Sunday, January 31, 2021

January Pick of the Month

 


It's been quite a while (three years? surely not) since I put together my Pick of the Month list of books read, stats, ratings, and overall My Reader's Block P.O.M. Award winner. I'm going to try and get back into the swing of things. In the past, I had participated in Kerrie's Pick of the Month meme which focused on mysteries, but it doesn't look like she's got that up and running. My plan is to focus on mysteries (since that's the bulk of what I read), but if there are non-mysteries worthy of a P.O.M. award then I will hand two awards. So...let's see what I've been up to in January.

Total Books Read: 15
Total Pages: 4,131

Average Rating: 3.44 stars  
Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 40%
Percentage by Male Authors: 27%
Percentage by both Female & Male Authors: 33%
Percentage by US Authors: 40%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  6%
Percentage Mystery:  80% 

Percentage Fiction: 93%
Percentage written 2000+: 33%
Percentage of Rereads: 13%
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: 1 (4%)

Of the books read, I handed out two five-star ratings. One to a reread of Agatha Christie's brilliant murder on a train, Murder in the Calais Coach (aka Murder on the Orient Express), and the other to a Young Adult Fantasy by Garth Nix. As a rule, I don't read a lot of Young Adult books, but the synopsis for The Left-Handed Booksellers of London sounded so good that I couldn't resist. I'm glad I didn't. Booksellers is a lovely mash-up of action/adventure, fantasy, historical fiction, and a little bit of mystery (not enough to count as mystery, though). I read it straight through in one day and enjoyed it more than I've enjoyed anything in a long time. I loved all the literary references that came up (what else would you expect from a book about booksellers?) and I was very pleased to see a Lord Peter Wimsey reference. Great fun and it earns a non-mystery P.O.M. award.




Mysteries read:
1. Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal (3 stars)
2. Death of a Millionaire by G.D.H. & Margaret Cole (3 stars)
3. Crimson Snow by Martin Edwards [ed] (4 stars)
4. Sidney Chambers & the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (3 stars)
5. The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club (4 stars)
6. Death & the Dutch Uncle by Patricia Moyes (3 stars)
7. When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris (4 stars)
8. Mr. President, Private Eye by Martin H. Greenberg & Francis M. Nevins [eds] (3 stars)
9. Dead as a Dodo by Jane Langton (2 stars)
10. Hallowed Murder by Ellen Hart (3 stars)
11. Raffles (The Amateur Cracksman) by E. W. Hornung (3 stars)
12. Murder in the Calais Coach (aka Murder on the Orient Express) by Agatha Christie (5 stars)

January was certainly a solid mystery-reading month. I managed to read twelve mysteries among the fifteen book total and most of them were decent, middle of the road reads. As you can see, three books followed close on Dame Agatha's heels with four star ratings: The Floating Admiral, a collaborative effort from The Detection Club which was just as enjoyable this time around as when I read it in the 80s; When Maidens Mourn, one of C. S. Harris's excellent regency-era historical mysteries; and Crimson Snow, a collection of Golden Age short stories primarily set around the Christmas holiday and edited by Martin Edwards. I've handed Ms. Christie a P.O.M. award for Orient Express in the past, so we'll be looking to the four-star winners for our January pick. All of these books have their charms and the Admiral's may have something to do with nostalgia for my early days of mystery reading. So, I think we'll keep searching for our P.O.M. winner. I've been thoroughly enjoying my visits to regency England and Harris's characters and plots keep me reading through the series. But..I also feel like she has a five-star book in her and I'm going to hold off on handing her a P.O.M. till I see if I'm right. Which means that our first Pick of the Month for 2021 is.....


Once again Martin Edwards has gathered together a delicious selection of holiday treats for the Golden Age mystery lover. We have Christmas ghosts, spurious Santas, mysterious strangers who leave no tracks in the snow-covered country-side, and criminous carolers...among other mysterious fare. Well-known authors such as Margery Allingham, Michael Gilbert, Julian Symons, Edgar Wallace, and Josephine Bell appear with those who may not be as familiar to mystery fans. All but two are seriously good mysteries and Josephine Bell closes the book out with a very dark and sad tale that brings home the plight of those who left alone on Christmas. There's even one story that offers a final challenge to the reader--with the answer at the end of the book. Can you figure out Cork's secret? Overall, an excellent collection for Christmas--or any time you're in the mood for a holiday mystery or twelve.








One Lady, Two Cats


 One Lady, Two Cats (1967) by Richard Lockridge

A charming memoir by mystery author Richard Lockridge about the challenges he faced trying to convince the lovely woman he'd fallen in love with to marry him. There were two major hurdles. First, Hildegarde (Hildy) Dolson didn't think she was the marrying kind. In fact, she'd written a whole magazine article (being a writer herself) about "Why I'd Make an Awful Wife." Second, Richard was most definitely a cat person. He shared his country home with two Siamese cats, Pammy and Sherry. Hildy is not a cat person. She doesn't have anything against them, but she definitely prefers dogs. There's a few more minor points involving her preference for New York City and her inability to cook--but convincing her that she really is the marrying kind and the marrying kind who can live with cats will be the real trick

Lockridge, in his pleasant, conversational manner, gives the reader an excellent view into the world of cats and just what they think and do when a new human comes along and distracts their own personal human from his most important duty--namely paying the right amount of attention to cats. His vignettes blend just the right amount of charm and interest and he manages to write about cats without making them too cute for words. Pammy and Sherry have distinct personalities which come shining through and, need I say, they soon win over the new lady in Richard's life. 

This is a lovely and touching book--and it was just the kind of comfortable read that I needed on this last rainy day of January. ★★★★

First Line: Before I went south that winter I had, in passing, mentioned cats.

Last Line: We stood arm and arm and watched our cat coming home with her tail held high.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Murder in the Calais Coach


 Murder in the Calais Coach (aka Murder on the Orient Express) [1934] by Agatha Christie

I am currently trying to reread all of Agatha Christie's detective fiction in order of publication--something I have never done and have long wanted to try. When I first discovered her mysteries, I simply read them as I found them and didn't really pay attention to when they had been published. Some of her work I have read once and then never returned to--whether because I didn't like the particular plot as well or because I initially read it from the library and just hadn't added it to my personal collection. Others, such as this one, I have read and enjoyed many times. Some of these novels I can reread and her tricks still work on me if it has been long enough since the previous read--my memory gets more sieve-like as the years go by. Some are what I consider the "big" novels--where the solution is such that I would need to suffer from complete reading amnesia to be fooled again. This is one of the latter. 

I last read this (under the Orient Express title) in 2015 and reviewed it in full at that time. For a much more in-depth look at my thoughts on the plot as well as on various formats (I had a regular train murder party--I read the book, listened to an audio version, and watched two filmed versions), please see the link above. This year's reading was pure indulgence. I didn't think deep thoughts about the plot or examine Christie's methods of clueing or look at all the subtle hints that were oh-so-obvious this time around (and think why on earth didn't I catch that when I read it the first time?). I just enjoyed watching Poirot do his thing and let his little grey cells do the work. I also had a running film going in my head with Suchet as Poirot (but not being so overly intense in his whole weighing of the guilt and justice thing as happens in his filmed version) and with the rest of the cast of characters as played in the 1974 movie. ★★★★ every time I read it.

First line: It was five o'clock on a winter's morning in Syria.

Last line: "Then," said Poirot, "having placed my solution before you, I have the honour to retire from the case."

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

Deaths =  4 (one shot; one natural--died in childbirth; one fell from height; one stabbed)

Friday, January 29, 2021

Raffles (The Amateur Cracksman)


 Raffles
(The Amateur Cracksman) [1899] by E. W. Hornung

This particular edition includes the original eight stories first published in The Amateur Cracksman with an additional six stories published  under the title The Black Mask (UK)/Raffles: The Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman (USA). The connections to Sherlock Holmes and Watson are obvious. Bunny is the faithful chronicler and admirer. Raffles keeps his cards close to his chest--sometimes to the detriment of his plans. He praises Bunny for his loyalty and willingness to do anything necessary in their exploits, but then doesn't share his plans and gets upset when Bunny blunders in where he's not wanted (at least not wanted right at that particular moment). A little bit of communication would have helped the task at hand go a bit smoother...

I expected to like these a great deal more than what I did. I think perhaps the turn the stories took when Raffles starts contemplating (and later committing) murders is what did it. I went in expecting a gentleman thief and tales of outrageously clever heists and it devolved into a romantic thriller and revenge story (with the Italian bits) and a clingy ex-love at the very end. ★★ for the straight robbery stories--I found those to be clever and fun.

"The Ides of March": In which Bunny (Harry) Manders is on his beams end after losing money at cards with Raffles and friends. Raffles soon introduces him to his rather unorthodox methods of raising funds when he himself is a little short of the ready.

"A Costume Piece": Raffles and Bunny attempts to relieve eccentric millionaire Reuben Rosenthall of two diamonds worth fifty thousand pounds a piece don't go quite according to plan.

"Gentlemen & Players": Raffles, the Gentleman Thief, plots to steal a coveted necklace from under the nose of a Scotland Yard man delegated to defend the jewels from another well-known thief. Bunny thinks his friend should concentrate on cricket while the Yard is on the hunt, but those sparkling diamonds and sapphires are difficult to resist....

"Le Premier Pas": Raffles tells Bunny of his first venture into crime...when he impersonated a distant relative in a small town in Australia. It's handy for a thief when you're mistaken for the new bank manager...

"Wilful Murder": When Raffles learns that another sharp dealer has discovered his identity, he believe it will be necessary to kill the man. But fate has a way of taking care of things....

"Nine Points of the Law": When a man's disinherited son sells off a priceless painting, he hires Raffles and Bunny to get it back for him by any means necessary. Who knew that the thing would wind up stolen twice?

"The Return Match": Raffles expects an escaped convict to come visiting to call in a favor. Our gentleman thief will need to be on his toes to escape the police's scrutiny.

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

"No Sinecure": Poor Bunny--at the end of the "Emperor" he found himself in prison and friendless. He's sure that Raffles has met his doom. But when he's finally set free, he finds himself  employed as a nurse to the mysterious Mr. Maturin. Perhaps his thieving days aren't over after all... [spoiler...they're not]

"A Jubilee Present": Raffles (aka Mr. Maturin) sets his heart on stealing a gold cup from the British Museum. Will the sport of the thing be enough or will he really melt it down for cash?

"The Fate of Faustina": Bunny finally learns what became of his friend after the incident on the German ship. It's a tale of love and murder in Italy....and possibly a revenge to come when it's revealed that Raffles ticked off the head of a nasty Italian gang.

"The Last Laugh":  The Italians come to England to exact their revenge....Bunny arrives in the nick of time and Raffles has the last laugh on his nemesis.

"To Catch a Thief": In the absence (as far as the public officially knows) of the late Raffles, a new gentleman thief has started to ply his trade. Raffles decides it's time to see exactly how good this newcomer is.

"An Old Flame": Raffles' cover as the invalid Mr. Maturin is in danger when an old flame recognizes him and refuses to let him go this time. He'll have to take extreme measures to get her to leave him alone...perhaps even so far as really being buried this time...

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

Deaths = 5 (one hit with poker; one stabbed; one shot; one poisoned; one fell from height) 

For a short story collection that was supposed to be about the life & crimes of Raffles, the gentleman thief, this had way more deaths than anticipated. For the record--I anticipated none.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Hallowed Murder


 Hallowed Murder (1989) by Ellen Hart 

This is the first in the Jane Lawless series of mysteries and the second that I've read. I picked this one up because, set at a sorority house at the University of Minnesota, it has an academic flavor and I can't resist those. Jane is serving as an alumna advisor to her old sorority, Kappa Alpha Sigma. Early one morning, she and her BFF Cordelia Thorn discover the body of one of the members drowned in a nearby lake. It's revealed that the young woman had been in a relationship with another female student after a breakup with a boyfriend. The police are ready to call it a suicide by someone "pretty mixed up in the head," but Jane isn't buying it. She didn't know Allison Lord intimately, but she had gotten to know her through her work with the sorority's student governance board and she didn't see Allison as the suicidal type. More apt to take her problems head-on.  

In addition to the death, there are other mysterious things going on at the house--from thefts to shadowy figures at the windows to blackmail. And then the sorority's rituals room is ransacked--which means someone with access to the keys must be involved. As Jane starts to ask questions, her attention is drawn to the boyfriend in the case, Mitchel Page. Not only was the break-up bad, he works as a busboy at the sorority house and seems to have free rein within its walls. But he's not the only suspect. Gladys the housekeeper seems to know more secrets than average and Jane's fellow advisor, Susan Julian has been very vocal about her views on homosexuality. Even Adolf, the cook, has been acting a bit strangely since Allison's death. When Mitchel dies a few days later, Jane begins to see the pattern but has no evidence to give the police--so she and Cordelia (very much against Cordelia's better judgment) lay a trap for the killer a Jane's lonely lodge. They should have listened to Cordelia's better judgment...but the killer is caught in the end.

Ellen Hart writes a very middle-of-the-road mystery. At least in the two books I've read. The plot is okay. The motive is a bit overworked. But the clues are on display and ready for the taking if readers are astute enough to catch them. The best part of the book is the snapshot of the late 80s. The opinions and prejudices of the time are definitely represented--not that they're very palatable, but it is good to remember where we've been. I do like Jane and Cordelia and their friendship. Cordelia is a little over-the-top, but we all have that one friend who is, don't we? ★★

First Line: The dark figure moved quickly along the wooded path.

Last Line: "I don't think he'll be any trouble. His name is Lucifer."

***********

Deaths = 3 (one drowned; one froze to death; one heart attack)

Monday, January 25, 2021

Dead as a Dodo


 Dead as a Dodo (1996) by Jane Langton

When Homer Kelly and his wife Mary leave Harvard behind for his appointment as a visiting fellow at Oxford, they thought he had left his role as part-time detective behind as well. But it isn't long before before the British scholars prove just as adept at making mysteries for their American visitor. When people in college begin dying, Homer (whose reputation as sleuth in scholar's clothing has preceded him) is asked to take a hand. And, of course, the Oxford police don't mind this Yank nosing about in their business.  They welcome him with open arms.

So, Homer dons his deerstalker and begins delving into the deaths. First, a night watchman plunges to his death from a glass-topped roof. Why on earth was he crawling about up there? And how on earth did he get there? Then Dr. Helen Clare's argumentative husband takes a similar plunge down a staircase that isn't all there. It had been blocked off for repairs but who removed the barricades and turned off the lights? Then a lovelorn priest who may have been in the process of losing his faith as well as his girl appears to have committed suicide. But what was Hal Shaw, a just-married tutor in biology, doing in the Reverend Oliver Clare's rooms that night? And what does it all have to do with Charles Darwin, some missing specimens from his famous voyage, the great-great-great-great granduncles of Oliver Clare, a stolen painting of a dodo, Alice & Wonderland and Lewis Carroll, and the steeplejack's missing lines and tackle? Homer must help Inspector Mukerji answer all those questions before they can track down the culprit.

Or at least that's what the synapsis is supposed to be. Quite honestly, this is one weird book. The story has Darwin and Alice & Wonderland themes running all through it that are, one surmises, supposed to be relevant and make sense. But they don't. At least not me. In the middle of it all Homer has these bizarre dreams (both the kind while sleeping and the walking around daydreaming kind) mixing the mystery plot up with Carroll's world. I felt very much like Alice when she meets the caterpillar...

...like Homer (or possibly Langton) had been puffing on one of those hookahs. I get the sense that these Carroll references are supposed to be clever and/or witty, but they strike me as neither.

After wading through all the Wonderland nonsense (and I like Lewis Carroll's work, mind you), I get to the solution. And that, I must say, was a disappointment. I'm not buying the motive (such as it is)--especially not in the late 1990s. Not having been told otherwise, I presume the story takes place about the time that it was published--and I just don't believe that that reasoning works, particularly given who gets killed. Now, if the [redacted--it's a spoiler, highlight empty space if curious] bishop had been killed, then I'd be better persuaded that the person who did it had the motive given. I could see a certain parallel logic, albeit a bizarre logic [quite in keeping with the whole bizarre nature of the book, though].

Overall, a disappointing read. I love me an academic mystery and I was looking forward to one set in Oxford. I have read a few of Langton's Homer Kelly books previously and while they also had an unusual tone, they seemed to be more in the line of Michael Innes' unusual works. I enjoyed both in the past. However, there are a horde of people on Goodreads handing out four and five star ratings, so your mileage may vary. ★★

*And, if anyone reads this fairly soon (while the details are still fresh in my mind) and can tell me what's significant about what Homer sees when he looks out Oliver Clare's window I would love to be enlightened.

 First Line: When Homer and Mary Kelly came to Oxford that October, they were not the only new arrivals.

Last Line: Unthinking, uncaring, it prospered and survived.

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

Deaths= 5 (two fell from height; one stabbed; one shot; one hung)


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Mr. President, Private Eye


 Mr. President, Private Eye (1988) by Martin H. Greenberg & Francis M. Nevins, Jr. (eds)

Greenberg and Nevins gathered up twelve stories featuring thirteen of our former presidents involved in murder and mayhem. While the title isn't really accurate--none of theses commanders-in-chief actually take to the mean streets as gumshoes, there are a number of mysteries to be solved. We begin with a story by Edward D. Hoch that begins with a secret left by George Washington in a dying message that isn't solved until Honest Abe comes along. Rutherford B. Hayes helps a Pinkerton detective get to the bottom of a murder and arson in the deep south and a housemaid with aspirations for the stage helps President Grant jail members of the Whiskey Ring. Grover Cleveland plays detective while on his honeymoon and brings a murderer to justice while foiling a few railroad robber barons' plans to undermine the union.

This is a pretty uneven collection of stories. Not quite the book of gems I anticipated when told on the back cover:

Eleven award-winning world-class mystery writers have set aside their history books to creative these diabolically clever tales...

Quite a few of them aren't anything like clever; some are downright dull; and one didn't make any sense to me at all.

BUT...there are a few diamonds among the rhinestones. The Washington/Lincoln plot starts the collection off nicely. It was very nice to see Lincoln get the best of a traitor-wannabe. The story featuring Grover Cleveland is quite good with a tight little plot in short form. And the final two tales with Harry Truman and Gerald Ford really make plowing through the other stories worthwhile. Truman takes on a revenge killer who outwits the secret service and the Ford story reveals the "real" reason behind the former president's infamous clumsiness. It's quite satisfying to think that the KGB made such a huge mistake in the spying business.

Several of these stories are based on actual events (albeit playing fast an loose with the details) which gives us an interesting look at history. It's a shame that all of the stories weren't up to the standard of my favorites. ★★ and 1/2 for the collection.

***********

Deaths = 15 (three shot; two hit on head; four stabbed; one drowned; one neck broken; one eaten by piranha; two poisoned; one natural)


Thursday, January 21, 2021

When Maidens Mourn

 When Maidens Mourn (2012) by C. S. Harris

If you haven't read the previous books in the series, then there are spoilers ahead. Spoilers about the life of Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, that is. So...if you want to read the series and have the background story unfold for you, you might want to wait to read my review.


In book six, Devlin had finally persuaded Hero, the soon-to-be mother of his child, to marry him. Of course, Hero, being the strong-willed young woman she is, made the match for reasons of her own. Now the two are working on just what their marriage will be...and just how much they really mean to each other. They plan to escape the heat of London and spend their honeymoon in the country when Gabrielle Tennyson, one of Hero's friends, is found stabbed to death at an antiquary dig at Camlet Moat. Gabrielle firmly believed that Camlet Moat was the site of the original Camelot--the background source for the Arthur legends. 

Her work as an antiquary riled her male colleagues, but were they upset enough to resort to murder? Or is there a deeper plot afoot? When it is discovered that Gabrielle's two young nephews are also missing, it begins to look like there's more than scholarly jealous at work. Hero and Sebastian each take an interest in the case--sometimes working at cross-purposes and never fully confiding in each other. Especially when circumstances involve Hero's father, Lord Jarvis (sworn enemy to Devlin) or Sebastian needs to consult his former lover, Kat Boleyn, about French spies. But the information they gather will need to be pooled if they are to discover the killer before it's too late for the boys. They may also learn some uncomfortable secrets about Lord Jarvis and Sebastian's past along the way. 

Harris has given us another fine historical mystery. I've enjoyed watching the relationship between Hero and Sebastian grow and look forward to seeing where it goes next. The mystery aspect is really well done with a good range of suspects and red herrings to keep the reader occupied and looking for the culprit. I also liked the way she brought in Arthurian legend as well as the family of the (later) Poet Laureate of England, Alfred Lord Tennyson, though she did take some liberties with the number of family members. It was a nice change to get away from the more politically charged plotline and delve into one with a more literary background. A highly enjoyable read. ★★

First Line: Tessa Sawyer hummed a nervous tune beneath her breath as she pushed through the tangled brush and bracken edging the black waters of the ancient moat.

Last Line: And he raised his head to meet her kiss.
*************
Deaths = 5 (three shot; one stabbed; one hit on head)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The TBR 21 in '21 Challenge

 


Gilion at Rose City Reader has developed a TBR 21 in '21 Reading Challenge that will fit right in with my Mount TBR Challenge, so...here I am signing up for another challenge (Surprise!). For full details, check out her blog at the link above. Basically--just read 21 books from your owned TBR stacks. Here we go...

1. When Maidens Mourn by C. S. Harris (1/20/21)
2. Mr. President, Private Eye by Martin H. Greenberg & Francis M. Nevins, Jr. [eds] (1/22/21)
3. Dead as a Dodo by Jane Langton (1/25/21)
4. Hallowed Murder by Ellen Hart (1/26/21)
5. Raffles by E. W. Hornung (1/29/21)
6. One Lady, Two Cats by Richard Lockridge (1/31/21)
7. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2/4/21)
8. The Cannibal Who Overate by Hugh Pentecost (2/14/21)
9. The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer (2/20/21)
10. The Boomerang Clue by Agatha Christie (2/21/21)
11. Uncle Silas by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (2/22/21)
12. Behind the Green Door by Mildred A. Wirt (2/26/21)
13. Howards' End by E. M. Forster (2/27/21)
14. The Adventure of the Peerless Peer by Philip Jose Farmer (2/28/21)
15. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (3/6/21)
16. Dead, Man, Dead by David Alexander (3/7/21)
17. Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective by Agatha Christie (3/8/21)
18. Bodies from the Library by Tony Medawar [ed] (3/10/21)
19. Blue Octavo by John Blackburn (3/12/21)
21. The Coconut Killings by Patricia Moyes (3/22/21)


The Left-Handed Booksellers of London


 The Left-Handed Booksellers of London (2020) by Garth Nix

Set in a slightly alternate 1980s Britain: Susan Arkshaw has never known her father...not even his name. Her mother, who had her 60s moments as a groupie for various bands, is very vague about that time of her life and mostly won't talk about it when she isn't vague. But Susan is determined to find out what she can using the little scraps she has. There's "Uncle" Frank who is some kind of crime lord in London. There are a few misspelled or misremembered names that her mother has let drop in her more expansive moments. There's the faded reading room ticket--with patron and library name too faint to read. And a silver cigarette case with what may or may not be a coat of arms.

She decides to head to London for the summer to get a job before taking up her position at art school...and to hunt for more clues to her father. She's barely met Uncle Frank and hasn't even had a chance to question him when he's killed (turned to dust with a silver hatpin) by an attractive young man by the name of Merlin. She's all set to call the cops on the killer when a giant louse appears and he kills that too. And that's just the start of the weird crap that starts happening as she gets acquainted with Merlin and the other booksellers of London. 

You see, in this version of 1980s Britain, booksellers are the guardians (gatekeepers?) keeping the peace between the Old World of myth and legends filled with Sippers (sortof vampires) and Cauldron-born (zombie-like creatures that obey the will of their creator) and other magical entities. The booksellers have magical skills of their own--from the left-handed booksellers and their fighting skills to the right-handed booksellers with their knowledge and abilities to affect the minds of their enemies. And enemies there are a-plenty...and for some reason they seem to be out to get Susan. Merlin and his sister Vivien come to believe that Susan and her unknown father have something to do with the death of their mother and the three team up to take on the bad guys in this fantastical adventure.

This was a lot of fun to read. I don't read young adult books often, but when I have I've been very lucky in my choices. Booksellers is a lovely mash-up of action/adventure, fantasy, historical fiction, and a little bit of mystery. I read it straight through in one day and enjoyed it more than I've enjoyed anything in a long time. I loved all the literary references that came up (what else would you expect from a book about booksellers?) and I'm giving out bonus points for a reference to Lord Peter Wimsey:

Merlin produced a vintage leather cricket bag adorned with the cryptic gold monogram "PDBW," unstrapped it, and opened it up to receive the swords, replacing them in their scabbards before he put them carefully inside.

It's always a fun surprise to find a mention of Lord Peter in other books. Any Sayers fan should recognize those initials and know just what cricket has to do with Lord Peter. I don't know if Nix plans any more books in the booksellers world, but I would definitely be interested in future adventures if they are anything like as good as this one. ★★★★

Quotes:

Stories aren't always merely stories, you know. (Merlin; p. 76)

Books help us anchor our souls. Or re-anchor them. (Merlin; p. 162)


Monday, January 18, 2021

Death & the Dutch Uncle


 Death & the Dutch Uncle
(1968) by Patricia Moyes opens just after the murder of a small-time gambler and crook. The shooting occurred in the gents in the private bar at the Pink Parrot--a meeting place for various members of the British crime scene which has somehow managed to steer just to the right side of the law. Nothing can ever be proven against anybody--not against the owner nor the patrons. And, of course, true to form, nobody saw or heard anything when "Flutter" Byers lost his last gamble. Superintendent Tibbett is annoyed by the blank innocence that greets the investigation, but there is little to be done when a whole roomful of people all claim to have been unaware of what happened. It seems that Flutter's murder is destined to be an unsolved crime.

But a then dinner with a man who works as an interpreter for an organization (PIFL) that handles international disputes over boundaries and the like makes Tibbett realize that Flutter had gotten mixed up in a very high-stakes game indeed. It soon becomes apparent that someone has been killing off members of the committee which will decide the boundary line between two obscure African countries. And they have their sights on a final member who holds the deciding vote. What can be so important about a barren piece of land in Africa? Why does Tibbett have to go to Amsterdam to look for the solution to the case? And...will he be in time to save the man in the crosshairs?

This is a fun mystery that does take a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. There are a number of coincidences; Tibbett's taking Emmy along straight into danger is a bit much; and the gentleman from PIFL deserves a bigger dressing down than he gets for deliberately losing his police guardian. But--if you're looking for an escapist read and an enjoyable time following Henry Tibbett as he ferrets out exactly who's behind it all, then this is a quite decent afternoon's read--fast moving (especially after the action moves to the Netherlands) and interesting.  ★★

First Line: The hospital was exactly like any other hospital--green and white and hygienic and profoundly depressing under a vneer of brisk jollity.

Last Line: Go anywhere, do anything legal. Write Box 1683K,The Times.

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

Deaths = 3 (one shot; one hit by vehicle; one poisoned)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Floating Admiral


 The Floating Admiral
(1931) by The Detection Club [Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, G. K. Chesterton, Victor L. Whitechurch, G. D. H. & Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Ronald A. Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane, & Anthony Berkeley] 

Admiral Penistone's body is found early one morning floating on the river. He has been stabbed to the heart and is adrift in the Vicar's boat. The previous evening he and his niece dined at the Vicar's, but they had used the Admiral's own boat to cross the river and return home. Why was the body found in the Vicar's boat? And where was he originally killed--for there are no blood stains at all in the bottom of the craft. Inspector Rudge is called in to discover whodunnit and why but runs across a myriad of half-truths, cover-ups, and missing witnesses. The Vicar obviously knows more than he's telling as do the niece and her fiance. Then it seems like everyone disappears on mysterious missions to London--the Vicar, the niece Elma, her fiance, and Sir Wilfred Denny, a neighbor who doesn't seem at first to have much to do with the crime at all. Who is the mysterious woman seen in the area on the night of murder and where has she gone? Why did Elma's French maid leave without collecting her final pay? Then there are the clues: an overcoat worn on a warm night, a second copy of a newspaper, a missing bit of the boat's mooring line, a secret file marked "X," and a missing weapon. Rudge has many (too many it seems to him) lines to follow and none of them seem to be leading anywhere definite. But he will get is man/woman in the end.

One of the first (if not the very first) collaborative detective novels written round-robin style among a group of detective novelists. Fourteen members of the The Detective Club settled down to tackle the mystery story. Each wrote a chapter after being presented with previous chapters from their colleagues and they were tasked with adding to (or in the case of Anthony Berkeley, presenting the solution to) the story without knowing what solution their predecessor/s had in mind. To ensure fair play (no adding things just make it more difficult), each author beyond the initial "setting the stage" chapters were also required to present their own solution to the crime based on the information given so far--including their own chapter. 

I could tell while reading this that the club members had a great deal of fun with this. And it was great fun for this reader to watch them playing the game with each other. It understandably is not as smoothly written as it would have been had just one of them put the story together, but it works very well as a collaborative effort. Each author's style seeps in, but overall they manage to keep the tone and characters all of piece. I enjoyed this thoroughly when I first read it back in the 80s and I found it just as engaging reading it now. ★★★★


Deaths = 3 (two stabbed; one natural)

Friday, January 15, 2021

Sidney Chambers & the Shadow of Death


 Sidney Chambers & the Shadow of Death (2012) by James Runcie

In 1953 England Sidney Chambers is the vicar of Grantchester and the honorary canon of Ely Cathedral. He is also becoming a somewhat unwilling amateur detective. The first story in this collection of six interconnected short mysteries finds Chambers thrust into an investigation of the supposed suicide of a solicitor named Stephen Staunton. His mistress is quite certain that it was murder and after the funeral she asks Sidney to investigate. She may not like what he finds out. In the next story Chambers is invited to a New Year's Eve party where an anticipated engagement announcement is marred by the disappearance of the very expensive engagement ring. His sister's new boyfriend is a prime suspect, so she begs him to take a hand in determining the real culprit. This is followed by a tale in which Chambers' doctor is suspected of hastening the death of his fiancee's mother (and possibly starting a spree of mercy killings). Then Chambers and his good friend Inspector Keating visit a jazz club in London just in time to be right on the spot when the daughter of the club's owner is killed. Next up, a more thrillerish story about fraud in the art world and Chambers' good friend Amanda Kendall, junior curator at London's National Gallery, is put at risk. The last story in the collection is about the murder of "Caesar" (Lord Teversham) during the first night of a local production of Julius Caesar.

Not entirely what to make of this. First off, when I picked this up at our Friends of the Library used bookstore, I was expecting a novel, not six short, intertwined stories. (That was my mistake, not reading the blurb properly.) I got over that hurdle and settled down for a nice collection of short mysteries.  But...I spent a good portion of the book thinking, "If I didn't have this down for so many challenges, I think I'd quit now." Especially in the first half or so of the book. It wasn't that it was bad--the characters just didn't grab me and Sidney Chambers wasn't convincing me that he was an amateur detective (of sorts). The mystery plots aren't all that strong and the "detection" of the crimes isn't real straightforward. There's way more personal drama and moral conflict going on than mystery. Lots of inner reflection on the moral consequences and what laws (whether man's or God's) we can bend/break and it still be okay or even the right thing to do. But by the end of the book Chambers (and Runcie's style) seemed to be growing on me. I have others in the series on the TBR pile, so I'll probably give the next one a try to see if my interest grows. ★★

First Line: Canon Sidney Chambers had never intended to become a detective.

Last Line: "I certainly hope so," his clerical companion replied. "Another round, Inspector?"

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

Deaths = 5 (one shot; two "natural" [though possibly helped along, not proven]; one strangled; one stabbed)


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Crimson Snow


 Crimson Snow (2016) by Martin Edwards (ed)

Once again Martin Edwards has gathered together a delicious selection of holiday treats for the Golden Age mystery lover. We have Christmas ghosts, spurious Santas, mysterious strangers who leave no tracks in the snow-covered country-side, and criminous carolers...among other mysterious fare. Well-known authors such as Margery Allingham, Michael Gilbert, Julian Symons, Edgar Wallace, and Josephine Bell appear with those who may not be as familiar to mystery fans. All but two are seriously good mysteries and Josephine Bell closes the book out with a very dark and sad tale that brings home the plight of those who left alone on Christmas. There's even one story that offers a final challenge to the reader--with the answer at the end of the book. Can you figure out Cork's secret? Overall, an excellent collection for Christmas--or any time you're in the mood for a holiday mystery or twelve. ★★★★

A quick look at the stories enclosed.

"The Ghost's Touch" by Fergus Hume: In which a schemer is caught in his own ghostly trap.

"The Chopham Affair" by Edgar Wallace: a heartless blackmailer gets his just desserts from a very surprising source.

"The Man with the Sack" by Margery Allingham: Albert Campion puts a stop to a Christmas-time diamond theft.

"Christmas Eve" by S. C. Roberts: Sherlock Holmes and the puzzle of the purloined pearls.

"Death in December" by Victor Gunn: When Chief Inspector Bill "Ironsides" Cromwell accepts his sergeant's invitation to spend Christmas at Cloon Castle, his family's country seat, he's gloomily anticipating a stay with silly party games, chitchat with people he doesn't know, and other social inconveniences. He immediately perks up when a mysterious figure crosses the drive between them and the castle--leaving behind no footprints. And there's soon more ghostly and murderous incidents to investigate. A fitting Christmas present for savvy detective.

"Murder at Christmas" by Christopher Bush: Ludovic Travers spends a week with his colleague for Christmas and golfing. While there he becomes involved in the murder of a swindler whose body is found in the woods.

"Off the Tiles" by Ianthe Jerrold: In the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, an artist falls to her death from the tiled roof. Some say it was suicide; some say it was a deadly accident--Inspector James Quy soon knows it is neither.

"Mr. Cork's Secret" by MacDonald Hastings: Montague Cork's insurance company underwrites a policy covering a fabulous ruby and diamond collection known by the unappealing (to me anyway) name of Alouette's Worms without his input. He's uneasy about the transaction and follows the jewels to the Paradise Hotel...where he becomes embroiled in murder and robbery.

"The Santa Claus Club" by Julian Symons: The wealthy business bigwig Lord Acrise receives a death threat which tells him that he will die at the annual Santa Claus Club dinner where all the members (all wealthy) dress up as old Saint Nick and hold a raffle in support of charity. He asks private investigator Francis Quarles to attend as his guest and quasi-bodyguard, but murder strikes despite the detective's presence.

"Deep and Crisp and Even" by Michael Gilbert: Sergeant Petrella trails a suspicious character encountered when he (Petrella) took part in a round of Christmas caroling. Just who is the man who gave drinks to the carolers in Mr. Hazel's house? [Just my two cents...I like Michael Gilbert a lot. This story? Not so very much.]

"The Carol Singers" by Josephine Bell: The death of an elderly woman on Christmas Eve results in a long investigation to bring the crime home to the villain/s of the piece. 

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

Deaths = 10 ) four shot; one drowned; one stabbed; one strangled; one fell from height; one poisoned; one natural)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Reading Challenge Prize Winners!

Well...last week ended in quite an uproar in the way of news events and I lost track of the fact that I had challenge prizes to hand out. So I'm going to condense my announcements into one.

First up for the Vintage Mystery Extravaganza...this was pretty easy for the Random Number Generator. Christina from You Book Me All Night Long wrote up a very nice wrap-up post and was the my only responder. Thanks for checking in Christina! I've sent you an email.


Next up, is the Mount TBR and Calendar of Crime Challenges . In 2020, I had the largest climbing crew ever--193 of us out there scaling the TBR mountain scape. Ten climbers checked in for the final wrap-up and I've fed the info into the Generator and our winner is commenter #5 Susan at Avid Series Reader. Congratulations, Susan! Susan is also our Calendar of Crime Queen as the only responder to that wrap-up and winner of the "My Calendar's Book" prize as social butterfly--for reporting the most books read on the criminal calendar! An email is coming your way too.



And finally--The Virtual Mount TBR Challenge. In 2020, there were 34 of us trekking up the holodeck mountainsides. Three of those climbers checked in on the wrap-up post. The Generator has thought carefully and decided to choose commenter #1 Jean at Howling Frog Books. Congratulations, Jean! Keep your eyes peeled for your email.

Thanks so much to everyone who joined me for challenges this year. I hope you all had fun and that the world's events didn't intrude too much on your reading time. 


Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Red Fairy Book


 The Red Fairy Book (1890) by Andrew Lang (ed) is the second in Lang's series of "color" fairy tale collections. Lang was a Scots poet, novelist, and literary critic who began collecting these tales in the late nineteenth century in order to conserve "the old stories that have pleased so many generations." The stories include well-known classics such as "Jack and the Beanstalk," "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," "The Golden Goose," and "Rapunzel" as well tales that I had never heard of--like "The Death of Koschei the Deathless" and "The Nettle Spinner." There are also several variations of the Cinderella story that I'd not seen before. His stories transport us to a magical land full enchanted forests and isolated castles where trolls, giants, and fairies can be found. 

As a child growing up, I loved those magical worlds. My grandma had given me Lang's first book of fairy tales, The Blue Fairy Book, and I loved it. I reread it more times than I could count. I had no idea then that there was a whole rainbow of other fairy tale books that I might have read as well. So, in 2015, when I found The Yellow Fairy Book at our Friends of the Library used book store, I was super excited. Except--it wasn't exactly Lang's book. Some dude by the name of Brian Alderson had edited Lang's edited book. And I found it rather disappointing (to see why--check out my review by clicking the title.) So...when I found a vintage copy of The Red Fairy Book at our annual community book sale a few years later, I snatched it up, hoping that this time the reading experience would be much closer to what I had when reading The Blue Fairy Book.

There are a number of selfish and mean characters in these stories--from the usual evil stepmothers to disgruntled fathers and kings. There are also good-hearted, kind princesses and princes and children who are willing to withstand the hardships flung at them by others. Sometimes, they don't even really notice that someone is being mean to them:

As King Grumpy was not used to being contradicted in anything, he was very much displeased with his son, and ordered that he should be imprisoned in the tower that was kept on purpose for rebellious Princes, but had not been used for about two hundred years, because there had not been any. The Prince thought all the rooms looked strangely old-fashioned, with their antique furniture, but as there was a good library he was pleased, for he was very fond of reading....

Hey, if I had to be imprisoned and there was a good library handy, I might not mind too much either. 

The stories here are definitely more like what I remember of The Blue Fairy Book and I have to say that I did enjoy this older edition of The Red Fairy Book more than the updated Yellow--but I can't say I'm as enchanted with it as I was when I was young. There's something about being a child and reading fairy tales that just can't be reclaimed in my fifties. When I was a child I would have blazed through this book, now it took me several days to finish. An enjoyable read, nonetheless, and I'm very glad to have found another of the color fairy editions. ★★★★


Reporter's Challenge 2021

 


Mystery Reporter's Challenge 2021
Sponsored by Ellie in The Challenge Factory on Goodreads
My posts on Goodreads
The challenge runs from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021.


Who? What? Where? When? How?
Why? – because it’s fun to read!

Cub reporter: 5 books (1 from each category) [1/22/21]
Columnist: 10 books (2 from each category) [2/21/21]
News Anchor: 15 books (3 from each category) [4/1/21]
Editor: 20 books (4 from each category) [4/18/21]
Newspaper Mogul: 25 books (5 from each category) [5/13/21]

BONUS CATEGORY: Pulitzer Prize Winner [5/13/21]
(Newspaper Mogul plus Bonus Category) = 30 books 

EXTRA BONUS CATEGORY:
Nobel Prize for Literature (Newspaper Mogul + Pulitizer + Extra Bonus) = 31 books [6/15/21]

I'm back for another round! I'm going to go for News Anchor as my official goal this year and hope to do them all again.

WHO
Protagonist is in the legal profession: Mr. President, Private Eye by Martin H. Greenberg & Francis M. Nevins (eds) [several of these presidents were also lawyers] (1/22/21)
Protagonist works with animals:
Protagonist is a librarian: Final Notice by Jo Dereske (3/27/21)
Protagonist is starting a new business or job: Murder at Bray Manor by Lee Strauss [Lady Ginger Gold has just started a new dress/fashion shop] (2/21/21)
Protagonist is a senior citizen: An Ad for Murder by John Peen (4/18/21)

WHAT
Book has paranormal element: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix (1/18/21)
Alliteration in title: Dead as a Dodo by Jane Langton (1/24/21)
Title is a pun: A Rogue of One's Own by Evie Dunmore (2/26/21)
A number in the title: Murder in 3 Acts by Agatha Christie (3/25/21)
Collaboration (written by more than one author): Death of a Millionaire by G.D.H. & Margaret Cole (1/4/21)

WHERE
Set in Florida: Murder by the Book by Frances & Richard Lockridge (5/5/21)
Set in a city starting with the letter "B": The Devil & the Dark Water by Stuart Turton [Beginning set in Batavia (modern day Jakarta, Indonesia)] (4/1/21)
Set in a New England State: Mr. Smith's Hat by Helen Reilly [Connecticut] (4/7/21)
Set in a state beginning with the letter "I": The Double-Jack Murders by Patrick McManus [Idaho] (2/2/21)
Set on foreign soil (NOT America or England): Death & the Dutch Uncle by Patricia Moyes [Netherlands] (1/18/21)

WHEN
Set in the 1800s: When Maidens Mourn by C. S. Harris [1812] (1/20/21)
Set in the 1900s: Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal (1/2/21)
Set during Spring: Murder Goes to College by Kurt Steel (4/8/21)
Set during Winter: Crimson Snow by Martin Edwards (ed) [all set around Christmas time] (1/12/21)
Set during a holiday season: Hallowed Murder by Ellen Hart [Thanksgiving] (1/26/21)

WHY:
Money/Greed: Raffles (The Amateur Cracksman) by E. W. Hornung (1/28/21)
Jealousy: Gently in the Sun by Alan Hunter (4/5/21)
Revenge: Murder in the Calais Coach (aka Murder on the Orient Express) by Agatha Christie (1/30/21) [though the murderer/s would probably say it was justice]
"Love": The Lazarus Tree by Robert Richardson (4/2/21)
To keep a secret/cover up: The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club (1/17/21)

BONUS CATEGORY (PULITZER PRIZE)
WHO: Protagonist married at least 3 times: The Adventure of the Peerless Peer by Philip Jose Farmer [Watson will be married 4 times by end of book] (22/28/21)
WHAT: Protagonist's last name starts with your first or last initial: The Sands of Windee by Arthur W. Upfield [Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte] (5/3/21)
WHERE: Set in country village/small town: Sidney Chambers & the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (1/13/21)
WHEN: Set in decade you (or family member) was born: Money in the Morgue by Ngaio Marsh & Stella Duffy [Mom & Dad both born in the 40s] (3/29/21)
WHY: Accidental death: Blue Octavo by John Blackburn (3/12/21)

EXTRA BONUS (NOBEL PRIZE)
Horoscope: Pick a date that has special meaning for you & read your 2021 horoscope for that date. Read a book that relates to that horoscope.

A Tasty Way to Die by Janet Laurence (6/15/21) [I'm taking "new friends from foreign countries" as read about characters from another country who are new to me]

June 1, 2021 (30th wedding anniversary)
My horoscope (Cancer): Study & the exploration of opportunities in publishing and the media will appeal to you today. You crave excitement through the discovery of new knowledge as well as meeting new friends from foreign countries.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Death of a Millionaire

Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

 Death of a Millionaire (1925) by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole

Hugh Radlett had become one of the richest men in the United States through mining concerns. He retired from the mining business (quite young) and, after a separation from his wife--in which he settled plenty of money on her and their daughter--he disappeared. Nothing was heard of him for years until he turned up in London to arrange for new mining commissions with the Soviet Government. He met briefly with his contact in England, Lord Ealing, and arranged for a business breakfast at his hotel the next day.

When Lord Ealing arrives for his appointment, Radlett's hotel room is found ransacked with bloodstains on the bed and wall, but no millionaire--dead or alive. The body is nowhere to be found and Radlett's secretary, a Russian named Rosenbaum, is missing along with a very heavy trunk. An man found tied up in a cupboard, claims to be a witness of the murder and to have actually seen Radlett's lifeless body. What really happened in that hotel room? Is Radlett really dead? If so, what's become of the his body and why would the murderer drag it all over London in a trunk? And just who really is the murderer, anyway?

Superintendent Wilson and Inspector Blaikie will be led on quite a scavenger hunt--from London, Paris, Warsaw, Russian, and back again--before they get even close to answer. And they'll have to sift through witness that include Lord Ealing, the former Home Secretary, Norah Culpepper (a girl with nerves of steel) and her father the unfortunate eyewitness, and the dead man partner, the very charming and likeable Jack Pasquett. At one point it seems as though Wilson will be beaten, but he can't bear to leave a mystery unsolved and he's finally able to solve this one to his own satisfaction.


 This was my first mystery by G.D.H. and Margaret Cole and it was a mixed bag for me. On the one hand I learned way more than I ever wanted to know about how minor or major events can affect the fickle ways of share prices. We get heaping helpings of the Coles' views on politics, big business, and the social strata of the 1920s. And it took longer to get to the good parts of the mystery than I would have likes. On the other hand, there are some laugh out loud moments--the bit about the fleet of specially-hired airplanes heading to France each following the other, for instance:

The first was one of your men, Inspector Blaikie. The second was a Mr. Wharton, then came another of your men, Detective-Sergeant Slocombe. The fourth was Lord Ealing. He left half an hour ago, with Sergeant Merrilees close behind him.

The solution was quite a neat one too--especially when one keeps in mind that it's a very early example the type. The last few chapters are gold. I do wish the entire book had been equally engaging. ★★

First line: Perhaps you know Sugden's Hotel in St. James Square.

Last lines: "It's only that I'm not civilized, and you are. Upon my word, Arthur, I'd do it again!" [redacted because spoilers] laughed in Arthur Wharton's face.

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

Deaths = one [it'd be a spoiler if I told you how, though]