Tuesday, May 15, 2018

More Classic Illustrated Classics: Verne & Wells

I have read both Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (pre-blogging days, so no review) previously and enjoyed them both immensely. Having acquired these stories in the Illustrated Classics versions similar to The Hound of the Baskervilles (most recently reviewed), I enjoyed them again in graphic novel form. As I have mentioned in other reviews of these early graphic novels, The illustrations are quite lovely and make these classic books very accessible to young readers. I  also enjoy the nostalgia-factor--reading these new-to-me classic graphic novels takes me back to elementary school and discovering Dracula and Frankenstein in the pages of these illustrated books.

Of course, the stories are condensed, but those who adapted them did so judiciously and the novels do not suffer for it. It brings the stories into an easily managed length--both for illustration purposes and to hold the attention of the young readers for whom they were designed.

It was a great deal of fun to journey once more around with world with Phileas Fogg and his right-hand man Passepartout. And to see their adventures brought to the page in illustrations was an added delight. It was a bit difficult to accustom myself to the look of Fogg--but that is through no fault of the illustrator. It's my own predisposition to imagine Pierce Brosnan's features after having seen his portrayal of the part so many times. 

It was even better to revisit the world of Wells's Time Machine--a world that I had not visited in print since I was in junior high school. I found that there was a great deal of the story that I had forgotten or had remembered incorrectly--perhaps due to having seen various renditions in film.

Both graphic novels earn a sold ★★ rating.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Then There Were Three: Review

Then There Were Three (1938) by Geoffrey Homes was a bit of a surprise. The Bantam edition that I read had no synopsis and, being very familiar with Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, I was kind of expecting a large group of people to get knocked off--leaving only three suspects to choose from. Actually, three is the magic number of corpses that show up-- [spoiler hidden by light color--high-light the seemingly empty space if you want a peek] four, if you count the missing dog (which Homes, aka Daniel Mainwaring, apparently doesn't).  Two members of the Keenan family come to Los Pinos in the middle of nowhere to be killed...and they're quickly followed by one of the small town's inhabitants. It's up to detectives Humphrey Campbell and Robin Bishop to find out what happened.

Humphrey is a soft-boiled private eye who is employed by the Morgan Missing Persons Bureau in Los Angeles. He works for Oscar Morgan--65 years old, fat, lazy,and not above a little under the table dealing (all in the name of justice, of course). Humphrey is a little plump himself, loves to play the accordion, and, unlike most of his hard-boiled brethren, he never drinks anything stronger than milk. He is given the job of tracking down Miss Marjorie Keenan who jilted her fiance just days before the wedding bells were due to ring and has disappeared. Her trail leads to the Inn at Los Pinos on a Thursday in June. Her bags are there, unpacked, but she isn't. She walked out of the hotel the previous Saturday night and hasn't come back.

After a sniff around town and an unofficial glance through the things in her room, Humphrey gets concerned and approaches Robin Bishop--currently the editor of the Los Pinos newspaper and formerly a detective for the Morgan Missing Persons Bureau. They discover that not only has Marjorie disappeared, but so has a Great Dane belonging to a well-to-do couple living on the outskirts of town. When they also find out that a mystery man recently buried an unknown dog in the Los Pinos Memorial Pet Park, Humphrey and Robin are certain they've found the missing Great Dane. But when the plot is dug up and the casket is opened it is Marjorie Keenan who has been found. Her father comes to identify the body and he promptly disappears and gets himself killed as well. Who could possibly wish this family ill in a small town in the back of beyond? The discovery of the Great Dane's whereabouts and another death will be necessary before Humphrey and Robin wil be able to answer that question and bring the killer to justice.

This is a great private eye novel with just a hint of the screwball to it. Humphrey is a delightful detective and I like the way he and Robin Bishop work together (as well as with the local lawman Jackson). Not exactly laden with clues that would allow the reader to solve the mystery before the detectives, but it was fun to follow along with Humphrey and Robin and watch them work it all out. I would also mention that while clues might not be available to point to the killer, the small number of actual suspects does make the job easier--it's just a matter of finding the evidence to prove it. ★★★★

[Finished on 4/30/18]

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Seventh Bullet: Review

Sherlock Holmes has been retired to the countryside for quite some time--content to spend his time with his bees at his cottage in Sussex. His old friend and companion, Dr. Watson still has a practice in London, but he has been winding it down with a view to retirement himself. Not much excitement--certainly nothing like the days when the two shared lodgings in Baker Street. But then one blustery March afternoon, a woman dressed all in black appears in Watson's waiting room...not because she is ill, but because she wants him to convince Sherlock Holmes to come out of retirement to find the mastermind behind her brother's murder.

Mrs. Carolyn Frevert is the sister to David Graham Philips, a novelist and a man who wrote articles entitled "The Treason of the Senate" (1906). Graham was gunned down outside the Princeton Club at Gramercy Park in New York City in front of witnesses. No one denies that the man who held the gun was Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough, a Harvard-educated musician, who turned the gun on himself after Philips collapsed. But Mrs. Frevert is convinced that someone was behind Philips--at best egging him on so he would commit murder and at worst hiring him to do so. She insists that her brother made powerful enemies who would have done anything to silence his accusations.

Holmes and Philips had met previously over a deadly incident involving the British Navy. An incident where Holmes's information helped Philips not only report accurately, but to make his reputation. Knowing the detective's regard for her brother, Mrs. Frevert convinces Holmes (on very little evidence) to travel to America and take up the case which will cast suspicion on several members of the Senate, their households, and even former President Teddy Roosevelt. Holmes, of course, is able to get to the heart of the matter and brings justice without creating too much havoc in American politics.

In The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Seventh Bullet (1992), Daniel D. Victor uses the details of the real murder of Philips to provide the basis of the mystery Holmes and Watson must unravel. He blends fact, rumor, supposition, and down-right fiction to create an interesting mystery with a twist in the tail. He even provides a bit more in the way of clueing than Doyle ever did. An entertaining story and Victor manages to get the Holmes and Watson relationship right which is so very important to a successful pastiche. My primary complaint with the book is the trip to America--I just don't find the stories which transplant our heroes to the United States to be quite as compelling as those set in Britain. I want my London fog and hansom cabs, darn it! Overall, a good entry in Holmes and Watson lore and well worth the read. ★★

[Finished on 4/27/18]

Friday, May 4, 2018

Terror in the Town (Friday's Forgotten Books)

Terror in the Town (1947) by Edward Ronns [Edward Sydney Aarons] finds a coastal Massachusetts fishing town terrorized by the killings of three lonely spinsters. The women were known to live alone and were strangled by someone with powerfully big hands, possibly powered by a maniac's rage. Everyone is quick to blame Manuel, an unbalanced man who has recently escaped from the home where he's been stashed for everyone's safety--including his own. 

Verity Farland, recently married to the town's newspaperman, is new to the area and sees things from an outsider's perspective. She begins to wonder why the killer is targeting women who were at a certain bridge party--a party that she herself attended. The killer also leaves behind ransacked libraries and a trail of missing jewelry. A maniac might collect trophies from his victims, but would he be interested in searching the women's books? There is also the fact that all the women owned a share of the Morgan, an old whaling ship that is rumored to contain treasure and if it doesn't, is worth money to the owners if they can agree to sell it to a film company. 

Verity isn't sure that Manuel is the culprit, but she also doesn't know who it might be. There are so many people roaming around town in the night--from the Sheriff's deputy to her husband's drunken assistant to the doctor who seems to be on extra-friendly terms with some of the ladies in town to the town handyman...to her very own husband. No one is where they're supposed to be at night and her own husband won't stay put. And after all, they didn't know one another very long before they got married....and he was rumored to be a bit wild before he settled down with her. Can she trust him? And if not him is there anyone she can trust?

Ronns builds up the suspense quite nicely in this fairly short book. His writing is economical, but completely on-point. He doesn't really give the reader a chance to catch their breath, moving things along rapidly until the climax. He manages to provide several possible suspects and motives and draws enough of a cloud over them all to keep us guessing. Once a few clues fall into place, it's possible to spot the villain of the piece but it's not obvious. A thoroughly enjoyable suspense/thriller. ★★and 3/4.

I submit this for the Friday's Forgotten Books post found at pattinase's place.

[Finished on 4/26/18]

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May Follow the Clues Reviews

May Mount TBR Reviews

May Just the Facts Reviews

May Key Word Reviews

May Key Words =  Pearl, Flower, Clasp, Pale, Mountain, One, Never, Dog, Around
Please link up reviews for any books read with the May Key Word (or "tweaked" variation) here:

Monday, April 30, 2018

The French Powder Mystery: Review

The French Powder Mystery (1930) by Ellery Queen has a quite startling beginning. A crowd is gathered on the sidewalk outside of French's Department Store (a very Macy's-like place) eager to watch the daily demonstration of the latest in modern furnishings. The store employee steps into the model living room and bedroom and noon, precisely, begins showing the spectators the amenities of the suite. The focal point is the Murphy bed, hidden in the wall until the demonstrator pushes an ivory button and out pops a most modern bed complete with satin sheets...and the crumpled body of woman. 

It isn't long before the woman is identified as the wife of Cyrus French, owner of the store, and French's head of security wastes no time getting hold of the police. Inspector Richard Queen is called to the case and arrives with his son Ellery in tow. The police, including the inspector, tend to focus on the obvious clues, but Ellery's eyes are scanning everything and taking in all the minor details. Books on a desk, a glass-topped table, a setting for a card game, cigarette stubs in an ashtray, the dead woman's lipstick, the display of shoes in a closet and seemingly innocuous phrases in various witnesses' statements all catch his attention and add to the solution.

There are several suspects for the Queens to sift through--employees of the store, Winifred French's first husband, or perhaps even her missing daughter. Motives abound as well--the dead woman had headstrong ways and when she decided to interfere there was little to stop her. Perhaps she interfered just one too many times or perhaps she set her foot down on toes that had been trodden on more than enough? There are also hints that all is not as it should be at French's and maybe Mrs. French stumbled upon the secrets hidden underneath the oh-so-correct surface of the most proper department store. Leave it Ellery to sort through the clues and see through the lies and half-truths told by the suspects in order to hand his father the culprit on a silver platter (from French's kitchenware department, perhaps?).

An intricately plotted mystery with clues galore. I thoroughly enjoy the older Queen novels with cast of characters at the beginning, a few maps to help the reader get their bearings, and the challenge break where the reader is told they have all the information necessary to spot the culprit. I had my suspicions of the villain of the piece, but I can't say that I picked up (or understood) all of the clues Ellery displays at the end. A nicely done bit of sleight-of-hand on the part of Ellery Queen (Dannay & Lee). ★★

[Finished on 4/24/18]

SPOILER AHEAD--if you haven't read The French Powder Mystery or all of Dorothy L. Sayers's Wimsey novels, then you might want to steer clear.

So--one thing that struck me when reading this was the similarities between TFPM and Murder Must Advertise. Both concern a drug ring using a very proper establishment as a means to notify gang members and/or customers of the location for doling out drugs. The code used in MMA is a little less elaborate than the book system used here, but both plots are dependent upon the cooperation or involvement o fat least one member of the establishment. It is also interesting that in both novels, something goes wrong with system (prior to the police catching on) and the eager buyers are disappointed.

April Key Word Reviews (Catch-up Linky)

I am so embarrassed!!! I just realized that I never got the link set up for April Key Words. (hangs head in shame). That's what happens when your moderator gets so far behind on her reviews that she's just now trying to post the April Key Word book that she read on April 13th. So--I've set this one up to run two weeks into May so April can have its own place.

April Key Words = Clear, Rain, Lily, Basket, Out, Gather, Valley, All, Cross
Please link up reviews for any books read with the April Key Word (or "tweaked" variation) here:


Mrs. Malory & the Lilies that Fester: Review

In Mrs. Malory & the Lilies that Fester (2001), Hazel Holt dishes up a cozy British village mystery featuring that expert on 19th-Century novelist and sometime amateur detective Sheila Malory. Sheila finds herself most personally involved when the unsavory Gordon Masefield is murdered in his law office. Gordon was a womanizer and wasn't about putting the moves on any woman who came into his scope--whether she was attached elsewhere or not.

Thea Wyatt is also an attorney in the law office. She had recently returned to Taviscombe to take the job on offer and met Sheila's son Michael. Sheila can sense Cupid at work and is delighted when Michael and Thea announce their engagement. But not too long after this happy event, Thea comes rushing to Sheila's house, quite disturbed. It seems that Gordon Masefield had been particularly offensive in  his latest efforts to seduce the newest member of the law team and when Thea pushed him away, he stumbled off-balance and stunned himself himself against the desk.  

But when Sheila calls the office to let her friend Hugh know that Thea won't be returning for the day, she finds the police in possession of the office and Gordon Masefield dead from a blunt instrument to the head. Since Thea was observed fleeing the building, the police naturally suspect her of the deed even though she swears Gordon was still alive and nowhere near fatally injured when she ran from the building. Sheila obviously believes her future daughter-in-law to be innocent and sets out to discover the real culprit. There are many suspects to sift through--from all the other employees in the law office to Gordon's family. The man was a real charmer and attracted enmity the way light attracts moths. It would probably be simpler for Sheila to determine who didn't have a motive to kill the offensive womanizer.

It doesn't take Sheila and Michael long to dig up evidence that clears Thea, but after her ordeal at the hands of the police, Thea doesn't want to go ahead with the wedding plans until the real culprit is behind bars. Sheila is even more determined to investigate than ever and through chance conversations and planned encounters, she is able to discern the answer to the mystery. But bringing the killer to justice may not be as easy as she thought.

This is a comfortable murder mystery in a very comfortable cozy series. The plots are not intricate and it doesn't require a lot of heavy deductions on the part of the reader. Placid village life is interrupted by murder; everyone is suitably appalled; Sheila Malory makes her way through the gossip of the town; and, eventually, the crime is unraveled. Little fuss and no muss...and sometimes that just what the doctor ordered.  I appreciate having series like Mrs. Malory to go to when I want a simple murder mystery in a pleasant setting with friendly, uncomplicated characters. Fine reading for a lazy evening.  ★★

[Finished on 4/13/18]

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Hound of the Baskervilles: Review

This is an Illustrated Classics edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. With such a famous story that I've read many times (most recently reviewed HERE), I'm not going to give a synopsis. This particular version deserves its own entry (and, incidentally, counts as a different book for Mount TBR) because it is a graphic novel version of the celebrated Holmes story. I first discovered Pendulum Press's illustrated editions of classic stories when I was in elementary school. I ordered up Dracula and Frankenstein (among others) from the Scholastic Book Club and thoroughly enjoyed these comic book styled editions of well-known books. But I don't remember Holmes being available to me--the publication date is 1977--and I'm quite sure if it had been I would have ordered it up as well.

The illustrations provided by E. R. Cruz are fantastic and make the Holmes story accessible to young readers. It is also quite delightful to read as an adult--particularly as an adult with a sense of nostalgia harking back to the other illustrated classics I have known and loved. I definitely recommend this edition for children interested in classic stories who may not be ready for lengthy texts without illustrations. I know that these editions greatly increased my interest in Dracula as well as Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Around the World in 80 Days ★★★★

[Finished on 4/11/18]

A Vow of Penance: Review

A Vow of Penance (1994) by Veronica Black is the fifth in this convent-based series starring Sister Joan. In this particular installment, Sister Joan is struggling during the Lenten season with her her far from Christian dislike of two new personalities within the order. There is the grim Sister Jerome who seems intent on making the season of Penance even more arduous than necessary and the newly ordained, very joyless Father Timothy who has come to fill in while their beloved Father Malone takes a much deserved sabbatical.

When she discusses the arrival of the two newcomers with the rectory housekeeper, Mrs. Fairly is sure that she's heard the name Sister Jerome somewhere before but cannot recall the circumstances. "I'll recall where I heard that name if I don't consciously think about it." Later that evening Sister Joan receives a puzzling (and far-from-complete due to a bad connection) phone call from Mrs. Fairly asking her to meet her in town at a cafe because "New lay--remembered where--not willing to trouble Father with--ten tomorrow." But when the nun arrives at the cafe she is joined at her table not by the bustling housekeeper but by Detective Sergeant Mill who informs her that Mrs. Fairly is dead--an apparent suicide.

Sister Joan refuses to believe that. She insists that the housekeeper was not the type and that even is she's wrong about that Mrs. Fairly would never had made an appointment to meet her if she planned on killing herself. She prods Mill into looking more closely into the death and does a little discreet detecting on her own. She's even given subtle encouragement to do so when Mother Dorothy assigns her to serve as housekeeper for the the priests until a full-time replacement can be found. Unfortunately, there will be two more victims and a bloody ax will appear on the chapel altar before Mills and Sister Joan can get to the bottom of the mystery. There are other puzzles as well. Why have the convent's trees been vandalized? Is there a connection similar vandalism that happened many years ago? And what was so important about Mrs. Fairly's purse?

This is an entertaining cozy mystery with just a hint of more gore than may be usual for the genre. Sister Joan is a spunky nun with an interesting relationship with Detective Mill. It is refreshing to see a relationship that doesn't depend on romance or sexual tension. Fully developed characters with realistic dialogue give a good foundation to the story. The culprit may not be well-hidden (after all, we aren't exactly given a great number to choose from), but figuring out the motive is a bit more difficult. Veronica Black weaves a convincing story that depends on the past to explain the present. ★★

[Finished on 4/11/18]

My Reader's Block in Books

So, Adam over at Roof Beam Reader posted about this little meme he saw at On Bookes (originally from Fictionophile) and thought it looked fun. I decided that I hadn't participated in a “meme” here at the Block for quite a while, so why not join Adam and the others? 

The rules
  1. Spell out your blog’s name. 
  2. Find a book from your TBR that begins with each letter. (Note you cannot ADD to your TBR to complete this challenge – the books must already be on your TBR.)
  3. Have fun!  
















Thursday, April 26, 2018

Challenge Complete: Charity Reading

Charity Reading Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews (sign up here)
Duration: January-December 2018
# of books: You decide: I'm going for 12

Read for a good cause! Buy books at a charity shop, or, even a friends of the library book sale, or, donate a certain percentage of money for each book you read for the challenge. You can choose your own goal of how many books to read, what charity you'll be donating money towards, how much money, etc. (For example, you might want to donate $1 for each paperback you read, or, $3 for every hardback you read. You can work out the details yourself.) For full details click on link above.

I signed up for my usual 12 and completed that milestone on March 30th. I'm still reading, though and will continue to log my charity books read as well as keeping tabs on my charity book spending.

1. World's Best Science Fiction:1966 by Donald Wollheim & Terry Carr, eds [from Red Cross Book Sale 2014] (1/9/18) 
2. The Best from Fantasy & Science Fiction Eighth Series edited by Anthony Boucher [from the FOL used book shop] (1/28/18) 
3. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ripper Legacy by David Stuart Davies [from FOL used book shop] (1/31/18) 
4. Lament for a Lady Laird by Margot Arnold [from FOL used book shop] (2/3/18) 
5. The Pink Camellia by Temple Bailey [from FOL used book shop] (2/5/18) 
6. The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird [from Hoosier Hills Book Sale 2017] (2/16/18) 
7. Odor of Violets by Baynard Kendrick [Hoosier Hills Book Sale 2015] (2/27/18) 
8. Dog Will Have His Day by Fred Vargas [FOL used book shop] (3/4/18) 
9. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain [FOL used book shop] (3/10/18) 
10. The Sign of the Book by John Dunning [FOL used book shop] (3/23/18) 
12. Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner [FOL used book shop] (3/30/18) 

Commitment Complete!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Death of a Hoosier Schoolmaster: Review

Death of a Hoosier Schoolmaster (2002) by Marlis Day is one of those books that I picked up because of my affinity for academic mysteries. This one is full of academic connections. The protagonist of the Day series is Margo Brown, a modern day Indiana schoolteacher who manages to get involved in mysteries in the Midwest the way Jessica Fletcher does in Cabot Cove. This particular installment finds Margo researching the murder of Gus Steiner 55 years ago. Steiner was also a Hoosier teacher who was once the owner of the Margo's property.

The mystery comes to her attention when she discovers an old gun buried in her garden plot. She learns about Steiner--a man who was a stern disciplinarian and who no one in the community seemed to have mourned once he was dead. There was a brief trial that saw the man's sons accused and acquitted of the deed and no follow-up afterward to find the actual culprit. 

What begins as curiosity about the history behind her property soon turns into a full-fledged investigation, but Margo discovers that few people with memories long enough to reach back 55 years really want to talk about the incident. The tidbits she gleans make her even more curious and the reluctance of the townspeople to dig up the past takes a darker turn. Somebody really doesn't want the truth to come out and may be willing to create mayhem to keep their family secrets buried in the past where they belong.

******Possible Spoiler/s Ahead*******

This is truly a cozy mystery. No blood. No gore. No explicit violence. The only murder is long in the past and while Margo does fall into a bit of danger, there really isn't a sense that her life is at risk. The motive for the murder isn't too hard to guess, but there is a bit of a twist at the end to add interest. Not really a true whodunnit murder mystery, but a charming read and especially interesting for those, like me, who are from Southern Indiana. Day reflects small Indiana accurately and provides witty dialogue in her comfortably cozy mystery. ★★

[Finished on 8/10/18]

TNB: The Great Detectives (Scholarly Sleuths)

As I noted in my last enstallment, when The Tuesday Night Bloggers heard that a book called The 100 Greatest Literary Detectives, edited by Eric Sandberg and including contributions from various writers – including our own Kate Jackson was coming out to educate the unsuspecting about some of the best detectives in the business, we were excited. But then as we sat and munched on toasted crumpets and sipped our tea, we decided to revive our weekly meetings and discuss the detectives we think ought to be included in any list of the "Greatest" detectives. Because no matter how good Eric Sandberg is, he's bound to miss somebody worthwhile. We also wanted to include some of the really good detectives who don't get as much press as say a Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Jane Marple or (ahem) Hercule Poirot [many press clippings for our Belgian sleuth may found over at Brad's place Ah Sweet Mystery Blog aka "The Shrine To Agatha Christie"].

As Moira mentioned in her first post over at Clothes in Books, some of us have decided to divide our detectives up into categories--including yours truly. I've had quite a month and haven't been able to devote quite the attention to the task that I would have liked. In fact, I managed to miss last week's meeting altogether. So, this week I'm going to squeeze in a quick look at last week's focus: Scholarly Sleuths.

Anyone who has paid much attention to what happens here at The Block, knows that I have quite an affinity for mysteries with an academic bent. I work in the English Department of a university, so I feel quite at home in the halls of academe. And, truth be told, it's sometimes quite satisfying to read about academic types getting their comeuppance. There are a number of academics who have taken up their magnifhying glasses and gone hunting for clues. From an early amateur detective in The Professor's Mystery (1911) who finds himself wrapped up in a more romantic mystery than a true murder to the more modern Kate Fansler who stars in books by Amanda Cross. But the two I want to promote are Adam Ludlow in a series of five books by Simon Nash and Stuart Palmer's schoolteacher -turned-detective, Hildegarde Withers.

Adam Ludlow is my favorite type of academic sleuth. He is scholarly and erudite without being pompous. He is full of apt quotations and specialized knowledge that help to solve the mystery, but his knowledge isn't anything that would be outside the grasp of someone with a well-rounded education. He is also human enough to make mistakes and encourage the reader to think that they might have every bit as good a chance of solving the mystery as Ludlow. The other strong feature in his favor is that his final outing (Unhallowed Murder) serves up a mystery that is just as strong as the previous stories. Nash (aka Raymond Chapman, Emeritus Professor of English at London University and an Anglican priest) provides consistently intriguing plots for Ludlow to unravel and interesting characters for him to interact with. I have not yet read the fourth in the series, but I have every reason to believe that Adam Ludlow will provide an entertaining academic sleuthing adventure equal to his others.

Palmer's scholarly sleuth, Hildegarde Withers is what Miss Marple might have been if she had been born in America and taken up teaching as an occupation. Like Miss Marple who uses her knowledge of personality and character types from village life to inform her observations in questions of murder, Miss Withers uses her experience as teacher to aid her efforts at investigation. After all, “[She's] taught school long enough to know when anybody is telling the truth or not.” Her sharp eyes and inquisitive intellect are often a help to Inspector Oscar Piper. And, like her pupils, she holds Piper to a higher standard--not allowing him to settle for the easiest, most convenient, or most politic answer when it's obvious it's not the correct one.  
Miss Wither's mysteries are a little more action-oriented than Miss Marple's (or even Adam Ludlow's) and they are filled with Palmer's characteristic humor. Her stubborn commonsense approach very often comes into humorous opposition to the gruff police detective Piper. But they play well off of one another and Piper calls her "God's horse gift to all dumb cops." 

I intended to to a round of Dynamic Duos--featuring Colonel Primrose/Grace Lathem [Leslie Ford]; Jeff & Haila Troy [Kelley Roos]; and Lord Peter Wimsey & Bunter [Dorothy L Sayers]. After all, I did tell my fellow Tuesday Night Bloggers that I would cage fight them for Lord Peter--but, alas, April has proved to be a cruel month for blogging (I am SO behind on my reviews!) and I'm just not going to be able to do justice to the last group. Perhaps a future post on these detective twosomes may materialize....

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Zero Trap: Review

The Zero Trap (1979) by Paula Gosling is what I'm going to dare to call a soft-boiled thriller. We are in the late 1970s onboard a U.S. army plane with nine passengers who are gassed in mid-flight from the Mideast and wake up to find themselves hostages somewhere in the frozen landscape of Finland. The hostages are a fairly motley group: a sexy nightclub singer, an astronomy professor, a policeman and the accused murderer he was to escort back to the States, an engineer with his wife and son, a military man, and our heroine, Laura--the daughter of a general with connections to the United Nations.

When the hostages wake up from their drug-induced sleep, they find a note propped on the mantelpiece explaining their situation:


How very polite. But of course the group finds it difficult to just accept their plight and it is the mild-mannered Professor Skinner who begins thinking of ways to outwit their captors--from devising a means for sending coding messages in the photographs taken of them (to prove to the outside world the captives are alive and well) to cannibalizing materials from the house to make a snowsuit and "boots" to brave the cold [they've been left with few clothes and nothing that would withstand the freezing temperatures]. 

Meanwhile, General Ainslie (Laura's dad) is informed that his daughter's plane has gone missing and when he gets a list of the passengers, he and his staff try to figure out what the motive might be. He's very concerned that the hi-jacking has been aimed at him--because of his connections to a U.N. effort to build an Arctic model-city. That makes his daughter a target. But the target could also be Professor Skinner whose brother is Captain in the British navy and involved in the intrigues of the Cold War. Or possibly Sergeant Goade is more than just the Embassy supply sergeant he's listed as. Could the engineering job that took Tom Morgan to the Middle East have been more important than any one knew? But when a message aimed at Ainslie comes direct from the terrorists, he's sure his daughter is the primary hostage. 

The demands are steep--$3 million in gold, various specified  prisoners released, a command performance concert with very particular musicians and conductor, and....by the way, the cancellation of the U.N.'s pet project in the Arctic. The first three will be complicated--but do-able. Ainslie insists to his go-between contact that he doesn't have the influence the terrorists obviously think he has--nobody is going to cancel such a project because he asks them to. Captain Skinner arrives and the men plan how to find the hostages before time runs out. And when the photographs start coming in, Skinner is sure his brother is trying to tell them something in the pictures--but what?

It's a race against time on both sides--and it's complicated by the fact that somewhere in the midst of the hostages there is a secret agent on the run. Then the hostages begin die. Is the agent responsible? Or is there another motive for murder among the nine disparate people?

This is a lively thriller. Gosling's strength is in her characters--particularly Laura, Professor Skinner, and the Morgan's young son, Timothy. Skinner is really fleshed out with a back-story that explains much of his motivation for various actions and interactions which he has with some of the other men. The dual story lines (following the hostages and then following actions of General Ainsley's group) works really well here. I don't always enjoy stories with multiple viewpoints or that jump back and forth between scenes, but Gosling's presentation is smooth and interesting. She also gives the story a few definite twists, producing an exhilarating and surprising ending. ★★★★

My good friend Yvette reviewed this one several years ago. Be sure to check out her take on it HERE.

[Finished on 4/8/18]