Monday, December 6, 2021

Murder at the Mortuary


 Murder at the Mortuary
(2020) by Lee Strauss

The previous book left us with a cliffhanger. Ginger Gold had been investigating two mysteries, one of which involved a missing young actor. Throughout the story, she had no luck tracing the man and then the book ends with Agnes Green's body showing up unannounced at the morgue (no paperwork, etc) among a group of other cadavers. Before long more unregistered bodies have appeared and Ginger and Inspector reed find themselves investigating a series of murders that appear to be work of the Italian mafia--a group that has recently gotten a foothold in England. There are indications of cocaine smuggling and horse doping in addition to murder, but finding the evidence to tie the deaths to Charles Sabini, horse racing enthusiast and Italian mob leader is difficult. They have little luck identifying the middle man (or woman) at the morgue who has been forging the papers for the extra corpses.

This is Ginger's first paid job as an investigator. Angus Green's father and brother hire her to find out what really happed to Angus and help the police bring the culprit to justice. She also feels somewhat responsible because her sister-in-law had asked her to find the man and she had failed. Things get very dangerous--not only for Ginger but for both Hayley, her friend who is studying to be a forensic doctor, and for Inspector Reed as well. And they will find that the mob has a reach that touches some who are very close indeed.

Another good historical mystery. This one is tinged with a bit more danger and action than previous installments. But Strauss continues her efforts to fairly clue her mysteries and create a more classic detective story. There were parts that I figured out fairly easily, but there was enough left to make the mystery intriguing. I thought the design to use the morgue to hide victims in plain sight (if you will) was clever. Not quite up to the standard of the previous story, but still very good. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: It was unclear how long Angus Green had been dead.

Last line: Ginger wouldn't leave this hospital until she found out.

Deaths =  four shot 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Christmas Card Crime


 The Christmas Card Crime & Other Stories by Martin Edwards (ed)

A third collection from the British Library's Crime Classics series. Edwards has selected another fine collection of Christmas crimes, holiday horrors, and seasonal slayings to delight every vintage detective fiction lover's heart. I'm pretty sure I've read several of these before, but nearly all were enjoyable--whether it was the first time reading or not. Particular favorites are "By the Sword," "Blind Man's Hood," and "A Bit of Wire-Pulling." While the solution to how the jewel thief is caught in t he Symon's story was pulled off very nicely, it was still one of my least favorites. It didn't quite meet the festive spirit of the collection. And the Paul Temple story is pretty light-weight--hardly a story at all. But--for the collections overall:  ★★★★

"A Christmas Tragedy" by Baroness Orczy: Major Ceely is murdered on Christmas Eve and all circumstantial evidence points to the unsuccessful suitor of Ceely's daughter. It's up to Lady Molly of the Yard to save an innocent man from the gallows.

"By the Sword" by Selwyn Jepson: Alfred Caithness is sure that the world is determined to do him out of what should be justly his--money, his cousin's wife, prestige, you name it. When his cousin refuses to loan him money during the holidays, he plots to get everything due him...he might wind up getting his just desserts. Not plum pudding....

"The Christmas Card Crime" by Donald Stuart: Dramatist Trevor Lowe and his friend Inspector Shadgold are on their way to a country house Christmas when their train is stranded in the deep snow. The passengers set out for a nearby pub to seek food and shelter for the night...but not everyone will live to see Christmas morning. [As a side note...Lowe is the detective here. Shadgold makes a pretty shabby showing for the Yard.]

"The Motive" by Ronald Knox: Sir Leonard Huntercombe tells an elaborate story of defending a man who may or may not have been guilty of murder to entertain holiday travelers on a sleeper train to Aberdeen. An unexpected (possibly unfair) twist at the end.

"Blind Man's Hood" by Carter Dickson: A tale of murder in a country house--told by an oddly pale woman in old-fashioned clothes. Inspired by an unsolved crime from 1902, Dickson gives us the impossible murder of Jane Waycross--killed in a house with the doors locked, surrounded by snow with no footprints that can't be accounted for.

"Paul Temple's White Christmas" by Francis Durbridge: Paul Temple foils a Christmas kidnap plan...aimed at himself!

"Sister Bessie or your Old Leech" by Cyril Hare: A tale of a man and his blackmailer. Just when he thinks he's free of the blackmail...he finds himself drawn more deeply into the web.

"A Bit of Wire-Pulling" by E. C. R. Lorac: Sir Charles Leighton's life has been threatened and Inspector Lang of the Yard is on hand at a holiday party to keep him safe. It doesn't look too good for the Yard man when Leighton is killed right under his nose.

"Pattern of Revenge" by John Bude: Not a whodunnit, a bit of a how-was-it done--a deathbed confession explains the truth about a love triangle murder and sets an innocent man free.

"Crime at Lark Cottage" by John Bigham: When John Bradley's car breaks down in a winter storm, he finds himself at Lark Cottage where a frightened Lucy Shaw expects her escaped convict husband to come and murder her. She begs her visitor to stay the night...and then signs appear that someone is outside the house.

"Twixt the Cup & the Lip" by Julian Symons: Mild-mannered bookshop owner, Mr. Rossiter Payne has an odd little hobby--jewel robberies. And when the Russian family jewels are put on display at Orbin's department store can't resist planning the perfect crime. But then things go wrong--if only he hadn't made that one comment to his shoe repair man.

First line (1st story): It was a fairly merry Christmas party, although the surliness of our host somewhat marred the festivities.

Last line (next to last story*): "And so did I," said Sergeant Wood. "I was frozen stiff."

*The last line of the last story would give everything away.

*************

Deaths = 9 (four stabbed; one hanged; two shot; two accident...plus more not named or method not revealed)


Thursday, December 2, 2021

November Pick of the Month

 


Here we are again for another reading round-up and the much-anticipated Reader's Block P.OM. Award. Even though things remained pretty calm at work, I had a severe slow down in the reading department--less than half what I managed in October. And the books weren't quite as good overall--with the average rating dropping below 3 stars for the first time in memory. Looking round the blogisphere, it seems that my reduced reading experience isn't unique.  Here's what the reading stats look like for November....

Total Books Read: 11
Total Pages: 2,660

Average Rating: 2.80 stars  
Top Rating: 4 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 55%
Percentage by Male Authors: 45%
Percentage by both Female & Male Authors: 0%
Percentage by US Authors: 45%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  9%
Percentage Mystery: 91%
Percentage Fiction: 91%
Percentage written 2000+: 18%
Percentage of Rereads: 27%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}    
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 26 (87%)


Spence & the Holiday Murders by Michael Allen (3.5 stars)
Death in High Heels by Christianna Brand (2.75 stars)
Dying Fall by Judith Cutler (3 stars)
Death Among the Stars by Kenneth Giles (1 star)
Death of an Obnoxious Tourist by Maria Hudgins (2.5 stars)
Murder under the Mistletoe by Jennifer Jordan [on TBR since 10/3/19] 
The Secret of Red Gate Farm by Carolyn Keene (3.5 stars)
The Odor of Violets by Baynard Kendrick (4 stars)*
The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen (2 stars)
Murder at Feathers & Flair by Lee Strauss (4 stars)

*Read in November--but review scheduled for Reprint of the Year post in December, so no review link yet.




Once again, we have no five-star winners and only two books with four stars. In general, the quality mysteries just weren't on display in November. The Odor of Violets by Baynard Kendrick is an excellent mystery featuring a blind private detective. But this was a reread--done primarily for an entry in the Reprint of the Year Awards sponsored by Kate over at Cross Examining Crime in December. That means that the Reader's block POM Award is going to Lee Strauss for Murder at Feathers & Flair. Strauss has put together an interesting historical series set in the Golden Age and which features Lady Ginger Gold. As I said in my review: I think this was Strauss's best effort at mystifying me. Even though she plainly displayed two clues that should have told me who was responsible, I managed to disregard them. Well, not entirely, I did pay attention to one clue...for about two seconds. It didn't seem to lead anywhere so I promptly forgot about it. I could blame it on listening to an audio version (I don't seem to take things in quite so well if I don't actually read the words), but I don't think that's the reason. I just didn't hang on to it and put it together with the other clue. A nicely done mystery that left me looking forward to the next installment.






Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Historical Fiction Challenge 2022


Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader will be hosting the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge again this year. I've still got a couple of historical series to work on and plan to join in for another rounnd.. If historical fiction is your thing (or you'd like to see if it is), take a peek at the details at the link above.

I'm going to sign up for the Victorian Reader level (5 books). I may wind up venturing further, but if I reach my initial goal then I will claim the challenge complete

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Cloak & Dagger 2022

 


The Cloak & Dagger Challenge is back at Carol's Notebook. Those who have participated before will recognize the rules and format--check out the link for full details and to sign up. Since my primary reading genre is mysteries, I will be joining in again at the Sherlock Holmes level of 56+ books in the mystery and crime fields.

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December Calendar of Crime Reivews

 

 
 

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

December Virtual Mount TBR Reviews

 

 
 

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

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December Mount TBR Reviws

 

 
 

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

December Vintage Scattergories Reviews

 

 
 

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Silent Nights


 Silent Nights (2015) by Martin Edwards (ed)

 One of several seasonal Golden Age short story collections put together by the British Library Crime Classics. Christmas in England in the Golden Age of mystery is a time to gather in country houses with family and friends, to have goose and plum pudding, to play games of charades, perform homespun theatricals, and perhaps perform a magic trick or two. The authors of the stories in this collection perform some tricks of their own--revealing the solutions to mysteries of missing jewels, purloined bank notes, and, of course, a murder or two. Readers will find familiar stories by Doyle and Sayers as well as a few stories never reprinted before. ★★★★

"The Blue Carbuncle" ~Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Doyle's Christmas classic featuring Holmes, a hat, a goose, and a most valuable gem.

"Parlour Tricks" ~Ralph Plummer: A simple but clever story of a retired policeman and a magician who made more than a glass of water disappear.

"A Happy Solution" ~Raymond Allen: A young man uses the solution to a chess problem to prove his fiancée innocent of theft.

"The Flying Stars" ~G. K. Chesterton: The Flying Stars are diamonds and they disappear during a Christmas pantomime. Father Brown is able to see exactly where the stars have flown.

"Stuffing" ~Edgar Wallace: Like Doyle before him, Wallace plays a trick with a Christmas bird. 

"The Unknown Murderer" ~H. C. Bailey: Reggie Fortune is looking forward the the holiday and his marriage, but becomes involved with a particularly nasty murderer who doesn't mind using children's parties as their killing field.

"The Absconding Treasurer" ~J. Jefferson Farjeon: When it's time to pay out the Christmas Club monies, the money is gone and so is the treasurer. It's natural for the club members to think that Mr. Parkins had run off with the cash. But Detective X. Crook knows well that things aren't always what they seem.

"The Necklace of Pearls" ~Dorothy L. Sayers: A valuable string of perfectly matched pearls goes missing at a classic country house Christmas party. It is up to Lord Peter Wimsey to see where they've gone before the culprit can make off with them permanently.

"The Case Is Altered" ~Margery Allingham: Campion finds himself in the middle of an espionage case when he spends Christmas at a friend's country estate and manages to save a young man from getting in over his head.

"Waxworks" ~Ethel Lina White: A visit to the waxwork hall of horrors at Christmas time. Various murders have happened in the local waxworks and Sonia, a young reporter looking for a story, decides to spend the night and investigate...this is perhaps not the best idea for a Merry Christmas.

"Cambric Tea" ~Marjorie Bowen: Christmas with a dose of jeaolousy, treachery, distrust, and maybe a dollop of arsenic in the cambric tea.

"The Chinese Apple" ~Joseph Shearing: Isabelle Crosland returns to England after living in Italy for many years to meet her niece for the first time. Her niece is all alone in the world now and the solicitors ask her to take the girl back to Florence. The niece isn't exactly what she expects... [Contains one of the most bizarre conversations I've read in a short story.]

"A Problem in White" ~Nicholas Blake: A train becomes stuck in the snow and the odd assortment of people in one of the compartments discuss a recent train robbery to pass the time. One of their number takes offense to something said and goes to another compartment. He winds up murdered and the reader is challenged to solve the crime. Solution at the back of the book.

"The Name on the Window" ~Edmund Crispin: An impossible crime--a man if found stabbed to death in an 18th C pavilion. There's heaps of dust on the floor, only set of footprints (the victim's), and only one way into the building (windows all locked). The dead man managed to write what appears to be the name of his murderer in the grime on the window...but appearances can be deceiving...

"Beef for Christmas" ~Leo Bruce: A rich man tells Sergeant Beef that he has been receiving threatening notes (apparently from one of his family members) telling him to stop spending his money so recklessly or be prepared to die. Beef is invited to the family festivities at Christmas and a corpse is in the offing...but it isn't Merton Watlow and it looks like a suicide...

First line (1st story): I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season.

"Why do you believe what people tell you about people? They're always lying--by accident if not on purpose." (Reggie Fortune; "The Unknown Murderer")

She looked at the black cavity, recognizing the first test of her nerves. Later on, there would be others. She realized the fact that, within her cool, practical self, she carried hysterical, neurotic passenger, who would doubtless give her a lot of trouble through officious suggestions and uncomfortable reminders. ("Waxworks")

[Wimsey] shepherded them to their places and began a circuit of the two rooms, exploring every surface, gazing up to the polished brazen ceiling and crawling on hands and knees in the approved fashion across the black and shining desert of floors. Sir Septimus followed, staring when Wimsey stared, bending with his hands upon knees when Wimsey crawled, and puffing at intervals with astonishment and chagrin. Their progress rather resembled that of a man taking out a very inquisitive puppy for a very leisurely constitutional. ("The Necklace of Pearls")

Last line (last story): "What? A drink, of course."

**************

Deaths = 10 [one fell from height; two stabbed; one shot; one accident (fell and hit head); one natural (heart failure); one poisoned; one hit on head; two suffocated]

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Book Challenge by Erin 16.0

 

 

First and foremost, have fun. Don't stress. No one is being judged, graded, or penalized. Even if you finish only one book the entire challenge, if you enjoy it and it's an accomplishment for you, then that's awesome.
 
The challenge will run from JANUARY 1, 2022 to APRIL 31, 2022. No books started before 12 a.m. on January 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on April 30 will count. (We live in different time zones--follow according to your own time zone.)
 
Each book must be at least 200 pages long. Audio books are fine too.
 
Read one book for each category.
 
For full details see Erin's page on Facebook (link above).
 
My List:
 
*5 points: Freebie--any book at least 200 pages
Fadeaway Girl by Martha Grimes (336 pp)
 
*10 points: Title's first word starts with "C" (not counting articles A,An, or The)
The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs (208 pp)
 
*10 points: Book published in 2020 or 2021
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson (270 pp)
 
 *15 points: Book with one of the following in title: you, your, you're, you'll, you've
And Soon I'll Come to Kill You by Susan Kelly (213 pp)

*20 points: Set on an island
The Green Island Mystery by Betsy Allen (205 pp)

20 points: Book by an indigenous or First Nations author (helpful link: https:www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/indigenous-authors) 
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (454 pp)

*25 points (selected by Nancy): Memoir, biography, or autobiography
Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner with David Fisher (278 pp)

*30 points (selected by Vinay): Book with Ace, King, Queen, Jack, or Joker in title (plural or possessive okay, variants ("kingdom" or "hijack") not
Bodies from the Library 2: Forgotten Stories of Mystery & Suspense by the Queens of Crime & Other Master of the Golden Age by Tony Medawar, ed (400 pp)

*30 points (selected by Carly): Book of poetry or book written in verse
The Pocket Book of Popular Verse by Ted Maloney, ed (300 pp)

*35 points (selected by Kara Jo): Book by Jane Austen, inspired by Austen, or an Austen retelling
Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James (291 pp)


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Murder under the Mistletoe


 Murder under the Mistletoe by Jennifer Jordan

Barry and Dee Vaughan take a holiday in Italy where they get their first glimpse of Miranda Travers. A fashion model with even more good looks than your usual runway beauties and with men swarming like bees round a bee hive. She's got two men on a string as potential husbands and a few others who'd love to shove the top contenders out of the way--including Morgan Grant who, oddly enough, she's gives little encouragement to. Even Barry feels the effects of her charm.

The Vaughans return home and forget about Miranda Travers...until she shows up later that year at the same country hotel where Barry and Dee have decided to spend the Christmas holidays. Once again she has all the men dancing attendance and it looks like she's going to add another feather to her cap by luring young Gabriel Field away from Joyce Bradley (if only temporarily). She even creates a stir between the two young men in the antique business. Major Henry Gardner seems to have her measure, but even he isn't immune to a beautiful young woman. When her Italian beau (possible husband #2) sends her a rare statue as a Christmas gift, she longs to show it to someone. But when she's found dead on Boxing Day and the statue has disappeared, one has to wonder if she showed it to the wrong person. Was she killed for the art piece or for the way she toyed with men's hearts?

I feel like I should have liked this more than I did. After all, it's got an academic-type--Barry is a History teacher who writes mysteries on the side. Barry and Dee are likeable people with a nice little dog named Bella. And the country hotel at Christmas setting is a nice backdrop for a bit of murder and mayhem. There's a decent sprinkling of culprits...though not quite enough with strong enough motives. But it just doesn't click. I don't buy into Barry and Dee as amateur sleuths. Even the fact that Barry writes murder mysteries and this supposedly gives him insights into motives and whatnot doesn't really help. It takes for-ev-er to get to the murder. As the first line below indicates, we have to start off with a detour to Italy first. And, sure, it gives us a bit of background on our victim, but not anything that we couldn't have picked up one way or another at the hotel. I get the feeling that Jordan wasn't real keen on her amateur detectives either, after all, she published this one in 1989 and apparently abandoned the murder ship. The set up with Barry and Dee and their pet Inspector Ken Graves, makes one think that a series was intended. But I think it just as well that it didn't happen. ★★

First lines: It all started in Spring. In Italy--Florence, to be precise.

Always tell women what they want to hear, when there is no fear of them taking you up on it. (Barry Vaughan; p. 101)

Last line: "Woof," agreed Bella.

****************

Deaths = one poisoned

Spence & the Holiday Murders


 Spence & the Holiday Murders (1977) by Michael Allen

This is the first book of three which Allen wrote about Superintendent Ben Spence and it's the last of the three that I was able to get my hands on. In fact, I believe I read the trilogy in reverse order. 

Spence's debut is made at Christmas time. Just three days prior to the holiday, Roger Parnell, a local businessman and playboy, is killed in his driveway. Someone caught him from behind with the proverbial blunt instrument before he could find the right key to unlock his front door. When the milkman first spotted him laid out in the drive, he thought Parnell had been celebrating a little early and a little too hard. But the blood beneath his head told a different story. 

Spence is breaking in a new Detective Inspector and as they begin the investigation Inspector Laurel learns that Spence isn't a man to hurry things along and he's definitely not going to jump to any conclusions. Interviews always take place twice--because you never know what a witness/suspect might remember or let drop in a second round of questioning. They soon learn that while Parnell was an attractive, smooth single man with wads of money at his disposal, he was also a bit of conman....staying just barely on the right side of the law. Not to mention a bit of a cad and a peeping tom too boot. He made plays for the young women at the nearby school (but only those of legal age...) and was the love 'em and leave 'em type. He also managed a second mortgage scheme that put his clients in deep trouble over late payments as well as an iffy bathroom remodel business. There are plenty of people who might have taken offense at the way he handled women and business. But was anyone upset enough to kill?

This was an interesting police procedural which is a window on the past. There are a lot reminders of behaviors that were perhaps not acceptable then, but blinked at. The plot and narration reminded me a great deal of Dragnet at its best. It is bare bones detection ("Just the facts, Ma'am") and yet the characters are interesting. I particularly enjoyed watching the way Spence worked with the new man and the way he carried out his interviews. Allen did a fine job spreading the suspicion around so we had plenty of potential suspects in the mix. What keeps this from being a full four star book was the explanation of the motive and the actions of the killer that night. I realize that people kill for all kinds of motives that may seem inadequate to others, but generally speaking the motive at least seems to fit the character of the culprit (if the author gives adequate information on said character). I certainly can imagine the guilty party killing and I can even imagine them killing Parnell...just not for the reason given and not carrying it out as explained. ★★ and 1/2

First line: If Roger Parnell had known that he was going to be murdered in two and a half hours time he would undoubtedly have paid more attention to the stripper who was featured in the ten o'clock cabaret at Big Fat Nelly's nightclub.

Last line: "Well," she said. "Perhaps you're right."

**************

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

Friday, November 26, 2021

Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks

 

Lilac by Stephen Darbishire


hosted by Robyn

I'm ready for year eight! The rules are simple. Just read one book per week for a total 52 books in the year. I generally have no problem reading at least one book per week...so this is one of my slam dunk challenges. I will list my books below as I read them. If you'd like to join in, just click the link above. Robyn offers other challenges as well--including a perpetual Agatha Christie challenge and a book bingo among others.

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2022 Monthly Motif Challenge

 


Kim & Tanya have posted their 2022 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge. Click on the link for full details. For this challenge each month is assigned a motif or theme. The task is to read one book each month that fits the motif...I've listed my tentative choices below.

January (New to You): The Ruby Raven ~Michael Dahl OR The Burden of Guilt ~Ian Gordon
February (Girl Power):
March (Buzzed About Books): Eight Perfect Murders ~Peter Swanson [lots of my online friends read this one in 2021]
April (Books to Screen): The Lodger ~Marie Belloc Lowndes (1927 & 1944 films)
May (Book Lovers Unite): Murder in the Stacks ~Marion Havighurst [in a library]
June (Support PRIDE thru Books): The Galactic Whirlpool ~David Gerrold
July (Summer Lovin'--romance or something light): Pride of the Peacock ~Victoria Holt
August (Quick Lit--under 200 pages): Mystery of the Hidden Hand ~Phyllis A. Whitney
September (Title Play-pun, joke, play on words in title): Read & Buried ~Erica Chase
October (Murder or Magic): Welcome Death ~Glyn Daniel
November (Books in Translation): Borkman's Point ~Häkan Nesser OR The Man from Beijing ~Henning Mankell
December (The Fire is So Delightful): The Saint Plays with Fire ~Leslie Charteris

2022 Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge

 


I'm back for another round of the Monthly Key Word Challenge, hosted by Kim and Tanya at Girlxoxo. I encourage you to join us as we read books for the monthly prompts. Just click the link to head to their page for details. I'll add a few possible titles and update as I go.

January: Last, Kingdom, Girl, Dark, When, Winter, Light Window: The Last House Party ~Peter Dickinson; Fade-Away Girl ~Martha Grimes; Girl Waits With Gun ~Amy Stewart; The Dark Garden ~Mignon G. Eberhart; When Last I Died ~Gladys Mitchell
February: Midnight, Never, Into, Sun, Love, Good, Spell, Search: Midnight Sailing ~Lawrence G. Blochman; Something About Midnight ~D. B. Olsen; Never Cross a Vampire ~Stuart Kaminsky; Journey Into Fear ~Eric Ambler; Plunder of the Sun ~David Dodge
March: End, Fall, Loud, Queen, Woods, Nine, Beautiful, Crown: Friends Till the End ~Gloria Dank:: Home by Nightfall ~Charles Finch; Fall Over Cliff ~Josephine Bell; Queen's Full ~Ellery Queen; The Beauty Queen Killer ~John Creasey; Wycliffe & the Guild of Nine ~W. J. Burley
April: Race, Now, Chose, While, Stop, Burn, Red, One: Now Dead Is Any Man ~Pierre Audemars; He Chose the Nails ~Max Lucado; While the Clock Ticked ~Franklin W. Dickson; While Murder Waits ~John Estevan; The Sunburned Corpse ~Adam Knight; Murder in Bright Red ~Frances Crane
May: Thorn, Catch, Black, Under, City, Cloud, Sing, Legacy: Thorns ~Robert Silverberg; Nobody Wore Black ~Delano Ames; Murder Down Under ~Arthur W. Upfield; The Singing Sands ~Josephine Tey; Legacy ~Michael Jan Friedman
June: Sea, You, Hate, Perfect, Shade, Until, Beach, Little: The Man from the Sea ~Michael Innes; Death Beside the Sea ~Marion Babson; And Soon I'll Come to Kill You ~Susan Kelly; The Perfect Murder Case ~Christopher Bush; Dead Little Rich Girl ~Norbert Davis
July: Star, Next, Infinity, Iron, Word, People, Rise, Clear: Star Trek 1 ~James Blish; The Six Iron Spiders ~Phoebe Atwood Taylor; Crossword Mystery ~E. R. Punshon; The Word Is Murder ~Anthony Horowitz; The Terrible People ~Edgar Wallace
August: Breath, Case, Hundred, Day, Happy, Language, Stay, Lie: Breath of Suspicion ~Elizabeth Ferrars; 100 Best Detective Stories ~Thwing; Ten Days' Wonder ~Ellery Queen; Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best ~Berkeley Breathed; The Case of the Unhappy Angels ~Geoffrey Homes
September: Bright, Here, Out, Life, Strange, Rule, Story, Salt: The Mammoth Book of Roaring Twenties Whodunnits: Murder Mysteries from the Age of Bright Young Things ~Mike Ashley; The Bright Road to Fear ~Richard Martin Stern; Here Is Your War ~Ernie Pyle; The Philadelphia Murder Story ~Leslie Ford
October: House, Bone, Haunt, Body, Blood, Witch, Murder, Mystery: The Mystery at Orchard House ~Joan Coggin; Secrets of the Tomb: Skull & Bones, the Ivy League & the Hidden Paths to Power; Smallbone Deceased ~Michael Gilbery; The Haunting of Torre Abbey ~Carole Bugge; Cold Blood ~Leo Bruce; The Witches' Bridge ~Barbee Oliver Carlton
November: Many, Boy, River, Fever, Down, Gold, Jade, Hill: Too Many Clients ~Rex Stout; The Ugly Little Boy ~Asimov & Silverberg; The Fabulous Riverboat ~Philip Jose Farmer; Down Among the Dead Men ~Stewart Sterling; The Golden Man ~Richard Lockridge; The Golden Box ~Frances Crane; 
December: Still, Cabin Cafe, Night, Lake, By, Holiday, Fire: Still as Death ~Sarah Stewart Taylor; The Patient in Cabin C ~Mignon G. Eberhart; The Case of Cabin 13 ~Sam McCarver; Murder by the Tale ~Dell Shannon; Holmes for the Holidays ~Greenberg (ed); Mad Hatter's Holiday ~Peter Lovesey; The Saint Plays with Fire ~Leslie Charteris


Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Murder at Feathers & Flair


 Murder at Feathers & Flair (2018) by Lee Strauss

Lady Ginger Gold has opened a new dress shop in Regent Street called Feathers & Flair and plans to kick things off with a gala event. She'll have designer dresses for the well-to-do as well as well-made clothing in the off-the-rack section for those who can't afford a frock from Paris. She's also arranged for a well-known Parisian designer to give a debut viewing of some of his latest models. Everything is set for a breath-taking evening. 

There is a terrific turnout with everyone from a former German princess to a Russian duchess attending--along with the elite of British society. The event goes well, several purchases and orders are processed, the guests leave for home, and Ginger is breathing a sigh of relief when her shop manager discovers the Grand Duchess Olga Pavlova Orlova lying dead behind the curtain leading to the backrooms. Not only has the Grand Duchess been murdered, but the fantastic blue diamond necklace which had been on display around her neck is gone. Was the lady killed for the Blue Desire, a jewel which carries (as so many of these fabulous gems do) a history of bad luck for its owners? Or is there something else behind the Russian's demise? When a coded message is found hidden in the Grand Duchess's shawl, it begins to look like the lady has been playing in the spying game.

Ginger dives into sleuthing once again--this time with two investigations vying for her attention. Her sister-in-law, Felicia has asked her to look into the disappearance of Angus Green, an actor in the repertory theater group which Felicia has joined. Felicia and Angus were in the middle of a play run with two more performances left. Others think that Angus was just a flighty young man and took off for his own purposes, but Felicity does not believe that he would let his fellow actors down. She's convinced something awful has happened to him. When another actor in the group disappears as well, it begins to look like something is rotten in the acting circle. Ginger is going to have her hands full and a lot to think about...and then, of course, there is the complications in her personal life.

Her previous investigations put her in close contact with the very personable and handsome Inspector Reed. Reed has been separated from his wife (due to her romantic indiscretions) and has given Ginger to understand that a divorce is in the offing. So...why did he show up at the dress shop gala with his wife? It seems that Emelia Reed has begged forgiveness and asked for a second chance. Reed is torn and Ginger is faced with the fact that she loves a man who still very much belongs to another. It puts a strain on their detective co-op. But the duo do find a way to work together and eventually bring the culprit to justice.

I think this was Strauss's best effort at mystifying me. Even though she plainly displayed two clues that should have told me who was responsible, I managed to disregard them. Well, not entirely, I did pay attention to one clue...for about two seconds. It didn't seem to lead anywhere so I promptly forgot about it. I could blame it on listening to an audio version (I don't seem to take things in quite so well if I don't actually read the words), but I don't think that's the reason. I just didn't hang on to it and put it together with the other clue. One interesting note on this installment...it's a cliffhanger. The missing actor storyline doesn't get resolved and we're left with a tantalizing episode at the end that leads into the next book. ★★★★

First line: "You're a thief!"

Last line: Ginger grabbed at the string of beads around her neck. "Oh, mercy."

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Deaths = two neck broken

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Death in High Heels


 Death in High Heels (1941) by Christianna Brand

Brand's debut mystery takes place in a posh dress shop where Mr. Frank Bevan, proprietor and manager, is getting ready to shake things up. Everyone is sure that he is going to send Miss Doon (his especial favorite) off to manage the sales floor of a new branch in Deauville. But at the last minute, those honors go to Miss Gregory, Bevan's secretary and right-hand girl. Miss Doon was set to go to lunch with Bevan to celebrate her promotion--but winds up having lunch in the staff room instead. Hours later, Miss Doon is dead from oxalic poisoning--some crystals were apparently sprinkled on her portion of curried rabbit.

Where did the oxalic acid come from, you might ask. Well, Mrs. Rachel Gay and Mrs. Victoria David had gone to the chemist's to get a small quantity to use to clean straw hats. The stuff gets spilled twice and a number of the staff have an opportunity to get their hands on some of it. When Inspector Charlesworth comes to investigate the suspicious death, he finds that some had opportunity to get the poison, but no opportunity to use it on the food. And some had plenty of opportunity to use it, but no opportunity to get hold of it. And among those who had both there are few motives for doing away with Miss Doon. Then another near-poisoning happens and Charlesworth is baffled. Another inspector is brought in to help clear the muddle and then....Charlesworth has a flash of insight while interviewing one of the suspects. Has he finally solved it? 

Honestly, I found this quite exasperating. Throughout 90-some percent of the book Inspector Charlesworth is a most unpromising detective. There are points of interest that absolutely escape him and I can't believe it took 162 pages (and another inspector pointing it out) for him to confront the idea that maybe the intended victim wasn't really the person that died. I'm not saying that's the solution--maybe it is and maybe it isn't--but it was an obvious thing to consider as soon as everyone had told the story of that last fatal luncheon. It also never occurred to him to go talk to the chemist who supplied the oxalic acid. And, then, of course, there's his weakness for lovely young women and the fact that he "just knows" that Victoria David couldn't have murdered and attempted to murder anybody. Fingerprints on a glass? Pooh-pooh. There must be an explanation. Or maybe we can just pretend they aren't there. Again, I'm not saying she really is guilty (or that she really isn't), but I don't care for watching the detective tie himself into pretzels to avoid considering her a legitimate suspect.

And then there's the pacing. This thing dragged...and dragged.We went through the evidence several times and went through convoluted discussions of who might have and who didn't and who could have and who possibly couldn't have and it twisted my thoughts into pretzel shapes. The best of the book was when Charlesworth was interacting with Sergeant Bedd (and Bedd is able to one-up him on a few points) and the scenes in the dress shop environment. I could tell that Brand had worked in a dress shop--the attention to detail really gives the reader a sense of the atmosphere of a high-class shop. I was also surprised by the ending--I had considered the culprit, but then got so sidetracked by the various solutions Charlesworth proposed and his mental gymnastics in avoiding fitting Victoria up as the villain of the piece that I lost sight of that particular solution. ★★ and 3/4--not quite a three-star read.

First line: Irene was always the first to arrive.

Last lines: "I beg your pardon, sir. The racing yacht?"

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Deaths = one poisoned

Sunday, November 21, 2021

My Reader's Block Challenges for 2022

 


Just a reminder that all the new Reader's Block challenges for 2022 are posted and ready to go. If you're looking for a challenge to join, then please check out those I have on offer. Click on the links to view  the details for each one. I'd love to have you join me for one...or a few...or all of them!



Mount TBR for those who accumulate books and need incentive to read from their own stacks.


The Virtual Mount TBR Challenge for those who read masses of books from the library or other non-owned sources.


The Vintage Scattergories Challenge is for those who like their mysteries with a bit of age on them. Two levels are available: Golden (Pre-1960) and Silver (1960-1989 inclusive). Read mysteries that fit various Scattergory categories.


Calendar of Crime: Read mysteries from any era that fit various calendar-related prompts.


Reading by the Numbers: 2022 will debut this challenge whose main goal is to log all your books. No pre-set challenge levels. You decide your goal for the year and then just keep track of the books you read. I put it together primarily so I'd have a handy place on the blog to track everything I read in one place.


The Color Coded and Read It Again, Sam challenges are both housed at the same page. In the first, readers choose books on color names in the titles or cover colors and the second is for those who enjoy rereading old favorites. 















Which Reminds Me


 Which Reminds Me (1989) by Tony Randall & Michael Mindlin

Tony Randall of The Odd Couple fame (among others) goes on a story-telling spree. There. Review done. Oh, I suppose I ought to say a bit more. So, Tony gives us little snippets of everything from life in the theatre to TV and film. He tells naughty stories about producers, directors, writers, fellow actors, and critics. He gives us behind-the-scene views of his most famous TV show appearances, The Odd Couple and Mr. Peepers. There are stories about practical jokes and mistaken identity. If could have happened in Hollywood, then it probably did and Tony lets us know.

I read this once before (in the 90s, I think--though I didn't note the date) and thought it amusing. I remembered Tony as a good storyteller. So, when I saw this at the Historical Society's community garage sale a few years ago, I decided to pick it up for a reread. I'll just say that this hasn't aged well. Most of the stories aren't nearly as funny as I remembered and some reflect views that aren't appropriate. Tony's style (or Mindlin's writing or however this pans out between the two) is too rambling. He just plunges from one story to the next with little to connect them into a nice, flowing commentary. I think it was supposed to represent the idea of the title--telling one story which reminds him of another story which leads to another story....and so on ad infinitum. Which perhaps works better conversationally than it does on paper. 

There are things to like about the book--especially his stories about his early years onstage and his work with Jack Klugman on The Odd Couple--but not enough to make it a really good read. I gave it a strong three-star review before, but now I'd give it ★★ and 1/2 at most.

First line: There are, they tell me, more amusing anecdotes and jokes about show business than about any other.

Last line: [from a section on epitaphs] Here lies Porky Pig T-T-That's All F-Folks

Friday, November 19, 2021

Death of an Obnoxious Tourist


 Death of an Obnoxious Tourist (2006) by Maria Hudgins

The first in a series of cozy mysteries featuring Dotsy (Dorothy) Lamb, a professor of Ancient History, who quite honestly seems like the furthest thing from an academic. And this debut novel has very little to do with the academic world at all. Dotsy and her best friend Lettie are on a group tour to Italy. They plan to take in the sights--the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa--just like any tourist as well as stopping to take in archeological museums along the way. Also in the group are the Bauer sisters, Beth, Amy, and Meg. Beth is a friend of Lettie's and Meg is more like one of the evil stepsisters in Cinderella than part of a loving trio. In fact, Meg seems to go out of her way to insult every one of her fellow travelers.

When Meg is found stabbed to death with a souvenir knife just bought by Beth, Lettie's friend is an immediate suspect--until Marco Quattrocchi, the carabinieri officer in charge of the case, arrests a local gypsy who had stolen Beth's wallet and hotel room key and was found to have been in the hotel. Dotsy is convinced that both the gypsy and Beth are innocent. But who else could have wanted to kill Meg Bauer. As it winds up--practically everybody in their tour group. There's Shirley Hostetter who was forced to leave her nursing job because of Nurse Meg Bauer. There's Wilma Kelly whose activist activities have crossed Meg's path. There's Paul Vogel who always seems to be sneaking around and asking the most awkward questions. There's Gianni, an Italian local, whose blue Fiat is in the wrong place at the right time. 

Then a second Bauer sister, Amy, falls to her death on one of the tour outings and it begins to look like someone has it in for the Bauer family. Dotsy spies a piece of paper in Amy's pocket with some mysterious references on it. But the paper disappears before Amy's body arrives at the hospital. If Dotsy and Marco Quattrochi can decipher the meaning of the words, they may just find a killer.

This first Dotsy Lamb book is my second encounter with the Hudgins series. I'm glad I read Death in an Ivory Tower first. It had an academic setting and Hudgins is much more in control of her cast of characters and mystery plot. The Italian background in this one is very nice and we get an excellent sense of place, but there are too many characters and not enough information about and/or interaction with most of them. It's difficult to take some of the tour members seriously as suspects when we have so little to go on and the attempts to use them as red herrings really didn't work well. The other annoying thing was after setting up a romantic relationship between Dotsy and Marco, Hudgins has him get angry at her amateur sleuthing and things get all uncomfortable between them. Then when she has a diabetic episode towards the end of the book, he comes charging into room like a knight-in-shining armor to make sure she's okay....and then nothing. The villain is caught and Marco just fades out. It's pretty unsatisfying.

That said, I do like Dotsy and Lettie and knowing that the fifth installment is a good one will ensure that I at least read the other series book I have sitting on the TBR stacks. I also like the fact that Dotsy doesn't outdo the police or assume that she can take on the bad guys alone. She's just an inquisitive woman who has a knack for finding things out. ★★ and 1/2.

First lines: "Strip search?" Lettie slapped a cold quivering hand on my arm. "Please, Dotsy, talk to them."

The Italian love of traffic rules is wonderful to behold. Rules are meant to be broken. If there were no traffic laws to break, driving would be no fun. (p. 192)

Last line: "And I also know how to pick a pickpocket's pocket.

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