Sunday, April 30, 2017

Challenge Complete: Follow the Clues

Brand new for 2017! My Reader's Block is proud to introduce the Follow the Clues Mystery Challenge

I started my new Follow the Clues Mystery Challenge looking for clues to support a Misdemeanor. I met that commitment back on March 14 and continued to hunt for evidence--working my way through a Felony charge and finally collecting enough evidence for a Capital Offense. I thought I might be able to string together even more connections (perhaps bringing down a whole gang), but I hit a bit of a dead end with Coffin's Dark Number by Gwendoline Butler. So--having met my initial commitment and then some, I'm going to declare this challenge fulfilled.

1. Death at Swaythling Court by J. J. Connington (1/4/17) [revolver on cover--which leads me to...]
2. Death of a Racehorse by John Creasey (1/7/17) [do those bullets on the cover match the gun in question? And my next clue...]
3. The 24th Horse by Hugh Pentecost (1/13/17) [Now horses seem to be theme. This takes place at a horse show in New York City. And this book leads me to...]
4. Death Takes a Bow by Frances & Richard Lockridge (2/5/17) [With more mysterious goings-on in New York City...with Mr. & Mrs. North.]
5. Deception Island by M. K. Lorens (2/13/17) [In the Lockridge book, the victim is a writer. Here, the amateur sleuth is a writer. Connection = writers]
6. Episode of the Wandering Knife by Mary Roberts Rinehart (2/17/17) [A man on the cover of Deception Island is holding a knife. A woman on the Rinehart book is holding a knife. Connection = knife]
7. The Body Missed the Boat by Jack Iams (3/6/17) [Rinehart book was a Dell mapback. That map led me to this book which is also a Dell mapback.]
8. Murder at Government House by Elspeth Huxley (3/14/17) [Iams book was set in Africa. This book is also set in Africa.]


9. Dread & Water by Douglas Clark (3/15/17) [Two important scenes in the Huxley book involve mountainsides. All of the deaths in the Clark book occur while mountain-climbing]
10. Silence Observed by Michael Innes (3/28/17) [Both Clark & Innes have upper-level policemen investigating the crimes] 


11. Nun Plussed by Monica Quill (3/30/17) [A rare/used book man is one of the victims in the Innes book; a rare/used book man is the initial suspect in the Quill book]
12. A Grave Case of Murder by Roger Bax (4/10/17) [A supposed marriage is involved in each book]

Capital Offense! 

13. Murder Comes First by Frances & Richard Lockridge (4/11/17) [Both books have very sympathetic detectives--in the Bax book, sympathy with the suspects, and in the Lockridge book sympathy with the amateur detectives.] 
14. Stroke of Death by Josephine Bell (4/12/17)  [Murder for Money]
15. Coffin's Dark Number by Gwendoline Butler (4/16/17) [Both are heavily psychological character studies--and very squalid, depressing character studies too]

The Vanishing Violinist: Review

Things are heating up in Joan Spencer's life. The amateur viola player and oftentimes amateur detective's third outing in The Vanishing Violinist (1999) by Sara Hoskinson Frommer finds her finally planning a wedding to Lieutenant Fred Lindquist, being told that she's soon to be a mother-in-law, and landing in the middle of a mystery at the International Violin Competition in Indianapolis, Indiana. Joan lives in the small college town of Oliver but when she calls her daughter to tell Rebecca that she's planning a wedding, Rebecca has news of her own. She is engaged to a violin virtuoso who will be performing at the International Violin Competition. Rebecca wants her mom to meet up with Bruce in Indianapolis and give him some moral support during the competition. Joan winds up providing support for much more than just that....

When the Stradivarius violin belonging to one of Bruce's rivals disappears, he becomes a prime suspect. He had gone to Camila Pereira's host family's house to wish her luck before her first performance. As chance would have it, he was left alone (while she dressed for the competition) for a time period long enough to have snatched the violin from its case and stashed it somewhere. Then when the Brazilian beauty herself disappears the Indianapolis police are once again sizing him as a kidnapper. After an Oliver police officer is killed in a fatal hit-and-run accident, clues provided by local schoolchildren surface that make Joan believe answers may lie closer to her home than she'd like. She and Fred untangle the remaining threads that allow the Indy police to make a dramatic arrest on the night of the Competition's awards.

This is the first of the Joan Spencer series that I've read. I'm sure reading the first two would provide some backstory, but I didn't really feel like I had missed anything vital to the plot of novel number three. Frommer introduces the characters in such a way that readers can settle right in and feel like they already know these people. Joan is an engaging protagonist and her family and friends round out the recurring characters nicely. If the rest of the books are as interesting, then this definitely seems like a cozy series worth reading in its entirety. Not quite fair play in its cluing, but modern mysteries don't always follow such niceties. However, there are strong indications which the clever reader may pick up on. Good solid cozy mystery fare. ★★★
[finished on 4/30/17]

The Fennister Affair: Review

The Fennister Affair (1969) by Josephine Bell takes her readers on a mysterious Caribbean cruise.

Sally Combes has just finished a temporary job for her Uncle Oswald in Bermuda. He rewards her with a Caribbean cruise with stops at various nearby islands before she must head home to England. The night before the Selena arrives in Bermuda to pick up Sally and other new passengers a woman disappears from the ship. It is presumed that she fell overboard and has been lost at sea. Her bereaved husband leaves the ship and Sally finds herself upgraded from a small single-occupancy cabin to the spacious double previously occupied by the unfortunate couple. She's determined not to let the tragedy influence her vacation but she has little control over future events.

Her first night at sea, she discovers a portion of a letter hidden in a book in the dressing table. It has every appearance of a suicide note

I cannot bear it any longer. If you love her more than me you must want to be rid of me. I won't stand in your way my darling. I will simply disappear. Felicity.

and it's signed Felicity. Felicity Fennister--the woman who had, indeed, disappeared. Sally soon joins forces with Tim Rogers, an appealing newspaperman hot on the trail of several stories onboard, and Mrs. Fairbrother, an elderly woman who seems to have her fingers on the gossipy pulse of the ship.

There are many questions that need answering before Sally, Tim, and Mrs. Fairbrother will unravel the mystery. Why are certain passengers behaving so strangely? Who was on deck the night Felicity disappeared? Why are the ship's officers so secretive and why aren't they more interested in investigating the disappearance?  Why does Conchita, Felicity's stewardess, keep leaving the ship (at various ports) and then returning? Who was the shadowy figure on the bridge with the captain? Can the ship's captain be trusted? And who put the poison in Tim's drink? Somebody doesn't want the inquisitive journalist asking any more questions. But not even a near-fatal poisoning can keep our heroines and hero from getting at the truth.

Josephine Bell provides a decent closed circle mystery. Cruise ships provide a similar setting to the country house which becomes isolated due to inclement weather. There are a limited number of suspects and there's only so many places to hide on board a ship. If she had stuck with her first-line plot (the missing Felicity Fennister) and devoted her mystery-making skills to developing it fully, this might have been a first-rate detective novel. However, there is a sinister sub-plot that takes up more time than necessary and which pushes the book towards the adventure/thriller end of the spectrum. Still--a solid offering and while the solution to the primary mystery is dangled rather obviously before the reader one might not (as I did not) figure out all the details. Entertaining. ★★★

[finished on 4/28/17]

This fulfills the "Blonde" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Grounds for Murder: Review

Grounds for Murder (1995) by Kate Kingsbury is the sixth book in the Pennyfoot Hotel series which features Cecily Sinclair, innkeeper and sometime amateur detective, and is set in the Edwardian era. This particular episode finds the hotel full of rumors of gypsies living in the woods near Badgers End (home of the Pennyfoot). Cecily is pretty busy--organizing the annual Guy Fawkes Ball held in the ballroom of the hotel and preparing for an influx of new guests. Belowstairs is pretty hectic as well. Gertie, one of the maids, is expecting a child any day now and is trying with intermittent success to train a new tweeny to help out. Doris is an odd girl--shy, clumsy and frail one minute and mouthy and strong the next. No one knows what to maker of her. And as soon as Doris assigned the job of chopping sticks, the Pennyfoot's shiny axe starts disappearing and reappearing like a regular jack-in-the-box.

Meanwhile, a gypsy girl is found murdered...beheaded with an axe. And another murder soon follows. Doris may be behaving strangely, but at least she hasn't expressed any prejudices against gypsies...unlike most of the current Pennyfoot guests. Cecily vows to stay out of this particular murder mystery--to the relief of her manager and right-hand man Baxter. But such vows are meant to be broken, especially when the innkeeper begins receiving anonymous notes begging her to stop "George" from killing any more gypsies. The only problem...nobody knows who George is. Cecily convinces a reluctant Baxter to help and then gathers enough clues to spot the killer's next target. But will they be in time to save a life?

Definitely not meant to be a fair-play, intricate mystery, this book (and the series) is firmly in the cozy camp. The recurring characters are, for the most part, likeable and the on-going story lines could certainly make for compulsive reading. Good reading for a rainy afternoon (which we've had plenty of lately) with a mystery that is solvable and not too taxing for armchair detectives.  ★★★

[Finished on 4/26/17]

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Who Is the Next?: Review

Who Is the Next? (1931) by Henry Kitchell Webster is a country house mystery set on the outskirts of Chicago. Old Mr. Lindstrom who owns the lavish estate summons Prentiss ("Pete") Murray, his legal counsel and his granddaughter's guardian, to discuss "something very serious" (according to Miss Parsons, the secretary who relays the message). From things that Camilla, Lindstrom's granddaughter, has told him, Murray suspects that it means the old gentleman has succumbed to the wiles of said secretary and plans to marry her. It's also possible that her grandfather wants to change his will again--especially if he's found out that she bought that airplane that he was so opposed to.

But none of this is what's on Lindstrom's mind at all. He believes that Miss Parsons has been snooping in his desk's secret drawer. The only items of importance were a letter from his grandson saying he was finally coming home for a visit (or possibly to stay, he's not quite clear on that topic)....and the combination to the safe where Lindstrom keeps $25,000 in cash. Lindstrom wants to prosecute her for breaking into the desk--but Murray says there's no proof and the most Lindstrom can do is give her notice and change his combination.

The next morning, Lindstrom is found shot in the head and Miss Parsons is missing. So, naturally, the police suspect that she's responsible for the murder. But that theory goes to pieces when she is found shot as well and the $25,000 is missing from the safe. Soon, Camilla's brother Eric arrives, a mysterious man is seen wandering the grounds, and an old friend of Eric's also shows up. The chauffeur's young daughter has been keeping her eyes open and is full of information for Murray and the police--including an identification of the mysterious man. He looked just like Eric! If Eric hadn't been verified as a passenger on that train, he'd be a suspect as well. Camilla's flying skills and the journey of the sleeper train her brother arrived on both play an important role in solving the mystery.

This is a fairly well done mystery plot from the Golden Age. A bit predictable perhaps for those of us who read these things by shelf-fulls, but entertaining. The sub-plot of aviation and romance (between Camilla and Pete) is diverting without being distracting. The characters are decent--with the chauffeur's daughter Ruth stealing scenes whenever she appears.

[finished on 4/24/17]
This fulfills the "Plane" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Deal Me In: Catch-Up Post #2

I'm still behind with my reports on my participation in Jay's 7th annual Deal Me In Challenge for 2017. Spring is tough for me--graduate application to our English MA/MFA/PhD programs make life a bit hectic. The end is in sight, though, and hopefully I'll get back on track. Here are the cards and stories that went by when we weren't looking...

photo credit

Week #15: Eight of Clubs = "The Mystery of the Steel Room" by Thomas W. Hanshew from The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 7 by Eugene Thwing. Hanshew's detective, Cleek, is back--this time he has been asked to discover who is after a famous racehorse and how the villains are getting into a locked stable where the horse is guarded in an impenetrable steel cage. Two men have been attacked while guarding the horse--the first was left paralyzed and the second was murdered outright. Cleek discovers not only who and how--but the deeper objective behind the attacks.

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Week #16: Two of Diamonds = "Phallicide" by Charles Sheffield from The Year's Best Science Fiction 17th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed. Sheffield's story of the not-so-distant future tells of a brilliant young woman whose scientific mind gets her away from a domineering, patriarchal religious group. The group wants her to use her scientific talents to produce a drug that will keep their Blessed Leader "up" to the job of fathering future generations, but Doctor Rachel may have other plans.

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Week  #17: Ace of Hearts = "The Blast of the Book" by G. K. Chesterton from Murder by Experts by Ellery Queen, ed. Father Brown teaches a scientist interested in the paranormal and psychic phenomena how to distinguish between what is really there and what isn't when a clergyman comes along with a story about a cursed book which makes people disappear.