Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Saturday, November 27, 2021
Murder under the Mistletoe by Jennifer Jordan
Barry and Dee Vaughan take a holiday in Italy where they get their first glimpse of Miranda Travers. A fashion model with even more good looks than your usual runway beauties and with men swarming like bees round a bee hive. She's got two men on a string as potential husbands and a few others who'd love to shove the top contenders out of the way--including Morgan Grant who, oddly enough, she's gives little encouragement to. Even Barry feels the effects of her charm.
The Vaughans return home and forget about Miranda Travers...until she shows up later that year at the same country hotel where Barry and Dee have decided to spend the Christmas holidays. Once again she has all the men dancing attendance and it looks like she's going to add another feather to her cap by luring young Gabriel Field away from Joyce Bradley (if only temporarily). She even creates a stir between the two young men in the antique business. Major Henry Gardner seems to have her measure, but even he isn't immune to a beautiful young woman. When her Italian beau (possible husband #2) sends her a rare statue as a Christmas gift, she longs to show it to someone. But when she's found dead on Boxing Day and the statue has disappeared, one has to wonder if she showed it to the wrong person. Was she killed for the art piece or for the way she toyed with men's hearts?
I feel like I should have liked this more than I did. After all, it's got an academic-type--Barry is a History teacher who writes mysteries on the side. Barry and Dee are likeable people with a nice little dog named Bella. And the country hotel at Christmas setting is a nice backdrop for a bit of murder and mayhem. There's a decent sprinkling of culprits...though not quite enough with strong enough motives. But it just doesn't click. I don't buy into Barry and Dee as amateur sleuths. Even the fact that Barry writes murder mysteries and this supposedly gives him insights into motives and whatnot doesn't really help. It takes for-ev-er to get to the murder. As the first line below indicates, we have to start off with a detour to Italy first. And, sure, it gives us a bit of background on our victim, but not anything that we couldn't have picked up one way or another at the hotel. I get the feeling that Jordan wasn't real keen on her amateur detectives either, after all, she published this one in 1989 and apparently abandoned the murder ship. The set up with Barry and Dee and their pet Inspector Ken Graves, makes one think that a series was intended. But I think it just as well that it didn't happen. ★★
First lines: It all started in Spring. In Italy--Florence, to be precise.
Always tell women what they want to hear, when there is no fear of them taking you up on it. (Barry Vaughan; p. 101)
Last line: "Woof," agreed Bella.
Deaths = one poisoned
Spence & the Holiday Murders (1977) by Michael Allen
This is the first book of three which Allen wrote about Superintendent Ben Spence and it's the last of the three that I was able to get my hands on. In fact, I believe I read the trilogy in reverse order.
Spence's debut is made at Christmas time. Just three days prior to the holiday, Roger Parnell, a local businessman and playboy, is killed in his driveway. Someone caught him from behind with the proverbial blunt instrument before he could find the right key to unlock his front door. When the milkman first spotted him laid out in the drive, he thought Parnell had been celebrating a little early and a little too hard. But the blood beneath his head told a different story.
Spence is breaking in a new Detective Inspector and as they begin the investigation Inspector Laurel learns that Spence isn't a man to hurry things along and he's definitely not going to jump to any conclusions. Interviews always take place twice--because you never know what a witness/suspect might remember or let drop in a second round of questioning. They soon learn that while Parnell was an attractive, smooth single man with wads of money at his disposal, he was also a bit of conman....staying just barely on the right side of the law. Not to mention a bit of a cad and a peeping tom too boot. He made plays for the young women at the nearby school (but only those of legal age...) and was the love 'em and leave 'em type. He also managed a second mortgage scheme that put his clients in deep trouble over late payments as well as an iffy bathroom remodel business. There are plenty of people who might have taken offense at the way he handled women and business. But was anyone upset enough to kill?
This was an interesting police procedural which is a window on the past. There are a lot reminders of behaviors that were perhaps not acceptable then, but blinked at. The plot and narration reminded me a great deal of Dragnet at its best. It is bare bones detection ("Just the facts, Ma'am") and yet the characters are interesting. I particularly enjoyed watching the way Spence worked with the new man and the way he carried out his interviews. Allen did a fine job spreading the suspicion around so we had plenty of potential suspects in the mix. What keeps this from being a full four star book was the explanation of the motive and the actions of the killer that night. I realize that people kill for all kinds of motives that may seem inadequate to others, but generally speaking the motive at least seems to fit the character of the culprit (if the author gives adequate information on said character). I certainly can imagine the guilty party killing and I can even imagine them killing Parnell...just not for the reason given and not carrying it out as explained. ★★★ and 1/2
First line: If Roger Parnell had known that he was going to be murdered in two and a half hours time he would undoubtedly have paid more attention to the stripper who was featured in the ten o'clock cabaret at Big Fat Nelly's nightclub.
Last line: "Well," she said. "Perhaps you're right."
Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one overdose)
Friday, November 26, 2021
|Lilac by Stephen Darbishire|
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
Murder at Feathers & Flair (2018) by Lee Strauss
Lady Ginger Gold has opened a new dress shop in Regent Street called Feathers & Flair and plans to kick things off with a gala event. She'll have designer dresses for the well-to-do as well as well-made clothing in the off-the-rack section for those who can't afford a frock from Paris. She's also arranged for a well-known Parisian designer to give a debut viewing of some of his latest models. Everything is set for a breath-taking evening.
There is a terrific turnout with everyone from a former German princess to a Russian duchess attending--along with the elite of British society. The event goes well, several purchases and orders are processed, the guests leave for home, and Ginger is breathing a sigh of relief when her shop manager discovers the Grand Duchess Olga Pavlova Orlova lying dead behind the curtain leading to the backrooms. Not only has the Grand Duchess been murdered, but the fantastic blue diamond necklace which had been on display around her neck is gone. Was the lady killed for the Blue Desire, a jewel which carries (as so many of these fabulous gems do) a history of bad luck for its owners? Or is there something else behind the Russian's demise? When a coded message is found hidden in the Grand Duchess's shawl, it begins to look like the lady has been playing in the spying game.
Ginger dives into sleuthing once again--this time with two investigations vying for her attention. Her sister-in-law, Felicia has asked her to look into the disappearance of Angus Green, an actor in the repertory theater group which Felicia has joined. Felicia and Angus were in the middle of a play run with two more performances left. Others think that Angus was just a flighty young man and took off for his own purposes, but Felicity does not believe that he would let his fellow actors down. She's convinced something awful has happened to him. When another actor in the group disappears as well, it begins to look like something is rotten in the acting circle. Ginger is going to have her hands full and a lot to think about...and then, of course, there is the complications in her personal life.
Her previous investigations put her in close contact with the very personable and handsome Inspector Reed. Reed has been separated from his wife (due to her romantic indiscretions) and has given Ginger to understand that a divorce is in the offing. So...why did he show up at the dress shop gala with his wife? It seems that Emelia Reed has begged forgiveness and asked for a second chance. Reed is torn and Ginger is faced with the fact that she loves a man who still very much belongs to another. It puts a strain on their detective co-op. But the duo do find a way to work together and eventually bring the culprit to justice.
I think this was Strauss's best effort at mystifying me. Even though she plainly displayed two clues that should have told me who was responsible, I managed to disregard them. Well, not entirely, I did pay attention to one clue...for about two seconds. It didn't seem to lead anywhere so I promptly forgot about it. I could blame it on listening to an audio version (I don't seem to take things in quite so well if I don't actually read the words), but I don't think that's the reason. I just didn't hang on to it and put it together with the other clue. One interesting note on this installment...it's a cliffhanger. The missing actor storyline doesn't get resolved and we're left with a tantalizing episode at the end that leads into the next book. ★★★★
First line: "You're a thief!"
Last line: Ginger grabbed at the string of beads around her neck. "Oh, mercy."
Deaths = two neck broken
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Death in High Heels (1941) by Christianna Brand
Brand's debut mystery takes place in a posh dress shop where Mr. Frank Bevan, proprietor and manager, is getting ready to shake things up. Everyone is sure that he is going to send Miss Doon (his especial favorite) off to manage the sales floor of a new branch in Deauville. But at the last minute, those honors go to Miss Gregory, Bevan's secretary and right-hand girl. Miss Doon was set to go to lunch with Bevan to celebrate her promotion--but winds up having lunch in the staff room instead. Hours later, Miss Doon is dead from oxalic poisoning--some crystals were apparently sprinkled on her portion of curried rabbit.
Where did the oxalic acid come from, you might ask. Well, Mrs. Rachel Gay and Mrs. Victoria David had gone to the chemist's to get a small quantity to use to clean straw hats. The stuff gets spilled twice and a number of the staff have an opportunity to get their hands on some of it. When Inspector Charlesworth comes to investigate the suspicious death, he finds that some had opportunity to get the poison, but no opportunity to use it on the food. And some had plenty of opportunity to use it, but no opportunity to get hold of it. And among those who had both there are few motives for doing away with Miss Doon. Then another near-poisoning happens and Charlesworth is baffled. Another inspector is brought in to help clear the muddle and then....Charlesworth has a flash of insight while interviewing one of the suspects. Has he finally solved it?
Honestly, I found this quite exasperating. Throughout 90-some percent of the book Inspector Charlesworth is a most unpromising detective. There are points of interest that absolutely escape him and I can't believe it took 162 pages (and another inspector pointing it out) for him to confront the idea that maybe the intended victim wasn't really the person that died. I'm not saying that's the solution--maybe it is and maybe it isn't--but it was an obvious thing to consider as soon as everyone had told the story of that last fatal luncheon. It also never occurred to him to go talk to the chemist who supplied the oxalic acid. And, then, of course, there's his weakness for lovely young women and the fact that he "just knows" that Victoria David couldn't have murdered and attempted to murder anybody. Fingerprints on a glass? Pooh-pooh. There must be an explanation. Or maybe we can just pretend they aren't there. Again, I'm not saying she really is guilty (or that she really isn't), but I don't care for watching the detective tie himself into pretzels to avoid considering her a legitimate suspect.
And then there's the pacing. This thing dragged...and dragged.We went through the evidence several times and went through convoluted discussions of who might have and who didn't and who could have and who possibly couldn't have and it twisted my thoughts into pretzel shapes. The best of the book was when Charlesworth was interacting with Sergeant Bedd (and Bedd is able to one-up him on a few points) and the scenes in the dress shop environment. I could tell that Brand had worked in a dress shop--the attention to detail really gives the reader a sense of the atmosphere of a high-class shop. I was also surprised by the ending--I had considered the culprit, but then got so sidetracked by the various solutions Charlesworth proposed and his mental gymnastics in avoiding fitting Victoria up as the villain of the piece that I lost sight of that particular solution. ★★ and 3/4--not quite a three-star read.
First line: Irene was always the first to arrive.
Last lines: "I beg your pardon, sir. The racing yacht?"
Deaths = one poisoned
Sunday, November 21, 2021
Which Reminds Me (1989) by Tony Randall & Michael Mindlin
Tony Randall of The Odd Couple fame (among others) goes on a story-telling spree. There. Review done. Oh, I suppose I ought to say a bit more. So, Tony gives us little snippets of everything from life in the theatre to TV and film. He tells naughty stories about producers, directors, writers, fellow actors, and critics. He gives us behind-the-scene views of his most famous TV show appearances, The Odd Couple and Mr. Peepers. There are stories about practical jokes and mistaken identity. If could have happened in Hollywood, then it probably did and Tony lets us know.
I read this once before (in the 90s, I think--though I didn't note the date) and thought it amusing. I remembered Tony as a good storyteller. So, when I saw this at the Historical Society's community garage sale a few years ago, I decided to pick it up for a reread. I'll just say that this hasn't aged well. Most of the stories aren't nearly as funny as I remembered and some reflect views that aren't appropriate. Tony's style (or Mindlin's writing or however this pans out between the two) is too rambling. He just plunges from one story to the next with little to connect them into a nice, flowing commentary. I think it was supposed to represent the idea of the title--telling one story which reminds him of another story which leads to another story....and so on ad infinitum. Which perhaps works better conversationally than it does on paper.
There are things to like about the book--especially his stories about his early years onstage and his work with Jack Klugman on The Odd Couple--but not enough to make it a really good read. I gave it a strong three-star review before, but now I'd give it ★★ and 1/2 at most.
First line: There are, they tell me, more amusing anecdotes and jokes about show business than about any other.
Last line: [from a section on epitaphs] Here lies Porky Pig T-T-That's All F-Folks
Friday, November 19, 2021
Death of an Obnoxious Tourist (2006) by Maria Hudgins
The first in a series of cozy mysteries featuring Dotsy (Dorothy) Lamb, a professor of Ancient History, who quite honestly seems like the furthest thing from an academic. And this debut novel has very little to do with the academic world at all. Dotsy and her best friend Lettie are on a group tour to Italy. They plan to take in the sights--the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa--just like any tourist as well as stopping to take in archeological museums along the way. Also in the group are the Bauer sisters, Beth, Amy, and Meg. Beth is a friend of Lettie's and Meg is more like one of the evil stepsisters in Cinderella than part of a loving trio. In fact, Meg seems to go out of her way to insult every one of her fellow travelers.
When Meg is found stabbed to death with a souvenir knife just bought by Beth, Lettie's friend is an immediate suspect--until Marco Quattrocchi, the carabinieri officer in charge of the case, arrests a local gypsy who had stolen Beth's wallet and hotel room key and was found to have been in the hotel. Dotsy is convinced that both the gypsy and Beth are innocent. But who else could have wanted to kill Meg Bauer. As it winds up--practically everybody in their tour group. There's Shirley Hostetter who was forced to leave her nursing job because of Nurse Meg Bauer. There's Wilma Kelly whose activist activities have crossed Meg's path. There's Paul Vogel who always seems to be sneaking around and asking the most awkward questions. There's Gianni, an Italian local, whose blue Fiat is in the wrong place at the right time.
Then a second Bauer sister, Amy, falls to her death on one of the tour outings and it begins to look like someone has it in for the Bauer family. Dotsy spies a piece of paper in Amy's pocket with some mysterious references on it. But the paper disappears before Amy's body arrives at the hospital. If Dotsy and Marco Quattrochi can decipher the meaning of the words, they may just find a killer.
This first Dotsy Lamb book is my second encounter with the Hudgins series. I'm glad I read Death in an Ivory Tower first. It had an academic setting and Hudgins is much more in control of her cast of characters and mystery plot. The Italian background in this one is very nice and we get an excellent sense of place, but there are too many characters and not enough information about and/or interaction with most of them. It's difficult to take some of the tour members seriously as suspects when we have so little to go on and the attempts to use them as red herrings really didn't work well. The other annoying thing was after setting up a romantic relationship between Dotsy and Marco, Hudgins has him get angry at her amateur sleuthing and things get all uncomfortable between them. Then when she has a diabetic episode towards the end of the book, he comes charging into room like a knight-in-shining armor to make sure she's okay....and then nothing. The villain is caught and Marco just fades out. It's pretty unsatisfying.
That said, I do like Dotsy and Lettie and knowing that the fifth installment is a good one will ensure that I at least read the other series book I have sitting on the TBR stacks. I also like the fact that Dotsy doesn't outdo the police or assume that she can take on the bad guys alone. She's just an inquisitive woman who has a knack for finding things out. ★★ and 1/2.
First lines: "Strip search?" Lettie slapped a cold quivering hand on my arm. "Please, Dotsy, talk to them."
The Italian love of traffic rules is wonderful to behold. Rules are meant to be broken. If there were no traffic laws to break, driving would be no fun. (p. 192)
Last line: "And I also know how to pick a pickpocket's pocket.
Deaths = 2 (one stabbed; one fell from height)
Monday, November 15, 2021
Saturday, November 13, 2021