Friday, September 30, 2022

The Inugami Curse

 The Inugami Curse (1972) by Seishi Yokomizo

Sahei Inugami led a complicated life--rags to riches story, three known mistresses resulting in three children and grandchildren, a few secret relationships, and a bombshell last will and testament just waiting to explode as soon as he dies. When he does, the Inugami clan is in for a bit of a shock. First up, the lawyer can't even read the will until his last grandson Kiyo returns from the war OR one year from Sahei's death, whichever comes first. Kiyo does arrive after after a short delay (though hidden behind a mask because he was horribly disfigured in the war) and the family is outraged to discover that the entire estate has been left to Tamayo Nonomiya, the granddaughter of Sahei's beloved mentor, Daini Nomoiya. But it's not even that simple. Tamayo will only inherit if she chooses one of Sahei's three grandsons as a husband OR if all three turn her down (and why would they--after all, granddad's fortune is at stake). The will goes on to list all kinds of contingencies in case Tamayo dies and the gist of it all is--there's probably going to be family infighting, at best, and murder, at worst.

One of the junior lawyers in the practice handling Inugami's affairs, had a good idea that murder would be on the agenda and contacted renowned private investigator Kosuke Kindaichi. The two arrange to meet at hotel near the Inugami estate, but the man falls victim to poison before he can discuss any details of his fears. And then when the heirs start dying one by one, it's up to Kindaichi and the local police to discover the identity of the murderer. The first thing they must determine--is s/he an heir looking to scoop the pot or is there a darker plan of revenge for actions of long ago? And who is the mysterious repatriated soldier who lurks about with his face covered by a muffler?

This is one of the best Japanese mysteries I've read. It may be because it is obviously following in the tradition of Golden Age crime novels. It may also be that the translation is superior to nearly all I've read in the past. Yokomizo does a superb job of providing suspects and clues. And while I spotted the killer straight away, there remained plenty of details which were a mystery and the characters do their best to muddy the waters. There were motivating factors behind the actions of some of the players that were difficult to discern and gave the explanation at the end more zest than I was anticipating. And, as grim as the murders were, there was a great sense of fun throughout. I think Yokomizo enjoyed himself immensely in concocting and relating this intricately plotted mystery. Are there coincidences? Sure. Are a few items a bit obvious? Sure. But it was still a delight to watch the unraveling of the plot by a very interesting detective. ★★★ 

First line: In February 194_, Sahei Inugami--one of the leading businessmen of the Shinshu region, the founder of the Inugami Group, and the so-called Silk King of Japan--died at his lakeside villa in Nau at the venerable age of eight-one.

Last line: It was a twilight so cold even the snow lay frozen over Lake Nasu.


Deaths = 10 (four natural; two poisoned; two stabbed; two strangled)

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Five Little Pigs

 Five Little Pigs (apa Murder in Retrospect 1942) by Agatha Christie

Sixteen years ago Carla Crale's mother Caroline was tried and convicted of the murder of her husband, the artist Amyas Crale. She allegedly doctored his afternoon beer with spotted hemlock after being told that Amyas planned to divorce her so he could marry the much younger woman who has been sitting for his latest painting. Amyas had fooled around before, but he had always returned to his devoted wife. They often fought like cats and dogs, but they always came back together. But this last fling was different. It wasn't just a flirtation or a bit of lust. Amyas fell head over heels and said he really planned to leave the marriage. 

Various guests at the house overheard Caroline threaten that she'd sooner kill her husband than let him leave her. So, when he's found dead--poisoned from a bottle found among Caroline's things--his wife becomes suspect number one. Well...the only suspect really. Despite her protest of innocence and a declaration that he must have taken the stuff himself, her trial didn't go well at all. Her counsel did the best he could for her, but as we later learn, she didn't really help him put up a fight. What she did do was leave a letter for her daughter that was to be opened when Carla turned twenty-one. A letter that told her daughter that she was innocent in no uncertain terms. Carla takes the letter and her belief that her mother would never lie to her--no matter how unpalatable the truth may be--to Hercule Poirot and asks him reinvestigate the case and tell her once and for all if her mother was really innocent. Poirot won't promise that innocence will be the outcome, but the more interviews he has with the five other people on the spot at the time the more convinced he becomes that someone may have gotten away with the perfect (until now) murder.

So...I finished this about three days ago and planned to write the review in my spare time while I was at my mom & dad's. But unexpected events threw a wrench into that little plan and now all my brilliant observations (trust me--they were the most scintillating bits of reviews I've had going in a long time) have vanished under the anxiety of a car emergency 150 miles away from home. We'll see what I can salvage. First off, while I have watched the David Suchet adaptation of this novel, I don't remember ever having read it before. My Goodreads record tells me I did--sometime in the mists of time--but I'm not sure I believe it. I think I may have chosen the wrong tag when I loaded the book.

This reading was excellent. I enjoyed the retrospective quality of the book with Poirot investigating a cold-case murder. He must really rely on his interview skills and the psychology of those involved to help him get to the truth of the matter. He always says that these things plus his little grey cells is all that is necessary to solve a mystery and this case allows us to see how well this works for him. There are little clues that Christie hides so well that anyone encountering the story for the first time can easily miss them. I remembered how the filmed version played out--but I wasn't sure if this would be a situation where the filmed version changed up motives or even culprits, as sometimes happens. I was pleased to see everything work out the way I expected it to. One of Christie's best. ★★★★ and 1/2.

First line: Hercule Poirot looked with interest and appreciation at the young woman who was being ushered into the room.

Last line: Lady Dittisham got in and the chauffeur wrapped the fur rug around her knees.


Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one natural)

Saturday, September 24, 2022

N or M?

 N or M? (1941) by Agatha Christie

World War II Britain. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are feeling rather old and unappreciated. They were in the thick of things in the last war--Tommy in the service and Tuppence as a nurse and driver for a General. After the war was over they had so many thrilling adventures working undercover for "Mr. Carter" of Intelligence. But now...they're told that the war office and intelligence can't use them. Obviously, it's a much younger man's...and woman' now.

But then "Mr. Grant" shows up, ostensibly with a rather dull, but important job shuffling papers in Scotland for Tommy alone. But it's merely a cover for him to go searching for fifth columnists at the Sans Souci, a seaside hotel. One of two top German agents, going by the code name "N" or "M,"is thought to be in the area as well, directing the British traitors. Nothing is known about N and M except that one is a man and one is a woman. Tommy puts up a mild protest--too long out of the game, but Grant tells him that's exactly what is needed. Someone that nobody knows and nobody will suspect is an agent. And he's to be sworn to secrecy-he can't even let Tuppence know what's up.

When Tommy tells Tuppence about the cover job, she is suitably upset that there's nothing in it for her and sees him off at the station on the train like a dutiful wife. Imagine his surprise when he arrives at the southern coastal town of Leahampton (by way of Aberdeen for verisimilitude) to find "Mrs. Blenkensop" well established and peering back at him with Tuppence's eyes. She managed to fake leaving the flat while Mr. Grant was talking with Tommy and overheard the whole plan. And Tuppence was determined to be in on the action. From then on "Mr. Meadowes" and "Mrs. Blenkensop" are hot on the trail of the fifth columnists--but when Tommy disappears and Tuppence is taken captive it looks like the game is up. But as Mr. Grant now should never underestimate Mrs. Beresford.

It was great fun to see Tommy and Tuppence back in action again. They may be a bit older, but they've still got what it takes to outwit those devious spies--especially Tuppence. She is quick-witted enough to see through a certain person's pose and lays an artful trap which s/he falls right into. It was especially amusing to watch their children think about them as "poor little dears--having such a dull time of it and wanting so much to be where the action is." Little do they know what their parents have been up to. 

Dame Agatha gives us plenty of possible Ns or Ms--from the inn's proprietor Mrs. Perenna, who is not as Spanish as she seems to the hearty old warhorses Major Bletchley and Commander Haydock to Carl von Deinim the German refugee to the sharp-eyed Mrs. O'Roarke to Miss Minton who seems to think of nothing but knitting to the distracted Mrs. Sprot who has her hands full with her young daughter to the hypochondriac couple Mr. & Mrs. Cayley. They all seem to be exactly what they are...except maybe just a touch too much so. But surely they can't all be imposters? ★★ and 1/2

First line: Tommy Beresford removed his overcoat in the hall of the flat.

Women are all very well in their place, but not before breakfast. (Major Bletchley; p. 25)

Last line: "We must do all we can to make up to them for having such a dull time in this war...." [Deborah Beresford]


Deaths = 4 (one hit by car; three shot)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Goodbye, Nanny Gray

 Goodbye, Nanny Gray (1987) by Susannah Stacey (Jill Staynes & Margaret Storey)

Nanny Phoebe Gray of Mouse Cottage in Saxhurst was much beloved by her former charges. She was a model nanny--furling with a firm hand and an understanding of the ways of children. So beloved was she that Gareth Herne, lord of the local manor house, left her the family fortune when he died unexpectedly. If the estate hadn't been entailed, he might have left her that too. His brother Valentine--now Sir Valentine--is none too pleased to find himself saddled with a great grand house and no means of keeping it up. 

But Nanny Gray doesn't live long enough to enjoy the sudden windfall, her body is found in the nearby woods and what is first thought to be an unfortunate accident (she had fallen earlier in the week and hit her head) is soon proved to be murder. Did Sir Valentine murder her in a fit of rage over the unfair will? He's known for his sudden rages. Or maybe it was her niece Carey who stands to inherit under Phoebe Gray's will. Or perhaps it's Carey's husband--another man with a nasty temper who may have wanted to hasten his wife's inheritance. Then there's the woman who had used Nanny Gray's services so often, but who seemed both afraid of and most solicitous of the older lady. 

But then a certain stipulation of Gareth's will comes into play. You see, Phoebe Gray would only inherit if she survived Gareth by 30 days and a witness claims to have seen Nanny dead a few days before that deadline. So the motives become even trickier. Superintendent Robert Bone will have to sift through the suspects while narrowing down the time of death and searching for a few vital clues--a missing floral paperweight, an ancient motorbike that's never ridden but which has fresh gravel stuck in the tires, a deadly drill, and a certain vehicle that is big enough to carry a drum set...or a dead body.

This the first in the Superintendent Bone mysteries and it has a few of the debut jitters, but overall it is a fine mystery. Plenty of suspects and red herrings with the question of the time/day of death making things interesting. I did spot the killer, but I didn't get the extra twist until it was too late. Bone is a good lead detective and his relationship with his officers is good. This is an early example of the detective being given a complicated home life--Bone is a widower who still mourns his wife. A wife who was lost in an accident that took his son as well and left his daughter Charlotte with physical and emotional difficulties. Fortunately, the home life troubles don't overshadow the mystery--unlike some more modern detective novels. I think this strikes a good balance. ★★

First line: Somewhere in the forest a bird was making a noise like a watch being wound up.

Last line: "My mum likes things like that."


Deaths = 3 (one hit on head; one drug overdose; one car accident)

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

2022-2023 Ten Pins Game


Rick at the Mystillery has the bowling lanes waxed, the bowling pins polished, and the bowling shoes all lined up for those who don't have their own. Your reading challenge goal is to knock down all ten pins using books with numerals in the title. You can use any book read this year. For full details click on the link above.

Here are my books--I've got my bowling ball ready to go as soon as Rick opens the doors:

Take TWO at Bedtime by Margery Allingham
Challenge for Three by David Garth

FOUR Days' Wonder by A. A. Milne 

The FIVE Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers 

SIX Deadly Dames by Frederick Nebel

Seven Tears for Apollo
 by Phyllis A. Whitney

Eight Perfect Murders
 by Peter Swanson

The Nine Billion Names of God
 by Arthur C. Clarke
Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie X Bodies From the Library 2 by Tony Medawar (ed)

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Witch Tree Symbol

 The Witch Tree Symbol (1955) by Carolyn Keene 

In this 33rd Nancy Drew mystery, Mrs. Tenney has inherited half of a houseful of valuable antiques.When she takes Nancy to see the beautiful tables that once belonged to George Washington, she's dismayed to find that many of the valuable pieces--including the tables--have disappeared. Mrs. Tenney is sure that her cousin (co-heir) has taken the most valuable pieces ahead of the division of the inheritance, but Nancy isn't so sure. A piece of paper found in the corner of the library has a mysterious hex symbol on it which leads Nancy to Pennsylvania Dutch country and a man by the name of Roger Hoelt who may be the culprit.

When Nancy, Bess, and George arrive in Pennsylvania, they meet Manda Kreutz who had run away from home but is now looking to return. After briefly reuniting with her family, Manda disappears again and now Nancy has two mysteries to solve. As the girls get closer to finding both the furniture and Manda, the warm welcome they received turns to hostility when rumors that Nancy is a witch start circulating and they are forced to change their accommodations a few times. But Nancy won't be beaten by ugly rumors and her courageous rescue of two Amish children helps restore her good character. It isn't long before she tracks down the missing antiques as well as Manda Kreutz.

While I enjoyed all of the Nancy Drew books when I was young, this one was never a particular favorite. Some books I read repeatedly but this one I read twice--at most--and I'm not certain that I did read it a second time. I think part of the reason must be that there is even less mystery in this one than is usual in a vintage children's/young adult detective series. There is really only one suspect for the antiques theft, so it's not a major surprise when that person is duly identified as the culprit. The motive behind the theft of the Washington tables is more interesting and it was fun to watch Nancy figure out where the hidden message was. Overall a middle-of-the-road Nancy Drew story. ★★

First line: "I wouldn't go into that spooky old house alone for anything," declared the plump, nervous woman who sat beside Nancy Drew in the blue convertible.

Last lines: "It sounds dreamy!" Bess said with delight. "And you Amish have wonderful wedding  feasts"--she chuckled--"ain't?"


Deaths = two natural

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Death Comes as the End

 Death Comes as the End (1944) by Agatha Christie

Christie transports the reader to a time about 4,000 years ago. Imhotep, the fussy & pompous ka-priest and wealthy landowner, brings a new, younger concubine home with him when he returns from overseeing his property to the north. Nofret is secure in her beauty and her ability to wrap the patriarch around her little finger and promptly alienates the entire household--from Imhotep's three sons (Yahmose, Sobek, & Ipy) to his elder sons' wives, Satipy and Kait. Esa, Imhotep's mother, sees the girl for what she is and knows her son for a isn't long before the upheaval turns dangerous, as she knew it would.

When Nofret dies, ostensibly from an accident on the steep path leading to the Tomb high on the hill, The household breathes a sigh of relief. The outsider is gone, surely everything will return to normal. But the deaths keep coming and it begins to look like the shade of Nofret won't be satisfied until the entire family has paid in blood. But Esa and Hori, Imhotep's trusted scribe, believe a more human hand is behind it all. Will they discover who it is before death reaches even Renisenb, the daughter of the house?

One thing about this books..if you don't recognize early on who the culprit is (I did), not to worry. It's all a matter of attrition, so you should definitely figure it out before the final attempt. And, unlike And Then There Were None, you aren't left with nobody and a mystery of who could have possibly done it. When "death comes as an end," you definitely know who did it. It would, I think have been more satisfying if Hori, our erstwhile amateur detective, had halted the wholesale killing by detecting things a bit sooner--when the reader still had suspects to choose from.

I do appreciate Dame Agatha's venture into historical mysteries. Her second husband's interest in antiquity has definitely rubbed off and she gives us a good look at life (and death) in ancient Egypt. Of course people are people and they tend to have the same drives and reactions no matter where or when they live. So, we wind up with a tale of jealousy, hate, ambition, pride, power, and revenge. Christie, as always tells a good tale, but I must confess that I appreciate early- to mid-twentieth century a bit more than I do 2000 B.C. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: Renisenb stood looking out over the Nile.

Kait is a thoroughly stupid woman and I have always mistrusted stupid women. They are dangerous.
They can only see their immediate surroundings and only one thing at a time. (p. 117)

Last line: "That means--that there is no more death..."


Deaths = 7 (two fell from height; three poisoned; one drowned; one smothered)

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Star Trek: The New Voyages

 Star Trek: The New Voyages (1976) by Sondra Marshak & Myrna Culbreath (eds)

During the lean years between the cancellation of the original series and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the fans kept Star Trek alive. Through fanzines and fan fiction; through the early conventions and cosplay. Marshak and Culbreath were part of those early years and they gathered together two collections of fan written new fiction about our favorite science fiction characters. These stories were some of the first that I read as a newly minted Trek fan. My first Star Trek books were a set of five or six of the first Pocket Book ST novels and I quickly moved on from those to search out all the Trek I could find in book form (not to mention gluing myself to the TV when the episodes came on in syndication). These short stories were like manna from heaven for a girl hungry for more Trek and I loved them. Rereading them forty-ish years later, I still find them to be pretty darn good stories even though a few of them recycle tropes from episodes and some are clearly wish-fulfillment. But they do so in fresh, inventive ways--particularly in the context of when they were written. "Mind-Sifter" is easily the best of the collection. It's also delightful to read the introductions by the various Star Trek actors. I gave this ★★★★ before and see no reason to change the rating now.

"Ni Var" by Claire Gabriel: Like his captain before him (in "The Enemy Within" season 1, episode 5), Spock finds himself divided into two separate beings: one all human and one all Vulcan. Getting these two back together may be more difficult than rejoining Kirk's good and evil.

"Intersection Point" by Juanita Coulson: The Enterprise has a collision...with nothing (apparently). They soon discover that the "nothing" is another dimension and contact with it will destroy everything. An important piece of the Enterprise has been sucked into the "nothing" and someone will have to go get it. 

"The Enchanted Pool" by Marcia Ericson: The Enterprise is sent to retrieve a shuttlecraft from the U.S.S Yorktown that is carrying a new top-secret weapon (code name "Excalibur") before a group of renegade Andorians can get their hands on it. The last trace of the craft shows it headed towards the planet Mevinna and Spock and a shuttlecraft team are sent to investigate.

"Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited" by Ruth Berman: A fun read wherein Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley are somehow (no explanation given) transported to the real Enterprise while filming an episode of Star Trek. The story revolves around them making brief efforts to fill the shoes of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy while Scotty figures out how to get everyone back where they belong. [a companion story to an earlier one which showed events in Hollywood with our Enterprise trio]

"The Face on the Barroom Floor" by Eleanor Arnason & Ruth Berman: Kirk decides to go incognito while on shore leave. His adventures include buying (and wearing) a bizarre pseudo-samurai outfit, playing darts, a barroom brawl, and a stint in jail as "Harry, a junior officer from the Deneb Queen"--all while Spock & co. are trying to find their wandering captain so they can respond to a distress call.

"The Hunting" by Doris Beetam: This time McCoy joins Spock on shore leave only to find himself supporting the Vulcan in an odd hunting party to fulfill a Vulcan coming-of-age ritual.

"The Winged Dreamers" by Jennifer Guttridge: Another take on Kirk and Spock rescuing most of the crew from a "Paradise" that will ensnare them. 

"Mind-Sifter" by Shirley S. Maiewski: After being captured by Klingons and subjected to the tortures of their mind-sifter, Kirk is marooned (through the Guardian of Forever) in 1950s Earth. His state after the torture results in him being admitted to a mental facility. Spock and the crew must figure out where their captain is and rescue him...

"Sonnet from the Vulcan: Omicron Ceti Three" by Shirley Meech: A lovely poem from a certain Vulcan to the girl he left behind in "This Side of Paradise."

First line (1st story): Captain's log. Star date6834.5. En route to R & R on Starbase Ten, the Enterprise has been ordered to divert briefly to Fornax II in order to pick up and transport to Starbase Ten a sealed tape.

Last line (last poem): I said I had no feelings. And I lied.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Read & Buried

 Read & Buried (2012) by Erika Chase

While at her favorite bookstore, Lizzie Turner gets maneuvered into inviting visiting author Derek Alton to the next meeting of Ashton Corners Mystery Readers & Cheese Straw Society. The smarmy, self-centered, womanizing author invites her to dinner--supposedly to talk about the book club appearance--but it soon becomes apparent that he has something very different in mind. She turns him down flat and leaves the restaurant. Undaunted, the man shows up the next day to "apologize" and "really, truly talk about the book club." Lizzie was in the middle of decorating for Christmas and he insists that she continue while they talk. She has her back to him...and the window...while hanging a bunch of mistletoe...when somebody decides to take a potshot at him. Somebody who has aimed to kill. 

Lizzie's boyfriend, Police Chief Mark Dreyfus, is very perturbed at the incident. But Lizzie thinks he's more upset about the strange man in her living room than the fact that the strange man was murdered. And he and his side-kick Officer Craig seem intent on finding Lizzie's behavior suspicious. But they soon discover that there are plenty of suspects running around town. Because Derek Alton used to live in the area (under another name) and set his first, award-winning book in a small Southern town that seems a lot like Ashton Corners...and the secrets that made the book so interesting are thinly disguised versions of real incidents. And apparently he had a sequel planned that was going to spill even more dirt. So...who felt the need to kill before their secret made it into print?

A kindof decent cozy mystery that I just didn't connect with. I thought a mystery with a book club would be right up my alley. But Lizzie doesn't do much for me as a protagonist. Her answers when Mark and Officer Craig are taking her statement are daft. Why on earth doesn't she tell the straight story the first time? And, if Chase wasn't deliberately trying to make Lizzie look suspicious to the police....well, then that was just poor writing because Lizzie definitely sounds suspicious. And she shouldn't. Especially since the Chief is her boyfriend. There are suspects crawling out of the woodwork, we don't need our main character looking suspicious for no good reason.

And...Lizzie as an amateur detective doesn't really work well either. She spends most of her time running errands and just plain running (every morning come slush or shine). And she goes to work. Sure, she asks questions here and there and digs up a few clues. But it just doesn't feel like a real mystery investigation. And while I spotted the culprit early on--I couldn't give you a good reason why that was so. No real clues come along--there are a few odd conversations that set my suspect radar off, but even when everything gets tidied up at the end, there aren't a list of clues that I could point to and say "See, this and this and that all point to X." Oh...and the ending is a bit rushed and convenient. The culprit just comes along and threatens Lizzie and the cops conveniently show up and cuff them. End of mystery. 

Definitely not as good as anticipated. ★★

First line: "Lizzie Turner, you'd like a signed copy of Derek Alton's award-winning book, wouldn't you?"

Last line: "Merry Christmas, my dear friends."


Deaths = one shot

Zanzibar Intrigue

 Zanzibar Intrigue (1963) by F. Van Wyck Mason

G2 Agent Colonel Hugh North is back in action in a very Cold War spy story set among the political unrest in Africa as various countries begin to shed their British, French, and other European controllers and seek their own ways. Of course, other interested parties--like the Russians, Arabic nations, and India--are looking to turn the unrest to their own advantage. Central to the unrest in Zanzibar is a supposed turncoat American by the name of Master Sergeant Willie Bonhart formerly of Uncle Sam's Army, more recently a CIA Agent playing double-agent. The Russians think he's on their side, but they would be wrong. As things heat up in Africa, North is sent to get Bonhart away from his Russian handlers and prevent the CIA Agent from being used to stir up the Zanzibaris to revolution.

But North & his aide Captain Kenny Trotter aren't the only ones interested in Bonhart. The KGB have their claws on him and the East African Liberation Party are also looking for him. James Mnoyah, the leader of the Party cozies up to North (who is posing a spice buyer) and asks him leading questions--to see if the American is really after Bonhart himself. There are a few wild cards in the deck as well--a Rumanian by the name of Ionel Zelreanu and his "daughter" Sahami Buma, a couple who mean no good to either North or Bonhart (if they can find him), as well as Tommy Henderson a white settler who lost his wife and children to Mau Mau terrorists and who holds Mnoyah responsible. Henderson also seems to have taken exception to North, believing rumors that the American is in Zanzibar to lend support to those who fan the flames of African independence.

In addition to the general unrest and the enemies at every turn, North must also figure out which Bonhart is the real McCoy. For you see, there are two hotels and each has a room where Russians are guarding a large black American. And they both can't be Willie Bonhart. North and Trotter need to be sure they rescue the right one....

This is my second Colonel North book. Espionage stories aren't my standard fare, but I do enjoy picking one up every now and again. Especially when you have good central characters. North is an attractive character. No, I don't mean sexy to the ladies (though he is). But he is an intelligent agent who has scruples in what can be a very dirty game. He doesn't necessarily follow them...after all, G2 expects him to get the job done and not worry about little details like who's really in the right on this one. I also like the way he completely immerses himself into the personas he takes on when undercover. James Bond is always James Bond. But North easily slips into the skin of Douglas, the clove buyer, and makes the other characters and the reader believe in him.

There isn't much mystery here for those who like intricate puzzles and whodunnits (though there is a twist that I certainly didn't see coming). The question isn't who did it. And it's not even will North complete his mission (I mean, honestly, he's the protagonist--of course he's gonna complete the mission). The question is really how will he do it. And it's a fun ride getting to that answer. ★★★ and 1/2.

First line: Joao Silveira usually looked like a roly-poly, olive-skinned, seventy-year-old child waiting for Christmas instead of the proprietor of the Nipoo, Zanzibar's most free-wheeling. hotel.

Last line: "Duggy," Hugh North heard Kenny Trotter say in a smothered voice behind him. "Oh, brother!"


Deaths = 6 (two shot; two poisoned; two car accident)

Monday, September 12, 2022

The World's Best 100 Detective Stories Vol. 9

 The World's Best 100 Detective Stories Vol. 9 (1929) by Eugene Thwing (ed)

This the ninth volume in a ten-volume set made up of ten short stories per volume. As Thwing says in his introduction in the first volume, picking the 100 best stories even in the early years of the mystery field was no easy job. It's easier to just select personal favorites--but one really needs to select a wide variety of popular favorites to meet the tastes of more readers. Of course, no matter what an editor does, he will still not pick everyone's favorite and be able to make everyone happy. And I'm afraid he didn't make this reader very happy this time. I've enjoyed previous volumes, but the stories in volume nine seem to me to be extremely weak. The best are Green's first story--though it has more of a suspenseful, gothic feel to it than true mystery, Fletcher's story of the stolen coins, and the two selections by Rees. The rest have very little mystery to them and even less actual detective work.  and 1/2

"Missing: Page Thirteen" by Anna Katharine Green: Miss Strange decides to take just one more case--at the instigation of Robert Upjohn. This time, she is busy tracking down a missing scientific formula relating to explosives [aren't they always?]. She quickly solves the mystery of the missing page and is then made privy to another, older secret. [Deaths = 2 stabbed]

"Thief" by Anna Katharine Green: a non-Miss Violet Strange story. A valuable coin goes missing during a dinner party. The obvious suspect runs off before he can be searched. When the coin is discovered in the room from which it went missing (in a place where the man could not have placed it), his host searches for him to make his apologies...and discovers a thief of a different sort.

"The Secret of the Barbican" by J. S. Fletcher: A small town solicitor visits a museum in distant town. While there, he views a set of rare siege coins and instantly recognizes them as a set of coins stolen from his own town quite a few years ago. He decides to investigate how the coins got to the museum and who the thief could have been. The trail leads him on an extraordinary journey. [one natural]

"Pig's Feet" by Frederic Arnold Kummer: A no-good lawyer gets his just desserts when a mild-mannered bank clerk gets the best of him. One of the earliest stories to feature big-shot bootleggers controlling territory, hit men, hijackers, and ties to political bosses. [one shot]

"Diamond Cut Diamond" by Kummer: Elinor, a wealthy young woman, likes to use her money to help other young women in need. When Miss Pennington, a secretary to a jeweler is accused of stealing a packet of diamonds worth $8,000, she pays the man their value. But she believes the secretary to be innocent and won't rest until she proves it.

"The Missing Passenger's Trunk" by Arthur J. Rees: Captain Samuel Master comes to Colwin Grey, a barrister with a flair for detective work, with a strange story of man thought lost at sea whose body appeared in a trunk the captain had taken to his own own home. Masters believes he'll be charged with murder, but swears he's innocent. [one natural; one drowned]

"The Finger of Death" by Arthur J. Rees: Colwin Grey clears a man of killing his father...even if he did shoot him. [one shot; one natural]

"The Mystery of the Gold Seal" by George Barton: Two women are poisoned with chocolates from a plain box with a gold seal. That gold seal leads Police Chief Lees straight to the murderer. [two poisoned; one natural]

"The Green Pocketbook" by George Barton: A miserly man is killed for his securities and the money in his green pocketbook. Monsieur Mace of the French Secret police knows the culprit by his possession of the pocketbook, but it is gravity that proves how and where the man was killed. [one hit on head; one hanged]

"The Toy Lantern" by George Barton: A child's toy lantern is all Inspector Gregory of Scotland Yard needs to discover who killed Horace Smith in the garden near Highgate Woods. [one--but method not disclosed]

First line (1st story): "One more! just one more paying affair, and I promise to stop; really and truly to stop."

Last line (last story): It recalls the theory of a famous American detective who has often pointed out the fact that, plan and plan, as he may, the criminal invariably leaves some gap in the machination of his scheme, some rift, minute thought it may be, some crevice through which the detective may insert the little silver probe of his specialized knowledge, and thus discover the truth.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

The Entropy Effect

 The Entropy Effect (1981) by Vonda N. McIntyre

Mystery. Intrigue. Time Travel. The possibility of the end of the universe. McIntyre's books has little bit of it all.

While Mr. Spock is completing a scientific study of a naked singularity which had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, the Enterprise receives an Ultimate override command. Spock's initial findings are most disturbing. If his calculations are correct the appearance of the singularity signals more chaos to come and...the end of the universe in less than a century. The override command cuts his research short. Ultimate is reserved for only the most dire of circumstances--a sun going nova, an invasion, a critical experimental failure, or unclassified: danger never before encountered. The command directs Kirk to take his ship at maximum warp to Aleph Prime. But when they arrive, nothing seems to be amiss--except brilliant physicist, Dr. Georges Mordreaux, a former teacher of their own Mr. Spock, is being held as a murderer. He is accused of having perpetrated a murderous confidence game, promising to send people back in time and then killing them instead. The Enterprise has been diverted to transport him to the nearest penal rehabilitation colony. But it appears that someone other than Ian Braithewaite, Aleph Primes's chief prosecutor, sent the message.

Kirk is furious that the Ultimate has been misused and is ready to leave Ian Braithwaite to wait for the official prisoner transport when Spock urges him to take on the assignment. He knows that something is not right. The man he once knew could never have killed anyone and he wants time to talk with Mordreaux and get his side of the story. Before that can happen, a crazed doctor--having somehow escaped the quarters surrounded by a force field and security personnel--bursts onto the bridge, kills Captain Kirk and his new Security Chief Mandala Flynn, and promptly disappears into the turbo lift. Mordreaux is later found in the secured quarters and the guards swear he could not have gotten out. 

Once Spock is able to confer with the prisoner, he realizes that he must journey through time--not only to save his captain, but to save the universe itself. Dr. Modreaux's experiments have warped time itself and the longer the warp exists the worse the stress of entropy is for those on the Enterprise as well as everything in the universe. Spock leaves McCoy--the only other officer who's in on the secret--in command and this also leaves a disgruntled Scotty open to Ian Braithwaite's bizarre theories of conspiracy. So Spock and McCoy are working on an even shorter time limit--if Scotty and Braithwaite put a stop to Spock's time travels, there won't be any time left for anyone.

This is one of the first Star Trek novels I ever read. It came in a boxed set of the first six published by Pocket Books and found under the Christmas tree when I  was twelve. That started me on a long journey of Star Trek and science fiction novel reading. And I loved those first six books (well--five of them, anyway. Let's not talk about The Prometheus Design, okay?). 

Upon this reading, I was initially a bit disgruntled that my Star Trek characters weren't behaving properly. And then I thought it over. First, from the cover picture, it appears that this takes place after The Motion Picture. I'm going to guess not too long after. The crew has just gotten back together after Kirk had been riding a desk job for Starfleet HQ. They're still settling back in with one another. Second, we've got that whole entropy thing going on that is screwing things up more and more the longer it goes on. It shouldn't be a surprise that this is putting stress on everybody and so there would be some weirdness. BUT I still think McIntyre made some mistakes. 

As soon as Kirk knew that the Ultimate override command was no longer in effect, he should have briefed his senior officers. Scotty, as third in command after Spock, should have been included. Since this was McIntyre's first book in the Star Trek universe, I don't know if she was just not well-versed in how these people work together OR if she was relying on the weirdness of the effects of entropy to explain everything OR if she felt she needed the disgruntled Scotty sub-plot to help move things along. Regardless, it's just a bit off. I'm also a bit perturbed at the short shrift Uhura, Chekov, and Nurse Chapel receive--they pretty much have walk-on parts

On the plus side, this is a fun adventure with some very moving moments. Spock's distress when he repeatedly comes "this" close to stopping Mordreax. McCoy's grief. Even Scotty's bafflement at being left out of things (even though I don't think McIntyre should have left him out--his reactions are definitely relatable). I also loved (both the first time I read it and now) that the spotlight was on Sulu. This is one of the first (if not the first) Star Trek novels to feature a character beyond Kirk, Spock & McCoy in a major sub-plot. Sulu gets a first name, some back history, and a love interest (no debates here on the nature of that love interest and how it fits in with later revelations on the character). And the creation of Mandala Flynn and the other new security personnel as well as Captain Hunter was truly inspired. Strong characters--both strong women and strong non-humanoid species--that I would have loved to see more of. 

As a mystery--and I do consider it a bit of one--it is a how-dunnit rather than a who-dunnit. Spock must figure out how Mordreaux was able to kill the captain and the security chief without having left his secure cabin. And then he has to figure out how to stop him from doing it in the first place.  A good Star Trek adventure all around. I gave it ★★ and 1/2 when I first read it forty-ish years ago and I see no reason to change my rating now.

First line: Captain James T. Kirk sprawled on the couch in the sitting room of his cabin, dozing over a book.

Last lines: Whatever did happen seems to have involved only Spock himself; whatever it was has not affected the Enterprise at all. And that, of course, as always, is my main concern.


Deaths = 4 (two poisoned; two shot)

Murder at the Pageant

 Murder at the Pageant (1930) by Victor L. Whitechurch

Sir Henry Lynwood, the Lord of Frimley Manor, has the idea to hold a grand pageant featuring as its centerpiece a recreation of the visit of Queen Anne in 1705. The lavish affair will bring in funds to support the hospital in Chiltonbury, a neighboring market town. Sir Henry, his two sons Harry and Charles, and their guests all dress up in period costumes to provide the entertainments. The reenactment includes the ritual carrying of the queen in a sedan chair from the estate's entrance gate to the front steps of Frimley Manor.

The pageant is directed by Captain Roger Bristow, ex-Secret Service member, and the role of Queen Anne is played by Mrs. Cresswell. Other attendants include Anstice Lockwood, daughter of the house; Sonia Fullinger, Sonia's friend; Mr. Ashley-Smith, vicar of the parish; and Mr. Jasper Hurst, a tenant on the Frimley estate. Mrs. Cresswell decides to embellish her royal costume with her spectacular pearl necklace, setting the stage for an unplanned criminal...and act to the pageant. 

In the middle of the night, long after the crowds have left the estate grounds, Bristow happens to look out of his bedroom window and sees two men carrying the sedan chair back up the long drive. He thinks they're trying to steal the ancient relic and hurries out to give chase. The men drop the chair and run to a waiting car. He catches a glimpse of the number plate and is on his way back to the manor to report the incident when he realizes the chair is not empty. Hurst is inside, injured, and manages to gasp out what sounds like "The...line" before dying. So an attempted robbery becomes a murder investigation. A murder investigation that is complicated by an actual robbery--Mrs. Cresswell's pearls have disappeared!

Bristow uses the skills acquired in his Secret Service work to help his friends while Superintendent Kinch, the official police investigator, follows his own lines. The two find themselves crossing paths often as their separate lines all seem to point in the same direction. Or do they? Appearances and circumstantial evidence can be misleading and soon the two men are working together to catch the thief and the murderer.

This was great fun. I enjoyed watching Bristow and Kinch work at the problem separately. They're not quite rivals. Bristow is always willing to share what he's found--provided Kinch asks the proper questions. And in the end Bristow shares everything in order to see justice done. I've seen a review which implies that the solution is a bit unfair--that we didn't meet all of the suspects. But Whitechurch firmly plants the clues that lead to the unknown. There are no red herrings here, every clue when viewed from the proper angle points to the solution. Just because readers don't see the other angle, doesn't mean it wasn't there. A very nice county house mystery with a little twist in the standard country house mystery proceedings. ★★★★

First line: "The sedan chair used in this scene is the same chair in which Queen Anne was carried on the occasion of her visit to Frimley Manor in 1705."

Last line: And they went in to luncheon.


Deaths = 2 (one natural [apoplexy], one hit on head)

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Uninvited Corpse

 The Uninvited Corpse (1987) by Michael Underwood

Rosa Epton finds herself regretting both the power of the press and an appearance on a television program called "Legal Aid" where a panel of lawyers answered questions about the profession for viewers. The advertisement and her appearance leads two clients to her...two clients that are going to cause a great deal of trouble.

Mr. Philip Tresant learned about her through a newspaper left behind on a seat on the Underground. And, being in need of a solicitor to represent him against a charge of theft, he thought Ms. Rosa Epton as likely as anyone. Mr. Vernon Gray watched "Legal Aid" and thought she was the only member of the panel to talk sense. So when he decided it was about time to draw up a will, he thought of that sensible solicitor on television. Tresant proves to be difficult to defend--he immediately sinks in to depression and it will take all of Rosa's powers of persuasion to get him to make a sensible appearance in court. And she's still not sure she'll get him off on a charge of pilfering five pounds from the church offering plate. 

Mr. Gray wants her to make up his will, but doesn't have any relatives or friends to whom he wants to leave his considerable wealth. In fact, he seems to want Rosa to come up with people to make his heirs. Through gentle prodding, she manages to convince him to name the heirs himself--a neighbor who is slightly bossy, but who has tried to help him and his doctor. But he's not done with her...after the will is drawn up, he convinces her to help him find a new housekeeper. He hasn't had much luck in finding one that will stay. It takes a few tries before she finds one that Gray likes well enough and who can take the elderly man's acerbic nature. But finally the job is accomplished...and just when Rosa thinks she's done with Vernon Gray (until she needs to provide the will for probate), he and his housekeeper disappear.

Mrs. Henderson, the bossy neighbor, becomes alarmed when she returns from a weekend away and gets no answer from Gray's apartment. None of the other residents in the building have seen Gray or the housekeeper for several days. She finally convinces the police that something is amiss...and when the officers effect an entry to Gray's apartment they find that she was right. Gray and Mrs. Janet Berry are indeed gone. And there is an unknown man lying dead in Mr. Gray's bed.

Rosa keeps a watching brief on Gray's apartment and affairs and winds up doing a bit of detective work on the side. She discovers clues that point to a mystery in Gray's past and that mystery will need to be cleared up before the police can unravel the current mysteries of where Gray and Mrs. Berry are and who the man in the bed is.

I read a few of the Rosa Epton mysteries back in 80s and apparently this was one of them, but fortunately I had no memory of the plot. This was an enjoyable, quiet read. Fairly predictable, especially after a couple of the clues were laid down, but great fun to read, regardless. Rosa is a good character, interesting to watch at work. She tends to take a few liberties (but then, so did Perry Mason--to whom she is compared in the book flap blurb), but all in the interests of justice. It was a bit convenient how the two plots dovetailed, but it did make for a nice, tidy ending. Overall, a solid mystery. ★★

First line: "Goodbye, dear," Mrs. Henderson shouted through the car window above the engine noise.

Last line: Rosa laughed. "Better still, Steph, sing it." 


Deaths = 4 (one strangled; two natural; one shot)

Monday, September 5, 2022

The Corpse on the Hearth

 The Corpse on the Hearth (1946) by Harry Lang

Ultra-conservative, ultra-rich Elijah Mellor does something highly unusual. He orders his half-brother and family lawyer, Peter to hold a reading of his will four years before his death. Five thousand dollars to his handyman, Benjamin Benson; twenty-five thousand dollars to his estate manager Arthur Dulane; the house and everything in it to his son Absalom Mellor; and the remainder of his wealth to be divided evenly between his son and his niece Absala...all to be doled out provided the heirs remain good girls and boys. Because Elijah will change his will if any of them stray from the straight and narrow.

And now...four years later...they all have wandered off the righteous path. Benjamin drinks too much and Elijah is pretty straight-laced about drunkenness. Arthur has been diddling the books and keeping a mistress in a conveniently empty apartment in one of the Mellor properties. Absala married a foreign prince without her uncle's approval, but managed to smooth that over. But now they've been caught adding an extra zero to one of the old man's checks. And Absalom has followed his cousin's lead and just married an actress (and Elijah despises actresses). Each of them have good reason to make sure Elijah doesn't have a chance to change his will, but which one shot him while he kneeled in front of his hearth? Tod Frick ("Feisty Frick" as he's known), an unconventional detective attached to the D.A.'s office is hot on the case. All of the circumstantial evidence points in one direction, but Frick isn't taking anything for granted.

This one had a lot of elements going for it on the surface. I liked the initial set-up--calling the heirs together before Mr. Moneybags kicks the bucket. But I didn't feel like enough was made of that. The discovery of the body was interesting as well, but then the few clues found on the spot didn't really lead anywhere substantial. Feisty Frick is a nifty little detective. He spots those few clues like nobody's business and follows them up like a boss. And I enjoyed his relationship with Jim Hanssen, the D.A. But none of the elements really came together into a well-rounded, coherent whole. It was just missing that certain something that makes a mystery story come alive and grab the attention. I couldn't wait to finish the story--not because I was so eager to see what happened next, but because I just want to finish the story. Oh...and that final bit of motive that the culprit reveals? I saw that motive for murder coming the minute Lang mentioned it. Even though Frick apparently forgot all about it...because it seemed to be a huge surprise to everyone.

This is reportedly Harry Lang's only mystery's easy to see why. I can't imagine this was a huge seller.  ★★

First line: The tall, gaunt man in the frock coat rose from the chair behind his desk and faced the four in the room.

Last line: "Hell, sweetheart, I don't even drink on duty!"


Deaths = 6 (five shot; one gassed)

Murder by Matchlight

 Murder by Matchlight
(1945) by E. C. R. Lorac (Edith Caroline Rivett)

"It's a fantastic story--but fantastic stories do happen in London."

It is a fantastic story. It's a story of a young chemist by the name of Bruce Mallaig whose fiancée is down with 'flu takes a walk through Regent's Park on a damp November evening in wartime London. He's feeling a bit at loose ends and sits down on a bench near a familiar footbridge. While he's considering "the advantages of a fair-sized flat in Dolphin Square as against a single-room one in Trinity Court" as a married couple's abode, he observes a stranger walk onto the bridge, flash a torch briefly in the wartime dark, and then hears him scramble over the railing and drop to the ground below the bridge. 

Mallaig is puzzling over this odd behavior when another figure comes along and stops on the bridge to smoke a cigarette. The chemist supposes the second man to have an assignation--perhaps with a young lady--and is prepared to warn the young lovers about the man lurking below when the man on the bridge strikes another match which briefly lights up a face slightly above and behind his own. The match goes out and Mallaig hears a thud and the sound of a body falling. He grabs a man he hears scrambling over the railing and hollers for the police.  But when the police arrive it seems--if both are telling the truth--that neither Mallaig nor the man he stopped (the man from under the bridge) could be the killer. How did a third man arrive and leave without either of them hearing a sound?

That's one of the many questions that Scotland Yard's Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald must answer as he looks for the killer of the man on the bridge. And the man on the bridge is a puzzle himself. He has been living in a boarding house under the name of John Ward, but investigations seem to indicate that he picked up that persona when a German air raid destroyed his previous lodgings. Has someone killed "John Ward" because of who he is now? Or has someone found out that he used to be Timothy O'Farrell and that was why he was killed? That's another item for Macdonald and his team to figure out.

The only evidence at the bridge site is a set of bicycle tracks that come to an abrupt end. The suspects include the non-descript witness Mallaig, the unemployed laborer lurking under the bridge,  a well-known London doctor, a screenwriter who knows his antiques, a garrulous landlady, a variety show actress, a vaudeville husband and wife team specializing in illusions, and a chorus girl. When Macdonald discovers that the victim wasn't above a spot of blackmail--either as Ward or O'Farrell, it becomes a matter of determining which of his blackmail targets stood to lose the most if their secret was spilled.

I have a definite soft spot for Murder by Matchlight. It was the first Lorac book that I discovered back in my twenties when I was just getting back to reading large numbers of mysteries again. It was the only Lorac book that our local library carried at the time and set me on a hunt for the Lorac name whenever I visited a used bookstore. I didn't find another until about fifteen years later. When I had some birthday money to spend and was hunting on Ebay for likely purchases, I was excited to find a Unicorn Mystery Book Club 4-in-1 anthology with Matchlight in it. And now I get to revisit it and see if it holds up. does. In fact, if anything, I think I enjoyed it more since I plan on giving it a bump in star value from my previous rating. I especially enjoyed the wartime background. The war and the blackouts that accompanied it are integral to the story and Lorac deftly works the war into the story providing atmosphere and depth to the mystery. Macdonald is at his best--good interview techniques and very humane interactions with all and sundry. I positively enjoyed his interactions with all of the residents at the boarding house--especially Mrs. Maloney, the landlady. I had my eye on two suspects from the beginning, though I must admit that I missed the clues which should have told me that my second choice absolutely could have done it. The method the killer uses to be on the spot without revealing his presence too soon was really quite nice. Overall, an excellent read. ★★★★

Also reviewed by Kate @ Cross Examining Crime (whose response tallies with mine) and JJ @ The Invisible Event (who, unfortunately, found it all a bit dull). Other reviewers include Margaret @ Books Please; Les @ Classic Mysteries; Carol @ Carol's Notebook (If I've missed your review, let me know and I'll add you to the line-up!)

First lines: "Well, the war's done one thing at any rate. It's got rid of those damned awful railings."

Last line: "Suits me," rejoined Mr. Ramses contentedly.


Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one hit by a truck)

Saturday, September 3, 2022

A Scream in Soho

 A Scream in Soho (1940) by John G. Brandon

Detective Inspector McCarthy (and all his neighbors) hears a scream ring out in the middle of a pitch-black night in Soho. No lights spring up--for we're in the middle of the black-out period in Britain. He makes his way to Soho Square--from whence the scream seemed to come--but the only evidence of an incident is a bloody doorway, a stiletto dagger, and an unmarked lady's handkerchief. Oh...and the lingering scent of a very distinctive perfume. There is no sign of a body or anyone who might have screamed. The constable who arrives on the scene is sure the scream came from a woman, but McCarthy thinks it was a man. It may be that they are both right. Before the night is over there will be three victims found...another police constable, an elderly food peddler, and a fashionable lady (who isn't quite...a lady, that is). And before the case is over McCarthy will find himself dealing with Italian gangsters, cross-dressing German spies, Austrian nobility, and a set of missing anti-aircraft defense plans.

This is just a plain fun thriller and espionage adventure. If you're looking for a classic whodunnit with clues and suspects and police interviews and whatnot, then this isn't it. McCarthy is a pretty atypical Yard Inspector. He totes a gun and works more with convenient civilians--particularly a cabman who's handy in a scrap and Danny the Dip whose picadilloes McCarthy overlooks in exchange for some shadowing duties--than he does with fellow officers. This makes McCarthy an appealing roguish hero--whose excellent record of detection keeps him from getting into trouble for his maverick ways. There isn't much doubt about who the bad guys are here, but it's interesting to watch McCarthy track them down and figure out a way to pin the murders and the espionage on them. I enjoyed this walk on the wilder side of World War II mysteries. ★★★★

First line: In that inexpressibly comfortable little Soho café, owned and managed by that dignified Italian lady, the Signora Lucia Spadoglia, Inspector McCarthy sat and waited.

Last line: "You'll either be looking for a job, or they'll make you an inspector--and then the good Lord look after you for nobody else will."


Deaths = 5 (four stabbed; one natural [pneumonia])