Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Hidden Staircase


 The Hidden Staircase (1930) by Carolyn Keene [my version = 1959, revised text]

Nancy's friend, Helen Corning, asks if Nancy would like to investigate a haunted house and when Nancy says yes (of course!) plans to bring her great-aunt Rosemary Turnbull to give Nancy all the details. Meanwhile, a nasty character by the name of Nathan Gomber arrives to warn Nancy that her father is in danger and she'd better stick close to him. Carson Drew has been acting, with other lawyers, for a railroad company which bought land from various home owners. One of the lawyers did not have paperwork signed correctly and now that home owner has disappeared and the group are holding out for more money. When Nancy tells him about the visit from Gomber and that she's worried about the danger, Carson insists that there's nothing to worry about. He's going to follow a lead to Chicago in hopes of finding Willie Wharton and getting the signature verified properly. There's no reason why Nancy can't investigate the strange goings on at the Turnbull house.

So Nancy and Helen go to Twin Elms, the Turnbull home, where the mysterious incidents continue. Radios get turned on when no one is around, furniture moves mysteriously, an owl appears in a locked room, and jewelry disappears. Nancy becomes convinced that the old house must have a secret passage and the search is on. But before she can wrap up that mystery, her father disappears and she has to find him and solve the mysteries surrounding the railroad deal as well.

The 1959 revised edition is one of a set of tweed-covered Nancy Drew books that my mom passed on to me when I was in second grade. Those six books hooked me on mysteries for life. Staircase was always one of my favorites. It has everything--spooky goings-on, a hidden passage, a definite nasty bad guy, and just enough danger to make things exciting. It was fun revisiting this childhood favorite and I was glad to see that this one holds up very well. ★★★★ and 1/2.

First line: Nancy Drew began peeling off her garden gloves as she ran up the porch steps and into the hall to answer the ringing telephone.

Last lines: "And we can make all the plans we want," Nancy replied with a grin. "There won't be anyone at the listening post!"


Murder Can't Wait


 Murder Can't Wait (1964) by Richard Lockridge

Lieutenant Nathan Shapiro is out of his element and off to the country and into the stomping grounds of Captain M. L. Heimrich. The city police have gotten a "squeal" that mobsters are moving in on the football team at Dyckman University in an attempt to set up a point-shaving scheme. Shapiro is sent to meet up with Stuart Fleming, former Dyckman football star, who claims to have information. But when Shapiro arrives at the State Police Barracks to ask directions to Fleming's house, Heimrich tells him that he's too late. Sometime in the early morning hours somebody shot Fleming five times just to make sure that the job got done.

There is the obvious idea that those mobsters with the point-shaving scheme must have gotten wind of Fleming's planned interference and the possibility of police interest. And that these mobsters must have decided to shut Fleming up permanently. But there's also the fact that a substantial trust fund will revert to his brother upon his death. And the fact that someone signed into a skiing lodge under Fleming's name and Stuart was trying to find out who that was. There's also the fact that the local golf pro shows up at Fleming's house late in the morning after the murder, threatening to bash the "so-and-so's" teeth in--because he thinks the "so-and-so" has been trying to steal his wife. Did he really not know Fleming was dead? Or is he putting on a show so he won't be suspected? Maybe the answer isn't quite as obvious as it appears.

Shapiro reminds me of Michael Faye's Great Dane Colonel. He appears to everyone he meets that he's perpetually sad or depressed. He's sure that the department has made a mistake somewhere thinking that a cop who's just "guy who's good with a gun" is some sort of detective. And the sort of detective who should be promoted to lieutenant. Never mind that he has a knack for solving these murders where he believes he's out of his depth. Here, he winds up working with Heimrich and Sergeant Forniss and the three make a good team--each discovering an important clue that leads to the discovery of the killer. 

Another enjoyable, comfy reread. It had been long enough since the first time that I had forgotten who did it and was pleasantly in the dark until Shapiro interviewed a certain private detective. It was also fun to see Professor Emeritus Walter Brinkley again--if only briefly. ★★★★

First line: Nathan Shajpiro drove an unassuming police car north on the Saw Mill River Parkway and was certain that no good would come of it.

When you meet a man--a man you are going, for however brief a time, to work with--you lay a little trail of facts about your self, a trail for the man to follow, if he wants to follow. It is easier to work with other men if they know something about you, and you something about them. What you know does not need to be important; little things will do. (p. 14)

Forniss shrugged heavy shoulders. He said that if you jogged a memory, there was no telling what would fall out of it. Or what the jogged siftings would be worth. (p. 65)

Last line: And afterward he was going to take Rose to the movies.

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

Deaths = 2 (one shot; one poisoned)

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Death in the Tunnel (slightly spoilerish)


 Death in the Tunnel (1936) by Miles Burton (Cecil John Street)

Two elderly men are aboard the train running from Cannon Street to Stourford. When the train arrives at the station after traveling through a long tunnel, one is dead--shot to death in a locked compartment--and one has completely disappeared. The death of Sir Wilfred Saxonby has the surface appearance of suicide. He specifically asked the conductor to keep others out of his first class compartment. The gun found bore the initials W. S. and was positioned exactly where it might have fallen if Saxonby had used it himself. The compartment was locked.

The other gentleman left a first-class compartment shared with two ladies (strangers all) before the train entered the tunnel and apparently evaporated into thin air. The men in railroad buildings at either end of the tunnel swear that nothing, other than the train, either entered or left the tunnel. If Saxonby didn't kill himself (and none of his family or business associates can suggest a reason why he might have), did the man who disappeared have a hand in the death? And how did he get to Saxonby...and where did he go when he was done?

Even when Inspector Arnold learns that mysterious red and green lights in the tunnel caused the engineer to slow the train, he's hard put to figure out what that had to do with the death. The slowed train would have allowed someone to get off or to get on...if there were any way they could have dones so without being seen by the men at either end of the tunnel. Arnold calls upon his friend Desmond Merrion, a wealthy amateur of the Lord Peter Wimsey sort, to lend his imagination to the problem. It winds up being a more involved conjuring trick than Arnold supposes.

I mention Lord Peter Wimsey above. I have to say that I don't quite think Merrion is in Wimsey's league. Some of his ideas are little off-the-wall and I had difficulty following his different permutations of "A" and "B" (his proposed collaborators). Wimsey sometimes comes up with some fanciful-sounding propositions, but there's generally some solid logic underneath. At times, Merrion seems to be trying to come up with the most outlandish explanation possible.

I did like the fact that we mixed the death on a train trope with a "locked room" mystery. Not only is the compartment locked, but there is apparently no way in or out of the tunnel except on the train. It made for an interesting combo and puzzle. However, as soon as one little comment is made while examining the tunnel, I was ahead of Arnold and Merrion in figuring out how access/egress was gained. I had my eye on the main culprit (the brain behind the plot) though I couldn't quite see how they could have played the part they did. Burton explains that well, but I do cry foul on the second figure--there's no way the reader could guess their identity that I can see. 

Overall, a fairly interesting puzzle mystery. It's my second venture into Street's work (the first, written under his John Rhode pseudonym) and so far he's given me solid ★★ and 1/2 books.

Also reviewed by: Kate @ Cross Examining Crime; Les @ Classic Mysteries; The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

First line: The 5.0 p.m. train from Cannon Street runs fast as far as Stourford, where it is due at 6.7.

But, do you know, I'm never quite easy in my mind about locked doors especially when they are railway carriage doors. You know what a simple thing the key of these locks is. (Inspector Arnold; p. 13)

It seems to me that very remarkable things happen on this line of yours....It's impossible for anybody to get in or out of that tunnel without being seen. Yet, on Thursday evening, people seem to have gone in and out at their own sweet will. (Arnold; p. 67)

Last line: They were duly hanged.

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

Deaths = one shot; two hanged

Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery


 The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939) by Leonard Gribble

Francis Kindilett has worked for several years to put together an amateur football (soccer) team that will be good enough to take on the best of the professional teams: the Arsenal Gunners. The day has finally come for the big match and he's sure his Trojans are up to the competition. The soccer stands are jam-packed and 70,000 fans are on hand to watch their favorites. The match is hard-fought in the first half with Arsenal gaining a one-nothing advantage and then John Doyce manages a beautiful penalty kick at the beginning of the second half to tie the score. Just as the momentum seems to shift to the amateurs, Doyce goes down on the field.

No one had tackled Doyce. He had been alone when he fell. He had simply folded up like a jack-knife and slipped to the ground.

The ailing player is carried off the field, but nothing the trainer does can rouse Doyce. He's unresponsive and sweating uncontrollably and just after the match has ended so has Doyce's life. Scotland Yard is called in and it's determined that Doyce was murdered with an alkaloid poison. Inspector Slade is the Yard's man and is soon on the hunt for the sender of a mysterious package which arrived for Doyce just in time for half-time; a pretty young blonde woman who asked for Doyce and ran off when told he was dead; and the meaning behind a clipping that accompanied the package which referred to a drowned girl. 

Doyce was new to the Trojan squad and didn't have many friends, though there others on the team who had known him from earlier soccer teams. There was a certain coolness between Doyce and his partner in an insurance company, Phil Morring (who also plays for the Trojans), and several of the players though Doyce rather too full of himself, but is there really a motive in all that? Inspector Slade and Sergeant Clinton will have to find out. There's also a wife that no one knew Doyce had--a wife with a devoted admirer. 

I have to say...I've never read a soccer match mystery. Gribble gives just enough of the football action to set the stage and provide the setting for the murder without letting the sport overshadow the mystery. It was quite unique to have the members of the actual Arsenal team of 1939 involved in the mystery (though, of course, we all know that none of them will wind up being the murderer). It's very entertaining and nicely plotted. And he did a fine job making me focus on a particular item and derailing my attempt to spot the killer before Slade. I was a teensy bit disappointed that the particular item didn't wind up figuring in the solution at all...but overall I enjoyed this quite a lot. ★★★★ 

First line: There was a sudden, expectant hush as Tom Whittaker walked into the dressing-room of the Arsenal team at Highbury, the same hush he had been greeted with for years, on every Arsenal home-match day.

Last line: They went out of the room, leaving Kindilett staring out of the window and seeing nothing, a grey-haired man alone with his thoughts.

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

Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one drowned)


Six Shooter Challenge 2022: My Sign-Up

 


I'm heading out to the shooting range again with Rick and his Six Shooter Mystery Reading Challenge in 2022. The goal is pretty straight-forward--read six books on the same target (by the same author) to complete your round. Any targets started in 2020 but not yet complete will carry over to the new year, so Rick's page won't be fully updated for a while. Once it's updated, you can check out the full details at the link above.

As with his other challenges, Rick doesn't ask for a commitment. But I will set a personal goal in order to claim the challenge complete for 2022. I've been setting it at four targets--and I will be aiming for the same in the new year.  Most likely those will include Agatha Christie, the Lockridges,  and Carolyn Keene. Other authors TBD.

Agatha Christie
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Frances & Richard Lockridge
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Carolyn Keene
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Medical Examiner 2022: My Sign-Up

 


Once again Rick at the Rick Mills Project will be offering up the Medical Examiner Mystery Reading Challenge as well as the Six Shooter Challenge. I, having no self-control when it comes to challenges--especially mystery-related challenges, will--of course--sign up for both. He's got them both on deck for 2022 (as well as the fairly new Beachcomber Challenge), so here I go again....For full details, check out the link above. Basically, just read mysteries and log the murder methods on his handy form.

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 certificate reports. With the number of mysteries I read per year, this shouldn't be too difficult.

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Read It Again, Sam 2022: My Sign-Up

 


I don't do a lot of re-reading, but it does seem that I wind up with at least a handful each year. So, I'm going to sign up for my Read It Again, Sam Challenge again (I've left this one alone for a while).
 
There are several levels (below) and the full rules may be found at the link above.
Déjà vu: Reread 4 books  
Feeling Nostalgic: Reread 8 books
A Trip Down Memory Lane: Reread 12 books  
Living in the Past: Reread 16+ books

I'm just going to go for Déjà vu: Reread 4 books. If I find myself doing more rereads, then I'll level up.

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Color Coded Challenge 2022: My Sign-Up

 


Every year I think I've used up my last title with "Brown" (or a shade of brown) for the Color Coded Reading Challenge and every year I prove myself wrong (or buy more books with suitable titles). I'll keep signing up as long as I have suitable titles (I'm determined to use titles and not covers).

Here's the basic rule: read nine books with the various colors listed below in their titles or as a dominant color/image on their covers. For full details, click the link above. I'll list my books and date read as they come.

1. Read book with "Blue" (or a shade of blue):

2. Read a book with "Red" (or a shade of red):

3. Read a book with "Yellow" (or a shade of yellow):

4. Read a book with "Green" (or a shade of green):

5. Read a book with "Brown" (or a shade of brown):

6. Read a book with "Black" (or a shade of black):

7. Read a book with "White" (or a shade of white):

8. Read a book with any other color:

9. Read a book a word/image that implies color (rainbow, polka dot, etc):


Calendar of Crime 2022: My Sign-Up

 


As mentioned elsewhere on the Block, mysteries are my go-to read, so filling up a Calendar of Crime with all sorts of dastardly deeds is an easy challenge for me. The goal--to read one month-related mystery book per month for a total of 12 books (or more, if you'd like). If you'd like to join me, just click on the link.




January:
February:
March:
April:
May:
June:
July:
August:
September:
October:
November:
December:


Reading by the Numbers: My Sign-Up

 


The Reading by the Numbers Challenge is the reading challenge at its most basic--just track everything you read. Anything counts--graphic novels or comic books, hard copy, e-books, audio novels, etc. If it is a book, it counts. And although the covers shown in the challenge image are all mysteries, you may read from any and all genres that interest you. Just set a goal and when January 1 comes around, start reading.

Since my Mount TBR  and Goodreads goal will be 100, that's what I'm aiming for here. Hopefully, I'll rack up more than that. But with 100 I can claim the challenge complete.

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Virtual Mount TBR 2022: My Sign-Up

 


Every year my goal is to read from my own stacks (hence the original Mount TBR Challenge). And every year I decide that there are TBR books that I don't own that I just have to Read. So--with my Virtual Mount TBR Challenge, I get to count that mountain too. As per usual, I'm starting with Rum Doodle and, hopefully, I won't get too carried away with library books. Though it would be nice to say that I've climbed the steps to Vulcan's Mount Seleya....

Click to enlarge

If you have tons of books on your want to read list that you don't own, then please join me as we tackle fictional mountains in the TBR world. Just click on the link above.

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Rum Doodle



Mount TBR 2022: My Sign-Up

 


Once again, I plan to concentrate on reading primarily from my own books in the coming year. In 2021 I actually planted a flag on Mount Olympus...but my declared goal will remain Mount Everest with a dream goal of Olympus. Please join me in knocking out some of those books that have been waiting for attention for weeks...months...even years.

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Pike's Peak
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Mount Blanc
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Mt. Vancouver
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Mount Everest


Friday, October 22, 2021

The Distant Clue


 The Distant Clue (1963) by Frances and Richard Lockridge

The elderly lawyer and the elderly librarian were sitting across from each other in Homer Lenox's study. Neither spoke when Miss Enid Vance stopped by with typed copy of pages in the lawyer's book The Families of Putnam County, New York. Neither would ever speak again. Lenox and his friend, retired Professor Wingate, have both been shot in what looks like a murder-suicide. The gun is lying near Lenox's hand. 

Captain Heimrich is called in to determine whether the case is as simple as it looks. And...well, since this is a murder mystery novel, it's no spoiler to say...it's not. Wingate had been providing Lenox with books, newspaper articles, and family papers to help the lawyer with his research. Is the motive for the deaths buried somewhere in Putnam County's past? Did Wingate provide materials that led Lenox to uncover some secret from the past? But then there's the fact that Lenox was the driver in a fatal accident. He was officially cleared of blame...but does someone still hold him responsible? And did Wingate just wind up being in the wrong place at the wrong time? There's also the fact that Lenox bought some high-powered binoculars and could see his neighbors (even quite far away) more clearly than they might have preferred. Oh...and there's all that pretty money that his adopted step-son will now inherit.

This one is quite as fairly clued as one might like...though there's plenty of pointers that could set the armchair detective on the right track. The motive isn't really evident until quite late in the game. I had my eye on the culprit all along, just didn't know quite why they might have done it. Still loving the characters and watching Heimrich and Forniss go through their investigations. ★★★★ 

First line: When she stepped through the doorway to the sidewalk of Van Brunt Avenue heat stepped forward to meet her.

Two men kill each other and no third person in it. The temptation to let it lie there must have been almost irresistible. But amateur murderers, unlike those whose business is killing, are inclined not let well enough alone, to add refinements to a situation quite good enough as is. Of this the police are normally appreciative. (p. 54)

[about Professor Wingate] He was a nice, easy-going bloke, getting along in years. His classes were popular enough, but the kids didn't stand in line exactly. Far as I ever heard, he didn't quarrel with anybody. And you wouldn't know it, Charles, but that's a trick in faculty life....One hell of a trick. (Artemus Goodbody; p. 66)

Last line: He got to god before god disappeared, as god was all the time doing. (Colonel, the dog, in reference to his boy Michael)

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

Deaths = 6 (two shot; one smothered; two car crash; one fell from height)

Calendar of Crime 2022

 

photo credit: Ellery Queen's Calendar of
Crime (Signet edition)

Ready for another year of mysterious months and dangerous days? I'm pleased to sponsor the 2022 edition of the Calendar of Crime--with slight variations in the prompts. Just a reminder that this mystery-based challenge allows readers to include any mystery regardless of publication date. If it falls in a mystery category (crime fiction/detective novel/police procedural/suspense/thriller/spy & espionage/hard-boiled/cozy/etc.), then it counts and it does not matter if it was published in 1892 or 2022. 
 

 
 
A larger version of the spreadsheet may be found HERE. Click on the 2022 tab at bottom.
 
The Rules
~Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2022. All books should be read during this time period. Sign up at any time. If you have a blog, please post about the challenge. Then sign up via the form below and please make the url link to your challenge post and not your home page. If you don't have a blog, links to an online list (Goodreads, Library Thing, etc.) devoted to this challenge are acceptable OR you may skip that question.

~All books must be mysteries. Humor, romance, supernatural elements (etc.) are all welcome, but the books must be mysteries/crime/detective novels first.

~Twelve books, one representing each month, are required for a complete challenge.

~To claim a book, it must fit one of the categories for the month you wish to fulfill. Unless otherwise specified, the category is fulfilled within the actual story. for instance, if you are claiming the book for December and want to use "Christmas" as the category, then Christmas figure in some in the plot. Did someone poison the plum pudding? Did Great-Uncle Whozit invite all the family home for Christmas so he could tell them he plans to change his will?

~The "wild card" book is exactly that. If July is your birth month (as mine is), then for category #9 you may read any mystery book you want. It does not have to connect with July in any way--other than a July baby chose it. The other eleven months, you must do the alternate category #9 if you want to fulfill that slot.

~Books may only count for one month and one category, but they may count for other challenges (such as my Vintage Scattergories Challenge). If it could fulfill more than one category or month, then you are welcome to change it at any time prior to the final wrap-up.

~Books do not have to be read during the month for which they qualify. So--if you're feeling like a little "Christmas in July" (or May or...), then feel free to read your book for December whenever the mood strikes.

~A wrap-up post/comment/email will be requested that should include a list of books read and what category they fulfilled. [Example: January: The House of Sudden Sleep by John Hawk (original pub date January 1930)]

~The headquarters link in the left-hand sidebar will be updated in January for 2020 for easy access to this original challenge post, monthly review link-ups, and the final wrap-up. The final wrap-up link will not go live until the end of 2020, so please save your notification until that time. 
 

 


Color Coded & Read It Again Sam, Reading Challenges 2022

 

There continues to be a lot of love out there for both the Color Coded and Read It Again, Sam Challenges. Since I don't monitor these quite as closely as my other challenges and my linky provided limits the number of linky "parties" I can provide, I am setting these up on the same sign-up and headquarters sites again this year. The Headquarters with review links and wrap-up links will be updated on the sidebar at the beginning of the year. Here are the challenge descriptions and sign-up links:

Color Coded Reading Challenge
 
Once again the categories will be more open--the color may either be named in the title or it may appear as the dominant color for the cover of the book. For "implies color" the image implying color should dominate the cover--for instance a large rainbow, a field of flowers, or the image of a painter. Get ready for a rainbow of reading in 2022. 

General Rules:
~Challenge runs from January 1 through December 31, 2022 and any book read after January 1 may count regardless of when you sign up. You may sign-up any time.

~Read nine books in the following categories:
1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue in the title/on the cover.
2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red in the title/on the cover.
3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow in the title/on the cover.
4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green in the title/on the cover.
5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown in the title/on the cover.
6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black in the title/on the cover.
7. A book with "White" or any shade of White in the title/on the cover.
8. A book with any other color in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, etc).
9. A book with a word/image that implies color in the title/on the cover (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Shadow, Paint, Ink, etc).

~Crossovers with other challenges are fine.

~To Sign Up please fill in the form below. If you have a blog, please post about the challenge on your site and enter the url link. You may also enter a link to a Goodreads or Library Thing list, Instagram, etc. If you can't use the form for any reason, you may also sign up by commenting below.

~At the beginning of the new year, I will put up posts for review links for each color category and the sidebar image will be updated to the new challenge links.
 
 
Read It Again, Sam

For those of you who love to revisit old friends in the book world, I present another round with Sam at the piano for all your reading music needs. While not quite as popular as the Color Coded Challenge, this one still has its devotees.

Rules:
~Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31. 2022.

~Levels:
   Déjà vu: Reread 4 books
   Feeling Nostalgic: Reread 8 books
   A Trip Down Memory Lane: Reread 12 books
   Living in the Past: Reread 16 books
  Just Give Me a Time Machine Already...: 24+ books

~Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're lost in a nostalgic haze and want to tackle a higher level, then you are welcome to upgrade. You cannot change down, however.
~Any book read after January 2020 will count no matter when you sign up.
~Crossovers with other challenges are fine.
~
~To Sign Up please fill in the form below. If you have a blog, please post about the challenge on your site and enter the url link. You may also enter a link to a Goodreads or Library Thing list, Instagram, etc. If you can't use the form for any reason, you may also sign up by commenting below.
~No blog or social media site? No problem! Post a comment below to announce your entry into the challenge and when you have completed the challenge just post a comment on the review site with a list of your books.
~Please use the Headquarters Page (updated link coming in January) to post review links and a final wrap-up post and/or comments. [Reviews are not required--but we'd love to see what you think about the books you've read if you do review.]