Monday, November 12, 2018

Death & the Dancing Footman

Death & the Dancing Footman (1941) by Ngaio Marsh is one of those Golden Age mystery stand-bys: a murder at a country house party--and in the middle of a snow storm no less. But Marsh gives the standard a slight twist. Jonathan Royal, who by his own reckoning is a stifled artist, has decided to use human beings in a drama of his own contrivance. He has deliberately invited a houseful of guests where each person is at odds with at least one other person (and sometimes more). And he has invited Aubrey Mandrake, a poet dramatist, to be his impartial audience.

It came to me that human beings could, with a little judicious arrangement, be as carefully "composed" as the figures in a picture. One had only to restrict them a little, confine them within the decent boundaries of a suitable canvas, and they would make a pattern...Of course, the right--how shall I put it?--the right ingredients must be selected, and this was where I came in. I would set my palette with human colours, and the picture would paint itself.

Aubrey Mandrake is horrified. "It seems to me that you have invited stark murder to your house. Frankly, I can imagine nothing more terrifying than the prospect of this week-end." And, yet, it is the horrified fascination of someone watching a train-wreck. He can't not stay and watch the drama unfold.

And unfold it does though the guests do try to keep a civil and even sometimes party atmosphere going until Aubrey is shoved into the freezing waters of the outdoor pool and both Nicholas Compline and Dr. Francis Hart each claim the other has mistaken Aubrey for themselves and that murder has been attempted. Other attempts are made...but when death final comes, it strikes an unexpected target. Mandrake sets out through the drifts of snow to bring back Inspector Roderick Alleyn--who he knows to be staying in the near-by village. Alleyn will have to comb through all the clues to discover if it is a case of a victim by mistake or if the murderer got the results intended all along.
One of the delights of this book for me is the naming of the butler. A butler named Caper just seems so perfect for a mystery given one of its definitions as "an activity or escapade, typically one that is illicit or ridiculous." It's also quite apt in a book that has a dancing footman to have someone named after a word for "skip or dance about in a lively or playful way." Marsh must have thought it a bit much to actually name the footman Caper, but obviously couldn't resist implying that the butler might once have capered about himself when he was young.

I did find myself missing Alleyn for a huge chunk of the book. He doesn't show up until the story is two-thirds along and even then he's without Fox, his right-hand man. I enjoy their interactions very much and wish that we had had more time with their investigation. But the twist on the country house murder was very interesting and made for an enjoyable read overall.

[Finished 11/7/18]

Monday, November 5, 2018

Alphabet Soup Challenge 2019

The Alphabet Soup Challenge means that by December 31, 2019 our bowls must be filled with one book (title) for each letter of the Alphabet. Each letter = one spoonful.

Basic Details: You can join any time. For those pesky Q, X, and Z letters, the word that starts with the challenge letter may appear anywhere in the title. For full details and to sign up, click the link above.



Alphabet Soup--Authors Edition 2019

Every year Lori at Escape with Dollycas sponsors the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge (A-Z titles)--which I will be signing up for momentarily (because it's a challenge and I can't resist). BUT this year she's added a version for reading the alphabet in authors as well: Alphabet Soup--Authors Edition. So--our mission is to read books by authors whose first or last name will allow us to read one book for every letter of the alphabet. If you'd like to join in, please click on the link above for full details and the sign-up. X is going to be a tricky one. Especially since I prefer to read from my own shelves, if possible.


Color Coded Reading Challenge 2019: My Sign-Up

Every year I think I may have used up all my titles with "Brown" (or a shade of brown) in the title. And every year I prove myself wrong. I'll keep signing up for the Color Coded Reading Challenge until I run out of titles (I'm determined to only use titles and not covers).

Here's the basic rule: Read nine books with the various colors listed below in the title or as the predominate color on the cover. For full details and to join us, click on the link above. I list my books and the dates read as they come.

1. Read a book with "Blue" (or a shade of blue) in the title/on the cover.
2. Read a book with "Red" (or a shade of red) in the title/on the cover.
3. Read a book with "Yellow" (or a shade of yellow) in the title/on the cover.
4. Read a book with "Green" (or a shade of green) in the title/on the cover.
5. Read a book with "Brown" (or a shade of brown) in the title/on the cover.
6. Read a book with "Black" (or a shade of black) in the title/on the cover.
7. Read a book with "White" (or a shade of white) in the title/on the cover.
8. Read a book with any other color in the title/on the cover.
9. Read a book with a word that implies color in the title/on the cover.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Challenge Complete: Mount TBR

Well, I finally made it. I huffed and puffed my way to the top of Mount Everest. It's not as easy as it used to be. But my flag is planted! And...I'm not wasting a moment. I've tossed my gear into the spaceship that was waiting for me on the peak and I'm off to Mars. I know I won't make the top of Olympus, but let's see how far I can get....

1. The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham [on TBR since at least 2011] (1/1/18)
2. A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh [on TBR since 1/5/13] (1/7/18)
3. Bartholomew the Beaver by Ruth Dixon [on TBR since 3/24/17] (1/13/18)
4. World's Best Science Fiction: 1966 by Donald A. Wollheim & Terry Carr (eds) [on TBR since 10/4/14] (1/9/18)
5. Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay [on TBR since 3/5/15] (1/11/18)
6. Search for Spock: A Star Trek Book of Exploration by Robb Pearlman [on TBR since 11/23/17] (1/12/18)
7. Partners in Wonder by Harlan Ellison (and others) [on TBR since 9/12/15] (1/19/18]
8. The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards [on TBR since 12/28/17] (1/23/18)
9. Red Warning by Virgil Markham [on TBR since 7/27/17] (1/25/18)
10. The Best from Fantasy & Science Fiction edited by Anthony Boucher [on TBR since 7/21/16] (1/28/18)
11. Act One, Scene One--Murder by A. H. Richardson [on TBR since 7/21/17] (1/30/18)
12. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ripper Legacy by David Stuart Davies [on TBR since 10/19/17]  (1/31/18)
Pike's Peak!! 
13. Lament for a Lady Laird by Margot Arnold [on TBR since 11/7/13] (2/3/18)
14. The Pink Camellia by Temple Bailey [on TBR since 1/3/15] (2/5/18)
15. The Adventures of Paddy the Beaver by Thornton W. Burgess [on TBR since 3/24/17] (2/8/18)
16. Avalanche by Kay Boyle [on TBR since 5/31/13] (2/8/18)
17. Another Woman's House by Mignon G. Eberhart [on TBR since 10/17/15] (2/10/18)
18. Star Wreck 6: Geek Space Nine by Leah Rewolinski [on TBR since 7/2/18] (2/11/18]
19. Beverly Gray's Secret by Clair Blank [on TBR since 3/24/17] (2/13/18)
20. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey [on TBR since some time pre-2011] (2/14/18)
21. The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird [on TBR since 10/5/17] (2/16/18)
22. With Blood & Kisses by Richard Shattuck [on TBR since 12/25/14] (2/23/18)
23. Odor of Violets by Baynard Kendrick [on TBR since 10/9/15] (2/27/18)
24. Dog Will Have His Day by Fred Vargas [on TBR since1/2/16 ] (3/4/18)
Mount Blanc!!
25. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain [on TBR since 5/25/17] (3/10/18)
26. Green for a Grave by Manning Lee Stokes [on TBR since 5/31/16] (3/13/18)
27. Payoff for the Banker by Frances & Richard Lockridge [on TBR since 12/25/16] (3/15/18)
28. About the Murder of Geraldine Foster by Anthony Abbott [on TBR since 1/10/13] (3/22/18)
29. The Sign of the Book by John Dunning [on TBR since 1/19/17] (2/2318) 
30. Scotland Yard Photo Crimes from the Files of Inspector Black, Vol. 1 by Henry Black [on TBR since 12/31/16] (3/24/18)
31. Murder Out of Turn by Frances & Richard Lockridge [on TBR since 12/25/16] (3/27/18)
32. Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner [on TBR since 7/21/16] (3/30/18)
33. The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson & Lloyd Osbourne [on TBR since 3/13/13] (4/3/18)
34. The Zero Trap by Paula Gosling [on TBR since 12/31/16] (4/8/18)
35. Death of a Hoosier Schoolmaster by Marlis Day [on TBR since ] (4/10/18)
36. A Vow of Penance by Veronica Black [on TBR since 7/20/13] (4/11/18)
Mt. Vancouver!!
37. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Illustrated Classics version) [on TBR since 8/17/17] (4/11/18)
38. Mrs. Malory & the Lilies That Fester by Hazel Holt [on TBR since at least 2011] (4/13/18)
39. The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen [on TBR since 7/8/16] (4/24/18)
40. Terror in the Town by Edward Ronns [on TBR since 12/25/14] (4/26/18)
41. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Seventh Bullet by Daniel D. Victor [on TBR since 6/21/14] (4/27/18)
42. Then There Were Three by Geoffrey Homes [on TBR since 12/25/16] (4/30/18)
43. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (Illustrated Classics version) [on TBR since 8/17/17] (5/1/18)
44. Death at the Dog by Joanna Cannan [on TBR since ] (5/4/18)
45. Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh [on TBR since 8/6/11] (5/7/18)
46. Untidy Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge [on TBR since 10/7/16] (5/9/18)
47. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (Illustrated Classics version) [on TBR since 8/17/17] (5/10/18)
48. Rear Window by Cornell Woolrich [on TBR since 12/16/15] (5/16/18)
Mt. Ararat!!
49. The Body in the Basket by George Bagby [on TBR since 12/25/15] (5/22/18)
50. The Love Songs of Sappho trans by Paul Roche [on TBR since 12/16/10] (5/23/18)
51. By the Light of the Study Lamp by Carolyn Keene [on TBR since 7/1/16] (5/25/18)
52. The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie [on TBR since 11/12/16] (5/28/18)
53. Dekok & Murder by Installment by A. C. Baantjer [on TBR since 1/2/16] (5/30/18)
54. The Hellfire Conspiracy by Will Thomas [on TBR since 12/22/12] (6/1/18)
55. Terror in Times Square by Alan Handley [on TBR since 12/20/14] (6/5/18)
56. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (Illustrated Classics version) [on TBR since 8/17/17] (6/9/18)
57. The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher [on TBR since 6/9/16] (6/12/18)
58. Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh [on TBR since 11/21/16] (6/17/18)
59. Some Beasts No More by Kenneth Giles [on TBR since 3/28/15] (6/22/18)
60. Gun in Cheek by Bill Pronzini [on TBR since 7/11/09] (6/27/18)
Mt. Kilimanjaro!!
61. She by H. Rider Haggard [on TBR since 10/3/14] (7/17/18)
62. The Trouble in Hunter Ward by Josephine Bell [on TBR since 3/10/12] (7/18/18)
63. Nothing Venture by Patricia Wentworth [on TBR since 8/17/13] (7/19/18)
64. Time of Terror by Hugh Pentecost [on TBR since 12/31/11] (7/20/18)
65. Women Sleuths by Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini (eds) [on TBR since 11/29/08] (7/21/18)
66. Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin [on TBR since at least 3/5/11 ] (7/22/18)
67. The Babes in the Wood by Ruth Rendell [on TBR since 3/17/11] (7/22/18
68. Murder at Midnight by C. S. Challinor [on TBR since 6/11/15] (7/23/18)
69. The Yellow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (ed by ) [on TBR since 8/20/15] (7/25/18)
70. The Lacquer Screen by Robert Van Gulik [on TBR since 3/8/14] (7/28/18)
71. A Summer in the Twenties by Peter Dickinson [on TBR since 5/26/12] (8/2/18)
72. The Haunted Showboat by Caroline Keene [on TBR since 7/29/18] (8/2/18)
73. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith [on TBR since ] (8/5/18)
74. The Big Four by Agatha Christie [on TBR since 10/6/16] (8/12/18)
75. A Very Private Enterprise by Elizabeth Ironside [on TBR since 1/11/14] (8/16/18)
El Toro!!
76. Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh [on TBR since 8/12/11] (8/19/18)
77. The Tale of Brownie Beaver by Arthur Scott Bailey [on TBR since 6/2/17] (8/19/18)
78. Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery & Detection by various (ed. by Reader's Digest) [on TBR since 8/7/11] (8/22/18)
79. The Blind Spot by John Creasey [on TBR since 10/7/16] (8/23/18)
80. Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus [on TBR since 10/6/16] (8/24/18)
81. Basil & the Pygmy Cats by Eve Titus [on TBR since 10/6/16] (8/24/18)
82. Basil in Mexico by Eve Titus [on TBR since 10/6/16] (8/25/18)
83. Angels in the Gloom by Anne Perry [on TBR since 2/1/13] (8/28/18)
84. The Terrorists by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö [on TBR since 3/29/11] (8/30/18)
85. The Invisible Thief by Thomas Brace Haughey [on TBR since 1983] (9/5/18)
86. The Grub-&-Stakers Pinch a Poke by Alisa Craig (Charlotte MacLeod) [on TBR since at least late 1980s] (9/10/18)
87. The Charles Dickens Murders by Edith Skom [on TBR since 1/19/15] (9/15/18)
88. The Boy in the Pool by Camilla R. Bittle [on TBR since 7/27/17] (9/16/18)
89. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen [on TBR since at least 2011] (9/18/18)
90. Foggy, Foggy Death by Frances & Richard Lockridge [on TBR since 8/6/11](9/22/18)
91. Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh [on TBR since 7/8/16] (9/29/18)
92. The House of Sudden Sleep by John Hawk [on TBR since 12/25/17] (9/30/18)
93. Death of a Peer by Ngaio Marsh [on TBR since 12/30/17] (10/3/18)
94. Before Midnight by Rex Stout [on TBR since 2/28/15] (10/4/18)
95. 'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick [on TBR since 6/24/17] (10/4/18)
96. Queen's Quorum by Ellery Queen [on TBR since 5/4/15] (10/13/18)
97. What Beckoning Ghost by Douglas G. Browne [on TBR since 10/9/15] (10/16/18)
98. The Glass Mask by Lenore Glen Offord [on TBR since 5/31/16] (10/21/18)
99. The Killing Strike by John Creasey [on TBR since 10/7/16] (10/28/18)
100. Five Alarm Funeral by Stewart Sterling [on TBR since ] (11/3/18)
Mount Everest!! Challenge Complete!

Challenge Complete: Humor

The Humor Challenge Reading Challenge was a new one for Jamie over at Whatever I Think Of last year and she's brought it back in 2018. I decided to give it a try at the Cartoonist level and have finished my fifth book to fully qualify myself as a Cartoonist. Thanks, Jaime, for sponsoring this one.

Choose a level from below.  You may go up a level, but not down.

    Cartoonist: 1-5 books
    Humor Columnist: 6-10 books
    Comedy Writer:  11-15 books
    Stand Up Comedian: More than 15 books

1. Star Wreck 6: Geek Space Nine by Leah Rewolinski (2/11/18)
2. With Blood & Kisses by Richard Shattuck (2/23/18)
3. The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson & Lloyd Osbourne (4/3/18)
4. Gun in Cheek by Bill Pronizini (6/27/18)
5. Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer (10/30/18)

Five Alarm Funeral: Review

Stewart Sterling's Five Alarm Funeral (1942) is the first book-length story featuring Fire Marshall Ben Pedley. Pedley started his career investigating fires in the pulps and continued in hardback and paperbacks through the 1960s. I mentioned in my previous Sterling review (Where There's Smoke) that it was easy to see the pulp origins of Sterling's writing. If it was evident 1946, it is even more so here when he was writing fresh from the realm of pulps. Ben is much more hard-hitting (knocking a suspected firebug around in the opening pages) and fast-talking. He has his own rules and code of honor and doesn't mind breaking official ones if it gets the villain in the end. And, yet...he has a real problem with Fire Chief who's on the take. Bending a rule to put away a pyro is one thing, raking in dough on the side for your own gain is quite another.

In this first novel, Ben is on the hunt for the mastermind behind a series of fires. These are particularly bad because someone has been hurt or killed in every one of them...the most recent having involved kids. He's got his finger on the hired firebug--a well-known blaze specialist that he's never been able to put away before. This time he's got the goods on Harry Gooch, but he wants more. Harry always works on commission, never for his own lust for fire and Ben suspects the man behind him is a real lunatic. He also knows there must be some logic to the lunacy, but can't figure it out. The suspect list is limited--there's Lois Eldredge who's suspiciously on the scene of two of the fires; there's her father always in the background; there's Cleve Thurlow, Lois's boyfriend and a man who knows insurance; and there's a fire chief who's on the make. But finding the motive is the tricky part. There's no connection that makes an insurance scam seem plausible--the buildings aren't owned by the same people. It isn't until he asks his men to dig up information on every single person who lived in the buildings that he begins to see a pattern. A deadly pattern of revenge for a very old crime. 

As in Where There's Smoke, there are periodic descriptions that raise the story out of the pulp-era range. When Sterling describes the city and the firefighters hard at work at the many raging fires, the scene is vivid and you can almost smell the smoke and see the flames licking the apartment building. His visuals and his high-intensity action are Sterling's strong points. Ben Pedley is also a hero to love. He's a strong man, but he's human enough to sometimes lead with his chin and get a belt across the chops every once in a while. But he's dogged and determined enough to see things through until he solves the case and gets his man (or woman, as the case may be). Pulp action and hard-boiled dialogue may not be my usual fare, but I do enjoy the Fire Marshall Pedley series. I look forward to reading the third one (Alarm in the Night) and hunting for the remaining six. 

[Finished 11/3/18]

*****Spoiler--necessary to prove how this fits the Monthly Motif Challenge******
This is where the family dynamics comes in. Our pyromaniac goes on his fire-binge in revenge for the deaths of his parents. He has sworn to kill everyone connected to those who lynched his father, burned his house to the ground, and caused the death of his mother. He even takes revenge on the innocent daughter of one of his victims--adopting her and bringing her up in luxury with the plan to strip it away from her and frame her for his crimes.

Hope Never Dies: Review

Hope Never Dies (2018) by Andrew Shaffer is a humorous, action-packed thriller starring everyone's favorite political bromance: Uncle Joe Biden and Barack Obama. Shaffer gives us a Biden who is feeling rather at loose ends after the excitement of the White House. He's let himself go a bit--gaining around the middle and being decidedly less active. He's also feeling discarded as he watches Obama on the internet--flitting about on his extended vacation, sailing and hobnobbing with the elites of Hollywood and beyond. Looking for a new best friend, is what Biden thinks.

Then Obama shows up in the woods behind Biden's house--cigarette-end glowing like the opener of some pulp-era thriller. And, by golly, if that's not just what it is. One of Biden's favorite Amtrak engineers has been found dead on the tracks. the police think its suicide, but Obama has news for his old VP--the man had a map with with Biden's house on it. Was there a plot against Biden afoot. Was the man planning to come to "Amtrack Joe" for help? The two men team up to follow the clues that begin to appear--ditching secret service men and setting out on their own to discover a mystery much deeper than the death of an engineer. 

This is quite simply a fun, campy ride. It's also a bit of wish-fulfillment for those of us who would like to see these guys back together doing something meaningful for America. It plays heavily on the Biden-Obama relationship portrayed in so many memes

and gives us a crime-fighting team to root for in these dark times of #45 in the White House. In addition to the campy, bromance moments, Shaffer manages to give readers a pretty decent mystery to unravel around a very topical plot. ★★

[Finished 10/30/18]

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Reading Event Complete: Readers Imbibing Peril 13

I've been doing the R.I.P. Event (Readers Imbibing Peril) since 2011 when Carl V over at Stainless Steel Droppings was knee-deep in hosting (working on the sixth year of fall perilous reading). And I've continued with it after he handed the reins to Heather (aka capricious). I'm a weenie when it comes to horror, but they allow mysteries as well so we can do as intense a challenge as we like. I always sign up for Peril the First (read four books that fit the categories) and usually manage more than four for the two months. Here's my complete list for the 2018 edition:

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 (9/16/18)
6. Foggy, Foggy Death by Frances & Richard Lockridge (9/22/18)
7. Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh (9/29/18)
8. Supernatural Sherlocks by Nick Rennison, ed (9/30/18)
9. The House of Sudden Sleep by John Hawk (9/30/18)
10. Death of a Peer by Ngaio Marsh (10/3/18)
11. Before Midnight by Rex Stout (10/4/18)
12. 'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick (10/4/18)
13. What Beckoning Ghost by Douglas G. Browne (10/16/18)
14. The Glass Mask by Lenore Glen Offord (10/21/18)
15. The Killing Strike by John Creasey (10/28/18)

The Killing Strike: Review

The Killing Strike (originally Strike for Death; 1958) by John Creasey finds Chief Inspector Roger "Handsome" West with his hands full of a situation at Monro Motors, Ltd. In the wake of a successful Mark 9 proto-type, the men on the lines are demanding a pay increase. They believe its time that they share in the profits their hard work produces for Monro Motors. Sir Ian Munro doesn't agree--the profits haven't even started coming in yet, so now is not the time for pay increases. Tensions are high and the air is thick with bitterness on both sides. Then Malcolm Munro, son of the company head, comes driving up in his shiny Rolls-Bentley, right in the middle of a speech by one of the leaders on the workers side. A scuffle with old oranges occurs and then Malcolm finds himself in a fist-fight with one of the men. 

Michael Grannett, spokesman for the men, looks to use what he calls an attack on his brother by Malcolm to strengthen the workers' case...but Roy Grannett dies and Inspector West is sent to the factory to sort things out. He must walk a fine line--If he shows what the men consider to be favoritism towards management, then there will be a bitter strike. If he ticks off management by "coddling" the workers, then that could go badly as well. But as his boss, Knightley, says

We've got to see justice done, none of this one law for the rich or one law for the poor kind of stuff, and we've got to lean over backwards to make sure that the director [Malcolm] isn't whitewashed. No one told me, and no one's telling you, but there's a possibility of a lot of trouble if this badly handled, especially if it's something to do with a strike.

The Board at Munro Motors naturally want West to waltz in take one look around and declare Grannett's death an unfortunate accident (the poor boy fell down and hit his head too hard, or some such thing). But it doesn't take West long to discover that something is just not right. When Grannett was brought to the factory nurse, he was hurt, sure, but not so much that he should have died. She's quite certain of that. The autopsy reveals that the initial injury (from falling backward onto the hard ground) is overlaid by blow from our old friend, the blunt instrument--most likely a hammer. The evidence (and the body count) builds until West is able to discern the larger plot behind the death of a strike rabble-rouser. And, of course, our hero manages to collar the villain and avoid a general strike.

Before I plunge into my thoughts on the story--an observation: why do some detective novelists insist on giving their detectives (and generally policemen) the nickname "Handsome"? Here, we have West given the moniker and, of course, there is Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Roderick Alleyn. And I'm quite sure I've come across a few others in my 40-ish years of mystery reading. I thought it was the criminals who were supposed to be the plug-uglies. Is it really so unusual for a policeman to be presentable that his colleagues need to slap a nickname on those that are? 

This is my third Inspector West novel and I do enjoy them. Creasey keeps the action coming and manages to keep a good balance between straight police procedural and classic puzzle plots. The motives behind the killings are believable and the investigation rings true. If I have any real complaints, it's that the body count in these novels are a bit high and the murders are sometimes more vicious than my standard Golden Age fare. That said, these are highly enjoyable detective novels and I'm quite pleased that someone donated a whole slew of them for me to grab up at this year's community book sale.  ★★★★

[Finished 10/28/18]

Thursday, November 1, 2018

November Follow the Clues Reviews

November Monthly Key Word Reviews

November Monthly Key Words: Brown, Thanks, Food, Family, Table, Dream, Laugh, Town, Over

Please note that you may post catch-up reviews here as well--just be clear when you link up which month and key word it's for (if it's not November.

November Mount TBR Reviews

November Just the Facts Reviews

The Glass Mask: Review

The Glass Mask (1944) by Lenore Glen Offord is the second in a series that features Georgine Wyeth (our point-of-view heroine) and Todd McKinnon (pulp mystery writer and our detecting hero)--who wind up marrying at the end of this one. Georgine is the single mother of Barby who absolutely worships her soon-to-be step-dad. Georgine leads the trio into their first mystery (Skeleton Key), but it is Todd's curiosity that keeps them at Tillsit House, the scene of the action in this adventure.

After taking Barby on an outing for her birthday, the trio are headed home when Todd asks to take a detour to pay a friendly call on a friend of a friend. In fact, the girl friend of Todd's friend Dyke, one of Barby's other heroes...and it Cousin Dyke asked them to stop, well, then, they just have to stop. So they do--and the fifteen minute courtesy call turns into a several day stay because Todd's mystery-gathering antennae come out. 

But back to the beginning. Tillsit House is the home of Nella and Gilbert Peabody. Gilbert has enlisted in the army and left Nella in the big house. Nothing unusual there. Except for the fact that Gilbert's aunt died shortly before he decided to sign up and now there are rumors flying around that he hastened auntie's death so he and Nella could get married. And that he enlisted so people wouldn't be able to think badly of him. The stress of worrying what the townspeople are thinking (but won't say to her face) is driving Nella crazy. When she finds out who Todd is, she begs him to see what he can find out. She doesn't even mind if finds out Gilbert did murder old Miss Tillsit. She just wants to know the truth.

Well, as soon as Todd starts digging, he stirs up a mess of trouble. The townspeople don't take kindly to an outsider nosing about, especially when the spotlight of suspicion lands on some of the prominent citizens. He finds all sorts of clues from a mattress with every inch of its surface pierced by tiny holes to a white mark found on the carpet beside the dying woman to a revolting toupee in an ancient trunk to a broken crystal jar. His main difficulty is proving whether someone else could have poisoned the old woman. The only person seen to enter the house was Gilbert--but Todd is certain the man is innocent. Barby will have to be rescued from a whispering, shadowy villain, Georgine will have a show-down with a judge, and the three will be driven out of town before a rough kind of justice will have been served.

Honestly, I expected more from this one. I had heard good things about Offord's Skeleton Key and Susan Dunlap tells us over at Mystery Files that The Glass Mask is one of Offord's best. But I wasn't too impressed. I think I was distracted by Barby. Not many vintage mysteries feature detectives with children--and even fewer have the children so involved in the story. Todd also didn't impress me much with his detecting skills. He does discover the killer and the motive in the end, but it seemed to be more luck than actual clue-following. I actually like Georgine very much (and she grabs most of the star-value for this read). She's a strong female character and I wish she'd been the detective. Her final scene with judge is quite memorable and enjoyable. ★★ and 1/2.

[Finished 10/21/18]

What Beckoning Ghost: Review

...Mr. Tuke had gratuitously meddled (to quote the Director again) in conundrums which came his way out of office hours. A taste for meddling was thus perhaps whetted. He himself liked to call it a flair. ~What Beckoning Ghost (1947) by Douglas G. Browne

In March of 1940, a British submarine commanded by Lieutenant Demarest was lost in the North Atlantic. There were no survivors. But months later, Demarest's mother embraces spiritualism and, in an effort to make contact with her heroic son, she begs the medium to prove visitations real. She is rewarded with a chance to talk with her son one night on the edges of Hyde Park. The ghostly seaman is seen by Wally Whichcord, a tramp who often sleeps in the wooded area of the park. 

Now, seven years later, Lady Demarest is dead, but Whichcord has reportedly seen the lieutenant's ghost again in the same place. Two weeks after this sighting, the tramp is found drowned in the shallow waters of the Serpentine. The death is a puzzle--it doesn't look like accident because there's no evidence that he slipped and knocked himself out. And it doesn't look like suicide--he'd bragged to his sister that he expected to come into a bit money to get him back on his feet. So, that leaves only murder. But who would want to murder an old tramp?

That's where Harvey Tuke, the rudest man in the Department of Public Prosecutions" and the man who looks like a modern Mephistopheles, comes in. His wife has dragged him to a dinner paryt given by Corinne Reaveley (ex-fiancee of Demarest and currently married to Clifford Reavely, civil engineer). Tuke fully expects to be bored out of his mind and plied with bad sherry. He's pleasantly surprised to find the bottles on offer to be excellent and a whiff of mystery in the air. Tensions are already high around the dinner table, but one of the guests brings up the death of Whichcord Corinne takes far more exception to the topic than one would expect. This is followed later by his hostess slamming her way out of the house. When Corinne is found drowned as well, Tuke can't resist getting involved even though the case hasn't been referred to his department yet. He soon finds himself caught up in a bizarre case revolving around the tangled family affairs that have led to intrigue and murder--and which leads him on a deadly chase that ends in the gloomy underground sewers of London.

Harvey Tuke, though known as the rudest man in his department, is actually a delightful character. He has quite a way of getting information out of people who don't want to give it--either through being "unaccountably" charming or by being rude and surprising them into saying things they don't intend. Either way, he's fascinating to watch in action. He also has an interesting relationship with his boss, Sir Bruton Kames. Kames, ostensibly deplores Tuke's penchant for meddling, but it is apparent that he secretly approves...especially if it gives him a chance to get in on the action as well. It's worth the price of admission just for the visual of the portly Kames squeezing himself down into the underground tunnels of the London sewer system. 

The solution of the mystery is fairly straightforward, but Browne's style and the vivid portrayal of the London of the time period carries the reader over any possible disappointment resulting from not being properly mystified. A very entertaining, comfortable vintage mystery. ★★

[Finished 10/16/18]

Monthly Key Word 2019: My Sign-Up

I back for another round of hosting and participating in the Monthly Key Word Challenge. Looking forward to finding the books for each month's title key word. If you'd like to join me, just click on the link for full details and rules.

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Calendar of Crime 2019: My Sign-Up

Ellery Queen's Calendar of Crime (Signet Edition)

As mentioned elsewhere, mysteries are my primary go-to reads. So it shouldn't be difficult for me to fill up a Calendar of Crime with all sorts of murderous reading dates. The goal--at least one month-related mystery book (see chart below) per month for a total of 12 books. If you'd like to join me, click on the link for full details and rules.

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