Monday, August 31, 2020

Death Rides a Sorrel Horse

 Death Rides a Sorrel Horse (1946) by A. B. Cunningham

The folks at Friendly House knew something was wrong the moment Zeb, the big sorrel horse, came running home like demons were chasing him and his saddle was empty. It wasn't long before a search revealed that Camille Lang, one of the girls of Friendly House (a sort of girls' finishing school for midwesterners--learning to cook and sew and keep house in a small town), had been tossed from the horse. It looked like the horse had dragged her a ways to where her battered and lifeless body was found in the deep grass along the road.

Carl Quick, the city marshal, would be ready to call it an unfortunate accident if it weren't for one thing...a note tossed onto the porch of Friendly House that murder was suspected:

Theys more to her death than appears on the surface. Better ax Jess Roden to come over from Deer Lick and look into it.

Of course, there's always people looking to stir things up and he'd even be willing to put it down to a notoriety-grabber if that note hadn't appeared so quick after Camille was found. Word hadn't gotten around yet. So, if someone said they knew something, then they probably did. He decides that it probably would be a good idea to call in Roden, the sheriff of Deer Lick county. Roden has experience with suspicious deaths, but this time he's up against something new. A death that looks for all the world like an accident...until he looks closer. Once he finds the fresh cut on Zeb's leg, the evidence that Camille's foot had been tied to her stirrup, and the wound on her head that couldn't have been caused by hitting the ground, he knows that murder has been done. But proving it will be another matter.

This was a quick, easily read little mystery--perfect for when you want a one-sitting book. Roden is a good, ol' country sheriff with a quick eye and a quick wit for discerning what's really going on. I did suspect the "who"--but I missed the big clue that pointed to him/her and then got distracted by a very red herring. A nice, tidy little plot. ★★ 


First line: The big sorrel plunged with the headlong recklessness of a horse gone mad with fright.

Last line: "Let's git goin'," Roden interrupted him.


Deaths = one hit on head

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

 Beneath a Scarlet Sky (2017) by Mark Sullivan is an incredible fictional history of heroism and human frailty in war-torn Italy. Based on actual events in the life of Pino Lella, it follows Pino as he abruptly comes of age--one moment he's your average teenager wanting to see movies and have his first real romance and the next his home town of Milan is being bombed as the Allies make their way into Italy. His father sends him to a Catholic boys school in the Alps and there he is recruited by Father Re to help lead Jews to safety through dangerous mountain passes. But, as the age of forced conscription into the Axis forces draws near, his family decides that he should volunteer--in order to avoid being sent to the Russian front. He's injured one night on guard duty and finds himself assigned to be the driver for the second most powerful man in Italy--General Hans Leyers. This gives him an ideal opportunity to spy for the Italian Resistance--though his position in the Nazi camp will cost him one of his lifelong friends.

I found Lella's story very compelling and interesting. Most stories about World War II focus on England or France. This was the first I had read that centered on Italy. Sullivan does a good job portraying Lella as a very human and fallible hero. Lella was at his heroic best in the mountains. He led multiple groups of Jews through dangerous climbs--risking his own life and steadfastly encouraging them to go on when they thought they couldn't make it. He also braves the bandits who have claimed the mountains as their own and who have repeatedly warned him off climbing there. He also does well when working undercover as the driver--willing to lose the respect of his friend rather than tell him about his secret mission as a spy. 

Human frailty takes over when the Nazi hold is falling apart and the woman he loves--Anna--is taken by the Italian mobs. Anna had been a maid in General Leyer's house and the angry mob denounces both Anna and her mistress as Nazi whores and then kills them. Anna begs them to spare her--telling them she was just a maid--and Lella watches, unable to speak out. His inability to be brave enough to save the woman he loves will haunt him long after the war is over. But his chance to brave again comes--will he be up to another challenge?

While the writing was not nearly as good as the story it needed to tell, I found the story compelling enough to overcome the writing's shortcomings. I especially enjoyed (if that word can be used about the horrors of WWII) the events in the mountains. Father Re was a very great man, filled with the purpose and belief that all men and women deserve help--no matter what personal risk he needed to take to help them. He inspired Pino Lella and other boys to be just as brave. ★★ and 1/2.

First Line: Like all the pharaohs, emperors, and tyrants before him, Il Duce had seen his empire rise only to crumble.

Last Lines: "I don't understand, Carletto. And the war's not over. I don't think it ever will be over for me. Not really."

Saturday, August 29, 2020

A Client Is Cancelled

 A Client Is Cancelled (1951) by Frances & Richard Lockridge

Oh-Oh (Orson Otis) and his wife, the Pooh (Winifred who doesn't like to be called Winnie), are invited to a cocktail party at their neighbor's one hot summer afternoon. Oh-Oh can't really see why they should have to put on more clothes (suitable for visiting) to be even hotter on the Townsends' terrace than they already are on their own back porch. Besides, Pooh's Uncle Paul (also known as Uncle Tarzan) may be liable to challenge Oh-Oh to a tennis match or something much too exhausting in the heat. But Pooh says, "One can never tell; a chance is always worth taking." Why, if they hadn't gone, they would have missed out on one of the biggest murders in their area of the New York countryside. And...they would have missed out on being suspects. (But I get ahead of myself.)

So, the Otises duly dress and make their way to the Townsend place up on the hill. The Townsends are much better off than the Otises--lots of land, everything all shiny and fashionable, and a lovely swimming pool (that will be important later). Pooh's uncle is there but he seems far too distracted by business matters to think about athletic endeavors. Something is brewing in tobacco advertising arena. George Townsend has the advertising campaign for Paul Barlow's tobacco company and there seems to be a stale odor surrounding it. In fact, Oh-Oh senses a great deal of animosity swirling around Uncle Tarzan. Nothing he can describe definitely when he's asked later, but something, all the same.

After the cocktail party breaks up, the Otises wander off to the local inn for more (!) drinks and some dinner, run into Dwight Craig and Ann Dean whom they met at the party, decide to go home but then run into some other people they know and wind up even more hot and tired than before. They decide it would be fine idea to take George Townsend up on his offer to "use the pool any time" and have a midnight swim. Which all goes..swimmingly... until the Pooh takes one final, deep dive and sees something on the bottom of the pool that doesn't belong there. Uncle Tarzan--quite dead, but not drowned. He's been shot. They quickly dress and raise the alarm up at the Townsend house (where half the household seems to still be up). Captain Heimrich and Sergeant Forniss arrive and we're off and running in another State Trooper murder case. 

The Otises come under suspicion, especially after it is discovered that Uncle Tarzan very generously left his niece fifty thousand dollars in his will and Oh-Oh's service revolver has managed to go missing. Knowing the Lockridge's light touch, we feel fairly certain that Oh-Oh (our narrator) isn't guilty and there are plenty of other motives hanging around. There's the farmer with a grudge against Barlow--for supposedly running his family out of the tobacco business. There's Townsend and Craig who may have been facing the loss of their biggest advertising campaign. There's Barlow's daughter who may have resented her father's meddling in her romantic affairs. But then Oh-Oh and Pooh are found standing over another dead body.

So...this isn't the all-time greatest Lockridge plot. Honestly, I thought it pretty obvious and Heimrich's methods of detection weren't quite as appealing to me in this one. He keeps pushing pieces around trying to get the players to reveal themselves and then spends a really long time building up suspense in the final scene. But despite all that, I do really like Oh-Oh and Pooh--the characters themselves. I'm not enamored of their nicknames, but I wouldn't mind them quite so much if they weren't used all the time. I do enjoy watching them interact with each other and with other characters. They remind me of younger versions of Mr. & Mrs. North. ★★ and a half for a decent, light mystery.

Spoiler (in the apparent blank space--just highlight if curious): So...the title is an absolute give-away if you pay attention to it. There's only two people for whom Paul Barlow is a client--and readers of Lockridge books know when there is a couple of young people going through the pangs of romance that neither of the couple will wind up being guilty. So that leaves you with one person.


First Line: It was one of the more interesting murders of that summer and the Pooh and I almost did not attend.

Last Line: So we went, of course. The Otises try not to miss out on things.

Pulp fiction sells--witness the check that very morning--but one has to pulp a lot of it. (p. 9)

Apparently he [Dwight] had the same problem about going ahead with a lot of things he would have enjoyed saying, and was overtaken by manners. This seemed a pity, since they were both mad enough to be quite interesting. (p. 18)

He [Uncle Paul] told the Pooh, with an inflection of surprise, that she was looking very well. He had, evidently, expected her to look like a starving refugee. [p. 23]

I finished my drink and began to wonder how many I'd had. I couldn't remember, exactly, so I poured myself another. [p. 31]

We agreed that one nice thing about my occupation was that it could be carried on anywhere, which was what people were always telling us. this isn't particularly true, but it's truer when you have fifty thousand dollars than when you don't. Most things are. [p. 68]

...we agreed that neither of us had killed Uncle Tarzan for fifty thousand dollars. We hoped Captain Heimrich would agree too, since that would make things a good deal more chummy. [p. 69]

One o'clock in the morning is, certainly, one hell of a time to take a walk in the country, moonlight or no moonlight. I'd once known a man who did, but he was a man peculiarly prone to cosmic thoughts, which he found it necessary to walk off. I doubted Francis Eldredge had cosmic thoughts very frequently. [p. 92]

I said his {Heimrich's apparent} method, seemed like being a somewhat wasteful one....Obviously, if one could stir up a murderer until he had murdered all the people whose activities might involve him, one would end up with a solution. There would be one person left alive, and he would be "it." It was a method that leaned hard on the theory of expendability. [p. 125]


Deaths = two shot

Friday, August 28, 2020

R.F.K.: A Photographer's Journal

 R.F.K.: A Photographer's Journal (2008) by Harry Benson

Published 40 years after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, Benson captures in pictures and journal entries the days of Kennedy's run for the presidential nomination--from the day he announced his candidacy to that fateful day in June of 1968 when a man with a gun in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel cut that run short. The photography is excellent--beautiful, touching, and haunting--capturing RFK in private moments with his family and public moments when he made connections with those of all races and all backgrounds. Benson also captures the horror and tragedy of Kennedy's final moments and the outpouring of grief in the faces of those who lined the railroad tracks as his body made its way to Arlington. Robert Kennedy is one of those "what ifs" of history--what if he hadn't been taken through the kitchen that night? What if he had lived and become president? What kind of president would he have made and how might we as a nation be different?  ★★★★

Thursday, August 27, 2020

When Gods Die

 When Gods Die
(2006) C. S. Harris

When Gods Die is the second in the Sebastian St. Cyr (Lord Devlin) mystery series. At the end of the debut novel, Sir Henry Lovejoy, impressed at Devlin's abilities in ferreting out the murderer, asks if he'd like to take on investigative work among the upper classes whenever future delicate cases might arise. Sebastian turns him down flat, but then immediately finds himself embroiled in another delicate mystery in this latest outing. 

The Prince Regent is holding a party at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. All goes well until the Prince enters his Yellow Cabinet, anticipating a romantic conquest, only to find the young Marchioness of Anglessey dead with a knife in her back. Rumors already swirl around his family--rumors that the madness of his father, George III, runs amok in all of the Hanovers. And now the rumors will fly that he is as violent as his brother Cumberland, who killed his valet (though officially that was ruled a suicide). When a beautiful necklace that was last seen around the neck of Sebastian's mother on the day she perished in a boating acciedent is found around the dead woman's neck, the Prince's confidante Lord Jarvis is empowered to pressure Devlin into investigating the matter. The sooner the real killer is found, the sooner the pressure will be off the Prince.

But nothing is ever that simple and Sebastian will have to make his way through a maze of lies, political intrigue, and startling discoveries about his own past before he can get to to the bottom of the mystery. A plot against the House of Hanover is tangled with personal retribution, but discovering who might want revenge against a beautiful young woman isn't as easy as looking at the Marquis's nephew. The nephew was the heir apparent until he learns that his elderly uncle was an expectant father. Fitting Bevan Ellsworth up as the murderer would be satisfying, both to Sebastian who never liked the man and to the Marquis who desperately wants someone else to inherit. But Sebastian has standards and won't accuse Ellsworth without proof. Proofs soon come (after a few too many more deaths)...but they lead to a very unexpected answer.

Once again Harris sweeps the reader back to Regency England. Sebastian is a good, solid character with a fine streak of decency running through him. He doesn't want to tidy up the murders with the least fuss for those of his class. He wants the right killer found and brought to justice for what they did--whether high born or not. He also cares deeply about Tom, the young boy he has rescued from the streets and who now serves as his tiger (to care for and mind his horses when out and about), and feels the injustices that face children like Tom who have to make their own way in the world. Sebastian is someone you definitely want on your side when you're up against it--just, intelligent, and a good man in a fight. 

It is also interesting how Harris weaves Sebastian's back story into the mystery plots--just enough to keep a running thread in the various books, but not so overbearing that it completely dominates nor so much as to make the connections unbelievable. It will be interesting to see where this takes us in future books. Another good historical mystery. ★★★★


Deaths = 10 (two poisoned; one fell from height; four stabbed; two drowned; one hit on head)

The Christie Curse

 The Christie Curse
(2013) by Victoria Abbott (Victoria & Mary Jane Maffini)

Jordan Bingham is in need of a job--she owes money on grad school loans and on a credit card that a good-for-nothing ex-boyfriend maxed out before she knew what was happening. She'd like a job that fits with her interests, but who wants a literary woman with a specialty in languages? Vera Van Alst--the most hated woman in Harrison Falls...that's who. 

Vera is a rabid book/manuscript collector and she has advertised for an assistant to help her track down a rumored long-lost play by Agatha Christie. A play that's never been produced or published and supposedly written while Dame Agatha went missing for eleven days in 1926. Vera had an assistant, but he, most annoyingly, got run over by a subway before he could track the manuscript down. Jordan is desperate for a job and decides that she'll try and run the gauntlet of Vera's irritable ways. Because, other than her employer's personality, everything seems perfect--getting paid to do research? Awesome. Hobnobbing with rare books people? Cool. Living in a fantastic little attic apartment? Sweet. Finding out your predecessor was probably murdered? Now wait a minute....Before she knows it, Jordan isn't just looking for the missing Christie. She's also trying to figure out who killed Alexander Fine before whoever they are decides Jordan Bingham needs bumping off as well.

The Christie Curse is definitely a cozy mystery. The only death takes place off-stage (well before we come along) and the attempted second is very light on violence. We also have the amateur sleuth getting herself into trouble with both the bad guys and the police while she tries to make sense of the clues left for her. The plot is a little murky at times (I'm wondering just how X got involved in the first place, for one), but this type of mystery isn't meant to be intricate and in need of high-voltage brain power. It's just a lot of fun to read. 

Jordan is a very likable protagonist--I immediately had a fondness for her from my work with graduate students in real life. And I loved the way she handled her difficult employer. Their interactions made for for some highly enjoyable moments, as did her life with her disreputable uncles. Overall, a fun, light mystery with an interesting tie-in for Christie fans. The next one has connections to Dorothy L. Sayers and I'll be interested to see how that plays out. ★★ and a half.


Deaths = one hit by subway

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The A.B.C. Murders

 The A.B.C. Murders (1936) by Agatha Christie

Crime is terribly revealing. Try and vary your methods as you will, your tastes, your habits, your attitude of mind, and your soul is revealed by your actions. [Poirot]

A serial killer takes on Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells--sending taunting letters to announce their murders. The first letter tells Poirot to keep his eye on Andover on the 21st of the month. When the 21st arrives, Mrs. Ascher is is found bludgeoned to death in her tobacco shop. The next letter predicts a murder in Bexhill-on-sea...and Betty Barnard is found strangled to death on the beach. Each letter is signed A.B.C. and an ABC railway guide is found on or near the bodies. How far will the killer get through the alphabet before Poirot can bring his man to justice?

Relatives of the victims band together to form The Special Legion and offer their services to Poirot in an effort to help find the killer quicker. They have no faith in the police and, especially, in the rather arrogant Inspector Crome who seems to think he knows everything about everything. They gather together in Poirot's apartment to share what little information they have and to ask him to give them assignments to find out more.

The difficulty is that there are very few clues--other than a nagging feeling that Poirot has that there's something not right about the letters themselves. And then a possible villain--with the fateful initials A. B. C. is caught with numerous pieces of evidence on his person and in his room at a boarding house. But, again, Poirot believes there is something not quite right about the culprit they've been presented with. He has to go back to the beginning and discern just what it is about those letters that isn't right. 

I enjoyed having Hastings come back from South American to go "hunting once more" (as Poirot puts it) with his old friend. The Poirot stories are so much better when he has his "Watson" by his side. Their exchanges were just humorous enough to prevent a serial killer mystery from getting too dark. It was also good to see Poirot show up the young, very-full-of-himself Inspector Crome who seems to think the elder detective is past it. 

Christie tries something a little different with this one--switching periodically from Hasting's viewpoint to that of our possible villain. In fact, the whole thing has just a bit of difference--from the impersonal serial killings to the multiple viewpoints to Poirot working with The Special Legion. There are red herrings, but not quite in the way of things in a standard closed-circle mystery plot. It's really quite interesting and enjoyable. ★★

First line: It was in June of 1935 that I came home from my ranch in South America for a stay of about six months.

Last line: So, Hastings--we went hunting once more, did we not? Vive le sport.


Deaths = 4 (two hit on head; one strangled; one stabbed)

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Death on the Nile

 Death on the Nile (1937) by Agatha Christie 

Linnet Ridgeway is the girl who has everything--looks, brains, money. And now she's got her best friend's fiancé. Jaqueline de Bellefort, poor in her own circumstances but desperately in love, had asked her friend to give Simon Doyle a job. Because as she declares to Linnet, "I shall die if I can't marry him! I shall die! I shall die! I shall die...!" She swears Simon is just perfect for the job of land manager for Linnet's new estate and Linnet agrees to look him over. When she does, she decides that he is just perfect...for her.

Next thing we know Linnet and Simon are married. They've chosen Egypt as their honeymoon destination and plan to spend a blissful month visiting the pyramids, looking at the Sphinx, and sailing down the Nile. But life doesn't always turn out as planned...there's little bliss to be found when everywhere they go, up pops Jackie. Annoying as can be, but not actually abusive or threatening. What can be done?

Also vacationing in Egypt is Hercule Poirot. When Jackie shows up again at the Cataract Hotel and Linnet spies Poirot out on the terrace, the heiress tries to hire him to get rid of Jackie. But there's nothing he can do (again, the broken-hearted girl isn't actually hurting anyone by vacationing in the same places as the honeymooners)...and he will not be hired by the imperious young woman whom he suspects feels more guilty than she will admit. He does, however, talk with Jackie about letting her anger go because he senses she is embarking on a dangerous journey.

Do not open your heart to evil....Because--if you do--evil will come...Yes, very surely evil will come...It will enter in and make its home within you and after a while it will no longer be possible to drive it out.

But Jackie is determined to make the honeymoon a miserable as possible. And, even, it seems, has contemplated murder. She shows Poirot a little pearl-handled pistol that sometimes she would love to put up against Linnet's head and just press the trigger--but as long as the persecution keeps rattling them, she won't.

The four of them wind up on the Karnak, sailing down the Nile with an assortment of interesting passengers. There is Linnet's maid (Louise) and her American trustee ("Uncle" Andrew Pennington) who just "happened" to run into the happy couple in Cairo. There is also a sex-obsessed romance novelist (Salome Otterbourne) and her unhappy daughter Rosalie; Tim Allerton and his mother; a member of the American high society (Mrs. Van Schuyler) and her entourage consisting of poor relation/companion Cornelia and a nurse, Miss Bowers; an offensively outspoken communist (Mr. Ferguson); an Italian archaeologist Guido Richetti; a solicitor Jim Fanthorp; and a famous Austrian physician Dr. Bessner. And..Poirot's old friend Colonel Race

One evening, a hysterical scene takes place between Jackie and Simon with the result that she shoots him in the leg. And then when Linnet Doyle winds up dead--from a pistol shot--suspicion naturally focuses on Jackie. But Jackie couldn't have done it. She was attended by the nurse all night after being dosed with morphine for her hysterics. Poirot and Race work together to investigate and soon learn that just about every passenger aboard has a possible motive for wishing Linnet dead. But who took the opportunity of a dropped pistol to make the wish reality?

Well, I wound up having a regular floating Christie party. I listened to the audio novel version read by David Suchet. I read the hard copy novel. And I ended my excursion down the Nile with the 1978 film featuring Peter Ustinov as our Belgian sleuth. Definitely one of my top ten Christie excursions--I was thoroughly baffled on first reading and I love way she is able to make clues point in several directions with what seems to be little effort (though I know she carefully plotted these things out) and nothing & nobody is ever quite what they seem.   ★★★★

First Line: Linnet Ridgeway! "That's Her!" said Mr. Burnaby, the landlord of the Three Crowns.

Last Line: For, as Mr. Ferguson was saying at that minute in Luxor, it is not the past that matters but the future.


Deaths = 5 (four shot; one stabbed)

Saturday, August 22, 2020


 Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson

[Synopsis from Britannica] Neuromancer follows its protagonist Case, an unemployed computer hacker who is hired by a mysterious new employer called Armitage. He's teamed with Molly, a cyborg, and Peter Riviera, a thief and illusionist, to carry out a series of crimes that set the stage for the group's ultimate purpose, which is played out on the orbiting space station called Freeside, home of the wealthy Tessier-Ashpool family. The family has created two artificial intelligences (AIs), Wintermute and Neuromancer, that are so powerful that they can only be connected at a single point. Case and his cohorts learn that they have been hired by Wintermute to break the separation between the AIs.

Reading this, I have discovered that cyberpunk is definitely not my thing. I found the book equal parts confusing, annoying, and offensive (mostly in language). The scenes jumped around and the characters spoke in jargon that we were expected to just soak up like a sponge, I guess. But none of it stuck with me. It's possible this sort of science fiction might have gone down better with me when I was younger, but it's not the kind of science fiction that appeals to me at this point of my life. I can see that the story has ground-breaking concepts and I understand why it won the awards that it did--it just didn't do anything for me.★★

First Line: The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

Last Line: He never saw Molly again.

The Clue in the Diary

 The Clue in the Diary (1932) by Carolyn Keene (original text)

Nancy, Bess, and George are on their way home from a carnival where they befriended a little girl and her mother. Mrs. Swenson and her daughter Honey seem to be in dire straits and the three young women take it upon themselves to see that the Swensons are able to enjoy themselves at the fair. As Nancy is driving back to River Heights, they witness a house go up suddenly in flames and they rush to the scene to give what aid they can. The house belongs to a Mr. Felix Raybolt (known as "Foxy Felix") and none of the neighbors appear to be too upset that the man's house has burned down. Rumors are that he has defrauded several people of their rights to patents. 

Nancy sees a man run from the scene and then finds a diary that he apparently dropped. Her researches reveal that the diary belongs to Joe Swenson--Mrs. Swenson's husband who has been missing. When Mr. Swenson is found and arrested for starting the fire--and possibly killing Mr. Raybolt whose wife swears he was in the house at the time of the fire, it's up to Nancy and her friends to clear his name and help the Swansons get back on their feet.

When I read the Nancy Drew books growing up, Diary was one of my favorites--primarily because it introduces Nancy to her long-term "special friend" Ned Nickerson. Ned is also at the fire and Nancy first sees him moving her car...away from the sparks (he says). At first she's a bit suspicious that he chose her car ("obviously the most expensive model parked there"), but Ned soon proves himself and becomes another helper in the effort to clear Mr. Swenson.

I enjoyed revisiting this entry from my childhood From what I remember, they didn't change the story much. And certainly not as much as some of the titles where they completely changed the plot. A fun, quick read. ★★

Friday, August 21, 2020

A Night in the Lonesome October


A Night in the Lonesome October (1993) by Roger Zelazny

It's October and your favorite classic monsters and things that go bump in the night are coming out to play...a brand new (to us) Game. A paranormal game that will either usher in a whole new reality (if the openers have their way) or maintain the status quo, if the closers get the upper hand. We've got our friend the Count and the good Doctor and his huge, hulking Experimental Man. And then there's Larry Talbot who sometimes appears as "Lucky" the werewol--er dog., that's it. We've also got Jack, a fellow who's pretty handy with knife, and a few other players who maybe aren't quite so familiar. 

Speaking of familiars...each of of the players have a helper in the form of an animal. Jack's sidekick, and our narrator, is Snuff, the dog (who really is a dog). Snuff is a watcher and a calculator, whose job is to keep an eye on the various Things trapped in mirrors, wardrobes, and trunks around the house as well as to calculate the location for this year's paranormal battle. He has to manipulate a map in his head based on where each of the other players have their home base. His computations are made more difficult by the fact that the Count keeps changing the location of his coffin and Snuff isn't sure if Larry Talbot is a player or not. And should he take any note of the Great Detective and his friend with the military doctor air about him?

This is a rollicking good tale from a master of SF and Fantasy--made even better by the illustrations from the pen of the illustrating legend, Gahan Wilson. We follow Snuff as he loyally helps his master Jack collect the oddest of odds and ends necessary to play the Game properly. Snuff also makes friends with the other familiars--from Graymalk the cat and Needle the bat to Nightwind the owl and Quicklime the snake. Until the "death of the moon" they are allowed to trade gossip and attempt to discover how many players are in the Game as well as what their "persuasion" is (opener vs. closer). When some of the players wind up dead, the animals band together to figure out who is taking out the humans.

I haven't enjoyed anything so much for a long time. Excellent storytelling and having it all told from the viewpoint of Snuff, the watchdog was amazing. I love Zelazny every time I read him. And every time I read him, I wonder why I haven't read more sooner. ★★★★


PopSugar: Bird on cover

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Study in Scarlet Women

 A Study in Scarlet Women (2016) by Sherry Todd

Charlotte Holmes has always been an unsettling girl--quick of observation and a bit lacking at first in the social graces. She knows one thing--she doesn't want to have to get married and be beholden to any man for her living. But forging her own way in Victorian society is no easy task and she has to make herself a social pariah before she can make a start. Meeting up with a rich widow by the name of Mrs. Watson, gives her the chance she needs. 

Then there is a set of unexpected deaths and Charlotte's sister and her father each fall under suspicion. In an effort to dispel suspicion, Charlotte sends a letter under the name of Sherlock Holmes that points out certain discrepancies in the findings of the police and the doctors and soon finds herself consulted by Inspector Treadles of Scotland Yard (through a ruse where he thinks he's consulting her sickly brother "Sherlock"). It will be a desperate struggle to find the connection between the three deaths and to bring the crime home to the proper villain.

So....I like Charlotte Holmes a lot. If I separate out the part where we totally ditch Conan Doyle's creation in favor of Charlotte, then I really enjoyed the book and thought the mystery well done.  I enjoyed the relationships between Charlotte and her sister, between Charlotte and Lord Ingram, and between Charlotte and "Mrs. Watson," I thought the development of Charlotte's character over the book was realistic and interesting and I very much appreciated the strong female characters. What don't I like? Totally ditching Sherlock Holmes in a Holmes story. So now we have a fictional character who is really the made-up "disguise" for another fictional character. Because we couldn't figure out a way to have a brilliant, unconventional female detective character in Victorian England without co-opting the most famous detective in all of mystery fiction.

I could definitely have gone for Charlotte as the unmentioned sister of Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes (because women--like children were supposed to be seen but not heard in Victorian times). Or a cousin. I'm all for pastiches that build on the world and characters of an author--without damaging it in any real way. But I am a bit tired of modern authors completely rewriting Doyle's work. I've suffered through versions where everybody (including Mycroft and Dr. Watson) were in the pay of Professor Moriarty. I've read a pastiche where Mrs. Hudson was really a young hottie that Holmes was interested in (like Dr. Watson, who had an eye for the ladies, would have neglected to mention that little tidbit). I've watched Moriarty come back from the dead in so many ways and even had a few other baddies who had been reported dead reappear (because "we" couldn't come up with our own villain, apparently). Now we have a version where there is no Sherlock (as we know him), no real Dr. Watson, and no real Mrs. Hudson. I wanted to love this book--I almost do. But ★★ and a half is pretty close.

First Line: Had anyone told the Honorable Harrington Sackville that the investigation into his death would make the name Sherlock Holmes known throughout the land, Mr. Sackville would have scoffed.

Last Line: Looking back at her, he said, "From the beginning, Holmes. The very beginning."


Deaths = (three poisoned; one natural causes

Monday, August 17, 2020

Murder at the Vicarage

 Murder at the Vicarage (1930) by Agatha Christie

Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner--Miss Weatherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is much the more dangerous. (14)

And so we get the first glimpse of Miss Jane Marple, spinster and student of humanity, in her very first novel. She arrives on the scene for a dose of "tea and scandal at four-thirty" in the vicarage drawing-room where the ladies of the village gather to share their weekly observations of their neighbors. Some relish in the forbidden nature of gossip. Some are truly vicious in their comments. But Miss Marple is just plain interested in what makes her neighbors tick. She enjoys observing little things that help her solve the little puzzles of village life. She's often wondered if solving a really wicked crime could work in the same way. 

She certainly gets a chance to find out when Colonel Protheroe, a very unpopular church warden and magistrate, is found shot to death in the vicar's study. Miss Marple isn't the only one interested in the murder. The Vicar's nephew is just at the age to think it's ripping great fun and decides to play detective himself--hunting for clues and discovering footprints.

At Dennis's age a detective story is one of the best things in life, and to find a real detective story, complete with corpse, waiting on one's own front doorstep, so to speak, is bound to send a healthy-minded boy into the seventh heaven of enjoyment.

They each have a go at solving the mystery, though Miss Marple is the more dedicated of the two (Dennis is slightly distracted by Protheroe's beautiful daughter). There are conflicting bits of evidence: a clock that doesn't tell the time that it should, a note that couldn't have been written when it says it was, a shot heard in the woods--but not in the house, two separate confessions to the murder, and an attempt to plant some incriminating evidence. And, since the colonel was disliked by so many, there are plenty of suspects. There's his current wife, who discovered quite quickly that Protheroe was not at all easy to live with. And his daughter, Lettice, who doesn't like being ordered about. There's the young poacher who got a stiff sentence and has vowed revenge. There's artist who has been painting Lettice's portrait (she in her bathing dress!) and has been forbidden the house. And there's the mysterious Mrs. Lestrange, a true stranger to the area, who paid a call on the colonel one evening when his wife was not home. Why, even the Vicar was heard to declare before the actual event "that anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world at large a service." 

I've thoroughly enjoyed the Agatha Christie challenge which has me reading all of her mysteries in publication order--something I had never done before. When I first discovered her novels, I just read whatever I could find in whatever order I could find it. And I thoroughly enjoyed this first novel-length glimpse of Miss Marple. She, as Christie fans know, has a knack of figuring out who-dunnit by association. Certain habits or turns of phrase or ways of doing things remind her of something or someone completely different--and yet the association leads her unerringly to the culprit. I love watching her disclose her insights to the Vicar or Inspector Slack...or Colonel Melchett (the Chief Constable). 

It was also interesting to see Miss Marple and village life through the eyes of the Vicar (our narrator). He doesn't see things as clearly as he thinks, but that helps the red herrings along. His interactions with all of the characters give readers a lot to think about when trying to figure out who-dunnit themselves. ★★★★ for a lovely Golden Age visit with Christie's characters.


Mind you, I name no names. That wouldn't be right. But I'm afraid there's a lot of wickedness in the world. A nice, honourable, upright soldier like you doesn't know about these things, Colonel Melchett. [Miss Marple; p. 65]

I don't know what Miss Cram considers are the necessary qualifications for being murdered. It has never struck me that the murdered belong to a special class, but doubtless she had some idea in her golden shingled head. [p. 67]

Isn't it extraordinary? What should she want with a suitcase at twelve o'clock at night?...I daresay it has nothing to do with the murder. But it is a Peculiar Thing. And just at present we all feel we must take notice of Peculiar Things. [Miss Marple; p. 127]

Nothing about a crime is ever ordinary. The shot was not an ordinary kind of shot. The sneeze was not a usual kind of sneeze. It was, I presume, a special murderer's sneeze. [p.185]

The point is that one must provide an explanation for everything. Each thing has got to be explained away satisfactorily. If you have a theory that fits every fact--well, then it must be the right one. [Miss Marple; p. 195]


Deaths = one (shot)

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Sweet Poison

 Sweet Poison (2008) by Ellen Hart

Jane Lawless is being run ragged trying to help her father win the governor's race while keeping her restaurant business going full-steam. Not to mention trying to juggle a long-distance romance in the bargain. Roy Lawless's campaign is chugging along nicely until his rival uses the internet to post a list of criminals who got light sentences thanks to Ray's stint as a defense lawyer. At the top of the list is Corey Hodges. He cut a plea deal on a rape he swears he didn't commit because Ray thought the circumstantial evidence too much to overcome. People don't like to see convicted rapists back on the streets. 

Corey has just been released from prison and decides it would be a cool idea to volunteer for Ray's campaign. Just to see what's what. Corey may or may not have been guilty of the rape--but one thing's for sure...he's got anger issues and he'd love to find a way to make Ray Lawless pay for the advice that got Corey put in the slammer. Then one of Ray's volunteers is murdered and all the signs point to Corey again. Same MO...except this time the girl died. Corey's aunt is sure (well...really wants to believe) that her nephew is innocent and she asks Jane to investigate. Jane is already interested...she wants the killer found in time to save her father's campaign. But life is complicated and finding the culprit isn't going to be easy.

The cover makes you think you're getting a nice, cozy little mystery. And, after all, it features a restaurant owner who plays at detective--so it shouldn't be too gritty. But that isn't what you get at all. It's a pretty grim plot line with way too many intense, broken or dysfunctional relationships in it to suit me. You've got Jane, our heroine, and her stalker ex-girlfriend. You've also got Jane and her rocky, long-distance relationship that goes sour fast (twice--as if once in the book wasn't enough). Then there's the victim and her stalker ex-boyfriend--who may or may not have killed her out of revenge. And there's Corey who is stalking his ex-girlfriend while making time with the victim. So, of course, he's also on the suspect list, especially since the MO is the same as the case he was put away for. And all the references to Jane's brother's marriage that was maybe on the rocks before but is maybe okay now? (I wasn't clear on that one.)

I just couldn't really get into this one. It's not my cup of tea at all. Fairly interesting motive for the murder is the only thing that takes this out of the one star range. ★★

First Line: Jane carried two extralarge air pots filled with the Xanadu's gourmet hot chocolate into her father's campaign office.

Last Line: And then, giving everyone one last encouraging smile, he left the room to the sound of cheers and applause.


Death's = one (shot with taser and died)

The Murder That Had Everything

 The Murder That Had Everything! (1939) by Hulbert Footner

Rene Doria is a smooth little customer who has come out of nowhere to become the apple of society's eye. His little bon mots are reported in all the newspapers. All the ladies think he's a dream...and he's about to marry the biggest prettiest society girl in town. He's got it made. So, why does he take a powder just when it's all coming together? That's what Peggy Brocklin (aforementioned society girl) wants Amos Lee Mappin crime story author and sometime amateur detective to find out. 

When Mappin discovers Doria's body at the bottom of his (Doria's) dumbwaiter shaft, it's apparent that Peggy's beloved didn't skip town. Who wanted him dead? Was it Peggy's daddy who disliked his son-in-law-to-be? Was it one of the ladies in his life who didn't want to give him up? Like maybe his wife? Or maybe a husband he crossed at some point? Mappin finds himself awash in possible murderers. But then other deaths pop up and it become apparent that there's more to this mystery than meets the eye.

The title is no lie. It does have everything--murder; blackmail; poor little rich girls; gigolos; missing money; a man who died by being thrown down a dumbwaiter, wait, he was hit on the, no, he was shot; people running in and out of the first victims apartment like Grand Central Station; and more red herrings than you can shake a stick at. It's all quite fun. I just wish it hadn't been so obvious. 

I don't know if I've reached a tipping point with mysteries or I've just run into a few where the red herrings weren't red enough or herring enough to fool me. But it didn't seem like the villain and the motive were hidden all that well. As soon as the key bit of evidence appeared, I was suspicious and it didn't take long for the suspicions to solidify. Fortunately, I enjoyed the characters of Mappin and his secretary Fanny Parran enough that they kept the book rolling along for me. A good, solid story ★★. If the neon lights aren't flashing at the culprit for you, then you might rate it higher.


Publicity is like a drug. You've got to take it in bigger and bigger doses to get any kick out of it. (Fanny Parran, p. 6)

I'm not telling myself that Slim is a king among men. I know what he is. Nor do I suppose this feeling is great love sent from heaven. I know where it comes from. I can see that all women except female icicles are affected by him in the same way. But it's deliciously exciting, Pop, and you know you have told us that we ought never to refuse the dish of life when it is offered. (Fanny, p. 173)

Everybody lies to the newspapers. It's expected of them. The only way you can cover your tracks nowadays is to tell the truth. (Amos Lee Mappin, p. 179)


Deaths = 4 (one shot; three hit on head)

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Scarweather (slightly spoilerish)

 Scarweather (1934) by Anthony Rolls (C. E. Vulliamy)

I'm afraid I've been a bit spoilerish in this review. Read on at your own risk...really spoilery bit is made invisible unless you highlight it.

In 1913, our narrator John Farrington along with his cousin Eric Foster is invited to visit Scarweather, the home of the famous archaeologist Tolgen Reisby. Reisby has many interesting finds to show the two young men and Foster, who has a budding interest in archaeology, is struck with a bit of hero-worship. But he's struck even harder by love's arrow when he meets Reisby's much younger wife.The two behave with every propriety, but Farrington can't help but worry that his cousin will get himself into trouble. Many visits follow, some of which include Farrington's friend Frederick Ellingham, who takes an interest in a ancient burial site known locally as the Devil's Hump. He'd like to see Reisby open an archaeological dig there. Everyone is friendly and everything seems to be going smoothly.

Then Foster makes a visit to Scarweather on his own--in answer to an invitation made by Reisby while his wife is away. The next thing Farrington knows, he's on the receiving end of a telegram telling him that his cousin is missing at sea, presumed drowned. He asks Ellingham, who has an investigative nature, to accompany him and the two are greeted with an odd story. Foster apparently expressed himself forcefully on the subject of taking a swim off the coast almost immediately upon arrival (he'd often done so)--but the evening was chilly and Reisby thought he had convinced the young man to wait till the next day. Foster room and bed gave evidence that he had not gone to sleep, but apparently stayed up all night and headed out in Reisby's boat at about three or four in the morning. The boat was found aground with Foster's clothes aboard and no sign of the young man. A search was undertaken by boat owners in the area, but Foster was eventually given up as having drowned. Farrington is a bit disappointed that Ellingham doesn't seem as interested as he supposed his friend would be. In fact, Ellingham spends a great deal of time taking pictures of the Devil's Hump.

Fifteen years later, after a world war and Farrington's law profession has intruded, he and Ellingham return to the Scarweather area. Ellingham has told him that he still thinks about the missing Foster and he's quite sure that Reisby has never told everything he knows about that night. They soon learn that two more men have disappeared and a man who had sent Foster a letter before he disappeared has committed suicide. Are these things related? And now that Reisby is finally going to dig at the Devil's Hump Ellingham makes an interesting prediction about what might be found there.

I'm a bit on the fence with this one. It's a perfectly fine mystery novel with a fairly standard motive for the initial murder. I enjoyed reading it for the most part. The description of Scarweather and the background of archaeology was interesting. I quite liked the character of Ellingham and wouldn't mind seeing more of him. But...our narrator is one of the most dense Watson characters I've met since Nigel Bruce made Sherlock's Watson such a bumbling fool.

Does the reader now perceive the shadow of these events? If so, I congratulate him upon possessing a swift and practical imagination. [p. 163] 

The motive for the murder is glaringly obvious. The identity of the murderer is glaringly obvious. Exactly what happened to Eric Foster is glaringly obvious. [spoiler in apparent blank space: And in case you didn't get it just from things Ellingham says and asks, then the fact that the certain area of the Devil's Hump has been recently disturbed and that this fact is repeated several--no, MANY times--ought to be a HUGE clue.] And Farrington gives us these HIBK-like phrases throughout the book: "Little did I know what Ellingham meant by..."; "I had no idea that such and such indicated..."; "Had I realized why Ellingham asked those questions". For the love of all that's holy, man, did you use up all your brains on reading law?

The other thing that bothers me is the dangling bits at the end. The motive for the murder is all nice and tidy. We definitely know who did it. But as far as the other deaths and presumed deaths go...not really explained properly. Why did Rolls drag in the man who wrote a letter to Foster and then ultimately committed suicide? It didn't have anything to do with the real case and if Rolls was trying to provide a red herring, then it wasn't very effective. If you want to splash false clues around, that's all well and good--but don't make the solution to the mystery so neon-sign-blinking-obvious that nobody will pay the least bit of attention to them (other than being annoyed that they were brought in and not properly explained). would be nice to know if the other two missing, presumed dead men really are dead or not and if they are if our villain did them in. Are they dead? We don't know. If they are, we could come up with a reason why the villain got rid of them, but it'd be preferable that Rolls square that all away in the wrap-up. 

So--good marks for setting and characterization and some deductions on the wrap-up. Decent mystery. ★★


First Line: My friend Ellingham has persuaded me to reveal to the public the astounding features of the Reisby case.

Nothing is more likely to win the affection of a learned man than the agreement upon a solemn trifle. (p. 12)

Youth is not the time for reflection, it is the time for heedless enjoyment. I determined, before the evening was over, that I would not bother myself with conjectures about inscrutable personalities, but would have a jolly good holiday. (p. 46)

Goy, sir is one of those amiable though obstructive blockheads who believe in the sanctity of the written label....The moment he sticks his finicky label upon a thing, the nature of that thing is determined for all eternity. (Profess Reisby, p. 58)

An independent youth [Tuffle], he did not belong to the Reisby faction or the Goy faction but held himself superior to both. By these perpetual and emphatic disagreements he obtained a reputation for true knowledge and originality. (p. 168)

Eccentricity of behaviour is to be looked for when the intellect is lively and original, and above all when it is explosive and creative. Eccentricity, indeed, is invariably present in men of real distinction, and invariably absent in the mere money-grubber. (Frederick Ellingham, p. 222)

Last Line: My stepdaughter Frances is engaged to Peter Ellingham, who is launched already upon what has every appearance of being a distinguished career as a biologist.


Deaths = 3 (one hit over head; one poisoned; one shot) There are two more presumed dead--but we're never given a method and the bodies are never found.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

What Angels Fear

 What Angels Fear (2005) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor) 

King George III's reign is drawing to a close and it's the dawn of the Regency era.  Whigs and Tories are battling behind the scenes for influence over the Prince Regent (George Augustus Frederick). A beautiful young actress found murdered on the altar steps of a church--her throat savagely cut and her person violated. When a dueling pistol belonging to Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is found and a witness's testimony place him at the scene, the police are quick to believe they have their killer. After all, he wouldn't be the first young nobeleman to have gone off the rails, broken by experiences as a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars. 

Except...Devlin didn't do it. And he's determined to prove it. He escapes the long arm of the law and begins his own investigations--at first simply to clear his name, but the more he learns the more he is determined to seek justice for the woman. He gathers a band of allies--from the ex-military doctor who conducts an unauthorized autopsy (discovering that the woman was raped after the murder) to a young street urchin to Kat Boleyn, a lovely actress who once broke Devlin's heart. Another woman is killed and the nets of the law are drawing closer to our hero...time is running out. He is startled to find that his investigations are leading closer to home than he imagined and it all ties in with an underground of espionage. When one more woman's life is at stake, will he be in time to save her? 

According to my records, I read this once upon a time before I started blogging. The fact that I remembered very little of it points to the reason I started this blog in the first place--so I could write reviews of the books I read and hopefully give my sieve-like memory a boost. One of my favorite sub-genres of mystery is the historical mystery. I have a strong preference for the Victorian era, but the Regency period is also a favorite. I recently picked up several of the later books in the series (from a library bookstore clearance sale) and wanted to go back to the beginning and read in order.

Harris does a fine job setting her Regency-era scene and I definitely felt like I was being drawn back in time to the period. Her characters are fairly stock-in-trade (from the silent, near-loner hero who publicly seems a bit hard-as-nails, but underneath is sympathetic to those in need to the injured, ex-military doctor to the mysterious, forbidden love interest to the villains who want nothing more than to see our hero fail), but she makes them her own and manages to make the reader interested in and really care about them. She ties up the threads of the primary mystery very neatly, but there are plenty of loose threads from the rest of the pattern to follow up in future books. I look forward to reading about them. ★★★★


Deaths = 3 (two throat cut/stabbed; one drowned)

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Ampersand Papers: Revisited

The Ampersand Papers (1978) by Michael Innes 

Sir John Appleby, retired from Scotland Yard, is on his way to visit friends. He discovers that he's going to be very early and decides to make a break in his journey by taking a walk along a convenient bit of beach. It's nice and deserted and it'll be a restful, solitary walk. That is, it will be until Dr. Ambrose Sutch drops in on him--quite literally--from above. Dr. Sutch has been commissioned by the Lord Skillet of Treskinnick Castle to sort through the family papers in a quest to find evidence that Adrian Digitt (one of the family ancestors) hobnobbed with the likes of Shelley and Byron and other literary lights. Because, after all, collectors are paying tidy sums for unknown scribblings and letters from such people--and the Digitts are a bit hard up. They've been selling what they can to help keep the ancestral pile going. There's also rumors of hidden treasure from a Spanish galleon sunk off the coast and just maybe there are references to that somewhere.

But...back to Dr. Sutch. So, the hoards of papers have been stashed in the tippy-top of the North Tower of the castle, which is only reached by ascending a very rickety staircase erected by a previous Digitt. That rickety staircase has elected to collapse and, thus, Dr. Sutch has plunged to his death right before Sir John's eyes. There are indications that staircase didn't just fall down all by itself and since one the Yard's most famous ex-investigators happened to be on the spot the Chief Constable asks Sir John if he will help out unofficially. The investigation leads to hidden caverns under the castle, a secret hiding place in the castle, the finding and losing of Adrian Digitt's papers, and a surprising wrap up of the mystery of the falling staircase.

I originally read The Ampersand Papers in 2011 before I devised my Mount TBR reading challenge. At that time I rated it as a solid outing, though not one of Innes's best. I'm still of that mind. I think it takes too long to get Sir John involved and I much prefer the stories where he's brought on stage early in the book. The Digitts are amusing (if sometimes annoying) characters and I particularly like Lady Ampersand who may not be clever in a standard way, but certainly knows more about what's going on in the castle than her husband. ★★ 

First Line: Who knows what may be buried in his back garden?

The Diggits, however, produced (like the Coleridges, and numerous other respectable families) an occasional black sheep. Some had even dabbled in poetry-- (p. 9)

...from time to time other Digitts, although not themselves creative, had been inclined to take up with literary, and even positively artistic people. Nobody much minded; the morals of these eccentrics had no doubt been impaired by keeping such company; but it wasn't like gaming in a big way, or wrecklessly (sic) debauching young women in good society... (p. 9)

Last Line: "So much," Appleby said, soberly, "for the remains of Adrian Digitt."

Deaths = one fall from height

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Duke of My Heart

Duke of My Heart (2016) by Kelly Bowen

Captain Maximus Harcourt, the tenth Duke of Alderidge, comes home for an infrequent visit to find his sister missing and a very naked and very dead earl tied with scarlet ribbons to her bedposts while a ball in her honor goes on downstairs. The Duke isn't exactly the sole of propriety himself, captaining a ship and fending off pirates on the high seas, but he does expect his little sister to have been a bit more conventional. He also finds Miss Ivory Moore in possession of the scene, at his aunt's request. 

Miss Moore represents Chegarre and Associates, a company who specializes in sweeping all the high-class nastiness under the rugs. Ivory is giving orders in his house...and he's not sure he likes that. Especially when she starts ordering him about. But he soon realizes that Miss Moore knows what she's doing and if he wants to save his sister Lady Beatrice from scandal then he'll have to follow orders.

He finds it hard to believe that a woman could meet such a situation without turning a hair. In fact, Miss Moore acts like this is just a small matter and easily handled--like a package that has been delivered to the wrong address. Like she does this every day. And for all he knows, she does. 

Once the immediate crisis is averted and the earl is discovered dead (and fully clothed) in the guest room, where--after telling Alderidge that he felt poorly and would just lie down for a bit--he apparently died of overindulgence (in food and drink...not anything more scandalous than that), Max and Ivory turn their attention to tracking down Lady Beatrice...and each other. For Max can't deny that he's never met a woman so fascinating, so self-possessed, and so unimpressed with his ability to cope with this particular crisis. And Ivory can't deny that she's never a man who so intrigued her and made her forget her job. Notes arrive purporting to be from Beatrice and telling her brother that she's fine and don't bother looking for her, but Max is sure there's something wrong. 

The trail leads to an "antique" dealer who offers rare and hard-to-get (read stolen) treasures to the highest bidder and Ivory will wind up making a bargain she just might regret in order to save the sister of the man she loves.

[Possible spoilers ahead]

The first book in the Seasons for Scandal romantic intrigue series by Bowen doesn't have quite the mystery flair of Between the Devil & the Duke. Having read Between as an entry in the Monthly Awards challenge, I decided to go back to the beginning and see how Ivory (who helps Lady Angelique and Alex get to the bottom of who framed Angelique's brother for murder) met her Duke. The story of their meeting and working out their relationship was pretty good, but I have to admit to being disappointed that there wasn't as much mystery involved in this one. We know pretty quickly where Lady Beatrice is and there wasn't nearly as much tension in the rescue scene as anticipated. I'm glad I read this for the backstory on Ivory and her Captain--but I'm also glad I didn't read it first because I don't think I would have read any more.  ★★ 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Arsenic Labyrinth

The Arsenic Labyrinth (2007) by Martin Edwards

When Emma Bestwick disappeared ten years ago without a trace, the senior detective on the investigating team determined that it was simply a matter of someone who wanted to disappear. No foul play involved. But Hannah Scarlett, a young policewoman--now a DCI, had her doubts. Why would a woman who had just started a business that she seemed to enjoy and who had just come into a large amount of (unexplained) money decide to chuck it all and fade out? 

On the anniversary of Emma's disappearance, reporter Tony Di Venuto publishes a retrospective article that asks "What Happened to Emma Bestwick?" DCI Scarlett, now on the Cold Case team, doesn't like being maneuvered into reopening the case by the press but can't really say she's upset when an anonymous caller contacts Tony to tell the reporter that he knows that Emma won't be coming home. Scarlett's boss, always on the lookout for good press for the police, insists that the case be reopened and Scarlett and her team begin making the rounds of the previous suspects--jogging memories and digging up a past that some would like to keep buried.

Then the anonymous caller strikes again--this time telling Tony that he knows where the body is; that the police need to look below the Arsenic Labyrinth. Scarlett's team gets to work searching the long-abandoned arsenic mines and are rewarded with no one body, but two--hidden in the Labyrinth about fifty years apart. Is there any connection besides the convenient hiding place? That's what the police will need to find out. And then body number three shows up.

This is the third book in Edwards' Lake District Mysteries featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind. In this one, Daniel takes more of a backseat--contributing very little to the more recent murders, but he is able, while doing research on a book about John Ruskin, to track down the details of of the fifty-year-old murder. The reader will need to swallow a heaping helping of coincidence to accept the method by which he comes across his information, but it does make for interesting reading.

The plot is well done and if I had paid attention to certain clues and comments dropped along the way, I might have been able to figure it out--but I didn't. So, well done, Martin, for keeping me distracted with other things. One thing I wasn't too keen on was being inside the head of the "anonymous" caller (anonymous to the report and the police, but not the reader) who had his share of the guilt (though not all of it). I'd rather be in the position of figuring it all out than to know who the villain (or one of the villains) is up front. No a fan of inverted mysteries or even partially inverted. But that's a personal preference. Edwards does a fine job with it and manages to have a final twist that left this reader surprised.  ★★ and 1/2.

First Line: Who shall I be today?

Last Line: Wanting to go home, yet not sure why, she broke into a run.

Deaths = 4 (two hit on head; one stabbed; one burned to death

Monday, August 3, 2020

Jerry Todd & the Rose-Colored Cat

Jerry Todd & the Rose-Colored Cat (1921) by Leo Edwards

Jerry Todd and his pals (Red, Scoop, Peg, and Spider) get mixed up in a very catty affair. It's not just one rose-colored cat (which, by the way, doesn't mean red or pink as you might think). They wind up on the receiving end of 150 cats--of all shapes and sizes. They also find themselves involved in a case of missing pearls, two fires, and a mysterious prowler who seems awfully interested in their collection of cats.

The way it happens is this--Professor Ellsworth Stoner arrives in Tutter (home of Jerry and the boys) by train one afternoon. He seems a bit confused and when the cat he's carrying in a basket escapes and has a tussle with a couple of dogs, the boys help the professor retrieve his cat. That's when they learn that Stone has a dandy scheme to open the world's first feline (the professor insists on feline over cat) rest home. He's going to convince rich people who want to vacation without their precious pets to send them to him to care for at the rate of a $1.00 a week. He asks the boys if they'd like to help him set it up and promises to pay them all $5.00 a week. 

They think it's a pretty good deal, so they agree. Jerry's dad even offers the old mill on his property as a likely site to set up business. The professor places an ad in the newspaper and soon the cats (er...felines) are arriving on all available trains. But there's a snag...the professor is an escapee from a local asylum and as soon as the institution gets wind of the cat scheme (one of the professor's idiosyncrasies is his fixation on cats), attendants are sent to bring him back. They have no orders to do anything about cats, so the boys are stuck with the animals.

Up till now they've gotten a lot of cats, but no cash. But then Mrs. Kepple sends a message with $10.00 telling them her prize-winning, rose-colored cat, Lady Victoria, will be arriving soon. Mrs. Kepple plans on visiting the local sanitarium for a rest cure of her own and will collect her cat then. The cat that arrives doesn't look so special to Jerry and the gang--she's a yellow cat who looks like she might have been picked up in alley somewhere. And she's got a strange copper collar with weird bumps on it. Somehow the cat links in with the prowler and the pearls and Jerry and his friends manage to put all the clues together and save the day in the end.

This was my first introduction to Jerry Todd. He and his friends are quite a collection--they remind me to some extent of the Dead End Kids when they were younger. I enjoyed the camaraderie among the boys and their determination to see the thing through to the end. It was fun that their escapades didn't always turn out quite the way they planned (for instance, the trap they set to try and catch the prowler), but they never let that stop them. I knew right away what was going on with the cat, but I enjoyed watching Jerry and the boys figure it out. ★★

First Line: The mystery part of this adventure really started the day we got Ms. Kepple's letter saying she was shipping us her famous rose-colored cat, Lady Victoria.

Last Line: Besides, with plenty of cats on hand there wasn't likely to be any rats to carry disease germs. But I guess it's pretty hard to please everybody.