Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Tuesday Night Bloggers: Phoebe Atwood Taylor's The Hollow Chest

The Tuesday Night Bloggers have been meeting now for several months with a group of us who are interested in golden age detective writers. We started with Agatha Christie back in late September and October and have now found ourselves looking forward to April and Phoebe Atwood Taylor--or Alice Tilton, as she sometimes liked to call herself. Curtis over at the Passing Tramp will be collecting our efforts month. I mistakenly thought that I had read far more of her work since starting the blog than I have. It looks like I need to get busy and read a few before next week's meeting. In the meantime, I have gone back to my only indepth review and have this to offer from 2013:

Long ago and far away, when I started this blog in April of 2010 (ooh my blogiversary is coming up....mustn't forget to celebrate!)--I kicked things off with a review of Alice Tilton's (aka Phoebe Atwood Taylor) Beginning With a Bash.  I had picked up several of her Leonidas Witherall books because I have this little weakness for academic mysteries and Witherall is a sometime instructor/owner/what-have-you of the Meredith Academy who looks a lot like William Shakespeare.  I read two of these light, madcap mysteries and began today's selection, The Hollow Chest, when I suddenly realized that there was such a thing as too much of a good thing.  As I said at the time:
"Well, I've finished the second of the Tilton series and made an attempt at the third. I've decided to give myself a rest from the madcap mysteries for a bit. I'm afraid that she seems to be stuck in a bit of rut. It's a bit much to swallow all the fortuitous circumstances that bring about the happy ending. Given all the bodies he stumbles over, young ladies bound and gagged in his house, his belongings that wind up in unfortunate proximity to the aforementioned bodies--it's a wonder "Bill Shakespeare" doesn't spend his life in jail. It's unfortunate that the charm has faded so fast because I really do like the character of Leonidas Witherall. I'm just having trouble believing more than six impossible things after breakfast."
I gave it up after only twenty-five pages.  And my previous self wasn't kidding--dead bodies, young ladies bound and gagged, incriminating evidence planted by dead bodies.  And that's just for openers.  Witherall returns home after escorting the Fifth Form on their annual outing--a day informally known as "Egg Day." While the point is to have a field trip that involves a rousing game of Fox and Hounds (with one boy playing the fox), every good fifth former knows to conceal eggs about his person because somebody, somewhere along the way is going to need a good egging.  When a General who is directing practice maneuvers comes into their sights--in a tank, no less--they know they have found their target.  Witherall has to lead the boys in a strategic retreat and finally winds up back at the school with all the boys intact....or so he thinks. He later learns that at some point they picked up a stray boy and lost the fox, Sandy Threewit--who just happens to be the ward of a very rich, very prominent lady who just might have money to donate to the Academy.  If their staff hasn't been careless enough to permanently lose her ward....
But...back to what I was saying...after returning home from these adventures, Witherall finds his home ransacked and a beautiful girl (who he doesn't know) bound, blindfolded, and gagged on his bed upstairs.  He starts to untie her bonds when the police arrive.  He manages to convince them that nothing strange is going on (he doesn't want to much attention from the police lest they discover that he's the man who was shepherding the boys who egged the general) and when he goes back upstairs he finds that the girl has disappeared.  Next up is a phone call from Mrs. Vandercook (guardian to the lost Threewit), she's not calling to inquire about the boy (thankfully), but she wants him to dress up in formal wear, go the corner of Eighth and Oak Streets, collect George and go to the Corner of Elm and Oak.  
Witherall attempts to do this and winds up finding people (and horses) who answer to the name George, a dead body in a car, an empty chest, and a mystery surrounding some missing bonds.  Instead of collecting "George," he collects a couple of young women, a soldier named Goldie, and the General who his boys had egged and together they get to the bottom of who killed the man in the car, who stole the missing bonds, and what happened to young Threewit.  All in a few hours one evening.  It makes me tired just writing about it.
I'm glad I waited a while to read this one.  I enjoyed it more than I seemed to be in 2010.  But I have to say that it didn't do as much for me as that very first installment did.  I do think that Tilton (Taylor) got stuck in a rut with these in a way that she didn't with her Asey Mayo books--I've read many of those and never got tired of Asey and his ways.  This is a fun read, fast-paced and very silly--definitely not a deep-thinking, intricate mystery kind of book.  Read it to escape for an evening....


Jacquie said...

About a year ago I stumbled onto quite a few of Taylor's paperbacks at a used book store. Someone had clearly cleaned out their stash. I bought most of them, starting with Cape Cod Mystery, the first Asey Mayo, but found it just so-so. So I haven't rushed back to the others. I like your suggestion that a brief break is sometimes needed. I will pick up "Death Lights a Candle" next, which I understand may be more enjoyable. Thanks! I continue to love your reviews and find myself looking backward more often than forward these days in my reading when I want to get lost in a really good read.

Bev Hankins said...

Jacqueline: I remember Death Lights a Candle as a particularly good one.