Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Do Not Murder Before Christmas: Review

In Do Not Murder Before Christmas (1949) by Jack Iams somebody doesn't heed that advice. Toymaker Piet Van Der Vant, known as Uncle Poot to children who have grown up in Shady Hollow's underprivileged neighborhood, is killed on Christmas Eve--apparently for the wads of cash he has trustingly kept stuffed in the drawers of his toy shop. Uncle Poot's toy shop is a favorite of all the kids--because his store is the first place their parents take them and because each year on Christmas Day he opens his shop for a Christmas party and lets the kids from the town's poorest families pick out any toy that is left in the shop after the Christmas buying rush.

Uncle Poot has a quaint ritual for the kids when they come to visit--they either sign their name in his registry books or leave some other mark if they can't write (fingerprints and sometimes even sweet little kiss marks from tiny lips). And upon each visit the kids make he records in those books whether the children have been good or not (for Santa). But when Uncle Poot is found dead in his shop late Christmas Eve, it becomes apparent that he must have known a little too much about somebody. There is a hint of a connection to a wealthy family, but these are the days where money could buy anything, including a quick hushing up of inconvenient stories...and, of course, it helps that a pipe with the fingerprints of a dim-witted young man is found to be the murder weapon. A quick, easy solution that will permanently hush up the wagging tongues.

Enter Stanley "Rocky" Rockwell, crusading newspaperman with a permanent grudge against the wealthy, but corrupt Malloys. Originally, sent to Shady Hollow to interview the new social worker at the Malloys' "generously" gifted community center--given to the poor section of town, he remembers stopping by to see Uncle Poot and the old toy maker's comments about a mysterious visitor to whom he may have said too much. Rocky starts digging and with the help of Lt. Bill Hammer, the only policeman who's not in the Malloys' pockets, he manages to find evidence that Loppy (the poor, dim-witted young man) has been framed. But with pressures on Hammer from above and a street brawl between Rocky and Marty Malloy threatens both Hammer's badge and Rocky's freedom. Will they be able to catch the real killer before Hammer is out of job and Rocky finds a temporary home in the local jail?

There is also a nice little love interest (and romantic triangle--Rocky-->Jane Hewes-->Marty) to distract our crusading hero and add a bit of suspense. At one point Jane disappears, apparently held captive. But it isn't Rocky who comes to her rescue--it's Debbie Mayfair, the society columnist (also known as Mrs. Pickett, 40-something and not nearly as staid as people might think). Mrs. Picket hides in a rumble seat and beards lions in the den of iniquity (a local hot-spot with nearly naked show girls) in order to rescue our damsel in distress. It's worth the price of admission just to hear Mrs. Pickett's story of her adventures.

Jack Iams is a brand-new author for me and I'm glad I have two more of his titles sitting on my TBR stacks. I plan to savor them. This is an extraordinarily fun American mystery from the 40s. I caught on quickly to the motive behind the murder and the culprit, but Iams does such a good job with his characters and the narration that it doesn't matter so much. This is a perfect mystery for the holiday season--set at the right time and a quick, fun read that fits nicely between all the seasonal activities--present-buying, card-writing, decorating, etc. Highly recommended for those looking for an interesting, light mystery for the holidays. ★★★★

This counts for the "Christmas Decoration" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. The book has also been reviewed by Curtis over at The Passing Tramp. Stop by and take a look at what he has to say.

Wild Goose Chase Challenge

Bruce @ The Bookshelf Gargoyle (he of the "Title Fight Reading Challenge of 2016) is offering up another "wild and crazy" reading challenge for 2017. As he says: "If running around like a headless chook trying to find your next read isn’t really your style, then why not try the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge 2017? This is a category-based challenge and is designed to be fun, frivolous and filled with feathers. Well, maybe not that last one."

For full details and to sign up, click on the link above. Here are the basics:

* The Challenge will run from January 1st to December 31, 2017.
* Challengees must read at least one book from each category (listed below).  Challengees must read a DIFFERENT book for each category – even if your book title might fit a number of categories, it will only count towards a single category.  Challengees are free to choose which category best suits.

Here are the categories and my proposed titles. Will update with actual reads, review links, and dates finished as I go:

1. A book with a word of phrase relating to wildness in the title – any interpretation of the word “wild” is acceptable (eg: The Call of the Wild, Angry Aztecs, Crazy for You; An Untamed State)
A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hanson (2/18/17)

2. A book with a species of bird (or the word “bird”) in the title: (eg: The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Thorn Birds, Turkey: A Modern History)
The Thursday Turkey Murders by Craig Rice (2/13/17)
3. A book with an exotic or far-flung location in the title – fantasy and mythical locations are acceptable (eg: Paradise Lost, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, Atlantis Rising)
Battle on Venus by William F. Temple (1/7/17)

4.  A book with an object you might hunt for in the title (eg: Treasure Island, One for the Money, The History of Love, Dreams from my Father, A Monster Calls, All the Answers)
Zadok's Treasure by Margot Arnold (2/22/17)

5. A book with a synonym for chase in the title (or its derivatives: chasing, chased, etc) (eg: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Follow the River, Man’s Search for Meaning, The Night Stalker)
Search for a Scientist by Charles Leonard (2/24/17)

6.  A book with a means of transport in the title (eg: If I Built a CarWalk Two Moons, The Girl on the Train) 
The Body Missed the Boat by Jack Iams (3/6/17)

7.  A book with an object you might take on a search or hunt in the title (eg: The Golden Compass, The Map to Everywhere, Water for Elephants, Team of Rivals )
Dread & Water by Douglas Clark (3/15/17)

Cocktails & the Killer

Cocktails and the Killer (aka Ladies Won't Wait; 1951) by Peter Cheyney is purportedly (according to the back cover blurb) "an intoxicating trail of intrigue, murder and deadly romance through the bistros and boudoirs of the world's worst underground!" Michal Kells is a British secret agent hanging out in France and waiting for his next assignment when he comes across a beautiful woman--almost too beautiful to be true--who seems extraordinarily interested in him. Lucky fellow! When he finally has a chance to sidle up beside her, he's a bit surprised when she works the current code phrase into her conversation. "Ladies won't wait." They arrange a less public rendezvous, but Kells arrives to find his fellow agent dead. 

Following up what few leads he has, he discovers links to the disappearance of another agent, a possible German defector who has been working for the Russians, a highly-sought scientist, and a deadly female agent who will stop at nothing to get what the Russians want and keep the German with thoughts of the West where he belongs. Kells talks to everyone (and I do mean everyone) who might be able to assist him as he unravels the international threads. He will have to outwit the Russian lady if he's to keep the remaining players alive in this most dangerous of games.

This is a spy story that doesn't even come close to the thrills of James Bond. A LOT of talk--very little action. Kells is an agent who, quite frankly, doesn't seem to be trying to hide the fact that he's an espionage agent in Her Majesty's Secret Service. He tells at least three or four people over the course of the book what he does for a living. Shouldn't that be a bad thing? Of course, I suppose when you talk as much as Kells does in this book it isn't surprising that he spills this information. I was pretty under-whelmed by the whole thing and it should have been a dandy plot. By the time we get to the grand finale--explosion and all--it was hard to muster much enthusiasm. Especially when the big bang got so little air time. 

The odd thing is, Kells is an interesting character who is vastly under-used as an agent. The man should be having WAY more adventures with action in them. The various women that he interacts with are also interesting and could help make a great plot. If everybody would just shut up for a while and DO things instead of talking about things that have been done, are being done, or will be done.  ★★--all for characterization.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday Night Bloggers

This month at our Tuesday Night Bloggers meetings we will be examining mysteries within a historical context--either historical mysteries (written, say in 1930 but set in the Victorian period, for example) or which take place during or around a historical event or which address historical issues. The field is wide-open so if you have historical mysterious thoughts to share, 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.

This week's Historical Experts:

Brad @ Ah Sweet Mystery Blog: "Magpie Murders: The Silver Age & the Modern Era Collide"
Kate @ Cross Examining Crime: "Writing the 1930s"
JJ @ The Invisible Event: "Man & Superman: Refining the Protagonist in John Dickson Carr's Historical Mysteries"
The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel: "In Praise of Michael Jecks"
Moira @ Clothes in Books: "Boston 1918"

Previous Posts
Week #1 Post  
Week #2 Post 
Week #3 Post
Week #4 Post


And that's all folks...I haven't had a chance to put anything together this week. So, I'm going  to sit this one out. Next month the Tuesday Night Bloggers will be taking a look at Foreign Mysteries (non-US and non-UK)--either set in a foreign locale, translated works from authors outside, or, for the more adventurous, a comparison of books written by someone NOT from the locale in question to a work by someone from that country. 

I'll be collecting here at the Block again in December, so feel free to join in and I'll add you to each week's listing.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Beverly Gray's Mystery: Review

Beverly Gray's Mystery (1948) by Clair Blank features an intrepid girl detective in the mold of the original Nancy Drew. Unlike Nancy who seems to forever be in her mid- (earliest version of her stories) to late-teens, Beverly's story is a progressive one. Her fictional career begins in college, takes her through some adventures post-college, and then finds her taking on a job (as a reporter) and becoming a government agent at times. Having stumbled upon Beverly during one of our antique mall rambles, I've landed in the middle of her series at a time when she is already established as an investigative reporter.

In this adventure which occurs around the Christmas holidays, Beverly sets out to interview an Indian prince who is visiting the United States and who has given a valuable horse named Star of the East to his American friend, Mr. Mengle. She has her friend newspaper photographer Lenora Whitehill with her to take pictures of the horse and the two friends. But before Beverly can ask her first question, the prince's groom discovers that the Star of the East has disappeared. A weekend feature turns into an investigative piece as Beverly and Lenora look into the mystery of the missing horse. Things turn a bit ugly as Max Mengle is hit over the head and hospitalized, a young actress disappears (thought to be kidnapped), and Beverly finds herself nearly run over by a car and locked in an abandoned house. Did the horse-nappers attack Max? Was it the prince's groom? Or perhaps it was his younger brother--in an argument over his engagement to the actress? It all becomes clear to Beverly in the end--she finds the horse...and, incidentally, a valuable stolen jewel in the process. And the story wraps up with Christmas in Beverly's apartment with TWO Santa Clauses!

Beverly Gray is another heroine that I wish I had met when I was young. She's resourceful and independent and a good role model for young girls. From what I read of her online, she's a bit more realistic than Nancy Drew--going to work and living away from home in the big city. Of course, she still has way more adventures than most of us do in everyday life, but the stories wouldn't be nearly as exciting without them. 

Beverly uses her investigative skills to get to the bottom of this mystery--following clues, asking penetrating questions, and tracking down the missing people and the horse. It was fairly obvious to me what happened to the animal, but Blank did a good job spreading the suspicion around so it wasn't as clear who the culprit was. A fun read that would have been even better if I had read it when I was younger. ★★and 1/2.

Friday, November 25, 2016

You Read How Many Books? 2017


hosted by Gina  at Dragon's Lair

Guidelines are pretty simple. Choose a level of books to aim for and submit a list. Reviews are optional. I will be going for 160 books (in keeping with my Goodreads goal). For more info and to sign up, pleas click link above.

1. Death at Swaythling Court by J. J. Connington (1/4/17)
2. Death of a Racehorse by John Creasey (1/7/17)
3. The Silent Invaders by Robert Silverberg (1/7/17)
4. Battle on Venus by William F. Temple (1/7/17)
5. The Hidden Planet by Donald A. Wollheim, ed (1/9/17)
6. The Snake on 99 by Stewart Farrar (1/11/17)
7. The 24th Horse by Hugh Pentecost (1/13/17)
8. Murder at the Masque by Amy Myers (1/16/17)
9. Metamophosis by Gene L. Coon (1/16/17)
10. The Black Count by Tom Reiss (1/21/17)
11. I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison (1/24/17)
12. When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (1/24/17)
13. March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (1/26/17)
14. March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (1/27/17)
15. The Unconscious Witness by R. Austin Freeman (1/28/17)
16. A Losing Game by Freeman Wills Crofts (1/31/17)
17. Death Takes a Bow by Frances & Richard Lockridge (2/5/17)
18. All for the Love of a Lady by Leslie Ford (2/9/17)
19. Spice Island Mystery by Betty Cavanna (2/10/17)
20. Deception Island by M. K. Lorens (2/13/17)
21. The Thursday Turkey Murders by Craig Rice (2/13/17)
22. March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (2/16/17)
23. Episode of the Wandering Knife by Mary Roberts Rinehart (2/17/17)
24. A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen (2/18/17)
25. Zadok's Treasure by Margot Arnold (2/22/17)
26. Search for a Scientist by Charles Leonard (2/24/17)
27. Death in the Wrong Room by Anthony Gilbert (2/27/17) 
28. The Body Missed the Boat by Jack Iams (3/6/17)
29. Thrilling Stories of the Railway by Victor L. Whitechurch (3/9/17)
30. Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo (3/9/17)
31. Murder at Government House by Elspeth Huxley (3/14/17)
32. Miss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser-Sampson (3/15/17)
33. Dread & Water by Douglas Clark (3/15/17)
34. Trixie Belden & the Gatehouse Mystery by Julie Campbell (3/16/17) 
35. The Green Turtle Mystery by Ellery Queen, Jr. (3/19/17)
36. Fit to Kill by Hans C. Owen (3/22/17)
37. Silence Observed by Michael Innes (3/28/17)
38. Nun Plussed by Monica Quill (3/30/17)
39. Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street by William S. Baring-Gould (4/4/17)
40. I Could Murder Her by E. C. R. Lorac (4/7/17)
41. A Grave Case of Murder by Roger Bax (4/10/17)
42. Murder Comes First by Frances & Richard Lockridge (4/11/17)
43. Stroke of Death by Josephine Bell (4/12/17)
45. The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm by James Napoli (4/14/17)
46. Coffin's Dark Number by Gwendoline Butler (4/16/17)
47. They Tell No Tales by Manning Coles (4/19/17)
48. Death With Blue Ribbon by Leo Bruce (4/20/17)
49. Who Is the Next? by Henry Kitchell Webster (4/24/17)
50. Grounds for Murder by Kate Kingsbury (4/26/17)
51. The Fennister Affair by Josephine Bell (4/28/17)
52. The Vanishing Violinist by Sara Hoskinson Frommer (4/30/17)
53. Storm Center by Douglas Clark (5/1/17)
54. The Polka Dot Nude by Joan Smith (5/2/17)
55. The Invisible Intruder by Carolyn Keene (5/4/17)
56. The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt (5/6/17)
57. Murder at Teatime by Stefanie Matteson (5/9/17)
58. Blind Man With a Pistol by Chester Himes (5/10/17)
59. Death Cracks a Bottle by Kenneth Giles (5/13/17)
60. The Mystery of the Talking Skull by Robert Arthur (5/13/17)
61. Murder in Mount Holly by Paul Theroux (5/15/17)
62. The Golden Bird: Folk Tales from Slovenia by Vladimir Kavcic (5/16/17)
63. Petty Theft by Pascal Girard (5/16/17)
64. Deadly Nightshade by Elizabeth Daly (5/19/17)
65. The Constantine Affliction by T. Aaron Payton (5/23/17)
66. I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today by Dr. Seuss (5/26/17)
67. Decision at Delphi by Helen MacInnes (5/28/17)
68. If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O by Sharyn McCrumb (5/29/17)
69. The Case of the Seven Sneezes by Anthony Boucher (5/31/17)
70. Where There's Smoke by Stewart Sterling (6/4/17)
71. The Little Red Guard by Wenguang Huang (6/7/17)
72. Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon (6/11/17)
73. Death Finds a Foothold by Glyn Carr (6/14/17)
74. Alfred & Emily by Doris Lessing (6/14/17)
75. The Ghost & the Dead Deb by Alice Kimberly (6/16/17)
76. Deed Without a Name by Dorothy Bowers (6/18/17)
77. The Wailing Siren Mystery by Franklin W. Dixon (6/18/17)
78. The Secret of the Wooden Lady by Carolyn Keene (6/19/17)
79. Star Trek:The Art of Juan Ortiz by Juan Ortiz (6/20/17)
80. Ubik by Philip K Dick (6/20/17)
81. Publish & Perish by Sally Wright (6/22/17)
82. Mink Is for a Minx by Leo Margulies, ed (6/23/17)
83. Tree House Mystery by Gertrude Chadler Warner (6/23/17)
84. Frame Work by Anne G. Faigen (6/26/17)
85. The Arctic Patrol Mystery by Franklin W. Dixon (6/26/17)
86. The Hotel Cat by Esther Averill (6/28/17)
87. The Killing of Katie Steelstock by Michael Gilbert (6/30/17)
88. Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly (7/7/17)
89. Death Before Bedtime by Edgar Box (7/9/17)
90. Murder in Little Shendon by A. H. Richardson (7/13/17)
91. Quick Curtain by Alan Melville (7/14/17)
92. Juliet Dies Twice by Lange Lewis (7/17/17)
93. The Barker Street Regulars by Susan Conant (7/20/17)
94. Room for Murder by Doris Miles Disney (7/22/17)
95. Your Turn, Mr. Moto by John P. Marquand (7/25/17)
96. Lie of the Needle by Cate Price (7/28/17)
97. The Mirror Crack'd by Agatha Christie (7/29/17)
98. Murderer's Choice by Anna Mary Wells (7/29/17)
99. Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard (8/2/17)
100. The Big Grouse by Douglas Clark (8/3/17)
101. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (8/8/17)
102. The Happy Valley Mystery by Kathryn Kenny (8/16/17)
103. Best Max Carrados Detective Stories by Ernest Bramah (8/17/17)
104. What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! by Agatha Christie (8/18/17)
105. Every Second Thursday by Emma Page (8/20/17)
106. Salt Is Leaving by J. B. Priestley (8/22/17)
107. Dead as a Dummy by Geoffrey Homes (8/26/17)
108. Honeybath's Haven by Michael Innes (8/29/17)
109. Murder Is Served by Frances & Richard Lockridge (8/30/17)
110. Natural Suspect by William Bernhardt et al (8/31/17)
111. The Far Traveller by Manning Coles (9/2/17)
112. Let Dead Enough Alone by Frances & Richard Lockridge (9/3/17)
113. The Title Is Murder by Hugh Lawrence Nelson (9/5/17)
114. Case With No Conclusion by Leo Bruce (9/9/17)
115. The Contest  by Nonny Hogrogian (9/10/17)
116. Coffin from the Past by Gwendoline Butler (9/11/17)
117. McGarr at the Dublin Horse Show by Bartholomew Gill (9/13/17)
118. The Menehune Murders by Margot Arnold (9/16/17)
119. The World's Best 100 Detective Stories Vol. 7 by Eugene Thwing, ed (9/19/17)
120. My House Gathers Desires by Adam McOmber (9/19/17)
121. The Gloved Hand by Leigh Bryson (9/21/17)
122. Mr. & Mrs. North & the Poisoned Playboy by Frances & Richard Lockridge (9/23/17)
123. The Small World of Murder by Elizabeth Ferrars (9/25/17)
124. Journey's End by Evelyn Berckman (9/25/17)
125. Stag Dinner Death by John Penn (9/26/17)
126. To Wake the Dead by John Dickson Carr (9/30/17)
127. Night Walk by Elizabeth Daly (10/3/17)
128. Sherlock Holmes & Mr. Mac in: The Affair of Lady Westcott's Lost Ruby & The Case of the Unseen Assassin by Gary Lovisi (10/8/17)
129. Death in the Doll's House by Hannah Lees & Lawrence Blochman (10/9/17)
130. The Sound of Murder by John & Emery Bonett (10/11/17)
131. Case with Three Husbands by Margaret Erskine (10/15/17)
132. Casebook of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov (10/20/17)
133. Ghost of a Chance by Kelley Roos (10/28/17)
134. Fire Will Freeze by Margaret Millar (10/29/17)
135. Blue Ice by Hammond Innes (10/31/17)
136. Penelope Passes or Why Did She Die? Joan Coggin (11/4/17)
137. Murder at Beechlands by Maureen Sarsfield (11/7/17)
138. Maniac Rendezvous by Marc Brandel (11/9/17)
139. Murder by Experts by Ellery Queen, ed (11/13/17)
140. The Budapest Parade Murders by Van Wyck Mason (11/18/17)
141. Trial by Terror by Frances & Richard Lockridge (11/21/17)
142. Death for My Beloved [APA Enduring Old Charms] by Dorise Miles Disney (11/21/17)
143. The Christmas Murder [APA An English Murder] by Cyril Hare (11/25/17)
144. Murder in Ordinary Time by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie (11/29/17)
145. Crime for Christmas by Richard Dalby, ed (12/3/17)
146. Mistletoe & Mayhem by Richard Dalby, ed. (12/8/17)
147. The Corpse in the Snowman by Nicholas Blake (12/20/17)
148. The Year's Best Science Fiction Seventeenth Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed (12/27/17)
149. The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright (12/27/17)
150. A Dollhouse to Die For by Cate Price (12/29/17)