Saturday, November 30, 2019

2020 SpaceTime Reading Challenge


I've still got science fiction books hanging out on the TBR mountainscapes, so I'm going to jump on board Jemima's spaceship again and sign up for her 2020 SpaceTime Reading Challenge. This works better for me than the limited challenges I used to participate in since I'll have a whole year to read science fiction rather than trying to arrange my January reading schedule around SF. Here's the brief description of the challenge (for full details and to sign up follow the link above):

SpaceTime Reading Challenge

You choose your book, from any part of the science fiction genre universe – hard scifi, military, scifi romance, space opera, first contact, time travel, whatever.  It’s up to you.  You add the book to your list of books read, with a review, as short or long as you like.  Make your own rules about ‘only Hugo winners’, or ‘only space opera’…  as you wish.

There are several levels. I plan on starting with the first level 

~5 Books: Planet Hopper


1. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Scott Turton [Time loop] (1/15/20)
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Book Challenge by Erin 12.0


Basic Rules
~First and foremost, have fun. Don't stress. No one is being judged, graded, or penalized. Even if you finish only one book the entire challenge, if you enjoy it and it's an accomplishment for you, then that's awesome. 
~The challenge will run from JANUARY 1, 2020 to APRIL, 2020. No books that are started before 12 a.m. on January 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on April 30 will count. (We live in different time zones – follow this according to your own time zone.) 
~Each book must be at least 200 pages long. Audio books are fine too.
~For full details see Erin's page on Facebook: Book Challenge by Erin 12.0

Here are this round's categories and my preliminary choices:
*5 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages 
Murder on the Waterfront by Michael Jahn (256 pages) [1/20/20]
*10 points: Read a book that starts with “I” 
Information Received by E. R. Punshon (272 pages)
*10 points: Read a book written by two or more authors
Spin Your Web, Lady! by Frances & Richard Lockridge (218 pages)
*15 points: Read a book with a picture of a tree (or forest) on the cover 
Deep Lay the Dead by Frederick C. Davis (304 pages)
*20 points: Read a book with one of the following words in the title: who, what, when, where, why 
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Alison Hoover Bartlett (274 pages)
* 20 points: (selected by Vinay) – Read a book set in Africa
Death in Kenya by M. M. Kaye (208 pages)
*25 points: (selected by Darlene) – As a nod to our female family members, read a book that has one of the words in the title: mother(s), sister(s), wife/wives, grandmother (or variation of), daughter(s), niece(s), aunt(s) 
The Crying Sisters by Mabel Seeley (252 pages
*30 points: (selected by Deborah) – Read a book that has won an Edgar award 
Mystery of the Haunted Pool by Phyllis A. Whitney (219 pages; Best Juvenile Mystery 1961) [1/3/20]
*30 points: (selected by Debdatta) – Read a “locked room mystery” book 
The Plague Court Murders by Carter Dickson (312 pages)
*35 points: Read a book from the lists given in Show Us Your Books faves from 2018 (because they haven’t posted 2019 faves yet.)
Palaces for the People by Eric Klineberg (277 pages; from Jana's list of favorite nonfiction)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

When I Am An Old Woman

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

I first encountered this poem in my teens and loved it. I collected it in my treasured poems and quotes and brought it along with me into middle-age. I loved the sense of defiance that runs through it. That the speaker doesn't plan to go quietly into old age, but will go in bright colors and doing all the things that girls who behave have been taught they shouldn't do like wearing slippers in the rain or eating only bread and pickles for every meal...for a week. When you've grown up, you should be allowed to do what you want (within reason). 

Then in 2012, I found this anthology of poems and essays all about women and the aging process at the local library's used book shop. When I saw that the title and leading poem was my long-held favorite, I knew it had to come home with me. And, as often happens, I set it aside while other books on the TBR stacks claimed my attention. It has finally worked its way into the "read" column. 

It is a wonderfully insightful book full of the musings of women (and a few men) on what it means to grow old as a woman. Memories of mothers, aunts, and grandmothers fill the pages. A few women speak with the voice of experience--having already walked that road themselves. The poems are beautiful. The essays are poignant and sometimes disturbing...but they all are worthwhile. A book to reflect on as well as enjoy. ★★★★

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old and start to wear purple.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

2020 Six Shooter Challenger


I'm heading out to the shooting range again with Rick and his Six Shooter Mystery Reading Challenge in 2020. The goal is pretty straight-forward--read six books on the same target (by the same author) to complete your round. Any targets started in 2019 but not yet complete will carry over to the new year. Check out the full details at the link above.

As with his other challenges, Rick doesn't ask for a commitment. But I will set a personal goal in order to claim the challenge complete for 2020. Last year I set it at two targets--I'm going to up the ante and set my goal at four targets this year.  Most likely those will include Agatha Christie, the Lockridges,  and possibly another round of Ngaio Marsh.


Agatha Christie (finishing target from last year)
1. 4:50 from Paddington (7/28/19)
2. And Then There Were None (8/2/19)
3. The Unexpected Guest [play by Christie, adapted by Charles Osborne] (10/17/19)
4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd ( 1/9/20)
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Dorothy L. Sayers (finishing target from last year)
1. Gaudy Night (7/1/19)
2. Unnatural Death (8/31/19)
3. Thrones, Dominations (9/19/19; finished by Jill Paton Walsh)
4. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (10/19/19)
5. Have His Carcase (1/13/20)
6. The Nine Tailors


Frances & Richard Lockridge (finishing target from last year)
1. Killing the Goose (6/24/19)
2. Spin Your Web, Lady!
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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Challenge Complete: Family Tree



Becky at Becky's Book Reviews hosted another round of the Family Tree Reading Challenge. This year there were more options to choose from but I stayed with reading books that were published in family members' birth years.  For 2019, I planned to read 10 books total for immediate family including my parents and my husband's family. I have now finished my last book.

Phil (my dad): 1948 Blueprint for Murder by Roger Bax (10/25/19)
Gloria (my mom): 1947 Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh (2/14/19)
Bev (me): 1969 The Cream of Crime edited by Jeanne F. Bernkopf (5/26/19)
Brad (husband): 1966 Eyes at the Window by George Selmark (11/25/19)
Kyle (son): 1992 The Noel Coward Murder Case by George Baxt (11/20/19)
Beverly (husband's mom): 1944 Killing the Goose by Frances & Richard Lockridge (6/24/19)
Elvin (husband's dad): 1940 Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd (4/26/19)
John (husband's step-dad): 1946 Let's Kill George by Lucy Cores (10/1/19)
Kristal (husband's sister): 1968 Death on a Warm Wind by Douglas Warner (5/8/19)
M. Alex (husband's brother): 1976 Mystery of the Emerald Buddha by Betty Cavanna (6/29/19)



Said With Flowers

Said With Flowers (1943) by Anne Nash

'Twas the week before Christmas when all through the flower shop....there was a wailing and gnashing of teeth. Dodo (Doris) Trent and her partner Nell Witter are in such a pickle. Their deliveryman has fallen and broken his leg. How will they ever survive the Christmas flower rush? As Dodo (our narrator) puts it

Under the happiest conditions a florist's shop at Christmas is nothing more nor less than a madhouse. I've never discovered a way to avoid it. People leave flowers, plants, and decorations till the last minute. Then they storm in frantically. They say it with flowers to all those whom they'd forgotten earlier  or to the ones left on their lists for whom they couldn't think of anything better.

The ladies have no idea how they will meet the rush and get everything delivered on time. And then, in walks Barney Miller. 

Who is Barney Miller? No one knows. He's a stranger in town. He claims to be a writer who is checking out the area. And he just happens to know plants and flowers. Nell and Dodo have a brief moment of worry--after all there is that dreadful Karp Killer on the loose, what if Barney is the Killer. But they promptly shake off any misgivings when they see what a nice way he has with the customers and how quickly he can put together a festive flower box. He hustles and bustles around the shop, taking orders and placating their pickiest clientele like he was born to the job and then zooms out to deliver all the goods. It looks like Santa Claus has given them their Christmas present early.

Their worries return, however, when one of their dearest friends is found murdered in the alley behind their shop. She's been stabbed with one of their pruning knives, but on her body is pinned the Karp's calling card--a hand-drawn picture of a fish. Could they have hired a killer? The odd thing is that the Karp seems to have broken his own rules for killing. All of his victims so far have been young and beautiful; and he would hide the bodies so there would be a delay before the murder was discovered. Rosalind Vance is a middle-aged woman. She isn't ugly by any means, but the bloom was definitely off her beauty. Why has the Karp gone of his script?

Or, more alarmingly, what if the Karp isn't responsible? Who in the small town of Pinehurst could have had reason to kill Rosalind? As far as Dodo and Nell know, their friend had no enemies. When Mark Tudor, a detective, arrives on the scene with his specially trained dog Svea, they join forces and try to figure out who killed Rosalind. Was it the Karp? Was it Barney...and is he the Karp in disguise? Was it Rosalind's younger sister? Sheila has been hiding something from Rosalind. Was it a secret worth killing for? Is it possible that Rosalind's perfect marriage with her husband James wasn't all that perfect after all and he is the culprit? Or maybe it was Jenny--Rosalind's long-time friend and supposedly devoted companion. But Dodo thinks she sees guilt and fury in Jenny's eyes. Of course, Dodo has worked herself into such a state that she's jumping at shadows and suspecting everyone. 

This is a fun little mystery. Very nice small-town atmosphere in what seems to be an early version of the current cozy craze for mysteries set in bakeries and bookshops and what-have-you. Dodo does get on the nerves a bit with her foreshadowing and borderline hysteria, but fortunately her fiery tempered friend Nell is on hand to liven things up and keep things from getting to be too much "Had I But Known." I spotted the killer straight away and even sussed out the motive, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment. It's not a deep puzzle, but it's a quick read and definitely worth time. ★★ and 1/2.

For a much more in-depth look at the book, please see John's review from 2016 over at Pretty Sinister Books


Quotes (don't read the last one if you don't want a spoiler)


[First Lines] The tragic affair ended at last. Excitement simmered down, life got back to normal, and then everyone began hounding us to write about the events.

Good. Intellectual processes--so called-- often enough block our intuitions, hunches, whatever. Let's hope in our present passive state we'll be receptive to any flashes of insight that might be lurking about. (Mark Tudor; p. 73)

Detach yourself from the personal element; this case is merely a problem to solve. Not for our own personal satisfaction, but for the possible safety of numbers. At this point we don't know what's important, what's insignificant; we'll have to assemble every scrap of material available, then sift and discard.

[Last Lines] "I used to think Jenny was so--so sort of--unapproachable. But now I know how grand she is...I'm going to be as faithful to you, Barney, all of my life...as Jenny was to Rosalind." [Sheila] A high note on which to end.

**************
Deaths = 2 (one stabbed; one fell off cliff)
Murder Mystery Bingo: Alley; Store (flower shop); Nonbarking dog; Mysterious stranger; Knife

Monday, November 25, 2019

2020 Murder Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge


Here is the latest from mastermind Rick at the Rick Mills Project: the 2020 Murder Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge. And it looks really awesome. Use the four bingo cards provided to collect weapons, crime scenes, clues & cliches, and red herrings from your mystery reading. Fill a card and win a prize! The challenge runs through all of 2020, but Rick is opening the Bingo Hall now. Click on the link to see the full details.

As with all his challenges, Rick doesn't require a commitment to participate. My personal goal will be at least one Bingo per card. Once I have that, I can count the challenge as complete for my challenge tally. But--I love mysteries, so you know I'll be doing more.





BINGOS  

Weapons
Card #1
Knife/Dagger: Said with Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)
Gun: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)
Bare Hands: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)
Fireplace Poker: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)
Axe/Hatchet: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/5/19)
Blunt Object: Killer Dolphin by Ngaio Marsh (12/18/19)
Rope: Bells of Old Bailey by Dorothy Bowers (12/22/19)
Poison/Meds: Bells of Old Bailey by Dorothy Bowers (12/22/19)
Drowning: Bells of Old Bailey by Dorothy Bowers (12/22/19)
Fistfight: Unholy Dying by R. T. Campbell (12/29/19)
Medicine/Drugs: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1/9/20) 

Card #2
Poison: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Scott Turton (1/15/20)
Gun: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Scott Turton (1/15/20)
Knife/Dagger: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Scott Turton(1/15/20)
Drowning: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Scott Turton (1/15/20)

Crime Scenes
Card #1
Library: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)
Alley: Said with Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)
Store/Restaurant: Said with Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)
Stairs: Death Knell by Baynard Kendrick (12/5/19)
Pathway/Trail: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Beach: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Bedroom: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Body of Water: Bells of Old Bailey by Dorothy Bowers (12/22/19)
Garden/Gazebo: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1/9/20) 
Boat: Murder on the Waterfront by Michael Jahn (1/20/20)

Card #2
Beach/Shoreline: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20)
Lake/Ocean: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Scott Turton (1/15/20)

Clues & Clich├ęs 
Card #1
Item in Newspaper: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)
Provision in Will: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Footprints: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Anonymous Message: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Monogram: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Stopped Clock/Watch: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Knife Found: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Gloves: Killer Dolphin by Ngaio Marsh (12/15/19)
Magnifier Used: Unholy Dying by R. T. Campbell (12/29/19)
Fingerprints: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1/9/20)
Muddy/Wet Clothing: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20)
Ashes in Fireplace: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20)
Hat Missing/Found: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20)
Lipstick: Murder on the Waterfront by Michael Jahn (1/20/20)

Card #2
Someone in Disguise: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20)
Item in Newspaper: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20)
Something said en Francais: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20) 
Muddy/Wet Clothing: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Scott Turton (1/15/20)

Red Herrings
Card #1
Maid/Housekeeper: The Case of the Second Chance by Christopher Bush (12/4/19)
2nd Gun/Knife: Death Knell (Baynard Kendrick (12/5/19)
Non-Barking Dog: Said with Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)
Barking Dog: Death Knell by Baynard Kendrick (12/5/19)
Mysterious Stranger: Said with Flowers by Anne Nash (11/26/19)
Someone Tied Up:  Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Knitting/Sewing: Murder Breaks Trail by Eunice Mays Boyd (12/15/19)
Locked Room: Bells of Old Bailey by Dorothy Bowers (12/22/19)
broken Window: Bells of Old Bailey by Dorothy Bowers (12/22/19)
Hair: Mystery of the Red Trailer by Julie Campbell (12/30/19)
Animal Other Than Dog: Mystery of the Red Trailer by Julie Campbell [crow] (12/30/19)
Missing Money: Secret of the Mansion by Julie Campbell (12/30/19)
Keys: The Mysterious Visitor by Julie Campbell (12/31/19)
Butler: The Mysterious Visitor by Julie Campbell (12/31/19)
Listening at Keyhole: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1/9/20) 
Secret Marriage: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1/9/20)  
Lights Go Out!: Murder on the Waterfront by Michael Jahn (1/20/20)
Former Lover: Murder on the Waterfront by Michael Jahn (1/20/20)

Card #2
Gloves: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20)
Inquest held: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20)
Missing Money or Blackmail: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20) 
Maid/Butler/Chauffeur: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Scott Turton (1/15/20)

First Bingo: Red Herrings (1/9/20)
Second Bingo: Crime Scenes (1/20/20)


2020 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge


Last year Rick at the Rick Mills Project plunged into challenge hosting for the first time offering up the Medical Examiner Mystery Reading Challenge as well as the Six Shooter Challenge. I, having no self-control when it comes to challenges--especially mystery-related challenges, signed up for both. He's got them both on deck for 2020 (as well as an all-new Mystery Bingo), so here I go again....For full details, check out the link above. 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 certificate reports. With the number of mysteries I read per year, this shouldn't be too difficult.

1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1/9/20) Deaths = 3 (two poisoned; one stabbed)
2. Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20) Deaths = one (stabbed/throat cut)
3. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (1/15/20) Deaths = 11 (five stabbed; three shot; two poisoned; one drowned)
4. Murder on the Waterfront by Michael Jahn (1/20/20) Deaths = one (stabbed)
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Eyes at the Window

Eyes at the Window (1966) by George Selmark

Do you ever get the feeling when you're reading a book that you're swimming against a very strong current? Or working your way through the thickest fog? Yeah, that was this book. It is only 143 pages long, but I felt like I was working very hard to get nowhere fast and I couldn't really see what was happening at all.

So what do we have here? Well...as far as I can make out: We have Agatha Virgil. She is in her 90s and, according to the village folk, crazy as a loon. She lives as a recluse--seeing only her oldest friend, Mrs. Thurston; Sister Root,the nurse who comes regularly to check on her and give her an iron injection (which the book credits as keeping her alive); her daily woman Mrs. Wansbeck; and a local farmer by the name of John Millbank who seems to act as a kind of watchdog to help keep unwanted visitors away. Miss Virgil spends her time looking into the past and talking to people who aren't there.

The past contains secrets and mysteries. For instance, what really happened to Agatha Virgil's sister Melanie? It's rumored that the sisters were rivals for the affections of William Brownlow. Melanie won the day, married Brownlow, and moved to Africa with him. Three years later, the Brownlows returned with their small son for a visit and Melanie died...supposedly of a heart condition. But was it? James Brownlow (the now middle-aged son of William and Melanie) has come from Africa with his daughter Bryony with the hopes of getting financial help from his Aunt Agatha and maybe finding out a few answers about the mother's death. It's difficult to get answers, though, when Aunt Agatha refuses to see anyone. And then a new set of deaths take place...

As mentioned, I spent the entirety of this book feeling like I was wondering around in a dense fog--seeing shadowy shapes that never quite materialized into solid objects. I think I know what happened, but I certainly would bet anything valuable on that. The mystery isn't very solidly plotted and it's really quite a mess. The most solid part of the whole thing is the motive as it's finally revealed, but you certainly aren't going to figure it out based on any clues given along the way. Selmark appears to have focused entirely on the atmosphere surrounding crazy Aunt Agatha and has wasted little time on marshaling his facts.  

Then there's the whole subplot with the beautiful (but wilful) Bryony and her romance with a mysterious young itinerant artist who just happens to be on the spot whenever something mysterious happens...like the death of Mrs. Thurston. Of course Bryony plays the part of the young woman who throughout the book can't stand the man she's going to wind up with in the end. Both the mystery and the romance are huge washouts as far as I'm concerned. A very disappointing read.

Quotes
[First line] The dead cat was lying at the foot of the portico steps with its teeth bared as though in fury.

Everybody wants to give advice and nobody wants to take it. Not even from the family solicitor. That's peculiar, isn't it? (Marcus Bex; p. 27)

[Last lines] She said softly, "I think I'd look rather sweet in uniform. I think I'd like to be a female copper."

Deaths = 4 (poisoned)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

2020 Library Love Challenge


sponsored by
Angel's Guilty Pleasures AND Books of My Heart

This challenge encourages us to read books from our library. The minimum limit is twelve books and this fits well my Virtual Mount TBR Challenge, so I'm going to sign up for the minimum twelve. If you would like to join in, click on the link above.

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Tragedy at the Unicorn

Tragedy at the Unicorn (1928) by John Rhode (Cecil John Charles Street)

The titular tragedy involves the murder of the perfectly odious Dr. Grinling at the Unicorn Hotel in the coastal city of Clayport. The Unicorn is owned by Mrs. Burgess and the guests are tended to by her two daughters, Phyllis and Joan. Of the guests who spent the fateful weekend in Clayport, Dr. Grinling and his valet Ferguson were the only ones who weren't there for the end of the yachting season. The yachting group includes Grinling's nephew Richard Gateman (who is in love with Phyllis); the group's first mate (and our narrator) Mr. Attercliffe; Percy Hunter, a serious young man in love with Joan; Mr. Mortimer, a fellow boatsman; and Bob Weldon, the skipper of the yachting crew. 

Grinling's appearance at the inn is a surprise--and not a pleasant one it seems. After an evening of high-spirited entertainment, unattended by Grinling and his man, the doctor is found dead behind his locked bedroom door. At first glance it looks to be a suicide or accidental death from a heroin overdose. Dr. Murchison (called in to examine the dead body) is not surprised that the doctor was dosing himself with heroin for sleeplessness. "A doctor might very well prescribe for himself heroin injections for sleeplessness. He would have no difficulty getting the stuff, and he would know it would do him no harm unless he took an overdose." (!) However, the postmortem reveals that Grinling didn't die from heroin after all--but from "an over injection of morphia, which as you probably know, is a far more dangerous drug." [So, yeah, in the 1920s it's no big deal to take a dose of heroin to go nighty-night--but stay away from that morphine.]

Neither his nephew Richard nor Dr. Priestely once he's called into the case believe that the doctor took morphia by mistake or committed suicide. In fact, Richard admits that he had an unpleasant interview with his uncle regarding money. You see, Dr. Grinling had a life interest in an inheritance from his father (Richard's grandfather) and Richard would inherit the principle once Grinling was gone. Not only would the doctor not loan Richard any money based on his prospects--but he declared his intention to live as long as possible to keep his nephew from the money as long as possible. 

But Richard isn't the only one in the inn that night with a motive to hustle Grinling into the grave. Pretty much everyone except our narrator Attercliffe had reason to wish the doctor dead--even the ladies of the house. Dr. Priestley will have to sort through the motives as well as determine how the killer got into the locked bedroom before his work will be done.

My thoughts:

There seems to be no thought of fingerprints. I realize it's early days in police forensics, but the Scotland Yard Fingerprint Bureau was established in 1901. When Superintendent Collison arrives on the scene, he handles the syringe and the glass vial with no precautions at all. In fact, beyond sending those things to be analyzed by the doctor, he doesn't seem terribly interested in looking over the scene of the crime for clues at all. His method is chatting up all the suspects and making them think he's not the sharpest tool in the drawer. He soon proves them wrong and, even though he does need Dr. Priestley's help, he winds up being a very capable detective indeed.

The early part of the story is quite good. Rhode builds up the various motives in a very convincing manner in an effort to spread the wealth in the suspicion department. To be quite honest, I spotted the culprit quite early despite the publisher's blurb on an early edition proclaiming "The reader who detects the murderer is to be congratulated on possessing no ordinary astuteness." The only thing I couldn't quite figure out was how the murderer managed to get in the room considering certain obstacles. The second half of the book presents some difficulties as the investigators seem to get distracted from the murder inquiry by the injection (no pun intended--well, maybe a little bit intended) of a drug-smuggling sub-plot. 

The best part of the book is the humor. The underlying humor in Collison's interactions with the suspects. The reader realizes how astute the detective is and it's humorous to watch the reactions to his methods. There is also a good deal of humor in the interactions and byplay between the yachting group. All good fun. ★★ and a half stars.


Quotes
[First Line] Clayport, althought not one of the best-known yachting centers on the south coast, is pretty popular among the owners of small craft.
 
Dinner is undoubtedly a meal to be enjoyed in brilliant company, but breakfast--breakfast is a solemn function to be performed in monastic seclusion. (p. 17)

I'm very pleased to hear you say so. Murder's an ugly word and it's the last thing I should like to hear whispered in connection with the Unicorn, for which I have the deepest regard. But you know what one's superiors are. As soon as I report that we can't quite fathom the cause of Dr. Grinling's death, some fellow in an office, always on the look out for something sensational, is bound to ask, "How do you know he wasn't murdered?" (Superintendent Collins; p. 44)

Mrs. Bunce suffers too severely from the rheumatics for her to go gallivanting about the house with lethal intent in the small hours of the morning. (Collins; p. 48)

I didn't know, Mr. Attercliffe. But in my profession one soon learns the value of a little harmless bluff. (Collins; p. 54)

I'm no mathematician, but it two heads are better than one, then it seems to me that half a dozen heads must be better than two. (Collins; p. 61)

Why the man's a natural detective!...Don't you see that his innocence is assumed so as to get the truth out of each one of you? (Harold Merefield; p. 72)

We shall probably discover that Mortimer had some motive for wishing Dr. Grinling out of the way; it seems a fashionable complaint in this part of the country. (Merefield; p. 93)

That evening Mr. Gregson arrived at the Unicorn. I took an instant dislike to him, though I should find it difficult to explain exactly why. Perhaps it was because he disapproved of everything he saw, and managed to convey his disapproval so obviously. (p. 107)

...when I first described the circumstances of Dr. Grinling's dead, he remarked that if a crime had been committed, it had been thought out by a man with some imagination. A novelist is popularly supposed to have imagination, and I rather think he wanted to gauge the depth of yours by reading your book. (Merefield; p. 119)

[Last Line] It was two o'clock before we finally decided that it was time to go to bed. And then the Skipper pushed Richard away from the piano and slowly and hesitatingly, with an expression of rapt concentration, picked out with one finger the notes of the Wedding March.


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Golden Just the Facts: Locked Room
Deaths = 1 (poisoned)

The Noel Coward Murder Case

The Noel Coward Murder Case (1992) by George Baxt

It is 1935 in New York City. Noel Coward has come to town to make a movie and is convinced (with cold, hard cash) to star in the opening of the brand-new Cascades, a high-falutin' nightclub complete with actual cascading waterfalls. The fancy joint is is owned by "reformed" gangsters by the name of Beethoven, Bizet, and Vivaldi. Joining him onstage will be a rich, would-be cabaret singer Diana Headman (who has bought her place in the limelight), a supposedly authentic voodoo act comprised of Dan Parrish and Electra Howard, and a host of beautiful showgirls. 

Meanwhile, Electra's sister Maxine has been found murdered in Shanghai and Inspector Wang has come to New York to bring her body home as well as to confer with (series) Detective Jacob Singer. He believes she was killed as part of the white slave trade and has his eyes on the owners of the Cascades. Singer has his eye on them well. It's soon discovered that Maxine had been working undercover for the authorities and must have discovered something worth killing to keep quiet. They know they're on the right track when Edna Dore, showgirl at the Cascades and police informant, is killed as well. Or are they? There are others on hand with motives for killing. Singer and Wang with a little help with our star performer will have to sort out the motives before the curtain comes crashing down on them all. 

My previous reading experiences of Baxt's historical Hollywood mysteries have been far more positive. The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case and The Dorothy Parker Murder Case were both fun, witty historical romps filled with lots of word play and quips. This one was far more forced--it read to me like Baxt (through Noel Coward) was working extra hard for the laughs that never came. Or maybe it's just that I am much less familiar with Coward and just didn't get his humor. Baxt has done an excellent job in previous outings in representing the personalities involved (at least as those personalities have been presented to the public). I have to assume that he's done as well with Coward. If that's the case, then I just don't find Coward funny or engaging.

The mystery itself is also a little more over-the-top than the stories have been in the past--especially the grand finale with the building on fire and a machete beheading. I just didn't find the plot at all compelling or entertaining. Baxt did keep the culprit hidden from me--but that isn't due to any extraordinary gift for mystification. There weren't exactly clues in abundance and I convinced myself that it was Suspect A when I should have been focused on Suspect B. But that was my sheer stubbornness and not because Baxt outwitted me. ★★ and I'm not sure that isn't being generous.

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Deaths =  4 (two poisoned; two stabbed--one beheaded by machete, actually)

Friday, November 22, 2019

British Crime Classics Challenge 2020



Rekha at The Book Decoder is sponsoring another round of her British Crime Classics Challenge. The rules are simple--Read British mysteries written before 1965. Read as many as you like. For those who are goal-oriented, she has suggested a goal of six. Since I read so many vintage mysteries, I'm setting my personal goal at twelve--one for every month of the year. To join in, see her post at the link above.

1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1/9/20)
2. Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20)
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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

My haphazard rereading (listening) of the detective novels of Dorothy L. Sayers continues. This week's installment is The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928). One really must admire the British sangfroid which calls the death of a club member (which proves ultimately to be murder) "unpleasantness." I have, of course, read Sayers's novels many times--most recently here on the Block in 2011 for the As My Whimsy Takes Me reading challenge. At that time I read the books featuring Lord Peter Wimsey in published order...this time I really have taken them on "as my whimsy takes me." And my whimsy decided that it was time to sit down and listen to Ian Carmichael read to me about the death of General Fentiman again.

My previous review (see link above) gives details on the heart of the matter. At its most basic, it is a pretty standard plot with a pretty common motive--greed. Two elderly people have died and depending on who died when, somebody is going to very wealthy. At first, Lord Peter is merely asked to try and find out who died first--General Fentiman or his sister Lady Dormer. It soon becomes clear that some highly unpleasant shenanigans have been employed to mystify the times of the death. But that isn't all. Somebody has been even more unpleasant and rushed the General to his final reward. But who? And how?


It is always a delight to listen to Ian Carmichael read the works of Sayers. He was very invested in the characters--he had, in fact, tried very hard to get someone to film the books much earlier the 1970s (when he was, truth be told, just a bit too old for the part of the younger Wimsey. The Ian Carmichael of the 1950s would have been perfect--especially for the early books where he is a bit more "Bertie Woosterish with brains."). With this one slightly more full of gentlemen than some of the other books, Carmichael uses his full powers to give a different sound and quality to each speaker to help the listener keep everything straight. Another fine reading performance by a fine actor. ★★★★

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Golden Just the Facts--Who: Artist/Photographer. We have Marjorie Phelps sculpting; Ann Dorland painting (albeit rather badly); and Bunter photographing evidence.
Deaths = three (one natural [but highly important to the plot]; one poisoned; one shot)

Monday, November 18, 2019

2020 Cloak & Dagger Challenge


The Cloak & Dagger Challenge is back with a brand-new sponsor. Hosted for years by Stormi @ Movies and Reviews! Oh My! with help from Barb from Booker T's Farm, the reins have now been handed over to Carol @ Carol's Notebook. Those who have participated before will recognize the rules and format--check out the link above for the full details. I will be joining in again at the Sherlock Holmes level of 56+ books in the mystery and crime field.

1. Mystery of the Haunted Pool by Phyllis A. Whitney (1/3/19)
2. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1/9/20)
3. Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/13/20)
4. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Scott Turton (1/15/20)
5. Murder on the Waterfront by Michael Jahn (1/20/20)
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