Saturday, April 4, 2020

Curtain for a Jester

Curtain for a Jester (1953) by Frances & Richard Lockridge was the perfect book for me to read this week. The primary action takes place on April Fool's Day--or rather in the evening. Byron Wilmot lives in the penthouse apartment atop the building where Pam and Jerry North also live. They've "met" Wilmot exactly once...to nod to in an elevator ride. For no discernible reason he invites them to a little party that he's giving in honor of All Fool's Day.

They are well aware of Wilmot's reputation as a practical joker--after all he owns the Novelty Emporium where one can buy all sorts of joke products and costumes. And, as Pam notes in the first line of the book (below), one can expect everything from rubber spiders to snakes with springs in them. One doesn't expect the doorbell to have been turned into a screeching woman or the door to be opened by a man apparently holding his head in his hand. Yes, they know right away that Wilmot's party isn't going to be a typical drinks and dancing affair.

Not everybody enjoys the jokes, however. Two of Wilmot's employees, John Baker and Martha Evitts, arrive in full costume as a boy in rompers and an old witch. Which would be fine if the party had actually been a masquerade ball instead of a formal affair. They were none too pleased with their boss's cruel twist on their age difference. And then there was Clyde Parsons, Wilmot's nephew, who came as he was (quite casually dressed) after an urgent phone call told him that his uncle might be dying and wanted to see him to "make things right." Then, as a climax, the lights go out and it appears that a burglar is on the rooftop outside the french doors. Arthur Monteath, an acquaintance of the Norths, is called upon by Wilmot to help nab him. He's thrown a gun and in the confusion winds up shooting him. Fortunately, it's not a real burglar but a dummy. Wilmot thinks it's uproariously funny that he's made Monteath think he's killed a man. Later that night, there is a killing--but Wilmot's no longer laughing. He's dead with a knife in his chest. 

Pam North winds up making the "squeal" to Acting Captain Bill Weigand. She insists that if he can just find out where a red-haired man fits into the scheme of things that he'll be able to solve the murder. You see, Wilmot had gone to a great deal of trouble with that dummy--he gave it a red wig and a scar. Not that anyone else noticed the scar. As she points out to Weigand, this wasn't meant to look like a dummy; "this was meant to look like a man. That, she said was the point. 'This one was meant to be somebody. Else why the red hair?'" As is the case so many times, Pam is right. But there's more to the plot than just the red-headed man...as Weigand will discover.

The Lockridge books are my light, fluffy mystery reads. They're comfortable and breezy and don't take a lot of brain power. I pick them up when I just want something fun or when I'm having trouble getting into my reading. I had quite a reading slump going there for a while (10 days on the same 190 page book) once the COVID-19 crisis really hit the US and I needed something comfortable. So, I read Stand Up and Die and once that was done pulled out Curtain for a Jester. They were just what the doctor ordered. Fun reads with good character sketches that I could easily read in a day or so and get myself back on track. The ending scene of Jester in the dark novelty shop is a bit over-the-top (could it really be possible that no one thought to turn the lights on before the very end?), but very in keeping with the larger-than-life feel of the practical joke atmosphere and the hole & corner spy thriller aspects that kept creeping in. ★★★★


*************
Vintage Mystery Scattergories 2013 Gold #6 Yankee Doodle Dandy (American)
Calendar of Crime: April (April Fool's Day)
Deaths = 3 (one stabbed; one shot; one fell from height)

First Line: Pamela North came from her bathroom and said, "Rubber spiders."

Last Line: "As Pam says," Jerry noted, "you can always go by cats."

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Stand Up & Die

Stand Up & Die (1953) by Frances & Richard Lockridge is the sixth book featuring Captain M. L. Heimrich, NY State Police. Heimrich was introduced in the second Mr. and Mrs. North book, Murder Out of Turn, working with a vacationing Bill Weigand. He had another "guest appearance" in Death of a Tall Man before the Lockridges started a series he could call his own. Once the Lockridges began developing several investigators (the Norths/Weigand, Heimrich, Lt. Shapiro, etc), it was interesting to find small (and sometimes a little larger) connections between the different "worlds" of each series. In this particular book, the first victim has connections withing New York City, so Heimrich calls on Weigand to dig up some information and even goes to town himself and has lunch with the "Acting Captain."

The story begins with a young man recently released from duty in the Korean War who has found it difficult to settle back in the States. He sets out "bumming" in the country and finds himself wandering down a nice little lane that he "liked the looks of" and discovers something not very nice at all. Virginia Monroe has been stabbed to death in what looks at first glance to be a "sex crime"--that some man who likes to play with knives has gone a bit berserk. But when Captain Heimrich examines the body and the begins talking to the suspects, he finds certain things that just don't add up. And one too many coincidences. As he says in conversation with his right-hand man, Charlie Forniss:

Still, there are coincidences, Charlie. Very annoying things, they can be. Now and then you have to accept one....One. I wouldn't want to accept two, of course. One's two many.

And there are at least two...if not more.

There's Timothy Gates, our veteran, who just happened to have danced with Miss Monroe at one of those parties they're always doing for servicemen--and who just happened to take a walk down the lane where her body was waiting to be found. Then there's the nature of the wounds and a mysterious list of figures that she kept clipped in her checkbook. A list that doesn't seem to match any of the deposits or withdrawals and that doesn't seem to add up to anything that means anything. 

Then when Virginia's grandmother just happens to "stand up and die" before she can be told that her elder granddaughter has died and before she could consider changing the terms of a will that was very strange indeed when it came to her younger granddaughter, Liz. Well, that was an odd coincidence too. Heimrich suspects that he's getting two murders for the price of one...but an autopsy seems to prove him wrong. It will take a call or two to Bill Weigand and a visit to a certain address (also noted among Virginia's things) to help Heimrich clear the path to a final solution.

This Lockridge book has a slightly darker feel to it--from the discovery of the mutilated body of Virginia to fact that neither she nor her grandmother were sympathetic characters to the battle fatigue (read PTSD) of Tim Gates. But that doesn't prevent the story from being enjoyable. One of the Lockridges' strengths is character and they do a particularly good job portraying Tim's state of mind  and his difficulties re-entering civilian life. Heimrich provides a very sympathetic view of him even while questioning and perhaps not believing everything he says. 

I had read this one before (from the library and back in the mists of time pre-blogging) and had a feeling that I knew who the culprit was--though I wasn't 100% sure and couldn't figure out (or remember) exactly how the second death had been engineered. So, it's difficult for me to say how fair the mystery is to the reader. Certain clues seemed quite plain to me, but I honestly don't remember how plain they seemed the first time around. A very pleasant read from one of my go-to series--especially when I've been suffering from reader's block as I have been since the work from home and stay at home thing has been in force. I gave this ★★★★ before and see no reason to alter that rating now.

**************
Vintage Mystery Scattegories 2013 Gold: #4 Leave It To the Professionals
Calendar of Crime: September (Author--Richard--DOB)
Deaths = 3 (one stabbed, one poisoned, one drowned--after driving off road and landing in a reservoir)

First line: The lane is little frequented, except by those who live along it in three big houses.

Last line: But before Captain Heimrich had reached the door, the attention of each focused elsewhere.


The Tuesday Night Bloggers: Who Wants to Murder a Millionaire



Welcome to this week's mystery game show, "Who Wants to Murder a Millionaire," the show where you can literally get away with murder--I'm your host, Liz Borden. Let's meet our two teams. Team One comes to us from the railroad industry...they are Stranglers on the Train! Say hello to Moira (from Clothes in Books), Steve (from In Search of the Classic Mystery) and Brad (from Ah Sweet Mystery).

Could this be one of our guests at work?
Challenging the Stranglers we have Team Two who hail from the town of Le'bruce...and they are a Case for Three Defectives! Give a warm welcome to Kate (from Cross Examining Crime), Aidan (from Mysteries Ahoy!) and JJ (from The Invisible Event).

Can you see what's wrong here?

For those of you new to our show, let's review. The object of the game is to plan and execute the perfect murder by answering questions and earning points. The point schedule is as follows:

First Question (1 pt): Select your victim
Second Question (2 pt): Select your location
Third Question (4 pt): Select the perfect method
Fourth Question (8 pt): Devise the perfect alibi
Fifth Question (16 pt):  Gather any necessary supplies
Sixth Question (32 pt): Plan complete

Murder Committed

Seventh Question (64 pt): Discovery of the corpse
Eight Question (128 pt): Successfully negotiate questioning by police
Ninth Question (245 pt): Red herrings completely mystify investigators
Tenth Question (500 pt): Police baffled—case unsolved

Perfect Murder = 1000 pts (in case of a tie, there is a Decider/Bonus round)
Highest Score (if not a perfect murder) is the winner. You may not have completely fooled the police, but they couldn’t put together a case that would stand up in court.

Now, as has been pointed out by one of our contestants, it does seem to rate life a bit cheaply to only offer one point for the victim, but after all one must start somewhere. And the points must build.... {Why must they build? Well...that's the way the sponsors wanted it. To build suspense or something. I'm just the pretty face for the camera; I don't get to make those decisions.}


But, seriously (I don't think I could keep that up for the entire post), our little band of Tuesday Night Bloggers decided that we just hadn't had enough of mystery quizzes. I want to thank Brad and Kate for brainstorming clever ideas to keep us busy while doing our part for social distancing. Kate's quiz last week (check out her blog link above if you missed it) inspired me to think up the title for this week's mystery game show and again we played through email. The rules were similar to Kate's--except I am much less industrious and composed only ten questions that each team answered separately. The team members took turns being in the "hot seat" and playing for full points. If that player missed the question, then their teammates had the chance to save that part of the murder plan and earn half credit.

For the questions, I tried very hard to tailor the questions to the particular murder plan step (a question about victims for question one and so on). And, just as on the TV show, the teams had access to four lifelines:


Team Lifelines: one each per team
50:50: Two incorrect answers are eliminated
Double Dip: Allows for a second guess for full credit if first answer is wrong. Contestant must request to use this lifeline before making the initial guess. The lifeline is forfeited even if the first guess is correct.
Phone A Friend: Current contestant may consult one of their team members. Full credit is given if the answer is correct. If the answer is incorrect, then only the remaining team member may have a try for half credit.
Know Your Enemy: This one is a bit of a gamble. If you think one of your opponents has expert knowledge, then you may call on them to give you an answer for full credit. They are on their honor to provide their best answer. BUT if the answer is correct their team will automatically receive full credit as well regardless of whether that contestant was on deck for the question. If the answer is incorrect and that contestant was on deck for the question for their team, they will select one of their remaining teammates to field the question for a chance at full credit (no conferrals); the third player will play for half credit. If they were not on deck, then their team plays following the usual rules with your chosen “enemy” offering a second guess for half credit. You will also be allowed a second guess for half.

And now for a wrap-up on the final round:



After a quick check of the math, the Stranglers decided to put Brad in the hot seat with a host of lifelines at his fingertips. Once he saw the question, he picked up the phone (er...keyboard) and brought Moira into the fray--whereupon they decided upon their choice for full points (they were correct). Kate took the heat for the Defectives and requested the "Double Dip" lifeline before offering up her perfectly correct first answer.

After the dust settled (and my Excel spreadsheet did its math thing), we found that the Defectives,while not quite managing a perfect murder (if only that curare bottle hadn't gone missing during the supplies round), pulled off a near-perfect quiz and a score of 992.

The Stranglers put together a really devious plot--scoring 903 over all but not quite devious enough to completely baffle the investigators.

So...Congratulations to this week's winners: Case for Three Defectives--Kate, JJ, and Aidan. And I want to thank each of my Tuesday Night Blogging pals for indulging me in my convoluted quiz game. I had a lot of fun putting it together.


If you would like a chance to build your own perfect murder, then give the quiz a try. I've listed the questions below. For the purposes of this game, all "Golden Age" books follow my Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge guidelines and are published 1960 or earlier. Answers appear in the apparent blank space between questions--just highlight to reveal the answer.

Round #1 Victims in Sayers
All of the following are murder victims in a Dorothy L. Sayers novel except one? Which one?
  1. Reuben Levy
  2. Denis Cathcart
  3. George Harrison
  4. Henry Thorpe


Answer: Henry Thorpe died a natural death in The Nine Tailors

Round #2 Death on Deck: Murder on the Water
One of the following mysteries set on a ship or boat, features murders on the yacht of a millionaire. Which one?
  1. The Virgin Kills (1932) by Raoul Whitfield
  2. Found Floating (1937) by Freeman Wills Crofts
  3. Charlie Chan Carries On (1930) by Earl Derr Biggers
  4. Murder by Latitude (1930) by Rufus King

Answer: The Virgin Kills by Whitfield

Round #3 Slow Poison: Poison in the 1930s and 40s
Three of these novels contain a significant death by poison. Which is the odd book out?
  1. Death at the Bar  (1940) by Ngaio Marsh
  2. And Be a Villain (1948) by Rex Stout
  3. Death in the Backseat (1936) by Dorothy Cameron Disney
  4. Murdered One by One (1937) by Francis Beeding

Answer: Death in the Backseat by Disney (primary victim was shot)

Round #4 Agatha's Alibis
In many cases of "identity theft" in a murder mystery, a culprit impersonates someone else to establish an alibi--for instance, wearing the victim's clothes to make it appear this person was alive after the fact. In at least one of Christie's novels a corpse is not quite what it appears to be (thus making it seem impossible for the villain to have committed this particular crime at the time indicated). Choose the title which is the best example.
  1. The 4:50 from Paddington
  2. Lord Edgeware Dies/Thirteen at Dinner
  3. The Body in the Library
  4. The Boomerang Clue/Why Didn't They Ask Evans?


Answer: The Body in the Library (which was actually Pamela, a girl guide, and not Ruby as initially thought)

Round #5 Sinister Supplies: The Equipment of John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson
Each of the following items is important to particular Carr/Dickson novels, but I have mismatched on of the items and titles. Which match is incorrect?
1. The Problem of the Green Capsule/The Black Spectacles

2. Panic in Box C
3. Death-Watch
4. Till Death Do Us Part

Answer: Till Death Do Us Part (the ace of spades is actually important to The Red Widow Murders)

Round #6 Plans, Designs & Maps: Mapback plans of the murder scene.
Below are four Dell Mapback versions of murder scenes. Please choose the scene that is correctly identified.
1. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart
2. N or M? by Agatha Christie

3. Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer
4. Staircase 4 by Helen Reilly


Answer: N or M? by Agatha Christie

Round #7 Victims in Edmund Crispin (1940s-50s)
Out of the four professions listed below, please identify the one that did not fall victim to murder in an Edmund Crispin novel.
  1. Postman
  2. Policeman
  3. Opera Singer
  4. Film cameraman

Answer: #1 Postman

Round #8 Police Detectives from the 1940s
Which of these detectives began their career in 1942 (in this context "began" means the first published novel focused on their investigations)?
  1. Captain M. L. Hemirich (series by Frances & Richard Lockridge
  2. Inspector Thomas Littlejohn (series by George Bellairs)
  3. Chief Inspector Julian Rivers (series by Carol Carnac)
  4. Inspector Roger West (series by John Creasey)

Answer: Inspector West

Round #9 Red Herrings & Clues in the Golden Age
The following clues all appear in mystery stories, but I have inserted one red herring. One of the clues does not belong to the book it is ascribed to here. Which one?
Books arranged on a desk in The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen
A discarded peach pit in Red Threads by Rex Stout
A missing tube of paint in Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh
Missing pearls in The Case of Colonel Marchand by E. C. R. Lorac

Answer: A missing tube of paint--even though Marsh's book is about artists.

Round #10
I have grouped several GAD novels under various subgenre headings. Those of you who have participated in my Vintage Mystery Reading Challenges over the years will recognize some of these subgenres. Only one grouping is absolutely correct with ALL four correct titles. Please identify the correct group For the purposes of this quiz in order to qualify for the subgenre, the element must be a major factor in the mystery itself. For instance, Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes (with its college setting and college president as victim) would qualify, but a story that has an academic who isn't a victim, major suspect/culprit, or amateur detective as a guest at a country house weekend murder fest would not

  1. Academic Mysteries: The Mourning After Death by Nicholas Blake; Death at Half-Term by Josephine Bell; Bats in the Belfry by E. C. R. Lorac; The Case Is Closed by Patricia Wentworth
  2. Medical Mysteries: Shadow on the Wall by H. C. Bailey; Miss Pinkerton by Mary Roberts Rinehart; A Silent Witness by R. Austin Freeman; Tragedy at the Unicorn by John Rhodes
  3. All Aboard! Train Mysteries: Night Train to Paris by Manning Coles; The Two Tickets Puzzle by J. J. Connington; Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes; Death Treads Softly by George Bellairs
  4. Country House Murders: The Santa Klaus Murders by Mavis Doriel Hay; The Hanging Captain by Henry Wade; The House of Sudden Sleep by John Hawk; The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Answer: Medical Mysteries

So, how did you do? Did you plan a perfect murder? Did you gather more points than our two murderous teams and escape justice anyway?






Sunday, March 29, 2020

Good Luck to the Corpse

Good Luck to the Corpse (1951) was written by Max Murray. Murray was a journalist from Australia who started out working on a paper in Sydney. He then opted to leave Australia and work his way around the world--holding jobs in lumber camps, freight yards, and on a tugboat on the Mississippi. He later worked as a foreign correspondent and wrote and edited a newsreel for the BBC during WWII. His mobile lifestyle informs his books--with many of his mysteries set in foreign climes. This particular novel takes place in Nice among the society set who frequent the hotels and casinos as well as the local residents who call Nice home.

Among the locals is Penelope Whitecliffe who has inherited her father's language school and is trying to make a go of it. Helping her is her uncle Ainslie Whitecliffe--an older gentleman who has never outgrown the boys own adventure novels of his youth and imagines himself in a hero's role. He's come to help his niece save the school and when he discovers that Raoul de Wolfe and his beautiful wife are determined to take the school away from Penelope he decides to do a little spy-work to discourage them. But Ainslie isn't cut out for high adventure and his spying leads him into even more dangerous waters than a simple school takeover. 

Meanwhile, Julian Ashford and his son Tyler have arrived in Nice after years of living in far more dangerous locales. Julian is hoping to settle his son somewhere quiet while he (Julian) does one more job for his company. He enrolls Tyler in the Whitecliffe school and hires Ainslie as a private tutor and companion for his son while he's away. Then he packs his bags and prepares to set off on his journey later in that day.

The next thing we know Ainslie is in the casino gambling with wads of money like his life depends on it. But if that's the case, even though he's winning...he loses. Because as his winnings hit the eighty thousand franc mark and he prepares to scoop up his winnings, he falls over dead. Since Julian was one of the last people to see Ainslee before his gambling streak, he's prevented from leaving the country and the police begin sifting through Whitecliffe's life to discover who could have wanted the little man dead. Before they're through, they'll dig up surprises at the school, the past will come back to haunt Julian, the de Wolfes will come under the microscope, a refugee language student will wind up dead as well, and a lady's jewels will go missing. 

After working on this book for eleven days, I finally finished it! The whole social-distancing, working-from-home, seeing-my-husband-24/7, what-day-is-it-anyway? thing really threw my reading mojo for a loop and I was beginning to think I would never get back to reading even though I have scads of time now. And it wasn't like this was a big book (only 190 pages) or a bad book (it was quite enjoyable, really). I just had trouble settling down with it.

It certainly isn't a complicated book. There's a fairly straight-forward plot device driving the murders and the investigation was interesting. Not quite fair--because there's an element to the motive that isn't revealed until the wrap-up (and there's no way for the reader to know what it is). Still a tidy little mystery with angles that keep things moving. But the best part is the characters--particularly Julian and his son and a friend from their travels, John Keeble. And then when Mrs. Tilford decides to take on Julian and Tyler and enters their household, well, she's simply delightful. ★★ and 1/2.

**************
Vintage Mystery Scattergories Gold #21 Things That Go Bump In the Night--"Corpse" in the title
Pick Your Poison: Careers (written by a former/current journalist)
Mystery Reporter: How = poison
Deaths = one poisoned; two stabbed, one drowned

First Line: He had always known he would meet Risa again.

Why on earth? Don't ask me to fathom a woman's mind; sorry for you perhaps, with an instinctive feeling that you had become embroiled in something that was none of your business....Perhaps that was it. Risa, I am happy to say, is unpredictable. At the risk of sounding suburban, that's why I love her. (Raoul de Wolfe; p. 72)

Yes, Julian realized that it would be his prestige that would count. The social standing of Raoul de Wolfe would have to be maintained at all costs. He was like an actor with his public. Here now, sitting in the sun, looking with amused tolerance on the passing scene, he was playing a part and quite obviously enjoying the part of Raoul de Wolfe. (p. 73)

...when you set out to carry a baby through a jungle infested with Japanese, you don't carry a bundle of documents. You carry quinine and a rifle and some basic food, not the birth certificate and marriage lines. (Julian Ashford; p. 82)

RdW: All your life you've been able to behave naturally, haven't you?
JA: I suppose I have, but why not?
(Risa de Wolfe, Julian Ashford; p. 83)

I find that trying to protect somebody is in nine cases out of ten a complete waste of time yet the idea is dinned int people's heads from the time they are born. (Mrs. Tilford; pp. 100-101)

Her head was close to his shoulder. He touched her hair with his lips, and she raised a hand and let it lie in surrender on his shoulder. Childlike and at rest. To love, he thought, you don't have to make love, you keep it like this and like this till it is no longer bearable; wait without movement till it is no longer tolerable. Wait because never again will it have this enchantment. (p. 145)

Last Lines: He grinned and made a little wave of dismissal. And then he walked away.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Ragtime: Review

Ragtime (1975) by E. L. Doctorow is set in early 20th-Century America (about 1902-1914). Its fictional heart is with an unnamed family in upper New York. None of the family has names beyond Mother, Father, Grandfather, Mother's Younger Brother, and the son of the house. Their lives are entwined with various famous real-life personages such as Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman, and Evelyn Nesbit. And these famous people interact with the likes of Henry Ford, J. P. Morgan, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata. On the periphery is another fictional family--known only as Tateh and his daughter--who will become important to Mother and her family at the end of the story. 

So...I just finished this book last night and it has pretty much fallen completely out of my head (I had to go back and look at details to give the synopsis above). I guess I should have taken notes while reading it so I would have something more to say about the thing. But--actually, the fact that I don't have much to give you in the way of impressions speaks volumes in and of itself. Honestly, I can't see why this was (according to the blurb on the front) an "astonishing bestseller." Unless the fact that it was a bestseller is what is so astonishing--then, yes, I'm in total agreement with that. This seems to me to be a rambling book that reminds me a lot of stream of consciousness novels but, on the surface, making more sense. I mean, there are story lines to be had, but the way they jump around and in & out of each other is very disconcerting. 

We witness Houdini's desperation to conquer more and more complicated and dangerous feats. We get a look at a bizarre conversation between Ford and Morgan. Ford develops his assembly-line car manufacturing process. Freud visits Clark University. Factory workers strike and a black man seeks justice that isn't there for people of color. But it's all smooshed together in such a mish-mash that it's hard to get much out of it. Definitely not my cup of tea.  ★★ and 1/2.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Challenge Complete: Book Challenge by Erin 12.0


I thoroughly enjoy Erin's book challenge. It's always nice to do a challenge or two that will get me out of my mystery book zone. I've finished this round's basic challenge and am opting out of the bonus round--primarily because we now have to choose all books in the bonus from books chosen by others. I struggled with this when only half had to come from previously chosen books--because I try very hard to read books from the TBR mountains all over my house. So, I'm calling it a day and I wish good luck to all those heading into (or finishing!) the bonus round.

Here are this round's categories and my list of books read:
*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) [2/6/20]
*10 points: Read a book written by two or more authors
Spin Your Web, Lady! by Frances & Richard Lockridge (218 pages) [2/8/20]
*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) [2/14/20]
*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) [2/18/20]
* 20 points: (selected by Vinay) – Read a book set in Africa
Death in Kenya by M. M. Kaye (208 pages) [2/20/20]
*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) [2/23/20]
*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) [1/26/20]
*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) [3/9/20]

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Betsy & Tacy Go Downtown

Betsy & Tacy Go Downtown (1943) by Maud Hart Lovelace

While sorting through storage bins in the garage, I came across this childhood favorite. It's the only book in the Betsy and Tacy series I ever read and as far I'm concerned that's fine with me. It was an absolute perfect book for this born reader and writer-wannabe. I loved Betsy. I knew exactly how she felt making her first trip to the town's brand new Carnegie library. I still remember my mom taking me to ours and how excited I was to get my first library card (with a metal piece in it and the ka-chunk noise the machine made when the card was used to check out books). I, too, had little notebooks in which I wrote miniature stories. For me, it was mysteries featuring the "Crime Club"--a group of friends not too unlike Trixie Belden and her Bob Whites. Unlike Betsy, I did not shove them in the fire and move on to writing classic-like stories. But I have no idea what happened to those little notebooks with "The Diamond Bracelet Mystery" and others in them...

There are so many things to like about this book. The friendship between Betsy and Tacy and Tib. The way they try to hypnotize Winona Root into taking them to the theater and the friendship that develops thereafter. Winona's surprise for Betsy and her poem. Tib's ride in the town's first-ever horseless carriage. Mrs. Poppy, her quest to belong in her new town, and the heart-warming surprise she makes happen for Betsy and her family. The girls' Christmas shopping trip. The Christmas traditions of Betsy's family. And--Betsy's love of books and story-telling. A truly heart-warming book that was just as much fun to read as an adult as it was when I was young. ★★★★

Monday, March 9, 2020

Palaces for the People

Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg

Klinenberg, a professor of sociology at New York University, examines how our social structures--from the library to schools to community gardens--can help mitigate problems and challenges of our divided civic life. He posits that neighborhoods, regardless of economic or over-all social standing, which have strong social infrastructure do better at taking care of one another when crises strike and also do better at resisting crime and other negative social impacts.

This was an interesting thesis, which once thought about made a great deal of sense to me. I was very interested to dive in and see what research he did and how the research supported (or didn't) his theories. However, as with other readers on Goodreads (I peeked at reviews when I finished the book), I found the chapter on libraries the most interesting and most compelling. The other chapters seemed to treat their focus in a much more cursory way and managed for the most part to loop back to talking about libraries.

Klinenberg seems very invested in libraries--and why not, libraries are very important to communities. But it seems to me that he would have done well to either rein in his enthusiasm for libraries in a book with a broad premise (such as this one purported to be) and give more thorough, organized attention to the other social structures OR, perhaps, to write a book that focused only on libraries and their importance to the social infrastructure of their communities. He also spent far less time than I anticipated on how these social structures help address inequality. ★★

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Pick Your Poison: Check Out Those Lists (Show Us Your Books Favs 2018--from Jana's list of favorite nonfiction books)

Thursday, March 5, 2020

March 2020 Calendar of Crime Reviews




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March 2020 Virtual Mount TBR Reviews




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March 2020 Mount TBR Reviews




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March 2020 Vintage Mystery Extravaganza Reviews




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The Mystery of the Blue Train

The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928) by Agatha Christie [read by Hugh Fraser]

As with The Big Four, I read my own paper copy of Blue Train* within the last two years. It was the first time (as far as I have recorded) that I had read it and I enjoyed it very much. I particularly liked the character of Katherine Grey. She is a down-to-earth woman who doesn't let the relatives (either the distant relatives of the woman whose money she's inherited OR her own distant relatives who are looking to touch her for some of the inheritance) pull any wool over her eyes. When she agrees to visit Lady Tamplin (her cousin), she does so with full awareness of the woman's motives. But she's determined to experience life as she hadn't as an elderly woman's companion and staying with Lady Tamplin on the Riviera will help her do that. 

Hugh Fraser once again provides an excellent reading of the novel. And even though Hastings does not appear in this book it was still a delight to have Captain Hastings delivering the story to me. Another enjoyable audio book experience and, despite remembering the solution, I was still very much caught up in the mystery and action of the plot. ★★★★

*Previous, more in-dept review at the title link above.

First Lines: It was close on midnight when a man crossed the Place de la
Concorde. In spite of the handsome fur coat which garbed his meager form, there was something essentially weak and paltry about him. 


Last Line: "Trust the train, Mademoiselle," murmured Poirot again. "And
trust Hercule Poirot. He knows."


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Deaths = (one strangled)
Calendar of Crime: March (Original pub month)
Pick Your Poison: Selfies #2 (Narcissistic character--Mirelle)
Vintage Mystery 2013 Gold Scattergories (#19 Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)