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...




 

August Reading by the Numbers Reviews

 


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August Virtual Mount TBR Reviews

 


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August Mount TBR Reviews

 


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August Vintage Scattergories Reviews

 


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