Friday, October 25, 2019

Blueprint for Murder

Blueprint for Murder (1948) by Roger Bax* is a rare thing for me--an inverted mystery. I generally find it very difficult to enjoy a mystery novel where there is very little mystery. The blurb on the back of my edition tries to make it seem more like a standard detective novel:

Wealthy industrialist Charles Hollison is found bludgeoned to death shortly after his son, Geoffrey, and nephew, Arthur Cross, return from World War II. As the principal beneficiaries of Charles's will, both men are suspects. Inspector James, called in to investigate, thinks he knows which of them is guilty.

But we know from the beginning who the guilty party is (Inspector James is right). And a nasty piece of work he is too.

When we first meet Arthur Cross, he is on the run towards the end of the war. He has made his way from a Nazi concentration camp (wearing a German uniform, by the way) and is trying to put as much distance between himself and the Germans and the invading Russians as possible. When he's just about on his last legs, a kindly Polish man and his daughter take him in after listening to his tale of an escape from the camp which involved knocking out a guard and stealing his uniform. He repays their kindness by murdering them. And we get our first glimpse of just how cold-blooded he is.

Upon his return to England, both he and his cousin Geoffrey are welcomed with gladness by Geoffrey's father, Charles. Arthur's parents died while he was young and Charles took him in and raised him as if he were another son. The elderly gentleman offers them both shares in the family business, a comfortable salary, and a home with him if they'd like it. He also (inadvisedly) tells them that he plans to update his will, leaving the bulk of his estate between them. 

Arthur has no desire to kick his heels in a stodgy business job. He plans to live life hard and fast (and fun) and needs a large influx of cash sooner rather than later. He also has pressing reasons to leave Europe and head for somewhere more remote. So, despite unemotionally recognizing how generous and kind Charles has been (and is being) to him, he begins methodically plotting his death. His goal is create an unbreakable alibi that will allow him to do the deed and even be suspected, but give the police no way to prove him guilty. And he does a pretty good job--using a method and devices that I'd not encountered before in my murderous reading. Once the crime is committed, the second leg of the book is spent wondering if Inspector James will find a break in the impenetrable alibi.

But, of course, there is one little thing that Arthur didn't think about...and when that begins to fall apart, the last leg of the book turns into a thriller with Arthur forcing his cousin to take him by boat into a raging winter storm and help him escape to Holland. Geoffrey must find a way to scuttle Arthur's plans and save both himself and the girl he loves.

This is a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the plus side, this is a marvelously plotted inverted mystery and I want to give credit to Bax for giving me an inverted mystery that I could appreciate. Bax has given Arthur the means to devise what really looks like an unbreakable alibi. I began to think that he might actually get away with it. And I thought the means by which his plot unravels was cleverly done as well. The ending was exciting and suspenseful without being too over-the-top (especially for a mystery portrayed in my edition as a police procedural). Negative points: there really is very little of Inspector James in this and very little actual detecting going on. James does a bit of interviewing--but most of the work is done off-stage. And, for me, there was way too much time spent with this cold-blooded, vicious killer and watching him plot the murder of a kindly, inoffensive man. But, even though it's really out of my comfort zone, it's a darn good mystery. ★★

*Bax is a pseudonym for Paul Winterton, an English journalist who wrote under the names of Bax, Andrew Garve and Paul Somers

Vintage Golden: What (Out of Comfort Zone)
Deaths = 3 (two drowned; one hit on head)
Feb = author's birth month

Monthly Motif 2020

Click on the link for full details. For this challenge each month is assigned a motif or theme. The task is to read one book each month that fits the motif...I've listed my tentative choices below.

January "Winter Wonderland": The Death of a Joyce Scholar by Bartholomew Gill (set in Ireland, that beautiful green island that I'd love to visit one day).

February "Seeing Red": Red Threads by Rex Stout or Murder in Bright Red by Frances Crane

March "Sub-Genre Sound Off" [Academic Mystery]: The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer OR Welcome Death by Glyn Daniel

April "Classics or Currents" (Birth Year): Nobody's Perfect by Douglas Clark OR What's in the Dark by Ellery Queen

May "Author Introduction" (New to Me Author):  Paint the Town Black by David Alexander OR The Murder Game by Steve Allen OR Say Yes to Murder by W. T. Ballard

June "Name or Number": Take Two at Bedtime by Margery Allingham OR Death of a Millionaire by G.D.H. & Margaret Cole OR Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate OR Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon

July "Around or Out of this World": The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler (Portugal) OR Death in Berlin by M. M. Kaye

August "Creature Feature":  Thurber's Dogs by James Thurber OR Jerry Todd and the Rose-Colored Cat by Leo Edwards OR Cats Don't Smile by D. B. Olsen OR The Proud Cat by Frances & Richard Lockridge

September "When Text Just Isn't Enough": Detective novel with either map or family tree or crossword puzzle included

October "Thrills & Chills": Five Victorian Ghost Novels by E. F. Bleiler (ed) OR Classic Ghost Stories by various OR The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost by John Bellairs

November "Dynamic Duos": Murder in a Hurry OR Death Has a Small Voice OR Curtain for a Jester by Frances & Richard Lockridge (Mr. & Mrs. North) OR If the Shroud Fits by Kelley Roos (Jeff & Haila Troy)

December "Sugar & Spice & Everything Nice": Mrs. Jeffries & the Feast of St. Stephen by Emily Brightwell

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Color Coded Challenge 2020: My Sign-Up

Every year I think I've used up my last title with "Brown" (or a shade of brown) for the Color Coded Reading Challenge and every year I prove myself wrong (or buy more books with suitable titles). I'll keep signing up as long as I have suitable titles (I'm determined to use titles and not covers).

Here's the basic rule: read nine books with the various colors listed below in their titles or as a dominant color/image on their covers. For full details, click the link above. I'll list my books and date read as they come.

1. Read book with "Blue" (or a shade of blue):
2. Read a book with "Red" (or a shade of red):
3. Read a book with "Yellow" (or a shade of yellow):
4. Read a book with "Green" (or a shade of green):
5. Read a book with "Brown" (or a shade of brown):
6. Read a book with "Black" (or a shade of black):
7. Read a book with "White" (or a shade of white):
8. Read a book with any other color:
9. Read a book a word/image that implies color (rainbow, polka dot, etc):

Calendar of Crime 2020: My Sign-Up

Ellery Queen's Calendar of Crime (Signet Edition)
As mentioned elsewhere, mysteries are my primary go-to reads. So it shouldn't be difficult for me to fill up a Calendar of Crime with all sorts of murderous reading dates. The goal--at least one month-related mystery book (see chart below) per month for a total of 12 books. If you'd like to join me, click on the link for full details.


Monthly Key Word 2020: My Sign-Up

For the last two years, I have hosted the Monthly Key Word Challenge. I took it up when the most previous host's blog disappeared. The challenge has now gone back home to the original host, Kim who blogs with Tanya at Girlxoxo. I'm pleased to join her as she sponsors it once again and I encourage you to join us as we read books for the monthly prompts (image above). Just click the link to head to her page.


Virtual Mount TBR 2020: My Sign-Up

image credit--ST:The Next Generation holodeck with Capt. Picard

Every year my goal is to read from my own stacks (hence the original Mount TBR Challenge). And every year I decide that there are TBR books that I don't own that I just have to Read. So--with my Virtual Mount TBR Challenge, I get to count that mountain too. I'm starting with Rum Doodle and, hopefully, I won't get too carried away with library books. Though it would be nice to say that I've climbed the steps to Vulcan's Mount Seleya....

click to enlarge

If you have tons of books on your want to read list that you don't own, then please join me as we tackle fictional mountains in the TBR world. Just click on the link above.

Rum Doodle

Mount TBR 2020: My Sign-Up

January 2020 kicks off the ninth year for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge and, despite climbing like mad and conquering Mount Everest on the regular each year, I still have mountain ranges to climb. And miles of bookcases to read before I sleep (or something like that). I just can't resist a good old fashioned used bookstore (though they are becoming rarer and rarer) or the community Hoosier Hills Food Bank Book Sale which adds to the mountains as fast as I knock books off.

So, once again, I plan to concentrate on reading primarily from my own books in the coming year. Perhaps I will actually plant a flag on Mount Olympus before I'm declared goal will remain Mount Everest. Please join me in  knocking out some of those books that have been waiting for attention for weeks...months...even years. See link above for details.

Pike's Peak
Mount Blanc
Mt. Vancouver
Mt. Ararat
Mt. Kilimanjaro
El Toro
Mount Everest

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza: My Sign-Up

I am, of course, going to sign up for my very own Vintage Mystery Extravaganza Challenge. And it's fitting that this is my first sign-up for the 2020 challenge year--because this is the first challenge that I ever sponsored. It is very near and dear to my heart. I'm in for the basic level in both Gold and Silver...but you all know me, I'll be trying to do all twenty of the basic prompts as well as the bonus levels. Hope you'll join me--just click the link above for all the details.

Basic Level: Commandments/Rules/Devices (Gold)

Basic Level: Commandments/Rules/Devices (Silver)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Case of the Missing Servant (mini-review)

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall is the first in a detective series featuring Vishi Puri, owner and chief investigator of India's Most Private Investigations. In this first recorded outing (he, like Sherlock Holmes, had many investigations that haven't been told), he has two investigations going at once. In the first, he is looking into the case of the titular missing servant. In the other, he has been asked by one of his national heroes to check out the man's potential son-in-law. Brigadier Kapoor, like Trump, isn't really interested in facts. He just wants Puri to dig up dirt on the fellow because he doesn't consider him a "real man" (he never served in the military--which seems to be the gold-standard for determining real men with the Brigadier). Meanwhile, someone has been taking potshots at Puri and his mother (who has learned a thing or three about detecting from her late husband) sets out to find those responsible because she doesn't think Puri is taking it seriously enough. Winds up both mother and son are pretty good detectives. 

This was such a breath of fresh air after I tried reading H. R. F. Keating's first Inspector Ghote book (The Perfect Murder). The cases are interesting and we see quite a bit of Puri's techniques for investigating--not to mention his mother's successful investigation into who might be trying to kill her son. Hall's story feels much more authentic than Keating's and is full of humor without poking fun at the culture he is representing. Vishi Puri is India's greatest detective--at least in his own mind--and it is amusing to read his self-important "memoir." I also took great delight in the the nicknames he gives his employees...from Handbrake (his driver) to Facecream (his undercover woman). We also learn quite a bit about Indian culture through a narrative that is full of wit and brilliant descriptions. Great fun. ★★

Deaths = 1 (stabbed)

The Unexpected Guest

The Unexpected Guest (1999) by Agatha Christie (1954; play version) and Charles Osborne (novel adaptation)

The unexpected guest is Michael Starkwedder who has come to Wales to visit the country of his mother's youth and perhaps buy a house. The night is foggy and he runs his car into a muddy ditch. When he goes for help at the nearest house, he finds that he's not the only unexpected guest there--death has visited the home of Richard and Laura Warwick. The master of the house, Richard, lies dead of a gunshot wound and Laura stands nearby with the gun in her hand. She swears that she has killed her husband because he was cruel to her and others in the house, but Michael doesn't believe her. He thinks she's covering for someone else and he decides to help her fool the police. They manufacture evidence pointing towards a man who swore vengeance on Richard after he ran over the man's son. (Richard was exonerated of guilt because the nurse who was with him swore he was sober and driving under the speed limit.) But when the police try to track the vengeful MacGregor down, they find that he died some time ago in Canada. 

So who did it? Did Laura really kill her husband after all. Maybe it was her lover--the man Michael thinks Laura is covering for. As the story goes on, everyone from Richard's mother to his half-brother to his secretary/housekeeper to his valet/male nurse seems to have a motive to do away with the unpleasant man--or at least to shield someone they think did it. So they all look suspicious. The police decide they've found their man/woman in the end...but did they?

I'm very tempted to count this for 1954 (for a couple of challenges)--while the novelization was published in 1999, Osborne has, according to Wikipedia, not added one jot or iota to the Christie play. "The novelisation is a straightforward transfer of the stage lines and directions of Christie's script into a written narrative." The book's play roots are pretty apparent, especially when stage directions are worked into the narrative. For example, "He crossed to the french window, held back a curtain, and peered out as though seeking inspiration." But the story itself is worthy of Dame Agatha and the fact that I spotted the killer doesn't detract from that--especially since I just latched onto the person as soon as they came on the scene and didn't really worry about whether clues were pointing that way or not. It would be nice to see the play (or read the script) and see exactly how Christie intended it. ★★ and 1/2.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe (1950) by C. S. Lewis is the classic fantasy/fairy tale about Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan--their discovery of the world of Narnia beyond the fur coats in the wardrobe and what they found and did there. The book is many things: It is, as Lewis tells us in his note to his own Lucy (his godchild), a fairy tale. It is a story to amuse children on a rainy afternoon. It is a rollicking good adventure story. It is also a meaningful allegory--telling the story of Christianity in simple form, but never getting preachy about it. 

I'm pretty sure that this was the first fantasy novel that I ever read; the first fairy tale beyond short stories like "Red Riding Hood" and those found in The Blue Fairy Book. I loved the adventure and the simple tale of good versus evil--with good, of course, triumphing. I enjoyed watching the children battle alongside Aslan and his woodland creatures and being crowned kings and queens at the end. I also loved Mr. Tumnus and his decision to do what was right even though he knew it would cost him. And I adored the Beavers--they added just the right amount of humor to the story.

Reading it again after forty years (or so), I find that I still love all those things--just as much as if I were reading it for the first time all over again. I found myself still indignant over Edmund's treatment of Lucy and wishing he weren't so very selfish there at the beginning. But at least he makes up for it in the end. This really is a lovely children's book with plenty to appreciate when you're an adult as well. ★★★★  then--and now.

[Finished 10/16/19]

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Perfect Murder (mini-review)

The Perfect Murder (1964) by H. R. F. Keating

Spoiler Alert! There is NO murder in The Perfect Murder. Sorry about that. But for all of you who might pick this up thinking that this is one of those impossible crimes or that your murder mystery actually has a murder in it, I thought you ought to know. I also think you ought to know that this is (in my opinion) far from the perfect anything--story, crime novel, etc. This is my second outing with Keating writing under his own name* and I have to say that I am beginning to think that he just isn't for me.

But...back to the story. Why, you might ask, is it called "The Perfect Murder" if there's no murder and what we do have going on isn't perfect? Glad you asked. It seems that the secretary of Lala Varde, a prosperous businessman, has been bashed over the head with a candlestick. Lala Varde reported it to the police as a murder--because by his logic someone was trying to murder his secretary, so by golly it's murder. Even if it didn't succeed. The name caught on with the newspapers and such and nobody seems to care that the man really didn't die. The ever-conscientious Inspector Ghote is assigned to the case and is immediately faced with lies, disdain, and corruption.

So...I'll just fess up now and tell you that I did not read every word of this. Not even as much as every other word. Only enough that I decided that I could legitimately count it for a few challenges and I'm shoving this thing off my Mount TBR and sending it back to the library's used book shop where it came from. I skimmed to the end just so I could know what really happened. Kate over at crossexamingingcrime says that Keating is "good at establishing an interesting setting in a culture which readers can identify with but also find difference in." I'm afraid I didn't find this to be the case. I never did settle into the setting that Keating gave us and I certainly didn't warm to the methods of Ghote and the culture surrounding him as represented. And don't even get me started on Lala Varde and his never-ending need to make silly rhymes about everything when talking. No rating because I didn't really read closely enough to hand one out. Others have handed out four and five your mileage may vary.

*I have also read a couple of his historical mysteries written under the name Evelyn Hervey. I enjoyed those more--handing out three stars.

Calendar of Crime 2020

photo credity: Ellery Queen's Calendar of
Crime (Signet edition)
Ready for another year of mysterious months and dangerous days? I'm pleased to sponsor the 2020 edition of the Calendar of Crime. Just a reminder that this mystery-based challenge allows readers to include any mystery regardless of publication date. If it falls in a mystery category (crime fiction/detective novel/police procedural/suspense/thriller/spy & espionage/hard-boiled/cozy/etc.), then it counts and it does not matter if it was published in 1892 or 2020. 

The Rules
~Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2020. All books should be read during this time period. Sign up at any time. If you have a blog, please post about the challenge. Then sign up via the form below and please make the url link to your challenge post and not your home page. If you don't have a blog, links to an online list (Goodreads, Library Thing, etc.) devoted to this challenge are acceptable OR you may skip that question.

~All books must be mysteries. Humor, romance, supernatural elements (etc.) are all welcome, but the books must be mysteries/crime/detective novels first.

~Twelve books, one representing each month, are required for a complete challenge and to be eligible for the end-of-year prize drawing. Each month comes with several categories (see chart above) that may be selected to fulfill the month's reading. If you would like the excel version of the chart to use or have any questions about fulfilling a category, please email me at phryne1969 AT gmail DOT com. I also have a spreadsheet of DOBs for authors on my TBR and read list (at least all that I could track down). You can email me for that list as well.

~To claim a book, it must fit one of the categories for the month you wish to fulfill. Unless otherwise specified, the category is fulfilled within the actual story. for instance, if you are claiming the book for December and want to use "Christmas" as the category, then Christmas figure in some in the plot. Did someone poison the plum pudding? Did Great-Uncle Whozit invite all the family home for Christmas so he could tell them he plans to change his will?

~The "wild card" book is exactly that. If July is your birth month (as mine is), then for category #9 you may read any mystery book you want. It does not have to connect with July in any way--other than a July baby chose it. The other eleven months, you must do the alternate category #9 if you want to fulfill that slot.

~Book title categories: "The," "A," and "An" do not count as the first word. 

~Books may only count for one month and one category, but they may count for other challenges (such as my Vintage Mystery Extravangaz). If it could fulfill more than one category or month, then you are welcome to change it at any time prior to the final wrap-up.

~Books do not have to be read during the month for which they qualify. So--if you're feeling like a little "Christmas in July" (or May or...), then feel free to read your book for December whenever the mood strikes.

~A wrap-up post/comment/email will be requested that should include a list of books read and what category they fulfilled. [Example: January: The House of Sudden Sleep by John Hawk (original pub date January 1930)]

~The headquarters link in the left-hand sidebar will be updated in January for 2020 for easy access to this original challenge post, monthly review link-ups, and the final wrap-up. The final wrap-up link will not go live until the end of 2020, so please save your notification until that time. 

~If you post to Facebook, Instagram, or other social media about the challenge, please use #CalendarOfCrime2020.

~Prizes! All participants who complete the challenge will be eligible for an end-of-year prize drawing. There will also be a "My Calendar's Booked" prize for the challenger who fills their calendar with the most books, so you are encouraged to read more than one category for each month. In case of a tie, there will be a drawing among the folks who booked-up their year so fully.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Virtual Mount TBR 2020

image credit--ST:The Next Generation holodeck with Capt. Picard

Last year I created the Virtual Mount TBR Reading Challenge for all those folks who had asked me why library books couldn't count for the Mount TBR Challenge. It has been such a success that I plan to keep it as a regular challenge feature here at the Block.

This challenge is for folks who have a long "wish-list" of TBRs who would like a chance to tackle those mountains as well. The strategy and general set-up is the same as for the regular Mount TBR--but you don't own the books. Heard about a great book from a friend, took note of the title, and then never got around to reading it? Saw a book online that you thought sounded intriguing but you keep putting off ordering it up from the library? You borrowed a book from somebody and need an extra push to read it and return it? This is the place for you!

Challenge levels:
Mount Rum Doodle: Read 12 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Mount Crumpit: Read 24 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Mount Munch: Read 36 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
White Plume Mountain: Read 48 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Stormness Head: Read 60 books from you Virtual TBR/Wish List Library
Mount Mindolluin: Read 75 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Mount Seleya: Read 100 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Mount Olympus: Read 150+ books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library

In keeping with the virtual nature of the challenge, all mountains are fictional (reference in comments below). How many do you recognize? The only one shared by both TBR challenges is Olympus--both fictional and on Mars. However, since I don't know actual heights, I have arbitrarily assigned levels.

The Rules:
~This challenge is only for books you do not own. They may be borrowed from the library, a friend, found on a free e-book site (like Project Gutenberg), or anywhere else that allows you to temporarily "checkout" the book. Also--unlike Mount TBR--there is no date limit on your wish list. If you see a book that strikes your fancy after January 1 and want to grab it from the library, etc. then go for it.

~Once you choose your challenge level you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find you are on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are welcome to upgrade. All books counted for lower mountains carry over towards the new peak.

~Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2020. You may count any "currently reading" book that you begin prior to January 1--provided you have 50% or more of the book to finish when January 1 rolled around. Exception: if you participated in the 2019 Virtual Mount TBR and did not finish a book in time to count it towards that challenge, then you may count it as your first step of 2020 regardless of how much you had left to read.

~Rereads may count if you have not yet counted it for a Virtual Mount TBR Challenge.

~You may count "Did Not Finish" books provided they meet your own standard for such things; you do not plan to ever finish it; and you move it off your virtual mountain.

~Books may be used for other challenges as well.

~There will be a year-end check point and prize drawing!

~A blog and reviews are not necessary to participate. If you have a blog then please post a challenge sign-up and link that post (not your home page) in the form below. Non-blogger may skip that question on the form--OR, if you are a member of Goodreads, you may join the challenge there. Feel free to sign up HERE if that's where you want to participate.

~If you post on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media about the challenge or books read, please use #VirtualMountTBR2020.

~The headquarters link in the left-hand side-bar will be fully updated at the beginning of January.

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2020

January 2020 kicks off the ninth year for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge and, despite climbing like mad and conquering Mount Everest on the regular each year, I still have mountain ranges to climb. And miles of bookcases to read before I sleep (or something like that). I just can't resist a good old fashioned used bookstore (though they are become rarer and rarer) or the community Hoosier Hills Food Bank Book Sale which adds to the mountains as fast as I knock books off.

So, once again, I plan to concentrate on reading primarily from my own books in the coming year. Perhaps this year I will actually plant a flag on Mount Olympus...but my declared goal will remain Mount Everest. Please join me in knocking out some of those books that have been waiting for attention for weeks...months...even years.

Challenge Levels:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancounver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

The Rules (a few minor adjustments from previous years indicated in green):
*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. You are welcome to voyage further and conquer taller mountains after your commitment is met. All books from lower mountains carry over towards the next peak.

*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2020

*You may sign up at any time--no matter when you see this challenge. All qualifying books read after January 1st count.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2020--items requested or ordered prior to January 1, may count even if they arrive in the new year. No library books~. If you're looking for a library book challenge or one that counts books on your non-owned TBR list, then please see Mount TBR's sister challenge: the Virtual Mount TBR Challenge (click the link).
   ~The ONLY exception to the library rule: If you own the book in any form and have a reason to check out a version from the library instead, then you may count it. For example--if you own a hard copy, but are planning on taking a trip where listening to the audio version would be a great way to knock out a book while you drive, then by all means check out the audio version and have a wonderful trip! Please check with me if you have questions.

*Rules for Rereads: Any reread may count, regardless of how long you've owned it, provided you have not counted it for a previous Mount TBR Challenge.

*Audiobooks and E-books may count provided they are yours prior to January 1.

*You may count any "currently reading" book that you begin prior to January 1--provided you had 50% or more of the book left to finish when January 1 rolled around. I will trust you all on that. The only exception is if you have participated in Mount TBR in 2019 and were unable to finish the book in time for the final Check-in Post. Then--if you finish the book post-January 1, you may count it as your first step of the new challenge.

*You may count "Did Not Finish" books provided they meet your own standard for such things, you do not plan to ever finish it, and you move it off your mountain [give it away, sell it, remove from e-resources, etc.]. For example, my personal rule (unless it's a very short book) is to give it 100 pages. If I decide I just can't finish it and won't ever, then off the mountain it goes and I count it as a victory--the stack is smaller!

*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

*Feel free to submit your list in advance or to tally them as you climb.

*There will be a year-end check-in and prize drawing! 

*A blog and reviews are not necessary to participate. If you have a blog, then please post about the challenge and link that post (not your home page) in the form below. My link provider has limited the number of link "parties" I can have open at a time--so I will be using Google forms for all my sign-up links this year. Non-bloggers may enter their names only without a blog link OR members of Goodreads are welcome to join the Goodreads group HERE

*If you post on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media to log a book, please use #MountTBR2020.

* As I have in the past, I will have a headquarters link in the left hand side-bar which will offer links to this original post, monthly review links, and the final wrap-up.

Happy climbing!

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza: Reading Challenge 2020

Having discovered the delights (and temptations) of reading challenges during my first year of blogging (2010), I decided try my hand at hosting a challenge for the next year. My abiding love of classic mysteries suggested the theme of Vintage Mysteries and so an almost 10-year journey was begun. Since I am celebrating 10 years of blogging in 2020 and the 10th Anniversary of the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge in 2021, I have put together a Vintage Mystery Extravaganza version of the challenge to run in both years. As has been the case since 2014, readers may choose either Golden or Silver eras (or, for the more adventurous, both) to claim completion of any level.

General Rules
*Challenge runs January 1, 2020 through December 31st 2020. Any books read January 1 or later may count regardless of sign-up date.

*All books must be from the mystery category (crime fiction, detective fiction, espionage, etc.). The mystery/crime must be the primary feature of the book--ghost stories, romance, humor, etc. are all welcome as ingredients, but must not be the primary category under which these books would be shelved at the library or bookstore.

For the purposes of my challenge, Golden Age mysteries must have been first published before 1960. Golden Age short story collections (whether published pre-1960 or not) are permissible provided all of the stories included in the collection were originally written pre-1960. Please remember that some of our Golden Age authors wrote well after 1959--so keep an eye on the original publication date and count them appropriately. Silver Age mysteries may be first published from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive). Again, Silver Age short story collections published later than 1989 are permissible provided none of the stories are first published later than 1989. Yes, I admit my dates are arbitrary (and personal to me) and may not exactly meet standard definitions of Golden or Silver Age.

*If you have a blog please post about the challenge and a little about your commitment--if you're going Silver or Gold...or maybe both in some of the levels. Then sign-up via the form below. Please use the url link for your Challenge post and not your home page. Those without blogs may leave that blank or enter the url for a Goodreads or Library Thing list, ect.

The Basic Level for the Vintage Mystery Extravaganza: 
Commandments/Rules/Common Devices
Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was a member of the Detective Club who penned the original commandments for detective fiction writers. S.S. Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright; 1888-1939) was a detective novelist from the early years who compiled his own list of rules for detective fiction writers. To complete the most basic level of this year's challenge and to be eligible for the prize drawing at the end of the year, challengers must read five books in a chosen era (Golden or Silver) related in some way to five different categories from the combined lists. Bonus points for completing more categories and more than one book per category as well as completing the challenge for both eras. You are welcome to interpret these creatively:

1. The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know. (Knox/Van Dine #10) Now--I don't want to encourage spoilers, so elements for eligible books may include any of the following: unreliable narrator/source of any sort (does not have to be the villain--may just be telling us fibs for their own purposes); criminal winds up being some random, marginal character or someone thrust upon the reader in the last half of the book; etc.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course. (Knox) The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic seances (especially to frighten the culprit into giving himself away--see Van Dine #20), crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. (Van Dine #8) and The method of murder, and the means of detecting it must be rational and scientific. (Van Dine #14) Any book that includes a supernatural aspect (real or imagined) is fair game. 

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable (Knox). A book with any amount of secret rooms/passages will qualify.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end. (Knox). No use of the hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (Van Dine #20) Any book that uses poisons, ingenious devices, hypodermics, etc. may count here.

5. No Chinaman must figure in the story. (Knox) Any book that features someone of Asian heritage in a prominent way--culprit, suspect, victim, witness, detective.

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right. (Knox) The culprit must be determined by logical deductions--not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. (Van Dine #5) Any book where it seems that the detective has pulled his/her solution out of the air or where you are completely unsatisfied with the explanation may count. 

7. The detective himself must not commit the crime. (Knox) The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. (Van Dine #4). Again, to avoid spoilers, any book where the detective, a police officer, other law/justice-related person, or the narrator is suspected of the crime (not necessarily ultimately guilty).

8. The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover. (Knox) The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described. (Van Dine #1) No wilful tricks or deceptions may be played on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself. (Van Dine #2) The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent--provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. (Van Dine #15) Any book where you feel the detective is holding clues/knowledge back or you just feel like you were unfairly bamboozled by the author.

9. The "sidekick" of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly below that of the average reader. (Knox). Again--any book where you feel the narrator is not playing fair with the information given. 

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them. (Knox) There shall be no final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent person. (Van Dine #20) Any book where twins or doubles figure. Impersonation of any sort. Mistaken identity.

11. There must be no love interest. (Van Dine #3) Any book with love/romance as a prominent feature. [Just about any Patricia Wentworth, for instance)

12. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. (Van Dine #6) This is pretty much a free space--any mystery with a real detective in it (professional or amateur).

13. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. (Van Dine #7) Any mystery that does NOT have a murder in it--think burglary, kidnapping, forgery, spying (with no dead bodies mentioned), etc.

14. There must be but one detective--that is, but one protagonist of deduction--one deus ex machina. (Van Dine #9) Any book where you have more than one detective (loosely interpreted). For instance, books with an amateur detective working in concert with or separately from the official force. (Holmes & Lestrade; Lord Peter Wimsey and Charles Parker; etc.)

15. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. (Van Dine #11) To avoid spoilers--any book where a servant is important in any way--culprit, suspect, victim, vital witness, detective.

16. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders. (Van Dine #12) Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. (Van Dine #13) A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. (Van Dine #17) Any book with more than one culprit, a professional criminal, OR with a reference to any secret society. The secret society does not have to be responsible for any murders done--just play a role in the narrative.

17. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. (Van Dine #16) Any book you think goes on a bit much about the countryside, delves too deeply into psychology, or breaks Van Dine's rule in any way.

18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. (Van Dine #17) Any book that features a death looks like accident or suicide--whether it winds up really being murder or not.

19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction--in secret-service tales, for instance. (Van Dine #19) Read a spy/espionage novel; military intrigue; international super-villains; etc.

20. The remaining over-used devices listed under Van Dine's #20: Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. Forged fingerprints. The dummy-figure alibi. The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. The commission of the murder in a locked room after the poilice have actually broken in. The word association test for guilt. The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth. One book that employs any of these devices OR any device that you would argue has been over-used to the point of cliche.

Bonus Levels: Vintage Mystery Challenge over the years

Once a challenger has read the five books for the basic-level challenge, they are welcome to complete any of the bonus levels focused on each variation of the Vintage Mystery Challenge since it began. Each level requires new books in addition to those already read and when completed will add extra entries for the prize drawing at the end of the year. Even though the original version may have called for Golden Age books only, five or six books in Silver are also acceptable. Please click on the links for the individualized rules for each version.

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2011  
To complete this level, challengers must complete the Murderous Mood level of the original challenge with five books.

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2012: Vintage Themes

To complete this level, challengers must complete at least five books in a chosen theme. .

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2013: Scattergories

To complete this level, challengers must complete at least five books in five of the categories listed.

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2014: Bingo

To complete this level, challengers must complete one valid Bingo on either Golden or Silver card.

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2015: Bingo
To complete this level, challengers must complete one valid Bingo on either Golden or Silver card.

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2016: Scavenger Hunt 
To complete this level, challengers must find five of the required items on book covers. [None from books read previously]

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2017: Scavenger Hunt

To complete this level, challengers must find five of the required items on book covers. [None from books read previously]

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2018: Just the Facts, Ma'am
 To complete this level, challengers must complete one book for each notebook item (6 total).

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2019: Just the Facts, Ma'am 
To complete this level, challengers must complete one book for each notebook item (6 total)