Sunday, June 29, 2014

The 7 Professors of the Far North: Review

Eleven-year-old Sam Carnabie is not looking forward to a family trip to visit his Great-Aunt Roberta. Great-Aunt Roberta likes cats and china ornaments; she doesn't much like children. And there isn't even a proper park near her oppressively tidy home in Reading. Why can't the Carnabies be headed out for an adventure somewhere exciting instead. You know what they say: Be careful what you wish for....Because when Professor Ampersand and his adopted children Zara and Ben zoom up on a yellow motorcycle and sidecar to whisk Sam away from the proposed dreadful visit in Reading, the adventure is well on its way. And it will be more adventure than Sam could possibly imagine. 

Sam barely has time for a quick investigation of Professor Ampersand's awesome inventor's digs when one of the professor's colleagues arrives with news that the evil Professor Murdo is out to kill the rest of the original "7 Professors of the Far North"--a group of brilliant scientists who were once going to teach at a university on Nordbergen, an island in the Arctic Circle--as well as making preparations to take over the world. The other professors are called for a meeting at Ampersand's home--but before Professor Gauntraker can fully explain the dangers, Murdo's henchmen arrive and kidnap the professors. Sam, Zara, and Ben manage to hide and Gauntraker leaves a clue behind that will allow the kids to follow to Nordbergen.  But how can three children take on an evil genius and his armed minions? The fate of their friends...and the in their hands.

A wonderful adventure book for the nine and older crowd. The opening immediately grabs the reader and the story provides an exciting ride. This is definitely the type of book that I would have devoured in my younger days and I found it quite enjoyable now. It reminds me of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories--written as a straight narrative. While the idea of three children defeating an evil genius may be a little hard to believe, the story as told sweeps you right along and the kids have enough doubts and get just enough help along the way to make it really easy to suspend your disbelief. Great fun and interesting story. There is also a parallel story about Marcia and her parents that works well as it dovetails with the adventures of Sam, Zara, and Ben--and it serves as a nicely done morality story about being happy with who you are and letting others be exactly who they are as well. Good, solid story-telling. ★★★

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vintage Mystery PSA and Mid-Year Checkpoint

Greetings, Vintage Mystery Challengers! I thought it might be a good idea to check in and see how your game of Bingo is going and to give a brief explanation of my plans for prizes this year.  Since there are two levels of automatic prizes: At Least Two Bingos (prize vault pick) and Cover the Card (which includes the prize vault pick as well as a bonus for doing all categories on a card), I plan on waiting until the end of the year to send out prizes.  That way if you cover a card, I can send you both prizes in one mailing. Here's the plan: Keep your eyes peeled in late December for the wrap-up post linky. When it goes up, link up your post. In your wrap-up post I will want to know how many Bingos you completed and whether you also covered at least one card with a list of the books and the squares they fulfill. (If you have any questions about whether a book counts, please ask well before the end of the challenge.) I will also want to know when you fulfilled the minimum two Bingo requirement. The prize list will be offered in order of fulfillment--not order of link up. If you don't have a blog, then you'll need to post a comment at the wrap-up post at the end of the year that meets the wrap-up requirements.  

Here is a link to my Challenge Commitment Fulfilled post to give you an example for logging your Bingos for the wrap-up.  You will see that the books that count for more than one bingo are listed for each one. If you cover a card, you will only need to list each book once to show that every square was filled. I will post a reminder of these wrap-up rules at the end of the year. for the checkpoint. How are things going out there? I've heard some shouts of Bingo! and I've managed to peek in here and there on reviews, but I'd love to see some comments that give a brief run-down of progress among the Bingo players.  I'm closing in on a third Bingo on the Silver card and have squares filled in all over the Gold card in addition to two Bingos. I think I'll manage to cover both cards by the end of the year....

Mount TBR: Checkpoint #2

The year is almost half-way does that happen so quickly? I must lose track of time just concentrating on the mountain trail ahead of me. But--it's that time again. Your mountaineering guide is calling for a second quarterly check-in post. Let us know how your climb has been so far. Seen any mountain goats? Any particularly pretty wildflowers? How about the abominable snowman? For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:
1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
 A. Choose two titles from the books you've read so far that have a common link. You decide what the link is--both have strong female lead characters? Each focuses on a diabolical plot to take over the world? Blue covers? About weddings? Find your link and tell us what it is.
 B. Tell us about a book on the list that was new to you in some way--new author, about a place you've never been, a genre you don't usually read...etc.
 C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?
OR (Counts as both part 1 and 2)
Use titles from your list to complete as many of the following as you can. If you haven't read enough books to give you good choices, then feel free to use any books yet to be read from your piles. I've given my answers as examples. Feel free to add words (such as "a" or "the" or others that clarify) as needed.

My Day in Books
I began the day with Too Much of Water
before breakfasting on Red Herring.

On my way to work I saw The Purple Parrot 
and walked by [the] Darkness at Pemberley
to avoid [the] Seven Footprints to Satan
but I made sure to stop at Shakespeare's Planet.

In the office, my boss said, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
and sent me to research The Clue of the Leather Noose .

playing a game of Angels & Spaceships.

When I got home that night, 
because I'm interested in The League of Frightened Men
and I decided that Naked Is the Best Disguise.

Please post your answers on your blog and link up your post in the linky below. And what do you get for all that hard work (and distraction from the actual climb)? The link will close at 11:59 pm on Saturday, July 5.  On Sunday, July 6,  I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick a winning climber. He or she will have the chance to add to their TBR stack via my gently-used book vault (prize list will be sent). Just think, if you win a book you can start up a pile for next year's Mount TBR Challenge. 

Even if you're not in the mood for a prize or if you've only got one leg of the journey under your belt, I'd love to have you check in and tell us how your climb is going!

***Please note--the linky is for Checkpoint posts only.  The link must be to a specific Checkpoint post (not your blog's home page in general). Links that are not Checkpoint-specific will be removed--to make it easier for me to track a winner.

Sign in below with your Checkpoint post.

Challenge Complete: Around the World

Back in November 2012, I signed up for a 5-year journey 'round the world. The goal? To read 80 books set in 80 countries by the end of the five-year period. I started my journey on January 1, 2013, so I've got a deadline of December 31, 2018. I decided that to meet my goal I needed to average 16 books per year. My two-year mile marker is 32 books.  Mission accomplished and I still have time for more travels....

List of books read so far and location:
1. The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime by Michael Sims, ed (11/5/12) [England]
2. The Bone Is Pointed by Arthur W. Upfield [Australia] (11/16/12)
3. The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas  [France] (12/15/12)
4. Plum Pudding Murder by Joanne Fluke [US] (12/19/12)
5. The Man Who Went up in Smoke by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö [Hungary] (1/8/13)
6. Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards by Kit Brennan [Spain] (2/9/13)
7. The Perfect Landscape by Ragna Sigurdardottir [Iceland] (3/12/13)
8. The Lady Vanishes (aka The Wheel Spins) by Ethel Lina White [takes place on train ride through the "Balkans" which could conceivable be part of several countries. I have arbitrarily decided that the bulk of the action takes place in Bulgaria] (3/17/13)
9. The African Queen by C. S. Forester [Tanzania] (4/6/13)
    Death in Zanzibar by M. M. Kaye [Tanzania] (6/25/13)
10. Blood Makes Noise by Gregory Widen [Argentina] (4/30/13)
11. The Talking Sparrow Murders by Darwin L. Teilhet [Germany] (5/6/13)
12. Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon [Wales] (5/18/13)
13. Death at Crane's Court by Eilis Dillon [Ireland] (5/23/13) 
14. The Curse of the Bronze Lamp by Carter Dickson [Egypt] (5/27/13)
15. Murder on Safari by Elspeth Huxley [Kenya] (6/8/13)
16. Devoured by D. E. Meredith [Malaysia (& England)] (6/22/13)

Year One Challenge Goal met!
17. Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov [Russia] (6/23/13)
18. The Scarlet Macaw by S. P. Hozy [Singapore] (8/10/13)
19. The Monster of Florence by Magdalen Nabb [Italy] (8/17/13)
20. Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen [Denmark] (8/20/13) 
21. Cold Earth by Sarah Moss [Greenland] (10/18/13)
22. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell [Sweden] (1/5/13)
23. The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton [Mexico](1/18/14)
24. Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold [Turkey] (2/4/14) 
25. Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret Lewis [Vatican City] (3/5/14)
26. The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd [Tahiti (French Polynesia)] (3/8/14)
27. The Coral Princess Murders by Frances Crane [Tangier, Morocco] (4/5/14)
28. Decoded by Mai Jia [China] (4/5/14)
29. Gale Warning by Hammon Innes [Norway/Norwegian Sea] (4/15/14)
30. The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Souroudi [Greece] (4/26/14)
31. 20.12 by Dustin Thomason [Guatemala] (6/6/14)
32. DeKok & Murder in Ecstasy [Netherlands] (6/27/14)

Year Two Challenge Goal Met!

DeKok & Murder in Ecstasy: Review

DeKok and Murder in Ecstasy is the 18th installment of A. C. Baantjer's unflappable, sympathetic Inspector Jurriaan DeKok. DeKok is careful, painstaking detective who has often been compared to Simenon's Maigret. His partner, Vledder, is often exasperated with him and finds it difficult to follow DeKok's train of thought. Both his partner and his superior, Commissaris (Captain) Buitendam, cannot understand how he operates. But the patient Inspector always gets his man...or woman as the case may be.

Murder in Ecstasy is a tale of a fantastic heist and a trail of murder. Two men waylay an armored transport carrying more than $3 million. In the course of the robbery, one of the men shoots and kills the driver--bringing even more attention to their daring crime than anticipated. They take off in a red Alfa Romeo and head to an alternate vehicle, a blue Jaguar, parked conveniently on a deserted road. The shooter promptly eliminates his inconvenient partner and leaves him behind in a small town. Then the blue Jag and three million dollars just seem to disappear into thin air. As DeKok and Vledder investigate, their witnesses and suspects fall victim to the same gun and the policemen are left with more questions than answers. Why was the transport carrying an unusually large amount of money on this run? Why did the driver change his route? The robbery was so well planned--How did the criminals find out the details of the transport. Who is Peter Shot and why did he disappear three weeks before the crime? And why was an ornate doll stolen from the mother of the murdered thief? DeKok doesn't believe in coincidence and he doesn't trust the easy answers that his superior wants him to accept. He knows the crime is much more complicated than it appears and that finding the right murderer is the only way to find the missing money.

Baantjer's prose is very enjoyable to read in translation. Despite DeKok's patient, slow-paced methods, the book is a quick and delightful read. The mysteries tend to have a hint of the bizarre, but there is generally a straight-forward answer hiding behind the oddness. Overall, a good police procedural--well-plotted and interesting.  Good characterization. I can well understand why Baantjer is one of the most widely read authors in the Netherlands.  All for ★★★ and a half stars on the rating scale.

This fulfills the "Translation" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.

Friday, June 27, 2014

This Private Plot: Review

The odd thing about a banana," Oliver Swithin mused as he chased the naked policewoman across the moonlit field, "is not that it's an excellent source of potassium, but that everybody seems to know it is.

According to local legend in the British village of Synne (standing joke "living in Synne"), it is the custom for young lovers to run naked to a local landmark known as Shakespeare's Race at midnight on May Day and follow the path of the oddly named turf maze to the (most romantic) old gibbet that sits in the center. That would be the reason that Oliver Swithin would be chasing a naked Scotland Yard detective while he himself is decked out in only his best birthday suit. Who knew that his Uncle Tim (and, incidentally, his beloved policewoman's boss) would be doing the same with Aunt Phoebe?  And that they would all meet up in the maze to have the romantic moment ruined....not by mutual embarrassment (though there's plenty of that to go around), but by a corpse dangling from the ancient hanging tree.

The local police are quite willing to believe that retired radio personality, "Uncle Dennis" Breedlove has committed suicide. Even after Oliver points out that "Uncle Dennis" wasn't near tall enough to reach the necessary branches. And even after the discovery that dear old "Uncle Dennis" was dirty blackmailer with at least five victims on his list. All sorts of odd things begin to happen--from the Vicar's strange behavior to the black-clad strangers who attack Oliver at night. There is the mysterious man who dresses like a monk but is rumored to be a Vampire. There are the Bennet sisters who have an internet career that no one--not even they--suspects. And there is the dead man who comes back to life. There are nursery rhyme clues and hints of a mystery that involves the great Bard himself. Quite a maze for Oliver and Scotland Yard to negotiate before they find the villain in the center.

Alan Beechey provides plenty of colorful characters in This Private Plot and gives us a solid, eccentric British mystery filled with typical British wit and plenty of red herrings. The book is the long-awaited (15 years!) third book in the Oliver Swithin series and I don't think fans will be disappointed. Great fun, interesting characters, and a plausible motive add up for a quick, entertaining read.  It is not necessary to read the previous two books to enjoy This Private Plot, but if you want to catch up on the Oliver Swithin mysteries and have difficulty finding the older books, you'll be glad to know that Poisoned Pen Press has recently issued new editions of Embarrassment of Corpses and Murdering Ministers, the first two books in the series.  ★★★

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays

MizB of Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:

*Grab your current read.*Open to a random page.
*Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! You don't want to ruin the book for others.
*Share the title and author too, so other TT participants can add it to their TBR lists if they like your teaser.

Here's mine from This Private Plot by Alan Beechey.  I don't think I can do better than the first line: 

"The odd thing about a banana," Oliver Swithin mused as he chased the naked policewoman across the moonlit field, "is not that it's an excellent source of potassium, but that everybody seems to know it is." 

Challenge Complete: What an Animal

The What an Animal Reading Challenge VII sponsored by Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews is a repeat challenge for me.  I seem to pick up a lot of books with animals in the title, so I am generally sure of meeting the most basic level (6 books).  Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse just filled in the last slot for me--so my initial commitment is complete.

Level 1:
1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1/29/14)
2. Death Walks on Cat Feet by D. B. Olsen (2/13/14)
3. The Purple Parrot by Clyde Clason (2/25/14)
4. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin (5/6/14)
5. Red Herring by Edward Acheson (5/25/14)
6. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie (6/23/14)

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Pale Horse: Review

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him... (Revelation 6:8)

It seems rather hard to believe that I had never read Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse (1961) before. After all, Dame Agatha is one of my favorites and I spent a great deal of time reading her books when I was younger--but I did not have this one logged and I did not own a copy until I picked up one of my beloved pocket-size editions in May of 2012, so I'm just going to accept that I somehow missed this one.

Christie's only novel in which Ariadne Oliver makes an appearance without Hercule Poirot is a twist on the plot device used by Philip MacDonald in The List of Adrian Messenger two years previously. The story begins with Father Gorman, a Catholic priest called to the deathbed of a woman apparently dying of flu. She tells him that there is "Wickedness...such wickedness...Stopped...It must be stopped...You will..." And the priest assures her that he will do what is necessary. But before he can do anything about what he has heard, he is murdered on his way home. The police find a list of names in his shoe--a list of names of people who seem to have nothing in common. Except when historian Mark Easterbrook is brought into the investigation through the passing of his godmother (whose name, incidentally, appears on the list), he discovers that the names do have something in common....death.

Christie also dabbles in a bit of apparent black magic in this one. The Pale Horse of the title is an old inn, now inhabited by three women who have a reputation for witchcraft. Seances and secret rituals involving white cocks and modern death rays are rumored to occur. Easterbrook, being a modern man, scoffs at the idea of voo-doo or death-wishes, but as each name on the list winds up dead he begins to wonder if there isn't really such a thing as murder by remote control....

This is one of the better Christie stand-alone novels. There is a fine sense of atmosphere from the coffee shops of Chelsea to the country village and mystic Pale Horse. She does her usual excellent job of misdirection--making me completely misidentify the culprit. I should have know better, I really should have--but like Mark Easterbrook I was thoroughly taken in. Mrs. Oliver makes cameo appearances, adding just the right amount of her general dottiness...and helping Easterbrook spot the method of murder even if he does make a mistake in fingering the villain. The romance is also a nice touch--given enough limelight to make events believable, but not too much attention to distract from the business of tracking down the murder. Good classic Christie fun. ★★★

This fulfills the "Animal in the Title" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Challenge Complete: Read It Again, Sam

This year I debuted a challenge where all those rereads could count.  I signed up for the lowest level (4 books) and have now completed my commitment. It's very likely that I may reread a few more....but Sam can quite playing. Challenge Complete!
My Level:

Déjà vu: Reread 4 books

1. Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell (1/13/14)
2. No. 9 Belmont Square by Margaret Erskine (6/21/14)
3. Endless Night by Agatha Christie (3/13/14)
4. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein (6/12/14)

BINGO! Vintage Mystery Challenge Commitment Complete

Vintage Mystery Bingo  

After meandering all over the Golden Bingo card before collecting my declared two Golden Bingos, I managed to pick up my two Silver Bingos fairly quickly--thus fulfilling my declared challenge with my most recent read. See below for the books read for each Bingo.  But those of you who know me well also know that my ultimate goal will be to cover both cards....But--for now--my Vintage commitment has been fulfilled.

Golden Bingo List (Pre-1960 Mysteries):
Bingo Across the Top
The Purple Parrot by Clyde Clason (1937) [Color in Title] (2/25/14) 
Gale Warning by Hammond Innes (1948) [More Than One Title: aka Maddon's Rock] (4/15/14) 
Seven Footprints to Satan by A. Merritt (1928) ["Spooky" Title] (1/22/14)
The Darker the Night by Herbert Brean (1949) [Author Read Before] (3/3/14) 
The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout (1935) [Detective "Team"] (3/23/14)  
Red Herring by Edward Acheson (1932) [Animal in Title] (5/25/14)
Bingo Diagonal Top Left to Bottom Right
The Purple Parrot by Clyde Clason (1937) [Color in Title] (2/25/14)   
The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry (1918) [Number] (1/26/14) 
Death Walks on Cat Feet by D. B. Olsen (1956) [Amateur Detective] (2/13/14) 
Darkness at Pemberley by T. H. White (1932) [Professional Detective] (1/30/14) 
The Skeleton in the Clock by Carter Dickson (1948) [Set in England] (1/8/14) 
Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos (1940) [Set in the US] (2/18/14) 

Silver Bingo List (1960-1989, inclusive):
Bingo 2nd Horizontal Row

Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (1979) [Set Anywhere But US/England] (2/4/14)
A Hangman's Dozen by Alfred Hitchcock, ed (1962) [Number in Title] (4/7/14)
The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo (1968) [Made into Movie] (6/8/14) 
Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (1981) [Lawyer/Courtroom] (6/5/14) 
A Hearse on May-Day by Gladys Mitchell (1972) [Time/Day/Month/Etc] (6/15/14)
No. 9 Belmont Square by Margaret Erskine (1963) [Place in Title] (6/21/14)

Bingo "V" Vertical Row 
Endless Night by Agatha Christie (1967) [Author Read Before] (3/13/14)
Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (1981) [Lawyer/Courtroom] (6/5/14)  
Gambit by Rex Stout (1962) [Read by Fellow Challenger] (2/8/14) 
Shelf Life by Douglas Clark (1982) [Professional Detective] (2/6/14) 
Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark (1987) [Involves Water] (6/11/14)  
The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker (1973) [Out of Comfort Zone] (6/19/14) 

No. 9 Belmont Square: Review

A strange house, filled with ancient sin--and in it, a frightened girl fighting an evil force she could not see or touch...

I have discussed on a previous post or two how Margaret Erskine's Inspector Septimus Finch detective novels often appear with covers that give them the appearance of Gothic romance. I am not the only one to notice this trend. Curt over in comments at a mysteryfile discussion on Erskine has this to say: 

Someone should do a piece on those things. Apparently the Dark Shadows Gothic craze in the late 60s-early 70s was so great that publishers were desperate to Gothicize even relatively orthodox English detective novels. So suddenly we get this procession of cheap paperbacks, each with a cover illustration of some terrified, pretty young ingenue wandering around in the moonlit night on the lawn of some great mansion! I imagine purchasers frequently must have been disappointed with what they found between the covers.

As the opening quote (from the back cover) and the cover photo indicate, my copy of No. 9 Belmont Square is such an edition. And while Erskine does tend to heap on a bit more chilling atmosphere and a sense of heroine in distress than the average crime novel, I still wouldn't shelve most of her novels in the Gothic Romance or even Gothic Suspense section. Central to the story is the mystery--a mystery of a missing diamond as well as a long-lost romantic interest. A mystery that begins in murder and ends with other tragic deaths. We are not caught up in the terrors and possible romance (though danger and romance there will be) of Miss Sara Harkness.

When the book opens we are focused on an entirely different character. Opera star Istvan Kardos appears on a show called "Out of the Past," a sort of  "It's Your Life" program in which the celebrity chooses the people from his past to feature. Kardos does the usual run of who's who from conductors to singers to even displaced Austrian noblemen...but then does something different. He turns alone to the camera and tells of his lost love...beautiful Tamara Lubova who disappeared from his life just before the war (and, incidentally, taking with her a famous diamond called the Lake of Fire). Of all the people from his past, he would most like to see Tamara again. He makes an impassioned plea for Tamara to come to him out of the past. Inspector Finch happens to be watching the program with his sergeant, Archie Slater, a fan of the opera and Kardos. While Slater is moved by Kardos's story, Finch, who is known for his uncanny ability to sense a crime before it becomes apparent, worries that Kardos may be waking up memories better left to slumber.

It isn't long before Kardos is inundated with messages from women claiming to be his beloved  Tamara. He dismisses them all as cranks and imposters...until an unremarkable grayish green envelope postmarked Seamarsh arrives. This one is convincing and after a bit of effective detective work on his part he learns that the note paper and envelope are from a boarding house at No. 9 Belmont Square in Seamarsh. He determines to go to Belmont Square in search of the dia--er, his lady-love.

What he actually finds is house full of dotty elderly ladies, a barmy gentleman or two, a maid-of-all-work who suffers from bouts of religious (read end-of the world) mania, and an unexpectedly young boarding house owner with her smarmy, hanger-on brother. The "Fuddy-Duddies" as Sara and her brother affectionately call their boarders have a penchant for sneaking about the hallways, into one another's rooms, surreptitiously snatching items they take a shine to, and stashing things in locked cupboards. Kardos suspects one of them of being Tamara, all of them of harboring secrets, and one of them of having the diamond. And then Sara's lawyer is found dead in the front sitting room and Kardos can only believe that one of them has committed murder. Inspector Finch arrives on the scene and soon proves him correct.

Erskine is no Sayers or Christie...but she is a good, solid second-tier Golden Age mystery writer. Her story is decently plotted and entertaining. I enjoyed the houseful of dotty women and it made it interesting to watch Inspector Finch try to wrest secrets from the elderly band. They enjoyed hugging those secrets to their chests too much. I will admit (most ashamedly) that I didn't spot the culprit. I should have. And I bet you will if you give this one a try. But the clues trotted right by me and I didn't even notice. An enjoyable ★★★ and a half.

This fulfills the "Place" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card and gives me my second Silver Bingo! Woo Hoo!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Godwulf Manuscript: Review

The Godwulf Manuscript (1973) is the debut novel of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. The book is narrated by our hero and private detective Spenser (no first name). Spenser, who graduated from the school of hard knocks instead of picking up a college sheepskin, is called in by the president of a Boston university (unnamed) to track down a stolen illuminated manuscript--the titular piece. The priceless work of literature is being held ransom by an unknown thief to the tune of $100,000 which must be donated to a free school run by an off-campus group. Despite the opulence of the president's office, he assures Spenser that the university cannot possibly afford to pay the ransom. As Spenser says of the room:

The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse. It was paneled in big squares of dark walnut, with ornately figured maroon drapes at the long windows. There was maroon carpeting and the furniture was black leather with brass studs. The office was nicer than the classrooms; maybe I should have worn a tie.

and the president doesn't seem to be hurting for his share of the ready himself:

Bradford W. Forbes, the president, was prosperously heavy--reddish face; thick, longish white hair; heavy white eyebrows. He was wearing a brown pin-striped custom-tailored three-piece suit with a gold Phi Beta Kappa key on a gold watch chain stretched across his successful middle.

But--if they can't pay, they can't pay. And Spenser agrees to track down the missing bit of historical handiwork.

The head of campus security suggests that Spenser start with a radical student group called SCACE (Student Committee Against Capitalist Exploitation) and suggests their secretary, Terry Orchard, as a most likely (most willing of the bunch) contact. The detective  talks with Terry, but makes little headway with the suspicious young woman and her boyfriend (and fellow member) Dennis. But later that night, Spenser gets a call from Terry requesting help. Spenser arrives at her apartment to find her in a drugged state and Dennis dead with four gunshot wounds in his chest.  After reviving Terry, he hears a story of two men coming to the apartment having a brief discussion with Dennis and then shooting  him with her gun. The police are ready to accept the obvious--that Terry killed her boyfriend in a lover's quarrel. But Spenser believes Terry and is determined to clear her name and prove that the missing manuscript and Dennis's murder are related.

You all have heard me say before that hard-boiled, private eye novels aren't my usual cup of tea. And I'm also not a huge fan of first person narrative. That would be why I chose this one as my "out of your comfort zone" read for the Silver Vintage Bingo card. Of course, you also probably know that I have a thing for academic mysteries....that would be the small hook that got me to purchase this two years ago. But even knowing that there was an academic slant, I was still wary of the hard-boiled angle.

Fortunately, Parker (at least in this debut novel) does a good job of reeling me in. Spenser is a likeable character, sort of a knight-errant private eye, and I enjoy his voice as the narrator. The descriptions are very much of the hard-boiled school, but the metaphors are not so over-the-top that they make my eyes roll. Apt descriptions and a good feel for the academic world go a very long way towards making this an enjoyable read. Solid story-telling and a decent mystery--although clues are few and far between and there aren't a lot of suspects to choose from--make for a ★★★ and a half star outing.

This, as mentioned, fulfills the "Out of Your Comfort Zone" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card. And, finally, my first Silver Bingo!