Tuesday, August 30, 2022

You Only Hang Once

 You Only Hang Once (1944) by H. W. Roden

Johnny Knight is a public relations man who's having a bit of trouble with relations with a certain portion of the public. Vitalia Barretti, a shady nightclub owner and gambling den overload, keeps telling Knight to come see him and Johnny isn't interested. That doesn't suit Barretti, so he sends a two-bit thug named Yance to bring the PR man along. It seems that Barretti has the idea that Knight, a friend of Marvin Reynolds, has some sort of pull with R. S. Reynolds, a wealthy and influential man who--as part of the Reform Council--is out to shut Baretti and all his gambling buddies down. And he wants Knight to tell Reynolds to lay off...or else things might turn ugly for everybody, including Knight. Our hero tells the small-time mobster to peddle his papers elsewhere and takes a scenic route (via a barroom) back to his office.

When he arrives, he finds Abe Berenson, a lawyer with an office in his building, shot through the head and propped up in Knight's office chair. Figuring that someone (probably Baretti) is fitting him for a frame, Knight calls on his friend Sid Ames--private investigator who loves a good brawl and has a distinct dislike for cops. Ames and Knight set out to discover who killed Berenson and why (it's not such a pat answer as one might think) before the cops decide that the frame-up is the real deal. Along the way, they get shot at, knocked out, tied up, drunk off their butts on stingers, 

"Of course it's good," I [Johnny] replied. "Haven't you ever drunk a stinger before?" "No. You see it's this way, Johnnie [sic]. Last week I was reading one of these who-dunnits--detective thrillers, you know. In the book the detective kept drinking double stingers all the way through the story. I figured anything that guy could do. I could do."

and manage to run into even more dead bodies. Ames begins to see a pattern and thinks he's ready to name the killer, but it's Knight who finds the last piece of the puzzle and gets the whole picture right.

So...I'm in two minds about this one. I do like the Knight/Ames team. That is, I like them as characters and I like the way they interact with each other and the other characters. But I don't think I'd want them investigating a mystery for me. Especially, if I were going to be directly involved. Because, by golly, these guys don't know when to keep their traps shut. They blurt out information in front of suspects which could be dangerous. And part of it is...to the killer's next victim.

In general, it's a perfectly fine hard-boiled, two-fisted story (Ames does like to knock heads). There's a bit of a twist to the ending and even a fairly placed clue that, if picked up properly, could lead the reader to the right culprit. I didn't pick it up till it was too late...I got distracted by other factors. ★★ and 3/4

First line: The swivel chair was tilted back, my feet were comfortably on the desk and I had the morning paper opened at the sports page reading about a plater called Brass Monkey which had run second at Tanforan.

Last line: As the barman turned to comply with my order Sid added, "Yeah. Make it a pitcher."


Deaths = 4 (three shot; one strangled)

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Treachery in the Yard

 Treachery in the Yard (2010) by Adimchinma Ibe

Set in Nigeria, we find Detective Tammy (Tamunoemi) Peterside diving headfirst into murder and mayhem surrounding a general election. A bomb goes off at Prius Okpara's home--killing several of the staff, but missing the one who seems to be the target--Okpara who is seeking his party's nomination. Suspicion naturally focuses on Okpara's rival, Dr. Puene, but there are influential forces at work behind the police force and it may not be as simple as it looks. Peterside wants to find those behind the bombing, but his superiors don't want to tick off the wrong government official. But as more murders take place, Peterside finds it difficult to know who to trust--even members of the police force seem suspect. When he disobeys orders one too many times, he's removed from the case and, yet, he can't leave it alone. It may cost him his job...or even his life, but he's determined to find answers and bring the culprits to justice.

 This is a little too gritty for my tastes with a lot of senseless killing. There is, however, a nicely done plot and I appreciated Peterside's dedication to the truth--no matter what the cost to himself. It was a shame he wasn't more likeable. His honesty is his selling point, but given his interactions with both, I wouldn't want to be his partner or his girlfriend. It was also nice to read a police procedural based in Nigeria--a country I know little about. Good setting and background. Solid plot offset by so-so lead character and senseless killings. ★★  and 1/2

First line: The lead officer briefed us as we walked through the chaotic scene.

Last line: "I had other people for that."


Deaths = 9 (one stabbed; one hit on head; seven shot)

Friday, August 26, 2022

Kill the Butler!

 Kill the Butler! (1993) by Michael Kenyon

Question of the day: Is it reasonable to believe that a US Police Chief could convince Scotland Yard to loan one of their officers to go undercover and pretend to be a butler? Apparently so...at least according to Michael Kenyon. And then...we also bring another officer over to play cook when the initial one disappears.

So...Lou Langley, elderly rich guy with a lawn fixation (rich enough to have hordes of gardeners but doesn't trust anyone to cut the grass to his specifications), is killed in a hit and run accident while mowing the grass bordering his estate in Dunehampton, NY. Chief Roscoe corners Chief Inspector Henry Peckover at an international law enforcement convention and tells him his troubles in trying to locate a "green truck with a dog in the back." He's sure that someone in the Langley household has arranged for the old guy's demise--after all there is $150 million at stake. Oh...and there's also supposed to be a copy of a memo floating around. A memo from FDR proving that he knew the Japanese were going to attack and let it happen because he knew we'd never get in the war otherwise. That needs to be found pronto. Roscoe has somehow managed to convince Scotland Yard to loan out Peckover, in the guise of a proper English butler (Peckover goes to butling school for all of three days). 

Enter Peckover as Jarvis, who buttles around and doesn't seem to learn much. Then Langley's sister dies and one of his major heirs, a historian with great interest in the memo, disappears. And so does the cook. A couple more people die and "Jarvis" gets hit over the head repeatedly--but just like a Timex watch, he "takes a licking and keeps on ticking." Then the hurricane hits. And, miracle of miracles, Peckover figures out who done it and why--with lots of neon pointers in the narrative but, quite honestly, very little in the way of real evidence.

The blurbs on this thing said it was a good, funny mystery. I'm afraid I found it to be neither. If the fact that a Chief Inspector of the Yard keeps getting bashed over the head is supposed to be funny...it isn't. If the fact that he can't remember what his first name is supposed to be is supposed to be funny...it isn't. If most of the time Peckover acts like he couldn't detect his way out of a paper bag and spends most of his time lurking outside the dining room door hoping to overhear something damning is supposed to be funny...it isn't. And if the lukewarm rivalry between Peckover and Sergeant Vito De Voto is supposed to be funny...well, that isn't either. And if those aren't supposed to be funny, then I'm not sure what was.

Based on this outing, I'm a bit baffled as to how Peckover managed to make Chief Inspector. I mean sure, he gets his man/woman in the end, but he doesn't appear to be any great shakes at this detecting business. Credit where credit is due...he did find the missing memo. But [spoiler]


that didn't really contribute to the solution of the murders. It's doubtful that I'll pick up another in this series and I don't think it matters that I dove in midway. I just don't think the humor is my brand. I've seen praise of it out on the internet, so your mileage may vary. and 1/2

First line: "The route to go is surveillance inside the house, undercover, like, say, an English butler."

Last line: [to be added]


Deaths = 5* (one hit by truck; one fell from height; one strangled; two hit on the head) *We may have lost one more, but that wasn't really clear to me...

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Dead Man's Gift

 Dead Man's Gift
(1941) by Zelda Popkin

Michael Carmichael was a rich old man who died suddenly of apoplexy. He had a vast fortune from mining and big ol' house that his sister Tessie Whipple and nephew Peter fully expected to inherit. After all, they were his only family. Imagine the surprise when Eli Yarrow, Carmichael's friend and lawyer, contacts an assortment of other Carmichaels and invites them to the house for a reading of the will. 

The Morning Globe assigns a reporter to do a story on Veronica Carmichael, a shop girl at a local department store who is apparently going to be an heiress. But when the journalist spots some discrepancies in the family tree, she warns Veronica that she should take somebody with her to this will-reading party. Veronica asks Mary Carner, the department store detective, to pose as her cousin and go along with her to Pitt Haven, Pennsylvania just in case there's anything fishy going on. They expect to go for the reading and head back to New York, but there's a huge rainstorm on and the Susquehanna River has other plans. Veronica, Mary, and all the other heirs wind up stranded at the old mansion--with the flood waters rising, the power and phone lines down, and a killer in their midst.

Cooped up in the house are the lawyer Eli Yarrow; Tessie and Peter; Veronica and Mary; Ruby, an ex-night club singer; Wallace, a stammering young farmer; Joseph "Joe Palooka", an ex-prizefighter; Cyril, a doctor of metaphysics who's gotten religion, and his wife Felicia; and Katie and George Gilligan, Michael's devoted servants. They all have a stake in the old man's will and they're all shocked and some are disappointed when the will is read. Tessie and Peter find that they aren't the big winners in the inheritance stakes that they thought. Tessie is "given" the clothes and jewels that she managed to get Michael to pay for over the years and Peter is given just enough to cover all his current debts. All the random Carmichaels are given $250,000 each--but only if they agree to the terms of the will. Which means they'll have to take a bunch of nasty accusations (which range from illicit relationships to murder) and like them.The Gilligans are rewarded for faithful service, but are outraged at the amount that all these strangers are going to get. Oh...and just to make it more fun...if anyone decides to forfeit their share (because, say, they refuse to be called a murderer) OR dies, then their share will be divided by the others mentioned in the will. Let's just make a tontine out of it, shall we?

It isn't long before murder raises its ugly head. Oddly enough, it's Tessie who dies--the one who has the least to contribute to the kitty. Is it really possible that someone killed her in order to get a share of her jewels and clothes? Or maybe somebody is doling outing retribution...for there's been a rumor that someone in the house (before the extra Carmichaels came along) had been trying to do the old gentleman in. Did Tessie hurry Michael into the hereafter in her eagerness for what she thought was a hefty sum? And has someone paid her back in kind? Mary is used to tracking down shoplifters in the ladies' wear, but she decides that it's up to her to do her best to find the murderer while they wait for rescue. She picks up clues, but it isn't until the group are stashed in the physics lab at the high school (after being picked up by the Coast Guard) that she gets the final pieces necessary to unravel the plot.

Just as an aside: One thing that I just couldn't get out of my head while reading...the name Gilligan. Here we are marooned in a "sea" of water and who goes swimming off in search of rescue and the police? A man named Gilligan. And...just like the TV show, it wound up being more than a three-hour tour, though not nearly as long as the poor shipwrecked crew of the Minnow.

This has a beautiful set up. We've got the closed circle murder with everyone cooped up by the flood waters. It's an interesting twist on the kooky will that punishes family members. It's definitely the first plot I've read where we have random heirs selected simply because of their last name. The opening is very good--establishing the inheritance plot, setting the scene with the flood. And the solution to how Michael really died is pretty nifty. Where this book falls down is in between. There's quite a bit of wandering around in the dark--sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically. The sequence of events are a bit hard to follow and some of them just don't make sense to me at all. I wanted to be able to rank this higher...but I just can't quite get it to three stars and definitely not higher than that. ★★ and 3/4 

First line: One afternoon last March, Roscoe Conkling McQuade, the city-editor of the New York Morning Globe, opened his mail and found Victoria Carmichael.

Last line: "What happens now with that goofy will?"


Deaths = 2 (one natural [shock-induced apoplectic fit]; one shot)

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Coffin Trail

The Coffin Trail (2004) by Martin Edwards

Daniel Kind is an Oxford historian and TV personality. His new lover Miranda works as a writer for a magazine. They both have things in their pasts that they'd like to escape and when they take a holiday to Brackdale valley, an idyllic part of the Lake District that Daniel had visited last when he was a boy, Miranda falls in love with the area. They immediately put a bid down on Tarn Cottage--a cottage with a past of its own--and ditch their respective jobs to make a brand new start. But the past--both theirs and the cottage's may catch up with them.

Tarn Cottage had belonged to the Gilpins, a widowed mother and her son. When Daniel had visited the place with his family, he had made friends with Barrie Gilpin, the son. Barrie, though he was born and raised in Brackdale, was always an outsider. People in those days had never heard of autism, let alone tried to understand it, and he was just considered odd. But Daniel didn't mind Barrie's ways and accepted him for who he was.

Later a beautiful young woman who Barrie had been smitten with is found brutally murdered and Barrie disappears. His broken body is found in a deep ravine and everyone is eager to believe that Gabrielle Anders's killer has been found and sent to his reward. Daniel's father, Ben Kind (who had since left his family for another woman), was assigned to the case. Neither Daniel nor his father were ever satisfied that Barrie had been responsible.

Now, years later, Ben Kind is dead, but his then subordinate DCI Hannah Scarlett has recently been assigned to the new Lake District Cold Case Squad. Daniel's mention of the the events of years ago, stirs things up a bit in the small community and soon Hannah's squad receives an anonymous phone call:

Everyone blamed him [Barrie Gilpin], said he'd murdered her because he was a pervert. But he wasn't, he was kind, he just had problems, that's all. It was so--so unfair. What I saw...oh God, I felt so terrible when I....

But the caller refuses to say exactly what she saw that made her doubt Gilpin's guilt. Looks like the squad has their very first cold case to investigate. With both the official police force and Daniel asking questions, it isn't long before memories are stirred and it winds up that not everyone told all they knew at the time. And then another death disrupts the idyllic valley. But when the case looks to be closed one more time...is it really over?

If you like your protagonists to come with baggage and maybe a little angst, then this is a stellar opening book in a new series for Edwards. If, like me, you'd rather not do the "Daniel's relationship looks to be in trouble" and "Hannah's relationship looks to be in trouble" dance, then it's still a good, solid opening book. I'm just not that into having our key players dealing with relationship troubles while also investigating murders. And, quite frankly, if Daniel can't see that Miranda (his lady) has stick-to-it issues, he's blind as the proverbial bat. 

Okay...got that out my system. How about the mystery itself? It's a good one. Edwards lays down a good plot and manages to muddy the waters nicely around the suspects other than Barrie. I did spot the murderer--but I was way off-base on the motive. I missed the clue that would have told me all--even though Edwards was obliging enough to display it not just once, but twice. Overall, this was a solid story with an interesting mystery. And I do like the characters of Daniel and Hannah. I'm looking forward to watching their storyline progress. ★★

First line: Barrie could see the woman stretched out on top of the Sacrifice Stone.

If you wanted to win, you had to play by the rules, even if they didn't make sense. (p. 1)

No ego, Daniel knew, is as easily bruised as an academic's. (p. 21)

Daniel groaned. The scions of the Senior Common Room loved nothing better than trashing the reputations of absent friends over tea and scones. Whenever he thought of them--which wasn't often--he not only remembered that Lewis Carroll had been an Oxford don, but also guessed what had inspired the Mad Hatter's tea party. (p. 25)

Last line: For a few seconds before he jolted back to his senses, the wandering hands belonged to Hannah Scarlett


Deaths = 9 (one stabbed; three fell from height; one hit by car; one natural; one suffocated; one drowned; one shot)

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Four Days' Wonder

 Four Days' Wonder (1933) by A. A. Milne

We start right off in the first sentence with a corpse. Jenny Windell, who has been away from the family home for a while, decides to return to Auburn Lodge in a fit of nostalgia. She wants to see the old place and, despite its having been rented out to stranger, she hopes to see all the familiar things in their familiar setting. Since her Aunt Jane, one of those notorious flapper actresses, has been estranged from the family for over eight years, she doesn't expect to find her lying dead in the drawing room, but Jenny isn't really all that shocked either.

It was not surprising, then, that Aunt Jane should have been cut short like this; nor was it surprising that Jenny should drift upstairs and find a body in the drawing-room. Jenny was a well-read girl, and knew that people were continually drifting upstairs and finding bodies in the drawing room. (p. 11)

Then Jenny does all the things that one should not do after having discovered a corpse. She absent-mindedly picks up the heavy doorstop covered with blood, wipes it with her hankie, places the castle-shaped item on the piano, hears the current tenants coming in and so drops her hankie (conveniently marked "Jenny"), hides in the deep window, and then--when it's obvious the police are on their way--slips out of the window (leaving a dainty little footprint), and runs away. She then decides that she simply must "get right away" to the country. She will go on a hiking tour. But...she must have funds and extra clothes and she simply can't go home because the police may be hot on her trail right now. So, she contacts her best girl pal and arranges for clothes and to have Nancy pawn her diamond studded watch (conveniently marked with a "J" for Jenny). Nancy is secretary to the famous author Archibald Fenton and, not knowing the ins and outs of pawnbrokers herself, asks him to pawn the watch for her. And so begins a a madcap adventure with several name changes and mistaken identities, a police force who, on the skimpiest of clues, are in search of a short, stout, left-handed culprit of sedentary habits--as well as the missing Jenny.

As Jenny (now known as Gloria Harris and soon to be Naomi Fenton) is wandering from haystack to haystack in the country, she comes across the handsome young Derek Fenton (brother to Archibald). It isn't long before he has been acquainted with her mysterious past and has whole-heartedly thrown his lot in with hers. But they, Nancy, and the police will soon converge upon Archibald's country cottage (conveniently located in the same area as Jenny's last haystack) for a surprising ending to Jenny's mysterious adventures.

I've seen this billed as a mystery comedy and a comedic thriller. I'd say it's a romantic, comedic, mystery parody with a thrillerish slant. Four Days' Wonder is Milne's Red House Mystery with a heavy dose of Wodehouse thrown in. And it's perfectly delightful except for one spoilerish item [*encoded in ROT13]: Gurer vfa'g ernyyl n zheqre gb or fbyirq. V zrna, fher, gurer'f n zlfgrel--jvyy gur cbyvpr rire svther bhg jung ernyyl unccrarq naq jub Wraal vf naq jurer fur vf--ohg vg'f n ovg qvfnccbvagvat gb or pbasebagrq jvgu n pbecfr va gur svefg puncgre bayl gb unir vg pbasvezrq gung fur ernyyl qvq whfg fyvc ba gur fyvccrel sybbe naq onfu urefrys va gur urnq.

Other than my one quibble, I loved the story. The adventure was fun, the characters lively, and the action was fast-moving. I was able to read it in a day and enjoy every minute. There are several turns of phrase and stylistic points that are immediately recognizable as having come from the pen of Pooh's creator--not that the story is childish or juvenile. It was nice to have such a fun mystery parody from a beloved children's author. It was easy to imagine this as a B-movie...and an internet search reveals that such a one was made in 1936. I just might need to see if I can track it down to watch. Great fun as long as you aren't set on a fairly clued murder mystery. ★★★★

*To decode, copy and paste the coded text, go to the link, and follow the directions.

First lines: When, on a fine June morning not so long ago, Jenny Windell let herself in with her latch-key at Auburn Lodge, and, humming dreamily to herself, drifted upstairs to the drawing-room, she was surprised to see the body of her Aunt Jane lying on a rug by the open door. It had been known for years, of course that Aunt Jane would come to a bad end.

Although Inspector James Marigold had had a long and varied career in the Police Force, he had never actually taken part in a Murder Case. It was almost the one thing in which he hadn't taken part. (p. 48)

[Marigold] had begun by arresting George Parracot. There were three reasons for arresting Mr. Parracot. 1. He had been the first to find the body. 2. H had called attention to Jenny's handkerchief in a Marked Manner. 3. He was obviously Concealing Something. (p. 49)

The second discovery was unconditionally true: being the notorious fact that it is always the other side of the haystack which affords invisibility. (p. 87)

So now, Jenny Windell, could you get the pages of your murder story in the right order, and begin, unoriginal as it may seem, at the very beginning? (Derek Fenton; p. 146)

If there is one thing which stands out more than another in this world--and of course, one thing always does stand out more than another--it is that there are some things which you cannot explain to a policeman. (Derek Fenton; p. 146)

There's nothing you can't do. It's marvellous. We really ought to murder Archibald between us. We'd get away with it easily. (Derek Fenton; p. 151)

Last line: Then she curled up and went to sleep.


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

Thursday, August 18, 2022

X Marks the Spot

 X Marks the Spot (1940) by Lee Thayer (Emma Redington Lee Thayer)

Mysterious happenings just keep happening to Dr. David Berwick and private detective Peter Clancy is always on hand to help him out. In an earlier novel, David and his twin brother Andrew ran into murder and mayhem aboard ship and Peter was a fellow passenger. This adventure begins with a kidnapping and ends with an arrest for murder.

Dr. Berwick has just recently opened his practice in the San Francisco Bay area. He hasn't much business yet, but he waits in his office each night until midnight--just in case someone will have a medical emergency. He closes up for the night, gets in his car, and sets off for home when a voice from the back seat, tells him to pull over. Two masked individuals blindfold him and force him at gunpoint to go with them to a cabin in the canyons and treat a man for a gunshot. He's returned safely to a point near his home, but they take off with his car. Surprisingly, when he reaches home, there it sits at the front curb and the next morning there is an envelope with $50 with no indication from whom. Compensation for services rendered?

David tells his brother about the odd circumstances and, since Peter Clancy is in town after just finishing up another case, Andy tells Peter and asks him to convince David to go to the police (which he seems oddly reluctant to do). But before Peter has the chance, David lands in the middle of a murder. Miss Jean Copley, who lives in a house just behind the one where David has rooms, comes running for help. Harold Worthington, her guardian and uncle by marriage, has been hurt. Actually, he's been stabbed and it doesn't look like he'll make it. Before he's taken away in an ambulance, he manages to say "Jean...Jeanie." 

When Peter gets on the job he and his friend Detective Symonds discover what looks like the letters O and U--or possibly an upside-down small N--written in blood on a nearby marble step. Other clues include a barking dog, a broken pair of glasses and their missing case, a disappearing and reappearing set of surgical knives, the church clock which can't be seen from certain windows, and a locked drawer containing only a pack of cards and a green eye shade. And somehow it all connects with that opening act of what seems to be a great play. Several of the characters may have cause to want Worthington out of the way. Both Jean and her brother Christopher felt oppressed by the man's guardianship and lately Worthington's attentions to Jean have ventured outside those of an uncle. Worthington's sister-in-law, Dr. Eleanor Templeton, had had several disagreements with him and was definitely disgruntled that her sister Mary had left Worthington, her much younger husband, as guardian rather than her devoted sister Eleanor. Orin Updegraf was in debt to Worthington to the tune of $10,000--perhaps he couldn't pay up. And, despite claims to the contrary, there seems to have been a rivalry between Newton Ogilvray as professional singers/radio personalities. But are any of these motives strong enough to lead to murder? Peter with the help of his right-hand man Wiggar will have to put it all together for the grand finale.

Thayer produced just over 60 novels and all but one of them featured Peter Clancy. Clancy traveled widely to ply his trade. Even though she was fairly prolific over four decades, Thayer never became a household name--not even after appearing on the popular panel game show "What's My Line" in May 1958.

Perhaps it's because her stories, while I find them entertaining and nice to settle down with for a comfort read, aren't precisely fair to the reader--Clancy likes to keep a few cards close to his chest, somewhat like Holmes. Or because the plots are little meandering. But I personally find them fun when I don't want to read something that requires a huge attention to detail. This outing was, I think, one of her stronger outings. I spotted the few clues Clancy let us see and knew what they meant. And I also spotted the proper motive. This was perfect for this week when I spent most of my brain power on orientation week for new graduate students. And it was yards better than my last two reads. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: High up on the hillside, facing out across San Francisco Bay and the mists that shrouded the Golden Gate, the clock in the church tower struck twelve.

Last line: "Though he'd die rather than show it, I know that he's going to be awfully disappointed and very much annoyed that, in this last crucial bit of the play, he had to be off stage."


Deaths = one stabbed; one shot; one hit by car

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death (Spoilers!!)

 Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death (1996) by Helen Chappell

Synopsis (from the back of the book): Hollis Ball Just Received An Odd Request From Her Ex-Husband, Find The Person Who Murdered Him... When charming, wealthy Sam Wescott dies in a fatal boating accident, few mourn his untimely death. But perhaps the person most shocked to shed a tear is reporter Hollis Ball, his former wife who was abandoned by him ten years before on their honeymoon. Now he is gone.  Or is he?  For Sam's ghost brings Hollis the interesting news that his "accidental death" was really murder, and pesters her to find his killer. She would like to say now. but ever susceptible to his no-good upper-class wiles--even in their somewhat spectral form--she says yes. and plops down into the middle of a whopping big story that involves Sam's old-money family, a group of ecoactivists, and some very hot political potatoes...

**********Spoilers Ahead. I can't explain why I didn't care for the book without spoiling the plot.***********

I'll just be honest--this book didn't do a whole lot for me. I'm not a big fan of mixing paranormal in with anything--romance, mystery, what-have-you. The few mysteries I've read with ghosts working with the living (Aunt Dimity books; The Ghost and the Dead Deb to name a couple) have been okay...but not more than that. This one doesn't even hit okay with me. The primary reason would be because the whole premise is a fake. Sam was NOT murdered. He just wasn't. He doesn't have a legit reason to make Hollis go digging up dirt and stirring up all her rich ex-in-laws. Does Hollis find out about corruption? Sure. Are there real murders to solve later? Sure. But Hollis probably wouldn't have been involved if Sam hadn't suckered her into the whole mess by using his charm to get her to investigate his "murder." And...just maybe those other murders wouldn't have happened.  

First line: If you were Sam Westcott's ex-wife, you'd go to his funeral too.

Last lines: Maybe having Sam as a guardian angel wasn't such a bad idea. I could live with it.


Deaths = 4 (one explosion; one drug overdose; two shot)

Saturday, August 13, 2022

The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 6

 The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 6 (1910) by Eugene Thwing (ed)

One volume of a ten-volume set of early detective stories. This particular volume is not nearly as strong as the previous two I have reviewed. Holmes is entertaining as always and "The Eleventh Juror" by Vincent Starrett is the best of the rest with "On Top of the Tower" (LeBlanc) following closely, but most of these are poor pickings, indeed. There are no crimes at all involved in Starrett's other two offerings making them weak mysteries at best. "The Three Liars" would have been far more interesting if there had been a real detective following up real clues rather than looking into people's eyes and then doing some sort of early version of the Vulcan mind meld a la Mr. Spock. I hope the other volumes I own will meet the higher standards of Volumes one and seven. ★★

"The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: A man with an unusual last name is promised a share of riches if a third man with the same name can be found. [Deaths = one shot]

"The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" by Doyle: Holmes sets out to retrieve the stolen Crown diamond. He knows who has it, but can he force him to reveal where the diamond is?

"Missing Men" by Vincent Starrett: Three men vanish at practically the same time. If Lavender, famed detective of Chicago, can discover what happened to one, he will discover all.

"The Other Woman" by Starrett: A wealthy woman asks Alexandre Dulau to discover where her husband goes when he disappears periodically for one - three days. She's sure he is seeking the company of another woman. She may be right...

"The Eleventh Juror" by Starrett: All but one juror is sure the man on trial is guilty. Why is the eleventh juror so sure that Murray, caught standing over the murdered man with a gun in his hand, is innocent? [Deaths =  one shot]

"On the Top of the Tower" by Maurice LeBlanc: Hortense Daniel has been done out of her inheritance by her uncle. Prince Renine helps her regain it...but discovers murder in the process. [Deaths = two shot]

"At the Sign of Mercury" by LeBlanc: As part of an extraordinary bargain forged at the end of "On Top of the Tower," Prince Renine fulfills his obligation to track down a jeweled clasp for Hortense Daniel. She's not sure she wanted him to succeed...

"Three Liars" by Henry C. Rowland: Three people are telling lies about how the abusive Count Miguel met his death. Jacques Hughes, a mentalist detective, will determine where the truth lies. [one fell from height]

"The Subconscious Witness" by Henry Smith Williams: While early blood testing helps Dr. Goodrich whittle down the identity of a murderer who took advantage of a car accident to two suspects, he must use hypnosis to make the final determination. [Deaths = one hit on head]

"D'Artagnan and the Duel" by Alexandre Dumas: King Louis XIV orders D'Artagnan to investigate a duel which has left a man severely wounded. 

First line (1st story): It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy.

Last line (last story): "In that case, you are not human, Monsieur d'Artagnan, for I believe you never are mistaken." 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Abrus Necklace Mystery

 The Abrus Necklace Mystery (1956) by Elizabeth Seibert

Three years ago, seventeen year-old Katy Browning's baby brother was kidnapped by a temporary nurse during the family's summer holiday in Massachusetts. The Browning family hasn't been the same since. Her mother is a shadow of her former self and currently is fighting off a bout of pneumonia. Her father has lost the twinkle in his eye and has turned into a terse, tense man. It doesn't help that there is now hostility between Mr. Browning and other "Gold Coast" home owners (those wealthy enough to have summer and winter properties) and the local inhabitants over fishing rights and right of passage through the cove.

Katy is uneasy as she heads home from her school up north. It may be the Christmas holiday, but it sure doesn't feel like they have much to celebrate. But a random memory of a red abrus necklace gives Katy reason to believe that someone from the area may be connected with her brother's kidnapping. Is it possible that after three years of fruitless searching by the family and private detectives that Katy has a real lead?

With the help of Randy Watrous, a local young man whom Katy has befriended despite the general hostilities, Katy collects more clues and despite resistance from the cove's inhabitants and without thought of personal danger she follows them where they lead. And they lead to a ramshackle tar-paper shack that's hidden on an island in the cove where danger stands between Katy and a final answer. Will Katy and Randy be able to make a happy Christmas for the Brownings after all?

This is a fine young adult mystery. It doesn't take long to figure out what happened with little Davey Browning, but there are good clues and plenty of suspenseful action to keep younger readers interested. Katy is a really good character. It's obvious that she cares about her family and only wants them all to be happy again, but she is also very compassionate towards the local inhabitants who think their livelihood is in danger and even towards the one who has had Davey all this time. I enjoyed her relationship with Randy and they way they worked together regardless of the hostilities between the adults on each side of the cover. A good, solid read. ★★

First line: "Christmas on Cormorant Key," said Katy to herself as the silver streamliner sped through miles of Florida palms, pines, and white sand.

Last lines: Out of the paper fell a scarlet abrus-seed necklace, the black-tipped seeds glistening fiery red. Oblivious of the fact that it clashed with her suit of rosy tweed, Katy slipped it about her neck, and peered at herself in the narrow mirror between the windows, her eyes dancing.

Deaths = 2 (one natural; one car accident)

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Bad Quarto

 The Bad Quarto (2007) by Jill Paton Walsh

The book opens with a tragic accident--at least that's what the inquest determined. There is a place at St. Agatha's College, Cambridge, nicknamed "Harding's Folly--a gap between a window in the tower room of Fountain Court and a pediment on the New Library. Though discouraged by college authorities, it is a tradition among the "Night Climbers" to try and leap the gap. The Night Climbers scale all sorts of buildings--not only in Cambridge--for sport. 

The tragedy occurs when John Talentire a brilliant, outspoken research fellow attempts the leap and falls to his death. Imogen Quy, the school nurse and sometime amateur sleuth, is on the spot just after the accident. The inquest is over and the death declared accidental while his friend Martin Mottle is away from college. When Mottle returns and hears what little has been released, he can't believe that Talentire, an expert climber would have died just that way. He manages to get an amateur drama society to put on a production of Hamlet and (unbeknownst to the rest of the players until it actually happens) substitutes his own "play within the play" which dramatizes what he believes happened the night his friend dies. The play may not be the thing wherein he'll catch the conscience of the king, but he does hope that it will expose a murderer. The odd thing is...Talentire's father insists that Mottle drop his investigation. And both Mottle and Miss Quy wonder why....

Paton Walsh does well with the academic setting. And she does superb scenes about the life of the mind and question of scholars escaping from the real world that does tribute to Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night in the most gratifying way. In fact, if she had managed to capture Sayers' spirit this well in any of the Lord Peter continuation novels I would have enjoyed them far more. It seems to me that she is far too aware that she's writing someone else's characters and it spoils the effect in the LPW stories. But--when she is writing her own stories with her own characters she excels at capturing the academic atmosphere.

I wish the mystery had been stronger. Previous Imogen Quy novels have featured Imogen's detective skills in a much better light. Here her investigations just aren't as interesting or inspired. Mottle really does the work of exposing the culprit and then the ending really isn't satisfying, at least not in the way the culprit is revealed and justice is meted out. ★★ --primarily for the academic setting and atmosphere.

First line: It was much later than usual when Imogen Quy, the college nurse of St. Agatha's College, Cambridge, locked up her office in the college and went to fetch her bike for the ride home.

Last lines: "Some super-human perspective," said. "Some great simplicity."


Deaths = 4 (one fell from height; one natural; two shaken to death)

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Twyford Code (Spoilerific)

 The Twyford Code (2022) by Janice Hallett

Synopsis (from the book flap): It's Time to Solve the Murder of the Century...[according to audio files given to the reader in transcript form] Forty years ago, Steven Smith found a copy of a famous children's book by disgraced author Edith Twyford, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. Wanting to know more, he took it to his English teacher, Miss Iles, not realising the chain of events that he was setting in motion. Miss Iles became convinced that the book was the key to solving a puzzle, and that a message in secret code ran through all Twyford's novels. Then Miss Iles disappeared on a class field trip, and Steven has no memory of what happened to her.

Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Steven decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. Was Miss Iles murdered? Was she deluded? Or was she right about the code? And is it still in use today? Desperate to recover his memories and find out what really happened to Miss Iles, Steven revisits people and places of his childhood. but it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn't just a writer of forgotten children's stories. The Twyford Code has great power and he isn't the only one trying to solve it...

Fair warning: There is no way I can discuss my response to this novel without spoiling bits of the plot here and there. Read on at your own risk!

Okay. Let's just start with the first part of the blurb: It's Time to Solve the Murder of the Century. Except, yeah, no, it's not. There is no murder of that kind of importance here. In fact, some of the murders we're told about apparently didn't even happen. They're made up for the sole purpose of misdirecting the reader. In the big reveal at the end, we discover that one of the most important "murder" victims is, in fact, alive and well and living in comfort not too far away. A second victim is living in about the same circumstances as when we saw him last (before being told he was dead). And those who are killed just don't, I'm afraid, warrant a "murder of the century" label. It would be more accurate to say that it's time to solve the crime of the century (though that is still pushing it as far as hype goes). There's definitely a major crime to be solved. After all, that much gold and jewelry is kind of a big deal.

Next up: I really felt let down after the big build up of Twyford and her code and the secret WWII gold and Nazi spies and all that. I was quite excited that Steve and Lucy were on the track of a major WWII secret and I thought it terrific that children's books had been used to convey a code during the war. But, hey, that's all completely made up! For no real reason at all--except to give Steve a story to tell in audio form so he can hide clues to the real gold that he stole in a way that (supposedly) only his son (a genius math/puzzle guy) will be able to figure out. 

Last of my big quibbles: The ending is left hanging. Does Steve's son go and find the gold? Who knows. Did all of the other murders we're told about really happen? Again, who knows. I'm not even sure that Steve's mom and dad were killed at all, let alone in the ways described. The only one I believe in is the one Steve got put in prison for (and he didn't even do...). As a murder mystery, this leaves a lot to be desired.

Now we'll turn to the positives. Is this a clever book? Oh, yes. I enjoyed the use of the audio transcripts as a means to convey the story. It completely hooked me. I'm not so good at secret codes and anagrams and acrostics, so there's no way that I could have figured out the code if it hadn't been spelled out for us, but that didn't dampen my enthusiasm. I was completely sold on the Twyford Code. Hallett is excellent at pulling the wool over her reader's eyes and that is great fun too--within limits (please see above for where I think the limit was exceeded). I enjoyed the (totally made up) search for Miss Iles and the WWII secrets. I wish it had been more real within the context of the story.

I did appreciate the underlying theme of redemption and reconnection. I hope that Steve's story as it comes through the narrative is more or less true, because it shows how one can overcome one's past and connect to a better future. ★★ and 1/2

First line: Dear Professor Mansfield, I am investigating a mysterious case and suspect you may be able to help.

Last line: Emotions are vivid if echoes remain.


Deaths = 6 (one natural; one beaten to death; one hit on head with poker; two shot; one car crash)

Friday, August 5, 2022

The Long Skeleton

 The Long Skeleton (1958) by Frances & Richard Lockridge

The Long Skeleton finds Pam and Jerry taking a hotel room to escape the painters who are redecorating their NYC apartment. They drop off their luggage and their cat, Martini, and go out for dinner and a movie only to return to their room to find something unexpected on their bed. Not a mint on the pillow--but the body of Amanda Towne, a famous television personality known for her ability to get guests on her show to reveal things they might have preferred to keep hidden. Just recently she'd managed to get a prominent judge to drop a few injudicious comments that will probably put paid to his hopes of a lieutenant governorship. But were her interview techniques enough to make someone want to murder her?

And what about our Norths? It soon becomes apparent that finding the body in their hotel room isn't the only link to our murder-magnet couple. There are suggestions that Jerry's most recent best-selling author is involved too. Or maybe the real link is to the past...a past that leads to Chicago and eventually to a suspenseful ending in the hills of Arkansas.

These books are such a delight to me. I enjoy following Pam's illogical logic and watching her make intuitive leaps are always almost, but not quite on target. It's also fun to watch Chief Inspector O'Malley chew through his cigars as he fumes over "those Norths" making everything screwy again. This one has a little more of O'Malley because Captain Bill Weigand is out of town--waiting for Washington D.C. to cough up some information on another case. And O'Malley has had more of the Norths than any Chief Inspector should have to deal with...

"What I want," O'Malley said, "is you to go down there and do the waiting. Get it? And wire Weigand to get the hell back here. Tell him--" O'Malley paused. "Tell him his friends are lousing things. up again. Tell him to get the lead out...Tell him to fly," O'Malley said, and ate half an inch of cigar.

 It doesn't matter that Pamela North just wants to help. Her quirky way of explaining everything is enough to drive a poor Chief Inspector up the wall.

Frances & Richard Lockridge created quite a duo when they came up with Pam and Jerry North. And they created mad-cap mystery perfection when they decided to drop them in the middle of suspicious circumstances in book after book. I recommend these mysteries to anyone looking for light and breezy, comic, madcap mysteries ★★★★

First Line: The sweep hand of the electric wall clock trotted downstairs to "30" and began to trot up again.

Last line: It was an odd way to describe Pamela North, Bill thought, as he walked with them to the train gate.


Deaths = 3 (one smothered; one hit on head; one shot)

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Phryne Fisher Short Stories

 The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions (2021) by Kerry Greenwood 

This is an updated version of A Question of Death (2007)--with four additional stories and a few updates here and there on the previous adventures. It is always a delight to spend time with Phryne Fisher and I was glad to revisit the stories familiar to me (from the earlier edition which I own) and to have four new opportunities to watch Phryne in action. Some of the stories are more puzzle-oriented rather than the murder mysteries we are used to in the book-length works, but they all showcase Phryne as the independent, intelligent woman she is. I read and examined these books in tandem (since Lady with the Gun builds on A Question of Death), the earlier book is even more delightful because it includes color illustrations and recipes for drinks and food mentioned in the Phryne Fisher series. ★★★★

"Hotel Splendide": Why would the manager of an exclusive hotel give newlyweds a room that doesn't really exist and then tell the new bride that she and her (now missing) groom had never registered?

"The Voice Is Jacob's Voice": A man's punitive will results in the death of his twin sons.

"Marrying the Bookie's Daughter": The mystery of the missing bridal jewels reveals a secret that could ruin the wedding.

"The Vanishing of Jock McHale's Hat": An Archbishop asks Phryne to find a football coach's lucky hat. The reason it was stolen isn't the obvious one....

"Puttin' on the Ritz": Phryne retrieves a young man's pearly inheritance from his swine of a father.

"The Body in the Library": In a hat-tip to Dame Agatha Christie, Phryne and Inspector Robinson investigate the little matter of a deceased blonde dumped in the library of a prominent MP.

"The Miracle of St. Mungo": Phryne is on the hunt for another piece of jewelry. This time it's a locket being held by a blackmailer.

"Overheard on a Balcony": When the nasty blackmailing general dies of an overdose of digitalis there is no lack for suspects nor for those who say they did it. But was it really murder...or suicide?

"The Hours of Juana the Mad": Melbourne University's treasure, a book of hours, has gone missing and it's up to Phryne to track it down.

"Death Shall Be Dead": An old man with little money tells Inspector Robinson that someone has tried to kill him and then someone tried to buy his house. But he wasn't selling. The next day his house catches fired, there are three dead bodies in his kitchen, and he is found dead (heart attack from being tortured) on the back porch. Phryne and the inspector will need to figure out why.

"Carnival": Phryne's escort loses a valuable pearl necklace at the carnival. But all is not as it seems.

"The Camberwell Wonder": A business man disappears leaving only a bloody collar behind. One of his staff confesses to killing him, but Phryne knows that it just isn't so.

"Come, Sable Night": A man who jilted one sister in favor of the other dies of anaphylactic shock in Phryne's house. There are others in the party who also have reason to dislike him. Did he have something he was allergic to? Did a bee sting him? Or is it murder?

"The Boxer": Phryne is hunting for a missing little girl. She not only finds her but discovers what happened to her mother as well.

"A Matter of Style": Several expensive items have gone missing while their owners have been at an exclusive beauty salon. Phryne tracks them down and exacts a sweet revenge on a rather unpleasant society lady.

"The Chocolate Factory": A not very dose of mustard is introduced into a new chocolate manufacturer's first batch of nougats. Is it just a practical joke or sabotage?
"The Bells of St. Paul's": Phryne unravels a clever code involving church bells. (a hat-tip to The Nine Tailors by Sayers?)

First lines (1st story): "But please! You must know me! Oh, why won't you help me?"

Last line (last story): "Miss Phryne, what's wrong with the bells? They ring them every day." 
[not quite the last line--I forgot to make a note of it before returning the book to the library--but a couple lines from the last story]

Deaths = 11 (one smothered; nine poisoned; one heart failure)

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Garden of Lies

 Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz)

Slater Roxton is a man of mystery. Once thought dead in an accident on a far-off island while on an archaeological research trip, he returned to England a changed man. Some rumors said that he had returned to England to seek vengeance on his partner who had left him for dead or perhaps on his stepmother whose sons will inherit the wealth of his father--which should have been his. Some rumors said being nearly buried alive had driven him mad. Other rumors said he now followed strange and unmentionable rites in the basement of his house--rites derived from his researches on that island. 

Not all of the rumors about him were false.

Mrs. Ursula Kern has reinvented herself after her husband died and she later wound up a star witness in a nasty divorce trial. With a new name and a fiercely independent determination, she has built an exclusive secretarial service. But she worries that someone will unearth her unconventional past and destroy the success she has worked hard for. 

When Ursula's closest friend and one of her most efficient and reliable secretaries, Anne Clifton, dies unexpectedly, the authorities deem it an accidental overdose (while heavily implying that it was probably suicide). Ursula believes otherwise and decides to investigate herself. Anne had been working for Lady Fulbrook, transcribing and typing the woman's poetry for submission to an American magazine. But she left behind some puzzling items--her notebook, written in her own brand of shorthand, which contains references to a perfume shop and what seem to be instructions for mixing herbs; an empty perfume bottle; and a packet of seeds. There are dark rumors surrounding Lord Fulbrook and his treatment of his lady, so Ursula decides that the best course will be to withdraw from her own current assignment, assisting Slater Roxton in cataloguing his antiquities, and take on the secretarial work for Lady Fulbrook.

Slater doesn't want to lose Ursula's assistance...and not just because she's an excellent secretary. There is a certain something about her that makes him think his solitary life may not be all it's cracked up to be. And when she explains why she is temporarily backing out of their agreement, he believes she's walking into danger. The two work out an agreement whereby they will investigate matters together and they soon find themselves immersed in a world of crime and corruption--ranging from drug dealing to blackmail--with a hired assassin on their trail. A crime lord is wiping out all traces that lead to his discovery and he includes these two meddling amateur detectives on his list.

Under the Amanda Quick name, Krentz writes historical romantic suspense stories. They are quick reads and fairly predictable, but nice for an occasional read. The two I've read most recently (this one and 'Til Death Do Us Part) have been set in the Victorian era and have been very mystery-oriented. The romance is there (including a couple of fairly steamy scenes), but I don't consider the romance to be the main component. The investigation takes center stage and there is much for mystery fans to enjoy. Ursula and Slater make a good team and I think it would be fun if they show up in more adventures in the future...after all Ursula is pushing him towards setting up a private inquiry business there at the end.  ★★

First line: Slater Roxton was examining the strangely luminous paintings on the wall of the ornate burial chamber.

Last line: His mouth came down on hers and she gave herself up to his kiss and the future.

*Personally, I think it would have been better to end a few lines earlier: "It was," Slater said, "the only one that seemed to offer hope."


Deaths = 9 (two poisoned; two drowned; one fell from height; two stabbed; two shot)

Monday, August 1, 2022

July's Pick of the Month


It's that time again...time to choose July's mystery star and take a peak at the reading statistics. I've managed to keep the reading mojo going and even upped the ante a bit. I managed 25 books and all but three had a mystery flair. One of the three was all about the paperback covers for the publishing houses which put out a lot of my beloved digest-sized vintage volumes--so it almost counts for mystery. We'll take a look at the mystery star ratings in a moment, but before we hand out the shiny prize/s, let's take a look at the stats.

Total Books Read: 25
Total Pages: 6,170

Average Rating: 3.16 stars  
Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 48%
Percentage by Male Authors: 40%
Percentage by both Female & Male Authors: 12%
Percentage by US Authors: 56%
Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  12%
Percentage Mystery: 88%
Percentage Fiction: 96%
Percentage written 2000+: 32%
Percentage of Rereads: 28%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}    
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 21 (66%)

Mysteries Read
Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Anna Waterhouse (3.5 stars)
Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn (2.5 stars)
Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David (3 stars)
Experiment with Death by E. X. Ferrars (3 stars)
An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch (4 stars)
The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch (4 stars)
The Case of the Gilded Lily by Erle Stanley Gardner (2 stars)
Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer (3 stars)
Stories Not for the Nervous as by Alfred Hitchcock [Robert Arthur, ed] (3 stars)
Voyage into Violence by Frances & Richard Lockridge (4 stars)
And Left for Dead by Richard Lockridge (3.25 stars)
Death in a Sunny Place by Richard Lockridge (3 stars)
Not I, Said the Sparrow by Richard Lockridge (4 stars)
The Body in the Vestibule by Katherine Hall Page (3 stars)
Secret of the White Rose by Stefanie Pintoff (3 stars)
Crossword Mystery by E. R. Punshon (2 stars)
Striding Folly by Dorothy L. Sayers (4 stars)
Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy L. Sayers/Jill Paton Walsh (4 stars)
Murder at St. George's Church by Lee Strauss (3 stars)
The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh (3 stars)
Seven Tears for Apollo by Phyllis A. Whitney (3 stars)
The Suspect by L. R. Wright (3.75 stars)

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for...the selection of the Pick of the Month. As has often been the case, the only five-star winner for July was a non-mystery. Arthur C. Clarke's short story collection The Nine Billion Names of God was just as good 35-ish years later as it was when I first read it. Clarke knocked the titular story out of the park and the remaining selections are all very strong as well. Following Clarke with four stars each are An Extravagant Death AND The Woman in the Water, both by Charles Finch; Voyage into Violence by Frances & Richard Lockridge; Not I, Said the Sparrow by Richard Lockridge; and Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy L. Sayers/Jill Paton Walsh. All but the two Finch books are rereads and, in general, I toss out rereads. But...It has been an extraordinarily long time since I read Not I, Said the Sparrow and I tend to like the books written by Richard alone less than the duo novels, so I'm going to be arbitrary and make Richard a co-winner this month. It was especially fun to read Sparrow after having read two novels by Richard that did not feature familiar investigators and, in one case, took place far away from New York. I was pleased to be back in the company of Inspector Heimrich and Lieutenant Forniss.

Now, we just have to see which Finch book will take home a P.O.M. award as well. An Extravagant Death's plot is a good one. Mystery fans with a lot of reading under their belts may see the particular twist coming, but Finch handles it well and readers who haven't encountered that type of solution before will be surprised. I also appreciate Finch's research and the way he uses it to bring the times and places alive. We definitely get a feel for the opulence that existed during America's Gilded Age. And he underlines the differences between the U.S. and Britain during the same time period without making too much of them and without making the reader feel like they are sitting through a history lesson. Highly enjoyable read.

The Woman in the Water takes us back to the early days of Charles Lenox's career as a detective. He is fresh out of Oxford and has set himself up in a London flat with Graham, who had served him at Oxford, joining him as his valet and right-hand man.  It was interesting to go back to the beginning and see him as he is just starting out. He's got all the cleverness and talent for observation that is evident in the later cases, but he is young and inexperienced and...well, rather a bit sure of himself. But he's also very willing to learn from his mistakes when that sureness leads him down a blind alley and he has to to rethink his conclusions. It's easy to see how he will grow into the detective we recognize later in his life. I also enjoyed watching the relationship between Lenox and Graham in its early stages. There is a youthful exuberance and easy friendship that is fun to read about. The two make a great team even in these early days of the detective collaboration. An entertaining and interesting look a London in the 1850s with cleverly plotted mystery.

Looking back at the full reviews for each of these, I am going to have to give the P.O.M. award to....The Woman in the Water. So, here are our joint July honorees...