Monday, September 30, 2013

It's Monday! What Are you Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. It's where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It's a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list. So hop on over via the link above and join in...and leave a comment here so I can check out what you are reading.
Somehow I missed last this is a run-down of two weeks' worth of books.  Still one book behind on Goodreads, after another brief moment of the little ticker telling me that I was "on track."  Read, Bev, read!:

Books Read (click on titles for review): 
The Temple of Death by A. C. & R. H. Benson
The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene 
The Dreadful Hollow by Nicholas Blake 
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson 
Death Knocks Three Times by Anthony Gilbert 
The Mystery Lovers' Book of Quotations by Jane Horning
The Yellow Violet by Frances Crane

Currently Reading:
The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson: takes readers to 1 Chronicles 4:10 to discover how they can release God's miraculous power and experience the blessings God longs to give each of us. The life of Jabez, one of the Bible's most overlooked heroes of the faith, bursts from unbroken pages of genealogies in an audacious, four-part prayer that brings him an extraordinary measure of divine favor, anointing, and protection.
Books that spark my interest:
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Whatever Goes Up by Bertram Millhouse
A Love Worth Giving by Max Lucado 
The Haunted Doll's House by M. R. James

The Yellow Violet: Review

This kind of case is tricky from the very first and sometimes it keeps getting more and more so right up to the minute you solve it. ~Pat Abbott

The Yellow Violet is the third novel in the Pat and Jean Abbott (though still Jean Holly here) mystery series by Frances Crane.  Jean has come to San Francisco in order to marry the man of her dreams, detective Pat Abbott.  The trousseau is all ready and the orchid corsage has been delivered. Jean has changed into her wedding apparel (a new dress suit--no white wedding dress in the war years for her) and is ready to head to the chapel with her handsome hubby-to-be when a case intervenes.

Before Pat can make his romantic get-away with the lovely Jean, Molly Terrill comes to his office looking for his help to locate her missing brother who managed to get himself mixed up with the Fascists when they were in Italy.  With an eye towards his honeymoon, Pat suggests that Molly consult a fellow detective so he and Jean can get married. Molly agrees.  Swell.  Except, then Charley Dickens (the fellow detective) is found shot in his office...with a single yellow violet as the only clue. Toni Ravel, a beautiful Spanish entertainer, is on tour in the Western United States.  Toni's trademark just happens to be the yellow violet corsages that she always wears.  There are Fascist spy rings, suspicious Asian bellboys, and a man in a brown hat who follows Jean wherever she goes.  There's a dachshund named Pancho and the ubiquitous taxi driver Angelino Angelo.  It will all end with a struggle over the tea set...and the teapot will come in handy when Jean needs to lend Pat a hand in subduing the bad guys.

Very fun war-time mystery, although not quite as humorous as the Pam & Jerry North series.  Jean is very determined to help Pat--but she tends to misjudge each and every person she encounters.  She doesn't trust Toni Ravel's boyfriend/manager because his name sounds German.  She doesn't trust the bellboy because...well, he's always there.  She doesn't trust Molly's housekeeper/mother-figure because because of the way she talks about Molly's brother.  But, for all her misplaced (and sometimes well-placed, but for the wrong reasons) distrust, Jean is there for Pat when it counts and helps him collar the villains in the end.  Three and 3/4 stars (rounded to four on Goodreads).

Sunday, September 29, 2013

R.I.P. Peril on the Screen: Night Gallery

Opting for a little more perilous viewing--this time with Rod Serling's Night Gallery Season One.  First up, the pilot episode featuring: "The Cemetary," "Eyes," and "The Escape Route."  "The Cemetary" stars George Macready, Roddy McDowell, and Ossie Davis in a tale about greed and revenge.  McDowell is the black sheep nephew who has shown up just in time to inherit his uncle's fortune...if he can stay alive.  Ossie Davis plays the faithful butler of 30 years who is finally going to get his way or another. 

from "The Cemetary" (image credit)
In "Eyes" Joan Crawford plays a selfish, heartless rich woman who has been blind since birth.  Determined to see--if only for the few hours promised by a new technique, she blackmails her doctor and her lawyer into finding a suitable donor to give her what she wants.  But all the money in the world can't guarantee that all will go as planned.  

And, finally, in "The Escape Route" a Nazi war criminal played by Richard Kiley is hiding out in South America--haunted by demons of the past. All he wants is a little peace and to be able to survive. When he chances to go into a museum, he notices a painting of a fisherman that represents his dreams of escape.  A Jewish survivor of the Holocaust (Sam Jaffe) who has been looking at a very different painting also notices him while in the museum...forcing him to make an escape of a different kind.

These three stories made for some mighty fine viewing on a rainy afternoon.  The last is a bit drawn out (how many times does he really need to go stare at the painting?)...but a nice set of stories to kick off the Night Gallery show.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Challenge Complete: Vintage Scattergories

I have finally completed my commitment for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge.  I long ago completed the initial commitment of at least 8 books and then took a little longer to get to 16. But I knew (and I'm sure you did too) that I would go for the craziness of reading at least one book for each of the original categories.  I've now done that--so mission accomplished for 2013.  But...stay tuned.  I'm sure I'll finish the extra categories before the year's well as the extra academic mysteries that I mentioned.  I did occasionally read extra books for a category--for a full list of books read, please see my sign up post.

Here's the list of books for the initial categories:
(Category #1) Colorful Crime: The Puzzle of the Silver Persian by Stuart Palmer [1943] (1/15/13) 
(Category #2) Murder by the Numbers: Death Knocks Three Times by Anthony Gilbert [1949] (9/27/13)
(Category #3) Amateur Night: The Mummy Case Mystery by Dermot Morrah [1933] (7/3/13)
(Category #4) Leave It to the Professionals: Dead Man Control by Helen Reilly [1936] (7/6/13)
(Category #5) Jolly Old England: Mist on the Saltings by Henry Wade [1933] (7/26/13)
(Category #6) Yankee Doodle Dandy: Sally's in the Alley by Norbert Davis [1943] (3/25/13)
(Category #7) World Traveler: Death in Zanzibar by M. M. Kaye [1959] (6/25/13)
(Category #8) Dangerous Beasts: The Talking Sparrow Murders by Darwin L. Teilhet [1934] (5/6/13)
(Category #9) A Calendar of Crime: Holiday Homicide by Rufu King [1940; New Year's]
(Category #10) Wicked Women: The Lady in the Morgue by Jonathan Latimer [1936] (3/10/13)
(Category #11) Malicious Men: Malcolm Sage: Detective by Herbert Jenkins [1921] (9/8/13)
(Category #12) Murderous Methods: Spotted Hemlock by Gladys Mitchell [1958] (7/18/13)
(Category #13) Staging the Crime: Unhappy Hooligan by Stuart Palmer [1956; Circus performers] (3/24/13)
(Category #14) Scene of the Crime: Murder on Safari by Elspeth Huxley [1938] (6/8/13)
(Category #15) Cops & Robbers: The Cavalier's Cup by Carter Dickson [1953] (2/5/13)
(Category #16) Locked Rooms: Till Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr [1944] (8/2/13)
(Category #17) Country House Criminals: Sleep No More by Margaret Erskine [1958]
(Category #18) Murder on the High Seas: Inland Passage by George Harmon Coxe [1953] (5/2/3)
(Category # 19) Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Death in the Air by Agatha Christie [1935] (8/5/13)
(Category #20*) Murder Is Academic: Corpses at Indian Stones by Philip Wylie [1943] (2/7/13)
(Category #21) Things That Go Bump in the Night: The Devil's Stronghold by Leslie Ford [1948] (4/21/13)
(Category #22) Repeat Offenders: The Mystery of Hunting's End by Mignon G. Eberhart [1930] (3/29/13)
(Category #23) The Butler Did It...or Not: The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart [1930] (8/22/13)
(Category #24) A Mystery by Any Other Name: London Particular (aka Fog of Doubt) by Christianna Brand [1952] (7/22/13)
(Category #25) Dynamic Duos: Murder Within Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge [1946] (6/14/13)  Pam & Jerry North
(Category #26) Size Matters: The Long Farewell by Michael Innes [1958] (8/3/13)
(Category #27) Psychic Phenomena: The Curse of the Bronze Lamp by Carter Dickson [1945] (5/27/13) Egyptian seer predicts Lady Helen Loring will disappear--she does.
(Category #28) Book to Movie: The Lady Vanishes (aka The Wheel Spins) by Ethel Lina White [1936] (3/17/13)
(Category #29) The Old Bailey: Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare [1942] (6/21/13)

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Mystery Lovers' Book of Quotations: Review

The Mystery Lovers' Book of Quotations by Jane Horning (ed) is a lovely book of snippets from some of the world's great crime and mystery authors.  There are quotes from the creators of such characters as Sam Spade and Sherlock Holmes, from Miss Marple to Miss Silver.  There are thoughts on the detection of crime and the mind of the murderer.  There are musings on the psychology and emotions and the nitty-gritty bottom line.  We hear echoes of The Godfather and the Nameless detective.  Horning has done a terrific job capturing well-known authors as well as writers who may have been well-known at one time, but few modern readers may recognize.  My only quibble--she quite often describes an author by citing their most famous work--and then proceeds to give us quotes from other novels.  I would have liked to have seen at least one quote from the novel/s mentioned.  But it's a minor quibble--four stars for a great reference book.  I do love me some quotes.

Death Knocks Three Times: Review

I am very pleased to say that Death Knocks Three Times has been my favorite mystery so far by Anthony Gilbert. Gilbert is a pseudonym for Lucy Beatrice Malleson, a very prolific British mystery writer (over 60 novels written under this pseudonym alone--she had several others).  Her primary detective is Arthur Crook--a lawyer whose clients are always innocent.  Always. Crook is a likable rogue who cheerfully says that he doesn't mind who he sets up as the murderer--provided he can get his client off. 

In this outing, he doesn't really have a client--at least not directly related to the crimes in question.  He is on his way back to London while traveling on a case when a terrific storm forces him to take shelter with the very unwelcoming  Colonel Sherren in Chipping Magna.   The colonel is an odd, reclusive man who thinks modern conveniences such as heat and hot water will sap the manliness right out of you.  Crook manages to take a liking to the elderly gentleman anyway and they spend a long evening talking.  

Crook is back in town just two days before he is called back to Chipping Magna to give evidence at the old boy's inquest.  Colonel Sherren had a very strange, Victorian bath with some sort of lid contraption which bashed him over the head on the morning of his weekly bath. There was an unexpected visit from the colonel's nephew, John, and an argument to account for the night before, but the jury brings in death by misadventure.  Then Crook learns that Sherren isn't the only member of the family to have met an untimely end. 

John's Aunt Isabel had an unfortunate accident with a balcony.  Coincidentally, her devoted nephew had just visited the night before and warned her that the balcony's railing looked a bit unsound.  Poor Aunt Isabel apparently didn't take the warning to heart and leaned a bit too far.  Death by misadventure again.  And now John's remaining relative Aunt Clara has been receiving anonymous letters with vague threats, but displaying an uncomfortable knowledge of Clara and Isabel's affairs.

Clara calls upon an old family friend, Frances Pettigrew, for support and advice and John shows up for a surprise visit as well.  Clara is also approached by a former suitor of Isabel's with what can only be called blackmail. Soon Arthur Crook is hovering in the neighborhood and manages to be on the spot when Aunt Clara dies of a barbiturate overdose.  This time John didn't leave before his loved one passed on--but is he the one responsible for the diminishing numbers of Sherrens?  The police are prepared to think so.  But what does Arthur Crook think?

This mystery was much faster paced than the previous two Gilbert novels that I've reviewed.  The plot moved along at a nice steady clip and there was lots of character interaction.  It helped that Crook makes his appearance right from the start.  I really enjoy his character and was glad to have him involved beginning on page one.  Gilbert's primary downfall is hiding the culprit.  I once again spotted the ultimate villain of the piece well before the end, but I missed the how of the crime--making for a very worthwhile read.  Three and 3/4 stars.


MG: All those old governesses were. They ruled every one with a rod of iron. I believe Granny had to ask for permission to enter her own nursery. Fancy her still being alive.
JS: Alive and contemplating murder.
MG: If she did, I'm sure she'd pull it off. I'd back her against the entire Home Office.
~Mrs. Garrods; John Sherren (p. 41)

...he found himself badgered by the police asking a lot of damned silly questions and expecting him to give verbatim reports of anything his three companions had said. As if a man of action could be expected to listen seriously to two old women and a chap who wrote novels. (p. 89)

...ain't the villain of the piece. Not the murdering kind. Too much imagination, see? The chaps who commit murder are the ones that don't see beyond the actual crime. ~Arthur Crook (p. 139)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Semi-Charmed Autumn Book Challenge

Why, look....Bev's found another Challenge to do.  What a surprise.  

Photo via @mcstroup on Instagram
Megan, over at Semi-Charmed Kind of Life has posted the first autumn installment of the Semi-Charmed Book Challenge! I thoroughly enjoyed her summer challenge and even got to be one of the lucky winners to suggest a category for autumn.  Want to join in the fun?  Click on the blog link above.

General Rules:

  • The challenge will run from October 1, 2013, to December 31, 2013. No books that are started before 12 a.m. on October 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on December 31 will count.
  • New rule: In the past, I haven't allowed rereads because I said I wanted you to experience new books with my challenges. Now, however, I've decided up to three books for the challenge can be rereads. This is to allow you to revisit books from your childhood or young adulthood that you might get more out of now, or to finish books you started a long time ago but never completed. Please reread the entire book within the timeframe of the challenge in order to count it; no simply finishing old books or partial rereads!
  • Each book must be at least 200 pages long. Audiobooks are fine, as long as the print versions meet the page requirements.
  • A book can only be used for one category. If you want to switch the category later, that's fine, just be sure to account for that in your point total.
  • The highest possible total is 200 points, and the first five people who finish the challenge will win a featured/guest post on Semi-Charmed Kind of Life and be invited to contribute a category for the winter challenge. Good luck!

And now for the exciting part: The challenge categories! Megan invited each of the current winners of the summer challenge to contribute their own category to the autumn challenge. If you win the autumn challenge, you'll get to help her make the winter challenge! Fun, right?

Here's my Autumn plan:

5: Read a book that does not have "the," "a" or "an" in the title: Foundation by Isaac Asimov (10/4/13)

10: Read a book that has been featured in Oprah's Book Club: The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier (10/6/13)

10: Read a book that takes place in the state where you currently live. If you do not live in the U.S., read a book that takes place in the country where you live (Submitted by SCSBC13 winner Megan.)  Laddie: A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton Porter (10/22/13)

15: Read an epistolary novel, which is a book written in letters, emails, diary entries or other documents: Cold Earth by Sarah Moss (10/18/13)

15: Read a book first published in 2013: Unthinkable by Richard Cibrano (10/12/13)

15: Read a book with something spooky in the title (Submitted by SCSBC13 winner Bev.): The Haunted Doll's House by M. R. James (10/9/13)

20: Read a book with "air," "water," "earth" or "fire" in the title (Submitted by SCSBC13 winner Gypsi.): The Water Room by Christopher Fowler (10/25/13)

20: Read a book on which a TV series has been based: Gently Go Man by Alan Hunter (10/27/13) [gave rise to the Inspector George Gently series; avg page # 209, based on physical copies logged on Goodreads]

25: Read a fiction book that has someone's first and last name in the title: The Dorothy Parker Murder Case by George Baxt (11/19/13)

30: Read two books by the same author. They can be in the same series, but do not have to be. Co-authors do not count (i.e. the author must be the sole author of each book): Death Is in the Air (11/10/13) and Check-out Time by Kate Kingsbury (11/13/13)

35: Read a fiction and nonfiction book about the same topic: The Murder Stone by Charles Todd [fiction] (11/8/13) and Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves [nonfiction] (The Great War/World War I)  [11/7/13]

Points So Far: 200  Complete!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Haunting of Hill House: Review

He had been looking for an honestly haunted house all his life. When he heard of Hill House he had been at first doubtful, then hopeful, then indefatigable; he was not the man to let go of Hill House once he had found it. (p. 4)

Hmmm.  I think I missed a memo.  One titled The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. 'Cause, I was warned by several fellow-bloggers and friends on GoodReads that this book "scared the crap" out of them. "Super scary."  "One of the all-time scariest books ever...."  I kept refusing to read the book near bedtime because I'm a big weenie when it comes to horror and creepy stuff (and it's a testament to my love of Carl's R.I.P. Event each fall that I subject myself to this sort of thing come September & October).  I didn't want to have nightmares.  I kept thinking, "Okay, it's not scary yet.  But it's coming.  It's coming.  It's coming."  And then, "Oh wait.  I'm done.  So....where was the really scary part?  I missed it."  This was so seriously not scary that I may even try to watch the 1963 movie version The Haunting to add to the movie portion of the R.I.P. event. [Possible spoilers coming after the synopsis.]'s the scoop:  Dr. Montague is on a mission to find an authentic haunted house.  When he comes upon Hill House, it would seem that he has found his prize. None of the local townspeople will stay at Hill House after dark.  No one who has rented the house has stayed longer than a night or two.  There is a dreadful past full of death and suicide.  His next mission is to invite people who have experienced some sort of occult incidents in the past to join him at Hill House and see what kind of psychic phenomena they encounter.  Those who accept his invitation include Eleanor, a lonely girl who lived in a house attacked by a rock-throwing poltergeist; Theodora, a more lively girl with psychic tendencies; and Luke, son of the family and heir to Hill House.  Their days at Hill House are fairly ordinary--exploring the rooms and then the grounds.  But the nights are filled with strange, banging-on-the-doors noises, intense cold (especially outside the nursery), and doors that close themselves (when not being banged on).  Eleanor is sure that the house knows her name and is trying to make her its own.  Is she right?

Possible spoilers ahead...

As I said, straight up horror-scary, this isn't.  At least not to me.  Psychologically interesting, yes.  Because although one might think Dr. Montague is the central character, it soon becomes apparent that Eleanor is the main focus.  The manifestations, such as they are, do seem to revolve around her--either happening to her or vaguely being blamed on her.  When I reached the end of the story I was left wondering: Did these events really happen?  Were they all part of Eleanor's imagination and fear?  There was even a hint, from some of the comments from the other characters and thoughts running through Eleanor's mind [yes, we are given access to Eleanor's thoughts], that perhaps the other characters are creating some of the situations.  Following Eleanor and her reactions to the house and events is the most interesting part of the story for me.  It is really intriguing to see how her sense of loneliness and her urgency to belong to the group affect her experiences in the house.

Where I really lost all sense of scariness (what little there was) was when Mrs. Montague showed up with her planchette and her side-kick Arthur.  She demands to know what her husband has done about contacting the departed and won't let him get a word in edgewise. She was pure comic relief to me and, quite honestly, I couldn't see that the story was tense enough to need any relief.  It is also possible, now that I think it over, that her odd, no-nonsense approach to contacting the spirit world just threw a bucket of cold water over the atmosphere in the house and that was why the doctor's investigations came to an end.  

Three and a half stars for a good, interesting story. 

Don't do it, Eleanor told the little girl [silently]; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again.... (p. 22)

I congratulate myself. I have led you to civilization through the uncharted wastes of Hill House. ~Dr. Montague (p. 54)

People are always so anxious to get things out into the open where they can put a name to them, even a meaningless name, so long as it has something of a scientific ring. ~Dr. Montague (p. 71)

In any case, I will not sleep for an hour or so yet; at my age an hour's reading before bedtime is essential, and I wisely brought Pamela with me. If any of you has trouble sleeping, I will read aloud to you. I never yet knew anyone who could not fall asleep with Richardson being read aloud to him....On the other hand a Fielding novel comparable in length, although hardly in subject matter, would never do for very young children. I have my doubts about Sterne--   ~Dr. Montague (pp. 89-90)

Everything is worse if you think something is looking at you. ~Dr. Montague (p. 120)

Fear is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway. ~Dr. Montague (p. 159)

The library? I think it might do; books are frequently very good carriers, you know. Materializations are often produced in rooms where there are books. ~Mrs. Montague (p. 186)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tackle Your TBR Read-a-thon Update

Well.........I haven't been doing so very well keeping up with the

sponsored by Laura and Tressa from  Colorimetry and Tressa's Wishful Endings

I've been working away.  And am a little over half-way to my goal of ten.  I'm going to have to do some pretty rapid reading in the next two days to manage that.......Here's the progress so far:

 Books Read:
1. The Yard by Alex Grecian (9/9/13)
2. The End of the Alphabet by C. S. Richardson (9/10/13)
3. Famous Ghost Stories by Bennett Cerf (ed) [9/13/13]
4. The Temple of Death by A. C. & R. H. Benson (9/16/13)
5. The Dreadful Hollow by Nicholas Blake (9/17/13)
6. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (current read)

The Dreadful Hollow: Review

The Dreadful Hollow is Nicholas Blake's (aka poet laureate Cecil Day Lewis) tenth book starring recurring detective Nigel Strangeways.  Strangeways is a private detective with decidedly amateur leanings--he behaves more like a gentleman detective, however he does get paid for many of his investigations.  At least there is talk of payment--it's unclear whether he'll actually see payment for this latest adventure.

A poison pen has been sending nasty letters to the inhabitants of Prior's Umborne.  A small village where Sir Archibald Blick has a family residence--and where his two sons currently live.  It is also home to one of Blick's business interests.  Blick calls on Strangeways to get to the bottom of the poison because it's disrupting work.  Also living in the village are two sisters, Rosebay and Celedine--the daughters of a man who committed suicide when Blick drove him to financial ruin, the local vicar--stalwart friend to Rosebay and Celedine, who harbors deeper feelings for one of the sisters, and the postmistress and her religiously obsessed son.  Strangeways barely has a chance to make his first report to the unlikable businessman before Blick is found dead at the bottom of the same hollow where Rosebay and Celedine's father died.

This is a well-written, competent book as you expect from a poet laureate.  It is not as cleverly mystifying as some of Blake's other work and there isn't quite as much intricate psychology.  Not that there isn't any psychology at work--there is.  It's just a bit more obvious.  The tale does involve one rather interesting, somewhat macabre dream which makes the story all that more apropos for the R. I. P. Reading Event.  It doesn't take Strangeways long to spot the poison pen....and it shouldn't.  The alert reader should spot the culprit just as quickly.  It also doesn't take long to spot the murderer.  That may or may not be the same person..... 

The joy for the reader is in the writing itself.  Blake/Lewis knows how to tell a tale.  And he knows how to write.  The reader is swept right along in the swell of words.  It's with a nod and wink--not a snort of disgust--that we know who did it long before the end.  And it is well worth the trip to read the ending at the quarry--with the contrast of Strangeway's calm knowledge to the angry mob ready to lynch the culprit.  Three and a half stars--rounded to four on Goodreads.

Book Bingo: Square #24 & Bingos 9 & 10

I'm zeroing in on a full more spot to go and the card will be covered!  Just finished the "Re-read 5 books" square which snagged me two more Bingos.  Books read for this particular square are below.  For a full run-down of books read so far, please visit my Book Bingo Sign-Up.

Re-read 5 Books 
1. Death in the Air (aka Death in the Clouds) by Agatha Christie (8/5/13) 
2. Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh (8/28/13)  
3. Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie (9/6/13)  
4. The End of the Alphabet by C. S. Richardson (9/10/13)  
5. The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene (9/16/13)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Secret of the Old Clock: Review

My mom got me hooked on Nancy Drew when she gave me her 5-6 volume set from the 1950s (they looked like the one at right). From that moment on I devoured the mysteries starring the girl detective like they were going out of style--every birthday and Christmas saw at least one Nancy Drew title on my list. These books were the bread of my reading existence when I was growing up and were always my comfort reads when I needed comfort or just didn't have anything else on hand. You know, it's been over 25 years since I read these books regularly, but I can still tell you where the Hidden Staircase was and why it was important. I can also tell you what the Clue in the Broken Locket was and why The Sign of the Twisted Candles is one of my least favorite of the Nancy Drew books.

Nancy Drew was my gateway to reading.  She was my introduction to mysteries.  More than than that Nancy and her blue roadster stood for adventures.  My parents have always supported me no matter what.  They believe I can do anything I want--and made me believe it too and taught me that it never mattered that I was a girl.  Nancy was my first reinforcement of that idea in book-from.  She was supported by a loving and interested father who had taught her to be independent and to take care of herself.  When Nancy has a flat tire while out detecting in her roadster, she doesn't have to wait for some strong man to come along and change it for her.  She sets right to work:

It was not the first time Nancy Drew had changed a tire, but she never relished the task. Rummaging under the seat, she pulled out the tools and quickly jacked up the rear axle. She loosened the lugs which held the tire in place, and tugged at it. Again and again she pulled, but the huge balloon tire could not be budged. Then, she gave one mighty tug, it came off and Nancy Drew fell backwards into a sitting posture in the road.

When Nancy first indicates that she wants to try and track down the missing will, Carson Drew doesn't tell her the job is too difficult or too dangerous for a girl.  He just tells her: "Detective work isn't always the safest occupation in which to engage. I happen to know that Richard Topham is an unpleasant man when crossed. If you actually succeed in learning anything which may help the Horner girls, you are certain to have the Tophams in your wool." He warns her of the dangers....but he doesn't warn her off.

For this reread, I went back to the original 1930s version of The Secret of the Old Clock.  Working in the English Department of a university, I am often offered extra desk copies that instructors don't need.  The reprint of the original Nancy Drew story was one such bonus.  It was lovely to sink back into one of the stories that I loved in elementary school and relive Nancy's adventures while tracking down the clock in question and finding the secret will that provides for several down-on-their-luck relatives.  But one thing I did notice was the stark contrast between the representation of Jeff Tucker (the Tophams' cottage caretaker in the original and later versions.  In the original, Jeff is portrayed as the stereotypical "negro" of the times (the author's word, not mine)--very heavy dialect, lazy, slow, prone to alcoholism. The solution to this problem of racist stereo-typification in later editions?  Remove the problem.  Make Jeff Tucker a country hick white character--which I'm sure could still be offensive, but at least it's not racist.  As child, I didn't pay attention to that sort of thing--I was focused on the mystery and the adventure.  As an adult, it is important to remember that each version is a product of its time.

When I first read this story, I am sure I would have given it five stars (maybe even a five-star-plus).  Reading it now, it's a four-star winner.  Fun, engaging, and an interesting window on the 1930s.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Temple of Death: Review

The Temple of Death is billed as ghost stories (or "Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural") by A. C. And R. H. Benson.  These are the lesser-known (for good reason, I think) brothers of E. F. Benson of Mapp and Lucia fame.  The back of the book says that these weird and chilling ghost stories have been undeservedly neglected for too long.  But I can't say that I think that's necessarily true.  I probably could have gone on just as well without ever having read these.  Oh, they're decent enough stories....particularly those by A. C. Benson.  But they're not strictly ghost stories--religious ghost stories, perhaps.  So, I guess "tales of the supernatural" would describe these best.  All of the stories have a very religious, moral tone.  In each, you have an element of good needing to triumph over evil--whether that be the evil of paganism and the Dark Arts or the evil doings of the human heart. 

The stories of R. H. Benson have far less substance than those of his brother--fortunately, there are fewer of them.  A. C. Benson's tales (synopses below) have more narrative and more depth.  The former's tales range from the "killer instinct" of a man compelled to shoot a thrush ("The Watcher") to two boys lost on a road who encounter a gypsy ("Blood Eagle").  There isn't much haunting to be found and I can't say that R. H. does much for me in the story-telling line.  Of A. C.'s stories, the best by far are "Out of the Sea," "Basil Netherby," and "The Uttermost Farthing." I don't say that you need to run out and find this collection, but if you do happen upon it then be sure to read these three if you read no others.  Three stars.  Just.

Stories by A. C. Benson:
"The Temple of Death": Paullinus, a Roman follower of the Christian faith, gets lost on his travels and finds himself at the pagan "Temple of Death."  Will his faith help him overcome the dreadful beast that is lord of the temple?

"The Closed Window": The evil Sir James de Nort died under mysterious circumstances in the turret room.  Since that time, the window has never been opened.  What will happen if his grandson and grand-nephew decide to do so? What odd vision of the world will be revealed?

"The Slype House": Anthony Purvis, owner of the Slype House, dabbles in the Dark Arts...and winds up in a battle for his very soul.

"The Red Camp": Walter Wyatt inherits the ancestral home. On his land, there is a dense wooded area known as the "Red Camp"--so-called because of the terrible battle that took place there.  Wyatt must lay to rest the souls killed on this terrible spot.

"Out of the Sea": A ghastly beast comes out of the sea to haunt a wealthy fisherman and his son--a fate they must endure because of their actions towards a survivor of a shipwreck.

"The Grey Cat": A young boy is in a fight for his very soul....with of all things, a harmless-seeming grey cat.

"The Hill of Trouble": Gilbert is happy in his life as a scholar at Cambridge--he's close to finishing the book that has been his life's work.  But then he goes visiting in the country, wanders onto the "Hill of Trouble" and has his future revealed to him by the spectre of the hill.  

"Basil Netherby": Basil is a musician of some little talent.  He takes up residence at a house with evil connections.  His music changes--and so does he.  Can his friend help rescue him from the evil influence of the house's former owner?

"The Uttermost Farthing": Three men race against the ghosts of two evil men to uncover hidden secrets.  Are the secrets better revealed or destroyed?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. It's where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It's a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list. So hop on over via the link above and join in...and leave a comment here so I can check out what you are reading.
Still one book behind on Goodreads, after a brief moment of the little ticker telling me that I was "on track."  Read, Bev, read!:

Books Read (click on titles for review): 
The Yard by Alex Grecian (9/9/13)
The End of the Alphabet by C. S. Richardson 
Famous Ghost Stories edited by Bennett Cerf 
Currently Reading:
The Temple of Death by A. C. & R. H. Benson: Undeservedly, the weird and chilling ghost stories of Arthur Christopher Benson and Robert Hugh Benson have been neglected for far too long. This volume attempts to rectify that situation. This dark banquet of tales takes us to strange, unworldly and often archaic environments, far removed from the manic pace and pressures of the twenty-first century, but as exercises in the art of luring the reader into a stat of unease they are as potent as they were when the ink was barely dry on the page.
Books that spark my interest:
The Dreadful Hollow by Nicholas Blake  
A Love Worth Giving by Max Lucado 
The Haunted Doll's House by M. R. James
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Death Knocks Three Times by Anthony Gilbert