Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Summer School Mystery: Review

Participants at the summer music school at Falconbury plunge into their work with a little Wagnerand a symphony by Sibelius...little do they know that they ought to be playing a requiem.

The music school takes place in the country, but students come from all over--including the Royal School of Music in London. The conductor is disconcerted when Derek Fox (his student leader) and Belinda Power, the percussionist, fail to appear for the initial session. Derek then slips in just in time for the first musical pieces, but there is still no sign of his fiancée Belinda. The orchestra goes on without her, but Mr. Hanington, the conductor, is not at all satisfied with her replacement--reading him the riot act for not coming in on his part. When Godfrey Farre, the unlucky percussionist, insists that he had done his part properly and that something seemed to be wrong with the timpani, an inspection of the instruments seems to be in order. When they remove the head they find that there is something wrong with drum--something very wrong indeed.

Godfrey lifted his stick and brought it down on the largest of the three timpani. A curious dead sound came from it, as if a pile of leather had been struck. The whole orchestra turned and stared at him...

Stashed inside the largest drum is the body of a young woman who is immediately identified as Belinda Fox.

Inspector Fitch and Superintendent Mitchell immediately suspect the boyfriend when they learn that the young lovers often had disagreements. Derek turns to Dr. David Wintringham--Bell's leading gentleman sleuth--a medical man with a penchant for solving crimes. But Derek does little to help his own cause, giving Wintringham little information to back up his plea of innocence. The good doctor is forced to look for other suspects on his own. Fortunately, for Derek, there are several likely candidates--from the conductor who wanted to marry Belinda himself to the member of the Royal School of Music who had a sharp disagreement with her back in London to the aunt who would inherit upon her death to a roommate who may have had cause to want an apartment all to herself.

The first thing Wintringham must discover is what in the world in Derek hiding? And who is the killer if Derek is innocent? 
This mystery doesn't lack for clues. In fact, I think perhaps Bell sprinkled them a bit too liberally and/or obviously about. It wasn't difficult to figure out who did it and why. The plot is fine and the characters are well done. It was interesting to visit a British summer music school and the Royal School of Music, so the setting was good as well. But this winds up being a very middle of the road book for me. If I hadn't spotted the solution well before the end of the book, this would might have collected four stars, but as it is-- ★★

This was a prize from Freda over at Freda's Voice in the 100 Plus Reading Challenge--and, thus, the last book I received for free.  

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mount TBR Checkpoint #2

The year is almost half-way over....how does that happen so quickly? I must lose track of time just concentrating on the mountain trail ahead of me. But--it's that time again. Your mountaineering guide is calling for a second quarterly check-in post. Let us know how your climb has been so far. Seen any mountain goats? Any particularly pretty wildflowers? How about the abominable snowman? For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.

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

My Day in Books
I began the day with A Stitch in Time
before breakfasting on Strange Wine

and walked by Brighton Rock
to avoid [the] Playground of Death
but I made sure to stop at The Eye in the Museum

In the office, my boss asked me how to use The Diamond-Studded Typewriter
and sent me to research The Riddle of the Traveling Skull

At lunch with The Cavalier in White

playing a game of Ride the Pink Horse

When I got home that night, 
Finally, I went to bed and dreamed about Gods of Gold

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

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

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

Sign in below with your Checkpoint post.

Murder on Her Mind: Review

For the TBR First Lines square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card, I needed to pick out four books from the TBR stacks and, based on reading only the first line of each, decide on my next read. Here are the books I decided to sample.

Cocktails & the Killer by Peter Cheyney: Even today I don't know much about her.

Murder on Her Mind by Vechel Howard: It was some high-ranking saint's day, or maybe national carpenters' or mechanics' or bricklayers' day.

The Summer School Mystery by Josephine Bell: The two girls climbed down from the front seat of the lorry, and turned to lift out their belongings.

Death Lifts the Latch by Anthony Gilbert: The fog, that had begun as a grey mist about three o'clock, thickened as the afternoon drew on, until by night it hung, a thick grey blanket, obscuring London and the outlying suburbs.

Which first line strikes your fancy? As my post title indicates, I was struck by Vechel Howard's Murder on Her Mind (1959). I do have to confess--I couldn't keep my eyes from taking in the next line as well: Anyhow, it was one of those Mexican mornings when the dawn was shattered by a frantic tolling of church bells and fusillades of cannon crackers and gunfire. How could I resist? 

But, having now read the book, I think the most compelling quote comes from page 64: 

Death, in a silk suit, had just passed and the music of the wheel and the merry-go-round now sounded strictly like a dirge.

Private Eye Johnny Church is in Mexico--hired by Mrs. O'Dell in San Francisco to find out who killed her son with a .32 bullet in the forehead. There were three lovely ladies sharing his bed who might have had reason to kill him. A young, luscious blonde, a fiery redhead, and a smouldering brunette. Questioning those three closely is a hard job--requiring the personal touch--but Johnny is definitely up for the job. If you know what I mean. There is also O'Dell's ex-wife and his lawyer. She inherits everything upon his death and the lawyer may have had his hand in the till beforehand. There are whiffs of blackmail and a missing ex-convict. And there is someone taking potshots at Johnny as he makes his investigative rounds. There's also the little matter of the shadow who follows him wherever he goes. Johnny will hop in and out of a few beds, run through several theories, and find another dead body or two before he finally gets to the bottom of the case.

I'm afraid that this medium-boiled private eye story just isn't my particular cup of tea. I don't run to hard-boiled detective stories in general, but there have been a few that I've enjoyed. This one didn't go down quite as well. There isn't much detecting going on. And quite frankly I didn't see many clues hanging about for Johnny to pick up. When he talks about his various theories, he seems to be making them up out of thin air---an accusation thrown at him by one of the suspects. Most of the action involves Johnny's interactions with the various females in the story. And while the sex isn't graphic, it certainly is plentiful. ★★ --primarily for getting the book off the TBR pile and counting it for several challenges. But I will also give Howard credit for excellent descriptions and some apt turns of phrases.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case: Review

He spoke many languages and lied in all of them. (p. 6)

They say that truth is stranger than fiction and Humphrey Bogart finds out just how true that is in George Baxt's The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case (1995). Bogie is busy preparing for his role as Sam Spade in the 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon when he and his wife Mayo Methot are landed smack in the middle of a murderous treasure hunt of their own. Starting things off, Mayo's mother's home in Portland, Oregon is ransacked, but nothing is taken. The Bogarts' house is next on the list--but this time murder is added to the burglar's crimes when their housekeeper Hannah Darrow is killed. 

Meanwhile, a mysterious Italian contessa has arrived in Hollywood with her entourage--which includes her smooth-talking lover mentioned above--and suddenly the antique world and pawn shops alike are abuzz with rumors of a lost Chinese cornucopia said to be stuffed with fabulous jewels. Mayo remembers a story about her ocean-going papa, Captain Methot, bringing home such a cornucopia and she and Bogie wonder if the housewrecking killer thinks they have the prize.

The resemblance to the plot in The Maltese Falcon brings Dashiell Hammett and his acerbic lady Lillian Hellman into the chase, as well as the "Detective to the Stars," Herb Villon and his girlfriend, gossip columnist Hazel Dickson. More murders follow and it looks like everyone, from the washed-up silent film actress Karen Barrett to the greatest screen vamp of the twenties, Theda Bara, to studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn, has had his or her hands on the cornucopia at one time. There are several antique dealers interested in the missing souvenir and even Hollywood's trendiest interior decorator enters the hunt. But who wants the treasure bad enough to kill for it? Bogart slips into his Sam Spade persona and helps Villon track down the murderer....and maybe even the treasure.

As with The Dorothy Parker Murder Case this was a fun historical romp with lots of word play and quips. Parker and various other luminaries make their appearance and shine--no matter how briefly they are on stage. Baxt is adept at making the movie stars involvement in the detective business seem absolutely plausible. Light entertainment with no heavy mental lifting--but a great read for a lazy summer evening. ★★ and a half stars.

With a date of birth of June 11, 1923, George Baxt fulfills my June category for the Birthday Month Reading Challenge.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Whisper Murder!: Review

Dan Cumberland has returned to his hometown of Clayton, Minnesota for a period of recovery after covering the war in Europe (WWII). He has been helping his father with the town newspaper and is just about ready to return to write about Europe's post-war recovery when a series of hotel fires and the deaths of the hotel's owner and his wife set the town on its ear. The police, doctors, and the coroner's jury are all prepared to call the deaths an accident or suicide and the fires a simple case of bad luck (freezing temperatures and aging fire equipment) when Dan's nose for news and the insistent urgings of a mysterious caped woman force him to investigate the conflicting evidence and testimony. But his road to the answer is a bumpy one. He finds himself up against his old rival, now the D.A., a prominent professor of chemistry, the insurance representative, and even his own father. In fact, it initially appears that no one wants him to discover the truth. It would be better for everyone if he just let sleeping murderers lie. But then two more murders follow and Dan with eventual help from the police manages to uncover the plot behind the murders and capture the villain(s) of the piece. 

Whisper Murder! (1946) runs along at a rather fast and furious pace. Interesting characters and relationships. And Vera Kelsey gives us a good view of upper Midwestern life at the end of the war. The townspeople seem to have managed to keep their good solid ordinary hometown throughout the war years and they don't want anything (certainly not murder and/or arson) to disturb that. Their fondness for their hometown hero doesn't mean that they want him using his war journalist skills to dig up dirt at home. If they can just pretend that nothing bad has happened, maybe that will mean nothing did.

The weakness in the story (from a mystery lover's point of view) is that I don't think it's well-clued at all. Clues are gathered up and sent off for analysis, but their meaning isn't revealed until the final scenes. There is no chance for the reader to know how to connect them to the killer. So, the story winds up being more of an adventure than a puzzle to figure out. There is also another point in the grand finale that I didn't buy--but I can't explain without providing a major spoiler. Let's just say I wasn't completely satisfied. 

Overall--a nice period piece with good characters and interesting storyline. The mystery could have been a bit more solid (for puzzle-solvers) and a better explanation for the SPOILER would have made this a better than average read. ★★

The aforementioned professor is a pretty prominent member of the cast of characters--thereby shoving this one into the "Academic Mystery" category on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. It also gives me my fourth Bingo on that card.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The A.B.C. Murders: Review

I've mentioned before how difficult it is for me to review audio novels. I tend to just sink back and listen rather than pay attention to details and take notes for review comments. My latest session with Hercule Poirot in The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie (1936) is no different. It doesn't even help that I've read the novel before--because that was long ago when I was first discovering Christie. For the most part, I enjoyed this BBC production of the novel--although I have to admit, after watching David Suchet play Poirot and listening to several audio novels with him as the reader, I have been spoiled and I can't say that John Moffatt fulfills my ideal of Poirot's voice and intonation. It was nice to hear Philip Jackson's familiar voice as Inspector Japp The plot itself is quite good--even when one knows (as I do) the solution. It is still very interesting to listen to Christie work her magic and hear Poirot explain how he gets into the mind of the killer to discover who s/he is.

Just a small overview of the plot--for those who have yet to read this mystery classic or for those who need a refresher. Hercule Poirot receives a taunting letter challenging him to discover the identity of a killer before he or she strikes. The great detective is told to direct his attention to Andover--but Mrs. Ascher, a tobacco shop owner, is killed in her shop with an ABC Railway guide left on the counter before Poirot can even reach the town. Betty Barnard is next to die in Bexhill and then Sir Carmichael Clarke in Churston. It looks like England has a serial killer on its hands. Will Poirot be able to use his "little grey cells" to outwit the murderer before he can work his way through the rest of the alphabet?

This counts for the "Made into Movie/TV" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. The first adaptation of the novel came in the form of the 1965 film (The Alphabet Murders) starring Tony Randall as the Belgian sleuth.

And then in 1992, David Suchet played Poirot in the television adaption in the Agatha Christie's Poirot series.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Riddle of the Traveling Skull: Review

my edition
For it must be remembered that at the time I knew quite nothing, naturally, concerning Milo Payne, the mysterious Cockney talking Englishman with the checkered long-beaked Sherlock-holmsian cap; nor of the latter’s “Barr-Bag” which was as like my own bag as one Milwaukee wienerwurst is like another; nor of Legga, the Human Spider, with her four legs and her six arms; nor of Ichabod Chang, ex-convict, and son of Dong Chang; nor of the elusive poetess, Abigail Sprigge; nor of the Great Simon, with his 2163 pearl buttons; nor of–in short, I then knew quite nothing about anything or anybody involved in the affair of which I had now become a part, unless perchance it were my Nemesis, Sophie Kratzenschneiderwumpel–or Suing Sophie! (p. 13)

As you might gather from the excerpt above, Harry Stephen Keeler's The Riddle of the Traveling Skull (1934) pretty much has it all--jammed in every which way. This is one of the craziest concoctions I've ever read. Keeler seems to have no regard for the standard storytelling method and definitely doesn't subscribe to any of the "rules of detection fiction" that were bumping around in the Golden Age. He'll bring in Chinamen, have all sorts of coincidences, make you suspect the butler (valet)...and according to rumor even wrote a book where he introduced the murderer on the very last page. The only thing that's missing is the secret passage.

And yet...his style is compelling. It attracts the attention and the curiosity much the way those cliff-hanger serials in the movies (Perils of Pauline, anyone?) kept folks on the edge of the seat. Every chapter ends in such a way to leave the reader breathless and flipping the page as quickly as possible to see what new and unlikely twist Keeler is going to spring on his unsuspecting hero, Clay Calthorpe.

Poor Clay. All he wants is to return from his travels (in search of the rights to the rare Julu berry for use by his boss, Roger Pelton, in his wondrous wholesale candies), hand over the signed Julu berry papers, hide from Suing Sophie (who may try to sue him for breach of promise) and get down to the business of making the boss's daughter his wife. He hops off his train and catches a street car to his boarding house in Chicago, Illinois. At some point in the journey, his bag gets mixed with that of a harmless-looking clerical fellow and when he reaches his room and opens "his" bag he finds not his very own purple pajamas (!) but a polished, grinning skull. The skull has a silver name plate affixed to it, a bullet inside it and, in the wads of paper that keep the bullet from rattling around, he finds bits of carbon paper with snatches of phrases on them.

At first this oddity seems no more than the beginning of a curious adventure. But then he's lured to a deserted house (supposedly to exchange bags with the clerical gentleman), bashed over the head and robbed of the bag containing the skull. He later shares his adventures with his friend John Barr (inventor the famous Barr Bag--the kind he had) and his fiancee's family. As soon as Roger Pelton hears the story, he faints dead away. The next thing Clay knows he's no longer scheduled to marry the fair Doris Pelton--her father won't allow it. As far as Clay can tell it's all because of that dratted skull and so he determines to find the bag and get to the bottom of the skull story if it's the last thing he does.

There are so many twists and turns and surprises to this narrative that it would be difficult to give any more of a synopsis. Just know that in addition to those gems described in the quotation above, we also have a love triangle that inspires a murderous attack, a large sum of money embezzled from a bank, a ventriloquist's dummy, a pilfered safe, a train wreck, and the fictional country of San Do Mar, where no one can be extradited for a crime--any crime from stealing $100 from the till to cold-blooded murder.

I have to confess, when I got to the end of the story and All Was Revealed--I still couldn't tell you what really happened. I mean...I know what Keeler says happened. But the way he tells us--I don't know if I'm supposed to believe him. But you know what? I don't care. It was a wild and wacky ride and so much fun that it doesn't matter. This isn't necessarily the kind of mystery I'd want as a steady diet, but for an occasional flight of fancy it works very well. ★★

With a "Skull" in the title, this fulfills the "Something Spooky" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. The word "Traveling" is also the second clue in the Super Book Password Challenge. And, finally,
this counts as a second entry for Rich's Crimes of the Century feature for June. This month is focused on crime fiction from 1934. This is-the book that really made me ask for 1934.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Diamond-Studded Typewriter: Review

Well. The Diamond-Studded Typewriter (1958) by Carlton Keith was quite a pleasant little surprise. I had no idea what to expect from this volume when I added it to my already bulging bag of goodies at last year's Red Cross Book Fair. [That cover looks like he has laser beams shooting out of his body.] But I certainly wasn't going to pass on a first edition mystery with a nearly pristine dust jacket at bargain basement prices. [Don't ask me what that white splotch is...this is an actual scan of my cover and there is no splotch. Maybe there was something on the scanner....]

But enough preliminaries. What exactly do we have here? 

For starters we have James Garvin returning to his apartment after a trip to England and doing odd things with a typewriter, a few envelopes, and a beautiful diamond necklace. He no sooner finishes his little chores when an unknown (to the reader) person comes sneaking in through the kitchen and shoots him. 

Next up, we have Jeff Green--documents expert who specializes in identifying/verifying handwritten and typewritten materials. Jeff is brought into the case by Alice Anthony on behalf of her mother and herself. Her mother has seen the picture of James Garvin in paper and swears that the murdered man is her delinquent husband. The women want Jeff to use his expertise to prove that James Garvin and Albert Anthony were the same person so they can make a claim on any property he has left behind. It seems that Anthony cleared out the couple's bank account when he disappeared twenty-some years ago--leaving his wife and daughter in difficulties. 

The Puzzle Doctor over at In Search of the Classic Mystery has been discussing the issue of spoilers. And let me assure you--and him--that it is no spoiler to tell you that we also have a very soft tip of the hat to The Maltese Falcon. We don't venture very far into the story before we know that there are all sorts of characters who are interested in A. James Garvin for personal and financial reasons, B. the diamond necklace which he was known to be carrying, C. other bits and bobs that may have come back with him from England, or D. more than one or all of the above. All of these characters believe Jeff Green can help them with what they want. And they aren't inclined to take no for an answer. 

Joining the Anthony women in the search for Garvin's identity and/or his property are a smooth Englishman with some very rough-edged henchmen, a husky-voiced femme fatale who claims the necklace really belongs to her, and Anthony's former partner who claims to just be interested for old-time's sake. So, we have three women who may or may not be telling Jeff the truth about what they know and what they're looking for. At least one definitely isn't. There are men who don't mind roughing him up a bit to get what they want and who don't think a thing about searching a man's apartment without his consent. And there's at least one of these characters who won't stop at murder to get what s/he believes to be their just dues.

This is a caper story of sorts--there's no mystery about where the necklace is, the reader knows that in the very first chapter. The real question is: Will Jeff find it before the murderer does? And just who is the murderer anyway? The climax comes at a lonely hunting lodge in the forests of New Jersey with Jeff up against a killer who will make Jeff the next victim if s/he can catch him in the woods.

I was very happy to be so pleasantly surprised by this one. I'd never heard of Carlton Keith and when I found out that this is a pen name for Keith Robertson, a writer of children's stories, I still didn't know who he was. But he put together a nifty little caper and a very likeable protagonist in Jeff Green. Jeff plays by his own rules--law-abiding citizen for the most part, but not above stretching a point here or there to ensure that justice as he sees it is done. Not a puzzle plot, but recommended as a fun, light read. ★★★★

This serves as the second part of the first clue in my second Movie Title Password with "-Studded." The complete clue is "Star-Studded."

Friday, June 12, 2015

Falling Star: Review

And now for something completely different. Falling Star (1964) is a different kind of Patricia Moyes book than I've read to date. Till now each detective novel has been told in the third person, but Falling Star adopts Anthony "Pudge" Croombe-Peters as its first-person narrator. Pudge is a rather annoying fellow--both to the other characters in the story and to the reader. And quite a bit of time is spent trying to figure out if he's just an annoying, self-absorbed, snobbish member of the upperclass with too much time on his hands or if he's the unreliable narrator that he appears to be. This may be part of Moyes's plan to keep the reader too busy to spot the clues she obligingly provides.

There is also the fact that Moyes makes a fairly successful venture into the "impossible crime" genre for the second death. No, we don't have a locked room, but we do have an apparent suicide-turned murder (this isn't really a spoiler--it doesn't take long to realize there's something fishy about that death) where it appears that none of the likely suspects could possibly have committed the crime. Inspector Henry Tibbett spots a few clues here and there that tell him how the deed was accomplished. I missed it completely. Despite being shown exactly what he found.

It all starts on the set of a movie filming in 1960s London. Pudge Croombe-Peters represents the money angle of the production. He is a bored, wealthy middle-aged man who doesn't want to settle down to manage his father's estate. Getting himself talked into backing a brand-new film-company put together by his military buddy Keith Pardoe, his writer wife Biddy, and friend (and Producer-to-be) Sam Potman. They get the company off the ground and start filming a version of Biddy's script Street Scene. There are the usual cast conflicts with a prima donna leading lady who is determined to have her way about everything and to have her way with every available man and an aging (though still handsome) leading man who wants everything his way. 

The critical moment comes when they are prepared to film a crucial moment in the relationship between the two leading roles. It should be a very easy scene for Bob Meakin to play. All he needs to do is jam his eyeglasses on his nose, rush down the subway stairs, then look around wildly for his girl. But with the crew in position and the camera rolling, Meakin trips on the stairs, and falls directly beneath the wheels of the incoming train. The inquest declares it to be no more than an appalling accident and an insurance company is convinced enough to pay up on the policy which ensured the film company against just such accidents. But when a former member of the crew dies after falling out of her kitchen window, her mother shows up to dispute the ruling of suicide. This and subsequent events convince Inspector Henry Tibbett that murder was added to the script.

If it weren't for the annoying Pudge, this would be a full four-star book. The plot is quite good with plenty of twists and well-planted clues. Moyes does a very good job with her first impossible crime (the first I've read, anyway) and manages to come up with a fairly ingenious method for the killer to manage an alibi. I was quite taken in by the red herrings thrown across my path by the rather dim narrator--which would seem to be his best quality as far as the story goes. Henry Tibbett doesn't shine quite so well in this one, but I think that's because we're seeing him through Pudge's self-absorbed lens. Solid story earning ★★ and a half.

This counts as the "Entertainment World" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card. It also is the first half of a two-part clue for my second Movie Title Password. The clue is "Star."

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Line-Up: Review

The wealthy Timothy Arden dies in his sleep--apparently from natural causes resulting from a weak heart. But when a shabby man with a scar presents a check for $10,000 written by Arden in the name of his secretary, the bank officials get a little skittish. And their skittishness brings in Inspector McKee who heads to the Arden home to see if things are as fishy as the bank's attorney thinks they might be. He takes along his favorite physician Dr. Fernandez to give Arden the once-over. On the face of it, there's nothing to counter Arden's doctor's pronouncement. But McKee's interactions with the secretary, one George Benson, and the other members of the household set off alarm bells and he commits Fernandez to an autopsy.

McKee's instincts prove right. Arden was given a nice hefty dose of chloroform to speed his long, endless sleep. The D.A. is convinced that Benson is the culprit and greed is the motive, but McKee is sure that there is more to the murder than meets the eye. When Benson also falls prey to poisoning, he knows he's right. But the murderer is clever, covering his/her tracks well....and has already gotten away with one previous murder. Will McKee be able to find enough evidence to put a stop to the killing before more of Arden's family and friends fall victim?

The Line-Up by Helen Reilly (1934) would appear to take its title from the standard police procedure. Here, a police line-up parade serves not necessarily to identify the current murderer (although it may), but it definitely helps McKee to discover the alternate identity of one of his main suspects. That initial clue sets him on the trail that will lead straight to the clever mind behind the murderous plot. But there is also a nice line-up of suspects to sift through along the way. There's the son Eric who has creditor breathing down his neck and who could stand an early inheritance. And Eric's wife Diana--a real beauty who likes nice things and would like Eric to have more money to spend on them. And Daisy, Timothy's daughter, who happens to love a man that Daddy didn't approve of...and who seems not too bothered that Daddy isn't around to disapprove any more. Daisy's darling is Dr. Philip Lawless--not only did Timothy take exception to his attentions to Daisy, he booted Lawless out as his personal physician when he discovered his intentions. Add in Diana's mother, Daisy's godmother, and a mystery woman who visited Arden when no one else was home and McKee has his choice of culprits.

After Reilly presents us with a nicely done police procedural in which we follow McKee and company as they track down clues and make connections between the suspects, she gives us a lovely wrap-up in Golden Age style. McKee calls the group together, runs through all the evidence (pointing first here and then there), and finally springs a surprise witness or two on them. It's quite fun and when the dust settles and the villain is unmasked, we see that Reilly has also played fair with us. The clues are there for the taking...if the reader is clever enough to spot them. ★★ and a half--verging on four.

This counts as a first entry for Rich's Crimes of the Century feature for June. This month is focused on crime fiction from 1934. Thanks to Rich for taking my suggestion for the year. Up next--the book that really made me ask for 1934.

The Silver Leopard: Clue #4 for Super Book Password

I had intended to reread Helen Reilly's The Silver Leopard for an entry in my Super Book Password Challenge. But the book is packed away and I don't feel much like sorting through boxes. So...since I need the book as a clue, I'll give you all the write up from when I read it originally... 

Reilly's career reached from 1930-1962. She was one of the first authors to feature police procedure in her work and she based her novels on research she had done on the New York homicide squad. Inspector Christopher McKee is her central detective and she shows him at work with a full complement of supporting officers--from fingerprint men to detectives ordered to shadow suspects. The Silver Leopard leans a little more towards the suspenseful Had I But Known school of her later works, but McKee still has a major role.

In this mystery Inspector McKee faces a knotty problem involving the members and friends of one of New York's oldest and most prosperous families. They are all privileged, suave, and used to getting their own way. At the center is Catherine Lister whose uncle passed away several years ago, but who still has ties to her Aunt and two cousins. Aunt Angela announces that she plans to remarry--her intended is an old family friend, the famous portrait painter Michael Nye. Catherine is then summoned to Nye's studio where she walks into a situation destined to make her the prime suspect in Nye's murder. The door is on the latch and there is a trail of clues leading straight to her and the silver leopard statue that Catherine's uncle had sent to her just before his death. When McKee becomes involved, his investigation will lead from downtown NYC to an old, run-down country inn and a lonely house in another state. The District Attorney begins to pressure him to arrest Catherine, and McKee has to walk the tightrope between keeping the girl's freedom and protecting her from the danger of her own death.

There is a lot of suspense in this one...and a definite atmosphere intended to imply that if Catherine had just paid attention to a few details then she might have known that someone would be desperate enough to at least frame her for murder if not murder her as well. But this is all nicely balanced with the clear, well written police procedure scenes with McKee. McKee follows the book, but also allows his compassion and humanity to see through to the real culprit.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever:Mini-Review

Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever is a graphic novel adaptation (by Scott & David Tipton) of Ellison's original screenplay for arguably Star Trek's best television episode. According to Ellison's introduction, the Tipton's have done a perfect job representing his original vision: "I could not have pictured it as perfect as it has turned out." And perfect it is. Ellison's vision, per usual, is a bit darker than the televised episode, but it also digs even deeper into Captain Kirk's psyche and the loneliness he feels as the man in charge. Ellison has presented readers with an intelligent story with meaning and he does us the great courtesy of assuming that we are fairly bright people who don't need absolutely everything explained. He lets the story speak for itself. That's a great gift from a writer.

There are a few differences between the screenplay and the episode that I'd like to point out. First, there is very little McCoy here. The character who goes a bit crazy and winds up going back in time to change history in the teleplay is a drug-dealing, murderous rogue lieutenant, not our favorite doctor accidentally injected with a full hypo. McCoy shows up just once, to attend to the man Lieutenant Beckworth attacked...and then not by name. And, of course, having a drug-dealer on board the flagship of the Federation is another change. It is also nice to see Yeoman Rand represented as a competent, serious member of the crew and not just secretarial eye candy for Kirk. The other biggie is the role of Trooper, the down-and-out WWI soldier who helps Kirk and Spock find Beckworth. 

Trooper, it seems to me, was a huge loss for the televised version. The contrast between his historical value and the value of Edith Keeler is vivid and poignant. It makes a statement about sacrifice as well. Spock's sacrifice in Wrath of Kahn is important--but he makes the sacrifice for his friends and his shipmates. Trooper also sacrifices--but his sacrifice benefits strangers...and ultimately humanity's future. Hard-hitting stuff from a master story-teller.

As far as the graphic novel goes--it is gorgeous. The teleplay has been expertly adapted for the graphic novel and the artwork is impressive. Most of the regular crew members look as we expect--McCoy's brief appearance being the only exception, but perhaps since he wasn't center stage he was given quite the attention that Kirk, Spock and Rand received. Overall, a fantastic graphic novel that any Trek fan should make part of their collection. ★★★★

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Darling Dahlias & the Cucumber Tree: Review

The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree is the first book in Susan Wittig Albert's historical mystery series set in the Alabama of the 1930s. The Dahlias are the local garden club--a group of mostly middle-aged southern ladies determined to make the best of things even though the Great Depression has its grip on the country. They have just recently inherited the home of Dahlia Blackstone and made it their new clubhouse as well as adopting Mrs. Blackstone's first name for their garden club. Mrs. Blackstone's nephew was a bit miffed when the the will was ready. His wife had already picked out curtains and he was counting the money from the sale of their previous home.

The ladies have barely moved into the clubhouse before folks begin seeing the fabled Cartwright ghost (one of Mrs. Blackstone's relatives) wandering about the attached garden, spade in hand. Rumors say that Cornelia Cartwright is searching for her baby's coffin....or her baby's shoes...or maybe even the Cartwright family silver which was supposed to be hidden from the Yankees during the War Between the States. And it looks like the passing of her descendent has caused Cornelia to walk again. But that isn't the only disturbance in the town of Darling, Alabama. There is an escaped prisoner in the area, trouble at the local bank, a stolen car, and the murder of the beautiful Bunny Scott.

When the sheriff tries to pass Bunny's death off as an accident and to fasten the bank's troubles on a bank teller who is a friend of the Dahlias, the garden club ladies decide to do a bit of detecting of their own. They hunt down clues and talk to suspects and, since they're Southern ladies, they manage to do it without breaking a sweat or having a hair out of place. Given the time and place in which this is set, the men are a bit condescending and the ladies don't buck the system--when they finally put all the pieces together, they ask a lawyer (the boss of one of them) to take the evidence to the sheriff because they know full well that he won't take them seriously.

This is a very slow-moving, fluffy book. Lots of descriptions of gardens and houses and who is related to whom. A run-down of all the flowers in the gardens. A full menu of various foods through-out. And...well, another reason the ladies don't break a sweat while detecting is that they don't do a whole lot of it. Clues tend to fall into their laps and every person they talk to answers all their questions without batting an eye. If we took out all the extras and the book was straight detection only, the story would be about two and a half chapters long. The clues are all there and the solutions to the various problems shouldn't come as a major surprise--especially the "mystery" of the ghost.

That said, Albert does know how to write a historical novel. The pacing is perfect for the Depression-era South. And her details really give a good impression of the time period. The Dahlias are very believable characters and it was a lot of fun meeting them. Overall, a nice pleasant read--just don't expect an intricate puzzle plot. ★★

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Double Cross Purposes: Review

Double Cross Purposes (1937) was written by Ronald A. Knox, an English priest, respected theologian. Monsignor Knox in his religious capacity served as chaplain to Oxford--providing suitable Catholic lectures when C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien trod the hallowed halls--as well as translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into English using Hebrew and Greek sources. But in his spare time, he was a founding member of the Detection Club, penned the Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction, and authored six detective novels--five of which feature Miles Bredon. Bredon is an investigator who is often called upon by the Indescribable Insurance company to investigate suspicious circumstances connected with their insurance policies. Double Cross Purposes is the last of these novels.

This time Bredon is called to duty when the Indescribable provides a policy against fraud for would-be treasure hunter, the Honoroable Vernon Lethaby. Lethaby is the younger son of nobility and well-known for as a notorious, man-about-town. He will do anything for a lark or just to help a journalistic pal with a story sure to make a splash. And, being always short on cash, when an opportunity to do something outrageous with the possibility of profit comes along, there's no holding him back.

Lethaby spent his tender years in Scotland and remembers a rather treasure-mappish sort of sketch lurking somewhere on the walls of Dream Castle set amongst the burns and glens of the land along the river Dounie. There were also rumors that Bonnie Prince Charlie left some of his valuables hidden about the area and putting two and two together Lethaby dreams of making four times as much cash as he might need. Speaking of "need"--he needs someone to do the heavy lifting and spadework so he throws in his lot with a dubious man of travels and experience, one "Digger" Henderson so named because he's quite the digging prodigy. But, being the cautious sort, Lethaby takes out a policy with the Indescribable to cover him for fraud if his new friend happens to run off with all  the doings.

So...having struck a deal with the current "king" of Dream Castle to go in halfsies on any treasure found, Lethaby and Henderson make plans to hunt on an island in the river Dounie. Meanwhile, the Indescribable sends Bredon, along with his wife Angela and friend, Mr. Poultney as cover, to keep an eye on the two treasure hunters and make sure there is no funny business that will defraud the company. Mr. Poultney is an elderly schoolmaster who shall use salmon fishing as a cover to keep watch on the other side of the island.

To everyone's surprise, the two men actually do strike gold--well, treasure of a sort, anyway. But then a fire, a murder, a treasure that disappeared after it should have, a drugged treasure hunter (no, I'm not going to tell you who), a ghostly, coffin-laden boat, mysterious lights, and a few midnight swims later Bredon is still trying to figure out if fraud has been (or is going to be) done, who died, who disappeared, and if anybody is crossing or double-crossing anybody else.

This is a quite lovely Golden Age Detective story--in every sense of the word. It was written between the wars, it's fairly clued, and it has a nifty, intricate puzzle plot. What more could a GAD-lover want? It has disguises and maps and suspicious chauffeurs. It has a curse on the treasure and a missing key. There is minister who seems a tad too interested in the treasure hunt and policemen who don't seem interested enough in dead bodies. The banter between Bredon and his wife is witty and I enjoyed their good-natured teasing of their schoolmaster friend. Poultney is every inch the pedant (who will tell you the origins of any word or phrase at the drop of a hat), but he is also an over-grown school boy just dying to play at sleuth hound with big kids. He is utterly delightful when he discovers a major clue and springs it upon Bredon. I had a great deal of fun with this one even though I guessed part (but not all!) of the solution. ★★★★

This fulfills the "Involves Clergy/Religion" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card--both because it was written by a Catholic priest and because of the minister who keeps popping in and out of the story.