Thursday, December 31, 2020

Who's Killing the Great Writers of America? [spoiler-ridden review]

 Who's Killing the Great Writers of America? (2007) by Robert Kaplow

Okay...this was truly awful. A convoluted, bizarre mess. I can't even be bothered to try and summarize it myself. So, I'll just give you the synopsis from book flap: 

What do bestselling writers Sue Grafton, Danielle Steel, Curtis Sittenfeld and Tom Clancy have in common? They've all been murdered in a manner both gruesome and appropriate to their style. An extremely paranoid Steven King is convinced that he will be the next victim, and so he must leave his heavily-barricaded fortress in Bangor, Maine, to discover Who's Killing the Great Writers of America. This hilarious ["hilarious" is apparently used very loosely here...] send-up of the world of publishing by the author of Me and Orson Welles and The Cat Who Killed Lillian Jackson Braun takes us from Venice to Paris to Maine and offers cameo appearances by Steve Martin, Gerard Depardieu, plus a few surprises.

Just so you know--those writers that were murdered? Yeah, well, they weren't. That's the big twist at the end. [I warned you the review was spoiler-ridden.] What a major let-down. I was all agog wondering if Steve Martin really was the maniacal killer that it seemed he was and figured there was some big twist to do with that....and then I find out that the bodies don't actually belong to the authors we think have been murdered. So...we don't know who the majority of dead people in this book are [which means I don't get to count all the dead "authors" towards my final total for Rick's Medical Examiner Challenge. Now I'm even more disgruntled than I already was.]. Honestly, the only reason I finished the thing is because it was so short and I wanted one more book for my year-end tally. 

I can't think of anyone I would recommend this to....  (and that's being generous)

First line: As she studied an elderly woman with a walker, Sue Grafton thought: We watch our friends, one by one, grow sick and die, and then, one day, they watch us grow sick and die.

Last line: Truffaut felt his soul swoon slowly as he looked upon his friend, and he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe upon all the living and the dead and the Published.


Deaths =  2 (shot)

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Crimes of Dr. Watson

 The Crimes of Dr. Watson (2007) by Duane Swierczynski

The book is an "Interactive Sherlock Holmes Mystery" which includes twelve actual clues included in envelopes and described in detail in the text. It centers on the arrest and imprisonment of Dr. John H. Watson and takes place during years when Sherlock Holmes is believed to have perished in the dangerous waters of the Reichenbach Falls. In the days leading up to the crime, Watson receives mysterious letters from various points in the United States. He firmly believes that these are messages from his supposedly deceased friend and when one of the Baker Street Irregulars comes to tell him that there is a strange gentleman who has broken into the rooms at 221B Baker Street, Watson rushes off to investigate.

He wakes up manacled to a hospital bed to find that his old rooms had been set ablaze, the mutilated corpse of the man he found there has been discovered in the wreckage, and Inspector Lestrade believes that Sherlock Holmes's old friend has committed a foul and dastardly crime. With Holmes dead (or at the very least out of reach somewhere unknown), Watson decides to write for help to Colonel Harry Resmo, an American who had visited the rooms in Baker Street and who seemed to possess a logical mind second only to Sherlock's. The main portion of the story consists of Watson's letter to Colonel Harry and the twelve clues--it's up to the reader to clear up the mystery and clear the good doctor's name. We have to figure out what the front page of a newspaper from Thousand Oaks, California; a catalog of Victorian merchandise; an empty matchbook with cryptic handwritten notes; a theater ticket; an arrest report; a railroad timetable and more have to do with Watson's predicament. 

Well...this was a pleasant way to spend an evening, though the motive behind it all is a little thin and the writing doesn't try at all to follow the familiar patterns of Watson. But, I guess we can allow that the doctor might be put off his game a bit--after all he is languishing in prison when it's written. It's fun to examine the clues and try to piece the solution together (I didn't and was glad of the sealed solution to give me all the facts). I will say one thing--the surprise twist at the very end of the solution has a hole in it big enough to sail the Titanic through if everything we've been told previously is true. But, then again, maybe it's not. ★★

First line: I receive many strange pieces of mail--both electronic and the old-fashioned variety--at the Philadelphia City Paper, where I work as editor in chief.

Last line (of Watson's portion): I am weary with dread, and I leave my life in your capable hands. Very sincerely yours, John H. Watson, M. D.

Last line of solution from Colonel Harry: P.S. You see, but do you observe?


Reminder: My Reader's Block Sponsored Challenges for 2021

The final days of 2020 are upon us and as we wrap up the reading year (and, if you're anything like me, dashing madly through books trying to finish off those last remaining challenges), it's time to also look ahead to the reading fun waiting for us in the New Year. I just wanted to remind my faithful challengers that the new posts for my regular Reader's Block Challenges went up at the end of October. And the Headquarters links in the sidebar also have links to the new year's challenges. In January, the Vintage Mystery Extravaganza will morph into the Vintage Mystery Scattergories. In the meantime, here's a handy list of each one. Come join me for new reading adventures in 2021!

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza Wrap-up


It's time to wrap up our 2020 challenges and look ahead to a brand new set of reading adventures in the new year. As noted in the original sign-up post, all challengers who have fulfilled at least five of the basic categories are eligible for the prize-drawing. If you have also completed bonus levels of the challenge, please include the number of levels completed in your wrap-up in the comments below. Each bonus level will add an extra entry for the drawing--increasing your chances of a prize!

Entries will be accepted until 11:59 pm on Saturday, January 9. On Sunday, I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick the winner. I will base the number for the prize drawing in your position in the comments.

Calendar of Crime Wrap-Up

 The Checkpoint will close at 11:59 pm on Saturday, January 9. On Sunday I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick the winner. And we'll crown our bookish social butterfly of the year--the winner of the "My Calendar's Booked" prize for most read.  Even if you're not in the mood for a prize or if your calendar was full of more activities than reading, we'd still like to hear about any reading you did have scheduled. Was there a particular month that you were able to find lots of books for?

Since I am limited on my linky parties with my current link provider, please use the comments section to give us your wrap-up comments and/or link to your wrap-up blog post. Be sure to include the number of categories completed. I will base the number for the prize drawing on your position in the comments. Thanks!

Virtual Mount TBR Final Checkpoint


Well, my fellow mountaineers, our virtual climbing expedition is coming to a close and it's time to get ready for the Final Mountaineering Checkpoint. Considering how 2020 seemed to go on forever, it's still hard to believe that our current trek is almost over.  I'm ready to hear how all our mountain-climbing team members have done out there on Rum Doodle, Mt. Crumpit, Mt. Seleya....whichever peak you've chosen. Checkpoint participation is absolutely voluntary and is not considered necessary for challenge completion.

For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to at least complete the first of these two things.  And if you feel particularly inspired (or generous about humoring me during the holiday season), then please do both.

1. Tell us how many miles you made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you've planted your flag on the peak, then tell us, take a selfie, and celebrate (and wave!).  Even if you were especially athletic and have been sitting atop your mountain for months, please check back in and remind us how quickly you sprinted up that trail. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting book adventures you've had along the way.

Since my main objective in TBR mountain-climbing is to read from my own stacks, I set my goal for the virtual climb at Rum Doodle and managed to meet that goal back in June. Of course the non-owned books still called my name and I have since planted flags on Mt. Crumpit as well. I've made it a few steps up Mount Munch, but I've headed back to base camp so I can concentrate on a few more steps up Olympus over in Mount TBR.

2.Use titles from your list to complete as many of the following sentences below as you can.   I've given my answers as examples. Feel free to add or change words (such as "a" or "the" or others that clarify) as needed.

My Life According to Books

1. My Ex is/was The Colorado Kid
2. My best friend is [a] Flame in the Mist
3. Lately, at work [it's been like] The Christie Curse
4. If I won the lottery, [I'd build] Palaces for the People
5. My fashion sense [is] What Angels Fear
6. My next ride [will be on the] Beatles['] Yellow Submarine
7. The one I love is [the] Duke of My Heart
8. If I ruled the world, everyone would [say] This Is Paradise
9. When I look out my window, I see A Night in the Lonesome October
10. The best things in life are Between the Devil & the Duke

And what do you get for all that hard work? The Checkpoint will close at 11:59 pm on Saturday, January 9. On Sunday I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick a winning climber. He or she will have the chance to add to their own TBR stack via my gently-used book vault (prize list will be sent). For those who also participate in the Mount TBR Challenge, this prize may count towards your 2021 TBR climb.

Even if you're not in the mood for a prize or if you got distracted by pretty scenery or side trails (your own books, ARCs, what-have-you), I'd love to have you check in and tell us how your 2020 mountain climb went!

Since I am limited on my linky parties with my current link provider, please use the comments section to give us your wrap-up answer/s. I will base the number for the prize drawing on your position in the comments. Thanks!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Mount TBR Final Checkpoint


Well, my fellow mountaineers, our 2020 climbing expedition is coming to a close and it's time to get ready for the Final Mountaineering Checkpoint. Considering how 2020 seemed to go on forever, it's still hard to believe that our current trek is almost over. I'm ready to hear how all our mountain-climbing team members have done out there on Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, Mt. Everest....whichever peak you've chosen. Checkpoint participation is absolutely voluntary and is not considered necessary for challenge completion.

For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint, I'd like you to at least complete the first of these two things. And if you feel particularly inspired (or generous about humoring me during the holiday season), then please do both.

1. Tell us how many miles you made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you've planted your flag on the peak, then tell us, take a selfie, and celebrate (and wave!). Even if you were especially athletic and have been sitting atop your mountain for months, please check back in and remind us how quickly you sprinted up that trail. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting book adventures you've had along the way.

I managed to complete my original goal and planted my flag on the top of Mount Everest back in November. So, I hopped in a space ship and headed for Mars. Right now I'm caught up on reviews and have knocked 118 books off the TBR stacks. I might claim one or two more before the ball drops on New Year's Eve, but I'm not counting on it.

2. The Words to the Wise According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, see how many of the familiar proverbs and sayings below you can complete with a book read on your journey up the Mountain. Feel free to add/subtract a word or two to help them make sense. I have given my titles as examples:

A stitch in time...[saves] The Shadowy Third
Don't count your chickens...[before] Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
A penny saved is.... (a) Golden Rain
All good things must come... (to) Partners in Crime
When in Rome... Look Your Last
All that glitters is not... Silver Wings For Vicki
A picture is worth... The Gimmel Flask
When the going gets tough, the tough get... Bound to Murder
Two wrongs don't make... A Halo for Nobody
The pen is mightier than.... The Hound of Death
The squeaky wheel gets... What Remains of Heaven
Hope for the best, but prepare for... Something the Cat Dragged in
Birds of a feather flock... Where Shadows Dance

And what do you get for all that hard work? The Checkpoint will close at 11:59 pm on Saturday, January 9. On Sunday I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick a winning climber. He or she will have the chance to add to their TBR stack via my gently-used book vault (prize list will be sent). This prize may be included in your 2021 TBR climb. To check in, you may post your answers on your blog and link the post URL in the comments or you may just post your answers in a comment below. I'll use the order of comments to load entries into the Random Number Generator.

Even if you're not in the mood for a prize or if you got distracted by pretty scenery or side trails (library books or what-have-you), I'd love to have you check in and tell us how your 2020 mountain climb went!

Vicki Finds the Answer

 Vicki Finds the Answer (1947) by Helen Wells

In Vicki's second adventure since becoming an airline stewardess, she befriends a troubled young woman on her latest route between New York and Norfolk, Virginia. Joan Purnell is running away from home--her parents are tense and there's something very wrong and she just can't take it anymore. Vicki talks with her and gets her to agree that facing up to troubles and trying to solve the problem is a better plan than running away from it. But Joan begs Vicki to come home with her and help. Vicki can't resist a mystery and soon she and her friend Dean (a co-pilot with the airline) are learning more about the lumber business than anyone could want to know and helping the Purnells find out why their successful company is suddenly losing money.

These books are normally more career-focused, Vicki behaves here more like the typical girl detective than usual--there's very little airline hostessing going on. The mystery is a solid one for the target age group...nothing too intricate and, of course, no murders. Vicki and Dean are able to see that the bad guy is brought to justice and all ends happily for the Purnell family. A decent, end-of-the-year read--but I didn't find it quite as compelling as my previous trips with Vicki the airline hostess.  ★★--just barely.

First line: New York glistened in the sun this fine Autumn Sunday.


The Clue of the Runaway Blonde/The Clue of the Hungry Horse

 The Clue of the Runaway Blonde (1947) by Erle Stanley Gardner

First of two novellas featuring Sheriff Bill Eldon. Eldon is an old-fashioned sheriff who relies more on his knowledge of people and how they behave than on new-fangled ideas such as forensic evidence  and finger-printing--that's what he has his undersheriff George Quinlin for. But the political bigwigs don't think that Eldon is the man for the job anymore and are hoping to show him up for the old fogey he is and get a younger man on the job. 

When a young blonde woman is found stabbed to death in the middle of Sam Beckett's new field with no footprints leading to or from the body, it looks like a real stumper has come along and it should be just what they've been waiting for. Difficulties arise when circumstantial evidence seems to point towards Quinlin's household and so they bring in a "consulting criminologist" to outshine the sheriff. But Eldon isn't out of the hunt and he proves that newer doesn't always mean better.

For a novella-length story, this little mystery packs quite a lot of action and detection into 120 pages. Eldon becomes quite interested in the old Higbee place (in the middle of Beckett's new land) and what he thinks the girl may have been doing there. He follows up clues that the criminologist doesn't even notice and proves that he's still got what it takes to keep law and order. There is also the subtext of politicians trying to manipulate civic appointments to their liking and Gardner certainly shows what he thinks of that.

A fun, quick-paced story with a clever answer to the seemingly impossible crime. ★★★★

First line: Cold afternoon sunlight made a carpet of long shadows back of the eucalyptus trees along the road as Sam Beckett opened the gate of the old Higbee place and drove his tractor into the eighty-acre field.

Last lines: The sheriff chuckled. "This here consulting criminologist didn't know it. If he did he didn't think of it--not until I pointed it out to him."


Deaths = one (stabbed)


 The Clue of the Hungry Horse (1947) by Erle Stanley Gardner

Sheriff Eldon's political enemies are still searching for ways to oust him out of office. This time they have a rich, L.A.-based businessman named Calhoun on their side when an unknown woman is found dead in his stable. Things don't start off too good for Eldon when the woman is initially identified as Calhoun's daughter. Eldon's mistake is just the kind of thing those opposed to him are ready to jump on. 

The doctor is ready to call it an unfortunate accident--the poor girl was kicked in the head by a nervous horse. But Eldon insists on murder (grabbing for headlines--in the opinion of the antagonistic District Attorney). When the evidence starts coming in, it begins to look like Eldon assisted the murderer to escape, but when the actual weapon is planted on an unsuspecting innocent witness Eldon knows he's got his murderer and is ready to defend his deductions before the Grand Jury.

Once again, Gardner puts together a quick-paced murder mystery. Though not quite as solidly plotted as Runaway Blonde, it is still a good puzzle mystery. The character of the sheriff is a big draw and it's definitely fun to see him get the better of those who are out to see his downfall. ★★

First line: It was 7:55 when Lew Turlock answered the phone and was advised that long distance was calling Miss Betty Turlock.

Last line: The sheriff chuckled. "I saw her," he said. And then, a few seconds later, as he was slipping out of his outer garments, added, "first."


Deaths = one (hit on head)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

In the Keep of Time

 In the Keep of Time (1977)by Margaret J. Anderson

Four English children, Andrew, Elinor. Ian and Olivia (Ollie), are taken from London to Scotland to stay with their Aunt Grace while their parents travel to France. Their father has fond memories of staying in the area when he was a boy--enjoying the countryside and especially playing around the ancient ruin of Smailholm Tower. The children, who are all city kids through and through, anticipate a very boring stay. Little do they know the adventures that await them when their aunt gives them the key to the tower and it happens to be glowing....

When the key glows, the door to the tower opens to another time and the children find themselves in the the time of King James II of Scotland who is marching on the area to attack the English at Roxburgh Castle. The children experience several adventures--including the battle before making it back to their time, but Ollie doesn't seem to be the same. They make another trip through time and make some interesting discoveries about their aunt Grace.

I really enjoyed this when I read it back in the early 80s. I loved the fantasy/time travel elements which are very reminiscent of the Narnia books with the children stepping through a doorway into another world. Only this time they travel to different historical periods in their own world. Anderson vividly depicts the various time periods and it is evident she did her research on the 1400s. It is a fascinating book for children. ★★★

Spoiler ahead!

Reading this as an adult, I find a certain portion of the plot to be pretty disturbing. Ollie goes through the time portal first and is separated from the others. When they go through in order to look for her, they find a girl who looks like their Ollie already established in a family of peasants. They call her Mae and claim that she was born and raised there. Here's the thing--if that story is true, then where is the real Ollie? The children take Mae back with them--but she's obviously not the same little girl they knew before. Ollie was a voracious reader and this girl can barely get through Dick and Jane. It seems to me that the real Ollie may be lost somewhere in time...

First line: A sudden shower of rain washed the tall, straight walls of Smailholm Tower, and then the sun shone with a silver light picked out the red stone against the gray-black granite so that the simple building became a monument of beautry.

Last line: "Perhaps they have learned more than that," said Aunt Grace.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

And Then Put Out the Light

 And Put Out the Light (1949) by E. C. R. Lorac

Lillian Mayden was a sick woman. Oh, not the way she claimed. That was all hypochondria, but she was sick in her mind and in her soul. She operated a network of spies and gossips that might make MI6 envious. But her operations weren't meant to make people feel more secure. She used what she learned to write vicious letters accusing her neighbors of everything from immorality to embezzlement, from cheating at cards to buying meat from the black market. She kept meticulous records and filed copies of al her letters and every scrap of "proof" she could glean. She kept the village in fear of where her letters might appear next...until one day she died. 

Her death was ascribed to a heart attack by an elderly doctor filling in for her injured regular practitioner. Her regular doctor insists a heart attack is nonsense, but he doesn't suspect murder. But then those who might be able to shed light on the matter begin dying in similar "natural" or "accidental" ways and the town's gossips start pointing accusatory Mr. Mayden, at Gillian Arkholme--who had suffered greatly from Lillian Mayden's slander, at Mrs. Bentham--who it's said still harbored feelings for Guy Mayden (and, of course, now he's free...). Inspector MacDonald is brought in to separate the wheat from the chaff and find out if there's any truth to the rumors of murder. And if so who benefits most from the silencing of Lillian Mayden's poisoned pen.

This was, I believe, the very first Lorac I ever read, long ago and far away before blogging was a gleam in the internet's eye. Actually, before the internet was a gleam in anyone's eye. And for reasons unknown to me, I never made the connection between the title and the plot. Even now with 2020 brain, it took a little bit for the light to dawn. Rereading this now, I'm really kind of amazed that I put Lorac on my "To Be Found" list--because this is a rather squalid little story. Mrs. Mayden was one of the nastiest poison pen writers to come along in crime fiction and one really can't feel terribly sorry that she has gone off to her final judgement. Not that the villain of the piece is much better...after all, they'd be quite content to let someone else answer for their crimes and they're not too picky about who it is.

What saves this story is the other village characters and our policemen, Inspector MacDonald and Inspector Reeves. Both of these gentlemen have ways about them that make the villagers open up and talk to them--MacDonald visiting the middle and upper classes and Reeves mixing well with the laborers and such. It's also worth the price of admission to watch MacDonald put the local Dean in his place when the ecclesiastical bigwig tries to squash the investigation. 

A fairly decent mystery, but definitely not one of Lorac's best. ★★★

First line: You heard that Mrs. Mayden had died?

Last lines: "Aye, and though they say walls have ears, they don't talk, do they, Borwick?" "So much the better," murmured Borwick.


Deaths = 4 (two electrocuted; one poisoned/gassed; one drowned)

What's in a Name? Challenge


Andrea at Carolina Book Nook is back with another round of the What's in a Name Challenge. This has always been a favorite of mine, so of course I'm back for another round as well. The format is the same--six categories and one book required for each one. For full details, see the link above.

Here are the categories and my preliminary list:

1. One/1: One Lady, Two Cats by Richard Lockridge (1/31/21)
2. Doubled word: Dead, Man, Dead by David Alexander (3/7/21)
3. Reference to outerspace: Gently in the Sun by Alan Hunter (4/5/21)
4. Possessive noun: Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal (1/2/21)
5. Botanical word: The Lazarus Tree by Robert Richardson
6. Article of clothing: Mr. Smith's Hat by Helen Reilly (4/7/21)

Complete! So glad that Andrea has kept this one going. It's a lot of fun.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Bev's Bookish Christmas


I know you all will be shocked to know that I got a lot of new books for Christmas again this year...thanks to all the Santas in my life my TBR pile has grown by 42 books this Christmas (well...44, but two were duplicates; that's the perils of buying lots of books from Ebay). 

First up, Christmas from my parents which was magical: they gave me money and it miraculously turned into books:

Old Mrs. Camelot (black hard back) by Emery Bonnett; Murder Is Served by Frances & Richard Lockridge; Murder Goes to College by Kur Steel; A File on Death AND Death Among the Stars by Kenneth Giles; Dead by Now by Margaret Erskine; Payoff for the Baker, Death of a Tall Man, AND Mr. & Mrs. North Meet Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge; She Died Because... by Kenneth Hopkins; House of Storm by Mignon Eberhart; Blood from a Stone by Ruth Sawtell Wallis; and Murder on the Purple Water by Frances Crane

From my husband and son:

Death of a Bullionaire by A. B. Cunningham; The Black Mountain by Rex Stout; Bloom County: Brand Spanking New Day by Berkeley Breathed; The Lyttleton Case by R. A. V. Morris; The Mystery of the Merry Magician by Ellery Queen, Jr; The Door Between by Ellery Queen; The Case of the Sulky Girl by Erle Stanley Gardner; Murder in the Calais Coach by Agatha Christie; The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett; The  Mystery of the Vanished Visitor by Ellery Queen, Jr; Murder in Pug's Parlour by Amy Myers; The Queen & the Corpse by Max Murray; Murder Secretary by William Beyer; The King Is Dead by Ellery Queen; There Is a Tide by Agatha Christie; The Court of Last Resort by Erle Stanley Gardner; Tickets for Death by Brett Halliday; A Thief in the Night by Thomas Walsh; Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth; The Burning Court by John Dickson Carr; The Talking Bug by the Gordons; The Problem of the Wire Cage by John Dickson Carr; Underdog by W. R. Burnett; Kill Joy/Speak of the Devil (Ace Giant Double Novel) by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding; Seeing Red by Theodora Du Bois; and The Kennel Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine [plus a bookish puzzle and a Shaun Cassidy CD to fulfill the nostalgia factor]

Christmas from my Golden Age Secret Santa:

Sealed Room Murder by Rupert Penny: Dead Mrs. Stratton by Anthony Berkeley; The Whisper in the Gloom by Nicholas Blake; and Murder Secretary by William Beyer (I thought I got this cleared off my wish list in time...but apparently not)

And my True Book Addict's Bookish Secret Santa:

The Shakespeare Murders by A. G. MacDonell plus other bookish & chocolatey goodies.

I am blessed to have so many people in my life to indulge my bookish wants and needs. I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday and have had the pleasure of giving and receiving much goodness.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Little Grey Cells: The Quotable Poirot

  Little Grey Cells: The Quotable Poirot (2015) by David Brawn (ed)

As I mentioned when I reviewed Murder, She Said (the quote book devoted to the sayings and wisdom of Miss Jane Marple), I have a weakness for quotations. I'm always on the look-out for a nifty turn of the phrase, a profound thought, or even a humorous jest to add to the collection of quotes that I've amassed over the years. And, loving mysteries the way I do, I particularly enjoy finding good quotes in my detective fiction. So, when the books of quotations featuring Agatha Christie's two most famous sleuths came out, I naturally had to add the volumes to my small library of quote books.

It is a small book, but I spent a very pleasant hour reading Poirot's thoughts on everything from himself (oh, what modesty!) to Hastings, from Human Nature to Truth and Lies, and from Romance to Detective Work. It was nice to see quotations from the short stories as well as novels and the book gives us a well-rounded sample of snippets from the great detective. ★★★

Where Shadows Dance

 Where Shadows Dance (2011) by C. S. Harris

This time Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin and sometime investigator, faces an unusual situation. His friend Paul Gibson asks him to investigate a murder that cannot be acknowledged without getting the surgeon and anatomist into trouble. When Gibson hears about the death of Alexander Ross, recently a young rising star at the Foreign Office, the surgeon and anatomist wants to examine his heart to see what caused a man in his twenties to die of heart failure. the only way to do that is to arrange for the body snatchers to lift the body from its grave (and that's not exactly legal...). When he begins to examine the body, he discovers  a healthy heart and a nasty little stiletto wound at the base of the skull. The man's been murdered and Gibson doesn't want a murderer to go free. But as he tells Devlin

It's not like I can walk into Bow Street and say, "By the way, mates, I thought you might be interested to hear that I bought a body filched from St. George's churchyard last night. Yes, I know it's illegal, but here's the thing. it appears that this gentleman--whose friends all think he died in his sleep--was actually murdered.

No, that wouldn't do at all. Luckily Devlin doesn't like to see murderers go free either, so he agrees to investigate even though it's going to be tricky. At first it seems that the likeable young man was an unlikely candidate for murder, but the further Devlin digs the more he learns about shady dealings, spies, and a plot to win allies in the fight against Napoleon. Ross was an honorable man and when he discovered dishonorable doings, he was bound to report it. But someone silenced him first. But who? Was it the Turkish diplomat? Perhaps one of the Russian contingent? Or maybe a French spy in the pay of Napoleon? There are also rumors of an American connection. It isn't until Devlin gets too close to the source and the villains kidnap his bride-to-be that he finally figures it all out. 

This is another grand historical mystery. Harris does well pulling political events of the time into her stories and, as I mentioned in the previous book's review, giving the reader both personal and political motives to sift through. One never knows which type of motive will wind up being the true one and it keeps the reader on her toes. There are hints aplenty to point the way to the solution, but it will take a reader more observant than I to recognize them as they come. Another excellent read. ★★★★

I haven't talked much about Devlin's personal life in these reviews--there is a thread of deceit and family cover-ups running through his story that I'd hate to spoil for anyone who hasn't read these but who wants to give them a try. Let me just say that he starts out in love with one woman...various things happen that make that relationship impossible and then he winds up in a relationship with the daughter of his nemesis Lord Jarvis. Hero Jarvis is a strong female character and well able to match Devlin in courage and intelligence. I can only hope that Harris will allow the couple to work their way through events and that Devlin won't have another shock or disaster thrown in his path. I enjoy this series very much, but I can't stand authors who can't let their hero/heroine be happy for more than about five minutes (Elizabeth George, I'm looking at you.)

One random question: Why does everyone in this particular installment "huff a laugh"? Follow-up question: Exactly how does one "huff a laugh"?

First line: A cool wind gusted up, rustling the branches of the trees overhead and bringing with it the unmistakable clatter of wooden wheels approaching over cobblestones.

Last line: For his world had narrowed down to the silken hair that slid across his belly and the heated invitation of her legs wrapping around his hips and the gentle wonder with which his wife whispered, "Sebastian..." (and...that makes our historical mystery sound very much like a bodice ripper...)


Deaths = 12 (seven stabbed; two shot; one hit on head; two strangled)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Hound of Death

 The Hound of Death (1933) by Agatha Christie contains twelve chilling stories with an occasional straight murder, but primarily with strange and unusual deaths that appear to have no earthly explanation. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple do not appear--perhaps if they had they might have been able to point to earth and blood culprits. As it it, we get to explore the world of the bizarre and macabre with one of the queens of crime. Some of them are quite good and creepy. Others are just weird--so ★★ for the collection.

"The Hound of Death": The title story features a nun who apparently had the power to stop the Germans in their tracks when they attempted to pillage the convent. Now a doctor with interests in psychic phenomena has her in his care. What happens when he tries to tap into the power?

"The Red Signal": A dinner party conversation turns to a discussion of premonitions and one young man, Dermot West, states that the "red signal" (a feeling when things aren't right) has never failed him. They then sit down for a seance with a medium who issues a warning to one of the group not to go home because there is danger there. It is felt that she was talking to West and when he goes home to find himself wanted for the murder of his uncle it does seem that the reference was to him...but then someone else comes along...

"The Fourth Man": Three men in a railway carriage (a Canon, a lawyer, and a doctor of conditions of the mind) fall into conversation about split or multiple personalities (or dual-souls to put the religious bent on it). A recent case involving a young woman who seemed to have at least three and perhaps four personalities is most intriguing to them. As she originally was, Felicie was an uneducated girl--strong of body but not of intellect and with no musical talent. She suddenly began to exhibit a personality which could speak foreign languages with ease and could sing and play the piano. While the men are talking, the fourth man, who had appeared to be sleeping, interjects that he knows the case personally and he soon tells them a tale that is much stranger than just a case of split personality.

"The Gipsy": Dickie Carpenter has odd visions of a gypsy and each time he dreams of her or sees the vision something dreadful happens. He nearly drowns when a bridge collapses; he falls in love and then his fiancée decides she doesn't love him; and finally his vision seems to bring on death... 

"The Lamp": Mrs. Lancaster is a young widow who rents a home rumored to be haunted. She says it doesn't bother her and moves in with her father and her small son. But soon they begin hearing the sounds of a young boy crying...a boy who is lonely and wants a playmate.

"Wireless": Mary Harter is an elderly lady with a weak heart--but her doctor tells her if she takes it easy and avoids shocks that she will still have many more years left. Her nephew persuades her that a radio would be just the thing to help occupy her secluded times at home...and then the radio starts putting out some very startling messages.

"The Witness for the Prosecution": The original short story behind the play and, later, movies. Leonard Vole has been accused of the murder of Miss French, a wealthy elderly woman who took a fancy to him and who has left him as her heir. Vole is sure that his wife can provide him with an alibi--but she has a nasty surprise for him and his Counsel when she appears as the witness for the prosecution.

"The Mystery of the Blue Jar": Jack Hartington is a healthy, apparently sane young man who begins hearing cries of "Murder. Help. Murder!" which no one else can hear. Eventually a ghost becomes involved...a ghost with a great interest in a particular blue jar.

"The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael": Another case of a strange personality. This time the young Sir Arthur Carmichael seems to have been possessed by...of all things...a cat. Is it possible? And, if so, how did it happen?

"The Call of Wings": Millionaire Silas Hamer is content with his wealth--a truly happy soul who spends what he likes and just enjoys himself. Then one day he hears the strange music played by a man with no legs and he can be content no longer. He must be free...he must fly!

"The Last Seance": Raoul Daubreuil, a Frenchman, is in love with Simone a sincere medium who has become worn out by her work at seances. He promises her that after one last seance for Madame Exe then she will be finished and he will take her away to rest. But Madame Exe is trying to contact her daughter Amelie--and the materializations have been so vivid. The grieving mother may not let Simone stop....

"SOS": Mortimer Cleveland has the worst luck with his car. It's a beastly, rainy night and he has not one...but two flat tires. He knocks on the door of the only house in sight and encounters a very strange family. The atmosphere in the house is extremely tense and when the two daughters of the house show him to his room for the night he finds that one of them has written "SOS" in the dust on the nightstand. Which of them? And what danger do they fear?


Deaths = 14 (two drowned; one struck by lightning; two shot; one strangled; five natural; one poisoned; one hit with crowbar; one hit by subway train)

European Reading Challenge

 After taking a year off (silly me, I thought I was going to be visiting Europe for real this past year), I'm once again joining Gilion on a tour of Europe with her 2021 European Reading Challenge – where participants tour Europe through books.  And have a chance to win a prize. Please join in for the Grand Tour!

THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour. (See note about the UK, below)

WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"?: We stick with the same list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. This list includes the obvious (the UK, France, Germany, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.

THE LIST: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

NOTE: Even after Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, in Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So one book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom. I'm not going to be a stickler about it because challenges should be about fun not about rules. However, when it comes to winning the Jet Setter prize, only one book from one of the UK countries will count.

I will again be aiming for the 

FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

Books read:
1. Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal [England] (1/2/21)
   Bonus Read: The Portcullis Room by Valentine Williams [Scotland] (7/27/21)
2. Death of a Millionaire by G.D.H. & Margaret Cole [Russia] (1/4/21)
3. Death & the Dutch Uncle by Patricia Moyes [Netherlands] (1/18/21)
   Bonus Read: DeKok & Variations on Murder by A. C. Baantjer [Netherlands] (9/21/21) 
4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier [Monaco] (2/24/21) 
5. Murder in the Calais Coach (aka Murder on the Orient Express) by Agatha Christie [primary action takes place in Yugoslavia [present-day Croatia)] (1/30/21) 

Commitment complete! Still reading.

6. Dracula by  Bram Stoker (graphic novel version) [Romania (Transylvanian)--1st half] (3/2/21)
7. Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie [France] (3/31/21)
8. The Ivory Snuff Box by Arnold Fredericks [Belgium] (4/27/21)
9. The Trolley to Yesterday by John Bellairs [in what is present-day Turkey] (5/13/21)
10. The 13th Warrior by Michael Crichton [Denmark] (5/22/21)
11. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks [Bosnia] (6/4/21)
12. The Basle Express by Manning Coles [Austria] (7/28/21)
13. Drink to Yesterday by Manning Coles [Germany] (7/29/21)
14. The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell [Irish author]  (8/8/21)
15. The Private Face of Murder by John & Emery Bonett [Spain] (8/29/21)
16. The Locked Room by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö [Sweden] (9/23/21)
17. Mythos by Stephen Fry [Greece] (9/27/21)
18. Death of an Obnoxious Tourist by Maria Hudgins [Italy] (11/19/21)

Pick Your Poison Challenge 2021

When the Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge came out last year, I initially resisted the temptation because I had this silly idea that I would limit my challenges to only 20 in 2020. Well...that thought quickly went out the window and I jumped in with both feet. I enjoyed myself so much that I've been watching for when the 2021 version would go up...and here it is! As I did last year, I'm going to commit to a Baker's Dozen (13 books). I'll probably do more, but my commitment will be met at 13.

1. Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal (1/2/21) [set in grandparents' era]
2. Death of a Millionaire by G.D.H. & Margaret Cole (1/4/21) [book I was given by hadn't read yet]
3. The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang [ed] (1/9/21) [shape-changing character/s]
4. Crimson Snow by Martin Edwards [ed] (1/12/21) ["snow" in the title]
5. Sidney Chambers & the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (1/14/21) [paperback book]
6. The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club (1/17/21) [dead body on cover]
7. Death & the Dutch Uncle by Patricia Moyes (1/18/21) [favorite genre]
8. The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix (1/18/21) [Cross-dressing]
9. Dead as a Dodo by Jane Langton (1/24/21) [illustrated book--which was a surprise]
10. One Lady, Two Cats by Richard Lockridge (1/31/21) [book about a cat]
11. The Double-Jack Murders by Patrick McManus (2/2/21) [plaid shirt on cover]
12. The Cannibal Who Overate by Hugh Pentecost (2/14/21) [book about a hotel]
13. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre (2/20/21) [borrowed from library]

Challenge Commitment Complete!

Once that's complete, I'll list all the books by category and see how far I get with the list.

~Book over 500 pages: Giant Mystery Reader by Various [edited by Avon Books] (7/4/21)
~Book about overcoming obstacles
~Book with word "hard" in the title: The Hardway Diamonds by Miles Burton
~Book set aside in the past because it was hard to get into: Howard's End by E. M. Forster (2/27/21)

Things We Don't Talk About
~Book with the word "naked" in the title: Naked Came the Manatee: Carle Hiassen, Dave Barry et al. (7/17/21)
~Book by a politician
~Book about oppression
~Book about terminal illness

Drinking Game
~Cozy Mystery with beverage in the title: Murder at Teatime by Cynthia Manson [ed] (7/16/21)
~Book title that could be a drinking game
~Nonfiction book about alcohol
~Book with alcoholic beverage on cover: The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers & Robert Eustace [wine] (4/24/21)

Shapes & Colors
~Book with primarily black cover: Mr. President, Private Eye by Martin H. Greenberg & Francis M. Nevis, Jr. [eds] (1/22/21)
~Book with shape-shifting character: The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (ed) [various characters change shape several times] (1/9/21)
~Book by an author whose name is a color: Blue Octavo by John Blackburn (3/12/21)
~Book with shape on cover that reminds you of a Roshach test: Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love & Reunion intro by Kristin Hannah [blurred image of crowd reminds me of the test] (3/10/21)

~Book about secret societies/clubs: The Bookwanderers by Anna James (2/6/27)
~Children's book about bedtime
~Book with word "secret" in title: Lord Mullion's Secret by Michael Innes (7/30/21)
~Book with a peaceful cover: Fire in the Thatch by E. C. R. Lorac (4/30/21) [a murder with arson doesn't seem like it would have a peaceful cover....but it does]

~Book with a character from a different book: The Adventure of the Peerless Peer by Philip Jose Farmer [Sherlock Holmes with Tarzan--Lord Greystoke; as well as brief mention of other characters] (2/28/21)
~Fairytale/myth retelling in modern setting: A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle [angels & fallen angels] (5/7/21)
~Book by a pseudonymous author: Murder Goes to College by Kurt Steel [aka Rudolf Hornaday Kagey] (4/8/21)
~Book borrowed from library: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre (2/20/21)

Bringing the World into Your Home
~Book about hygge, feng shui, or home harmony
~Book about taking in a stranger: Women Heroes of World War II by Kathryn J. Atwood [includes many stories of women taking Jews/refugees/downed servicemen and hiding them from the Nazis] (5/5/21)
~Book about a culture other than your own: The Sands of Windee by Arthur W. Upfield [gives a lot of information on Australian indigenous culture] (5/3/21)
~Book about how radio, television, or the internet has changed us

~Book with "snow" in the title: Crimson Snow by Martin Edwards [ed] (1/12/21)
~Book about weather-related disaster: Practise to Deceive by Frances & Richard Lockridge [two hurricanes in the same book...] (9/13/21)
~Book with picture of a clear, blue sky on cover: The Rainbow Riddle by Margaret Sutton (5/18/21)
~Book that comforts you on a rainy day: The Boomerang Clue by Agatha Christie (2/21/21)

Those Bodies
~Book by celebrity known for body positivity
~Book with picture of the ocean on the cover: Look Behind You, Lady by A. S. Fleischman (5/1/21)
~Book with dead body on the cover: The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club (1/17/21)
~Children's book about body parts: The Secret of Skeleton Island by Robert Arthur [various important bits of the story take place on "islands" that look like parts of a Skeleton] (8/3/21)

TBR Burners
~Book on TBR pile for more than a year: The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer (1/19/21)
~Book someone gave you that you haven't read yet: Death of a Millionaire by G.D.H. & Margaret Cole (1/4/21)
~Anything you want: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2/4/21)
~Book you're excited to read: Think of Death by Frances & Richard Lockridge (5/23/21)

Who's in Charge?
~Book about an empire: The Trolley to Yesterday by John Bellairs [Byzantine Empire] (5/13/21)
~Book about a social movement: Road Rage by Ruth Rendell [environmentalist groups] (7/2/21)
~Book about being a first-time parent
~Book about a cat: One Lady, Two Cats by Richard Lockridge (1/31/21)

Where You Sleep at Night
~Book about a hotel: The Cannibal Who Overate by Hugh Pentecost (2/14/21)
~Book with word "house" in the title: The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell (8/8/21)
~Book with cabin on the cover: Trixie Belden & the Mystery Off Glen Road by Julie Campbell (7/5/21)  [it's small, but it's there]
~Book about a haunted house: The Haunted Attic by Margaret Sutton (5/10/21)

Ways to Die
~Book with "poison" in the title: The African Poison Murders by Elspeth Huxley (4/21/21)
~Book with a knife on the cover: An Ad for Murder by John Penn (4/18/21)
~True crime murder story: Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens's London by Clair Harman (6/12/21)
~Book about dealing with suicide: What Darkness Brings by C. S. Harris [several suicides involved--after-effects of most prominent dealt with by our protagonist] (4/11/21)

~Book about a farmer
~Book about a librarian/bookseller: Murder in the Bookshop by Carolyn Wells [actually has both] (4/17/21)
~Book written by a college professor: Theoretically Dead by Tinker Marks (5/19/21)
~Book about a scientist: Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie (5/27/21)

~Book with a kilt on the cover
~Book written by someone from Scotland: After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson (7/6/21)
~Book with a plaid cover: The Portcullis Room by Valentine Williams (7/27/21)
~Book with a plaid shirt on the cover: The Double-Jack Murders by Patrick McManus (2/2/21)

Make 'Em Laugh
~A funny comic or graphic novel: For This I Went to College? by Bill Keane (7/17/21)
~Book about a comedian
~Book with a pun in the title: A Rogue of One's Own by Evie Dunmore (2/25/21)
~Book with someone laughing on cover

It's All Relative
~Book set in your grandparents' era: Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal (1/2/21)
~Book with word "father" in title: a Father Brown book
~Book you would share with your child: A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle (5/8/21)
~Book about an estranged family

~Book with a mirror on the cover: Paragon Walk by Anne Perry [e-book cover] (8/1/21)
~A memoir: Which Reminds Me by Tony Randall & Michael Mindlin (11/21/21)
~Fictional book about reminiscing 
~Self-help book

Putting 2020 Behind Us
~Book with a crowded cover: A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon
~Book about self-care or recovery
~ Book with word "better" in title: Murderess Ink: The Better Half of Mystery by Dilys Winn (5/28/21)
~Book set after major world event (war, disaster, etc.): Hunt the Tortoise by E. X. Ferrars [set after WWII] (6/6/21)

The Tools of Writing
~Paperback book: Sidney Chambers & the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (1/14/21)
~Book with typewriter on cover
~Book with word "words" in title: My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg (2/13/21)
~Book with "deadline" in title

That Creepy Feeling
~Horror story or thriller: Uncle Silas by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (2/22/21)
~Book with insect on the cover
~Book about something that scares you
~Book with monster on the cover: No Medals for the Major by Margaret Yorke (7/20/21)

~Book with sword on the cover: The 13th Warrior by Michael Crichton (5/22/21)
~Book about pirates: Dead, Man, Dead by David Alexander [wax figures of Blackbeard and his pirates are vital to the plot] (3/6/21)
~Rollicky adventure story: The Basle Express by Manning Coles (7/28/21)
~Book with map on the cover: Murdock's Acid Test by George Harmon Coxe [Dell Mapback edition] (4/199/21)

~Book by your favorite author: Murder in 3 Acts by Agatha Christie [one of favorites] (3/25/21)
~Book in your favorite genre: Death & the Dutch Uncle by Patricia Moyes [mystery] (1/18/21)
~Book with your favorite color on the cover: Dr. Nightingale Traps the Missing Lynx [blue] (5/13/21)
~Book from a celebrity favorite list

Crossing Boundaries
~Book with an interracial romance: The Coconut Killings by Patricia Moyes [the initial main suspect--black and his white girlfriend] (3/22/21)
~Book about the immigrant experience
~Book about reconciliation
~Book about cross-dressing: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix [Merlin, one of the lead characters likes to dress in both male and female attire] (1/18/21)

Picture This
~Book with "picture" in title: Star Trek The Motion Picture: Full Color Comic by Marv Wolfman [ed] (4/21/21)
~Book with photograph on cover: Star Trek The Motion Picture: The Photostory by Richard J. Anobile [ed] (4/21/21)
~Book by journalist or news photographer: The Lazarus Tree by Robert Richardson (4/2/21)
~An illustrated book: Dead as a Dodo by Jane Langton (1/24/21)

~Book about millenials
~Book about hippies
~Book about baby boomers: Mystery on the Isle of Skye by Phyllis A. Whitney [kids are part of the baby boomer generation] (6/22/21)
~Book about flappers: Murder at Bray Manor by Lee Strauss (2/21/21) [set in the 1920s; girl who was murdered was a flapper/"bright young thing"]

Wild Cards
~Book by author under 30: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers [age 23 when published] (3/6/21)
~2021 release: Two-Way Murder by E. C. R. Lorac [written circa 1958, 1st published 2021] (7/9/21)
~Comic book: Bugs Bunny #152 (7/15/21)
~Book by two or more authors: Money in the Morgue by Ngaio Marsh & Stella Duffy (3/29/21)
~Collection of essays