Thursday, August 29, 2019

Challenge Complete: What's in a Name?

The What's in a Name Challenge (previously sponsored by Charlie at the Wormhole) and has passed on to Andrea at Carolina Book Nook. I have always enjoyed this one and since it was Andrea's first time hosting a challenge, I knew we all need to do our part and support her by joining in, right? Right! So, I did. And now I've completed the challenge!

Here are the categories and the books I read to complete them:

1. Precious stone: Mystery of the Emerald Buddha by Betty Cavanna (6/29/19)

2. Temperature: Death on a Warm Wind by Douglas Warner (5/8/19)

3. Month/Day: The March Hare Murders by Elizabeth Ferrars (4/23/19)

4.Meal: Death After Breakfast by Hugh Pentecost (8/10/19)

5. "Girl" or "Woman": A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter (4/22/19)

6. "Of" AND "And": Tales of Terror and Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/23/19)

Dr. Fell, Detective & Other Stories

Dr. Fell, Detective & Other Stories (1947) by John Dickson Carr (intro by Ellery Queen) is a collection of eight short stories--five starring Dr. Gideon Fell and three miscellaneous mysteries. One of the three has a very similar premise to the earlier novel Till Death Do Us Part, though the denouement differs. This is a new-to-me collection, but I have read (and enjoyed) many of these stories before or full-length novel by Carr which fleshed out these ideas in more detail. ★★★★

Dr. Fell Stories
"The Proverbial Murder": Dr. Gideon Fell takes on the impossible shooting of a suspected German spy. It all depends on a stuffed wildcat, the use of a gun that couldn't have made the fatal shot, and....Fell's memory of a proverb.

"The Locked Room": This one involves the attempted murder of Francis Seton--apparently hit over the head with a piece of lead-loaded broom handle and his safe robbed while his secretary and librarian sat outside the only door and the window was locked.

"The Wrong Problem": Dr. Fell and Superintendent Hadley are walking near a lake when they come across a man who wants their help with a problem. He tells the story of murders in the past...but the solution isn't what he needs their help with.

"The Hangman Won't Wait": Dr. Fell is convinced that a condemned woman is innocent and finds the proof just in the nick of time.

"A Guest in the House": Harriet Davis thinks her uncle is losing it. Not only has he turned off the burglar alarm that protected his valuable paintings (two Rembrandts and a Van Dyke), but he has moved them from a secure room on the upper floor to a downstairs room with French windows. Then he's killed while burglarizing his own home...It will take Dr. Gideon Fell to discover the rhyme and reason behind it all.

"The Devil in the Summer House": In the opening scene two men, Mr. Parker the lawyer of the family that lived her and Captain Burke of the homicide squad, meet on the grounds of a long abandoned home on a dark and stormy night. Twenty-five years earlier, the summer house behind the garden was the scene of the death of the master of the house. It was ruled a suicide...but was it? Parker has come back now because he recently received a letter from someone...who must surely now be dead. But what has brought Burke here?

"Will You Walk Into My Parlor?": A police officer masquerading as a fortune teller warns a rich man that his lovely, innocent-looking, soon-to-be fiancee may be husband-killer in disguise. But others in this story may not be who they seem to be either. 

"Strictly Diplomatic": When Andrew Dermot is sent on holiday for his health, he finds a tonic for his heart in more ways than one--falling in love with Betsy Weatherill, former schoolmistress. But then he watches his lady walk into a closed arbor where she "had vanished like a puff of smoke."

Finished 8/24/19
Deaths =  6: 3 shot; 3 stabbed

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Swimming Pool

The Swimming Pool (1952) by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Lois Maynard and her brother Phil live in genteel poverty at The Birches, the family estate. The estate is all that is left to them after the family fortunes took a decided dip after the crash of 1929 and their father's suicide shortly thereafter. Between Phil's job as a middling sort of lawyer and Lois's income as a writer of detective fiction, they just manage to get by. Their sister Judith, the spoiled family beauty, had escaped with a timely marriage to the rich and eligible Ridgely Chandler. She has the world at her feet and Ridgely seems content to let her do as she pleases. So...why on earth does she suddenly decide to divorce him after 20-some years of marriage? 

That's what Lois wants to know when Ridge asks her to chaperone Judith on the trip to Reno. But Judith isn't talking and on top of that she seems to be deathly afraid of something or the point of fainting on the train when she looks out over the people standing about at the station. And still she won't talk--except to say that she's decided to cash in on her share of the family homestead and come to stay at The Birches for an indefinite amount of time. Having never been close to Judith, neither Lois nor Phil think this is a spectacular idea, but they can't tell her no.

From the moment she arrives at the estate, she behaves like a woman with demons on her heels--keeping herself indoors, installing extra locks on her bedroom doors, and insisting that Phil board up the windows that look out on the roof of the porch. Soon a policeman on leave has taken up residency in the cottage they've had up for lease, there are people lurking in the bushes, people taking potshots with guns, and....there's a woman's body floating in the swimming pool. Lieutenant O'Brien is certain that Judith's troubles and the woman's death have links to murder case from the past which included the shooting death of his mentor on the force. He and Lois work along their own lines while the local police and State Troopers try to figure out who the woman is and why she was killed on the grounds of The Birches. What Lois really finds out is just how little she knows about her family and the events of the last twenty-five years.

This book is a bit of a mixed bag--mostly good with a few annoying bits thrown in. First, the good: Rinehart is doing what she does best. The Gothic undertones in the isolated mansion. The heroine/s in danger. The misunderstood family motives and mysterious strangers doing who-knows-what and for who-knows-what-reason. Unidentified terror building up suspense. Foreshadowing and flashbacks. All good fun. The annoying bits: at 334 pages, Rinehart runs on for just a bit too long--we get several rounds of somebody (Lois, Phil, the family lawyer [who is not Phil], the cops, etc.) questioning Judith about what's wrong and why she's terrified and Judith insisting that there's nothing wrong (because obviously everybody wants extra locks for no reason and windows boarded up just because...). Phil is pretty much the most clueless lawyer ever and doesn't seem to be aware of much that goes on in the house unless Lois waves it under his nose in neon lights. And Lois seems remarkably naive when it comes to the $50,000 that her mother mysteriously received at time when cash wasn't all that plentiful. But--even with those annoying bits, Rinehart spins a good tale and I found myself enjoying myself a great deal. ★★ and a half.

Finished: 8/21/19
Deaths = 1 drowned, 3 shot, 1 strangled

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Singing in the Shrouds

Singing in the Shrouds (1958) by Ngaio Marsh finds Inspector Roderick Alleyn pursuing a serial killer who follows his deed with a bit of song. Three young women have been found strangled to death--their cheap necklaces broken and their bodies strewn with flowers. Witnesses in the vicinity of the murders report hearing a high-pitched male voice singing at about the time officials believe the deaths to have occurred. The last victim was a girl from a flower shop who had been sent to deliver flowers to Mrs. Dillington-Blick, a passenger on the South Africa-bound Cape Farewell. Clutched in the dead woman's hand was an embarkation notice from the ship which leads the police to believe that the murderer is also a passenger on the ship.

Alleyn joins the ship at its next port of call--but incognito. Neither Scotland Yard nor the ship's company (and captain) want to alarm the passengers or give the culprit warning if he really is on board, so he appears C. J. Broderick, cousin of chairman of the shipping company. He mingles with the passengers and crew and finds that his prime suspects include: Mrs. Dillington-Blick, a rubenesque beauty who has men buzzing round her like bees round a honey pot; Mr. and Mrs. Cuddy, a stodgy middle class couple who don't quite get the jokes; Katherine Abbot, a woman of somewhat masculine build who is an expert on church music; Mr. Philip Merryman, an acerbic retired schoolmaster; Father Charles Jourdain, an Anglo-Catholic priest; Brigid Carmichael, a young woman whose engagement has ended badly; Mr. Aubyn Dale, a television personality who is taking a trip to calm his nerves; Mr. Donald McAngus, an elderly bachelor; and Dr. Timothy Makepiece, the newly-boarded ship's doctor who also specializes in psychiatry. 

Unfortunately, the captain resents his presence and even actively hobbles a few of his efforts--though he does participate in a little game of "how good is your memory" to elicit a few alibis for the night of one of the Flower Murders. In the wake of this (and after cabling Fox to check up on the details), Alleyn is able to eliminate the good doctor and priest from the suspect list and enlists their aid in keeping watch over the women. There is a final murder before Alleyn can lay the murder by the heels. And even then he has to force a confession through a highly dramatic scene.

There are several things to like about this one--including the opening scene on the foggy London docks. Very atmospheric and full of suspense. I also enjoyed the closed-scene setting of the shipboard murder. It's nice to have Alleyn introduced early on and watch him work throughout though having Jourdain and Makepiece pinch-hit for the missing Fox and company doesn't work quite as well. I like Makepiece best when he is spending his time with Brigid (who gets over her broken engagement fairly rapidly). It's also a shame that Marsh cuts her suspect pool's not nearly as difficult to spot the killer when you have Fox cabling the all-clear on potential suspects.'s an entertaining mystery and Marsh produces an interesting serial killer plot for Alleyn to unravel. ★★ and a half.

Finished 8/17/19
Vintage Gold Card: When--on a trip
Deaths = four strangled

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Death After Breakfast: Review

Pierre Chambrun is the ultimate hotel manager. For years he has kept the elegant Beaumont Hotel running like a fine-tuned machine. He manages his own life with the same precision. He breakfasts each morning at the same time, attends to his duties on a precise schedule, and follows the same nightly rituals of checking on each little thing one more time before heading to his room. The Beaumont can attribute its reputation in part to the fact that Chambrun is never late. Well...almost never.

One fine morning when Chambrun has a breakfast interview scheduled with his old friend Eliot Stevens, editor and publisher of Newsview, he does not show up. In fact, he does not show up all day. He apparently went to his room per usual the night before and hasn't been seen since. That in itself is quite a problem for his right-hand man, Mark Haskell; his right-hand woman, Betsy Ruysdale; and hotel security chief, Jerry Dodd. But that's not of the guests has been brutally stabbed to death. Haskell has his job cut out for him trying to keep a lid on Chambrun's disappearance, keeping the hotel's high-ranking clientele happy, managing a society ball and a Hollywood film crew's use of the hotel as a backdrop for their latest movie. Not to mention figuring out what happened to his boss and helping Lieutenant Hardy's murder investigation.

Once again Pentecost (Judson Phillips) pulls from Chambrun's past in the French Resistance to serve up a fast-paced thriller in the rooms of the Beaumont Hotel. These stories are compellingly written and highly entertaining--so no complaints there. But I do wonder if perhaps might have been more comfortable writing war or spy thrillers. Novels about Chambrun's actual time spent in the Resistance might have been right up his alley since he keeps bringing in references or having Chambrun use Resistance-era skills or what-have-you. This is the third of the series that I've read in recent years that uses these themes.

One of the best parts of the novel is the introduction (at least to me--perhaps she has appeared in earlier stories) of Mrs. Victoria Haven, a feisty elderly woman who helps Chambrun catch the man who had him kidnapped (yes--kidnapped!) and who is the brutal killer of at least two women. She willing sets the trap to bring the killer back to the hotel and gets in on the grand finale by allowing Haskell to use her penthouse apartment as a lair to keep watch on Chambrun's rooms.

 Another fun, fast-paced mystery in the series. ★★ and a half.

Finished 8/10/19
Just the Facts: Silver --When (After Breakfast)
Deaths = 3 (one stabbed; one shot); one poisoned

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Murder in the Maze: Review

Murder in the Maze (1927) by J. J. Connington 

Roger and Neville Shandon are twins at birth...and at death. The men often took themselves to the twin centers of the lovely hedge maze in the grounds of Roger's estate Whistlefield. There they would seek peace and quiet away from their shiftless brother Ernest, the endless piano-playing of their young nephew Arthur Hawkhurst, and the various house guests that Arthur's sister Sylvia often invited. This time they went and found their eternal rest. 

When Sylvia's friends Vera Forrest and Howard Torrence decide to give the maze a try, Howard suggests they each race to a separate center. The winner to earn a tin of cocoa. But what they find in the center isn't the sweet feeling of victory--they each find a Shandon twin dead apparently from an air gun dart. But how could an air gun dart be so murderous? Quite easily when dosed with curare as Sir Clinton Driffield (Chief Constable) discovers when he arrives on the scene to investigate and hands the darts over to the (very convenient) local expert on rare poisons.

The primary mystery Sir Clinton and his Watson-like friend Squire Wendover must solve is why were both men killed? Roger Shandon was a cracking good barrister who just happened to be neck-deep in a prosecution of a very tricky case. The sharp examination by Roger will most likely send a crook to the criminal courts...a lesser man might not pull it off. And a man connected with the Hackleton case just happens to be in the neighborhood when the Shandons are killed. Was Neville mistaken for Roger and then when the murderer discovered that he'd killed the wrong man he polished off Roger afterward? Or was there a reason why both men needed to die? When three more attacks occur it begins to look like someone has it in for the entire family. Will Sir Clinton solve the mystery before all the Shandons and Hawkhursts are wiped out?

Curare and twins and hedge mazes and even air guns (flavor of Sherlock Holmes there) may be old hat by 2019, but I'm sure that mystery readers of the 1920s were probably much more surprised by these plot devices. And Connington uses them to good effect. Especially the hedge maze. The initial scenes where the bodies are discovered are very atmospheric and almost claustrophobic. The reader definitely shares the feeling of being trapped...and possibly hunted by the murderer...with Vera Forrest.

The story is also a good example of the fair play mystery of the Golden Age. Clues are displayed for the observant reader to find and it is definitely possible to divine the solution to the how, who, and why. This is the fourth Connington book that I've read and so far I've enjoyed them all. I particularly liked Sir Clinton and his interactions with Wendover--the good Squire comes up with some quite good solutions of his own (erroneous...but still) and Sir Clinton is surprised at how good they are and even seems a bit chagrined to have to tell his friend that he's not quite right. It was quite nice to have a Watson who was fairly clever himself. ★★

Wendover's appearance had earned him the kindly nickname [Squire] which the Chief Constable used. He was one of those red-faced hearty country gentlemen who, on first acquaintance, give an entirely erroneous impression of themselves. Met casually, he might quite easily have appeared to be a slightly fussy person of very limited intellect and even more restricted interests; but behind that facade lived a fairly actue brain which took a certain sly delight in exaggerating the misleading mannerisms. Wendover was anything but a fool, though he liked to pose as one. [p. 85)

What's wrong with your outlook on the business, Squire, is that you want to treat a real crime as if it were a bit clipped out of a detective novel. In a 'tec yarn, you get everything nicely sifted for you. The author puts down only things that are relevant to the story. If he didn't select his materials, his book would be far too long and no one would have the patience to plough through it. The result is that the important clues are thrown up as if they had a spotlight on them, if the reader happens to have any intelligence. (Sir Clinton Driffield; p. 109)

In real life...You get a mass of stuff thrown at your head in the way of evidence; and in the end nine-tenths of it usually turns out to be completely irrelevant. You've got to sift the grain from the chaff yourself, with no author do the rough work for you. (Ibid.)

I've no fault to find with your reasoning. It hangs together beautifully. But sometimes the human mind, if you follow me, is apt to assume connections where no such things exist in Nature. We've got an instinctive craving to trace associations between sets of phenomena--and at times we kid ourselves that there is some relationship when its only a case of simultaneity. (Sir Clinton; p. 150)

SW: Nothing's happened...
SC: Since the last time? No, it's a rather curious point which you may have noticed, Squire. Nothing ever does happen between the last time and the next time. That I should say was an almost invariable rule in life. (Squire Wendover, Sir Clinton; p. 156)

Finished 8/10/19
Gold Just the Facts: Character with similar job
Calendar of Crime: October (costume/disguise/mistaken identity)
Deaths = Two (poisoned)

Family Affair: Review

Family Affair (1941) by Ione Sandberg Shriber

Polly Drake is sent by her employer Mr. Henry Gregory to Beacon Hill, country estate of the Troy family who own the Beacon Machine Tool Company. Gregory works for the company and has some important papers for Godfrey Beacon, head of the firm, but an attack of gout has laid him up at home. So, he asks his secretary to take the envelope of papers with the instructions that she is to given them to no one but Godfrey Beacon.

Polly is excited by her mission--she's heard so much about the estate and about the extended Beacon family, but she's never had a chance (or a reason) to visit the house. She's also just a little bit in awe of and attracted to Clay Beacon, one of Godfrey's sons. But from the moment she sets foot in the house, she feels unwelcome. Dinah, Godfrey's only daughter, makes it quite plain that she wished Polly had never come and refuses to let her see the elderly man. She claims that her father is too ill to see anyone--especially non-family--and insists that Polly hand the papers over to her. But Polly knows her duty and, despite her position, declares that she must do as Mr. Gregory told her and is willing to wait as long as necessary for Mr. Beacon to be well enough.

Unfortunately, he never is well enough. He dies one evening...apparently from the severe asthma that has plagued him. But Dinah's beau, who just happens to be a doctor, isn't satisfied and Lieutenant Grady is sent to discover whether there has been any foul play. Family solidarity and a blizzard outside complicates his investigation. Then the nurse who had attended Godfrey Beacon disappears and he becomes sure that there has been a bit of dirty work. Polly discovers that the papers she was sent to deliver have been stolen and is even attacked herself before Grady manages to run the villain to earth. 

This is to my mind a fairly average 1940s mystery. Has a lot of standard plot points: female narrator in a suspenseful old house setting; a family full of suspicious-acting people; a blizzard to strand them all together; and a bit of romance (on two fronts) to liven things up. Grady is a fairly well-drawn detective, but I get the feeling this isn't his best outing (Kirkus Reviews tells me this is so). The murderer does use a rather ingenious method to "smother" his victim. Overall, a nice, quick read. ★★

Finished 8/6/19
Calendar = February ("F" word in title)
Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one smothered)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes

Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes (2009), edited by J. R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, is a walk on the wild, gruesome, slightly supernatural side with the great detective. There's murder galore--but it's not always human agents at work and even Holmes has his faith in pure logic shaken at times. As with all short story collections some of these work better than others and I can definitely say that I preferred the ones that did not mess with the Holmes canon. Not one, but two of these stories tell us that Watson flat-out lied to us about the Hound of the Baskervilles. I'm perfectly happy to have Holmes pastiches address all those stories that Watson tells us "the world is not yet ready for," those that get a passing mention in the original works. Or to have brand-new stories featuring Holmes at work in the horror and speculative fiction realms. But don't tell me that Watson got it wrong--whether deliberately or because Holmes didn't tell him the truth or whatever. I'm not buying it.

Another thing I'm not in the market for is a story that tells me that Moriarty also survived the Reichenbach Falls without supernatural intervention. Given the nature of the collection, I might believe that Moriarty survived zombie-fashion or was a vampire who could only die with a stake through the heart or some other-worldly creature took over his body--but don't tell me this normal human fell down the falls, bounced off a couple of huge rocks, and somehow survived to take revenge on Holmes. Just don't. We've already bought the Holmes return from the dead story and there's only so many impossible things that can be believed before...or after...breakfast.

Beyond that, there are some ingenious and haunting stories including "The Death Lantern" by Lawrence C. Connolly where Holmes, Watson, and Lestrade watch a man die (repeatedly) on an early version of the silent movie. But is all as it seems? Other favorites are listed below with brief synopses.

“The Tragic Case of the Child Prodigy,” by William Patrick Maynard: A ruthless man uses diabolical means to control the mother of a young violinist and the wealth generated by the prodigy.

“Celeste,” by Neil Jackson: Holmes and Watson are delegated by the Prince of Wales to discover the mystery behind the abandoned ship. There are some secrets that are better left alone....especially if you don't burn the secret up with fire once discovered. 

“The Affair of the Heart,” by Mark Morris: In which a human heart is delivered to Holmes and he and Watson find themselves involved in a time loop of sorts. Once they know whose heart it is will they be able use the time loop properly to save him/her?

“Mr. Other’s Children” by J. R. Campbell: finds Holmes in a particularly nasty situation. Having correctly identified the evil at work, he is unable to stop its escape into the world at large. Quite a horrific note on which to end the collection.


Finished 8/5/19
Deaths =15 (4 mauled to death; 3 shot; 3 stabbed; 1 explosion; 2 devoured; 2 crushed)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

And Then There Were None (audionovel)

Well, here it is and it is a honey. Imagine ten people, not knowing each other, not knowing why they were invited on a certain island house-party, not knowing their hosts. Then imagine them dead, one by one, until none remained alive, nor any clue to the murderer. Grand suspense, a unique trick, expertly handled. [Kirkus Reviews, Feb. 1 1939]

And Then There Were None (1939) is one of Agatha Christie's most famous mysteries and the plot is well-known among mystery fans. It regularly makes "Best Of" lists--from Best Crime & Mystery Novels to Best Books of the 20th Century to PBS's Great American Read. One would think that everyone would know the story by now. But I regularly find people in my life who don't--who have never read it. Or seen one of the adaptations. Or listened to it on audio. And every time I convince one of them to give it a try, I make the same offer. If they can read it and honestly tell me at the end of the book that they figured it out before the grand reveal...then I will buy them dinner at any restaurant of their choosing. Over 30 years of periodic offers and I have not had to pay up once. Dame Agatha was that good at what she did.

And even though I have read it (more times than I can count). I never get tired of reading/watching/listening. This time around I spent several trips to and from work listening to Hugh Fraser, of Hastings fame in the Poirot mystery series with David Suchet, narrate this ultimate tale of diminishing returns. Fraser does an excellent job voicing the characters and adding just the right dose of suspense to the telling. I really got swept up in the story and it was almost as good as if I were reading (listening) for the first time. ★★★★ for both the mystery itself and for the audio edition.

Finished 8/2/19
Deaths = 11 (4 poisoned; 1 strangled; 1 stabbed; 2 shot; 1 drowned; 2 hit)
   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]
Monthly Motif: Transportation plays important role. (You bet it's important. Since the boat doesn't come back when expected, these victims-to-be can't get off the island and avoid their fate.)

Monday, August 5, 2019

A Hard Rain

A Hard Rain (2002) by Dean Wesley Smith is a Star Trek novel focused almost entirely on Captain Jean-Luc Picard as 1940's private eye Dixon Hill. The real world Enterprise is danger--all ship's systems are offline because of the the ship's proximity to the "Blackness." The engines are working and the ship is drifting towards certain destruction. Commander Data and Geordie LaForge have been working like fiends to develop a device that will counteract the effects of the "Blackness" and go to the holodeck to do test runs of the device. 

But...the effects of the "Blackness" is such that their test program is taken over by the last holodeck program run. Which just happens to be the captain's Dixon Hill program. The device's main component (known hereafter as the Heart of the Adjuster) goes missing and it's up to Dixon Hill (the Captain), Data, and Beverly Crusher to take on the gangsters of the 1940s and find out who stole the Heart before the Enterprise is destroyed.

Occasionally, the writing flows smoothly--but mostly the story is wooden as is the dialogue and the book as a whole is pretty much a mess. The best part of the whole novel is Data quoting from all sorts of detective/crime novels from the Mack Bolan Executioner series to Inspector French to various fictional detectives created expressly to mention in the Dixon Hill story. It also appears to be a recycle of the STNG episode "The Big Goodbye"--even down to one of the team getting shot and the holodeck safety measures being off-line so the man's life really is in danger. In "The Big Goodbye" Dixon Hill was apparently hired to find a mysterious object. In this story Captain Picard as Dixon Hill is hunting for the "Heart of the Adjuster*"--which his crew in the real world actually needs. There's also a "Whelan" character who seems to be an echo of the Dr. Whalen who joined Picard, Beverly, and Data on the holodeck in the television episode. If it's meant to be an homage to that episode, it lacks the crisp dialogue and the freshness of the script. Not to mention that the solution of the mystery is downright silly.

*And...speaking of the Adjuster, Captain Picard and company seem to have lost a fair amount of their scientific smarts. This "gizmo" (Picard's word, not mine) that is some sort of important object that Data and Geordie need to fix what's wrong with the Enterprise is officially called an "Adjuster." That's some fancy, high-tech lingo right there. Doesn't even sound like Star Trek technobabble. And why do they need an Adjuster to fix what's wrong? Why because the "Blackness" (yes, friends, another high-tech word for the unknown astronomical field they encounter) is causing the ship's systems to go haywire. [I can be just as technical as the next guy, let me tell you.]

Another little pet many times are we going to call Dr. Beverly Crusher the "Luscious Bev"??? I mean, seriously. It doesn't even sound natural for Picard's hardboiled Dixon Hill character.

Not recommended at all--either as a Star Trek novel or as a mystery.

Calendar of Crime: November--author's birth month

The Mystery of the Fire Dragon: Spoilerish Review

The Mystery of the Fire Dragon (1961) is the 38th entry in the Nancy Drew mystery series. This time Nancy is called upon by her Aunt Eloise to investigate the disappearance of a young Chinese woman. The young woman is the granddaughter of Miss Drew's neighbor in her New York City apartment building. It soon becomes apparent that Chi Che has been kidnapped because she stumbled across something in her job at a bookstore that made her dangerous to a certain group of people. Nancy, Bess, and George set out to discover just what Chi Che found out and what these people are up to. The trail leads to Hong Kong--where fortuitously Carson Drew has business to attend to and Ned Nickerson just happens to be studying abroad. There are, in fact, several kidnappings, a couple of impersonations, and (as is to be expected) an exciting escape by Nancy. 

There are several of the Nancy Drew stories that I read over and over (The Clue of the Broken Locket and The Clue of the Dancing Puppet are two that come to mind). But Fire Dragon was never one of them. I haven't any idea why. It involves a bookshop that contains clues to the mystery. It has Nancy making a daring escape at the end. And--going back and reading it as an adult, I think the use of the mahjong sets as a cover for nefarious activities was quite interesting. Some of the material and viewpoints are a bit dated, but I think the adventure itself holds up rather well. It was a lot of fun revisiting this episode in the Nancy Drew adventures--particularly since I didn't remember every last detail the way I would for several of the stories. ★★★★

I was left with one question at the end of the day: Why did the bad guys steal Grandfather Soong's manuscript? If an explanation for that was given, I totally missed it.

Finished 7/29/19
Just the Facts Silver: Animal in title

Friday, August 2, 2019

4:50 from Paddington

4:50 from Paddington (1957) is one of Agatha Chritie's novels that I have read far less often than others (say...And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express). I have watched various productions of it...including the farcical Margaret Rutherford version (which, apart from squishing Elspeth McGillicuddy and Lucy Eyelesbarrow's parts into Miss Marple and throwing in the extraneous Mr. Stringer, is actually fairly faithful to Christie's plot)...and Joan Hickson's version several times. 

I've been rereading Christie's novels in publication order, but I'm afraid I've jumped rather ahead with this one. Fortunately, it's a BBC full-cast dramatization so I will feel fully justified in reading the complete novel when I reach that point in Christie canon.

The dramatization stars June Whitfield as the deceptively mild Miss Marple who takes on the case once her friend Elspeth McGillicuddy reports that she's just witnessed a murder while traveling on the train to visit Miss Marple in St. Mary Mead. As she looked out her compartment window at a train traveling on a parallel line, a window blind suddenly flew up and she saw the back of a man busily engaged in strangling a young woman. But after reporting the incident to both the railway officials and the police and an investigation by both parties, no evidence of a murder is found. It's suggested that perhaps Mrs. McGillicuddy misinterpreted what she saw--but Jane Marple knows her friend Elspeth. And if Elspeth McGillicuddy says she saw a woman being murdered, then obviously there is a dead body that just hasn't been found yet.

After determining the best place to pitch a dead body off the train, Miss Marple dispatches her young friend Lucy Eyelesbarrow (housekeeper extraordinaire) to work for the Crackenthorpes. Luther Crackenthorpe owns the country home that lies along the tracks and our sleuth is convinced that the woman's body is somewhere on the property. Of course, she's right--but tracking down both the body and the killer is going to be tricky. Especially if she's to find them before all of the Crackenthorpes go the way of the young woman on the train.

This was a very entertaining production by a talented group of actors. There was, of course, some paring down of the plot to accommodate the dramatization (rather than a full narration of the story). But the cuts that were made were hardly noticeable and didn't change the story in any real way. An enjoyable way to spend a mysterious evening. ★★★★

Finished 7/28/19
Just the Facts Golden: Death by Strangulation
Deaths = three; one strangled and two poisoned
Calendar of Crime: March--Inheritance major role

Friday's Forgotten Book: Tenant for the Tomb

Tenant for the Tomb (1971) by Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson) finds the irrepressible Arthur Crook, lawyer-detective whose clients are always innocent (Always.), mixed up with two ladies who plunge in where angels fear to tread and who can talk the hind leg off a donkey without batting an eye. He first meets Dora Chester and Imogene "Dotty" Garland on the train station at Penton. They and three others are waiting for the train to London. They get to chatting as you do when stuck in a train waiting room and Crook gets a taste of Imogene's unique brand of random, non sequitur talk. Then he and Dora witness what looks to be an attempt by Imogene's companion, Miss Styles (aka Miss Plum as named by Imogene), to shove Imogene under the train. 

Crook manages to grab Imogene in time and as he and Dora discuss the odd scene (there's really nothing to prove it wasn't just an accident or a slip on Imogene's part), the lawyer hands Dora his card and asks for her address. Just in case something happens. She's actually preparing to leave London and move to the Penton area, so..

Well, sugar, drop me a line before you go and give me the new address. No, I'm not making a pass--as if you ever thought I would--but if something does happen to Dotty I'd like to have my witness. And, like I said before, the time could even come when you could do with a bit of help yourself.

The next thing he knows something has happened. But it's Miss Styles who is dead and Imogene has disappeared. The two women had taken a hotel room in London and while Imogene was having a bath (at Miss Styles's suggestion) someone had shoved Miss Styles out the window. After the police finish a round of preliminary question and leave her in the charge of a nurse--more to keep an eye on her than because she's in shock, Imogene decides that having had to endure Miss Styles's constant companionship she isn't keen on being kept under the watch of another keeper and makes a bid for freedom. 

She's not sure where to go, but then she remembers Dora and her invitation to "come see me at my new house" sometime. time like the present. Once there, she and Dora join forces with Arthur Crook to find out who killed Miss Styles. And why Miss Styles behaved so oddly about where to stay. And why Miss Styles posted all her letters in another town rather than using the local post office. And why Miss Styles swore Imogene to secrecy over her brother. And just exactly who was blackmailing whom? The investigation will take them to a seedy seaside resort where Miss Styles had previously had a partnership in a run-down hotel and ends in a lonely churchyard where a freshly dug grave tempts our villain to try one more spot of murder.

I think this is my favorite Arthur Crook mystery yet. I've found that I much prefer the stories where the lawyer shows up early in the proceedings. As I've mentioned before, Gilbert/Malleson is much more effective when she's writing about her protagonist and his interactions with other characters. This particular plot contained numerous laugh-out-loud moments, especially when Crook, Imogene, and Dora are all on stage. The conversation runs like a comedy team's patter routine. And the plot is quite good too. I had my heart set on a certain culprit and managed to disregard any and all clues that Gilbert/Malleson provided along the way. ★★★★

Finished 7/28/19
Deaths = 3 (two pushed from height; one shot)
Silver Just the Facts: Where--primary death takes place in London (capital city)
Calendar of Crime: October (spooky scene)

You can postpone evil moments, but you can't put them off forever, not even the instance of death, your own or anyone else's (p. 19)

But in the end he didn't go to London, because soon after seven o'clock the next morning he was called by the police to say that, although Miss Styles had stayed put as any decorous corpse would, Miss Garland had disappeared. (p. 43)

DC: How can she help them? She was in the bath.
AC: They need a witness.
DC: People having baths don't expect to be asked to act as witnesses.
(Dora Chester, Arthur Crook; p. 57)

I was thinking about all the people who deserve medals and never get them. There's Mr. Crook going to face Charles and Flora singlehanded, and taking it as part of the day's work. I'd sooner be Daniel in the lions' den myself. Lions can only roar. (Imogene "Dotty" Garland, p. 69)

I'd back Miss Chester against a whole posse of police. Tell you the truth, I begin to feel quite sorry for the chaps, facing those two. Y'see, Miss Garland don't answer the question she thinks the police have in mind, like most of them do, she answers the actual question. You ask your criminal--suppose you're investigatin' the death of a cow, say--Did you notice the cow when you crossed the field this morning? and he'll hand you a lot of spiel about noticing it because it was behaving in a very rum manner, convulsions or something, and he did wonder should he say something to the farmer. But your sister she'll just say yes, she saw the cow, and if the chap tries to press her into an opinion on how it was behaving, she'll just tell him that not being a cow, she don't know the right way a cow should behave. That floors 'em. (Arthur Crook, pp. 76-7)

They [the police] ain't used to the truth, it has the same effect on them as whiskey on a total abstainer. (Crook, p. 77)

But it wasn't easy to silence Charles. Crook began to realize why he had (1) got into the House of Commons and (2) gave every sign of staying there. (p. 84)

I could do with a drink. It's been an afternoon of shocks and I'm not the chap I once was. I don't care what time of day it is. (Charles Garland, p. 101)

Murder's generally simple. It's the consequences that get so tangled up. (Crook, p. 123)

I'm sure they'll all try and make out that somehow, whatever's happened, it's Dot's fault. They do tend to treat her like a zany, and actually, even though her conclusions sometimes sound very odd, they're just as likely to be right as anyone else's. (Dora Chester, p. 173)

Challenge Complete: Cloak & Dagger

Stormi at Books, Movies & Reviews! Oh My! is a mystery and crime novel fan (like yours truly), so she wanted to do a challenge that incorporated all the different types of mystery and crime type novels. When the blog that use to do Cloak and Dagger Challenge gave it up, she decided to take it on and tweak it a bit to make it her own and she also asked Barb from Booker T’s Farm to help cohost it.

This is usually a slam dunk challenge for me--after all, mysteries make up about 90% of my reading diet. I signed up for the Sherlock Holmes level and reading 56+ books in the mystery and crime field--and completed that earlier in July.

1. The Winter Women Murders by David A Kaufelt (1/5/19) 
2. Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh (1/7/19) 
3. An African Millionaire by Grant Allen (1/10/19) 
4. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers (1/12/19) 
5. The Dead Shall Be Raised by George Bellairs (1/13/19) 
6. The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs (1/14/19) 
7. A Whiff of Cyanide by Guy Fraser-Sampson (1/15/19) 
8. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1/18/19) 
9. The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes by June Thomson (1/25/19)  
10. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (1/25/19)  
11. Blind Corner by Dornford Yates (1/27/19)  
12. A Death in the Night by Guy Fraser-Sampson (1/30/19)  
13. Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh (2/14/19)  
14. Blood of the North by James B. Hendryx (2/15/19)  
15. Where the Snow Was Red by Hugh Pentecost (2/16/19)  
16. Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins (2/19/19)  
17. No Patent on Murder by Akimitsu Takagi (2/21/19)  
18. Monsieur Lecoq by Emile Gaboriau (2/28/19)  
19. The Lucky Stiff by Craig Rice (3/1/19)  
20. Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (3/9/19)  
21. A Wreath for Rivera by Ngaio Marsh (3/11/19)  
22. Murdered: One by One by Francis Beeding (3/16/19)  
23. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (3/23/19)  
24. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (3/24/19)  
25. A Knife in the Back by Bill Crider (4/2/19)  
26. Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh (4/4/19)  
27. When in Rome/Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh [BBC Audio] (4/11/19)  
28. The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie (4/13/19)  
29. Gallows Court by Martin Edwards (4/13/19)  
30. Murder at the Mardi Gras by Elisabet M. Stone (4/20/19)  
31. Trixie Belden & the Mystery on the Mississippi by Kathryn Kenny (4/23/19)  
32. Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L. Sayers (4/23/19)  
33. The March Hare Murders by Elizabeth Ferrars (4/23/19)  
34. Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd (4/26/19)  
35. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (4/28/19)  
36. Is Skin Deep, Is Fatal by H.R.F. Keating (5/1/19)  
37. Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer (5/3/19)  
38. Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane (5/5/19)
39. Spinsters in Jeopardy by Ngaio Marsh (5/6/19)  
40. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (5/11/19)  
41. Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie (5/12/19)  
42. Miss Agatha Doubles for Death by H.L.V. Fletcher (5/16/19)  
43. The Lover by Laura Wilson (5/17/19)  
44. The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers (5/19/19)  
45. Beverly Gray's Island Mystery by Clair Blank (5/21/19)  
46. The Cream of Crime edited by Jeanne F. Bernkopf (5/26/19)  
47. The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur W. Upfield (6/1/19)  
48. River of Darkness by Rennie Airth (6/3/19)  
49. The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie (6/6/19)  
50. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (6/13/19)
51. Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh (6/16/19)  
52. The Father Hunt by Rex Stout (6/18/19)  
53. Killing the Goose by Frances & Richard Lockridge (6/24/19)  
54. Mystery of the Emerald Buddha by Betty Cavanna (6/29/19)  
55. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (7/1/19)  
56. Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh (7/7/19)  
57. The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams (7/12/19)