Monday, May 31, 2021
Sunday, May 30, 2021
The Black Thumb (1942) by Constance & Gwenyth Little
When a wicker chair is chopped up one overheated night in the hospital's contagion ward, it's easy to blame it on Jason Caddock, a vague scarlet fever patient who isn't quite right in the head and who has a penchant for escaping from his room whenever the nurses' backs are turned. But when one of his fellow patients winds up dead--looking like Agnes Dana been mistaken for a wicker chair student nurse Norma Gale isn't sure that Caddock is the killer. A bit off he may be, but she never took him for the psycho-killer type. And then when Aggie's brother William (also in hospital for German measles) is killed while Caddock was firmly locked up, it becomes apparent that there is a killer stalking among the scarlet fever and measles patients. Norma just hopes he or she doesn't start in the nursing staff next.
In order to help Inspector Shaw and Detective Phipps find the culprit, she'll be trying to figure out why William had an artificial black thumb (and wouldn't let anyone even mention it); why pools of water kept appearing outside his door and seemed to terrify him so; why Aggie insists on singing "John Brown's Body" at all hours; who is the mysterious person heard pacing in the unoccupied room; and what does this all have to do with an an odd poem and an old still found in Aggie's basement. And where on earth can that little hatchet of Aunt Aggie's be hidden?
Norma spends her time reassuring patients that "nothing is wrong" and "you'll all be fine" (pay no attention to the other patients being carried out feet first with their entire body covered), alternating being scared out of her mind and hunting for clues, being bashed on the head, and trading what's supposed to be witty comments with Dr. James Lawrence.
I have to say that either this isn't the best of the Littles' work or I just wasn't in the right mood for this sort of mystery. I didn't find the motive compelling or well set-up. And the circumstances that cause Norma to realize who must be the culprit doesn't really appear as the "a-ha" moment that it should. I didn't find the "fun" romantic banter between Norm and James to be all that romantic or fun. It all seemed to fall a bit flat for me. Other than the fact that he's described as a tall, dark and handsome doctor, I just don't see what's so appealing about him (maybe that's all you needed in the 1940s). Nor are there any events in the narrative that shed any light on what she sees in him or he in her for that matter. There's no solid basis for the bantering that goes on (if that's what we want to call it).
Norma could have been a good amateur detective and, in fairness, did have a couple of good moments--mostly when she and Linda (fellow nurse and niece to the Danas) were investigating in the Danas' house. But mostly she's just being nervous in the hospital wing and running in and out of patients' rooms looking for an ax that isn't there. I just can't recommend this as a good place to start with the Littles books. Fortunately, they're all stand-alones, so you don't have to worry about what order you read them in. ★★
Oh--and a slight spoiler. If there was any real explanation for the black thumb, I totally missed it and would appreciate someone telling me. Otherwise--what the heck?
First line: Heat pressed in through the high screened windows like damp wool and lay against my throat and face with an unpleasant smothering effect.
Last lines: "I'll let Louise marry that other James Lawrence--the one she's engaged to--and you go ahead and do what you please with me. I wouldn't want to let your mother down."
Deaths = two axed to death
Friday, May 28, 2021
Murderess Ink: The Better Half of the Mystery (1979) by Dilys Winn
A companion book to Murder Ink, which featured mysteries of all sorts, this volume focused exclusively on the feminine side of the genre: victims/sleuths/culprits/authors. I enjoyed the articles which highlight authors such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, and Ruth Rendell (among others). And I also appreciated that a great number of the pieces were written by detective novelists themselves. Less enjoyable were some of the pieces that were written as if one were in the midst of one mystery or another or which framed ordinary events (such as a luncheon among mystery writers) as mysterious or top-secret affairs. These bits seemed either forced or too coy (and sometimes both). Coming to the book decades after it was written probably didn't help--some of it seems very dated. But there is still a great deal of interesting information and I even managed to glean a few more titles to add to my always-growing "To Be Found" list. ★★★
Thursday, May 27, 2021
Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) ~Agatha Christie
Nurse Amy Leatheran is sent look after the wife of a prominent archaeologist on a dig in Iraq. Ostensibly, she is there because Louise Leidner is run-down and nervy. But she finds that her charge is scared for her life. Over a period of years, Louise has received threatening letters from a husband she thought was dead. Each time she became close to a man, a new letter would arrive--threating her with death if she ever became the wife of anyone besides Frederick Bosner. When she fell in love with Dr. Leidner and decided to marry him, no letter arrived and she thought that either Bosner had truly died...or, if it was a nasty practical joke, that the practical joker had tired of their game. But then another arrives saying that she has disobeyed and that now she must die.
The Leidners escape to the Middle East and again everything is quiet on the letter front for a good while. Now, however, the campaign has begun again and the most recent letter was hand delivered. There have also been mysterious faces and strange tapping sounds at Louise's window and she is sure that Bosner has arrived in Iraq. When Nurse Leatheran sees the letters, she think (as she realizes Dr. Leidner does) that, for whatever reason, Louise has sent the letters to herself because the handwriting looks very like a more cramped version of the woman's own. Whether it's because a very real fear has turned her brain or because the woman is bored and needs to dramatize herself, Nurse Leatheran isn't sure.
Both Dr. Leidner and Nurse Leatheran are prove wrong though when one afternoon Louise goes to her room for a nap and winds up bludgeoned to death. The difficulty is no stranger entered the archaeologist's compound during the relevant time and there is a mere ten minute window when the killer would have been able to get to her room without passing someone in the main area. Louise's room has one door and the windows were shut--and have bars which would have prevented entry in any case. it is a definite puzzle for the local police. Fortunately, Hercule Poirot is passing through the area on his way home from Syria and it isn't long before the famous detective solve the crime (with assistance from our medical narrator).
I primarily listened to this through our library's connection with Hoopla (though I do own hard copies of it) so I could "read" this while I worked and Anna Massey does a fine job with the narration. It had been a very long time since I first read this (back in the 1980s) although I have more recently watched the filmed version with David Suchet. I couldn't remember how closely the Suchet episode followed the book (and now I think I need to re-watch because with my sieve-like memory I still don't know...).
While I think the explanation of the first murder is a little bit extraordinary and the ultimate identity of the culprit is somewhat unbelievable--for reasons that can't be explained without spoiling*, the book overall is quite entertaining. The setting is good and I quite enjoyed Nurse Leatheran as our narrator. Since she is a complete outsider, we are encouraged to trust her observations, much as we would Hastings, and it was interesting to get a feminine perspective on the investigations of Poirot. Of course, it would have been even more interesting if she had turned out to be one of the Bosners in drag (as Poirot suggests as a possibility at one point)...but having a narrator turn out to be the culprit is a trick one should probably only use once and Christie had already pulled that one out of her bag of tricks.
Christie fooled me for a good while and I had my sights set on the wrong culprit...until the last really big clue. What tripped me up was the real motive, but I don't blame myself for that. Since the ultimate identity is somewhat unbelievable for spoilerish reasons--and I would not have dreamed of the spoilerish reason--it's not a surprise that I didn't spot the real motive. ★★★ and 1/2.
*If you really must know, highlight the apparently blank area: I find it difficult to believe that Louise could have remarried her first husband (under the name of Leidner) without realizing what she had done. I don't see how he could have changed that much that she wouldn't at least feel like there was something familiar about him.
First line (forward by Dr. Reilly--who gave the case to Nurse Leatheran): The events of this
narrative took place some four years ago.
First line (Ch. 1 forward): In the hall of the Tigris Palace Hotel in Baghdad a hospital nurse was finishing a letter.
First line (of Amy Leatheran's account): I don't pretend to be an author or to know anything about writing.
Last lines: Oh, dear, it's quite true what Dr. Reilly said. How does one stop writing? If I could find a really good telling phrase. I must ask Dr. Reilly for some Arab one. Like the one M. Poirot used. In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate...Something like that.
Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one poisoned)
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Who Buries the Dead (2015) by C. S. Harris
The year is 1813 and it is late at night in London. On a lonely path that leads to an edifice known as Bloody Bridge, a man by the name of Stanley Preston is found brutally murdered. His head had been cut off and displayed on the bridge. But why? And what was Preston, a wealthy man with humble roots and vaulting ambition doing in such a place that late at night. When Sir Henry Lovejoy, Bow Street Magistrate, asks Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin to help investigate, Devlin discovers a lead strap near the bridge. It is inscribed with the words "King Charles, 1648." Does this reference to the Stuarts mean there is a political aspect to the murder? And does the fact that Preston had a collection of the heads of famous people (Oliver Cromwell, for one) have anything to do with the manner of his death?
Meanwhile at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, the vault containing Henry VIII and Jane Seymour had been opened and the workmen were surprised to find a third coffin. According to the lead strapping, it contained King Charles I. And the king's head is now missing. Then, a doctor who was acquainted with Preston is also killed and beheaded. Is there a madman loose with an obsession with heads or beheadings? What possible motive could there be for killing both men in such a brutal way?
Then Devlin learns that his former Colonel--now Lord Oliphant, a man Devlin holds responsible for the brutal murder of nuns and orphans in Spain, is back in London after serving a stint as a Governor in Jamaica. Why was Oliphant recalled and what exactly was his connection to the dead men when they all were in Jamaica? When someone begins taking potshots at Devlin and his family, he has to wonder if he's making the killer uncomfortable or if Oliphant is just trying to tidy up any loose ends from his past.
Along the way, Devlin encounters a rather insightful spinster by the name of Jane Austen. She marks some very adroit observations that help the noble investigator look at events from a slightly different angle. She doesn't solve the mystery for him, but she does shine a light on certain facts.
I would happily have given this installment five stars save for one thing. I do really get tired of authors killing off interesting characters. Harris has already killed off Russell Yates, the man who married and gave Sebastian's former lover Kat Boleyn protection from Lord Jarvis. Yates had a history of piracy and provided Sebastian with a source of information he would not normally have access to. And now we've decided to kill off Jamie Knox, the mysterious man who looked enough like Devlin to be his brother...and probably was (or at least half-brother). I had hoped we would eventually have a book that would explore that possibility more thoroughly and the interactions between the two would have been very good indeed in such an exploration. But now, if Devlin does wind up finding out the truth behind their similar looks, he will do so alone and I think the situation will be robbed of some of its impact. I can understand that we have a single hero in the novels--Devlin, but if Knox had died just after a momentous revelation of any sort, that would have been more powerful.
On the plus side, I was very glad to see Devlin get a bit of redemption in the final scenes. In general, when the killers in these novels put anyone (beyond their initial, intended victims) in danger or Devlin's involvement in the investigation seems to focus the killer's sights on additional victims, Devlin is too late to save them. This time, he and Tom are able to mount an effective rescue of a woman and her son--who have been used by the killer as bait to trap Devlin. I'm also appreciative that a way was found to deal out justice to Oliphant--of a type that seems particularly appropriate to the kind of man he is. I did want him to be the murderer...but this works just as well.
It is always a pleasure to see Harris accurately use real people and events (with just a tad of poetic license) in her stories. It was especially pleasing to run across Jane Austen and her family in Who Buries the Dead. Davina Porter's reading of the audio novel gave voice to an Austen full of wit and insight such as we would expect from the author of Pride & Prejudice.
The mystery is very well done in this one. Plenty of red herrings and some nice twists on the clues that lead down unexpected paths. I also enjoyed the further developments in Devlin and Hero's relationship. Whether such an equal partnership would really have existed in Regency England is questionable, but it is very nice to see them love and respect one another's strengths and gifts. (If Harris kills off Hero in some future installment, I'll not forgive her) A very strong entry in the series ★★★★ and 1/2.
First line: They called it Bloody Bridge.
Last line: "I want you," he said his throat tight with emotion as a gust of wind shuddered the trees overhead and sent a scattering of leaves spinning down to lie pale and shriveled against the cold dark earth.
Deaths = 6 (two stabbed; one hit on head; two shot; one drowned)
Sunday, May 23, 2021
Think of Death (1947) by Frances & Richard Lockridge
This is the first Lockridge book to feature Captain Heimrich as the sole lead investigator. He also appears in Murder Out of Turn, but Bill Weigand (who is on vacation in the country) works alongside of him and he has a cameo appearance in Death of a Tall Man. However, here the focus is still not primarily on Heimrich and his investigation. The real protagonist of the story is Marty (Martin) Brooks and the events are told from his point of view.
Brooks has just recently returned to work at his law firm after having served as a major in the OSS during World War II. He is sent by his office to the home of Freddy Upton, who happens to be the second husband of his ex-wife Ann, to advise and finalize a contract for an up-coming musical production. Upton has been a highly successful producer of theatrical works and regularly seeks backing from "angels."
From the moment he meets Upton, the major (with his war service instincts on the alert) senses that his client is over-playing his hearty host role. He's just not sure why. And when the second party involved in the contract must delay his arrival until the next morning and Upton insists that Brooks spend the night--implying that to say no would have more meaning than it should. He definitely thinks something is up. But then he watches Upton behave in the same ways to nearly everyone in the house--insisting that afternoon visitors stay to dinner (who obviously don't want to) and being overly attentive to Ann's young cousin, Doris. There is also a certain tension in the air that Brooks can't identify with any particular person. The major feels very much as if he had walked in on the second act of a play and missed vital pieces of information given in the first act.
When Upton is discovered the next morning--by Marty and Ann--lying over rocks in the brook and dead from a blow to the head, circumstances soon reveal that someone very much wants Ann...and possibly Marty too...to be arrested for murder. A forged note brought Marty to the spot. A note purportedly from Ann asking for a meeting and a note that has since disappeared. Captain Heimrich appears on the scene and Marty must decide how he's going to play it. Tell the inspector the whole truth and look like a liar because there is no note? Or tell a slightly revised version of why he was on the path near the brook and be made a liar if the the note reappears? No matter how he plays it, it's going to look bad for himself, and more importantly bad for Ann.
Once he makes his decision, he's on a race against Heimrich and the murderer to find evidence that someone besides Ann (and a certain major) had a motive and opportunity to kill Upton. A second murder follows Upton's death and things look even blacker for Ann. But then Marty remembers bits and pieces of conversations and things begin to add up...but will his calculations be complete before Heimrich decides the case against Ann is strong enough for an arrest?
I think the Lockridges were still trying to figure out what they wanted to do (of if they wanted do anything) with Heimrich. I don't think they had quite settled on his overall manner of investigation and were playing with the more suspense-heavy mystery. As an aside, I have to say that I'm not as big a fan of the suspense novels--either those done by them both or those written later by Richard alone. I don't think suspense is a strength for either of the Lockridges. This book strikes a bit of a balance between heroine-in-danger suspense and the straight mystery novel. The straight mystery elements are strong enough that they carry the book and allow me to give it a slightly higher than average rating.
It also helped that I liked Marty very much and appreciated his motives in trying to play detective. Having already read later Heimrich novels, it was a bit frustrating, however, to see the good captain sidelined, as it were. I'm sure it would have been a different reading experience had I read the books in publication order--but the earliest Heimrich novels (both this and I Want to Go Home) were not as easy to find. Overall, this is a very nicely plotted mystery. I think perhaps a few more solid motives to throw around as red herrings would have been good. If you accept the premise that Marty and Ann didn't do it (and the nice young man and the nice young woman generally don't in the Lockridge books--so this is no great spoiler), then there aren't many well-defined motives hanging about. The Lockridges did know how to write a pleasantly interesting book, though. ★★★ and 1/2.
First line: He had expected the house to be larger.
But you stubbornly built pictures in your mind, and you built them around things you knew. You did not necessarily build them around observed facts, or logical reasoning. (p 7)
It was odd, Martin thought, how vividly you remember things even after they had ceased to have any importance. (p. 10)
He had had enough of excitements during a marriage and a war; excitements which, he told himself, were alien to him, who wanted only ordinary things to happen--who wanted a little law, a little comfort and above all nothing which could not be foreseen. (p. 21)
No good policeman rejects the obvious because it is the obvious, and much less because an emotionally involved man assures him that the obvious is out of character. (p. 93)
This was murder. This was death at its most unquiet. This was something which everyone who could read would have, would demand, a part in. A light had been turned on them from which there was no escape. (pp. 152-3)
Last line: She did not finish because, for the moment they looked at each other, during the moment before they moved, there was no longer anything of any importance which needed saying.
Deaths = 2 hit on head
Saturday, May 22, 2021
Set in the tenth century, Crichton uses the an account of an actual journey made by Ahmad ibn Fadlan to the land of the Vikings and weaves that account into the tale of Beowulf. Ahmad ibn Fadlan is sent by the Caliph of Baghdad on a mission to assist the king of the Volga Bulgars. But before he can complete his mission, his party encounters a group of Northmen. The Arabian courtier is a keen study of other men and their ways and he and his group stay awhile with the Vikings. This proves to be his undoing because while staying with the men from the north, an emissary and kinsman of Buliwyf arrives telling the great leader that he and other his warriors are needed to help defend the kingdom of Rothgar from the creatures that attack under cover of the black mist. It winds up that, according to Viking custom, the correct number of warriors for such a hero's quest is thirteen...and the thirteenth warrior must be a foreigner. Buliwyf, to Ahmad ibn Fadlan's dismay, chooses the refined representative of the Caliph as his thirteenth warrior and refuses to take no for an answer.
Our narrator soon finds himself traveling and living with these men--men who are dirty and have the most appalling customs. Just when Ahmad resigns himself to dealing with one disgusting custom, like drinking incredible amounts of mead, then another custom is presented to him. He is disgusted by the wanton sexuality, their rites for the dead--including human sacrifice, and their raucous parties at the most inappropriate (to him) times. He has great difficulty understanding their humor and is incapable of producing adequate jokes or songs when called upon to do so by his fellow warriors. But by the time the tale is done--Ahmad is drinking, wenching, and fighting the Wendols with the best of them.
Crichton does a terrific job weaving the journal of Ahmad with the Beowulf story to create a new narrative. He gives the story an air of truth or "truthiness" through pedantic footnotes which, as he tells us in the afterward to the 1992 version published under the title The 13th Warrior, fooled even him when he went back to the story after a few years.
When I was writing, I felt that I was drawing line between fact and fiction clearly....But within a few years, I could no longer be certain which passages were real, and which were made up; at one point I found myself in a research library trying to locate certain references in my bibliography, and finally concluding, after hours of frustrating effort, that however convincing they appeared, they must be fictitious.
My only complaint would be that by doing so, he robs the events of some of its narrative force. The journal-like narrative is written in much drier style than that of his more straightforward fiction. It was more difficult to lose myself in the adventure when Ahmad was constantly inserting "I saw with my own eyes..." rather than just getting on with the story.
On the other hand, the style does lend itself to a comparison of customs and mores of two very different peoples. It was interesting to read of Ahmad's reactions to the "barbaric" Northmen and to see how, as he became more accustomed to them and lived among them, he found himself falling in with their ways over time. It is an incisive commentary on how different need not be scary or wrong and the more you engage with differences, the more you come to understand others.
I thought this was interesting experiment with story-telling--taking a legend and attempting to strip it down to what might be the kernels of truth upon which the old story may be based. Crichton starts with the assumption that there must be some events which prompted the original storyteller to create the legend of Beowulf and Grendel--and Grendel's mother. A very interesting read even though it is not quite as exciting as a pure action-adventure. ★★★★
First line: Praise be to God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Lord of the Two Worlds, and blessing and peace upon the Prince of Prophets, our Lord and Master Muhammad, whom God bless and preserve with abiding and continuing peace and blessings until the Day of the Faith!
Last line: "Now it happened..." This is, of course, the purist historical accident, but every translator has commented upon the odd appropriateness of the abrupt ending, which suggests the start of some new adventure, some new strange sight, that for the most arbitrary reasons of the past thousand years will be denied us.
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Theoretically Dead (2001) by Tinker Marks (Mark Montgomery & Irene Powell)
Who knew that a philosophy conference honoring the life and work of brilliant philosopher Erik Weber at Hammond College would result in murder? Certainly not Professor Claire Sinclair, economics professor, and partner to the conference's organizer, Emma Harrington. Claire had planned to give moral support and attend the opening dinner and then give the (to her) deadly dull conference a wide berth. It seemed to her that the biggest danger would be dying of boredom and she plans to plant herself in her own office to do her own work while the conference plays out.
She rapidly gets sucked into picking up conferees at the airport, tracking down special wines, and stumbling over Weber's body on one of her trips across campus. What is he doing in the middle of Iowa? He had disappeared some time ago and no one knew where he was...and he definitely hadn't been invited to the conference. While Emma has to juggle interviews with the police and reporters, Claire winds up serving as substitute host and even giving a eulogy at the man's funeral. When another philosopher winds up dead and the police seem to be focused on an old friend of Emma and Clair, our economics professor turns amateur sleuth...nearly becoming a victim herself when she has her "aha moment" and goes off to prove herself right. At least she takes a friend along for help...though she nearly gets him killed as well.
So....this is another of those books I scooped up from a used bookstore simply because it was a mystery and had an academic slant. It's always a toss-up on what I'm going to get when I go with an author I know nothing about. Theoretically Dead is...well...kind of dead in the water. It's not a horribly bad mystery. It's just....well....bland. For the most part, the characters (especially all those suspects at the philosophy conference) never really take hold of the imagination. The relationship between Claire and Emma baffles me. I can't for the life of me figure out what keeps them together. If my partner were constantly guilting me into doing all sorts of things that I didn't want to do, I'd be pretty resentful--but Claire just keeps giving in.
There are brief moments of humor and I do like the small subplot between Claire and the neighbors. Her moments with Mrs. Leach are really very nice. The motive for the murders is actually a pretty interesting one and the twist should be a good surprise for the reader. But the wrap-up is so mishandled that all the emotional force behind the motive is drained away and twist loses its power surprise. ★★ and a half--primarily for the mystery plot that could have been and the small subplot.
First line: Imagine you were on your way to a party where people would talk about things like "Conceptual Traditions in Agnostic Ontology" or "Existential Dilemmas in Cartesian Dualism."
Last line: His smile came back. "Sorry," he said, "expectant moms."
Deaths = 2 hit on head
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
The Rainbow Riddle (1946) by Margaret Sutton
Judy and Lorraine Lee are getting married in a double wedding outdoor ceremony. Rainbows abound in this story as it rains early, but clears off just in time--with a double rainbow display--for the brides to have the ceremony they dreamed of. But all is not romance and wedding vows. Roberta, a girl whom Judy met in a previous adventure, arrives just before the ceremony bearing a warning that one of the wedding gifts has an explosive in it! And that there are bad men associated with her (Roberta's) aunt who want to get rid of Judy and her soon-to-be husband, Peter, because they're going to interfere with "the rainbow ring."
Judy has no idea what Roberta's talking about and the girl has had a tendency to embroider stories before, so she's reluctant to believe that a gift bearing the address of her good friends Irene and Dale would have an explosive radio in it. However, after the ceremony, Roberta is seen carrying a package into the woods and immediately there is an explosion. It seems she was right after all and fortunately no one was hurt when the package exploded.
But why do these people think Judy and Peter are going to meddle in their business? And what exactly is the business, anyway? Strange incidents follow the couple when they go on their honeymoon. A honeymoon itinerary that has been set by Peter's future boss, Mr. Trent with the FBI. They find themselves stopping at various places with names from the colors of the rainbow. And more explosions happen at various factories. Judy and Peter discover what the rainbow ring is and who is behind it by the time their honeymoon comes to an end.
Another fun entry in the Judy Bolton (now Dobbs) series. Exciting adventures and mystery. Lots of coincidences. And our heroine and her hero have a calm, happy ending--until the next book! ★★★
First line: "Judy! Are you awake?"
Last lines: "Remember what you said about unexpected happiness at the end of the rainbow?" he whispered. "Well, sweetheart, this is it." [You'd think it was a romance novel and not a girl detective mystery series.]
Monday, May 17, 2021
The Montmartre Investigation (2003) by Claude Izner (Lilane & Laurence Korb/Lefevre)
This is the third book in the Victor Legris mystery series. It is November 1891 in Paris. This time a series of murders seem to stem from an event from five years ago. The first death is that of a young girl from a boarding school who has been strangled and her face disfigured by acid. Her body is discovered on the Boulevarde Montemartre not far from the home of Noemi Gerfleur, a famous singer at the Moulin Rouge. She was barefoot and dressed in red dress. Later that day, a goatherd delivers a single red shoe to Victor Legris's bookshop--based on a paper found in the shoe with his address upon it.
When Monsieur Mori, Legris's partner, sees the shoe, he rushes off and Joseph, the shop assistant, tells Legris of the strange behavior (and the address Mori shouted to the cabdriver when he drove off). Legris finds that Monsieur Mori had gone to check on his goddaughter--a goddaughter that Victor never knew he had. Apparently the shoes were hers and she had loaned them to one of her friends, Elisa at the boarding school. More deaths follow as the rough fellow who lured Elisa away from her school friends is found stabbed and hidden in a wine barrel and then Madame Gerfleur herself is found strangled. Victor and Joseph begin investigating in earnest--in part to make sure no harm was meant to Mori's goddaughter and the clues they find indicate that there is a connection to a jewelry theft from the past. But what is the motive? Revenge for a theft? Or perhaps there was a falling out among thieves?
So...I'm continuing to regret having signed the Izner books up for a target on the Six Shooter Challenge. I mentioned in the last review that I hoped that Victor would get more interesting. Spoiler Alert: he hasn't. He's just not that great of a detective and if you're going to center an entire series around an amateur detective, it'd be nice if he were interesting to read about. He seems to stumble into all his clues and then he spends more than half his time in the book worrying about whether his lover Tasha is making eyes at all those other artists she hangs out with. It doesn't matter how many times she tells him he's the only man for her. If I were her, I'd be getting pretty tired of his dramatics.
~*And can we just stop with dramatic revelations about Monsieur Mori? I mean, seriously.*~
I would be much happier with this series if it focused on Joseph. He's a better detective than Victor and he actually does real detective-type activities [and seems to enjoy doing them]. Like following suspects. And searching through reference materials for clues. And making connections between clues. Also--this book's mystery seems to be more of an after-thought than the main attraction. We spend a great deal of time learning the facts about Mori's goddaughter and following Victor to and from Tasha's apartment...and inside Victor's head and he keeps working his way through his jealousies. It all distracts from what I thought was supposed to be the point--a mystery.
The Goodreads blurb calls this "the fast-paced and gripping third title in the bestselling Victor Legris mystery series'" [emphasis mine]. I didn't really find it to be either. We have to force our way through all the personal dramas to get to the details of the mystery. It's a real shame because the setting of turn-of-the-century Paris is a good one and I loved the idea of a bookseller as amateur detective. But his heart isn't in it...and neither is mine. I've got more of these on the TBR shelf waiting to be logged for the Six Shooter Challenge...so, cross your fingers for me that they get better. I'm not going to hold my breath, though. ★★ and a half--all for mystery plot (when we get it) and Joseph.
First line: Quick! She had to rinse her hands and remove the traces of jam.
Last line: The nudity displayed on the canvases surrounding him prompted him to hurry into the next gallery, where the sight of Charles Le Burn's Battles of Alexander the Great restored his equilibrium.
Deaths = 5 (one stabbed; three strangled; one mauled by lion)
Sunday, May 16, 2021
I'll Kill You Next! (1956) by Adam Knight (Lawrence Lariar) Steve Conacher #6
Steve Conacher has been hired by famous cartoonist Luke Yorke to track down Conacher's old friend and Yorke's protégé, Mike Smith. Yorke is an old man looking for someone to take over his comic strip and he believes Smith has the talent and skill to take up the mantle. It would have been a lot easier if the two hadn't had a falling out about a year ago, but Yorke is willing to let bygones be bygones. He wants to find someone to hand the reins over to before he dies--his current will would give control of the comic strip to his nephew and he needs to find a replacement before he changes it.
When Mike and the old man parted company, the young cartoonist stopped seeing any of his old friends--including Conacher. He just disappeared and he left no easy trail to follow. The private eye has three leads...each in the form of a dazzling dame. But when the trail leads to a cold, watery grave in the harbor of Freeville, things get personal. The locals are calling it suicide, but Mike was one of Conacher's oldest friends and he knows the cartoonist would never have taken his own life. Now the women are more than trail markers, they're suspects in what Conacher believes is case of cold-blooded murder.
*********Slight Spoiler ahead--does not reveal culprit.
One wonders if Steve Conacher makes any money as a private investigator. He gets knocked out cold four times in this book--at least once, he's laid out flat by one of the luscious ladies. His client is killed, practically under his nose, which means it's doubtful he'll get a fee from anybody. His interview methods leave a lot to be desired, consisting mostly of threatening various subjects with a "date with a character out in Mineola, the County Homicide dick" if they don't come clean with him and alternating this with slapping the suspects around and yelling at them.
On the plus side, the motive is interesting and if the detection had been a bit better it could have made a good plot. If you're looking for a fast-moving, action-packed (even if most of the action is our hero getting walloped) private eye novel, then this may be the book for you. If you prefer your hard-boiled hero to have the makings of a good detective, then perhaps not. ★★ Oh, and just so you know--that title and the blurb on the back of the book
SHE GOT WHAT SHE WANTED: She was an eye-catching dish with a low, throaty voice, and she purred like a caged tiger. As she slowly rose from the couch, she pointed the gun right at my stomach and whispered--"I got rid of him and now...I'll Kill YOU Next!"
have nothing to do with the plot. None of the dames says or does this in the actual story. None.
First line: The start of it was simple--until I met the old man.
"Your imagination demands a big, broad and flat-headed gentleman to play detective for you. Admit it girl." [Luke Yorke]; "Not quite, Uncle Luke. Maybe I'm the Ellery Queen type." [Gwen Denton] "Upper class," I smiled. "Out of my league....That would be the big time. That would be the fictional sleuting with the fat pay envelopes, the way you read about it in the two-bit novels. It never happens in real life. But even detectives can dream." [Conacher] (p. 10)
Last line: I turned out the lights and went to sleep.
Deaths = 2 (one drowned; one exposure to the cold)
Saturday, May 15, 2021
The Clue of the New Pin (1923) by Edgar Wallace
Jesse Trasmere was a hard, miserly old man. He had made most of his money in China, but had also done some profitable deals once he returned to England. He was a man of his word and a stickler for detail. If you entered into a bargain with him, you could be sure he'd keep his end up--but you better be sure you read the fine print on what he expected of you because he couldn't abide welchers. And when he exacted payment from those failed to meet their end of the bargain it was paid in blood. Literally. His nephew, Rex Lander, received a generous allowance--but not a penny more. If Rex couldn't live within his means, then he should maybe put in an honest day's work--like his uncle had to do.
He didn't trust banks and had a special vault built into his house--a vault with only one key and no one, not even the original lock makers knew which key worked because he had ordered numerous locks and told no one which one he had installed. Everyday he would spend time in the vault doing who knows what--counting his coins, gloating over his stored millions? No one knew. Not for lack of trying. His butler was a nosy sort--tried all sorts of ways to find out his master's secrets, but he hadn't succeeded yet.
Trasmere's life is a very regular one with visits to his vault at particular times, visits to collect his portion of various investments--such as part of the takings at Yeh Ling's Golden Roof restaurant, locking his butler into his room at 10:30 each night. He never takes trips or leaves the house for long. But when he gets word that a man by the name of Wellington Brown is coming to London, he tells Walters (the butler) that he will be out of town for a while and he will be at home to no one who calls before he leaves. Brown shows up early, has an altercation with Walters, and then Walters leaves the house in a hurry just as Rex Landers shows up to try once more to talk his uncle into a little advance on his allowance...And then Trasmere's body is found shot to death in his vault. The door is locked and the only key is sitting in the middle of the table in front of him. How did the killer get out with the door locked? That is the puzzle that Inspector Carver and his friend Tab Holland, reporter and unofficial assistant, must unravel if they are to prove anyone's guilt. And who might the guilty party be? Rex--impatient for his inheritance? Walters, who left in a rush and is now MIA? Maybe Wellington Brown actually met with Trasmere after all and exacted some unknown revenge? Or maybe the pretty actress Ursula Ardfern is involved somehow? And what about the Chinese men a neighbor's servant has seen hanging about?
If I remember correctly (always an iffy proposition with my sieve-like memory), this was the second locked room/impossible crime novel I ever read (the first was The Mystery of Hunting's End by Eberhart) and I was amazed at the solution. Now that I have more impossible crimes under my reading belt, it's not quite the jaw-dropper it was then, but it had been long enough since I read this one (35-ish years...) that I still didn't pick up the significance of certain clues. I did, however, figure out whodunnit even if I didn't quite know how. But, then, I don't think Wallace's goal was to keep the culprit such a deep, dark secret. There is some effort at red herrings, but they don't distract very convincingly. I think he was more interested in the locked room puzzle and the thrills and adventure of the wrap-up. Overall, a nicely done locked room puzzle from early in the genre with a lovely bit of adventure and suspense at the end. ★★★★
First line: The establishment of Yeh Ling was just between the desert of Reed Street and the sown of the that great and glittering thoroughfare which is theatreland.
Mr. Stott kept hanging to his bed-rail a heavily loaded cane. He had no intention of going nearer to May field than the safe side of his dining-room window, but the holding of the stick gave him the self-confidence of which he was in need. [p. 60]
"I have acquired a nephew since then," said Carver calmly, his eyes still upon the tape; "it is a poor kind of detective who can't discover a nephew or two. I may fall down on a murderer, but when it comes to unearthing distant relations I am at the top of my class." [p. 154]
Last line: "I think those are all the gods I know," said Yeh Ling, dusting his finger daintily.
Deaths = 3 (two shot; one stabbed)
Thursday, May 13, 2021
Dr. Nightingale Traps the Missing Lynx (1999) by Lydia Adamson
Synopsis (from the back of the book): For a rural vet, business is sparse in midwinter months. So Dr. Deirdre "Didi" Nightingale leapt at the chance to earn a fat fee by appearing at a posh local fundraiser. Six mixed-breed bobcat kittens were to be auctioned off and all Didi had to do was give the cats a clean bill of health. But when the party's host walks in covered with bloody scratches--and promptly drops dead--Didi is mystified. She recognizes the symptoms of rattlesnake venom when she sees them. And though these kittens may have a wild streak, the poison that killed Buster Purchase didn't come from any feline. Now it's time to go hunting for a two-legged species of snake.
So....if I hadn't needed a mystery that had somebody that worked with animals in it for the Mystery Reporter challenge, I never would have picked this up at the Friends of the Library bookstore. And that would have been a good thing.. The plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense. We have a pointless little thread about one of Didi's "elves" as she calls her workers/housemates trying to set up a comedy routine based on the old John Belushi samurai skit--adding a cow. (Huh?) Didi doesn't make the world's best amateur detective (not even the world's most okay amateur detective). None of the characters are really likeable or relatable. It's just a bit of a mess. And the whole "Didi's trying to get her vet business off the ground" thing? Seriously? We're ten books into this series and she's still "getting her business off the ground" and the cozy hook is that she's a vet detective? Other than giving the kittens a once-over at the auction and taking care of the paw on one of them a little bit later, she doesn't actually do any vetting.
Can't really say that I recommend this series. I don't think it would help any to have started out at the beginning of the series. This seems like a stand-alone novel and I didn't feel like I was missing anything from previous books that might have made the story any better. The flaws are in the plot and the characters as they stand in this story. ★
First line: It was a freezing January morning, but even so, at 6 A.M. Dr. Deidre Quinn Nightingale, DVM, assumed the lotus position on the cold ground.
Last line: Except for her cash flow problem, things now were really not that bad.
Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one shot)
The Trolley to Yesterday (1989) by John Bellairs
Well...Professor Childermass is acting weird again and Johnny Dixon is all concerned about him. You'd think that he and his friend Fergie would know by now (it's the sixth book in the series, after all) that the professor isn't going crazy (well no crazier than normal) and isn't getting old and senile--there's just another adventure in store. But they're concerned because the professor has taken to talking to himself and leaving piles of sand on his floor.
This time, the professor has discovered a secret tunnel connected to his house with an old trolley and trolley station with ticket booth and everything. And at some point the previous owner of the house had converted the trolley into a time machine that could go to certain places at any particular time you wanted. Near these locations are Holes of Time which allow the time travel (and which explains why you can only arrive at certain locations). Professor Childermass has decided that he wants to go back to Constantinople during the Turkish invasion of 1453 and save the people who take refuge in Church of the Holy Wisdom. Armed with flares and a raft he prepares to set off and Johnny and Fergie join him. along the way they meet a talking statue or two, ghosts of the Knights Templar, and also the inventor of the time traveling trolley. Will the be able to save the people in the church and change history? Will they survive the invasion? Will they be able to get back to their time trolley and return safely to the present day (1950s Massachusetts for them)? You'll just have to read the story and find out!
Another fun entry into this series--full of ghosts, magic, fantasy, a dash of mystery, and a nicely encapsulated history lesson about 1400s Constantinople. The characters are interesting and so are their interactions. It's a very nice story for middle-grade readers and I love the Edward Gorey cover and frontispiece. I'm sure I would have really enjoyed these books if I had discovered Bellairs when I was young and I'm still able to enjoy them now. ★★★ and a half.
First line: For a long time Johnny Dixon had been worried about the professor.
Last line: But Dr. Coote broke free and dashed off down the tunnel, while the boys stared after them and laughed.
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Innocent Blood (1980) by P. D. James
Innocent Blood is a story of identity and obsession. Phillipa Palfrey was adopted by a well-to-do family when she was eight years old. She is an intelligent young woman, bound for Cambridge. She has always had everything she could want and everything she needs--except a sense of who she really is. She has no real memories of her life before becoming a Palfrey, but as soon as the Children Act of 1975 made it possible for adopted children to find out who their birth parents were (or at the very least, their birth mother), she knew she would want to find out. And as soon as she turned eighteen, she put in her application to do so.
She has grown up with a fantasy straight out of the 1800s--that her mother was a poor servant and her father was a wealthy man who couldn't acknowledge her. But what she finds out after she gets her birth certificate and goes back to the house where her parents lived is nothing like fantasy...it's more of a nightmare. It's no spoiler to tell you that Phillipa was born Rose Ducton--the daughter of a man and woman who were tried for the rape and murder of a twelve year old girl. Her father died in prison, but her mother is still alive and due to be released on parole. Phillipa decides to spend the summer before taking up her place at Cambridge with her mother--finding out who she really is. When contacted, her mother is agreeable to the arrangement and Phillipa takes a flat for three months that they can share while they get to know one another.
Meanwhile, there is someone else waiting for Mary Ducton's release. Someone who has waited nine years. Norman Scase is the father of Julia Scase, the girl the Ductons killed. He and his wife had kept track of their daughter's killers and had promised themselves that they would kill them when they got out--just as they had killed their girl. Martin Ducton, not being able to take life in prison, had robbed them of their revenge, but Mary would not escape. Mavis Scase, Julia's mother, has also died in the interim and Norman vowed that he would complete their plan himself.
The bulk of the story follows Phillipa as she learns that there are several layers of truth to her identity and her mother's version of the events which led to her prison sentence. And she learns that there are reasons why she remembers very little of her life before adoption. In a parallel story we learn the depth of Norman's obsession as he tracks down the women and lays his final plans to kill Mary. This is not a strict whodunnit--it is more of a will-he-do-it? It is most definitely an examination of the motivations behind every action whether it be murder, manslaughter, revenge, or a search for truth. This is not a pleasant or happy book--though the ending does offer some hope. But it is a good character study and a reminder to be careful what you wish for...you just might get it. ★★★ and 1/2.
First line: The social worker was older than she had expected; perhaps the nameless official who arranged these matters thought that graying hair and menopausal plumpness might induce confidence in the adopted adults who came for their compulsory counseling
Last line: And perhaps to be able to wish him well with all that she could recognize of her unpracticed heart, to say a short, untutored prayer for him and his Violet, was in itself a small accession of grace.
Deaths: 3 (one strangled; one natural; one suicide by overdose)
The Haunted Attic (1932) by Margaret Sutton
The second in the Judy Bolton series. After the flood in the first book wiped out their home (as well as many others in the town of Roulsville), Judy and her family move into a new home in Farringdon. The house was previously owned by a family with thieves among their members and the mother (and leader of the gang) was killed in the house. It's said that she haunts the place and many strange lights, weird noises, and even a ghostly specter have been seen and heard. Judy and her brother Horace aren't afraid of the rumors--and plan to root out the truth behind the "ghost."
Some of the items stolen belonged to Lorraine Lee's family. Lorraine is a wealthy, popular girl at the new high school that Judy will attend and is someone she hopes to be friends with. She will face some difficulties with that--Lorraine is jealous of Judy's friendship with Lois Farringdon-Pett (Lorraine's best friend) and suspicious of her friendliness with girls who attend the mill school. But Judy hopes that an investigation into the ghost will also help her track down Lorraine's family heirlooms and that her wish to be friends will be granted.
Judy and her brother Horace begin finding clues in the apparently haunted attic that explain the noises, lights, and even the white "ghost" that has appeared at the window. But it is Judy who discovers the secret hiding place of all the stolen items and arranges for the Chief of Police to be on hand at her Halloween party--just in time to catch the "ghosts" who are responsible for the haunting. There is also a sub-plot involving Peter Dobbs, Judy's childhood friend who has never known the truth of his parentage. Judy manages to sort that out as well.
There is a lot to like about the Judy Bolton mysteries. She is a down-to-earth girl detective and perhaps a bit more realistic than Nancy Drew. She isn't nearly as well-to-do and she ages with her books--from high school through a marriage later in the series. As with all these early young adult mystery stories there are a lot of coincidences and a lot of interweaving of the plots, but very enjoyable and fun to read. One thing that I didn't care much for in this one was Judy's preoccupation with being liked by the fashionable set at school and Lois's treatment of Judy over the Halloween party invitations. Honestly, if you've already promised a friend to attend their party, then any future invitations should be turned down--no matter who they're from. On the other hand, Judy does have an extreme reaction to Lois in return. Of course, this sort of high school dramatics is a thing, I know--though not a thing I ever understood. Fortunately, it's all smoothed out in the end. Just as the stolen items are found and the bad guys are caught and the mysteries are explained. Good clean fun and light entertainment.★★★
First lines: "You could take a few of the pictures, Judy. You always admired them so."
Last line: "Even detectives have to sleep," he said, "but, Judy, girl, don't think for a minute that your Dad doesn't appreciate what you've done for Peter and Lorraine and all of us."
Deaths = 3 (one shot; one auto crash; one natural) [more than one would generally expect in a vintage girl detective mystery]
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
The Z Murders (1932) by J. Jefferson Farjeon
Richard Temperley arrives at Euston station early one morning--too early to go on to his sister's house where he is due to stay. So, upon the advice of a helpful porter, he heads to the hotel across the street to rest for a bit before a warm fire in the lounge. On the way into the room, he encounters a beautiful young woman who seems in a bit of a hurry. A noisy fellow passenger who snored all through the train ride has also sought shelter in the room. As Temperley settles into a chair by the fire, he sees the man (as he thinks) asleep in a chair by the window. But then he notices something odd...the man is no longer snoring. And there's a very good reason for that. He's been shot. And a mysterious bit of crimson enameled metal has been left at the scene--shaped as the letter Z.
When questioned by the police, Temperley has little to tell and Inspector James seems satisfied with his answers. But when the inspector leaves the room for a moment, Temperpley chances to find a woman's handbag in the crack of his chair. Does it belong to the alluring young woman? He's made up his mind that she's innocent in this business and keeps his find to himself. As soon as the police release him, he's off to try and find the woman. And winds up involved in a cross-country trek. He on the track of the woman--and the police dogging his heels (they didn't quite believe he was telling all he knew...).
Then a second murder occurs and it just so happens that the lovely lady was on her way to the very town where it happened. Is she really innocent? Why won't she confide in the police--or in Temperley when he finally catches up to here? What does she know and what is she so afraid of? And what does the Z represent? Temperley will find these answers when he gets on the trail of a particularly evil serial killer.
I am in two minds about this mystery by Farjeon. On the one hand, it's an interesting early example of the serial killer in the Golden Age. And I quite enjoyed the cross-country chase--particularly when Temperley and Miss Wynne (our lovely heroine) convince the cabbie to drove them 150 miles or so. And the poor thing gets chloroformed and then drugged into the bargain. It makes for a fun thriller with high adventure, though I didn't find it as engaging as Thirteen Guests or Mystery in White. But the ending is rushed and things aren't really explained clearly. Oh, one gets an idea of what is driving our murderer and the circumstances leading up to his rampage--but a real explanation? No. I mean our murderer doesn't even get a real name (nor do a couple of other characters). And, our hero falls madly in love even more quickly than usually happens in these GAD mysteries with a bit of romance thrown in.
Suggested for those who like thrills and adventure in their mysteries without needing every little thing explained clearly. Overall, a fun read. ★★★
First line: Places, like people, have varying moods, and the moods of London are legion.
"Of course, you're going to Bristol," he censored himself. "You're next door to in love, aren't you, and when a fellow's in that condition he does any fool thing. There's a taxi. For goodness' sake, stop thinking, and call it!" [Richard Temperley to self; p. 83]
Last lines: And so life mingled with death, and light threaded its way through the shadows. And so, in this world of strange complexities, it will always be.
Deaths = three shot (actually five--but Farjeon refused to give "the Countryman" and "the Man with No Hands" actual names; also Ledlow dies, but we aren't told exactly how)
Monday, May 10, 2021
Preach No More (1970) by Richard Lockridge
The Voice, Reverend Jonathan Prentiss, a chosen man of God, has been killed. Late at night, long after his latest revival meeting is over. Not killed in church nor at the site of the meeting nor at his hotel...but killed in a booth at a rather expensive dive called (of all things) the Village Brawl. Killed in one of the dens of iniquity, full of drinking and dancing and lewd music, that he had warned his flock about just hours before. Killed with a glass of bourbon in front of him and an ice pick protruding from his back.
And when Captain Bill Weigand assigns Lieutenant Nathan Shapiro to the case, Nate once again feels like he's out of his depth. This time it's not artists or actors that he doesn't understand...it's Evangelical Christians. What on earth is the captain thinking sending a Jewish lieutenant who's been lucky a few times on a few other cases off to figure out a murder among crusading Christians?
"Satan was his enemy," Higgs said. "By all the godly he was loved." The harsh voice was emphatic, almost peremptory. It seemed improbable to Shapiro that Satan would have used an ice pick. In any event, Satan was outside his jurisdiction.
But when it comes down to it, those crusading Christians are just people and Nate Shapiro has a very good understanding of people and what makes them tick (whether he thinks he does or not).
And he has his choice of suspects. Maybe the Reverend Prentiss's wife found out that her husband liked to sample the sins he preached against--cozying up to women in each city where they held a crusade. Or maybe his brother-in-law (and accountant) was cooking the books of the ministry. Maybe Prentiss found out that his choir leader was getting kickbacks from the choir members--oh, pardon me, was accepting tithes on behalf of the mission that never seemed to make it into the coffers. Perhaps his second in command had grown tired of being kept in the shadow of the great man. Or maybe there's another motive even less obvious. Between Shapiro's understanding of people and the clues that Detective Tony Cook digs up, Shapiro will get lucky in yet another case and prove Weigand right in trusting it to him.
Shapiro strikes me as the Eeyore of the Lockridge universe. You can almost see the little doom and gloom rain cloud hovering over him He's always sure that he's not right for the job. He's positive (in a negative sort of way) that one of these days "they" (Weigand and all the superior officers) will realize they've made a mistake upgrading a cop who's good with a gun to a Lieutenant in the detective branch. He's quite certain that this time he won't be able to figure it out. You would think that so much pessimism would make for a depressing book, but I quite like Nate Shapiro and am glad that the Lockridges took some breaks from the Norths, Weigand, and Heimrich to introduce his character. Richard Lockridge wrote more about him after Frances died--perhaps because he stopped writing about the Norths.
A pretty straightforward mystery once Shapiro has a chance to talk to all the suspects. But a nice comfortable read. ★★★
First line: It was Rachel Farmer's idea, and Anthony Cook responded to it with no enthusiasm.
Last lines: Tonight, he thought, we really will go to the movie. to take a bad taste out of our mouths.
Deaths = 2 (one stabbed with ice pick; one smothered)
Saturday, May 8, 2021
Malcolm X & the Fight for African American Unity by Gary Jeffrey
Synopsis (Goodreads): The story of Malcolm X, one of the most charismatic and controversial leaders of the civil rights movement, is one of courage conviction, and personal growth. His father, an outspoken civil rights activist, instilled in him a sense of pride. After his father's murder, Malcolm got into trouble and landed in prison. There, he joined the Nation of Islam. After his release, he worked continuously to promote the rights of African Americans while his own vision of civil rights evolved. A dream of unity and brotherhood replaced his early willingness to use force. Sadly, assassins cut short his life before his dream was achieved.
This graphic novel provides a condensed, highly accessible synopsis of the life and work of Malcolm X. It makes his story interesting and easy to understand for young readers who want to learn more about the civil rights movement and those who influenced it. ★★★★
Hiding (1991) by Barbara Cartland
[synopsis from the back of the book] The Earl of Kelvindale was fleeing a devious mistress when he was thrown by his horse--and saved by the winsome Carita, herself on the run from a shocking alliance devised by her stepfather. Desperate for protection, the young, beautiful orphan claimed that the Stranger--the Earl incognito--was her husband. In the days and perils that followed, Carita fell in love with the handsome Stranger she had rescued. Unbeknownst to her, he was the most eligible and elusive catch of the Beau Monde!
Okay...I managed to make it 51 years without reading a Barbara Cartland romance novel. Were it not for a certain reading challenge that I signed up for (I'm looking at you, Linz the Bookworm's 2021 Reading Challenge), that record would still be unbroken. Would that it were. She may may be a household name when it come to romance novels. She may have been a best-seller. But, if this novel is any indication, she couldn't write for toffee. Her sentences are stilted and monotonous. She had no clue what a paragraph was for. And the prose throughout the first two-thirds is deadly dull. If I hadn't needed to finish the thing to cross off the category, then I would have stopped after twenty pages. The only saving grace is that this was a large print edition, a very short book, and the narrative picks up a bit in liveliness in the last third--but not nearly enough.
If you want to read an interesting Regency romance written by someone who knows what the English language is for, then I heartily recommend Georgette Heyer. If you want a romance novel with religious overtones, then I recommend Grace Livingston Hill. ★
First line: The Earl of Kelvindale felt a soft body move against his.
Last line: It is what all men and women seek and which those who are pure in heart find.
A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978) by Madeleine L'Engle
This is the third book in the Time Quintet series. And life as we know it is in danger again. This time Charles Wallace Murry is pretty much on his own against the powers of evil. He has help from an unicorn named Gaudior, an ancient rune from Calvin's mother, and the support of his sister Meg, through kything (telepathy), but it is up to him to do what needs to be done. The Echthroi (fallen angels) are still determined to bring about destruction and have placed the Earth on the brink of nuclear holocaust at the hands of the mad dictator Madog Branzillo. Charles Wallace and Gaudior make a journey through time to find a place of Might-Have-Been to change it to what Must Be if the world is to be saved.
My memories of the entire series by L'Engle are very fond--though I must admit I had far less solid memories of this one. I think perhaps with good reason. This is not nearly the adventure story that the previous two were. Honestly, not much happens. Charles Wallace goes back in time and "lives Within" various people in the past to try and figure out what has been changed. But there's no sense of adventure to the experiences he has. It's like someone telling a story within a story. All telling and no action. Even the dangerous episodes that he and Gaudiour go through don't seem all that real or problematic. And there's no satisfying explanation of what happened and what exactly Charles Wallace did to fix things. The sacrifice that comes at the end--which ought to be significant--happens almost off-stage and loses any real narrative power. Overall, a disappointing return to the third installment in this series. ★★ and 1/2.
First line: The big kitchen of the Murry's house was bright and warm, curtains drawn against the dark outside, against the rain driving past the house from the northeast.
Last line: In this fateful hour, it was herself she placed beneath us and the powers of darkness.
With One Stone (1961) by Frances & Richard Lockridge
Captain M. L. Heimrich is on his way home from his honeymoon when he learns that the wife of a couple he and Susan saw in Palm Beach has diedback home in Van Brunt. She was found in a huddled heap at the deep end of the drained swimming pool and it looks like she stumbled and fell to her death. But then Sergeant Forniss and his men find the jagged, bloody rock discarded in the undergrowth. Heimrich is interested in the news reports, but is quite sure that Charley (Sergeant Forniss) can handle it in his absence. But then James Bedlow, millionaire and owner of the New York Chronicle newspaper, joins his wife Ann in death and the powers that be hurry Heimrich home to take charge. Ann's death was meant to look like accident; James' death was meant to look like suicide. Both are murder.
There's evidence in the guest house/pool cabin of an intruder. Did Ann stumble across someone on her last walk? But then her half-brother gets involved in the plot and maybe he did her in because he needed his inheritance. But why kill her husband? Then the half-brother gets killed--so, yeah, the murderer's not him. Maybe it's the weird gardener who sleeps in the toolshed. Or maybe one of the daughters needed their inheritance? But no, James Bedlow was a very generous father and nobody was in money troubles. But...Norm Curtis, who runs Bedlow's newspaper, is an old flame of Ann's. Maybe he killed her because she wouldn't run off with him and then killed James because he knew? And...actually, there's way too many maybes and not enough evidence. But Heimrich and Forniss pick up tidbits here and there in conversation and start tracking down leads. It isn't long before they spot discrepancies in stories and a motive that a jury will buy.
Maybe I was just really on the ball with this one, but as soon as our villain walked on scene, I knew they were it. And--trying not to throw in spoilers--it seemed to me that the Lockridges were shining a little spotlight on the star performer. They made rather a point of a certain thing and I thought they were being much too obvious about it. That's the negative points for me. On the plus side, it was very nice to see Forniss and Crowley have a chance to shine. Forniss was really doing very well before his Captain was recalled to New York and definitely wasn't taken in by the attempts to hide murder behind accident and suicide.
A pleasant day's read and a pretty good plot--and if the spotlight isn't shining quite as obviously for you as it was for me then it's possible that the red herrings might lead you astray. ★★★
First line: There is a time to do things thoughtfully, with a kind of tenderness, because they can never be done again.
Last lines: People are simply not to be trusted. They desert dogs.
Deaths = 3 (two hit on head; one shot)
Friday, May 7, 2021
A Wind in the Door (1973) by Madeleine L'Engle
Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe are off on another fantastic journey. This time to save Charles Wallace and the universe. Charles Wallace is very sick--that is, his mitochondria are very sick. And Charles Wallace is one of those people in history who is so important that their existence has wide-ranging effects. If Charles Wallace dies so too will much of what is. To save Meg's brother, they will need to team up with Proginoskes, a cherubim who looks like a drive of dragons; Blajeny, a cosmic Teacher; Sporos, a farandola (a fictional part of the mitochondria); and...of all people, the despised Mr. Jenkins, school principal.
Most of the responsibility will rest on Meg--who is, in the grand scheme of things, a Namer. She has the power to give people and things the understanding of their real name. As Proginoskes tells her, once people really know who they are, they don't have any reason to hate. Hate and war give power to the Echthroi (likened to fallen angels) who are driven to un-Name everything and destroy all of creation. Meg is given three tests--through which she learns how to name, how to love--even those we don't really like, and how to overcome power of un-Naming. She draws strength from her friend Calvin and from Mr. Jenkins--who learns to value his own worth enough to make sacrifices for the children.
I can remember reading this series as a child and loving the mysteriousness, adventure, and wonder. It is very easy to lose yourself in L'Engle's world and not worry whether everything makes sense or not. She has a very sure way of combining science with religious themes that makes them all tie together very nicely and gives reader very interesting battles between good and evil that capture the imagination as well as entertain. It was great fun to revisit the world of the Murrys again and lose myself in fantasy as I did when I was young. ★★★★
First line: "There are dragons in the twins' vegetable garden."
[P]"Who makes you least confused" [M]"Calvin." There was no hesitation here. "When I'm with Calvin, I don't mind being me." [P]"You mean he makes you more you, don't you?" [M]"I guess you could put it that way." (Proginoskes, Meg; p. 80)
I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming--making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn't need to hate. (Proginoskes; p. 97)
We don't have to know everything at once. We just do one thing at a time, as it is given us to do. (Proginoskes; p. 99)
Love isn't how you feel. It's what you do. (Proginoskes; p.116)
Let us make believe that it is daytime. You can, you know. Believing takes practice.... (Blajeny; p. 131)
Last lines: Calvin's eyes met hers for a long moment and held her gaze, not kything, not speaking, simply being. Then she went up to Charles Wallace.