Monday, July 30, 2018

Melmoth the Wanderer: Review

This is going to be awfully short--especially in comparison to the book I read. You would think that I would have more to say about about a book that is 659 pages long. But really, I don't have the words. Charles Robert Maturin used them all up in the early 19th Century. Good old Charles has a lot in common with Tristram Shandy--he loves to tell stories within stories with stories. Besides that, he's long-winded and repetitive. He really wanted his readers to know how corrupt and down-right bad the so-called "holy men" of the Catholic Church were and he was willing to tell them so in story after story and hit them over the head with the idea until they cried for mercy.

With so much anti-Catholic propaganda coming at me as well all the stories within stories, I had a really difficult time concentrating on what's supposed to be the main plot--that John Melmoth's ancestor made a pact with the devil and takes a couple of hundred years to try and snare some innocent soul to take his place. SPOILER--he fails. Just think if Maturin had put it that directly, I wouldn't have wasted all that time wading through a bunch of stories about life in a monastery, which quite frankly was repetitive and boring and didn't really add much to the basic plot line. I mean, seriously, I think I snoozed through the part where it's explained what the conniving of the Abbott to put the Spanish dude into a monastery against his will had to do with Melmoth's ancestor....All I got out of it was that apparently none of the "religious" fellows who took up the monastic life really believed anything and were miserable and only wanted to recruit new monks so someone else could be miserable too. Wheee!

So....this deadly dull classic story made it onto the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list somehow. I get to check that one off the list. And it counts for the Back to the Classics Challenge. And it counts for the Dread & Read Challenge. AND I've read it and don't ever need to read it again. Not a very coherent or comprehensive review....but then I didn't think Maturin was all that coherent himself. So, it's fitting really.  , I guess.

[Finished 7/22/18]

Women Sleuths: Review

Women Sleuths (1985), edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Bill Pronzini, features three novellas from the 1930s and one first published in 1985. It is the first in a five-volume series of Academy Chicago anthologies*.  I enjoyed this small collection even though two out of the three (Eberhart & Woolrich) were rereads for me. In fact, I just read "The Book That Squealed" this year in Rear Window, a collection of pre-1969 Woolrich stories. It was definietly nice to see the women take center stage in all of these. My favorite of the four novellas is "The Book That Squealed." ★★ for the collection.

"The Toys of Death" by GDH & Margaret Cole: When her son James (a private detective) has to run off to France, Mrs. Warrender, an elderly sleuth, is pulled into the puzzling case of Crampton Pleydell's death. It's first thought to be suicide, but then suspicion falls on an innocent man and Mrs. Warrender gets curious--especially when she finds out that Pleydell liked to make replicas of Renaissance glass baubles containing poison. A different sort of justice prevails in the end.

"The Calico Dog" by Mignon Eberhart: A woman who knows Christabel (from an earlier story) asks Susan Dare to help her decide between two men who claim to be her long-lost son. Derek Lasher disappeared when he was four years old--apparently kidnapped by his nursemaid. Now that Idabelle Lasher's husband has died leaving behind 30 million dollars, Dixon and Duane have each arrived with plausible stories and memories that only Derek could have. Will the real Derek Lasher please stand up? Murder and theft take place before Susan can get to the bottom of it.

"The Book That Squealed" by Cornell Woolrich: [adapted for radio on Suspense in 1945 as "Library Book" with Myrna Loy!--found HERE on youtube.] A rather uptight librarian finds herself in the middle of a mysterious adventure when a best-seller (please hear that with all of Prudence's disapproval) is returned to the library with pages missing. Though she disapproves of trashy best-sellers, she disapproves of book vandalism even more. Her determination to hunt down the culprit leads her into much bigger things.

"The Broken Men" By Marcia Muller: Sharon McCone is hired as a body guard for two famous performers at a clown festival. One of them comes up missing and a body is found wearing his costume--but it's definitely not him. Who is the man in the costume? Was he killed by mistake? Where is the missing clown? McCone will have to answer these questions and more in this solid detective story from the 1980s with ties to more classic plot lines.

[Finished on 7/21/18]

This particular collection has also been reviewed by Curtis over at The Passing Tramp and John at Pretty Sinister Books has given a very good review of all of the Mrs. Warrender stories (collected in Mrs. Warrender's Profession).

*I have also read the 2nd and 4th books, Police Procedurals (Greenberg & Pronzini, eds) and Great British Detectives  (Greenberg & Edward D Hoch, eds).

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Time of Terror: Review

Time of Terror (1975) is the eleventh book in Hugh Pentecost's (aka Judson Phillips) series featuring the Hotel Beaumont's legendary manager, Pierre Chambrun. The Beaumont is known for its elegant calm and Chambrun is the man who sees that it stays that way. But the calm is broken when a one-armed man named Colonel Coriander wearing a child's pirate's mask (a la 1970s plastic, covers-the-whole-face style) and a black fright wig takes the children of a British diplomat hostage and claims he has rigged the entire fifteenth floor with explosives--enough to cut Chambrun's beautiful hotel in half. He says he represents a group called the Army for Justice and the justice they are looking for is on behalf of the men and women who served in Vietnam. In fact he has a small army of thirty posted all over the fifteenth floor with enough ammo to hold off the marines (or whoever Chambrun wants to send their way). 

They just have a few demands. Nothing too difficult--just the release of thousands of political prisoners in South Vietnam, 50 million dollars (so they can rehabilitate those prisoners), the release of veterans being held in jail for killing North Vietnamese citizens....and the replacement of those veterans with the military brass in command who were really responsible for the activities in Vietnam. Chambrun knows quite well that these demands are impossible to meet. At best, they might come up with a portion of the money demanded. So, he has to work with men from the State Department, FBI, and local law enforcement to come up with a plan that will see the girls released safely, the criminals caught, and will leave his beloved hotel in one piece.

As I mentioned when I reviewed Pentecost's The Fourteen Dilemma a couple of years ago, this is an exciting and fast-paced story, but Pentecost expects a huge amount of belief suspension in these stories. I know that Chambrun has served as a member of the French Resistance in World War II, but it's still hard to swallow some of the details in these stories. For instance, we're supposed to cheerfully believe that someone was able to smuggle thirty men plus all that weaponry plus all those explosives into the hotel without anybody noticing. Uh-huh. But despite all that, Chambrun is a powerful personality and so well-written we're willing to go along with Pentecost just for the sake of another exciting adventure at the Beaumont. I was very thankful that the girls come out of their ordeal safely and all in one piece (Coriander makes threats about sending ears and fingers if there's any delay...). ★★ for a solid, fast-paced mystery.

[Finished on 7/20/18]

Nothing Venture: Mini-Review

Synopsis from the back of the book: Diabolical...that was the best word for rich Uncle Ambrose's will. If Jervis Weare did not marry within three months, King's Weare, the huge seaside estate, and all the money would go to his fiancĂ©e, Rosamund. Then, just two days before the wedding and the expiration of the deadline, Rosamund threw him over. Jervis's only hope, and his attorney reluctantly concurred, was to marry someone else.

But who was this strange girl named Nan Forsythe? She was his lawyer's secretary, and after he met with her employer, it was she who had run after Jervis. All the rest about her was a mystery. And why now, after they were married and alone together at King's Weare, was she insisting that someone was trying to murder him....

Nothing Venture (1932) by Patricia Wentworth has several things going for it that should make me love it. Most importantly a plucky heroine who repeatedly saves the rather dense love of her life (yay for Girl Power!) and lots of atmosphere from a gloomy, isolated country house to a dank underground cave where our heroine's love is held captive near the end of the book. But it just doesn't take me beyond the "middle-of-the-road," "this is an okay story" point. I like Nan Forsyth (our plucky heroine) and I'm always glad to see a strong female character. It's just a shame that Jervis Weare (the love of life) is so darn dense. I mean, you'd think that after a few near-misses he'd start believing Nan when she tells him someone's trying to kill him. But nooo, that bridge that collapsed practically under their feet...that was just old and rickety. The taxi that nearly ran him down--that was an accident too. 

Yvette over at In So Many Words has reviewed this from the opposite side of the fence saying that this is basically a very silly book (it is), but that doesn't stop her from loving it. In fact, she makes such a great case for the book that you should probably wander over there and read her review and maybe you'll be convinced to read it and love it as well. Her review persuades me that I must have read the book when I was feeling grumpy and not at all in the mood to suffer fools (Jervis!) gladly. I'll need to give this one another try at some point--but for now ★★ for my middle-of-the-road reading.

[Finished on 7/19/18]

The Trouble in Hunter Ward: Review

The Trouble in Hunter Ward (1976) by Josephine Bell wasn't as simple as just the strike by non-medical staff. Lay staff were led by a porter who resented what he saw as preferential treatment for the rich and "special patients" who were admitted to Hunter Ward at St. Edmund's Hospital. Never mind that one of the special patients was young boy facing a death sentence by leukemia who needed the extra quiet and care or that another was a union man whose union dues had afforded him the extra care he needed. The strikers didn't know that and didn't want to know--they just wanted to make as much trouble as possible and cut off all services to the high and mighty up there on the top floor.

If that had been all, then the nurses could have handled that all right (and did) by bringing in catered meals from the outside, hiring extra help for clean up, and manning the elevators themselves--among other things. But there was other trouble to deal with--former nurse Miss Enid Hallet was admitted to Hunter Ward for a last-ditch cancer operation. Miss Hallet was well-known to some of the current staff--both medical and lay staff alike. And it wasn't fond memories that they held of her either--she was known as a malicious gossip and a vindictive woman...and it seems she hasn't changed her ways. She barely gets settled in her private room before she begins spreading an old rumor about a current doctor and accusing a nurse of drug addiction.

And, under cover of the confusion sown by the strikers, someone decides to silence the strident tongue of Miss Enid Hallet. Was it someone on staff who had run-ins with Hallet in the past? Or someone new who was threatened by her gossiping ways? Or maybe it was a secret that went even deeper than that? Superintendent Farrer and Detective Holmes dig through the rumors to find the motive strong enough to cause someone to end a life already destined to be shortened by cancer.

The hospital setting and descriptions of hospital routine are well done, as are the characterizations of the various members of the staff. I suspect this is because of Bell's own background in medicine as a nurse and working with her husband Dr. Norman Ball in their own practice. The first three-quarters of the novel are quite good from the build-up to the murder through the police investigation at the hospital. Where Bell falls down on the job is in revealing the motive for the murder and the final confrontation with the killer. She tries to give the crime a psychological twist without laying a firm groundwork that makes this a logical outcome. In fact, she pretty much pulls it right out of thin air which causes the scene to lose much of its impact. ★★ and 3/4--the ending prevents this from pulling in a higher star rating.

Kate over at Cross Examining Crime has also read this one. Check out her review at the link. She was less impressed with Hunter Ward than I was and I have to admit, it's not the best introduction to Bell's work.

I chose this as my "Vacation Read" for the Monthly Motif Challenge because I had every intention of reading this while on my vacation with my parents. It was a short book and I expected I'd be able to squeeze in some reading here and there--didn't happen. Our time was jam-packed and I was ready to jump in bed each night and rest up for the next day's adventures. So...I read it as soon as I got back from vacation.

[Finished on 7/18/18]

Friday, July 27, 2018

She: Review

She (1886) by H. Rider Haggard concerns the journey undertaken by Horace Holly, a Cambridge University professor, and his young ward Leo to find the mysterious woman who killed one of Leo's ancestors. When Holly agrees to take on the guardianship of Leo Vincey, Holly's friend gives the professor a locked iron box and instructions that the box may not be opened until Leo turns 25. In the meantime Leo is to be trained in various ancient languages and generally prepared for what awaits him when the box is opened.

As soon as Leo comes of age, he is presented with the box and he finds within materials that tell and support a story about his ancestors in a time long before Christ. It tells how two lovers, a man and his wife, were relentlessly pursued and the man killed rather than become the husband of a mysterious woman. The wife escaped and had a child. The wife left materials and her testimony as proof of the horrible treatment and tasked her descendants with returning to Africa and exacting revenge for her husband's death. Also included is the notes from a more recent ancestor who said he tried to follow the instructions, found the right place and people, but failed to carry out the directive for revenge.

Holly says the materials either reflect a myth or the deranged imaginings of the recent ancestor, but Leo insists that he is going to follow the instructions whether Holly goes with him or not. The professor agrees to join him and they--along with their servant Job--travel to east Africa by boat. Their boat is wrecked and the only other survivor is their Arab captain. They are soon captured by a violent race of people who are ruled by a powerful white queen who has demanded that these strangers be brought to her. This queen, referred to as Hiya or She-who-must-be obeyed (shortened to just "She" throughout the book), is rumored to be thousands of years old.

photo source
The men suffer through many deadly adventures on their way to She's home and it is only her protection that saves them from Amahagger people (who are revealed as cannibals). But living under her protection may not be as safe as it appears and Holly soon suspects that She will not let them go easily--especially Leo, who she believes to be the reincarnation of her great love. They must overcome one last trial if they are ever to see England again and there is reason to suspect that they might fail.

Haggard wrote his novels during the height of the British Empire. Victorian and Empirical viewpoints are heavily represented from the depiction of the native folk of Africa to representation of a powerful woman. Although, She (or Ayesha--her real name) appears to be quite intelligent and crafty, her primary power over the men is in the wiles of her sex. She uses her great beauty to ensnare both Holly and Leo--making it near impossible for them to resist her. It is interesting, however, that Holly retains his reasoning powers even though quite enthralled by She's beauty and, in fact, holds quite detailed debates with her on many subjects. She even concedes that She might need to think over many of his views--though She absolutely will not give up the idea that Leo must belong to her. 

An interesting Victorian adventure novel that runs just a tad long on the front end. While it was necessary to give the background for the adventure to come, Haggard had a tendency to over-explain and we definitely didn't need long passages in Latin (or Arabic or whichever version happened to be under examination amongst the materials in the box). A synopsis of the ancestor's story would have sufficed. ★★

[Finished 7/17/18. I started this before my long vacation and then didn't read one word while traveling to and from Montana. Too many adventures of my own, I guess!]

*The cover shown above is not my edition. My edition is a boring, gray hardcover with nothing on the front.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Mountaineering Checkpoint #2

So....the beginning of July came and went in a Montana-vacation-blur and then my laptop died. Finally got it back today and now I realize that the year is half-way over....Wait! What? How did that happen so quickly? I must have lost track of time just concentrating on the mountain trail ahead of me. But--it's that time again. Your mountaineering guide is calling for a second quarterly check-in post. Let us know how your climb has been so far. Seen any mountain goats? [I saw some in Montana!] Any particularly pretty wildflowers? How about the abominable snowman? For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.
At 69 books read (not all reviewed yet), I'm a little over half-way up Mt. Everest. I should make my stated goal--but it still doesn't look like I'm going to plant a flag on Mt. Olympus.....

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:

 A. Choose two titles from the books you've read so far that have a common link. You decide what the link is--both have strong female lead characters? Each focuses on a diabolical plot to take over the world? Blue covers? About weddings? Find your link and tell us what it is. 

Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin (no review yet) and Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner. Both are classics that I am glad are done and I'm glad I won't ever have to read again. Maturin goes on forever and, quite honestly, isn't as interesting in his story about the Wanderer as one might hope. Faulkner is being Faulkner and had me wading through his stream of consciousness....I don't care for wearing waders when I'm reading. :-)

 B. Tell us about a book on the list that was new to you in some way--new author, about a place you've never been, a genre you don't usually read...etc. 

Murder at Midnight by C. S. Challinor (no review yet)--the first book I've read by Challinor. This seems to be a very well-done cozy series. I look forward to reading more.

 C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

Women Sleuths by Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini (eds) [on TBR since 11/29/08] Good short stories--unfortunately two of them appeared in other collections that I read this year as well, so I got a double-dose of them. But I'm glad to get this one off the stacks.

OR (Counts as both part 1 and 2)

Use titles from your list to complete as many of the following sentences below as you can.  If you haven't read enough books to give you good choices, then feel free to use any books yet to be read from your piles. I've given my answers as examples. Feel free to add or change words (such as "a" or "the" or others that clarify) as needed.
My Life According to Books
1. My Ex is/was The Trouble in Hunter Ward (by Josephine Bell)
2. My best friend is [a] Partner(s) in Wonder (by Harlan Ellison)
3. Lately, at work [I've had to deal with the] The Wrong Box (by Robert Louis Stevenson & Lloyd Osbourne) [We've been moving offices]
4. If I won the lottery, [I'd go] Around the World in Eighty Days (by Jules Verne) 
5. My fashion sense [is a] Terror in the Town (by Edward Ronns)
6. My next ride [will be in] The Time Machine (by H.G. Wells) 
7. The one I love is [reminds me of the] Odor of Violets (by Baynard Kendrick)
8. If I ruled the world, I would [make everything a] Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (by Ross Gay)
9. When I look out my window, I [do so] By the Light of the Study Lamp (by Carolyn Keene)
10. The best things in life are [found through] The Sign of the Book (by John Dunning)

Please post your answers on your blog and link up your post in the linky below. And what do you get for all that hard work (and distraction from the actual climb)? The link will close at 11:59 pm on Wednesday, August 1.  On Thursday,  I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick a winning climber. He or she will have the chance to add to their TBR stack via my gently-used book vault (prize list will be sent). Just think, if you win a book you can start up a pile for next year's Mount TBR Challenge.

Even if you're not in the mood for a prize or if you've only got one leg of the journey under your belt, I'd love to have you check in and tell us how your climb is going!

***Please note--the linky is for Checkpoint posts only.  The link must be to a specific Checkpoint post (not your blog's home page in general). Links that are not Checkpoint-specific will be removed--to make it easier for me to track a winner.

Just the Facts: Checkpoint

Calling all cars, calling all cars...Detectives are asked to check in with Headquarters. Please report progress. Headquarters out.

So....the beginning of July came and went in a Montana-vacation-blur and then my laptop died. Finally got it back today and it's time to see how our detective challengers are doing with their notebooks. Back in the fall when I put together the latest version of the Vintage Mystery Challenge, I randomly selected items from the notebooks for our checkpoints. Here are the categories for our second checkpoint (January - July 25, no books posted after this checkpoint goes live):

WHO: Retired from OR In the Armed Services
WHAT: Animal in the title
WHEN: During a trip/cruise/vacation/etc.
WHERE: In a locked room
HOW: Death by strangulation
WHY: An author you've never tried

You may enter once for every item checked off in your notebooks. Both Golden & Silver cards count. Please use the linky below and enter your items under the following "Name":

Your name (Category) Card 
 ~Example: Bev (Armed Services) Silver

If you do not have a blog or other way to link up below, then you may use the above format for all of your items and list them in the comments below. You will also earn one entry for every item.

The linky will be open until midnight on Wednesday, August 1. Sometime on Thursday, I will pull out the Custom Random Number Generator and select a winner. Good luck!


    An InLinkz Link-up

Monday, July 23, 2018

Gun in Cheek: Review

Gun in Cheek (1982) is a collection of the "best" of the worst in American and British crime fiction. Bill Pronzini provides the reader with a run-down of synopses and large snatches of quotations of what, in his opinion, represents some of the worst stories and writing in various subgenres of mystery--everything from hard boiled dicks to Had-I-But-Known damsels in distress and amateur detectives to the boys in blue and everything in between. Pronzini's got us covered.

Mike Tooney tells us in his review over at Mystery*File that we shouldn't "try to read this book in one sitting because it just might make you dizzy with laughter." Unfortunately, humor is a subjective thing and I think maybe my sense of humor is far afield from Mike's (and most of the reviewers on Goodreads). I just honestly didn't find many instances where the passages were so doggone funny. Most passages were either examples of just plain bad writing or (especially in the hard boiled line) it seemed like business as usual. After all, hard boiled detective stories seem to corner the market on outlandish descriptions such as this:

She was as lovely as a girl could be without bludgeoning your endocrines. (from Killers Are My Meat by Stephen Marlowe)

The best of the book seems to me to be the tidbits of publishing history that Pronzini gives us along the way. For example, the interesting chapter giving background on Phoenix Press. He also provides details on the development of the various subgenres and his comments on various authors and their characters is often more entertaining than the passages he quotes. In fact, I enjoyed it most when it seemed to be at its most serious--giving facts and background rather than trying to provide passages that I thought sure were supposed to be funny....but weren't. ★★ (primarily for the history and facts)

[Finished 6/27/18. I feel a little--but just a little--bad claiming this for the Humor Challenge. BUT I put it on the list fully expecting it to be funny and many others have found it funny. So--on the Humor Challenge it goes.]

Some Beasts No More: Spoilery Review

Detective Harry James comes back from medical leave to find that a hoped-for position on a new squad has passed him by while he was recuperating from a nasty run-in with some ruffians in a warehouse. Instead, he has been assigned to help Superintendent Hawker who has a bee in his bonnet over a list of people who have all died recently. All of them are, according to Hawker, unconvicted murderers. Those who the police suspected of murderer and were quite sure of, but they could never get the evidence necessary for an arrest. And apparently someone is doling out justice on their own.

Hawker wants James to track down connections between the victims so they can find the murderers' murderer. The trail leads James to the village of Bradshaw where he encounters an eccentric collection of suspects--falling in love with one of them along the way--as well as a baffling set of clues. Another corpse is discovered, things get very murky indeed, and more suspicion is heaped on his lady-love before James gets to the bottom of the murders.


So.........either I was sleep-reading during some really crucial portions of this one or some clues were definitely missing because there was no way (that I can see) that I could possibly have figured out the reason (as it appears to me) for the murders is that there was some sort of spy network going on. I mean, one minute we're trying to figure out who killed these old guys in the country who were supposedly murderers and the next thing I know one of the suspects isn't really who we thought s/he was and from the references to Germany I'm guessing s/he was a spy. It's all very confused.

But at least our hero can breathe easy and get on with falling in love with the gal who was the main suspect all along. Because she didn't do it! One thing that could have been made a little more clear is whether the real villain knew all along about her past and deliberately tried to frame her (which, again, is how it appears to me) or if circumstances just made her look suspicious. But don't expect Giles to explain that....

Some Beasts No More (1965) is the first of Kenneth Giles's novels to feature Harry James. I've read two others and I have to say that I'm glad this wasn't the first novel I read. Had it been, I'm not sure that I would have read any more. It's definitely disconcerting to have the entire case shift so drastically right at the very end. ★★

[Finished 6/22/18]

Artists in Crime: Review

In Artists in Crime (1938) Ngaio Marsh introduces Inspector Roderick Alleyn to his future wife. It'snot exactly an auspicious beginning to a romance. Alleyn is on his way back to England by boat from his extended leave and encounters Agatha Troy on the boat deck where they both had sought solitude--he for a quiet, contemplative pipe and she to do a bit of painting away from the other passengers.

    "I had an idea," said the painter, "that if I worked up here on this hideously uncomfortable perch, I might possibly have the place to myself for a bit."

She definitely makes him believe that she doesn't care for him at all.

Then when they've both returned to England, she heads to her country home, Tatler's End, where she paints and hosts students and fellow painters. He stops at his mother's home not far away for a final respite before returning to London, the Yard, and work. They are brought together again when the artist's model hired for the latest class is killed by the very method demonstrated in response to an illustration that one of the students needs to do for a book. A knife was driven through the modeling dais and when Sonia Gluck (the model) was pushed into position the blade went through her heart. Who did it? Was it the sculptor who had tired of their affair? Was it one of the women who were jealous of Sonia's way with men? Maybe it was the man with a title who dabbled in art and who had his own secrets with Sonia. There are hints of blackmail, a whiff of poison, and motives galore. Will Alleyn manage to find the murderer among Troy's friends without alienating the woman he's begun to love?

A clever little mystery with plenty of red herrings and interwoven motives to distract the reader. In addition to reading this, I also listened to an audio novel version read by Benedict Cumberbatch. He does a very good job giving voice to all of the characters--making it quite easy to keep them all straight. A thoroughly enjoyable story in both mediums. ★★★★

[finished on 6/17/18]

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Witch of Lime Street: Review

The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher was a bit of a disappointment. The subtitle is Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World and quite a big deal is made about the fact that "Margery," the so-called "Witch of Lime Street" and famed medium has to prove herself to Houdini. It's presented as a duel between the two. But--Houdini disappears for a large portion of the book.

The beginning alternates between giving us the background on Houdini and how his escape artist abilities lead him to become intrigued with, investigate, and ultimately debunk the mediums and spiritualists he comes in contact with AND giving the history of the spiritualist movement--including the involvement of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, most of the book focuses on a controversial contest that was sponsored by the Scientific American and which offered a large cash prize to the first medium declared genuine by a five-man committee which would include Houdini among its members. But most of the mediums feared Houdini's involvement, so the committee had him continue his escape artist tours and told him they would only call him in if they found a very promising candidate.

There were many failures before Margery came along as Doyle's best hope for authentication. She appeared to be a very powerful medium and produced many dazzling effects--but, again, Houdini wasn't there for most of the tests and she didn't really want to be tested by him. He finally comes along at the end and her powers are thrown into question--enough so that she doesn't win the prize.

The book is well-researched and offers a wealth of information on the spiritualist movement in a highly entertaining manner. But the advertised "duel" between Houdini and Margery is not nearly as dramatic as anticipated and falls rather flat. ★★

~Fun Fact: The cover glows in the dark with ghostly green and white for the words and images.

[Finished on 6/12/18]

Black Beauty: Review

I wasn't one of those girls who went through a phase of reading all the animal books-- Lad: A Dog, My Friend Flicka, The Black Stallion, etc. So, this is my first reading of Black Beauty.  

A graphic novel edition of Anna Sewell's classic story of a handsome, strong horse--told entirely from his point of view. We read of his early life with a caring man who gently got him used to a bit and saddle. It follows him through a life of good times and bad with understanding masters to cruel men who didn't know how to treat a horse kindly to those who didn't know any better. It finally brings him back to gentle master and his family where he spends the rest of his life.

A terrific classic story that helps young readers consider what life is like for our animal friends and helps them to understand the point of view of others. ★★

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Terror in Times Square: Review

Terror in Times Square (1950) by Alan Handley features Tim, a small-time actor just waiting for the big break that he's sure is coming his way. A Hollywood producer who just happens to take in a play that has this "young actor who's outta this world. You ought to see what he makes of that tiny part that imbecile director gave him!" Or a big even that will get his name and picture in the papers. know what they say--be careful what you wish for.

One morning Tim is awakened by a phone call from his agent, Nellie, telling him to come to her office pronto. He's hoping it means she's found a part for him. But when he arrives at her office he finds her dead with a sharp filing spindle stuck through her and the only part on offer seems to be that of chief suspect in a murder mystery. After all, doesn't every actor have the urge to kill their agent at one time or another? He spies her appointment book and snags it because he doesn't want any curious cops getting bright ideas about his morning visit. He leaves the building, hoping no one has seen him, and heads straight to his friend and fellow actor's place. Maggie Lanson's name is also in the book and for an appointment earlier than his, but she says she didn't go. She forgot all about it. She doesn't seem at all concerned that their agent has been murdered ("about time too") and doesn't seem to understand Tim's fear that one or both of them might be a suspect.

Tim determines to discover who did it before the police even get around to suspecting and sets out to track down the mysterious "Bobby LeB"--the other name in Nellie's appointment book for the day. His search leads him through the theaters and night clubs of New York to an alley where he's knocked out and into a steam room where the murderer will try to boil him alive. But in the end, Tim will help New York's finest get their (wo)man.

This mystery reminds me of all the HIBK books I've read where the heroine goes and gets herself into all sorts of dangerous situations because her curiosity gets the better of her. If our hero would just sit tight and wait, the police would get the killer and he'd be saved a few injuries. But where would the fun be in that? This a middle-of-the-road mystery. Good characters, but a pretty flimsly plot with a fairly melodramatic ending. A decent, quick read for a lazy afternoon. ★★

[finished 6/5/18]