Monday, January 20, 2020

Birth Year Reading Challenge 2020

Well, I did better in 2019 in reading for J.G.'s Birth Year Reading Challenge than the previous year, but I still have a large number of 1947 books (for my mom's birth year) left to read. So, I'm going to keep pressing on and go for another personal challenge goal of six books for the 2020 edition of the challenge. I hope to do more than that, but if I make six then I will be able to claim the challenge as complete.

Books still remaining on the TBR pile from 1947:
Dark Interlude by Peter Cheyney
Crooked House by Agatha Christie
The Rose & the Yew Tree by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
With Intent to Deceive by Manning Coles
Death Warmed Over by Mary Collins
Murder Has a Motive by Francis Duncan
The Angry Heart by Leslie Edgely
The Velvet Fleece by Lois Eby & John C. Fleming
The Lady Regets by James M. Fox
The Case of the Lazy Lover by Erle Stanley Gardner
The Clue of the Runaway Blonde/The Clue of the Hungry Horse by Erle Stanley Gardner
The D.A. Calls a Turn by Erle Stanley Gardner
The Whispering Death by Roy Vickers
By Hook or By Crook by Anthony Gilbert
Close Quarters by Michael Gilbert
Fire in the Snow by Hammond Innes
A Night of Errors by Michael Innes
San Francisco Murders by Joseph Henry Jackson
A Halo for Nobody by Henry Kane
Prelude to a Certain Midnight by Gerald Kersh
Kingsblood Royal by Sinclair Lewis
Bury Me Deep by Harold Q. Masur
Death of a Doll by Marco Page
The Riddles of Miss Withers by Stuart Palmer
Miss Withers Regrets by Stuart Palmer
Chinese Nightmare by Hugh Pentecost
Silver Wings for Vicki by Helen Wells
Vicki Finds the Answer by Helen Wells
Cold Bed in the Clay by Ruth Sawtell Wallis

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Deal Me In: "Chicago Night's Entertainment"

Jay's Deal Me In Challenge has us reading 52 short stories--one per week; one per card in a deck. For details click on the link. And my list of chosen stories may be found HERE.

Last week's story was "Chicago Night's Entertainment" by Ben Hecht (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine July 1958) chosen by drawing the eight of clubs. This installment in the challenge is a very short one and is actually a sketch from Hecht's A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago. Sergeant Kuzik of the first precinct is speaking to the unnamed journalist who provides the reader's point of view. Apparently, the journalist has asked Kuzik to relate some of his most interesting cases for a newspaper article. The sergeant insists that he needs time to remember his stories properly and the proceeds to give us little paragraph snapshots of some of his cases. We get a peek at the man who killed his wife and used her skull as an ashtray and the alderman who was a terrific hypnotist and convinced one of two burglars robbing his house that he (the burglar) was a policeman and he should shoot the other burglar, among others.

Overall--a very unsatisfying little sketch. Hecht gives us just enough to get us interested in the little snippets, but it would have been a far more entertaining night in Chicago (well, in Bloomington, anyway) if he had chosen one of the stories and given it a full run.

Up next, having drawn the seven of diamonds, we'll have Hugh Pentecost's John Jericho in "Jericho and the Dying Clue."

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Somebody's going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won't appear to be a murder so the murderer won't be caught. Rectify that injustice and I'll show you the way out.
~The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018) by Stuart Turton

That quote essentially sums up the plot of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Evelyn Hardcastle has come home to Blackheath after being sent to Paris for schooling. Nineteen years ago her younger brother Thomas was murdered. The family abandoned their home, leaving the memories behind, until Lady Helen Hardcastle decides to throw a party in Evelyn's honor on the anniversary of Thomas's death. She invites all the same guests who were at the house nineteen years ago. And plans to announce her daughter's engagement to Lord Cecil Ravencourt at a gala ball. But all her plans are ruined when Evelyn dies of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound in full view of the guests.

That's the overall set-up. But then there's another thread to the story. Among the guests are some interlopers--our narrator, Aiden Bishop finds himself inhabiting the body of various members of the guest list. Eight guests in all--and he hops from body to body (through what mysterious means, we're never told) and back again over a period of eight "days." He slowly learns that he has been tasked with the unraveling of the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle--no matter how much it looks like suicide. A mysterious figure, named the Plague Doctor for the mask he wears, instructs him that if he solves the murder by 11 pm of the night of Evelyn's death, then he will be free to leave. Otherwise, once the eight days (actually the same day, spent repeatedly as different guests) are over, his memory will be wiped and he'll have to start again.

Oh...and there's another complication. He has two rivals who are also trying to solve the murder and earn their escape. He has the advantage over them--he has eight "hosts" to help him and can carry memories from each host's day with him. The rivals live the day as themselves and if the story gets reset, they lose what they've learned. Aiden is allowed to see the events from several different viewpoints to gather clues from all directions. He finds himself drawn to Anna, one of his rivals, and vows to save both her and himself even though the Plague Doctor tells him that only one of the three can escape. He will have to fight his way through lies and betrayals if he's going to make good his promise to Anna. He will also have to avoid being killed (in all his different bodies) by another mysterious figure known as the Footman.

This is an intricate book--not only intricately plotted at its most basic level, the storyline (which it has to be in order to follow so many viewpoints that switch not just once per host but multiple times) but there are also many layers to that plot. We have the basic murder mystery to solve. We have the backstory for the three rivals and trying to figure out who the Plague Doctor and the Footman are. There are intricate themes being played out--themes of revenge and redemption and loyalty and betrayal. There is an examination of just how possible is it for the most reprehensible people to really change

Do you know how you can tell if a monster's fit to walk the world again, Mr. Bishop? If they're truly redeemed and not just telling you what you want to hear?

Aiden Bishop learns. And while he inhabits the various bodies--belonging to people who are, for the most part, vile in various ways--he is able to influence them and help them be, if only temporarily, better people than they were. And each of these hosts also manage to leave their mark on him--assisting him in his efforts to find the truth and find a way out for both Anna and himself.

This was an exhilarating roller coaster ride through the fun house with a side trip through the house of horrors--complete with mazes and mirrors and scary things jumping out at you in the dark. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to piece together the murder mystery plot while puzzling over why the three were being held there. It was difficult to capture all the pieces as they flew by, but I caught enough to have a good time trying. One small thing that I would like to know is how the trick of making Aiden pop into the various bodies was done--was it some kind of Star Trek holodeck-type program? ★★ and 1/2.

Calendar of Crime: February (Pub date)
Mystery Bingo: Card #2-Clues & Cliches: Muddy/wet clothing; Red Herrings: maid/butler/chauffeur
Deaths = 11 (five stabbed; three shot; two poisoned; one drowned)

[First Line] I forget everything between footsteps.

We are never more ourselves than we think people aren't watching, don't you realise that? It doesn't matter if Stanwin's alive tomorrow, you murdered him today. You murdered a man in cold blood, and that will blot your soul for the rest of your life. I don't know why we're here, Daniel, or why this is happening to us, but we should be proving that it's and injustice, not making ourselves worthy of it. (Aiden Bishop; p. 323)

I've always known more than them. I knew more than you. Knowledge was never my problem. Ignorance is the condition I struggle with. (The Plague Doctor; p. 452)

We've both hurt each other, Anna, and we've both paid for it. I'm never going to betray you again, I promise. You can trust me. You already have trusted me, you just can't remember it. (Aiden Bishop; p. 464)

The Plague Doctor claimed Blackheath was meant to rehabilitate us, but bars can't build better men and misery can only break what goodness remains. This place pinches out the hope in people, and without that hope, what use is love or compassion or kindness? (p. 480) feels like a good day, and Blackheath hasn't seen one of those for a very long time. I think I'll enjoy it for a while and worry about the cost tomorrow. It will come soon enough, it always does. (The Plague Doctor; p. 503)

[Last Line] I just have to keep walking until I get there.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Have His Carcase (possible spoilers)

...since we have devoted a great deal of time and thought to the case on the assumption that it was a murder, it's a convenience to know that the assumption is probably correct.
~Have His Carcase (1932) by Dorothy L. Sayers

As I mention in my previous review (HERE), the Lord Peter mysteries are comfort reads for me. I have read them numerous times and enjoy them thoroughly each time. It has been nine years since I last read this one (before Mount TBR or my Vintage Mystery challenges existed). But I'm not sure that I have much that is new to say. Although I will mention that the depressing atmosphere of the "watering hole" hotel struck me more forcefully this time round. How very sad to travel from hotel to hotel (or to pick one for the summer) and look for romance among the paid dancing partners. The Mrs. Weldons of the world--making themselves up to try and appear young again, grasping for a youth that is gone (or perhaps they never had).

I enjoyed Harriet's interactions with Antoine, the other dancing partner, very much this time. Antoine is very wise in the ways of the the world...and has a realistic outlook on the life he leads and the ladies he has to entertain. He also sees straight through the pretenses--even Harriet's and realizes long before she will ever be ready to admit it that loves Peter. We've got a whole other book for her to get through before she's ready to admit that.

A lovely reread--I'm glad several of my challenges gave me an excuse to do so. ★★

Pick Your Poison: Quick Decisons: An Author You Always Read
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza: Golden Age Rule #16: No secret societies. Mrs. Weldon keeps bleating on about Bolsheviks and Paul Alexis's former girlfriend Leila is convinced that a "gang" like the one in The Trail of the Purple Python was blackmailing him (or had some hold over him).
Deaths = one (throat cut)
Mystery Bingo: Clues/Cliches - Muddy/wet clothing; Clock striking; Hat missing/found
  --for a second Bingo Card: 
Crime Scenes-Beach/Shoreline
Clues/Cliches-Item in newspaper
Red Herrings -Gloves; Inquest held; missing money (gold coins)

Quotes (I did find several new quotes that stood out this time)
[First Lines] The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. (p.9)

There is something about virgin sand which arouses all the worst instincts of the detective-story writer. One feels an irresistible impulse to go and make footprints all over it. (p. 11)

This was disingenuous, but novelists and police-inspectors do not always see eye to eye as regards publicity. (31)

Anybody who married Lord Peter would be rich, of course. And he was was amusing. Nobody could say he would be dull to live with. But the trouble was that you never knew what anybody was like to live with except by living with them. It wasn't worth it. Not even to know all about steam-yachts. A novelist couldn't possibly marry all the people from whom she wanted specialised information. (p. 37)

LP: ...does it not, pardon me, indicate a certain coarsening of the fibres?
HV: Obviously. My fibres at this moment resemble coconut matting.
LP: Without even "Welcome" written across them. But, look here, beloved, bearing in mind that I'm a corpse-fan, don't you think you might, as man to man, have let me in on the ground-floor?
HV: If you put it that way, I certainly might. But I thought--"
LP:  Women will let the personal element crop in...
(Lord Peter, Harriet Vane; p. 41)

Set your mind at rest. We are not going to ask to come with you. I know that the amateur detective has a habit of embarrassing the police in the execution of their duty. (Lord Peter; p. 47)

Between an avenue of clicking shutters. they descended the marble steps, and climbed into Wimsey's Daimler.
"I feel," said Harriet maliciously, "as if we had just been married at St. George's, Hanover Square."
"No, you don't," retorted Wimsey. "If we had, you would be trembling like a fluttered partridge. Being married to me is a tremendous experience--you've no idea." (p. 47-8)

Harriet murmured something inaudible. This conversation was dreadful to her. It was nauseating, pitiful, artificial yet horribly real; grotesquely comic and worse than tragic. She wanted to stop it at all costs, and she wanted at all costs to go on and disentangle the few threads of fact from the gaudy tangle of absurdity. (p. 58)

You dance very correctly, mademoiselle. It is only the entrain that is a little lacking. It is possible that you are awaiting the perfect partner. When the heart dances with the feet, then it will be a merveille." (Antoine; p. 68)

"Well," says the manager, "you can come for a little time with the beard till we are suited, but if you want to stay, you remove the beard." Very well, Alexis come and dance, and the ladies are delighted. The beard is so distinguished, so romantic, so unusual. They come a very long distance express to dance with the beard. (Antoine; p. 73)

If you ever need to talk secrets, be sure you avoid the blasted oak, the privet hedge and the old summer house in the Italian garden--all the places where people can stealthily creep up under cover with their ears flapping. (Lord Peter; p. 90)

Wimsey considered, rightly, that when a woman takes a man's advice about the purchase of clothes, it is a sign that she is not indifferent to his opinion. (p. 128)

Mademoiselle, I think you know the difference between love which is important and love which is unimportant. But you must remember that one may have an important love for an unimportant person. (Antoine; p. 150)

 Antoine always talks about logic, but what I say is, people aren't logical. Look at all the funny things they do. Especially men. I always think men are terribly inconsistent. (Leila; p. 153)

When I kiss you, it will be an important event -- one of those things which stand out among their surroundings like the first time you tasted li-chee. It will not be an unimportant sideshow attached to a detective investigation. (Lord Peter; 166-7)

HV: Peter! I  believe I've been kissed by a murderer.
LP: Have you? Well, it serves you right for letting anybody kiss you but me.
(Harriet, Lord Peter; p. 191)

OK: The policeman doesn't believe a word I've been saying, but you do, don't you?
LP: I do. But you see, I can believe a thing without understanding it. It's all a matter of training.
(Olga Kahn, Lord Peter; p. 237)

I must say this case is really unique in one thing. It's the only one I have ever known in which a murderer didn't know the time he was supposed to have done the murder at. (Lord Peter; p. 348)

[Last Line] I always did hate watering places! (Lord Peter)

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Backlist Reader Challenge 2020

The Backlist Reader Challenge 2020 encourages us to read all the older books gathering dust on our TBR lists--they can be TBRs on the mountains we own or TBRs that we've long wanted to read and just haven't got hold of yet. They just have to have been published before 2019. We set our own goals--and since the books hanging out on my own TBR piles are primarily vintage mysteries, I'm going to set my challenge for 100 just as I have done for my own Mount TBR Challenge.

1. Mystery of the Haunted Pool by Phyllis A. Whitney (1/3/20)
2. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Scott Turton (1/15/20)
3. Murder on the Waterfront by Michael Jahn (1/20/20)

Virtual Mount TBR 2019 Prize Winner!

I am a day late...but not a prize short. Yesterday was a bit hectic so I pulled out the Custom Random Number Generator this morning and put it to work picking my winners for various challenges. Our winner here on the Block for the inaugural Virtual Mount TBR Challenge is...Zoe @ If The Book Will Be Too Difficult! 

Congratulations and thanks for climbing with me! I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list. And thanks to everyone who tackled their Virtual Mount TBRs in 2019!

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Mount TBR 2019 Prize Winner!

I am a day late...but not a prize short. Yesterday was a bit hectic so I pulled out the Custom Random Number Generator this morning and put it to work picking my winners for various challenges. Our winner here on the Block for the Mount TBR Challenge is...The Quiet Geordie! 

Congratulations and thanks for climbing with me! I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list. And thanks to everyone who tackled their Mount TBRs in 2019!

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Calendar of Crime 2019 Prize Winners!

I'm a day late...but not a prize short. Yesterday was a bit hectic, so I pulled out the Custom Random Number Generator this morning and put it to work picking my winners for various challenges. Our inaugural Calendar of Crime prize winner is Cath @ read-warbler! And...with 94 out of 106 possible calendar activities, our Calendar of Crime social butterfly is Kate @ Cross Examining Crime. Congratulations, Cath & Kate! I'll be contacting you soon about prizes!

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Friday, January 10, 2020

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (possible spoilers)

Oh! money! All the troubles in the world can be put down to money--or the lack of it.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) by Agatha Christie

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd actually begins with the death of Mrs. Ferrars, widowed within the last year. The rumor mill of King's Abbot had been grinding away--envisioning wedding bells between Mrs. Ferrars and the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. But Mrs. Ferrars is found dead from an overdose of veranol in what is first supposed to be an accident, but the village grapevine suspects is suicide. Dr. James Sheppard, our narrator, is confronted by his  sister when he returns home after the discovery.

My sister continued: "What did she die of? Heart failure?"
"Didn't the milkman tell you that?" I inquired sarcastically.
Sarcasm is wasted on Caroline. She takes it seriously and answers accordingly.
"He didn't know," she explained. (p. 3)
When Sheppard insists on accident, Caroline rejects the idea. She's convinced the woman killed herself out of remorse. Because obviously she killed the husband who was cruel to her. 

Then that evening Roger Ackroyd is found dead--stabbed to death by his own decorative dagger and rumors are flying about blackmail. But then there is also the fact that Ackroyd's nephew, known to have disputes with his uncle over money, has disappeared from the scene. And what about the maid who gave notice that very afternoon? And the mysterious stranger who was looking for Ackroyd's home at about the time of the murder? And who made the phone call to the doctor that brought him to Ackroyd's house and resulted in the discovery of the crime?

Fortunately for King's Abbot, a funny little foreigner who "looks like a hairdresser" has come to the countryside for his retirement. A foreigner by the name of Hercule Poirot. He's sure to get to the bottom of the mystery, for as he tells Ackroyd's niece (who has asked him to investigate): What one does not tell to Papa Poirot he finds out.

PSI: It is quite likely that there are spoilers ahead. Some are deliberate--because there are aspects of the solution that I want to discuss. Some will be unintentional--but I've read several Christie novels many times and may blurt out things that I think everyone knows which would spoil the story for first-time readers. Proceed with caution--especially after the first two paragraphs. 

This story is one those that I consider Christie's "Big" stories. It has a solution that once read is never forgotten. No matter how sieve-like the memory may be (I speak of myself). There are a number of Christie's books that--if it has been long enough since the last time I read it--I may find myself fooled once again by this Mistress of Mysteries. Or at least very unsure whether I'm right about who did it. Not this one. What is so delightful about Christie's books is that it doesn't matter if I know that the most likely suspect did do it or the narrator did it or everybody did it or apparently nobody did it--I get completely wrapped up in her Golden Age world and the intricacies of her plotting and red herrings and settle down for a good evening's enjoyment. And even though I know the solution to this one, there is still that moment of frisson when Poirot turns to the murderer and says "Thou art the man." As if somehow it might have turned out differently this time....

Last year I started reading Christie's novels in publication order. That's something I've never done before. When I discovered Christie--through a Scholastic Book Fair that thought Murder on the Orient Express and At Bertram's Hotel were the best ways to introduce elementary kids to Poirot and Miss Marple (Express--yes; Hotel--not so much)--I started with two books that were well into her work. After that, I read whatever I could find of her in whatever order I found it. There are a few of her novels (Express and And Then There Were None to name two) that I have read repeatedly. Most I've read only once before. I have read Ackroyd only twice before--that very first time in elementary school and then again before my blogging days.

It was interesting to read it this time with a particular eye to phrasing. I was on the look-out for how she worded her story in such a way that it could be said that she had played fair with the reader. My current Vintage Mystery Challenge is playing with the "Rules" for writers of detective fiction that were devised in the Golden Age era by Father Ronald Knox and S. S. Van Dine. One of the rules is that the criminal must not be someone whose thought the reader has shared--generally speaking this would mean the narrator. And, yet, here we are in this book. Strictly speaking, however, we never share Dr. Sheppard's thoughts. At the end of the book, it is revealed that this has been his written record of the case--a document that he planned to be a record of one of Poirot's failures. His hubris is such that he thinks he will outsmart the detective. Unfortunately for Sheppard, the detective's little grey cells are too much for him.

Christie through Sheppard explains her trick: 

I am rather pleased with myself as a writer. What could be neater, for instance, then the following: 'The letters were brought in at twenty minutes to nine. It was just on ten minutes to nine when I left him, the letter still unread.'


'I hesitated with my hand on the door handle, looking back and wondering if there was anything I had left undone.' All true, you see. 

Another rule which appears to have been broken is that the detective's "Watson" must not conceal any thoughts from the reader. But again, Sheppard is not truly Poirot's Watson--that honor belongs to Captain Hastings who is not here. In fact, Poirot himself reminds us who his true sidekick is repeatedly throughout the story--telling us often that his friend in the Argentine would often say "this" or would often do "that." 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel when I first read it--giving it a full five-star rating back in the days when I simply kept a list of books read and their rating. I am happy to say that nothing has changed even though my motives in reading the book did. ★★★★

[First line] Mrs. Ferrars died on the night of the 16th-17th September--a Thursday. 
It is odd how, when you have a secret belief of your own which you do not wish to acknowledge, the voicing of it by someone else will rouse you to a fury of denial. (p. 3)

I don't think you're very logical. Surely if a woman  committed a crime like murder, she'd be cold-blooded enough to enjoy the fruits of it without any weak-minded sentimentality such as repentance. (Dr. James Sheppard; p. 4)

...Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, widow of Ackroyd's ne'er-do-well younger brother, has taken up her residence at Fernly Park, and has succeeded, according to Caroline, in putting Miss Russell in her proper place.
~I don't know exactly what a "proper place" constitutes--it sounds chilly and unpleasant..... (p. 7)

DS: Caroline do you never reflect that you might do a lot of harm with this habit of yours of repeating everything indiscriminately?
CS: Nonsense. People ought to know things. I consider it my duty to tell them.
(Dr. Sheppard, Caroline Sheppard; p. 19)

I do not see why I should be supposed to be totally devoid of intelligence. After all, I read detective stories, and the newspapers, and am a man of quite average ability. If there had been toe marks [instead of fingerprints] on the dagger handle, now, that would have been quite a different thing. I would then have registered any amount of surprise and awe. (pp. 50-1)

Everything is simple if you arrange the facts methodically. (Poirot, p. 66)

Women observe subconsciously a thousand little details, without knowing they are doing so. Their subconscious mind adds these little things together--and they call the result intuition. (Poirot, p. 113)

On looking back, the thing that strikes me most is the piecemeal character of this period. Every one had a hand in the elucidation of the mystery. It was rather like a jigsaw puzzle to which every one contributed his own little piece of knowledge or discover. But their task ended there. To Poirot alone belongs the renown of fitting those pieces into their correct place. (p. 119)

Mrs. Ackroyd is totally incapable of pursuing a straightforward course. She always approaches her object by torturous means. (p. 119)

DS: Curiosity is not my besetting sin. I can exist comfortably without knowing exactly what my neighbors are doing and thinking.
CS: Stuff and nonsense, James. You want to know as much as I do. You're not so honest, that's all. You always have to pretend.
(Dr. Sheppard, Caroline Sheppard; p. 128)

One can press a man as far as one likes--but with a woman one must not press too far. For a woman has at heart a great desire to speak the truth. How many husbands who have deceived their wives go comfortably to their graves, carrying their secret with them! How many wives who have deceived their husbands wreck their lives by throwing the fact in those same husbands' teeth! They have been pressed too far. In a reckless moment (which they will afterwards regret, bien entendu) they fling safety to the winds and turn at bay proclaiming the truth with great momentary satisfaction to themselves. (Poirot; p. 154)

Mademoiselle Flora, you love her with all your heart. From the first moment you saw her, is it not so? Oh! let us now mind saying these things--why must one in England think it necessary to mention love as if it were some disgraceful secret? (Poirot; p. 167)

Never worry about what you say to a man. They're so conceited that they never believe you mean it if it's unflattering. (Caroline; p. 189)

[Last line] But I wish Hercule Poirot had never retired from work and come here to grow vegetable marrows.

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza: Gold - Rule #16  A death that looks like suicide [I opted not to go for the obvious-to-dedicated-Golden-Age-Readers rule.]
Calendar of Crime: June (Pub month)
PopSugar: 7 deadly sins: Greed
Pick Your Poison: Singles (single figure on cover)
Mystery Bingo:
Weapons: Medicine or drugs
Clues & Cliches: Fingerprints
Red Herrings: Listening at keyhole; Secret marriage

Deal Me In: Nine of Clubs "An Official Position"

Jay's Deal Me In Challenge has us reading 52 short stories--one per week; one per card in a deck. For details click on the link. And my list of chosen stories may be found HERE

This week's story is "An Official Position" by Somerset Maugham (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine July 1958) chosen by drawing the nine of clubs. The title refers to the position held by our protagonist Louis Remire. Louis is a prisoner who was convicted of murdering his shrewish wife. But he had held an official position before the crime and conducted himself well as a prisoner afterward, so he was offered the position of public executioner. This is France, so he maintains and operates the guillotine. Despite the fact that his fellow prisoners despise him, he comes to realize that for the first time he is happy. He's allowed more freedom than the other prisoners--can, in fact, go into town and go to his favorite fishing place. He doesn't have to worry about a place to live or food for his table and the only negative in his life (the constant nagging) is gone. All he wants to do is finish his sentence and be able to fish. But will he be allowed to do so? The man who previously held his position went missing and was later found killed....


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Just the Facts 2019 Prize Winners!

It's time to take one last peek at the Just the Facts, Ma'am Vintage Mystery Challenge of 2019 and hand out some well-deserved prizes. First, I want to thank everyone who worked at filling in their detective notebooks over the year. I'm so glad you joined me in vintage mystery sleuthing. I do hope you'll think about joining me for the Vintage Mystery Extravaganza in 2020.

And now...for the prizes. First up--the drawing from all those who reported in: Steve/Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Kate @ Cross Examining Crime, dexter96@librarything, Rekha @ The Book Decoder, Countdown John, Rick Mills (our mid-point winner!) Joel @ I Should Be Reading, and Christina @ You Book Me All Night Long. I fed your entries into the Custom Random Number Generator and it whirled and clicked and served up an envelope with....

Kate @ Cross Examining Crime

as our winner. Congratulations, Kate!

And...pulling out my magnifying glass and examining all the details in the entries, I find that our Super Sleuth of 2019 is....


who completed all 120 categories from both the Gold and Silver notebooks. That's an awful lot of hours on stakeouts and following footprints and questioning suspects! Well done!

I will be contacting both of you sometime on Thursday (1/9/20) with the prize list to choose from.

ADDENDUM: Our Super Sleuth has mentioned to me that I may have missed a competing detective. He is correct. I managed to miss that Joel also filled in every category. That being the case, I am going to declare joint winners for this year's challenge. More prizes!

Let's give our winners a final round of applause.

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Friday, January 3, 2020

Mystery of the Haunted Pool

Mystery of the Haunted Pool (1960) by Phyllis A. Whitney

Susan Price leaves New York City at the beginning of summer vacation and journeys up the Hudson River to the little town of Highland Crossing owns an antique shop. Susan's father is ill and need of a country home to recuperate and her Aunt Edith has been trying to convince Captain Dan Teague to let her and the Price family move into his big house. Captain Dan is in need of money, but he and his grandson are reluctant to lose the family home. It's hoped that Captain Dan will take a liking to Susan and be persuaded to rent his house.

In addition to being interested in all the odd antiques in her aunt's shop, Susan becomes interested in some of the unusual people in the village, including a middle-aged spinster who wears the most unusual clothes and Captain Dan's grandson Gene who must wear a brace on his leg and has a huge chip on his shoulder. Miss Altoona, the oddly clothed spinster, is most insistent that she must buy a barrel of books Aunt Edith has been given by Captain Dan to sell and then later Susan finds Miss Altoon hiding in the underbrush keeping watch on the Teague house.

When Captain Dan finally agrees to let his house to the Prices, the mystery really heats up. On the first night that she and her aunt sleep in the house Susan hears strange noises, The two investigate and find an open window....and ominous signs on the living room floor. The most frightening thing for Susan is the face she sees in a pool on the grounds. A face that stares up at her through the water and then disappears. 

Susan's brother joins her in Highland Crossing. Together, the two of them win Gene's trust and then the three of them learn that there are clues to a Teague family secret hidden in one of the ancestor's captain's log and in a secret room--but not before a fire in Miss Altoona's house ironically sets everything right.

I read Phyllis A. Whitney when I was on my romance/romantic suspense kick back in my teen years. I discovered her brooding, handsome heroes and damsels in distress at the same time I was reading Victoria Holt and others in the gothic line. I never knew that she wrote straight juvenile mysteries--which is a shame because I would have enjoyed them when I was young. 

This is a fine example of the mysteries of the time--simple, straight-forward stories in a nice small-town setting. It's also easy to see why it was chosen for an Edgar Award in 1961 for Best Juvenile Mystery. Whitney's descriptions of people and settings are always excellent, whether in her adult suspense or in this mystery aimed at the younger crowd. she gives a real sense of the small town of Highland Crossing and sets the stage for low-key suspense. I enjoyed the characters of Susan and her aunt--and Susan's interactions with Gene as she tries to break through his defensive shell. The mystery wasn't difficult, but one doesn't really expect intricate puzzles in juvenile mysteries. ★★

Vintage Mystery Silver: Rule #3 Secret Passage
Calendar of Crime: September (book pub date)
Pick Your Poison: Body Parts - nose on cover

[First line] The air-cooled bus had followed the west bank of the Hudson River all the way from New York City, and Susan Price had loved every minute of the journey she was taking by herself.

[Last line] What a wonderful way to end the summer!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

2019 Books in Review Bingo

Reading Bingo 2017

Since I fell off the monthly round-up wagon in 2019 (no P.O.M. prizes....) I thought this would be a nice way to post a round-up of some of the books read this year. I've done it  a few times before--this particular challenge which asks us to name books we’ve read this year that meet categories on a bingo card – and it’s a big one with TWENTY-FIVE categories. I got the card from Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books.

Like a lot of bloggers who do this meme at the end of the year, I have not read to the bingo card, but have tried, after the event, to squish my reading into the card. So I may have to fudge a little here and there, which I hope won't be a big problem.What's the worst that can happen? Book blogger demerits?

A book with more than 500 pages:
One of my least favorite books of the year.The subtitle for Books to Die For (2012) by John Connolly & Declan Burke is The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels. I felt from the first that I wasn't sure that I ought to take the word of a book that claims as "the World's Greatest Mystery Writers" a whole slew of people I've never heard of. Not just haven't read...but haven't actually heard of OR seen their books on shelves when browsing.

A forgotten classic
Tales of Terror and Mystery (1922; 1977) contains stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that were first published separately during a period from 1908 to 1921. The original publication does not appear to have included the very last story--and that was a very good thing. As with most story collections, the stories here are mixed in their strength and power to amuse. But that final story is a very weak offering indeed. My favorites ("The New Catacomb," "The Man With the Watches," and "The Brazilian Cat") lean more towards the detective genre than the supernatural. The few of these tales which I assume were supposed to terrify do not hold quite the power to shock that they may have done when first published. Nevertheless, Doyle has given us an entertaining selection and I did enjoy them. 
A book that became a movie:  A Passage to India (1924) by E. M. Forster is very much rooted in its time and place. Set in colonial India, the reader is exposed to the viewpoints of both the British who rule in India and the Indians who must live their lives as subjects to a foreign government. Forster comes through as solidly anti-imperialist and his characters appear most passionate when they speak of the situation of those who must endure the imposition of British power or those who are part of the system but feel it unjust. The movie came out in 1984. 

A book published this year: I don't read a lot of recent publications. so this is usual a difficult one for me. But at the end of 2018, my husband pre-ordered two Star Trek Golden Books for me and I read both I Am Mr. Spock and I Am Captain Kirk early in 2019. Very fun little books for the small Trek fans in your world.

A book with a number in the title Murdered: One by One by Francis Beeding was a great book for a number of reasons. It was the first one that I had tried of Beeding's work and I found it to be very enjoyable. Beeding is very descriptive and manages to build up the suspense surrounding the serial killings very nicely. It also provided the opportunity for me to do a join up with my good blogging friend, Brad over at ahsweetmysteryblog. He and I have been read this novel in tandem, so to speak, and inflicted our opinions, shared our thoughts with our readers in a joint post.

A book written by an author under thirty: This is another that is always difficult--in part because a large number of authors (particularly more modern ones) seem to be shy about letting us know when they arrived on planet Earth. So--I have not idea if any of my authors were under thirty when they published the books I read. I suspect not and I'm not going to try real hard to find out....


A book with non-human characters
: I could have chosen any of the Big Little Books that I read at the end of the year. But I decided to go with Mickey Mouse and Goofy in 
Mickey Mouse Mystery at Disneyland: The security chief of Disneyland has a puzzle on his hands. Small portions of food and tiny toy-sized furniture and tools have been disappearing from the restaurants and toy shop in the amusement park. He calls on Mickey and Goofy to solve the mystery of how the culprit is getting in and out of locked buildings--building that remain locked and sealed up tight even after the things disappear. The pair find a surprising answer in the miniature village in Storybook Land.

A funny book
Unholy Dying (1945) is the first of a series of mysteries featuring Professor John Stubbs, the larger-than-life botanist-cum-amateur sleuth, by R. T. Campbell. This initial outing is told primarily from the point of view of Stubbs' "Watson," his nephew Andrew Blake. Blake, who earns his keep selling "culture" pieces to the Daily Courier newspaper, has joined Stubbs at a formal Congress of geneticists where he is expected to come up with interesting stories on such things as blood groups and taste tests. But soon something far more exciting than genetic presentations happens. Murder isn't a funny subject, but Campbell is a very humorous author. 

A book by a female author: I had long wanted to reread Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and several of my challenges this year gave me every excuse to do so. I thought this was a shatteringly good novel when I first read it for a college English class in 1988. At that time it was an interesting look at a dystopian society that could happen, but to a child of the 70s and early 80s it seemed unlikely. Though positive change was slow, it was happening and seemed to be trending to keep happening. So, I read it as more of a cautionary tale. Reading it now with the background of the United States from 2016 on, it is even more shattering. It doesn't seem so far-fetched that so much could change so quickly--that a free woman could find herself stripped of her autonomy and enslaved in the ways that Offred and her fellow Handmaids are. Because so much has changed so quickly in the last three years. It is so easy to take a way of life for granted--but this book (and current events) show us has dangerous it is to take anything for granted...even the basic rights promised to us in the Constitution.

A book with a mystery
: For anyone who knows me well, it's obvious that I have a HUGE number of books to 
select from for this one. So, I give you one of the titles I rated highly: A Whiff of Cyanide by Guy Fraser-Sampson. This is the third in his Hampstead Murders series which makes great use of Golden Age detection--which, by the way, is a great delight for those of us who have a deep love for classic crime. He has found a way to weave tropes from the Golden Age into a modern day setting that is effective and makes for compelling reading. This time the Hampstead team--led by Superintendent Simon Collison with the assistance of Detective Sergeants Karen Willis and Bob Metcalfe--have to investigate a suspicious death at a crime writer's convention

A book with a one-word title: Sometimes a work is so important that it becomes difficult to put into words what you thought and felt while reading it. Most often (for me, anyway) that happens with poetry. It happened again with Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming. This is a powerful and moving story of her journey--a journey of becoming that is still going on. A process that doesn't stop as long as you are willing to keep learning and growing and changing when necessary. Michelle reminds us throughout the book that whoever we are and wherever we are, we can take what we're given and make the most of it. We are all in the process of becoming and where we have the power to do so we need to take control and become with a purpose--choose to become more than we are now, to become a better version of ourselves. And to encourage others to do the same.

A book of short storiesGaslight 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 the best book I read last year--but certainly the most unusual.

A free square:Ellery Queen's Challenge to the Reader (1938) edited by Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay & Manfred Lee) contains twenty-five short stories by "famous" mystery authors featuring "famous" detectives. The challenge here is that Queen has left the authors' names off the stories (until the end where all is revealed) and has given the detective in question a pseudonym throughout the story. I use quotes around famous for two reasons--some of the illustrious detectives and authors are no longer common knowledge in mystery circles. In fact, I only came across some of them through The World's Best 100 Detective Stories (1910)--a ten-volume set edited by Eugene Thwing (and to my mind--overflowing with obscure authors). The second reason I put famous in quotes is that Queen's friend J.J., who represents the average reader of 1938 and makes his guesses at the end of each story, doesn't know some of the more recognizable detectives on offer. I'm rather proud of myself that I correctly identified about half and have Thwing's set and a couple of recently-read short story collections to thank for the more obscure ones that I spotted.

A book set on a different continentNo Patent on Murder (1965; aka Honeymoon to Nowhere) by AkimitsuPeriodically, I decide to give a Japanese mystery a try. Almost always because it will suit a challenge that I'm doing. And almost every time I am reminded that the pacing of Japanese writing just doesn't suit me. The build-up to the crime is sooooooooo slow. Providing background is one thing, but the Japanese style of narration seems to require meticulous (I would almost say tedious) attention to detail. Where British or American mystery authors of the period would tend to summarize characters in short passages, Takagi takes several chapters to slowly provide details on Etsuko and her family, Yoshihiro, and all the supporting characters. I do enjoy learning about other cultures and those cultures during different time periods, but I find it difficult to adapt to the narrative style. The only exception to this rule so far has been The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji--most likely because it pays homage to the classic mysteries of the Golden Age. This story did pick up once the murder had occurred and Kirishima and his assistant Kitahara begin their investigation. I did enjoy following Kirishima's process of detection and interrogation.

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

As is evident by the title, this is an extraordinary memoir by one of the Original 29 Code Talkers (officially, 29--32, by Chester's count because he includes 3 men who helped develop the code). It details Chester's life from his early years in the Checkerboard through his war years and beyond. While the primary focus is on his time in the Marines helping to develop the code and then putting it to use in the Pacific Theater, we learn quite a bit about what it was like for a young Navajo to grow up pre-1940.

The first book by a favorite author: It had been a long time since I had read the first two books of the Trixie Belden series where Trixie meets the new friends who will become her very best friends. Trixie Belden & The Secret of the Mansion (1948) was most likely the very first cliff-hanger series book that I read and had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen to Trixie and Honey Wheeler when they set out to track down Jim.  I have always enjoyed the stories that introduce us to Trixie and her core group of friends. I loved meeting Jim and Honey and the adventures they all got up to around the mansion. This and the second book (The Red Trailer Mystery) were definitely two of my favorites of the series while growing up and I was able to enjoy them now as an adult.

A book you heard about onlineGallows Court (2018) is a bit of a departure for Martin Edwards, though those of us in the GAD (Golden Age of Detection) world shouldn't be surprised. Edwards is the author of two modern mystery series: one featuring Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin and the other set in the Lake District and featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and Oxford historian Daniel Kind. But Edwards is also very much a GAD man--serving as eighth President of the Detection Club, an office filled by the likes of G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Agatha Christie. He has also helped bring vintage crime classics back into the public view by introducing British Library Crime Classic reprint editions of various long-forgotten GAD authors, providing a guide to such crime classics in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, and giving us the history of crime fiction between the wars in The Golden Age of Murder. With Gallows Court, Edwards uses his extensive knowledge of the Golden Age period and accepted tropes to create a historical novel that both pays homage to the conventions and atmosphere of the mysteries of the period and turns some of those conventions on their head.

A best-selling book: Welllllll, as I said when I did this last year, I don’t tend to read what I'm sure Cleo intends to imply by the category "best-sellers," but I would think that since Agatha Christie is said to be outsold by only the Bible and Shakespeare then I ought be able to count a book by the Queen of Crime that I read this year. So, I'm going with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel to feature Hercule Poirot. And, although Hastings has met the great detective in the past, this is apparently the first time that he has played Watson. Hastings is home on medical leave from the Great War and is invited by his old friend John Cavendish to spend his recovery time at the family's country home, Styles. Cavendish tells his friend, "I'm afraid you'll find it very quiet down here, Hastings." And Hastings assures him, "My dear fellow, that's just what I want." Unfortunately, it's not going to be quiet for long...

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

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

A book at the bottom of my TBR pile: I'm not exactly sure which TBR pile I should use. The physical stacks all up and down my hallway and in the back room? My virtual TBR pile on Goodreads? Since I don't really know, I'll just use one that's been sitting on the TBR pile the longest....which would seem to be A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. There are many reasons to appreciate the book--its lessons on self-reliance and belief in oneself, for one. I certainly do appreciate Elnora's thirst for knowledge and the desire to better herself. It was very good to read a story about an intelligent young woman's whose sense of self and purpose was strong enough that she refused to let obstacles (like her mother's refusal to help) stand in her way. And she manages it without becoming bitter.

A book your friend loves: Well, I didn't deliberately read anything that any of my friends loved and said, "Bev, you've just got to read this!" But my mom (who is also my friend) loved Nancy Drew enough to keep her set of six books and pass them along to me when I was old enough to read. So, I will choose a Nancy Drew book in her honor--The Mystery of the Fire Dragon (1961). It 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.

A book that scares you: Hmmm. I didn't really read anything scary this year--not even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Tales of Terror & Mystery mentioned above. Guess I'll have to skip this one too.

A book that is more than ten years old: Like the mystery square, this is one of the easiest categories for me. My preference is for vintage books. Let's just go with the oldest book that I read last year: The Notting Hill Mystery (1863) by Charles Warren Adams has been put forward as the first published detective novel. Is it? Well, that's a discussion for another time. What it is is an early version of various mystery and crime themes and methods found at work in the next century when such novels really hit their stride. We have a story told in epistolary-fashion, through reports and letters and diary entries. We have an inverted mystery--there's little doubt that Baron R**** is responsible for his wife's death (among others), but is there enough evidence to convict him? We have an insurance agent put to work as detective and endeavoring to prove whether the woman's death was through accident, suicide, or murder. We have a mercenary man determined to kill the people who stand between him and the inheritance of a fortune. There's even a map of the Baron's house. And there is also more than a hint of the gothic involved as we have mesmerism (hypnotism to you and me) and a sort of sympathetic magic between the twins in the story (the Baron's wife and her sister).

The second book in a seriesMiss Trask--Honey Wheeler's governess--takes the girls and the Wheelers' camper on their next adventure in The Red Trailer Mystery. While the main objective is to find Jim, tell him about his inheritance, reassure him that the Frayne's family lawyer and executor of his uncle's will won't let Jonesy take him back, and then convince Honey's parents to adopt him, the girls also get caught up two more mysteries. The mystery of the down-trodden family traveling in a red camper and the outbreak of camper thefts that has Miss Trask worried about how long they can stay and look for Jim. The kind-hearted girls just can't help wondering why the family in the red trailer seem so sad and when the oldest girl runs away they can't help but search for her while they look for Jim. Trixie is convinced that if they solve the mystery of the camper thieves then they will find both Jim and Joeanne. It winds up that she's right as usual...though not quite in the way she expects. A happy ending is in store for everyone...

A book with a blue cover: 
Scales of Justice (1955) is one of Ngaio Marsh's most classically British mysteries. In fact, despite its 1955 printing date, it has a very pre-WWII feel to it. It is set in the standard small charming village with all the familiar figures--former British military types (Colonel Carterette, the murderee, and Commander Syce, an inebriate ex-navy man); the local landed gentry represented by Lady Lacklander and her son (recently elevated to Sir George Lacklander after the death of his father); the nosy middle-aged woman (this time Nurse Kettle,the county nurse), the romantic young couple (Dr. Mark Lacklander--George's son--and Rose Carteretts--the Colonel's daughter; and the Outsider in the form of Colonel Carterette's second (much younger) wife. There's a nice, healthy on-going feud between Carterette and his neighbor Mr. Octavius Danberry-Phinn over fishing rights and the attempt to catch the Old Un (a rather spectacular trout). And, of course, somebody is going to wind up murdered....