Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Bingo: Two More Bingos & Challenge Commitment Complete



As I mentioned at sign-up, I will most likely cover the card--but my commitment for the challenge was to complete two Bingos. Including those finished today (with The Man in the High Castle), I now have three Bingos! Challenge commitment complete!  More books to come....

Bingo down the Mix It Up column:
Non-Fiction: The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux (1/20/14)
Classic: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick [classic Science Fiction; 1962 Hugo Winner] (2/27/14)
Reread: Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell (1/13/14)
Free Square: The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14)
Contemporary: Death by Chick Lit by Lynn Harris (2/1/14)


Also Bingo Across 2nd Row:

Two TBR Books:
1. The Skeleton in the Clock by Carter Dickson (1/8/14)
2. Dangerous Visions #3 by Harlan Ellison, ed (1/11/14)

Mix It Up--Classic: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick [classic Science Fiction; 1962 Hugo Winner] (2/27/14)

Two  Series Books
1. Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold [#1 of Penny Spring & Sir Toby Glendower series] (2/4/14)
2. Shelf Life by Douglas Clark [Masters & Green series] (2/6/14) 


Genres--Free Square (Science Fiction): Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak (1/6/14) 

Two New Release Books
1. The Wonder Chamber by Mary Mallory [pub. Jan 2014] (1/15/14)
2. Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland [pub. Jan 2014] (2/16/14) 


Previous Bingo--down the TBR Pile column.
 

The Man in the High Castle: Review

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (synopsis):  It's 1962 in America...at least what America has become, carved up into various sections by the victors in the last World War.  You know, the one where Hitler and the Nazis with the help of their Axis cronies ran roughshod over the Allies and moved on to world domination. Germany controls the eastern portion of the US, most of rest of North and South America as well as Europe and the Middle East and Africa. Japan gets the island nations and western America...and Italy?  I don't believe Italy got anything. Oh...and near everybody with dark skin has been obliterated, but those who remain find themselves back in slavery and what Jews have managed to escape the holocaust try to hide themselves behind plastic surgery and changed names.

PKD's novel is alternate history at its best--interesting themes about reality, brilliant world-building, and an all-too believable alternate timeline.  It doesn't take much suspension of disbelief to accept that given certain twists of fate the Allies may have fallen before the relentless force of the Nazi war machine and the Japanese sea superiority. It's scary to think that just a few changes here and there and this very possibly could have happened (or something much like it). He also makes the reader really think about the nature of reality and how fragile the reality we experience can be.

But I have to say that I didn't find myself very involved with the characters. I didn't much care what happened to them...and, really, they didn't seem to care much either. Even when they said they did. The individual lives seemed to want to weave together into a coherent story and yet they managed to avoid doing so. And I kept wondering about the Man in the High Castle...yes, there really is such a fellow.  He's a recluse who has barricaded himself behind charged barb wire and other fortifications...but although there are mentions of him sprinkled throughout, there really isn't any purpose to bringing him up--at least no purpose plot-wise.  I can definitely see him fitting into the themes of reality/unreality as someone who refuses to participate in the current reality.  But he does nothing to further the plot.

After reading this and Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep?, I've come to the conclusion that PKD really isn't the science fiction author for me.  He has produced some interesting and somewhat thought-provoking themes in his novels, but as stories they just don't hold me the way Ellison and Zelazny do. They manage to build interesting worlds, throw thought-provoking ideas at you, and tell a spectacular story all at the same time.  PKD hasn't managed all three in one place in anything I've read yet.  Three stars for world-building and interesting themes only.


Quote:

He glanced at the girl beside him. God, they read a book, he thought, and they spout on forever. (p. 66)


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

To Kingdom Come: Review

To Kingdom Come is the second book in Will Thomas's Barker and Llewellyn historical mystery series set in Victorian England. Thomas Llewellyn has been in the employ of enquiry agent Cyrus Barker for a mere two and a half months--only one month has passed since the events in their debut novel, Some Danger Involved, and already the stakes have gone up dramatically.

Two bombs have gone off in London--destroying a portion of Scotland Yard and the Junior Carlton Club. Members of the Irish Republic Brotherhood claim responsibility and threaten more attacks to come if Parliament does not grant Ireland liberation from English rule within a month. Barker offers his service to the Home Office and comes up with a plan to discover and infiltrate the cell of the IRB responsible for the bombings. He and Llewellyn pose as explosive experts in order to win the group's confidence. But will they be able to maintain their cover long enough to allow Scotland Yard to arrest the dissidents without actually blowing up Parliament and the Prince of Wales?

Once again Thomas gives us an interesting, believable historical mystery set in the Holmsian period with far more action than most of the Holmes stories. The writing and description are up to par, but I have to say that I did not find the mystery or the story overall to be nearly as captivating as the debut.  I still enjoy the interactions between Barker and Llewellyn...as well as with the other supporting characters and Thomas portrays the Irish resistance with just as much flair. But the first story was a more authentic mystery--the hunt for the killer of a young Jewish scholar with all the suspects and clues to follow of a standard detective novel.  That is far more to my taste than the cloak of espionage that covers our heroes. Infiltrating the IRB and spending time manufacturing bombs just really didn't interest me as much. It also didn't help that the mastermind behind the group was obvious from about the midpoint of the book

However, slight misgivings about the topic aside, Thomas has produced a lively second novel--one that is a quick read and full of atmosphere and historical detail. I will definitely continue the series.  Three and a half stars.



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Purple Parrot: Review

Here we have another classic Golden Age impossible crime. This one features Professor Theocritus
Lucius Westborough, expert in Roman history and occasional amateur sleuth, and involves the death of an irritable wealthy book collector. Hezekiah Morse was never adverse to a little under-handed
dealing to get his way--especially if his way had as an objective one of many coveted books. So no one is terribly surprised that he's been found stabbed to death and there are plenty of people who might have wanted him dead. The only difficulty is that none of the obvious suspects--from the big-time paving contractor out for blood after an accusation of slander to the mysterious Mr. Wells who visited Morse on the night of his death--could have possibly done the deed.

The only one who could have killed Morse is his granddaughter, Sylvia--a young woman who was about to be disinherited if she didn't marry the man Morse had chosen for her. And Barry Foster, Morse's lawyer and Sylvia's fiancé, was not the man Morse had in mind. Under the terms of a yet-to-be-signed will: if Sylvia is a good girl and marries Morse's favorite, Thomas Vail, two-thirds of the estate will be hers and a third will go to Vail. If she defies her grandfather and marries anyone else, then she will inherit nothing but his terracotta statue of a purple parrot. She'll either be an heiress or the owner of a rather gaudy knick-knack.

On the night in question, Sylvia and Foster have just become engaged. Barry has told her of the plans Morse has for his new will and Sylvia insists on going at once to let her grandfather know that she loves Foster and intends to marry him. When they reach the house, she makes Barry promise to give her ten minutes with her grandfather before coming up to join them.  Nine minutes go by, there is a scream and Barry and the butler, Baines, both reach the study at the same time--to find Morse stabbed through the heart with his own knife.

According to Sylvia, she had sat in her room (adjoining the study) for the nine minutes, removing make-up (which her grandfather hated) and working up the courage to tell him her news. But when the police arrive in the form Captain O'Ryan and Detective Johnny Mack--with a little man with a long name in tow--and discover that the main study door was locked, that there is a sheer drop from the study windows (and no marks on the ground below of a ladder or a man falling), and that the only other way in was through Sylvia's room, they come to the obvious conclusion that Sylvia killed Morse.

Sylvia denies it. Barry, of course, believes her. But they have to admit that the evidence is rapidly stacking up against them. Fortunately, the quiet little man who has accompanied the police, believes there is more to the case than meets the eye. It's up to Professor Westborough to prove that rare wine, priceless books, and an apparently worthless bird from New Zealand are more important than all the clues that seem point directly at Sylvia.

This is a very pleasant little puzzler with quite a few twists and turns--and even though our amateur detective (in a very Philo Vance sort of way) is the owner of all sorts of esoteric knowledge, one doesn't really need to have that knowledge to work towards the solution. I got inklings and was feeling my way towards the right answer even without the good professor's know-how. I must say, however, that I am better pleased with Barry Foster's solution to the impossible crime than I am with the one which is proven to be correct.  Spoiler (again, I'm using faint font color that can be highlighted, if you don't mind a huge pointer towards the solution): I'm just really not all that sold on hypnotism as part of the solution.  This is the second novel in as many months to use that bit of, pardon the pun, hocus pocus to help wrap-up the mystery.  Granted, the hypnotism is more believable this time round (after all, we're only hypnotizing one person this time instead of a whole houseful), but Barry's solution of the make-shift bridge between the buildings makes WAY more sense. And I was compelled to think about those holes in the side of the house repeatedly...

But that small quibble aside, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Professor Westborough and following him as he uncovered the clues to the real culprit's identity. Overall, a great read and a nice visit to the Chicago area of the 1930s.  3.75 stars, rounded to 4 on GoodReads.

This book fulfills the "Color in the Title" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card--and gives me my first Bingo!




Challenges met: Vintage Mystery Challenge, What An Animal, Mount TBR Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Bookish TBR, Color Coded Challenge, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, Book Bingo 

The Sound of Broken Glass: Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tour


The Sound of Broken Glass

by Deborah Crombie

on Tour Feb 24th - March 31st, 2014






Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Number of Pages: 384
ISBN: 9780061990649
Purchase Links:




Synopsis:

In the past. . .home to the tragically destroyed Great Exhibition, a solitary thirteen-year-old boy meets his next-door neighbor, a recently widowed young teacher hoping to make a new start in the tight-knit South London community. Drawn together by loneliness, the unlikely pair forms a deep connection that ends in a shattering act of betrayal.

In the present. . .On a cold January morning in London, Detective Inspector Gemma James is back on the job while her husband, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, is at home caring for their three-year-old foster daughter. Assigned to lead a Murder Investigation Team in South London, she's assisted by her trusted colleague, newly promoted Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot. Their first case: a crime scene at a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace. The victim: a well-respected barrister, found naked, trussed, and apparently strangled. Is it an unsavory accident or murder? In either case, he was not alone, and Gemma's team must find his companion—a search that takes them into unexpected corners and forces them to contemplate unsettling truths about the weaknesses and passions that lead to murder. Ultimately, they will question everything they think they know about their world and those they trust most.


Read an excerpt:

Browse Inside The Sound of Broken Glass: A Novel by Deborah Crombie


Author Bio:

Deborah Crombie is a native Texan who has lived in both England and Scotland. She lives in McKinney, Texas, sharing a house that is more than one hundred years old with her husband, three cats, and two German shepherds. Visit Deborah at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Catch Up With the Author:

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MY TAKE: I was so very pleased when the offer of a paperback review copy for Deborah Crombie's latest mystery came up from my friends at Partners in Crime Virtual Tours. It had been a while since I had last visited with Detective Superintendent Duncan Kinkaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James. I have to confess that I haven't read every single entry in the series, but such is Crombie's writing that I was able to slip into the story with very little trouble--yes, the kids are a bit older and there is a new foster daughter added to the mix but not being up to speed on the family life did not detract from the reading experience at all. As I've mentioned in previous reviews of Crombie's novels, there is no doubt that she can write. And can write is such a way that will draw the reader in and not let her go until the last word has been read. One of her strengths is her descriptions of people and place--and particularly the relationships between people. Watching Kinkaid interact with his foster daughter as well his friends is delightful. And seeing Gemma's interactions with her team was interesting as well. I also appreciate the way she handles her continuing characters--there are enough real-life changes to make the characters believable without major catastrophes and shocks that might cause too much upheaval.

The mystery itself is satisfying with ties to the past and several suspects that must be investigated. I enjoyed following up the leads along side Gemma and her team (and Duncan in the background). My two small quibbles--1. everybody seemed to have connections to everyone else (even Gemma and Duncan have connections to some of the suspects) and 2. The cliffhanger at the end...there were teeny (tiny, really tiny) indications that something was in the air, but, really, to leave it like that? That's one way to make sure I'll read the next one...and I will, trust me, I will.

The Kincaid and James series is recommended reading for anyone who likes cozy police procedurals and mysteries with recurring characters that you learn to like and enjoy watching the relationships grow. 3.75 stars--rounded up to 4 on GoodReads.

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Tour Schedule:

2/25 ~ Review @ My Readers Block
2/26 ~ Review @ Deal Sharing Aunt
2/27 ~ The Reading Frenzy
2/28 ~ Review by Carol Wong
3/03 ~ Review @ Celtic Lady Reviews
3/04 ~ Review @ 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too!
3/05 ~ Review @ Deco My Heart
3/07 ~ Review @ A Bookish Girl
3/12 ~ Interview & Review @ Thoughts in Progress
3/13 ~ Review @ Melinas Book Blog
3/17 ~ Review @ Marys Cup of Tea
3/18 ~ Interview @ Writers and Authors
3/18 ~ Review @ Tales of a Book Addict
3/19 ~ Review @ Vics Media Room
3/20 ~ Review @ Views from the Countryside
3/26 ~ Review @ Lazy Day Books
3/28 ~ Review @ Book Dilettante

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual: Review

Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual is a collection of short stories that contains an example of nearly every mystery form in the genre--from pure puzzles to spy thrillers; from whodunnits to howdunnits to whydunnits. There are professional detectives and amateurs investigating crimes that cover the gamut from blackmail, theft, frame-up, and sabotage to the ultimate crime...murder. And our authors include well-known names such as Nicholas Blake, Paticia Highsmith and Helen McCloy as well as those unfamiliar to me like A. H. Z. Carr, Holly Roth, and J. F. Pierce. There are serious crime fiction pieces and even a send up of Ellery Queen himself in a lovely little story starring Celery Green.

Every story is a winner on one level or another and several are just flat-out amazing. My favorites are "The Purple Is Everything" by Dorothy Salisbury Davis (when a theft really isn't a theft), "The Washington Party Murder" by A. H. Z. Carr (where Sarah Burton, famous foreign correspondent, returns to Washington DC to discover what really happened the night her husband died), "The Cobblestones of Saratoga Street" (in which we learn the real reason Miss Augusta & Miss Louisa don't want the cobblestones removed), and "Murder Ad Lib" by Helen McCloy (in which Dr. Basil Willing picks up on a clever clue on a "dark and stormy night).  Four stars for the collection over all.

This book fulfills the "Short Story Collection" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

XCIA's Street Art Project: Review

Former CIA agent, Hank O'Neal traveled through the cities of the world for over 40 years. He was also an amateur photographer on the lookout for a project that he could really sink his teeth into. He found himself drawn to the graffiti of city life--a genre now known as street art--and he began taking photographs that became a chronicle of the evolution of this interesting and in-your-face art form. His snapshots showcase street art masterpieces by the famous (Bansky and Hambleton) to unnamed and anonymous, but equally talented neighborhood graffiti artists. He has also captured the elusive quality of this medium--showing the same areas over a period of time with various street art murals...or worse-case scenario with the art work painted over in solid shades of black and grey.

Beautiful and sometimes haunting.  Four stars.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Book Bingo: First Bingo Complete!




First Bingo--the easiest one for me...books from my TBR pile.

Squares Completed:

TBR Pile
One Book:
The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/2/14)

Two Books:
1. The Skeleton in the Clock by Carter Dickson (1/8/14)
2. Dangerous Visions #3 by Harlan Ellison, ed (1/11/14)

Three Books
1. Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown (1/12/14)
2. Triumph by Philip Wylie (1/18/14)
3. Seven Footprints to Satan by A. Merritt (1/22/14)

Four Books
1. Death on the Aisle by Frances & Richard Lockridge (1/24/14)
2. The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry (1/26/14)
3. Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald (1/26/14)
4. Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton (1/27/14)

Five Books
1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1/29/14)
2. Darkness at Pemberley by T. H. White (1/30/14)
3. Gambit by Rex Stout (2/8/14)
4. Death Walks on Cat Feet by D. B. Olsen (2/13/14)
5. Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos (2/18/14)

Made Up to Kill: Review

Made Up to Kill is the first in what would become the Jeff and Haila Troy series by Kelley Roos (husband and wife team, Audrey Kelley & William Roos). This debut novel takes place before Jeff and Haila are married--though Haila is working hard on getting Jeff to commit. Haila Rogers has landed a part in a Broadway production of the British drawing room comedy "Green Apples." She has also acquired a roommate in the person of the young co-star, Carol Blanton. Carol's performances in rehearsal promise a hit on opening night--but then disaster strikes the company.  

Carol has an attack of laryngitis and her star-struck understudy is thrilled to think that she's finally going to get her big chance. She's the only one who is thrilled because the understudy is nowhere near the actress that Carol is. A last-minute recovery allows Carol to perform after all...in what is nearly her last performance of all time. Someone added a near-lethal dose of morphine to Carol's drink in the last the act and only a quick trip to the hospital saves the actress for future roles.

The very next night the leading lady is stabbed to death while wearing Carol's cloak in the dark and shadowy area backstage. It definitely look like someone is determined to get rid of the young actress. The police are doing all they can--following up mysterious notes from someone named Lee Gray; guarding Carol night and day; following the members of the cast; interviewing everyone--but the play's producer thinks that more can be done. He promises Jeff Troy a big check if he can discover who has decided to eliminate his actresses. 

This is a fun romp through the theatrical world of the late 1930s/1940. Lots of eccentric characters with idiosyncrasies to help muddy the waters and keep the reader guessing. Jeff and Haila traipse all over New York City following up clues and questioning the cast. And there are plenty of clues to follow--Kelley Roos plays fair with the reader and mystery buffs should be able to untangle most if not all of the plot. I have a couple more of these waiting on the TBR pile and I am looking forward to them with great anticipation!  Four stars.

This fulfills the "Set in the US" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. First Bingo on the horizon!





Challenges Met: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Bookish TBR, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, Adam's TBR Challenge, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, Book Bingo, A-Z Reading Challenge, 52 in 52 Challenge

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Cursed in the Act: Review

Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland is the first in a new historical mystery series featuring Bram Stoker and his trusty side-kick Harry Rivers. Basing his premise on the fact that Stoker served as a business manager for London's Lyceum Theatre, Buckland gives the soon-to-be author of Dracula an assistant who can help him get to the bottom of mysterious doings in Victorian England.

Their first adventure takes place in 1881 and begins with Henry Irving, star and owner of the Lyceum, being poisoned on the opening night of Hamlet. Someone has put something nasty in Irving's lemonade and it is only the actor's cast-iron constitution and insistence that the show must go on that keeps opening night from being a disaster. But the horrible events continue--Irving's understudy is killed by a fast-moving carriage, a severed head comes tumbling onstage when a backdrop is unrolled, and actress Ellen Terry's young son is kidnapped--all in an effort to shut down the show. The police are making efforts to track down the evil-doers, but not fast enough to suit Stoker. He and Harry begin an investigation of their own...one that leads them into the opium dens and dockyard warehouses of London and brings them into contact with a man who believes the power of voodoo may work if straight-forward criminal acts fail.

This is more of an action/adventure novel than a straight mystery. The twist ending may provide a bit of a mystery as far as the identity of the culprit, but alert readers (or old hands in the mystery field) probably won't be taken in. It seems to me that the emphasis is on the action--the near-constant assault on the Lyceum by the villains--and on the possible occult connections. A quick and easy read--requiring no heavy thinking. The period detail and research into Stoker's background and the ways of the occult do make for a rich historical reading experience. It was nice to settle into the Victorian era and just go along for the ride. Three stars.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Death Walks on Cat Feet: Review

Death Walks on Cat Feet (1956) is a cozy little mystery by D. B. Olsen starring elder sleuth Rachel Murdock (and her fussy sister, Jennifer). D. B. Olsen is one of the names under which Julia Clara Catharine Dolores Birk Olsen Hitchens wrote--other works appeared under Doroles Hitchens, Dolan Birkley, and Noel Burke. As D.B. Olsen, she wrote several Rachel Murdock stories (all with "Cat" titles) and a series featuring Professor A. Pennyfeather--of which I simply must find an example. I've seen brief reviews of the Rachel Murdock series and they seem to refer to the books as "cat mysteries"--but I have to say, that even though Rachel and her sister have a cat and a cat does feature in the mystery in a prominent way, this isn't what I would call a "cat mystery" in the way that Rita Mae Brown or Lillian Braun Jackson books are. And the cats aren't simply amusing window dressing as are the cats in the Frances and Richard Lockridge stories. Rachel's cat Samantha is a pet (and nothing more) and Tom Boy is a clue--there are no cats solving mysteries here.

This story starts off with a bang. Rachel and her sister are driving home when the bus in front of them comes to a screeching halt and a distraught blonde woman flies off the bus towards a man standing in front of a pet shop display window. Before Rachel can quite figure out what is happening the man has grabbed the woman by the arm and sent her crashing through the glass. Rachel's inquisitive nature makes her stop the car and rush to the blonde's aid (over the protests of her sister--who fears, rightly so, that Rachel will get them involved in another "indelicate situation").

The blonde runs off, but later gets in touch with Rachel (after recognizing her from newspaper photos taken during some of her previous exploits). Her name is Ruth Rand and the man who sent her sailing through the pet store window is Bax Bonnevain--husband of Ruth's beloved niece. A niece who went missing three years ago. Ruth is convinced that Bonnevain has done away with Lila in the hopes of selling all her things and hooking up with his lovely neighbor and she wants to hire Rachel to prove. Rachel agrees--but only to discover the truth. Her search will take her back to the pet shop to a booking parlor and to a winning day or two at the race track. She'll also meet Tom Boy--Lila's cat who could save Rachel a lot of time if only he could talk. But in the end, Tom Boy will be the clue that allows Rachel to discover what really happened to Lila Bonnevain...and who is responsible.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rachel Murdock. She's a white-haired lady (of unspecified age) who is forthright and sharp. She proves that she can outsmart a shady bookie, wrangle answers out of unsuspecting witnesses, and can't be taken in by the smoothest liar. Her sister Jennifer tries in vain to keep her out of trouble--and provides just the right amount of comic relief. It's rather nice to have an elder sleuth in the vintage time period who is so active and self-possessed. Full marks for plotting, but a slight reduction in the fair-play clue department. A few more well-hidden pointers would have been nice. 3.75 stars.

This book fulfills the "Amateur Detective" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.



Challenges Met: Vintage Mystery Challenge, What An Animal, Mount TBR Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Women Challenge, Book Bingo

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dandy Gilver & the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains: Review

Our story takes place in the 1920s.  Dandy Gilver is a sharp-witted aristocrat with nursing experience from the Great War. She has found herself in mysterious circumstances and played the amateur sleuth in four other outings.  This particular adventure opens with a letter from Lollie Balfour.  Lollie is convinced that her once loving husband is plotting to kill her and she begs Dandy to come to her as a lady's maid and see if she can get to the bottom of Pip Balfour's strange behavior. Once Dandy is installed, she soon finds that every member of the household from the butler to the chauffeur, from the cook to the scullery maid has reason to fear and loathe the head of the house. And that's just during Dandy's first day on the job. The next morning, Pip Balfour is found murdered in his bed with a nice, big carving knife sticking out of his neck. Everyone has a motive, but it seems that few had an opportunity. How did the killer get in? Why did no one hear him (or her)? Why did Pip leave such a strange will? And will Dandy be able to maintain her cover long enough to answer all the questions?

 
I decided to read Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains for two reasons--first, I needed to read a 2012 Award-Winning Book for the Monthly Motif Challenge (Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award--2012 Macavity Awards) and Catriona McPherson is originally from Scotland (and the book is set in Edinburgh) so it totally counts for the Read Scotland Challenge. And...it sounded like a good read, the blurb on the front announced "Agatha Christie lives!" and the blub on the back told me "Readers who can’t get enough of Dorothy L. Sayers, Barbara Pym, and Dorothy Parker will definitely find a new favorite in Catriona McPherson’s smart and original mystery." I'm afraid I have mixed feelings on this one.
 

Be forewarned...there will are spoilers ahead.  There is no way to explain some of my misgivings without them.  Here on the blog, I will disguise them with faint text color as best I can....

Let's begin with the problem areas.  First off--Dorothy L. Sayers, McPherson is not. She does not display the literary knowledge, fluent writing, and intelligent banter among the characters necessary to wear that mantle. I wish critics and reviewers would stop comparing new authors to Sayers and Christie (and other Golden Age writers). It is extraordinarily rare to have one measure up--and when they don't, it usually detracts from what the author does well.

Second, Dandy's impersonation of a lady's maid shouldn't fool anybody. It's bad enough that she admits that her "vowels keep slipping"--but even with  that, she says she could explain it away by telling the other servants that she's gently born, but come down in the world.  Except she doesn't.  She says she will tell them, but there is never an indication in the text that she did.  We don't need the conversation.  A simple sentence referring to the revelation when they're all sitting round the table for dinner would do it.  But, no, we just have the servants snickering at her lofty ways. Then, whenever she's questioning anybody, it seems one minute they're suspicious of her questions or just wondering why this person who has only been in the house one day is so forward in her opinions and then the next minute they're all confiding in her.

Third (here be spoilers, skip now if you don't want to be spoiled--highlighting the apparent empty space will reveal all)--McPherson uses two of the oldest tropes in the mystery business. The butler did it and....not only did the butler do it, he is really a long-lost black sheep cousin come to do evil to everyone he meets.  Seriously?  AND he accomplishes his evil plots by hypnotizing every single member of the household.  Every. Single. One. Suspension of disbelief is one thing--but the reader is really, truly supposed to believe that not one of the servants was impervious to the power of suggestion?!  What are the odds that all of them...including our intrepid amateur detective....is susceptible? 

Now...for the good points. This is a fun story. Zany has been used by other reviewers--and it fits, in a good way. The characters are fun and likeable and I enjoyed watching the story unfold and wondering what Dandy was going to do next. McPherson represents the 1920s well. If the award given had been for historical fiction alone and not for historical mystery, I would be 100 percent in favor. She also manages to provide lots of red herrings and false trails...it is unfortunate that the method employed by the villain of the piece to produce those red herrings wasn't believable.  It would have been more effective if those red herrings would have had plausible explanations. Overall--good historical setting, interesting initial premise, likeable characters all add up to a decent three-star read.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

You Can Write a Mystery: Review

In You Can Write a Mystery, award-winning author Gillian Roberts gives aspiring crime writers practical advice on how to produce a marketable mystery novel.  Included is everything from "The 15 commandments for mystery writers" to instructions on how to pick your detective and how to decide which kind of story is for you--a cozy or police procedural; a spy thriller or romantic suspense? There are also the seven Cs that good books should never do without--characters, conflict, causality, complications, change, crisis, and closure.  She gives tips on how to hide the clues (in plain sight) and how to make those red herrings tempting enough to distract.  There are pointers on research techniques and helpful hints on how to develop a manageable writing work ethic, find your style and voice, and construct a killer plot line.

Roberts is very generous with her advice and extremely helpful to the writer wanna-be (that would be me!).  Reading the book makes me anxious to get back to my (very) rough draft and see if I can't get myself from wanna-be to full-fledged author.  Wish me luck!

Four stars.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Gambit: Review

The Gambit Club is an exclusive New York establishment for men interested in the strategic board game. Paul Jerin, a non-member, chess expert, is invited to take on twelve members of the club in simultaneous "blind-fold" games. In other words, he will sit in a room separate from all the players--with no boards in front of him--and relay his moves through messengers to the players in a central room. During the course of the evening, Jerin is served hot chocolate--his drink of choice--and becomes ill.  A doctor who is a member of the club is called upon to render what aid he can, but it becomes clear that Jerin needs to be taken to a hospital. He is, but he never leaves.  Investigations reveal that Jerin died from arsenic poisoning and that the poison must have been in the pot of hot chocolate.

The man responsible for Jerin's game with the club members is Matthew Blount. He is also the man that Inspector Cramer and New York's finest decide is responsible for the arsenic in the chocolate. When all the questions have been asked and everyone's movements have been traced, it looks like Blount is the only one with a hint of a motive who had any opportunity to do the deed. Blount's daughter is just as certain that her father is innocent and is none too sure that his lawyer has everything he needs to defend him. So she decides to hire Nero Wolfe...because he is a wizard. The appeal to his vanity (and a twenty-two thousand dollar fee) makes Wolfe certain of her father's innocence as well.  But until he gets a bit of information that causes him to look at the pieces on the board from a different angle, it appears that Wolfe may have finally gotten himself into a no-win scenario. 

The fun in this one is that Archie actually gets to the solution before Wolfe and I got it at the same time as Archie...so we both outdid the genius. I don't care what the Facebook intelligence quiz I took yesterday said...at least for today I'm better than a genius.  We don't get to see as much of Fritz and the other private detectives on Wolfe's payroll and Cramer isn't chewing through his cigars quite as vigorously, but this is still a good example of the Wolfe series.  Good, tight plot.  Clues available.  And a nice twist.  Four stars in all.

This fulfills the "Read a Book Read by Another Challenger" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card. Gambit was read by Les over at Classic Mysteries and he urged me to read it with a high recommendation.  Take a peek at his review to see what he thought about Rex Stout's 1962 novel.




Challenges met: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, Book Bingo, Literary Exploration, A-Z Reading Challenge, Book Monopoly, A-Z Mystery Authors

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Shelf Life: Review

The Colesworth police department has finally managed to haul in three teenaged vandals and have them brought before the magistrate court. But the women on the bench let the young hoodlums off with just a rather pointed warning. The arresting officer is disappointed. He's not the only one to leave court disappointed. Despite being let go, the vandals are none too pleased to have been read the riot act by those in authority and go off to meditate on their grievances. Joe Howlett, a local tramp who occasionally draws the attention of the law (on purpose) so he can get a bit of rest at Her Majesty's pleasure has been denied his regular room and board. The magistrates are on to his game and let him go with a warning as well. And, if he's brought before them again, they promise him that instead of a room at the gaol, he'll be assigned some work as community service. His day doesn't get any better when he goes off to his friendly fish and chips shop only to find that the owner is absent and his harridan of a daughter is in charge. She isn't about to waste the scraps and leftovers on a dirty, old layabout...and tells him so in no uncertain language. The desk sergeant (Watson) at the police station finds out that his daughter has been running around with Boyce--one of the young vandals. All of these disappointed and distressed lives are heading towards an event that will leave one dead and a cloud of suspicion over Colesworth's finest.

That evening Boyce is brought in roaring drunk and deposited in a cell to sleep it off. When Watson sends a fellow officer to check on the young man at midnight, Boyce is found to be dead. A reporter who got a bit of the brush-off from the police at the court happens to be on the spot when all the officials (police surgeon, Chief Constable, etc) show up to investigate and his nose for news leads him to the pertinent facts--a man the police wanted to put away and who has impregnated the sergeant's daughter has died while in police custody.  The morning headlines are enough to give the Chief Constable and Inspector Snell (head of the Colesworth force) a headache or two.

They quickly decide to call on the Yard to do an outside investigation (and hopefully prevent any cries of "cover up!") and they specifically ask for Chief Superintendent Masters and his special investigative crew. Masters has a certain flair for the oddball cases. And this is certainly one--for the autopsy report shows that Boyce was poisoned. And not by your run-of-the-mill arsenic or strychnine...oh, no. How about a little gold sprinkled in your wine (make that a lot of gold)?  An expensive death, indeed.

I always enjoy the Masters and Green series by Douglas Clark and Shelf Life is no different. The camaraderie and rapport of Masters' team is fun to watch and I enjoy watching Masters show the others how it's done. There is a hint of a feeling that Clark may be trying to complicate things and maybe pull a fast one, but the clues are laid out. I had no trouble figuring out how and once you know how, you've got the who. If you're looking for interesting characters and character interaction in a decent little police procedural from the early 1980s, then you will enjoy Clark's series of mysteries. Three and a half stars.

This fulfills the "Professional Detective" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Where There's Love, There's Hate: Review

Where There's Love, There's Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo, literary luminaries from Argentina (and, incidentally, husband and wife), was first published in 1946. It was translated into English for the first time in 2013. Casares and Ocampo managed to produce an interesting mystery in the "British country house" style that is a clever murder mystery, a witty parody of those same Golden Age novels, and a highly literary piece of fiction all rolled into one. Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Ernst Powell have done an excellent job of translation with just a few minor passages having a slightly off-kilter feel.

Dr. Humberto Huberman, physician, writer, and inveterate busybody, has gone to the Hotel Central at seaside Bosque de Mar for a literary vacation. He is in search of a quiet place to work on his adaptation of Petronius. But instead of peace and quiet, he finds himself in the middle of murder. A pretty, young translator named Mary is found dead on the very first night of his stay--apparently poisoned. There had been ripples of jealousy between Mary and her sister Emilia over Emilia's fiance. There is also the matter of Mary's missing jewels. Although the police are immediately on the scene, Huberman takes it upon himself to investigate and give the officials pointers when he thinks it needed. 

The police are quite sure that Emilia is the guilty party--even when notations in her sister's hand are found that make it seem that Mary has committed suicide. Then the owner's young son goes missing as well as Emilia's fiance (who winds up being a top-level Inspector). Is anyone who they seem to be? And what really happened to Mary and her jewels?


This short piece is a fine little self-aware novel.  It makes no bones about being aware that it is a mystery story about mystery stories.  We have the police inspector who apparently takes the amateur into his confidence and who, apparently, is taking in all of Huberman's suggestions....but then goes on to ignore them. We have Huberman who finally comes round to the official view of the mystery...only to find they are all proved wrong. It is a very interesting look at the makings of a mystery story. Not terribly complex and good reading detectives will know who the culprit is.  But I don't think this detracts from the fun.  Four stars.


 This fulfills the "Translated Work" square for the Golden Vintage Bingo card.




Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Exit Actors, Dying: Review

Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (1979) is the first in a series of cozy, academic (according to my loosely-defined rules) mysteries featuring Penny Spring and Sir Toby Glendower. Penny is originally from New England, but throughout the series she is a lecturer at Oxford University specializing in anthropology. Sir Toby is a Welsh archaeologist, also from Oxford.  When we first meet them it is obvious that they have been friends for quite some time. They have a close relationship--filled with mutual respect and banter, sounding almost like an old married couple.

The mystery itself is an interesting one. Penny and Toby (he won't actually be knighted until after this adventure) are on a sight-seeing trip in Turkey--a busman's holiday of sorts, checking out ancient Greek ruins. Penny has gone on her own to look over a ruined amphitheater (before Toby can come along and give her the full archaeological lecture) when she stumbles over the body of a murdered young woman with a wound in her throat. By the time she makes it back to the small town where they are staying and convinces the local police to come investigate the body has disappeared. The chief of police is looking cross-eyed at her and is all set to lock her up for wasting valuable police time when Toby produces a body of his own. This time it is a young black man--a former football player who has been working with a film company that is in the area to film a movie entitled, “The Travels of Telemachus.”

The description of the woman Penny saw matches another member of the film company and when the actress doesn't show up as expected the police chief begins to credit what Penny claims to have seen.  Toby manages to charm the officials into letting Penny stay on the outside of the jail--and convinces the chief that he and Penny will have a better chance of getting information out of the "foreigners" in the film company. They also need to help the police get things wrapped up as soon as possible--Toby has a date with the Queen in ten days to claim his knighthood. The two set to work and soon have their choice of motives--jealousy over parts or love affairs? Drug smuggling gone bad?  Ditto for smuggling rare artifacts? It's seems like there was more going on with the film company than just making a movie....way more.

Overall, a very satisfying mystery. The solution is a bit twisty and tangled, but the pieces fit and there are clues along the way. I absolutely enjoyed the relationship between Penny and Toby and enjoyed getting to know them in this first outing.  I have several more of this series waiting in the TBR wings and I anticipate having a good time with them as well.  The one problem I had was with racial references.  Both the young black man and an Indian man are referred to as "bucks" in what is clearly a derogatory sense and the n-word is also thrown out there, to no purpose, as far as I can see. Yes, Arnold was trying to establish one of the characters as racist, but there was no point to it. It wasn't as if race was a major factor in the murders--or even brought in as a red herring. Had that been the case, then the racist language might have had some relevance.  Three stars for a good solid mystery.
 
Challenges Met: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Bookish TBR, Around the World, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, Women Challenge, Book Bingo, A-Z Reading Challenge, European Reading Challenge, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Book Monopoly, Scrabble

This book fulfills the "Set Anywhere But the US/England" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.

 

Challenge (-like Event) Complete: Sci-Fi Experience

2014sfexp200

Carl V over at Stainless Droppings was sneaky and his 2014 Sci-Fi Experience in December 2013 instead of January.  So...you'd think I'd have twice as many SF books as the one-month Vintage SF Event, right?  Well, no....but I still managed a very nice number--eight books in all.  Thanks again to Carl for sponsoring this awesome event every year!

1. Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald (1/26/14)
2. Dangerous Visions #3 by Harlan Ellison, ed (1/11/14)
3. Triumph by Philip Wylie (1/18/14)
4. The Big Eye by Max Ehrlich (12/27/13)
5. The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/2/14)
6. Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D Simak (1/6/14)
7. Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown (1/12/14)
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1/29/14)

Challenge (-like event) Complete: Vintage Science Fiction Month

Vintage SF badge

Well, I did pretty good with Little Red Reviewer's Vintage Science Fiction month event.  Any work of science fiction published prior to 1979 qualifies. I committed to reading at least two science fiction books dated 1979 or earlier and I got myself on an SF roll and managed seven!  What a great time visiting the world of speculative fiction!


1. The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [1913] (1/2/14)
2. Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak [1976] (1/6/14)
3. Dangerous Visions #3 by Harlan Ellison, ed [1969] (1/11/14)
4. Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown [1954] (1/12/14)
5. Triumph by Philip Wylie [1963] (1/18/14) 
6. Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald [1978--all stories pre-1969] (1/26/14)
7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick [1968] (1/29/14) 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

February Read It Again, Sam Reviews


Please post reviews below.
 
 




February Mount TBR Reviews


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February Vintage Bingo Reviews

 

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Death by Chick Lit: Review

Lola Summerville is jealous of all the chick lit authors who are signing book deals right and left and having their books optioned for film deals before the printer has finished spitting out their first run.  It doesn't help that everyone from taxi drivers to policemen are being asked to "tell their story" and make mega-bucks.  And it's not like Lola hasn't written a book.  She has and it's a good one--but no
one seems to notice.  And she hasn't heard from her agent in ages.

Then, up-and-coming chick lit authors start dying faster than the deals have been made. And Lola has to wonder if the murders are connected--is there a chick-lit-hating madman on the loose?  Will Lola be next?  And, if she isn't on the hit list....well, then, why the heck not?  Lola begins poking around when one of the suspects asks for her help and it isn't long before she's high-heels-deep in the mystery.  She figures that if she can point the way to the killer, then she'll be able to sell the story and get a mega-bucks movie deal. She'll finally get the attention she deserves. But that won't happen if her investigations make the killer notice her first.

This is a fun, light-hearted mystery that pokes fun at the publishing world and the chick lit genre without lampooning or being too sarcastic.  There are a lot of snappy, one-liners and a great deal of worry over relationships and impending mommy-hood--but all in good fun.  This is definitely the book for anyone who wants to mix their mysteries with a chick lit flavor.  There are several red herrings and a nifty twist to the plot before the culprit is caught.  And a nice little happy ending for Lola and her long-suffering hubby.  Three stars for a pleasant, fun read.

January Wrap-Up & POM Award

Once again in 2014 I will be combining my monthly wrap-up post with Kerrie's Crime Fiction Pick of the Month over at Mysteries in Paradise.


Illustration by Abby Wright

Well, I have managed to start the year off with a bang.  Nineteen books in the month of January!  Now....if I can only keep up the pace throughout the year!  Here are the details:


Total Books Read: 19
Total Pages: 4413

Average Rating: 2.93 stars
Top Rating: 5 stars (Triumph by Philip Wylie--post-apocalyptic SF)
Percentage by Female Authors: 16%

Percentage by US Authors: 63%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors: 16%
Percentage Mystery: 58%
Percentage Fiction: 95%
Percentage written 2000+: 5%
Percentage of Rereads: 5%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}  
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 0 (0%)




AND, as mentioned above,
Kerrie has started us up for another of Crime Fiction Favorites. What she's looking for is our Top Mystery Read for each month. In January, I read eleven books that may count as mysteries.

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell (2.5 stars)
The Skeleton in the Clock by Carter Dickson (3 stars)
Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell (3.5 stars)
The Wonder Chamber by Mary Malloy (2 stars)
The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1 star)
Seven Footprints to Satan by A. Merritt (3.5 stars) 
The Winter Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (2.5 stars) 
Death on the Aisle by Frances & Richard Lockridge (4 stars) 
The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry (2 stars)
Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton (3.75 stars)
Darkness at Pemberley by T. H. White (3 stars)

And of those eleven books I handed out one 4-star rating to Death on the Aisle by my old friends, the Lockridges.  I thoroughly enjoyed the escapades of Pam & Jerry North among the theatrical folk of New York City.  But I've featured them often enough that I am going to award January's P.O.M. to Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton.  Hamilton gives us a near-four-star story.  The characters are interesting and somewhat comic at times.  Cantrell makes for a nice, male version of the middle-aged busybody getting himself drawn into a bit of amateur detective work.  There are plenty of red herrings and a twist or two--and I could fully believe in the identity of the murderer when revealed.