Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Strong Poison (audio version)

Dorothy L. Sayers's Strong Poison (1930) is a perennial favorite. I could not possibly tell you how many times I have read her mysteries starring Lord Peter Wimsey and this one in particular. I love it for many reasons and I recount a number of them at the review linked above (and the previous review linked within that one). I have also, as frequent visitors to the blog may have noticed, been on an audio novel bing this spring. This audio novel read by the incomparable Ian Carmichael is the latest of the LPW books on CD that I've brought home and this review (like previous audio novel reviews) will focus on the audio version and not the story itself.

This was especially satisfying because my last Sayers audio novel was not read by Ian Carmichael and did not impress me much. Carmichael is quite adept at giving voice to the numerous characters which Sayers uses to tell her tale of Harriet Vane, who stands wrongly accused of the murder of her lover, and the efforts to bring the correct villain to justice. He represents both men and women with equal talent and manages to portray various classes and professions--from servants to the aristocrats and from lawyers to reformed burglars with charming ease. I spent several delightful hours listening to Carmichael tell this much loved story. Full marks for a grand performance. ★★★★

Death on a Warm Wind

Death on a Warm Wind (1968) by Douglas Warner was, in some ways, a disappointment. It was found in the middle of the "Mystery" section at my local library's fall clearance sale a few years ago. It shows up on various library sites (I did a search to check) under "Detective & Mystery Stories." But it isn't truly a mystery story. The only real crime involved is a crime against humanity (as if that were a mere trifle)--but it's not a specific crime like the murder of an individual or the theft of valuable jewelry or even the work of a mass murderer and I wouldn't really categorize it as a crime novel. It is speculative fiction.

The "crime" involved is an act by an arrogant man who thinks he knows best about what it might be good for the public to know and believe. In fact, Sir Guy Rayenham (British minister) reminds me of all the climate change deniers who are helping steer humanity towards a very bleak future if drastic measures aren't taken very soon.* So many of these people don't even read the science that backs up the verdict on climate change--and Sir Guy doesn't read the "rubbish" that Robert Colston presented as a way to predict earthquakes. A method which allowed him to predict an earthquake that killed 95,000 people, including Sir Guy's son. But that didn't phase Sir Guy a bit and when indications are such that it looks like London will be hit by a similar quake he isn't willing to use his position to warn Londoners in time to save lives.

When Colston (who has been declared dead twice already) is gunned down** in front of his office, Ian Curtis, editor of a London evening newspaper and--incidentally--very antagonistic to Sir Guy, finds himself on a mission to discover the truth behind Colston's earthquake predictions. Were they really that unfounded and was the first prediction just a fluke? Or was Colston's research sound? Colston's investigations (and that of the reporters under him) find proof that Sir Guy arranged for Colston's paper on earthquake prevention to be gutted and when read before a conference of leading scientists it came across as nonsense. Colston was discredited and his reputation ruined. And people died as a result.

"You silly old fool!" I said, beside myself. "You won't listen. You've made up your mind that Colston is a crank and you won't budge. You won't read the 'prove' your case by the reaction of scientists to a document you yourself destroyed....You're acting like the racist who keeps the black man in poverty, disease and terror and then 'proves' he is a savage when he revolts." 

Will Curtis be able to convince someone in government of the validity of Colston's findings before it's too late for London?

This is a fairly entertaining story (though the science behind the predictions is a bit iffy) that I probably would have enjoyed more if I hadn't been expecting a mystery. I realize that's not the author's fault--but when one is expecting a mystery/detective novel and it doesn't happen it is a bit of a let-down. I enjoyed watching Curtis and his reporters dig into the story and find the proofs to back Colston's predictions. And the story serves to highlight the mentality of those in authority--those who "know best" what should be done, regardless of facts. It is a sad commentary on government officials in general (and our current government in particular). 

In one way, I was pleased with the ending (much too spoilerish to be more explicit), but it did seem a bit abrupt. I am curious to know more about the aftermath of the earthquake. But I suppose Warner is leaving that to our imagination. ★★

*Please pardon my soapbox moment....
**One might think that this is the "mystery" which results in the book being categorized as "Detective & Mystery"--but Colston's death really isn't the focus of the story at all and it's no mystery who killed him. That is known right away, as is the motive. The man who kills Colston does so in revenge for his wife's death in an earthquake that Colston tried to warn people about. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Spinsters in Jeopardy: Spoilerish Review

To discuss the novel in the way I would like, I may reveal more of the plot than those who have not yet read the book would like. Forge ahead at your own risk...

Spinsters in Jeopardy (1953; aka The Bride of Death) is one of the most bizarre books by Ngaio Marsh. Here we have England sending one of its most celebrated Scotland Yard detectives "undercover" to infiltrate a drug ring. And, as if that's not enough, he's going to take along his wife who is just as celebrated (or perhaps more so) in her own right as an artist. To make everything look like a totally legit family vacay, we'll throw in an incredibly precocious six-year-old son as well. 

On top of this ludicrous set-up, we have coincidences galore...Troy's mysterious cousin just happens to be working at the factory which is producing the drugs. The cousin is also in the inner circle of Mr. Oberon, leader of the cult which serves as a cover for the thriving heroin business. A spinster (one of those who wind up in jeopardy) on the train out to Rouqueville falls deathly ill and, having no friends or relations with her and none in the immediate vicinity, Alleyn and family take her under their wing and manage to use her as an entree to the cult's home base. Because, of course, there is a spectacular surgeon who's part of Oberon's entourage and he can save the day for the spinster. winds up that Carbury Glande, a fellow painter who's bound to recognize Troy and blow the gaff in a most disastrous way, is also part of the entourage. Only he doesn't--blow the gaff, that is. How fortunate that he doesn't know that Troy has married a celebrated policeman. Though how he could not, is beyond me. Maybe he forgot.

And...Marsh seems to be trying to stuff every conceivable bit of criminal activity into this book that she can: murder, gangs, kidnapping, drug producing, drug pushing, drug taking, and maybe even a bit of fraud since the cult is definitely not what it claims to be. It's no wonder I read this just once before (back in the mists of time when I was reading my way through all the mysteries in my home town library) and never had a desire to read it again until I joined up for the Ngaio Marsh Reading Challenge on Goodreads. Though--to be fair, I don't really remember thinking it was quite such a mess the first time I read it. It just seems to me that Marsh couldn't settle down to what kind of story she wanted to tell. Thriller? International drug ring? Murder viewed from a train? Charismatic figure leading cult members into a life of crime? Oh...why don't we just do it all!

There were some bright points--mostly in characters. I thoroughly enjoyed Raoul and Therese in supporting roles and Troy and Alleyn are delightful as usual excepting a few scenes with them as parents. I don't think Marsh writes parenting scenes well consistently. To be quite honest, she could have left Ricky out of the story altogether and it would have suited me better. And, seriously, what policeman going undercover into a possibly dangerous situation would take along their six-year-old?

Definitely not one of Marsh's best novels.

Finished on 5/6/19
Deaths = one: stabbed
Calendar = June: word with "J"

Monday, May 6, 2019

Murder at the 42nd Street Library

Murder at the 42nd Street Library (2016) by Con Lehane 

[from the back cover]
This first book in an irresistible new series introduces librarian and reluctant sleuth Raymond Ambler, a doggedly curious fellow who uncovers murderous secrets hidden behind the majestic marble fa├žade of New York City’s landmark 42nd Street Library.

Murder at the 42nd Street Library follows Ambler and his partners in crime-solving as they track down a killer, shining a light on the dark deeds and secret relationships that are hidden deep inside the famous flagship building at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.

In their search for the reasons behind the murder, Ambler and his crew uncover sinister, and profoundly disturbing, relationships among the scholars studying in the iconic library. Included among the players are a celebrated mystery writer who has donated his papers to the library’s crime fiction collection; that writer’s long-missing daughter, a prominent New York society woman with a hidden past, and more than one of Ambler’s colleagues at the library. Shocking revelations lead inexorably to the traumatic events that follow―the reading room will never be the same.

[My take:]
Okay....Well. I can't say that this is "irresistible." In fact, I pushed myself to finish the thing simply because I wanted to find out how many deaths I could rack up for Rick's Medical Examiner Challenge. Otherwise, I probably would have ditched it as a "Did Not Finish." I was extremely disappointed in what seemed to me to be a great-sounding story. Celebrated mystery writer. A research library with a crime fiction collection. People with hidden pasts. Shocking revelations and traumatic events. A nosy crime fiction research librarian to play amateur detective. What's not to like? Well...the nosy crime fiction research librarian for one. All the coincidences that happen for another. The messy plot. The REALLY big coincidence at the end. The endless side stories that seem to be intended as red herrings that somehow tie together because coincidences. (Did I mention there were all these coincidences?) An attempt by the author to combine all sorts of crime genres into one. We start out with what seems to be a cozy atmosphere and take a detour through an attempt at sleazy (near-porn) pulp. Then we wander around with a police procedural for a bit and throw in a bit of romantic mystery for good measure. 

To say this was a disappointing read would be an understatement. It might have helped if we had spent any sort of time at the library mentioned in the title. All the people who work at said library? Well, they don't actually seem to--work, that is. They spend a great deal of time talking to one another when they are there and then spend the rest of the time taking lunch breaks or wandering off to have drinks.  --maybe.

Deaths = five (gunshot) I think I caught them all--but seriously, I was skimming there for quite a bit and may have missed somebody's death. I don't think it would have helped the story any if I had noticed more deaths.....
April = pub date

Behold, Here's Poison (audionovel)

Behold, Here's Poison (1936) by Georgette Heyer
Read by Ulli Birve

Another of my forays into audionovel versions of mysteries. On the whole, I much prefer listening to books that I've already read at one time or another. Even if it's been a while (as with this one), things at least seem familiar once I get settled in. That's especially useful for mysteries--because I'm definitely apt to miss important points if I'm hearing the story for the first time (it's much harder to keep everything straight in my head if I'm not actually reading). Of course, with this one I still didn't catch on to who the murderer was even though I'd read it all before.

As with my previous audionovel reviews, I'm going to focus more on the reading performance rather than the story. For my views on Heyer's work, please see the review linked to the title above. Ulli Birve is a much more talented narrator than John Franklyn-Robbins was in Murder Must Advertise. Though her tone remains languid and cultured for nearly all of  Gregory Matthews's relations and acquaintances (for the most part--not counting the lower servants and the smoking shop keeper late in the story), she provides a strong range of voices and it is extraordinarily easy to keep the characters straight even though there are many of them. If I have any complaint on that score, it's that she goes a little overboard with the languid, listless tone for Randall Matthews. I do realize he's supposed to be the uninterested, sneering cousin--but she really overdoes it. I don't remember being quite so put off by his tone as it came to me off the page.

She is particularly good with the aunts, Gertrude and Harriet. Though I do think Gertrude gets short shrift in the story--she's the one who is the most honest and wants the truth to come out, no matter what it is. She knows her own mind and I only wish she weren't quite so abrasive. Strong female characters should be a good thing.

Overall, an excellent audio version of Heyer's novel. One I enjoyed quite a bit.
★★ and a half for the audio edition.

August = author birth month
Two deaths = poison

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Challenge Complete: Book Challenge by Erin 10.0

I actually finished this one back on April 8th....but kept forgetting to do a wrap-up post. 

I always enjoy Erin's Book Challenge and look forward to the list of categories. The next round will be coming in July (with categories available in June).

~5 points Freebie: Read a book that is at least 200 pages
The Winter Women Murders by David A Kaufelt [214 pages] (1/5/19)
~10 points (from BCBE 1.0; selected by Megan Kloustin): Read a book that was made into a movie
 The Lucky Stiff by Craig Rice (1949 movie) [252 pages] (3/1/19)
~10 points (from BCBE 2.0; selected by Vinay R): Read a book that is set in Europe
Blind Corner by Dornford Yates [225 pages] (2/3/19)
~15 points (from BCBE 3.0; selected by Jamie Gione) Read a book that was a Newberry Award winner (medal winner or honor book);  ***for this category only, since many children's literature books may be shorter, the page number requirement is only 100 pages.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (1963 Medal Winner) [2/17/19]
~20 points (from BCBE 4.0; selected by Deborah Dainton): Read a book that is a friend or family member's favorite...or the favorite book by another participant in this challenge.
Mossflower by Brian Jacques [373 pages; my son's favorites] (4/8/19)
~20 points (from BCBE 5.0; selected by Donna Nevins): Read a book originally published over 100 years ago.
An African Millionaire by Grant Allen (1897) [336 pages] (1/10/19)
~25 points (from BCBE 6.0; selected by Beverly-Ann Basque): Read a book with six words (and only six words) in the title.
The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes by June Tomson [224 pages] (1/25/19)
~30 points (from BCBE 7.0; selected by Vanessa Loke): Read a book with a compass or cardinal direction in the title.
Blood of the North by James B. Hendryx [278 pages] (2/15/19)
~30 points (from BCBE 8.0; selected by Keli Hearron): Read a book that was originally published in a different language from your own.
No Patent on Murder by Akimitsu Takagi (Japanese) [284 pages] (2/21/19)
~35 points (from BCBE 9.0; selected by Amanda Forsyth): Read a book that begins with the letter "N."
Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins [352 pages] (2/19/19)

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Is Skin Deep, Is Fatal (somewhat spoilerish)

Is Skin Deep, Is Fatal (1965) by H. R. F. Keating takes place in the world of beauty pageants. On the eve of the Miss Valentine Pageant awarded from the Star Bowl Ballroom, two deaths take place. First, Fay Curtis, mother of one of the contestants, is found dead--apparently a suicide. But before she died she sent a message to the beauty pageant's organizer Teddy Pariss. Pariss is then stabbed to death with a golden paper knife whose handle is shaped in the form of a naked woman. It's up to the British police to discover whether the beauty pageant is at the root of the deaths and what the connection, if any, between Curtis and Pariss was.

Police Constable Peter Lassington has been hoping to break into the ranks of the CID, so when he gets word of Fay's death from her maid he heads over to see if he can get in on the action. CID Detective Constable Jack Spratt is already on the case and he and Lassington go way back. Back far enough that Spratt knows Lassington is looking to muscle in for some credit. The reader soon knows that Spratt is right as Lassington hangs around after Spratt leaves and discovers that while Fay didn't leave a suicide not, she did send that last minute message. So off he goes to the Star Bowl Ballroom to see if he can get hold of the note. But he's too's already been delivered to Teddy and Teddy's not sharing. Lassinton leaves disgruntled. Later that evening, he gets a phone call telling him someone's trying to break into the safe at the Star Bowl. He hotfoots it over there to find no one has called him and no one is breaking into a safe, but Teddy Pariss is very dead from knife to the back.

Enter Scotland Yard's Superintendent Ironside...a man who is looking forward to retirement and who hopes his final murder case will be an easy one. His usual assistant is out of commission, so he claims Lassington and Spratt as assistants for the investigation. Keating begins the book as if Lassington is going to be our hero, but it soon becomes apparent that Ironside is the man to watch. He spots clues that neither of our constables even notice and has a running commentary on how they ought to handle an investigation (supposing they are ever trusted to be in charge of one). 

Spoilery bits ahead!

I've heard a lot of good things about Keating. So far, my experience of his fiction has been limited to a few short stories (in various collections) and this standalone police procedural. I have to say I have yet to be overly impressed. The short stories were okay--but, as evidence of how great they were (or weren't) I can't tell you anything about any of them. As far as this novel goes...well, for starters, the murderer's method of attempting to cover his/her tracks is straight-up lifted from a rather famous Agatha Christie plot. Seriously. Second, the characters. Cardboard cutouts of particularly unlikable sorts. We don't mind that the slimy Teddy Pariss has met his maker. We're disgusted with both police constables. We don't particularly mind that we've just met Superintendent Ironside and he's going to retire and we'll never see him again. We don't care who wins the Miss Valentine contest and aren't at all surprised that some cheating went on to try and gain the title (stuffed brassieres, any one?). 

I have Keating's The Perfect Murder sitting on my TBR pile--which, by the way was, according to the blurb on the back of this book, "proclaimed Best Crime Novel of 1964." I certainly hope it's more entertaining than this rather dreary tale of beauty pageant skulduggery. and a half. And that may be a bit generous.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Murder Must Advertise (audio version)

This review is for the particular audio novel version of Murder Must Advertise read by John Franklyn-Robbins and is not focused on the content of the Dorothy L. Sayers story. For my thoughts on the story itself, please see my previous review at the link above.

According to the notes on the back of this library audio edition, our narrator John Franklyn-Robbins has performed a wide variety of classic stage roles (from London to Broadway), made hundreds of appearances on BBC television, and has been the "Voice of English Poetry" on British radio. I can only hope that he brought more depth and feeling to those performances than he did to his narration of Sayers' mystery novel. Throughout a large portion of the recording Franklyn-Robbins does not appear to make any great effort to differentiate characters from one another save for making his voice slightly (but only slightly) higher for the female characters and trying to imbue Ginger Joe with a somewhat youthful tone. For the most part, Franklyn-Robbins reads his script as if he were hoping to lull the reader to sleep. In fact, if I were looking for an audio novel to help me drift off to slumber land, this would be an ideal choice. 

One wouldn't think that a story chock full of dangerous falls down staircases, men being run over by cars and trains, women having their throats cut (my, but Lord Peter seems to have gotten himself into some very nefarious doings this time....), drug running, and impersonations galore could possibly be so "yawn-making" as the notorious Dian de Momerie would say. But it least in this particular audio edition. I will say that Franklyn-Robbin did seem to find his range in the latter portions of the novel and livened things up a bit. But still--I'm very glad that I checked this out of the library and didn't buy it. Ian Carmichael gives a much more lively (and varied vocal) performance. I wanted to see what another actor would do with the Lord Peter stories. I had hoped to be better pleased--perhaps I'll come across another version to try some day. ★★ --just. 

Previously read by fellow Just the Facts challenger, Kate @ Cross Examining Crime

Murder in a Nunnery

Murder in a Nunnery (1940) by Eric Shepherd takes place at the Harrington Convent School. The Baroness Sliema is found murdered on the steps of the St. Joseph altar in the convent's chapel and Chief Inspector Pearson is surprised to find that passions and motives abound in what he expected to be a quiet, chaste little community of nuns. Mother Peck, the Reverend Mother Superior in charge of the convent, soon puts him straight:

There is rancor and ill will in a Convent as outside. I myself have a shocking temper.

She also tells him that while the Baroness may have been patron to the convent, the woman was a nasty piece of work who collected enemies like some people do stamps. The Baroness's ward and secretary Venetia resents her interference in her love-life. Her son resents her clasp on the purse strings. And her down-trodden companion resents the way she treats the young Baron (who she nursed as her own when he was small). The nuns don't care much for her interfering ways and general unpleasantness. And no one is particularly saddened by the Baroness's untimely demise.

The Reverend Mother and her students seem to be a lot more worldly than the gentlemanly Inspector Pearson. Pearson is almost diffident and apologetic in his dealings with the nuns and it's amusing to watch him pussyfoot his way through his investigation. He is definitely out of sorts when he sneaks into Venetia's bedroom (sure that she is not there and is, in fact, roaming the convent disguised as a nun) and finds her chastely in bed. 

The students are very interested in the murder--but are even more interested in the ghostly nun observed by one Verity on the night of the murder. Verity turns girl sleuth and hunts for clues. Her disregard for convent rules and regulations has her posing for pictures and giving all the gory details to a pack of journalists. One of whom produces a scrap of nun's veil that he found in the garden while lurking in hopes of someone like Verity coming along to give them a story. She passes the scrap along to the Inspector..and is rewarded for her resourcefulness by being taken into Pearson's confidence. He requests that Mother Peck allow Verity's bed to be moved to the window so she can watch for a reappearance of the ghostly nun.The scrap of cloth and a lingering scent that Pearson's superior olfactory senses finds attached to it and wafting throughout the vital scenes will lead him to the culprit once he determines whether the ghostly wanderer is one of the nuns or someone else in disguise.

This a funny, comedy of manners style of mystery. Great fun and easily read in one sitting. It was amusing to watch Pearson's interactions with the convent community and Mr. Turtle, the gardener, is quite easily the best of the bunch. He is a very down-to-earth character full of common sense...and his heirloom timepiece plays a vital role in verifying the time of the attack. ★★

Other reviews may be found at Pretty Sinister Books, Classic Mysteries, and Past Offences

May Calendar of Crime Reviews linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

May Virtual Mount TBR Reviews linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...
You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

May 2019 Mount TBR Reviews linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

May Key Word Reviews linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

April's Key Words: Mother, Daisy, Memorial/Memory, You, Mountain, Day, Wind, Sky, When
You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

May Just the Facts Reviews linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Monday, April 29, 2019

The March Hare Murders

The March Hare Murders (1949) by Elizabeth Ferrars

Murder strikes the sleepy, seaside village of Wellford. David Obeney has come to his sisster's home in Wellford to recuperate from a mental breakdown--brought on by his experiences in the war. He doesn't expect to find one of his least favorite people in the world, Professor Verinder, whom he regards as responsible for the death of the girl he loved.

When Verinder is found murdered with David's own service revolver and the only witness is left injured without being able to identify the killer, David is the obvious and (from the village's point of view) most desirable suspect. After all--he had a known grudge against the man and he's an outsider, so they wouldn't have to worry about it being "one of us." The circumstantial evidence piles up against him and it begins to look black for David, but Inspector Upjohn from Scotland Yard isn't ready to accept the easy answer; particularly since it appears to have been contrived to point towards Obeney.

And it's not like there aren't other reasons that someone might have wanted the professor out of the way. He's revealed to be an unfaithful husband and to have been involved in smuggling rare first editions out of the country. There's a hint of blackmail in the offing too.  

Most of the mysteries I've read by Ferrars were written in the 1970s with my favorites featuring Andrew Basnett, retired professor of botany. This particular novel seems to play more to the suspense crowd than the straight mystery. In fact, David Obeney reminds me of the young heroines from Mignon G. Eberhart novels--nearly always in stressful circumstances and generally regarded as the prime suspect by their contemporaries. The net keeps pulling tighter round them until the hero (or in this case the inspector) finds a way to prove our suspect innocent. 

The suspense here falls a little flat. It's quite obvious that David isn't going to prove to be the villain in the case and it's not too difficult to figure out who it is. A little too cut and dried with one small surprise at the end. ★★ and a half.

Deaths = 3 (one shot; one shoved off a cliff; one poisoned)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Lord Peter Views the Body

Lord Peter Views the Body, is a delightful gathering of stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The hard copy version has twelve stories while this particular audio version (read by Ian Carmichael) is missing three of the originals--including one of my favorites, "The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head." I have put together a brief note on each of these fun stories. Not a lot of detail, but that's to be expected with short stories. Sayers does manage to pull the reader right in regardless. ★★★★--but, then, I am biased. I love all things Wimsey and I especially love all things Wimsey when read by Ian Carmichael.

"The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers": A story of jealousy and a well-known sculptor's plan for revenge. Fortunately, Wimsey is on hand to prevent the artist from completing the second half of his masterpiece.

"The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag": A high-speed motorcyclist gets a nasty surprise when he opens a bag picked up from a cloak room.
"The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker": Wimsey uses a lovely bit of sleight of hand to silence a blackmailer.
"The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention": Wimsey delves into the mystery of the death coach--a ghostly coach pulled by headless white horses and driven by a headless coachman.
"The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps That Ran": His lordship solves a murder by noticing which way the footsteps ran.
"The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste": Will the real Lord Peter please stand up? Or at least correctly identify six varieties of wine. A story of not one, not two, but three Wimseys.
"The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach": Great Uncle Joseph chooses an unusual hiding place for his wealth.
"The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face": Wimsey solves a murder using clues provided in the discussion amongst his fellow train travelers.
"The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba": Lord Peter is reported dead....and events that follow lead to the capture of a gang of criminals.

Deaths =  Five: two strangled; two drowned; one stabbed
First line (of the first short story): The Egotists' Club is one of the most genial places in London.

Trixie Belden & the Mystery on the Mississippi

Trixie Belden and the Mystery on the Mississippi (1965) by Kathryn Kenny finds the all but one of the Bob-Whites (Diana is vacationing with her parents) in St. Louis, Missouri. The friends are invited by Mr. Wheeler, Honey and Jim's dad, to travel with him as he takes a business trip. While they have every intention of having a good, old-fashioned vacation--visiting a space rocket exhibit and following in the footsteps of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, you know that wherever Trixie goes, she's sure to stumble across a mystery that just needs solving. In this adventure, she and Honey haven't even gotten settled into their hotel room before it starts.

A briefcase with papers was left behind in their room and a very rude man bursts in and snatches it--accusing the girls of trying to steal his property. After he leaves, Trixie discover more papers in the trash can--graph papers with odd drawings on them just like those in the briefcase. She and Honey become convinced that the man is a spy and the papers have something to do with the top-secret space program. When they keep seeing the man and his fancy car as they go about their vacation, Trixie is even more convinced that he's at the bottom of something nefarious. She doesn't know how right she is and soon she and Honey will face their most dangerous situation yet.

Trixie Belden is one of the many young detectives whose adventures I followed when I was young. I may not have been quite as dedicated in collecting her books as I was Nancy Drew--I have all of the original hardback Drews--but I was definitely on the hunt for Trixie stories when a new (to me) Nancy Drew mystery wasn't available. Trixie, whose first book was published in 1948 was in many ways a more realistic character for a middle-class girl to relate to. I might have wanted to be Nancy with her roadster and the ability to travel anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat, but it was far easier to see myself as Trixie--the tomboyish girl with a quick temper. I admired Trixie's determination to learn detecting as a skill so she and Honey will be able to open the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency when they are adults.

Rereading this particular story, I'm struck by how intense the danger really is. I didn't remember the villains in any of the Trixie stories being so particularly nasty, but this villain is discussing the ways in which he considers murdering the two girls. It is quite intense for a young adult/childrens story from the time period. Of course, since it is a story aimed at the pre-teen crowd, the girls are rescued and there are no murders, but the deaths he contemplates for them are very unpleasant. I was also struck by the way Honey disagrees with Trixie over whether another person is involved with the plot. It's my recollection that Honey is very loyal to Trixie and her hunches and instincts about people. This time, Honey's insistence that she knows "people pretty well, and I'd trust her with anything.  She's so motherly." leads the girls into the trap that comes near to ending their detective careers.

Still--this was a very entertaining read and it was fun to go back and revisit a book from my childhood. ★★★★

First entry for  the 1965 Club bookish meme.
Calendar = May: title with word beginning with "M"

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Girl of the Limberlost

A Girl of the Limberlost (1909) by Gene Stratton-Porter

The heroine of Stratton-Porter's book is Elnora Comstock, a sixteen-year old girl who lives at the edge of Limberlost swamp in northern Indiana with her widowed mother. Elnora is a bright, beautiful (both inside and out) girl who longs to make a better life for herself. She has gone as far as she can in the local school and makes plans to attend the city high school. Her mother is a depressed, embittered woman who has never shown Elnora a mother's love--in part because she blames the girl's birth for her husband's death. Elnora was born the night her father died in quicksand in the swamp and Katharine Comstock is certain she could have saved her beloved if she hadn't been in labor at the time. Despite Katharine's coldness, Elnora has grown to be a kind, compassionate girl who is wise beyond her years. This is partly due to her nature, but also to the loving kindness of their nearest neighbors, the Stintons. 

Katharine begrudgingly tells her daughter that she may go to high school (provided all of her chores get done either before or after school) and that all has been arranged. But Elnora's dreams look to be dashed before she's even begun--she arrives at the school dressed (to the city kids' eyes) in outlandish clothing, with no books, and without having the out-of-city registration fees paid. Her mother knew the books and fees would be required but didn't tell Elnora and didn't bother to tell Elnora. In fact, she hoped the girl would be so disheartened that she'd refuse to go back. It's obvious that Katharine doesn't know her daughter. Elnora learns that there are those that will pay good money for natural specimens (moths, cocoons, and the like) as well as arrowheads and she sets about selling what she has and making plans to collect more. An even bigger break in family relations comes when Elnora needs just one more moth to complete a collection that will fund her college enrollment. How she and her mother reach an understanding and become a real well as how Elnora wins over her city classmates and gains the love and admiration of a good man comprises the rest of this classic story. 

I grew up reading and rereading one of Stratton-Porter's other classics, Laddie. It was, in fact, one of my all-time childhood favorites and it still resonated with me when I reread it just a few years ago (see review at linked title). Whether my continued love for the book was primarily from a sense of of nostalgia or that it is just a much better told story (Laddie was published four years later), I can't say for sure. But I do know that I did not enjoy Elnora's story nearly as much as I did Little Sister's. It's possible that part of my difficulty stems from my inability to understand Elnora's mother. I simply cannot understand how someone could spend 16 years (and more...since the events of the book take place over several years) blaming their child for something that was absolutely not their fault. How a mother could be so cold and unloving to their own daughter. It is also quite possible that I would have appreciated the story more if I had first read it near the time I first read Laddie.

There are many reasons to appreciate the book--its lessons on self-reliance and belief in oneself, for one. I certainly do appreciate Elnora's thirst for knowledge and the desire to better herself. It was very good to read a story about an intelligent young woman's whose sense of self and purpose was strong enough that she refused to let obstacles (like her mother's refusal to help) stand in her way. And she manages it without becoming bitter. A good solid story that I wanted to like much more than I did. ★★

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Murder at the Mardi Gras

Murder at the Mardi Gras (1947) by Elisabet M. Stone

Maggie Slone, a reporter for New Orleans' leading afternoon daily newspaper, is assigned to cover the Mardi Gras festivities for the first carnival since the lifting of Prohibition. It is a wild night--even more so than usual with everyone toasting the end of the long dry spell. Hopping from one night spot to another, she finds herself at the famous Le Coq d'Or cafe and a witness to a grand dust-up among a group at an adjoining table. It is obvious that the trouble revolves around a femme fatale type. Gaston, the cafe's owner, has been sharing a drink with Maggie and he declares the woman to be a bad one.

No, I don't really know them. But I do know her kind. she is bad. Bad through and through. She is evil, M'selle. All evil.... [Maggie protests that the woman is lovely.] Lovely? Not at all, M'selle. To be sure she is of great beauty, but it is a cold hotness of beauty which puts into a man a devil which may drive him mad.

Next day, Maggie is sent out to cover a suicide by gas and Gaston is proven correct for one of the men, who had shown himself madly obsessed with love for Nita, is the dead man. Maggie sees a chance for a scoop and quickly writes up the story with an angle on Nita. Who is this mystery woman? And where has she disappeared to while her lover did away with himself? That last question is answered just a few hours later when Nita is found strangled to death. 

Maggie's nose for news tells her that there is a connection between the two deaths and she sets out to beat the police and rival reporters to the story. She is spurred to even greater efforts when a young girl--who had promised Maggie a secret about Nita's death--is attacked and hospitalized. The reporter's zeal for a good story and her ambition to show up the cops lead her straight into trouble and cause her to jump to a few unhealthy conclusions. Unlike many amateur detective novels, Maggie doesn't wind up showing the police how to do their jobs. She almost gets the right answer...but it's the police who get their man in the end.

Stone plays havoc with the amateur "girl detective" trope of the 30s and 40s. No nicely brought up young lady, she. She fights with her mother, is exasperated with her sisters, and regularly flouts the house rules. Maggie Slone may be a lone girl reporter in a sea of male newshounds, but she's no Beverly Gray*. She's foul-mouthed and fiery-tempered and it's a wonder she ever gets a story out of anyone. She apparently solved a murder in a previous novel--but here she digs up all sorts of clues and manages to put the wrong spin on them. So, she's definitely not infallible. 

I'm in two minds about this one. On the one hand, the mystery is well done. I totally missed a clue displayed for all the world to see early on. It's hidden in plain sight so nicely that I doubt many would catch on. But...I found Maggie to be a distraction as a lead character. Her personality is a little too much and it really detracts from the story itself--especially for the period in which it is set and was written. I don't necessarily want a mousy little girl detective--but Maggie seems to want to out-drink and out-swear the boys without any real reason given for her behavior. It's not as if the men around her are constantly telling her not to try and make it in a man's world. The only blow-back she gets is from her friends (and one man who'd like to be more than a friend) that she's putting herself in too much danger. Which--she is. ★★ for a good, solid mystery.

*Beverly Gray is a standard girl detective cast in the mold of Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton and others. Middle to upper middle class and with a nice, solid family life. She starts out her detective career in college and later takes on a job as a reporter--solving mysteries along the way.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Mount TBR Challenge, Birth Year Challenge, Craving for Cozies, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Medical Examiner, Charity Challenge
Deaths = 4 (one gassed/poisoned; one strangled; one stabbed; one shot)
Calendar = Other February Holiday (Mardi Gras was in February in 1934)

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Pocket Detective: 100+ Puzzles

I am so ashamed. After the lovely Kate Jackson arranged for me to receive a review copy of her The Pocket Detective: 100+ Puzzles last year and I somehow put it aside to "do the review later"...I never did it. How on earth did I manage to forget to sing the praises of this terrific little book of brain teasers, crossword puzzles, word searches and the like? Needless to say, I'm going to do it now!

The Pocket Detective puzzle book is perfect for those who enjoy both Golden Age detective novels and word puzzles. Jackson has collected a variety of puzzles--everything from quizzes related to the content of various Golden Age mysteries that have been recently reprinted under the British Library Crime Classics imprint to crosswords and kriss kross puzzles to spot the difference puzzles based on the covers of those mysteries. I've always enjoyed word puzzles of all kinds, so having a book of puzzles based on my first reading love--mysteries--was especially delightful. There are definite pluses to the "pocket-size" of the volume--it is very portable and you can easily slide it into a pocket, bag, or purse to pull out at any moment when you need something interesting to do while you wait. The only drawback to the size is in regards to the cover-related puzzles. The sizing on the covers make it a little more challenging to spot the differences (especially for those of us who aren't good at that kind of puzzle anyway....). Overall, a fabulous little book of puzzles! ★★★★

And good news for puzzle and mystery fans...a second volume is in the works and due out this coming Fall--hopefully in time to be given as stocking stuffers.