders: 1 shoved down staircase; 2 strangled) [1/5/19]
2. Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh (1 murder = strangled/asphyxiated) [1/10/19]
3. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (1 death = shot) [1/12/19]
4. The Dead Shall be Raised by George Bellairs (4 deaths = 2 shot and 2 poisoned)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Winter Women Murders: Slightly Spoilerish Review

The Winter Women Murders by David A. Kaufelt (1995): [from the back of the book] For nearly fifty years, the Waggs Neck Harbor Annual Literary Arts Symposium (ALAS) had been dedicated to the cultural enrichment of the winter women, the upper middle-class ladies who lived in the resort town year round. But when the founder and chair of ALAS took a fatal tumble into the next world, the group took a radical turn. Against her better judgment, real-estate lawyer and reluctant sleuth Wyn Lewis is volunteered to tend to one of the featured speakers, Keny Blue--a bestselling author of feminist romance novels expounding a brave new world of sexual freedom. When Wyn found Keny dead in bed wearing nothing but a wire around her neck, there were several suspects. Dickie ffrench, the interior designer who had moonlighted as Keny's ghost writer, took exception when Keny cut him off from that lucrative sideline. Peter Robaliniski--incoming director of ALAS and a seasoned "gentleman in waiting"--feared that Keny might expose the secret life they once shared. Even Keny's arch rival and fellow Symposium speaker, feminist Sondra Mercy Confrit, was not above suspicion.

All in all, Wyn would prefer to be at home with some take-out Chinese, an old movie, and her boyfriend Tommy. But the murder investigation just won't go away--and she's learning that in peaceful Waggs Neck if something sinful can happen, it most likely will....

My Take:
Pro Tip for guys writing books with lead female protagonists (especially when writing about their love life): The average woman is not nearly as enthralled with the awesome "beauty" of your "private member" (his word, not mine) as you are. Yes, there are women who are exceptions. And, yes, even average women may have moments that are exceptions. But--generally speaking, we're far more impressed with what you can do with it (with our enthusiastic participation) than we are with how it looks. In fact, quite often we think it looks more like this:

So, don't write love scenes that have the lady there in bed admiring the general awesomeness before her (and giving us her thoughts on the matter) for what, in book time, seems like eons. She's more likely wondering why he's doesn't come to bed and suit the action to the moment rather than posing like a model in Playgirl. Especially if you're writing what purports to be a cozy mystery and not soft porn.

As you might suspect from that opener on my thoughts, this book was not nearly as good as hoped for. When I picked it up at the Friends of the Library used bookstore, it looked like it would be a nice cozy mystery. But it has very rough edges. Nastier murder scenes than usual in cozies and I think Kaufelt would do better to focus on male lead characters. He just doesn't do women's characters well on the whole (and, again, there are exceptions)--most of them sound like men in disguise. And the romance for Wyn Lewis? That sudden resolution several months later is a bit odd....just saying. 

I think it's telling that most of the "rave" reviews quoted on the cover and the intro pages are from male reviewers. The characters are probably behaving just like they expect women to (or wish women would). To give him his due, he did create at least one very believable and interesting female character. Sophie Comfort Noble. Unfortunately, he killed her off before we could enjoy her properly. This isn't nearly as spoilerish as you might think--she's gone in the first chapter. But her brief moment onstage was a good one and she absolutely could have carried the show. Wyn is also a fairly good representation that just misses being very good--if he hadn't insisted on dragging her love-life into the story, that would have helped matters.

The mystery starts out fairly well, but it didn't stay mysterious very long and I even saw the extra twist coming. This is one I'm glad to have done and to take off the stacks taking over my house. ★★

Complete list of challenges fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Monthly Key Word, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, Craving for Cozies, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Century of Books, Book Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books,

Friday, January 4, 2019

What's in a Name 2019

This is my last challenge. Well....until Erin's next challenge comes out later this year. And Michelle does her Christmas Spirit Challenge at the end of the year....and.... Well, it's my last regular challenge. Unless it's not. I know how promises like that go.

But I've been waiting for this one. The What's in a Name Challenge has been sponsored by Charlie at the Wormhole for quite some time, but she has other commitments this year and has passed it on to Andrea at Carolina Book Nook. It's Andrea's first time hosting a challenge, so we all need to do our part and support her by joining in, right? Right!

The format is the same--six categories and read one book for each category. The category words (or a creative usage thereof) should be in the title. For full details, click on the link above.

Here are the categories and some tentative suggestions (from my TBR piles) for what I might read. I will confirm and add review links as I go.

1. Precious stone: The Ruby Raven by Michael Dahl OR The Hardaway Diamonds Mystery by Miles Burton OR Mystery of the Emerald Buddha by Betty Cavanna

2. Temperature: Stone Cold Blonde by Adam Knight OR Death Warmed Up by Marion Babson OR Death Likes It Hot by Edgar Box

3. Month/Day: The Thirty-First of February by Julian Symons OR The March Hare Murders by E. X. Ferrars

4.Meal: Death After Breakfast by Hugh Pentecost OR Murder at Teatime by Cynthia Mason

5. "Girl" or "Woman": A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter

6. "Of" AND "And": Tales of Terror and Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Thursday, January 3, 2019

2019 Six Shooter Mystery Reading Challenge

The Six Shooter Mystery Reading Challenge
Sponsored by Rick @ Rick Mills Project

Rick has been bitten by the challenge-making bug and has designed a nifty mystery reading challenge. The goal is fairly straight-forward. Read six mysteries on the same target (by the same author) during 2019. For complete rules, click on the link above.

Submit your shots as you complete your books. Once you complete a target, you can take aim at the same author again or set your sights on a new author (or shoot at more than one at a time.

My first target has Ngaio Marsh's name all over it. I'm already signed up for the Ngaio Marsh Challenge (Part II--having read her first 12 books in 2018). Then I may take on Christie next....

Ngaio Marsh Target
1. Died in the Wool  (1/10/19)

The Ascent of Rum Doodle

Bill Bryson introduces the 2001 edition of W. E. Bowman's The Ascent of Rum Doodle (orig. pub. 1956) as "one of the funniest books you will ever read." He gives us great expectations of the delights that await us as we read Bowman's parody of the great mountain-climbing expeditions of the early 20th Century. "Binder" (as our narrator is code-named for the group's walkie-talkie usage) is the leader of this grand adventure and tells us the story of the eight brave men and 3,000 Yogistani porters who tackle the true highest peak in the Himalayas. The group is actually the greatest collection of misfits with misnomers ever assembled. Binder most certainly does not bind his group together. Burley is not the epitome of health and strength that one might expect. And so on... It a miracle that any of them ever reach the peak of anything...or do they? You'll have to read to find out.

Something tells me that reading this book is something like what I would experience if I were to decide to actually climb a large Everest or that taller mountain, Rum Doodle. It would go something like this

~Boy, isn't this fun? I'm having a great time.
~Still enjoying myself. Nice scenery. Great adventure.
~What? Oh, yes, I am getting a little bit tired...but this is fun. I can totally do it.
~Hmmm. That bit of mountain ahead looks remarkably like that bit of mountain back there. Only steeper.
~Puff. Puff. It's getting a little difficult to get my bearings. And I'm getting a little light-headed. Why do I feel so tired?
~Goodness this is getting repetitive. And I'm really getting tired of climbing. When do we get to the peak?
~Seriously...are we there yet?
~I'm certain I thought this was a good idea when I started...but...does anyone know why?
~I don't think I can take another step...I mean it...Oh, wait. Is that the top? We're there? But I can't see anything with all those clouds in the way. Are you sure this was worth it?

I really enjoyed the first third or so. The British humor was humming along nicely and I was gently chuckling away to myself. But then just like the mountain bits that looked remarkably like other mountain bits only steeper...the humor was very repetitive and it got worse as we went along. Binder imposing himself on one of his men and forcing him to tell the "story" of his childhood...or his fiancee...or his broken heart just wasn't funny any more. And it was no longer funny that the reader knew that Binder's climbing buddies were leading him up the garden path and telling him the most incredible nonsense and yet Binder was taking it as the gospel truth. And Jungle getting lost for the 153rd time was no longer funny. And the fact that the number 153 was the magic number for everything. And the constant movement from Base Camp to Advance Camp 1 (and 2 and 3 and 4 and...) and back again became irritating nonsense instead of comical nonsense. And the fact that no matter what they did they couldn't lose Pong, the Yogistani cook with a knack for turning the most desirable delicacies into the most nauseating mush, for love or money. 

This would have been a heck of a lot funnier if Bowman had had more strings to his bow (so to speak)--if he hadn't harped on the same exact jokes every step of the way up the mountain. ★★ But there are several four- and five-star ratings out there on Goodreads, so your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

January 2019 Calendar of Crime Reviews

Remember: You do not have to read your books according to the current month's prompts. You are welcome to post links for any month's book/s. In your caption please indicate which month your book counts for. If the link will allow room to do so, please also indicate which prompt you are fulfilling (my linky provider has changed the way I set these up--so I'm learning how the new format works this first month).

Preferred Caption Format (example):

Cover photo would be of The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman
Link Caption: Bev (September) Author's Birth Month

Inlinkz Link Party

January 2019 Virtual TBR Reviews

Inlinkz Link Party

January 2019 Monthly Key Word Reviews

January Key Words: Snow, Winter, Year, Jewel, Hat, Dance, Top, Car, Why

Inlinkz Link Party