Sunday, February 27, 2022

A Broken Vessel

 A Broken Vessel (1994) by Kate Ross

Regency dandy Julian Kestrel is brought into a second mystery--this time by the sister of his valet, Thomas "Dipper" Stokes. Sally Stokes is a girl on the game, has been ever since their parents died and she and Dipper got separated. Dipper (his name from his pickpocketing ways) was rescued from a life of thieving when he lifted Kestrel's "ticker" and rather than prosecute the lad for taking his watch the gentry-cove decided to hire him as a servant. 

When Sally has a busy night with three gents she names "Blinkers," "Bristles," and "Blue Eyes," she does what she always does--lifts a handkerchief as a bit of remembrance (the money the hankies bring in is even better for remembering...). Blinkers turns out to be a bit rough and leaves Sally bruised and battered after their encounter. Fortunately, she runs into her brother when she's back out on the street and he takes her home so he can have a doctor check her over. He doesn't expect his master to be at home, but Julian surprises them both and takes an interest in Sally's welfare. He also returns her property to her...the hankies and the money she had stored in her petticoat pocket had managed to fall out. But when he also hands her a letter found among the handkerchiefs, she claims no knowledge of it. It must have been caught up in the hankie when she lifted it. 

But which one? That becomes an important question because when the letter is read it's obvious that there's an urgent mystery to be solved. The letter is unsigned but clearly the woman who wrote it is in great distress. Sally tells Julian everything she can remember about the three men and he soon identifies one of them. Other clues lead him to the Rev. Gideon Harcourt's Reclamation Society--a "shelter" for fallen women. Sally volunteers to go undercover as a fallen woman looking to be saved, but they are too late. The author of the letter is found dead the very morning Sally presents herself to be reclaimed. What was to be a rescue mission is now a murder inquiry, but there are other mysteries surrounding the three men and the Society and Julian will need to sift the clues carefully to find killer.

I first read the Kate Ross books back in the 90s when they first came out and enjoyed them thoroughly. It has been very nice to revisit these books to see if they still stand up after about thirty years. And they do. The research is impeccable and Ross uses the lingo of the Regency period with ease. She also uses the phrases in such a way that the reader can easily determine what is meant from context and can be very comfortable with the language. 

This outing gave us a fiercely independent young woman in Sally who helps the investigation in very definite ways that neither Julian nor Dipper could accomplish. She makes an excellent addition to the team of detectives and it isn't just Julian and Dipper who are sad to see her go at the end of the story. But she's used to being on her own and doing as she pleases and it's obvious she can't be tied down in one place for long.

The mystery itself is interesting and complex with a couple of side issues to muddy the waters nicely. One has to figure out which of the threads lead to the main issue (the woman who wrote the letter and later died) and which don't. Nicely done. ★★

First line: The man trudged along the pavement with his hands clasped behind him and his eyes on the ground.

There's no second-guessing what's past, or knowing what might have made a difference. It's arrogant, it's a waste of time, and there's an end to it. (Dr. MacGregor; p. 84)

He's doing evil in the cause of good, which is one of life's most exquisite pleasures. One has all the enjoyment of getting up to mischief, and none of the guilt. (Julian Kestrel; p. 196)

Last line: "But now she knows where to find us, she'll be back--Newgate seize me if she won't!"


Deaths = 7 (one poisoned; three natural; two hanged; one fell from height)

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Murder Begins at Home

 Murder Begins at Home (1949) by Delano Ames

Jane and Dagobert Brown arrive in the United States with the aim of visiting his Aunt Clotilda in Detroit. Dagobert seems to think the best way to get there is to buy an old jalopy in New York and head for New Mexico. And, of course, that wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that Miranda Ross, a beautiful WAC Dagobert met in World War II, lives on a ranch in Alamogordo, NM. Certainly not. But the Browns don't exactly get a warm welcome when they first all up Miranda from Pa Fergusson's gas station. Miranda seems vague on her memories of Dagobert and just couldn't possibly put them up...but then, suddenly, she changes her mind and invites them to stay for the weekend. It's only Thursday.

So...they wind up with an assortment of other house guests--from Miranda's younger sister Peggy and her beau, Bill McFarlan to her protégé, the successful Dwight Karnak and his wife Sue. Though Miranda's family and friends and hangers-on all sing her praises, it soon becomes apparent that she's not as well-loved as it seems. And when she's found stabbed to death one morning Dagobert turns detective to help Pa Fergusson (Deputy Sheriff as well as gas station owner) solve the crime.

I really enjoy the relationship between Jane and Dagobert. The witty back and forth and the way that Jane absolutely understands her husband. The character of Pa Fergusson was very well-drawn as well. The rest of the cast--especially the "sainted" Miranda? Not so much. And the plot just didn't seem to pick up as quickly as in the Ames books I've read previously (She Shall Have Murder and For Old Crime's Sake). It seemed to drag a bit in the first third of the book. But it did have a nicely done solution and I enjoyed watching Dagobert work everything out and explain it. ★★★

First lines: Dagobert has an aunt named Clotilda who lives in Detroit, so when we disembarked in New York, we bought a secondhand car and drove to New Mexico. "It's more or less on the way," he explained.

Last line: "Because you're going to learn this is a law-abiding country."


Deaths = 3 (one stabbed; one fell from height; one poisoned)

Friday, February 25, 2022

The Dishonest Murderer

 The Dishonest Murderer (1949) by Frances & Richard Lockridge

It's New Year's Eve and Freddie (Winifred) Haven is ready to celebrate...not just a new year, but a new beginning. The party is being held in honor of her engagement to Senator Bruce Kirkhill. But things begin to go wrong before the midnight revelry begins. As they are making final preparations for the party, her father, Admiral Sattrbee, is acting a bit odd, haltingly asking whether she's sure about this engagement, and then she accidentally overhears part of his telephone conversation with an unknown man. A conversation that seems to be about her fiancé. Then Bruce doesn't turn up at "ten-ish" as expected--nor at eleven-ish or midnight. When the party is winding down, a policeman arrives with the news that man, whom they hope very much isn't the senator (but by implication they very much believe is...), has been found dead in very unfortunate circumstances. And could someone come and verify whether the man is Kirkhill or not? It is.

Now, of course, this is a Pam & Jerry North story--so where do they come in? Well, as it happens, Admiral Satterbee is preparing to publish his memoirs and has naturally decided to do so with North Books. Pam & Jerry were invited to the New Year's party and stopped in for a while. Pam's radar went off and she knew that Freddie was worried about something and, being Pam, had been especially nice to the young woman even though she and Jerry had to rush off to another party. Bill Weigand (who seems to catch all the calls for murder in New York City) is on the case. And when a rather disreputable little man shows up at the Satterbee apartment to see her father, Freddie gets even more worried and hares off to the Norths apartment to ask Pam's advice...because somebody had once mentioned to her that "those Norths are amateur detectives...or something."

Senator Kirkhill was found in a seedy section of town, wearing worn and scruffy clothes. He had died from chloral hydrate. One might think that he'd run into trouble of some sort down in the Bowery, but Weigand and company focus on the senator's associates, friends, and family-to-be--because everyone seems to be hiding something and one of them just might be hiding the guilty knowledge of murder. He also happens by the Norths' apartment while Freddie is there and wonders why she's so frightened. Not that she'll admit it him. But Weigand will find out in the end...and he'll get his killer too.

Another light and breezy adventure with the Norths. My memory of this one must be better--or I was just very astute today--because I spotted the culprit right away (as I recall, I spotted them right off the first time I read it, many moons ago). But this didn't prevent me from enjoying myself thoroughly. I love reading the Lockridge books when I need a light, comfortable story. And, I had forgotten the slight twist at the end--where Freddie Haven gives Pamela North a run for her money on figuring out what the culprit is doing while they're doing it. Great fun! 

First line: There is nothing to worry about, Freddie Haven told herself.

Last line: Because usually it isn't, Pam North told herself, rounding off her thought, as she always liked to do.


Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one shot)

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Surfeit of Suspects

 Surfeit of Suspects (1964) by George Bellairs (Harold Blundell)

The growing town of Evingden is rocked by explosion one November evening. It blasts the windows out of shops and houses and completely destroys the offices of the Excelsior Joinery Company, as well as reducing the number of directors from five to two in one fell swoop. When the arson experts get done investigating, it's clear that someone has used dynamite to blow up the building. Did someone have it in for the company--or these particular directors? Or maybe it was more personal and two of the men were caught in a plot aimed at only one of them? Chief Inspector Littlejohn of Scotland Yard is dispatched to get to the bottom of the mystery. He discovers that the company was in deep financial trouble and that the directors' had sunk everything they had into trying to save it. He also discovers that a life insurance policy taken out on one of the victims (with their lending bank as beneficiary) will save the company from ruin. Could that be the motive? But as he and Inspector Cromwell keep digging, they unearth more skeletons in the Evingden closets. And one of them was definitely worth killing for.

Surfeit: (noun) an excessive amount of something

I hate to disagree with an author and all, but there really isn't an excessive amount of suspects here (despite the description of the plot above). Honestly, there aren't that many suspects that one can take seriously once we really start examining the supposed motives. That would be one of the major reasons this is a three-star book and not four (or more). While there are plenty of less-than-desirable characters wandering around, it seemed pretty obvious who the main suspect was--though I did find it a bit baffling (for quite some time) how s/he got their hands on the dynamite. But Bellairs explains that nicely. The ending is a bit weak as well, with Littlejohn bluffing his way through a confrontation and the culprit conveniently having a stroke to indicate his/her guilt. 

I still enjoy Littlejohn's character and it was interesting to follow him and Cromwell about in their investigation. And it's well worth the price of admission to watch Littlejohn's exchange with the Fraud Squad personnel. Overall, a solid, though less mystifying entry in the Littlejohn exploits. ★★

First line: At eight o'clock in the evening on the 8th of November, there was a terrific explosion in Green Lane, Evingden.

Last line: He got himself a job somewhere in Australia, for Mr. Fpevobzn [ROT 13] is in gaol for two years and Ohtyre [ROT13] doesn't know what mood he will be in when he gets out.

[If you'd like to decode names (which are slight spoilers), then copy the coded portion, follow the link, and paste the the code into the box for decoding.]


Deaths: 7 (three hit on head; two heart attack; one drowned; one stroke)

The Five Red Herrings (audio version)

 The Five Red Herrings (1931) by Dorothy L. Sayers [read by Patrick Malahide] 

I'm still treating myself to audio presentations of the Lord Peter Wimsey.  Though I am admittedly partial to Ian Carmichael as Wimsey, I have been venturing out (where possible through the library, Youtube, etc) to sample other interpretations of my favorite amateur sleuth. This particular story features a trip to Scotland with Lord Peter and Bunter for a fishing holiday. Of course, it turns into a busman's holiday when Lord Peter gets involved with a corpse amongst the artist's community that he's landed in. For my full review of the story, please see the link above. This review will focus primarily on Patrick Malahide's reading/performance of the book.

First off, let me say that it was highly enjoyable to hear the actor who portrayed Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Roderick Alleyn give us his version of Sayers' characters. His Wimsey is Alleyn with a much lighter touch and a more obvious sense of humor. The tones are similar; after all, the two gentlemen both come from the gentry class--Wimsey as the younger son in a ducal family and Alleyn as the younger brother of a baronet--and both are Oxford graduates. His Bunter is a bit off--Wimsey and Bunter have served in the first world war together and there is a close relationship underneath the very proper lord and master routine. I think Malahide's portrayal misses that flavor. Of course, I have been spoiled by Glyn Houston's portrayal in the BBC's 1970s series. For the most part, Houston (in my mind) captured the sense of the relationship which I gathered from the novels. But Malahide does a superb job with the Scottish accents--and especially with differentiating the various characters.

As I mention in my linked review to the novel, one of the most tedious bits of this story is the very long and labored rehashing of the clues and motives and each official from the lowest constable to the Chief Constable, Sir Maxwell, backing their favorite suspect (or suspect combo, as the case may be) and explaining how each of the clues work into their version of events. It is really quite tedious and it wasn't any better having it read to me than it was to read it. [This would be the main reason I've shaved a half-star off of previous review ratings. It really got on my nerves this time round.]

In general, this was a highly enjoyable version of a mystery by a well-loved author. I would love to hear Patrick Malahide read other novels and will have to look for more reading performances by this talented actor. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: If one lives in Galloway, one either fishes or paints.

Last line: [Coded ROT13 because spoiler] Gurl oebhtug vg va znafynhtugre, jvgu n fgebat erpbzzraqngvba gb zrepl, ba gur tebhaq gung Pnzcoryy jnf haqbhogrqyl ybbxvat sbe gebhoyr, naq gur orneq bs Fnzfba jnf abg fnpevsvprq nygbtrgure va inva.

[If you'd like to decode the spoiler quote, then copy the coded portion, follow the link, and paste the the code into the box for decoding.]


Deaths = one hit on head

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Portrait of a Dead Heiress

 Portrait of a Dead Heiress (1965) by Thomas B. Dewey

Apparently Lorrie King, a beautiful young Chicago heiress, wanted to make her death triple-sure--after taking sleeping pills, she got into a full-to-the-brim bathtub, slit her wrists, and then drowned. But her fiancé, a devoted doctor, doesn't believe it. There was no suicide note and he tells Mac, the private eye he's hired to investigate, that there was no indication that Lorrie had anything to commit suicide over. Dr. Peter Kramm hires Mac to discover the truth and, if it really was suicide, find out who drove her to it.

Mac has barely begun to investigate before it looks like the doctor may be right...because if the police really believed in suicide then why is Detective Saunders still sniffing around and dogging Mac's footsteps? That's not the only odd thing--Mac discovers a cache of paper slips with notations in some sort of personal shorthand. At first, he thinks they're betting slips but can't figure why she'd hide two years' worth. Matching the slips up with huge periodic bank withdrawals, he begins to see a sinister pattern. There's Theresa Russ and her family--who knew Lorrie but are so reluctant to talk about her. Then, of course, there's the question of why Big Danny (a big shot in a little way) has taken such an interest in Mac and his investigation. The private eye also finds evidence of arguments with an artist whose work Lorrie had bought and supported for several years. Plenty of possibilities, but what is the answer? And will the client like it when Mac finds it?

I'm not finding that I have a whole lot to say about this one. I don't much care for the solution and can't quite decide if Dewey has reasons (beyond the page) for why he chose the culprit he did. That's probably saying too much and will be a spoiler if anyone reads my review (such as it is) and heads right off to read the book. I definitely can't say more without thoroughly spoiling the plot. The whole set up just makes me feel rather grubby and like I need a shower. The one saving grace in the whole thing is Mac. His character comes shining through--a good detective and an all-around good Joe. I've a few more books by Dewey on the TBR shelves and I hope that those stories are more in line with quality of the detective. ★★

First lines: When Lorrie King, twenty-six, reached an ending, she filled the bathtub, took a large dose of Seconal, climbed into the tub, and slashed her wrists. Needless to say, she died--of drowning.

Last line: The telephone rang again, once again, and stopped abruptly as the receiver went up at the other end.


Deaths = 2 (one drowned; one stabbed)

Monday, February 21, 2022

Midsummer Nightmare

 Midsummer Nightmare
(1945) by Christopher Hale (Frances Moyer Ross Stevens)

Olivia Warburton is the confidential secretary to Sybrand Jennesma, senior of two brothers who own the Jennesma furniture factory. Sybrand and his brother Gerrit are looking to branch out into the automobile industry. Gerrit, the inventor in the family, is developing a new, smaller engine that will conserve fuel in this war-time era. They have invited the influential Senator North to inspect the work so far in the hopes that he will advise a major investor to take the plunge and finance their endeavors. 

Olivia and her assistant Winifred Leslie are living in a cottage on the Jennesma estate. There's quite a crowd of people (future suspects) milling about the estate. There's Sybrand's wife Myrtilla, the Jennesma's sister Hilda Peradine and husband number four, Eddie, Dirk Adams--manager of the Jennesma factory, Jason Kimball who handles publicity for the Jennesma furniture business, Jerrold Corbin--one of Hilda's ex-husbands who still holds out hope of inheriting something should dear old Hilda pass on, and Tillie, faithful servant to the Jennesmas who can't stand the sight of anyone who isn't family.

All is going smoothly with the Senator's visit until the Jennesma brothers begin receiving threatening notes. The anonymous writer claims that the brothers have stolen the engine idea and demands that they share any wealth...or else. But when they refuse to follow instructions about placing an ad in the paper (to indicate their willingness) they aren't the immediate target. The first victim in this murderous nightmare is their sister Hilda and the circumstantial evidence points to Olivia. Senator North has fallen hard for the young woman and is determined to prove her innocent...and he'll plow through Lieutenant Bill French of the State Police to do so, if necessary. More deaths follow and though the net still tightens round Olivia, there's plenty more suspicion to go around. Winnie (Winifred) is acting strangely, Dirk can't explain certain activities, and Eddie seems to have been up to no-good--burning something in the bathroom (possibly a missing will?). 

This really was an unexpected delight. The book is set in a fictional area just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is an area I'm fairly well acquainted with as we traveled through that part of the state quite often on visits to my maternal grandmother in White Cloud (north of Grand Rapids). Hale does a good job describing the area and made me feel like I was on familiar ground. She also introduces some very interesting characters--the double romance storyline was well-done, considering that she brought the two couples together fairly quickly. And I was glad to see the relationships sorted out satisfactorily. The plot is a good one--I almost got the right answer, but didn't take my ideas quite far enough. The plotting was so well done that I'm going to be on the hunt for more Lt. French novels. ★★★★

First line: There was the sort of stillness in the air that often comes with a magnificent full moon.

Last line: After all, there would be moments that would require compensations, and it was well this would be one. 


Deaths = 3 (one stabbed; one poisoned; one hit on head)

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Clutch of Constables

 Clutch of Constables (1968) by Ngaio Marsh

Troy Alleyn, wife of Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard, decides to take a small break after a big art show in London. She sees an advertisement for a last-minute opening on a five-day cruise along an English river aboard the M. V. Zodiac. She hopes to relax and enjoy the slow-paced journey. 

Meanwhile, Alleyn is in the United States on the track of an international criminal who goes by the nickname "Jampot." A criminal with several murders to his credit along with a trade in narcotics and art forgeries. No one knows exactly who he is or what he looks like and he's known to be a meticulous planner and superb mimic with something unusual in his physical appearance. There are hints of Jampot-like activity in the U. S. But when it's discovered that the passenger who "cancelled" his Zodiac reservation at the last minute has been murdered in a way that bears all the hallmarks of Jampot, it looks like Alleyn is searching on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

Could Jampot be one of Troy's fellow passengers? There is a graphics expert with a clubfoot, a most inquisitive cleric with only one eye, a "swivel-eyed*" butterfly enthusiast, and an Ethiopian doctor with an interest in skin dyeing. Of course, the rumors of an unusual physical appearance may have been intentionally circulated to mislead...When a second passenger dies and there is reason to believe she has met her fate at the hands of the international criminal as well, Alleyn becomes concerned about Troy's safety and heads back to England post-haste. He arrives in time to save her, but not soon enough to prevent one final death...

For the most part, this story is told from the point of view of Agatha Troy Alleyn--which makes it unusual an unusual entry in the Marsh mysteries. Framing this main narrative are take-way shots to Alleyn giving a police lecture (about a year later) on Jampot's criminal activities and eventual capture. On the plus side: I enjoyed the difference in telling the story from Troy's point of view. Those sections of the book where we were on the boat and following her adventures were delightful. Marsh does a good job reflecting Troy's "artist's eye" for detail in those portions of the book. What doesn't work so well: the framing of the story with Alleyn's lectures on the investigation. The insertion of these scenes were jarring and took me completely out of the story. It was also evident that Alleyn wanted to kick Carmichael's bottom (the listener in the second row) and I wish he had done and gotten it over with. That running theme was also incredibly distracting and, frankly, unnecessary. 

The plot, once we swallow the incredible coincidence of the wife of the celebrated Inspector Alleyn sharing a river voyage with a criminal mastermind, is interesting enough, though I'm not quite sold on why we had to take a river cruise to try out our art forgery stunts (and there's another lovely coincidence--not only do we have the wife of an inspector aboard--but we have the famous artist Troy along on cruise where art forgery will figure heavily!). Perhaps it's because I've read this before (though it's been about 35 years or so and I really didn't feel like "oh yeah, I remember--that's who did it..."), but I spotted the villain immediately and absolutely knew that his next victim was about to be knocked off. It didn't spoil my enjoyment of the river trip account, so I can put this down as a nice, solid  read. ★★

*as far as I can tell, swivel-eyed in this time period meant something like squint-eyed

First line: "There was nothing fancy about the Jampot," Alleyn said.

Last line: A single-berth cabin is available for this day's sailing. Apply within.


Deaths = 3 strangled

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Clouds of Witness

 Clouds of Witness (1926) by Dorothy L. Sayers (read by Ian Carmichael)

Lord Peter Wimsey's brother--Gerald, Duke of Denver--had gathered a small hunting party at Riddlesdale Lodge. All went well--there was plenty of game and decent company--until one of the guests turned up dead at the most unsuitable hour of three o'clock in the morning. And not just any guest--but the brother-in-law-to-be of Peter and Gerald, Denis Cathcart. The Duke is found crouching over the body. Lady Mary, sister to the Duke and Lord Peter, has secrets of her own and in covering those up manages to throw the light of suspicion ever brighter on her brother. There are all sorts of clues...mysterious footprints in the garden that belong to no one known, a disappearing letter full of comments about the dead man, a suitcase that travels from conservatory to hall oak chest to who-knows-where, a bejewelled cat charm, and tracks made by a motorcycle with sidecar. It will take all of Wimsey's wits, Bunter's way with the maids and barmaids, and Inspector Parker's ruthless routine to get to the bottom of the mystery. It all wraps up with the pomp and circumstance of the trial of a British peer in the House of Lords and an exciting last-minute burst of evidence on the part of Lord Peter to save his brother from the gallows.

I've been listening to audio books when I drive to work and then at work while doing mindless tasks. And when I listen to audio books, it works better for me if I listen to something I've already read--that way if I get distracted it doesn't matter and I won't lose the thread of the story or have to go back to pick it up again. The Lord Peter books are perfect for this--I've read them so often and love them so much that I can listen/read repeatedly and I never lose my enthusiasm for them. It's also lovely to pick up on new episodes or details that I either didn't notice properly before or that have never stood out in quite the same way. The last time I listened to I was struck by the courtroom scenes: the pomp and circumstance of the House of Lords and the impressive persona of Sir Impey Biggs (counsel for the defense) as well as the friendship between Lord Peter and Charles Parker. The friendship was still a highlight this time around--especially the gentle ribbing Peter gives Charles over his fascination with Peter's sister, Mary. And the end scene with Peter, Charles, and Freddy Arbuthnot found out and about after celebrating (a bit excessively) after Denver's acquittal is very amusing. Another good round of Wimsey and friends. ★★★★

First line: Lord Peter Wimsey stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hotel Meurice.

Last lines: "Mr. Parker an' all," said Inspector Sugg, adding devoutly. "Thank Gawd there weren't no witnesses."


Deaths = 2 (one shot; one hit by car)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Death Stops the Frolic

 Death Stops the Frolic (aka Turmoil in Zion; 1943) by George Bellairs (Harold Blundell)

The village of Swarebridge is all set to celebrate the anniversary of the Zion Chapel, the central religious community for the town, with an annual tea. The celebration includes a "tea" (really a large feast at which the members seem out to investigate just what is so sinful about about gluttony anyway...), followed by singing (but no dancing), recitations, and a game of "Follow-My-Leader" led by the Alderman Harbuttle. The Alderman is known for being very strict on religious matters, but uncharacteristically leads them on a much more intricate route...straight into the church sanctuary. Due to the blackout because of the war, all is in darkness, so no one is sure what has happened at first when the Alderman disappears from the front of the line. Careful investigation reveals that he has fallen down a trap door--mysteriously left open--and is now dead. But the fall didn't kill him. Oh, no. Someone waited at the bottom of the opening and stuck a very sharp bread knife into him. 

Superintendent Nankivell is on the spot (ready to see his wife home from the revels) and immediately begins an investigation that reveals many who had differences with the Alderman, a few with real motives, but apparently no one with opportunity. Patient investigation and a bit of local knowledge is what it will take to get to the bottom of this one.

The best part of the book is the descriptions of small village life during World War II. The talk of the black outs, rationing, black market goods, and an installation of military men nearby all serve as reminders that Britain is in the middle of wartime. Bellairs gives a good sketch of the village and its inhabitants and the reader feels as though she knew the place and people well. 

But the story itself is a mess--as is the writing style overall. For reasons known only to himself, Bellairs provides bizarre switches from present tense to past tense which completely upsets the flow of the narrative. There is no purpose to such tense changes that I can see. The basic motive and mystery plot is fine, but it does get lost somewhat between the really very good descriptions and the weird tense changes. The cluing isn't the best either. And, finally,  I'm afraid I balk at classic crime novels that kill off children. The murder of poor little Willie really wasn't necessary to the story line except to add another body to the mix. I'm afraid that Bellairs really lets readers down in this one. Not one of his best and I can't really recommend it. ★★

First line: To the west of the Great North Road and just where it chops off a portion of the eastern fringe of Brentshire, there lies a district of England which has given its name to a fine breed of sheep, a heavy-cropping tomato, an inferior mangel-wurzel, and a now obsolete form of the ague found there before the marshes were drained.

Last line: The air feels cold and damp, and outside, the setter, which Nankivell has tied to a doorknob to await him, howls miserably for human company.


Deaths = 3 (one stabbed; one strangled; one car accident)

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Sad Cypress

 Sad Cypress (1940) by Agatha Christie

The story opens in court. Elinor Carlisle is on trial for her life--accused of poisoning one Mary Gerrard with morphine in fish past sandwiches. (Fish paste sounds rather poisonous to me all by itself....) From this opening scene at the trial, we switch gears to the backstory. We see Elinor and her "cousin" Rodney (her aunt's husband's nephew) discussing an anonymous letter just received by Elinor. It warns her that "someone" is worming their way into her Aunt Laura's affections and might do her and Rodney out of their expected inheritance. The only person this note could refer to is Mary Gerrard, the daughter of the lodgekeeper on Laura Wellman's estate. Mary has made herself useful around the house and kept Aunt Laura company in the woman's recent illness. Aunt Laura has become fond of the girl and given her educational advantages above her station. She also speaks of making sure the girl has a chance to set herself up in a respectable profession.

Elinor and Rodney have planned to marry and they've always expected to live well--eventually--because Aunt Laura has always given them to understand that they would benefit under her will. They aren't anxious for Aunt Laura's will to be enforced, but they do want to be sure of their standing. So they make a trip to Hunterbury Hall to see what's what. While there, Aunt Laura suffers a second stroke (the first being the cause of her illness) and tries to communicate that she wants her lawyer. Elinor and Dr. Peter Lord (Aunt Laura's doctor) assure her that they'll have the lawyer in as soon as possible in the morning, but Aunt Laura doesn't make it through the night. Elinor and Rodney are shocked to find that Aunt Laura never made a will at all...leaving Elinor, as the nearest blood relation, as the sole heir.

Other matters are afoot, however. When Rodney sees Mary Gerrard for the first time after many years, he is struck all of a heap and falls head over heels in love. Mary won't stand still for him to address his affections to her--after all he's supposed to be engaged to Miss Elinor! Elinor sees how things are and breaks off the engagement, but she also arranges to fulfill her aunt's intentions and settles money upon Mary. And then...while clearing up her aunt's things and preparing to sell the house, Elinor, Nurse Hopkins (on duty during her aunt's illness and still hanging about), and Mary share a picnic meal of fish paste sandwiches and tea and Mary dies. Bringing us back where we started...

Peter Lord has done his share of being struck all of heap and has fallen for Elinor. He's determined to see her walk free from court and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. Poirot doesn't, at first, see much room for investigation. The case seems to be pretty clear and there doesn't seem to be anyone else with a hint of a motive. But as the detective begins interviewing people and they start telling him lies, he begins to see possibilities. He digs up evidence and is ready to provide dramatic witnesses in the final days of court...but just which way will the finger of guilt point?

It's been a very long time since I read this one. In fact, I'm pretty sure this is only the second time since I first discovered Christie about forty years ago. This time around, I was getting Strong Poison vibes with the courtroom bits. We open with the courtroom scene and Elinor Carlisle on trial for her life. A man named Peter is in love with her, desperate to see her cleared, and wants to dig up evidence to save his lady. Of course, Dr. Peter Lord is no Lord Peter Wimsey and doesn't have amateur detective stamped all over him, so he does the next best thing to solving the mystery himself, he convinces Hercule Poirot to investigate. 

A slightly convoluted plot, but Christie is very good about planting the clues right there in front of you and then distracting you from them. And I thought she did a very good job with the characterization in this one. Very nice sketches of every important character and we get a good sense of who they are and how they behave. ★★ and 1/2.

First lines: "Elinor Katharine Carlisle. You stand charged upon this indictment with the murder of Mary Gerrard up the 27th of July last. Are you guilty or not guilty?"

Last line: With you, she can be happy.


Deaths = 2 poisoned

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

He'd Rather Be Dead

 He'd Rather Be Dead (1945) by George Bellairs

Sir Gideon Ware has a positive talent for ticking people off. Several years ago, he settled in Westcombe and as soon as he did he set about turning the little town on its ear. He changed the quaint little seaside town into a huge, bustling boardwalk with sideshows and Coney Island-style rides and dance bands. There are tourists everywhere, up till all hours, carousing and carrying on. He gets his way through a combination of bribes, blackmail, and under-the-table deals. And then, somehow, he manages to get elected mayor. He then adds shaking up the town's social sphere to his agenda--appointing men to positions they shouldn't hold and ousting men who have long held other positions.

Per tradition, the town leaders welcomed him to office with a dinner in November and now, in August, it's his turn to provide a lavish dinner in return. He plans on having a grand time watching the fun from his seat of honor. He's deliberately seated bitter enemies next to one another in an effort to add a little spice to the dinner. He rises from his seat to offer a toast to his guests and promptly falls down dead--apparently from poison. The Chief Constable, knowing that Ware had shoehorned him into the position and that some might look askance at him investigating this particular murder, decides immediately to call in Scotland Yard. And so we have Inspector Tom Littlejohn on the job. The Chief Constable is little help, but Detective-Inspector Hazard prove invaluable in providing background and assisting with the legwork and soon Littlejohn is well on his way to finding out who shoved the Mayor out of office--permanently.  

Maybe I'm becoming a little jaded, but this is the second vintage mystery in a row that I've read where I just don't feel like suspicion is spread around convincingly. I mean here we have Ware killed off at a dinner where he's surrounded by all sorts of people who have had run-ins of one sort or another with the man and Bellairs immediately narrows the field drastically when he reveals the basic method by which the poison was introduced. And, the way things are revealed, it immediately became obvious to me who the culprit was. It didn't help that I have a vague recollection of a similar murder. Not quite the exact method--but close enough that when the culprit appeared on scene I said to myself: They did it--and I bet they [spoiler encoded in ROT13] chg gur cbvfba haqre n qvffbyinoyr svyyvat. Well, they didn't exactly do that but I was in the ballpark and when we're told the basic method, then I knew I was right about the culprit. The other slightly annoying thing is that the culprit leaves a journal written in a rambling, slightly florid style that basically tells us everything we already knew. The few bits that were new weren't amazing enough to require us to read through those journal excerpts. 

The thing that saves this story from a low rating is Bellairs' way with characters and description. Littlejohn is portrayed here at his most human--sympathizing with nearly all of the suspects because of their ill-treatment at the hands of the victim. He's even understanding of the Chief Constable's inability to provide the kind of support a man in his position should. And even though I was nearly certain I had spotted the killer early on, it was enjoyable to follow Littlejohn about and watch him work his way towards the solution. ★★

[If you'd like to decode the spoiler, then copy the coded portion, follow the link, and paste the the code into the box for decoding.]

First line: Perhaps someday a worthy biographer will write the life story of Sir Gideon Ware as a signpost to guide the young to success.

Last line: Stripping off his jacket he assumed his official apron.


Deaths =  6 (two poisoned; one drowned; one strangled; one buried by rubble; one stabbed)

Monday, February 14, 2022

The Golden Box

 The Golden Box
(1942) by Frances Crane

Jean Holly (not yet Abbott) returns to her home town in Illinois to visit an ailing aunt. She hasn't been back to Elm Heights since she left eight years ago to resettle in the artistic community of Santa Maria. But when her cousin Peg (Margaret McCrea) tells her that Aunt Sue has pneumonia, she decides to head back to her old stomping grounds. 

Life hasn't changed much in the small Midwestern town--the wealthy Mrs. Claribel Fabian Lake still holds sway in all the circles that matter and generally gets the last word on everything--from the annual church Christmas party to who is appointed coroner. She makes her daughters' lives miserable--refusing to financially help her eldest, Emma, who defied her in her marriage choice (even though it may cost the life of her grandson), forcing Claire's engagement to the chosen suitor and squelching Valerie's romantic plans. When Mrs. Lake succumbs to an apparent heart attack, everyone believes that the daughters will now have a chance at a life of their own...until the will is read. Sure, they're going to share a large fortune...but not until Val turns forty. And that won't be for another twenty-two years

It's not just the terms of the will that are odd. Somebody up at the Lake's home plays music at the strangest times...stopping in mid-chord. One of the inmates of the house is seen peering up in the trees surrounding the McCrea house. The doctor, who declared Mrs. Lake's death as natural and who has received a $3,000 per year legacy for life, is closing his practice and making plans to leave town. Jean's curiosity is on full and she sends her friend Patrick Abbott a message that says that there are events that might warrant his detective interest. He arrives just in time for the second death. Mrs. Lake's maid is found hanged and the doctor (yes, the legacy fellow) declares it suicide and the coroner is all set to go along when mild-mannered Bill McCrea, husband of Peg and inquest jury member holds out for an autopsy. This gives time for Pat Abbott to start nosing around and before we know it, one of the prime suspects, if murder has happened, has hired him to investigate in earnest. Will he be in time to prevent any more murders?

 Slight spoiler ahead!



Another solid entry in the Pat & Jean Abbott series. Crane seems to hover right at or just above the three star rating for me. Generally she provides decent plots with a fair number of suspects and clues. Pat, as the official private investigator, does the heavy lifting in the detective department. Jean tends to misjudge people and jump to conclusions--and jumps around on those conclusions, suspecting first one than another of the Elm Heights residents. I really enjoyed the mid-western setting for this one (being from Indiana myself) and I thought she gave us excellent sketches of most of the characters. I might have rated this one higher but for two things. First, I just don't see that the gold box really has all that much to do with our detective arriving at the solution. Why make it the title and bring it up at all if the solution doesn't really need it? [Even though Jean insists it's important and Pat "explains" how it really was the most important clue. I can see how it might have been used in this way, but it really wasn't] And second, I never really felt that there was any other real suspect other than the real culprit. Jean and her cousin bat around some ideas for motives for others, but none of it seemed strong enough. I just wasn't quite sure how our villain managed to be where then needed to be. ★★

First line: One morning towards the end of November I was sitting by the fireplace in my shop, glancing through a back number of Vogue and thinking it might be a good idea to read a piece on the advantages of being an old maid, when a boy came in with a telegram.

"...I don't see why people bother to fuss about what other people do, unless it's something that hurts them personally. Do you?"  (Clair Lake; p. 92)

Last line: I would probable never read that article in Vogue now.


Deaths = 6 (two auto accident; one drowned; one shot; one poisoned; one hanged)

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Murder Must Advertise (BBC Audio)

Murder Must Advertise (1933) by Dorothy L. Sayers
BBC Audio Version with Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey

I love the Lord Peter Wimsey books by Sayers. They are my comfort reads and I have gone back to them more times over the years than I can count. I've read various editions (as I keep adding different editions to my collection. I've listened to Ian Carmichael read the entire story. I've listened to (and don't recommend unless you're looking for a soporific)  John Franklyn-Robbins doing so as well. And now I've listend to the BBC full-cast dramatisation. If you'd like a full review of the story, I've done that previously (HERE). This is merely my reflections on the BBC production. 

Ian Carmichael is, as ever, a delight. He was the first Wimsey I watched in the televised version and, though the BBC waited until he was a bit old for the early novels, he does the younger, more frivolous Wimsey very well and his is always the voice I hear in my head when I read the books myself. The rest of the cast is quite strong as well--though I do think that John Hallam who played Mr. Ingleby in the televised version caught the spirit of Sayers's character more accurately than did John Quentin in the radio dramatision. One other small disappointment was the condensation of Miss Meteyard's part with that of Miss Parton. In the book (and TV program) Miss Meteyard is a copy-writer on an equal footing with the men. Here she has been relegated to the typing pool. But beyond these small quibbles, this is an excellent production and a delight to listen to. ★★★★

First Line: "And by the way," said Mr. Hankin, arresting Miss Rossiter as she rose to go, "there is a new copy-writer coming in today."

Last line: "Advertise or go under."
Deaths = 5 (three hit; one shot; one stabbed) 

The Murder Game

 The Murder Game (1993) by Steve Allen

Steve Allen and his wife, Jayne Meadows, were staples of the 50s, 60s, and 70s panel game shows. Steve was perhaps best known for his appearances on What's My Line? and later served as host on an updated version of the show. Jayne was a long-standing panel member of I've Got a Secret. In this sixth installment of his mystery series, Steve uses their experiences in the panel game show world to full effect.

In this fictional account, it is twenty years since the famous game show, The Murder Game, went off the air. Jayne Meadows and three other celebrity panelists would go head-to-head with a panel of guests in the grand-daddy of detective-based game shows. The teams would watch short skits that gave them the victim, suspects and general outline of the crime. The game would provide them with opportunities to earn clues. The fewer clue rounds needed to solve the mystery--giving both who and why--the bigger the prize. 

That game rivaled What's My Line? and I've Got a Secret in popularity and now the network has been sold on the idea of reviving the show for a modern audience. The original host (and creator of the show) Peter Grover and all of the original panelists are brought on board for the revival--even Jayne, although she's very reluctant at first. But when a few "accidents" happen to those connected with the show, she and Steve can't resist being involved because they gotten quite a taste for real-life mysteries. Then the show's panelists start dying one-by-one and their amateur investigation becomes deadly serious...if they don't discover the culprit soon, then they may find themselves permanent losers of the murder game.

This was a lot of fun. A few years ago, I went down a Youtube rabbit hole and watched every available episode of What's My Line? as well as many episodes of I've Got a Secret. I enjoyed the latter well enough, but it didn't hook me quite the way What's My Line? did. I am well acquainted with how those panel shows worked and saw a lot of Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. It wasn't difficult to picture the scenes on the set of The Murder Game and I heard Steve's voice in my head the entire time I was reading this. The banter between him and Jayne is true to their onscreen behavior and was delightful to read. They also make pretty decent amateur detectives--though I will say that Steve plays the clues a little close to his vest. There are a few details that aren't shared until the big reveal at the end. The other thing that keeps this from a slightly higher rating is that it goes on just a little bit too long. Jayne figures out who did it and is all set to reveal all. Then a new clue pops up and she (or she and Steve) are all set to go chat up a new suspect and somebody new dies. The somebody new may or may not be the suspect we were going to chat up. That, in turn, causes Steve to decide that he's figured out who did it and is all set to reveal all...and off we go into another round. Set that for about four more repeats and...well, it was just a bit redundant. It didn't prevent me from having a good time though and I'm definitely up for another round of mystery-solving with Steve and Jayne. Which is good because I've got another of his books sitting on the TBR shelves... ★★ and 1/2.

First lines: "Sorry," Jayne told the telephone. "On Thursday we have to be in Idaho or Iowa--one of those states that begin with an I."

Last lines: "Anything but a tuna sandwich, dear. We owe them too much."


Deaths = 8 (two vehicle accident; one drowned; one fell from height; one hit by garage door; one natural; one poisoned; one hanged)

Friday, February 11, 2022

The Murderer Who Wanted More

 The Murderer Who Wanted More
(1943) by Baynard Kendrick

Bonnie Critten was mugged in her apartment's vestibule. A few days later she was walking near woods surrounding her aunt's house when a bullet whizzes by. She is afraid that her artistic imagination is running away with her. But she consults Duncan Maclain, the blind private detective, anyway and he assures her that she's sensible to be concerned. He advises her to stay home and paint for a few days and he'll do some investigating.

Of course, she's immediately called to leave her apartment late at night...and she does. Her aunt has been in ill-health and now the doctor calls to say that the older woman is dying and wants to speak to Bonnie immediately. If she hurries, she may be in time. She rushes to the train station and has the feeling she's being watched--there's a sulky, sinister-looking man in a trench coat who seems to be following her. But she runs into an acquaintance and is happy to have his company for the train journey. She arrives safely at her destination...but someone winds up dead anyway. Her cousin Fred was also on the train and is found shot in the corner of another compartment. Was he the intended target? Or was someone aiming for Bonnie again? And, if he was meant to die, does that mean someone is targeting her entire family? Her aunt dies (of natural causes) before Bonnie can reach the house and there are strange incidents with creaking floorboards and sleeping pills. But Maclain and his dogs show up in time to get to the bottom of the mystery and to prevent the killer from being third time lucky in their attempt to kill Bonnie.

Another solid mystery starring Maclain whose heightened abilities (compensating for his blindness) seem more believable than those of some other blind detectives. I also like the way Kendrick works in Maclain's guide and guard dogs. I will say that I find Kendrick's longer stories to be more enjoyable. This novella seemed just a tad rushed (unlike the similar-lengthed story by Blochman reviewed earlier). There are a few good clues (overlooked by yours truly), but Kendrick is not nearly as generous with them as Blochman was in the same space. Still, a good evening's read and nice addition to the small collection of Kendrick stories I own. ★★

First line: it started to snow at half-past five in the afternoon.

Last line: Duncan Maclain would never see them, but he didn't seem to care.


Deaths = 3 (one shot; one natural; one stabbed)

Death Walks in Marble Halls

 Death Walks in Marble Halls (1942) by Lawrence G. Blochman

Murder runs amok at the New York Public Library. Phil Manning, with library press relations, has his hands full well before the grim reaper starts harvesting among the stacks. One of the library's trustees, H. H. Dorwin has put him on high alert with a telephone call saying he was his way to meet about an important matter. Then Manning's best girl Betty Vale calls saying that she must see him right away--with tones of desperation in her voice. Before he can attend to either of these matters, he hears a shot ring out in the main corridor. An untidy little man bolts down the hall and Dorwin is leaning against the wall, his face as pale as the marble flakes scattered about from where the bullet hit a bust of Sophocles instead of the director. Dorwin insists he's fine and that Manning should run after the library guard, Tim Cornish, who's running after the little man and bring them both back to the director. "No police!" he commands.

He doesn't quite get his wish...but by the time the police arrive, he's past caring, having become the first victim of the killer on the loose among the books. But, instead of being shot, he has been stabbed. Did the little man come back with a different weapon or is there someone else with reasons to eliminate a library trustee. I bet you've already guessed...there is. More than one. And they ALL decided that they needed to visit the library that very afternoon.... Even though the police have all the exits covered and all the suspects are supposedly blocked in the main area of the library, we still get a nice round of hide and seek among the stacks while Manning and Lieutenant Kilkenny try prevent too many patrons from being removed from circulation permanently.

This is a fun little novella. As much as I enjoyed my first Blochman (Midnight Sailing, reviewed a few days ago), this one ticked off more boxes for me. It has a tighter plot, better clues, and more interesting peripheral characters all packed into a story about four times shorter. I love the library setting and the slightly academic feel. Blochman provides an excellent description of the library's layout which is a great help in visualizing the murders and figuring out where who was when. It's shame that he didn't (according to the internet) do more of this style of mystery with the same main characters--this is only the second appearance of Kilkenny and his medical examiner Dr. Rosenkohl and the only appearance of Manning (who does most of the detective work here). A delightful mystery in a small package. ★★★★

First line: Long before the storm broke, Phil Manning had an uneasy feeling that something unpleasant was about to happen.

Last line: "'And so, good night,' Tim."


Deaths = 3 (one stabbed; one shot; one fell from height)

Thursday, February 10, 2022

This Club Frowns on Murder

 This Club Frowns on Murder (1990) by Albert Borowitz

Members of the Alumni Club (connected to a famous University) in New York City have been receiving odd little poison pen letters. They come in the form of letters of condolence, commiserating with loved ones over the death of a much-missed member of the Club. Except none of the members are dead...yet. 

Rodney Baker, a member of the governing committee, invites his old friend Paul Prye and his wife Alice to come and stay at the Club--the Pryes have recently had to leave their home to remodelers after a faulty toaster literally toasted portions of their home. Prye is true-crime historian with an expertise in crimes involving poison pens and had recently helped solve a current-day mystery and Baker would like Prye to use his knowledge to investigate the Club's recent troubles. 

At first it looks like a classic case of someone venting pent-up frustrations, but it isn't long before Prye uncovers old grudges, embarrassing secrets, and unquenched hatreds running amok in the hushed halls of the Club. The members claim to be helping Prye, but few answer his questions with anything like candor and not even the first murder shakes their resolve to say as little as possible. But when Prye's friend Baker becomes the next victim, everyone begins to take things more seriously. The difficulty is figuring out which grudge or secret is so great that someone needed to kill? 

Actually, the real difficulty is that this mystery just never really takes off. The opening is good and the scenes at the Club prior to the Pryes installation on the premises are promising. But Prye's investigative methods are clumsy and just not all that interesting. I honestly think his wife Alice would have made a better detective--she asks him all the right questions. When Prye was conducting his interviews, I just honestly didn't care who did it and there was no sense of urgency about his trying to find out. The book flap insists that Borowitz has written a mystery in the classic style--if classic style means with few clues and little hope that the reader will figure it out before the end, then I guess he did. This may be a spoiler, but I can tell you that in all honesty I had completely forgotten that the culprit even existed--that's how few clues to their guilt there were. I intended to give two and a half stars--but as I'm writing this review I realize that is a bit much. ★★ only.

First line: The University's color was oxblood, and the Alumni Club in New York City never let you forget it.

Last line: I have boundless faith in the Oversight Committee; they'll add a new rule in the next edition.


Deaths = 4 (one shot; one poisoned; two hit on head)

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Midnight Sailing

 Midnight Sailing (1938) by Lawrence G. Blochman

It's the late 1930s and the world is heading for another global war. Dorothy Bonner's father, a wealthy silk merchant, has apparently committed suicide after Congressional hearings accusing him of stealing top-secret blueprints from the U.S. Navy. The silk heiress has taken a powder and everyone wonders where she is and whether she was involved in her father's alleged espionage. Glen Larkin, famous foreign news correspondent, is enjoying the beginnings of a little vacation in San Francisco before heading to the Far East to cover developments there....when his bureau manager Beasley tracks him down and hustles him off to board the Japanese ship Kumo-maru headed for Japan by way of Hawaii.

It seems that Miss Bonner is aboard the ship and Beasley wants Larkin to get her story before the rest of the world finds out where she is. From the moment he steps on board, our correspondent finds himself in deep waters as he becomes involved in far more than just a hot story on a beautiful runaway heiress. There is murder on the high seas, blackmail, stolen plans, missing vanadium contracts and passports, a mysterious passenger who never leaves his compartment, and an extra "passenger" who spends his time hiding in a coffin...until he winds up really belonging there. Lurking among the passengers there is also an insurance detective who has been hired to protect the ship's very unusual cargo. Larkin's investigative reporting skills will solve the case, but he opts to let the detective take the credit while the reporter gets the girl.

This would have made a swell mystery B movie. Lots of action and misunderstandings. The plans change hands about three or four times--sometimes the person who has them doesn't know they have them. They think they have the missing contract because everything that's missing is in similar envelopes. And sometimes the person who thinks they have them really doesn't because someone else has sneaked in and taken or replaced them. It's just teeming with mysterious hi-jinks. Throw in several corpses and a few red herrings and you have the recipe for some good fun. The story is, of course, a product of its time--stereotypical representation of the Japanese crew with menacing undertones as the real world unrest in the Asian Pacific hangs over the publication date.

Blochman did manage to fool me. I should have known that one clue displayed so prominently just couldn't mean what I thought it did...but you can't win them all. A good solid mystery with just a whiff of espionage. ★★

First line: Beasley, the bureau manager, finally discovered Glen Larkin comfortable buried in a deep leather chair in the St. Francis bar, squinting through a fresh highball.

Why is it, darling, that death makes life so suddenly distinct and real and important? (Dorothy Bonner; p. 156)

Last line: You shameless, perfidious, unmitigated cad! I love you!


Deaths = 5 (one shot; one hit on head; one stabbed; one strangled; one drowned)


Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Egyptologist


The Egyptologist
(2004) by Arthur Phillips

The first storyline opens in Egypt,1922. Ralph Trilipush, Egyptologist lately of Harvard, is writing home to his betrothed, Margaret Macy. He has gone to Egypt with backing of his future father-in-law and various other investors to search for the tomb of King Atum-hadu. He has staked his professional career and a boatload of money that is not his own a scrap of papyrus which he swears is by the poet-pharaoh. His letter claims that he has found riches beyond measure and it accompanies his journals. There are dark undertones running through his correspondence and he hints that neither he nor her father (who had come to join Trilipush at the site) may make it back to Boston alive. He fears that unnamed enemies may be on their trail.

In a second storyline, we have Harold Fennell, a private detective in Australia with Tailor Enquiries Worldwide, Sydney Branch. It is the 1950s and Margaret Macy's nephew is looking for information on the family history--particularly its connection to a Mr. Trilipush. Through a series of letters Fennell tells his story of a hunt for a missing brewery king's bastard heir which led from Australia to the sands of Egypt during World War I to London and Boston...and finally back to Egypt. Fennell promises his correspondent not one double-murder, but two...but whether a solution to either is in the offing is anyone's guess.

This is an interesting, bizarre, and often-times frustrating story. It is told entirely through correspondence--primarily letters mixed with a few telegrams--and journal entries. The letters from Mr. Fennell are very interesting and tell his story well. I enjoyed watching him follow the trail of Barnabas Davies's missing heir as it slowly intertwines with the Macy family history. The letters (late in the story) from Mr. Beverly Quint and Hugo Marlowe are amusing--as well as adding their bit to the unraveling of the mystery. The letters and journal entries from Trilipush are another kettle of fish altogether. At the beginning, they give the reader background and grounding information that is helpful in working through the complexities of the mystery. But the entire middle portion ranges from deadly dull (blathering on about opening up empty portions of the pharaoh's tomb, difficulties with Egyptian workers, and trips to the bank and post office--looking for both letters from the beloved and money transfers from her papa). His journal entries toward the end take on a raving, mystical quality, but he does give us clues to what exactly has happened. And alert readers will have picked up on the solution quite some time ago.

While this story is, to a certain extent, a historical mystery--what really happened in the desert, both during the war and then again in 1922. It is also a story more concerned with identity and truth. What really makes a man who he says he is? Is it his family--traditions, family history, place in society, connections--or is it what he makes of himself and who he says he is? And, as readers, who do we trust? There are a number of unreliable narrators (through correspondence) in this story. Who should we as readers believe? And should we believe everything they tell us or just part. If we decide to take it in parts, then how do we decide which parts are true?

I've had a difficult time decidinf on the rating for this one. The parts that are good are very good. The background is interesting as are the portions with Fennell, Quint, and Marlowe. But our main character, Trilipush, is really not engaging at all and most of his part of the story is deadly dull (or just plain bizarre). So...  and a half. It just doesn't quite make the three-star (enjoyable read--no real complaints) level.

First line: 31 Dec. Sunset. Outside the tomb of Atum-hadu. On the Victola 50: "I'm Sitting on the Back Porch Swing (Won't You Come Sit by Me, Dear?)"

Last line: His mysteries and riddles remain unsolvable for millennia stacked upon millennia until another should find him, embrace him, twist and fuse with him, vanish into him, and win, for  discoverer and king alike, the eternal love due an immortal name. [the rest redacted because it would be a spoiler]


Deaths = 4 ( two accident; one hit on head; one poisoned)

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Murder at the Spring Ball

 Murder at the Spring Ball (2021) by Benedict Brown

Set in England, 1925. After his beloved wife's death, Christopher Prentiss's grandfather and former Scotland Yard detective, Lord Edgington of Cranley Hall, had secluded himself from the world. He saw no one, not even the grandson who spends weekends at his home, and rarely ever left his rooms. At his seventy-fifth birthday celebration, a rare gathering of his entire family--from his dotty sister-in-law, Clementine, to his children, Christopher's mother, Belinda, and Maitland, to his grandchildren and great-niece--he suddenly announces that all that is in the past, Cranley Hall is to be refurbished and made ready for a grand Spring Ball in the style of past events. Even more astounding--he will need an assistant to help him get everything ready and he has chosen, of all people, Christopher.

The Cranley family (and extended relations) aren't the most loving of clans and immediately everyone is suspicious of Edgington's motives. Is he grooming Christopher to be his heir? What has that sneaky little teenager been up to on his weekends at Cranley Hall? Sucking up to old man, apparently. Christopher is just as astounded as the rest. As he tells them, he hasn't spoken one word to his grandfather since the time of his grandmother's death. And even as he begins to help Edgington with his celebration, he's still not clear why his grandfather chose him.

But Christopher proves an able assistant and everything comes together splendidly. The band is up-to-date, the food isn't too bizarre (given the Cranley Hall cook's penchant for strange pairings--like honey & haddock sandwiches), and everyone is having a good time. It's all going well until until Lord Edgington has the cork popped on a fifty year-old bottle of champagne presented to him (and his wife) on his wedding day. The bubbly is poured out for the family and he prepares to offer a toast. One of his greedy children can't wait for the speech, drinks their champagne, and promptly dies of of poison. If Belinda hadn't provided the warning, most--if not all--of the Edgington's family would have followed the same fate. The retired Scotland Yard Superintendent takes his grandson on as assistant detective and the duo set out to find the culprit before the family numbers are drastically reduced.

This was a fun, light historical mystery. Nicely clued in the Golden Age tradition and I enjoyed the duo of grandfather and grandson working together to solve the crime. They have an interesting relationship and, as there are more books in the series, it will be fund to watch it develop. Christopher is a shy, bookish young man who has been bullied at school and derided in the family. It was nice to watch him begin to blossom in his grandfather's company. 

The story is told from Christopher's point of view--which is something to keep in mind as you read. He is observant, but doesn't always see things from the proper perspective. He's also prone to jumping to conclusions and several times he comes across a new clue, spins a whole theory, and declares "Case closed!" only to go through the same process when the next clue comes along. But he does get a bit better at interpretation as the case moves along. Overall, a nice debut to what looks like a good series.  ★★ and 1/2.

First line: It must be strange to know that everyone in the room wishes you were dead.

...well, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, "To lose one Cranley may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like a concerted plan of elimination." (p. 103)

Last lines: We pulled onto the road and he immediately accelerated. "Grandfather, let me out!"


Deaths = 3 (two poisoned: shot with an arrow)