Monday, March 18, 2019

World At War Reading Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews
Sign up here
Duration: January - December 2019
Goal: Get at least one bingo! (more are welcome, of course!)

Go to Becky's post for links to book suggestions.

I committed to just one bingo to claim the challenge as complete--and have now claimed that bingo across the bottom of the card. I will keep on the lookout for more books to use in the challenge as I read this year. Any other bingos will be bonus!

Books and Categories Completed:

_ Any book published 1918-1924: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920) [1/18/19]
_ Any book published 1925-1930: Blind Corner by Dornford Yate (1927) [1/27/19]
_ Any book published 1931-1938: Blood of the North by James B. Hendryx (1938) [2/15/19]
_ Any book published 1939-1945: The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs (1943) [1/14/19]
_ A nonfiction book about 1930s: Hitler's First Victims by Timothy W. Ryback (1/24/19)
_ A nonfiction book about World War II: Code Talker by Chester Nez w/Judith Schiess Avila (3/8/19)
_ A fiction book set 1918-1924: Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (3/9/19)
_ A fiction book set during World War II: The Dead Shall Be Raised by George Bellairs (1/13/19)
_ A book set in the United States or Canada: The Lucky Stiff (1945) by Craig Rice [US] (3/1/19)
_ A book set in England, Ireland, or Scotland: Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins (2/19/19)
_ A book set elsewhere: Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh [New Zealand] (1/10/19)
_ Watch any movie about either war: The African Queen (WWI) --I just rewatched this, but have not written anything new.  I've attached my previous review of book & film. (1/21/19)

Challenge Commitment Complete: 52 Books in 52 Weeks--Agatha Christie Perpetual Challenge

photo credit

When I saw 
Robin's Agatha Christie Perpetual Challenge over at 52 Books I knew I ha to join. I had been thinking for quite some time that I would like to reread (and read for the first time a couple that I've missed) the mysteries of Agatha Christie. Robin's challenge is a low-pressure, on-going challenge that simply asks the challenger to read three novels per year.  I decided to try to read them in chronological order. And I modified the original challenge a bit--I will only be reading Christie's work. I most definitely will NOT be reading Sophie Hannah's version of Poirot and it is unlikely that I will read those by Charles Osbourne. If his novelizations of Christie's actual work are readily available to me, then I might. But I do not consider them part of my commitment for the challenge.

I have now finished my third book. I'll most likely read at least three more before the year's out--but I've met my commitment.

1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1/18/19)
2. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (1/25/19)
3. Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (3/9/19)
Commitment Complete! Still Reading.

Challenge Commitment Complete: Medical Examiner Mystery Reading Challenge

Rick Mills plunged into the reading challenge fray for the first time this year--with a vengeance! Putting together two nifty little mystery-oriented challenges that I just couldn't resist. I immediately signed up for both and have now completed my personal quota for the Medical Examiner Mystery Reading Challenge. Rick didn't set any participation levels--but I decided that I would fill out 20 Medical Examiner Reports (read at least 20 books) in order to count it for my reading challenge tally sheet. 

I've now completed 20--but never fear, Medical Examiner Bev is still on the job and will be filling out reports for the remainder of the year.

List of Books Read and Deaths Recorded:
1. The Winter Women Murders by David A. Kaufelt (3 murders: 1 shoved down staircase; 2 strangled) [1/5/19]
2. Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh (1 murder = strangled/asphyxiated) [1/10/19]
3. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (1 death = shot) [1/12/19]
4. The Dead Shall be Raised by George Bellairs (4 deaths = 2 shot and 2 poisoned)
5. The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs (2 deaths = one strangle and one drowned in the well) [1/13/19]
6. A Whiff of Cyanide by Guy Fraser-Sampson (2 deaths = one poisoned; one hit on the head) [1/15/19]
7. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (one poisoned) [1/18/19]
8. The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes by June Tomson (4 deaths = 2 fell from great heights; 2 drowned) [1/25/19]
9. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (2 deaths, both poisoned) [1/25/19]
10. Blind Corner by Dornford Yates (2 deaths = one stabbed; one shot) [1/27/19]
11. A Death in the Night by Guy Fraser-Samspon (one death = smothered) [1/30/19]
12. Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh (2 deaths = poisoned) [2/14/19]
13. Blood of the North by James B. Hendryx (4 deaths = one drowned; three shot) [2/15/19]
14. Where the Snow Was Red by Hugh Pentecost (3 deaths = one hit on the head; 2 poisoned) [2/16/19]
15. Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins (4 deaths = 2 shot; 1 stabbed; 1 drowned) [2/19/19]
16. No Patent on Murder (one death = strangled) [2/21/19]
17. Monsieur Lecoq by Emile Gaboriau (five= two shot; one hit on head; one poisoned; one stabbed)
18. The Lucky Stiff by Craig Rice (eight = six shot; two blown up) [3/1/19]
19. Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (two = one stabbed; epileptic fit) [3/9/19]
20. A Wreath for Rivera by Ngaio Marsh (one = stabbed) [3/11/19]
Commitment Complete! Still Reading.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Murdered: One by One

Inspector Crosby: People don't need to account for their movements before six o'clock in the morning. Your suspect, when you find him, will tell you he was still in bed and asleep.

Inspector Martin: That would make it all the more difficult for him to explain why he was in fact out and about.

~Murdered: One by One (1937) by Francis Beeding

Valerie Beauchamp (aka Vera Brown) was the prolific and wealthy author of romances which end, as all love stories should, happily ever after. Unfortunately for Valerie, her story didn't end quite so happily. She receives fan letters from an Arthur Scott-Digby who shyly imagines that they are kindred spirits--souls adrift looking for lasting love. He finally begs her to meet him and she, like many of her fictional heroines, is caught up in the romance of it all and rushes off to do so. Only Arthur Scott-Digby doesn't exist. He has been created in an elaborate hoax concocted by her supposed friends in the local literary society--in an effort to cut the lady (who they think rather full of herself) down to size.

She does appear distraught--denouncing them all and even kicking Lavinia, her cousin, friend and confidante, out of the house because she suspects her of being in on the hoax. After a few days, Lavinia receives a letter that indicates that all may be forgiven, but that Valerie is still distraught enough that she may take her own life. Lavinia comes back to 'Avilion (the house) to find her cousin dead--not by her own hand, but battered to death in her own bed. Mysterious fingerprints are found in the room, the safe has been pilfered, and a ladder used to enter the bedroom window. The fingerprints will be found to belong to no one in the case--including the members of the literary club who quickly fall under suspicion. For you see--Valerie left behind a rather curious will. After making provisions to care for Lavinia and others, she has left a life interest in the remainder of her estate to the very people who humiliated a winner take all, tontine-like fashion. As long as the legatees remain alive and part of the literary society, they each will receive £200 per year. If someone dies or resigns from the society, the remaining members will split the principle sum assigned to the one who is gone. So, maybe someone knew about the will and rushed their inheritance a bit. Then the members of the society begin to by one.

The beginning of the novel seemed hauntingly familiar to me--a romance writer with no real romance in her life who receives supposed love letters from an unknown admirer and it all leads to murder & mayhem. I wish I could remember the book...I enjoyed this one very much. Beeding is very descriptive and manages to build up the suspense surrounding the serial killings very nicely. I'm not going to comment too much at this point--my good blogging friend, Brad over at ahsweetmysteryblog, and I have been reading this novel in tandem, so to speak, and plan to inflict our opinions, share our thoughts with you in a joint post. So, stay this space...we'll be back with a scintillating conversation soon. ★★  and 3/4

Medical Examiner Challenge Round-up:
1st death = blunt instrument
2nd death = poison
3rd death = shot
4th death = knife
5th death = shot

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Wreath for Rivera: Review

A Wreath for Rivera (1st pub as Swing Brother Swing; 1949) by Ngaio Marsh finds Lord Pastern & Bagott, the very model of eccentric British aristocracy taking up jazz drumming (or becoming a tympanist, according to Marsh). His eccentric nature has reminded Curtis at the Passing Tramp of real-life eccentric Lord Berners and he (Curtis) makes a good case for Marsh using Lord Berners as a model*. Lord Pastern--to use the abbreviated form--has in the past been involved with Indian yogis, VooDoo, and nudism to name a few of his eclectic pursuits. He has forced his wife to share her home with members of an esoteric Central European sect. She has, by turns, indulged him (initially), threatened to divorce him, generally lived separately, and more recently reunited with him. She found that once the Central Europeans vacated Duke's Gate (where she had lived apart from Lord Pastern) that she could not endure the quiet. So, when her husband decided to bang away at drums, she welcomed the noise and him to Duke's Gate.

His latest passion is to perform with an actual jazz band and he convinces Breezy Bellairs to let him join Breezy Bellairs' Boys for a feature number at the Metronome club. He's even written a little song and devised a pretty little skit to go along with the number. He'll bang away at the drums and then Carlos Rivera, Breezy's star piano-accordionist, will come out and get shot (with blanks). It will be a real show stopper. Of course, Rivera is a quite unsuitable young man who has gotten entangled with Lord Pastern's step-daughter Félicité  (Fée)and Lady Pastern wants the relationship quashed at all costs. When somebody loads the gun with something more deadly than blanks, she gets her wish. In spades.

Naturally, it winds up that all sorts of people might have wanted Rivera out of the way. He was putting pressure on Breezy. Other members of the band were a bit fed up with him. He flirted incessantly with Lord Pastern's niece Carlisle much to Félicité's annoyance (intended) as well as to Ned (Edward) Manx's--who has just discovered that he loves Lisle. But who hated or feared him enough to kill? 

Luckily, Inspector Roderick Alleyn is in the audience when Lord Pastern's "Hot Guy" number produces one very cold corpse. He and Fox will have to wade through musicians' jealousies, a traces of drug-dealing, a hint of blackmail, and a side-issue of the real identity of a famous agony columnist before they collar the murderer.

I think what I enjoyed most about this was the eccentricity. It may seem a bit over-the-top viewing it from today--but Lord Pastern's mad fads, Lady Pastern's holding on to her aristocratic roots in the post-war era, the silliness of the "Hot Guy" number (as proposed--not how it transpired) all create a certain atmosphere that could only take place in this book. I was glad that despite the fact that I know I must have read this back in the mists of time (when I was making my through every Marsh book my hometown library had on offer), I remembered nothing of the plot. So--although I spotted one portion of the solution (hidden in the apparent empty space that follows--highlight if curious)--the use of the duplicate gun--I couldn't quite see how it all had been managed. 

One out-of-the-way thing that struck me--particularly because I've been listening to Sayers' Whose Body on audio while roaming about in the car--is that calling one's friends and colleagues by odd little endearments must have been quite a thing in Golden Age/classic mysteries. At one point, when Fox says this case may be like the "Purloined Letter," Alleyn responds with: "Fox, my cabbage, my rare edition, my objet d'art, my own special bit of bijouterie, be damned if I don't think you've caught an idea." Lord Peter throws such things about when addressing Parker and Bunter at various points. Now, if I can remember, I'm going to have to pay attention when I read others and see if this is a pattern beyond Alleyn and Wimsey.... ★★

*For a more in-depth look at Lord Pastern & Bagott's relationship to Lord Berners (as well as a very smart review of Marsh's book in general), please visit Curtis over at The Passing Tramp.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Brit Crime Classics, Century of Books, Cloak & Dagger, Just the Facts, Medical Examiner, Mount TBR Challenge, Ngaio Marsh Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Print Only, Six Shooter, Strictly Print Challenge, Charity Challenge, 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Murder on the Links: Review

As readers of the blog may know, I am currently doing a reread of Agatha Christie--reading the works in order. Some books I've read many times, others only a few or perhaps just once back in the mists of time. Murder on the Links (1923) is one that I have read a bit more often, so for this go 'round I decided to pick up a book on CD version from the library to take along on a trip back to my hometown last week. I had the privilege of listening to Captain Hastings himself--Hugh Fraser--read the novel to me as the miles rolled by.

As I mentioned the last time I reviewed this novel, it's difficult to realize that this is only the second Hercule Poirot novel and also the one where Hastings meets his wife-to-be. And soon Hastings will disappear to the Argentine and Poirot will be without his Watson for many cases. In fact, Hastings appears in only eight of the Poirot novels, though he narrates the majority of the short stories.

At first the story seems very straight-forward. The famed millionaire Monsieur Renaud sends Poirot an urgent message requesting the detective's assistance. He fears for his life and wants Poirot to get to the bottom of the threats. Poirot and Hastings head to France at the earliest moment, but they arrive too late to save Poirot's client. M. Renaud has been murdered...stabbed to death and left lying in a shallow grave in a bunker on a golf course he has sponsored. His wife has also been discovered bound (so tightly she has wounds on her wrists) and gagged. She tells them a story of mysterious South Americans who tied her up and forced her husband from the house while muttering threats about a "secret." There are other mysteries surrounding the case...the dark-haired woman who visited Renaud at night, the girl with (as Poirot says) "the anxious eyes," the dark-haired young woman who pops in and out of Hastings life, the strange tramp who quarreled with Renaud, a random piece of lead piping, the special daggers, and Renaud's son who was told by his father to go to South America, but who was in the area on the night of the murder. Who can get to the bottom of all this? Will it be Giraud, the darling of the French police with his modern methods and his Holmes-like way of crawling about in search of clues? Or will it be the older, wiser Poirot--exercising his "little grey cells" and considering the psychology? Need you ask?

I quite enjoyed Hugh Fraser's reading of the story and was thoroughly immersed in the world of Poirot and Hastings even as I traveled the roads of Indiana. Even though I was well acquainted with the story, I still loved listening to the twists and turns of the plot and was well-satisfied when "Papa Poirot" managed to show up the dandified Giraud. A wonderful visit with old friends in the mystery realm. ★★

[Finished 3/9/19]

All Challenges Finished: Agatha Christie, Just the Facts, Virtual Mount TBR, Calendar of Crime, Century of Books, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Six Shooter, Medical Examiner

Code Talker: Review

Code Talker: The first and only memoir by one of the original Navajo code talkers of WWII (2011) by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila.

As is evident by the title, this is an extraordinary memoir by one of the Original 29 Code Talkers (officially, 29--32, by Chester's count because he includes 3 men who helped develop the code). It details Chester's life from his early years in the Checkerboard through his war years and beyond. While the primary focus is on his time in the Marines helping to develop the code and then putting it to use in the Pacific Theater, we learn quite a bit about what it was like for a young Navajo to grow up pre-1940. Of course, life for Native Americans on the reservations was never easy and the forced relocation onto the reservations was a dark period in our history, but Chester considered his home life to be fairly happy until the white men decided to decimate Navajo herds because of over-grazing. Not only did this wipe out the wealth of Navajo families, but since the government used Navajos to enforce the thinning of the herds it also created distrust and sowed division among the people.

It was amazing to read how Chester and the other young Navajo men bravely used the very language that their white school teachers had tried to strip from them to save the country they loved. How they courageously laid their lives on the line for a country that had oppressed and restricted them--and that would never treat them as equals when they weren't wearing the uniform of their country. Heck--the U.S. Army soldiers that Chester was sent to help at one point nearly killed him--accusing him of being a Japanese soldier in a stolen uniform. All because he did not look like the standard G.I. Joe. It was heartening to read that the Marine commanders did recognize their worth...and a number treated their men as equals, regardless of rank. It is a shame that enough of us don't carry that over into everyday life.

Chester tells his story with humor and humility. Others call him and his fellow Code Talkers heroes. He never claims that title for himself, saying that he merely did what he knew he could do--as well as he could do it. He speaks of family and friendship--of all the things that made the fight worth taking up. He tells us of the bravery of others and shows us how important this piece of our shared history was. ★★★★

[Finished 3/8/19]

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Lucky Stiff: Review

"Anna Marie St. Claire died in the electric chair at one minute after midnight this morning, with a smile on her lips..."

In The Lucky Stiff (1945) by Craig Rice (aka Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig), Anna Marie St. Claire is destined for a date with the electric chair for a crime she didn't do. Her lawyer has gone through the appeals process to no avail and the governor has turned a deaf ear to a plea for a reprieve. At the eleventh hour, she's saved from a shocking death (sorry, I couldn't resist...) by a dying gangster's confession. St. Claire, her lawyer, and the warden are the only ones who know she didn't keep her date with the Anna Marie insists that they play it like she died and have the newspapers report her death. Because Anna Marie has a plan to haunt a few characters who didn't feel like saving her skin during the trial.

She smiled at him, "Me? I'm dead. So what am I going to do? Guess. I'm going to haunt houses.

Along the way, Anna Marie meets up with some of Rice's favorite characters: John J. Malone, the slightly bent Chicago lawyer; his friend Jake Justus and Justus's beautiful and strong-willed wife, Helene; and Captain Daniel von Flanagan who regrets being a cop every time he gets mixed up in one of these wacky crimes. The five of them spend their time (both separately and together) trying to get to the bottom of the murder of Anna Marie's boyfriend--i.e., who masterminded the gangster's shooting and the frame-up up Anna Marie. Our friendly "ghost" pops in and out of bars, restaurants, and hotels...scaring her targets into indiscreet action. And there are numerous extra bodies piling up--but don't take them to the local funeral parlor. They're liable to get blown up. Really. Buckle up and get ready for a wild and bumpy ride that leads to an interesting denouement....

This was another fun read from Rice (like my first encounter with her in The April Robin Murders). Plenty of screwball comedy with a slightly noirish twist. Malone tries at times to sound like a hard-boiled private eye, but he's got a much softer spot for the ladies and Yogi Berra way with words. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip through the surreal gangster land concocted by Rice's fertile imagination. The mystery is interesting with a nice hook and deft flick of the wrist to land us with a surprise ending. ★★★★

[Finished on 3/1/19]

DvF: But, no, murderers are dumb. They gotta do everything the hard way.
JJM: The hard way for you, the easy way for them. Damn few murderers take into consideration the problems of the homicide squad. [Daniel von Flanagan; John J. Malone; p. 80]

DvF: Nothing to it. With my City Hall connections, you think I couldn't get a license inside of twenty-four hours? And a guy like me, with what I know about psychology? F'instance, here's what I mean. If I'd of been in Joe the Angel's bar last night [when the "ghost" was seen], nobody would of got upset. I'd of used psychology. [Daniel von Flanagan; p. 82]

AMSC: Malone, do you think I'd lie to you?
JJM: Could be. Girls do tell lies. That's why lawyers study up on cross-examining. [Anna Marie St. Claire; John J. Malone; p. 92]

HJ: How do you know?
JJM: I don't know. I told you it was just a feeling.
JJ: It's bad enough you have to be a respectable businessman, on top of that, you have to be psychic.
[Helene Justus; John J. Malone; Jake Justus; pp. 118-9]

DvF: It's a deduction. Psychology and deduction, they go together like the Smith Brothers. [Daniel von Flanagan; p. 126]

DvF: when politics and murder gets mixed up together, there's likely to be trouble. [Flanagan; p. 127]

Friday, March 1, 2019

March 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...

Inlinkz Link Party

March 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...
Inlinkz Link Party

March 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...

Inlinkz Link Party

March 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...
March's Key Words: Shamrock, Luck, Irish/Ireland, Pot, Gold, Faith, Emerald, Carry, What
Inlinkz Link Party

March 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. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Monsieur Lecoq: Review

Monsieur Lecoq tells the story of murder done in a Paris backstreet barroom. Lecoq's police patrol,
led by Inspector Gevrol, is on their nightly rounds when they hear cries coming from a local bar. Upon investigation, they find two men dead and one dying with their apparent murderer standing with the murder weapon in his hand. Gevrol takes appearances of a barroom brawl at face value and prepares his report appropriately for the judge. But Lecoq has his doubts. He receives permission to investigate on his own--and finds himself in the middle of a story of vengeance and murder tying two wealthy families.

Monsieur Lecoq (1869) by Émile Gaboriau features Lecoq, a young police detective who Sherlock Holmes dismisses as "a miserable bungler." In this particular novel, one can see why Holmes might thave thought so. Despite the fact that this is the fourth (or fifth, depending on which list you pay attention to) Lecoq novel written, it is apparently a prequel and gives us Lecoq's first case. Maybe Holmes had this episode in mind when he spoke so disparagingly. When I read the previous novel File No. 113 in 2012, I was pretty impressed with Lecoq's skills as a detective and his ability to use the art of disguise. I was a bit disappointed with the detective as Gaboriau portrays him here.

He begins the case pretty full of himself. He spots indications and clues that lead him to believe that this is no mere barroom brawl that has resulted in murder--indications that complete escape the notice of his superior officer. When he's given leave to investigate further (and, so the superior officer thinks, waste his time and make a fool of himself), he leads off well--giving the reader a rather thorough performance as the sleuth-hound. He follows footprints in the snow, he picks up bits of brown wool, he describes the murderer's accomplice (whom he proves to have existed through the prints and wool, etc) in great detail just as Holmes would do some years later. It's really quite extraordinary. But he then goes on to commit a few blunders when the principal murderer escapes and he winds up consulting an amateur detective who points out the mistakes he has made and the numerous opportunities he had to follow up clues and solve the mystery. Still, the portion of the story that focuses on Lecoq is interesting and well-done. However, as with my reading of File No. 113, I found the long, drawn-out foray into the historical antecedents for murder quite tedious and, frankly, a bit convoluted. One could wish the Gaboriau had learned the art of succinct story-telling when relaying back-story information. 

Overall: ★★

All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup Authors, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, European Reading Challenge, Back to the Classics, Outdo Yourself, Mystery Reporter, How Many Books, Medical Examiner,

Feb = story setting
May = Pub month
Nov = author birth month

Saturday, February 23, 2019

No Patent on Murder: Review

No Patent on Murder (1965; aka Honeymoon to Nowhere) by Akimitsu Takagi

Summary provided by Dick Adler on Etsuko Ogata is engaged to be married to a university lecturer, bur her father, suspicious of the groom's past, hires a private investigator. The PI uncovers a link to a notorious war criminal. The bride's father, a former prosecutor, also finds a younger brother with possible criminal connections who died in a suspicious fire. "One black sheep is bad enough, but he has two in his family," he tells his daughter. "One can't help thinking there must be an ominous streak in him too..."

But the young woman is 28 and just getting over an infatuation with a man who married one of her friends. Inevitably she goes against her parents' wishes and marries Yoshihiro Tsukamoto--despite noticing other kinds of strange behavior in him. On the night of their wedding, just before they are to leave on their honeymoon on the super-express train to Kyoto, Yoshihiro gets a call which he says is from a university official, demanding his immediate presence on campus. He leaves the hotel and never returns; his strangled body is found later that night.

The prosecutor put in charge of the case is a rising star named Saburo Kirishima--the same man Etsuko pined for before he married her friend Kyoko. His investigation focuses on the person who called the groom at his hotel. Was it the bride's father? Or a young colleague in his law office who wanted to marry Etsuko himself? Or could it have been someone connected with the groom's family? As the meticulous details pile up, we learn as much about middle-class Japanese life in the 1960s as we would from any nonfiction book....

My Take:
Periodically, I decide to give a Japanese mystery a try. Almost always because it will suit a challenge that I'm doing. And almost every time I am reminded that the pacing of Japanese writing just doesn't suit me. The build-up to the crime is sooooooooo slow. Providing background is one thing, but the Japanese style of narration seems to require (as noted in the summary) meticulous (I would almost say tedious) attention to detail. Where British or American mystery authors of the period would tend to summarize characters in short passages, Takagi takes several chapters to slowly provide details on Etsuko and her family, Yoshihiro, and all the supporting characters. 

I do enjoy learning about other cultures and those cultures during different time periods, but I find it difficult to adapt to the narrative style. The only exception to this rule so far has been The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji--most likely because it pays homage to the classic mysteries of the Golden Age. The story did pick up once the murder had occurred and Kirishima and his assistant Kitahara begin their investigation. I did enjoy following Kirishima's process of detection and interrogation. ★★ and 1/2.

February = primary action (murder of Yoshihiro)

The Night of the Fox: Review

Night of the Fox (1986) is the second World War II thriller I've read by Jack Higgins. It's just before D-Day and the Allies having been running training simulations in Lyme Bay at Devon. American boats mistake signal lights for British convoys and are attacked by the German E-boats. Nearly 650 American servicemen are lost--among them are three men who have all the details of D-Day in their heads. As the bodies are recovered, the ranking officers hope that all three men are among them. Two are found, but a third, Colonel Hugh Kelso is still missing. 

Badly wounded, he manages to scramble aboard a life raft and drifts until he lands on the German-occupied island of Jersey. Luckily, he is found by Helen de Ville and, with the help of "General" Sean Martin Gallagher--a Dublin veteran of the Irish wars, she manages to hide him and provide medical attention. But will they be able to keep him from the Nazi occupiers? Sean manages to send word to London via a French resistance group and the Allies face the fact that Kelso must be rescued or silenced.

A plan is formed and it will require their best--Harry Martineau, a British scholar who is fluent in German and particularly skilled in impersonating Nazi officers. He's done it before--and the Germans know it (much to their chagrin). He's got a flair for reckless courage, but it may be that he will trust his skills once too often. By his side is Sarah Drayton. She is an innocent nineteen-year-old who tried to sign up for the secret service once but was turned down. But this time they need her. She's a Jersey Island native who knows the terrain and can provide Harry with the bona fides to gain Helen and Sean's confidence. She'll need every bit of acting skill she's got to keep up her role as Standartenfuhrer Vogel's (Martineau's) French mistress. 

World War II thrillers are not often my thing--but Jack Higgins sure knows how to write them. Having read The Eagle Has Landed (I've always enjoyed the movie made from it) a couple years ago, I picked this one up last year. It was another absorbing read.  He has a particular flair for the WWII time period and in both books he has created fully-fledged characters that the reader cares about. All of the central characters get a full treatment with distinct personalities. With so many characters (there's a whole sub-plot with Rommel and another impersonator), it would be easy to lose track with less well-defined personalities. 

Martineau is a particularly complex character. He is a brilliant scholar who has seen a bit too much in this war. He's lost his love (Rosa) to the Nazis and now he likes to see himself as a man of action willing to kill as many Nazis as possible. But he's lost his purpose just a bit. Not too long before the events in this book he was able to exact revenge on the man he held responsible for Rosa's death. It was satisfying at the time....but it's lost its savor. He now seems like a cold, hard man...and yet he can show compassion to Sarah when she breaks down one night. The other characters are only slightly less complex. 

I've seen a few reviews that say Higgins gets a bit formulaic in his extensive output and I can see how that's probable. [He uses very similar framing devices for both this and The Eagle Has Landed.] But at this point, the stories are so interesting and well-told that they are very enjoyable for this reader.

The blurb on my copy says it was based on real events, but I haven't been able to find any specifics. Not sure if it just means the plot to kill Hitler and the German occupation of the island of Jersey (which were definitely real things)--or if there was an incident with a downed officer near Jersey. I'd be interested in any details on what Higgins was drawing from. ★★★★

All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Book Challenge, Just the Facts, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup, Century of Books, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Medical Examiner, Historical Reading Challenge, 52 in 52 Weeks, Reporter's Challenge
January = pub month
Deaths = 2 shot; 1 stabbed; 1 downed in plane over the English Channel (drowned?)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A Wrinkle in Time: Review

A Wrinkle in Time (1962) is such well-known book that I'm going to just give a brief synopsis (courtesy of Wikipedia). It is a science fantasy novel written by Madeleine L'Engle. It won the Newbery Medal, Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and was the runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Throughout the novel, the young characters Meg Murry, Charles Wallace Murry, and Calvin O'Keefe embark on a journey through space and time--across the universe--as they endeavor to save Mr. Murry, the world, and possibly the universe itself.

A Wrinkle in Time was quite probably the first science fiction/fantasy novel I ever read. I picked up the already well-worn (and most likely well-loved) Scholastic edition (pictured) from our used bookstore when I was in elementary school. I took it home and immediately fell in love with Murry family and Calvin. I loved the adventure. I loved that kids were the heroes--and especially that Meg was the one who really saved her father and Charles Wallace. I loved that Meg was a far from perfect girl--a girl who still needed to learn that what she might see as her greatest faults and weaknesses were the things that made her unique and could be used as strengths in times of trouble. I loved that her parents tried very hard to foster and encourage the unique talents of each of their children. And I loved that the themes of good versus evil played out in a fantastical scientific drama.

Reading this as an adult, I found that I still love all of these things about the book. I also love the way L'Engle meshes the spiritual with the scientific--showing that the two need not be mutually exclusive. I still find myself identifying with Meg--the girl who doesn't quite fit in at school and who will never be part of the "in" crowd. But Meg has qualities that make her unique and uniquely heroic--she has a deep attachment to her family and a determination to help her father and her younger brother. Yes, she becomes afraid in the process, but she faces her fear and finds the strengths that allow her to successfully battle IT and bring her father home. I also love the way L'Engle brings in complex scientific ideas and makes them accessible to all readers without "dumbing them down." Encouraging young readers to explore complex ideas is a definite plus. 

A thoroughly enjoyable story no matter what age you read it. ★★★★

Monday, February 18, 2019

Where the Snow Was Red: Review

Where the Snow Was Red (1949) by Hugh Pentecost

Dr. John Smith, the leading criminal psychologist of the day, is spending what he hopes to be a quiet holiday at the home of Emily and Dan Sutter. Dan is a loud-mouthed drunk who doesn't know the meaning of work, so Emily has been forced to take in paying guests to make ends meet. They have a sixteen year old son, Bim, who does odd jobs for the town selectman, Rufe. He thinks the world of Rufe and wishes his father would just disappear.

Things are quiet until word comes that Terence Vail is returning home. Vail is a recent member of the community--but is a town favorite because of his generosity. Many worthy causes have had their needs met by a quickly written Vail check. And, of course, the village gossips love him and his wife. Susan Vail is a beauty and has nearly all the men in town at her beck and call. Roger Lindsey has been especially attentive while Terence has been away--initially because Terence had asked him to keep an eye on Susan, but later for more personal reasons. The tongues have been wagging--speculating on how far the romance has gone, wondering how Terence will react when he arrives, and resounding with resentment over the fact that Roger left Liz Holbrook cold when he took up with Susan. Susan's father, known for his temper, is none too pleased with Roger himself. 

All this is simmering under the surface when Terence arrives and a party is thrown in his honor. But you would think the party had been given for Susan. She winds up the center of attention--dancing and flirting with every man and making an even greater target for the gossip mongers. One wouldn't be surprised if she were to play the part of chief victim in our little drama. But...when a body is discovered, it isn't Susan but Terence who lies out in the gathering snow with red surrounding his bludgeoned head. Two more deaths will follow before the culprit is identified.

None of the local men are equipped for a homicide investigation, so when they discover that the unobtrusive Dr. Smith is a prominent criminal psychologist they enlist his help in unraveling the mystery. Since there really isn't a lot of physical evidence to be had, his insights into human nature become invaluable to the investigation--though he does overthink one bit of evidence that was actually quite obvious (to me, anyway). If the reader picks up on the meaning of that one key bit, then she will know right away who the killer is. But--trust me--that doesn't ruin the story. Pentecost writes very interesting and believable characters and he has turned out a first-class study of the characters of the small town. If he manages to slide that key bit of evidence by you, then there are motives and red herrings galore to keep the armchair detective busy. A quite enjoyable post-war detective story with an engaging cast--I particularly liked Dr. Smith and Rufe with Liz and her father coming in a close second. ★★★★

All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Just the Facts, Calendar of Crime, Monthly Key Word, Color Coded Challenge, PopSugar Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Mystery Reporter, Medical Examiner

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Blood of the North: Spoilerifc Review

Fair warning: This review contains several spoilers. Since the novel is not really a mystery in the truest sense (we know who the bad guys are and we know what they have done; I guess that means I get to count it as an inverted mystery), I've decided to give a more explicit run-down of the plot for my own records. There are few points that those interested in reading the novel might not want to know ahead of time...

Angus Murchie, son of a Scotch fur trader and an Indian woman, finds himself seeking justice in a white man's world. His father is killed by a rival trader and whiskey runner, Jacques LaRue. But the jury of white men choose to believe LaRue's protests of innocence and fabricated alibi over the truth spoken by Angus. Angus had promised his father (who suspected LaRue would try to murder him) that he would not kill LaRue himself--that he would let the law take care of him. When justice lets him down, Angus follows LaRue until he has a notebook full of white men and the solid evidences that see the trade convicted on the charge of murder--this time of the two Indians who supported the fabricated alibi. These Indians not only lied for him, but they were also responsible for the death of Miqua, an Indian who prevented their tribe from trading for liquer. We suspect (though we are not explicitly told) that Angus may have dispatched the two Indians himself (having not promised his father anything about any henchmen that LaRue may have hired) and allowed circumstantial evidence to convict LaRue. To his way of thinking, justice has been served--the men responsible for his father's murder have paid for their crimes as the law should have required in the first trial.

Once the trial is over, Angus sets about putting his father's affairs in order. He finds that Colin Murchie was a shrewd businessman and that he has left his son more wealth than anticipated. He has also left a parcel of land that becomes the target for an unscrupulous land dealer. Bradford Townsend has been sent to buy up land along the rive for a company looking to build a dam and create a power supply for the North--and he doesn't mind how much he underpays. He sees in Angus (a man who admits he knows little about business) and Jean McPherson (daughter of Colin Murchie's long-time friend and playmate to Angus in their young years) two easy marks for low-ball offers. Angus may not know much about business--but he knows enough to use Townsend's low opinion of him to advantage--selling at the low-end price, but keeping an "ace in the hole" with which to hold the man accountable later

This was a bit disappointing. I got it in the mystery section--but it is more adventure with a bit of revenge and romance thrown in for spice. Not a bad book. Just not what I was expecting. I do like Angus's sense of honor and how he repays the bad guys. His justice may be a little rough in the instance of his father's murder, but one does understand his point of view. I especially like how he uses Townsend's poor opinion of him to his advantage and forces the land dealer to give him what is due--and nothing more. He also makes sure they do right by Jean McPherson--even though he believes she still thinks of him as a "worthless half-breed." Of course, the two do work out their differences for a true "happily-ever-after" ending. ★★

It is worth noting that, despite appearances on the cover, our hero is NOT the Canadian Mountie. In fact, the Mountie doesn't figure much other than to help arrest LaRue when he needs arresting and to stand by as one of the few minions of the law who will take the word of a man with a native heritage as worth as much (or more) than that of a white man.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Just the Facts, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup Authors, PopSugar Challenge, Book Challenge, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Medical Examiner

Final Curtain: Review

Final Curtain (1947) by Ngaio Marsh finds Agatha Troy waiting for her husband's return from several years of war work in New Zealand and Australia. Inspector Alleyn is due back any time and Troy worries that the long separation may have spoiled their young relationship. When a request (a near-royal summons) comes from the celebrated actor Sir Henry Ancred for her to paint his portrait--in full actor's regalia as Macbeth--she is, at first, annoyed at the distraction. But when Sir Henry's son Thomas comes in person to plead the case, she is intrigued by his description of the family and decides that the distraction may be just what she needs. After all, Sir Henry's head fairly begs to be painted.

The family lives up to both Thomas's description and the run-down she received from Nigel Bathgate as she was leaving on the train for Ancreton Manor. She witnesses the bitter family dynamics and the jockeying for position as Sir Henry is fairly fickle in his favorites. The current front-runners are Patrica "Panty," his granddaughter, and Cedric, his grandson. But a spanner has been thrown into the works. The old gentleman has taken up with a young chorus girl and it looks like he may be out to prove that the "old man still has some life left in him." The family's fears are realized when Sir Henry announces that he plans to marry Sonia Orrincourt. 

Troy finishes the portrait just in time for a grand unveiling on Sir Henry's birthday. But things go awry when the picture is found to have been vandalized--with a flying green cow dropping bombs on Sir Henry's head. There have been several "practical jokes" in the days leading up to the birthday and nearly everyone (including Sir Henry) assumes that Panty is the culprit. After all, she does have a history of such things. But both her mother and Troy believe that she's telling the truth when she says she hasn't done any of the tricks played on her grandfather. Someone is up to mischief...but who wants the blame to fall on Panty?

Then Sir Henry dies--apparently from natural causes following his most ill-advised over-indulgence during the birthday meal. He's safely buried and the family is weathering the shock of discovering that he had changed his will one final time--leaving Cedric Ancreton Manor, but nearly all his money to Sonia. That's when things get interesting. 

Alleyn finally arrives back home and during their reunion, Troy tells him about her odd experiences at Ancreton Manor. Then anonymous notes start arriving that imply that Sir Henry's death wasn't natural after all. So Alleyn, Fox, and company start investigating. 

Like Colour Scheme and a few of the other novels, this is one where Alleyn shows up rather late in the proceedings. However, unlike Colour Scheme, I don't actually mind it so much this time because get to spend quite a lot of time with Troy and we learn a great deal about her in the process. In some ways she acts as Alleyn's stand-in...observing the family's behavior and being able to give him a trusted, first-hand account of the goings on leading up to the murder. She brings an artist's eye for detail and gives Alleyn (and us) valuable insights on the characters and incidents. It provides a very unique build-up to the investigation.

I think in some ways Marsh has tried to give us another eccentric family like the Lampreys. But here the dark undertones overshadow the pleasant oddities. There is really something a bit distasteful about most of the Ancreds. One thing that struck me about the story was the emphasis on how all the Ancreds were the same--overly-theatrical; they all made that "tuh" noise; etc--all, that is except Thomas. Having made such a point of how Thomas was an exception to the Ancred rule, I almost expected there to be a revelation that Thomas wasn't really an Ancred after all...and that maybe that would figure into the motives somehow. Ah, well--I guess it was a case of the author protesting too much. 

This was another enjoyable entry in the Alleyn chronicles--particularly since we see so much of Troy. Marsh did fool me on the killer...I had latched onto someone else and couldn't quite shake my belief in their guilt. ★★★★ 

All Challenges Fulfilled: Calendar of Crime, Just the Facts, Mount TBR Challenge, Alphabet Soup, Family Tree Challenge, Ngaio Marsh Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Birth Year Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Six Shooter, Medical Examiner
Calendar of Crime: November--primary action

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Treasury of Great Recipes: Review

A Treasury of Great Recipes (1965) by Mary and Vincent Price is a treasure itself on so many levels. First, of all, I love Vincent Price and reading through this glorious recipe book was lovely experience. Mary was responsible for the look of the cookbook--the cover, the photos, the arrangements of the food in the photos and Vincent wrote the introductory pieces for each section and the reminiscences which precede each recipe. I could absolutely hear his voice reading those introductions to me. Vincent Price so very obviously enjoyed life and food and travel were two of his favorite parts of life. His joy in traveling the world--sampling the local food, discovering new restaurants, wheedling treasured recipes out of the chefs--that joy spills over into all the memories and tidbits that he shared with us in this cookbook.

It is also a delight to look at all the menus from a by-gone era when fresh lobster could be had fro $4.50 and desserts would run less than a dollar. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants featured in the book are gone. Some having disappeared only within the last 10-15 years or so. But it is still fun to look at the pictures from some of the best eateries of the 1960s and to know that Vincent and Mary have preserved a number of the best recipes for us.

One thing that I found amusing was the fact that Wolfgang Puck (who writes an introduction for this--the 50th anniversary edition) made a great deal of the fact that Vincent Price--movie star that he was--was just a Midwestern boy at heart. Having grown up in St. Louis, he was a down-to-earth kind of guy and ALL (emphasis mine) of these recipes were intended as helps for the average housewife. Well--either I'm not an average housewife or "average" means something quite different to Wolfgang than it does to me--because I have never served baby octopus at my house and, quite frankly, can't ever imagine myself doing so. There are several recipes that call for ingredients that this average housewife does not keep stocked in her pantry....

But. That doesn't mean that I might not get adventurous and try some of the more out-of-the-way selections (NOT baby octopus, though). In fact, I'm quite determined that a copy of this book needs to find its way into my house on a permanent basis (this one was from the library). The desserts especially look fantastic and there are several chicken recipes that I'm anxious to try. This is definitely a book for those who love cooking and who enjoy peeking into the kitchens of a different time and place....oh, and it's a definite must-read for those who love Vincent Price. ★★★★