Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mount TBR: Checkpoint #3

Oh my goodness!  Where does the time go?  Last I checked, September was just starting....and now it's gone and it's time to get the third quarterly checkpoint up and running. Let's see how our challengers are doing after 9 months are under the ol' mountain-climbing belt.  

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. 

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
A. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
B. Pair up two of your reads using whatever connection you want to make. Written by the same author? Same genre? Same color cover? Both have a main character named Clarissa? Tell us the books and what makes them a pair.
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?
D. Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search.  Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.

Please prepare your answers in a Checkpoint blog post and link up 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 Wednesday, October 8.  Sometime next Thursday 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 you've already finished your climb, I'd love to have you check in with us and tell us all your news!

***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.  Enter here OR on my Goodreads Challenge site (but not both places, please).

Sign in below with your Checkpoint post.

Bleeding Maize & Blue: Review

Bleeding Maize & Blue is the third in Susan Holtzer's Anneke Haagen mystery series. In the opener, Something to Kill For (which I read in 2012--click title for review) Anneke, a local computer consultant, is involved in a murder amongst the antiquing crowd and she winds up romantically entangled with Lieutenant Karl Genesko, a handsome ex-football player turned police detective. Now, Anneke and Karl are sharing their life and a home and are gearing up to share the spotlight at the University of Michigan's President's Weekend. The festivities include a President's reception, a football game, and a tribute the All-American, three-time Superbowl winner, #54 of the Wolverine football team, U.M. alumnus--Karl "The Pass" Genesko. Scheduled for half-time of the big game is the retirement of Genesko's jersey.

But before the weekend can get underway, the Michigan Daily, independent student newspaper, breaks a story that may be the makings of reporter Zoe Kaplan....and the undoing of the football powerhouse. Kaplan has learned of an impending investigation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) into possible recruitment violations by Michigan alumni. In response to the disastrous headlines the various campus committees rally round in meetings at the stadium and try to figure out how to best weather this storm when they see the body of the NCAA investigator Alvin Greenaway tumble over the railing and onto the end zone turf. Greenaway has been stabbed to death with a Michigan University flag pole.

Anneke doesn't mean to get involved in another murder investigation--but she is at the stadium waiting for Karl to get out of a meeting when Greenaway's murder is discovered. Zoe is on hand as well, lurking about with hopes of interviewing Karl...or anyone who might have a further scoop for her. And what a scoop she gets! Right on the spot for the beginnings of a murder investigation. Anneke takes a liking to the driven young reporter and she--along with Detroit News has-been reporter, Charlie Cassovoy, and Daily Michigan staff alumnus, Richard Killian--helps Zoe brainstorm on suspects, means, and motive. All clues lead them through a tangle of secrets, lies, and shady dealings, but someone's hands must be dirtier than the others. Zoe adds up the score and Anneke provides the computer skills to decode the killer's secret playbook--setting Karl up to tackle the murderer. Literally--in a stupendous play on third yard line.

 As I mentioned in my review of the first novel, I really like the characters in Holtzer's series. They are given good back-stories and are authentic and believable. The romance between Anneke and Karl is handled deftly and it doesn't overwhelm the cozy mystery. Zoe is a particularly likeable new character--unfortunately given her position with the student-run newspaper, I don't anticipate seeing much more (if any) of her in future installments. That's really too bad, because I'd like to get to know her better. I also enjoyed the set-up for the murder. I'm no football fan, but the use of football and the hoopla surrounding it at Michigan as a backdrop works very well and makes for an interesting story. It's possible that the dramatic capture at the end could be seen as a bit over-the-top, but given the frenzy that football fanatics can get themselves into....I think it works. Well-plotted and fun to read. Recommended for cozy and football fans alike--as well as those with ties to the University of Michigan. ★★

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Challenge Complete: Adam's TBR Pile

Well, for the first time since I joined Adam from Roof Beam Reader in his 2014 TBR Pile Challenge I won't be reading all fourteen books. Adam requires that we read 12 books from our TBR pile in a year's time. He allows us two alternates (in case we just can't possibly finish one or two on the original list) and I've always read the originals plus the alternates. Now, I realize it's a bit early to toss in the towel on that last alternate (after all, there are three whole months left in 2014), but I've looked high and low and I cannot figure out what I did with the Harlan Ellison book. I know I own it and would never get rid of an Ellison book (especially without reading it)--but it cannot be found. And it's not available at the library....so, unless the gremlins bring the thing back before December 31st, I'm done. And--since I've already met the 12 book requirement, I'm going to go ahead and claim my challenge as complete.
Here's my list:
1. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (pub 1962) [2/27/14]
2. For Old Crime's Sake by Delano Ames (pub 1959) [4/29/14]
3. My Antonia by Willa Cather (pub 1918) [4/20/14]
4. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (pub 1952) [7/20/14]
5. Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak (pub 1976) [1/6/14]
6. By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (pub 1932) [5/23/14]
7. Death on the Aisle by Frances & Richard Lockridge (pub 1942) [1/24/14]
8. Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark (pub 1987) [6/11/14]
9.  Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos (pub 1940) [2/18/14]
10. Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout (pub 1938) [7/12/14]
11. The Clue of the Leather Noose by Donald Bayne Hobart (pub 1929) [3/31/14]
12. The Forgotten War by William Forschten (pub 1999) [7/9/14]

1. Alone Against Tomorrow by Harlan Ellison (pub 1971)
2. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell (pub 1991) [1/5/14]

Challenge Complete: Read Scotland 2014

@Peggy Ann's Post

So when Peggy from Peggy Ann's Post decided to try her hand at sponsoring a reading challenge and offered up the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge over on her blog and on Goodreads, I, of course, had to join right in. I didn't know how many Scotland-related books I might have kicking around on my TBR pile, so I signed up for the lowest level. I may be adding to the list and climbing to another level (or so) before it's all over...but for now...my challenge is complete. Thanks for hosting, Peggy!

Just A Keek (a little look): 1-4 books read

I'll list the books read below:
1. The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/2/14)
2. Dandy Gilver & the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson (2/12/14)
3. The Day They Kidnapped Queen Victoria by H. K. Fleming [Hijacking of Queen Victoria's private train in Scotland] (7/2/14) 
4. Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson  (9/27/14)
Challenge Goal Complete!

A Death for a Dancer: Review

The Dancer family is a bit...shall we say eccentric? Their family tree includes Sir Harold Dancer who followed his king on the Crusades and returned to find his lady fooling around with a man-at-arms. He drugged his wife, killed and quartered the man, and dumped his bits into bed with the lady. Then there was Sir Charles Dance who admired the American Confederacy and had an antebellum facade built over his Elizabethan home (his son got rid of that as soon as he inherited). And, of course, Sir Godfrey Dancer who, at the turn of the 20th Century, decided to follow the mystic ways of the Far East, built a miniature Chinese temple, stocked it with priceless jade figures, and arranged for his burial there--complete with a curse to scare off anyone who might contemplate desecrating the temple and running off with the jade.

The current head of the family, Sir Amyas Dancer has decided that the curse was never meant for Dancers and has plans to pull down the temple and make way for his own particular obsession...a Roman amphitheater. Living with him at the ancestral country house are his children Carleton who collects buttons--particularly those with a macabre connection--and Cassandra who appears to be the most normal of the bunch.  Also on site are his sisters, Bella who would spend every hour cooking if she had her way and Sybil who has a mania for reincarnation and a decided aversion to even the mention of divorce. The ladies live in the Dower House on the estate. There is also Sir Amyas's former father-in-law, Horace, who hangs out in the bushes wearing sackcloth and ashes. In the nearby village lives David Proctor, poet and former model, who is currently engaged to Cassandra, but was formerly the beau of her mother, Viola. Viola, by the way, is dead and nobody, except her father, seems to miss her much.

As the first anniversary of Viola's death by drowning approaches, Amyas begins inspecting Mandalay, the Chinese temple on the estate, in preparation for his amphitheater construction plans. To his horror, the first thing he finds when he unlocks the temple is a body. And it's not his revered ancestor. The body is that of Katherine St. Croix, alias Katie Parr alias Katerina Padrinski alias Kay Parnell--a woman who had weaseled her way into the house three months previous with a down-on-her-luck story only to vanish one night leaving only her buttons behind.  The entire family comes under suspicion when it is revealed that she was a con woman, expert at blackmail and stealing any valuables left unattended.
Sir Amyas calls on barrister Robert Forsythe, a man who has earned a bit of a reputation as a discreet amateur detective, to dispel the fog of suspicion and bring the crime home to the murderer...even if it means that a Dancer must go to jail

Forsythe, aided by his superlative secretary Miss Sanderson ("Sandy"), soon find themselves no further than the police--ten suspects all with fair-to-middlin' motive and none with a decent alibi, but no real evidence and no definite finger of suspicion pointing towards anyone in particular. It isn't until Forsythe visits the murdered woman's London apartment that he finds a clue that focuses his attention...and it will take a bit of theatrics on a "dark and stormy night" with a bit of "the wrath of God" to bring the culprit out into the open.

E. X. Giroux is a new author for me. The mystery is fast-paced, well-plotted, and stocked with interesting characters who even though they are a bit dotty are thoroughly believable. I definitely will be on the look-out for more books starring Forsythe and Sandy--I really enjoyed their interactions. The weakest part of the novel (and what keeps it at ★★ instead of four stars) is the wrap-up. Forsythe cannot produce the evidence to allow the police to arrest the murderer, so he has to rely on theatrics to force a confession. A weak ending--but overall a solidly entertaining mystery.

This fulfills the "Country House" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Two for Sorrow: Review

Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson is the third novel in her historical mystery series featuring Josephine Tey (aka Eilizabeth Mackintosh). In order to fully understand the relationships between various recurring characters, I would definitely suggest that anyone interested in reading the novels begin at the beginning (An Expert in Murder). Upson anchors her third book with the true criminal case of Amelia Sach and Annie Walters--better know at the turn of the twentieth century as the Finchley baby farmers. Josephine Tey is researching the case thirty-some years later for a book she intends to write based upon the story of the only double-hanging of women in modern times. Tied to the case is Celia Bannerman, former wardress of Holloway prison--present for the infamous hanging--and current secretary to the Cowdray Club, key figure in nursing administration and welfare work. Josephine is a member of the club and Miss Bannerman is one of the first people she interviews.

But the historical case isn't the only one that involves the club. Inspector Penrose, Josephine's friend, is called in to investigate a series of blackmail letters sent to members and petty thefts. It's easy for the ladies of the club to want to blame the ex-convicts that Celia Bannerman has given jobs in an effort at rehabilitation, but Penrose isn't so sure. And when another rehabilitated young woman who works for his cousins, the Motley sisters, in their sewing establishment is brutally killed while in the midst of working overtime to help prepare for a gala ball at the club, he is more convinced than ever that there is more going on than simple blackmail and thievery. The deeper he digs, the more ties he finds to the crimes of the past and soon his investigation and Josephine's research point to a very surprising suspect.

This is an engaging mystery and Upson works the historical crime into her story of Josephine Tey with great skill. While, it's true that the "modern" (for Tey's time) crimes are fictional, they are a logical outcome of the fictional rendering of the Finchley baby murders. She has also become quite skillful at transporting us back to the years between the World Wars. Not quite as absorbing as the first two, but an enjoyable read none-the-less and the reveal of the culprit came as quite a surprise. I thought I knew who did it--based not on the motive first given but on the identity of the blackmail letter-writer. I was wrong. Most disappointing, however, is the fact that the bulk of the blackmail letters are not explained at all--that little mystery gets lost in the capture of the murderer.

The one other item that stands out to me this time is the use of Elizabeth Macintosh's pen-name throughout. It finally hit (why it took till book three, I'm not sure) that it seems a bit odd that all of her friends refer to her as Josephine and not as Elizabeth. Was that really how she was known to her intimate circle?

But, again, a good solid read and I will definitely continue with the series. ★★

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Footprints on the Ceiling: Review

It's not enough that Clayton Rawson's Great Merlini has to answer the question of how a woman with an acute case of agoraphobia could be found dead in a room in a house on the opposite end of the island from where she lives. It's not enough that the room she's found in has a trail of footprints crossing the ceiling. It's not enough that someone sets fire to the house while Merlini is investigating the death. It's not enough that the case winds up including a fraudulent medium, a hunt for sunken treasure, a gangster with (of all things) the name of Charles Lamb, a man with blue skin, and a bullet that can either go round corners or straight through steel and concrete. No, wait, there's more! There's also a nude man found dead in a locked hotel room...and not just dead. Dead of the bends....in a perfectly dry room, a mile or so from the nearest water. As Inspector Gavigan says:

Instead of the usual murder victim in a locked room...we've got a body, dead from natural causes, and the question--How'd he get in, and how'd his clothes get out? The desk clerk, the elevator boy, and the floor clerk on twenty-one say they never saw him before--that might be on account of the missing mustache. But they'd certainly have noticed if he was running around the place without any clothes.

What's a magician detective to do? Well...he better get busy figuring out what tricks the murderer has up his sleeves...

...because all the amateur dicks in town are gunning for your job. When the papers hit the streets, all hell broke loose at headquarters. Philo Vance has been crowding his friend, the D. A. He wants to kick this case around. Says it's right up his bloomin' alley, don't you know. Ellery Queen's campaigning to get his old man assigned to it so he can get a look see, and Malloy says that awhile ago he saw Archie Goodwin circling the island in a speedboat, looking the situation over. Nero Wolfe's seen that mention of the eight million bucks. (Inspector Gavigan to Merlini)

But, perhaps I've gotten ahead of myself. Let's go back...Footprints on the Ceiling (1939) is Rawson's second mystery novel featuring The Great Merlini, a professional magician who also runs a magic supply shop and who occasionally works as an amateur detective and debunker of spiritualism. It is in this last capacity that he has been called upon to visit Skelton Island and observe Madame Rappout to prove once and for all whether her psychic manifestations are the real deal or just another way of taking in the gullible. He brings along his friend Ross Harte, publicity writer to provide the wise-cracking sidekick and narrator. As the seance begins in the main house,  Merlini, Ross, and their host Colonel Watrous discover Linda Skelton, wealthy heiress, believer in the occult, and island recluse, dead in an outbuilding with all evidence of suicide. There's just one tiny problem. As described above, it is revealed that Linda suffered from an acute case of agoraphobia. There is no way that she could have traveled across the island to kill herself. 

Then, of course, there's the other dead body in the hotel room. It looks like natural causes, but it is soon revealed that he's died of "the bends"--an ailment peculiar to deep-sea divers. How did he managed that on dry land? And where are his clothes. Even if he did die "naturally" from the ailment, someone had to have taken his clothes...which makes things mighty suspicious.

Inspector Gavigan spends the rest of the book alternately suspecting, cautioning, and arresting everyone with a hint of a motive--sometimes separately, sometimes all at once. Merlini spends his time building up scenarios in which any of them might have done it, leading us on and making us believe that he...no she...no not them, but he did it. Blowing smoke in our eyes, using mirrors, and artful doses of misdirection, until the grand finale and the big reveal.

The first half to two-thirds of this classic crime novel is excellent. The set-up, misdirection, and mystification are all first-rate.This was my first Merlini novel and I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to the magician and Ross Harte (who reminds me of Archie Goodwin in wisecracks--but I don't think he's quite as swift on the uptake as Archie). However, the last third and dénouement has way too much going on and there is a bit too much of the "let's show you how X is the culprit and then presto...no, they aren't the murderer, but they did do this." The best thing about the solution is that it actually makes sense and requires no supernatural hocus-pocus. The other quibble I have which makes this a  ★★ and 1/2 read instead of four stars (although I will round up on Goodreads) is the amount of specialized knowledge--ranging from the medical to darkroom techniques to deep-sea diving--that is needed to recognize various clues.

But...you can tell that Rawson had a lot of fun with this one and the reader is caught up in the fun and in trying to untangle the intricate plot. Overall, a recommended read. 

This fulfills the "Book Read by Another Challenger" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card as well as my fifth & sixth Bingos. Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise was my leader on this one. Click on her link to see what she has to say about Rawson's little bit of deception.

Monday, September 22, 2014

R.I.P. Viewing: The Hardy Boys Mysteries

Peril on the Screen: The Hardy Boys Mysteries "The Mystery of the Haunted House"

So, tonight, my inner 8-year-old decided to take control of my viewing for the R.I.P. Peril on the Screen--choosing the suitably titled premier episode of the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries which debuted January 1977. I remember being glued to the television set every Sunday night at 7 pm ready to watch Frank and Joe or Nancy solve mysteries just as they did in the books I was reading.

"The Mystery of the Haunted House" is the first appearance of Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as Frank and Joe Hardy. The boys are worried when the receive word that their father who is supposed to be out of town on a fishing trip was spotted at a nearby hotel. They stake out the hotel and wind up following their father to a cemetery and then into a mystery involving a navy officer who has lost his memory and a dance club called the Haunted House that has mazes, trapdoors, and secret passageways.

So, how was the episode viewed through the eyes of a 40-something-year-old? Just as much fun as it was nearly 30 years ago. By today's standards, the action is a little slow (we had longer attentions spans then), but it was still fun to watch the squeaky clean Hardy Boys run to the aid of their father and help him clear the name of a naval officer. The Haunted House didn't seem near as spooky as it did to my 8-year-old self and now I'm curious to watch "The Disappearing Floor" (which I remember finding kindof creepy), the Nancy Drew episode "The Secret of the Whispering Walls" (which as I recall really captured the feel of the ND books), and "The Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew Meet Dracula" (which first brought the three together and, again, has a suitable title for the R.I.P. Challenge).

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Challenge Complete: Back to the Classics

I joined Karen K at Books and Chocolate has agreed to take on Sarah's for the Back to the Classics Challenge for 2014.  She gave us a set of required categories plus an additional set of optional classics to read. With my latest read, The Scarlet Pimpernel, I have completed the last of the optional categories and that finishes off the challenge. Below is my list of books.

Here are the 2014 categories: 
  1. A 20th Century Classic: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein [1937] (6/12/14)
  2. A 19th Century Classic: A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott [1866] (7/3/14)
  3. A Classic by a Woman Author: My Antonia by Willa Cather [1918] (4/20/14)
  4. A Classic in Translation: Grimm's Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm [German; 1812]
  5. A Wartime Classic:  On the Beach by Nevil Shute [Nuclear War; 1957] (7/7/14)
  6. A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You: Selections from the Essays of Montaigne by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (trans & ed by Donald M. Frame) [original: 1580; this edition: 1948] (7/7/14)

Optional Categories:

  1. An American Classic: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962) [classsic SF/alternate history] (2/27/14)
  2. A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain [1934] (4/29/14)
  3. A Historical Fiction Classic:  The Scarlet Pimpernel  by Baroness Orczy [1905; written about the French Revolution]  (9/21/14)
  4. A Classic That's Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series:  Bed-Knob & Broomstick by Mary Norton [1943; 1947] (5/16/14)
  5. Extra Fun Category:  Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4: Bedknobs & Broomsticks 1971 Disney film (5/18/14)

The Scarlet Pimpernel: Review

Baroness Emma ("Emmuska") Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála Orczy de Orczi, a Hungarian by birth who lived in England by the time she was fifteen, gave us one of the iconic romantic figures of the French Revolution. Written at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Orczy's tale revolves around the well-known figure of the Scarlet Pimpernel--that daring British nobleman who risked his life over and over to rescue French aristocrats from the deadly blade of the guillotine. With each daring rescue, he leaves behind his calling card, a paper with the drawing of a delicate small flower. Men and women on both sides of the English Channel are enthralled by adventures of this brave hero and his band of followers. Little do they know that their hero hides behind the mask of a foppish nobleman--portraying himself as a wealthy dilettante with no head for business and no skills beyond setting the fashion among the ton.

The French authorities, represented by Citizen Chauvelin, are desperate to discover the Pimpernel's true identity and to put a stop to the steady flow aristocrats fleeing the clutches of the citizenry and Madame Guillotine. Chauvelin has a hold over Lady Blakeney, papers that would ensure her brothers death if they were revealed to the Citizens' Council and he promises her brother's freedom in exchange for help in tracking down that "elusive Pimpernel." She has no way of knowing that she may be buying the freedom of one beloved man with the life of another even more dear to her. The story ends in a final daring rescue attempt--will her brother arrive in England safely? And what of the Scarlet Pimpernel--will he escape from the trap Chauvelin has set for him?

This is melodramatic historical novelization at its best. Brave, manly hero with a sworn band of trusted followers. A woman who loves him and risks all herself when she realizes the danger she has put him in. Clever disguises, tricky escapes, and somewhat dim French soldiers all add to the fun. Lots of action and intrigue moves the story along and makes for an exciting, face-paced read. ★★

The story was so well known in the early- to mid-20th Century that several filmed adaptations were made--the most famous in 1934 with Leslie Howard as The Scarlet Pimpernel, although I would also be interested in seeing The Elusive Pimpernel (aka The Fighting Pimpernel (1950) with David Niven. The story was so popular that even Warner Brothers took a stab at it--featuring Daffy Duck as the Scarlet Pumpernickel, although his character seems to be a mixture of various romantic heroes from Robin Hood to Zorro and/or one of the Three Musketeers as well as the Scarlet Pimpernel.

*Note: While I do own this (and thus it counts for Mount TBR), I have somehow managed to bury my copy somewhere in storage--despite having never read it. So, I pulled it up online on Project Gutenberg.

Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Monthly Motif, Color Coded Challenge, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, 100 Plus Challenge, Back to the Classics, Women Challenge, European Reading Challenge [Hungarian author], R.I.P. Challenge, Dare You

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Edison Effect: ARC Review

Bernadette Pajer continues to charm readers with The Edison Effect, #4 in her Professor Benjamin Bradshaw mysteries set in early 1900s Seattle. The Christmas season is rapidly approaching and department stores are gearing up with the latest holiday decorations...including Thomas Edison's new stringed holiday lights. But the festive colored bulbs aren't the only evidence of Edison's presence in Seattle. Edison, a ruthless business man who seeks control of every electrical patent he can get his hands on, has sent agents to Bradshaw's city in search of the misbegotten invention of one of Bradshaw's former students (see book #1, A Spark of Death). Edison himself asks Bradshaw for information about the device, but the good professor tells him as little as possible. Before long Edison's agents have struck a deal with a local diver to try and locate the box which had been tossed from a ferry into waters of the bay. Bradshaw hopes that the device will stay lost, but realizes that someone might find it...and that if someone does maybe it should be him.

But then an electrician employed by the Bon Marché  Department store is found electrocuted in a store display window. He is clutching a string of Edison's holiday lights. Bradshaw, the police department's resident expert in electricity, is called upon to investigate the death and he and Detective O'Brien must determine what connection there is to Edison and is search for the missing device--if any. For the connection to Edison isn't the only possibility, there are in-store rivalries, a wife who has been cheated on, and a mistress in the offing as well. Bradshaw's task isn't made any easier by worries at home. His courtship of Missouri Fremont has reached a critical point and he must make decisions that will affect his relationship to Missouri and his personal faith. Will he be able to resolve the murder, the mystery of the missing device, and his feelings for Missouri in time for Christmas?

This fourth entry in the Bradshaw mysteries series is every bit as delightful as the previous stories. The historical and scientific details are smoothly integrated into the story--just enough to solidly anchor the series and provide a realistic tale without weighing down the narrative with too much information or highly technical facts. Bradshaw is a wonderfully flawed individual--facing his fears and doubts with all-too-human responses and working his way through murders and relationship mysteries with thoughtful, soul-searching. And it is fun to watch his relationships with his friends, his son, and, of course, Missouri grow and develop. The people in Pajer's books are more than just characters, they have become friends who I greet warmly when I begin the latest installment and who I miss until the next story is available. 

I highly recommend the Bradshaw books to anyone who enjoys mysteries or historical novels with great characterization and interesting mysteries. Who knew there were so many ways to polish people off using electricity?  ★★

[Disclaimer: My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate....The book was offered to me for impartial review  and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Death Takes a Sabbatical: Review

Death Takes a Sabbatical (1967) is the debut mystery novel for Robert Bernard, pen name for Robert Bernard Martin, a professor of English at Princeton University from 1951-1975 who already had several scholarly tomes to his name.  A few internet sources claim that he wrote four mysteries, but I can find evidence of only three (even looking among the listing of his papers at Princeton). I was absolutely delighted when I discovered Deadly Meeting at our Friend of Library used bookstore several years ago. After all, we all know how much I love those academic mysteries.

DTaS features middle-aged American professor, Richard Halsey in the midst of his titular sabbatical. He has returned Oxford where he spent time as a Rhodes Scholar in his youth. While in England, he is actually staying at the cottage home of friends (while they spend a year elsewhere themselves) and traveling back and forth to London by train as necessary for historical research and pleasure. It is during one of his return trips that Halsey's adventures begin. 

On this particular trip to London, he has rounded off his evening with a musical performance. The first leg of his journey back to Oxford takes place by underground. Halsey is drowsy after a long day and the motion of the car sets him to dozing. He takes little notice of the three drunken men at the end of his car and is startled when the fourth passenger, sitting at his side, hisses at him, "For God's sake, get off this train at once!" Halsey is hustled off the train and the stranger introduces himself as a doctor--claiming that he realized that the middle of the three "drunks" was actually a dead man. He takes Halsey address as a fellow witness--even though the professor tells him he really didn't notice much at all--and rushes off saying he will report the incident to the authorities.

Poor, innocent Richard Halsey decides to report the experience to the police as well and immediately lands himself in a mystery involving missing dead men, murders, stolen gems, and hidden secrets. The good professor comes under suspicion himself when a body finally does turn up in a trunk at the train station and to add to his troubles his cottage is burgled and he is beaten, abused and kidnapped before it's all over. Of course, there are a few perks to the arrangement...one being the lovely woman who lives close by and with whom Halsey carries on a very successful romance. He also has the opportunity to play the hero for a bit at the very end and who can complain about that?

This is a pretty light-weight mystery offering. There are few clues to speak of and I really can't see how the average reader could possibly figure out what it's all about and who is responsible based on the meager crumbs we're given. There is a very tiny clue offered up that supposedly, according to the villain of the piece, should have revealed all to Halsey (who is much ridiculed by the evil-doer for being too obtuse to get it), but I don't believe even the good professor would have deduced the grand plot had he picked up the clue and run with it.

Now, despite the fact that this is in no way, shape, or form a classic fair-play mystery, it is an enjoyable romp and as a reviewer in the contemporary Saturday Review put it "jolly good fun." I describe it more as an adventure-mystery than a straight detective novel. Lots of action and I find Professor Halsey's actions to be pretty believable (except for the portion where he tries to go into hiding....). I can certainly understand his bewilderment as a stranger in foreign country feeling like the police have fastened on him as a suspicious criminal type. Excellent central characters from Halsey to his lady and her young son to his daily help to Mrs. Levering, lady of the manor and a very refreshing character, indeed. In fact, I do believe my favorite scenes all involve Mrs. Levering.

★★ all for character, fun, and a well-told tale--even if not fairly clued.

This fulfills the "Academic Mystery" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Agatha Christie Audionovels: 2 Mini-Reviews

I had to take a bit of a road trip this weekend, so I took advantage of the three hours each way to listen to a couple of Agatha Christie audionovels that I picked up at our Friends of the Library Used Bookstore last fall. On the way north to Wabash on Friday, I listened to The Sittaford Mystery and then on the way home today I listened to Joan Hickson herself read The Herb of Death and Other Stories. It made the trip just fly by. The only downside is that I never feel like I can do justice to the work in a review when I listen rather than read--I get caught up in the performance, as it were, and tend to just let the words flow over me. But I'll do my best with these two works by the one and only Dame Agatha Christie. (No substitutions here!)

First up, The Sittaford Mystery, originally published in 1931, is a non-series mystery. It is set in a small village on Dartmoor and opens at Sittaford House. Mrs. Willett and her daughter Violet have rented the house in the country from Captain Trevelyan. The villagers think it a bit add that the ladies from South Africa would want to come to the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter, but there's no telling what foreigners will do, is there? The ladies host a little party, inviting the good captain, Captain Trevelyan’s long-standing friend, Major Burnaby, Mr Rycroft, Mr Ronnie Garfield and Mr Duke. But due to a heavy snowfall, the Captain isn't expected to make it from Exhampton--his place of residence while the Willetts occupy his home. And he doesn't.

During the course of the evening, the group decides to do a harmless bit of table-turning. It all starts as a lark, but the evening turns serious when the spirits suddenly tell the company that Captain Trevelyan is dead. The message ends with a single word...M-U-R-D-E-R! Mrs. Willett is sure that one of the young men is just having a rather morbid joke, but Major Burnaby is worried. It's an evening that he and Trevelyan normally see one another, so he decides to head out into the snow and walk the six miles to Trevelyan's place. When he arrives, he can't get anyone to answer so he ousts a policeman and the doctor from their warm station and house to help him investigate. What they find would seem to prove that seances really do work....Captain Trevelyan is dead from a killing blow from a sandbag. Inspector Narracott is called in to sift through the possible suspects--the Captain's relatives all inherit equal shares of his rather large fortune; all but one have alibis. When it's discovered that James Pearson, Trevelyan's nephew, was actually on the spot at the right time it looks like the police will easily wrap-up the case. But Pearson's girlfriend Emily knows Jim couldn't commit a murder and sets out to prove his innocence. It isn't long before she provides the police with broken alibis and a renewed cast of suspects.

The audio version was actually a BBC dramatization with a whole line-up of performers. It was very nicely put together and quite entertaining. I spotted the  murderer right away, but I'm sure that was because I've read the novel before (albeit long ago and far away). I don't believe I figured it out the first time. In fact, I'm quite sure I know who I fastened on as suspect #1 before, because I nearly changed my mind in his/her favor this time. This is classic Christie--several possible solutions, red herrings galore, and all the clues on display. I gave the story four stars the first time I read it and I give it  ★★ now--only because she didn't quite fool me on the re-read. She very often does--if I've left it long enough between reads. 

Next up: The Herb of Death & Other Stories (all stories originally written 1933 and earlier; first appeared in The Tuesday Club Murders). This collection features three stories which were presented as puzzles for the members of the "Tuesday Club" to solve--with Miss Marple always appearing as the successful detective--even when pitted against Sir Henry Clithering of Scotland Yard. The final story takes place long after the gatherings when Sir Henry happens to be visiting St. Mary Mead. The stories which Joan Hickson reads are "The Herb of Death," "The Thumbmark of St. Peter," "The Affair of the Bungalow," and "Death by Drowning." I'll give a short description of each...

"The Herb of Death": Mrs. Bantry takes her turn at presenting a puzzle for the group. She tells of a dinner party where fox gloves leaves were mixed in with sage and everyone at the dinner became ill. Everyone recovered except the ward of the host. The young woman died and it was initially thought that the leaves were simply mixed in by mistake. But Miss Marple spots the clues that prove murder...and correctly names the murderer as well.

"The Thumbmark of St. Peter": Miss Marple tells the story of her niece Mabel who wed unwisely and soon regretted it--for her husband was a bit of bully and they quarreled often. After one particularly heated argument, the husband died mysteriously the next night. Small villages just can't resist gossip and soon rumors are flying round that Mabel has poisoned her husband. Mabel called upon her aunt to help her out of her mess. Miss Marple was able to discover that the man was indeed poisoned and the guilty party was soon identified.

"The Affair of the Bungalow": Jane Heiler, a beautiful actress, tells this story. She presents it as having happened to "a friend," but the others are quite sure that the story is Jane's own. While on tour with a play, she was called in by the police to be identified by a young man who claimed she had written a letter and requested his presence at a certain bungalow which belonged to another actress. He had met her there and then been drugged.  A robbery had taken place at the bungalow and he is being held as a suspect. But when Jane arrives at the police station, the man says that she isn't the right woman. What really happened? Miss Marple knows...even though she says she doesn't while the group is all together.

"Death by Drowning": Rose Emmett has been found drowned in the river near St. Mary Mead. She was pregnant and her lover had refused to marry her so everyone thought she had killed herself. But Miss Marple knew she'd been murdered. When she hears that Sir Henry Clithering is in town for a visit, she asks him to investigate. She has no proof and doesn't think the local police will take her reasons seriously. She writes down the name of her suspect and asks Sir Henry to find a way to discover whether she's correct. When an apparently unshakeable alibi is produced, it begins to look as if Miss Marple has made her first mistake....but Christie fans know that can't be possible.

Joan Hickson provides a very entertaining reading of these four classic short stories. And Agatha Christie provides her usual caliber of mystifying narrative. I was quite taken in--particularly in the last one where I was sure I knew the name written on that piece of paper, only to find out that I was wrong. Excellent mysteries by the Queen of Crime.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ten Little Indians: Review

Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None, and originally published in 1939 under a more politically insensitive title) is one of my all-time favorite Agatha Christie novels. It is the ultimate locked room mystery (a "locked" island to be exact) or, in the broader term, impossible crime. The story is a familiar one to most mystery lovers: ten people of various backgrounds are invited for a holiday on Indian Island and at the end of the holiday everyone on the island is dead. Each has been lured there using a different bit of bait...but all for the same purpose--murder. Someone, using the name U. N. Owen, wants to kill them, apparently to provide justice for murders they have committed but which are untouchable by law. The first guest was poisoned after dinner. The second just didn't wake up in the morning. When the general was clubbed to death, they realized that the murderer was one of them. As their number grew smaller with each killing, their terror mounted. Was there no way out? Somehow, soon this vicious killer would have to be caught--before he had the pleasure of announcing: "and then there were none."
Even though I've read it many times, I still get nearly the same pleasure from it each time I reread it. Of course, the pleasure would be complete if I could conveniently forget the solution--but the story is told so well that I don't mind knowing ahead of time what will happen. I have had an ongoing practice of telling my friends whenever I find out that they plan to read this one for the first time, "If you can honestly tell me that you figured out who did it before the end of the story, I will buy you dinner--wherever you want to go." Thirty years and counting....I have not had to pay up yet.

I have read this so often and have seen so many reviews of it, that I don't really have much to say about the story itself. Instead, just a brief response to the audionovel version that I listened to this time. Norman Barrs, unknown to me prior to this audionovel, does an excellent job with a very smooth narration.  He provides very distinct voices and intonation for each of the characters--making it easy to follow who is speaking. The almost four hours required to listen to the story flew by and I was completely immersed in the story once again. Christie has garnered five stars on all previous readings and I once again award both novel itself--and the reading--★★★★

Of course, Christie's novel is so famous it has not only been read as an audionovel several times, but it has also been made into several films. My favorite is the 1945 version filmed under the title And Then There Were None and featuring Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, and not-yet Dame Judith Anderson. 

This fulfills the "Locked Room" (aka Impossible Crime) square on the Golden Vintage Bingo Card and completes my 4th Golden Bingo.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Challenge Complete: Alphabet Soup

alphabet 2014 500 
Dollycas at Escape With Dollycas Into a Good Book is hosting another A-Z Challenge in 2014.

The Alphabet Soup Challenge means that by December 31, 2014
your bowls must be full of one book for each letter of the Alphabet.

Each Letter Counts As 1 Spoonful

Twenty-six spoonfuls are now in my bowl and the challenge is complete!

List of possible books:
A: Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown (1/12/14)
B: By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (5/23/14)
C: Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland (2/16/14)
D: Dangerous Visions 3 by Harlan Ellison, ed (1/11/14)
E: Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (2/4/14)
F: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell (1/5/14)
G: Gambit by Rex Stout (2/8/14)
H: Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison (3/17/14)
I: India's Love Lyrics by Laurence Hope (3/4/14)
J: John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars by Roland Hughes (3/17/14)
K: The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux (1/20/14)
L: The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout (3/23/14)
M: Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos (2/18/14)
N: Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg (4/8/14)
O: Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald (1/26/14)
P: The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/2/14)
Q: Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym (7/25/14)
R: Red Cent by Robert Campbell (9/10/14)
S: Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak (1/6/14)
T: Triumph by Philip Wylie (1/18/14)
U: Undead & Unpopular by MaryJanice Davidson (6/17/14)
V: Vicious Circle by Douglas Clark (3/11/14)
W: The Wonder Chamber by Mary Malloy (1/15/14)
X: The Xiabalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14)
Y: You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts (2/9/14)
Z: Zingers, Quips, & One-Liners by Geoff Tibballs, ed (8/25/14)

Red Cent: Review

Jack Hatch, Robert Campbell's railroad detective in Red Cent (1989), is detailed to meet the Burlington Northern at Osceola. Millionaire Harold Chaney who has been a frequent passenger from Chicago to points west has been shot while seated in the dining car. When Hatch reaches Osceola, a group of young Native Americans have already been taken into custody for getting drunk and riding out in pickup trucks to "kill the Iron Horse." The local authorities seem to be satisfied that it was just an unlucky shot that killed Chaney instead of the train and there's no reason for Hatch to dispute that--after all he's just supposed to be representing the train company to be sure no one will be trying to hold Burlington Northern accountable. But there are too many little pieces that just don't seem to fit into the big pictures. And when he starts nosing around on his own, he finds that there are several people who might have wanted Chaney dead from a current business partner or a current wife to an ex-mistress or an ex-partner. And there's someone playing musical cells with the six young men in custody, as if they want to keep the waters so muddy that no one will notice the barracuda about to get away with murder.

Hatch comes across as detective cast in the traditional tough-guy mold, but he is also determined to get at the truth despite there being no fee involved. He is honest and amiable and sprinkles his narrative with homespun stories and brief asides that give us a peek at his life philosophy. He enjoys the job which allows him to ride the rails as he pretends to be a regular passenger while he scopes out the cars looking for pickpockets, con artists, and other bad guys. It is his honest determination to see justice done that brings the crime home to the proper villain--although villain may be a bit strong once you know the circumstances. The motive is perhaps understandable and the killer not completely evil.

This novel was, in many ways, a nice surprise. Hatch speaks directly to the reader in a first person narrative that works really well (and you all know how I like to complain about the first person POV). It's a shame that Campbell wrote only two novels starring Hatch, because he's detective I would have enjoyed following through several cases. And even though it is written in a more hard-boiled style, it really is an old-fashioned mystery with a solid cast of characters. The one item that keeps the book from rising above the ★★ rating is the handling of Hatch's love life. He follows in the footsteps of many a private eye by having a lady friend in nearly every station town. That's not the problem--the problem is that this is 80s and AIDS is on the rise and every single one of his lady loves are cutting him off. At. The. Same. Time. Yes, I understand that the promiscuous life-style needed to come to a halt--or at least be reevaluated. But I find it hard to believe that all the ladies would decide during the same three-day period that this was a crisis. Campbell tries a little to hard to drive that point home in my opinion and repeats it once (or twice) too many times.

Overall, a solid mystery outing which fulfills the "Mode of Transportation" square on the Vintage Silver Bingo card.

[Oh...and one other thing. That cover picture is way too tame for what actually happened to Chaney. Not that I want to see a gory picture on the cover....]