Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Charles Dickens Murders: Mini-Review

The Charles Dickens Murders opens with the murder of a woman in her hospital bed in New York City. We later learn that Dewey, the murdered woman, is one of the "Fourth Floor Gang" of girls who attended the University of Chicago at the same time as our heroine's (English professor and amateur sleuth, Beth Austin) mother Laurie. During her years at college, there was another violent death--never solved, as well as thefts, lies, secrets, and love triangles. When Beth talks her mother into spilling what she remembers about that previous death, she finds that she'd rather concentrate on that mysterious death than The Mystery of Edwin Drood which is the focus of her current class lectures. Her investigations culminate in a classic gathering of the suspects where she unravels the past to show the gang who was responsible for both the death 40 years ago and Dewey's more recent death.

When I picked it up at at Half Price Books,  I was sure the The Charles Dickens Murders (1998) by Edith Skom would be a winner. After all, it's an academic mystery and I love those. Usually. This one--not so much. There isn't a likable character among the Fourth Floor Gang...including Beth's mother who shows a remarkable lack of interest in the death of one her supposed closest friends from college. The mystery plot itself is fairly well done (which gives us the source of all the star-power in my ★★  rating) but the motive is rather lacking. Perhaps if I had cared more about the characters, the motive may have seemed more compelling. Overall, one of the more lack-luster academic mysteries I have read (including The George Eliot Murders by the same author). I was also unimpressed by the supposed connection between the Dickens novels Beth is reading for her class (she moves on to Bleak House mid-way through the book). 

She decided to emulate Anthony Trollope, who, having just completed a novel, but not his daily word quota, went on to begin writing his next novel. She reached for Bleak House.

She tries to cast the various people from her mother's college days as Dickens characters, but the conceit really doesn't work well--and there is no other reason to title the book as it is. 

[Finished 9/15/18]

Monday, September 17, 2018

Murder at the Manor: Review

It's not a bit like those delightful detective stories. In a detective story all the people in the house are gaping imbeciles, who can't understand anything, and in the midst stands the brilliant sleuth who understands everything. Here am I standing in the midst, a brilliant sleuth, and I believe, on my soul, I'm the only person in the house who doesn't know all about the crime.
~"The White Pillars Murder"

Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries (2016) edited by Martin Edwards is another fine addition to the British Library Crime Classics series which brings back into print short stories and novels from the classic age of detective fiction. Stories which have in most cases been out of print for far too long. Most of them come from the Golden Age--the period between the world wars--with a few from earlier and later. All them are worthy examples of that grand tradition of bringing together groups of people for a weekend or so at large home in the British countryside to dress for dinner, have a party, and...most likely...witness or commit murder.

We start with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and end with Michael Gilbert and in between we find well-known authors such as G. K. Chesterton and Nicholas Blake as well as names that most readers will find unfamiliar--Dick Donovan, J. J. Bell, and possibly J. S. Fletcher. As with all collections, the quality varies, but Edwards is quite good at selecting stories in a more narrow range of excellence. Overall, an entertaining look at a delightful sub-genre of crime fiction. My favorites include "The Murder at the Towers" by E.V. Knox; "The Perfect Plan" by James Hilton; "The Mystery of Horne's Corpse" by Anthony Berkeley; and "The Message on the Sun-Dial" by J. J. Bell (roughly in that order). ★★★★

A synopsis of the stories:

"The Copper Beaches" by Doyle: The Holmes classic which emphasizes the Great Detective's commentary on evil in the countryside--"But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folks who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser."

"The Problem of Dead Wood Hall" by Dick Donovan: Two men who had paid court to the same woman die in mysterious circumstances. No evidence is found to prove accident, natural causes, or murder, but our narrator has a go at find the answer. He's sure that two murders have gone unavenged--but will he be able to find the evidence to bring the villain to justice?

"Gentlemen & Players" by E. W. Hornung: Raffles, the Gentleman Thief, plots to steal a coveted necklace from under the nose of a Scotland Yard man delegated to defend the jewels from another well-known thief. Bunny thinks his friend should concentrate on cricket while the Yard is on the hunt, but those sparkling diamonds and sapphires are difficult to resist....

"The Well" by W. W. Jacobs: A man murders a blackmailing hanger-on who might spoil his chances at matrimonial bliss. But he learns (the hard way) that you really shouldn't hide the body on your own property. And especially not somewhere that your lady-love might lose a precious bracelet.

"The White Pillars Murder" by G. K. Chesterton (not a Father Brown story): Dr. Adrian Hyde, an unorthodox detective, has taken on two assistants/apprentices and sends them to White Pillars to discover who has killed Melchior Morse. In the course of their investigations, they decide that maybe detecting is not the life for them after all.

"The Secret of Dunstan's Tower" by Ernest Bramah: Bramah's blind sleuth, Max Carrados, is called upon by his friend Dr. Tulloch to get to the bottom of a "ghostly" haunting that is causing his patient to slowly slide towards death. Carrados is certain there is a villainous human hand at work.

"The Manor House Mystery" by J. S. Fletcher: featuring the mystery of Septimus Walshawe who has died of poisoning. It is inconceivable that the man has committed suicide, but no one is able to discover the method--until our detective Marshford arrives on the scene. But was it murder after all?

"The Message on the Sun-Dial" by J. J. Bell: A dying man leaves an illegible scrawl on the nearby sundial as a pointer to his murderer. Will anyone be able to decipher it?

"The Horror at Stavely Grange" by Sapper: Ronald Standish is called upon to discover how two men in the Mansford family have met their deaths...before another Stavely Grange heir falls victim.

"The Mystery of Horne's Corpse" by Anthony Berkeley: A man keeps finding the corpse of his cousin (and the man who would be his heir). But when he brings the authorities to examine the body, it disappears. Is he going crazy? Or is someone trying to drive him there?

"The Perfect Plan" by James Hilton: As the title suggests, a man devises the perfect plan to murder his hated employer. He follows through on it and, to all appearances, gets clean away with it. But his own conscience puts a spoke in his wheels. 

"The Same to Us" by Margery Allignham: Mrs. Molesworth scores a social coup when she convinces the Chinese scientist, Dr. Koo Fin, to attend one of her week-end parties. It's just her luck that burglars strike on that very weekend.

"The Murder at the Towers" by E.V. Knox: A marvelous send-up of the country house plot. Great fun from the first line: "Mr. Ponderby-Wilkins was a man so rich, so ugly, so cross, and so old, that even the stupidest reader could not expect him to survive any longer than Chapter I."

"An Unlocked Window" by Ethel Lina White: Domestic suspense in the form of two nurses alone with a patient in an isolated house. There is a serial killer on the loose with a preference for those nightingales in white....

"The Long Shot" by Nicholas Blake: The lord of the manor is killed--poisoned by ginger-beer that it seems nobody could have poisoned. Nigel Strangeways uses a handkerchief to get the culprit to give her/himself away.

"Weekend at Wapentake" by Michael Gilbert: A couple of servants do murder for the sake of an inheritance...that they wouldn't have gotten anyway.

[Finished 9/14/18]

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Grub-&-Stakers Pinch a Poke: Review

The Grub-&-Stakers Pinch a Poke (1988) by Charlotte MacLeod writing as Alisa Craig is the third in this series. In this outing the Grub & Stakers are vying for the Jenson Thorbisher-Freep collection of theatrical memorabilia--because supposedly ownership of said collection will somehow help Desdemona Portley and the Traveling Thespians rustle up donations to restore an opera house. Besides, winning the competition will give the Grub & Stakers bragging rights in the thespian field for, oh, at least a year. 

Dittany Monk (our heroine/narrator) volunteers her husband for the job of coming up with a play based on earlier times in Canadian history. He decides to work one up using the story line in the famous poem, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew." Everything is going great until the night of the play and the hero gets shot with a real bullet instead of a blank. Fortunately, he survives, but other attempts follow and the Grub & Stakers--with Dittany in the lead--must discover who the current day villain is before s/he succeeds.

Very silly. Even sillier than her silliest Professor Shandy books. Way too many people people talking in\ the oddest dialects--from Canadian policeman Sergeant MacVicar (who is apparently here straight from Scotland if his speech is anything to go by) to the Regency romance author (and aunt-in-law to our heroine/narrator) who speaks like she just stepped off the pages of her own historical drivel...er novel to the owner of the coveted collection of theatrical memorabilia who speaks like a Shakespearean actor who's permanently lost himself in his part. I suspect that the characters are meant to be charmingly eccentric, but they strike me as annoyingly weird. There is also the most inept would-be murderer ever. Tries to arrange for the hated person to be shot onstage--that goes awry. Arranges for the delivery of a venomous cobra disguised as a box of flowers--doesn't take into account that there's a dog on the premises who will sniff out the bad "bouquet." Mutters about plans where one could obviously be overheard and strews telltale bits evidence hither and yon with wild abandon--as soon as Dittany realizes who might be behind the attacks, clues are easily found.

I like Dittany and her husband very much, but a small dose of Aunt Arethusa (our Regency romance author) goes a VERY long way. On the plus side, this is more of a traditional mystery plot than some of the Craig/MacLeod books. There are definitely clues to follow and it is possible to solve the mystery before our heroine. But-for me--a very middle-of-the-road cozy mystery. ★★

[Finished 9/10/18]

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Invisible Thief: Review

The Invisible Thief (1978) is the first of Thomas Brace Haughey's Christian-themed pastiche of the Sherlock Holmes style. Geoffrey Weston is the grandson of Mycroft Holmes and, like his great-uncle Sherlock, has set himself up as a consulting detective in Baker Street (not at 221B, however). His side-kick John Taylor is more of a true partner in detecting than John Watson was. He may be admiring of Weston's abilities, but Taylor is just as capable--performing laboratory tests, developing photos, and helping Weston look for clues at the crime scenes. The Christian themes are very strong--Weston and Taylor pray before setting out on a case and Weston challenges several of suspect's philosophies and counters with lessons from the gospel.

Dr. Arthur Heath, the Director of Pinehurst Laboratory comes to Weston when vital documents disappear from his safe in a room with only one entrance, no windows, and no secret passages. The thief managed to get into the laboratory without being seen on any of the cameras which guard the top-secret establishment and was able to get into the safe without breaking in--even though no one else knows the combination. Weston believes the security guards when they swear that the camera feed was never left unmonitored all night. But after examining the hallway and finding curious scratches along the wall and an oddly-shaped glass bead as well as noticing a few interesting glimmers on the security tape, Weston begins to see how the deed was done. The question that remains is why? What exactly is in  the secret papers that no one wants to admit--even if it would help the detective find them? 

Then Dr. Heath is found dead from a gunshot wound. Despite the fact that everything points to suicide, Weston is convinced that there is an evil mind orchestrating events. And he's absolutely certain when he foils another attempt to drive another Pinehurst scientist to shoot himself. Weston uses logic and his faith to expose the guilty one.

I loved these novels when I read them from the youth library when I young (and liked them so much, I bought them to add to my collection). I was still working my way from Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie to other mystery authors and was intrigued when I saw the connections to Holmes in the blurb. The mystery plot is quite nicely done in this series that was sold from the young adult section but carries some very heavy themes. It was definitely a new-to-me (at the time) solution to the "locked room" (or in this case "locked laboratory building") scenario. I've since read other stories with similar solutions, so it wasn't quite the surprise during my reread. I had a general memory of the basic idea, but couldn't remember the finer details. There is also a slightly mystic Christian portion that one will either accept or not--but it works with the way Haughey presents his characters. I gave it ★★★★ when I read it 30ish years ago and I won't argue with that now.

[Finished 9/5/18]

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Terrorists: Review

The Terrorists (1975) by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö is the last book to feature Martin Beck who has been promoted to Chief of the National Murder Squad--much to his chagrin since the new post will entail a great deal of desk work and far less time in the field. But he gets at least one more chance for action when he (and his usual team) are detailed to provide protection for an unpopular American Senator in Sweden on a state visit. Terrorists plant a bomb along the route the Senator will be taking (bet you didn't see that coming, given the title of the book!), but fortunately the timing is off and Beck & company are able to avoid any casualities. With time in between for side-stories involving a woman accused of a bank robbery she wasn't trying to commit and the murder of a pornographic film producer, Beck, Ronn, and Larsson manage to quickly trace two of the terrorists. But split-second timing will be needed for them to take the last two alive without having an entire apartment building blown up--with them in it.

The strength of this final entry is in the characters and the way Sjöwall and Wahlöö portray their interactions and relationships to one another. Beck has had to resign himself to the fact that Kollberg, his friend and, in many ways, right-hand man through much of the series, has resigned from the force. He finally admits that he has grown to like working with Larsson. It was interesting to watch Beck learn to rely more heavily on other members of his team--recognizing the strengths that each has. Less appealing to me was the terrorism theme. As Sjöwall and Wahlöö were wont to do, they use the theme to highlight societal ills and governmental flaws but I found the plot very slow-going and heavy-handed this time around. This book more than any of the others was a slog for me and I was sorry to have the series end on a disappointing (to me) note. Others have found this to be a very strong finale...so your mileage may vary. ★★ and a very weak 1/2.

[finished 8/30/18]

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Angels in the Gloom: Notes & Review

Angels in the Gloom (2005) by Anne Perry is third novel in her WWI series which follows the Reavely family. On the day WWI began, Joseph, Matthew, and Hannah's parents were killed in an automobile accident. At least that's official version. Joseph and Matthew know that a man known only as the Peacemaker is really responsible and even as they go to work for their country--each in their own way, Joseph as an army chaplain and Matthew in intelligence, they vow to discover the Peacemaker's identity and bring him to justice.

This third book finds Joseph sent home from the front after suffering an injury while rescuing a soldier caught in the no-man's-land between trenches. Having helped the police on two other occasions when murders occurred, he is asked to help once again when a scientist working at a local top-secret establishment is found murdered. Are enemy agents at work in the small village of St. Giles or is the motive a more prosaic matter of jealousy or a woman scorned? Matthew is also hard at work on a mystery of his own--trying to track down the German spies who are leaking details of Britain's war strategies.

Observations While Reading:
Hannah--sister of Joseph--is incredibly annoying. Every time she's in a scene we get to witness her angst over whether or not she's doing/saying/feeling the right thing...whether it's reacting to people who are hurting (her brother, women in the community who have lost loved ones in the war, etc.) or whether she's being selfish wanting Joseph to stay at home after being wounded or if she's going all maudlin over the fact that life has changed (because war) and why (please insert as much whine as you can on that word) can't life just be like it used to be?

Too much introspection and self-doubt. I mean, yeah, I understand that watching the young men you grew up with die (Joseph on the front lines) OR reading the lists of the missing and killed (those back home) would make you question a lot things you took for granted...but this is supposed to be a historical mystery not high drama and conscience-searching.

It is taking For-Ev-ER to get to anything even slightly resembling "gumshoe work" or "mystery" (referred to in blurb on back of book). Constant references to the Peacemaker who killed Joseph Reavley's parents--but no actual trying to track down said Peacemaker. No actual detecting. There are rumors that a murder is gonna take place somewhere in this book....but not sure when. Made it  to the 100 page mark (that first third of the book really drags--it felt much longer)...finally the mystery is going to start! Let's see if things pick up.

Actually, no. The "gumshoe work" really takes a back seat to everything else here. Don't get me wrong--I'm not opposed to dramatic historical fiction. BUT. Don't plaster your book with blurbs advertising what a suspenseful thriller this is with mystery and detection all over the place when that's really not the focus of the story at all. Solving the mystery of who killed the scientist is almost an afterthought. More attention is given to the difficulty Joseph faces when he realizes who the culprit is than is given to following the processes of detection that led him to that conclusion. And...by the third book in the series you'd think that Matthew and Joseph would have made some sort of substantial progress on hunting down the Peacemaker.

On the plus side, Perry does know human relationships and has a way of writing about them that can be quite appealing. I just wish she didn't feel the need to go at the inner workings so hard and heavy OR if she does feel that need, then I'd like to see her do a straight fiction novel. I will say that I do like the representations of the Reavley brothers...and I might even like Hannah more if she could break out of her introspection. This is a complicated family with a lot going on which makes them very interesting. ★★ which would have been more if the mystery elements had been stronger.

[Finished 8/28/18]

Monday, September 3, 2018

Basil of Baker Street: A Three-Book Overview

When my son was small, I introduced him to one of my favorite Disney films The Great Mouse Detective and he loved it too. I realized that I had never read the book/s that the film was based on and we checked out Basil of Baker Street and Basil in the Wild West  by Eve Titus (the only two books the library had at the time) and enjoyed them together. Then in 2016 I chanced upon three of the Basil books at our annual community book sale and brought them home with me (along with a LOT of other books....). I've finally gotten around to reading them all and will give brief reviews here in one post.

Basil of Baker Street (1958): The first of Titus's books featuring the Sherlock Holmes of the mouse world. Here Dr. Dawson introduces us to Basil, tells how he & Holmes (and a village of mice) came to live in the basement of 221B Baker Street, and relates "The Mystery of the Missing Twins." Angela and Agatha have been kidnapped as a way to blackmail Basil into letting the "Terrible Three" take over the mouse village where he and Dawson live. (Though why these sinister criminals would want to live in the basement of the great Sherlock Holmes is beyond me.) But Basil is determined NOT to give in to blackmailers and he and Dawson disguise themselves as sailors in order to track down the crooks. Naturally, the great mouse detective saves the girls and turns the bad guys over to the mouse police.

Just as much fun to read as it was the first time with my son. Titus captures the spirit of the Holmes stories and makes a fun adventure for young readers. ★★★★

[Finished 8/24/18]

Next up was Basil & the Pygmy Cats (1971). This was was sortof Sherlock Holmes meets Indiana Jones. Basil is not only the world's greatest mouse detective, he also has a hobby dabbling in archaeology (he discovered Rockhenge, you know). The story begins with Basil and Dawson planning a trip to Bengistan (near India) where Professor Ratigan (Basil's arch-enemy) has taken over the mousedom. As they are finalizing their plans, a scientist from the British Mousmopolitan Museum comes by with an ancient goblet with a design that seems to indicate that there is an island (very close to Bengistan--what a coincidence!) where pygmy cats are said to be ruled by mice. Would Basil like to join an expedition to find them? Well--of course! But first all the scientists must help him overthrow Ratigan. Which they do. Then they find the pygmy cats. And save them from a volcano--as well as many treasures from the fabled island. And all is well with the mouse world. 

Whimsical fun with far less mystery and much adventure. Still sure to appeal to young readers. ★★

[Finished 8/24/18]

And last on the Basil agenda: Basil in Mexico (1976). This one combines two mysteries. Before Basil and Dr. Dawson can set sail for Mexico (whence Basil has been summoned on a top secret mission), the great detective must solve "The Case of the Counterfeit Cheese." Professor Ratigan (who has obviously escaped justice once again) is up to his usual tricks--this time planting fake cheese made of concrete around the Mousmopolis. When the mice inevitably crunch down on the hard "cheese" and break their teeth, they are forced to go to their dentists. And Ratigan is running a protection scam to skim off the profits from the surge in mouse dental problems. Basil to the rescue! As soon as he hands the villains over to the police, he and the good doctor head to Mexico where they must get to the bottom of the mystery of the missing Mousa Lisa. Someone has painted an excellent forgery and left in the place of the famous artwork. Basil must track down the forger and find missing Mousa Lisa before word gets out that the Mexican museum has been burgled.

Another fun story. I liked that this one returned to the more mysterious plot rather than adventure.  ★★ and 1/2.

[Finished 8/25/18]

Challenge Complete: Color Coded

I keep thinking that I've used up all the shades of brown on my TBR piles (I insist on having the color in my titles) and I keep finding another. In fact, this year I went through my books on Goodreads and have set up a spreadsheet of color-related titles and it looks like I'm good for several years. So, I signed up for my Color Coded Reading Challenge again in 2018 and I just (at the end of August) completed my last book. I'll see you all for another round next year....

Here's my list:

1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title/on the cover.

Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie (5/28/18) 

2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc) in the title/on the cover.

Red Warning by Virgil Markham (1/25/18) 
3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title/on the cover.

The Yellow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang [ed by Brian Alderson] (7/25/18) 

4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title/on the cover.

Green for a Grave by Manning Lee Stokes (3/13/18

5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title/on the cover.
The Tale of Brownie Beaver by Arthur Scott Bailey (8/19/18)

6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title/on the cover.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell [illustrated classic] (6/9/18) 

7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title/on the cover.
The White Cottage by Margery Allingham (1/1/18)

8. A book with any other color in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.).

The Pink Camellia by Temple Bailey (2/5/18)

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.).

The Blind Spot by John Creasey (8/23/18)

September Follow the Clues Reviews

September Mount TBR Reviews

September Key Word Reviews

September Key Words: Always, Fall, Sleep, School, Teach, Call, Leave, Chase, Below

Please note that you may also post any catch-up reviews here as well--just be clear when name your link-up if you are posting for a previous month.

September Just the Facts Reviews


    An InLinkz Link-up

The Blind Spot: Review

The Blind Spot (1952; original title: Inspector West at Bay; apa The Case of the Acid Throwers) by John Creasey

It's not often that a criminal goes in for personal revenge against the policeman who put him behind bars. Sure, they often spout off threats as they're convicted and taken away to jail, but by the time they get released (if they do) they usually have their minds on other things. Revenge isn't unknown...but it is rare. So when Inspector Roger West catches a spray of vitriol in the face (luckily just as he's wiping his brow with his handkerchief, so the damage isn't too bad) that has also hit a young woman on the pavement beside him, it's natural for him to wonder what made the women the target of such spite. But the attack is followed with anonymous notes proclaiming

This is only the beginning.

Then his associate on many cases, Mark Lessing, is also attacked and the unknown assailant starts getting closer and closer to West's family. He realizes that someone from his past hasn't forgotten who put them behind bars and is perfectly capable of exacting a horrible vengeance on West, on Lessing...on anyone who might get in their way.

West and Lessing start sifting through old cases looking for criminals who might hold a grudge and who have recently rejoined society. They come up with three possibilities and the longer it takes to find proof of who's behind the attacks the more connections are found among the three. Is it possible that they have combined forces to exact revenge? The two men race against the clock to prevent their loved ones from becoming collateral damage....and it all culminates in a showdown at villain's home where one final surprise waits for West.

This was a fast-moving, suspense-filled novel. Creasey's writing is economical without leaving out anything important. One hundred and fifty-nine pages doesn't seem like a lot of room to introduce characters, fill in background on the criminals in question, and put West and his family through several vicious attacks, but Creasey makes the most of them. Interesting twists and a few suspicions cast on what seems to be friendly associates make this an exciting ride from start to finish. If West's boys hadn't been in danger, I might have rated this one a bit higher--but I just don't care for child-in-danger story lines. ★★ 

[Finished 8/23/18]

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery & Detection: Review

Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery & Detection (1965) is a collection of supposedly factual stories edited by the Reader's Digest Association and written by a variety of authors. It includes accounts of  famous crimes and criminals such as the assassination of President Lincoln and the capture of Al Capone as well as lesser-known stories of a murderous Harvard professor, the Great Portuguese Bank-Note Swindle, and the secrets of a Soviet assassin among others. It covers everything from forgery to kidnapping to murder and it also includes tales with supernatural overtones.

These "true" stories are told in such an informal, anecdotal manner that it is really difficult to take them seriously. Especially those that involve ghostly goings-on (which apparently fits under the broad mystery category). I also had the feeling that I had read some of these accounts before in books aimed at children--the story about John Wilkes Booth especially brought my elementary school library to mind. Perhaps it's the illustrations found among the stories; because they also remind me of those Alfred Hitchcock collections that I used read when I was young. The writing is very simplistic (far more simplistic than I remembered from Reader's Digest stories) and there is little investigative features to the reports. If someone is looking for bare-bones stories of true crime in very basic language then this is a book for them. ★★ and a half.

[Finished 8/22/18]

Even though I don't think I'd personallycount the supernatural tales as true stories of crime, mystery or detection, I am totally counting this as the True Crime entry for the PopSugar Challenge--after all, who am I to argue with Reader's Digest?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Bout of Books 23 Wrap-Up

Bout of Books Final Tally: 

Well, I both did and didn't fulfill my goal for the Bout of Books Read-a-Thon this year. My state goal was a total of five books and I did manage that--and a little over (see below). However, I went off-script and read three Basil of Baker Street books instead of finishing Angels in the Gloom plus Thank You, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse and
Raisins & Almonds by Kerry Greenwood. BUT--getting that much reading done during one of my busiest work weeks of the year was a definite win and I want to thank Amanda and Kelly for sponsoring this event and encouraging us to read, read, read!

Completed Reading
Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery & Detection by various authors; edited by Reader's Digest
The Blind Spot by John Creasey
Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus
Basil & the Pygmy Cats by Titus
Basil in Mexico by Titus
Angels in the Gloom by Anne Perry (76 pages out of 337)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Bout of Books Day 6

Bout of Books Day 6 Update: 

So far I've read five books--two from my original list and then I took a detour through Eve Titus's children's books featuring that great mouse detective, Basil of Baker Street. I've started a sixth book (and third on my proposed list), Angels in the Gloom by Anne Perry. We'll see if I can finish that one before the Bout is over.

Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery & Detection by various authors; edited by Reader's Digest
The Blind Spot by John Creasey
Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus
Basil & the Pygmy Cats by Titus
Basil in Mexico by Titus

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Tale of Brownie Beaver: Mini-Review

The Tale of Brownie Beaver (1916) is one of a series of classic animal stories by Arthur Scott Bailey. Bailey uses humorous tales of very people-like animals to introduce children to woodland creatures--explaining their habits and behaviors in short, intertwined stories. Brownie Beaver is a hard-working mammal who works with his fellow beavers and other animals living in his "village" to build and protect their homes from weather, outsider animals, and men. Children learn how beavers build their dams and lodges, what beavers like to eat, and how they warn one another of danger. 

The stories are charming with excellent color illustrations by Harry L. Smith. Young readers should thoroughly enjoy the stories about Brownie and his friends. ★★  

[Finished 8/19/18]

Overture to Death: Review

When reading the synopsis for Overture to Death (1939) by Ngaio Marsh, one can be excused for thinking that this will be another of her theatrical mysteries. After all, it tells us that a group of seven amateur actors are preparing to put on the play Shop Windows when Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C Sharp Minor" is set for the overture. Then on opening night the pianist barely gets started--playing three chords and then stepping on soft pedal--before a loud bang is heard and Miss Idris Campanula falls dead against the sheet music. There's no performance and the play setting itself features very little in the plot other than to provide a way for Marsh to insert a rather ingenious method of murder. I'm quite sure I'd never come across a deadly piano before I read this one the first time (long ago and far way from our local library).

The stars of Marsh's show are Miss Campanula and her bosom friend Miss Eleanor Prentice, two embittered old maids who like nothing more than to spread dreadful rumors about their neighbors and then confess their sins to the handsome rector. Of course, the dear friends are also rivals for the rector's regard--each woman imagining herself to be the front-runner in the "rector's wife" stakes.  When Inspector Roderick Alleyn arrives on the scene to decide who gave Miss Campanula such a dramatic death scene, he finds that he must first discover if the murderer has cast the right woman as victim. For until about twenty minutes or so before curtain time, everyone assumed that Miss Prentice would be playing her standard piece as the opening. She is prevented from doing so by an infected finger and only agrees to give up her martyr's determination to play no matter how much it hurt after the rector convinces her. There seems to have been no time for the gun to have been rigged up in the piano after the change in pianists took place--so was Miss Prentice the intended victim? And what was the motive? Do people really kill just because someone is a meddling, gossipy busybody?

This was an enjoyable entry in the Alleyn case files. A cast of interesting characters from repressed village spinsters and the handsome cleric to the county squire and the young lovers (whose parents are forbidding the match) to the doctor and his adulterous love interest, the attractive widow; a clever murder method; a heaping helping of red herrings (some provided courtesy of the young scamp George Biggins; and plenty of humor and excellent dialogue. Alleyn does an amusing turn as Holmes and we (blessedly) see little of Nigel Bathgate (I am getting a bit tired of Mr. Bathgate).  Great fun even though I remembered who the culprit is. ★★ and a half.

[Finished 8/19/18]

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Very Private Enterprise: Review

A Very Private Enterprise (1984) by Elizabeth Ironside* was the 1984 winner of the John Creasey Award for a crime fiction debut. It's all about the death of Hugo Frencham, a has-been British civil servant who has landed a position in Delhi where he was destined to spend his days till retirement. Except somebody decided to retire him (permanently) a bit ahead of schedule. He's found stabbed to death in the garden of his diplomatic bungalow--having unaccountably left a party in the British enclave much earlier than normal. Did he have a secret rendezvous that led to his death? Or are there other motives?

He was well-known as a collector of Tibetan and other Eastern art and a few recent acquisitions are found to be missing. Did someone have a deadly lust for a silver Buddha? But then George Sinclair, a secret service sleuth sent out from London, discovers a safe full of of gold bars in Hugo's office. Does Hugo's possession of so much (highly illegal!) gold have anything to do with his death? Sinclair works with the local Delhi police and members of the High Commission in Delhi, but it is visiting scholar Janey Somers who helps him find his way through all the red herrings to final solution.

Several years ago I discovered Death in the Garden by Elizabeth Ironside. It was an excellent historical mystery that I enjoyed very much (see review linked at the title). When I picked up A Very Private Enterprise, I had the vague idea that it was historical as well--possibly because that cover sortof implies it. It's not really (which--and admittedly this is my own fault for assuming--was disappointing). It is apparently set in the 1970s not long before its publication date, but there isn't anything in the text to definitely date it. In fact, as far as time frame goes, it has a very odd free-fall time period feel. You don't really feel like it takes place in a definite time at all. The way the British people in India behave it's like the British Empire is still going strong. But then it's obvious that India has its own government and police force and whatnot. It's apparent that this takes place before the regular use of computers and cell phones (but not too long) and, yet, the way parties and social interactions are described you could mistake it for pre-1950. 

In fact, I think this book would have been far better if Ironside had decided to make this a period piece from the days of Empire. I wasn't sold on the procedures of the (then) current investigating officers. It all seemed rather dated if I was supposed to believe that it was the late 1970s/early 1980s. The motive given in the final reveal also seems rather dated. The best part of the book was the character of  George Sinclair and his interactions with the various suspects, witnesses, fellow investigators, and, especially, Janey--who, of course, serves as a love interest. The production of red herrings and the road to the final reveal is quite good. This shows the promise of a good detective fiction writer, but I don't quite see why the book was chosen as the crime fiction debut award winner--unless, of course, all other debuts books that year were real duds (note to self--check out lists for 1984 debut crime fiction novels). A not-quite ★★ read, but I feel generous and will round up anyway.

[Finished 8/16/18]

*Elizabeth Ironside is the pseudonym of Lady Catherine Manning, wife of the British Ambassador to the U.S (2003-2007).

Readers Imbibing Peril 13

I first came to the R.I.P. Event (Readers Imbibing Peril) in 2011 when Carl V over at Stainless Steel Droppings was knee-deep in hosting (working on the sixth year of fall perilous reading). He has since handed over the reins to Heather (aka capricious) and we're set to start a thirteenth round of frightful fall fun. For full details, click on the event link. The main object is to have fun and to share that fun with others while reading books that fall into one of the categories listed below.

Dark Fantasy

There are several levels and while it's not a challenge per se, I always set a personal goal so I can add this to my list of "challenges" accepted and completed. I'll be going with my usual Peril the First (read four books that fit the categories). I may also get some viewing in, but we'll see. I don't have a set list yet, but I can say with great confidence that most, if not all, of the books (films) will come from the Mystery category. I'm a big weenie when it comes to horror and thrillers. I will post my list as they come.

Peril the First
1. The Invisible Thief by Thomas Brace Haughey (9/5/18) SPOILER (see below for how this connects even more to the R.I.P. Event than just through mystery)
2. The Grub-&-Stakers Pinch a Poke by Alisa Craig [Charlotte MacLeod] (9/10/18)
3. Murder at the Manor by Martin Edwards, ed. (9/14/18)
4. The Charles Dickens Murders by Edith Skom (9/15/18)
5. The Boy in the Pool by Camilla R. Bittle

1. SPOILER for The Invisible Thief--there are soulless demons involved in the solution of the crime.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Bout of Books 23 Day 3

Day 3 of the Bout of Books Read-a-Thon

I'm still working away at my 576-page true crime book (almost done!). It would help read-a-thonning if I didn't have to work and it weren't the beginning of a new academic year here at the university. (Crazy-making!) But--joining in on the Bout of Books has definitely kept me more motivated in reading this week than if I hadn't participated.

~Update at 9 pm. I've finished my first  book! Yay!

Today's prompt--Literary Villains: Who are your favorite literary bad guys?

Here's a top ten list I made quite some time ago. I don't collect favorite villains as a rule, so this list still stands.

1. The White Witch from C. S. Lewis. One of the first baddies that I ran across (unless you count the Big Bad Wolf with the three little pigs or his cousin with Little Red Riding Hood). She was really slick wasn't she? Snaring little boys with Turkish Delight.

2. Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes's arch-nemesis. How could I not list the "Napoleon of Crime"--"the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in [London]"?

3. The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Gotta love a villain whose best line is "Off with her head!"

4. Big Brother in 1984. Government evil at its worst.

5. But wait, then there's the government that sends out the Firemen in Farenheit 451. A book blogger has GOT to hate those who condone and enforce book burning!

6. Iago in Othello. The ultimate, sneaky, behind-your-back, better-keep-your-eyes-on-him-at-all-times, butter-won't-melt-in-his-mouth, bad guy.

7. Cruella de Ville. Wants to murder puppies for a fur coat. What more need I say?

8. Dorian Gray. Willing to kill just so he won't be criticized by his "conscience" and so he can stay pretty.

9. Mr. Hyde. Letting loose all that's bad and horrible in man.

10. Mrs. Danvers. The original creepy housekeeper. Particularly as played by Judith Anderson in the Hitchcock version.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bout of Books 23: Day 2

Here I am with my Bout of Books update. So far I have read 392 pages of my first book, Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery & Detection by various authors; edited by Reader's Digest. This book has 576 pages total and if it's the only book I get done during the read-a-thon, that's still a heck of a lot out of the way.

Yesterday's challenge was to comment at Bout of Books with an introduction of ourselves in six words. Mine was "Too many Books. Not Enough Time." Today, the challenge is to give the plot of a book in emojis. I'm no dab hand with emojis, so I'm just going to post this little update and get myself back to reading....

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bout of Books 23

For those of you who don't know what the Bout of Books is, here's the info straight from the source:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 20th and runs through Sunday, August 26th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 23 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

I haven't participated for quite some time, not because I haven't wanted to but because it tends to fall right when I'm busiest at work. And that's true this year too. BUT I am woefully behind on the number of books I planned to read this year and I figure a read-a-thon's got to help. Right? Right! So, here goes....I'm officially signing up to see how many books I can knock out this week. Want to join me?

I'm not sure if I'll stick with these or not, but here are some books that I'd like to get done if possible:

Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery & Detection by various authors; edited by Reader's Digest
The Blind Spot by John Creasey
Angels in the Gloom by Anne Perry
Thank You, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
Raisins & Almonds by Kerry Greenwood