Friday, December 31, 2021

The Incredible Theft

 "The Incredible Theft" is a short story by Agatha Christie which was originally published under the name "The Submarine Plans" and, for reasons not quite clear to me, listed as a separate entry on the Agatha Christie perpetual challenge I am participating in. This particular version of the story involves Lord Mayfair, the Minister for Armaments, (Lord Alloway in the original) and a set of top secret plans for a new type of bomber plane. As the previous title indicates, this has changed from plans for a new submarine. Mayfair deliberately invites a woman who is suspected of dealing with foreign powers to his home when the plans will be on the spot. He tells his old friend Sir George Carrington (a navy man and Air Marshall) that he's done this to try and catch the woman red-handed--there's all these suspicions, but never any proof. He hopes the idea of a big coup will flush her into the open and cause her to make mistakes. But then...the plans are practically stolen from under his nose and apparently no one could have done it. Sir George suggests they call in Hercule Poirot to discreetly get to the bottom of it.

A nifty little mystery that stands alone quite well  (though, again, I'm not sure exactly why it does...). Poirot is not quite as pompous and full of his own powers as is sometimes the case and he even deigns to search for footprints in the wet grass surrounding the study where the plans had been kept. The solution is fairly straightforward, but short stories tend to be a little more so than the longer novels. A fun entry in the challenge line-up. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: As the butler handed round the soufflĂ©, Lord Mayfield leaned confidentially towards his neighbor on the right, Lady Julia Carrington.  

Last line: "My lord," said Poirot, "if you could not make the best of both worlds, you could not be a politician!"

Appointment with Death

 Appointment with Death (1938) by Agatha Christie

Mrs. Boynton ruled her family with an iron will. She did not abuse them physically, but she manipulated them. Their father had left them at her mercy financially and she in turn had them at her mercy emotionally. Dr. Gerard and Sarah King, both medical professionals, recognized the elderly woman as a mental sadist--hers was not the nature that wanted them to dance on attendance purely to make her life easier. Oh no, she made them dance on attendance in order to make their lives a misery. She got great pleasure out of causing anguish to everyone she could.

Having gotten as much fun out of that as she could by keeping them under her thumb at home, she decides to take them on a trip to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. Her plan? Perhaps to give them a glimpse of what life could be like and then to snatch it away from them again. Mrs. Boynton seems to enjoy the most cruel part of the cat and mouse game. But she also creates a situation where the nervous tension is so great for her sons and daughters that it may become unbearable--in ways she cannot control. will probably come as no surprise that Mrs. Boynton is killed. She was found sitting high above the camp at Petra, like an obscene Buddha--just has she had done each evening. But this time she is dead. At first it appears that her heart (well-established as diseased) had given out from the exertions of the journey to the desert location. But Dr. Gerard isn't satisfied. A quantity of digitalis is missing from his store of drugs. A hypodermic needle disappeared from his bad and then reappeared after the death. He has also observed the Boynton family. No, he is not satisfied. So, he reports to Colonel Carbury (acting as magistrate) and the colonel, who prefers things to be tidy, requests that his guest, Hercule Poirot, review the facts and give a professional opinion. Even then, he's not sure that Poirot can do it. Poirot, very sure of his own powers, promises that Carbury will have the truth--there may not be enough proof for a trial, but the truth will be known. And he will provide that truth within 24 hours!

This is not one of my favorite Christies. The build up to the murder is long and almost as torturous as Mrs. Boynton's mental torture of her family. Perhaps that's the point--to mirror what the family has endured at the hands of the matriarch. Long before the woman is dead, I was longing for her murder to happen, so we could get on with the detection part. After introducing Poirot briefly at the beginning of the story--he overhears two people discussing the fact that "she has got to be killed." Then our favorite detective disappears for about half the book. Once Poirot takes on the investigation, things pick up considerably. It was very nice to sink into the comfortable interviews with Poirot. I was also very proud of myself that I picked up on one the biggest clues to the murderer's identity--I solved this one entirely before Poirot's gathering of the suspects at the end. It may be that remembered it (after all, I have read this one before), but I don't think so. Christie has been able to fool me repeatedly in one way or another, even in those mysteries that I have read more often than Appointment With Death. I haven't read this one since I first discovered it at the Wabash Carnegie Library about 40 years ago and it really isn't one of those solutions that would impress itself on me like, say, Orient Express or Ackroyd.

All that said, just about anything by Christie is miles ahead of most of what's published today--especially those with blurbs claiming that the author writes like Christie or has a plot Christie would be proud of and etc. That's rarely true. ★★

First line: "You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?"

Last lines: "She didn't get what she wanted out of life. It must have been tough for her."


Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one shot)

Pick Your Poison Challenge 2022


I've been anxiously awaiting the new Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge for 2022. I first found Gregory's challenge in 2020 and have enjoyed the prompts that he devises.  As I have in the past, I'm going to commit to a Baker's Dozen (13 books). I'll probably do more, but my commitment will be met at 13.

Commitment met: 2/4/22! Still reading.

1. A-Z
Book with the letter Z in the title: Zanzibar Intrigue by F. Van Wyck Mason (9/15/22)
Author whose name starts with A or Z:
Book about letters:
A "comprehensive" book:

2. The Same, But Not
Book with color red or word "read" on cover: The Corpse with the Grimy Glove by R. A. J. Walling (3/5/22)
Author whose last name could be a first name: Easy to Kill by Agatha Christie [I have a cousin named Christie] (1/7/21)
Retelling of a classic: The Curse of Maleficent adapted by Elizabeth Rudnick (4/13/22)
a "He said, she said" book

3. What's the Dish?
Book with mug or cup on cover: Kill the Butler! by Michael Kenyon (8/26/22)
Book that includes recipes: A Question of Death by Kerry Greenwood (8/4/22)
Book about food from another culture:
Book about gossip:

4. Memories
Book about memory loss: Death Treads Softly by George Bellairs (3/7/22)
Author whose name you remember easily: Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie (1/21/22)
Book with word "remember" in title:
A diary: What Just Happened by Charles Finch (6/12/22)

5. Back to Basics
Classic novel: Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge (6/29/22)
Biography: An Hour Before Daylight by Jimmy Carter (4/2/22)
By a well-known author: Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie (1/1/22)
A paperback: A Broken Vessel by Kate Ross (2/27/22)

6. Time Is Ticking
Book with a clock on the cover: Best "Thinking Machine" Detective Stories by Jacques Futrelle (1/16/22)
Book about time travel: Star Trek: Voyage to Adventure by Michael J. Dodge (1/22/22)
Suspense novel: Killer Loose! by Genevieve Holden (5/11/22)
Book to pass the time while your favorite author finishes their next novel: Luck Be a Lady, Don't Die by Robert J. Randisi (4/16/22)

7. 'Til the Fat Lady Sings
Book about body image:
Space Opera:
Book with word "over" in title:
Book about a singer/musician: The Devil in Music by Kate Ross (3/13/22)

8. It's All Relative
Book about animal families: The One Hundred & One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith (6/18/22)
Book that relates to an interest you have:
Book about finding family: Fadeaway Girl by Martha Grimes (1/2/22) [one of the characters comes back to town looking for his father]
Book with "aunt" or "uncle" in title: The Body That Wasn't Uncle by George Worthing Yates (5/23/22)

9. Geekery
Book by author who sounds like a geek:
Cover that reminds you of a video game:
Book about an obsessive hobby: Clue: Candlestick by Dash Shaw (3/7/22) [Mr. Boddy collects objects with murderous ties]
Book about fandom or fanfic: Star Trek: The New Voyages by Sondra Marshak & Myrna Culbreath [eds] (9/17/22)

10. Workin' for a Living
Book by author whose name is a trade or profession: Deathblow Hill by Phoebe Atwood Taylor (1/21/22)
Memoir focused on author's profession:
Protagonist works in field similar to yours:
Nonfiction book about worker's rights:

11. Cover Up
Cover with someone who could use some clothes: Going Public by David Westheimer (5/16/22)
Book with blue cover: Voyage into Violence by Frances & Richard Lockridge (7/9/22)
Book with multiple fonts on cover: The Pocket Book of Popular Verse by Ted Malone, ed. (1/27/22) 
Book with author's name above the title: The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers (2/24/22)

12. Taking the Plunge
Book with cliff or ocean on cover: The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs (1/2/22)
Book by author you've always wanted to read: The Curse of the Fleers by Basil Copper [it's been on my TBR list for a long time] (10/17/22)
Book over 600 pages: Still Life with Crows by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child [601 pages] (6/10/22)
Book someone dares you to read

13. Shorts
Book set somewhere you might wear shorts: The Green Island Mystery by Betsy Allen [Bermuda] (1/24/22)
Book under 150 pages: The Murderer Who Wanted More by Baynard Kendrick (2/11/22)
Book of short stories: Bodies from the Library 2 by Tony Medawar, ed (1/13/22)
Book wider than it is tall: Brand Spanking New Day by Berkeley Breathed (4/16/22)

14. Locations
Book with "attic" or "kitchen" in title
Book by author who lives in another country: Death Stops the Frolic by George Bellairs (2/18/22)
Book about a movie being filmed on location:
Book about your homeland: Only Yesterday by Frederick Allen (4/21/22)

15. TBR Guilt
Book dusty from waiting to be read: Evan's Gate by Rhys Bowen (4/13/22)
Book someone gave you that you haven't read yet: The Man in the Moonlight by Helen McCloy [Secret Santa gift from Noah Stewart 2017] (3/16/22)
Book you've been meaning to read: A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon (9/3/22)
New release you feel guilty reading because TBR list is so long: The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett (8/7/22)

16. Crafty
Book with devious villain: Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh (2/20/22)
Book about a craft you do or would like to learn about:
Book with craft-related pun in title:
Book known for unexpected twist at end: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1/9/22)

17. People We Should Know
Book about women's issues: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn [a lot of focus on women's issues in the 1920s] (7/14/22
Book by BIPOC author: Be Holding by Ross Gay (5/19/22)
Book with LBGTQIA+ protagonist:
Book written by immigrant:

18. Heroes
Book about heroic event:
Nonfiction book about someone you admire: Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner (2/4/22)
Book with "feet" or "clay" in title:
Book with cape or cloak on cover: The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes (4/6/22)

19. Crossing Over
Book with "bridge" in title: The Witches' Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton (10/2/22)
Book about a ghost: Calamity at Harwood by George Bellairs (3/3/22)
Book that crosses two genres:
Book with X or cross on cover: X Marks the Spot by Lee Thayer (8/18/22)

20. Childhood Days
Reread childhood favorite: The Clue in the Crumbling Wall by Carolyn Keene (5/29/22)
Book about the circus: The White Elephant Mystery by Ellery Queen, Jr. (6/25/22)
Book set within 10 years of your birth: The Mystery of the Talking Skull by Robert Arthur [set in actual birth year] (3/15/22)
Coming of age story:

21. Legends
Book about mythical creature: The Price of the Phoenix by Sondra Marshak & Myrna Culbreath (1/4/22)
Book about legendary hero:
Book about lost treasure: The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot by Robert Arthur (3/30/22)
By an author you consider amazing:

22. Alternating
Book with alternating timelines or narrators: The Ghost Finders by Adam McOmber (3/2/22)
Book that features a classic car: Murder at the Spring Ball by Benedict Brown [several, actually--including an Aston Martin] (2/5/22)
Book that takes place on both land and sea: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (1/8/22)
Alternate history:

23. Musical Inspirations
West Side Story--a tragic love story: Murder at St. George's Church by Lee Strauss (7/29/22) [murderer's love story went wrong]
Sweeney Todd--book about revenge: An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch (1/29/22)
Phantom of the Opera--book about a hidden world: Reliquary by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (5/19/22)
Chicago--set in jail or prison:

24. Other Lands
Book translated from another language: Lock 14 by Georges Simenon [French] (5/14/22)
Book by author from country you'd like to visit: Death & the Professor by E. & M. A. Radford [England] (4/12/22)
Book set in area geographically different from your home: The Guest List by Lucy Foley (4/14/22)
Book with "land" in title:

25. Timely Topics
Book about a pandemic:
Book about climate change:
Book about a social movement:
Book about space travel: The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke (7/2/22)

26. Stories with Grit:
A Western:
Book with a desert on cover: Murder Begins at Home by Delano Ames (2/26/28) [on the Rue Morgue edition of this book]
Beach read: Death in a Sunny Place by Richard Lockridge (7/30/22)
Gritty detective story: The Sunburned Corpse by Adam Knight (4/4/22)

Wild Cards
Book with orange cover: The Body in the Fog by Cora Harrison (4/10/22)
An epistolary book: The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips (2/6/22)
Award-winning book: Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross (1/31/22)
Book at least 20 years older than you: Midnight Sailing by Lawrence G. Blochman (2/8/22)
Book about your favorite animal: 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Clocks

 The Clocks (1963) by Agatha Christie (read by Robin Bailey)

This is a reread for me (as are nearly all Christie stories) and I reviewed it in detail last year. (HERE) So, I'm not going to do so here. This will be more of a story about listening to the story.

When traveling up to my parents' house in Wabash, I like to listen to audio novels to make the three hour trip go by quickly. My preference for audio novels (especially when driving and concentrating on traffic) is to listen to stories I've already read so if I miss a bit here or there it won't matter so much. And when my son goes with me, it's especially fun to take an Agatha Christie along to see him react to various clues and red herrings. It was great fun to listen to him point out certain features that I knew were leading him astray and the experience also gave me more time to appreciate some of the humor in Christie's narrative that I had missed before. What is really interesting is that just like last time--I remembered the main culprit (of the murder portion of the plot), but Christie still fooled me on the motive. I'd completely forgotten about that connection.

The best part of this audio experience was sharing it with my son. He is definitely not his mother's child when it comes to books and I treasure every time we can connect over novels like this. Road trips to his grandparents seem to make for good times for sharing a story and I'm pleased that he enjoys the Christie mysteries enough to listen along with me. He even asked to have the remaining disks so he could finish the book (six hours wasn't quite enough time to reach the grand finale). A definite win for his book-loving mom!

I stand by the ★★★  and 1/2 rating (average of book and audio performance ratings) that I gave this last June.

First line: The afternoon of the 9th of September was exactly like any other afternoon.

Last lines: Our friend Colin has married that girl. If you ask me, he's mad. All the best. Yours, Richard Hardcastle.


Deaths = 3 (two stabbed; one strangled)

Christmas on the Block

 Christmas is finally, really over here at the Block. We returned from a visit to my parents in Wabash, loaded with the last of the Christmas presents. Well...I say that, but I do have some Christmas cash and a bookstore Christmas gift card to spend. So, maybe Christmas isn't finished after all. But--the actual gift-opening part is finished and here are the (primarily) bookish goodies that have been added to the Hankins family.

Up first (in order of opening), a Secret Santa gift from Michelle's True Book Addict Bookish Secret Santa exchange. It truly is from a Secret Santa--no name was attached to the gift and so far no one from the group has fessed up. But they certainly did provide a delightful surprise:

The Great Hotel Murder by Vincent Starrett (a lovely reprint of a classic Golden Age mystery)--as well as a jigsaw puzzle and Godiva chocolates.

Next on the list, books from my husband on Christmas day:

Murder in Mink by Robert George Dean (Superior Reprints edition)
Mysterious Invitation by Bernice Bloom (2021 mystery)
Ghost Finders by Adam McOmber (2021 historical paranormal mystery)
The Mardi Gras Murders by Gwen Bristow & Bruce Manning (The Mystery League)
The Lonesome Badger/Sound an Alarm/Murder Will Out by Frank Gruber/Genevieve Holden/Roy Vickers (3-in-1 Detective Club edition)
The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (Pocket Books #156)
The Case of the Dead Shepherd by Christopher Bush (Dean Street Press reprint)
A Surprise for Christmas by Martin Edwards, ed. (reprint of vintage short stories)
Inquest by Henrietta Clandon (Dean Street Press reprint)
Cause for Alarm by Eric Ambler (Penguin Books #511)
Murder at Midnight by R. A. J. Walling (Avon Books #16)
Dead of Night by Stewart Sterling (Dell Mapback #583)
Within the Vault by Lee Thayer (Dodd, Mead, & Co; 1st edition)
A Corpse for Breakfast by Max Murray (vintage edition)
The Purple Onion Mystery by H. (Harriette) Ashbrook (Penguin Books #626)

Also on Christmas day, two 3-in-1 Detective Book Club editions (and a Star Trek puzzle) from my son:

The Case of the Hesitant Hostess/Murder by the Day/The Fence by Erle Stanley Gardner/Veronica Parker Johns/Hugh Lawrence Nelson
Out of Control/Too Many Suspects/An Eye for an Eye by Baynard Kendrick/John Rhode/Oliver Weld Bayer

From my Golden Age Detective Secret Santa. The customs paperwork made it impossible for this Secret Santa to remain anonymous:

Unreasonable Doubt by Elizabeth Ferrars
The Lake District Murders by John Rhode
Post Mortem by Guy Cullingford

And Christmas presents from Mom & Dad--a puzzle, a small beaver figure, Star Trek calendar, and an Irish music CD--as well as two books:

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman (2021 mystery)
Murder on the Way! by Theodore Rosco (Bold Venture reprint)

Lots of good reading ahead--thanks to all the Santas in my life, both secret and known.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

52 Books in 52 Weeks Year-End Wrap Up

 Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks: Year-End Wrap Up

I finished up my reading for the Challenge with The Death at Yew Corner by Robert Forrest. It had an interesting locked room murder at the end, but it wasn't the strongest mystery I read this year. But as far as the challenge goes, I actually read my 52 books quite a long time ago--if we go strictly by the numbers. But--I take the book a week thing seriously, so I try to make sure I post a book for the challenge for each week of the year. Robyn has also asked us to post answers to some end-of-year questions. I've done so below.

~What were your reading goals for the year? Each year I try to read as many books from my own stacks as possible--and I sponsor a Mount TBR Challenge with that goal in mind. I always aim for Mount Everest (100 books from my own stacks), but have the dream goal of Mount Olympus on Mars (150 books). I did a really good job with that goal in 2021. So far, I have read a total of 243 books and, of those, 184 came from my own shelves so I finally (after ten years of the challenge) managed to plant my flag on the summit of Olympus.

~Did you explore outside the box, delve into new worlds or take comfort in the old? Well...I did a bit of both. I reread some old favorites including Agatha Christie and a historical mystery series from C. S. Harris. I had read the first four or so of the Harris series and I reread those, then kept reading the series until I was all caught up. Now, I'm impatiently waiting for the next one to come out in 2022. I also take part in a couple of challenges that push me into reading "outside my box." For instance, I read The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix--a young adult novel that would never have chosen for myself if one of the challenge prompts hadn't led me to it.

What was your most entertaining read of the year? Either The Left-Handed Booksellers (mentioned above) or Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. Both were five-star reads and kept me entertained from beginning to end.

Which stories stuck with you the longest? The series by C. S. Harris. I really like the story arc she has going on for Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin--the protagonist. Each installment has told us a little more about him and given greater insight to various supporting characters as well. There is a lot of depth to the story-telling.

Which characters did you fall in like or love with? See above. Lord Devlin and his wife Hero are terrific characters and I like them a great deal

Which stories or characters made you want to dive into their world and live there? I enjoyed visiting the 18th century with Lord Devlin--but I don't know that I'd particularly want to live there. I wouldn't mind living in the world of one of my Golden Age detective novels--provided I didn't wind up as one of the victims!

Which stories surprised you, made you reflect, laugh out loud, tear up, or irritated the heck out of you? Blood on the Dining Room Floor by Gertrude Stein--irritated the heck out of me. Supposedly a murder mystery by Stein. When I was done with it, I couldn't have told you what the plot was if my life depended on it. And I never did figure out where the blood on the dining room floor came from....

Which stories inspired web wonderings and lead you on rabbit trails? Murder at Bray Manor by Lee Strauss (historical mystery). Read this one to meet a prompt for one of my challenges--this sent me on a hunt online at the library for other entries in this series. Very light and fun reads. Glad I was able to hunt them down.

Which stories would you read again and again? Nearly all of Agatha Christie--in fact I have. And probably will again. Will probably read the C. S. Harris books again sometime in the future.

One book you think everyone should read? My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Where in the world and through what time periods did your reading adventures take you? I've been to England, Scotland, Russia, the Netherlands, Monaco, Yugoslavia [present-day Croatia], Romania, France, Belgium, Turkey, Denmark, Austria, Bosnia, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Greece, and Italy. I've time-traveled to the tenth century in Michael Crichton's The 13th Warrior and the fifteenth century in The Trolley to Yesterday by John Bellairs and eighteenth century England in the C. S. Harris novels. I've also spent a great deal of time in the Victorian era and the 1920s and 1930s (I do love those Golden Age mysteries).

Share your stats, new to you authors, favorite quotes, or covers. I don't have my stats done for the year--I always wait until January to make sure I catch all my last-minute reads. I will say that I enjoyed discovering Lee Strauss and Janice Hallett. Hallett wrote a modern mystery called The Appeal which relays details about a murder mystery almost exclusively through emails and text messages. It was a really nifty, modern twist on the epistolary novel. I hope she writes more!

The Death at Yew Corner

 The Death at Yew Corner
(1980) Richard Forrest

Dr. Fabian "Faby" Bunting was a force to be reckoned with. An opinionated former educator who now lives Murphysville Convalescent Home, she spends her days shouting encouragement to the home's staff who are currently striking for better pay and benefits. She's a loud supporter and doesn't mind who knows. She also spends a bit of time watching what everyone gets up to with her old pair of opera glasses. But she watches one too many odd things and winds up scaled to death in the center's therapy hot tub. The center's managing director is all set to sweep the death under the rug--disguised as "heart failure" (well one's heart probably would fail if one were dumped into scalding water...), but Faby has an ex-student and friend in former Senator Beatrice Wentworth. 

And Bea Wentworth learned from the best when it came to investigating oddities and not taking no for an answer. She knows there's no way Faby climbed into that scalding tub by herself (she was wheelchair-bound) and no one will fess up to helping her in. It's intimated that maybe Dr. Bunting committed suicide because she knew she was old and declining in health, but who in their right mind would commit suicide by scalding water? Bea and her husband Lyon, have gotten involved in murders before and insist that their police friend Chief Rocco Herbert investigate. He's a bit reluctant until it becomes apparent that the striking workers' union leader disappeared at about the same time as Faby died. Perhaps Faby saw what happened to Marty Rustman? And then one of the orderlies on duty that day at the convalescent home turns up dead....and more deaths follow. It seems that the convalescent home has become a center of death instead of recovery and there's quite a trail of corruption leading to the owners of the convalescent center. But is that the motive for murder? Or is something else driving the killer? It's up to Lyon--with his eye for small details--to put all the clues together.

I wasn't all that taken with the background of the strike and the corruption going on at high levels. It was all a bit heavy-handed and really disrupted my enjoyment of the mystery. Which is unfortunate, because Forrest really sets a pretty problem. You have the matter of a dead man who maybe isn't. You have a string of deaths that may be related and, if so, may be revenge killings. But--you have to decide whether someone is using all that as cover...and, if so, who? And, finally, Forrest gives us a really nice locked room murder towards the end. The explanation is interesting and I'm still trying to decide if it really could have been done in the time allowed. If you buy into that possibility, then it really is a nifty locked room solution. I'm pretty well giving all the star value to the locked room portion of the story.  and 3/4--not quite a full three.

First lines: "Don't let the g-d- scabs in here. Hit him with a two-by-four!"

Last lines: He wanted to cry but knew it wouldn't help. He knelt next to them to help scrub.


Deaths = 7 (one scalded to death;  four suffocated [one buried alive; one drowned in wet cement; one buried in debris from dump truck; one with plastic bag over head]; one poisoned dog named Kurt; one shot)

Monday, December 27, 2021

Spare Time for Murder

 Manders End, I thought. Yes, I would drive there now in the Pardiso and stay the night in one of those nice sounding pubs. That was how the trouble started. Spare Time for Murder
(1960) by John Gale

For reasons inexplicable to me (other than it fits with the plot) Anthony Somers takes one look at a flyer left in the glove compartment of his brand new (to him) Paradiso car and decides that it's been his life's ambition to go to Manders End, home of the Manders End Research Laboratories. Now, if I were looking for somewhere fun and/or relaxing to spend my holiday, I don't think a village whose claim to fame is a research laboratory would be my first (or second or tenth) choice. But maybe that's just me. 

Then, the next inexplicable thing happens. He walks into a pub at Manders End and watches the owner be unusually interested in his car. A girl named Cynthia Trail at the bar mistakes him for a man named Saunders and does he correct her? Oh, no. He just lets it lie and winds up letting the pub owner call another inn and make a reservation for him (and his new friend Cynthia)...under the name of Saunders. But then he signs in as Somers (does nobody wonder why the different names?). Did he tell Cynthia his real name on the way over? Does she believe him? Gale certainly doesn't think we need to know.

Perhaps Somers is just looking for a bit of adventure to liven up his life. Who knows? After all, when we meet him, we learn next to nothing about him. He's got two weeks of holiday left. That's is--we don't know what he does for a living--whether he's got a deadly dull job or what. Later, Gale casually drops the fact that Somers is in the Navy. Supposedly doing hush-hush things. But for a guy who does hush-hush things, he certainly blunders about. It's a miracle that he gets out of this little adventure alive.

So...anyway, Somers gets involved up to his eyeballs in a thriller that involves a secret lab, unusual experiments, and mysterious deaths. Scotland Yard, in the form of Inspector Clarke, is on the spot--wondering why two men who had connections with another hush-hush place have suddenly died in mysterious "accidents." When Clarke finds Somers in Manders End, he checks up on him and discovers that he's just the man he can trust. Thye get down to business figuring out just what Dr. Larkins is doing up in that lab of his...and whether or not he's on the side of the angels.

The blurb on the dust jacket flap calls this "fast-paced and convincing." Fast-paced, I can agree with. I sat down and read this in about an hour and a half. Once Somers gets installed in Manders End, the pace picks up and zips you right along to the end. Convincing? Not so much. I still find it odd that Somers wants to spend his holiday with his spiffy new sports car in an out-of-way place that has only a research lab as its claim to fame. And Somers isn't really the hero-type. Perhaps Gale is going for the "average guy thrust into extraordinary circumstances" trope. But--if you buy the premise, then this is a fun ride and Somers (bumbler though he is) is likeable fellow and his relationship with Clarke is a good one. I also appreciated that Gale did something a little different with the boy-meets-girl storyline. 

If you're looking for a whodunnit puzzler, then this definitely isn't going to fit that bill. But for adventure, this thriller might be just what the doctor ordered. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: I still had two weeks' holiday left when my Premium Bond came up, and this was enough to decide me.

It seems a pleasant enough place. But there seems to be something a shade wrong with it. It is as though people are waiting for something to happen; something is going on that is wrong. It is going on deep down underneath and you can't tell what it is; you only know it is there because now and then it just disturbs the surface and distorts it. (Tony Somers; p. 59)

Last line: "Muriel will have to wait," I said.


Deaths = 7 (one drowned; beaten to death; one bombed; one mauled by dogs; three shot)

Saturday, December 25, 2021

A Christmas Carol

 A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens, performed by Sir Patrick Stewart (1991)

With all the adaptations of A Christmas Carol out there--everything from the Muppets to Scooby Doo to Fred Flintstone to Mickey Mouse to Patrick Stewart (filmed version as well as this audio novel) to Rich Little to the classic 1951 film with Alistair Sim and the 1970 version with Albert Finney & Alec Guinness, surely I don't need to summarize the story. Even if you've never read it, the story of the greedy, nasty miser who has a change of heart has seeped into the public consciousness so thoroughly that we all seem to know what it means when someone is accused of being a Scrooge.

So, let's just skip to this audio performance by Patrick Stewart. Stewart reads the story in full, giving full flavor to each character. It is a spirited performance (no pun intended) and very entertaining. And, of course, I adore Patrick Stewart and enjoyed him reading this well-loved Christmas classic. Listening to this version may just have to become a holiday tradition--just as watching White Christmas is for me. ★★★★

First line: Marley was dead, to begin with.

Last line: And so, as Tiny Tim observed, "God bless us, everyone."

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Ultimate Reader's Block Challenge Wrap-Up


This year, I've decided to do things a little differently. Rather than post wrap-up links for each challenge, I've decided on a one-stop shopping plan. If you participated in any of the Reader's Block challenges, then you may submit your wrap-up posts here. The linky will be open until Friday, January 7th. At that time I will pick one random winner from all the challenges to select a prize from the prize vault. If you have participated in more than one challenge, you are welcome to submit a separate wrap-up post for each challenge and earn yourself an entry for every challenge. 

Please list your name in the following manner (especially if you've got more than one entry): 

Name (challenge name) [example-- Bev@My Reader's Block (Vintage Scattergories)]

If you don't blog and don't have an URL to link up, you may post your wrap-ups in comments below (one comment per challenge) and I'll add you into the drawing. I will keep my eye on the entries and enter everyone onto a spread sheet in the order I see the entries appear. That order will determine the number for the random number generator to select.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

In the Crypt with a Candlestick

 In the Crypt with a Candlestick (2021) by Daisy Waugh

Sir Ecgbert Tode has finally shuffled off this mortal coil and his widow, the still feisty (at 70-ish) Lady Tode is ready to hand over the reins of the family estate, Tode Hall, to the next generation. She's been counting the days until she can kick over the traces and go live at her place in Capri. Unfortunately, someone else has other plans and what she winds up kicking is the bucket...

In this case, you definitely can't judge a book by its cover. The art deco cover picture with very twenties-style lady would make you think a historical, Golden Age mystery was in store. The blurb on the back:

"Fans of P. G. Wodehose and Agatha Christie should bag this madcap comedy whodunnit."

would also lead you to believe you had something set in the twenties or thirties. You would be wrong. Discovering that mistake, you might think you were getting a modern take on the Golden Age mystery. You'd be pretty much wrong on that assumption as well. That may have been what Waugh was going for...after all we have a huge ("have you forgotten how big the house is? That's like being Town Manager. Imagine being Mayor of the most beautiful town in the entire world.") country house. We have Sir Ecgbert and Lady Emma Tode. Well...we Sir Ecbert briefly...after all, when he's introduced he's already dead at 93. And Emma doesn't stick around too long. But, hey, we get another Sir Ecgbert and various relations. So, yeah. "typical" Golden Age country house family. And we have the devoted (sortof) butler who's been with the family for donkey's years. And the elderly ex-housekeeper who winds up back at the estate. And various people swanning around like it might be the Golden Age. But it's not...we've got cell phones and internet and email. And the country house has become a tourist attraction because taxes and because it was used as the location for a "Downton Abbey" sort of television show. People are takins selfies in the bedroom where the Duke of Whosit (played by Laurence Olivier [seriously?]) played out his death scene.

As indicated by the title we wind up with a (fresh) corpse in the crypt bashed with a candlestick. And we're supposed to want to know who did in Lady Tode in such a foul manner just when she was getting ready to enjoy herself. But...honestly, the mystery is just not that interesting. And it's certainly not nearly as humorous as Wodehouse nor as well-planned and plotted as Christie. All of the "clues" to whodunnit are dumped out in the very last chapter and there is no way on earth the reader can get the answer by deduction. I mean, there aren't exactly heaps of real suspects running round, so it's not difficult to guess. But spotting the killer because they're pretty much the only choice is a far cry from solving a cleverly plotted puzzle. I'm super-glad I checked this out from the library and didn't buy a copy...  ★★

First line: Lady Tode stood by the Great North Door of her important house, a vision of slimness and grief as she watched her husband take leave of the building for the last time.

Last line (from an email): Big hugs to you all and REALLY look forward to welcoming you super-gorgeous people home to your super-gorgeous home!


Deaths = 4 (one natural; one drug overdose; one hit on head; one fell from height)

Buzzword Reading Challenge


Books and Lala sponsor the Buzzword Reading Challenge in a Goodreads Group. The goal is pretty simple--just read one book per month which has the following prompt words in the title. I decided that I just don't have enough reading challenges, so here we go for one more...

My Tentative List

JANUARY A book with one of the 5 W's in the title: What, Me, Mr. Mosely? by John Greenwood (1/17/22)
FEBRUARY A book with a pronoun in the title: He'd Rather Be Dead by George Bellairs (2/15/22)
MARCH A book with a location in the title: The Castle Island Case by F. Van Wyck Mason (3/20/22)
APRIL A book with LITTLE or BIG (or similar word) in the title: Dead Little Rich Girl by Norbert Davis (4/26/22)
MAY A book with a direction in the title: Parcels for Inspector West by John Creasey (5/7/22)
JUNE A book with ALL in the title: All Hallows' Evil by Valerie Wolzien (6/7/22)
JULY A book with a book related word in the title: Paperbacks, U.S.A. by Piet Schreuders (7/3/22)
AUGUST A book with an item/object in the title: The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions by Kerry Greenwood (8/4/22)
SEPTEMBER A book with LIGHT or DARK (or similar word) in the title: Murder by Matchlight by E. C. R Lorac (9/5/22)
OCTOBER A book with an animal or creature in the title: The Worm of Death by Nicholas Blake (10/28/22)
NOVEMBER A book with "ING" in the title: No More Dying Then by Ruth Rendell
DECEMBER A book with a number in the title: 

SpaceTime Reading Challenge


I've looked over my planned reading for 2022 and there are several SF books on tap. So I'm going to jump on board Jemima's spaceship once again and sign up for her SpaceTime Reading Challenge.  Here's the brief description of the challenge (for full details and to sign up follow the link above):

SpaceTime Reading Challenge

You choose your book, from any part of the science fiction/time travel genre universe – hard scifi, military, scifi romance, space opera, first contact, time travel, whatever.  Any subgenres are fine as long as they incorporate either SF or time travel. You add the book to your list of books read, with a review, as short or long as you like.  

There are several levels. I plan on starting with the first level 

~5 Books: Planet Hopper

1. The Price of the Phoenix by Sondra Marshak & Myrna Culbreath (1/4/22)
2. Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (1/8/22)
3. Star Trek: Voyage to Adventure by Michael J. Dodge (1/22/22)
4. Tears of the Singers by Melinda Snodgrass (5/30/22)
5. The Trouble with Tribbles by David Gerrold (6/8/22)
Commitment Complete!
6. The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke (7/2/22)
7. The Entropy Effect by Vonda N. McIntyre (9/10/22)
8. Star Trek: The New Voyages by Sondra Marshak & Myrna Culbreath, eds (9/17/22)
9. Mickey Mouse: Adventure in Outer Space by George E. Davie (10/10/22)


Thursday, December 23, 2021

European Reading Challenge 2022

 I'm joining Gilion for a tour of Europe with her 2022 European Reading Challenge – where participants tour Europe through books.  And have a chance to win a prize. Please join in for the Grand Tour!

THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour. (See note about the UK, below)

WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"?: We stick with the same list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. This list includes the obvious (the UK, France, Germany, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.

THE LIST: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, IrelandItaly, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

NOTE: Even after Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, in Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So one book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom. I'm not going to be a stickler about it because challenges should be about fun not about rules. However, when it comes to winning the Jet Setter prize, only one book from one of the UK countries will count.

I will again be aiming for the 

FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

Books read:
1. The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs [UK] (1/2/22)
    Evan's Gate by Rhys Bowen [UK--Wales] 4/13/22)
2. The Devil in Music by Kate Ross [Italy] (3/13/22)
3. The Guest List by Lucy Foley [Ireland] (4/14/22)
4. The Black Mountain by Rex Stout [Montenegro] (4/23/22)
5. Lock 14 by Georges Simenon [France] (5/14/22)
Commitment met!
6. Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge [Holland/Netherlands] (6/29/22)
7. Seven Tears for Apollo by Phyllis A. Whitney [Greece] (7/4/22)
8. The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell [Sweden] (11/13/22)