Some of Bev's Favorite Quotes...



Attention All Challengers! I have returned from the Wild West and have posted review sites where needed. I am working on the Check-in Posts for the Just the Facts & Mount TBR challenges. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

July Wrap-Up & P.O.M. Award



It's time to put together my wrap-up post for July. I also have a contribution for Kerrie's Crime Fiction Pick of the Month. I got a fair amount of reading done--though it does look like I need to reevaluate the number of pages I'm going to get read per year. I used to average over 40,000 pages. I'm going to be lucky to hit 30,000 this year. But..let's focus on July. Here's what happened here on the Block last month....

Total Books Read: 14
Total Pages:  3,137
 

Average Rating: 3.43 stars   Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 36%

Percentage by US Authors: 57%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  7%
Percentage Mystery:  100% 
Percentage Fiction: 100%
Percentage written 2000+: 29%
Percentage of Rereads: 14%
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: 19 (59%)


AND, as mentioned above,
Kerrie had us all set up for another year of Crime Fiction Favorites. What she was looking for is our Top Mystery Read for each month. July was a hugemonth for mysteries with 100% coming from that field--for a total of  fourteen crime novels. Here are the books read:
 

The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji (4 stars)
 A Pinch of Poison by Frances & Richard Lockridge (5 stars) 
All Fall Down by L. A. G. Strong (3 stars) 
The Ticking Clock by Frances & Richard Lockridge (2 stars) 
Checkmate to Murder by E. C. R. Lorac (4 stars) 
The Poet's Funeral by John M. Daniel (2 stars) 
The Devil in Bellminster by David Holland (3 stars) 
The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne (4 stars) 
The Warsaw Anagrams by Richard Zimler (4 stars) 
Too Good to Be True by J. F. Hutton (3 stars) 
A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow (3 stars) 
A Dead Man in Athens by Michael Pearce (3 stars) 
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers (5 stars) 
The Mirabilis Diamond by Jerome Odlum (3 stars)
   

As we can see, two books came away with 5 stars--A Pinch of Poison by Frances & Richard Lockridge and The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers. However, both of these are rereads and the authors have already walked away with the P.O.M. award in previous years. I like to spread the wealth here at the Block. In the next tier (4 stars), we have The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji, Checkmate to Murder by E. C. R. Lorac, The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne, and The Warsaw Anagrams by Richard Zimler. 

The Lorac book is another excellent fog-shrouded police procedural starring Inspector MacDonald with delightful characterization. But Lorac has won before, so out she goes. The Red House Mystery is Milne's only adult detective novel. And it is a very nice Golden Age offering with lots of fun banter between the amateur detective, Antony Gillingham, and his "Watson," Bill Beverley, but not quite a P.O.M. winner. And then there were two. Which provides a suitable intro to the first of our finalists. Ayatsuji's The Decagon House Murders is a daring homage to the Golden Age detective novel and, most particularly, to Agatha Christie's classic impossible crime novel, And Then There Were None. This is a highly enjoyable puzzle-plot mystery. Since it is focused on the puzzle aspect, the characterization suffers a bit, but not enough to keep mystery fans from enjoying themselves. The solution to the mystery is quite audacious and, while I kept wondering if perhaps X might be the killer, I couldn't figure out how it would be possible. The clues are there if you just know how to interpret them. Our other finalist, The Warsaw Anagrams (2009) by Richard Zimler, is a heartbreaking historical thriller set in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. It centers on the murders and disfigurement of Jewish children--and specifically on the murder of Erik Cohen's nephew. Erik sets out to discover who is killing so specifically in the shadow of the Nazi regime's extermination camps.

But we can't have two winners, so our July P.O.M. Award goes to The Warsaw Anagrams by Zimler.



Zimler creates a very moving and intriguing story in the midst of the overall horror of the Nazis' atrocities. He also creates a sense of hope in the midst of hopelessness by focusing on the simple, everyday activities of the Jewish people within the Ghetto--from the children going secretly to school and forming a choir to the small kindnesses that neighbors extend to one another to the few Polish Christians who risk punishment by providing what they can for the Jews they know behind the barbed wire. It is an absorbing and heart-breaking story and well worth your time whether you are looking for a World War II setting or a mystery thriller.




The Mirabilis Diamond: Review

John Steele is just your average private eye. He's got a run-down office and a secretary who often threatens to walk out, but who is loyal to a fault and can't help thinking that this time he'll actually earn a fee (and she'll finally get paid). In The Mirabilis Diamond (1945 by Jerome Odlum) he's got a mysterious client with two tough-guy body guards who doesn't want Steele to know where he lives, but does want him to track down an archaeologist who has just dug up a diamond worth a million bucks. There will be several attacks on his life. He will be framed for a couple of murders. And a gorgeous little dame will cling to him, call him "Johnny" (which he hates), and insist that all she wants is to find her father (the archaeologist) and doesn't have any interest in any silly old diamond (insert eyelash-batting here). 

When Steele arrives in Baja California, the last known locale of the archaeologist and his diamond, he finds that he's not the only one looking for the man and the gem. In fact, people hot on the trail keep popping in and out like regular little jacks-in-the-boxes. Or like something I've seen before...maybe...The Maltese Falcon. Yeah. Like that. Only not as good.

That's the verdict I'm left with on this one. It strikes me as a knock-off of Hammett's terrific novel. You've got your fabulous, legendary treasure, your tough good guy, your not-so-on-the-level clients, your itchy-trigger-finger sidekick to the chief treasure hunter (or in this case, itchy-knife-throwing-hand), and the dubious gorgeous dame making eyes at our hero. Does the story play out exactly like Falcon? Well, no. But it's definitely crafted in that pattern and unfortunately it pales in comparison. It's got a decent plot line and Steele is actually a little more three-dimensional than a lot of hard-boiled private eyes. This brings it in at a solid ★★, which--had the plot line not been so well-worn--might have ranked higher. I'd definitely be interested in giving Odlum another try--particularly if any of his other novels feature John Steele.

***************
This counts for the "Skull" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bev's Birthday Bonanza

The past few years July has turned into the "Month of Bev" as far as birthday books are concerned--or "Bevember" as my friend Noah dubbed it last year. True to form, the books have been pouring in, thanks to the generosity of my husband, my parents, my in-laws, and my grandma. Here's a run-down of the new-to-me books that have arrived to help me celebrate during the month of July:

Buying Spree at Half Price Books
The Snake on 99 by Stewart Farrar (1st edition hardback w/dust jacket)


 
By the Light of the Study Lamp by Carolyne Keene (Dana Girls #1; tweed cover hardback)
The Polka-Dot Nude by Joan Smith
Wycliffe & the Three-Toed Pussy by W. J. Burley
The Ruby Raven by Michael Dahl
Most Baffling, Mrs. Hudson by Sydney Hosier

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (Armed Services Edition #Q-2)




Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie (Dell #11052)
Murder in Retrospect by Agatha Christie (Dell #6030)
An Air That Kills by Margaret Millar




E-Bay Buying Extravaganza
The Case of the Crumpled Knave by Anthony Boucher (Mystery Book of the Month, Inc.)


 
4 Feet in the Grave by Amelia Reynolds Long (Bart House #13)
The Rynox Murder Mystery by Philip MacDonald (Superior Reprint #M642)
Warrant for X by Philip MacDonald (Pocket Books #328)
A Pinch of Poison by Frances & Richard Lockridge (Avon #502)
Murder in a Hurry by Frances & Richard Lockridge (Avon #484)
Stand Up & Die by Frances & Richard Lockridge (Graphic Books #82)
Murder is Out by Lee Thayer (Bart House #16)


 
Ghost of a Chance by Kelley Roos (Dell Mapback #266)
The Frightened Stiff by Kelley Roos (Dell #687)
Death of a Peer by Ngaio Marsh (Pocket Books #475)
Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh (Pocket Books #297)
The Corpse with the Grimy Glove by R. A. J. Walling (Popular Library #139)



Alarm in the Night by Stewart Sterling (Dell Mapback #513)
Five Alarm Funeral by Stewart Sterling (Dell #816) 
The Voice of the Corpse by Max Murray (Bantam #358)



The Egyptian Cross Mystery by Ellery Queen (Pocket Books #227)
The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen (Pocket Books #71)
Killing the Goose by Frances & Richard Lockridge (Armed Services Edition #950)





The Dog It Was That Died by E. C. R. Lorac (hardcover, Crime Club edition w/dustjacket)

 

Plus two better copies of The Norths Meet Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge (Pocket Books #166) and The Spanish Cape Mystery by Ellery Queen (Pocket Books #146)

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Nine Tailors (audionovel): Review

The New Year holiday finds Lord Peter and Bunter traveling to the fen country to stay with friends of his lordship. On the way, the Daimler has a misunderstanding with a narrow, hump-backed bridge and the pair find themselves nose down in a ditch. They make for Fenchurch St. Paul and soon become acquainted with most of the main characters in the upcoming mystery. A bout of influenza has also arrived in Fenchurch St. Paul and the Rector finds himself one man short for the bell-ringing scheduled to bring in the New Year. Fortunately, Lord Peter has rung a bell or two in his time and he gallantly offers to fill the gap. This gives him the opportunity to befriend and exchange gossip with most of the central actors.

A couple of months later finds a grave being opened to bury Sir Henry Thorpe with his wife (who had succumbed to the 'flu over New Year's). The gravediggers are surprised to find an unexpected corpse--the body of an unknown man, with features disfigured, and no coffin. The Rector decides to call in Lord Peter and he assists Inspector Blundell in the unraveling of the this very complicated case. Who is the man in the grave? How and when did he get there? Does it have anything do with the emeralds that were stolen at Sir Henry's wedding many years ago?


When I took off for a three-hour trip to visit my parents last weekend, I took along Lord Peter Wimsey, Mr. Bunter and the rest of the folks that we meet at Fenchurch St. Paul. Or rather the remarkable talents of Ian Carmichael who brought them all to life. I thoroughly enjoyed Carmichael as Wimsey in the visual adaptations and only wish that things had worked out when the project was first broached so Carmichael could have played him when younger. Ideally, of course, they would have started at the beginning and been able to go all the way through to Busman's Honeymoon (if only those dratted rights could be wrestled away from MGM). Carmichael did a splendid job voicing the multitude of male characters--from Wimsey and Bunter to the Rector and all the bell-ringers to Cranton, the jewel thief. The female voices were bit tougher for him, but he still managed to produce distinctive tones for Mrs. Venables, Hilary Thorpe, and the others. Since the story is so very familiar to me (I can't tell you how many times I've read it), I was able to lose myself in the storytelling and the miles just flew by on my journey there and back. A thoroughly enjoyable audio novel--with a story from one of the Queens of crime. ★★★★


A Dead Man in Athens: Review

A Dead Man in Athens by Michael Pearce is set in Greece during 1912. The country is on the brink of war and there is much unrest--tension between the Greeks and the Ottoman Empire; tension between the older Greeks who have seen enough of war and the young, eager Greek men who want to prepare for war and want to use the new aircraft, the French Blériot machines, to help in the impending hostilities; and tensions surrounding the exiled former Sultan who is living in Salonica. 

When the ex-Sultan's beloved cat is poisoned, he believes that it was just a trial-run for an attempt on himself and creates quite a fuss. The British Consulate, as a more neutral party in the area, offers to bring in a detective to investigate the matter discreetly and send for Inspector Seymour of Scotland Yard. The Yard man who is well-known for his skill as a detective as well as his command of several languages has investigated several odd crimes in various far-flung areas of the world. But this is the first time he's been asked to investigate the death of a cat. Then the ex-Sultan begins having intense stomach cramps and it looks like he may have been right about the true target. But what about the death of a British man who was involved with the new aircraft? Does that connect somehow to the poisonings in the Sultan's household? Seymour will have to find out.

Once again Pearce does an excellent job evoking the time and place for his historical mystery. His descriptions are brief but the reader has a definite understanding of the tensions building in this area of the world just prior to the First World War. We are also given a nice peek at a harem--both the general operations and the machinations at work amongst the inmates. He tends to  devote a great deal of time to dialogue and tangible clues aren't exactly thick on the ground but he does sprinkle enough hints throughout the conversation that one can (and I did) identify the culprit.  

I did find the poisoning of the cat to be interesting. Apparently (it hasn't been entirely clarified), the poison was in the milk. But the cat smelled it and rejected the milk until it was fed candies with marzipan which somehow dulled the sense of smell to the extent that it later drank the milk. Was this a two-part plan? Was the marzipan fed to the cat on purpose and, if so, was the poison really in the chocolates? I found myself more intrigued by the cat's death than the attempt on the ex-Sultan and the death of the British man.....Another solid entry in the historical series. ★★★ 

Challenge Complete: 20 Books of Summer

20booksfinal 



 
 
Thanks to the Puzzle Doctor over at In Search of the Classic Mystery I discovered another Reading Challenge that didn't interfere with my "Read from the TBR" plan for 2016. It originated at the 746 Books blog – and it didn't provide too much trouble for dedicated readers. The challenge was to read twenty books over the summer (technically the 1st of June to 5th September). Last year I managed to squeeze in 39 books over that same time period--and I have now completed my 20th book!

Here's my list:

1. Murder in Amsterdam by A. J. Baantjer (6/3/16)
2. Midnight in Lonesome Hollow by Kathleen Ernst (6/4/15) 
3. The Cinnamon Murders by Frances Crane (6/6/16)   
4. A Is For Arsenic by Kathryn Harkup (6/8/16)
5. The Mystery Woman by J. U. Giesy & Junius B. Smith (6/12/16)   
6. The Silent Women by Margaret Page Hood (6/13/16)
7. Certain Sleep by Helen Reilly (6/16/16)
8. The Seven Wonders of Crime by Paul Halter (6/19/16)
9. The Ticking Clock by Frances & Richard Lockridge (7/8/16)
10. Too Good to Be True by J. F. Hutton
11. Murder in Any Language by Kelley Roos (6/21/16)
12. Bodies & Souls edited by Dann Herr & Joel Wells (6/28/16)
13. High Rhymes & Misdemeanors by Diana Killian (6/30/16)
14. The Devil in Bellminster by David Holland (7/13/16)
15. The Red House by A. A. Milne (7/15/16)
16. The Titanic Tragedy by William Seil (6/28/16)
17. The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins (6/19/16)
18. A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow (7/22/16)
19. The Poet's Funeral by John M. Daniel (7/12/16)
20. The North's Meet Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge (6/30/16)
 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Cold Day for Murder: Mini-Review

A Cold Day for Murder (1992) by Dana Stabenow is the first novel in a series starring Kate Shugak and it won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. Kate is an Aleut Indian who left her rather insular home and headed out into the world, winding up the star investigator of the Anchorage D.A.'s office. Her last case in that office was rather horrific involving abuse of a young girl by her father--resulting in emotional trauma for both Kate and the young girl; a scar and damaged voice for Kate; and Kate leaving the D.A.'s office and retreating to her Aleut roots in the far Alaskan north. 

When a young national park ranger with ties to an East Coast senator disappears and then the investigator who is sent to trace him disappears as well, Kate's old boss Jack comes calling and asks for her help. She finds herself asking questions of some of her friends and family--and butting heads with her grandmother who is the real power behind the local Aleut governing body. Her loyalties will be tested and she and Jack will risk their lives before proving what happened to the missing men.

I finished this book just before heading out for a weekend at my parents, so I didn't write up my review in a timely fashion--which means this one is going to be shorter than usual.

Kate is a good heroine in the making. I was a bit disappointed in the action scenes and the the overall mystery solution. There were few clues for the reader and it made it difficult for the reader to arrive at the solution along with Kate. Most of the earnings in the star department come from the descriptions--of the Alaskan setting, of the ways of the Aleut Indians, of Kate's relationships with her family and friends (particularly her grandmother), and of Kate herself. The plot is not nearly as strong as I would expect from an Edgar winner, but it was strong enough to encourage me to keep my eye out for more books in the series. I hope that future books will make more of the mystery plot. 

Overall, a good solid debut novel with interesting characters, a strong female lead, and an excellent sense of place. ★★★ 


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tuesday Night Bloggers: A Final Dose of Poison


During the month of July The Tuesday Night Bloggers chose a theme with a bit of bite to it. We decided to examine poisons, poisoners, poisonous atmospheres, and even poison pens--if it could be connected to poison in any way, it was fair game this month.  If you'd like to join us as we wrap up our month of poisonous mayhem, please stop by for group discussion and I'll add your posts to the list. We tend to focus on the Golden Age of crime fiction--generally accepted as published between the World Wars, but everyone seems to have a slightly different definition and we're pretty flexible. Essays on more recent crime fiction are welcome as well.

We will be taking a break from our Tuesday Night meetings during the month of August, but be sure to check back in September to see what topic pops up for discussion.
This week's Poison Experts:
Brad @ ahsweetmysteryblog: "Ellery Queen & the Poisonous Quartet"
Curtis @ The Passing Tramp: "Name Your Poison (1942) by Helen Reilly"
Helen @ Your Freedom and Ours: "The Norths Face Poisoners and the Cases Are Screwy"

This month in Review:
**********
Currently, I'm reading a non-vintage historical mystery that revolves around poisoning of a different sort. A Dead Man in Athens by Michael Pearce is set in Greece during 1912. The country is on the brink of war and there is much unrest--tension between the Greek and the Ottoman Empire; tension between the older Greeks who have seen enough of war and the young, eager Greek men who want to prepare for war and want to use the new aircraft, the French Blériot machines, to help in the impending hostilities; and tensions surrounding the exiled former Sultan who is living in Salonica. 

When the ex-Sultan's beloved cat is poisoned, he believes that it was just a trial-run for an attempt on himself and creates quite a fuss. The British Consulate, as a more neutral party in the area, offers to bring in a detective to investigate the matter discreetly and send for Inspector Seymour of Scotland Yard. The Yard man who is well-known for his skill as a detective as well as his command of several languages has investigated several odd crimes in various far-flung areas of the world. But this is the first time he's been asked to investigate the death of a cat. Then the ex-Sultan begins having intense stomach cramps and it looks like he may have been right about the true target. But what about the death of a British man who was involved with the new aircraft? Does that connect somehow to the poisonings in the Sultan's household? Seymour will have to find out.

I have not finished this one, so I can't comment on how effective the mystery plot is, but I did find the poisoning of the cat to be interesting. Apparently (it hasn't been entirely clarified), the poison was in the milk. But the cat smelled it and rejected the milk until it was fed candies with marzipan which somehow dulled the sense of smell to the extent that it later drank the milk. Was this a two-part plan? Was the marzipan fed to the cat on purpose and, if so, was the poison really in the chocolates? At this point I'm more intrigued by the cat's death than the attempt on the ex-Sultan and the death of the British man.....
 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Challenge Complete: Semi-Charmed Summer 2016

photo via @megtristao
 
I just completed the latest round of the  Semi-Charmed Book Challenge series. I've racked up the full 200 points by reading the following books. Thanks to Megan for sponsoring this one.
5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 150 pages long. The Cinnamon Murder by Frances Crane [214 pages] (6/6/16)

10 points: Read a collection of short stories or essays. They may all be written by the same author, or the book may be an anthology from different writers; your choice! Bodies & Souls edited by Dann Herr & Joel Wells (6/28/16)

10 points: Read an adult fiction book written by an author who normally writes books for children. Examples: J. K. Rowlins, Judy Blume, Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, etc. - Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Kelly E. The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne (7/15/16)

15 points: Read a book set in Appalachia. - Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Ericka B. (Try this list or this one for inspiration. And here’s a map if you have a book in mind and want to know if it fits the setting.) Midnight in Lonesome Hollow by Kathleen Ernst [178 pages] (6/4/16)
15 points: Don’t judge a book by its cover! Read a book with a cover you personally find unappealing. The Poet's Funeral by John M. Daniel (7/12/16) [This cover is just so blah.]

20 points: Read a book that you have previously only seen the film (movie) of. - Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Bevchen. The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins (6/19/16)

25 points: Read a book with a punny title. The title can be a play on another book title, movie title or a common expression. Examples of such titles include Southern Discomfort, We'll Always Have Parrots or Bonefire of the Vanities. - Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Jamie G. High Rhymes & Misdemeanors by Diana Killian (6/30/16)

30 points: Read a microhistory. (Try this list or this one for ideas.) A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

30 points: Read one book with a good word in the title, and one with a bad word. Note: This category is reeeeeeeally open-ended! Maybe you like turtles, so The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is a title with a "good" word. Similarly, the "bad" word could be a swear word or a literally negative word like “not” or “none,” or it could just be something you don’t like. Have fun with it! (Remember, you must read both books to get 30 points; this category is not worth 15 points per book.) Too Good to Be True by J. F. Hutton (7/20/16) and  The Devil in Bellminster by David Holland (7/13/16)

40 points: Read two books that contain the same word in the title, but once in the singular and once in the plural. For example: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter and The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer, or Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. (Remember, you must read both books to get 40 points; this category is not worth 20 points per book.)  The Mystery Woman by J. U. Giesy & Junius B. Smith (6/12/16) and The Silent Women by Margaret Page Hood (6/13/16)