Saturday, September 30, 2017

Stag Dinner Death: Review

Stag Dinner Death (1983) by John Penn (pen name of husband & wife team Jack H. Trotman & Palma Harcourt)

The very posh backroom of a gentleman's club is one of the last places you'd expect a pregnant woman to spring a scandal...but that's what Sally-Ann Belmont does. Earlier in the day, she stops by the practice of Dr. John Breland, a young doctor who has set himself up with a lucrative Harley Street type practice. She wangles a last-minute appointment by claiming to be a friend of Breland's friend Gerald Hinton. Her complaint? Vague discomfort cum pain associated with her pregnancy. Breland can't find any definite cause and asks for her regular doctor's name and address so he can send along what notes he has. She produces the information with some reluctance and, once she's gone, Breland who is the suspicious sort asks his nurse to look the doctor up. He doesn't exist. 

The next glimpse we get of Sally-Ann is when she makes a grand theatrical entrance at Hinton's stag party where he's celebrating his forthcoming wedding to the very lovely Elizabeth Lydney. Sally-Ann announces that she's pregnant and Hinton is the father. She swears vengeance for his dumping her and disappears. A stunned Gerald, who swears he's never seen the woman before, follows in pursuit but can't find her. A few hours later, the body of the club's ladies'-room attendant is found and then Sally-Ann is also found murdered some days later, though the autopsy reveals that she was also killed on the night of the stag party.

Was Gerald really daft enough to kill these women directly after the announcement when his motive would be so glaringly obvious? Would he really kill to try to cover up a paternity suit scandal? The police focus their investigative spotlight on him, but they don't seem to think he fits the bill. Breland, who knows Gerald rather well, definitely doesn't think so and starts to dig for alternatives. He discovers that two of the club's members did know Sally-Ann very well. Well enough that they might have needed to keep her from spilling their beans along with her announcement about Gerald. Elizabeth's cousin, who had hopes of marrying her himself, could--just possibly--have arranged a hoax to frame Gerald. Or is there a sinister Mr. X directing things? Breland remembers a conversation and that sets him on the right track. But will he be able to prevent a third murder...possibly his own?

It's been about 25 years or so since I read my first John Penn novel (and their first novel as well, An Ad for Murder). I did enjoy that one quite a bit, though, and promptly put Penn down as one of the authors to look for. It was a long time before I found any more of the books. Stag Dinner Death is an entertaining little puzzle from the post-Golden Age period where fair play isn't quite as important. There are a few clues that don't get displayed, but Breland is a charming amateur detective and it is fun to watch him go to work to clear the name of his friend. I did guess the culprit--but without those vital clues (that are only displayed at the end) I wouldn't have been able to prove it. A very pleasant day's read and I look forward to the others I've managed to find. ★★

[Finished on 9/26/17]
Fulfills the "Bird" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Journey's End: Review

Journey's End (1976) by Evelyn Berckman is a second disappointing read in a row. So much so that I didn't read straight through, started skimming, and then read the last couple chapters so I could try and get a good sense of how things turned out and could claim it for various challenges. The back of the book was little misleading (and would be one of the reasons I picked it up at the Friends of the Library Bookstore a couple of years ago)...

The great lady was dead. The battle for the estate was on. Just out of reach was a mysterious something of impossible value, guarded by a beautiful, cunning man with a singular hunger--and a priceless secret. Ahead lay an alluring trap of the senses, a whisper of staggering, riches, and an unwaking nightmare...a nightmare that has just begun.

{Possible Spoilers Ahead as I try to unpack my thoughts on this thing}

Okay--that totally sounds like the cross between a treasure hunt/race for the goodies and something out of horror, right? Priceless secret. Singular hunger. Staggering riches. Unwaking nightmare. Yeah, no. At least not nearly in as exciting a manner as I was led to believe. The whole first part is spent with Dominic Godfrey who is part of a husband and wife team assigned to appraise the belongings of Madame de Leovil. Madame de Leovil was an eccentric recluse who lived in a home that somehow managed to escape the ravages of the French Revolution and may be stocked with priceless furniture. We get to watch him deal with the greedy daughters who can't wait to get their claws on all the lovely money the objects will bring at auction. I went for half the book waiting for the whole treasure hunt business to start or for something exciting to happen.

In the background is Dominic's wife Val who adores him and whom he doesn't really love...because he's gay. But the appraising firm they work for is very old-fashioned and proper and wouldn't stand for the lifestyle he wants, so he's married Val for a cover story--but she doesn't know yet. And...ooh look there's this beautiful young man who hangs around Madame de Leovil's house (supposedly as a librarian--but I didn't see him do much except wander around for Dominic to lust after). Somewhere in there we discover a valuable document....but that gets burned up in a fire. Dominic's life is kindof ruined because he tells Val about his longing for the beautiful young man (who by the way was going to totally use Dominic to get to London and hunt for richer pastures) and then the beautiful young man dies because of the fire. At least I think that's what happened--that whole last few chapters wrap-up business was very confusing.

No rating. I'm marking it as DNF although I read/skimmed enough to say I finished it for challenges.

[Stopped reading on 9/25/17]

Fulfills the "Written Document" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

The Small World of Murder: Review

The Small World of Murder 1973) by Elizabeth Ferrars isn't your standard Christmas murder mystery. No snow, no Yule log, no holly and hot cider. It's murder on the way to Australia where Christmas will take place with turkey and plum pudding...with a blistering ninety degrees outside. It's not exactly the happiest of holiday journeys either. Nicola and Jocelyn Foley have decided to take a long journey to Australia (with stops in Mexico, Fiji, and New Zealand) to spend Christmas with Jocelyn's brother Aidan. Jocelyn has hopes that the trip will be good for them as they try to recover from the disappearance of their infant daughter who vanished from her pram outside a local supermarket. There was no demand for ransom and the police have found no leads in the months that followed. They're quite sure that the little girl is dead.

Jocelyn invites Nicola's long-time friend Nina Hemslow to join them and Nina, who could never afford such a trip on her own, accepts readily. But the atmosphere is uncomfortable, at best. Nicola soon confides in Nina that she shouldn't have come--that she is quite sure that Jocelyn is trying to kill her. There have been a few "accidents" at home and in Mexico Nicola is nearly run over when (she says) Jocelyn pushes her from the curb. But Jocelyn also tells of incidents that have made him think Nicola wants to be rid of him. It's all very confusing and oppressive.

And what about Bill Lyndon, a friend of Jocelyn's family? Why does he keep popping up wherever they go? Nina wants to confide in him--and feels herself drawn to him--but can she trust him? There is more drama and the first death occurs in Australia. But the mystery isn't unraveled until Nina returns to England...and it's even more confusing than she thought. I've read many of Elizabeth (E. X.) Ferrar's books--mostly in her series featuring retired professor of botany Andrew Basnett--and I've generally enjoyed them. But this one did not do a thing for me. Very oppressive, instead of suspenseful as most of her non-series books are. And really quite convoluted--especially the explanation. I'm still not sure that I understand the motivation behind the kidnapping and the murders. Unlike other novels I've read by Ferrars, there wasn't much to like about the characters, either. I didn't feel the empathy that I would expect to feel for parents who had lost their only child and I didn't feel drawn into their difficulties in recovering from the loss. The most likeable character was Nina, but even she doesn't draw my attention the way a protagonist should. Overall, a very disappointing read.

[Finished on 9/25/17]
This fulfills the "Broken Object" (poor teddy!) on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Mr. & Mrs. North & the Poisoned Playboy: Review

In Mr. & Mrs. North and the Poisoned Playboy (originally published as Death of an Angel in 1955), Frances & Richard Lockridge's amateur sleuth couple find themselves plunged into murder at the theater. One of North's authors, Samuel Wyatt, has turned playwright and his show Around the Corner has just racked up its 100th show. With the lovely Miss Naomi Shaw in the lead, its success is guaranteed and it's just possible Wyatt and the rest of the company are on their way to the big time.

But then Bradley Fitch, well-known wealthy playboy, chooses the 100th night celebration party to announce that he and Naomi Shaw are going to be married.

"Going to steal your girl, cousins....Put her in my pocket."

And he means just that. He's going to marry her and take her off the stage. Just like that. No more packed houses at Around the Corner. No more ticket sales. Because, despite Fitch saying they can get another girl, there just isn't another Naomi Shaw and Miss Shaw has made that part so much her own that no one could step in and keep the play's momentum going.

So, it's not unreasonable that a lot of people see red when the wedding bells start ringing. Sam Wyatt isn't exactly delighted to know that his shares won't be pouring in. Wesley Strothers, the producer of the show, isn't particularly thrilled with the idea either. Jasper Tootle, Naomi's agent, isn't delighted to know that his percentage is going to evaporate. Phyllis Barnscott and Sidney Castle, also leads in the play, are a little miffed that their bread and butter may be in short supply soon as well. And, then, there are other matters. Fitch's relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson--who have counted on the perennial bachelor remaining a bachelor and remembering his family appropriately when it comes to wills and things--aren't really all that excited to see him ready to settle down.

And somebody decides to act on their feelings. The morning after Fitch throws a stag party to celebrate his forthcoming nuptials, his housekeeper finds him dead with the remains of a hangover "cure" beside him. Somebody added a dose of oxalic acid to his pick-me-up and ended the threat to Broadway's latest hit. Enter Acting Captain Bill Weigand and Lt. Mullins who just happen to be on loan to Homicide East (due to a rash of emergency and regular leaves) to take up the case. Of course, the Norths are in it too--from their connection to the playwright to the appearance of one of their monogrammed (!) cocktail napkins in the dead man's apartment--and are kept thoroughly up-to-date on the proceedings by Bill...and by Sam Wyatt (who's sure the cops are going to clap the cuffs on him any minute.

This one is great fun for those of us who like fair-play mysteries. It is more fairly-clued than most of the Lockridge books and careful readers will be able to spot the right clues among the red herrings. It also marks one of the few times that Pam is wrong--she normally "jumps" to the right solution, though following her thought processes may be a bit tricky, but this time she is very surprised by Bill's selection of culprit. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the witty dialogue and interactions of our recurring characters. Sam is a bit of a sad-sack, but close association with the Norths does seem to help. ★★★★

[Finished on 9/23/17]
Fulfills the "Cat" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Gloved Hand: Review

In The Gloved Hand (1947) by Leigh Bryson (pen name of Nancy Rutledge) Gena Zonn and Julian Burdick have decided to get married. Julian's sister, Ruth, is a little apprehensive--after all she's never met the girl and what she's heard about her doesn't calm her sisterly fears. But when the couple hosts a cocktail party to celebrate the happy event and Ruth meets Gena for the first time, she thinks: They're really in love. Julian loves her and she loves him. Maybe it will be all right.

What she doesn't understand is the extreme reaction she receives from Gena when she tries to give her a family heirloom. It is their mother's ring (one of a pair that had belonged to their grandmother and her twin sister) and Ruth wants her brother's bride to have it. But the sight of the ring terrifies Gena.

She pushed the ring from her with a swift gesture that sent it to the floor. She stared at Ruth in horror. "Not you!" she whispered. "Not you!"

Ruth can't imagine what she means. Ruth is further confounded when making her way around the room she finds a bundle of cash hidden in a potted plant. Maff Peroni, a cop who is also a life-long friend of Gena's, thinks he's found a blackmailer.

Maff is at the party at Gena's request. A blackmailer has gotten hold of letters written by various of her previous lovers--very prominent men who will pay what it takes to keep scandal out of the papers. An elaborate system whereby the blackmailer manages to keep him/herself hidden while showing a gloved hand with an antique ring to signal that a payment must be made--a ring very like the one Ruth tried to give Gena. The ring is the signal for Gena to perform specific actions that alerts the blackmail victim to put the money in place. When Ruth picks up the bundle of cash from the rubber plant, it looks like he's found the culprit. But further questioning of Ruth and the events that follow put her guilt in question. And when Gena is killed, Maff becomes convinced that Ruth's brother is behind it all. Ruth is determined to prove him wrong.

The Gloved Hand is the only novel written under the Leigh Bryson pseudonym. She published about twelve novels (two only in England) under her own name. Hand is cleverly plotted and provides several culprits and red herrings to keep the reader busy. Maff is bull-dog cop, portrayed as less clever than his boss--but appearances can be deceiving. He doesn't miss much and his doggedness helps him stick to the scent even after his superior officer is satisfied that the case is closed. Ruth is also an appealing character--she begins as a typical "old maid" (in her 30s) with her younger sister amused to find her at a cocktail party. She discovers a taste for adventure as the story progresses...even going in disguise at one point in an effort to clear her brother's name. Very entertaining fare. ★★ and a half.

[Finished on 9/21/17]
This fulfills the "Glove" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Friday, September 22, 2017

My House Gathers Desires: Review

My House Gathers Desires (2017) is the the most recent story collection by Adam McOmber. Like his earlier collection, This New & Poisonous Air, these stories are not strictly scary, but they do have a very unsettling, Gothic feel. He uses dark and unusual settings and atmosphere to explore the hidden corners of the human psyche. The tales are sometimes uncomfortable but always compelling and this collection in particular examines haunting manifestations of gender and sexuality. The backdrops come from the worlds of science fiction, history, fairy tales, and the Bible. In "Petit Trianon" we find two women who have a most disturbing experience in the refuge of Marie Antoinette when they visit the Palace of Versailles years later. "History of a Saint" describes the separate obsessions of a man and his wife with the incorruptible body of a dead woman...who was never quite designated a saint. "The Rite of Spring" is the story that most closely falls into the horror category. It features Mrs. Elizabeth Jordan who teaches at a boys' school and who faces a terrifying horror on a nearby island when two of the students take her teachings about myth and ritual a little too literally. 

There was a difference, she thought, between a god and monster. She should have told them while she could.

And "Metempsychosis" tells the tale of a young man who is led to the secrets behind the scenes of a traveling museum and discovers that some secrets are better left unknown.

These are (for me) the most affecting of the stories, but even the weakest are very, very good. Some of the other stories feature a confederate soldier, a retelling of Sodom and Gomorrah, and slightly different take on ghost stories. McOmber takes the stuff of nightmares and sets it to lyrical music. He opens up Pandora's box and the reader is both horrified and delighted at what flies out. ★★★★

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 7

The World's Best 100 Detective Stories (1929) edited by Eugene Thwing is a ten-volume set made up of ten short stories per set. I have already reviewed the first volume and I also own volumes six through ten (need to get my hands on the others). This is the seventh volume. As Thwing says in his introduction, picking the 100 best stories even in the early years of the mystery field was no easy job. It's easier to just select personal favorites--but one really needs to select a wide variety of popular favorites to meet the tastes of more readers. Of course, no matter what an editor does, he will still not pick everyone's favorite and be able to make everyone happy. This volume is fairly strong--nearly all of the stories ring in at three stars or more. My favorites are "Pink Bait," "The House Divided," "The Riddle of the Rainbow Pearl," and "The Pathologist to the Rescue" (roughly in that order). ★★ and a half for the volume as a whole.

"Common Stock" by Octavus Roy Cohen: Cohen's private detective, Jim Hanvey is playing chaperone to the courier of an important document. He knows the opposition will be sending someone to prevent the delivery of the document and employs an ingenious bit of sleight of hand to disrupt the villain's plans.

"Pink Bait" by Octavus Roy Cohen:  finds master criminal Thomas Matlock Braden in my home state of Indiana. Braden isn't just your average Moriarty-type of master criminal--directing vast nefarious organizations. He works alone, but handles "only tasks which require extraordinary finesse, infinite patience and an all-embracing knowledge of human nature." When he comes into possession of a purloined necklace of perfectly matched pink pearls, he travels to a resort in Indiana to look for the perfect "mark" upon which to work his magic. Because if anyone can sell an unsaleable stolen necklace, it's Thomas Matlock Braden.

"The Pathologist to the Rescue" by R. Austin Freeman: In this story Dr. Thorndyke does not have the use of DNA to catch a murderer. But he is able to examine a blood sample left at the scene of the crime and he uses knowledge of of a particular disease to help reach the correct conclusion and prove a man innocent. 

"The Blue Sequin" by R. Austin Freeman:  Thorndyke is called in when a beautiful young woman is found dead in a railway carriage. She has an odd combination of head injuries--including scratches to the face and a penetrating wound which was inflicted with great force with a sharp, round object. The police immediately suspect and arrest her former lover who had traveled by the same train and with whom she was seen quarreling. His brother believes fervently in his innocence and seeks Thorndyke's help in finding another solution. The solution is, quite honestly, fairly outrageous, but Freeman manages to make it believable within the story's framework and it answers all the questions quite nicely.

"The House Divided" by Thomas W. Hanshew: Monsieur Cleek--or as he refers to himself, "Cleek of Scotland Yard, Cleek of the Forty Faces, if you want complete details"--rushes off to Devonshire to see what is troubling the lovely Ailsa Lorne. The trouble belongs to the fiancĂ© of Miss Lorne's dearest friend. Lieutenant Bridewell's father, a retired sea captain, has been stricken by a mysterious wasting disease that is slowly eating away at his right arm. A famous doctor has taken up the case, but Captain Bridewell just gets worse and worse. The Lieutenant fears that his father's life is in danger and suspects foul play. It can't be poison because the Lieutenant has a portion of everything served to the older man. The young lieutenant begs Cleek to get to the bottom of the mystery and save his father. It doesn't take the famous detective long to discover the source of the "disease" and to pinpoint the guilty party. 

"The Riddle of the Rainbow Pearl" by Thomas W. Hanshew: Cleek is approached by Maverick Narkom of the Yard to assist in a matter of international importance. The coronation of King Ulric of Mauretania is set to take place in the near future and a scandal of huger proportions threatens the king and his kingdom. He had once gotten himself entangled with a beautiful Russian woman who, when scorned, managed to run off with the kingdom's most prized possession, The Rainbow Pearl, as well as some very incriminating documents. Cleek is asked to retrieve the items, but he is reluctant to do so. He does not admire King Ulric--who deposed the rightful heirs to the throne. His mind is changed when he discovers that Ulric's current wife is the daughter of the previous king--for he has some reverence for her and her family and off he goes to Mauretania to save the kingdom for the sake of the Queen. The entertainment is in figuring out where the items were kept (the lady's possessions and servants had been searched repeatedly) and how Cleek was able to remove them. I couldn't help but be reminded of the Sherlock Holmes story about The Woman. There are several parallels to "A Scandal in Bohemia"--the main difference being that the Russian lady does not get the better of Cleek.  

"The Mystery of the Steel Room" by Thomas W. Hanshew: 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.

"Vidocq & the Locksmith's Daughter" by George Barton: Barton's story revolves around a spate of robberies which the Paris police cannot solve. So, Monsieur Henry, the Prefect, calls in Vidocq, former thief and master in the art of disguise, to help put an end to the crime wave. M. Henry's colleagues scorn the idea, but Vidocq goes undercover and fools the chief of thieves, Constantine. And proves that the Prefect's confidence in him was not in vain.

"Suspicion" by William B. Maxwell: The title tells you everything you need to know about Maxwell's short story. Old Mrs. Mayhew lives in a house crammed with knick-knacks and personal treasures. Things may be overflowing, but she knows exactly what she has and where things ought to be. When she can't find certain of her treasured items, she decides to have a "big tidying" to return misplaced items to their rightful place. But the tidying session fails to bring them to light. That's when the air of suspicion settles on the house. Did her nephew remove them--thinking Aunt Kate would never notice? Or was it the faithful cook who had been with her for years? Or maybe it was the housemaid who had that one unfortunate incident long before she ever came into Mrs. Mayhew's service? Everyone looks suspicious when there's no evidence...Will Mrs. Mayhew get any of her treasures back?  



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deal Me In Week #39: "Farrar Fits In" by Edmund Snell

I'm trying very hard to stay on track with Jay's 7th annual Deal Me In Challenge. This week's draw is the Three of Clubs which matches up to "Farrar Fits In" by Edmund Snell (found in The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 7 by Eugene Thwing, ed.). This also finishes up that volume of detective stories by Thwing.

image credit

Snell's story (which takes place in the 1920s, thus the Art Deco card above) finds Edward "Teddy" Farrar, late of the Indian Police, driving along a narrow British lane when he runs into a thick bit of fog. Out of the fog comes a young woman named Dagni who leads Teddy into a weekend house party where the guests are decked out with all the jewels they own with every expectation of being visited by a jewel thief. The big display of loot is supposed to be a trap whereby the woman and her detective partner (who has gone astray) was supposed to nab the thief/thieves before the jewels disappeared--she wants Teddy to stand in for "George." Was there ever a George? Is Dagni who she says she is? And what happened to the jewels that vanished right under their noses?

The Menehune Murders: Review

The Menehune Murders is the seventh book in Margot Arnold's mystery series which features American anthropologist, Penny Spring, and British archaeologist, Sir Toby Glendower. This adventure finds the duo headed for the Hawaiian islands for a vacation. Of course, no vacation is truly restful for Penny and Sir Toby, and this is no exception. The widower of one of Penny's friends has asked the renowned anthropologist to mediate a dispute between himself and another member of the University of Hawaii's faculty. Giles Shaw, a stereotypical wild Irishman if there ever was one, has lately made claims to proof of the fabled Menehunes--legendary Polynesian "little people" not unlike the leprechauns of Ireland. 

While most of Shaw's colleagues sensibly ignored him and let him go his way, Helmut Freyer responded with scathing criticism. This spurred Shaw to even more extravagant claims which he committed to paper in a book. The rivalry grew and the press made much of it--until finally Penny was called up to help settle the dispute. Penny drags Toby (grumbling about another interrupted vacation) to the meeting spot, an isolated, god-forsaken area which is supposed to work into Polynesian legend, to find no trace of Shaw and the dead body of Freyer. 

He was stretched out on the ground, his arms neatly at his sides, face up, eyes closed, and but for a grimace that twisted the flaccid mouth looked as if he were quietly napping. [But...] On the bare skin [of his right leg] was a purplish patch and a small scratch from which ran a trickle of blood, that pointed like an arrow to something that glittered dully in the sunlight: it was a tiny, finely-flaked spearpoint of obsidian attached to a small shaft of polished wood.

Freyer has been poisoned by what looks like a miniature spear --as if the legendary Menehune have risen against him and struck him down.

Of course, the Hawaiian police immediately decide that Shaw must be the guilty party. Because every bright person who decides to turn murderer definitely leaves big clues that says "Hey, guys, it was ME!" Penny thinks Giles is a bit thick when it comes to interpersonal relationships, but can't believe he'd hang out a Menehune sign that would indicate that he is the culprit. She insists that she must get to the bottom of Freyer's murder with or without Toby's help. Toby--knowing Penny's penchant for getting herself into dangerous situations--reluctantly pitches in. They soon discover that more people were interested in the Menehune dispute than first met the eye--for reasons of greed rather than anthropological or archaeological glory.

Arnold is, as usual, very adept at her descriptions of place. For those of us who have never been to Hawaii, it is very easy to visualize the places Penny and Toby visit in their efforts to untangle the mystery. The beauty of the Hawaiian islands and the waters surrounding them come alive. This particular outing is also a better-clued mystery than some of her previous novels. Quite often Sir Toby holds clues close to his chest in Holmes-fashion rather than vintage fair play. Readers of The Menehune Murders have a fair chance to discover the villain before the final chapter. Over all, an entertaining read with the standard Arnold grand finale with a last-minute helicopter rescue--this time it's Toby in danger and Penny flies in with the rescue team just in the nick of time. ★★★★

[Finished on 9/16/17]
This fulfills the "Any Other Weapon" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Monday, September 18, 2017

McGarr at the Dublin Horse Show: Spoilerific Review

There is no way I can talk about my reaction to this one without giving away a plot point. Read at your own risk...But if you read the back blurb of this edition, you may not get the kind of mystery you expect. Just sayin'.

McGarr at the Dublin Horse Show* (1979) by Bartholomew Gill was a very disappointing read. After having read The Death of an Ardent Bibliophile (pre-blogging, so no in-depth review) and having fond memories of it as well as having given it a four-star rating, I was looking forward to this one. The St. Louis Post Dispatch didn't help matters with their "McGarr is a man mystery fans should get to know...a quiet, unassuming sleuth with powers of deduction rivaling Sherlock Holmes himself" blurb on the back cover. Along with a summary that makes it sound like a nice, normal police procedural mystery. After all--according to the back cover, McGarr is supposedly investigating a nice, quiet strangling of an older lady in a tidy little apartment. 

Who would want to kill old Mrs. Caughey? The simple Dublin housewife had never harmed a soul. She lived alone with her beautiful daughter in a tidy apartment that contained not a trace of the past...a past that was suddenly revealed to be a cauldron of greed, passion, and revenge...a dangerous brew that would come to a boil at the Dublin Horse Show, turning an elegant pageant into a chilling spectacle, plunging McGarr into a pounding race against time.

No muss, no fuss. Not even a drop of blood. What I got was an Irish gangland/IRA shoot-em-up with more bodies lying around with bullets in them than I can remember. Oh, sure, Mrs. Caughey does get strangled and McGarr does investigate that murder but that leads him to all the IRA/Irish gangster business with a dose of revenge-style killing and a grand finale at the Dublin horse show.

Now, of course, Goodreads gives a synopsis from a different edition of the book and it is a little more upfront with the reader. It does seem to me that Murder Ink misrepresents things a bit--the kinds of passion and revenge I was expecting was more personal and less bloody. One thing Gill does do is offer up several suspects--everyone from Margaret Caughey's racetrack hound brother to the daughter Mairead who may have wanted more freedom to the daughter's boyfriend with shady connections to the priest who taught Mairead piano to the rich race horse owner who bought the Caughey's land for a song. Any of these may have had even deeper motives and any of them may have connections to the IRA. McGarr just needs to figure out how it all ties together.

My rating is really quite personal this time--primarily because I felt tricked by the synopsis on my edition, but also because IRA/gang-type shoot-em-ups really aren't my cup of tea. It's quite possible that someone who goes into the book knowing the type of crime novel it is (I can't really call it a mystery in the lines that I normally read) may quite enjoy this.

*APA: The Death of an Irish Tradition
[Finished on 9/13/17]

This counts for the the "Cigarette" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt Card [will add back cover w/cigarette later tonight].

Deal Me In: Week 38: "Common Stock" by Octavus Roy Cohen

I'm trying very hard to get back on track with Jay's 7th annual Deal Me In Challenge. This week's draw is the Ace of Clubs which matches up to "Common Stock" by Octavus Roy Cohen (found in The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 7 by Eugene Thwing, ed.)

I have several of Cohen's novels sitting on the TBR stack and have already read one story by him for this challenge ("Pink Bait"--same collection). Cohen's private detective, Jim Hanvey is playing chaperone to the courier of an important document. He knows the opposition will be sending someone to prevent the delivery of the document and employs an ingenious bit of sleight of hand to disrupt the villain's plans.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Coffin From the Past: Review

A Coffin from the Past (1970) by Gwendoline Butler presents Detective John Coffin with a scandalous murder. The newspapers have a field day when Thomas Barr, a rising M.P., and his lovely secretary, Sheila Daly, are found dead in the office area of the small house he had been using as a headquarters. It wasn't just that they were found dead together; their state of undress was suggestive to say the least. But if the two were having a torrid affair, would they really risk Barr's career by indulging their passions in the headquarters...on the very night that the M.P. held open hours for his constituents?

Coffin smells a set-up. But what kind of set-up? He's very interested in the fact that Barr's estranged wife Camilla had hired a private detective to follow his movements. Did she suspect an affair? Was she planning to disgrace her husband...even if it took murder to do so? Coffin is also interested in the fact that the private detective Camilla hired is an ex-cop who was suspected of being on the take. Martin Kelly seethes with anger and has a grudge against the police force and the government. Did he see an opportunity to settle his grudge? And who is Charlie Grinling? That was the name on dying secretary's lips when Clement Grove, one of Barr's volunteers, walked in on the dreadful scene later that evening. Coffin will have to answer that question and several others as he moves through layers of deception, love, and hate to find the killer who claimed two lives and who will attempt to take two more.

I have to say that Butler writes some pretty weird mysteries. She tends to use human nature's bizarre fantasies or modern paranoia masking deeply buried secrets to construct her plots and provide the foundations of motive.The motive for this one is pretty convoluted and a bit contrived. Without giving it away--if it were only half what it is, I could have swallowed it better; multiplying it by two really was a bit much. Butler does do well with her police procedure and Coffin is an interesting detective. I enjoy watching him work and interact with the suspects and witnesses. He is the calm face of orderly investigation in the middle of Butler's strange plots. ★★

[Finished on 9/11/17] ***********
This fulfills the "Hand Holding Weapon" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Contest: Mini-Review

The Contest is an Armenian folktale adapted and illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian. The book was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1977. This colorful book tells the tale of two robbers, Hmayag and Hrahad who meet by accident under a pomegranate tree. As they begin to talk and eat their lunches, they see that they each have identical items in their pouches. And then they discover that they share a line of work. And that's not all they share--they are both engaged to the same girl, Ehleezah, who has prepared those identical lunches. Obviously, they both can't have her, so they devise a contest with the winner maintaining his engagement to Ehleezah. The tasks they set themselves truly test their thieving mettle. But the results of the contest and the decisions they make at the end are not quite what they expect. Both the thieves and the reader are surprised.

Beautiful illustrations set the stage for the story and children of all ages will be delighted. ★★

Case With No Conclusion: Review

It's been quite a while since I read one of Leo Bruce's Sergeant Beef novels. I read Case for Three Detectives over twenty-five years ago and enjoyed it very much. I immediately put Leo Bruce down as an author to look for and found Case With Ropes & Rings not too long after. I enjoyed that one as well, though not quite as much as Three Detectives. From there on, it was a long, dry Beef spell and all the novels I found (both at the library and to own) were from his Carolus Deene series. Not that I was complaining. Deene is a history schoolmaster and I do love me an academic mystery. But if my reading of Case With No Conclusion (1939) is anything to go by, it would seem that I have lost my taste for Beef (pun well and truly intended).

Despite the fact that he is incredulous that (former) Sergeant Beef has set himself up as a private detective, Lionel Townsend stands prepared to play Watson and faithfully record whatever cases may come Beef's way. And despite his Watson's doubts, Beef has a case in no time. Peter Ferrers calls on Beef to prove his brother Stewart innocent of murder. The family doctor, Dr. Benson, has been stabbed in the neck in the library of Stewart's cold, dark Victorian mansion, The Cypresses. Dr. Benson wasn't exactly well-loved and there are rumors that Stewart was having an affair with the doctor's beautiful wife. It doesn't help that the murder weapon, a favorite knife of the accused man, is lying on a table near the body and the only fingerprints on the knife are Stewart's. The police are certain they have their man, but Beef isn't convinced. He's certain that the butler is holding something back and there's the little matter of blackmail to be looked into. But who is blackmailing whom?

~~~~~Possible Spoilers Ahead: read at your own risk~~~~~

As I mention above, Sergeant Beef doesn't seem to do as much for me as he once did. I think he's supposed to be humorous. At least, it seems to me he's supposed to be poking fun at the mystery genre and his method of detection is supposed to be better than Lord Plimsoll and that lot. But Townsend's asides about how Beef's methods aren't so good and his general lack of enthusiasm for the hero just doesn't go over well. Yes, he's an anti-Watson, I get that--no adoring, faithful side-kick he. But I guess that's just not what I'm looking for these days

The mystery itself is fairly well done (thus earning most of the star-points), with an interesting (if now well-known) twist. I do have to say that I was disappointed to find that--as the title warns us--there is no real conclusion to the story. That is to say, Beef discovers the real killer but then doesn't do anything about it. The reason why is the twist. I understand Beef's reasons, but the lack of investigative closure is a bit dissatisfying. and 3/4.

[Finished on 9/9/17]
This fulfills the "Bloodstain" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Title Is Murder: Review

A killing spree at the bookstore! Who would have thought there would be more blood than ink in the fiction section? Hugh Lawrence Nelson shows us what murderous fiends bookworms and book dealers can be in The Title Is Murder (1947). Braxton's is San Francisco's most exclusive bookstore.

From the sidewalk, the neat gold lettering of the one word BRAXTON'S on the sparkling windows, the small display instead of the pile-type of window trimming, told of exclusiveness. A small, mirrored foyer with a single table holding a large vase of flowers and one book, continued he impression.

Women in furs come to buy presents for their nieces and nephews--assured that the staff at Braxton's will know just the right book. And, of course, they want the books gift wrapped and emblazoned with the Braxton sticker (to emphasize how exclusively the niece or nephew has been thought of). What customers of Braxton's don't expect is to find their favorite bookstore closed off, inundated with policemen and and Mr. Braxton himself dead at his desk...

He had slumped forward, face down on the desk as if pillowing his head on his right arm. A stained, hook-bladed knife lay a few inches from his bloody fingers. 

Mr. Braxton has a bloody gash in his throat to match the stained knife and fingers.

A strange way to commit suicide and it doesn't take Detective Lieutenant Stephen Johnson long to discover that there are plenty of people who might have had a deadly grudge against the bookstore owner. Braxton's office was in a balcony overlooking the sales floor and he was quick to spot any infraction of the many rules of his domain or any disruption in the enforced harmony among his employees. Offenders would quickly receive a sarcastic note...or in extreme cases be called to the upper level for a "conference."

Nan Hunter, of the fiction department, is the most recent staff member to be summoned into the presence. Her conference results in her quitting, but Braxton refuses to accept her notice. Personal history--she was once engaged to his son, now deceased--ties her too firmly to Braxton and she leaves the office (after hours) in a distraught frame of mind. She is the last person known to have seen Braxton before his body is discovered. There are those who are eager to believe that Nan is the killer--or at least are eager for the police to think so.  Malice and rivalries--both personal and professional--had many of the staff from the nonfiction buyer to floor saleswomen to stockroom workers ready to shift the blame and keep the police from investigating them too closely.

The difficulty for Johnson is that so many of them have alibis and Nan Hunter doesn't. He's sure that she's innocent but he's going to have to break an alibi or two if he's going to prove it. Otherwise, his chief is going to expect him to arrest the most likely suspect....

While this is a delightful second-tier mystery from the 1940s, it is understandable why Hugh Lawrence Nelson isn't as well-known as Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr or many others from the period. The clues aren't exactly thick on the ground and the plotting isn't as tight as one of the masters of the genre. Given the number of bodies that pile up, it becomes more a matter of process of elimination more then deductive reasoning on the part of the reader. But Nelson knows his way around the book world and gives us a good view of an exclusive bookshop from the 40s. Good characterizations and light romance help balance the story and it makes for an enjoyable evening's read. There are six more books in the Lt. Johnson series (this is the debut) and I will certainly keep my eye out for more. ★★ and 3/4.

[Finished on 9/5/17]
This fulfills the "Book" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Deal Me In: Playing Catch Up

Still working my way steadily through the short stories for Jay's Deal Me in Challenge--52 short stories in 52 weeks based on shuffling and drawing a new card every week--although you wouldn't know it by my posts recently. When I started this post, I wrote: "I'm a little bit better this time...I'm only one week behind. Last week I drew the Ace of Spades which gave me "Galactic North" by Alastair Reynolds (found in
The Year's Best Science Fiction 17th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed.; 2000). Well...that's not true anymore. I'll scurry and see if I can get caught up.
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Previous to this short story, my only experience with Alastair Reynolds was his collection of short stories, Zima Blue & Other Stories. (2006) I mention in that review that Reynolds is a hard science science fiction writer with a tendency towards dark stories--but an excellent story-teller. This is evident again in "Galactic North," an earlier story published in 1999. Here we have a story of betrayal, obsession, and revenge that spans 40,000 years of future history. It all stems from an ambush of a cargo ship transporting cryogenically-frozen sleepers. The captain of the ship has been conditioned to do whatever it takes to bring her cargo through safely...even if it means chasing the one she believes has betrayed her through all of space and time.

My next draw was the Four of Clubs. That card matches up with "The Pathologist to the Rescue" by R. Austin Freeman (found in The World's Best 100 Detective Stories Vol 7 by Eugene Thwing, ed).

In this story Dr. Thorndyke does not have the use of DNA to catch a murderer. But he is able to examine a blood sample left at the scene of the crime and he uses knowledge of of a particular disease to help reach the correct conclusion and prove a man innocent. 

Next up is the Eight of Spades...or the short story "Suicide Coast" by M. John Harrison (found in The Year's Best Science Fiction 17th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed.; 2000).

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This story shows us what people will do to make their lives seem more real once everything is virtual and humanity is "cored" (directly plugged in to virtual reality). But is even the real thing real anymore?

Week #33: I drew the Jack of Clubs which gave me "The Wedding Album" by David Marusck (another from the SF Collection).

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Another story about virtual reality. In this one instead of creating photo albums--people have created Sims of their favorite moments in life. But what happens if your simulations become just as real as you are? What if they demand rights as individuals. And what if all that is left of you is one of your simulations?

Week #34: This time the Nine of Spades comes to the top with "Hunting Mother" by Sage Walker. 

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 "Hunting Mother" continues my run of SF stories from the large Best of...Collection. It tells the story of genetically engineered "humans" colonizing new worlds. The colonists are mixtures of humans and human/animal combinations. Our protagonist, Cougar, has some of the genetics of his namesake. And he faces a choice as his mother, a human, becomes sick and is coming to the end of her life.

Week #35: Another SF story (it's a big book!) when the Four of Diamonds gave me "A Martian Romance" by Kim Stanley Robinson.

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Robinson has been on my SF radar for a long time. But, as far as I can remember, this is the first story I've read by him. This story tells about a terraforming effort on Mars that has gone wrong. The "old ones" who were involved in completing the project are heartbroken that all of their work has been for nothing--but the younger Mars colonists see hope for the future...even on a cold and barren world.

Week #36: The Ten of Hearts finally took me back to mysteries with "Puzzle for Poppy" by Patrick Quentin (in Murder by Experts by Ellery Queen, ed.)

not quite a St. Bernard...

This mystery features Quentin's regular protagonists, producer Peter Duluth and his wife Iris as they try to solve the attempted murder of a St. Bernard. It appears that no one is guilty--but someone clearly must be. Quentin parades all the clues before the reader and yet one feels like one has come to the blank wall at the end of a dead end street. And it's all done with a zany humor that is uniquely Quentin's. [Quentin is a pseudonym used by Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler.]

Week #37: Back to SF with the Seven of Spades and "Hatching the Phoenix" by Frederik Pohl.

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This story takes place in Pohl's universe of Gateway--where the Heechee, an enigmatic race of aliens have left discarded technology which helps humans explore the universe. In this one, an ultra-rich woman has financed a mission to observe a planet whose sun is about to go nova.