Saturday, January 26, 2019

Terror on the Titanic: Mini-Review

Terror on the Titanic by Jim Wallace was a second Choose Your Own Adventure book to catch my eye when I was looking to find a title to read for the PopSugar Reading Challenge. I decided that rather than have to choose between the Tower of London and the Titanic I'd just bring both home and read them. This book plays a little more fast and loose with history than the Tower book did--sure it brought in ghosts, but the information it gave about the historical figures and the sections of the Tower were primarily factual. In this book, included among the options you have are those that allow you to save the Titanic and prevent one of the greatest steamship disasters in history. But, that's okay, the CYOA books are definitely more imaginative and fictional than the Chilling Interactive Adventure books--so we can give the author more poetic license. 

I loved these books when I was in elementary school (though I never read this one) and even as an adult it is fun to find yourself in the story, making choices that will determine how your adventure ends. The Titanic is also a big draw for me and it was fun to follow the adventures on the luxury liner. ★★★★

Tower of London: A Chilling Interactive Adventure

The PopSugar Reading Challenge has included a "Choose Your Own Adventure" prompt this year. When I saw that the library had a series of Chilling Interactive Adventures, I decided to give one a try to fulfill the prompt. These books take historical places and events and provide a choose-your-own-adventure plot line that is fun and educational. Each book gives historical information and descriptions of the people and events involved. This particular entry, Tower of London, takes readers on a tour of the Tower grounds. You and your friend Jerry get separated from the tour group and the various choices allow you to meet the ghosts of historical figures from Sir Walter Raleigh to Lady Jane Grey and to observe ghostly renditions of events that took place within the buildings and vicinity of the Tower...and, if you don't choose wisely, you may find yourself joining the ghostly inhabitants of the Tower.

A very good format to encourage young readers to learn about history while having adventures of their own. I thoroughly enjoyed the Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was growing up and would have loved these non-fiction-based stories had they been available then. ★★★★

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Secret Adversary: Review

The Secret Adversary (1922) is Agatha Christie's second venture into the mystery field and the first to feature that daring young duo, Tommy and Tuppence. The young people, who have been friends since childhood, are trying to make their way in the world after being demobbed after World War I. Tuppence is one of seven children to a timid, Victorian-minded archdeacon who doesn't know what to do with his modern daughter. She's determined not to go back home and make life uncomfortable for her father. Tommy has pretty well gone through the money allotted him at demobilization and has had no luck at all finding a job. They run into one another by chance at the Dover Street Tube exit and settle down for tea and a catch-up on old times. By the end of the tea, they have decided to start a Join Venture--calling themselves The Young Adventurers Ltd and putting out an advertisement that they are for hire. "Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good."

But before they can even place the ad, they find themselves plunged into a grand adventure full of spies and Bolsheviks and a mysterious man by the name of "Mr. Brown" who runs the whole show on the baddies side of things. There's a missing girl who has amnesia and, just by chance, probably knows where some top-secret, hush-hush papers are. Throw in the mysterious Mr. Carter (also not his real name) who is in British Intelligence and winds up hiring our heroes and the rich American cousin of the missing girl and we're in for a fast-paced adventure. First Tommy gets captured and escapes. Then Tuppence gets captured and rescued. The missing papers get found twice. The bad guys have them. No, they don't. The Young Adventures get the papers to the good guys...or do they? It's all a rollicking, confusing good time that keeps readers on their toes. 

If there is one theme running through The Secret Adversary, it is coincidence. As Tuppence says once their adventures begin: 

“I've often noticed that when coincidences start happening they go on happening in the most extraordinary way. I dare say it's some natural law that we haven't found out.” 

Their story begins with their coincidental meeting. Tommy overhears two men talking about Jane Finn. Jane winds up being the missing girl with amnesia. One of the gang approaches Tuppence and she and Tommy try to put one over on him...later Tommy and Julius (the rich American) just happen to see the gang member with a confederate and they follow them. Mr. Carter just happens to be an Intelligence man that Tommy saw once in the war--so Tommy immediately knows he's a good guy. And so on. 

But all this coincidence doesn't ruin the story. No. In the world Christie has created for us, it's perfectly believable and we're ready to go along with it for a really good story. And it is a really good story. Tommy and Tuppence are great characters and Christie's ability with dialogue really shines with their conversations. The adventure is fast-paced and fun and I was very glad to revisit it after all these years. ★★★★

The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes

The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes (1990) by June Thomson is another collection of Holmes stories purporting to be from that battered tin dispatch case mentioned by Watson in "The Problem of Thor Bridge." Just imagine how big that case must have been (or how many separate pieces of that case there were)...given all the "discovered" stories that have appeared over the years. Thomson takes on the task of providing the world with the details behind Mr. James Phillimore's strange disappearance upon going back into his house for an umbrella; the secrets of the Amateur Mendicants; the case of Isadora Persano and the remarkable worm; and the real activities of the Notorious Canary Trainer...among others. Thomson gets a great many things right with these short stories--the relationship between Holmes and Watson, historical detail, and Watson's voice as narrator being the most notable. She does come up a bit short on story delivery in about half of these, however. Out of seven stories, one isn't solved at all and two are only half-solved. Not a great percentage for one of the greatest detectives of all time. And quite honestly there are only two solutions that I agree were necessary for Watson to keep quiet about--and only one due to national security. Given the great air secrecy shrouding these stories in the Canon, one can be forgiven for feeling a bit disappointed when the reasons for the delayed publication don't quite meet the level of caution implied in Watson's original accounts.

This was an amusing read, but not quite the knock-out Holmes pastiche that I expected. I had read enthusiastic reviews of her work featuring Holmes and looked forward to strong stories. It looks like this was her first collection of Holmes stories--perhaps her later collections are stronger. ★★

All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Historical Fiction, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, Century of Books, Cloak & Dagger, Book Challenge, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, 52 in 52 Weeks, Charity Challenge

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hitler's First Victims: Review

In Hitler's First Victims: The Quest for Justice, Timothy Ryback recounts the background and events of one of the many "What If" situations leading up to World War II. At its most basic, the book argues that there may have been a great difference made in history if the rule of law and Germany's judicial system had worked as well as it had previously been capable of in the years leading up to the war. In the first instance, if Hitler and his, then, smaller band of followers had received a stiffer penalty for their actions in what became known as the "Beer Hall Putsch," much might have been avoided. At the most extreme, it was possible "since Hitler's stated goal was to topple the Weimer Republic, he could have been dispatched to the Reich Court in Leipzig, where a conviction for treason could have resulted in a death sentence." As it was, the procedures were botched and the group faced a sympathetic local judge and received a ridiculously light sentence. Hitler and company were unrepentant and left the court (albeit to short prison sentences) in a celebratory mood more fitting to the victors of a conquest.

Once Hitler rose to the Chancellorship and the Nazi forces began to take over, there was still the remnants of judicial power left to those who wished to see the country returned to a free republic. As the first concentration camp (then called a detention camp and work camp for political prisoners) was formed at Dachau, it still fell under the jurisdiction of state police authority and due process. When political prisoners--nearly all Jews--began to die in suspicious circumstances, Josef Hartinger, a German prosecutor, began collecting evidence and meticulously examined every coroner's report looking to build a case that would bring justice to the camp and seriously hamper the power of the SS men who were gaining control of the camp. His efforts managed to halt the killings temporarily, but the steamroller that was the Nazi movement soon ran him--and the few good men helping him, such as state medical examiner Dr. Moritz Flamm--over. Ryback poses the question: What if there had been hundreds of Hartingers and Flamms throughout Germany, standing up to Nazi rule? Would the weight of judicial evidence and power been enough to strangle the Nazi movement before it hurtled Germany into World War II? Of course, we'll never know--but he makes a strong case.

The book is meticulously researched and gives an excellent portrayal of a country on the brink--unsettled and with its citizens often caught unawares by the movement of power and unsure how to fight back. Even those with some power--like the judiciary and state police--found it very difficult to work within the laws to try and combat the creeping evil. The records of Josef Hartinger and Dr. Flamm make it all too clear how quickly the political landscape could change--taking with it the rules, conventions, and laws that hold a society together. 

An absorbing historical account of men who, as they watched their way of life going off the rails, tried their best to stave off the coming Nazi deluge. It is disturbing to read of these early Nazi atrocities (which actually pale in comparison to what was to come), but it was also heartening to read about men who were trying to do what they could to maintain a system of justice in perilous times. ★★★★

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Charity Reading Challenge 2019

Charity Reading Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews (sign up here)
Duration: January-December 2019
# of books: You decide: I'm going for 12
Read for a good cause! Buy books at a charity shop, or, even a friends of the library book sale, or, donate a certain percentage of money for each book you read for the challenge. You can choose your own goal of how many books to read, what charity you'll be donating money towards, how much money, etc. (For example, you might want to donate $1 for each paperback you read, or, $3 for every hardback you read. You can work out the details yourself.) For full details click on link above.

Last year I read much more than 12 from my Friends of the Library (FOL) and charity sale books, but given the number of challenges I've signed up for (and I could have sworn that I already signed up for this one for 2019), I'm just going to commit to 12 again. In addition to reading books that I had already bought in support of the library or charity, I also spent $169.39 on new books from those sources--most of that went towards the Hoosier Hills Food Bank community book sale. Let's see how much I give to charity this year in exchange for good books.

Books Read:
1. Tales of Terror & Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [Hoosier Hills Foodbank Book Sale] (1/23/19)
2. The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes by June Thomson [Hoosier Hills Foodbank Book Sale] (1/25/19)
3. Blind Corner by Dornford Yates [Historical Society Community Rummage Sale] (1/27/19)
4. A Wreath for Rivera by Ngaio Marsh [FOL] (3/11/19)
5. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal [FOL] (3/23/19)
6. Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh [FOL] (4/4/19)
7. Murder at the Mardi Gras by Elisabet M. Stone [Hoosier Hills Foodbank Book Sale] (4/20/19)
8. The March Hare Murders by Elizabeth Ferrars [Hoosier Hills Foodbank Book Sale] (4/23/19)
9. The Lover by Laura Wilson [FOL] (5/17/19)
10. The Cream of Crime edited by Jeanne F. Bernkopf [Hoosier Hills Foodbank Book Sale] (6/1/19)
11. The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur W. Upfield [Hoosier Hills Foodbank Book Sale] (6/1/19)
12. Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh [Hoosier Hills Foodbank Book Sale] (6/16/19)

Tales of Terror & Mystery: Review

Tales of Terror and Mystery (1922; 1977) contains stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that were first published separately during a period from 1908 to 1921. The original publication does not appear to have included the very last story--and that was a very good thing. As with most story collections, the stories here are mixed in their strength and power to amuse. But that final story is a very weak offering indeed. My favorites ("The New Catacomb," "The Man With the Watches," and "The Brazilian Cat") lean more towards the detective genre than the supernatural. The few of these tales which I assume were supposed to terrify do not hold quite the power to shock that they may have done when first published. Nevertheless, Doyle has given us an entertaining selection and I did enjoy them. ★★

"The Horror of the Heights": In the early years of aviation, Doyle gives us a story that speculates on the unseen dangers that await pilots who keep venturing higher and higher in the earth's atmosphere.

"The Leather Funnel": A man learns that to sleep with an object may bring dreams of its past. The leather funnel has a very unpleasant past indeed.

"The New Catacomb": A tale of revenge...brought about through the use of Roman catacombs. A very clever intellectual revenge, indeed.

"The Case of Lady Sannox": Another tale of revenge...and even more diabolical than the last.

"Terror of Blue John Gap": Dr. James Hardcastle takes on the unknown creature that lives in the depths of Blue John Gap. But will anyone believe his tale?

"The Brazilian Cat": A man plans to do away with the heir that stands between himself and a fortune. The plot involves a very unusual murder method--but will it succeed?

"The Lost Special": As Mr. Bland the Superintendent of the Central L. & W. Railway Company says in the story, "Does a train vanish into thin air in England in broad daylight? The thing is preposterous. An engine, a tender, two carriages, a van, five human beings--and all lost on a straight line of railway." And yet, it does happen.

"The Beetle Hunter": Dr. Hamilton, who has yet to go into practice, is coming to the end of his resources when he spots an advertisement in the paper. The job requires someone who is a doctor with a strong physique as well as strong nerves and who has an interest in entomology (beetles, to be precise). Once he's got the job, he's in for a very interesting night at the home of Sir Thomas Rossiter the well-known entomologist....

"The Man With the Watches": Three people on a train disappear from two compartments while an unidentified dead man (with six expensive watches in his pockets) appears in one of the abandoned first-class sections. The police are baffled until a letter arrives from one of the missing men.

"The Japanned Box": After a man's beloved wife dies, his friends and servants fear that he has returned to his carousing and womanizing ways...especially when a woman's voice is heard coming from his rooms late into the night. The private tutor for the man's sons learns the secret after falling asleep in the library one evening....

"The Black Doctor": A surprise witness saves a hotheaded young man from a verdict of guilty in a murder case.

"The Jew's Breastplate": The museum's new curator and his friend (our narrator) hide in the attic's lumber room to catch the midnight visitor who has been vandalizing a priceless relic. The culprit is not who they were expecting....

"The Nightmare Room": A siren of a woman holds the fate of two men in her hands...her husband and his friend. And then....a disappointing, anti-climatic end.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Mysterious Affair at Styles: Review

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie is the first novel to feature Hercule Poirot. And, although Hastings has met the great detective in the past, this is apparently the first time that he has played Watson. Hastings is home on medical leave from the Great War and is invited by his old friend John Cavendish to spend his recovery time at the family's country home, Styles. Cavendish tells his friend, "I'm afraid you'll find it very quiet down here, Hastings." And Hastings assures him, "My dear fellow, that's just what I want." Unfortunately, it's not going to be quiet for long...

John's step-mother Emily Inglethorpe has recently been remarried to a much younger man. Alfred Inglethorpe has not been welcomed to the family bosom. The stepsons (John and Lawrence) don't think much of their step-papa, the servants all think Mrs. Inglethorpe has married beneath her, and even the man's own cousin, Mrs. Inglethorpe's beloved companion Evelyn Howard, believes he married Emily for her money. It isn't any surprise then that when Emily Inglethorpe dies of strychnine poisoning that suspicion immediately falls on Alfred. 

In the meantime, Hastings has run across Poirot in the village. Poirot is one of several Belgian refugees from the war in Europe whom Mrs. Inglethorpe has helped to resettle. When tragedy strikes, Hastings convinces John to call upon the retired member of the Belgian police. The household is astonished when Poirot produces evidence of an alibi for Alfred and the hunt is on to discover who else might have had a motive to do away with the elderly lady.

This is not my first reading of Agatha Christie's first mystery novel. It is, however, the first time I have read it in over 30 years. And, I have to say, she did it again. Christie is one of the few detective novelists who can--if it has been long enough since I last read the book--manage to pull the wool over my eyes more than once. She is a master of misdirection and even in her debut novel, she is quite good at making the reader look at this when they really ought to be looking at that. Needless to say--I spent too much time looking at this. I am about as swift off the mark as Hastings. 

It was quite enjoyable to go back to the beginning and start reading the novels again. My first reading of Christie was rather haphazard--I read whatever title came my way in whatever order I found them. I've now committed myself to a reread of her work in publication order. I am looking forward to seeing how her writing develops over time and which tropes she reuses (and how effectively each time).  ★★★★

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

My copy = no dust jacket

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Haunted Man & The Haunted House: Review

The Haunted House is a strange little tale. John, our narrator, is told that he needs to take a house in the country to help his health improve. A friend spots a house that seems perfect when he's out driving and off John goes to see about it. As soon as he sees it up close, he realizes it must be haunted and the inhabitants of the nearby village confirm his impressions. So--what does he do? Decides it's just the house for him and moves in with his sister, a deaf stable man, two women servants, an Odd Girl (a tweeny, maybe?), and his bloodhound. Why on earth he thinks living in a haunted house is going to improve his health is beyond me. Naturally, the ghost--or rather ghosts because there's Master B, a disturbed young male ghost, and a hooded woman with an owl, starts right in with bell-ringing and appearances and whatnot. So to dispel the ghost, John comes up with the bright idea to send all the servants away except the deaf stable man (who hasn't seen hide nor hair of a ghost) and have a jolly house party--because if they're all happy and not looking for ghosts in every corner then they probably won't have any. Well...I don't know if John drank a little too much or maybe smoked something he shouldn't have but he lays down in Master B's room and has the most bizarre experience. It reads more like an opium dream than a ghostly experience and when he wakes up/sobers up/what-have-you then the story ends and we have no idea if there really was a ghost who took possession of him or he just got hold of some really bad weed. Seriously. Not one of Dickens best.

The Haunted Man is a tale of transformation not unlike A Christmas Carol. Redlaw, the central character, is a chemistry teacher who broods on the evil which has been done to him and grief he has experienced in his past. One night, near Christmas, he listens to his servants talking of their good memories despite their circumstances (particularly of Philip…who has seen “87 years!” and had many things to overcome) and he falls into a particularly deep brooding state. A shadowy phantom of himself appears and offers him the chance to forget all the wrongs from his past. With this “gift” comes the power that will pass the “gift” on to those Redlaw comes in contact with. The result? Peace and happiness as Redlaw expects? Not so. Redlaw and those he comes in contact with fall into a wrathful state of universal anger. All but Milly, one of Dickens’s purely good female characters and a young boy that Milly has taken in who has known nothing but evil treatment until now. Finally, Redlaw—seeing the damage his “gift” has wrought—begs the phantom return and remove the gift. It is done…but only Milly’s goodness can counteract the anger and bring everyone back themselves. And it is Milly who presents Redlaw with the moral of the tale: ""It is important to remember past sorrows and wrongs so that you can then forgive those responsible and, in doing so, unburden your soul and mature as a human being."" Redlaw takes this to heart, and like Scrooge, becomes a more loving and whole person.

★★  for the two novellas.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Whiff of Cyanide: Review

A Whiff of Cyanide (2017) by Guy Fraser-Sampson is the third in his Hampstead Murders series which makes great use of Golden Age detection--which, by the way, is a great delight for those of us who have a deep love for classic crime. He has found a way to weave tropes from the Golden Age into a modern day setting that is effective and makes for compelling reading. This time the Hampstead team--led by Superintendent Simon Collison with the assistance of Detective Sergeants Karen Willis and Bob Metcalfe--have to investigate a suspicious death at a crime writer's convention. Peter Collins, who has appeared regularly as a civilian assistant in these cases, has finally finished his book on poisons in Golden Age novels and has been asked to participate in one of the convention's panels. He brings Karen as his guest to the event's grand dinner and once again they're on hand when death occurs.

Ann Durham has been the head of the Crime Writer's Association for years--through pure force of will and a bullying personality more recently. But lately there have been stirrings of revolt among the ranks and (heaven forbid) there has been talk of a challenge to her leadership through a (gasp!) vote. She takes her frustrations out on everybody around her--from her loyal secretary to her daughter and her (the daughter's) regrettable boyfriend and workers at the hotel convention site. But even with all the bad vibes around, it's still initially suggested that she committed suicide when she takes a drink at the beginning of the dinner and immediately falls over dead. The scent of bitter almonds is very strong and everybody who attended the poison panel knew that she had a sample of cyanide in her possession (she brought it along as as tantalizing prop....). Since DS Willis is on the spot and moves rapidly to seal the area, no one at the head table is able to leave the dining room and a careful search of the room and those in the immediate vicinity leaves the police empty-handed. So if, as would be totally in character, she decided to take a most public leave of this world then why can't the cyanide vial be found?

The Hampstead team's investigation reveals secrets in Durham's past that adds a couple more suspects to the list. There are surprises in store for Durham's reading public...and a few surprises for members of Collison's team as well before murderer will be found and the case will be solved.

This is a strong entry in a very enjoyable series. I'm always interested to see how Fraser-Sampson will bring in references to Golden Age mysteries. The first entry had Peter Collins near-delusional in his assumption of the Lord Peter Wimsey persona. The second book brings in Dame Agatha herself (albeit through letters). And this time round we have an actress who has played Miss Marple for so long on television that she refuses to be addressed as anything else. She helpfully offers advice to the Hampstead officers in true Miss Marple fashion. But is she really helping or, as one of the suspects, is she trying to confuse the issue? There are clues and red herrings a-plenty, but clever readers should be able to sift them and rind the solution.

 Fraser-Sampson has created a compelling set of characters that have started to feel like old friends. It is fun to watch the progression of their relationships--both on the job and in their personal lives. The changes that come for the team members are interesting and not quite what I expected....and I'm not sure what I think about them. But I've come to trust the author's story-telling and can't wait to see what's next in the series. ★★★★ and a half 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Murder of a Quack

The Murder of a Quack (1943) by George Bellairs once again finds Scotland Yard's Inspector Littlejohn investigating murder in a small English village. This time Nathaniel Wall, a beloved local "quack" bonesetter is found hanging from one of the contraptions he uses in his cures. At first it looks like the only people who had any dislike at all for the man were certified doctors. Wall comes from a family of bonesetters (those who can manipulate bones and joints, but who have no formal training) and the people of Stalden have come to rely on his skill. In fact, they prefer him over the new doctor who has bought the practice of a doctor who long had respect for the bonesetter. Circumstances (the doctor's alcoholic ways and a certain incident of a missed broken collarbone) had caused the villagers to seek out Wall's help even more. But would a doctor really resort to murder to get rid of the competition? 

Littlejohn soon discovers that there are others with a possible motive--from the young woman who had considered him an uncle...until "uncle" decided to poke his nose into her romantic affairs to the young man she wishes to marry (and who has a decided row with the doctor) to the mysterious man who once sought the doctor's help with a deformity. When newspaper clippings are found which feature a bank robbery and a well-known forgery, Littlejohn begins to wonder what the connections are. Once he figures that out, he'll be well on his way to solving the mystery. But not before another body is found at the bottom of a well....

This is another pleasant mystery in the Littlejohn line-up. The Inspector is a good man who investigates at a steady pace and with little "flair" or excitement, but provides a nice comfortable story to follow. As with the previous novel, the major complaint is that there are too few suspects. There isn't much doubt after about half-way in who the main culprit is, but Bellairs provides a little bonus that makes it well worthwhile. These stories are perfect for when you don't want a complicated mystery--just a little puzzle and nice visit to Britain of the 1940s. There is also a thread of wry humor that runs throughout and makes things interesting. ★★ and 1/2.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Virtual Mount TBR, Alphabet Soup Authors, Century of Books, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, Mystery Reporter, How Many Books, Medical Examiner,

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Dead Shall Be Raised: Review

In The Dead Shall Be Raised (1942) by George Bellairs, Inspector Thomas Littlejohn and his wife are set to spend a quiet Christmas holiday in the small town of Hatterworth. The story begins cozily enough--with a warm welcome from the local police superintendent and a visit from the village carolers. But the Christmas night performance of Handel's Messiah (with Superintendent Haworth in a starring role) is interrupted by the announcement that members of the Home Guard have dug up a skeleton while practicing maneuvers and fortifications on the moor. 

Materials found with the skeleton soon allow it to be identified as Enoch Sykes, a man thought to have murdered a former friend and run off after a falling out over a young woman over 20 years ago. Apparently someone else had it in for both Jeremy Trickett and Sykes and thought burying Sykes's body would allow their crime to go undetected...they've been right (and lucky) up till now. Haworth asks the Scotland Yard man if he'd like to take a busman's holiday and lend a hand in digging up the past. It's going to be a difficult job--half of the participants are dead, hrough old age, illness, or having perished in the current war. It isn't long before Littlejohn and Haworth discover that there were those who knew more than they told at the time and they had their reasons for holding their tongues. One of those in the know think it better to try their hand at blackmail than to take their knowledge to the police...and, of course, they meet the end destined for many blackmailers in detective fiction.

The Yard man and the local policemen work hard to track down clues on a very cold case. And they come down to being a hairsbreadth away from laying their villain by his/her heels. It will take the wiles of the 80-year-old retired Inspector Entwhistle to give them the evidence that allows the final confrontation.

This is delightful Golden Age mystery that I am so very glad the British Library Crime Classics decided to reissue. Bellairs writes about the English countryside during wartime with a sure hand yet gives the reader a pleasant, homey description of the village. Inspector Entwhistle is (to borrow a GAD phrase) a caution and I only wish that he had been allowed to participate more fully in the investigation. The characters are introduced with warmth and descriptions that make them seem like remembrances of real people rather than just characters in a novel.

Sometimes these Golden Age writers who produced mysteries during the war years appear to have been trying to forget that there even was a war going on. Perhaps they wanted to provide their readers an escape from the horrors. In fact, some of the novels could have been written just about any time, given how little current events make their way into the story. Bellairs brings references to the war into his narrative so easily that it places the book firmly in that era without making the story itself seem dated. Mrs. Littlejohn and Mrs. Haworth sit at home and knit scarves and other warm necessities for the soldiers. Ration books and identity cards are a necessary addition to life on the war-era home front. He also allows us to look back at a time when tramps were a common sight and farm laborers, game keepers and poachers were part of the country landscape.

The one draw-back as a mystery is the fact that there are fewer suspects than might be desirable to keep the reader mystified. There is, however,  a portion of the solution that allows for a bit of a surprise which almost makes up for the lack of suspects and red herrings. Overall, a good entry in the Littlejohn chronicles and I definitely look forward to moving on to Murder of a Quack--the second novel in the British Library Crime Classics reprint edition. ★★ and 3/4.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Virtual Mount TBR, Calendar of Crime, Century of Books, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Mystery Reporter, Medical Examiner

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Clouds of Witness: Review

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. ~Hebrews 12:1

Clouds of Witness (1926) by Dorothy L Sayers (read by Ian Carmichael) is an old favorite. The Lord Peter Wimsey stories are comfort reads for me. I have read them many times since I first discovered them in my late teens. When I found this audio version at the library, I could not resist. I own several of the audio novels read by Ian Carmichael, but this is not one of them and I wanted to hear him read this early story in the Wimsey mysteries. He does a fantastic job giving each character their own voice and it's quite lovely to hear him as Lord Peter again.

On this particular round of Clouds of Witness, I was quite taken with the trial scene at the House of Lords--all the pomp and circumstance and Sir Impy Biggs for the defense. It is all quite theatrical and impressive. And it made me wish I had kept the "trial/courtroom scene" square on the Just the Facts Detective Notebook. It's not everyday that one reads about the trial of a peer of the realm. Another delightful part of the story is the friendship of Lord Peter and Parker. Their interactions while detecting in the grounds of Riddlesdale Lodge are great fun and Carmichael does justice to the humor and good feeling between the two. Overall, another wonderful visit to the world of Lord Peter Wimsey. ★★★★

For more on the story itself, please see my previous REVIEW from 2011 when I reread the Wimsey stories in their entirety.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Virtual Mount TBR, Calendar of Crime, Cloak & Dagger, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, PopSugar Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Craving for Cozies, Century of Books, European Reading Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Mystery Reporter, Medical Examiner; Brit Crime Classics

An African Millionaire

An African Millionaire (1897) by Grant Allen is one of the first books to feature a "gentleman crook." Colonel Cuthbert Clay (his alias) is a master of disguise and an ingenious con man who sets his sights on the South African Millionaire, Sir Charles Vandrift. Vandrift is a man of dubious morality himself who has not been above shady dealings if it would get him what he wanted--whether that be diamonds for his wife or a diamond mine. In a series of twelve stories Clay transforms himself through skillfully applied make-up and his ability to mimic the behavior of others into a Tyrolean Count, a humble parson, a Mexican Seer with psychic powers, and even a detective employed by Vandrift to catch himself. Clay repeatedly eludes capture until the very last story--where, although he faces prison, he still manages to humble the financier who has been his prey.

The book was a somewhat disappointing read for me--primarily because the blurb on the back of the book made it seem as though we would be reading about the exploits of this magnificent con man from his point of view. That we would see how he plotted his schemes to take in Sir Charles. Instead we follow the millionaire about and see everything from the point of view of his "Watson"--his faithful brother-in-law and secretary/companion. Since the stories were told from this side of the confidence trick, it would have been more effective if we, the readers, hadn't been told that the same thief was pulling these jobs off. Then we could have been mystified until the final reveal at the end. As it was, the tales were fairly anti-climatic and we could only shake our heads at how gullible Sir Charles (and his brother-in-law) is. He is particularly so considering how often we are told that not just anybody could fool him, that he wouldn't have made his millions if he was taken in by confidence tricks. And yet...even though he knows that Colonel Clay has targeted him again and again, he never suspects that he's falling into another trap. 

What does work here is the social satire--revealing just how greed and vanity can lead even the greatest of millionaire into folly. Clay's job is made all the easier because Sir Charles just can't resist getting his hands on a diamond or a rare painting by a master--especially if he thinks he's underpaying. It is also satisfying to see the unscrupulous financier cheated himself. 

A decent read that might have been better if the blurb hadn't been so misleading. But then, perhaps the blurb-writer has a bit of Colonel Clay in him... ★★

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Died in the Wool: Review

Died in the Wool (1945) by Ngaio Marsh finds Inspector Alleyn still in New Zealand hunting spies in World War II. Alleyn had already been hard at work in the counter-espionage business in Marsh's previous novel, Colour Scheme. This time he's asked to investigate the death of a member of New Zealand's Parliament--Florence "Flossie" Rubrick. The Rubricks own a large country property which includes sheep herds and wool processing quarters. She had gone missing one evening after announcing she was headed to the wool shed to practice an up-coming speech. It isn't until sometime later that her body is found packed into a bundle of wool that has been sold.

Her nephew, Douglas Grace, fears that a spy is at work on the farm. He and Fabian Losse (nephew to Flossie's husband Arthur) have been working on a top-secret, hush-hush gadget that will greatly aid the war efforts and Grace is certain that Flossie must have discovered proof of the spy's identity and been killed because of it. Losse doesn't believe in the spy theory, but he does want the murder solved and after the local police flounder for over a year he writes to the "big wigs" and asks for Alleyn to drop in...dangling the possibility of a spy in front him as justification.

Since the case is so cold (no clues lying helpfully about to be picked up), Alleyn spends most of his time listening to every member of the household's account of the night in question and their impressions of Flossie. Arthur is no longer around--he died shortly after Flossie disappeared--but the two nephews, Flossie's ward Ursula Harme, and Terence Lynne, Flossie's secretary all give Alleyn their version of events. It isn't long before Alleyn realizes that there are several currents of motive running beneath the surface. There's a local boy who was Flossie's favorite until they had a grand row. And there's the growing affection between Terry (Terence) and her employer's husband. Not to mention the sudden fall from favor that Douglas experience with his aunt. A late-night hunt in the wool shed (yes--even all this time later) is called for and Alleyn becomes the target for the murderer himself before the curtain falls on this one.

What is particularly nice about this one is the way Alleyn's interviews so clearly underline that no one is the same person to each person they interact with. Every member of the household produces a different Flossie for the Inspector to understand. Marsh uses the psychology of each person's version to help Alleyn to understand what Flossie did in the days leading up to her murder that made her death imperative for the killer. Some may find this a bit slow going--there's a lot of talk and little action until the last third or so of the book--but in this instance I think it works. A good closed group mystery with excellent setting and background. ★★ and 1/2.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

2018 Just the Facts Prize Winners

It's that time again...when all the detectives don their Inverness capes and deerstalkers OR monocles and top hats OR pick up their knitting bags and magnifying glasses and gather for the gala prize event here on the Block. I see that we have the usual suspects in the winners circle this year as well as a couple of new challengers to give the old hands a run for their money. 

I'll just drop all the detective notebooks into the Custom Random Number Generator and we'll see which detectives will come out on top this year.....

Drawing #1 (all who met the minimum): Aidan who completed the Gold Detective Notebook


Drawing #2 (2nd chance for all who found 12 or more): Reese who competed on both the Gold & Silver Notebooks

Congratulations to you! I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list. And thank you to all the super sleuths who joined me on the hunt for clues. I hope you all are joining me for another round of Just the Facts, Ma'am in 2019.

2018 Mount TBR Final Checkpoint Winner!

I just warmed up the Custom Random Number Generator and fed all the entries for my challenges into it. First up here on the block...we have the winner of the Mount TBR Final Checkpoint prize.

And the winner is...Link #3 Barbara H! Congratulations! I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list. Thanks again to all of yo for donning your hiking boots and joining me on another trek up the mountain range. Hope to see you on the 2019 trail.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Star Trek Little Golden Books: mini-review

My husband surprised me. Back in December, he pre-ordered these two Star Trek Little Golden Books and they just arrived today. So, I sat right down and read them immediately. Since they were pre-ordered in 2018, they count for this year's Mount TBR Challenge.

I Am Captain Kirk by Frank Berrios (2019): This is a lovely children's book for young Star Trek fans or Star Trek parents who want to introduce Start Trek to their children or older Star Trek fans who just want a fun ST book to add to their collection (that would be me). The illustrations are wonderfully done and the only thing that prevents this from a full five-star rating is the fact that the author doesn't seem to know that Chekov exists and while he includes Nurse Chapel in one of the illustrations he doesn't mention her at all either. Also--the book really focuses more on the "world" of Star Trek (introducing the crew, spelling out their mission to "Boldly Go," etc.) than it does on Captain Kirk himself. Perhaps the book should have been called This Is Star Trek★★★★ and 1/2.

I Am Mr. Spock by Elizabeth Schaefer (2019): Another lovely children's book for young Star Trek fans and those of us who are older ST fans as well. This one is more focused on Mr. Spock than the I Am Captain Kirk book is on Kirk and talks about what he does in the crew and his relationship with Kirk and McCoy. A good introduction to the character and his place in the Star Trek universe. Again, the illustrations are wonderfully done. An excellent, fun book. ★★★★

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2019 Medical Examiner Mystery Reading Challenge I lied. Here's another one...because I'm quite sure that Rick is determined to tempt me into signing up for an even 40 challenges this year. He's put together another dandy little mystery challenge that I can't resist. For full details, check out his post on the Medical Examiner Mystery Reading Challenge. Basically, just read mysteries and log the murder methods on his handy form. Compete for prizes!

Rick doesn't require a sign-up post, but in order to claim this one as complete on my own personal challenge tally sheet, I must submit at least 20 death certificates. With the number of mysteries I read per year, this shouldn't be too difficult.

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.
21. Murdered: One by One by Francis Beeding (five: 2 shot, 1 stabbed, 1 hit over head, 1 poisoned) [3/16/19]
22. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (five: 2 shot, 1 stabbed, 1 hit over head, 1 strangled) [3/23/19]
23. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (one = hit over head) [3/24/19]
24. A Knife in the Back by Bill Crider (two = 1 stabbed; 1 hit over head) [4/2/19]
25. Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh (two = poisoned) [4/4/19]
26. The Man int he Brown Suit by Agatha Christie (two = one fell on electric train tracks; one strangled) [4/13/19]
27. Gallows Court by Martin Edwards (Deaths= 18 (two strangled; two shot; one poisoned; three burned to death; two stabbed; one drowned; one gassed; one hit by a car; one beaten to death; one car crash; three tortured to death)  [4/13/19]
28. Murder at the Mardi Gras by Elisabet M. Stone (Deaths = 4: one gassed; one strangled; one stabbed; one shot) [4/20/19]
29. Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L Sayers (Deaths = 5: two strangled; two drowned; one stabbed) [4/23/19]
30. The March Hare Murders by Elizabeth Ferrars (Deaths = 3: one shot; one shoved off cliff; one poisoned) [4/23/19]
31. Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd (Deaths = one, stabbed) [4/26/19]
32. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers (Deaths = 5: one hit on head; three run over [train and car]; one throat slit) [4/28/19]
33. Is Skin Deep, Is Fatal by H.R.F. Keating (Deaths = 2; one poisoned; one stabbed) [5/1/19]
34. Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer (Deaths = 2 poisoned--what a surprise!) [5/3/19]
35. Spinsters in Jeopardy by Ngaio Marsh  (Deaths = one stabbed) [5/6/19]
36. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (Deaths = one poisoned) [5/8/19]
37. Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie (Deaths = ten: 3 shot; 1 stabbed; 4 poisoned; 1 hit on head; 1 drowned; 1 fell/pushed) [5/12/19]
38. Miss Agatha Doubles for Death by H.L.V. Fletcher (Deaths = three: 1 drowned; 1 poisoned; 1 death in fire) [5/16/19]
39. The Lover by Laura Wilson (Deaths = three: 2 strangled; 1 stabbed)
40. The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers (Deaths = one; pushed and hit head) [5/19/19]
41. Beverly Gray's Island Adventure by Clair Blank (Deaths = one; natural causes/heart attack) [5/21/19]
42. The Cream of Crime edited by Jeanne F. Bernkopf (Deaths = ten: 7 shot; 1 poisoned; 1 hit on head; 1 stabbed) [5/26/19]
43. The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur W. Upfield (Deaths = one; hit on head) [6/1/19]
44. River of Darkness by Rennie Airth (Deaths= sixteen; 14 stabbed; 2 strangled) [6/3/19]
45. The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie (Deaths =  two, both shot)
46. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Deaths = 2; two scared/attacked by hound; one drowned in Grimpen Mire) [6/13/19]
47. Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh (Death = one; hit on head) [6/16/19]
48. The Father Hunt by Rex Stout (Death = one; run over]) [6/18/19]
49. Killing the Goose by Frances & Richard Lockridge (Deaths = four; two stabbed, one hit on head, one shot) [6/24/19
50. Mystery of the Emerald Buddha by Betty Cavanna (Death = one; fell from great height) [6/29/19]
51. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (Death = one; shot) [7/1/19]
52. Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh (Death = one; neck broken) [7/7/19]
53. The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Adams Warren (Deaths = 3; two poisoned, one through sympathetic reactions between twins) [7/12/19]
54. Tenant for the Tomb by Anthony Gilbert (Deaths = 3; two shoved from a height, one shot) [7/28/19]
55. 4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie (Deaths = 3; one strangled, two poisoned)
56. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie Deaths = 11; 21 if you count those caused by the current murder victims) (4 poisoned; 1 strangled; 1 stabbed; 2 shot; 1 drowned; 2 hit); Those caused by our current murder victims (10+): 2 run over; three neglect/medical malpractice; one shot (war); two drowned; one hung; one overdose [and a bunch of unnamed natives that Philip Lombard left to die in the jungle] (8/2/19)
57. Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes by J. R. Campbell & Charles Prepolec, eds. (8/5/19) Deaths = 15 (4 mauled to death; 3 shot; 3 stabbed; 1 explosion; 2 devoured; 2 crushed)
58. Family Affair by Ione Sandberg Shriber (8/6/19) Deaths = 2 (one smothered; one hit on head)
59. Murder in the Maze by J. J. Connington (8/10/19) Deaths = 2 (poisoned)
60. Death After Breakfast by Hugh Pentecost (8/10/19) Deaths = 3 (stabbed, shot, poisoned)
61. Singing in the Shrouds by Ngaio Marsh (8/17/19) Deaths = 4 (all strangled)
62. The Swimming Pool by Mary Roberts Rinehart (8/21/19) Deaths = 5 (1 drowned, 3 shot, 1 strangled)
63. Dr. Fell, Detective & Other Stories by John Dickson Carr (8/24/19) Deaths = 6 (3 shot; 3 stabbed)
64. The Spanish Cape Mystery by Ellery Queen (8/28/19) Deaths = 2 (one strangled; one fell from height)
65. Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers (8/31/19) Deaths = 4 (3 injected w/air into bloodstream; one strangled)
66. The Holmes-Dracula File by Fred Saberhagen (9/4/19) Deaths = 7 (one stabbed; three struck by objects; one run over by carriage; one strangled; one neck broken)
67. Black Aura by John Sladek (9/9/19) Deaths = 3 (one poisoned; one stabbed after a fall from height; one strangled)
68. His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (9/11/19) Deaths = 3 (all hit with object)
69. The Case of the Ill-Gotten Goat by Claudia Bishop (9/14/19) Deaths = 2 (one hit with object; one drowned in milk)
70. False Scent by Ngaio Marsh (9/15/19) Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one heart attack)
71. Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy L Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh (9/19/19) Deaths = two; one strangled and one drowned
72. The Fate of the Immodest Blonde by Patrick Quentin (9/22/19) Deaths = 2 (both poisoned, though one looks like fell from height)
73. The House on Downshire Hill by Guy Fraser-Sampson (9/23/19) Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one strangled)
74. The Murder Book of J. G. Reeder by Edgar Wallace (9/28/19) Deaths = 4 (three poisoned; one hit on head)
75. The Restless Corpse by Alan Pruitt (9/29/19) Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one shot)
76. Let's Kill George by Lucy Cores  (10/1/19) Deaths = 2 (hit on head)
77. Hand in Glove by Ngaio Marsh (10/8/19) Deaths = 1 (suffocated)
78. The Dutch Shoe Mystery by Ellery Queen (10/13/19) Deaths = 2 (strangled)
79. The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie/Charles Osborne (10/17/19) Deaths = 1 (shot)
80. The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (10/22/19) Deaths = 1 (stabbed)
81. Blueprint for Murder by Roger Bax (10/25/19) Deaths = 3 (one hit on head; two drowned)
82. Ellery Queen's Challenge to the Reader edited by Ellery Queen (11/5/19) Deaths = 19 (one drowned; five poisoned; eight shot; two stabbed; three suffocated/strangled)
83. Dead Water by Ngaio Marsh (11/9/19) Deaths = one (drowned)
84. The Eel Pie Murders by David Frome (11/13/19) Deaths = 2 (two drowned; one shot)
85. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers (11/19/19) Deaths = 3 (one natural--but important to plot; one poisoned; one shot)
86. The Noel Coward Murder Case by George Baxt (11/20/19) Deaths = 4 (two poisoned; two stabbed--one beheaded by a machete actually)
87. Tragedy at the Unicorn by John Rhode (11/23/19) Deaths = 1 (poisoned)
88. Eyes at the Window by George Selmark (11/25/19) Deaths = 4 (poisoned)
89. Said With Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19) Deaths = 2 (one stabbed; one fell off cliff)
90. The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19) Deaths = 3 (one hit with poker; one strangled; one shot)
91. Death Knell by Baynard Kendrick (12/5/19) Deaths = 2 (one shot; one stabbed)
92. Death Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19) Deaths = 3 (all stabbed)
93. Killer Dolphin by Ngaio Marsh (12/18/19) Deaths = one (hit on head)
94. The Bells of Old Bailey by Dorothy Bowers (12/22/19) Deaths = 8 (two strangled; one shot; three drowned; one hit on head; one poisoned)
95. Unholy Dying by R. T. Campbell (12/29/19) Deaths = 4 (three poisoned; one shot)