Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Payoff for the Banker: Review

Pam and Jerry North find themselves plunged into their eighth murder mystery in Payoff for the Banker (1945) and this time there really isn't a good reason. Pam is at home minding her own business--finishing a bath--when the phone rings, rather insistently she thinks. She quite sure it must be Jerry, but when she reaches the phone it is the high and strained voice of Mary Hunter--a war widow that the Norths met briefly at a party just a week ago.

Mary had just walked into her new apartment after a long day at work to find a dead body sitting and waiting for her. Upon closer examination, it is the body of the George Merle, big-time banker and father of a man that Mary once thought she'd marry. The George Merle who once made her feel small and worthless and drove her away from his son because he thought she was a fortune hunter. And now he's been shot to death in her apartment and she's scared. She immediately thinks of the Norths and their penchant for getting involved with murder and she knows they know a policeman...and maybe, somehow, that will help her.

But their policeman, Bill Weigand, can't help but suspect her. After all, it's her apartment. And she knew the dead man. And Bill knows that she's not telling all she knows. But Pamela North hears something and sees something in Mary's face and immediately takes her under her wing. So, Bill also knows that Pam will be doing her darnedest to find a different suspect and will, in the words of Sergeant Mullins, make things screwy again. Besides, Bill Weigand is a good cop and it doesn't take him long to realize that there are others who might have wanted George Merle out of the way--from the son who may have discovered dear old dad's meddling in his love life or who may have just wanted to speed up his inheritance to the woman Merle has been playing around with and who claims to be having his child to his secretary who covered his boss's tracks and played husband to Merle's bit of skirt (and who may not have been just playing after all). 

Pam and Jerry aren't the only amateurs dabbling in detective work, Mr. Wickersham Potts, organist at the local church, has a way of seeing through people and he knows the leading suspects better than most. But the murderer isn't going to let the insightful Potts set the police on his/her trail and Potts joins an ever-growing list of victims. Bill must work fast to prevent a final corpse from being added to the tally.

This is a nicely plotted mystery and, much as I love Pam & Jerry, it was definitely nice to see Bill Weigand get the solution before Pam. She thinks she knows who did it, but forgets that her clue could point in another direction. Lots of good fun in a well-loved series. I enjoy looking back at New York in the 1940s and 50s with the Lockridges. The atmosphere is well-done and the stories are told with a light touch.

[Finished on 3/15/18]
For a girl of twenty-three there had been plenty that was not restful. Even before Rick; back when she was nineteen and had hated a man because of what he had done to her through another man. And that, of course, should have shown her that things do not last forever, even including hate and love. Because now it was absurd that she had ever hated the old boy and thought that he had destroyed her....It appeared now that healthy your women were not "destroyed" at nineteen, or even at twenty-three. (p. 9)

Jerry North and Bill [Weigand] looked at each other, Pam had, not for the first time, extended asylum to the frightened. Pam had become an advocate. (p. 29.)

His expressions and movements were plain enough now; they represented a loyal employee, and possibly a friend, who was bewildered and grieved by sudden death. His attitude was correct, which did not prove that the small gestures and muscular movements, the look in the eyes, the hand touching the forehead--that all these did not grow out of emotions sincerely felt. Mr. Murdock appeared a man who did things in order, which did not prove insincerity. (p. 45)

Weigand wished it were quite clear, really. He wished he knew how he was going to keep Murdock from getting in touch with Laurel Burke--how he was going to find out if Murdock did. There was just a chance that Murdock might credit him with clairvoyance and be afraid to risk it. (p. 48)

Under a case, until it was solved, there was always something moving--something in the dark, with purposes of its own; something that slipped away from under the hand; something with purposes as clear to it, and as mysterious to others, as the burrowings of a mole, as the twisting and turning of a mole's tunnel through the earth. If you knew the direction a mole was going and put your hand down to the path, the soil pressed up against your hand. Signifying mole at work. In an investigation such a movement as surely signified murderer at work. (p. 55)

He wondered what had happened to them--physically and more than physically. Eventually, no doubt, he would find out. You found out so much when you were investigating murders. Particularly so much that did you no good. (p. 59.)

O'Malley's rumble gained in volume, but did not grow more articulate. It was distant thunder on the telephone. Bill waited, making soothing sounds. The rumble subsided somewhat; the voice became almost plaintive. (p. 59)

Weigand grinned into the telephone, but kept the grin out of his voice. He did know Hardy, and that Inspector O'Malley was not really a match for him. Hardy was a good man at his business, which was finding things out whether O'Malley wanted them found out or wanted them kept in or didn't--as was often the case--know precisely what they were. (p. 60)

Weigand listened, dutifully, while the thunder rolled [again]. After some time he was permitted to hang up, on the understanding that he had to solve the murder of George Merle within minutes--fifteen at the outside--get Mary Hunter away from Mr. and Mrs. North and Mr. and Mrs. North out of the case, and send Sergeant Mullins immediately downtown with a report of progress for the press. (p. 61)

You see, Mrs. Hunter, you're not out of it. I don't know how to explain--you shouldn't have brought us in, perhaps. We're not detectives and--I hardly know how to say this--we--we aren't casual about murder. People can't be, and drop it. And walk away. If you hadn't called Pam--if you hadn't brought us into it at all--that would be different. we wouldn't have any responsibility. ~Jerry North (p. 66)

PN: If you;re going to tell us any more, you'll end by telling us everything more. And not here--perhaps not anywhere. What we know, Bill knows. At least--
JN: Unless Pam decides it would confuse him. Which has happened. But if Pam means that we're not on anybody's side, as she does, she's right. If she means we're not protecting anybody.
PN: Except if they didn't do it. And then, of course we would be. Unless we were wrong, of course.
~Pam North; Jerry North (p. 68)

Inspector O'Malley looked at them all [the newspapermen], and his gaze grew slightly baleful. He looked hard at Sergeant Mullins, present as an emissary from Lieutenant Weigand, and Mullins, who seldom shrank, shrank perceptibly. Mullins was glad at the moment that he was not Lieutenant Weigand; he would have been reasonably contented not to be Sergeant Mullins. He felt like a buffer state. (p. 77)

[on the phone]
Yeah, I know. Sure, Mr. North. All I can say is, you oughta of heard the inspector. I tell you how it is, Mr. North. The inspector knows who did it, like he always does. The loot don't know so easy, like he usually don't. The inspector thinks that's because of you and Mrs. North. And all I can say is, you oughta of heard him. ~Sgt. Mullins (p. 87)

[still on the phone, now with Pam]
SM: Listen, I can't do that, Mrs. North. The inspector wouldn't like it. If the loot's going to see this guy Murdock at the Hotel Main on account of maybe he shot the old boy, the inspector don't want you in on it. That's what the inspector says. He says you make it screwy.
PN: Main? M-A-I-N?
SM: Absolutely. Like I was telling the inspector's secretary, who just came in. I can't tell you where Weigand is. And wouldn't if I could, Mrs. North.
~Sgt. Mullins; Pam North (p. 88)

PN: Look, Bill. You make it sound awful. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--to--what does Mullins say? Make it screwy. I just happened to notice.
BW: Oh, the truth above everything, Pam. Even if inconvenient. Only I wish you'd happened to notice before I called Art--Inspector O'Malley.
~Pam North; Bill Weigand (p. 94)

Pam North deeply believed, not without evidence, that there was no telling what married people would say to each other when they thought they were alone. (p. 97)

[on the phone to O'Malley]
But here's what I'd like to do, with things the way they are. Let the killer think he's fooled us. Let him think he's pinned it on Murdock. Let him have his little laugh. Maybe he'll be lauging so hard he won't see us coming. And then we tell the newspaper boys sure, we planned it that way right along--a sp--a trap to catch woodcocks.
[after some back and forth]
Right. I think you've got something there, Inspector. We'll let it ride along as is for a while, anyway. And meantime I'll keep on it. Right?
[puts phone down--turns to his wife and the Norths]
"The inspector thinks we'd better not tell the press it wasn't suicide," he reported gravely. "The inspector's got an idea there's no use telling the killer how much we know." He barely smiled. "He also thinks woodcocks are woodchucks. They've been eating his broccoli."
~Bill Weigand (p. 98)

Because it comes down to guesswork--to guessing what we would do if we were in the position some one else is in. We think he would do a certain thing, for a certain reason--meaning that we think we would do that thing for that reason in his place but we're not even sure, most of the time, what we would do. And our guesses about other people--even people we know very well--well, they aren't good enough. ~Bill Weigand (p. 103)

But he added that motives were, at best, odd things--what was a motive for one person wasn't a motive for another. What would hardly irritate one person would lead another to murder--and murder the hard way. (pp. 105-6)

WP: Conscience is a strange thing, don't you think, Lieutenant?
BW: How strange?
WP: I was thinking of conscience as a compulsion. A compulsion to repay--to discharge an obligation. An obligation we may so easily overestimate.
BW: Not the conscience of a murderer. That isn't what you're thinking of?
WP: Not entirely. that would be interesting too, I should suppose.
~Wickersham Potts; Bill Weigand (p. 137)

WP: Personally, I have never committed a murder.
BW: No. A great many people haven't, Mr. Potts. A surprising number of people haven't.
WP: Well, a surprising number of people have. It depends on what surprises you.
BW: Yes. What surprises you, Mr. Potts.
WP: Very little. Very little indeed, Lieutenant. I am sometimes surprised at how many things do not surprise me.
~Wickersham Potts; Bill Weigand (pp. 137-8)

You see, Merle, your father hated Mrs. Hunter's father. He had cheated Mr. Thorgson out of quite a sum of money, I suspect. And often we hate those we wrong--it is a form of self-justification. Your father wasn't going to let Thorgson have the satisfaction of seeing his daughter married to you. ~Weigand (pp. 152-3)

Friday, March 23, 2018

100 "Must Have" Books Revisited

Back in 2012, I set up the following post. I thought it would be fun to revisit the list and see how many "Must Have" books had come into my possession (I will mark them off below). It looks like I've been luck enough to come across 39 of my most-wanted mysteries. Not bad for a five-year search. I just might have to do a more current list....

Update March 2019: Have found two more of the "Must Haves"--getting close to owning half the list.

Update March 2021: Am now in need of 50--half-way there.

Update March 2023: 39 left to find.

Top 100 "Must Have" Mysteries

Yvette has unleashed my list-making monster.  I just posted my Top 100 Favorite Mysteries--that would be the ones I've already read.  That got me to thinking.  I have a To Be Found list that's miles long.  When my mother-in-law was heading to Florida for Christmas where her sister promised there was "one of the largest bookstores ever," mom-in-law offered to go on a hunt for me if I wanted to send her my list.  I laughed and asked if she knew what she was asking (current list = 14 pages of Excel spreadsheets in tiny font--and that's just mysteries).  She asked me to pare it down.  Now I'm wondering--what if I could only have 100 more mysteries come into my possession.  Which books must I absolutely have?  You'll find that a large number of these have a common theme--academic mystery.  And, naturally, if I can only have 100 more, then I want them all to be either first editions with dust jackets or special editions where marked. If I'm going to dream, I'm going to dream big.

1. Death in a High Latitude by James Anderson
2. The Summer School Mystery by Josephine Bell
3. Death Takes a Sabbatical by Robert Bernard
4. Panic Party (aka Mr. Pidgeon's Island) by Anthony Berkeley
5. The Corpse in the Snowman (aka The Case of the Abominable Snowman) by Nicholas Blake
6. Nine Times Nine by Anthony Boucher
7. The Cambridge Murders OR The Oxford Murders by Adam Broome
8. Crack of Doom (aka Such Is Death) by Leo Bruce
9. A Taste of Power by W. J. Burley
10. A Coffin in Oxford by Gwendoline Butler
11. Nine--And Death Makes Ten (aka Murder in the Atlantic OR Murder in the Submarine Zone) by John Dickson Carr
12. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (#5 WWII Pocket Book edition)
13. The Case with Nine Solutions by J. J. Connington
14. The Curse of the Fleers by Basil Copper
15. Death & Letters by Elizabeth Daly
16. The Sherlock Holmes Pocket Book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (#95 WWII Pocket Book edition)
17. Old Mrs. Ommaney Is Dead (aka Fatal Relations OR The Dead Don't Speak) by Margaret Erskine
18. The Crime & the Crystal by E. X. (Elizabeth) Ferrars
19. By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (#33 WWII Pocket Book Edition)
20. The Man from Scotland Yard by David Frome (Leslie Ford--#153 Pocket Book edition)
21. The Estrucan Net (aka The Family Tomb) by Michael Gilbert
22. Seven Clues in Search of a Crime by Bruce Graeme
23. Death Is No Sportsman by Cyril Hare
24. Old Hall, New Hall (aka A Question of Queens) by Michael Innes
25. A Rush on the Ultimate by H. R. F. Keating
26. Light Through Glass by Elizabeth LeMarchand
27. A Cracking of Spines by Roy Harley Lewis
28. The Untidy Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge (Mr. & Mr.s North)
29. Spin Your Web, Lady! by Lockridge (Heimrich) found 2018
30. Murder & Blueberry Pie by Lockridge (Lt. Shaprio)
31. Quest of the Bogeyman by Lockridge (Paul Lane)
32. The Innocent House by Lockridge (other)
33. The Murder on the Burrows by E. C. R. Lorac (Inspector MacDonald)
34. Death of an Author by Lorac (other)
35. The Crime Conductor by Philip MacDonald
36. Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh (#137 Pocket Book edition)
37. One that Got Away by Helen McCloy
38. Tom Brown's Body by Gladys Mitchell
39. Dead Woman's Ditch by Simon Nash
40. The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy
41. Miss Withers Regrets by Stuart Palmer
42. Mortal Term by John Penn
43. The Experiences of Loveday Brooks, Lady Detective by C. L. Pirkis
44. The Boudoir Murder by Milton Propper
45. Death Goes to School by Q. Patrick (aka Jonathan Stagge)
46. Murder at Cambridge by Patrick Quentin (aka Jonathan Stagge)
47. The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen (#71 Pocket Book Edition)
48. Murder Isn't Cricket by Edwin Radford
49. The Cambridge Murders by Dilwyn Rees
50. The Diamond Feather by Helen Reilly
52. The Paddington Mystery by John Rhode
53. Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers (#130 Pocket Book edition)
54. The Gun in Daniel Webster's Bust by Margaret Scherf
55. Murder Goes to College by Kurt Stell
56. Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout (#112 Pocket Book Edition)
57. Footprints by Kay Cleave Strahan
58. Murder at Vassar by Elizabeth Atwood Taylor
59. Death Lights a Candle by Phoebe Atwood Taylor (#204 Pocket Book Edition)
60. Accessory After the Fact by Lee Thayer
61. A Question of Identity by June Thomson
62. My Name Is Martha Brown by Nicola Thorne
63. The Garden Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine
64. The Professor Knits a Shroud by Wirt Van Arsdale
65, Murder Will Out by Roy Vickers
66. The Duke of York's Steps by Henry Wade 
67. The Eighth Mrs. Bluebeard by Hillary Waugh
68. Who Is the Next? by Henry Kitchell Webster
69. Knight Must Fall by Theodora Wender
70. Treasure by Degrees by David Williams
71. Dead in the Morning by Margaret Yorke
72. Spence & the Holiday Murders by Michael Allen
73. The Body on Page One by Delano Ames
74. Murder Intended by Francis Beeding
75. The House Without a Key by Earl Derr Biggers (#50 Pocket Book edition)
76. Fog of Doubt by Christianna Brand
77. Rest Without Peace by Elizabeth Byrd
78. The Reader Is Warned by John Dickson Carr
79. Our Second Murder  by Torey Chanslor
80. Plot-Counterplot by Anna Clarke (found 2018)
81. Welcome Death by Glyn Carr
82. Devil at Your Elbow by D. M. Devine
83. Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter
84. While the Patient Slept by Mignon G. Eberhart (#64 Pocket Book Edition)
85. Too Many Magicians by Randall Garrett
86. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (#196 Pocket Book Edition)
87. Death Set to Music by Mark Hebden (aka John Harris)
88. Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume
89. Postscript to Poison by Dorothy Bowers
90. The Far Traveller by Manning Coles
91. Murder Is a Serious Business by Elizabeth Dean
92. The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer
93. Sally's in the Alley by Norbert Davis
94. Close Quarters by Michael Gilbert
95. Dragon's Cave by Clyde B. Clawson
96. Made up to Kill (aka Made up for Murder) by Kelley Roos
97. Gownsman's Gallows by Katherine Farrer
98.  The Pink Umbrella by Frances Crane
99. Clues of the Caribbees by T. S. Stribling
100. Death by Request by Romilly & Katherine John

Monday, March 19, 2018

Green for a Grave:Review

In Green For a Grave (1946) by Manning Lee Stokes, private eye Barnabas Jones is hired by Philip Keyes--for protection. Keyes is certain that someone is out to kill him. But he won't give Jones any information until the P.I. is on the spot. Keyes hires a cottage right on the waterfront for Jones and his secretary, Myra. He gives Jones a $500 retainer and says he'll tell Jones everything once they are installed in the cottage. 

But he never gets the chance. As Jones is settling into the cottage, Keyes is found slumped in his boat at Wake's Dock on the White River. The dock attendant and assistant who discover him think he's dead drunk and decide to play a little practical joke. They grab a can of green paint and proceed to paint his cheeks and nose, then take off his shoes and anoint his stocking feet as well. But then the assistant realizes the man isn't drunk--just dead. Myra was heading back to the cottage with supplies when she notices the commotion at the dock. She gives every evidence of the casual busybody and finds out just enough to tell her that her boss's client is now an ex-client.

Barney could just as easily pocket his $500 retainer and head on home, but he's a bit perturbed that his client got knocked off before he even got a chance to try and protect him. Because no matter what the police may say, he's quite sure that Keyes was killed and he's determined to find out why. He's officially back on the case when Philip's friend Marcus Palfrey learns that Jones is in town and hires him to get to the bottom of things. It doesn't take long for the detective to unearth a number of people who may have wanted Keyes out of the way--including people who knew Keyes under another name and for his unsavory blackmailing habit.

Jones knows he's getting close to the truth when he finds himself framed for murder and he'll have to work fast to find the killer before the police decide that the frame fits much too well.

This is a decent, mid-range mystery. There are plenty of suspects and a couple of threads that might lead to the culprit, but enough tangles along the way to make it interesting. Barney Jones is a dedicated, bulldog-type who won't leave a mystery hanging, even if his client is dead. One reason I deduct star-points is that the motive isn't entirely clear to me--I do understand the basic premise as explained, but the explanation doesn't completely convince me of a solid motive. But--overall, an entertaining book that made for a very quick read (my slowness to review notwithstanding). ★★

[Finished 3/13/18]

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Nursing Home Murder: Review

The Nursing Home Murder (1935) is the third Inspector Alleyn novel by Ngaio Marsh. The Bolshevik's have reared their ugly heads again (see A Man Lay Dead) and have been sending death threats to Sir Derek Callaghan, the Home Secretary. Sir Derek is due to present a very important bill before Parliament and there are those who would prefer that bill never see the light of day. He has also been experiencing bouts of extreme abdominal pain--refusing to see a doctor until he has launched his bill. But in the middle of his speech, the spasms are so great that he falls unconscious.

His colleagues are aware that his doctor is Sir John Phillips and he is rushed to Phillips' hospital where he will be in the most capable hands. But no one is aware of the serious argument the two men had just the night before or that Sir John has threatened the Home Secretary's life. Nor are they aware of Nurse Harden who will be in the operating room--a woman who has recently been cast aside as Sir Derek's mistress and is the reason for Sir John's animosity. But these aren't the only ones with cause to hate the incapacitated man. Nurse Banks is a member of the anarchist society who threatened Sir Derek's life. And though Dr. Roberts, the anesthesiologist, may not have a known hatred for the man on the table, he does have some odd and obsessive ideas about eugenics. And Dr. Thoms, also present for the operation, behaves a bit oddly as well. It doesn't help that Sir Derek's slightly loopy sister has been stuffing him with patent medicines that may have been provided by a chemist with Bolshevik leanings. Needless to say, after what seems to have been a successful operation on a perforated appendix, Sir Derek dies and his death is ascribed to heart failure.

Lady O'Callaghan isn't having it. She's quite certain that the anarchists have gotten to her husband somehow. That is...until she discovers the threatening letter that Nurse Jane Harden was foolish enough to write. Convinced that her husband has been murdered, she calls Scotland Yard and demands a postmortem. Inspector Alleyn interviews her and her butler, Nash--who reveals that he overheard Sir John threaten his employer as well--and reluctantly agrees that a postmortem is indicated. Lady O'Callaghan's fears are proved to be well-founded when the p.m. reveals that Sir Derek died from an overdose of hyoscine.

It doesn't take Alleyn and Inspector Fox long to ferret out all the motives, but they have difficulty pinpointing the opportunity. In the operating room it would be difficult for anyone to mess about with the injections without someone else noticing. Alleyn finally resorts to that standard of crime fiction--the reenactment. And it is during the performance that he is given the clue that leads him to the culprit.

This installment of the Alleyn stories again has Nigel Bathgate--but he has been relegated to the sidelines. Alleyn uses him (and his girlfriend) to help scope out a meeting of the anarchists, uses them as a sounding board for a synopsis of the case to date, and then as an audience for the final wrap-up and explanation scene. Honestly--roles that Inspector Fox could have filled more successfully (and will in later novels). Bathgate as a Watson-like character seems to be losing his charm. Fortunately, the same is not true of Alleyn and Fox and I thoroughly enjoyed their investigation--especially the reenactment scenes. ★★ and a half.

I also took the opportunity to rewatch this episode of the BBC series starring Patrick Malahide with William Simons as Inspector Fox. The story is kept intact save for two points--there is a second (wholly unnecessary) death (to add to the drama, I suppose) and the time period has been updated from the 1930s to the late 1940s/early 1950s so that the Bolshevik anarchists have become those who have strong feelings about the Palestine situation. Much as I like Belinda Lang as Agatha Troy, I was glad that she was not thrust into this episode as she was in "A Man Lay Dead." I do wish those who adapt mystery series would stick to the timelines established by the authors--and the first episode felt cluttered with both Troy and Nigel Bathgate running around as "outsiders" to the suspects. However, that quibble aside, the Alleyn series is quality mystery television and really quite well done.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Life on the Mississippi: Review

Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi (1883) is a book of two parts. The first third or so is devoted to describing the years he spent on the river learning the trade of a riverboat pilot. We follow the young Samuel Clemens as he works his way up from a cub to steersman. He describes the "prodigious" amount of memory it took to be a riverboat pilot in those days--to memorize the landmarks and the various depths of the water along the way and "shape of the river" (how the river really runs in contrast to how it may appear to the casual eye). Each time the young Clemens thinks he's stuffed his head as full as can be and learned everything there is to learn, his mentor starts in on a whole new set of things that every pilot ought to know. He has just managed to get comfortable with his knowledge when the Civil War breaks out and changes riverboat life forever--forcing Clemens into other lines of work before finally beginning his career as Mark Twain the writer.

The remaining two-thirds of the book finds Clemens returning to the river after twenty-one years. He wants to see what riverboat life is like now and he plans to travel under an assumed name and gather stories for future writing endeavors. That doesn't last--a man who knew him on the river recognizes him pretty quick and it isn't long before Clemens tries his hand at piloting the great ship. He does a pretty good job considering that the shape of the river has changed greatly in many sections and various landmarks from his day are gone altogether. 

The first third of the book is highly entertaining. His stories of learning the ways of the river are interesting and told in true Twain fashion. We also learn a great deal about life before the war. The remainder of the book is so-so. He spends a great deal of time describing the changes that have overtaken the river and he intersperses these descriptions with various anecdotes and, quite frankly, tall tales. This portion is choppy and uneven and also contains commentary on everything from the mercenary tactics of undertakers (squeezing the most out everyone for the most expensive funerals) to the unscrupulous ways of businessmen pawning off oleomargarine as butter and cotton seed oil as olive oil. Not that this commentary couldn't be interesting and telling of the times, but it interrupts the travelogue in the most distracting way. I much preferred Twain's tales of the river and life that connected more directly to it. ★★

A random remark, connecting Irishmen and beer, brought this nugget of information out of him: 
  They don't drink it, sir. They can't drink it, sir. An Irishman is lined with copper, and the beer corrodes it. But whiskey polishes the copper and is the saving of him, sir. (p. 171)

Partialities often make people  see more than really exists. (p. 181)

But you decided and agreed to stick to this boat," etc.; as if, having determined to do an unwise thing, one is thereby bound to go ahead and make two unwise things out of it, by carrying out that determination. (p. 226)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Dog Will Have His Day: Review

Dog Will Have His Day (1996) by Fred Vargas is the second in her Three Evangelist books. Readers were introduced to Marc, Mathias, and Lucien, dubbed The Three Evangelists after St. Mark, St. Matthew, and St. Luke by Marc's godfather/uncle, in the book of the same name. In that story, the three historians help Armand Vandoosler (the godfather/uncle and an ex-cop) solve the mystery of a missing neighbor. This story features Marc and Mathias in supporting roles to one Louis Kehlweiler.

Louis Kehlweiler is quite a detective. The former French Ministry Agent is currently out of a job--but he can't help keeping his hand in and has set himself up at various locations around Paris, keeping an eye on suspicious characters he knows are up to no good. Lately, he's been keeping an eye on a certain politician's nephew. One morning as he's loitering on a bench, doing his best vagrant impression while watching the nephew's windows, he notices something odd in a bit of dog poo--somewhere, somehow a dog has come across a joint from a human toe, wolfed it down, and deposited under the tree beside his bench. Closer examination (ewwwww) reveals to Kehlweiler's expert eye that this toe belongs to a human who has been murdered. He takes his find to be thoroughly examined and discovers that it belonged to an elderly woman.

Somewhere in Paris--or possibly elsewhere in France--an elderly woman has been murdered and Kehlweiler determines to find out who she was and who murdered her. A daunting task. But he recruits Marc, one of The Three Evangelists to help him trace the dog. The dog leads them to Port-Nichols, a tiny fishing village, and, eventually, to Marie, an elderly busybody who knew too much about one too many people and was killed. The finger (or is it toe) of suspicion points to various villagers, but Kehlweiler is able to identify the culprit with the help of Marc and Mathias (a second Evangelist). He will also find the answer to another mystery that has haunted his family since the Second World War.

As my synopsis above would indicate, this is really Louis Kehlweiler's book. He does the detecting with the able assistance of the two historians. And Kehlweiler is a very odd fellow--he is waltzing around with a toad named Bufo in his pocket, for crying out loud. And talks to it. And introduces Marc to it like they're going to be best buds. I spent most of the book feeling just slightly off-balance. Kehlweiler and his toad can do that to you. But the final third of the book makes the read worthwhile. I didn't mind our detective's bizarre way of talking (as if you'd come into a conversation half-way and he expected you to know what was going on) so much once he got down to cases and started following up clues in earnest.

I do wish that there had been more hints about his personal mystery. It was quite satisfying to watch him get the upper hand on a man who had been on the wrong side of the French Resistance in the war, but it would have been even more so if the confrontation hadn't come out of the blue. We were aware of the WWII connection to Kehlweiler--but there were no hints of his private quest.

Overall, an absorbing book. But one that demands a bit of patience from the reader. Fortunately, the conclusion of the story more than compensates for the demand. ★★and 1/4.
[Finished 3/4/18]

Marc smiled back. He wasn't going to be thrown by the sight of a toad. What would you look like if you were scared of a toad? A total idiot, that's what. Marc was scared stiff of touching a toad, yes, but he was also scared stiff of looking like a total idiot. (p. 68)

Perhaps that's the secret if you want to get elected. The best thing to do, if you want to be able to turn in any direction without seeming to, is to be smooth-edged, don't you agree? Well, Chevalier is like something round, slippery and glossy, like a conger eel, a masterpiece in some ways. He'll very rarely give you a straight answer, even if they seem straight to you. ~Darnas (p. 104)

Very noble to make promises, easily done, then you have to keep them, which is a pain in the backside. (p. 195)

February Wrap-Up & P.O.M. Award

I'm still running behind on tracking reading progress and statistics for all things bookish on the Block. I'm also one review behind....but at least I'm doing better than January! I've got February's stats ready to log and I'll be contributing to Kerrie's Crime Fiction Pick of the Month and handing out the coveted P.O.M. Award for the best mystery. So, here we go--let's take a look at February....

Total Books Read: 13
Total Pages: 2,829

Average Rating: 3.42 stars  
Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 85%

Percentage by US Authors: 69%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  8%
Percentage Mystery:  77% 

Percentage Fiction: 100%
Percentage written 2000+: 8%
Percentage of Rereads: 15%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}    
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 3--one final post coming (10%)

AND, as mentioned above,
Kerrie had us all set up for another year of Crime Fiction Favorites. What she was looking for is our Top Mystery Read for each month. February found me with ten mysteries. Here are the mysteries read:

Lament for a Lady Laird by Margot Arnold (3 stars)  
Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh (3.5 stars) 
Avalanche by Kay Boyle (3 stars) 
Another Woman's House by Mignon G. Eberhart (3 stars) 
Beverly Gray's Secret by Clair Blank (3 stars)
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (5 stars)
The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird (5 stars) 
With Blood & Kisses by Richard Shattuck (4 stars) 
Odor of Violets by Baynard Kendrick (4 stars) 
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (3 stars)

This was a solid mystery-reading month with ten of my thirteen logged in the mystery field and all entries coming in at three stars or better. There were two five-star winners--both of them as rereads of books I first encountered over thirty years ago. It was nice to see that favorites from my early days of mystery-reading still came up to scratch when I revisited them.  The Daugher of Time by Josephine Tey and The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird were also my first introduction to each of these authors.

Tey's historical mystery
was just as entertaining this time around--even though I already knew what they found out and that it wasn't the big bombshell discovery that Carradine (and I) thought it was. I paid more attention to the research methods and the details than I did so many years ago. I enjoyed the little discoveries--the pieces found in letters and brief mentions in historical accounts that help them build their case for Richard's innocence. Not strictly speaking a straight detective novel, but it definitely helped get me interested in historical novels and in finding more Josephine Tey mysteries years ago. In February, I enjoyed listening to it in audio version from BBC Radio 4 Extra read by Paul Young because I can't figure out what I did with the hard copy I bought myself sometime after I read it from the library--younger Bev forgot to record the date bought on this one. The audio version was excellent.

 But--much as I enjoyed The Daughter of Time, Tey was edged out by our P.O.M. winner:

Aird has given us a mystery novel that is firmly rooted in the vintage works of the Golden Age. Though her book is set in the late 1960s, the detective work could have been done by Inspector Alleyn in 30s. The style of investigation is very much of an earlier era and she has made a definite effort to display her clues in a nod to the "fair play" school. That alone makes this an excellent novel, but she also entertains us by making fun of the very tropes she emulates. She plays on standard motifs and plot devices and serves up a denouement that should make classic crime buffs howl in dismay--but, it fits with the atmosphere she has skillfully employed. 

Reading Challenge Complete: Read It Again, Sam

I hadn't signed up for my Read It Again, Sam Challenge for a while--primarily because I'm trying to clear as many never read books off the TBR pile each year. BUT I did have a number of books to read for challenges that I read many moons ago (junior high & high school) that I later bought copies of for myself, so I jumped in a gain.

I signed up for the lowest level--Déjà vu: Reread 4 books and have now completed it. If I find myself doing more rereads, then I'll add them to the tally, but my challenge commitment has been met.

1. A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh (1/7/18)
2. Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh (2/7/18)
3. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (2/14/18)
4. The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird (2/16/18)
Challenge Commitment Complete!