Sunday, September 20, 2020

Bound to Murder

 Bound to Murder (1987) by Dorsey Fiske 

"That was a plaguy heavy book," Bunce declared. "You're lucky to have a harder head than most; it'd have cracked some skulls like an eggshell."

"Not Caldicott's Discourses on Socmanry. His theories are far too lightweight to do any real damage," scoffed Fenchurch...

Bound to Murder is the second of two academic mysteries featuring John Fenchurch a Fellow of the imaginary Sheepshanks College of Cambridge University. What begins as an investigation into the thefts of precious color prints from various antique volumes and then the disappearance of an entire rare medieval test from the university library, soon becomes a matter of murder when the alleged thief is found murdered on the night of one of the college's feast days.

An abundance of clues and an apparent eye witness makes things look very black indeed for a young history student, Harry Huntingfield whose very existence as a younger son of a noble family (even though impoverished) put him at odds with the left-leaning victim. But Fenchurch is convinced that the murder has something to do with the thefts and can't see any way of connecting Huntingfield to those. And when the beautiful Vivien, Harry's fiancee, begs Fenchurch (who is not immune to her charms even in his middle-aged bachelorhood) to prove Harry innocent, he must needs play the knight errant. He's also got the reputation of the college on his shoulders--what with murder and thievery and a bevy of ladies of the evening who crash the feast. A couple of last minute discoveries finally point the way to an unexpected culprit

A mid-range academic mystery saved by a very engaging amateur sleuth. Fenchurch is quite charming and I enjoyed the way he managed all sorts of personalities--from the sullen Mr. Maunders (our victim) to the charming Vivien to the somewhat gaga emeritus professor who occasionally likes to be addressed as Geoffrey (Chaucer, that is). He also has an interesting relationship with the local police in the person of Inspector Bunce. The two make a good team.

Fiske does a fairly good job of spreading red herrings about and making several suspects behave in a most suspicious fashion--all but one for perfectly innocent reasons (at least as far as murder goes). One spoilerish quibble (highlight the following, if curious): I don't think Fiske or her publishers or whoever is responsible could have chosen a more spoilerish title if they'd planned it. Once anyone figures out what that title has to do with the plot, it's very likely they'll know whodunnit. But overall a very pleasant read. ★★

Added 9/21/20: One thing I meant to mention: Dorsey Fiske must be a Dorothy L. Sayers fan. I noticed several parallels between the Harry Huntingfield/Vivien Murray romance and Lord Peter/Harriet Vane. Harry meets Vivien and immediately falls head over heels in love--proposing marriage right off the bat. Of course, Vivien isn't suspected of the murder, but Harry is and she immediately seeks a way to clear him of suspicion. Since she doesn't have the obstacle of feeling grateful to overcome (as Harriet does), Vivien succumbs to Harry's charms much quicker. The witty back and forth word play between the two is also reminiscent of LP/HV.

First line: I am afraid there can be no doubt of the fact he was murdered; no doubt whatever.

Last line: Ah, well, I daresay he forgot the time--far too busy beating his wife.

[Finished 9/16/20]


Deaths = 2 (one stabbed; one fell from height)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Into the Valley of Death

 Into the Valley of Death (1986) by H.R.F. Keating (as by Evelyn Hervey)

Harriet Unwin is a governess in Victorian England who manages to get herself tangled up in mystery and mayhem--beginning with the first book (The Governess) where she must prove her own innocence. She's done so well at pointing out clues and connections that the authorities have missed, that it's not unusual that her childhood friend, Vilkins (a housemaid in a country house), calls upon her to help a man who has, she says, been wrongly accused of murder. This time is very different, however. Jack Steadman has already been to trial and is due to be hanged in less than a week's time. His wife is absolutely sure that her husband didn't do it--not that he couldn't kill a man, for after all he had been in the Crimean War, but that he wouldn't be a coward and shoot a man in the back.

When Alfie Goode was found dead, shot in the back, lying nearby was Jack Steadman--knocked out cold, apparently from stumbling over a root (or some such)--with his own discharged rifle beside him. In Jack's pocket was a note signed by Goode arranging for a meeting in the wood. Jack swears that he never saw the message before and that he was walking in the woods when he was struck from behind and knew no more until they awakened him.

Fortunately for Vilkins and the Steadmans, Miss Unwin is available for a trip to the country because her charge is on a family visit and her services aren't needed for a while. So, she makes the journey to Chipping Compton, but when she hears the facts of the case and reads the detailed account of the trial in newspaper clippings that Mrs. Steadman had collected, she offers very little hope. The evidence very clearly pointed to Jack. After talking with his wife, she becomes convinced of the man's innocence but doesn't see any way of finding proof. 

Miss Unwin begins "snooping," pretending to be a ladies magazine writer looking for details to write a sob story piece about the poor little wife who will soon be all alone. She's barely begun when she meets her old friend (though at one time her pursuer when she was thought guilty of murder) Inspector Heavitree in the village. The two team up and soon their questions begin to make people uncomfortable. When it becomes clear that one of the key witnesses in Steadman's trial has been telling lies and then he winds up dead, they know they're on the right track. But will they find enough evidence in time to save an innocent man?

This is a very light historical mystery. No intense detection and no intricate plot--but it is enjoyable and Miss Unwin is an interesting character. Once she has given her word that she will investigate, she doesn't let anything stand in her way--not threats from certain parties or doubts from skeptical men. I also appreciate her interactions with Vilkins, Heavitree, and Mrs. Steadman very much--well, mostly (after the story is full-steam under way). The one thing that will keep my rating mid-range is the beginning. The way the details first get told to Unwin by Vilkins and Unwin's responses to her are infuriating. There surely was a better way to handle that conversation--it makes Miss Unwin appear to be a nitwit instead of the observant person who will save the day for the poor Steadmans. ("What do you mean, Vilkins?" "I don't understand a thing.") But I'll tell you right away that I will take Keating writing as Hervey over any fiction I've read under his given name any day of the week and twice on Sunday. To date, I've read two under Keating--the first rated a dismal one and a half stars and the other I couldn't even finish properly. A quick, fun read. ★★★ and a half

First line: Miss Unwin took a hansom. If she could get to the Paddington Station in a quarter of an hour, she calculated, she might yet catch the only train that would get her before late evening on this Sunday to the Valley of Death.

Last line: I am no more than a simple governess, and it is to nothing more erudite than the Rev. C. P. Wilkinson's Heroes of the Crimea, told for boys, that I owe my knowledge of what happened in the days of the real Valley of Death.


Deaths = two shot

Vintage Mystery: Hat (2016 Silver Scavenger Hunt)

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Out of Control

 Out of Control (1945) by Baynard Kendrick

The sixth mystery featuring Captain Duncan Maclain, blinded during the war and who has since refined his remaining senses to become a brilliant detective. His preference is for impossible, near-perfect crimes ("near" because, of course, our hero always solves them). This outing finds Maclain on his honeymoon in the Great Smoky Mountains where he comes up against a killer who uses a perfect murder method one too many times. When Walter Crane is found dead in an apparent auto accident, the local Sheriff asks the famous detective to lend a hand. Maclain soon realizes that it will be difficult to bring the crime home to the villain and devises a clever plan to trap the culprit.

While I generally enjoy Kendrick's mysteries and the character of Duncan Maclain in particular, I found this one less to my taste. I'm not a big fan of the inverted mystery and I was disappointed to discover that we know from the opening chapters who the villain of the piece is. And since this is inverted and we see most of the action from the culprit's viewpoint it means that Maclain enters the story much later than in the previous Kendrick novels I've read. The best I can say for this one is that it is an interesting character study of a person spinning out of control. The murderer is quite sure that they have everything all sewn up even as they proceed to fall apart emotionally and it is fascinating to watch. Those who appreciate a good inverted vintage mystery will most likely rate this higher, but for me--★★.

First line: The perpetual purple mist from which the Great Smokies derive their name, circled the mountaintops and bunched together into a great gray storm cloud.

Last line: God what fun it was to kill and to be free of Duncan Maclain!


Deaths = 3 (auto accident)

Friday, September 11, 2020

Letters from an Astrophysicist

 Letters from an Astrophysicist (2019) by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tyson provides us with 101 letters--most are his responses to everyone from concerned parents to curious children to men behind prison walls to teachers to those who ardently disagree with his scientific stance. A few are his letters to the editor of various newspapers and magazines and one is his open letter to NASA on the occasion of its (and his own) 60th birthday.

The book is charmingly informative--full of Tyson's succinct and sometimes humorous responses to questions and argument. It is also a master class in the art of meaningful communication through letters. Those who wish to learn will find many nuggets of information on a variety of subjects. And it is all presented in short, easily digested bursts. 

It would be difficult to give more substance in a review without giving you entire sections of Tyson's letters...and for that, you might as well go ahead and read the book. It is well worth the time. ★★

Bullet for a Star

 Bullet for a Star (1977) by Stuart Kaminsky

Toby Peters, Hollywood private investigator, debuts in this 1940s-era murder and blackmail fest. He's hired by Sid Adelman of Warner Brothers to make a blackmail payment drop on behalf of Errol Flynn. Someone has a photo and a negative of Flynn with a very young girl in a very compromising position. They're both naked as the day they were born. Adelman and Flynn both claim it's a fake, but they won't be able to prove it until they can examine the negative. So, Toby is hired to drop off the cash and take possession of the print and its negative. If anything goes wrong, he must not mention the studio or Flynn.

What could go wrong? He makes the scheduled appointment, hands over the cash, gets an envelope in return, starts to check the contents...and gets bashed on the head. When he comes to, his gun is gone, the blackmailer is dead--apparently shot with Toby's gun, and the cash and the photo envelope are MIA as well. His brother is a cop, so he manages to wiggle out of a murder rap, but his brother isn't exactly happy with the story he's been told. Which is, naturally, lies from beginning to end since Toby can't mention what he was really there for.

Peters sets off to find the original of the negative and the trail leads him through the film world and, eventually, to the set of The Maltese Falcon, where Bogie and Lorre are cast in roles they hadn't planned on. Errol Flynn gets to play they hero's role at the end, saving our P.I. from a final attempt on his life.

This is a fun romp through 1940s Hollywood for mystery and movie fans. It's also good for readers who like a bit of light hard boiled P.I. action. I must say, however, that Peters is pretty bad at being a tough guy hero--he gets shot at, knocked out, beat up, and framed for murder more often in one book than most detectives do over the course of a series--and Errol Flynn has to save him from the bad guy in the end. But it does make for entertaining reading. And the homage to the glittering silver screen stars of the past was really well done--the cameos didn't feel forced and definitely worked with the story. ★★

First line: It was the summer of 1940, a hot August day in the San Fernando Valley, and I had doubts that my '34 Buick would even get to Warner Brothers.

Last Line: I ran for the door, without saying goodbye to Sid Adelman or Warner Brothers.


Deaths = 3 (two shot; one fell from height)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The October Country

 The October Country (1955) by Ray Bradbury

...that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger and midnights stay. The country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain... [intro]

Ray Bradbury was just an amazing writer. This collection is excellent with just a few that are too weird or too slight. But his use of language and description is, as always, right on target, reeling the reader in and keeping us on the edge of our seats to see what happens next. ★★ for the collection. Synopses of the stories follows.

"The Dwarf": A dark and painful tale about a young woman who only wants to help and the jealous man who turns her good into evil...and apparently can't see what he's done that's so wrong.

"The Next in Line": A young wife becomes very fearful in a town whose cemetery has an unusual method of interring the dead of families who cannot pay for burials in full. An interesting study of her breakdown and her husband's unfeeling response.

"The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse": Poor Mr. Garvey is a terrible bore and never has had much of a social life...until the avant garde crowd decides that boredom is the latest rage. Garvey finds that he loves being the center of attention and is willing to go surreal lengths to stay there.

"Skeleton": Very creepy story of a man who has pains in his bones, convinces himself he is at war with his own skeleton, and is finally driven to consult an unorthodox specialist. The last line of the story is fantastic. 

"The Jar": Another story of man looking for attention. A poor farmer buys a (kindof disgusting) "thing" in a jar which becomes the center of nightly discussions among his neighbors. His wife hates the thing and tries to ruin his fun...but he has another surprise up his sleeve.

"The Lake": An emotional piece about first love--a love lost to the cold death-grip of the water and how it all comes rushing back to the young man who will never forget Tally.

"The Emissary": A young invalid has two primary contacts with the outside world--his dog and his teacher. His teacher stops by to play games with him and the dog goes on adventures outside, bringing back the smells of the seasons as well as bringing in people he meets to visit his master. But then his teacher is killed in an accident and Dog disappears. The boy is all alone until one night Dog returns...smelling very strange indeed and bringing with him a very unexpected guest.

"Touched with Fire": Two old insurance men have made it their mission to rescue future murderees from their fate. They have learned to spot the psychological and outward signs...but with one woman their good intentions don't have the effect desired.

"The Small Assassin": A horror story built on postpartum depression before it had even been named as such. A woman becomes convinced that her baby is out to kill her....

"The Crowd": A man has a night-time auto accident and has a feeling that the crowd around him gathered much too fast. He doesn't know why it bothers him so much, but he does a bit of research on accidents in the area and comes to a startling conclusion. Before he can share his findings with authorities he has another accident....

"Jack-in-the-Box" This one is odd. A boy is raised in complete seclusion--seeing only his mother and "Teacher"--after his father is killed by the "beasts" outside (in what the reader presumes was a car accident). He is repeatedly told that if he leaves the World (house) that he will die. No wonder he thinks he's dead at the end of the story....

"The Scythe": a brilliant examination of the ways of death and the power of grim reaper.

"Uncle Einar": More dark fantasy than horror, it tells of Uncle Einar, a man with wings (one wonders if he's a vampire) who loses his night-time flying radar one night in an accident with a high tension power line and finds love. He thinks he'll never fly again until his children show him a way he can fly during the day and not be shot down as a monster.

"The Wind": A world traveler finds that he has braved the elements one too many times when the elements come after him in his own home.

"The Man Upstairs": An interesting and creepy twist on the vampire story and how a young boy with an interest in "innards" manages to defeat the man living upstairs.

"There Was an Old Woman": There was an old woman who didn't believe in death--defied it for years. And when death finally came calling and snatched her body away from her, she determined to get it back.

"The Cistern": A young woman who has lost her love describes the secret world in the sewers under the city...where lovers reunite after death. Her sister scoffs at her...until the young woman leaves the house and doesn't come back.

"Homecoming": Uncle Einar's family (all supernatural beings, but one) gather at Halloween for a Homecoming. Timothy is the lone mortal in the family and he feels his differences very much. All he wants is to be able to be like everyone else--something all children feel at one time or another.

"The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone": A reclusive author's fans track him down to ask him why he went into hiding and gave up writing 25 years ago.

A Child's Garden of Verses (...and more)

 A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

I grew up with a shortened, Golden Book style edition of this book. I loved that book very much (and still have it buried somewhere in a box of my son's things--having given it to him when he was young) and it was nostalgia for those simple childhood verses that influenced my purchase of this longer edition which includes his Garden of Verses poetry as well as the poetry collections "Underwood" and "Ballads" and two short stories which I had previously read, "The Sire de Maletroit's Door" and "The Bottle Imp."   

I found the verses aimed at children still very sweet and charming. The poems "The Land of Story Books" and "My Shadow" are especial favorites. And I'm sure my sense of having loved these so much when I was growing up still influences me--because, honestly, Stevenson was a much better prose writer than he was a poet. Especially when it came to the poems in other two collections which seem to be aimed at a more adult audience. These poems are cumbersome and burdened under his wont for description. His descriptive prose serves him well in short stories and novels, but makes his poetry seem heavy and more difficult to read through. His "adult" poems are really not my cup of tea.

The short stories are two of his best. Each features a protagonist faced with life-altering choices and it is interesting to see how Stevenson works out the problems. "The Sire de Maletroit's Door" centers on a fun-loving cavalier who stays out past curfew one night and finds himself followed by the night watch. Rather than face the music, he slips through an unlocked door to avoid a reprimand. He has no idea that the unsecured door was a trap designed to ensnare the lover of a young woman who lives in the house with her uncle. Uncle takes a severe view of her dalliance, doesn't believe that the cavalier isn't the man in question, and calmly tell him that if he doesn't agree to wed the girl then he will be killed before morning. Will the cavalier take honor to the extreme--dying rather than forcing an unknown and unwanted husband on a lady whose heart belongs to another? "The Bottle Imp" features Keawe, a poor native Hawaiian, who buys a magical, unbreakable bottle which contains a wish-granting imp. The catch? If Keawe cannot sell the bottle for less than he has paid and do so before he dies, then his soul belongs to the devil and will be bound for hell. He decides to risk it and uses the bottle only to own a beautiful home and prosperous land on his home island and immediately sells the bottle. Then several years later he falls in love and asks the young woman to marry him. Life will be even more perfect now. But the morning after his proposal, he finds that he has broken out with what the reader assumes is leprosy (the ailment is not named directly). He decides to hunt down the bottle again, but finds himself in an impossible position--he can buy it, but if he does (at the price of one penny) it seems it will be impossible for him to sell it. Will he risk his soul for love? Is there any way out of this devil's bargain if he does?

★★ for the collection--primarily saved by the charming poems of my childhood and the two excellent short stories.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Something Wicked This Way Comes

 Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) by Ray Bradbury

This is a masterpiece of modern Gothic speculative fiction. It is a memorable story of two boys who are lifelong friends, though almost polar opposites. Jim Nightshade (dark-haired, dare-devil, risk-taker) and Will Halloway (light-haired, quiet, voice of reason) will come to grips with a smiling evil that tries to take over their small Midwestern town through the charm and lure of a colorful carnival. These two youngsters, along with Will's father--who has always considered himself too old--manage to take on the dark forces behind the carnival and save the souls of their fellow townspeople. 

Listening to Bradbury's prose was a delicious experience. I could sit back and just immerse myself in the words. The narrator wasn't named in the version I downloaded, but his voice was an excellent match for Bradbury's word magic. Bradbury's writing is so descriptive and right that it effortlessly places you exactly where and when he wants you to be. I first read this when I was young and enjoyed it for the adventure and the steadfast friendship of the boys. Reading (listening to) it as an adult is much different. I still enjoy the adventure. But I am more interested in the battle between good and evil and the viewpoint of Charles Halloway when he tells us in the book's final chapters that the evil and the fear & suffering that fuels that evil may be here, right now, every day, in us. And that evil only has the power we give it--by feeding it with all the negatives of the world. We hold the power to prevent evil, if we will only use it. ★★

First line: First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.

Last line: Then, as the moon watched, the three of them together left the wilderness behind and walked into the town.

Something the Cat Dragged In

 Something the Cat Dragged In (1983) Charlotte MacLeod

Martha Lomax discovers that her cat Edmund has detective tendencies when he drags in a clue to the latest murder in Balaclava Junction. What first looks to be a dead rodent of some sort turns out to be the bedraggled hairpiece belonging to her boarder, Professor Herbert Ungley. She immediately knows that something is wrong because everyone knows that Ungley wouldn't be caught dead without it (as if everyone in town doesn't know he wears a toupee). Except that's exactly what has happened...she goes in search of Ungley thinking he must be sick or hurt and finds his body out behind the Balaclava Society's clubhouse. There's fair sized dent in his head, but very little blood. 

So, when Police Chief Fred Ottermole's first thought is that Ungley fell and accidentally hit his head on a protruding piece of harrow, Martha Lomax's first thought is Professor Peter Shandy who has helped tidy up a few other mysteries before now. She also notices that Professor Ungley's rooms have been searched--it was a pretty careful search and only her practiced eye and knowledge of how the professor liked his things tells her anyone's been there. But been there, they have. Shandy soon agrees with her that there is more to this death than meets the eye and manages to convince Chief Ottermole as well. When another death occurs, it also becomes apparent that there's more going on in the exclusive Balaclava Society than anyone imagined. What exactly it is and how it prompted murder is what Shandy and Ottermole will need to discover.

The Peter Shandy mysteries are just plain fun and lighthearted (despite the murders). Who could take anything seriously that has a Viking-like, strong man like Thorkjeld Svenson serving as president of Blaclava Agricultural College running around in the background, ready to intimidate the evil-doers that Shandy uncovers or just bend a few steel bars to let off steam? Some of the plots need to be taken with a cupful of salt, but these aren't meant to be serious whodunnit puzzles. When you want a quick read and quirky characters with a few literary puns, quotes, and verbal jousting bouts thrown in, then this is the series to turn to. If you like mysteries with an academic twist (as I do), then that's an added bonus. ★★ and a half.

My one major quibble is also a major spoiler. If interested, then just highlight the apparent empty space:

Even knowing that MacLeod likes to go over-the-top at times, I find the Machiavellian plottings of the Balaclava Society members to be a bit much. One would think that if this group of people were raking in that much cash that somebody would have noticed long before now. But...I suspended my disbelief and went ahead and enjoyed the book anyway.


Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one strangled)

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Fahrenheit 451

 Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury is story of a dystopian future that is every book lover's nightmare. Guy Montag is a fireman--but not the kind children we have all known have always dreamed about being when they grow up. Firemen in Montag's world don't put out fires--they start them and they mostly start them wherever there are books, because in this world books have been outlawed and any that are found are burned.

Up till now, Montag has been pretty happy as a fireman--but encounters with Clarisse, his seventeen year-old neighbor, and their discussions about simple pleasures, his wife's suicide attempt, and a book-burning that results in the self-immolation of an elderly book hoarder all contribute to a growing set of doubts about his chosen profession. It isn't long before he's hoarding books and finds himself on the wrong end of a Mechanical Hound (a robot used to track bookish lawbreakers) hunt.

It's been a long time since I read this the first time--back when I was haunting Mason's Rare & Used Book Store in my hometown and spending all my hard-earned lawn-mowing money on classic science fiction...Bradbury, Asimov, Ellison, Silverberg, Tiptree and the like. I read Fahrenheit then because I wanted to read all of Bradbury that I could get my hands on after my first sip of his Dandelion Wine collection. And was absolutely amazed by it. I was surprised that it never got assigned in school (neither high school nor college).

This reading seems very timely in an age when social media takes up so much of our time, when there are literally thousands of television programs available at any one time, and when I regularly see articles stating the percentage of people who say they haven't even read one book in the last year. Books are such an important part of my life and have been since I learned to read. I can't even imagine what it would be like to live in a world where owning books...any books, not just certain banned books...was illegal. An incredible (if bleak) vision of the future by a SF master. ★★★★


First Line: It was a pleasure to burn.

M: Why is it I feel I've known you so many years?                                                C: Because I like you, and I don't want anything from you. And because we know each other. [Montag, Clarisse; p. 26)

Always before it had been like snuffing a candle. The police went first and adhesive-taped the victim's mouth and bandaged him off into their glittering beetle cars, so when you arrived you found an empty house. You weren't hurting anyone, you were hurting only things! And since things couldn't really be hurt, since things felt nothing, and things don't scream or whimper, as this woman might begin to scream and cry out, there was nothing to tease your conscience later. (p. 33)

There must be something in books, things we can't imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don't stay for nothing. (p. 47)

She didn't want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. (p. 55)

We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren't happy. Something's missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I'd burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought books might help. (p. 73)

That's the good part of dying; when you've nothing to lose, you run any risk you want. (p. 76)

Last Lines: Yes, thought Montag, that's the one I'll save for noon. For noon....When we reach the city.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Trixie Belden & the Mystery at Bob-White Cave

 Trixie Belden & the Mystery at Bob-White Cave
(1963) by Kathryn Kenny

The Bob-Whites are on vacation again and this time they're visiting Trixie's Uncle Andrew Belden who just happens to own a lodge in the Ozarks*. When a rainy day forces them to stay inside, Trixie discovers a magazine article offering a reward for anyone who can find cave "ghost fish" (white, eyeless fish that live deep in caves) in caves in the Ozarks. She gets the Bob-Whites excited about earning a reward that could go towards one of their charity causes. The search winds up with Trixie nearly getting mauled by a wildcat; the crew saving a man from drowning; fighting a wildfire set by an arsonist; Trixie nearly drowning in a cave sinkhole (but finding ghost fish!); and getting to the bottom of the mystery of the long-haired man living in the nearby haunted cabin. This vacation is action-packed!

It's possible I wasn't in quite the right frame of mind when I read this--but Trixie kindof got on my nerves this time. I mean, seriously, she starts out whiny (again--I'm thinking of her talking about how bored she is at the beginning of The Secret of the Mansion and how she'll just die if she doesn't get a horse). Heaven forbid that it rain on her very first day in the Ozarks. And that she be cooped up in her Uncle Andrew's lodge for, what?, all of an hour or two? And then, when she spies an article about a reward for ghost fish in a magazine that she flips through to try and stop the endless boredom AND she has to wait until Uncle Andrew comes back to the lodge before trekking out to investigate caves that she's never been in before and might be dangerous in a grand search for the fish, she whines like a four-year-old who's been denied the cookies she's been demanding. I mean, Jeepers, how old is she? Doesn't she know better than to go barging off into unknown caves without proper equipment and maybe someone who knows more about spelunking than she does (which is very little)? 

There...having gotten that off my chest, I feel better. I like Trixie--I really do. But she was a little much this time. Once I got past her being a bit miffed every time she had to wait one second to do what she had it in her head they had to do right now, I enjoyed the adventure--but not as much as when I read it back when I was in elementary school. At that time, I was really focused on the cave exploration and the various adventures and Trixie helping to discover who the strange man with the long hair was and I didn't notice how annoying her impatience was. This time Trixie's attitude overshadowed that a bit. I did appreciate how much she was focused on wanting to help others--her impatience is in wanting to find the fish, earn the reward, and be able to donate the money for a station wagon for children with special needs. And then how she and Honey help Linnie fix up her cabin after the fire. 

The plot isn't quite as mysterious as some of my previous Trixie reads. And there's not a lot of detecting going on--more outdoor action than anything. I saw the solution (of who the man was) coming early on, but it made for a nice, happy ending. ★★ 

First Line: "I hate rain! It's simply pouring down, and darker than night outside." [I bet you can't guess--after my review--who's talking here.]

Last Line: "Oh dear, I wonder if we'll ever have another project as exciting as this one turned out to be!"

*I'm a little curious about just how well-off Uncle Andrew is--he owns a sheep farm in Iowa (see The Happy Valley Mystery), but also owns a lodge in the Ozarks?