Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The 1936 Club


From April 12-18th, April of Kaggy's Bookish Rambles and Simon at Stuck in a Book are sponsoring a read/blog-athon featuring books published in 1936. All you have to do is read at least one book from 1936 and post about it--that's it. And, if you're especially eager to get started, you don't even have to wait until April 12th. So, hunt around in those TBR piles and see if you can join us! This is a twice-yearly feature that I sometimes forget about. So, thanks to Kate at Cross Examining Crime for reminding me that it's that time of year again...

1936 Books previously read and blogged about:
The A.B.C. Murders (and Audio Version) by Agatha Christie
Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon
The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay
Behold, Here's Poison (and Audio Version) by Georgette Heyer
The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer
The Lady in the Morgue by John Latimer
Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio Marsh
Dead Man Control by Helen Reilly
The Croquet Player by H. G. Wells
The Wheel Spins (The Lady Vanishes) by Ethel Lina White

Here are a few of the books I am contemplating for the Club:
The Nine Waxed Faces by Francis Beeding
Trent's Own Case by E. C. Bentley
Thou Shell of Death by Nicholas Blake
The Sussex Down Murder by John Bude
The Traitor by Sydney Horler
Thrills by Norman Keene
Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston
Dead Men's Morris by Gladys Mitchell
One Murdered: Two Dead by Milton Propper
Mr. Smith's Hat by Helen Reilly
The Bell in the Fog by John Stephen Strange
Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? by Sir Basil Thomson
Below the Clock by J. V. Turner
Murder in the Bookshop by Carolyn Wells

We'll see which ones strike my fancy. I may read and give full reviews before the official week--but I will also post a brief round-up officially for the Club.

Death in the Clouds

 Death in the Clouds (aka Death in the Air) (1935) by Agatha Christie

Death is waiting for one of the passengers who cross the English Channel on the air liner Prometheus. Hercule Poirot suffers from mal de mer and mal de l'air. So, he sleeps for most of the journey and someone murders Madame Giselle right under the nose of the airsick detective. The victim is a money-lender who backs her loans to the upper classes with a bit of judicious blackmail as security. Only rarely does anyone default on their loans when they know Madame Giselle will publish their darkest secrets.

At first, the steward thinks the Frenchwoman is asleep as well and leaves her alone until just before the plane will land. When he tries to awaken her, he discovers, to his horror, that she is dead! At first glance, it looks like she may have had a severe reaction to a wasp sting (there had been one flying around the compartment), but it soon proves to have been from a dart laced with an obscure snake venom. Then a blowpipe is found stuffed down by Poirot's seat--of all places! [Causing those at the inquest to believe "that little foreigner done it."] Some of Poirot's fellow passengers seem to fit the profile of Madame Giselle's clients, thus giving them a possible motive, but it seems impossible that any of them could have used the blowpipe to kill her within the small confines of the plane without being seen by at least one person.

Poirot has asked his friend Inspector Japp to get him a detailed list of what was in each passenger's pockets and carry-on baggage and he is quick to spot the essential clues. But he is also puzzled because although objects he expected to be found were found--they were among the belongings of the wrong person! Several trips to France and more interviews with all the passengers and the stewards will be needed as well as an interview with an as yet unsuspected person before the puzzle will make sense.

It hasn't been so very long since I read this one--but I'm attempting to read Dame Agatha in publication order and didn't want to skip over. She wasn't able to pull the wool over my eyes this time. I was rather proud of myself that I remembered all the little clues that Poirot picks up on so easily (and that I missed totally when I read this the first time). I still enjoyed myself and was able to sit back and observe the fun without spending time trying to work out whodunnit. A fun read. 

First line: The September sun beat down hotly on Le Bourget aerodrome as the passengers crossed the ground and climbed into the air liner Prometheus; due to depart for Croydon in a few minutes' time.

[about possibly being suspected for murder] After all, I suppose there is some point to it--I might be the person who murdered her! And when you've murdered one person they say you usually murder a lot more; and it wouldn't be very comfortable having your hair done by a person of that kind. [Jane Grey; p. 46]

Murder doesn't concern the victim and the guilty only. It affects the innocent too. You and I are innocent, but the shadow of murder has touched us. We don't know how that shadow is going to affect our lives. [Norman Gale; p. 51]

Nothing can be so misleading as observation. [Poirot; p. 72]

If there's one fellow after you, there's sure to be another. Seems to be a law of Nature. Sometimes it's three or four. [Gladys; p. 107]

There is no such thing as muddle--obscurity, yes--but muddle can exist only in a disorderly brain." [Poirot; p. 149]

Last line: "Ca, c'est tres gentil!" said Hercule Poirot.


Deaths = 2 poisoned

Monday, March 29, 2021

Money in the Morgue

 Money in the Morgue (2018) by Ngaio Marsh & Stella Duffy

New Zealand. December 1942. Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn is undercover at Mount Seager Hospital, working on a top secret mission to uncover the meaning behind coded radio messages that have been intercepted. His cover as writer in need of rest and quiet for his nerves allows him to remain anonymous while waiting for sight or sound that will help him with his mission. One everning as a storm breaks over the hospital grounds, he finds that it never rains, but pours. A floodgate of mysterious events is about to be opened.

Mr. Glossop is the courier for the pay packets of various government establishments in the area. His elderly van busts a tire (as he has warned the powers-that-be it will for months) and he is stranded at the hospital for the night. Not that it matters much. The raging storm washes away bits of the bridge on the only available road--making the trip a dangerous prospect at best. Matron Ashdown insists that he deposit the remaining wages in the hospital's safe to spend the night safely tucked away with the hundred pounds winnings of hospital clerk Rosamund Farquharson (whose horse has proven lucky). 

That same night, Sydney Brown, the grandson of an elderly man who has been on the edge of expiration for quite some time, has finally come to his grandfather's deathbed--just in time for the man's last moments. There is some confusion over getting word to Matron and the hospital porter, in what seems to be a drunken fit, pushes the trolley with the man in a body bag back and forth between the morgue and the office.

Meanwhile, a restless Mr. Glossop, cooped up in a hot, airless room decides he'd rather sleep with his cot lodged in front of the safe and moves to the matron's office. The entire establishment soon echoes with the courier's cries of "Thief! Robbers! Safe. Thief. Help! Thief. No!" after he finds the safe open and most horribly empty. Alleyn is forced to break cover and begin an investigation and the first thing he notices is that the body bag doesn't seem to be quite as full as it ought to be. Expecting to find the missing money bag, he (and all gathered round) are astonished to find that Mr. Brown's body is indeed gone, but it has been replaced not with stolen loot but with another corpse. Alleyn must get to the bottom of the theft, missing corspe, and murder, all while keeping an eye out for clues that will help him with his true mission at the hospital. He has one long night ahead of him and he deputizes Sergeant Bix, commander of the servicemen who are recuperating at the hospital, to act in the stead of his trusted friend Inspector Fox.

Continuation novels and brand new stories featuring beloved characters are almost always an iffy prospect. There have, of course, been a fairly good number of excellent Sherlock Homes novels written by others. But there has also been numerous really bad ones. I was thrilled when I heard that Jill Paton Walsh was going to used Sayers' source materials and give Lord Peter fans Thrones, Dominations and another chance to read about their favorite sleuth. That story was okay, but nothing like what Sayers would have given us herself. I've read all the others because I love Lord Peter and I kept hoping she'd get it more absolutely right (she never made it as far as I'm concerned). After reading reviews by bloggers I respected, I have completely ignored all of the Sophie Hannah novels about Poirot--I wasn't up to seeing Poirot through Hannah's eyes. The word on the blogging street about Money in the Morgue was generally positive, so when I found it would help me with one the reading challenges I'm doing I decided to give Duffy's rendering of Inspector Alleyn a try.

Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable book. The plot has a number of twists and turns and I can say that I did not see the finale coming at all. The new characters are interesting as are their interactions. I'm not quite sure that she got Alleyn right--particularly when he was interviewing suspects. I liked him best when he was interacting with Sergeant Bix. It definitely reminded me of Alleyn and Brer Fox. A random thought I had was on the naming of the sergeant. I'd be interested to know how complete the chapters Marsh left were and if all the primary characters were named as they appear in the final product. Whether Marsh left a complete roster or Duffy provided/changed any names, I also wonder if  Bix was a deliberate attempt to parallel Inspector Fox as the military man steps in as Alleyn's right-hand man for the investigation. Somehow, I think if the sergeant had held the moniker Bassington or some such polysyllabic or hyphenated surname then it wouldn't have been the same.

A major conceit of the book is a connection with A Midsummer Night's Dream. On the one hand, this rings true as the entire night's events have a very dream-like (though I think the participants may opt for nightmarish) quality. Everything happens in the dark and certain events seem to happen in slow-motion. There is also an almost fairy-like glow in the hidden cave that Alleyn investigates at one point. And Alleyn, of course, is known for quoting Shakespeare. However, I don't see a correlation between our characters and those in the play. Alleyn refers to himself as Puck--but that only works for me if you view Puck as the closest thing to a protagonist in the play. Alleyn certainly is not mischievous and the only "tricks" he plays on anyone is "playing" them (as he calls it) to try and get them to tell the truth about the night's events. 

This mystery should work really well for those who like their detective fiction in the Golden Age style but may not yet know Marsh's detective. It definitely has the right flavor. It also works for those of us who aren't quite as picky about Inspector Alleyn as we are about other classic detectives (Lord Peter and Poirot) and don't mind if everything rings absolutely true or not. It has a good plot with surprises and provides a lovely view of the New Zealand countryside during the WWII years. ★★ and 3/4...not quite a full four.

First line: At about eight o'clock on a disarmingly still midsummer evening, Mr. Glossop telephoned from the Transport Office at Mount Seager Hospital to his head quarters twenty miles away across the plains.

Last lines: He paused and set aside his pen. He would write from Aukland.


Deaths = one smothered

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Final Notice

 Final Notice (1998) by Jo Dereske is the sixth mystery starring librarian Helma Zukas. Helma is an orderly, methodical lady whose life is about to be turned upside down. Her favorite aunt--Aunt Em--was due to arrive in a week or so for a visit, but plans change when Aunt Em has a "brain incident" and can't be released from the hospital to be alone at home. Helma volunteers to have Aunt Em come and stay early. From the moment Aunt Em arrives at the Seattle airport, life gets complicated. Someone tries to run off with her luggage. Then someone tries to steal her purse and she stabs him with a hatpin--three times. 

That night they hear two men arguing outside Helma's apartment. The police are called, but they all (Helma, Aunt Em, and Helma's fried and sidekick in mysteries Ruth) go outside to see what's up...only to find a dead body. Aunt Em declares that the man is the same one who tried to steal her purse and, sure enough, when his arm is examined there are three small holes. When they return to the apartment, they're horrified to discover that Aunt Em left the door open behind them and someone took advantage of the moment and ransacked the place. Someone is very determined to find something that Aunt Em has--but who? And what are they looking for? And why did they follow Aunt Em all the way to Washington to look for it?

SPOILERS AHEAD!! Read at own risk.

The Miss Zukas mysteries are cozies with just a bit of bite to them. In this particular outing, we find out that Aunt Em (who is in her 80s) had ties to Chicago gangsters and the villain after her possessions isn't just playing at cops and robbers, he'll take her out to get what he wants. Of course, being a cozy, it isn't full of blood and gore and the only death is not described in much detail--but there is a nasty air of menace. 

It was nice to revisit this series (I had read several of them from the library when they first came out) and I always enjoy a good mystery that has libraries or books or anything of that nature at its center. Helma is an interesting character and the regulars who surround her (Ruth and Police Chief Wayne Gallant as well as the other employees at the library) are all well-defined and interesting as well. 

First line: On Thursday afternoon, when the phone call came, Miss Helma Zukas was refereeing an argument between two Bellehaven Public Library patrons who each accused the other of hogging the internet. 

Last line: "I'd be delighted," Helma told him.


Deaths = one stabbed

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Murder in 3 Acts

 Murder in 3 Acts [Three Act Tragedy] (1934 by Agatha Christie

Who would want to poison a harmless, truly nice vicar? That's the problem before us in Christie's three-act murder mystery. In the first act, thirteen guests, including celebrated detective Hercule Poirot, are gathered for dinner party at the home of retired actor Sir Charles Cartwright. It is a fairly eclectic group from our famous detective to a rather plain playwright; from a beautiful dress designer to a genteel lady in reduced circumstances; from the lady's daughter and her left-leaning young man (or is he hers?); from a famous nerve doctor to a racing gentleman; and from the vicar and his wife to Mr. Sattherwaite--observer of the human condition. When the Reverend Stephen Babbington succumbs to the temptation of a cocktail, a beverage he is unaccustomed to, Mr. Sattherwaite is amused to see him wrinkle up his nose at the first taste and then bravely go on to sip it. But no one is amused when the vicar chokes, goes into convulsions, and dies. There is a bit of unease at the sudden death--and Sir Charles and "Egg" (Hermione) Lytton-Gore (daughter of the impoverished lady) are sure that murder has been done. But an analysis of the vicar's glass has negative results. Even Poirot thinks they are making a drama of nothing.

But then the second act takes place and Dr. Bartholomew Strange (the nerve specialist) holds a dinner party with a similar guest list to that of Cartwright's. It also ends in death. This time it is the host, Dr. Strange himself, who dies after drinking an alcoholic beverage. Again, there is nothing in the glass--but this time a post mortem is performed and it is established that the doctor died from nicotine poisoning. Our amateur sleuths, Sir Charles and Egg--with Mr. Satthewaite in tow, begin detecting in earnest. They reason that the doctor must also have suspected foul play in the vicar's death and, when he found something out (but what?), he was put out of the way too. Sattherwaite makes sure Poirot is aware of the second death and soon the team is gathering clues and working out theories. But only Poirot will be ready to reveal the killer when the curtain raises on the third and final act.

I don't think I've ever read this particular Agatha Christie. I didn't own a copy until 2014 and I missed logging it if I read it from the library back when I first discovered her mysteries. But I had seen the adaptation with Peter Ustinov as Poirot and I did remember the basic plot (though not the motive). As far as I recall, there weren't many changes in the filmed version--other than location and the fact that Poirot shows up more frequently a lot sooner than in the novel. There's a good portion of the book where you wouldn't know that it was a Poirot novel at all. I spent my time reading waiting for Poirot to really get involved and for our detectives to realize who was really behind it. Also--looking for clues that would tell them (and the reader) who really did it if they were paying proper attention. And I think I caught them all--well done, me. It made for an interestingly different reading experience. That's not to say I haven't reread Christie before and gone in knowing who did it. I have. But this time I was reading for the first time and still knew who did it. Not one of my all-time favorites, but a solid performance from one of our queens of crime.  and 1/2

First line: Mr. Sattherwaite sat on the terrace of Crow's Nest and watched his host, Sir Charles Cartwright, climbing up the path from the sea.

The great merit of being a doctor is that your are not obliged to follow your own advice. (Sir Bartholomew Strang [doctor]; p. 14)

Last line: "It might have been me," said Hercule Poirot.


Deaths =  (three poisoned)

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Coconut Killings

 The Coconut Killings (1977)

Friends of Detective Chief Superintend Henry Tibbett and his wife, Emmy, decide to retire to the idyllic Caribbean island of St. Matthew's (mythically located in the British "Seaward" Islands). They've just got their pub and inn up and running when their young bartender is accused of murdering a United States senator in a brutal machete attack. The Colville's are convinced that Sandy Robbins couldn't have possibly have committed such a cruel crime and beg Henry to come to the island and straighten matters out. 

Of course, he can't do so without proper authority, but that soon comes. A previous assignment saw him in the area and, as he has experience in the Caribbean, his superiors think he's just the man for the job. It isn't long until it becomes clear that Sandy is a convenient scapegoat and the wealthy British who oversee most of the island just want someone official to rubberstamp the "investigation" and prove them right. But that's not the way Henry Tibbett works--especially when his "nose" tells him there's more going on than racial unrest. Sure, the black revolutionary movement seems ready to take advantage of the situation, but everything indicates that Sandy wasn't part of the movement. So, why was the senator killed? And, if Sandy didn't do it, then who did?

A second brutal slaying and a kidnapping leads Tibbett to look for clues in--of all places--New York City, which in turn leads him to a hide-out deep in the island's rain forest. Everything he uncovers seems to point corruption springing from important political and economic sources. But he still needs to find the person behind it all...before racial unrest turns into a full-blown revolution.

This is a decent, quick read. The mystery plot is serviceable and the primary characters are well-drawn (some of the secondary, revolutionary characters less so). But it does miss a certain something. In the mysteries I've read by Moyes, I find that I much prefer Henry Tibbett when he stays in Europe. The Caribbean background is not Moyes' forte--as I note in my review for Black Widower (where Tibbett got his much-valued experience in the tropics). This outing fares a bit better in my ratings simply because I don't think the clues are quite so obvious. At least we're not hit over the head with them as in Widower

First Line: My dear Emmy, This is to let you know that John and I finally succumbed to your propaganda and went to the Caribbean for a holiday.

Last Line: And he handed Derek Reynolds a yellowing envelope, with a Tampican postmark franking an oblong, purple four-penny stamp.


Deaths = 3 stabbed/slashed with machete

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Taking Detective Stories Seriously

 Taking Detective Stories Seriously: The Collected Crime Review of Dorothy L. Sayers (2017) by Martin Edwards (ed)

This is an absolutely delightful collection of reviews by a most erudite and witty practitioner of the art of writing detective novels. Sayers managed to give the full flavor of the books reviewed without giving away the plots. Having written intelligent and literate mysteries herself, she was well able to spot good writing and good plotting. She was on the whole a quite fair and even-handed reviewer, showing no favoritism to her colleagues from the Detection Club--and quite willing to call them out for their shortcomings. But she did so without being mean or snide about it--she simply expected writers (or anyone for that matter) to do their best job of work and that when they didn't they should take criticism and learn from it to do better. It did seem that she endeavored to find at least something about each novel that was good. Readers will know that when she could not find one positive point to highlight then the book must have been a real stinker. And when she was delighted with a mystery she had absolutely no difficulty singing its praises and telling readers to run out and get a copy.

It was very pleasing to see find that Sayers reviewed many novels that I have already read and even more pleasing that her estimations of several of them corresponded with my own reading. There are also a fair number that are sitting on the TBR shelves waiting to be read. It will be interesting to see how many of those I read with the same enthusiasm (or not) as she did. The most difficult thing about having this book is I now have a whole new list of mysteries that I would love to get my hands on and which are most likely impossible to find...or if they are to be found (I've checked on a few...) then they are way out of my price range. Fortunately several publishers have taken to reissuing some of these classic stories and authors such as E. R. Punshon and Christopher Bus are more readily available for more reasonable prices.

This is a book that I will return to again and again. Both to check my reactions against Sayers' and to be sure that I've not missed any gems that I need to go prospecting for. 

Some of Sayers observations:

[on the frequency of murders in the library] I am getting rather nervous about my library. True, is on the first floor and had no french windows; moreover, I am not a millionaire financier, and so far I have unearthed no example of a female victim's being found murdered in a library; but there is no doubt that these places are fraught with the utmost peril. The young man in the The Grouse Moor Mystery went out with some friends to shoot grouse in a fog, which was foolish of him. He escaped, however, with a charge on No. 6 shot in the arm. But a day or two later he went into the library to write a letter. From this death-trap there was, naturally, no escape...

[about the books on review 21 October 1934] All our four books this week have readable qualities of one kind or another, though none of them (to quote the words of a certain American editor about some short stories by your humble servant) makes me want to roll about on the floor and bite the carpet with excitement. But, indeed, few books have that effect on the hardened nerves of British readers.

I feel that Skin and Bone rattles the bones a little hollowly. And I am worried by the plot.

[about the characters in an American novel] You simply wouldn't believe how dreadfully these bright young people in American society do go on. Drink, drugs, passion, blackmail, nothing comes amiss to them, and when they are feeling really worked up they play backgammon with their lovers on boards of lapis and malachite with jade and ivory markers.

Inspector Richardson...has to investigate the death of a detective novelist who is found with her head in a gas-oven just after a publisher has accepted her first novel on favourable terms. Rightly supposing that no one would commit suicide under such circumstances, he puts in some of that excellent, sober, straightforward detective work which he so well knows how to do....

As soon as [Mystery Villa by E. R. Punshon] came into my hands I hastily turned over the pages to see if it contained plenty of Superintendent Mitchell--a gentleman for whom I cherish an uncontrollable passion.

[about a really bad academic mystery] But the book's one inexcusable fault is nearly 300 pages of excessively dull, bad writing--the one sin which can and should never find forgiveness.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Blue Octavo

 He was seventy-eight years old with forty thousand pounds' worth of stock in the basement of his Chelsea shop, but the thought of a good buy slipping through his fingers was a constant nightmare that troubled his sleep; rows and rows and miles and miles of books running away into other people's shops and catalogues, and not a single volume for poor old Jack Goldsmith. ~Blue Octavo
(aka Bound to Kill; 1963) by John Blackburn

Bookseller James Roach had always been a bit eccentric, but after the latest auction his fellow bookmen think he's gone even further round the bend. Roach pays 43 pounds for an obscure but thoroughly unexceptional book on mountaineering which has never fetched more than 12 pounds on the open market. He can't possibly have a buyer who will pay him enough to make a profit. But Roach confides to his young friend, John Cain, that he does indeed have a buyer. He's positive that he has found an obsessive collector who--for reasons unfathomable--will pay extraordinary prices in order to be the only person in the world who owns copies of this limited-run memoir about the last climb of two brothers in 1909. Cain leaves him in his office that night with the book on the desk in front of him.

The next day Cain has reason to drop by Roach's office again and finds him hanging in his office. After hearing about the bookseller's odd behavior at the auction, the police write the death off as a suicide (thinking that he realized what a stupid mistake he'd made). When Cain tries to protest their findings, he's reminded that IF it is murder as he seems to imply then he would be topping off their suspect list. Because guess who is Roach's beneficiary under his guessed it--John Cain. So maybe he should just accept their professional findings and go play with his new stock of books.

But as soon as he goes to Roach's office he knows he's right. The eccentric bookman did not commit suicide. How does he know? The book is gone. He goes through everything of Roach's--even the parts of the building where Roach lived and The Grey Boulders is nowhere to be found. Not only had Roach found someone willing to pay exorbitant prices for the book, that someone has now become desperate enough to kill for it. As he begins to investigate his friend's death on his own, he joins forces with Julia Lent and (more reluctantly) author Molden Mott. Julia's uncle and Mott have both had their copies of The Grey Boulders stolen and the three are soon hot on the trail. Are they dealing with just a book collector gone made or is there a more sinister reason why the book must suppressed at all costs?

This short little mystery (about as long as the elusive Grey Boulders, I think) was quite fun. It gives a nice look at the inner world of booksellers and an interesting insight into the lengths we book collectors can go to get our hands on particular books. The mystery plot is solid with a motive that fits in with the extreme behaviors represented. A nice bit of action and adventure and the hero gets the girl in the end. What more could you want in a day's read?  and 1/2.

First line: "And that, ladies and gentlemen, as the Duke said to the Duchess, appears to conclude our business for the day."

When you'd been as long in the trade as old Roach or Jack Goldsmith, books became a craze, an obsession...only books mattered to them and gave them security. Long rows of polished volumes stretching away under the light, the feel of a lovely binding, and the fun of finding a bargain. (p. 12) 

Last line: She broke off as he came round from behind the desk, and there was nothing more to be said.


Deaths = 6 (one hanged; one drowned; one burned to death; two fell from height; one natural)

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love & Reunion

 Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love & Reunion introduced by Kristin Hannah

A collection of ten stories from various authors with an anchoring point of Grand Central Station in NYC and brief moments in each story that link it with another in the book (a couple briefly noticed in one story become central in another and so on). All of the stories revolve around the relationships and meetings that occur just after World War II has ended. There are joyful reunions and sad or angry meetings. There are chance encounters and moments when new lovers might meet for the first time. There are those who have lost making painful journeys to grieve and families that think they will get back together but will be disappointed. The stories are beautiful and touching; poignant and sometimes heartbreaking--but they are almost all wonderful. They evoke the time period and the uncertainty of feelings of that turbulent but (mostly) happy time.

My favorites include the very first story in the collection, "Going Home," in which a violinist and a dancer--both of whom have escaped the worst of the war for Jews--find each other through the music he plays in Grand Central. Another favorite is "The Reunion" which features the brave women pilots who helped the war effort. Virginia and Millie were as different as could be and started out as antagonists but became fast friends. When Millie is killed flying a plane that Virginia should have taken up, Virginia has a difficult time recovering from her grief until she makes a journey through Grand Central to Millie's home town. And the final story, "The Harvest Season" is lovely for the way it shows how people on the home front did what they had to do to make sure their soldiers still had a home to come home to. The only story that really didn't connect for me was "The Kissing Room" about a young actress who goes to Grand Central to meet a man who has represented himself as talent scout for MGM. I really didn't see the connection with the war theme and the ending is way too ambiguous--is he for real? And what kind of test is he going to make her pass? It just didn't sit well with me. Take that story out and it would be a five star collection for sure. As it is....

First lines (from "Going Home" by Alyson Richman): He wasn't sure whether it was the vaulted ceilings or the marble floors that created the building's special acoustics. But on certain afternoons when the pedestrian traffic was not too heavy, Gregori Yanovsky could close his eyes, place his chin on his violin, and convince himself that Grand Central Terminal was his very own Carnegie Hall.

Last line (from "The Harvest Season" by Karen White): And I pondered how sometimes the best secrets are those that are never told.

Bodies from the Library: Lost Tales of Mystery & Suspense from Agatha Christie & Other Members of the Golden Age

 Bodies from the Library: Lost Tales of Mystery & Suspense from Agatha Christie & Other Members of the Golden Age (2018*) by Tony Medawar (ed)

A delightful anthology of short stories and screenplays from the Golden Age of Detection--stories that have either never been published before or only once upon a time in newspapers or magazines. Of particular interest (to me) are the earliest detective story by Georgette Heyer, and stories by A. A. Milne, Arthur W. Upfield, and Vincent Cornier. It was wonderful to have more to read by Heyer and Milne (I thought I had read all their work) and Vincent Cornier was a brand-new author for me. I will say that I had feelings of deja vu with the stories by John Rhode and Agatha Christie--even though these have supposedly never been collected before, I definitely had the feeling that I had read these. The Anthony Berkeley story reminded me of Christie's thrillers with young couples (the Beresfords and Bobby Owens & Lady Frances [Frankie] Derwent...etc.). A lot of fun. Overall, an enjoyable collection and I look forward to reading the second and third anthologies. 

"Before Insulin" by J. J. Connington: Squire Wendover asks his friend Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield to help him determine the legitimacy of an unexpected will.

"The Inverness Cape" by Leo Bruce: Sgt. Beef must figure out who bought the second cape and murdered a harmless old woman--in full view of her sister.

"Dark Waters" by Freeman Wills Crofts: A man thinks he has the perfect plan for undetected murder--but fate and Inspector French have other ideas.

"Lincke's Greatest Case" by Georgette Heyer: Top secret submarine plans (it's always submarine plans...) are copied and sold to the Germans, but it appears that no one could have done it. The Yard's brightest young detective, Roger Lincke, is put on the case to find out where the leak is.

"Calling James Braithwaite" by Nicholas Blake: James Braithwaite hires Nigel Strangeways to "keep his eyes open" but doesn't have a chance to tell him just what for before he's thrown overboard from the ship that bears his name. Did the escaped psychiatric patient do it? Or is the killer closer to home?

"The Elusive Bullet" by John Rhode: Robert Halliday has an argument with his (he hopes) future father-in-law. The the man is found shot to death on a train that Halliday himself has traveled on--with a firearm. Inspector Hanslet thinks he has his man--but Dr. Priestly isn't so sure. And when the Halliday's prospective bride comes to him for help, he decides to investigate to be sure.

"The Euthanasia of Hilary's Aunt" by Cyril Hare: Money runs through Hilary Smyth's hands like water. He thinks he's gotten onto a good thing when he makes the acquaintance of his not-long-for-this-world wealthy aunt. But Aunt Mary is definitely on to him

"The Girdle of Dreams" by Vincent Cornier: Poor Mr. Blayne. An elderly woman approaches him at his jewelry establishment with a fabulous golden girdle. Despite her refusal to give its provenance, he's persuaded to keep it and show his partners for their opinion of the matter. Before he knows it, he's in a dream-like state; he has opened the safe; and the lady has disappeared with the girdle and a mass of jewels that aren't hers. The police doubt his story, but Professor Wanless believes it absolutely and soon brings the miscreant to justice.

"The Fool & the Perfect Murder" by Arthur W. Upfield: A man in the outback thinks he has committed the perfect murder to mystify the police. He doesn't know that when Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte is put on a case perfect murders are no longer mystifying.

"Bread Upon the Waters" by A. A. Milne: Another young waster who loves money but not work, tries to figure out the perfect way to get rid of a rich uncle. He fastens onto the idea of committing a separate, unrelated murder first and somehow getting uncle's death hooked up with that--of course, he, the young waster, will have no motive for the first murder and the police will go looking for somebody else. But as so often happens with these things...there's just one little hitch in the plan.

"The Man with the Twisted Thumb" by Anthony Berkeley: Veronica Steyning slaps her employer's husband across the face, loses her job as a nursery governess, and plunges into a plot of intrigue in Monte Carlo. She and her new friends Geoffrey and Archie wind up involved with the Man with the Twisted Thumb. Lots of high adventure and hi-jinks.

Quote: Perhaps since eleven o'clock that same evening surprises had ceased to exist for Veronica.

"The Rum Punch" by Christianna Brand: Sgt. Troot, eager for his holiday in four days' time, goes up to the Hall to manage parking for a big event--only to find himself landed in the middle of a murder case. Will he be able to clear it up in time to head to the beach?

"Blind Man's Bluff" by Ernest Bramah: Max Carrados is deputized to guard a young American carrying secret plans. He'll have to outwit a cunning crook and a master of ju-jitsu to keep the plans safe.

"Victoria Pumphrey" by H. C. Bailey: Victoria Pumphrey is the last, impoverished Pumphrey in a long line of Pumphreys. She's been wasting her talents as a typist in a lawyer's office when an opportunity for investigation and adventure is provided. She naturally takes advantage of it and helps the last scion of another landed family.

"The Starting-Handle Murder" by Roy Vickers: "And I would have gotten away with it, it weren't for that meddling Department of Dead Ends."...and a gentlemanly feeling that I can't let someone else hang for my crime...

"The Wife of the Kenite" by Agatha Christie: Herr Schaefer is a German who made it through the first World War and headed to South Africa where his plans go off the rails because of Revolution. He thinks he's going to make it through this latest bloodshed...until he finds that revenge is sometimes a long time coming.

First line (from "Before Insulin"): "I'd more than the fishing in my mind when I asked you over for the weekend," Wendover confessed.

Last line (from "The Wife of the Kenite"): "This is the day in which the Lord hath delivered mine enemy into my hand..."

*All stories written pre-1960.


Deaths = 13 (one natural; two hit on head; two hanged; two drowned; two shot; two poisoned; two stabbed)

Monday, March 8, 2021

Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective

 Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective (aka Parker Pyne Investigates) (1934) by Agatha Christie

A collection of twelve short stories fearuting Mr. Parker Pyne, Christie's heart specialist:

Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne, 17 Richmond Street.

Pyne is not your typical detective (at least in most of these stories). As he tells one of his clients, "But my dear lady, you must remember, I am not a detective. Theft and crime are not in my line at all. The human heart is my province." Here he helps women retrieve the attention of straying husbands. He helps men who need a little adventure in their lives or wealthy women who are bored and need novel ways of spending their money. In a few cases he does solve murders or thefts, but mostly he is out do what he says--help unhappy people. These are perfectly fine, nice little stories but not heavy in the mystery department. 

"The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife": Martha Packington is distraught. Her husband has begun going about with a young typist from the office. Tears and recriminations do no good--since he says he's only bringing a little happiness to the poor girl and there's nothing it. Not knowing where to turn, she spies an advertisement from Mr. Parker Pyne offering to help those who are unhappy. He shows her that what is sauce for the gander is also sauce for goose...

"The Case of the Discontented Soldier": Major Charles Wilbraham is finding life in England very dull after a stint in East Africa. He goes to Parker Pyne who promises him that there are adventures a-plenty in England for those who know where to look...The major soon discovers that Pyne was right.

"The Case of the Distressed Lady": Daphne St. John comes to Parker Pyne distressed. She shows him a diamond ring and says that she had stolen it from a friend because she had gotten herself into debt. Circumstances have occurred that have cancelled her debt and she wants to get the ring back where it belongs--but her husband and the friend's husband have had a falling out and she can't do it. Can Parker Pyne arrange things? He can...more than she knows.

"The Case of the Discontented Husband": A different twist on the "spouse is interested in someone else" story (as per "Middle-Aged Wife"). And Parker Pyne learns that he's not infallible.

"The Case of the City Clerk": Mr. Roberts's wife and children are away on holiday and he's feeling at rather loose ends. He's not unhappy exactly...but he'd like a bit of adventure just once. Parker Pyne is happy to oblige him.

"The Case of the Rich Woman": Mrs. Abner Rhymer is a rich widow who come to Parker Pyne for advice on how to spend her money. She's got all the jewels and furs and houses and cars that she wants. She doesn't want to give her money away but she can't think of anything else she wants or needs. She wants to find a way to be happy again. Pyne promises to do just that...but in way she never expected.

"Have You Got Everything You Want?": Elsie Jeffries boards the Orient Express to join her husband in Constantinople. Parker Pyne is also on the train and shares her dining table. As they talk she asks if he's the Parker Pyne of newspaper ads. When he confirms this, she tells him she's worried. She found a scrap of her husband's writing on a blotting pad that indicates that something will happen just before the train reaches Venice. Pyne agrees to help her and when a smoke bomb creates a diversion during which Elsie's jewels are stolen it appears that he has failed. But all hope is not lost--he's able to solve the crime and get the jewels back to her by the time they're in Constantinople.

"The Gate of Baghdad": For the first time Parker Pyne is called upon to solve a murder which takes place on the motor coach he and other travelers are taking from Damascus to Baghdad. Captain Smethurst had muttered vague comments about not letting down a pal before he's found stabbed at the back of the coach. A chance conversation between he and Pyne prior to the journey leads our hero to the solution.

"The House at Shiraz": Lady Esther Carr is thought to have gone mad. She's given up her English ways and insists on staying in the Middle East and dressing in Eastern garb. Her servant has died from a fall from a balcony and since then she has refused visitors from her home country. But she sees Parker Pyne and he gets to the bottom of her true unhappiness.

"The Pearl of Price": While visiting an archaeological dig, Carol Blundell, daughter of an American millionaire, loses a valuable pearl earring. It looks like someone in their small group has taken it? But who? Leave it to Parker Pine to find out.

"Death on the Nile" (a precursor to the novel of the same name): A complaining, wealthy woman approaches Parker Pyne for help. She believes she is being poisoned by her husband and wants Pyne to prove it. When does die of poison, he points the finger of suspicion at someone else...

"The Oracle at Delphi": The wealthy Mrs. Peters is traveling with her son. When the young man is kidnapped and ransom is demanded, a man introduces himself as Parker Pyne and offers to help her. Pyne does...but not quite in the way she believes. 

First line: Four grunts, an indignant voice asking why nobody could leave a hat alone, a slammed door, and Mr. Packington had departed to catch the eight-forty-five to the City. (from the first short story, "The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife")

Last line: "I am Mr. Parker, Pyne," explained the gentleman. (from the last short story, "The Oracle at Delphi")


Deaths = 4 (one stabbed; two poisoned; one fell from height

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Dead, Man, Dead

 Romano surveyed the scene and shook his head despairingly. "Why don't they give me nice, easy murders, like when some guy cuts another guy's throat in front of a couple of dozen witnesses?"  he asked. "In this case you can't tell the dead bodies from the dummies."
Dead, Man, Dead (1959) by David Alexander

Bart Hardin is a hardworking newspaperman who never takes a vacation. Not because he's a hard-working newspaperman....but because he also tends to gamble and his money goes out about as fast as it comes in. But his girl Carole Ann Lee takes a week's cruise to the Bahamas with her uncle and he decides that maybe a vacation will be good for both of them. While on the ship, they meet some interesting characters--including King Pegleg, a Calypso musician; Anton Maschek, a performer with two very bizarre wooden dolls; and Mrs. Rutherford Barnes, a British subject from Nassau who has never been to England but who tries to out-British the Queen. Bart and Carole Ann little realize how intertwined their lives will be with these people once they return to New York.

At dinner on the evening before they return to dock at New York, there is an incident with one of Maschek's wooden dolls and early the next morning Carole Ann sees the man throw the thing overboard. Given how protective he had been of the dolls previously, she thought it very odd and it almost seemed to her like he was drowning the dummy. When Maschek realizes he's been observed he flashes a malevolent look at her before rushing below to his cabin. Later at the dock, she and Bart see him talking with a dock worker in a bright red sweater. They also see Mrs. Barnes in conversation with a well-known gangster 

And now things really start happening. Red sweater manages to follow Carole Ann and is ready to kill her when a delivery man interrupts him. Red sweater then disappears for much of the book. King Pegleg begins speaking in Calypso rhyme about murders that will happen...or that have already happened but not yet discovered. Several deaths do happen and it looks like Pegleg might be a least that's what Bart's friend Lieutenant Romano thinks. Bart is convinced Pegleg is innocent even though he may know more than he's telling. But is red sweater the real killer or is someone else behind it all? And will Bart and Romano find out in time to prevent a second attempt on Carole Ann from being successful? 

This was my first read by David Alexander. Bart Hardin is definitely a character to like and now that I've read what looks like the last of the eight books which feature him I need to find the earlier books and read those too. A book of the 50s, it's not focused a great deal on puzzle plot--it's immediately obvious what's going on with Maschek and his dolls, for instance. But there are some good detective moments amidst the more action-centered adventure and there is a wrap-up scene between Bart and Romano which is very reminiscent of Golden Age summations. Overall, a fun afternoon's read with a nice Calypso beat. 

First line: The night shadows crawling over New York's waterfront were dark-furred animals on the prowl for prey.

Last line: "You're a livin' doll," he said.


Deaths = 3 shot

Saturday, March 6, 2021

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

 The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by Carson McCullers

Set in a 1930s mill town in Georgia, the events follow John Singer, a mute man, and the people who interact with him. Singer is a gentle man with an intelligent face who seems to understand everything they tell him. And they tell him everything--all their hopes and dreams; the secret things they've never told anyone else. He gives little in the way of feedback, but it seems to be enough for them just to have told someone who they believe understands. The mere act of listening seems to help them and they find their lives changing in subtle ways.

There is Margaret "Mick" Kelly, a young teenage girl--living in poverty and dreaming of a life of music. There is Biff Brannon, the owner of the New York Cafe where Singer eats everyday and interacts with most of the other characters. Biff observes a lot, questions more, and asks the least of Singer. There is Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland, a black doctor with a huge distrust of all white men (for good reason in the 30s) until he meets Singer. Singer is like no white man he ever met and he finds himself able to talk to him like no else. There is Jake Blount, an angry drunk who would like to spur the working man to throw off the bonds placed on him by the corporate millionaires and billionaires. Who would like to see every man regardless of wealth, race, or place in society have the freedom due him--but who doesn't see a clear way to inspire action. And, finally, there is the man Singer considers his only friend--Spiros Antonapolous, a fellow mute. Antonapolous tells Singer nothing, not even through sign language. But he is the only one that Singer talks to.  Early in the book, Antonapolous has a breakdown and his cousin puts him into an institution and Singer makes visits periodically to keep the friendship going. When they are together, Singer's hands fly through the words, trying to tell his friend everything has happened since they were last together. 

This novel is very character-driven. There is no real over-arching plot--just a day-to-day telling of the everyday events in the lives of these people. But the characters are so well-drawn and their need for real human interaction so tangible that it doesn't need much else. It is a very touching book--painful at times, especially in the final chapters, but moving and well worth the time. 

First line: In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.

Last line: And when at last he was inside again he composed himself soberly to await the morning sun.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Dracula (graphic novel)

by Bram Stoker (adapted by Naunerle Farr and illustrated by Nestor Redondo; 1973)

In 2012 I read the original Dracula for the very first time and when reviewed it I mentioned this 1970s "graphic novel." I use quotes because that term didn't really exist in the 70s. This book, one of a series, is referred to as an illustrated classic. Pendulum Press did a whole range of classic novels in this graphic novel format with the aim of getting classics into the classroom in an easily accessible version. There are study guide questions at the end intended to help teachers encourage close reading among their students. I didn't meet Dracula in the classroom, however. Unless you count receiving the Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde three-pack of illustrated classics through the Weekly Reader book order form at school...

I loved reading these adaptations then--there was just enough of the books' creepy storyline to give me the shivers without thoroughly freaking me out. Rereading Dracula now over forty years later, I'm impressed with how much of the story Farr managed to pack into this condensed version. All the important plot points are covered and kids reading this version would have a very good grasp of the Stoker story--from Jonathan Harker's first encounter with the Count in Transylvania to the final showdown with the vampire in England. I have to say I enjoyed the graphic version every bit as much now as I did when I was young. ★ 

Deaths = 2 (stabbed with sharp instrument--vampire teeth and then stake to heart and knife to cut off head to give a final death to the undead vampires)


Monday, March 1, 2021

February Pick of the Month


When I decided to renew my Pick of the Month Awards, I was amazed to find that it had been three years since I put together a monthly list of books read, stats, ratings, and overall My Reader's Block P.O.M. Award winner. So far (two whole months!), I'm sticking to the plan. 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 February.

Total Books Read: 16
Total Pages: 4,882

Average Rating: 3.41 stars  
Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 56%
Percentage by Male Authors: 44%
Percentage by both Female & Male Authors: 0%
Percentage by US Authors: 31%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  6%
Percentage Mystery: 75
Percentage Fiction: 94%
Percentage written 2000+: 31%
Percentage of Rereads: 19%
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: 5 (20%)

Mysteries Read:
1. The Boomerang Clue  [aka Why Didn't They Ask Evans?] by Agatha Christie (4 stars)
2. The Listerdale Mystery by Agatha Christie (3 stars)
3. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (4 stars)
4. The Adventure of the Peerless Peer by Philip Jose Farmer (1 star)
5. The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer (3.5 stars) [romance/mystery]
6. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (5 stars)
7. The Bookwanderers by Anna James (5 stars)
8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre (3 stars)
9. Uncle Silas by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (3 stars)
10. The Cannibal Who Overate by Hugh Pentecost (3 stars)
11. Murder at Bray Manor by Lee Strauss (3 stars)
12. Behind the Green Door by Mildred A. Wirt (3 stars)

As in January, of the books read this month I handed out two five-star ratings. But February's stars both have mystery elements. The first one to scoop up five stars was a young adult story with equal parts mystery and adventure which I read for one of the challenges I do that pushes me out of my comfort zone of vintage mysteries and mysteries in the vintage tradition. The Bookwanderers by Anna James features Tilly Pages who has lived under a cloud of mystery ever since her mother disappeared when she was a baby. The story reveals that she comes from a family of Bookwanderers (those who can actually enter the fictional worlds of books) and in her adventures she manages to unravel the mystery surrounding both her parents. 

The other five-star winner was Anthony Horowitz's Magpie Murders. This was fantastically put together. A great homage to classic detective novels with nods to characters and places particularly in the novels of Agatha Christie. Horowitz does an excellent job of laying out the clues and then distracting you from them in both the inner story written by Conway and the framing story about Conway's death. He actually did a much better job with the inner mystery--I didn't guess the culprit there, though I clearly recognized the clues once I finished. I did figure out the plot surrounding Conway's death, but the fact that it was more obvious to me didn't detract from my enjoyment. A truly fun, twisty read.

Last month I handed out two P.O.M Awards. However, since both of the February five-star winners have mystery elements I'm going to have to make a decision.....and that means our February P.O.M. Award Winner is.....Anthony Horowitz and The Magpie Murders.

March Calendar of Crime Reviews


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March Virtual Mount TBR Reviews


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March Mount TBR Reviews


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March Vintage Scattergories Reviews


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