Monday, October 31, 2016

Meat for Murder: Review

Meat for Murder (1943) is the second mystery I've read by Lange Lewis (Jane Lewis Brandt, 1915 - 2003) and like The Birthday Murder it is set in the world of Hollywood. This time around, we have Earl Falconer, eccentric Hollywood scene designer who lives in a remote house in the hills near Tinsel Town. The house looks like a castle, complete with moat and non-functioning drawbridge (permanently in the down position). Falconer lives here with two body guards, three dogs (a Great Dane and two Dalmatians), a highly religious cook, and a French mathematician who has suffered a nervous breakdown.

Falconer hires three English majors to come live with him and write a movie script based on his set designs and vague plot ideas. They will get paid if they agree to live in the house for the duration of the writing period and IF he thinks the work worthwhile when they finish (sounds an awful lot like a certain candidate for President...). Also running in and out of his life are a few females with which he's been entangled and another set of writers whose work was deemed insufficient and who are threatening to sue him. Falconer also has set ideas on how the folks in his house should behave--he's anti-meat, anti-drinking, and anti-smoking. He's not exactly making friends and influencing people so when he winds up dead from arsenic poisoning, Lieutenant Tuck doesn't have to look far for motives. looks like someone also tried to poison Denise Morrissey, one of the ladies intent on marrying him, and has successfully poisoned all three of his dogs as well. Who has a grudge big enough to kill three animals and attempt another murder while doing away with Falconer? Once Tuck solves the mystery of the extra poisonings, he'll be well on his way to solving Falconer's murder.

This is a decent mystery overall with a good healthy dose of misdirection and red herrings to keep the reader occupied. The characterization is fairly well done--best with Falconer, the writers and Andre, the mathematician. Tom and Jim, the two bodyguards, were pretty generic and interchangeable and I had a hard time keeping Falconer's lady friends straight in my mind. (Now which one was it who got poisoned?) But the story chugged along at a good rate up till then end...and then it sort of coughed to a halt. I'm not sold on the solution--either for the main poisoning or the explanation for what happened to the dogs. It seemed a bit rushed and like Lewis hadn't quite settled how to wrap things up before she found herself needing to do so. A good solid ★★effort for about 95% of the book....

This fulfills the "Dog" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Beyond the Ice Limit: Review

Beyond the Ice Limit (2016) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is the creepiest book that I have read for Carl's R.I.P. XI Event, so it's fitting that it will be the last book logged for that reading event. The book is the unexpected sequel to Preston & Child's Ice Limit and it takes place five years after the tragic ending of that adventure. In the first story, Eli Glinn, the head of Effective Engineering Solutions, took a team to a remote island off the coast of South America to recover a gigantic meteorite--the largest that had ever been. He was in the employ of New York billionaire Palmer Lloyd who wanted to add the space rock to his collection of unique items.The mission ended in disaster when their ship, the Rolvaag, was attached by a rogue Chilean ship and went down in a vicious storm in the freezing waters and taking its unique cargo to the ocean floor. One hundred and eight crew members perished, and Eli Glinn was left paralyzed.

Now, five years later, Glinn is heading up a mission back to the site of the disaster. Reports he has been given show that the meteorite was much more than just a rock from space--it was a seed. And the thing has sprouted and is growing, reaching up through the watery depths like a giant tree. This time, it's not just a billionaire's rock collection at stake--but the survival of Earth itself. Gideon Crew has been added to the team to give them the benefit of his nuclear expertise, because it looks like the only thing that will take out the newly dubbed Baobab is an atomic blast. It's not as easy as dropping a nuke on the thing though (of course!). The Baobab has extensive roots under the sea floor and they will have to make sure they get all of it the first time.

The creature isn't just a mindless organism out to reproduce itself. It becomes apparent that there is an intelligence driving its actions and the creature isn't going to go down without a fight.

I haven't read a lot of Preston and Child's work (I'm a weenie when it comes to suspense thrillers), but I have to say that every one I've read has been well done and dragged me right in--in spite of myself. Beyond the Ice Limit was no different. And it made no difference that I hadn't read the earlier book. It may have helped fill in some of the backstory, but the authors give enough background information and context clues that this novel can easily be read as a stand-alone. It is an action-packed thriller and it would make a spine-tingling SF/suspense movie. Lots of scientific exploration and speculation and plenty of gruesome alien critter  vs. humans action. I'm not going to spoil it--but let's just say I was extremely reluctant to go to sleep after listening to installments of the latter half of this audio novel. It was very interesting to see how the creature modified its attacks as it learned more about the humans--just as our heroes had to modify their reactions. My biggest quibble with the authors is that they killed off two of my favorite characters in the story--a strong female character (the only one we really get to know; and this is no spoiler because she's gone VERY quickly in the book) and a very sympathetic character who also happens to be a book-lover. Overall, another excellent action thriller by Preston and Child. ★★★★

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Garden Murder Case: Review

The setting of The Garden Murder Case (1935), S. S. Van Dine's ninth mystery novel featuring that stylish, intellectual detective Philo Vance, is a rooftop penthouse. Vance receives a not-so-anonymous phone message that piques his interest in the nest socialite gathering of Floyd Garden and his friends to listen to the outcome of horse races in the comfort of his father's luxurious penthouse. Drinks are made to order and wagers are placed to the bookies by Floyd on his direct bookie line. Despite the caller's refusal to leave a name, Vance immediately recognizes the phrasing and key words as pointing to Dr. Siefert who attends the Garden family--post particularly Mrs. Garden who suffers from a mysterious malady. 

"There is a most disturbing psychological tension at Professor Ephraim Garden's apartment, which resists diagnosis. Read up on radioactive sodium. See book XI of the Aeneid, line 875. Equanimity is essential."

Equanimity is the name of a horse set to race in the Rivermont Handicap the next day. Since Vance and Floyd Garden share membership in a club, Vance has a standing invitation to join the racing festivities any time and he decides to take advantage of it the very next day. 

Vance and his Boswell, Van Dine immediately sense the tension in the air. They meet all the essential players from Floyd Garden to his mother to his friend and cousin, Woode Swift. Also in the mix are two lovely young women, Zalia Graem and Madge Weatherby, who seem to have divided the attentions of the men (not necessarily equally) including Cecil Kroon and Lowe Hammerle, two more of the sporting crowd. And even Mrs. Garden's nurse Bernice Beeton gets in on the betting action. When the final wagers are placed, Swift has placed last cent he has on Equanimity--a horse that Vance, who is a fair hand at handicapping horses, does not believe will be up to the job. 

Swift has had the habit of going up to the rooftop garden to listen to the results alone. As soon as the final race is finished and it is clear that Equanimity has lost the race, a gunshot is heard and at first glance it looks like Swift has committed suicide upon hearing that all his money has been lost as well. But Vance spots several indications that someone has used Swift's loss as a clever cover for murder. And the murder isn't finished...the nurse is trapped in a paper vault with poisonous gas and Floyd's mother will also be killed before Vance is able to solve the crime. There is no tangible proof that District Attorney Markham could use to go to trial, so Philo Vance uses himself as bait to capture the killer on film when they try to push him off the garden balcony.

Van Dine has taken a lot of flack for his last six detective novels. In fact, crime novelist and critic Julian Symons wrote in Bloody Murder, "The decline in the last six Vance books is so steep that the critic who called the ninth of them [i.e. The Garden Murder Case] 'one more stitch in his literary shroud' was not overstating the case." But, honestly, I don't see that this is so very bad. It's not intricately plotted, but there are certainly enough red herrings to make things interesting and Vance isn't nearly as all-knowing in this one as is sometimes the case (he doesn't give a detailed lecture on horse racing as he has been wont to do about Chinese pottery, for example). The mystery provides a very pleasant day's reading--with familiar characters and enough mystification to keep you guessing for a good while. ★★ and a half.

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

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Camera Clue: Review

George Harmon Coxe was an American writer of crime fiction who used several series characters including Jack "Flashgun" Casey, Kent Murdock, Leon Morley, Sam Crombie, Max Hale and Jack Fenner as well as writing stand-alone detective novels. Casey and Murdock are both photographers whose camera skills often land them in the middle of events that force them to don a detective's cap as well. The Camera Clue (1937) is the third such case to feature Kent Murdock. In this particular outing it's not Murdock's job that plunges him into murder and mayhem, but his wife. 

Joyce's friend, Nora Pendleton, is waiting the in Murdock apartment when Kent gets home. She's obviously shaken and possibly in shock and she reveals that she has just shot a man. Jerry Carter who was a sleazy gossip columnist who ran a nice sideline in blackmail. Murdock is sympathetic to her motive but not sure he should get involved...then his wife comes home. And her response to Kent when she hears Nora's story? "You've got to help her." So, Kent, who through his fair and honest dealings with the police has earned their respect, goes off to snatch whatever evidence Nora may have left behind when she exited Carter's office. Like the murder weapon.

But even rescuing a damsel in distress can't prevent Kent's photographic instincts from kicking in and when he sees the murder scene (no one's called the cops yet) he starts snapping photos ('cuz a cameraman always has his equipment with him...even when on a mission to interfere with evidence). And even outside the office building he stops on his way in to take few shots of a sandwich board man on stilts with a trail of small boys behind him (always good for a human interest angle).

Habit, the photographer's habit, was strong. As an incident, the sandwich man and his troop of smutty-nosed urchins, who trailed at his heels uttering catcalls of delight and derision, were not news; but it was interesting, it was human, and it appealed to Murdock because photography was his hobby as well as his business.

He notices several people well-known to him milling about on the street in the background. Lew Novak and Hazel Jaffe...and watching his wife and the other man was Roy Jaffe. And also another man he recognized as Gordon Thorndike. Quite a congregation.

And then things get really interesting for Kent. It seems that everybody who was on that street that afternoon want to make sure those pictures never see the light of day. They all seem to have reasons unrelated to Carter's murder, but is one of them covering the more serious crime? Soon his office at the newspaper is like the Grand Central Station of photography deals--with people begging, threatening, and offering money to guarantee that Kent either won't print the photos or will hand them over. Once it's proven that Nora actually didn't kill Carter, Kent is ready to forget the entire thing. But somebody won't let him. That somebody is desperate enough to get their hands on the photos and/or plates to kill for them--Kent's assistant, who develops the plates, is slugged over the head and dies. From that point on, Kent is determined to find out who the killer is and he's convinced that one person is responsible for both deaths.

Coxe provides tough guy crime with a very light touch. There are dames and dolls and men on the make; gamblers and gossips and guys on the take. There are hired goons to sent to rough Kent up. But Kent, for all his tough exterior, is a softie when it comes to a lady in tight spot. The novel is fairly clued, but I have to say he still fooled me. I probably should have spotted the culprit, but I didn't. Excellent novel from the 1930s. ★★★★

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Hallowe'en

The Tuesday Night Bloggers have been getting ready for Halloween. So for October we have chosen "Crime in Costume" as our month-long topic. All mysteries that feature costume/disguise/appearance misdirection EXCEPT theatrical mysteries (we're saving that for another time) are fair game. If you'd like to join us for discussion of the use of costumes, masks, masquerades, costume parties and the like in the mystery genre--particularly Golden Age dangerous dress-up, but all are welcome--then please stop in every Tuesday as we gather at Kate's place over at crossexamingcrime. Pull up a chair and have a scone or two...

One certainly can't leave our October TNB sessions without examining at least one novel set at Halloween. Two years ago, I read Leo Bruce's Death on Allhallowe'en--which finds Carolus Deene, that intrepid amateur detective who uses the same techniques to unravel mysteries as he uses to unravel history for the schoolboys at Queen's School, Newminster, asked to investigate the odd "goings on" at a small Kentish village. His friend, John Stainer, the rector of Clibburn is disturbed by the atmosphere in the village. The air of superstition and the locals' belief in witchcraft. And the inexplicable feeling of evil that hangs over the area ever since the death of a young boy a year ago at Halloween.

If it weren't for his long-standing friendship with Stainer, Deene would never credit the tales of eerie atmosphere, local witchcraft, and undefinable evil. He wouldn't believe that grown men would dress up with animal masks to practice strange rites in the woods. But when Stainer says, "I'll tell you candidly--I'm frightened" he believes him. And he understands when Stainer goes on to say
Listen Carolus, I'm not a fool, and I'm not superstitious. Obviously I don't believe in black magic or witchcraft or anything of the sort. That's to say I don't believe in what they represent. But I do believe that there are people who practise the rites, and I think such people are dangerous.
Carolus also takes seriously that death of the small boy who may have seen or actually been forced to participate in one of these rites. So, he agrees to come and put his amateur detective talents to work on discovering the true source of evil in Clibburn.

He could believe that people led stealthy lives, obeying strange impulses and beliefs. Though mystery could belong as much to brightly lighted streets and conventional citizens, there was something in an atmosphere like this, the chilly river mist and the desolate landscape. 

His task isn't an easy one. Stainer has lived in Clibburn for three years and still hasn't truly been accepted as the new rector. The residents, as often seems to be the case--especially in fiction, don't take well to "foreigners" and Carolus finds it difficult to get the villagers to give him much in the way of information. Fortunately, he's adept at reading between the lines and often what they aren't telling him is just as instructive as what they do. 

He know he's getting close when the local "witch" tries to scare him off and then someone arranges for a telegram regarding the hospitalization of Mrs. Stick, his long-time housekeeper, to be delivered in a further effort to get him out of the way. Despite the trick, he manages to be present when a local figure is shot to death in a room full of people on the stroke of midnight. Once Carolus discovers how and by whom, he has the answers to both the boy's death and that of another, yet unsuspected, murder.

While I always enjoy Leo Bruce's detective fiction, Death on Allhawe'en (1970) is to be noted for its difference from the majority of the Carolus Deene books. It removes Carolus from the influence of both his domestic couple and the headmaster of Queen's School--each of whom constantly cast a disapproving eye on his detective antics while secretly loving every minute of the delicious tale when Carolus holds forth in the wrap-up scenes. We are also spared the frequently annoying presence of his schoolboy tag-along. What we get is straight Carolus on the track of village nastiness hidden by masks--both the actual animal masks of the ritual participants and the masks which the villagers present to any foreigners who come to their town.

Bruce effectively describes the claustrophobic atmosphere of a village that keeps itself too much to itself while appearing to take local traditions and witchcraft much too seriously. Full marks for the mise-en-scène. Two things keep this mystery from being a full-fledged four-star read for me: 1. Lack of fair play. Carolus gives a fair impression of Holmes in the final scenes. He discovers vital evidence in a bank strong box, but keeps the clues close to his chest. There isn't any real way for the reader to guess what he's found and be able to fully understand the mystery. 2. The death of the young boy. While what really happened to the boy is not fully described (thankfully), I still get very squeamish when young children are involved. But that's a personal qualm--not necessarily a fault in the story-telling.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Metropolitan Opera Murders: Review

The Metropolitan Opera Murders (1951) is Helen Traubel's venture into detective fiction. Her intimate knowledge of the wheels within wheels that make New York's Opera House run gives the mystery its very authentic flavor. She takes the reader behind the scenes to reveal the jealousies, temperaments, and talents that can be blended to produce several motives for murder. The book opens with the Wagner's Die Walküre in mid-performance. Elsa Vaughn, the diva singing Brünnehilde, watches in horror as the prompter, one time a singer himself, dies in the prompter's box--hidden from the audience.

When Lieutenant Quentin begins investigating, it is revealed that Rudolf Salz was killed by his drinking poisoned liquor which he lifted from Vaughn's dressing room. And she tells him that this isn't the first incident--someone had put ground glass in her cold cream and, fortunately, it had been noticed before any damage was done. As the case continues, another woman who had aspired to Vaughn's role is shot while sitting where the star was thought to be and several attempts on Vaughn's life are foiled. But, now that her rival is dead, who exactly would benefit from Vaughn's death? Quentin will have to work his way through blackmail, professional jealousy, and misleading evidence to spot the killer and real motive before it's too late.

This is a fair example of a mystery by a first-time author who is trying to use her real-world experiences as a backdrop for murder and mayhem. Traubel does a decent job--she has tried valiantly to provide red herrings, false clues, and fair play. She is at best providing the atmosphere and authentic setting and characters--and she even gives a good portrayal of the lead detective. The mystery itself is not terribly intricate and old hands at the detective novel game will spot the killer and motive, but Traubel is entertaining and this makes for a nice, comfortable, quick read.  ★★--just.

This fulfills the "Performer" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge

photo via Instagram

It's almost time for the next installment of the Semi-Charmed Book Challenge series! Click on the link to see the full rules and to sign up.

General Guidelines:
  • The challenge will run from November 1, 2016, to January 31, 2017. No books started before 12 a.m. on November 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on January 31 will count.
  • Each book must be at least 150 pages long. Audiobooks and large-print books are fine, as long as the regular print version meets the length requirement.
  • A book can only be used for one category, and each category can only be completed once.
  • The highest possible total is 200 points, and the first five people who finish the challenge will be invited to contribute a category for the summer 2017 challenge.
  • Have fun! Read some books you might not have read otherwise. Discover new authors and make new bookworm friends. (Yes, these are the most important rules!)

Challenge Categories (with my proposed books--will confirm and link reviews as I go):
5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 150 pages long. 
Black Widower by Patricia Moyes [212 pages] (11/6/16)

10 points: Read a 2016 finalist (longlist or shortlist) for one of the following literary prizes: National Book Award, Man Booker or Man Booker International.
When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin [National Book Award Finalist; 384 pages] (1/24/17)

10 points: Read a brand-new release (something published between November 1, 2016, and January 31, 2017).

The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello (477 pages) [publish date 11/8/16] (11/15/16)
15 points: Read a book by an author of a different race or religion than you.
March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell [192 pages] (1/27/17)

15 points: Read a book featuring a main character who is of a different race or religion than you.
The Black Count by Tom Reiss [414 pages] (1/21/17)

20 points: Read a modern retelling of a classic (e.g. an Austen Project novel, Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, etc.) — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Kaity.
Grendel by John Gardner [174 pages] (12/28/16)

25 points: Read a book with an alcoholic beverage (neat or cocktail) in the title. — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Kerry. (And she was nice enough to come up with a long list of suggestions for you!) 
Cocktails & the Killer by Peter Cheyney [159 pages] (11/30/16)

30 points: Read a book with a character that shares your first or last name. (Alternate spellings are okay, e.g. Megan and Meghan or Smith and Smyth.) — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Ericka.
Beverly Gray's Mystery by Clair Blank [207 pages] (11/22/16)

30 points: Read two books: a nonfiction book and a fiction book with which it connects. For example: A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie and one of Christie's mystery novels that features poison, or The Monuments Men and All the Light We Cannot See. The possibilities are endless, so have fun with this one! — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Bev. (And remember you must finish both books to get the 30 points! No partial points will be awarded.)
The Life & Times of Miss Jane Marple by Anne Hart (bio of Christie's detective; 161 pages) AND The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (3rd Miss Marple mystery; 151 pages) [both reviewed 11/13/16]
40 points: Read two books: one by an author whose first name is the same as the last name of the author of the other book. For example: You may read a book by Martin Cruz Smith and a book by George R.R. Martin, or a book by James Joyce and a book by Joyce Carol Oates. The shared name must be spelled exactly the same, no variations. — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Jamie. (And remember you must finish both books to get the 40 points! No partial points will be awarded.)
The Unconscious Witness by R. Austin Freeman [258 pages] (1/28/17) AND A Losing Game by Freeman Wills Crofts [224 pages] (1/31/17)

Sunday: Review

Georges Simenon was an expert at setting and atmosphere. In Sunday (1958), he provides a perfect set-up for the isolated and trapped husband to a woman whose family has owned a popular inn on the Riveria. Initially, Emile is ready to be "bought" in order to be his own boss and run the inn and the kitchen the way he wants. If marriage to Berthe is what it takes then he doesn't mind. He even has a bit of affection at first. But he rapidly becomes disenchanted with her and begins an affair with one of the staff. When Berthe becomes very ill with a gastrointestinal malady, he starts planning how he might dispose of his wife without suspicion falling on him. He sets his due date as a Sunday in May and he's very pleased with how calm and cool he's been--how Berthe couldn't possibly know what's coming. But Berthe has a few surprises of her own.

Granted, this is very atmospheric and exhibits Simenon's skill with claustrophobic relationships. But, to be honest, Simenon's style just doesn't do a whole lot for me. The stories are so character- and atmosphere-drive that there is very little mystery and detection going on--which is what I'm looking for in a crime novel. Not that I don't want the characters to have depth; I do, but I don't want the investigation of their motivations and personalities to overwhelm the mystery aspect. I have tried Simenon several times and I have been unable to give him more than 3.5 stars. I think perhaps his style is better suited to others (obviously--because Sunday has a whole slew of 4 and 5 stars on Goodreads). I'm afraid can't give this one more than ★★.

This fulfills the "Weirdest Item" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Death Wears a Mask

The Tuesday Night Bloggers are getting ready for Halloween. So for October we have chosen "Crime in Costume" as our month-long topic. All mysteries that feature costume/disguise/appearance misdirection EXCEPT theatrical mysteries (we're saving that for another time) are fair game. If you'd like to join us for discussion of the use of costumes, masks, masquerades, costume parties and the like in the mystery genre--particularly Golden Age dangerous dress-up, but all are welcome--then please stop in every Tuesday as we gather at Kate's place over at crossexamingcrime. Pull up a chair and have a scone or two...

This week I am taking a peek at the book featured in our October TNB logo: Death Wears a Mask (1935) by Therese Benson. When I went hunting for a suitable Golden Age cover to modify in the name of TNB fun, I found the delightful cover to the left. I was so intrigued by it that I decided that, if I could find a reasonably priced copy, then I must have it. I did--unfortunately sans dust jacket (may have to remedy that at some point through Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC where I found the cover). The question--was it worth it? And how do costumes figure in?

As the title might indicate, the occasion of the murder in this mystery is a costume party. It is scheduled to take place in the penthouse apartment in the building where the newly minted Commissioner of Police, Samuel Mellon, makes his home. Mellon has just taken the job with aims to clean up New York--get rid of the racketeering, dope peddling, and graft. No more corruption on his watch. No more covering up crime. He has no idea what's in store for him in the first week on the job.

His old flame, Consuela Thorne--a mature actress, shows up at his door fully disguised on her way to the costume party. Consuela has always had a way of leaving broken hearts in her wake and hurting even her best friends when she didn't mean to. Mellon's niece Louise is also at his apartment, also dressed for the party. Consuela tries to make nice with her former beau and Louise--even though she plans on arriving at the party dressed in complementary costumes with Louise's husband. Consuela demands cocktails, which after a protest Sam goes into the kitchen to make, but when he returns to his front room both ladies are gone. He prepares to go out and makes a startling discovery...Consuela is dead in the vestibule leading to his apartment, stabbed at the base of her head with a dagger. A dagger that he gave her as a present several years ago. He can just see the headlines screaming: MURDER AT THE POLICE COMMISSIONER'S. But he's determined to do his duty...and then he sees the white satin mask  lying near the body. It is exactly like the one his niece was wearing.

So much for doing one's duty. He knows Louise can't have done it, but he must protect her at all costs. He decides to deposit the body in the vestibule of a highly respectable older lady one floor below him--someone sure to report the body and who couldn't possibly be considered a suspect even by the most dense policeman. He then takes off to find his niece and find out what happened while he was mixing drinks. Very little, as it happens--except Louise decided she wasn't up to the party and went home with a headache. And, by the way, she still has her own mask. So whose mask is it?

When Sam gets back to his building, he winds up at the penthouse in search of Ed (Louise's husband). He finds Ed determined to hold up the costume contest until his partner Connie arrives--just as the party go-ers have about given up on her, the elevator arrives one more time and someone shouts, "Connie's here!" And she is...apparently seated against the wall of the elevator. Sam is even convinced for a moment that he was wrong about her death--but Ed soon makes the second discovery of Consuela's death.

From there on out, Sam is playing a dangerous game. Doing his best to give Inspector Dolan of the Homicide Squad every bit of assistance he can without revealing that the murder actually happened in his own vestibule. A lot depends on Connie costume, a missing piece of jewelry, and who owns the white mask. There is also another piece of masquerading going on--Sam's houseman, a Chinese student by the name of Sing, isn't everything he appears to be. And his disguise will help lead Sam and Inspector Dolan to criminal. 

The costumes in this story provide a fair amount of camouflage and aid to the plot. Twice, Consuela's outfit keeps her death from being immediately recognized. Then, a part of her costume provides her killer with the method dispatch her. And, as mentioned, the white mask is a clue that keeps cropping up to puzzle Sam. I was a bit disappointed that the costume party itself didn't play a bigger part in the story and I would say that was one of my biggest quibbles. The costume party seemed to exist purely to provide the plot points above--but it wasn't crucial to the story in any other way. I'm not even entirely certain who was hosting the party or why. The other quibble, of course, is that our newly-minted Commissioner is going out of his way to muddy the waters of justice. Fortunately, justice is served in the end anyway.

Overall, a decent vintage mystery. There are plenty of clues and false leads and opportunity for the reader to puzzle it out on their own. Sam is a likeable character--even if he is a bit exasperating in his efforts to sweep certain things under the rug. Inspector Dolan makes a nice counterpart for him. I would be interested to see if they show up in any other stories by Benson.  ★★

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