Monday, May 28, 2018

Death at the Dog: Review

So.............I've been suffering from a huge case of review writer's block. Just can't seem to get in the right frame of mind to sit down and write these things up. And I really want to--because after all, that's the whole reason why I started this blog. To have an on-going journal of my reading. In an effort to catch up, the next several (many...A LOT) may be a little shorter than usual....

Death at the Dog (1940) by Joanna Cannan is set in the first few months of the Second World War. Small villages are trying to get used to the black outs--and some folks are having greater success than others at keeping the lights from showing in the darkness. Peter Conway and his sister Eve Hennisty who run the Loamshire's local pub, The Dog, have a bit of trouble on a fateful night in late 1939. Their lounge bar is full of familiar faces: Crescy Hardwick--unconventional novelist, old Mathew Scaife (the unpopular local squire), Edward Scaife--his son, Adam & Valentine Day, and David & Bridget Frankland. Crescy has already had an argument with the squire. He's her landlord and has sent her a letter turning her out of her cottage. She's none too pleased--especially given that she's invested quite a bit of time and money improving the place to suit her. Edward has also had words with his father over the running of the farm and it's evident that Mathew doesn't get on with either the Days or the Franklands. The elder Scaife takes his drink off to a corner seat and the group tries to make things festive around him. Then Scaife's younger son Mark walks in and the bar grows quiet--for Mark has never come to socialize with them at The Dog before.

Conversation resumes until Constable Waller comes in to tell Peter and Eve that they've got a light showing through the blackout curtains upstairs. Nearly everyone in the lounge bar troops outside to view the damage to the darkness. When it's determined that Eve's bedroom lamp is the culprit, they all come back in and play a bit of shove ha'penny until it's time to go. That's when Edward discovers that his father's dead. He believes it to be a heart attack--but when the doctor is called he refuses to give a death certificate and the next thing they know Inspector Guy Northeast is sent down from Scotland Yard to look into the poisoning of the squire.

Murder? he thought, and then it flashed across his mind that not one of the murder cases he had had to do with had been suitably set in sordid or horrific surroundings; it was an undercurrent, this desire to kill, a crawling thing, deep  down under placid waters...

Northeast finds that murder does run deep under the cozy atmosphere of the lounge bar. There are several motives--from inheritance to dislike to Crescy's desire to keep the place she's made into a home. There are several bits of evidence that seem to point towards the writer but Northeast is reluctant to believe that she is the murderer. Is the fact that he's a bit smitten with her clouding his judgment or has the murderer deliberately thrown the cloud of suspicion over Crescy?

He had great faith in putting things down on paper. You could turn things over in your mind for ever, but there was nothing like analysis for catching out sentiment and the preferences you couldn't help forming.

The Scotland Yard inspector diligently tries to keep his facts in order--willing to face them and arrest the novelist if he must. But first he has to figure out just how the murder was done. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this look at village life during the early years of World War II. Cannan gives us a good, well-drawn cast of characters and Crescy is especially interesting as the prickly writer who manages to attract men without really wanting anything to do with them. I also was intrigued by the similarities to a Ngaio Marsh book published in the same year--though the solution is definitely distinct. Overall, a good introduction (for me) to the work of Cannan.  ★★★★

[Finished on 5/4/18]

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

More Classic Illustrated Classics: Verne & Wells

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

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

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

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

Both graphic novels earn a sold ★★ rating.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Then There Were Three: Review

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

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

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

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

[Finished on 4/30/18]

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Seventh Bullet: Review

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

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

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

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

[Finished on 4/27/18]

Friday, May 4, 2018

Terror in the Town (Friday's Forgotten Books)

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

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

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

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

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

[Finished on 4/26/18]

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May Follow the Clues Reviews

May Mount TBR Reviews

May Just the Facts Reviews

May Key Word Reviews

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