Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Plague Court Murders

Set down in the midst of decaying brick buildings, gaunt and crooked against the dawn, with their blind windows staring into it, this yard was uncanny in its desolation. You felt that no church-bells, or street-organs, or any homely, human sound could ever penetrate it.

The Plague Court Murders (1934) by Carter Dickson [John Dickson Carr] is the first in the Sir Henry (H. M.) Merrivale mysteries by the locked room master. It is a nice little puzzle with gothic and supernatural undertones and a thoroughly unpleasant villain. Merrivale comes into the story about mid-way. We begin with Ken Blake at his club. He is approached by an old friend, Dean Halliday, with an unusual request. He wants Blake to come with him that very night and join him at a vigil at a haunted house. The house in question belongs to Halliday's family and has a history of murder and death. It is said to be haunted by the ghost of the original owner, one Louis Playge who was a hangman and died in mysterious circumstances during the years of the Plague.

Halliday's aunt, Lady Benning, and fiancee Marion Latimer are devotees of a medium/psychic and are determined to hold a vigil in the house while Roger Darworth and his medium, a young boy named Joseph, work to purge the house of its ghosts. Halliday wants Blake's assistance to prove the psychic a charlatan and they both call upon Chief Inspector Masters of the Yard (who dabbles in the art of exposing psychic fakes himself) to lend a hand. Meanwhile, the Playge Dagger--originally belonging to the hangman and donated by the Halliday family to a London Museum--has been stolen.

During the vigil, Halliday, his aunt, fiancee and her brother Ted, and Major Featherton (family friend) stay together in a room while Darworth is installed in a lonely stone building in the courtyard. The door is locked (both outside and in), the widows are closely barred, and surrounding the building is about thirty feet of smooth mud. And, yet, during the night Darworth will apparently be stabbed to death by a ghostly hand wielding the missing Playge Dagger. Masters is sure it's murder by a human hand, but can't see how the thing was done. Locked room expert, Sir Henry Merrivale is pressed into service "one more time" to show them all how it was done.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of this one--especially with all the details from the years of Louis Playge. It gave the story a nice ghost-story feel. Of course, H.M. dumps cold water on the idea that any supernatural forces are at play, but the build-up to the murders is very nicely done. The plot is not quite a smoothly polished as later Dickson novels will be, but it still a clever puzzle and Dickson manages to show you how it was done while firmly telling you that it couldn't have been done that way. Nobody says you have to believe characters implicitly when they tell you things....★★ and 3/4.

For more reviews of The Plague Court Murders please check out the following blogs:
Brad @ Ah Sweet Mystery Blog
Ben @ The Green Capsule
Les @ Classic Mysteries

Deaths = four (three shot; one burned to death)
Vintage Extravaganza Gold: Rule #2 Supernatural elements
Calendar of Crime: May (Pub Month)
PopSugar: Recommended by favorite blog(s)-- Les @ Classic Mysteries; Brad @ Ah Sweet Mystery Blog; Ben @ The Green Capsule; The Grandest Game
Pick Your Poison: Hidden--Author uses pseudonym

First Line: Old Merrivale, that astute and garrulous lump who sits with his feet on the desk at the War Office, has been growling again for somebody to write the story of the Plague Court murders; chiefly, it is believed, to glorify himself.

[Halliday] had sobered down, but he still had enough of the old humorous devil to make him good (sometimes dangerous) company. He had seen men and places. He had acquired a tolerant droop of the eyelid. Also, there was about him a certain fresh vitality and frankness which must have disturbed the somnolent air around Lancaster gate. You liked his grin. He was very fond of beer, detective stories, and poker. (p. 9)

Wait a bit, though. Is that facts--you know what I mean: hard, absolute, really 'appened facts, that no counsel could shake--or is it only more impressions? You'll admit that you've had a lot of those impressions, you know. (Chief Inspector Masters; p. 77)

Well, sir, I've generally discovered that a hunch is what you call an idea that you're afraid is wrong. (Detective Sergeant Bert McDonnell; p. 145)

Tut, tut. That's not fair detective-fiction, to go and dump down a mere name, somebody we haven't seen and that ain't connected with the business. (Sir Henry Merrivale; p. 170)

Last Line: "She died in the right place, son. She and Louis Playge--they both belong there."

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Deal Me In: "Jericho & the Dying Clue"

Jay's Deal Me In Challenge has us reading one short story 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 past week's story was "Jericho & the Dying Clue" by Hugh Pentecost (found in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine October 1965) and chosen by drawing the seven of diamonds last Sunday. It finds Pentecost's artist/detective John Jericho staying at the home of presidential hopeful Senator Willard Rice. Rice wants Jericho to paint his portrait and Jericho wants to get the atmosphere surrounding the man before he begins. But the Senator's death after an accusation of impropriety takes him from artist to detective overnight. It would look like suicide--if there had been a note and the weapon weren't missing. And, as the title implies, the Senator's supposed last words provides him with the solution to the mystery.

Up next (with a draw of the ten of spades): "The Tragedy of Papa Ponsard" by Vincent Starett (found in Ellery Queen's Anthology 1966 Mid-Year Edition)

Mystery Bingo Card #2
Clues & Cliches: Dying Message

The Corinthian

I am not quite sober you know. In fact, I am drunk, but I cannot help feeling this is all a trifle, shall we say, irregular?


We were overturned in a ditch, we became--er--intimately acquainted with a thief; we found ourselves in possession of stolen goods; assisted in an elopement; and discovered a murder. I had not dreamt life could hold such excitement.
~The Corinthian (1940) by Georgette Heyer

Sir Richard Wyndham is a Corinthian--a wealthy, handsome dandy of twenty-nine. He has the world at his feet and his relatives nagging him to death to get married and carry on the family name. He prepares himself to give in to family pressure with a night of drunken gambling when Fate takes a hand. He decides to walk off his drinks and wanders into a quiet neighborhood where he spies a youth climbing out of a second story window on a much-too-short rope of bedsheets. 

He quickly realizes that the youth is a young woman when she literally falls into his arms. Penelope "Pen" Creed, a young lady just turned seventeen, is escaping from her aunt's house where she is being pressured to marry her "fish-faced" cousin, Fred. 

"He has a wet mouth," said Miss Creed despairingly.

In his still slightly drunken state, Sir Richard decides that it would be a grand idea to help Pen run away to her country estate (I forgot to mention that Pen is an heiress who is expected to marry her cousin and share her fortune with her less-fortunate relatives...) where she hopes to be reunited with a childhood friend with whom she shared a "blood oath" to marry once they were old enough. Besides, if he helps her run away, he can run away himself. As Miss Creed says when she tries to dissuade him from accompanying her:

"Do please consider....If you went with me, no one would know what had become of you."
"No one would know what had become of me," repeated Sir Richard slowly....

That seems to him to be a lovely idea.

The two marriage-truants find themselves involved in the most "exciting adventures" (to quote Pen). Pen continues her cross-dressing escapades with Sir Richard cast as everything from her tutor to uncle to trustee. They run up against thieves, find and lose a fabulous diamond necklace, discover a murder, and save people from their own romantic follies...all while slowly coming to realize the growing affections between them. But will Fate take another turn and keep them apart? Not if Sir Richard has anything to say about it.

This was a delightful little trip into a "guilty pleasure" book for one of my challenges. Not that I really feel all that guilty about reading a Regency romance--but, then, I don't really feel guilty about anything I choose to read. Georgette Heyer provides light-hearted romance and witty repartee in all of her romance novels. The Corinthian gives us two charming protagonists in our run-aways and adds some very entertaining supporting characters along the way. Cedric Brandon is marvelous. He's unrepentant about his scapegrace ways and very forthright about them with Sir Richard. He very truthfully tells Richard that he better run from a marriage with Melissa (Cedric's sister) or the whole family will be sponging off him. And he sees straight through Pen's schoolboy disguise. 

There could have been a bit more lead-in to the romance between Richard and Pen. I mean, anyone who has read Regency romance novels before knew what was coming--but there was very little real indication of what was happening between the two. A better build-up would have made for a much more satisfying  story. But overall--very enjoyable.  ★★ and 1/2.

PopSugar: Favorite prompt from a previous PopSugar Challenge--Item of clothing/accessory on cover (2019)
Pick Your Poison: How Old? (written before you were born)

First Line: The company, ushered by a disapproving butler into the yellow saloon of Sir Richard Wyndham's house in St. James's Square, comprised two ladies and one reluctant gentleman.

As a boy you would have been in no way remarkable; as a female, believe me, you are unique. (Sir Richard Wyndham; p. 70)

I would not have come all this way with you if you had not had such smiling eyes. Isn't it odd how one knows if one can trust a person, even if he's drunk? (Pen Creed; p. 90)

If you are not sorry to be here, do not let us give it another thought! It is so very fatiguing to go on being sorry about things one has done. (Pen Creed; p. 136)

Miss Creed reflected that in a more perfect world no servant would intrude upon his legitimate business at unreasonable moments. (p. 213)

PC: Well I didn't drop out precisely. I climbed out because I was escaping my relations.
CB: I've often wanted to escape from mine, but I never thought of climbing out of a window.
(Pen Creed, Cedric Brandon; p. 222)

Haven't I been trying to get you to go away this past half-hour? Never met such a thick-skinned fellow in my life! (Cedric Brandon; p. 250)

Your scruples were very fine, I make no doubt, but how should a chit of Pen's age understand what you were about? She would not care a fig for your precious honour, and I dare say--indeed, I am sure!--that she thought your forbearance mere indifference. (Lady Luttrell; pp. 253-4)

Last Line: "Let them see!" said the Corinthian

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Murder on the Waterfront

Murder on the Waterfront (2001) by Michael Jahn once again finds Captain Bill Donovan of the NYPD hard at work solving a murder-by-unusual-method amongst the rich, famous, and (this time) political elite. Bill and his wife Marcie are not exactly thrilled when he is deputized to stand in for the mayor at a fundraising dinner for presidential hopeful Pete Bennett. Their liberal Democratic ways don't exactly mesh with the Southern Republican's interests. There are two pluses to the event--one, it takes place on the Trinidad Princess and Bill's sea-faring roots are happy find him walking the deck of a liner even if it is docked on the Hudson River. And, two, he and Marcy spot the Sevastopol Trader tied up alongside. The Trader belongs to an old friend, Dennis Yeager, and is known for its swinging parties. Sure enough, they spy fashion models slinking back and forth along the deck.

Bennett's campaign manager, Rob Ingram latches on to Donovan and asks him for an insider's take on the hottest spots to hit while he's in town. Bill and Marcy each throw him a few curve balls, suggesting a gay bar and crashing Yeager's party, respectively, but they never expect the conservative politico to actually show up on the Trader. And after joining the party themselves, being shown a wicked-looking whaler's mincing knife, and heading home in the early hours, Donovan doesn't expect the phone to ring at dawn with the news that Ingram has been found on Yeager's boat--stabbed to death by that same mincing knife.

He soon finds that the campaign manager hasn't been surging in the popularity polls. A long list of suspects includes one of the supermodels, who is a former lover whom Ingram had sent to the hospital through his abusive ways; a videographer, who has been in jail once for his involvement in a previous crime); the owner of a modeling agency, who might have stood to lose profits if Ingram came back into the life of her model; Bennett's wife, with whom Ingram had been having an affair; Bennett himself, who may have needed to get rid of the campaign manager playing hanky-panky with his wife; a mysterious man posing as a model at Yeager's party; and various environmentalists (including Yeager) who may have had a grudge against the part-owner of a ship suspected of toxic dumping.

Jahn's story walks a fine line between police procedural and classic mystery plot. There is plenty of following Donovan, Moskowitz, and company around as they bag up evidence and interrogate witnesses. But there is also a fairly small group of suspects giving this a closed circle feel even though it does take place on the waterfront of the Big Apple. And Donovan gives us the standard Golden Age wrap-up scene where he points the finger at each suspect before revealing the true culprit.  All-in-all, a satisfactory read. ★★

First line: Donovan hated the new look of the Hudson River waterfront, which was trending toward upscale eateries and scrubbed tourist attractions, not the least of which was the pastel and crystal palace of a cruise liner called the Trinidad Princess.

Last line: "Play with your son," Marcy said, and that's just what Donovan did, sitting with the little boy on the blanket and picking up the plastic chicken that had found its way, on its side, dangerously, into the corral with the cows, and putting her safely back into her nest.

Deaths = one (stabbed)

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.

1. Silver Wings for Vicki by Helen Wells (2/15/20)
2. Chinese Nightmare by Hugh Pentecost (4/18/20)
3. By Hook or by Crook by Anthony Gilbert (11/21/20)
4. The Whispering Death by Roy Vickers (11/23/20)
5. The Clue of the Runaway Blonde/The Clue of the Hungry Horse by Erle Stanley Gardner (12/28/20)
6. Vicki Finds the Answer by Helen Wells (12/28/20)

Commitment 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 D.A. Calls a Turn by Erle Stanley Gardner
Close Quarters by Michael Gilbert
Fire in the Snow by Hammond Innes
San Francisco Murders by Joseph Henry Jackson
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
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)
4. The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer (1/24/20)
5. The Plague Court Murders by Carter Dickson (1/26/20)
6. Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer (1.27/20)
7. The Death of a Joyce Scholar by Bartholomew Gill (1/31/20)
8. Information Received by E. R. Punshon (2/6/20)
9. Spin Your Web, Lady! by Frances & Richard Lockridge (2/8/20)
10. Deep Lay the Dead by Frederick C. Davis (2/14/20)
11. Red Threads by Rex Stout (2/14/20)
12. Silver Wings for Vicki by Helen Wells (2/15/20)
13. The Man Who Loved Book Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett (2/18/20)
14. Death in Kenya by M. M. Kaye (2/20/20)
15. The Crying Sisters by Mabel Seeley (2/23/20)
16. The Clue in Blue by Betsy Allen (2/28/20)
17. Betsy & Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace (3/10/20)
18. Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow (3/15/20)
19. Good Luck to the Corpse by Max Murray (3/30/20)
20. Stand Up & Die by Frances & Richard Lockridge (3/31/20)
21. Curtain for a Jester by Frances & Richard Lockridge (4/3/20)
22. The Grey Flannel Shroud by Henry Slesar (4/6/20)
23. The Christening Day Murder by Lee Harris (4/7/20)
24. The Valentine's Day Murder by Lee Harris (4/10/20)
25. The Passover Murder by Lee Harris (4/12/20)
26. The Ebony Bed Murder by Rufus Gilmore (4/18/20)
27. Chinese Nightmare by Hugh Pentecost (4/18/20)
28. Nobody's Perfect by Douglas Clark (4/20/20)
29. Life & Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall (4/25/20)
30. The New Year's Eve Murder by Lee Harris (4/25/20)
31. The April Fool's Day Murder by Lee Harris (4/27/20)
32. The Bar Mitzvah Murder by Lee Harris (4/30/20)
33. Kept by D. J. Taylor (5/2/20)
34. Death After Evensong by Douglas Clark (5/4/20)
35. The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald (5/9/20)
36. The Quotable Sherlock Holmes by Gerard Van Der Leun (5/12/20)
37. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (5/13/20)
38. The Good Friday Murder by Lee Harris (5/17/20)
39. Deadly Pattern by Douglas Clark (5/18/20)
40. Golden Rain by Douglas Clark (5/21/20)
41. The Longest Pleasure by Douglas Clark (5/22/20)
42. Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by John Curran (5/25/20)
43. 4 Feet in the Grave by Amelia Reynolds Long (5/30/20)
44. The Gimmel Flask by Douglas Clark (6/3/20)
45. Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon (6/10/20)
46. The Clocks by Agatha Christie (6/12/20)
47. The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie (6/14/20)
48. Death-Wish Green by Frances Crane (6/18/20)
49. Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre (6/20/20)
50. Murder, She Said: The Quotable Miss Marple by Tony Medawar [ed] (6/20/20)
51. Murder in a Hurry by Frances & Richard Lockridge (6/22/20)
52. Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie (6/24/20)
53. Foul Deeds by Susan James (6/26/20)
54. Blotto, Twinks & the Ex-King's Daughter by Simon Brett (7/1/20)
55. The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie (7/6/20)
56. Between the Thames & the Tiber by Ted Riccardi (7/20/22)
57. In Memory Yet Green by Isaac Asimov (7/22/20)
58. Murder at Melrose Court by Karen Baugh Menuhin (7/23/20)
59. Footprints Under the Window by Franklin W. Dixon (7/26/20)
60. Murder in the Dog Days by P. M. Carlson (7/29/20)
61. Death in Berlin by M. M. Kaye (7/31/20)
62. The Town Cried Murder by Leslie Ford (8/2/20)
63. The Proud Cat by Frances & Richard Lockridge (8/3/20)
64. Jerry Todd & the Rose-Colored Cat by Leo Bruce (8/3/20)
65. The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards (8/4/20)
66. The Ampersand Papers by Michael Innes (8/8/20)
67. Scarweather by Anthony Rolls (8/11/20)
68. The Murder That Had Everything by Hulbert Footner (8/13/20)
69. Sweet Poison by Ellen Hart (8/15/20)
70. Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (8/17/20)
71. A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas (8/19/20)
72. The Clue in the Diary by Carolyn Keene (8/22/20)
73. Neuromancer by William Gibson (8/22/20)
74. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (8/25/20)
75. The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie (8/25/20)
76. When Gods Die by C. S. Harris (8/27/20)
77. R.F.K.: A Photographer's Journal by Harry Benson (8/27/20)
78. A Client Is Cancelled by Frances & Richard Lockridge (8/29/20)
79. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan (8/30/20)
80. Death Rides a Sorrel Horse by A. B. Cunningham (8/31/20)
81. Trixie Belden & the Mystery at Bob-White Cave by Kathryn Kenny (9/2/20)
82. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (9/3/20)
83. Something the Cat Dragged In by Charlotte MacLeod (9/4/20)
84. A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (9/10/20)
85. The October Country by Ray Bradbury (9/10/20)
86. Bullet for a Star by Stuart M. Kaminsky (9/10/20)
87. Out of Control by Baynard Kendrick (9/12/20)
88. Into the Valley of Death by Evelyn Hervey [H.R.F. Keating] (9/13/20)
89. Bound to Murder by Dorsey Fiske (9/16/20)
90. The Mystery of the Skeleton Key by Bernard Capes (10/2/20)
91. The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost by John Bellairs (10/3/20)
92. Talking About Detective Fiction by P. D. James (10/9/20)
93. Shadow on the Wall by H. C. Bailey (10/13/20)
94. Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner (10/14/20)
95. Death of a Warrior Queen by S. T. Haymon (10/24/20)
96. Why Mermaids Sing by C. S. Harris (10/26/20)
97. Foot in the Grave by E. X, Ferrars (10/28/20)
98. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers (11/2/20)
99. Look Your Last by John Stephen Strange (11/6/20)
100. Where Serpents Sleep by C. S. Harris (11/11/20)


101. If the Shroud Fits by Kelley Roos (11/13/20)
102. Peril at End House by Agatha Christie (11/19/20)

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!

Related image

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!

Related image

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!

Related image

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