Thursday, February 7, 2013

Corpses at Indian Stones: Review

I have to start this review with a big Thank You to my good friend John over at Pretty Sinister Books. John reviewed Corpses at Indian Stones by Philip Wylie two years ago (almost to the day). When I expressed my delight with his review and the book, John was kind enough to send me a copy as soon as he came across one. For you see, Indian Stones falls into my loosely defined academic mystery sub-genre, and I knew that I just needed to find and read it.

I had no idea that Philip Wylie had written a mystery.  I knew him from my youthful science fiction binge. I had read his book The Disappearance--in which on a normal day in February life here on earth is suddenly divided into two parallel universes, one all male and one all female. I had also read the two novels he co-authored with Edwin Balmer, When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide which told the story of what happens before and after Earth is devastated when rogue planets enter the solar system.  I remember liking these books and particularly enjoying Wylie's takes on gender roles and how the men and women cope in their respective timelines without the opposite sex.  I looked about for a while for other books by Wylie, but never found any (and promptly forgot him when I went off to college).

Thanks to John, I have now been able to sample this delightful novel starring Agamemnon ("Aggie") Telemachus Plum--professor of anthropology, archaeologist, and hobbyist in vertebrate paleontology....and crack amateur detective. Aggie is very deceptive-looking.  Everyone looks at him and sees the stereotypical professor-type: stoop-shouldered, smallish man who probably isn't any good in a fight.  But they forget that Aggie doesn't just sit around in the ivory tower with his dusty books.  This is a man who goes into the wild to dig up bones and study societies in darkest Africa--and he has the gorilla bite scars to prove it.

Aggie, who is naturally anti-social, goes (against his better judgement) with his Aunt Sarah Plum to Indian Stones, a summer resort that his aunt visits annually. His aunt who is a matchmaker of sorts has ideas of hooking Aggie up with one of the young women who also frequent the lakeside summer spot, but all Aggie wants to do is hide out with his books and "read and rest and meditate...[he] intends to write a monograph on the subject of preglacial animal migration over the Aleutian Islands."  But it would seem that neither of them will get their wish.

Upon reaching the resort, Aggie finds a calling card from a Mr. Hank Bogarty stuck to the door with a rather large hunting knife.  Aunt Sarah immediately falls prey to a late case of the mumps and the next day Aggie stumbles over the body of Jim Calder who has been crushed to death in bear trap made with logs.  Even though there are plenty of folks who would have liked to see Calder dead, the local folks (including a home-town boy made State Trooper) all seem determined that it was an accident.  But Aggie's none too sure.  What about the fox with a collar and the bite on the dead man's hand?  What about how difficult it would have been to jar the trap loose accidentally?  What about all the people with motives who don't seem to have alibis?

Then Dr. Davis, one of the prime suspects if we do have a case of murder, is found dead with Bogarty's hunting knife in his chest.  Davis is grasping the knife and is in a locked garage where he develops pictures and x-ray plates.  It has all the hallmarks of suicide, but again Aggie isn't convinced.  Added to the mix is a stash of hidden gold, some broken wires, mysterious knife marks on an old, gnarled "climbing tree," a wine cellar, and a bottle of hock sitting where it shouldn't be. By the end of the tale, Aggie proves that not only can he think (as all professors should be able to), but he's also a man of action--providing a nifty rescue in the final chapters.

This is a lovely vintage mystery.  I enjoyed the closed the community of Indian Stones and the way the resort locals come to look at Aggie differently and even respect him.  At only 142 pages, this seems like it would be a lightweight mystery, but there is a lot to like and a nice solution to the locked room puzzle. I enjoyed the banter between Aggie and his aunt and the way she manages to get her nephew to do her "snooping" for her.  Initially, she just wants all the gossip (which she can't get for herself, being confined to bed with the mumps), but soon Aggie is going full-tilt into an amateur investigation of the deaths.  Four stars.

Please be sure to go visit John's far more detailed review at Pretty Sinister Books.

Challenges Met: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Off the Shelf, Vintage Mystery Challenge (#20 Murder is Academic), Outdo Yourself, Mount TBR Challenge, Book Bingo, Off the Shelf, A-Z Book Challenge 2012, Mystery & Crime Challenge, Embarrassment of Riches, A-Z Mystery Author

It dawned upon everybody that Aggie, at perhaps a hundred and sixty pounds and five feet nine and a half, was, as Beth later said, "dynamite in the physical culture department." (p. 50)

I don't like people--much. This kind, I mean. And they don't like me at all, as a rule. Maybe the latter explains the former. ~Aggie Plum (p. 53)

Nothing more logical than for a fusty pedagogue to rush fifteen hundred miles across the continent, kill a man he'd forgotten existed--kill him ingeniously, not to say miraculously, in a log trap--and then hang around the premises like the proverbial criminal who can't resist the landscape of his crime. ~Aggie Plum (p. 55)

I must have seen the glint of metal--or the curve of leather. So I thought of dog. Anyway, I remember he had a collar. Then he turned, and I saw it was a fox, and I erased the collar from my mind. Foxes don't have collars. Because I became convinced it was a fox, I assumed I'd been mistaken about the collar. That's how people think, Wes. At least--such loopy processes are what pass for thinking among us. ~Aggie Plum (p. 63)

I can't ask you not to repeat what I'm going to tell you, Aggie, because it isn't that kind of information--and this is not a time when innocent people can be required to keep secrets. ~Sarah Plum (p. 72)


TracyK said...

This sounds like a good vintage mystery. The characters sound very interesting. I will go check out John's review also. Thanks for the review.

Ryan said...

Oooh, this one sounds good. Now I need to find a copy.

Anonymous said...

This sounds really great Bev and like you I think I only knew the name from SF - thanks for that.