Friday, February 28, 2020

The Clue in Blue

The Clue in Blue (1948) by Betsy Allen (Betty Cavanna) is the first book in the Connie Blair mystery series. The series is one of many that feature young women taking up professions (nurses, stewardesses, reporters, etc) and finding themselves mixed up with mysteries on a regular basis. Connie has just graduated from high school and she and her friends are looking ahead to college. Some with more enthusiasm than others--Connie, for instance, would rather head straight into the career world, possibly winding up in advertising. She gets her chance at becoming a working woman when her Aunt Bet, a stylist for Campion's department store in Philadelphia, asks her if she would like a temporary job as a model. Connie jumps at the chance and finds herself jumping straight into her first mystery as well.

An expensive beaver beret has gone missing and Aunt Bet mentions that this isn't the first odd disappearance in the store. She's not only worried that the valuable hat is gone, but she also doesn't know if she should expect more items to vanish. The items have subsequently reappeared, but the beret stays missing for quite some time. Meanwhile, a pearl necklace has also been taken and circumstances make Aunt Bet look like the guilty party. Connie knows her aunt isn't a thief and is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. She'll have to answer a few questions first: Who was the man in the mirror wearing a woman's hat? Was he the one who hit Connie on the head? Why was Aunt Bet's apartment ransacked? Why was the stock girl Grace crying with fright in models' dressing room? And who would want to cast suspicion on Aunt Bet? Once she discovers the truth behind these questions, Connie is able to lead the store detective straight to the culprit. 

This is a pleasant little "career girl" mystery. Connie is a personable young woman and tenacious in her determination to investigate (even when Aunt Bet and the store doorman cast doubt on her story of the man who hit her). I appreciated her spunk and willingness to clear her aunt's name. But I have to say that of the career girl stories I've read, I prefer Beverly Gray (reporter) and Vicki Barr (airline stewardess). Connie is a fine young woman and a perfectly fine amateur detective, she just didn't resonate with me in the same way as the other two. The mystery does have an interesting sub-story that casts light on an interesting motive for "borrowing" others' belongings--stealing for love rather than gain.
★★★ and 1/2

Pick Your Poison: Reading Women (children's book with strong female lead)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Big Four

The Big Four (1927) by Agatha Christie, read by Hugh Fraser

I reread my own paper copy of this novel about two years ago (review at title link). At that time I also viewed the David Suchet version of the story. I won't rehash the plot here or reference my previous review--other than to say: Of these three recent experiences of Christie's excursion into the evil masterminds/thriller genre, I much prefer this audio version with Hugh Fraser narrating. Fraser does a terrific job managing all the different voices and accents--from Poirot's French to Russian and Chinese tones. The one misstep comes when Poirot meets with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister of France, Monsieur Desjardeux. Desjardeux is outraged when Poirot names the French member of the Big Four and Fraser's efforts to differentiate Desjardeux's voice from Poirot's results in the Prime Minister's tones venturing towards those of his Chinese characters. But that is only momentary and the performance overall is outstanding. And somehow the idea of a nefarious gang of super-criminals doesn't seem quite so fantastic when Captain Hastings himself is telling the tale. So--for the audio version, I'm bumping the rating back to the ★★ and 1/2 that I gave the story when my much younger self first read it (long, long before blogging).

First Lines: I have met people who enjoy a channel crossing; men who can sit calmly in their deck chairs and, on arrival, wait until the boat is moored, then gather their belongings together without fuss and disembark. Personally, I can never manage this. 

Last Line: “Marry and arrange myself,” he said again. “Who knows?”

Deaths = 11 (two poisoned; two stabbed; one electrocuted; one run over by car; one drowned; three blown up; one other [suicide])
Calendar of Crime: January (Original Pub Month)
PopSugar: Set in the 1920s
Pick Your Poison: Reading Cliches (By an author "everyone has read"--well, "everyone" in Golden Age mystery circles, anyway.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Deal Me In: "Bride in Danger"

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.

My current selection is "Bride in Danger" by Ellery Queen (from Ellery Queen's Anthology 1966 Mid-Year Edition Vol. 11), chosen by drawing the queen of spades from the deck. Ellery has been invited as an eligible bachelor (the bride's mother is hoping to do a little more matchmaking) to a wedding in Wrightsville. He finds himself serving as a repository for various secrets and almost winds up attending a funeral for the bride instead of a reception for the happy couple. His eye for the right word helps him identify the person with murderous intentions toward Dr. Farnham's intended.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Deep Waters: Murder on the Waves

Deep Waters: Murder on the Waves (2019) edited by Martin Edwards contains a lovely set of water-related mysteries for the reader with a fondness for crime. Stories ranging from those from the pen of well-known authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edmund Crispin to the more obscure offerings of Gwyn Evans and Kem Bennett. Overall, a very strong showing with a wide range of liquid murderous methods. My favorites are "The Pool of Secrets," "Four Friends and Death," "The Turn of the Tide," and "The Queer Fish."  ★★

"The Adventure of the Gloria Scott" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes tells Dr. Watson about his first case. A nice literary tidbit, but it serves more to give background on Holmes and show the earliest use of his powers of observation than to serve up an actual mystery for Holmes to solve. There are few deductions on display--the answer to the puzzle is served up in a document from the father of Holmes's friend.

"The Eight-Mile Lock" by L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace: John Bell, who specializes in debunking the supposed supernatural, is taking a short holiday with his friends Lord and Lady Ridsdale aboard their house-boat on the Thames. While there, Lady Ridsdale's beautiful diamond bracelet disappears. But it isn't until Bell helps the local lock-keeper to get to the bottom of the ghostly cries for the locks to be open that the thief and the whereabouts of the bracelet are revealed.

"The Gift of the Emperor" by E. W. Hornung: The last of the Raffles stories. Our gentleman burglar decides to steal a pearl of great price and boards a German ship to do so. Will he succeed? Will he escape justice? And what of poor Bunny?

"Bullion!" by William Hope Hodgson: Strange deaths by "just sickening and going off" and mysterious late-night whisperings haunt a ship hauling cases of gold bullion. The second mate realizes just in time what it all means.

"The Echo of a Mutiny" by R. Austin Freeman: Two men who had previously been involved in a mutiny meet up for duty in a lighthouse. One of the men is killed and the other tries to cover his tracks--but when Dr. Thorndyke enters the case, his hopes for escape rapidly dwindle.

"The Pool of Secrets" by Gwyn Evans: features a murder that is supposed to be the work of the Silver Bride, the ghost of a woman who drowned herself in her wedding gown. Quentin Drex uses some unorthodox methods to get to the bottom of the mystery.

"Four Friends & Death" by Christopher St. John Sprigg: a short vignette about whether friendship can last when one of the four friends (alone together on a boat) falls down dead--from poison!

"The Turn of the Tide" by C. S. Forester: A murderous lawyer finds the answer to the problem of what to do with the corpse....with unexpected results!

"The Swimming Pool" by H. C. Bailey: Dr. Reggie Fortune is called in when an anonymous note says that Old Mr. Colburn's death wasn't as natural as it seemed. Fortune is disturbed by the disused swimming pool on the estate and soon has a headless corpse and a missing nurse on his hands.

"A Question of Timing" by Phyllis Bentley: Bentley begins her story with an interesting hook: "A month or so ago, one Thursday afternoon, I stopped a murder." And this short little story goes on to tell how Robert Beringer, a writer, did just that while out on a walk along the Thames. He saved a life and got the girl...all in an afternoon's walk.

"The Thimble River Mystery" by Josephine Bell: Bell's story could also have been titled "A Question of Timing"--because timing becomes very crucial to the solution of the murder. There is a limited window of time when the killer could have reached the boat to do the deed.

"Man Overboard" by Edmund Crispin: A blackmailer's stash helps Inspector Humbleby catch a killer--an American whose brother supposedly "accidentally" drowned.

"The Queer Fish" by Kem Bennett: Albert Pascoe, salmon poacher, is forced at gunpoint to give transport to two strangers who want to make landfall in France. He takes them for a ride all right...and gets a bit of a surprise for his trouble.

"The Man Who Was Drowned" by James Pattinson: A woman claims to have seen a man go overboard, but Barton Rice, friend of the ship's captain and something to do with Scotland Yard, immediately spots a few inconsistencies in her story. He decides to do a little investigating on his own.

"Seasprite" by Andrew Garve: A smuggler gets more than he bargained for when he takes on a new partner.

"Death by Water" by Michael Innes: Did Sir John Appleby's vague philosopher friend commit suicide or did someone help him to his death by water? A very fishy state of affairs with a very fishy little clue.

Deaths: 16 (one other/natural; six drowned; two other [attacked by piranhas]; three poisoned; two strangled; one hit on head; one fell from height)
PopSugar: Anthology
Pick Your Poison: Shorts (book of short stories)

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Crying Sisters

The Crying Sisters (1939) by Mabel Seeley

Janet Ruell is a small town librarian who is taking her first vacation without her mother. She's escaping her humdrum, rural life where the most "exciting" thing to happen to her is a proposal from the dull, older banker (the only eligible bachelor in town). She's determined to accept the attentions of the first man she meets and to take on any adventures that come her way during her month's stay in northern Minnesota. She gets her chance at both when she makes an unexpected stop at a small tourist camp along the way.

There she meets Steve Corbett and his young son "Cottie." She is immediately charmed by the little boy--though not quite so much by his father. Steve is a man of little words, short-spoken, and often mysterious. But he offers her an adventure of sorts--come with him to Crying Sisters lodge and look after his son. When she agrees (unaccountably after the rudest offer ever made), she finds herself stepping into a life of deception--pretending to be Steve's wife and the mother of Cottie. As soon as they are installed in their cabin, Steve hands her a gun--to protect herself and the boy--and starts making late-night excursions around the camp. He won't explain anything and tells her to just keep her mind on the boy and her nose out of his business. Before her adventure is over, she hears screams in the night, stumbles over a dead man who disappears and then reappears in the most unlikely places, is locked up with Steve as possible murderers, becomes briefly associated with gangsters, witnesses an explosion at the gambling den across the lake, and shoots a crazed killer. She certainly gets her wish for excitement in spades....

I seem to be in the minority on Goodreads (not rating this a three or higher)...but I honestly could not get over the opening and the heroine's whole reason for getting mixed up in this murder mystery. Here we have a supposedly level-headed librarian who just ups and goes off with a surly man she just met and winds up pretending to be his wife and mother to his small son. She's sure he's up to something, but she is so starved for adventure in her life that she's going along with it. Really?! And then, of course, once the nasty things start happening, she's gotten so attached to Cottie that she can't possibly leave. Again, really?!

The mystery plot itself is fairly solid. I did think throwing in the obvious red-herring gangsters was a bit much, but other than that, it was a nice, tidy mystery with a decent amount of clues sprinkled around. The reader might not figure out the whole story, but there is enough to point in the right direction if you know what you're looking at. I enjoyed that part of the book the most and have given all the star-rating based on plot alone. If our protagonists had been more engaging and the behavior of Janet had been more believable, then the rating would be higher. I will say that I do admire her strength at the end--managing to foil the murderer's plan to leave her to die and shooting the villain in turn. But, not enough to change the rating. As it is...★★

~~Spoilers ahead! Continue at your own risk.~~

I also find the sudden romantic ending to be totally unbelievable. Here's a man who has gone to all this trouble to search for his wife and has constantly been more than rude to the woman currently caring for his son and out of the blue he just proposes to her? Sure--maybe he's trying to keep his distance from her to keep her and Cottie safe. But there is absolutely no undercurrent of feelings between these two people. If you want a romantic ending, then please lay a little groundwork for it. Even if it's just a few hints of romantic tension here and there. But don't just give us nothing...

Calendar of Crime: August (Primary Action)
Pick Your Poison: Recovery (missing person)
PopSugar: has a map
Deaths = 6 (two poisoned; one hit on head; one stabbed; two shot)

First Line: I still pinch myself and say it isn't true.

Small towns never forget, not when they can take malicious triumph in remembering. (p. 8)

Last Line: As well as I could I curved my bandaged hands upward around his face.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Beatles Yellow Submarine

The Beatles--Yellow Submarine story adapted by Bill Morrison (2018)
~based on a song by John Lennon & Paul McCartney (1966)
~from the Screenplay by Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, and Erich Segal (1968)

Climb aboard the Beatles' Yellow Submarine and take a 60s psychedelic journey to Pepperland where the boys will help Young Fred, Old Fred, and the Mayor restore music, peace, happiness, and love to the land that has been attacked by the dreadful, music-hating Blue Meanies.

This is a beautifully rendered graphic novel version of the Yellow Submarine movie. The colors are vibrant and it was fun to revisit the story. I hadn't seen the movie for decades. The only way it could have been better would be if the music played when you opened the pages (like the greeting cards that come with sound). It was a shame not to hear "All You Need Is Love" playing in the background at the end. Highly enjoyable nonetheless. ★★★★

Pick Your Poison: Movie Quotes (I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way: Graphic Novel)

Death in Kenya

"You know," he said, "this is painfully like one of those detective novels in which just as the plot is getting littered with clues and corpses, the heroine holds up the action for three pages with a sentimental scene." (p. 350)

Death in Kenya (original title: Later Thank You Think; 1958) by M. M. Kaye takes us to the Rift Valley in a period during the latter part of the Mau Mau uprising (referred to as The Emergency by white settlers). Emily DeBrett and her grandson Eden, along with his wife Alice, have lived through an attack on Flamingo, their sprawling home in the Valley only to have a poltergeist invade their home. Emily's family treasures are broken and then her favorite dog is killed. The feeling that tension is mounting and that all of this malicious mischief is leading to something more dangerous is revealed to us through the eyes of Alice DeBrett. An English girl who has never felt at home in Kenya, Alice becomes more uncomfortable as the incidents increase in severity. Even Emily, who is tough as nails and helped repel the Mau Mau attack on her home, is feeling the strain and sends for her niece Victoria Caryll to come and help her with secretarial duties that she doesn't feel up to anymore.

Victoria was once unofficially engaged to Eden DeBrett and worries that she's made a mistake in agreeing to come. She's sure of it when she arrives and is told first thing that Eden's wife has been murdered with a Mau Mau weapon. She felt safe in coming to Kenya when Eden was married and unattainable--now she's afraid that old feelings will crop up and make an unpleasant situation unbearable in more ways than one. The police seem to be wavering between thinking this may be the start of a new revolt and believing that the murderer is someone within the DeBrett's small social circle. There are certain clues that don't add up (and which I can't reveal because spoilers) and until they can get the math right, the killer is going to get away with it. More deaths follow and even Victoria finds herself in danger....

Kaye's novels are always terrific visions of another place and time. She sets her mysteries in locations where she and her husband have lived and the vivid descriptions ring completely true. Her mystery plots are solid and she managed to fool me completely in this one. Considering that the vital plot point has been (in some variation) important in at least three vintage mysteries I've read in the last three months, you'd think I would have picked up on it. But the way it was presented (and even repeated...yes, I was that dull-witted) this time made it seem impossible. Just remember...appearances can be (and often are) deceiving. ★★ and 1/2.

Previously read Death in Zanzibar (click link for review)
Deaths = 6 (two shot; two stabbed;one killed with axe; one poisoned)
Vintage Mystery Gold 2011 (#2 towards Murderous Mood)
Calendar of Crime: August (Author DOB)

First Line: A flock of pelicans, their white wings dyed apricot by the setting sun, sailed low over the acacia trees of the garden with a sound like tearing silk, and the sudden swish of their passing sent Alice's heart into her throat and dried her mouth with panic.

ED: My dear Drew, all women are excellent actresses when circumstances force them to it; and the sooner men realize that, the better! (Emily DeBrett; p. 369)

DS: People who are desperately and deeply in love are probably capable of anything. There are endless examples in history and the newspapers to prove that love can be a debasing passion as well as the most ennobling one; and a stronger and more relentless force than either ambition or hate, because those can be cold-blooded things, but love is always a hot-blooded one. Men and women have died for it--or for loss of it. They have committed crimes for it and given up thrones for it, started wars, deserted their families, betrayed their countries, stolen, lied and murdered for it. And they will probably go on doing so until the end of time! (Drew Stratton; p. 373)

Last Line: It had ceased to be a Graven Image demanding sacrifices, for its High Priestess was dead and it was only a pleasant, rambling house whose windows looked out across green gardens to the wide beauty of Lake Naivasha and all the glory of the Rift Valley.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

If I had to reduce him to a sentence, I'd say that Gilkey is a man who believes that the ownership of a vast rare book collection would be the ultimate expression of his identity, that any means of getting it would be fair and right, and that once people could see his collection, they would appreciate the man who had built it. (p. 251)

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (2009) by Allison Hoover Bartlett purports to be the story of John Gilkey, rare book thief, and the man who helped catch him, Ken Sanders (book detective or "bibliodick" as he is dubbed). It is also Bartlett's tour of the world of rare books--the dealers and collectors and supposedly is a peek at what makes them tick. The cover announces that it is "Compelling with elegant suspense." Uh, no. Not compelling. Not the least bit suspenseful. And quite frankly, as a journalist, Bartlett leaves a lot to be desired. She inserts herself into the narrative--accompanying Gilkey on little jaunts to book dealers he has conned, to pay phones he has used in his scams, and generally behaving like a book thief's groupie. One wonders if his book-thieving ways has rubbed off on her--she opens the book by telling us that a rare edition of a 1630s German herbal medicine book has made its way to her desk. She makes an effort to track down the library that it belongs to--but by the time the book ends we don't know what she did with the thing. Last we know it's still on her desk and she's musing "...did not returning it make me a thief? Or was I a thief only as long as I kept it?"

Overall: This book is like a song with a single verse and chorus--played on repeat all day long every day that you read it. Bartlett is looking for what makes a person jump from law-abiding book collector to book thief and repeats this observation on Gilkey's book-lifting habit ad naseum throughout the book:

While many collectors build images of themselves through their collections, most of them do not cross the line between coveting and stealing. It was not just a collection Gilkey was building but an image of himself for the world....The leap between collector and thief is a huge moral and ethical one. {you don't say...}

She appears to think that the reader will see these comments as some sort of stupendous revelation--every. single. time. she makes them. [Most readers should be astute enough to get it the first time. And probably already knew it.] She jumps back and forth between saying that Gilkey is just like other collectors (the more books they get, the more they want) and not--because of that whole "thieving is bad" thing and he's a thief.

I also have a small issue with the title. Gilkey did not really love books. He loved having books that he thought others valued and in some twisted way he thought "owning" them would give him prestige. He felt like he had a right to them and if others had valuable books, then he ought to have valuable books too. He reminds me of the rich man who has a trophy wife. He doesn't actually love her--he loves having a beautiful woman on his arm and considers it to reflect on him--his good taste, his position, he ability as a man. It's all about him--not her. And with Gilkey--it's all about him, not the books. He also seemed to get a bigger thrill out of stealing the books than actually having them.

The best thing about the book is the peek at the world of rare books. More of that would have gone a long way. And I think I would have been much more interested in a book that focused on Ken Sanders and others who hunted down book thieves. ★★ and a half--leaning more towards two than three. 

First Line: At one end of my desk sits a nearly four-hundred-year-old book cloaked in a tan brown sack and a good deal of mystery.

After all, much of the fondness avid readers, and certainly collectors, have for their books is related to the books' physical bodies. As much as they are vessels for stories (and poetry, reference information, etc.), books are historical artifacts and repositories for memories--we like to recall who gave books to us, where we were when we read them, how old we were, and so on. (p. 20)

A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents, and from my perspective, this fair was a concentrated celebration of this fact. (p. 21)

Gilkey has a strong sense of decorum, which comes through on the phone, and a complete lack of guilt about ripping people off, which does not. (p. 106)

Last lines: Not long before this book went to press, Sanders, nominally retired "bibliodick," had nevertheless alerted colleagues of Gilkey's most recent theft: stealing a book from a Canadian dealer. Gilkey was not arrested. The story never ends.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Silver Wings for Vicki

People have to dream, darling--dream, and make their dreams come true. Why, that's how the world goes on. (p. 6)

Silver Wings for Vicki (1947) by Helen Wells is the first book in the Vicki Barr Flight Stewardess series and there is a lot going on. It begins with Vicki having just finished two years of college and not being terribly excited at the prospects of going back. She knows her father, Professor Barr, would prefer that she finish her education--but she sees an ad in the newspaper with the headline

To Girls Who Would Like to Travel
To Meet People -- To Adventure

and she just knows that she's one of those girls. What she wouldn't give to go flying around the world in one of those big silver birds.

So, even though she knows she's a little young and doesn't have quite all the experience asked for, she decides to go to the interviews and give it a try anyway. Her father, knowing how much it means to her, is willing to let her go for her dreams.

To her amazement (but not to the reader's--because after all we've been told that this is the "Flight Stewardess" series), she convinces Miss Ruth Benson, the interviewer, to give her a chance. Before she and her family know it, she's on her way to New York City for an intense training session where only girls who score 95-97% (there are no perfect scores) make the grade and earn their silver wings. Vicki is a personable young woman and quickly makes friends. Of course, she and her five closest friends pass the class. They set up house in a shared apartment with a housekeeper-cum-house mother who makes sure they get fed properly, get plenty of sleep, and she sends any male callers home at a reasonable hour. The girls settle down into their flight routines, getting used to managing flights on their own and then Vicki falls headlong into a mystery involving suspicious travelers and ostrich-leather bags. She helps the authorities capture the bad guys and winds up a heroine on the front page of all the papers.

Vicki is another strong, independent character that I would have loved had I discovered her when I was reading Nancy Drew. She is a career woman who wants to be a flight stewardess--not because it's glamorous, but because she loves the idea of flying and helping the people who travel. She is intelligent and notices when passengers are behaving oddly and this leads to many of her adventures. The mysteries aren't terribly intricate, but they are good fun, especially for young readers. Silver Wings was an excellent beginning for the series. ★★★★

Calendar of Crime: Author DOB
Vintage Mystery: Rule #13 (No Corpse)

First Line: There it was, as big as life, in the Fairview Sunday paper.
Last Line: Give my love to Dean and the girls and tell them I'll be back--soon!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Red Threads

Red Threads (1937) by Rex Stout

Millionaire Val Carew is found bludgeoned to death in his wife's tomb. It's a high-profile case that the powers-that-be would like to see wrapped up quickly and neatly. But all the clues that the police find seem to lead nowhere, so the NYPD recall one of their finest, Inspector Cramer, from a well-deserved vacation to take over the case. He manages to uncover a few new clues--including a discarded peach pit, an ancient red thread, and a whippoorwill's call--but with every witness telling lies, it's going to be difficult to pin the murder on any of them.

I'll just tell you upfront: this is not one of Stout's all-time best novels. I think he hit his mark with the combination of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin working in what often seems to be opposition to the official police represented by Inspector Cramer. Red Threads is billed as "an Inspector Cramer mystery"--which I guess it is if only because Nero Wolfe is not here (must be too busy with his orchids). Cramer is an honest, hard-working cop and he does his bulldog best to track down the killer when his superiors drag him back from his first real vacation in years. But it takes clues supplied by fashion designer Jean Farris to get him on the right track.

The biggest failing in this one (in my opinion) is the lack of interesting characters. Even in his worst Wolfe novels, the characters have a bit of interest and force to them. Jean's character starts out nicely but rapidly loses steam about midway--even her fight to find answers that will prove that Guy Carew (the love of her life) didn't kill his father didn't particularly interest me. I would say to skip this one unless you're a Stout completist. ★★

Deaths = One (hit on head)
Calendar of Crime: October (Author DOB)
Vintage Mystery (2011): 1st book towards Murderous Mood level

First Line: Eileen Delaney heard the door of the noisy old elevator close behind her, and the diminuendo of its bang and rattle as its ascent progressed up the shaft.

Last Line: He sang the boastful Cherokee song a little later.

Deep Lay the Dead

Deep Lay the Dead (1942) by Frederick C. Davis

Rigby Webb, gifted math instructor, is quite sure that someone is sabotaging his life. It started when the job he thought was secure was pulled out from under him. And when he applied for other jobs--even though interviews initially went well--it seemed he just wasn't what the employer was looking for. Then out of the blue he gets a letter from Dr. Duncan Chandler, talking to him like they're old friends and inviting him to his home in rural Pennsylvania to work for him on some mysterious project. 

Rigby heads out there, struggling through a snowstorm, but not (he tells himself) to take the job. He wants to give this Chandler fellow a piece of his mind and tell him to stop messing with his life. Because he's as sure as sure can be that Chandler has arranged for him to be out of work so he'd have to take the job. Once he arrives, Dr. Chandler reveals that the reason he's been maneuvered into coming is that his country needs him and they couldn't be obvious about it. Rigby wrote a ground-breaking article on ciphers and codes and the government wants him to help Dr. Chandler (who is pretty spiffy with codes himself) develop an unbreakable code that can be used to defeat the Axis powers.

Meanwhile, Chandler's wife Claire, has been feeling neglected because her husband shuts himself up in his office for hours on end and has once again invited a houseful of weekend guests to keep her amused. We have Nick Winston who may or may not be having an affair with Claire; Tony Raye, a dancer with a gambling problem; Erica Kerrington, Tony's dance partner and possible girlfriend--though she's had her eye on Rigby for quite some time; Arnold Barclay--man about town, society gossip extraordinaire, and host of "The Midnight Tattler" radio show; and Jill Chandler, the daughter of the of the house. Into the mix is thrown Max Harwick, a talented pianist until an accident forced Dr. Chandler to operate and amputate some of his fingers, and Harwick's son Ross who is representing his father in a negligence suit against the doctor. The Harwicks had come to try and convince Chandler to settle out of court and are forced by the snowstorm to stay for the weekend.

Added to the tension of a house party trapped by the snow--and making do with no electricity in the bargain--are various other factors from the possible affair between Nick and Claire to the open hostility between Tony and Arnold (Tony blames Barclay's gossip mongering for the break-up of his marriage) to the Harwicks' anger at the doctor. To make things even more interesting, Dr. Chandler receives word from Washington DC that there is a spy in their midst and a courier is on the way with proof of identity. But the courier is shot and killed as soon as he comes within sight of the house. And he's not the first to die...Dr. Chandler's previous assistant was killed in a very suspicious car "accident." Chandler and Webb are working against the clock to complete the code--all the while knowing that a spy is working against them and willing to kill for what they want.

Rick Mills recommends reading this when you have a blizzard brewing. Well...Indiana doesn't seem to believe in real, snowy winters much anymore, but the first little flurry of flakes made me think it was time. This is an enjoyable little mystery that ticks of several boxes on the vintage mystery reader's favorite's list: Country house scene? check. Snowbound and cut off from help? check. Small group of suspects? check. Suspicious circumstances all around? check. Davis fixes us up with some interesting and likeable characters as well as a truly despicable villain (once all is revealed). A nice classic good versus evil setup with a satisfying denouement. ★★★★

DJ--not mine, unfortunately

Deaths =  (one shot; one "car accident")
Vintage Golden Rule #19: spy elements
Calendar of Crime: January (Primary action)

First Line: The snow started coming down at exactly the wrong time, shortly before noon, just as Rigby Webb rolled out of the Holland Tunnel, westward bound.

Everybody pretends to despise gossip, but everybody strains their ears to hear it and runs to repeat it. (Arnold Barclay; p. 149)

Last line: A snowplow was boring down the road.