Monday, January 31, 2022

Cut to the Quick

 Cut to the Quick (1993) by Kate Ross

Julian Kestrel--dandy, man about town. Devoted to the gaming tables and the latest Regency-era fashion. Underneath his dandified pose, he's also a man of honor with more concern for others than he cares to let on.  And now--he's about to turn amateur detective. When Kestrel rescues young, inexperienced Hugh Fontclair from entangling himself too deeply at the gaming tables, he never dreamed he'd wind up invited to the man's wedding...and not as a guest, but as best man! Since he doesn't really know Fontclair from Adam, Kestrel is tempted to say no, but his curiosity gets the better of him. If he doesn't go to the Fontclair's country estate he'll never know why he's been asked.

From the moment he arrives it becomes obvious that there is more to this wedding than meets the eye. Mark Craddock, the bride's father, has some sort of secret hold over the Fontclairs and he's using it to force a marriage between his daughter and Hugh. The secret is so terrible that Hugh is willing to sacrifice his happiness to save the family honor. But--whatever that secret is, could it possibly be worse than murder? For on the evening of the second day, Kestrel returns from an afternoon of exploring the grounds (with Hugh) to find a dead girl tucked up in his bed. 

Initially, his manservant is arrested. Dipper, a former pickpocket with an instinct for lying under pressure, is caught out in a few mild untruths and suspected of lying about something much worse. Even Kestrel, as an outsider, is preferable as a suspect. With his own honor at stake and his servant already arrested, Julian dives into the investigation. He soon discovers the dreadful secret behind the arranged marriage--but that isn't the only secret being kept hidden in the confines of the Fontclair estate. In order to save Dipper from the hangman, Kestrel will have to decide which secret was worth killing for.

Kestrel makes for a very clever and humane investigator. While he has no qualms about questioning his host's family in the effort to exonerate his innocent servant, he regrets the pain he has to cause others in the search for the truth. It was also interesting to watch him go through several rounds of thinking he had finally gotten to the bottom of who-dunnit only to discover that the secret the current suspect was hiding wasn't the ultimate secret of murder. I thoroughly enjoyed his interactions with the doctor and the way he won over the crusty, country medico. It would be nice if Dr. MacGregor would become his Watson, but I don't believe that's in the cards.  

A highly entertaining historical mystery. ★★

First line: Mark Craddock paced slowly, deliberately, back and forth behind the desk in his study.

This waiting is worse than anything. It's like one of those nightmares where you know something terrible is going to happen and you don't know what it is, but you there's nothing you can do to stop it. (Hugh Fontclair; p. 55)

Last line: "I promise," he said.


Deaths =  4 (two stabbed; two natural)

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Overture to Death

 Overture to Death (1939) by Ngaio Marsh

When reading the synopsis for Overture to Death (1939) by Ngaio Marsh, one can be excused for thinking that this will be another of her theatrical mysteries. After all, it tells us that a group of seven amateur actors are preparing to put on the play Shop Windows when Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C Sharp Minor" is set for the overture. Then on opening night the pianist barely gets started--playing three chords and then stepping on soft pedal--before a loud bang is heard and Miss Idris Campanula falls dead against the sheet music. There's no performance and the play setting itself features very little in the plot other than to provide a way for Marsh to insert a rather ingenious method of murder. I'm quite sure I'd never come across a deadly piano before I read this one the first time (long ago and far way from my hometown Carnegie Library).

The stars of Marsh's show are Miss Campanula and her bosom friend Miss Eleanor Prentice, two embittered old maids who like nothing more than to spread dreadful rumors about their neighbors and then confess their sins to the handsome rector. Of course, the dear friends are also rivals for the rector's regard--each woman imagining herself to be the front-runner in the "rector's wife" stakes.  When Inspector Roderick Alleyn arrives on the scene to decide who gave Miss Campanula such a dramatic death scene, he finds that he must first discover if the murderer has cast the right woman as victim. For until about twenty minutes or so before curtain time, everyone assumed that Miss Prentice would be playing her standard piece as the opening. She is prevented from doing so by an infected finger and only agrees to give up her martyr's determination to play no matter how much it hurt after the rector convinces her. There seems to have been no time for the gun to have been rigged up in the piano after the change in pianists took place--so was Miss Prentice the intended victim? And what was the motive? Do people really kill just because someone is a meddling, gossipy busybody?

This was an enjoyable entry in the Alleyn case files. A cast of interesting characters from repressed village spinsters and the handsome cleric to the county squire and the young lovers (whose parents are forbidding the match) to the doctor and his adulterous love interest, the attractive widow; a clever murder method; a heaping helping of red herrings (some provided courtesy of the young scamp George Biggins; and plenty of humor and excellent dialogue. 

Great fun even though I remembered who the culprit is--of course I did read this about four years ago. This time I listened to an audio version read by Wanda McCaddon. She does a very nice job giving voice and unique personality to each of the characters  and increased the rating for this reading from 3.5 stars (previous) to a full ★★.

First line: Jocelyn Jerningham was a good name.

Last line: "Not I," said Alleyn.


Deaths = one shot

An Old Betrayal

 An Old Betrayal

Charles Lenox's detective protégé, Lord John Dallington, is very sick and asks Lenox to meet a client at Charing Cross. The meeting goes wrong, but Lenox is so intrigued by the circumstances that he takes time from his busy schedule as a Member of Parliament to keep his hand in the case. Someone is impersonating a reclusive country squire and harassing a social secretary at Buckingham Palace. When the country squire is found murdered, Lenox and Dallington realize that something much deeper than harassment and fraud is going on. something that may threaten the Queen herself. 

I enjoy Finch's Victorian-era mysteries. He has the details of the period and the inner workings of the Parliament down cold. And it is always fun to visit with all our old friends--Lenox, his wife Lady Jane, his secretary Graham, and his friend Dr. Thomas McConnell--as well as Lord John Dallington. In general, the mystery plot was a good one with an interesting motive behind the killings and attempted killings. My only quibble is with the anti-climatic ending. We catch the culprit/s about ten chapters from the end, the prisoner/s won't say a word about anything, and Dallington has to go rooting about in the countryside to find the motive. And even then he doesn't find the whole story. It just felt a bit flat after the huge action scene when Lenox, Dallington, and Inspector Jenkins catch the criminal/s in the act. A solid mystery and I was pleased to see the turning that Lenox's career is taking at the end of the book. ★★

First line: The long green benches of the House of Commons were half-deserted as the evening session began, scattered with perhaps a few dozen men.

Last line: And what happiness to share it with someone.


Deaths = 5 (one natural; two shot; one fell from height; one hanged)

Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Pocket Book of Popular Verse

  The Pocket Book of Popular Verse (1945) by Ted Malone (ed)

It was interesting to look back at the poems which Malone chose as the favorites of the common person of the 1940s. Quite a lot of these are long forgotten--poems that really aren't memorable or, truthfully, very good. I give you "Door Mat" by Mary Carolyn Davies as an example:

Women are door-mats and have been--/The years those mats applaud--/They keep their men from going in/With muddy feet to God. [Say what?!] 

But sprinkled among them are verses and lines that were still being repeated--though sometimes by people who didn't really know where they came from--when I was growing up. I recognize lines such as these about Boston "Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots, And the Cabots talk only to God" by John C. Bossidy and "A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!" by Thomas Edward Brown, though I would have been hard pressed to give you the authors names. There are poems that appeared often in the classroom and those that have collected many times in other anthologies. And then, of course, there are more famous and much better known (especially to English majors) poets and poems from William Blake to Elizabeth Barret Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese from Lewis Carroll and "Jabberwocky" to William Wordsworth's "She Was a Phantom of Delight."

An entertaining selection overall. ★★

First line: My mind lets go a thousand things (from "Memory" by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Last line: Why can't we all be like that bird? (from "A Wise Old Owl" by unknown)


Monday, January 24, 2022

The Green Island Mystery

 The Green Island Mystery (1949) by Betsy Allen (Betty Cavanna)

The fifth installment in the Connie Blair series finds Connie and Georgia Cameron on a business trip to Bermuda. They work for the Reid & Renshaw Advertising Agency and are on a mission to help the Tremont Shop, a long-established British firm, improve their image and their sales. Their trip takes them by ocean liner to the beautiful green island and aboard ship Connie, who attract mysteries like bees to honey, makes the acquaintance of David Scott. 

David is on his way to Bermuda to settle his aunt's estate. His aunt was Penelope Sebastian, a well-known mystery author, and there is a bit of a mystery attached to her death. Aunt Penelope was just finishing her memoirs (spilling secrets left, right, and center). One half had already been sent to the publishers, but the second half has disappeared from her estate. David hopes to find the rest of the manuscript so he can honor his aunt's wish that the royalties from the memoirs' sales should go to an orphanage. 

Connie is immediately intrigued and spends all her free time--after sketching scenes for Tremont ads--hunting clues with David in Horizons, the house he inherited from his aunt. Someone has broken into the house once while David was on his way from the States and then Connie is attacked and bundled into an old clothes press when she's alone and sorting through papers. Did the assailant find what they were looking for? There are clues in a bundle of check stubs as well as in a guest book listing all of Aunt Penelope's visitors over the years. A missing thermos, a scrap of an old photo, a broken record, and a partially typed page in Penelope's old typewriter provide just the evidence Connie needs to discover the location of the missing manuscript as well as the identity of her attacker.

This is a fun career girl mystery in the same vein as the Beverly Gray and Vicki Barr series. Connie is an assured young woman who can't help getting involved in mysteries wherever she goes and has a knack for getting to the bottom of them. It is good to the young men appreciating her skills and letting her take the lead in investigating. She's a hardworking artist and sleuth--but she also gets to have fun and enjoy David company as well. There's an air of gentle romance between them, but it's her no-nonsense senior partner, Georgia, who finds love with the junior Tremont. Connie will be heading back to the States and more work and adventures with the advertising agency. 

As with most of these 1940s "girl detective" mysteries, the plot is not terribly intricate and there are few real suspects to be had. I spotted the villain as soon as they made their first appearance, though I didn't quite see the twist in who they really were. An enjoyable light mystery. ★★★ and 3/4

First line: Connie Blair stood at the rail of the great ocean liner and watched her mother, her dad, and her twin sister walk down the gangplank to the dock.

Last line: And from three thousand feet the entire island was green--as green as an emerald set in the sapphire sea.


Deaths = one heart attack

Sunday, January 23, 2022

And Soon I'll Come to Kill You--Spoilerific Review

 And Soon I'll Come to Kill You (1991) by Susan Kelly

Liz Connors writes articles about true crime and short fiction pieces as a free lance. Over the years, her work has annoyed a number of people and she's regularly gotten anonymous mail from those who have a bone to pick with her--for one reason or another. But she's never been seriously alarmed. Until now. Previous letters were one-offs--someone getting their grievances off their chest and moving on with their life. This time the letters keep coming and the tone becomes more menacing with the latest one ending: And soon I'll come to kill you.

Liz's boyfriend, Lieutenant Jack Lingemann of the Cambridge Police Department, insists that she take it seriously and that she move in with him while they try to figure out who might be sending these letters. They come up with a short list of people who might be vindictive and disturbed enough to take revenge--from the leader of a vicious street gang to a repressed computer geek who was arrested for computer fraud to an ex-boyfriend with ego issues to an eye doctor who molested elderly patients to the leader of a cult-like religious sect. When others connected to one of the suspects begin receiving threatening notes and then some of them are found dead, Jack becomes convinced that he's Liz's tormentor as well. But is that the case? And, if so, will the police nab him in time?

Spoilers Ahead! Read at your own risk.

I found this entry in the Liz Connors series (#5, in fact) to be much weaker than the debut novel, The Gemini Man. When I read that one several years ago I felt there was a weakness in plotting--the red herrings and false clues weren't strong enough to mislead readers, but I did like the characters and thought there was great promise in the writing. I still like Liz and Jack. They are a great couple and work together well. The writing from Liz's point of view is excellent. I just didn't care for the plot of this one at all and I especially didn't appreciate the fact that we wound up with not one, but two separate whackos threatening Liz. Seriously? This made the plot messy.

And...I honest-to-goodness could not believe that Jack would be so insistent that Liz not be left alone even after he thinks it's over and then, by golly, if he doesn't take her back to his place and leave her there all by herself, saying that Gloria (another cop) "should be here in fifteen minutes." So, of course, the real stalker is right there on the spot and kidnaps her. It would have worked much better if Jack had just assumed that everything was over and dropped her off thinking it was all okay. That would make sense and we'd still get the final twist ending where it really wasn't all over. But the man was still checking all the rooms, still walking around the premises, still thought somebody should be with her--so why didn't he wait the fifteen measly little minutes until backup showed up? If he (obviously) still thought something could happen, why did he think those fifteen minutes were magical and nothing would happen then? Sorry for my little rant--but it bugs me. The other thing that bugs me is the real ending. After it's all over and the nutcase who's been stalking Liz has finally been caught, the book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. Liz goes back to her apartment and sorts through her mail and finds yet another anonymous note calling her names. Like it's all going to start over again.... I like my mysteries to have a definite finale. The bad guy gets caught (or killed or whatever) and that's the end of the story. Don't leave things open-ended. ★★

First lines: The first letter arrived on October sixteenth. I read it and dismissed it.

Last line: It began, "You bitch..."


Deaths = 5 (two shot; one car accident; two stabbed)

Eight Perfect Murders

 Eight Perfect Murders (2020) by Peter Swanson

From the very first line Malcolm Kershaw, used bookstore owner and former crime fiction reader, is plunged into a murderous mystery. When he first began working at Old Devils Bookshop, the owner asked him to start a blog for the store. His first blog post was called "Eight Perfect Murders" and he listed eight crime novels that fit his definition of perfect murders. 

Now--five years later, deaths begin happening and Special Agent Gwen Mulvey of the FBI has come calling. She sees some similarities between the deaths and the books on Kershaw's list and she's asking him for any help he can give. It soon becomes apparent that the killer is someone who knows Kershaw and that Kershaw's past is intricately linked to the present crimes. He becomes intent on preventing further deaths without letting too many of his own skeletons out of the closet. But is that really going to be possible? 

First--a warning. If you haven't read the books on Malcolm Kershaw's list (see bottom of this post), might possibly want to in the future, and don't want the plots spoiled, then you should read the books before picking up Eight Perfect Murders. I have read all of the books which might interest me, so I didn't mind having the others spoiled. But if I hadn't read the Christies, in particular, I would have been very upset with the huge spoilers Swanson drops.

Second--this is a thriller. If classic mystery fans are looking for a story in the classic detective tradition, they'll be disappointed.

That said, this was a fairly enjoyable thriller in the modern unreliable narrator (or is he?) style--at least for me. Swanson packs in the twists and turns and gave me a very nice afternoon's entertainment. I picked up on the one clue from classic crime that was most casually introduced, but I didn't take it as far as I needed to. I expected part of the ending, but not quite all and it was nice to have a bit of surprise left. I know that others (see John's non-review over at Pretty Sinister Books, for instance) didn't enjoy it as much, but I suspect I didn't find it as annoying and obvious for the simple reason that I read so few modern mysteries and haven't really indulged in many of the recent unreliable narrator novels. 

I will say that it would have been a far superior book if Swanson had done a true homage to classic "perfect" crimes rather than recycling their plots (and spoiling them in the process). But it did make a change of pace from my usual fare. ★★ and 1/2

Also reviewed by the Puzzle Doctor at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

First line: The front door opened, and I heard the stamp of the FBI agent's feet on the doormat.

I ran my thumb along the edge of the book, riffling the pages, and that musty, prickly smell of an old paperback reached my nostrils. I've always loved that smell, even though the book collector side of me knew that it was a sign of a book that had been improperly maintained over the years.... (p. 35)

Books are time travel. True readers all know this. But books don't just take you back to the time in which they were written; they can take you back to a different version of yourself. .(pp. 37-38)

Last line: It's nice to think I'll leave a mystery in my wake.


Deaths = 16 (five shot; one beaten to death; one hit on head; one cancer; one heart attack; one fell from height; one car accident; one house fire; one strangled; two poisoned; one hit & run) [This includes deaths from the books mentioned within the story where victim and method are named.]

Books Mentioned in Kershaw's List:

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie; The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne; Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox); Double Indemnity by James M. Cain; Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith; The Drowner by John D. MacDonald; Deathtrap by Ira Levine; and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Also spoiled in a big way: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Christie

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Mystery Reporter's Challenge 2022

 Mystery Reporter's Challenge 2022

Sponsored by Ellie in The Challenge Factory on Goodreads
My posts on Goodreads
The challenge runs from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022.

Who? What? Where? When? How?
Why? – because it’s fun to read!

I'll be going for News Anchor (3 from each category). Commitment complete 2/24/22!

Cub reporter: 5 books (1 from each category) [1/19/22]
Columnist: 10 books (2 from each category) [1/24/22]
News Anchor: 15 books (3 from each category) [2/24/22]
Editor: 20 books (4 from each category) [3/22/22]
Newspaper Mogul: 25 books (5 from each category) [3/28/22]

Pulitzer Prize Winner (Newspaper Mogul plus Bonus Category) = 30 books

Nobel Prize for Literature (Newspaper Mogul plus Pulitzer Prize + Extra Bonus) = 31 books

Protagonist is in the book business (bookshop owner, librarian, writer, etc): Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson (1/23/22)
Protagonist works with an animal (K9 cop, Vet, etc.): The Murderer Who Wanted More by Baynard Kendrick [actually, two animals] (2/11/22)
Protagonist OR a Main Character is paranormal (witch, vampire, ghost, etc): The Ghost Finders by Adam McOmber (3/2/22)
Protagonist is starting a new business or job: Murder Roundabout by Richard Lockridge [new real estate agent] (3/12/22)
Protagonist is a senior citizen or a juvenile (under 18): Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie (1/1/22)

A color in the title: A Plate of Red Herrings by Richard Lockridge (3/28/22)
A number in the title: The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers (2/24/22)
Title is at least six words: The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs (1/2/22)
Title is exactly two words: Fadeaway Girl by Martha Grimes (1/2/22)
Title is a pun (ex: Hooked on Ewe): With Option to Die by Richard Lockridge ["option to buy"] (3/22/22)

Set in Europe (NOT England): The Devil in Music by Kate Ross [Italy] (3/13/22)
Set in a country village or small town: Easy to Kill by Agatha Christie (1/7/22)
Set in a state starting with a vowel: The Golden Box by Frances Crane [set in Illinois] (2/14/22)
Set in a state or country you have lived in: Midsummer Nightmare by Christopher Hale [set in USA--only country I've lived in] (2/21/22)
Set on foreign soil (NOT America or England): The Green Island Mystery by Betsy Allen [Bermuda] (1/24/22)

Set in the 1800s or earlier: Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James (1/15/22)
Set in the 1900s: Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/20/22)
Set during a celebration: Death Stops the Frolic by George Bellairs (2/18/22) [set at the church's 25th anniversary tea]
Set during summer: Deathblow Hill by Phoebe Atwood Taylor (1/21/22)
Set during a storm: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1/9/22)

WHY (Motives)
Money/Greed: Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie (1/21/22)
Jealousy: Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh (1/29/22)
Revenge: The Ruby Raven by Michael Dahl (1/19/22)
“Love”: Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (2/19/22)
To keep a secret/cover up: A Broken Vessel by Kate Ross (2/27/22)

WHO – The protagonist is a widow/widower: Murder at the Spring Ball by Benedict Brown (2/5/22)
WHAT – The title starts with your first or last name’s first initial: Bodies from the Library by Tony Medawar [ed] (1/13/22)
WHERE – Set in a place (city, village, state, country, etc) starting with your first or last initial: The Corpse with the Grimy Glove by R. A. J. Walling [set in Bosenna, England] (3/5/22)
WHEN – Set in the decade you (or a close family member) was born: The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips [both of my grandmas were born in the 1920s] (2/6/22)
WHY – Accidental death (as well as others): An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch (1/29/22)

Horoscope (from on-line or a newspaper or wherever)
Pick a date that has special meaning for you (your birthday, anniversary, birthday of a child, parent or pet, etc.)
Read your 2022 horoscope for that date.
Then read a book that relates to that horoscope.

Star Trek: Voyage to Adventure

 Star Trek: Voyage to Adventure
 (1984) by Michael J. Dodge

Mystery...Adventure...Time Travel...all this and more await the reader of this Which Way Book (a choose-your-own-adventure-type) who finds herself assigned as an Ensign aboard the legendary U.S.S. Enterprise with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the rest of the crew. Solve the mystery of the Klingon spy. Travel through time with Mr. Spock. Investigate the mysterious messages from an alien race. And try to avoid slip-ups that will result in your own destruction.

I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure Books from the time I ordered my first one (The Mystery of Chimney Rock) through the Scholastic Book Club order form in elementary school. Being a Trek fan, I immediately scooped this one up when it came out in 1984. And enjoyed it immensely. It was just as much fun revisiting this story now. I love the way Dodge has packed this small book with so many coherent adventures. Short and to the point, but full of mystery adventure to make reading fun for kids--and adults. ★★★★

First lines: You are an Ensign in Starfleet, just graduated from the Starfleet Academy. Because of your high scores as a cadet, you have been assigned to the starship Enterprise, commanded by Captain James T. Kirk.

Last line (of my favorite ending): Ask them if we can give them a ride home...without the dilithium crystals, of course.


Deaths (usually your own) = 11 (one accident; four shooting; three electric shock; one attacked by alien; one asphyxiated; one smashed by falling rock)

Friday, January 21, 2022

Deathblow Hill

 Deathblow Hill (1935) by Phoebe Atwood Taylor

Asey Mayo is called upon to get to the bottom of odd happenings around Deathblow Hill, home of two feuding factions of the Howes family. A chain link fence topped with barbed wire divides the Howes establishment from the that of the Keiths. Suzanne Howes and her son Lance run a boarding house with the aid of their friend and maid-of-all-work, Broody Mary, and on the other side of the fence is Simon Keiths and his wife Abby. The feud all started when old Bellamy Howes died and no sign of his rumored fortune could be found. Each side of the family was convinced that the other had found it. 

The feud was just a silent simmering until the odd things began to happen--two ransacked houses, mysterious prowlers sporting yellow handkerchiefs, and an attack on Suzanne Howes. A young woman named Joan House shows up as a boarder. She's the secretary to the famous tycoon Benjamin Carson and she manages to find and lose Carson's right-hand man along the way. Then--of all things, Carson shows up in the Howses' kitchen--garroted with a yellow kerchief. It looks like Carson was on the hunt for the missing Howse treasure and that someone let him in the house. Who? And did that person kill him? And just where is that missing treasure anyway?

This is a real hodge-podge mixture of a plot--it was like Taylor was trying to meld a classic mystery with a gangster plot with romantic suspense, cozy mystery, and adventure thrown in for good measure. And somehow makes it work pretty well. Underneath all the comings and goings, is a nicely plotted little mystery that readers can solve if they can just ignore the extraneous characters and side-issues. But sifting the wheat from the chaff will keep you pretty busy. 

Character development is a real plus with Taylor and even the characters who don't have a lot of time to shine come through well. I did want to tell Clare Chatfield to go for a long walk off a short pier, but everyone else was interesting and integral to the plot (Clare and her marmoset were just annoying). I suppose the marmoset does play an important part...but I think Taylor could have found a way to point out certain clues without him. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: It was the hour when Suzanne Howes most enjoyed the hill and the surrounding Cape scenery, the hour when the sun began to dip beyond Weesit Harbor and the blue rim of Cape Cod Bay, when the salt marshes took on a golden haze, and the sea gulls swooped in ever widening circles toward the ocean side and the crashing Atlantic breakers.

Last line: "It's what my nephew gets, for passing the buck just once too often."


Deaths = 5 (two strangled; one died of plague; one car/train accident; one drowned)

The Witness for the Prosecution & Other Stories

 The Witness for the Prosecution & Other Stories
(1948) by Agatha Christie

A good, solid collection of short stories by Agatha Christie. I have read nearly all of these in the last two years (in two separate collections) and enjoyed them then as well as now. The only one that wasn't include in either The Hound of Death or The Listerdale Mystery collections was "The Second Gong"--which is also the only story to feature Hercule Poirot. Christie provides good entertainment in short form just as she does in novel-length stories. ★★★★

"Witness for the Prosecution": The original short story behind the play and, later, movies. Leonard Vole has been accused of the murder of Miss French, a wealthy elderly woman who took a fancy to him and who has left him as her heir. Vole is sure that his wife can provide him with an alibi--but she has a nasty surprise for him and his Counsel when she appears as the witness for the prosecution.

"The Red Signal": A dinner party conversation turns to a discussion of premonitions and one young man, Dermot West, states that the "red signal" (a feeling when things aren't right) has never failed him. They then sit down for a seance with a medium who issues a warning to one of the group not to go home because there is danger there. It felt like she was talking to West and he goes home to find himself wanted for the murder of his uncle. It certainly does seem that the reference was to him...but then someone else comes along...

"The Fourth Man": Three men in a railway carriage (a Canon, a lawyer, and a doctor of conditions of the mind) fall into a conversation about split/multiple personalities. A recent case involving a young woman who seemed to have at least three and perhaps four personalities is most intriguing to them. As she originally was, Felicie was an uneducated girl--apparently not strong intellectually and without musical talent. She suddenly began to speak foreign languages with ease and could sing an play the piano. While the men are talking, the fourth man, who seemed to be asleep, tells them he knows the case personally and gives them a tale much stranger than a simple case of split personality.

"S.O.S.": Mortimer Cleveland has the worst luck with his car. Nasty, rainy weather to drive in and then he has not one...but two flat tires. He knocks on the door of the only house in sight and encounter a strange family living in a very tense atmosphere. When the two daughters show him to his room for the night he realizes that one of them has written "SOS" in the dust on the nightstand. Which of them? And what do they fear?

"Wireless": Mary Harter is an elderly lady with a weak heart--but her doctor tells her if she takes it easy and avoids shocks then she will still have many more years left. Her nephew persuades her that a radio would be just the thing to help her pass the time at home...and then the radio begins transmitting some very startling messages...

"The Mystery of the Blue Jar": Jack Hartington is a healthy, apparently sane young man who begins hearing cries of "Murder. Help. Murder!" which no one else can hear. There seems to be a ghost involved...a ghost with great interest in a particular blue jar.

"Sing a Song of Sixpence": While on a sea voyage, Sir Edward Palliser made a promise to a young woman that if she ever needed help then she could come to him. He's rather surprised when several years later, she does. Someone has murdered her great-aunt and she wants to him to find out who did it. So he does.

"Mr. Eastwood's Adventure": Mr. Eastwood is a mystery writer in need of a plot. He's got a perfectly good title ("The Mystery of the Second Cucumber"), but that's all he's got. He's got no mystery. Well...that is until he receives a mysterious phone call asking him to come to the aid of a young woman and the code word is...cucumber.

"Philomel Cottage": Alix Martin marries a man after a very brief acquaintance. After a few odd conversations, she begins to suspect her husband of harboring secrets from her. Possibly very deadly secrets.

"Accident": Retired Inspector Evans is sure that he recognizes a woman in the village as one who was acquitted of poisoning her previous husband. He's pretty sure she was guilty and that's she's planning on polishing off husband number two as well. While he's still debating what to do about it, he visits a fortune teller at the local fete who tells him to be very careful. He is about to make a decision that could be life or death...and if he makes a mistake there will be a death. This is one fortune teller who earns her pay...

"The Second Gong": Hubert Lytcham Roche is found shot in a locked room with sealed windows. It might be taken for suicide...except he had written to Hercule Poirot and expressly asked him to come down to Lytcham Close to investigate a little matter of a family swindle.

First line (1st story): Mr. Mayherne adjusted his pince-nez and cleared his throat with a little dry-as-dust cough that was wholly typical of him.

Last line (last story): "It has proved vert unlucky for [redacted--a spoiler]," said Poirot cheerfully.


Deaths = 16 (two hit on head; three shot; two in a railway accident; three natural; one strangled; two stabbed; one fell from height; two poisoned)

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Whose Body?

 Whose Body? (1923) by Dorothy L. Sayers

For a more complete run-down of the story, please see my first review HERE. But I have read the Sayers novels so often that I have very little to add to my thoughts on the actual mystery. What I can say is that these are my comfort reads. I love Sayers's use of language. I love the way she has Lord Peter drizzle his conversation with quotations. I appreciate the way she brought attention to shell-shock (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in these modern times) and examined ways of dealing with it.

This particular outing with Lord Peter Wimsey was taken in the company of Ian Carmichael who performed the audio version of this story. A couple of years ago I listened to David Case's rendition of my favorite lord in sleuth's clothing and was bitterly disappointed. Case gives Wimsey a voice that veers from almost whiny to somewhat sneering. It's quite unsettling. But Ian Carmichael played Lord Peter in the first video version and his vocal take on Wimsey is (to my mind) perfect--particularly for the early cases. It was quite lovely to settle down and listen to this familiar story with Carmichael guiding the way. And it is always a delight to hear the passages involving the Dowager Duchess--from her rendition of the Coroner's interactions with the deaf Mrs. Thipps to her mental tennis match with Mr. Milligan as she tries to figure out what invitation her son has delivered in her name (without giving away that she has no idea what the man is talking about). And the book is worth the price of admission just to hear the scenes with the young medical student. A thoroughly entertaining story at any time. 

First line: "Oh, damn!" said Lord Peter Wimsey at Piccadilly Circus.

Last lines: "Bunter!"  "My lord?" "The Napoleon brandy."


Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one other)

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Ruby Raven

 The Ruby Raven (1999) ~Michael Dahl

Finn (Finnegan) Zwake lives with his Uncle Stoppard because his parents (archeologists) went missing while on an expedition in Iceland. Uncle Stoppard is a well-known mystery writer. His latest book, a re-imagining of  Hamlet with Ophelia as an amateur detective has won the notice of Mr. Ravencroft, the sponsor of the coveted Ruby Raven award. He and several others are among the finalists for the prestigious prize. The Ruby Raven is better than the Edgar or the Dagger or the comes with a hefty million in cold, hard cash. Even the runners-up get a bit of pocket money--sharing another million equally among themselves. The only catch? The finalists must be alive and well and present at the ceremony to win. And that's not going to be as easy as it sounds.

Ravencroft lives in the middle of the Sahara desert and this year's ceremony is set to take place at his home. There is a perilous bus trip in their future...but will they even stay alive long enough to board the bus? One of their number is squashed by a pillar while on a sight-seeing trip before heading into the sand. Another has disappeared. When the remaining authors venture out on the bus trip, they're caught in a sandstorm and forced to take shelter in an old Foreign Legion prison. Will any of them make it out alive? Finn's uncle goes missing, but Finn is certain he's still among the living. They search the place up and down and in and out and can't find a trace. Finn teams up with Abou, a young reporter, to try and solve the mystery before killer eliminates all the competition.

This is a fun, fairly blood-thirsty (for a young adult story) mystery with way more literary puns than necessary--including Finn's full name. But I can forgive the punning tendency when there's a clever mystery plot to solve. I totally lost track of two clues that would have helped me with the motive behind the incidents, so kudos to Dahl for pulling the wool over my eyes. I was charmed by young Finn and now I'm tempted to go hunting for the next book in the series to see if he finds his parents. Or at least finds out what really happened to them. & 1/2.

First line: My family has always had a fondness for dead things.

Last line: I am also convinced that Finn and I shall never forget it.


Deaths =  4 (one crushed by fallen pillar; one beheaded; one fell to his death; one shot)

Monday, January 17, 2022

What, Me, Mr. Mosley?

 What, Me, Mr. Mosley? (1988) by John Greenwood

When old Mr. Henry Burgess dies a nice natural death, the residents of Bagshaw Broome never expected anything shocking to happen as a result. But bits and pieces of his household items show up in Dickie Holgate's stall and Inspector Mosley takes a quick interest. Because, you see, some of those items are actually stolen goods from a string of robberies that have taken place in the surrounding towns. Tracking the stolen items as well as the thieves involve Mosley and Sergeant Beamish in an impromptu kidnapping where the kidnappee aids and abets her kidnappers.

The tagline on the book says "Murder Most British Featuring Inspector Jack Mosley." Except it's not--murder, that is. Sure, it's British. And it features Inspector Mosley. But there's not a murder in sight. There's not even decent mayhem. Mediocre theft and kidnapping with a bit of breaking & entering and squatting in other people's houses going on. Inspector Mosley has got to be the most irritating police inspector I have ever encountered and John Buxton Hilton (disguised as John Greenwood) has apparently forgotten what a good plot looks like. A great deal of the time, it reads like he left out half of what was going on in each scene. It's very difficult to follow Mosley's investigation--and, really, I just assume that there was one, since Mosley is a detective inspector, after all. I began this review intending to hand out two stars...but I've decided that was way too generous. So,  it is. Publisher's Weekly ended their review by saying this was a "funny, intricate and wholly enjoyable story." My edition seems to have left out the funny, intricate, and enjoyable parts.

First line: Bagshawe Broome: an 1860s town hall whose solid neogothic furbelows proclaim the venerability of the borough fathers of the day.

Last line: "What, me, Mr. Mosley?"


Deaths = one natural

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Best "Thinking Machine" Detective Stories

 Best "Thinking Machine" Detective Stories by Jacques Futrelle

These are supposed to be the best of Futrelle's detective stories about Professor Van Dusen. There are, in fact, a few really good ones here--"The Crystal Gazer," "The Brown Coat," and "The Problem of the Stolen Rubens" all qualify. There are actual clues that a reader might pick up on. There are actual clues that you believe Van Dusen picked up on. "His Perfect Alibi" comes close--the reader who actually "sees" what Van Dusen says happened should be able to figure it out. However, Van Dusen has no real evidence that such a thing happened. But since he says it must have happened, it did. And the culprit conveniently admits it as soon as Van Dusen proposes the solution. All he had to do was tell Van Dusen he was mistaken and stick to his story and there would have been no way to prove it. In this and several of these stories, Professor Van Dusen does not strike me as thinking things out logically--it is more like he guesses and those guesses naturally wind up being the solution--and the culprits all are so astounded that they confess. For instance, in one story, he reasons that a French servant naturally knows a French woman in the same building. And, of course, he loves her. And, of course since he loves her, they are really working together in an evil plot. And--of course, they were. 

Given that much is made of the lost talent when Futrelle perished in the Titanic disaster, I had hoped for much a much stronger selection in a collection of the "best" stories. They are all interesting and give a nice picture of America in the early 20th Century, but I'm not sold on their overall brilliance. 

"The Problem of Cell 13":  Futrelle's most famous story. Professor Van Dusen insists that nothing is impossible to a thinking man. His friends wager that he can't think his way out of a prison cell...but he proceeds to do just that.

"The Crystal Gazer": A man apparently sees his own death forecast in a crystal ball. How was the image projected if it isn't truly psychic powers? And if it's really a prediction of the future can the professor change fate?

"The Scarlet Thread": Attempts are made on the life of Weldon Henley--using the gas in his apartment. The solution all hangs upon a scarlet thread found on a flagpole.

"The Flaming Phantom": Could the Weston family's passion for mirrors hold the explanation of the "haunting" of their old homestead? And what about the 50 year-old murder and the missing jewels?

"The Problem of the Stolen Rubens": Proving that the simplest way to steal something is to carry it out under the nose of its owner.

"The Missing Necklace": Van Dusen helps Scotland Yard discover where a stolen necklace of pearls has been sent in America.

"The Phantom Motor": A speeding car disappears on a road bordered by a stone wall on one side and a stone fence on the other. And the scientist uses a bicyclist to track the phantom motor.

"The Brown Coat": A bank robber manages to hide his takings (a little over $100,000) before the police catch up to him. He swears that the cops will never find it...they don't. But Professor Van Dusen does. [Just a side-note: I don't think he owes Detective Mallory a hat. The policeman didn't find the money's hiding place and wouldn't have without the professor's help.]

"His Perfect Alibi": A man is found stabbed to death, but apparently had time to write his killer's name before he died. The only problem? The named man has a perfect alibi.

"The Lost Radium": How did the radium get out of the laboratory? Only one door and the scientist in charge was right outside it when it disappeared.

"Kidnapped Baby Blake, Millionaire": The mystery of the toddler who walked into the snow and simply disappeared.

"The Fatal Cipher": Pomeroy Stockton is a wealthy inventor, looking to re-discover an ancient (long-since lost) method of hardening copper. When he is found dead in his laboratory with an odd letter, his step-daughter suspects foul play. She asks Van Dusen to investigate and he must decide if there has been foul play or not...and, if so, who is responsible?

First line (1st story): Practically all those letters remaining in the alphabet after Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen was named were afterward acquired by that gentleman in the course of a brilliant scientific career, and, being honorably acquired, were tack on to the other end.

Last line (last story): He opened it and a little cloud of ashes filtered through his fingers  onto the bed clothing. He sank back on his pillow, weeping.


Deaths = 4 (one poisoned; one hit on head; one stabbed; one natural)

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Death Comes to Pemberley

 Death Comes to Pemberley (2011) by P. D. James

The Darcys and their household staff are preparing Pemberley for the annual Lady Anne's Ball when Lydia, Elizabeth's disgraced sister, comes careening up their drive in a coach amidst a fall storm. Shrieking and hysterical, it a few moments before they can get any sense out of her. Finally, they are given to understand that Lydia's husband Wickham and his friend Captain Denny had exited the coach near Pemberley's woods, disappeared among the trees, and then shots were fired. Lydia is convinced that Denny has murdered her husband. Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and young Mr. Alveston go off into the night to investigate.

They come back to Pemberley with a body, but it is Denny who is dead. And Wickham is nearly as hysterical as his wife. He insists that "it is all my fault" and "I killed him"--but did he really? Darcy, who holds the position of magistrate, cannot possibly investigate the matter since it took place on his land and involves his brother-in-law. Sir Selwyn Hardcastle, another local magistrate, is brought in to investigate the death. It soon becomes clear that the truth is not quite as simple as it appears.

So...this is not James at her best nor is it a particularly enthralling continuation (redo, whatever) of Austen. I thoroughly enjoyed James's Adam Dagliesh mysteries. Solidly plotted and well-done. I have also thoroughly enjoyed nearly all the Austen I have read. Delightfully witty, drawing room, books of manners. The mystery here is not solidly plotted. There are few clues that would allow the reader to deduce the solution and when the solution comes it really isn't satisfying. I was plumping for an entirely different suspect--mainly because of how much he annoyed me (and I think that's James's fault as well--I don't recall this character annoying me like this in Austen's work). And...the final chapters and the solution have the air of soap opera about them. This character seduced that one and then this character was supposed to step in and help the seduced character but they (the helper) got run over by a carriage....and so on. It really was all a bit much. 

First Line: It was generally agreed by the female residents of Meryton that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn had been fortunate in their disposal in marriage of four of their fived daughters.

There are few activities so agreeable as spending a friend's money to your satisfaction and his benefit and if the buyers were periodically tempted to extravagance, they comforted themselves with the thought that  Bingley could afford it....Bingley was able to take pride in the elegant arrangement of the volumes and the gleaming leather of the bindings, and occasionally even opened a book and was seen reading it when the season or the weather was unpropitious for hunting, fishing, or shooting. (p. 10)

Gossip about the feelings of others when we cannot fully understand them, and they may not understand them themselves, can be a cause of distress. (Jane Bingley, p. 36)

...a disagreement common to marriages wherein an older husband believes that money should be used to make more of it, and a young and pretty wife is firmly of the view that it exists to be spent; how otherwise, as she frequently pointed out, would anyone know that you had it? (p. 130)

Last line: Together they got up from the bench and stood watching while Georgiana and Alveston, their happy laughter rising above the constant music of the stream, their hands still linked, came running to them across the shining grass.


Deaths = five (one shot; two hanged; one run over; one hit on head)

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Bodies from the Library 2

 Bodies from the Library 2: Forgotten Stories of Mystery & Suspense by the Queens of Crime & Other Masters of  Golden Age Detection (2019) by Tony Medawar (ed)

It's always a delight to read anthologies with Golden Age stories that haven't been recycled in various collections before. Medawar introduces us to "lost" selections from big names like Christianna Brand, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Agatha Christie as well as names that are well-known to GAD fans, but perhaps not so well-known to casual mystery lovers. Names like John Rhode, Edmund Crispin, E. C. R. Lorac, Q. Patrick, Ethel Lina White, Clayton Rawson, and Peter Antony. Though some are a little more prominent these days thanks to reprint editions from the British Library Crime Classics and the like.

Overall, this is another solid collection--though there are three stories which are definitely not mysteries and have no whiff of mayhem. They are fine stories, but just don't seem to fit the bill. Of the bona fide mysteries, my favorites are Q. Patrick's "Exit Before Midnight," "Room to Let" by Allingham, "The Locked Room" by Sayers, Crispin's "The Hours of Darkness," and "White Cap" by White. A new Sayers is an absolute treat and each of these authors provide solid mysteries with good clues and finales. ★★ and 3/4

"No Face" ~Christianna Brand: a psychic with his eye to the main chance insists he really does have the Gift when it comes to identifying a particularly nasty serial killer. But will his need for recognition be his undoing?

"Before & After" ~Peter Antony: Mr. Verity, an amateur dabble in detective insists that a before and after photo of the victim provides the proof needed to arrest the killer of an old lady--but does it prove what he thinks it does?

"Hotel Evidence" ~Helen Simpson: Henry Brodribb's wife decides she wants a divorce, so she talks Henry into providing evidence for a no mess court case. But he's such a nice guy, he has difficulty getting the evidence as desired. [No clue why this is in a collection of "Mystery & Suspense"--no mystery, no suspense.]

"Exit Before Midnight" ~Q. Patrick: New Year's Eve at the soon-to-be-defunct Leland & Rowley Process Company. The shareholders are taking a vote that will--if all goes as expected--result in a merger with the Pan-American Dye Company. The shareholders will be richer and few of the staff will be out of jobs. And somebody has decided that means a few people need to die. A group of seven is trapped in the upper floors of a skyscraper (no elevator, phone lines cut, and the door to the stairs jammed shut) and the murderer gets to work. Best story of the bunch so far. Very nicely plotted with lots of red herrings to keep the reader guessing.

"Room to Let" ~Margery Allingham: Rumor has it that one of the inmates escaped a deadly fire at a local insane asylum. Soon after, a mysterious Dr. Charles take a room in Mrs. Musgrave's house. When he moved in, so did fear...and, is it possible?, Jack the Ripper. There is a death...but the who and how is a surprise. From a radio play.

"A Joke's a Joke" ~Jonathan Latimer: Barnes loved to play practical jokes and no one was safe from his nasty sense of humor. But eventually he plays one too many pranks....

"The Man Who Knew" ~Agatha Christie: Derek Lawson sense danger in his flat...and danger stalking him. When it looks like he's been framed for his uncle's murder, he knows just who to suspect....

"The Almost Perfect Murder Case" ~S. S. Van Dine: Philo Vance recounts a tale of the near-perfect murder of Wilhelm Beckert which takes place in Chile. It all hinges on a neat little linguistic clue...

"The Hours of Darkness" ~Edmund Crispin:  Involves murder on Christmas Eve during a game of hide & seek during a country house party. There's also a past criminal case...are the two connected? I'm curious about one thing...if the doctor has proclaimed the death to be from strangulation, how on earth did the victim gasp out those last words to someone other than her murderer?

"Chance Is a Great Thing" ~E. C. R. Lorac: Peggy Tiler's aged aunt has a heart condition. Peggy is worried about her and doesn't want to leave her alone. But she also wants to get married. Auntie's neighbors tell her not to miss out on her big chance...they"re happy to keep an eye on Auntie. But then Auntie dies...

"The Mental Broadcast" ~Clayton Rawson: The Great Merlini and a card trick. [That's it. Really. No mystery, no mayhem.]

"White Cap" ~Ethel Lina White: There's a big shake-up going on at the Peninsular Dye Stuffs company. Miss Ratcliffe has recently taken control and is cutting out the dead wood from the staff. Tess is one who winds up on the chopping block and says a few rather unfortunate things to and about Miss Ratcliffe....and then Miss Ratcliffe winds up dead.  Tess looks like the prime suspect, but she is saved by an unexpected confirmation of her alibi. [I have to say--as soon as Tess said that she had these little blackouts when stressed, I knew that she was going to be framed. I just knew it. Also, what was up with dye companies in the Golden Age--two murderous escapades in one collection!]

"Sixpennyworth" ~John Rhode: A play that may have been written for an amateur production. Set in a pub during WWII. The pub conveniently has all sorts of sharp weapons on display and, naturally, the lights all go out and one of the customers winds up stabbed to death. He was a particularly nasty fellow, but who among the customers had sufficient reason to kill him?

"The Adventure of the Dorset Squire" ~C. A. Alington: One more non-mystery. Mild mayhem of the "lots happening, but nothing that we can really call a mystery" variety. The lights go out (another theme of the collection) and there is much blood, a flood of water from a bath tap, dog attacks, and a man in an embarrassing situation with another man's wife. Two characters think they may have murdered burglars, but they would be mistaken.

"The Locked Room" ~Dorothy L. Sayers: Oh the bliss of having a new Lord Peter Wimsey story that was actually, completely written by Dorothy L. Sayers! It could be complete drivel and I wouldn't care. It's not drivel--though I am a bit surprised at Peter's carrying on with another man's fiancee. It's played as harmless fun and they both know it's not leading anywhere...but it still seems a bit like poaching. As the title suggests--this is a locked room mystery. I got the big clue that all was not quite how it seemed but missed a couple of pointers on how it was accomplished.

First line (1st story): They sat in their silent ring in the darkened room and their touching fingers trembled and jerked apart and touched again...

"Oh lord! Not another locked room. My last locked-room case was a shattering business...all centering round some dreadful woman in a wardrobe." (Mr. Verity; in "Before & After")

"I never believe doctors on questions of health, but on questions of death I have always found them infallible." (Mr. Verity; "Before & After")

Last lines (last story): "It don't pay, really," said Peter, "to be so darn clear-sighted. Have a cocktail."

Deaths = 18 (five stabbed; one fell to his death; one natural; six shot; one hanged; one strangled; one flying accident; one electrocuted; one poisoned)

Sunday, January 9, 2022

And Then There Were None

 And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie

Ten house guests found themselves trapped on an island--the prey of a diabolical killer. The first guest was poisoned after dinner. The second just didn't wake up in the morning. When the general was clubbed to death, they realized that the murderer was one of them. As their number grew smaller with each killing, their terror mounted. Was there no way out? Somehow, soon this vicious killer would have to be caught--before he had the pleasure of announcing: "and then there were none."

And so I've had my almost annual visit to Indian/Soldier Island. Various challenges have resulted in my reading and/or listening to this about every other year. This year's reading results from the Agatha Christie challenge--where I am reading her work in order of publication. I'm up to 1939 now. And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians) is one of my all-time favorite Agatha Christie novels. Even though I've read it many times, I still get nearly the same pleasure from it each time I reread it--or re-listen to it. Of course, the pleasure would be complete if I could conveniently forget the solution--but the story is told so well that I don't mind knowing ahead of time what will happen. It was great fun to sit down and listen to Hugh Fraser read the story to me. He does the voices of all the characters very well and makes everything seem very fresh.  ★★★★--every time.

First Line: In the corner of a first-class smoking carriage, Mr. Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench, puffed at a cigar and ran an interested eye through the political news in the Times.

Last Line: And they will find ten bodies and an unsolved problem on Indian. Island. 


Deaths = 21 total (11 current in narrative: four poisoned; one strangled; one stabbed; two shot; one drowned; two hit. Plus 10+ caused by our current murder victims: two run over; three neglect/medical malpractice; one shot [war]; two drowned; one hung; one overdose [and a bunch of unnamed natives left to die in the jungle]

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Black Sun

 Black Sun (2020) by Rebecca Roanhorse

An epic fantasy novel inspired by various pre-Colombian cultures in the Americas. Readers follow the path of Serapio, a young Crow whose destiny is to become the Crow God who will wreak vengeance upon the priest clans who destroyed Crow ancestors. Serapio's mother prepares him for his quest to become the Odo Sedoh. He will become blind, learn to talk to the crows, and be trained in power and battle skills that will allow him to defeat his enemies. When the time comes, he will rely on Xiala to take him back to Tova, the holy city where the Sun Priest--and the other priests are on the verge of celebrating another year under the power of the Sun God. Xiala is a ship's captain whose power of Song has the ability to conquer enemies as well as calm the stormy seas and who has the ability to get him to Tova and the Sun Rock in time to fulfill prophecy.

Waiting on the side of the priests is Naranpa, the current Sun Priest. Naranpa is a scholar priest who faces treachery among the priesthood. She has tried to bring change to the ruling class...making it more compassionate and involved with its subjects rather than standing aloof. But few of her fellow priests share her vision and there is danger all around. Her friend, the Priest of Knives (I read it as Master of the Guards), does his best to protect her, but will saving her from the priesthood simply keep her intact for the clash with the Crow God reborn?

Roanhorse does a beautiful job building the fantasy-world of what might-have-been in the pre-Colombian days of the Western hemisphere. We have a solid understanding of how this world works--the hierarchies within clans, the means of travel, the magic and powers that certain members of society possess. It's all given to us casually, but we soon become immersed in the world and it seems perfectly natural for this person to see the world through the eyes of crows and for this one to ride upon the backs of birds and that one to calm the sea with her song. She also creates interesting characters that we want to follow to the end (the real end for some of them, unfortunately). My favorite was Xiala. I really, really like our mermaid-like captain and hope very much that she appears in future books.

A smashing, epic adventure that I could not put down until it was finished.  and 1/2.

First line: Today he would become a god.

A man with a destiny is a man who fears  nothing. (Serapio; p. 78)

Life is a series of false hopes. We all have misplaced hopes until we learn better. (Paadeh; p.86)

Last lines: "If you can hear me, hold on. We're going home."