Monday, May 27, 2024

The New Shoe


 The New Shoe (1951) by Arthur W. Upfield

When the lighthouse inspector makes an unexpected second trip to now automated Split Point Lighthouse on Australia's southeast coast, he discovers the naked body of a man hidden in a little-used storage closet in the wall. There is nothing to identify the body and advertisements of his description yields no help. So, Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte is dispatched to help the local police. Bony has yet to leave a case unsolved and he's confident he'll crack this one. But even with his disguise as a holiday-making sheep farmer, the local inhabitants are reluctant to tell more than they've already shared with the police. But Bony knows that they know something. The only one who will really talk with him is old Ed Penwarden, an expert wood craftsman who specializes in coffins.

Bony wonders why a certain coffin is moved in the night, why the girl was seen struggling with Dick Lake on the cliff top, why Elred Wessex never came home from the war, and what the Bully Buccaneers have to do with it all. It isn't until his new friend, the dog Stug, brings him a shiny new shoe at the cliff's edge that he finds the clues that will lead him onto the correct path and when someone tries to brain him with a rock he knows he's getting close. And if he's not careful, he'll find himself resting permanently in one of Penwarden's beautiful coffins...

Although Upfield employs some of the standard Bony tropes (going undercover, ignoring his chief's urgings to hurry up, etc), this is a slightly different take than most of the detective's cases. Here he finds himself in a more centralized rural area--with far more people around, rather than using his tracking skills in the outback. I really enjoyed his interactions with Penwarden and the empathy he showed to various characters he met during the course of his investigation. And, as always, it's fun to see him melt into another persona as seamlessly as Holmes donning a disguise. ★★★

First line: The evening sky was a true prophet.

"People don't hink about next week, tomorrow....No pride these days...get through work as quickly as possible for as much as possible...and refuse to do any thinkin' because thinkin' hurts." (Mr. Penwarden;p. 30)

"Putting the dead man in that locker don't make no sense to me, and I allus say that what don't make sense ain't worth worryin about. (Penwarden p. 64)

Last line: He walked on, and Mr. Penwarden tarried at the gate to watch him until he reached the main road.
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Deaths =  3 (one shot; one natural; one fell from height)

Amphigorey


 Amphigorey (1972) by Edward Gorey

An anthology of 15 short illustrated books by the master of creepy, gothic sketches. And creepy is an understatement in a handful of these--children skewered and thrown off buildings and piers. Adults killed in a variety of ways. Edward Gorey was at times a bloodthirsty fellow. But I do adore his drawings and it was great fun to explore these 15 short books. I picked it up from the library originally for The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Gorey murderous alphabet depicting 26 ways that the Tinies were bumped off. [I needed an "A is for Alpha" type book for one of my challenges.] I even got a bonus A-Z with The Fatal Lozenge. This one was about devilry and despondency of all types--not just murder. 

In addition to the dark alphabets, Gorey gives us lessons in what type of pet one ought not to invite into the house, a look at the trials and tribulations of an author, a peek at the types of antics guests get up to in a country house (not suitable for children...), a slew limericks--both naughty and nasty (and some in French), a saga about a group of bugs, the sad story of Charlotte who was orphaned and mistreated, and the travels of Edna, Sam, & Harry on a railroad handcart--among others. 

A fascinating book and an interesting look into the mind of the man who first came to my attention with his rendering of the intro to Mystery! ★★★

First line (1st book): Mr. C(lavius) F(rederick) Earbrass is, of course, the well-known novelist.

Last line (Last book): The wind came and took them through an open window; she watched them blow away.

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

Deaths: 33 [The Listing Attic = 3]; [The Object Lesson =1]; [The Hapless Child = 2]; [The Gashlycrumb Tinies = 26]; [The Insect God = 1]

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Tenth Life


 The Tenth Life (1977) by Richard Lockridge

 When M. L. & Susan Heimrich's Great Dane Colonel falls ill, they take him to Dr. Adrian Barton's veterinary clinic. His assistant Carol Arnold tells them that the doctor is finishing up a surgery and will be right with them. But after time goes by and no doctor, Inspector Heimrich asks Carol to check how much longer it will be. Well...it's going to be quite a long time because the doctor is dead. It looks like the middle-aged Barton has had a stroke or a heart attack or perhaps a diabetic coma, but all of Heimrich's police alarm bells are going off and he's not so sure. And when the analyst finds curare in the syringe discovered under Barton's body, it winds up his alarm bells were ringing out murder.

But who wanted the veterinarian dead? Did his wife think he was messing around with the pretty young Carol Arnold and decide death was better than divorce? Did Carol's young man decide the "old" vet was too interested in his young assistant. Did one of the pet owners decide to take revenge for their pet's death? Are any of these motives strong enough to warrant murder? Apparently someone had a grievance strong enough to kill over, but will Heimrich find the right one before the killer strikes again? 

This is the last of the Heimrich novels and it was good to see the Inspector and Lieutenant Charley Forniss and Corporal Purvis in one last outing. The mystery is pretty straightforward and it shouldn't be difficult for those well-acquainted with the series to spot the killer. But I don't really read these for intricate plots. I enjoy the comfortable characters who behave in ways I've grown accustomed to and whom I live very much. Heimrich has been at this long enough that he knows when murder has occurred, even when it's not immediately obvious. And I've been reading the Lockridge books long enough that I know which characters are the most likely villains no matter how many red herrings he tries to throw my way. It was interesting to see curare used as the murder method in a modern mystery (pardon me, my Gen X card is showing--the seventies don't seem like they should be 50 years ago...). I thought everyone had given up the "obscure" South American poison long before then. But it does fit with the veterinary setting since it was used at one time (in very small doses) to immobilize animals for treatment. While this isn't the strongest of the Lockridge books, it was a nice comfortable read and a solid ending for the series. ★★★

First line: It was a few minutes after six in the afternoon, and the afternoon was in mid-July.

Last line: "And no stud fee," Susan said, and picked up the tray.
*****************

Deaths = 4 (one poisoned; three natural)

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

What Cannot Be Said (spoilers)


 What Cannot Be Said (2024) by C. S. Harris

Fourteen years ago Sir Henry Lovejoy's wife and daughter were killed in Richmond Park. They were found shot and their bodies posed in an eerie parody of crypt statues. Lovejoy was sure that they had captured and hanged the killer, a disturbed veteran found covered in blood at the scene. But Daniel O'Toole went to his execution swearing he was innocent.When Lovejoy is called to Richmond Park to investigate the murder of Lady McInnis and her daughter, found shot and posed in a manner that brings the past rushing into the present, he wonders if O'Toole had been telling the truth after all. Either Lovejoy helped send an innocent man to the gallows or someone is copying the previous murders for purposes of their own.

Lovejoy immediately calls on Lord Devlin, Sebastian St. Cyr, to assist with the case. Hero, Lady Devlin, assists as well. She was friends with Laura McInnis and knew of her work with the Foundling Hospital and behalf of those apprenticed through the workhouses. Lady McInnis's work made her pretty unpopular with some of London's most influential people, including her own husband and Basil Rhodes, the Prince Regent's favorite illegitimate son. But would anyone have taken the trouble to kill both Laura McInnis and her daughter over her work on behalf of London's poor? And, if so, why bother to copy the murders from fourteen years ago. The deeper Sebastian digs and the more questions Hero asks, the more troubling information is discovered within Laura's family and friends. Is the crime more personal than was first thought? But again...why the ties to the murder of Lovejoy's family? Until Sebastian can answer that question, he won't be able to come close to the solution.

***Spoilers ahead--just in reference to Sebastian's over-arching story line. No spoilers about the mystery's solution. But if you haven't read earlier books in the series, you might want to skip this part unless you don't mind learning bits and pieces about Sebastian's history.***

This is still my favorite historical series. It's just about the only series written by a current author that I have to read the next one as soon as I can get my hands on it. I love the way Harris focuses on different aspects of society and ties her mysteries into them. The historical detail is terrific, as one would expect from a historian. In addition to the details about the baby farms (though not called that at the time), workhouses and the conditions for apprentices, this particular outing explores madness and the use of that label to get difficult family members put away. And I continue to enjoy Sebastian and Hero together. I'm very glad he wound up with her--she's every bit his equal and a good match.

There are just a few things that I either get tired of in this nineteen-book series or have questions about. I'm tired of the whole Jarvis warning Sebastian off thing, for one. Every single time. I would absolutely love it if we could have one where Jarvis actually needs his son-in-law to investigate. That would make an interesting character exploration and also expand their interactions. The other things that niggle--can we pretty please find out who Sebastian's father was and whether Jamie Knox was really his half-brother {I find it hard to believe that he wasn't}. I also (and this may be just me) strongly suspect Cousin Victoria of having hurried Hero's mother into the grave. We keep getting references to how Hero doesn't like Victoria but can't give a particular reason--maybe she's getting vibes that her father's new wife is a killer. But, despite these little niggles, excellent series and excellent installment. Do I really have wait almost a year for another one? ★★★★★

First line: "I've figured out what's wrong with women," declared Ben.

Last lines: Then Gibson swallowed hard, set his jaw, and summoned up a jaunty grin. "Ready."
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Deaths =  18 (five shot; one hanged; five natural; five stabbed; one beaten; one fire)


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Who Cries for the Lost (audio)


 Who Cries for the Lost (2023) by C. S. Harris
(read by Jenny Sterling)

In this latest chronicle about Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin, all of London is waiting for news that Wellington and the allies of Britain are ready to unseat Napoleon for the final time. But, although Waterloo lies ahead of him, Wellington seems content to party and seems confident that the Little Corporal will meet him on the battlefield at time of his (Wellington's) choosing. Sebastian isn't so sure and is chafing at the bit to join his former comrades on the continent. However, Sebastian is still recuperating from a nasty leg wound received in Paris over six months ago while on a mission to find his missing mother. And his detective skills are needed at home when the mutilated corpse of Major Miles Sedgewick is dragged out of the Thames.

Sedgewick was known to Sebastian during the war on the Peninsula--known as a man who could be charming, fearlessly brave,  and clever as an undercover officer, but also treacherous, untrustworthy, willing to do anything to get what he wanted. He was also known, under the name Miles Sauvage, to Paul Gibson's French lover Alexi whom he tricked into a bigamous marriage during the war and discarded as soon as they were in England. Given the nature of the wounds on Sedgewick's body, it appears that someone hated him enough to mutilate him--could it have been Alexi? Or one of the other women he deceived, including his wife and his most current mistress, a governess who lost her position because of him? It's also possible that a cuckolded husband (and there were several) may have decided to seek revenge.

But when more mutilated bodies are found--several with ties to the military and/or espionage--Sebastian begins to wonder if the deaths are political. And when he learns that Sedgewick had been carrying a list of those who once spied for Napoleon, he's sure that his father-in-law, Lord Jarvis is involved somehow. But those killed by Jarvis's men are usually killed more cleanly and efficiently. Then, of course, there is Sedgewick's odd interest in folklore and the occult. Sebastian's investigation reveals that many of the mutilations have connections to folklore about werewolves. Did Sedgewick's interest in the occult lead to his death? Sebastian needs to work fast to find out because someone doesn't like his nosing about for clues and has sent him a message threatening all he holds most dear.

*********************
My review of the audio novel: This is the last novel I needed to read/listen to before diving into the 2024 release of What Cannot Be Said. I've spent the last year revisiting the previous books so I would be ready for Sebastian's latest adventures. As I mentioned when I read this one last year, this is one of Harris's best and more intricate plots. There are several threads that might lead to the killer and it consists of quite a tangle of lies, deceptions, and apparently contradictory evidence and the intrigue is enough to keep the reader engaged from the first page to the last. I just wish Jenny Sterling as the narrator were as engaging. She's adequate, but she doesn't have the range of voices that Davina Porter displayed and, well, she doesn't seem nearly as engaged in the text. She doesn't speak in a monotone, but neither are the exciting aspects of the events in the text fully represented. The story is a five-star winner, but the audio version doesn't meet that standard.
★★★ and 3/4.  

First lines: The dead man smelled like fish. Rotting fish.

Last lines: And then he said it again in case she couldn't quite believe him. "I mean it."

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Deaths = 13 (three stabbed; three natural; three strangled; two fell from height; one shot; one drowned)

 


Six Queer Things


 Six Queer Things
(1937) by Christopher St. John Sprigg

Marjorie Easton has grown weary of her uncle's miserly ways. Yes, he took her in when her parents died. But he begrudges every penny spent on food and is incredibly unpleasant to boot. So, when he complains about how little she makes at her current job (and how little her contribution to the household), she determines to get a better job and get out. So, when the opportunity to do "research" for Michael Crispin and his sister comes up--a position that includes room and board--she eagerly accepts. Ted, her young man, is suspicious of the position which will pay five guineas a week--more than he makes. Marjorie insists that it will be perfectly respectable.

She is a bit surprised to find that the "research" involves seances. But she soon gets used to taking notes at the sessions and is utterly convinced of Crispin's powers when her mother speaks to her and tells things that no one else could possibly know. Before she knows it, Crispin reveals that she--Marjorie--has mediumistic qualities and begins to train her. But as her powers as a medium grow, her demeanor changes and her vitality seems to drain. Ted is worried begins a campaign to get Marjorie out of the clutches of the people he believes to be charlatans...or worse. Then...during the first seance that Ted attends, Crispin is killed, Marjorie disappears, and Ted is accused of murder. Inspector Morgan shows up with a full complement of common sense and begins to unravel the mystery of the "six queer things" found in a locked drawer. Items that he's sure will "reveal all."

So...one doesn't really expect to find Victorian Gothic, Wilkie Collins Woman in White vibes echoing so strongly in a Golden Age mystery. Lots of atmosphere. Lots of evil relative, woman in danger stuff. Lots of eager young hero rushing in where angels fear to tread (to not much effect, actually). I wasn't terribly impressed with Inspector Morgan or the queer clues. The best part of the whole book was the opening scenes and the establishment of the characters involved. But the mystery left a lot to be desired and I must confess to skimming my way through in order to finish. I'll probably put this away and give it another try at another time. But right now... ★★ and 1/2 stars (and I'm not sure about the half).

First line: Marjorie's uncle was a fat, white-whiskered accountant who was a popular figure at the Bilford Liberal Club.

Last line: "I shot the bitch dead before I came here."
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Deaths = 4 (two accident; one poisoned; one shot)

Monday, May 20, 2024

Death in Five Boxes


 Death in Five Boxes
(1938) by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr)

Dr. John Sanders is on his way home after a late night of trying to figure out how someone poisoned ice cream. Sanders is a doctor who sometimes analyzed evidence for the Home Office. Standing outside an old house that has been broken up into offices and a flat or two is a young woman who approaches him for help. Her father, Sir Dennis Blystone, has attended a late-night party and she's worried about him. The man is not a party-goer and he doesn't normally drink and before he left for the party he re-did his will, and, well, she's just worried. Will he go with her to check on Sir Dennis?

Sanders, who despite occasionally being in the public eye for criminal cases, normally keeps himself to himself, but he agrees and finds himself in the middle of a very unusual criminal case indeed. Inside the flat of Felix Haye they find Sir Dennis, Haye, Mrs. Bonita Sinclair, and Mr. Bernard Schumann. All four are full of atropine. Three are unconscious and fighting for their lives and Haye is dead--from a swordstick wound in his back. Chief Inspector Masters is sent to figure out who did it and why each of Hayes's guests have odd items in their pockets--from the four watches in Sir Dennis's pockets to Sshumann's inner workings of an alarm clock & convex piece of glass to the bottles of quicklime & phosphorus in Mrs. Sinclair's handbag. His task isn't made any easier when the three poison victims recover and swear that no one could have possibly doctored the drinks. Such bizarre circumstances seem tailor made for Sir Henry Merrivale, so Masters calls upon The Old Man to help get to the bottom of things.

I really enjoyed the set-up at the beginning of the book and the apparent impossibility. And the explanation of how the deed was done was pretty satisfying--and I'm sure much more surprising in 1938 than it was now. A couple of things do bother me though. Why did Sir Dennis redo his will? That's never explained. In fact, after Marcia Blystone lists that as a reason why she's worried about her father, that little detail never gets mentioned again. I'm also not sold on the motive. That wasn't nearly as satisfying as the means. But overall, a good outing. I always enjoy Masters and Merrivale and Sergeant Pollard almost steals the show with efforts to try and do Masters in the eye. Just when he thinks he's gotten ahead of his superior, something comes along to take the wind out of his sails. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: At one o'clock in the morning Dr. John Sanders closed his laboratory.

Last line:"[Redacted]," said Marcia. "I'm sorry. I beg your pardon."
********************

Deaths = 2 (one stabbed; one poisoned)

Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Owl in the Cellar


 The Owl in the Cellar (1945) by Margaret Scherf

Charlie Murphy is a young man with all kinds of troubles. He's home for a vacation, but his dreams of time to do whatever he wants whenever he wants die quickly. His mother is trying to set him up with a young woman who gives him a pain in the neck. Another young woman is dogging his footsteps wherever he goes. And the gangly, overall-wearing young woman next door keeps dragging him into murders. Well, not exactly. Charlie comes home late one evening to a mother who wants to know where he's been and who he's been with (and how on earth are you going to be awake enough to go play golf with Constance [the pain-giver] tomorrow?). Oh, and by the way, would he take care of the exotic bird in cellar before he goes to bed? Huh?

But Charlie, ever the dutiful son, goes down and finds an ordinary owl. He opens the cellar window and tries to encourage the bird to fly away. The owl has other ideas. He's taken a fancy to Charlie and refuses to go. So, Charlie leaves the owl and the open window and toddles off to bed. Later, he hears a noise and goes to investigate. The owl is still there...and so is a dead man dangling from the open window. When the police arrive in the person of Lieutenant Ryan, a wheelbarrow track leads directly to the house next door and blood is found on the Regents' wheelbarrow. The bodies start piling up and it begins to look pretty bad for someone in the Regent household. Charlie has developed a soft spot for Blue Regent (is that a name or what?) and plays hero, apparent accomplice, and amateur detective all at once. But is it possible his lady love is a killer after all?

As with most of the Margaret Scherf mysteries I've read, this one is great fun and a little off-the-wall. Charlie's mother is bigger-than-life Irish and the most meddlesome woman ever. If I were Charlie, I'd be moving out pronto. Of course, he's got bigger troubles than "Mayme" (as he calls her)--what with trying to dispose of guns and a second murdered man and Lt. Ryan implying that he might get locked up at any minute. But Charlie and Blue come through in the end and help Ryan nab the culprit. I had a sneaking suspicion "who" that was--but I didn't realize who the "who" was. (I promise that makes sense when you read the story...). Lots of frantic to-ing and fro-ing by Charlie and Blue and Daffy (Blue's sister) as well as others. Lots of bullets flying (though few hitting anything vital). Lots of clues and red-herrings and action. Just plain lots of fun. ★★★★

First line: "There's a bird in the cellar, Charles."

There was nothing of the silent, enigmatic sleuth about Ryan. He did all of his thinking out loud, and for him out loud meant halfway across the harbor.

Last line: Audrey is the worst sister anybody ever had.

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Deaths = 5 (one stabbed; three shot; one natural)

Friday, May 17, 2024

Crows Are Black Everywhere

 Crows Are Black Everywhere (1945) by Herbert O. Yardley & Carl Grabo

Peggy Cameron is the spoiled daughter of an influential newspaper publisher. But she is determined to be a good reporter and flies to Chungking China to get the real story of the Sino-Japanese battles of the early years of World War II. The U.S. hasn't entered the war yet and is actually more pro-Japan--still sending materials and doing business with the country that would soon send war planes to Pearl Harbor. The officials all want to shuttle her through official Embassy channels, but Peggy knows they won't show her what it's really like on the ground in China. On the way in, she makes friends with Ted, the pilot, who promises to get her in contact with the Americans in China who are trying assist the Chinese efforts to repel the Japanese who will in turn help her interview Chinese citizens. 

Although she says she wants to report the facts, she does come with a certain bias and she'll have to learn to overcome it if she's going to do her job properly. It isn't long before she's in the thick of things--just when there are rumors of Chinese traitors and even Americans helping the Japan bombers find their targets in the blackout. She meets Bill and Henry, Americans helping to train the Chinese fighters, and Tina, Olga, Mei-Ing are women of various backgrounds (mixed, Russian, Chinese) who are also assisting the cause. There are others whose loyalties are uncertain. When Henry intercepts coded messages originating from their location and directed at the Japanese, the hunt is on for the traitor(s), but can they find them before a devastating attack?

Herbert Yardley was a code breaker in World War I. He also served as a personal adviser to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and later as an adviser to the Canadian government. So, he knows his onions when it comes to codes and situation in China. Carl Brabo was a professor of English at the University of Chicago. The story is a pretty standard war-time spy thriller novel. But it was definitely interesting to see a World War II novel from the American point of view, but set before America officially entered the war. And so many of the war-time thrillers I've read have been set in the European theater, so it was also interesting to have one set in Asia. Pretty good characterization and good background on a part of the war I didn't know. ★★

First line: For three hours the plane had been flying over the Rice Bowl of southern China on its way to Chungking.

"Indiana is in America," Ho replied loftily as to one unenlightened. "It is a city famous for its swear words. So Number Three told me."

Last lines: "No," Bill said. "I don't think you'll forget. And none of us will forget either. I won't forget, Peggy."
*****************

Deaths =  7 (three shot; one natural; three bombed)

Twice Retired


 Twice Retired (1970) by Richard Lockridge

Professor Emeritus Walter Brinkley bounces his way into another murder investigation. That's the way this round little man is described as moving about...he never just walks into a room; he always bounces. He may be emeritus, but he definitely hasn't lost his vitality. This time Brinkley returns to Dyckman University for a book party. He's finally finished and published his A Note on American Regional Accents (having grown from a "note" to a 515 page tome) and the university wants to celebrate him in proper style. But getting to the Faculty Club is quite an ordeal--it's 1970, the Vietnam War is on, and the undergraduates are protesting the war, the establishment, and the police. Roughly in that order. Police are trying to direct traffic away from the center of campus and if the good professor really insists on going to the Faculty Club...well, then he'll have to detour quite a ways around. After the party, Brinkley returns to his car to find a dead man in his backseat. The body is General Philip Armstrong, chair of the board of trustees and a strong believer in putting down the protestors. Someone has put a pig mask on him, making it appear that the general was the target of the protestors--the pig masks had been used to mock the police. Lieutenant Stein and Assistant District Attorney Bernie Simmons have several avenues to follow--from an attack by one of the protestors to a disgruntled professor who just found out he's not getting tenure due to Armstrong's influence to family members who may not have been as devoted to the general as they would like everyone to believe.

I really love the Lockridge mysteries with the bouncy little professor. He doesn't show up quite as much throughout this story, but the opening with him and his little cameos later are perfect. It is somewhat fortuitous that I picked this one up just now. The background for the story is the deep unrest on college campuses and the protests taking place across the country. Here at the university where I work (and at many across the U.S.) we went through a period of protest at the end of the semester. And our brilliant (read that in the most sarcastic tone you can manage) university president decided to call out the state riot police on students peacefully protesting in (take note of this) the designated place on campus for protests and free speech. We had snipers on the roof of our student union building with their scopes on our students. It was appalling. [sorry for the momentary soap box moment...]

The students in Twice Retired aren't peaceful. They're openly mocking and baiting the police and administration. They're throwing things and destroying property. There's plenty of opportunity for someone to get hurt and for someone to get killed. The question is were they killed because of the protests, as a direct statement on the part of the protestors--or were the protests used as a cover for something more personal? After all of the characters are introduced and interviewed after the murder, it isn't difficult to answer that question. The interesting part is following Stein and Simmons to see how they will catch the culprit--how will they break an alibi? Very entertaining. ★★★★

First lines: Walter Brinkley searched his vocabulary, which was more extensive than most, and came up with the word. The word was 'pudgy.'

Last line: It was almost, Bernie thought, as if she's running to open the door.
*******************

Deaths = 5 (two natural; one wartime; two hit on head)


Monday, May 13, 2024

Bodies from the Library 4


 Bodies from the Library 4
(2021) by Tony Medawar (ed)

Another fine collection of little known, rarely (if ever) collection, sometimes unpublished stories by Golden Age detective novelists. Medawar has tracked down stories that appeared in newspapers, magazines, and long out-of-print anthologies. Also radio plays that were never aired or aired long ago, and a few unpublished works discovered among the author's things after death. We have whodunits, whydunits, and howdunits. Stories of murder and thievery and a closed circle mystery where it seems the detective may not get his man (or woman) because the circle has closed so effectively against the law. There is a little something for everyone who loves classic crime.

My favorites of the collection are "The Police Are Baffled," "Shadowed Sunlight," "After You, Lady," and "Signals." These have quite nice little twists to them that made them very interesting. The Lorac story is also good--but a bit short. I found "Child's Play" to be a little more brutal than Crispin's usual fare (particularly given the young victim) and "The Only Husband" by Bailey really didn't catch my fancy. I generally have enjoyed the Reggie Fortune short stories that I've read, but Reggie's conversation in this one leaves a lot to be desired. Overall, a strong outing. ★★

"Child's Play" by Edmund Crispin (Bruce Montgomery): A dark story about a governess who notices that three of the children in the house aren't the innocents you'd expect. And when their orphaned cousin dies, she suspects foul play instead of child's play. [3 deaths]

"Thieves Fall In" by Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Malleson): Three people on a bus bound for London. There is a theft and a surprise in store for the thief.

"Rigor Mortis" by Leo Bruce (Rupert Croft-Cooke): Sergeant Beef teaches a Scotland Yard man a thing or two about the importance of paying attention to people instead of fiddling little details like the state of rigor mortis.[one death]

"The Only Husband" by H. C. Bailey: Lord Avalon calls up Reggie Fortune to ask for help with a "family matter." But Reggie arrives too late to prevent his death--he'll have to settle for justice. [2 deaths]

"The Police Are Baffled" by Alec Waugh: A tale of two murders--in which the killers outwit the police using a device that another detective novelist would make even more famous. [2 deaths]

"Shadowed Sunlight" by Christianna Brand (Mary Milne): Involves a charity ball where a valuable emerald is stolen and a boat race with a murder. [2 deaths]

"The Case of Bella Garsington" by Gladys Mitchell: Caratet is a prosecuting attorney in this short radio play. He questions the daughter-in-law of a murdered man and uses her own words to prove her guilt. [one death]

"The Post-Chaise Murder" by Richard Keverne: Sir Christopher "Kit" Hazzard investigates what is first taken to be a simple case of highway robbery gone wrong. But there is a deeper reason for the man's death in the post-chaise.[one death]

"Boots" by Ngaio Marsh: A man confesses to stabbing his wife, but his friend produces testimony that seems to clear him. Inspector Alleyn must decide if it really does.[one death]

"Figures Don't Die" by T. S. Stribling: Dr. Poggioli figures out who is responsible for the death of an accountant--but there is no proof. Justice is served up anyway.... [2 deaths]

"Passengers" by Ethel Lina White: The short story that let to The Wheel Spins which led to Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes. When a young woman insists that an older woman has disappeared from a train, her fellow passengers and the train authorities all treat her like she's crazy and insist the woman never existed.

"After You, Lady" by Peter Cheyney: A mob boss thinks he's come up with the perfect plan to get rid of a returning rival. After all, who would dare to interfere with him? Well.... [one death]

"Too Easy" by Herbert Adams: When a man is poisoned, all evidence points to his secretary. But she insists she's innocent. Will the police arrest the right person? [one death]

"Riddle of an Umbrella" by J. Jefferson Farjeon: An umbrella leaned against a train signal leads an inquisitive young man to a hat in the middle of the tracks which leads him to a dead body.He then finds a second dead body...what exactly happened in the signalman's hut that night?

"Two White Mice Under a Riding Whip" by E. C. R. Lorac (Edith Caroline Rivett): The solution to the kidnapping of a young boy lies in the titular image given by the boy's mother to a psychologist sent to discover the cause of her inability to speak or walk. It takes Remaine, the barrister, to figure out what it means.

"Signals" by Alice Campbell: A barrister is passing an inn one night when he notices an odd thing--a woman's silk stocking dangling from the pub sign. Curious, he goes in and finds a scantily clad woman being accused of murdering another of the inn's customers. Determined to see fair play, he proves that the woman couldn't be responsible, could she? [one death]

"A Present from the Empire" by G. D. H. & M. Cole: Lady Bowland hates going to the annual dinner for the "Malaria empire-builders." Not only is it boring as anything, but she doesn't care to be reminded of Malaria. This year she finds an old acquaintance seated on her right at dinner....part of what she doesn't want to remember about Malaria. But what will be the outcome of this chance encounter? [two deaths]

First line (1st story): "And of course," said Mrs. Snyder, "you'll have to make allowances for Pamela, at first."

Last line (last story): "It is just a complete mystery."


Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Sepulchre Street


 Sepulchre Street (2023) by Martin Edwards

The fourth book in Martin Edwards' Golden-Age-inspired mystery series finds Rachel Savernake asked by the victim to solve her murder before it happens. Damaris Gethin is a surrealist artist whose work has confounded the general public. She's been out of circulation for a little over a year and invites Rachel and several other very special guests to her grand return exhibition at the new Hades Gallery. In the audience, are former lovers, rivals, and persons who appear to have no connection to Damaris--but appearances are deceiving. Journalist Jacob Flint is also on hand--but his interest is in the flamboyant socialite who is rumored to have ties to a Very Important Person.

The exhibition's theme revolves around famous murderers--with live actors portraying "waxwork" figures and waiters dressed as policeman. Damaris takes on the role of Marie Antoinette, complete with a guillotine. The onlookers are somewhat amused when the artist goes to the extent of placing her neck in the contraption, only to be appalled when the blade falls and Damaris is killed. Rachel is ready to look into who could have interfered with the works to murder Damaris, but it isn't long before it's clear that Damaris did it herself--on purpose. The only way to fulfill her promise to the artist is to discover who drove the woman to such a desperate act. Running underneath (to the side?) the main story is a hint of secret service--a certain top secret group are very concerned that the socialite will ruin the Very Important Person and are willing to do anything to prevent that. Does that have anything to do with Damaris and her death? Rachel will need to discover the answer to that question too.

This particular entry in the series is closer to the thriller/adventure story than the classic mystery--though there are definitely clues to pick up and a detective plot to unravel. Jacob finds himself in the role of the thriller's hero even more than usual and gets himself into ticklish situations right and left. At one point it looks like he might get himself put away for murder. But Rachel keeps him out of the police's way while tracking down the culprit. Edwards provides us with a nice twisty solution that is very satisfying. I wish I could say I saw it coming, but I missed some of the clues he points out to us in the "Clue Finder" at the end of the book. ★★

First line: "I want you to solve my murder," said the woman in white.

Last line: Rachel shook her head as she raised her glass. "To living dangerously."
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Deaths = 13 (one beheaded; one heart attack; four shot; one hit on head; one drowned; one smothered; two car accident; one stabbed; one beaten)

Sunday, May 5, 2024

The List of Adrian Messenger


 The List of Adrian Messenger (1959) by Philip MacDonald

Adrian Messenger presents his old friend George Firth with a list of ten names with addresses. While he is on a short trip to America, he would like Firth, an official with Scotland Yard, to check up on these men--without knowing the whys or wherefores. He just wants the answer to one simple question: Are these men living at these address? Firth owes Messenger many favors, so, of course, he agrees. But Messenger never makes it to America. The plane he's flying on goes down over the Atlantic. Three people make it out of the plane alive--including Messenger--but he dies of his injuries before help can arrive. A tragic accident. Or is it?

Raoul St. Denis, famous French journalist & former member of the French resistance during the war, was also on that plane. And he was one of the survivors. St. Denis is very familiar with the sound of explosive devices and he's quite certain that one went off before the plane went down. It begins to look like someone didn't want Messenger to make that trip to America...especially when reports begin to come in on the ten men. Every one of them but one has died in an accident within the last five years. Or what has been officially declared an accident. Firth calls on General Anthony Gethryn, former intelligence officer and master at unraveling out-of-the-way puzzles. Could someone be orchestrating this deliberate elimination of the men on Messenger's list? Would someone really blow up a plane and (in another instance) derail a train to get at a particular man? And, if so, to what purpose? 

Messenger's only comments to Firth about the situation was that "It's so big, and so--so preposterous, I daren't tell anyone yet." The only way for Gethryn and the Scotland Yard men to track the culprit is to find out what ties these ten men together. Their first clues come from St. Denis, who gives a near-verbatim recital of Messenger's last words before his injuries got the better of him But even then they don't catch all of the clues before the villain starts on the second part of his plan...They're going to have to move fast to catch him before he completes it.

This was the first MacDonald book I ever read...many moons before I ever even knew what a blog was. And it was one of the first mysteries I read where a killer was working his way through a group of people for purposes of his own; purposes that our detective had to discover in order to make sense of the apparently randomness of the group. And definitely one of the first where the motive wasn't psychologically driven. I thought it was a knock-out book that kept me reading like mad to get to the end. It made enough of an impression on me that once I got settled in again, I remembered what the connection was. But the book is so good that it didn't matter. I loved following the investigation with Gethryn and the way he worked with St. Denis in the last half of the book. And I still love the poetic justice (mentioned in the last line of the book--below) that comes to the killer in the end. 

Outstanding book that was made into a movie in 1963 with Kirk Douglas and George C. Scott (among others). Now I just need to find time to sit down and watch it too. ★★★★

First line:For several years after it was all over, there was understandable resistance in high places to the public telling of the story, and even now the project is eyed askance.

Last line: "What you would call, I think, a justice poetic..."

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Deaths =  14 (two airplane (bomb); one cycling accident; three fell from height; four car/motorbike accident; two drowned; one shot; one hit by a bus)

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Write Murder Down


 Write Murder Down (1972) by Richard Lockridge

Once again Lieutenant Nathan Shapiro, the Eeyore of the NYD detective branch, is--according to him--in over his head. Captain Bill Weigand has this tendency to give Shapiro cases where he has to deal with people he just doesn't understand...from artists to actors and now authors. He just doesn't understand what a smart man like Bill Weigand is doing giving these investigations to a man who's just good with a gun. But as Weigand points out to him (for the umpteenth time), he always manages to get his man (or woman as the case may be) without needing his gun.

When Miss A. Jones is found dead in her apartment--an apparent suicide involving pills and slit wrists--homicide detective Nate Shapiro is given the case because of one little detail. The body is chock full of barbiturates and there is nary a pill or pill bottle in the near-empty room. Finding a room key for the Algonquin Hotel leads Shapiro to the discovery that Miss A. Jones is really Miss Jo-An Lacey, a recent best-selling author. Apparently Miss Lacey was using the apartment as a writing hide-away. But the typewriter she worked on and the huge stack of typewritten pages containing what was meant to be her next best-seller have disappeared. Shapiro, assisted by his right-hand man Detective Tony Cook, is going to have to make his way through the foreign world of publishers, agents, options and contracts. A world where someone just might kill to get their hands on a sure-fire best-seller...and most likely has.

Despite his woe-is-me attitude, I like Nate Shapiro. He is a very smart and observant man (his own opinion notwithstanding). He knows when something doesn't look or sound right and when the clues aren't adding up to the obvious solution. But I really like Detective Tony Cook. His work on the cases and his relationship with Rachel really make the Shapiro books for me. It would have been interesting if Lockridge had decided to bring Cook to the forefront in a series of his own. He and Shapiro work very well together and have a good relationship beyond the work. Lockridge is very good with characterization and even characters who aren't on stage for long seem like real people. Since Lacey and her brother (who is on the scene because he had been worried about a lady like his sister being at the mercy of a Northern big city) are Southerners (deep South Southerners--dilapidated family plantation and all), Lockridge is able to provide an interesting contrast to his usual cast, as well as make some subtle comments on race. There are unpleasant racial stereotypes in play--but Lockridge makes it clear where he stands on the subject. Our heroes always look askance at anyone who employs such language and make it clear that they don't hold with such views.

My one complaint about this (and several of the Lockridge books) is the lack of real suspects. There aren't many to choose from, so the mystery itself isn't terribly complex. The real difficulty as far as I can see is proving it. I'm just not sure the District Attorney is going to have a solid case to go to court. ★★ and 1/2

First line: They walked down Sixth Avenue from Charles Restaurant.

Last line:He poured them fresh drinks.
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Deaths = 3 (two airplane crash; one stabbed)

Wednesday, May 1, 2024