Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Private Face of Murder


 The Private Face of Murder (1966) by John & Emery Bonett

A group of English expatriates have settled into what is meant to be a pleasant life in the sun in the small Spanish town of Calatrava. They all gather at the Langosta Hotel run by Aubrey de Lemplew and his wife Hope. Or, rather, mostly by Hope. Aubrey was once a great serious stage actor, but two bouts of alcoholism have pretty much put paid to his career. Now, he's resting--and giving bad investment and real estate advice to anybody who's naïve enough to listen. Rupert Huntingdon is a playwright who has made his money through farce and his lovely young wife, Linda, is bored to tears in the small town with no night life to keep her busy. He's too busy to notice that she's looking for someone to liven up her nights. Phoebe and Kenneth Blacksall (and son Kit) are fairly new additions. Ken is a handsome man who catches Linda's attention and who has a hard time resisting temptation--even if it is only just once. Flo and George Seaton are the longest inhabitants of the area--George sees and understands more about Aubrey (and everyone) than he thinks. Martin Vennison and his sister Harriet are the most recent arrivals. If Martin's not careful, Aubrey will talk him into a very unsuitable real estate deal.

Life goes along very placidly on the surface until the day Linda has a deadly car accident. Aubrey makes some insinuating remarks about Kenneth and Linda and then winds up dead himself from a landslide of dirt and rocks. Surely these are both freak accidents--after all, complaints had been made about the instability of the props keeping the the cliffside from tumbling down. But the Spanish police are not completely convinced and Inspector Borges arrives to make sure the accidents really were accidents. He spends his time primarily in conversation with the expatriates and picks up a couple of definite clues. It isn't long before he realizes that behind the polite and friendly public faces there is one private face of murder. But once he knows who the murderer is will he be able to prove it?

Inspector Borges is a quiet, thinking man's detective. While he does find clues that the other police missed (footprints, for instance), most of his detective work is cerebral. He is definitely in the Poirot school--using his own little grey cells to sift through conversations and decide what matters from what he's been told. He thoughtfully considers everything and wants to make certain that he doesn't pin the murders on the most likely suspect just because there are obvious motives. 

This is an interesting mystery with a compelling backdrop. There are few suspects, but the Bonetts spread enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing. I did spot the killer, but I didn't figure out how the first murder was managed. The clues were there...I just didn't spot them. Overall, a good weekend read. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: The flambeaux on the Edwardian portico of the Duke's Theatre threw a decorous glow on the arriving playgoers.

Some will tell me what they think is the truth, some what they would wish it to be. Truth has many faces and it is a human failing to prefer the one which the mirror flatters. (Inspector Borges; p. 113)

Most people know what is right or wrong, but few of us can help making an occasional mistake. (Kenneth Blacksall; p. 159)

Last line: Reaching the wall, he stepped over it and sat down with his back to the sea.

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

Deaths = 2 (one car accident; one crushed by falling rocks)


Friday, August 27, 2021

I'd Rather Be Reading


 I'd Rather Be Reading (2018) by Anne Bogel 

Anne Bogel has written a reader's book. It focuses on the delights of reading--from remembering the books that first hooked us to the reasons we keep reading. Focusing on how we organize our shelves and whether we're collectors or borrowers. She reminds us of the joys of the library and the pleasures of carting out stacks of books from our library. The books we read in the past have helped us become the readers we are today. She speaks eloquently of influences--from having parents who were readers to finding a "book twin" who can help steer you to books you'll like and steer you away from those you won't.

The perfect book for the bibliophile in your life.  ★★★★

First line: Can you recommend a good book?

Last line: Good reading journals provide glimpses of how we've spent our days, and the tell the story of our lives.

Add a Pinch of Cyanide


 Add a Pinch of Cyanide (1973) by Emma Page (Honoria O'Mahony Tirbutt)

Godfrey and Pauline Barratt have turned the family home into a guest house--a summer retreat for vacationers with a beach nearby and a quiet place in the country to relax on holiday. And odd assortment of people--including Pauline's sister and brother-in-law come to stay and by the end of the week Stephen Lockwood will dead--from a cyanide-laced sandwich. Was the deadly lunch intended for Lockwood--or did the killer miss his mark? It seems that that sandwich may have been meant for his wife. Who could have had it in for either of the Lockwoods? As it happens, a fair amount of people. It's actually kind of odd how many of the guests have ties to Lockwood in one way or another.

~what a dreary lot of characters and isn't it grand that we get to see the thoughts and motivations of each one and how much they misunderstand one another? It's like a murder mystery soap opera. Pauline Barratt doesn't realize how attractive she is. Her husband Godfrey doesn't seem to care--but he's really distracted by the impending bankruptcy of his business. Her brother-in-law Stephen Lockwood is fooling around with his secretary after having wooed her sister Marion away from Godfrey. Marion was the beauty of the family--but her looks have gone to seed a bit. Henry Whitall, the lawyer who looks after Aunt Elinor (who has money to will away to deserving nieces and/or companions), grew up with them all and secretly loved Marion. Whittall has an inferiority complex and resents that Barratt and company look down on him (or so he thinks). And so on.

Vastly different character study from my previous read by Page (Every Second Thursday) and not nearly as interesting. Things do pick up once the murder happens and Inspector Kenwood comes on the scene. The investigation is pretty good. What ultimately saves this book is the final twist in the plot--the wrap-up is everything. ★★ and 1/2

First line: A sunny July morning with a salty stir of breeze among the tall green spears of montbretia in the narrow border under the kitchen window.

Last line: His last emotion on earth must have been that massive appalled surprise.

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

Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one fell from ladder)

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Fleet Street Murders


 The Fleet Street Murders (2009) by Charles Finch

This is a second reading of Charles Finch's third novel in the Victorian-era series of mysteries starring gentleman detective Charles Lenox. This time around I listened to the audio novel version via my library's Hoopla account. It was read by James Langton and the audio version was highly enjoyable. 

I don't  have much that's new to say about the story itself. Most of what follows is my review from nine years ago. One observation I do have from my second reading of Finch's three novels is the similarities between the Holmes/Moriarty plot line and that of Lenox and his arch nemesis. The villain in Lenox's London goes to jail rather than plunging down the Reichenbach Falls, but he is portrayed as being behind most of the city's crimes. The final chase at the end also reminds me of Holmes's pursuit of Jonathan Small at the end of The Sign of the Four. The Holmesian connections are far more apparent to me this time around.

The story begins on Christmas in 1866.  It's a pleasant day for Lenox who is still basking in the glow of having recently become engaged to his long-time friend and love of his life, Lady Jane Grey.  But the day is not a pleasant one for two journalists across town.  Within minutes of each other, Winston Carruthers and Simon Pierce are stabbed and shot (respectively).  The police quickly track down suspects, but Lenox and his assistant Dallington believe there must be more to the story than what the police have found so far.  Soon, one of the suspects is dead by hanging--meant to appear a suicide, but proved to be murder--and then the investigating officer is killed as well.  Lenox becomes convinced that someone is directing the action from behind the scenes--someone with a bigger motive than just removing two bothersome journalists.

The investigation is made difficult for Lenox by several "distractions" in his life.  Worries about his betrothal, Lady Jane repeatedly assures him that she does want to marry him--but needs time.  Time for what?  Worries about his friend Thomas and his wife Toto who have recently lost their unborn child.  And worries about his run for Parliament in the northern town of Stirrington.  He's got a lot on his mind--and feels guilty taking time for any of his obligations in lieu of any of the others.

And the distractions tell a bit.  This story doesn't seem to run quite as smoothly as the first two and it's definitely not as good as the second novel in the series. Finch does have a very firm grasp of characterization and he gives every character from Lenox down to the pub owner in Stirrington their due.  You definitely feel like these folks are real people.  It makes it a lot easier to overlook the flaws in the mystery plot.  Not obvious holes--just the lack of smoothness (with all the rushing about from London to Stirrington and around Stirrington and then back to London) and the slightly disjointed method of story-telling.  But an interesting mystery and a good, solid ★★ and 1/2 outing.

 First line (Prologue): It was late in the evening, and a thin winter rain beat down over London's low buildings and high steeples, collecting in sallow pools beneath the street lights and insinuating its way inside the clothes of the miserable few whom fate had kept outside.

First line (Chapter 1): Lenox woke up with a morning head, and as soon as he could bear to open his eyes he gulped half the cup of coffee that his valet, butler, and trusted friend Graham had produced at Lenox's first stirring.

Last line: There was nothing he liked better than being married, and as he stole a glance at his brother and his old friend, Lady Jane, his heart filled with joy for them, and he pondered the vagaries of the world, which for all of its fault lines and difficulties could offer up so much happiness sometimes, and often--as for his brother, who had so long lived as a bachelor, had so long struggled with the prejudice against his profession--often when you weren't even looking for it at all.

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

Deaths =  5 (one stabbed; two shot; one hanged; one natural)

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Body of a Girl


 The Body of a Girl (1972) by Michael Gilbert

Inspector Mercer is reassigned to Stoneferry, a quiet little Thames River community (or so says his new Superintendent). It isn't long before the young, tough detective is setting the town on its ear. He's immediately drawn into the investigation into a body buried in the sands of a Thames island and creates a furor when he initially identifies the long-dead young woman as Sweetie Sowthistle, a teenager who was rather free with her favors--as long as the men were willing to pay up. He's soon proved wrong and the hunt is on to find out who she really was.

Meanwhile, he has also taken to drinking with John Bull, the one-armed owner of a profitable garage--a garage that became even more profitable when certain unfortunate events caused the closure of its two nearest competitors. He begins asking uncomfortable questions and some of the town's "leading citizens" get a bit concerned about the scope of his curiosity. They'd like to see Mercer relieved of his duties...one way or another.

When the body is finally identified as a young woman who disappeared from a solicitor's office two years ago, Mercer begins making connections between her death, the garage oddities, and the proceeds from various wage thefts across London. He and his superiors decide it's time to turn up the heat on the movers and shakers of the crime world in this little river town and it all gets resolved in a rather violent ending.

Okay...so this is a pretty violent, fairly hardboiled police procedural--and the violence isn't all on the criminals' side. While I definitely want the bad guys to get their just deserts, Mercer's methods seem to be a bit on the shady side despite his telling various suspects that he doesn't care for the way they do business. I can't say this is the best police procedural I've ever read nor can I say that this is the best Michael Gilbert novel I've ever read. It's a decent procedural which has the saving grace of having a fairly twisty plot that kept my attention. But I definitely didn't care for the tone or the very violent ending and I never warmed up to Mercer--just when I thought I was understanding him and beginning to feel comfortable with him, then he'd throw in a hardboiled curve ball that I wasn't up to catching. ★★

First line: September 7 that year fell on a Tuesday. On that day three things happened, none of them of any apparent importance.

Second line: "The imagination," said Mercer. "absolutely boggles."

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

Deaths = 9 (one buried alive; one strangled; one poisoned; one natural; three shot; two run over)

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Cards on the Table


 Cards on the Table
(1936) by Agatha Christie

The flamboyant Mr. Shaitana is well-known for his parties, his rather sly sense of humor, and his collections. When he meets Hercule Poirot at an art exhibition, he reveals that in addition to collecting objets d'art he also collects types of people. He is particularly interested in what he considers to be the art of murder and tells Poirot that he knows of several perfect murderers--those who have killed and gotten away with it. He is delighted when the idea for a new party occurs to him. He will invite four of his collection of murderers as well as four experts in crime for dinner and a bridge party. What fun!

In addition to Poirot, Shaitana invites Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, Colonel Race (presumably of the Secret Service, though one mustn't say so), and Ariadne Oliver, the famous author of detective novels. The supposed murderers are Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Lorrimer, Major Despard, and Anne Meredith. Shaitana lets certain suggestive statements slip during the dinner and Poirot watches for sudden intakes of breath or widening of the eyes. Then, they all sit down to bridge with the suspected murderers at a table in one room and the sleuths at a table in another. Mr. Shaitana doesn't play bridge and sits down quietly by the fire. When the evening draws to a close and the guests approach their host to say goodbye, they find him dead--stabbed with a stiletto from his collection. One of the suspected murderers has definitely murdered Shaitana. The four detectives take up the case in their own way. Battle follows the dogged order of police procedure; Colonel Race uses his connections to dig up information on Major Despard; Mrs. Oliver uses her author's knack of picturing every possible scenario and her friendly personality to interview Miss Meredith; and Poirot uses psychology, particularly the psychology of the game of bridge, to find the killer.

This particular Christie never comes to my mind when I'm thinking of my favorites--and, honestly, I haven't read it as often as those I do list as favorites. I don't think I've read it since I first read it back in the early '80s. But it really is quite good. Dame Agatha piles on twist after twist. Just when you think we've finally gotten down to who really did it, she shakes the kaleidoscope and we get another view of what happened. Knowing there were still quite a few pages to go didn't prevent me from being surprised (repeatedly).

I really enjoyed the premise of this one--pitting the four detectives against the four possible suspects--suspects whom, if we believe Shaitana, have already gotten away with murder at least once. It was also fun to follow the various detectives and watch them investigate in their own way. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of Colonel Race. He pretty much hands over his report on Major Despard and goes away. But we did get to see quite a bit of Battle and Oliver in addition to, of course, Poirot. A most unusually entertaining mystery. ★★★★

First line: "My dear M. Poirot!" It was a soft purring voice--a voice used deliberately as an instrument--nothing impulsive or unpremeditated about it.

Oh, my dear friend, it is impossible not to give oneself away--unless one never opens one's mouth! Speech is the deadliest of revealers. (Poirot; p. 82)

Mon cher Battle! Does anybody know the truth about anything? (Poirot; p. 82)

Last line: "Let's stab him, Rhoda, and see if his ghost can come back and find out who did it."

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

Deaths = 7 (one stabbed; four poisoned; one shot; one drowned)

Hang the Little Man


 Hang the Little Man (1963) by John Creasey

London has fallen under a siege of small shop robberies. A bit nasty, distressing to the victims--but rarely violent. Then came the robbery at the Stones' shop. Mabel Stone, a young wife who has just recently discovered she is pregnant, is minding the store alone. She's gone into the back rooms of the shop when she hears someone rifling around the counter. She surprises a man going through the till and he attacks her with heavy tins of food. Unfortunately, she doesn't survive. Her husband vows to hunt down her killer and kill him--he doesn't believe the justice system will do it for him. But Mabel's murderer is killed himself before either Jim Stone or the police can find him.

Scotland Yard's Superintendent Roger West believes there is a pattern to these robberies--despite the fact that witnesses' statements indicate that they are carried out by vastly different men. His superiors don't think there could be such an organized group of small-time burglars. But when another robbery nearly turns to murder, West finally gets the the help he needs to organize against the burglary syndicate. But will they be able to discover the ringleaders before another murder takes place...and before the syndicate spots and eliminates the undercover policeman who is on their trail?

Creasey writes fast-moving, action-packed police procedurals and Roger West is one of my favorite policemen. The superintendent is confident, but not perfect and there is a very human side to him that can connect with the victims in these stories. He also understands the imperfections of those under him--giving just enough reprimand to make them recognize their mistakes, but doing so in such a way that they will improve rather than resent his calling them out. Creasey also provides a classic mystery style of clueing that makes it possible for the reader to solve the mystery before West does (not that I did in this case). 

This particular story begins a little brutally with the killing of  Mabel. It seems so senseless, I was pleased to find (by the end of the novel) that appearances could be deceiving. An interesting take on the crime syndicated theme. ★★★★

First line: Mabel Stone put the electric iron down on its end, brushed back some damp hair from her forehead, and went slowly to the open window which overlooked the little back yard, the empty cartons standing by for collection when the next wholesalers' delivery was made, the high brick wall, the narrow gateway which had no gate.

Last line: Roger West would never forget the adoration in Ruth Owen's eyes when she looked up at her husband after they had come away from the investiture.

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

Deaths = 8 (one hit on head; one natural; two stabbed; one suffocated; three hanged)

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Hypno-Ripper


 The Hypno-Ripper (2021) by Donald K. Hartman (ed) contains two of the earliest fictional accounts of Jack the Ripper and his reign of terror in the Whitechapel area of London. Each appeared by 1889 and carry an immediacy of tone having been published so soon after the five murders of 1888. Appearing independently by Dr. N. T. Oliver (aka Edward Oliver Tilburn) and Charles Kowlder, each story features an American Jack the Ripper and the use of hypnotism is prevalent in his horrific crimes. Oliver's story, The Whitechapel Mystery, is novel-length while Kowlder's "The Whitechapel Horrors" is a shorter piece which was originally published anonymously in two American newspapers. 

One might suppose that the stories would feature the use of hypnotism by Jack--placing the women under his power and making his task of murder much easier. However, both stories find some, if not all of the murders being committed while the killer is under the power of another. Much has been made of the power of hypnotism and whether someone could be made to commit acts they normally would not while under its influence. Obviously, the authors of these stories believed (or wished their audience to believe) that it is possible for someone of strong personality and mind to exert enough power over a weaker personality to accomplish just that. 

The Whitechapel Mystery is an odd story. It begins with Detective John Philip Dewey lying on his deathbed. He entrusts a packet of writing to the doctor who attends him in his last hour, telling the doctor that the contents, unbelievable as they may seem, will explain a great mystery. The papers explain that Dewey was called upon to investigate a great bank robbery--committed by a doctor who was also a great hypnotist. He follows the man to London where he finds him killing the women of the streets. When Dewey will not stop dogging his footsteps, Dr. Westinghouse exerts his power over the detective and causes him to kill as well. And, in fact, christens his "helper" Jack the Ripper in the process. Westinghouse tells Dewey that he is on a mission and explains what has driven him to cross the Atlantic to kill women in England. To a certain extent, I can see the logic behind what Westinghouse thinks he has to do. But, I don't quite see why he continues to kill once he finds the woman he believes responsible for the trouble which sets him on his course. Once he deals with her, I would think his mission would be accomplished.

"The Whitechapel Horrors" is a much shorter piece and the author, the pseudonymous Charles Kowlder, is actually giving the reader a confession of sorts. After being diagnosed with symptoms of paresis of the brain, Kowlder is advised by his doctor to "take a mental break" and try to think of nothing of consequence for about three months. Since a person can't not think of anything at all, he decides to stop thinking about his business and normal interests and takes up an interest in the murder of Polly (Mary Ann) Nichols--the first of the Ripper's victims. To his horror, by the end of the story, he realizes that through taking such a concentrated interest in that murder, he managed to self-hypnotize himself into becoming the killer of the remaining four.  Now the introductory blurb that went along with this short story's publication in the paper says "It is a piece of fiction, avowedly, and yet its ingenuity seems to recommend it to the Londoners as strongly as though it were the truth." Well...no. I can't see many Londoners no matter what era believing this to be the truth. But--I can see it being an affecting piece of fiction. Particularly if one were not forewarned that hypnosis is involved (as readers of this particular volume are--after all, the preface tells us all about it). Readers in the late 1880s would have had no such forewarning.

The last portion of the book includes a meticulously researched biography of Edward Oliver Tilburn. Tilburn was a very complex character--intelligent, a gifted writer, and secretary for several chambers of commerce, but also a con man who didn't blink at selling "snake oil" treatments, medical devices that didn't work, and real estate deals that weren't actually real. It was interesting to note that this slick conman spent part of his time in Indiana--in nearby Linton and also associated with Bloomington.

This is certainly an interesting look at early fictional pieces about the Ripper's identity. I have a great interest in the Victorian period and while I am no Ripper scholar I have read many of the books exploring the identity of one of London's most notorious killers. Most of those dealt with looking at the facts and trying to discover who the most likely culprit (of the previously named suspects). I have also read fictional accounts of the Ripper's crimes, but, again, those generally have given a fictional solution that used someone who had been identified as a suspect at some time in the the actual investigation. It was interesting to see how late-Victorian authors used hypnotism in their solutions to the mystery of the Whitechapel killings. The novel was certainly more interesting than the shorter piece--but that is partly due to the brevity of the second story. If the Kowlder story had been expanded and given a bit more depth, I think it could have had more of an impact as a narrative and the surprise ending would pack more of a punch. ★★

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

Deaths = 6 (five stabbed; one natural)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This book was given to me as a review copy by the editor, Don Hartman, in exchange for an honest review. All comments are my own and I have received no payment of any kind.

Prince Caspian


 Prince Caspian 1951) by C. S. Lewis

A year (real world time) after Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy discovered the world of Narnia and ruled for years (Narnia time) as benevolent Kings and Queens, they find themselves recalled to that world by Susan's own horn. In Narnia, it is hundreds of years after the events in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Prince Caspian, rightful human ruler of Narnia, is forced to flee for his life when his uncle, usurper to the throne, produces an heir. Caspian's tutor, who knows of the old ways of talking animals, dwarves, centaurs, and giants, tells Caspian where to go for safety and how to summon help. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy's arrival also heralds the arrival of Aslan. With his assistance and that of the forest creatures, good once again triumphs over the evil which has overshadowed Narnia for too long.

The second Narnia book to be published, Prince Caspian is apparently the fourth book in the Narnian chronology. I never read beyond the first book of the chronicles when I was young, so it was interesting to see what happened next in the children's adventures. It's not quite as magical as learning about the world for the first time, but Lewis provides some interesting new characters to get acquainted with. I especially enjoyed the mice and Trumpkin (thought in this day and age the name reminds me a bit too much of a certain political figure....). The final battle feels a bit rushed, but all in all a very good follow-up to the Wardrobe★★

First line: Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, and it has been told in another book called The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe how they had a remarkable adventure.

Last line: "Bother!" said Edmund. "I've left my new torch in Narnia."

The September Society


 The September Society
(2008) by Charles Finch

What is the September Society and what does it have to do with the disappearance of two Oxford undergraduates? That's what Charles Lenox must determine when a frantic mother comes to him one early morning in the fall of 1866. Lady Annabelle Payson wants Lenox to find out what has happened to her son George. When Lady Annabelle visited her son at Oxford, he promised to meet her at a tearoom. He never showed up. She then went to his rooms in college to see if he had been delayed and found his cat apparently stabbed to death. Lenox agrees to take up the case and upon investigation finds an assortment of clues in the boy's room: a collection of red items deliberately left beside the cat (a tomato, a bit frayed string, and a fountain pen with red ink); a line of ash on the windowsill; and a card embossed with The September Society on the front and odd markings on the back. Under the cat is a note with what looks like a code on it.

Further investigation reveals that George Payson is not the only Oxford student who is missing. One of his two closest friends, Bill Dabney, has also disappeared...and the third member of the trio, Tom Stamp, has no idea where his friends have gone. It isn't long before a body is found--and identified as Payson. But where is Bill Dabney? Did he commit the murder? Or did he witness it and is now on the run? With few clues to lead him forward in the case, Lenox concentrates on the September Society--a club dedicated to a certain regiment which served in India. The mystery deepens when he discovers that George's father, who died while in India, served in that same regiment and would have been eligible for the September Society had he lived.

Lenox believes that the key to current events lies in the past. He uncovers the truth of two other deaths connected with the Society and it becomes clear that secrets long buried are reaching out to affect the present. But will he be able to discover the truth in time to prevent another death--perhaps his own?

My previous (very short) review mentions that I thought this a better book than the debut novel, in part because it has an academic element and I do love an academic mystery. That still holds true. Finch gives us Oxford as the backdrop for a great deal of the story and the descriptions of the university and the surrounding area are fantastic. I also enjoyed having the novel focus on the three undergraduates and the mystery of what George Payson (primarily) has to do with the September Society. The mystery plot is very good and Finch pulls off a very nice twist in the final chapters--one that I had forgotten about and (once again) did not see coming. I also enjoyed Lenox picking up a protégé and hope that we will see more of John Dallington in the future.

I do have to concur with other reviewers on Goodreads that Lenox in love is...well...wishy-washy and muddled. Rather than start with him waffling over when and how to ask the lady to marry him--and continuing that atmosphere until the very end, I think it would have been better to build his realization of his true feelings over the course of this novel and then provide the proposal in the last chapter. But that is a minor quibble. Overall, this is a very enjoyable mystery with good background, an interesting connection to the past, and a fine, twisty ending. ★★

First line (Prologue): The first murders were committed nineteen years before the second, on a dry and unremarkable day along the Sutlej Frontier in Punjab

First line (Chapter 1): The only question left, he felt, was how to handle the matter--how it was to be done.

Last line: So he reminded himself to mention it later and stepped into his carriage, a comprehending smile on his face, off again to work, as above him rivers of autumn pink and purple ran across the heavens.

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

Deaths = 6 (three shot; one poisoned [cat named Longshanks]; one strangled; one hit on head)

Friday, August 20, 2021

Death in Daylesford


 Death in Daylesford (2020) by Kerry Greenwood

In her 21st mysterious adventure, Phryne Fisher is destined to unravel not one, but two separate mysteries in the country while her adopted daughters help Sergeant Hugh Collins with a mystery back in St. Kilda. Phryne receives an invitation from Captain Spencer asking her to check out his health spa for veterans of World War I dealing with shell shock. He's hopeful that once she sees the good work he's doing that she will be willing to make a donation to the cause.

Phryne and Dot have barely established themselves at Daylesford when it becomes apparent that all is not well. There are "accidental" deaths and they hear of women disappearing. The center of the mysterious deaths appears to be Annie, a beautiful young woman who works at the Temperance Hotel. She is the hope and dream of every young man in the area and it seems more than a coincidence that her most devoted beaus keep dying. The first fell from a train window before Phryne arrived in the country town. The next was killed when another suitor, famous for his ability to toss cabers (a huge, roughly trimmed tree trunk), is startled into a deadly slip. A third dies of poisoning at a local dance.

The second mystery surrounding Daylesford involves the disappearance of several women. No trace is found of them--either living or dead--and their families and the police are baffled. One woman apparently took off in her night dress. Phryne spots clues that point to the local lending library, knitting patterns, and a particular kind of scarf.

Meanwhile, Tinker (a more recent addition to the Fisher household) discovers a dead young woman floating near the docks. The body is that of a schoolmate of Ruth and Jane (Phryne's adopted daughters). The three young people get involved in a mystery of their own--assisting Sergeant Collins to discover who put the girl in the family way and how she came to her death.

It's been a while since I visited with Phryne Fisher. This newest mystery seems to be a bit more sedate--the pace is more steady and there's less adventure than in some of the earlier books. But the plot is an interesting one and it was nice to see the young people investigate on their own. Still very enjoyable and a good mystery. ★★

First line: It was a lazy, late summer's morning in St. Kilda.

Perhaps you only came to a full appreciation of the virtues of your superiors when they were replaced by machine-made numbskulls. (p. 91)

Like all women, Phryne was fully prepared to be bored senseless by Men Explaining Things if there happened to be a good reason for it. (p. 139)

Last lines: "And confusion to our enemies!"  "Hear, hear!"

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

Deaths = 5 (one drowned; one hit with large pole; one fell from a train; two poisoned)

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie


 The Mystery of Mrs. Christie (2020) by Marie Benedict is an ambitious undertaking. In December 1926, the up and coming mystery novelist Agatha Christie goes missing for eleven days. Her car is found abandoned near a cliff with her suitcase and fur coat in the seat. England and the mystery world were focused on the author's fate for nearly two weeks. No trace of her is found until she is discovered at a hotel in Harrogate, registered under the last name of her husband's lover--as Mrs. Neele. Though many theories have been put forward to explain Christie's disappearance--from amnesia and/or a fugue state brought on by Archie Christie's request for a divorce to a publicity stunt to advertise her latest book to wanting to embarrass her husband and his lover--Christie refused to talk about that period of her life and the real story was never told.

Benedict gives us a fictional account of what might have happened. It seems quite logical that an author who devised some of the most interesting and surprising plots in Golden Age detective novels might devise a similarly twisty surprise for her erring husband. I quite enjoyed the basic premise and story. But I'm not fond of the dual timeline in this case and I definitely am not a fan of the present tense story-telling of the sections devoted to Archie's actions post-Agatha's disappearance. That portion of the narrative seems very stilted--perhaps that's meant to mirror Archie's manner with Agatha in the latter years of their marriage. But it didn't make for smooth reading. ★★ and 1/2

First line: The letter flutters on the desk, almost keeping time with the footsteps thundering across the floor.

...it occurred to me that we are all unreliable narrators of our own lives, crafting stories about ourselves that omit unsavory truths and highlight our invented identities. (p. 168)

Last line: But I promise myself--and them--now that I have authored an authentic self into existence, I will write a perfect ending.


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Patriotic Murders


 The Patriotic Murders
(One, Two, Buckle My Shoe; 1940) by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot, like many people, dreads going to the dentist--even when the dentist is a good as Mr. Morley. Most people don't dread the dentist so much that they decide to shoot him to put themselves out of their misery. But the fact remains that Mr. Morley has been shot and will never scare a timid patient with his drill again. Inspector Japp believes it to be suicide, though a motive is sadly lacking. Morley seemed to have no particular worries. His money situation was fine and he had no romantic entanglements. Poirot is more inclined to believe in murder. But, again, a sufficient motive is nowhere to be found. 

When one of Morley's patients, a Greek by the name of Amberiotis, dies of an overdose of dental medication, Japp is absolutely certain that Morley killed himself in a fit of remorse after realizing he had given Amberiotis the wrong dose. Then another patient goes missing and her body is later found stuffed in a chest. Poirot must work his way through hints of political intrigue; hush-hush advice from a former Home Office johnny (who knows foreign spies when he sees them); blackmail; conferences with high-flying financiers; and corpses with battered faces who may or may not be who we think they are. Throw in a couple of hot-headed young men with dreams of over-throwing the status quo and who knows who murdered whom and for what purpose.

While I always enjoy Dame Agatha and Hercule Poirot, I have to say that this one feels very much like Poirot pulls the solution out of a hat. I recognized the basics of what was going on with one of the deaths, but I did not see the leap from one small sentence to the line of reasoning that Poirot produces for his solution. All of the evidence is tracked down off-scene and the reader isn't given the chance to see it before Poirot confronts the killer at the end. 

It's an exciting little mystery and a fair amount of fun--but not one of her best in my opinion. With the hints of espionage and financial intrigue in addition to blackmail and personal animosities, it seemed like Christie was trying to do a bit too much in one story. ★★

First line: Mr. Morley was not in the best of tempers at breakfast.

Last line: "Nineteen, twenty, my plate's empty--" And went home.

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

Deaths =  3 (one shot; two poisoned)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Funerals Are Fatal (After the Funeral)


 Funerals Are Fatal (After the Funeral) [1953] by Agatha Christie

Cora Lansquenet has always had a way of blurting out whatever came to mind--inconvenient truths, as Mr. Entwhistle, the family lawyer tends to think of them. One never knew for sure if  Cora was as innocent as she seemed or if she dropped these little verbal bombs to see what effect might be produced. So it isn't odd that she does a bit of blurting when the Abernathie relations return to the family home after the funeral of the Richard Abernathie--Cora's brother and family patriarch, so to speak. But "he was murdered, wasn't he?" seems a bit extreme even for Cora. No one appears to take her seriously and they all try to pretend it was never said. But a few of them, including Mr. Entwhistle, have to wonder whether Cora knows something.

Then, when Cora is subsequently murdered by someone wielding an axe (and who tried, very inefficiently, to make it look like a random robbery gone bad), Mr. Entwhistle begins to think there was something in that statement after all. He calls upon his old friend, Hercule Poirot, and asks him to investigate. Not long after, Cora's companion, Miss Gilchrist, is nearly done in by a piece of poisoned wedding cake. Poirot's investigation reveals that all of Richard Abernathie's relatives had a motive--primarily monetary and they all benefit under Richard's will. From his brother Timothy and wife whose home is badly need of funds for upkeep to his nephew George who has been speculating with other people's money (and losing) to his niece Susan who wants to the money to start a new business to his niece Rosamund and husband who want the the money to put on a play (with hubby in the starring role). 

Richard, if truly murdered, must have been poisoned and the poison could have been planted at any time. But who had an opportunity to kill Cora? As it happens...just about any of them. No one has a really good alibi. It isn't until Poirot understands what is behind the running theme of nuns and paint--and Helen Abernathie (wife of Richard's deceased brother, Leo) remembers what bothered her on the occasion of Cora's exclamation after the funeral that our detective is able to find the villain of the piece.

I thought I knew who did it. Then I got distracted by a few red herrings and changed my mind. I should have stuck with my first thought...Dame Agatha managed to throw the dust in my eyes once again for another enjoyable Poirot mystery. In this one, he collects few clues and discerns all through interactions with people--just letting them talk and unknowingly reveal their true natures to him--and, of course, employing his little grey cells. ★★

First line: Old Lanscombe moved totteringly from room to room, pulling up the blinds.

Funerals are absolutely fatal for a man of your age. (Mr. Entwhistle's sister; p. 21)

The very simple-minded have often the genius to commit an uncomplicated crime and then leave it alone. (Hercule Poirot; p. 117)

If the murderer is wise he will let well alone, but murderers, Inspector, are seldom wise. (Poirot; p.124)

You don't want to fluster your bird too soon. But when you do fluster it, you want to fluster it well. (Inspector Morton; pp. 125-6)

Things aren't over when you've done them. It's really a sort of beginning and then one's got to arrange what to do next and what's important and what's not. (Rosamund Shane; p, 154)

Everyone had accepted U.N.A.R.C.O. as a matter of course--had even pretended to know all about it! How adverse human beings were ever to admit ignorance! (p. 165)

It is a profound belief of mine that if you can induce a person to talk to you for long enough, on any subject whatever, sooner or later they will give themselves away.... (Poirot; p. 221)

Last line: They were silent--and Poirot thought of murderers he had known...

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

Deaths = 3 (two natural; one cut with axe)


Thursday, August 12, 2021

A Beautiful Blue Death


 A Beautiful Blue Death (2007) by Charles Finch

Charles Lenox, well-to-do Victorian gentleman, is always planning trips to exotic places, but rarely gets to go. Because his other hobby is crime and all to often a case comes along that strikes his fancy. In this first installment of the mystery series, he has just wrapped up a forgery case. He begins to plan a trip to the Riviera, but must cancel the notion when his friend, Lady Jane Grey asks him to investigate the death of her former maid. 

Prudence Smith had left Lady Jane's service to work at the home of George Barnard where her fiancé was employed as a footman. She has been found poisoned with a bottle before her and a suicide note on the desk in her room. But Lenox immediately discovers difficulties with the suicide theory--the poison in the bottle is not the poison that killed her. She was polished off by bella indigo (the beautiful blue), a rare and fairly expensive poison. The other snag--Prudence could neither read nor write. Barnard's house is full of suspects--from a fiancé who may have been driven mad with jealousy to one of Barnard's nephews who had dallied with the girl. Barnard's house also houses a great secret and it's possible the girl discovered it and was killed to keep her quiet. 

But the more Lenox investigates, the more difficult the case becomes. It appears that everyone with a motive also has an alibi. It isn't until a second death occurs--that of a guest in Barnard's house--and certain statements are made about the dead man that pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. Once Lenox reviews statements by various suspects, he realizes there is another motive for the murders...one that the police couldn't possibly suspect.

This is a reread for me and I can confirm my previous evaluation. It is a good beginning to the series with excellent and interesting characters. I was particularly struck this time by the relationship between Lenox and his butler Graham and how much it resembles the relationship between Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter. There is the same easy understanding between them, Graham willingness (even eagerness) to participate in the investigation in whatever manner needed, and the fact that, had they been social equals, they would have been friends. And I thoroughly enjoyed Lenox's brother Edmund and the way this member of Parliament was also so boyishly eager to help Lenox with his detecting. Edmund disguises himself in old clothes and stakes out Barnard's house--watching for anything suspicious! 

What didn't work well for me was the wrap-up. I don't like an ending to feel rushed--but I also don't want one to go on forever. Lenox goes through this very long explanation which begins with Lady Jane as his audience and then brings in Edmund and keeps on going. But when he wraps up that scene with them, is that the end? No, there is a further (anticlimactic) extra piece to the ending in the next chapter. And then...Lenox realizes that there is yet another piece to the mystery (not exactly related to the murders--but related to the top secret thing in Barnard's house) which sets up an "I'm still in pursuit of this other master criminal, a la Professor Moriarty" bit and seems to promise that there may be a big show-down in the future. But it falls a bit flat. Fortunately, it didn't detract too much from my enjoyment, so-- ★★ and a half for a solid reread and a good beginning.

First line: The fateful note came just as Lenox was settling into his armchair after a long tiresome day in the city.

Grim chap. Horrid company. Always reading, you know. Just reads. I chalk it up to bad early influence. (Claude Barnard; p. 100)

Last line: They rode briskly to the west, talking and laughing together, until some minutes later Edmund, glancing up by chance in his library, could only see their twinned figure against the pale darkness of early evening, blurred together into one, far off in the distance.

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

Deaths = 6 (one poisoned; one shot; one natural; one stabbed; two drowned)

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Evil Under the Sun


 Evil Under the Sun (1941) by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, an exclusive resort on the Devon coast. And, despite his emphasis to his fellow residents that he is definitely not on a case, he finds that murder has decided to holiday on the coast as well. 

Arlena Marshall, a beautiful former actress, is seen by the other guests as a femme fatale. Her long-suffering husband, Captain Marshall, must stand by as men fall over themselves to get close to her. Her latest conquest is Patrick Redfern, a handsome young man with a rather mousy little wife. Poirot observes that Redfern is really quite in love with his wife and that may be so, but the young man seemingly can't resist the siren's call. 

One morning, Arlena asks Poirot to help her launch her little boat--insisting that she wants to be alone for once and that he should tell no one where she's gone. It's obvious to the detective that she has an assignation, but when Redfern appears on the beach and looks about helplessly it would seem that the beautiful Arlena is meeting someone besides the ardent young man. Redfern later goes out rowing with Emily Brewster, a rather athletic young woman who always goes rowing in the mornings, and he just "happens" to row in the direction Arlena had taken. They spot her sunbathing with a large green hat over her face and Redfern insists on going onto the beach and surprising the sunbather. But it's he who gets the surprise...a rather nasty one. He shouts to Emily that Arlena is dead, strangled. He volunteers to stay with the body and sends Emily for help.

Soon Poirot is setting aside his holiday in order to help the local police get to the bottom of the case. Naturally, the local inspector is looking at the most likely suspect--the betrayed husband. But the husband seems to have a perfectly good alibi. There are others who may have wanted Arlena out of the way--from her stepdaughter, Linda Marshall, to Rosamund Darnley, an old friend of Captain Marshall's who perhaps would like to be more than friends. There's also the Reverend Lane who is a bit of a fanatic and may have been pushed over the edge by what he calls a scarlet woman. When a cache of drugs is found in a little cave at the beach where Arlena was murdered, it begins to look like she may have run afoul of drug smugglers. But Poirot is focused on the most likely suspect--a suspect even more likely than the betrayed husband. He'll have to figure out what a thrown bottle, a mid-day bath, some candles and green bits of cardboard, a wristwatch, and an older murder case have to do with Arlena's death before he will be ready to present his case to Inspector Colgate and the Chief Constable, Colonel Weston.

Another great mystery from Dame Agatha. I enjoy the way it seems everyone has an alibi and Poirot manages to figure out how someone who "couldn't possibly have done it" did. It had been so long since I actually read this (junior high school, I believe). I've watched the filmed versions several times since then and it was interesting to see what had been changed for the two films--with Peter Ustinov as Poirot in 1982 and David Suchet in 2001. Ustinov's version is a bit more camp while Suchet's is a bit darker and changes Marshall's daughter into a son (for some unknown reason), but each follows the plot very closely. ★★

First line: When Captain Roger Angmering built himself a house in the year 1782 on the island off Leathercombe Bay, it was thought the height of eccentricity on his part.

And Rosamund hadn't treated Linda as though she thought LInda a fool. In fact she'd treated Linda as though she were a real human being. Linda so seldom felt like a real human being that she was deeply grateful when any one appeared to consider her one. (p. 21)

Last lines: "Oh, my dear, I've wanted to live in the country with you all my life. Now--it's going to come true..."

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

Deaths = 3 (two strangled; one poisoned [mentioned in passing--but named])

Sunday, August 8, 2021

The House on Vesper Sands


 The House on Vesper Sands (2018) by Paraic O'Donnell

Part mystery, part gothic, part paranormal--O'Donnell combines the best parts of each to create an absorbing story about late-Victorian England. We open with Esther Tull, a seamstress who has been employed by Lord Strythe to produce fabulous gowns for an unknown purpose. Well...Esther now knows what it's all about and has determined to make the ultimate sacrifice to try and put a stop to it. She destroys some mysterious bottles of dark fluid, has embroidered a message into her very own skin, and then plunges to her death from an upper story in Lord Strythe's house.

Next up is Gideon Bliss, a religious scholar at Oxford, who has come to London after receiving an urgent summons from his uncle, Reverend Neuilly. Rev. Neuilly has been on a mission of charity--saving young women from a life on the streets and finding them decent employment. But when Gideon gets to London his uncle is nowhere to be found. Gideon briefly encounters Angela Tatton, one of the girls his uncle had assisted and whom Gideon had formed an attachment to when last he visited the reverend. But she soon vanishes as well. Through a bit of misunderstanding, Gideon finds himself playing sergeant to Inspector Cutter who is investigating the death at Lord Strythe's house and he realizes the disappearances and the death of the seamstress are connected. 

In fact, a large number of young women and girls have gone missing--all from the lower classes--and there are rumors of Spiritists being involved. These Spiritists aren't just your run-of-the-mill spiritualists who hold seances and seek to contact the other world. There is an aura of evil surrounding the men and hints of the dark arts. Cutter and Bliss must determine who exactly is behind these men and what they might want with these young women. Meanwhile, Octavia Hillingdon, female reporter, is investigating the disappearance of Angela Tatton as well. All paths lead to Lord Strythe's country estate where our protagonists will have to deal with a man willing to do anything to possess the secrets the Spiritists have been pursuing...and that includes killing anyone who gets in his way.

This was an incredibly absorbing story--particularly so when one realizes that I am not especially fond of either paranormal books or those that keep switching points of view. We start out with Esther Tull. Then move on to following Gideon Bliss (and by extension Inspector Cutter); alternating with episodes with Olivia Hillingdon. This works pretty well, for the most part--but there are a few sections where it becomes difficult to piece together what is going on--we just jump into a scene without proper contextualization. 

The paranormal aspect is quite central to the mystery, so once you accept that what is said to be happening actually can (at least in O'Donnell's Victorian England) happen then all is well. A review from The Irish Times says that "he doesn't rely on ghostly happenings to explain or resolve his plot." That's not precisely true. Without the paranormal, we definitely would not have the ending we are given--the villain may have gotten his due, but certainly not as it was dished up, and one of our heroes would most likely not still be with us. However, having suspended my disbelief and accepted the paranormal aspects as presented, I find the denouement perfectly satisfying.

One of the most delightful parts of the story is the somewhat uneasy (at first) partnership between Cutter and Bliss. The introductory scenes where Cutter assumes Bliss is his new sergeant (and Bliss decides to just go with it) are very funny and I fully appreciate Cutter's sarcastic wit. It looks like the two are set to continue as a team and one must hope that there will be future installments in the duo's detective career. ★★★★

First line:  In Half Moon Street, just as she came near to the house, Esther Tull felt the first gentleness of the snow.

A degree of suspicion is always warranted, Bliss. I wake up in the morning with a degree of suspicion. (Inspector Cutter; p. 186)

You will find everything present and correct, he said, which would be well and good if I had asked him. I had not asked him, however, and when a fellow volunteers a thing like that, you may take it as a certainty that something is missing. (Cutter; p,189)

Fate is a fairy tale, my darling. In life, there is only opportunity and advantage. (Lord "Elf" Hartington; p. 278)

Her vanished parts had been imperceptible before in daylight and by night only a faint and gaseous tracery had been visible. But they had brightened now, becoming distinct even in the strange dusk that the storm had brought, and she seemed formed in part of a gauzy tissue of radiance, sharpened at its edges so that it might have been etched into the air itself. (p. 375)

For my own part, I have endured this withered life for long enough. I am quite prepared to die today if I must, but if I do, then by God, I will go down swinging this stick. (Lady Ada; p. 376)

You have hardly given me a moment's peace in three months, but I can hardly fault you for it. It is in your nature to make a nuisance of yourself, just as it is mine. It is the rightful order  of things. (Inspector Cutter; p. 393)

Last line: It seemed impossible, even as it faded, to imagine it was anything other than eternal.

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

Deaths = 14 (two fell from height; one strangled; one hit on head; one hit by train; one strangled; seven poisoned; one drowned)

~~A purely personal observation--the cover pictured at the top left is the edition I read from the library. But I much prefer the alternate cover pictured at the bottom left. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Bluegate Fields


 Bluegate Fields (1984) by Anne Perry

The body of a sixteen-year-old boy is found drowned and naked in sewers near the out-take to the Thames. But he wasn't drowned in sewer or river water and his body shows him to be from the upper-classes. Since the lungs are full of bath water, it becomes apparent that this is a case of murder. Inspector Pitt traces the body to the Georgian home of Sir Antsey and Lady Wraybourne. It is that of their eldest son, Arthur. They are, of course, shocked that their son has been murdered. But there is worse to come--his body shows signs of sexual abuse and the beginnings of syphilis.

The family want nothing more than for the investigation to be over quickly and they want the guilty party to be some degenerate ruffian from the streets. Find someone to blame, get the trial over with a little fuss as possible, and make the man pay for his crime. But evidence shows that it must be someone closer to home. Pitt has been given a new sergeant who has a way of ingratiating himself with his betters and he soon digs up evidence that the guilty man is the boy's tutor, Mr. Jerome. Pitt doesn't like Jerome much, but he isn't wholly convinced of his guilt. He has no alternate suspect to suggest, however, so his superior officer orders him to arrest Jerome and stop investigating (and, of course, stop bothering the gentry). The tutor is found guilty and due to be hanged in three weeks' time...Pitt continues to investigate in his off-hours and, of course, Charlotte and her sister Emily and Aunt Vespasia get involved. They begin to see a pattern of behavior...but will it be in time to save an innocent man from the gallows?

This entry in the series is a mixed bag. I wasn't nearly as enthusiastic about the mystery overall (I don't like children in danger) and the background wasn't quite as well-sketched as in previous books. But--it was very nice to see Pitt hard at work investigating (not just endlessly questioning people or disappearing for great portions of the book) and Charlotte's role in finding out the key pieces towards the end worked well without putting her--yet again--into a dangerous situation. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: Inspector Pitt shivered a little and stared unhappily while Sergeant Froggatt lifted the manhole cover and exposed the opening beneath.

Last lines: And Pitt would go home to Charlotte and the warm, safe kitchen. He would tell her--and see her smile, hold her tight and hard.

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

Deaths = 3 (one drowned; one strangled; one shot)


Thursday, August 5, 2021

PopSugar 2021 Reading Challenge

 
The folks at PopSugar are back with their boundaries-pushing reading challenge for 2021. they encourage us to expand our reading horizons with reading prompts that may push us out of our comfort zones. They give us 40 standard prompts along with 10 more for those who are very committed. We don't have to do all of them--the goal is to read more and to read more of the things we might not normally choose. I wasn't sure I could do enough of the prompts this year, but looking over my reading I've done pretty well. So, I'm putting up a post. As in the past, I have set a personal goal of 20 prompts--from either list--in order to claim the challenge complete. I may do more.
 
Here are the prompts that have most appealed to me--for the full list, please click the link above.

1. Published in 2021: What the Devil Knows by C. S. Harris (7/22/21)
3. With a heart, diamond, club, or spade on cover: Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie (8/22/21)
4. By an author who shares your zodiac sign: The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume (7/29/21)
5. With a gem, mineral, or rock in title: The Hardway Diamonds Mystery by Miles Burton
6. Main character works at your current/dream job: Final Notice by Jo Dereske [librarian] (4/27/21)
9. Book with a family tree: After the Funeral/Funerals Are Fatal by Agatha Christie (8/14/21)
13. Locked-room mystery: The Clue of the New Pin by Edgar Wallace (5/15/21)
15. Set mostly or entirely outdoors: A Silver Spade by Louisa Revell (6/9/21)
20. Book about do-overs or fresh starts: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict (8/18/21) [Agatha Christie has a fresh start at the end of the book)
23. Set somewhere I'd like to visit in 2021 (or any time, really): Death Under the Sun by Agatha Christie [the Devon coast in England] (8/10/21)
25. Title starts with "Q," "X," or "Z": Quaker Witness by Irene Allen (7/19/21)
27. About a social justice issue: Bluegate Fields by Anne Perry [Charlotte, her sister, and Aunt Vespasia are organizing other society women to influence their husbands over child poverty and working conditions in Victorian London] (8/6/21)
29. Black & White Cover: Why Kill the Innocent by C. S. Harris (6/23/21)
31. Same title as a song: A Night to Remember by Walter Lord (7/14/27)
35. Different format than you normally read: Murder at Bray Manor by Lee Strauss [audio] (2/21/21)
36. Has fewer than 1,000 reviews on Amazon or Goodreads: The Sound of Insects by Mildred Davis [4 reviews on Goodreads] (8/5/21)
38. About art or an artist: Lord Mullion's Secret by Michael Innes [lead character is an artist] (7/31/21)
39. Everyone seems to have read but you: The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2/4/21)

Advanced/Bonus
41. Longest book (page count) on TBR: Vintage Mystery & Detective Stories by David Stuart Davies [ed]
42. Shortest book (page count) on TBR: Buzzy Beaver by Alice Sankey
44. Ugliest cover: Theoretically Dead by Tinker Marks (5/19/21)
45: On TBR the longest: Rutland Place by Anney Perry [on TBR since 7/1/91] (8/5/21)
46. TBR book meant to read last year, but didn't: The Montmartre Investigation by Claude Izner (5/17/21)
47. TBR book associated with a favorite person, place, or thing: The 13th Warrior (aka Eaters of the Dead) by Michael Crichton [give from Paula--BFF] (5/22/21)
48. Chosen from TBR list at random: Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal (1/2/21)
50. Free book from TBR list (gift/borrowed/library): Crimson Snow by Martin Edwards (ed) [library] (1/13/21)


Rutland Place


 Rutland Place (1983) by Anne Perry

Caroline Ellison, mother of Charlotte Pitt [our amateur sleuth who is the wife of a policeman], sends a frantic note to her daughter asking for help with a disturbing "event." When Charlotte arrives at her parents' house, she finds her mother nervous and upset over the loss of a small locket. After much difficulty in getting straight answers from Caroline, Charlotte finally learns that the locket contains a somewhat compromising photograph...of a man who is not Edward Ellison. Caroline has also felt like she's being watched, perhaps by someone biding their time before trying a spot of blackmail. She asks her daughter to help her get to the bottom of the matter.

In the course of paying social calls, Charlotte soon learns that others have had items come up missing as well. Is it just petty thievery or is there more going on? When Mina Spencer-Brown dies of a belladonna overdose, it looks like there is something much nastier going on in Rutland Place--especially when it is proved that she couldn't have taken such a large dose by accident, nor that she had access to the poison. Mina was a woman who like to hint that she knew more than others about certain "mysteries" and "scandals" among her neighbors. Did she hint once too often and to the wrong person? Would the Charringtons kill to keep the secret of their daughter Ottillie's death from being known? Would Theodora von Schenck kill to prevent anyone from finding out where her extra funds come from? Are there other, even more desperate secrets worth killing for? And what do the thefts and Caroline's locket in particular have to do with it all.

There is a bit of a dark streak to this one--the reasons behind the deaths are somewhat disturbing, especially the second one. But there are some very fun moments to this one as well--Charlotte's excursion to the music hall is particularly good. I did enjoy watching Emily maneuver her father into paying more attention to his wife--which is just what Caroline needed to get her mind off a silly infatuation.  It was a shame that we didn't see more of Pitt and there is not the urgency in the investigation that we found in the previous book. But overall, a solid mystery and good afternoon's read. ★★

First line: Charlotte Pitt took the letter and looked at the errand boy in some surprise.

Last line: It wasn't until Inigo Charrington stood in the doorway, his eyes full of sympathy and affection, that at last Charlotte let go of Eloise.

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

Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one run over by a cart)