Monday, June 27, 2022

The Scarlet Slipper Mystery


 The Scarlet Slipper Mystery (1954) by Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew meets Eastern European smugglers. This story is full to the brim with Centrovian* characters--refugees from an oppressive government, smugglers, and just plain bad guys taking advantage of the political situation. We begin with a man seated across the aisle from Nancy in an airplane heading to River Heights. One of the engines has gone out and he's just certain that they're all going to die--and probably because of the top secret papers in his brief case (we learn later that the top secret stuff has to do with an underground movement of Centrovians). Nancy does her best to calm his fears. The plane lands safely and the man disappears from Nancy's life...for a while.

Her next contact with Centrovians is with Henri and Helene Fontaine, two Centrovian refugees, who have opened a dance school in River Heights. Bess Marvin has been taking a class there and when she & Nancy go back to the school in search of Bess's purse, they find the Fontaine's in great distress. The siblings have received a threatening letter telling them they should leave River Heights. It's not the first one...they got one while still in France (where their family had initially fled unrest in Centrovia) which made them flee to the States. Now they don't know what to do. Nancy, of course, cannot resist a mystery--especially when Centrovia keeps cropping up--and insists that the Fontaines drop out of sight by hiding at her house while she and her friends try to get to the bottom of things. She'll need to discover the meaning behind cracked figurines, a pair of scarlet dance slippers, twelve paintings of a ballet dancer, and some missing Centrovian jewels. There are also a horde of Centrovians claiming to be friends of the Fontaines and Nancy must determine who is truly friend and who is foe.

Oh my. There certainly are a lot of Centrovians in River Heights these days. As Jennifer White notes in her review of this Nancy Drew title, it is one of the things most difficult to suspend one's belief over. Of all the places in the United States, why did they all decide to descend on Nancy's home town? [Well, of course, the obvious answer is...to provide Nancy with another exciting adventure.] Once I got over that hurdle, I settled down to enjoy the mystery. And I found it quite enjoyable even if it was difficult to keep all the Centrovians straight. I remember this one fondly from my younger days, though I would never have listed it in my top ten. The action is good and for once Ned is given a fair amount to do in assistance. I do have to agree with Jennifer that Nancy absolutely should have paid more attention to that kerosene smell towards the end of the book. Why on earth would she and Bess ever suppose that the policeman was doing anything with it? Those two points (hordes of Centrovians & Nancy being a bit slow on the uptake) keep it just shy of a full four stars.  ★★ and 3/4


*fictional Eastern European country

First line: "We will crash! Oh---oh!"

Last line: "And it should be titled," Ned said, smiling at Nancy, "'America's Loveliest Sleuth.'"

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

Deaths = two natural


Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Secret of the Golden Pavilion


 The Secret of the Golden Pavilion (1959) by Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew and friends are off on another trip to mystery. This time the mystery awaits them in the new state of Hawaii. Carson Drew has been hired by Mr. Sakamiki to help with two problems. Sakamiki is the heir of his wealthy grandfather--but there are difficulties. First, his grandfather left a mysterious message referring to a secret on his estate, Kaluakua, which he has been unable to discover. And, second, there two surprise claimants to the estate. They say they are the grandchildren of the elder Sakamiki by a first wife that no one knew about. While Mr. Drew plans to head to California to investigate these new claimants, Mr. Sakamiki invites Nancy, Bess, George, and Hannah Gruen to go to Kaluakua and discover the secrets of the estate. Fortunately, Ned, Burt, and Dave will also be in Hawaii as part of an Emerson College trip, so they will be on hand to assist. Along the way, they will deal with a ghostly hula girl, members of a gang called the "Double Scorps," a hidden door in the estate's Golden Pavilion, as well asseveral attacks on Nancy, Ned, Mr. Drew, and Mr. Sakamiki's caretakers--including poisonous tacks hidden in a dark-flowered lei. There are also hidden clues (all in Polynesian) for Nancy to find. She soon puts them together to discover just what the secret of the Golden Pavilion is.

Since this book (in a tweed cover) was part of the set my mother handed on to me about forty-five years ago, it was one of the first Nancy Drew mysteries I ever read. It was never one of my favorites, though I'm not sure why. It has lots of puzzling clues to unravel. It has a ghost. It has plenty of action with all of Nancy's friends on hand. But for some reason it just never grabbed me the way The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase did. I reread those several times while growing up. I can't remember ever rereading Pavilion until now. It is actually an interesting mystery with several puzzle clues for Nancy to decipher. But--it still didn't wow me and I don't feel inclined to move it up in the ratings. It's always been a three-star story to me and so it will stay. ★★

First line: Nancy Drew, her lovely blue eyes sparkling with excitement, stared in fascination from the cabin of a private helicopter.

Last line: Nancy and Ned laughed and agreed.

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

Deaths = one natural

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Cat's Paw


 Cat's Paw  (1931) by Roger Scarlett (Dorothy Blair & Evelyn Page)

An unconventional country house murder. Scarlett gives us the story in four parts. In the short prologue, we meet Underwood, a lawyer and Inspector Kane's Watson, who gives us a bit of background and tells us how Kane will come into the investigation. The next section, dubbed "The Evidence," shows us exactly what happened at the house of wealthy, elderly bachelor Martin Greenborough in the days leading up to the murder. We meet his extended family--nieces and nephews who are all dependent on Uncle Mart for everything. He holds the purse strings and expressly forbids them from finding other means of support. He doesn't mind doling out the money...on his own terms, of course. We also meet the essential staff--butler and valet--as well as Martin's "companion" (for which, read mistress), Mrs. Warden. We learn about the temperament of the old gentleman and his relations--who is greedy, who is a spendthrift, who has a quick temper, and who has a quick brain. Every interaction will be important to discovering the motive and the murderer. 

As often happens in these country house mysteries, the domineering old man gathers his dependents around him for a birthday celebration. He also plans to deliver up a big surprise. A surprise that may well affect their future expectations (under any dispensations of a will). He announces his plans to marry and to meet with his lawyer "tomorrow." Now any good mystery fan knows that Martin is never going to see his lawyer...As a wrap-up to the birthday festivities, the relatives go ahead with a planned fireworks display and when the celebration is over, they all troop up to Uncle Martin's bedroom to find out how he liked them. But he's dead...shot though the temple...and apparently shot from outside the window during the fireworks.

The third section of the book, "The Case," follows Sergeant Moran and Officer McBeath as they take statements and follow up clues. Each time Moran thinks he's found his culprit, new evidence or a new statement comes along to make him rethink everything. By the time he's done, he can't see how he can pinpoint anyone as the murderer. Then Inspector Kane, just returned from a trip, arrives. He hears everything from his friend Underwood and immediately sees a glimmer of the truth. He follows up three clues: the note, the necklace, and the cards. And when he's thoroughly investigated those, he (and the astute reader) knows who done it and why.

I have to say...I was half an astute reader. I knew who did it. I should have known why (I had actually noted certain aspects that would point to it), but didn't really formulate it properly before Kane explained it. Overall, an interesting mystery, though I'm not completely sold on the way Blair & Page chose to set it up. I prefer to have my "Holmes and Watson" center stage for the whole investigation, bringing Kane in for just the last third-ish of the book doesn't suit me as well. But the murder and the motive is definitely well worth the read. ★★ and 1/2

First line: I had received Kane's wireless message and had sent him my reply.

Last line: "So [redacted] killed him."

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

Deaths = two shot

The White Elephant Mystery


 The White Elephant Mystery (1950) by Ellery Queen Jr. (house pseudonym)

This is the sixth in the Ellery Queen, Jr. series. It features the lead amateur sleuth Djuna, appearing with his friend Tommy Williams. The boys have just found out that the circus is coming to town and are trying figure out how to earn enough money for the entrance fee when Mr. Boots comes along and offers them free passes good for every day the circus is in the area. Boots had been good friends with previous owner of the circus, Mr. Grant, and knows Grant's son--who has recently taken over after his father's death. 

Djuna's old friends Socker, the newspaper reporter, and Cannonball, the state trooper, are at the entrance gate and Djuna is asked to keep his eyes peeled for grifters--con men who work as pickpockets, quick-change men (with money), and other shady dealings among the crowds. If they spot any, they're to let the men know right away--and not do anything themselves. But when the boys' new friend Spitfire, the high-flying trapeze artist, has a terrible fall, Djuna can't keep out of it. He's sure there's more going on than just grifters. Someone is out to hurt the circus performers who were closest to old Mr. Grant. He just doesn't know who or why. He does know that it has something to do with "the white elephant" which Spitfire urgently told Djuna about just before being taken to the hospital. Can Djuna and Tommy figure out what it means before someone else gets hurt...or worse?

This is another fun adventure in the Queen, Jr. series. Djuna is a well-drawn, intelligent, independent young boy who maybe takes a few chances that perhaps he shouldn't (but where would the drama be if he didn't?). He's very good at picking up on clues that the adults don't notice. His dog, Champ, isn't as prominent as in other stories, but Champ does help provide the vital clue that leads Djuna to the solution of the mystery. It's all great fun in a perfect setting for kids of all ages--the circus!  ★★★ and 1/2.

First line: The boy named Djuna stopped so suddenly that his little black Scotty, Champ, who was trotting just behind him, and his friend, Tommy Williams, who was running right behind Champ, all got all tangled up together as Djuna pointed at a red and yellow poster on a fence and shouted, "Jiminy crimps!"

Last line: And everybody, while Socker marked time, joined in the chant that the circus men always sing as they drive the tent pegs into the ground: "Ah, heebie, hebby, hobby, holey, go-long!"

**********

Deaths = 2 natural

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Queen & the Corpse


 The Queen & the Corpse (1949) by Max Murray

The first thing that happens (at least as far as the reader is concerned) on the Queen Alexandra, making her way from England to New York, is the discovery of a body. Peter Almsford, a handsome young Englishman, had a breakfast date with his next-cabin neighbor, Miss Leonora Blith. When she didn't answer his knock and her door came open, he found her shot to death across her bed. He calmly goes back to his own cabin, calls up his steward and tells him to inform the purser that there's been a murder, and then casually tosses a briefcase out the porthole into the Atlantic. The contents of the briefcase may be important in establishing motive, but no one needs to see what's in there. And, no, Almsford didn't do it. But he's going to find out who did.

It winds up that several people have reason to be grateful--A: to whomever got rid of Miss Blith and B: to Peter for ditching the briefcase. Miss Blith was the secretary to the late Felicity Emmabrau, a woman who had a knack of knowing everyone and knowing everyone's dirty little secrets. In fact, there's a whole host of passengers who seem to be connected in various ways--both to Felicity & Leonara and to each other. Felicity's will entrusted Leonora Blith with her diaries and memoranda and the secretary had been on her way to New York to turn the material over to a publish for a tell-all book. Unfortunately for the killer, Peter had snitched the bag before the murder. Fortunately, the contents of the bag will hurt no one now. Also on board is a young man who's new bride had been killed while on a train journey with her father (who doesn't know about the marriage). The father is also on board and when the two come face to face, he has reason to suspect that his new son-in-law may have shoved the girl to her death. But did he? And whether he did nor not, does that train death have anything to do with murderous spree that has begun onboard the Queen? Peter Almsford thinks it does...

Not quite as engaging as previous Murray books that I've read. Primarily, I think, because for most of the book I didn't really get the sense that there was much in the way of detecting going on--not by the purser who was tasked with the job by Commodore (captaining the ship) nor by Peter Almsford who supposedly took on the role of sleuth on his own. The only thing that the purser does is make notes in a file on the case (most of the notes we aren't privy to) and take in reports from the stewards about who tries to see Leonora Blith in her cabin or who tries to get her on the phone. Peter talks to a lot of people and sortof looks like he's doing something, but this reader still didn't believe he really was. And while I figured out the slightly well-worn trick of how someone could leave the initial victim's cabin and not be seen, there was no way on earth the reader could know the motive until all is revealed at the end. There is no hint of the reason. No clues, except for the vague feeling that Leonora Blith knew something about the person...and, well, that bulging briefcase was chock-full of secrets about several people on board. We just don't find out what any of them are until the big reveal. A pleasant read, but could use stronger detection activity and more clues for the reader. ★★

First line: Ships' stewards are human beings like everybody else, but as Steward Everard Hopkins was apt to remark, "Who cares?"

Last line: "I'll wait," she said.

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

Deaths = 6 (two shot; one hit by train; two drowned; one fell from height)

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Golden Man


 The Golden Man (1960) by Frances & Richard Lockridge

Sandy James is headed to Connecticut to attend her college roommate's wedding. She was supposed to arrive by train on Saturday, but received a telegram from Alice Wood which said:

Darling, could you possibly make it Friday instead? it will work out much better.

So, Sandy gets on the train for Stamford, only to find out mid-journey that the train doesn't stop there on Fridays. Knowing Alice as she does, she's not surprised that her friend forgot about the train's schedule changes. She prepares to get off at the next stop and wonders whether anyone will meet her.

She's met by a man who introduces himself as Alice's brother, Barclay, and escorts her to a waiting car--where she's the last man she ever expected to see again. She's walked into a trap, but can't understand what the men want. And why would Alice's brother be helping her captor? It's possible the "Golden Man" as he was known in their younger days is looking for more money from her father. But she senses that there is more to it than that. And she's very afraid. She's even more afraid when she's forced into a farmhouse where a huge, strong woman and her even bigger and stronger son wait to serve as her jailers. Aaron Pruitt is an ex-con who hurt and nearly killed a fifteen year old girl just because he enjoyed it. And there are hints of what Aaron would like to do to her if the "Golden Man" will just give him the green light. If she doesn't behave herself, the red light will definitely be changing...

It winds up that the "Barclay" who met her at the station is an imposter with an agenda of his own. And the real Barclay Wood manages to figure out where the missing wedding guest is being held, but will he be able to rescue her in time?

I have to say, I'm not a huge fan of the Lockridges' suspense-oriented books. I much prefer the lighthearted mysteries. And this one is dark on top of the suspense. The looming terror of what Aaron did to that fifteen-year old girl and what he would do to Sandy if given half a chance just really isn't the vibe I look for when I settle down with a Lockridge mystery. On top of that, the romance is even more accelerated than usual. One night as captives--and half the time Sandy is out cold from knock-out drops and she & Barclay are running around in the dark, can't see each other very well, and can't really talk to one another for fear of being discovered. When exactly was there time to fall in love? The other disappointment is that while most of the action takes place in Heimrich country, we get to see none of the familiar faces. Familiar places are mentioned, but Heimrich and Forniss and Crowley must all be on vacation.

There. I've gotten the quibbles out of the way. The suspense plot is decent. While there isn't much of a mystery--we know immediately who the bad guy is--his plan has a certain logic to it and might have worked except...well, I can't tell you why because that would spoil the only bit of mystery there is. The best part of the story is watching the how the plot unravels and seeing the bad guys get their just deserts in the end. ★★

First line: The conductor looked down at her and shook his head slowly, sadly, with the forbearance of one much tried.

Last line: And this, for some reason, struck them both as a very funny thing for him to say.

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

Deaths = 4 (one auto accident; two shot; one froze to death)

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

John Smith Hears Death Walking


 John Smith Hears Death Walking (1944) by Wyatt Blassingame

A collection of short stories featuring private detective John Smith and to varying extent his newspaper reporter wife, Marion, and his African American servant, Bushelmouth (what a name). Smith is a hard-drinking, police special-toting, little 'tec. Yes, little. Mention is often made that the reason the bad guys can't kill him is he's too small a target. And...he has super-human hearing (thus the title). For about ten years he was blind from an altercation with a bank robber...until a new surgery was able to restore his sight. During his period of blindness, he (like Baynard Kendrick's Duncan Maclain) developed his other senses to peak performance. He still hears better than anyone else.

The first two selections "The Master of Murder" and "The War Makers" are intertwined. They feature a master criminal who is intent on gaining power. He uses blackmail to get hold of high-ranking officials and he tries to bend Smith to his will as well. Or if he can't, he will arrange for the detective's downfall...or worse. The Master of Murder first tries to frame Smith for a murder that happens right in front of the detective--and seemingly no one else could have committed. But Smith is too clever and figures out how the trick was done. In the end, it seems that the crook has the upper hand, but Bushelmouth, an ex-boxer, comes to the rescue and bops the man a good one before he can drill a hole in our hero.

"John Smith--Graveyard Detective" is the closest thing we get to a real mystery. Old Philip de Gault asks Smith to investigate the whispering voice which assures the old man that he's going to die. De Gault doesn't believe in ghosts, though the voice sounds exactly like his uncle Claude Lorraine who died 35 years ago. He just wants Smith to find out who is threatening him and how the voice can come out of nowhere. But before Smith can even get started, De Gualt is found dead in his room--with no mark on him and no sign of how he died. An investigation into the family's past and a cemetery caretaker's knowledge of New Orleans history, helps Smith get to the bottom of it all.

"Retained by a Corpse": a dying man bursts into Smith's house and begs him to find out who killed him and to protect his wife and children. We wind up with another master plot (this time involving Germans), another shootout or two, and Bushelmouth gets another chance to show off his prize-fighting knock-out punch.

"The Corpse Fights Back": The rumors of John Smith's death have been greatly exaggerated. While he and Marion are away on vacation, a man's body is found in the burnt-out remains of their other car. Everyone--including Bushelmouth--believes Smith to be dead, so when he and Marion show up a bit early from vacation, there is much consternation. And then someone tries to kill Smith again....Now he's got to find out who was killed in his place and why, before that someone succeeds in reducing the world's Smith population by one.

"Death With a Thousand Faces": Instead of the master criminal, this time we have an almost Dick Tracy-like villain--a man with super-strength who can change his appearance almost at will. And somehow this villain who could do so many other villainous things decides to answer lonelyhearts ads and con women out of their money. Honestly, he could have used his talents to be a master criminal...of course, Smith would still have foiled his plans. 

This edition of Blassingame's stories has a lovely cover. And I do like these little Bart House books. If only the stories were as lovely. I mean, they're not half-bad as pulp action tales go--lots of death, a super-criminal or two, a hero that bullets always seem to just graze (no matter how close the villain seems to be) and who has extraordinary senses. There's even a couple of stories with a hint of actual detective work going on ("John Smith--Graveyard Detective" [more] and "The Master of Murder" & "The Corpse Fights Back" [less]). But the cliches are thick and heavy and so are the racial slurs. Bushelmouth is referred to by all the usual negative terms except for the n-word and is depicted as too fond of corn whiskey. There is a brief moment where Smith thinks Bushelmouth has been killed and he displays a real affection for the man, but it doesn't last. A low ★★ and 1/2.

First line: Shadows crowded the afternoon sunlight out of Royal Street's narrow passage, yet a stagnant, suffocating heat remained.

Last line: So I gave him some money and a vacation.

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

Deaths = 14 (four poisoned; seven shot; one stabbed; two strangled)

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Month of Mystery


 Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Month of Mystery (1969) as by Alfred Hitchcock (but aided and abetted by Robert Arthur)

Thirty-one short stories divided up into sub-categories. We have (in order) a week of crime, a week of suspense, a week of detection, a week of the macabre, and "a short week of long ones." My biggest complaint about the collection is that too many of the stories leave the reader in suspense. Does the criminal get what's coming to him (whether that be a proposed death or jail time)? We'll never know. I do like my stories to have a good solid resolution. And some of the stories really aren't mysteries at all, so we really don't get a whole month's worth of mystery. 

As with all collections, this is a mixed bag. The pick of the stories as far I'm concerned are "The Dusty Drawer," "Drum Beat," "The Queen's Jewel," "The Twelve-Hour Caper," and "The Amateur. A decent selection of stories, but nothing that really just knocked my socks off.  ★★

"The Dusty Drawer" by Harry Muheim: Norman Logan finds an ingenious way to get revenge when a bank teller refuses to admit that he's made a mistake with Mr. Logan's account. It's all about the gun and the money that weren't there...

"Drum Beat" by Stephen Marlowe: A federal agent is accompanying a key witness in a major gangster trial to Washington D.C. Threats have been made against the witness and when the agent hears a distinctive ticking sound coming from the overhead compartment in the airplane, it looks like those threats may become reality.

"South of Market" by Joe Gores: Rick Moran finds himself in a world of trouble when he gives a down-and-outer a handout. Soon he has gangsters on his trail--gangsters who don't mind leaving a few corpses behind in their quest for $80,000.

****Deaths = four stabbed

"The Uses of Intelligence" by Matthew Gant: Who would want to kill an inoffensive banana peddler--and since when do banana salesman stroll around neighborhoods with a banana cart like the Good Humor man? Genius twins, Danny & Patty, who had befriended the man two weeks ago, plan to find out...for reasons of their own.

****Deaths = one hit on head

"Love Will Find a Way" by David Alexander: A man and his wife go on a second honeymoon to Switzerland to try and rekindle the flame in their dying marriage. While on an "easy" hike up a path called "God's Staircase" with a Swiss guide, an avalanche comes along and wipes out the stair above and below them. They're stranded and will probably starve before a rescue party can find them...unless love can find a way out. 

"Retribution" by Michael Zuroy: When two men discover that the same man has seduced one's daughter and the other's wife, they discard their initial plans for revenge and pool their resources. Sometimes murder isn't the best way to get revenge. Sometimes a little larceny goes a long way towards settling up debts. 

"The Queen's Jewel" by James Holding: A woman in South Africa believes herself to be the last of her family. Then a long-lost cousin shows up from America. And he's more interested than is good for him in the fabled jewel that's supposed to be in her possession. 

****Deaths = one poisoned

"Pool Party" by Andrew Benedict: Two hardened jailbirds come looking for a "pal" who has since made good after escaping from prison--a best-selling author with a lovely mansion in California and an even lovelier wife. They figure a bit of blackmail will set them up in style too. They maybe should check their sums...

****Deaths = two drowned

"That Touch of Genius" by William Sambrot: When Ed McKelvin, famous photographer, spies a young man out on the ledge of a nearby high-rise building he sees an opportunity. An attempt at heroism and perhaps an award-winning photo. But at what cost?

****Deaths = one fell from height

"The Crooked Road" by Alex Gaby: When a couple from New York go driving on a twisty country road, they're pulled over by a couple of forceful law enforcement officials. A routine traffic stop doesn't quite go the way anyone expects...not the officers, not the judge, not the tow truck operator. Well...that's not quite true. Somebody does know exactly what they're doing.

"A Taste for Murder" by Jack Ritchie: A man who has been having an affair with his employee's wife turns the tables on the cuckolded husband who plans to kill him.

****Deaths = two stabbed; one shot

"The Twelve-Hour Caper" by Mike Marmer: A mild-mannered clerk in a stocks & bonds firm plans the perfect bonds robbery down to the last detail. His confederates in the caper need some reassurance that it really is perfect, so he gives them every detail....except one. Fortunately, they don't notice.

"The Amateur" by Michael Gilbert: Inspector Hazelrigg relays a story from his early days about kidnapping and one of the most dangerous men he'd ever encountered: an amateur in violence with a great deal to lose. He was even more dangerous than the kidnappers he was up against.

****Deaths = one burned to death (actually more--but either named with no method OR method but unnamed victims)

"Death Wish" by Lawrence Block: A man uses the idea of the death wish as an unexpected method of revenge.

****Deaths = one hit on head; one shot

"The Singing Pigeon" by Ross Macdonald: Lew Archer winds up in the middle of a shootout with racketeers on one side and the beautiful daughter of a hotel owner on the other.

****Deaths = three shot

"Justice Magnifique" by Lawrence Treat: An artist and his wife go to France. She speaks the language and he doesn't. But he decides to take side trip without her--for local color. She worries that he won't be able to make himself understood and won't be able to get anything to eat. She should worry about him being framed for murder...it's even harder to prove yourself innocent when you don't speak a word of French.

****Deaths = one hit on head

"The White Hat" by Sax Rohmer: An unusual bit of murder committed by a man who wasn't there...with the aid of a white hat.

****Deaths = one fell from height

"Hard Sell" by Craig Rice: John J. Malone is hired by the owner of a company that sells magazine subscriptions to find out who is murdering his salesmen. Why would anyone murder magazine salesmen? I mean, door-to-door salesmen may be pushy and annoying, but surely that's not enough to kill over.

****Deaths = one hit by car; one fell from height; one hit by train; one shot

"Greedy Night" by E. C. Bentley: Bentley's classic (and, I'm afraid, not very good) parody of Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey. Lord Peter rushes off to the country to discover how poor old Dermotwas killed.

****Deaths = one poisoned

"A Twilight Adventure" by Melville Davisson Post: A group of cattlemen are ready to dispense vigilante justice when one of their own is shot and his cattle stolen. Uncle Abner serves them up a lesson in real justice and the reasons for following the law.

****Deaths = one shot

"Murder Matinee" by Harold Q. Masur: Peter Crown is a trouble shooter asked to get to the bottom of recent events at a movie theatre which has caused sales to be bad. Things go from bad to worse when he finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation.

****Deaths = one stabbed; one shot

"A Humanist": A toymaker in Hitler's Germany believes that the human spirit will triumph over evil and that Hitler's reign can't last. When things look bleak, he finds evidence of the human spirit in his two servants and an arrangement is made for them to hide him and keep his business running until the war is over. But is the milk of human kindness as sweet and fresh as he thinks?

"The Oblong Room" by Edward Hoch: How far would you go for someone you worshipped as a god? Would you die for them? Would you do murder?

****Deaths = one stabbed

"Love Me, Love Me, Love Me" by M. S. Waddell: Not really a mystery. Just a ghost story about a girl who wants to be loved.

"Special Handling" by John Keefauver: A mailman learns that a reduction in the workforce means exactly what it says. Again--not really a mystery.

"Dead Man's Story" by Howard Rigsby: All about the game warden who took his job so seriously that even his own murder couldn't prevent him from seeing that one last  poacher get his comeuppance.

****Deaths = one shot

"The Legend of Joe Lee" by John D. MacDonald: Another non-mystery about the lawmen out to catch a speeding teenager in a strawberry-red fast car and the realization that no earthly lawman will ever be able to catch this particular automobile...

****Deaths = two drowned

"Crooked Bone" by Gerald Kersh: A story of a prisoner who, ultimately, does not want to be set free.

"The Janissaries of Emilion" by Basil Copper: A scientist dreams of an ancient land near sand and sea and wakes with sea water and sand upon him. Each night his dreams draw him closer to a city where he believes his love as well as a horde of warriors awaits. He knows that if they find him, they will kill him....

****Deaths = one stabbed

"Chinoiserie" by Helen McCloy: A tale of obsession and revenge set in Peking before the Boxer Rebellion. And all because 17 year old Olga Kyrilovna disappeared from the New Year's Eve ball.

****Deaths = one poisoned

"Soldier Key" by Sterling E. Lanier: Brigadier Donald Ffellowes tells an incredible story of a religious sect on Soldier Key (a little-known Island near the [now] Dominican Republica. An incredible story of crabs and sacrifice...

First line (1st story): Norman Logan paid for his apple pie and coffee, then carried his tray toward the front of the cafeteria.

Last lines (last story): Williams managed to grunt. We would hear from him later on, no doubt.


Saturday, June 18, 2022

The One Hundred & One Dalmatians


 The One Hundred & One Dalmatians (1956) by Dodie Smith; read by Martin Jarvis

This is the classic children's story that inspired the animated Disney film. Pongo and Missis (not Perdita!) are enjoying a comfortable newlywed life with their human pets, Mr. & Mrs. Dearly (also newlyweds) when two things happen that will change all their lives significantly. First Mrs. Dearly runs into a woman whom she had gone to school with--Cruella de Vil. And, second, Pongo and Missis are found to be expecting puppies. 

Cruella has married a furrier. Which is good for her--since she can never be too warm and constantly wants to be wrapped completely in furs. And she's always on the lookout for new and exotic patterns for furs. She comments on how beautiful the coats of the Dearlys' Dalmatians are...and how Dalmatian coats would make such a lovely fur. If that doesn't make everyone shiver, I don't know what would.

When Pongo and Missis become the parents of fifteen (!) puppies, the entire household is delighted. But fifteen pups are a bit much for Missis to manage feeding, so the Dearlys have to find a mother dog who has lost her own pups and still has milk to give. They are fortunate to find Perdita, a liver-spotted Dalmatian in need of a rescue. And so the eighteen Dalmatians and their humans settle down to a routine of puppy-rearing. Until the unthinkable happens--all fifteen puppies are dognapped and Scotland Yard is baffled. But Pongo has a sneaking suspicion who is behind the crime and sends out an urgent message through the dog-world's message system, the Twilight Barking. Soon every canine in dogdom is on the case and helping the Pongos find their pups...and a whole lot more.

I really enjoyed the original story--a charming tale, though very much of its time. I particularly liked that the dogs who helped the Pongos were featured a bit more than in the Disney film. There are, of course, differences between the printed and filmed versions--mostly, I think, to condense the story into a better length for young audiences. It's a shame that Missis and Perdita were fused into one character in the film, though I can see that having two mothers might have seemed a bit redundant. 

The written story is a bit darker, but overall a delightful adventure for all ages. I both listened and then read an online e-copy of the original book--complete with original illustrations. Great fun! ★★★★

[Photo credit for cover]

I also listened to the audio version read by Martin Jarvis.

First Line: Not long ago, there lived in London a young married couple of Dalmatian dogs named Pongo and Missis Pongo.

Last Line: For in front of every one of the many seats there had been a little carpet-eared, puppy-sized dog bed.


Friday, June 17, 2022

Murder Gone Minoan


 Murder Gone Minoan
(1939) by Clyde B. Clason

Professor Theocritus Lucius Westborough is invited to an island off the coast of California to track down the thief who has stolen a priceless statue. He'll find himself faced with murders as well before he determines who the thief is.

Alexis Paphagloss, a department store magnate, is the self-styled "Minos" of his very own island palace named Knossos. Like the tyrant king of mythology, Paphagloss rules his family and the island with an iron hand and brooks no disobedience. He dislikes his wife--because she married him for his money and not because she thinks he's wonderful. He wants to arrange a marriage for his daughter with the son of another department store tycoon--to expand the empire. Just like in days of yore. He's invited said tycoon and son to the island in an effort to cement a business deal that will be most advantageous to the Paphagloss side of the bargain.

Also on the island is his step-son, an ardent archeologist who is digging up relics from California's ancient past--not nearly as interesting to Paphagloss. But the modern Minos has dug up a Minoan scholar to come expressly to examine the his Minoan artifacts and especially his priceless statue of the Minoan snake goddess. You see, Paphagloss has a thing for Minoan culture and he even has an artist creating "authentic" Minoan frescoes on the walls of his palace. He's pleased with the art, but not with the obvious attraction between the artist and his daughter. His mood doesn't get any better when his prize possession, a priceless statue of the Minoan snake goddess, is stolen while the scholar has it out of the case for examination.

A few days later, the butler disappears. Some say "the butler did it," but Paphagloss is sure his butler was a loyal, faithful servant and Westborough thinks there's more to the butler's disappearance than meets the eye. When the first body is discovered, he's proved right. But will he discover who done it before more murders and another theft take place?

This was an interesting entry in the Westborough series. It has a very epistolary set-up--beginning with letter exchanges and with intermissions for transcripts of the written statements from the various witnesses each time there's a murder. Clason drops clues in the documents and in conversations so adroitly that I definitely did not spot the important ones which would have told me what the letters Westborough sent (which we didn't get to see...) contained. I also would have known who did it. But Clason kept that secret till the very end...at least from me. Another pleasant puzzler featuring an academic. I can't resist those. ★★★★

First line: Dear Fred: What do you know about Minoan art?

Last line: And presently even the mottled hills faded away.

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

Deaths = 4 (two fell from height; two hit on head)

 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Give the Little Corpse a Great Big Hand


 Give the Little Corpse a Great Big Hand
(1953) by George Bagby (Aaron Marc Stein)

George Bagby is both the pseudonym used by Stein for his most prolific series and the persona employed as the narrator for these Inspector Schmidt mysteries. Little Corpse is the 23rd book in a series of just over 50. In this particular outing, Schmidt and Bagby attend the opening of a brand new night club where an unexpected murder is going to take center stage. A new night club might not feature prominently in the interests of an NYC Inspector, but it's always interesting to see what Little Alfie Jessup is up to and whether this time he might be up to something they can put him away for. Schmidt is also taking a personal interest because the daughter of his good friend, beat cop Halloran, is worried about his daughter.

His daughter Margie sings like an angel and, having recently taken charge of her personal life, has begun singing for money. Her newest gig is as the vocal portion of the entertainment at the brand new Limehouse Club. Neither Halloran nor Schmidt like the idea of Margie in close contact with such a slippery little eel like Alfie--regardless of the fact that she assures them she can handle herself. So, Schmidt, Bagby, and Marie's parents all attend opening night. Margie's act goes well and she seems to have quite the following of well-to-do young people on hand to give her support.

The other big act for the evening is Goldie Gibbs. She's brought onto the stage in a golden mummy case, carried by big and strong, well-oiled (literally) young men, She's wrapped up, mummy-like, in golden wrappings and the audience is prepared to watch her emerge from the case and shed her wrappings. But Goldie's first performance is her last--someone embalmed her with chloroform and she falls to the stage floor in a heap when the mummy case is opened. 

But Goldie's murder isn't the biggest story to hit the Limehouse and Broadway--while all those well-to-do young people were busy having dinner, listening to Margie sing, and then being appalled when the dancer died, their homes were quietly relieved of all the valuable jewelry a gang of burglars could find. Inspector Schmidt is convinced that Little Alfie is behind the burglaries, but he can't see how the murder fits in and until he understands the murder he's pretty sure Little Alfie will be safe. Bagby follows the inspector around like a shadow--sees all the same clues and hears all the same witness testimony, but is surprised when Schmidt produces the murderer (and, incidentally recovers all the jewels) in the last chapter. 

I have to say--I wasn't shocked at the identity of the murderer....I saw it coming. Though I did get thrown off a bit when he revealed the hiding place of the jewels. I can't tell you why; it would spoil the plot. This was my second adventure with Schmidt and Bagby and I found it almost as enjoyable as The Body in the Basket. There's lots of action and Schmidt does a bit more detecting here, but it lost just a little bit of the sparkle of fun that the previous book had. Perhaps it's because more of the characters are so shady or downright unlikeable (I'm looking at you in particular, Edward L. Harper). I wish we could have had a bit more of the two young medical students who are paying their way through school by being buff , shiny mummy case bearers--they were great fun.  ★★ and a half for a good plot and a good second visit with Schmidt and Bagby.

First line: If you ask around in Times Square, at Lindy's and at Sardi's and around the Astor lobby, you'll turn up people who may remember it when it was the Limehouse Club.

It must strain your credulity, sir, but it is true. We've been hoping you might understand that we have known such very peculiar people that we have come to expect almost anything of them and we have learned that when they are being peculiar they resent interference. It is best to pretend one had not even noticed it. (Harvey Alden; p. 32)

That was one unchanging characteristic of Jessup's friends. They were just not the sort who could have a good time when there were police around. (152)

Last line: "There should be a law, but there isn't."

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

Deaths =  2 (one poisoned; one strangled)

Sunday, June 12, 2022

What Just Happened


 What Just Happened: Notes on a Long Year (2021) by Charles Finch

"What Just Happened" is, I think, a legitimate question from anyone who made it through that horrific last year of 45's presidency. From the pandemic and all it entailed to watching a black man killed by police right there in front of us to a sitting president encouraging his base to go "protest" a legitimate election with the resulting coup attempt--so much of what happened is enough to make me wonder if we all haven't just been living in a very bad dream. A bad dream that we don't, even now, seem to be able to awaken from. Covid-19 goes on. Perhaps not as deadly as it was at its worst, but people are sill dying. People still have long-Covid, the lingering symptoms that just won't go away. Inflation is at an all-time high because the greedy corporations and millionaires & billionaires who somehow managed to keep making all-time high profits during the pandemic haven't had enough and are still raising prices--only now they get to blame it on the war in Ukraine. And so it goes. [A phrase used often by Finch in an echo of Vonnegut.]

Sorry...didn't mean to turn my review into a rant...but there it is. And I'm not changing a word.

Charles Finch is such a gifted writer. It was both harrowing and cathartic to read his diary and relive and remember how very stressful and scary and just plain awful it was. To repeatedly come across phrases that represent exactly what I felt/thought/said at precisely those moments. To see confirmation that I wasn't the only one who felt the disconnect and who didn't want to work (how could I work when so many were dying needlessly; when I might be next or my loved ones might be next). But he also injects just the right amount of humor to keep us from getting mired in the horrific, to keep us on an even keel. And to even show us a bit of hope.

I appreciated most the absolute honesty of the work. He gives us everything--his fears, his anger, even his craziest thoughts. It is an open, authentic view of what he experienced during what is arguably one of the worst years our country has faced in a very long time. Thank you, Charles Finch, for all of it. ★★★★

First line: March 11 There is an emotional chill in the streets today for the first time.

Last line: And so the days glide forward, into a future we have to hope other people haven't already made for us.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Still Life with Crows


 Still Life With Crows (2003) by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Medicine Creek, Kansas, like many small towns across America, is slowly dying. The young people grow up, leave town, and never come back. There's only one major employer--a turkey processing plant--and it has had to cut back on the number of shifts. The University of Kansas is looking for an area to test a new hybrid corn and they have narrowed the location down to Medicine Creek and the nearby town of Deeper. Being awarded the deal could breathe new life into the chosen community.

But just as negotiations reach the final stages, people begin dying in earnest. The first body is found in circle-shaped clearing in the middle of one of the miles of cornfield. The woman has been horribly mutilated and arranged in a tableau complete with dead crows atop genuine, Civil War-era Native American arrows.Sheriff Dent Hazen doesn't know it yet, but his first murder case is going to be a doozy. FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast arrives from New York, suspecting that the murder bears the hallmarks of a serial killer. When more murders follow, it looks like he is right. The folks of Medicine Creek would like to believe that a crazed stranger is responsible, but Pendergast also suspects the culprit is more of the home-grown variety.

The arrows and the fact that the murdered woman had been digging in the Mounds just outside Medicine Creek revive the legend of the "Curse of the Forty-Fives," a story about a group of ex-Confederates who brutalized the Cheyenne--killing women and children--and who were, in turn, killed by the angry and anguished men who returned to find their families gone. The attack took place atop the Mounds and it is said that the leader of the ex-Confederates cursed the ground for all time. There is something supernatural about the strength needed for the particular method of murder and those who get a glimpse of the murderer and manage to survive describe him/it as a great hulking "creature." Has the creature been summoned by the disturbance of the Mounds? Or is there a more human agent using the legend for his own ends? Pendergast takes on a local young woman as an assistant who is snatched by the murderer. He will have to work quickly to put the clues together and find her before she becomes the latest victim...

Preston and Child certainly know how to write an edge-of-the-seat, scare-the-crap-out-of-you thriller that is so absorbing and fast-paced that even I (the biggest coward when it comes to horror and grisly murders) can read the thing straight through, hanging on every word, and impatient to find out what it's all about. Pendergast is an interesting, nuanced character. We get hints that his is an unusual back story and I certainly hope that we learn more about him as the series goes along. I appreciated seeing his softer side as he plainly wants to give Corrie Swanson (the assistant he takes on from Medicine Creek) a way to make a new start in life (if she gets a chance...).

Spoiler--encoded in ROT13: V ernyyl rawblrq gur jnl Cerfgba naq Puvyq cynlrq bss bs ahefrel eulzrf sbe gur fbyhgvba bs jul gur xvyyre ynvq bhg uvf ivpgvzf va gur cnegvphyne gnoyrnhf ur qvq--naq jung gur pebjf naq gur qbt'f gnvy zrnag. V unira'g ernq fhpu n tbbq hfr bs ahefrel eulzrf fvapr Ntngun Puevfgvr. V nz n ovg crecyrkrq nf gb jul yvivat va gur qnex pnirf jbhyq znxr gur zna FB rkgen-fgebat (V zrna fgebatre guna nirentr, lrf--ohg gur srngf ur cresbezf frrz n ovg bire-gur-gbc) naq rfcrpvnyyl FB snfg. Jung unf yvivat va gur pnir tbg gb qb jvgu fcrrq?

But, beyond the small quibbles mentioned in the spoiler above, overall this is another excellent thriller Preston and Child. I look forward to reading more of the Pendergast series. ★★★★

{If you'd like to decode the spoiler, copy & past the coded portion, click on the link and follow the directions to reveal all.}

First line: Medicine Creek, Kansas. Early August. Sunset.

Time is a storm in which we are all lost, Mr. Hoch. (Pendergast; p. 40) 

Medicine Creek is an all-American town, and everybody's got a skeleton in his closet. Or her closet. (Corrie Swanson; p. 80)

I have found that liars in the end communicate more truth than do truth tellers....Because truth is the safest lie. (Pendergast; 134) 

I find nothing more tiresome in life than explanations. (Pendergast; 210)

It is a capital mistake to develop a premature hypothesis in the absence of hard data. (Pendergast [echoing Holmes]; 213)

Last line: The cluster of psychiatrists and students at the glass did not even notice the dark, slender presence slip away, they were so busy discussing just where the diagnosis would be found in the DSM-IV manual--or if, indeed, it would ever be found there at all.

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

Deaths = 11 (two shot; four strangled; one boiled to death; one natural--died of fright; two fell from height; one hit on head)


Thursday, June 9, 2022

May Pick of the Month (Better Late Than Never)


 I just realized that another month is in the books (😉) and I forgot to see what I read in May and which mystery stands out among the crowd. I'm keeping up my pace--trudging right along. I managed another 17 books and all but two had a mystery flair. I'm still trying to manage my reading rate so I'll be planting a flag on Mount Olympus on Mars (in my Mount TBR challenge) before the year is out.  I've also been looking for that elusive five-star rating for a new-to-me mystery novel. And I finally got it! Now I just have to decide if I'm going to give another P.O.M. award to C. S. Harris (she's won twice in the past, I believe). We'll take a look at the mystery star ratings in a moment, but before we hand out the shiny prize/s, let's take a look at the stats.


Total Books Read: 19
Total Pages: 4,722

Average Rating: 3.68 stars  
Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 53%
Percentage by Male Authors: 47%
Percentage by both Female & Male Authors: 0%
Percentage by US Authors: 68%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  16%
Percentage Mystery: 89%
Percentage Fiction: 95%
Percentage written 2000+: 21%
Percentage of Rereads: 26%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}    
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 14 (42%)

Mysteries Read:
 
Parcels for Inspector West by John Creasey (4 stars) 
Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood (4 stars)
When Blood Lies by C. S. Harris (5 stars)
Killer Loose! by Geneveive Holden (3 stars) 
The Parchment Key by Stanley Hopkins, Jr. (3.5 stars)
The Clue in the Crumbling Wall by Carolyn Keene (4 stars)
The Counterfeit Lady by Kate Parker (3 stars)
The Vanishing Thief by Kate Parker (3.5 stars)
Reliquary by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (3 stars) 
Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers (5 stars)
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (5 stars)
Lock 14 by Georges Simenon (2.75 stars)
Murder on "B" Deck by Vincent Starrett (3 stars)
Murder Down Under by Arthur W. Upfield (2.5 stars)
The Corbin Necklace by Henry Kitchell Webster (3.5 stars)
Going Public by David Westheimer (4 stars)
The Body That Wasn't Uncle by George Worthing Yates (2.5 stars)




So, as you can see When Blood Lies by Harris and two Dorothy L. Sayers novels, Gaudy Night & Busman's Honeymoon, each gathered up five stars. The Sayers mysteries are both rereads (several times over), so, I'm sorry, Dorothy, but you're out. When Blood Lies is another knock-out historical mystery by Harris that just came out this spring. I had been impatiently waiting since last July (when I finished the previous book in the series) and I devoured it immediately as soon as my turn come in the library holds sweepstakes. I love this series so much that...yes, I AM going to give C. S. Harris another P.O.M. Award....


But...I am going to make her share it. Let's look at the contenders with four stars. Flying High by Kerry Greenwood and The Clue in the Crumbling Wall by Carolyn Keene are both rereads, so they're going to join Sayers on the sidelines. Which leaves us with two possibilities. John Creasey's Parcels for Inspector West is a police procedural set at Christmastime. Creasey is terrific with characters and manages to give everyone attention in the short space afforded. We feel like we really know the Bryants--even though some of the family are on stage for extremely brief periods. We become very invested in the family and even more interested in seeing the killers brought to justice. And Going Public by David Westheimer isn't really a true mystery at all. It is focused on a trio of young men who have found profit in murder and are looking to incorporate the business, sell shares in the company...and make a financial killing.

The Inspector Roger West books are my favorites of the various series Creasey writes (under various names), but I believe the other winner of a May P.O.M. Award is....
 
 

This is just enormous fun. It skewers the business industry so expertly, that you would think one of the Willies had performed the "undertaking." All the worst qualities of the business world are put to use to further the ends of the undertakings--and it is usually men who display those worst qualities who become "units" in the company's production line. It also shines a light on the religious faction who don't seem to mind being hand-in-glove with dirty business practices as long as they can claim profits "for the glory of the Lord." A terrific commentary on big business with comments that are just as applicable to the business practices of today (unfortunately) and all done with murder mayhem and good humor.