Monday, October 31, 2022

The Pale Horse

 The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie (1961); read by Hugh Fraser

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him... (Revelation 6:8)

I apparently first read this in 2014--at least that's what my reading log told me, though I had a hard time believing it. Since then, I acquired the audio CD version with Hugh Fraser reading it to me. And I have to say, this is one of the rare times that I didn't enjoy Fraser reading to me just as much as when I read it for myself. Perhaps I was just not in the mood to be read to. But I'm not going to deduct star value since Fraser is usually good. I gave the book four stars when I read it for myself and we'll stick with that.

Christie's only novel in which Ariadne Oliver makes an appearance without Hercule Poirot is a twist on the plot device used by Philip MacDonald in The List of Adrian Messenger two years previously. The story begins with Father Gorman, a Catholic priest called to the deathbed of a woman apparently dying of flu. She tells him that there is "Wickedness...such wickedness...Stopped...It must be stopped...You will..." And the priest assures her that he will do what is necessary. But before he can do anything about what he has heard, he is murdered on his way home. The police find a list of names in his shoe--a list of names of people who seem to have nothing in common. Except when historian Mark Easterbrook is brought into the investigation through the passing of his godmother (whose name, incidentally, appears on the list), he discovers that the names do have something in common....death.

Christie also dabbles in a bit of apparent black magic in this one. The Pale Horse of the title is an old inn, now inhabited by three women who have a reputation for witchcraft. Seances and secret rituals involving white cocks and modern death rays are rumored to occur. Easterbrook, being a modern man, scoffs at the idea of voo-doo or death-wishes, but as each name on the list winds up dead he begins to wonder if there isn't really such a thing as murder by remote control....

This is one of the better Christie stand-alone novels. There is a fine sense of atmosphere from the coffee shops of Chelsea to the country village and mystic Pale Horse. She does her usual excellent job of misdirection--making me completely misidentify the culprit. I should have know better, I really should have--but like Mark Easterbrook I was thoroughly taken in. Mrs. Oliver makes cameo appearances, adding just the right amount of her general dottiness...and helping Easterbrook spot the method of murder even if he does make a mistake in fingering the villain. The romance is also a nice touch--given enough limelight to make events believable, but not too much attention to distract from the business of tracking down the murder. Good classic Christie fun. ★★★

First line: The Espresso machine behind my shoulder hissed like an angry snake.

"My husband's a very good man," she said. "Besides being vicar, I mean. And that makes things difficult sometimes. Good people, you see, don't really understand evil." (Mrs. Calthorpe; p. 66)

"People are so proud of wickedness. Odd isn't it, that people who are good are never proud of it? That's where Christian humility comes in, I suppose." (Mrs. Calthorpe; p. 70)

Last line: "If you want to go to the Old Vic in the future," she said firmly, "you'll go with me."


Deaths = 4 (one hit on head; three poisoned)

Sunday, October 30, 2022

End of Chapter

 End of Chapter (1957) by Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day-Lewis)

It's odd, the way people will commit murder to achieve security. As though one could ever buy peace of mind with someone else's blood.

Nigel Strangeways is called upon by an old publishing firm to help them in a time of crisis. One retired military officer is publishing his memoirs and was firmly told to remove some libelous passages about another military officer. After much wrangling, he was convinced to do so and the legally perilous bits were marked out. But...somebody marked them "stet" (which in publishing parlance means "oops, we didn't really mean that--go ahead and keep that in") and the book is published. There's nothing to be done about the legal case coming at Wenham & Geraldine, but the administrators do want to know who is responsible, so they give Strangeways the task of finding out, if he can.

But before he can make much progress another author who is working on her autobiography is found dead in her work room within the publishing house. Her throat has been cut and somebody has replaced a page of her autobiography. Is there a connection to the libel case? Did she know who the culprit was and did she try to blackmail him/her? Or is the answer to both mysteries to be found somewhere in the past?

My second go-round with Nigel Strangeways (I read all of his mysteries long ago and far away) just doesn't seem to be as compelling as the first. The mystery here is okay, although the culprit is pretty obvious from the beginning and the efforts to provide red herring suspects seems pretty half-hearted. I never got the feeling that Strangeways was seriously considering anybody as suspect number one. The plot (thought I do like books set in the publishing world) didn't really hold me--I repeatedly put the thing down even when I didn't have other things to do. It certainly wasn't a page turner.

And...just as an I really supposed to believe that a man (Strangeways) who has been invited to a black tie dinner party would actually drape himself across his host's sofa and apply nose drops? In a social situation in front of the other guests? A British man--applying nose drops in public??? Really?  It seems to me that the only point of his bringing the drops out in front of the suspects (on several occasions--not just at the dinner party) was to provide a way for one of them to later try and injure, if not kill him. 

Not a lot of plot twists. Pretty straightforward and it seems to me that Strangeways takes a a long time to get round to the solution. I gave this ★★ on my first read and I guess I'll let that stand, though I'm not absolutely convinced.

First line: Nigel Strangeways turned into Adelphi, and soon arrived at the distinguished backwater of Angel Street, the Strand traffic roaring softly behind him like a weir.

...he sounds a bit mad, from your description. Anyone would be, reading books all day for twenty-five years. (Clare Massinger; p. 62)

Last line: Basil Ryle offered Nigel his hand, then, with a glance at Clare and a glint of his old perkiness, added, "You're a lucky chap."


Deaths = 4 (one stabbed; one natural; one shot in war; one hit by train)

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Widow's Cruise

 The Widow's Cruise
(1959) by Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day-Lewis)

"The only thing I have against cruise life," said Clare, yawning again, "is that it's turning us all into busybodies and gossips."

Clare Massinger is a renowned sculptor who is afraid that her ideas are getting stale. A cruise to the Greek isles, full of classical temples and ruins and beautiful scenery should be just the think to to get the creative juices flowing in new and exciting ways. She and Nigel Strangeways book a trip that sails from Athens and will take them to Delos and a number of islands in the Dodecanese, returning to the mainland by way of Crete and including excursions to Epidaurus, Mycenae, and Delphi. Also included, but not explicitly mentioned in the itinerary, is brush with ancient the form of murder.

Miss Ianthe Ambrose, former schoolteacher, has apparently had run-ins with several of those on the cruise--from Faith Trubody, a student whom Miss Ambrose arranged to be dismissed, and her brother Peter, who has vowed to get even with the woman, to Mr. Jeremy Street who has suffered academic humiliation from Miss Ambrose's scathing reviews in scholarly journals to her own sister who may have been goodhearted enough to treat Miss Ambrose to a cruise but who would like just a teensy bit of time to herself so she can enjoy herself...with a man or two. In addition to the irritating teacher, there are a couple of people who make it their business to try and find out as much as possible about their fellow passengers. There's Primrose Chalmers, a schoolgirl who follows folks around and writes everything down in a notebook. And there's Ivor Bentick-Jones, equally as interested in his fellow passengers' secrets, but possibly for far more nefarious reasons.

When Miss Ambrose disappears from the ship and Primrose is strangled, there's speculation about whether Miss Ambrose killed the girl and then committed suicide. The teacher had been acting oddly and seemed almost suicidal. But Nigel isn't convinced. Perhaps someone killed Miss Ambrose and tossed her overboard and maybe Primrose saw more than she should have and was killed for it. After, all the girl's notebook is missing too. The captain recognizes Strangeways and asks him to take a hand in the matter--it is hoped that Nigel will be able to discreetly investigate and be ready to hand the culprit over to the Greek authorities when they return to dock. Adroit questioning and a final, gather-all-the-suspects together scene allows Nigel to do just that.

I'm reading these Blake mysteries from a 3-in-1 Blake Treasury anthology (in reverse order, by the way).  And I must say that I enjoyed this one much more than The Worm of Death. While psychology is still important here, Blake gives us a much more classic mystery set-up with plenty of clues (and red herrings) strewn about and a nice closed circle crime to investigate. Even though part of the mystery took place on one of the islands along the way, we still have a limited cast of characters, all trapped together on the cruise ship. Blake makes the most of the setting and while few of the characters are any more appealing than those in Worm, we do have the benefit of the Bishop and his wife to give us a couple of pleasant people for Nigel to interact with. Of the later Blake mysteries, this is my favorite so far. ★★ and 1/4. 

First line: There was something wrong with the swans that May afternoon.

Last line: "You said, 'Well, if they are, they're overdoing it badly.'"


Deaths = 2 (one strangled; one drowned)

Friday Fright Spooky Saturday: Creepy Country Homes

  Curtis @The Passing Tramp (and sponsor of the Vintage Mysteries Group on Facebook) has revived the Friday Fright Night first launched in October 2020. Bloggers will take part in a month-long event sure to prepare us for Halloween. Friday Fright Night will find us serving up spooky, spirited reads at the end of each week throughout October. Curtis put out the call on Facebook but all bloggers are welcome to serve up ghastly delights and if you aren't on Facebook and would like to be included just provide a link to your post in the comments and I'll pass it along to Curtis. 

How did it get to be the end of October already?! This week flew by and I wasn't quite ready for Friday I've made it into Spooky Saturday instead.....and this week's topic is all about those cozy country homes that wind up giving the shivers to their residents. Many a heroine (and sometimes a hero) in mysteries set off to the country in search of a respite from city life only to find themselves in the middle of creepy circumstances.

Mary Roberts Rinehart turned this scenario into a good thing repeatedly. In fact she took one story and revamped it after it was turned into a play. The Circular Staircase (1908) was Mary Roberts Rinehart's first best-seller. She had begun her mystery-writing career with The Man in Lower Ten (1906), but Staircase made her name. It also gave her the distinction of having created the Had I But Known (HIBK) school of mystery writing--full of spooky houses and heroines who would have stayed out of trouble if they only knew then what they know now. It also involves said heroines in actions which manage to extend the time necessary to solve the crime.

As Miss Rachel Innes tells us in the very fist line:

This is the story of how a middle-aged spinster lost her mind, deserted her domestic gods in the city, took a furnished house for the summer out of town, and found herself involved in one of those mysterious crimes that keep our newspapers and detective agencies happy and prosperous.

Miss Rachel (or Aunt Ray as she's known throughout the book) has been the guardian of her niece and nephew for years and they convince her that getting out of New York City for a cool, quiet summer in the country is just what she (and they) need. She follows their advice and rents a secluded home called Sunnyside. However, peace and quiet is the last thing that they find in the secluded country house. The first night passes quietly enough, but it is the last one that does: "Never after that night did I put my head on my pillow with any assurance how long it would be there; or on my shoulders for that matter."(14) On the second night, Miss Rachel's maid Liddy swears she hears a ghost and Miss Rachel, despite telling us repeatedly that she doesn't take fright easily, becomes alarmed as well when she sees a shadowy figure outside the window and is later disturbed by "a sound from the east wing, apparently, that made me stop, frozen, with one bedroom slipper half off, and listen. It was a rattling metallic sound, and it reverberated along the empty halls like the crash of doom."(23)

Later, I read Rinehart's The Bat--which is a book based on the play which was in turn a loose reworking of the plot in Staircase. I had great fun with The Bat and actually recommend it more highly than the first novel. The Bat is more tightly plotted and the action moves far more fast and furious with suspense at just the right level. In this version Miss Rachel is turned into Cornelia Van Gorder, a spinster who has longed for adventure. Cornelia takes herself, her Irish maid Lizzie, and her neice Dale off to the country to escape the city's summer heat. She rents a country home that has recently become available when Courtleigh Fleming, a local bank manager, died. She's bemoaning her quiet, unadventurous existence when suddenly the countryside becomes the center for some very mysterious activity.

Cornelia begins receiving anonymous notes meant to frighten her away from the house. There are rumors that The Bat, a notorious criminal mastermind, is in the area. the wake of the bank manager's death, it is discovered that a large amount of bank funds are missing--as well as one of the bank clerks. Cornelia's neice begins acting strangely, her maid Lizzie is nervous as a cat, and her butler Billy is inscrutable (as all Chinese men of the time are represented). Dale brings home a new gardener who isn't what he seems and Cornelia decides to request that a detective be sent to help her get to the bottom of the nasty notes. Who on earth could possibly care if she spends her summer in the banker's abandoned house? That's when the excitement begins. There are mysterious people popping in and out of rooms. Strangers on the roof and bats flying through the rooms. Lots of adventure and excitement now, eh, Cornelia?

But Rinehart doesn't limit creepy country house adventures to ladies in distress. Oh, no. In The Red Lamp you think you might have a young woman in danger or Had-I-But-Known book. As the the back of the book tells us:

Jane wanted to leave Twin Towers the moment she arrived. She had a strange feeling about the old mansion, a chilling apprehension of doom that followed her through the creaking halls like a death shadow. The others thought her fears were groundless--until they felt the evil iridescence of the Red Lamp, and realized how terrifyingly right she was.

But then you read the book and you find out this isn't a woman-in-danger book. The story isn't really about Jane at all. It's a man in danger. And, as a matter of fact, it's a Professor in danger. And as the detective Greenough tells him, "you'll have to admit that you've seemed to go out of your way all summer to get into trouble!" So, what is the trouble, you ask?

Well...Professor William Porter has inherited Twin Towers from his Uncle Horace. Uncle Horace died from what was declared natural causes--a simple heart attack. Or was it? Was he literally scared to death by earthly agents or...perhaps by supernatural forces? Twin Towers had been rumored to be haunted. There are tales of a red lamp that glows in its windows at night. And when the red lamp glows, things happen. Things that no one can explain.

Of course, Rinehart didn't corner the market on spooky goings-on in the countryside. Ethel Lina White joined her with The Spiral Staircase (1933; originally titled Some Must Watch). She even used the old cliche: It was a dark and stormy, really, it was. It is a suspense thriller with a damsel in distress that makes excellent use of the dramatic storm-tossed night at a secluded house in the country to provide a top-notch novel filled with Had-I-But-Known moments.  

She was visited by no prescience to warn her that--since her return--there had been certain trivial incidents which were the first cracks in the walls of her fortress. Once they were started, nothing could stop the process of disintegration; and each future development would act as a wedge, to force the fissures into ever-widening breaches letting in the night.

Things start off calmly enough. Helen Capel is over-joyed to find a position as lady's help at the Summit, Professor Warren's remote estate on the Welsh border. After all, apart from the loneliness of the locale, the post is a very good one--offering her a very nice room and sitting room of her own, good food, and she's even allowed to take her meals with the family. It is a bit worrisome that there is a murderer loose in the countryside. A mysterious killer who has chosen as his prey young women who work for their living. Some think he may be a man who believes these women have taken jobs away from men. 

But, reasons Helen, all the girls who have been killed have been alone.  And the murders have taken place at a good distance from the Summit. Surely she, and the others in the house, will be safe if they keep the place shuttered and bolted at night and they all stay inside. Yes, she's sure of it. Until a victim is strangled in a house just five miles away. Until the next victim is found murdered just on the other side of the estate. Death and terror creep closer to the Summit, but still Helen feels safe...until the stormy night when she bolts herself in the house only to find that the danger was somewhere inside and had chosen her as the next target.

White also provides the typical suspense-thriller heroine in Helen Capel, a self-identified independent-minded young woman who none-the-less does remarkably silly things for someone who suspects she's in danger. Through various plausible-sounding means, several of the inmates leave the house, a few of them are drugged, drunk or otherwise incapacitated, and Helen promptly goes about alienating one of the few people who couldn't possibly be the killer--thereby setting herself up to slip into the maniac's clutches. 

White manages to bring about a quite nifty ending--I won't spoil it by giving even a hint of what I mean. The book is a classic example of good suspense done right without blood and gore or explicit scenes. It is also a terrific character study with plenty of misdirection to allow the reader to question each person's motives and whether they are really what they seem. A very good read for a dark and stormy night of your own. Just make sure to lock all the doors. You might want to check under all the beds first, though.

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Worm of Death

So, for one of the prompts in my Vintage Scattergories Reading Challenge, I'm tasked with randomly selecting four books, reading the first line of each and then choosing one of the four to read--based on that first line. I've already done this for the Golden Age category. Here are the selections from the Silver Age:

Toby Glendower was in a state of complete happiness akin to ecstasy; he snuggled down in the dry, withered grass and looked lovingly at the huge granite boulders above and on three sides of him. (Death on the Dragon's Tongue by Margot Arnold)

Nigel Strangeways and Clare were strolling down the hill past the Park. (The Worm of Death by Nicholas Blake)

"Look," said the man who preferred to call himself Roger Farrar, "let's call the whole thing off." (The Dog It Was That Died by H. R. F. Keating)

"...These were not, members of the jury, crimes of passion, committed while the blood was hot." (The Sleeping Tiger by D. M. Devine)


I wrote the above portion before making my selection and starting my chosen book. I don't know which one grabs your attention--there are reasons why each of them could spark interest. Are the huge boulders above Toby Glendower the Dragon's Tongue, the apparent scene of murder? Is the entire Blake book going to be a huge contrast to that very placid opening? What is the "thing" that Roger Farrar wants to call off (and what's his real name)? What cold-blooded crime is the prosecutor talking to the jury about in the last selection? As this review's title indicates, I decided to find out what dastardly deeds would follow Nicholas Blake's very sedate first line.

 Nigel Strangeways and Clare Massinger are invited to the home Dr. Piers Loudron on a foggy February night. They are fairly new to the Greenwich area and the dinner invitation is a chance for them to get to know some of their neighbors. It is a pretty uncomfortable meal with Loudron's children behaving as though they're still in the nursery rather than grown men and women and the doctor being sarcastic about the lot. They squabble amongst themselves and take verbal potshots at one another. His son James is also a doctor, but he lacks the confidence and presence of his well-respected father. Rebecca, the daughter of the house, is in love with Walter Barn, an artist and a man her father heartily disapproves. Howard is fairly unsuccessful business man with a costly wife who has an eye for anything in trousers. And then there's Graham, an adopted son,  who apparently can do no wrong in the good doctor's eyes. Nigel and Clare aren't quite sure why they've been invited--unless there was hope that their presence would put a damper on the family tensions. But it doesn't help matters that Loudron announces to all that Nigel is something of an amateur sleuth.

"Do you have noble ideas about justice and retribution and all that? Do you see yourself as a hound of heaven tracking down the wrongdoer?"

Later that night, long after the dinner party, Loudron disappears from his home. The next morning Rebecca and Walter come to Nigel to ask for his advice. But other than a search of the house and grounds (already done) and contacting the police (also done), Nigel has nothing to suggest. A little over a week later Loudron's body is found in the Thames. But he wasn't drowned...his wrists were slit. Was it suicide? If so, why was he in the river? If not, who killed him? And did the same person dump his body?

It's been a while since a read a Nigel Strangeways mystery. And it's been an even longer while since I read this one. I remembered exactly nothing about it. Not that it would have mattered if I did, because there's very little mystery about who did it. Despite Inspector Wright's point of view:

"We're getting nowhere. Nowhere at all. A lovely set of motives. Lots of lovely opportunity. Some cockeyed alibis. But hardly one solid fact to build on. Even their lies--and they've told enough, between them--seem to cancel one another out."

Wright's a trifle pessimistic. If, as Strangeways does, you pay any attention at all to psychology then you have to know who did it. Sure, all of the suspects have psychological hangups. That's an effort to muddy the waters and make the reader think there's some sort of choice about who did it. But, supposing the number of motives and personalities does distract you--there's really only one logical reason for the second murder. Especially after the reader recognizes the important psychological motive. And, knowing how Strangeways operates, the reader should be thinking about the psychology.

And--speaking of personalities. We've really got a prize set here. Not a likeable character amongst the suspects. I kindof wanted to root for one of the Loudron children, but they made it pretty darn hard to do so. And Strangeways isn't even all that attractive here--what with eyeballing old prostitutes and flirting along with the unashamed vamp. The best character is Clare, but we don't see nearly enough of her. I love how she saves the day for Nigel at the end. But overall, the book just didn't do it for me. The mystery is rather squalid and culprit is pretty cold-blooded. You can tell that we're not in the Golden Age anymore, Toto. ★★ and 3/4.

First line: Above

Last line: But you are dead, and myself I cannot forgive...


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

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Haunted Indiana

 Haunted Indiana (1997) by Mark Marimen

Synopsis (from the back of the book): In Haunted Indiana you'll find: the ghost of a faceless nun who glides silently through the empty expanse of a college hall. A nineteenth-century barn that has been converted into an elegant restaurant yet has kept the revenant of a farmer who died there decades before. The spirit of the famous "Diana of the Dunes" who returns to her home among the Indiana Dunes from which death took her more than a half century ago. A major metropolitan highway, haunted by two beautiful female ghosts each of whom met her fate along the roadway. As the slogan goes, "There's more than corn in Indiana." If the ghostly legends and tales that can be heard are to be believed, indeed there is more than corn in the Hoosier state...restless spirits that refuse to stay buried and forgotten. Here are collected a sampling of the ghostly tales that are told throughout the length and breadth of Indiana. Come wander the Hoosier state and meet some of its unearthly denizens. Come hear the stories, old and new, that are as much a part of the Indiana landscape as farm fields and small towns. Come visit...Haunted Indiana.

Marimen invites the reader to join him around the campfire for a good old round of ghost stories. He likens it to gatherings of kids sitting in the flickering light and telling tales to scare one another. But he never really carries that off. While it was interesting to read selections about the haunted legends from around the state, I have to say that the book was a little dry. It was more like reading newspaper articles about events than an atmospheric, "ghost story" retelling. No shivers were felt. No tingling spine. With some ghost stories, you have that creepy feeling that there's something with you in the room (even though you're alone); night noises take on an extra meaning; and what's that shadow over there in the corner? But not here. Nope. Nothing

If you're just looking for cut-and-dried details of what people claim have happened in each of these Indiana legends, then this is the book for you. If you're looking for ghost stories to give you a bit of a spooky thrill, then you're probably going to be disappointed. As I mentioned, it was interesting to find out about these local stories, but I was hoping for a bit more atmosphere.  ★★★--just.

First line (1st legend): The year was 1915, and the place was just north of Chesterton, Indiana, in an area now occupied by the Dunes State Park.

Last line (Epilogue): "Sleep well, but remember...there are such things."

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Challenge for Three

 Challenge for Three
(1938) by David Garth

[from the back of the book] For twenty years Fontaine Shaw, granddaughter of Nathaniel "Two-Gun" Shaw, railroad and mining tycoon, had lived her life with reckless abandon. But her startling exploits began to catch up with her when she bailed a burlesque dancer out of Night Court and deposited her on the doorstep of Jock Pemberton, serious young professor of American History at the Brent School. The events that followed were unexpected and far-reaching in their results. For Fontaine, Jock, and Connie (the dancer) suddenly found themselves obliged to join forces in order to meet the almost impossible challenge of Nathaniel Shaw's last will and testament.

You see at the end of his life ol' Two-Gun missed the rough and tumble world of his early years--when he had to work for his money and he had to take on challenges and obstacles to get where he was. He's watched his beloved granddaughter get into scrapes--like smuggling rare jade objects past the customs officials just for the pure thrill of it--but he doesn't think she sees the real value of money or what her life could really be. So, his will stipulates that for a period of ten years this young beauty, used to having everything that money can buy, is given an allowance of just $200 a month. But--if she can earn her own way, the estate will match whatever she earns. At first she's mad. Then she's a bit depressed. And then...she realizes she might make a good thing out her penchant for smuggling things under the noses of the customs officials. Except...she gets herself entangled with a couple of nasty fellows and needs the help of Jock and Connie to get her out. Will the three of them be able to outwit the bad guys? And...almost more importantly (from the way the story line goes) which gutsy gal will win the heart of Jock--and will he get the girl he really wants? 

This was a very entertaining book that turned out to be more adventure than mystery. There's definitely no murder although there are deaths play a vital role in the plot. Fontaine Shaw is a great character as is her grandfather--though we see too little of him. I will say that Fontaine lacks of bit of insight into the intentions of other women. Surely she can see...well, I won't spoil it for you. Jock plays true to form as the mild-mannered professor who can turn quite strong and courageous when challenged and he shows the true "Two Gun" spirit as he holds up his part of the challenge. Connie is a street smart woman who knows what she wants, but also has a heart of gold when she realizes that she may not get what she wants. And, of course, it's always good to see the bad guys get their just desserts and the good guys ride off into the sunset. ★★★ and 3/4.

First line: The usual gay welter that followed the docking of a great transatlantic liner was rampant on the long steel pier--clusters of reunions, porters pirouetting their baggage trucks among the swirls of humanity, white-jacketed stewards streaming down the gangway from the overhanging ship's side with hand luggage, inscrutable customs inspectors with declaration forms in their hands waiting for trunks to be unlocked, suitcases to be unstrapped.

Last line: "You're Two-Gun's beloved pal--'Wyoming Bill' Ferguson who captured ten Indians all by himself."


Deaths = 3 (two accident; one natural)

Friday, October 21, 2022

Friday Fright Night: Curses! Spoiled Again!

 Curtis @The Passing Tramp (and sponsor of the Vintage Mysteries Group on Facebook) has revived the Friday Fright Night first launched in October 2020. Bloggers will take part in a month-long event sure to prepare us for Halloween. Friday Fright Night will find us serving up spooky, spirited reads at the end of each week throughout October. Curtis put out the call on Facebook but all bloggers are welcome to serve up ghastly delights and if you aren't on Facebook and would like to be included just provide a link to your post in the comments and I'll pass it along to Curtis. 

This week I'm taking a look at spooky curses and the similarities between The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a recent book featured here on the Block, The Curse of the Fleers by Basil Copper. To give you fair warning: there are spoilers ahead. If you have not read either or both of these books, then you may want to give this week a pass. 

Doyle's hound stems from an old curse laid upon the Baskerville family during the 17th Century when Hugo Baskerville, a rake and a hell-raiser in his time, kidnapped a young girl who had caught his fancied and then when she escaped pursued her to her death upon the moors. Sir Hugo was also found dead, killed by a huge hound which was found standing over his body. Because of their evil ancestor, the men in the Baskerville family are cursed and the hound is blamed for their deaths. The last Baskerville to die before Sherlock Holmes enters the case is Sir Charles Baskerville--found dead, purportedly from a heart attack when he ran, terrified away from the gate leading to the moors. Upon the ground was found the footprints of a gigantic hound. Holmes dismissed the idea of a curse, but he and Watson do find that there is a gigantic hound on the moors. A hound that kills a man wearing a cast-off suit from Sir Henry Baskerville, the heir who takes over after Sir Charles' death. And a hound that seems to be after the newest lord of Baskerville Hall

Similarly, in The Curse of the Fleers, we find a curse hanging over the Fleer family. Again, we have the rakehell ancestor who takes advantage of a neighbor's wife--causing her death--and then tortures and is directly responsible for the death of her husband, who falls to his death in an attempt to escape Fleer Manor. As he falls, Darnley curses Redbeard Fleer and all his descendants. And, of course each time a Fleer man dies, there are rumors that a Creeping Man (supposedly Darnley escaping across the battlements) is seen just before the death. Now in the current age (also the Victorian era--as with the Holmes story), we have Sir John Fleer being driven out of his mind with fear because he has begun seeing a Creeping Man crawling across the battlements whenever he looks out his window late at night. 

 Both Doyle and Copper use their curses and the atmosphere of the fog and moors of the Victorian period to great effect in their stories. Sir Henry Baskerville and Holmes may not take the curse seriously, but Sir Charles certainly did and Watson is none too sure--especially when he hears the eerie howls at night. Sir John Fleer doesn't want to believe in the Creeping Man, but with the battlements being locked and nothing but sheer walls below he finds it difficult to believe that a human agent can be at work. The foggy nights provide the perfect setting for a reasonable man to doubt his sanity. 

Of course, in both of these books there is a human agent at work--greedy human agents who are looking to either have Baskerville Hall all for themselves OR to find an ancient treasure hidden somewhere in Fleer Manor. Greed is the driving force that makes the villains of the pieces willing to do great evil in order to have their way--whether all-out murder or just driving a man insane. These stories being what they are good does triumph in the end. But the villains suffer from rather grisly deaths (in keeping with the ghoulish nature of our Friday Fright Night). Death by drowning in the Grimpen Mire for one and terrible blow to the head from a booby trap laid by ancient Fleers for the other--à la traps set in the various Indiana Jones movies for those who would steal treasures. And along the way Doyle and Copper provide a dose of spooky thrills for those of us who like a bit of ghoulish adventure without a heaping helping of horror.

Monday, October 17, 2022

The Curse of the Fleers

 The Curse of the Fleers (1976) by Basil Copper

During the Victorian era Sir John Fleer is being driven to the brink of insanity by the appearance of the Creeping Man--a figure from the Fleers' past who is said to haunt the family as a result of an ancient curse. A feud has existed between the Fleers and their neighbors, the Darnleys ever since a Fleer ancestor known as Redbeard took advantage a Darnley's wife and then tortured Darnley and caused him to die in a fall from the battlements. Before he fell, Darnley cursed Redbeard and all Fleer descendants. It is said that he reappears on the battlements as the Creeping Man each time a Fleer is due to die. And now Sir John has begun seeing a hideous creeping figure leaping among the battlements directly opposite his windows.

Sir John's son Cedric turns to his old friend Guy Hammond. The men were soldiers together at one time and he knows that Hammond has the nerve necessary to take on whoever...or whatever is haunting the estate. Hammond, who is on leave from his regiment and at a bit of a loose end in London, is intrigued by the story of the Fleers' curse and is happy to try and dispel the rumors that Sir John is going mad. But when dead bodies start littering the flagstones and a strange, creeping figure nearly makes another victim of the soldier, he begins to wonder what he's gotten himself into. Each time he tracks down a promising lead, the person he needs to talk to is added to the death toll. If he can't connect the deaths to a human agent, he may be forced to find a supernatural answer after all. 

A set of missing papers from the early days of the Fleers--including an ancient poem describing the catacombs beneath Fleer Manor--become essential to the hunt. But extra copies keep disappearing--will they be able to reach the last set before villain strikes again? If it is a human hand behind all the destruction, then it is someone close enough to the Fleers to know exactly what the next move will be. Is it one of the remaining servants? Or perhaps it is the friendly Antseys--Clive and Claire, one of whom always seems to be where Hammond goes. Or maybe it's the Sir Jeffrey Darnley...the current representative of the antagonistic neighbors. A man who has kept the feud alive and who is often to be seen on the hills near the Fleer estate. 

There is a great deal of gothic atmosphere in The Curse of the Fleers. Fog seems to roll in on cue and the eerie nights make a perfect backdrop against which the Creeping Man can make his appearances. It's no wonder that Sir John feels like he's losing his grip on reality. The manor house has all sorts of hidden and spooky places--from the catacombs with hidden chambers to the tower where the dovecote is kept to the weird animal menagerie and the haunting cries and growls of orangutans and tigers. And the ancient curse gives a nod to The Hound of the Baskervilles while creating a version of its own

However, as creepy and atmospheric as the book may be, there is a solid mystery here with clues to be had for the sharp-eyed and quick-witted reader. I found my way to the why of the matter, but lost sight of the who. A very good historical mystery. ★★★

First line: Hammond studied the letter for the third time.

Last lines: The train started up. Presently it was just a faint plume of smoke on the far horizon.


Deaths = 8 (one accident; one suicide; one apoplexy; two fell from height; one strangled; two hit on head)

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Hoosier Hills Book Fair: Return Trip


It should come as no surprise that I made a return trip to the Hoosier Hills Book Fair. After all--it was half price day. I couldn't pass up an opportunity to get even bigger bargains. And I didn't. I came home with 33 more books (w/two duplicates--that past Bev forgot to cross off the To Be Found List)...that makes a two-day grand total of 94 books, 5 holiday CDs, and one Sherlock Holmes jigsaw puzzle. I'm glad I scooped that puzzle up on Thursday--because the puzzle table was pretty much wiped clean when I went back. I thought most people got tired of puzzles after doing them like crazy during the pandemic. I guess not...

Here's the run-down of second trip treasures:

Vintage Mysteries/Spy-Espionage/Thrillers (pre-1960)
Beverly Gray Sophomore by Claire Blank
The Dissemblers (Puzzle for Inspector West) by John Creasey
Doorway to Death (Find Inspector West) by Creasey 
Murder for Christmas by Francis Duncan
Murder Off Broadway by Leonard Falkner
The Case of the Angry Mourner by Erle Stanley Gardner
Decision Before Dawn (Call It Treason) by George Howe (Pocket Book #748)
Ashenden by W. Somerset Maugham 
Q.E.D. by Ellery Queen
To the Queen's Taste by Ellery Queen (ed)
The Murderer's Companion by William Roughead (true crime)
The Omnibus of Crime by Dorothy L. Sayers (ed)
New Mammoth Golden Book of Best Detective Stories by Various (A. L. Burt Company)

Silver Age Mysteries (1960-1989)
The Mystery Lady by Anna Clarke
The Whitelands Affair by Anna Clarke
A Connoisseur's Case (The Crabtree Affair) by Michael Innes
Green Grow the Dollars by Emma Lathen
Something in the Air by Lathen
Change for the Worse by Elizabeth Lemarchand
Remember to Kill Me by Hugh Pentecost
Dearest Enemy by Sara Woods
The Law's Delay by Sara Woods

More Recent Mysteries
Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God by Guy Adams
Dirge for a Dorset Druid by Margot Arnold
Mrs. Jeffries Holds the Trump by Emily Brightwell
The Case of the Paranoid Patient by Anna Clarke

Sherlock Holmes: Fact or Fiction by T. S. Blakeney (fictional biography)
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
Indiana Jones & the Lost Treasure of Sheba by Rose Estes (Find Your Fate Adventure)
Bob Son of Battle by Alfred Ollivant

Saturday, October 15, 2022

To Spite Her Face

 To Spite Her Face (1971) by Hildegarde Dolson

The ladies at the Second-Run Thrift Store don't just serve up second-hand bargains to the community. While sorting the donations and mending items worth fixing, they also like to dish a little second-hand gossip. The topics change about as often as the fashions and the current trend runs on the reinvention of Marian Colter.

Marian was an ugly duckling with a squashed nose until an expensive plastic surgeon transformed her into a lovely little swan. Her loving husband had readily supplied the means and was so proud that everyone could now see how beautiful his wife is (as he had always thought she was). But then his swan got restless and the rumor mill said that the town's newest beauty queen has found herself a secret consort. And when Marian later dies from a poison-laced daiquiri at a cocktail party hosted by the consort's wife it isn't any wonder that the rumor mill start concocting all sorts of theories. Was it the cuckolded husband? Was it deceived wife? Or had the lover gotten tired of his newest mistress and killed her when she wouldn't let go? 

Lucy Ramsdale, one of the thrift store volunteers, may dispense gossip with the best of them, but she prefers the gossip to have some truth to it. When Inspector McDougal is asked to lend the local police a hand and seems to be inclined to suspect the husband. Lucy is sure he's had too much malicious gossip poured into his ear--particularly by Myrtle Pickering--Lucy's favorite suspect. Lucy  believes Tad Colter is innocent and thinks the straight-laced biddy went over the edge and decided to start wiping out sin--literally. But when Myrtle winds up throttled and stuffed in the "Odds and Ends" bin at the thrift shop, it looks like Lucy will have to find a new favorite. She just needs to make sure the culprit doesn't suspect that she's spotted them....

Lucy is an interesting and complex, if sometimes irritating, protagonist. She is like a more forceful, more blatantly opinionated Miss Marple. But she is willing to admit her mistakes and tries to make up for her abrasiveness. She also manages to subtly convey (albeit unknowingly) the most important clue. Which I challenge anyone to spot as an actual clue. Versions of it are trotted out quite plainly for the reader to see and ignore because it just doesn't seem like a clue. Dolson gives things an interesting twist and I do wonder how the trial would have played out if the first murder had been the only one. [spoiler encoded in ROT13] V zrna, fher, Gnq qvq vagraq gb xvyy uvf jvsr. Ohg ng gur ynfg zvahgr, ur qrpvqrq ur pbhyaqa'g qb vg naq chg gur qbpgberq qndhvev cnpxrg onpx va uvf cbpxrg. Rkprcg vg sryy bhg naq yvggyr Zvff Qba'g Jnfgr Nalguvat cvpxrq vg hc naq chg vg onpx ba gur fgnpx. Fb, gur bar zbfg erfcbafvoyr vf Zlegyr Cvpxvat. Bs pbhefr, Gnq qbrf qrynl znxvat n erny pnyy gb gur qbpgbe...V unir gb fnl, V jnf fhfcvpvbhf bs gur svefg cubar pnyy sebz gur zbzrag ur fhccbfrqyl znqr vg.

McDougal is an early version of the somewhat angst-ridden detective. His wife cheated on him with a fellow actor and he retired early from the force (thinking everyone was either talking behind his back or thinking "poor Inspector McDougal couldn't even see what was happening under his own nose until it was too late." He moves to Wingate in the hopes of a new start, but is struggling to fit in and find a place to call home. When the local police invite him to take on the murder investigation, it gives him just the boost he needs. He becomes far more interesting and likeable by the end of the novel and I'm looking forward the other book from the series sitting on my self. ★★ and 1/2.

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

First line: Owing to one of those mysterious social changes that come on as suddenly as elm blight, almost every hostess in Wingate was serving sandwiches for cocktail hors d'oeuvres that summer.

Last line: "In that case," the inspector said, "you can forget about the dog."


Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one strangled)

Friday, October 14, 2022

Friday Fright Night: Witches, Ghosts, & Mummies, Oh My!

 Curtis @The Passing Tramp (and sponsor of the Vintage Mysteries Group on Facebook) has revived the Friday Fright Night first launched in October 2020. Bloggers will take part in a month-long event sure to prepare us for Halloween. Friday Fright Night will find us serving up spooky, spirited reads at the end of each week throughout October. Curtis put out the call on Facebook but all bloggers are welcome to serve up ghastly delights and if you aren't on Facebook and would like to be included just provide a link to your post in the comments and I'll pass it along to Curtis.

I love Halloween. When it falls on a work day, I love to get into costume and go to work. But...I'm a big weenie when it comes to scary bits or horror. So, I'm going to start things off with a look at young adult mysteries with a spooky flair. First up is The Witches's Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton. Set in Massachusetts where young Dan Pride has returned to live with his uncle after his parents die in a plane crash. The Pride family has had its share of troubles over the years. During the time of the witch trials in America, an ancestor by the name of Samuel Pride was accused and executed as a witch--based on an accusation by the Bishop family. The years that followed found the Prides being blamed for all that went wrong in the area around Pride's Point and superstition kept everyone from using the causeway bridge that led to their land. Rumor said that the witch Samuel would appear as a large black dog and folks claimed to hear Samuel playing his fiddle near the Witches' Bridge. Carleton does an excellent job with atmosphere and uses the witch legend to full advantage. It may be the middle of summer, but the foggy marshland, eerie nights in the country, storms rolling in, and the spooky music near the bridge all work to make this a very appropriate book to read during the month of Halloween. We get all the trappings for a spooky story--a witch's ghost, creepy music, an ancient curse (uttered by the original "witch"), a large, ugly black dog, and an unexplained death. As a bonus, my edition of the book features cover art by Edward Gorey.

Second in our spooky line-up is The Ghost in the Gallery by Carolyn Keene. The Starhurst School where the Dana girls are residents is preparing to put on an operetta set in the time of Louis XIV called Spring Is Here in order to raise funds for a local charity. The operetta has generated such interest that the school has sold more tickets than their auditorium can hold. So, the girls suggest that they ask to rent the Mozart Music Hall which is owned by a former singing star. Mrs. Merrill is more than happy to let school use the Hall, but warns the girls that there are rumors that the Hall is haunted. It isn't long before the Starhurst students see a ghostly figure and hear weird singing when no one is around. Various attempts are made to discourage the girls from using the hall--from the ghostly sightings to a fake official declaring the Hall as condemned. Obviously someone wants them out, but is it all part of a real world plot or is there something other-worldly about the ghostly songs?

And finally, we have the Three Investigators in The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy by Robert Arthur. The boys take on the case of Ra-Okron, an Egyptian mummy that whispers to Professor Yarborough, a friend of Alfred Hitchcock's. There are all sorts of mysterious goings-on, from the ancient Egyptian mutterings to statues that topple all by themselves to huge marble balls that tumble down hillsides (apparently unaided) to the reincarnation of Ra-Okron in the likeness of his favorite cat to the god Annubis appearing and stealing the mummy. The Investigators have quite an adventure dealing with all those spooky events.

Of course, each of these books could almost be an episode of the Scooby Doo mysteries, but good writing and a decent plot go a long way to making these very entertaining stories for the target age group (and for adults looking for a bit of mild ghoulish hijinks). 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Book Fair Extravaganza


Well, dear reader, I did it again. I went to the Hoosier Hills Book Fair and handed over a sizable donation to the food bank in exchange for a rolling bag full of books. I spent a very happy morning with a huge spreadsheet of books-to-be-found and filled that bag up like there would never be another book fair ever. Now I get to sit down and log my treasures from the first day (I'll probably go back with the hubby at some point). Today's tally (including duplicates that I managed to pick up despite carrying around that spreadsheet...) is 61 books, one Sherlock Holmes jigsaw puzzle, and 6 Christmas CDs--because I can't resist new-to-me Christmas music. Duplicates that were not intentional upgrades of previously owned books are not listed below. We'll see if I pick up any more before the weekend is over.

Vintage Mysteries (pre-1960)
The Best of Mr. Fortune Stories by H. C. Bailey (Pocket Books #190)
All Men Are Murderers by Lee Blackstock (Doubleday Crime Club)
The May Week Murder by Douglas G. Browne (reprint)
The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude (reprint)
The Dull Dead by Gwendoline Butler
The Blind Barber by John Dickson Carr (vintage Penguin #528)
Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie (Pan Books X736)
Murder Gone Minoan by Clyde B. Clason (Doubleday Crime Club)
Murder at the New York World's Fair by Freeman Dana [Phoebe Atwood Taylor] (reprint)
The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (upgraded copy of Pocket Books #156)
Murder-Go-Round by G. P. Donnel, Jr. (1st edition)
The Fletcher Omnibus (The Middle Temple Murder; The Yellow-Orange Diamond; The Amaranth Club) by J. S. Fletcher (vintage edition)
The Punt Murder by Aceituna Griffin (reprint)
Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston (reprint)
Terror by Twilight by Kathleen Moore Knight (Collier Crime Club edition)
The Black Coat by Constance & Gwenyth Little (reprint)
Black Corridors by Little (reprint)
The Black Gloves by Little (reprint)
The Black Paw by Little (reprint)
The Black Shrouds by Little (reprint)
The Dishonest Murderer by Frances & Richard Lockridge (upgraded copy w/dustjacket)
Murder! Murder! Murder! (a Mr. & Mrs. North 3-in-1 Volume) by Lockridge
The Norths Meet Murder by Lockridge (more pristine Pocket Books #166)
Murder Without Clues by Eleanor Pierson (Mystery Novel Classic #55)
The Penthouse Mystery (an Ellery Queen Junior Mystery) by Ellery Queen 
The Claverton Affair by John Rhode (reprint)
Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (hardback)
The Cape Cod Mystery by Phoebe Atwood Taylor (Pocket Books #171)
The Clever One by Edgar Wallace (Scotland Yard edition)
In the Tiger's Cage by Carolyn Wells (1st edition)
The Master Murderer by Wells
The Tapestry Room Murder by Wells (1st edition)
Mystery of the Green Cat by Phyllis A Whitney (1st edition)
The Curiosity of Mr. Treadgold by Valentine Williams (1st edition; dustjacket)

Collection (mostly vintage)
The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories by Patricia Craig (ed)

Silver Age (1960-1989)
The Twelve Deaths of Christmas by Marian Babson
Coffin in Malta by Gwendoline Butler
Nameless Coffin by Butler
Nobody's Perfect by Douglas Clark (more vintage copy)
Premedicated Murder by Douglas Clark (better copy)
A Child's Garden of Death by Richard Forrest
Landed Gently by Alan Hunter (better copy)
Alibi for a Corpse by Elizabeth Lemarchand
No Vacation from Murder by Lemarchand
Cold Light of Day by Emma Page
Nightmare Time by Hugh Pentecost
A Medium for Murder by Mignon Warner
Six Nuns & a Shotgun by Colin Watson

Newer Mysteries
Mrs. Jeffries Appeals the Verdict by Emily Brightwell
They Brother Death by E. X. Ferrars (academic mystery)
Murder Aboard the Flying Scotsman by Lee Strauss
Murder at the Boat Club by Strauss
Murder on Eaton Square by Strauss

Star Trek/Science Fiction
Captain's Table: Once Burned by Peter David
Captain's Table: Dujonian's Hoard by Michael Jan Friendman

Monday, October 10, 2022

Mickey Mouse: Adventure in Outer Space

 Mickey Mouse: Adventure in Outer Space (1968) by George E. Davie

Billed as a Mickey Mouse adventure--Goofy really takes center stage as his interest in looking at the stars at night turns into a journey among the stars when he gets mistaken for a scientist and kidnapped by a UFO. When Mickey is asked by Chief O'Hara to come to the science lab and help investigate the disappearance of several scientists, Goofy tags along. Then, while Mickey and the Chief take the remaining scientists to a safe place, Goofy stands guard over the laboratory. But donning a white lab coat makes the men on the UFO think that he's another scientist ripe for the they nab him. Mickey manages to figure out what's going on and disguises himself as a scientist to be kidnapped, but who "woulda thunk" that Goofy's expert skills at making lemonade would save the day and help defeat that ol' space pirate Black Pete?

Another trip down memory lane with a Big Little book--I had a number of these when I was small and nostalgia tends to kick in whenever I see these for a good price at our annual book fair or at a used bookstore. A fun little story--but seriously I don't know how the chief scientist (pictured with Mickey) could ever have thought Black Pete had his best interests at heart. Luckily, he had a craving for lemonade and Goofy was able to win his trust. ★★

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Welcome Death

 Welcome Death (1954) by Glyn Daniel

Poison pen letters plagued the village of Llanddewi in Wales during the war and then tapered off a bit. But now they have started up again. Miss Mary Cherrington invites her nephew, Sir Richard Cherrington to come and put a stop to it. Cherrington has often shown an interest in little detective puzzles. She doesn't need him to figure out who is doing it--she's sure she knows the culprit--but she wants him to find a way to get the culprit to stop before real harm is done. He arrives on the evening the village plans to celebrate its returned war heroes--the last two, Bryn Davies and David Morris, having just arrived home from the East. But before the evening is over the investigation will become more serious...from poison pen to murder. 

Evan Morgan was a philanderer who had caused grief to more than one woman in the village. It's rumored that he had seduced Bryn Davie's sister Daphne (whom David Morris had planned to marry) and that her death was the result of a botched abortion. On the night of the Welcome party, he had planned to announce his engagement to Janet Anderson--the girl Bryn had loved before setting off for war. But these events don't just affect Bryn and David and there are plenty of people with reason to hate Evan Morgan. With a new marriage,  Evan's long-time mistress Ellen Williams will be displaced as the consistent woman in his life...and they say there's no fury like a woman scorned. Add to that, the fact that Evan planned to change his will and practically cut out Ellen and his two sons, Rees (by his first wife) and Mervyn (by Ellen) in favor of the new wife and any future progeny. The Andersons aren't thrilled to learn that their daughter plans to marry a man old enough to be her father and the Davies are still upset about Daphne's death.

It was Mr./Ms. X in the library with the knife.

So, when Evan is found stabbed to death at his desk, no one is really surprised and most of the village really wouldn't mind if the killer is never caught. But the police mind and so does Sir Richard. Killing mustn't go matter how much the murderee seems to have deserved it. But there are several questions that will need answered before they can find the culprit. How did the murderer overpower two ex-commandos (Bryn & David)--leaving one tied up in the Manor and knocking one out cold? Do the anonymous letters have anything to do with the murder? Did anyone know that Evan planned to sign his new will the very next morning? And...was there a single villager who wasn't in or near the Manor that night? And why didn't any of them see anything of interest?

Daniel does an excellent job of portraying British village life where everyone knows everyone and their business. Supposedly, the circumstances of Daphne's death was hushed up and "no one" knows what happened. So, of course, this means that everyone knows. Given the tensions that are running under the surface, there are plenty of suspects for the murder and the investigators have too many to choose from. Just when it looks like they know who did it, they discover that another of their suspects has been telling lies and was on the spot near the time of death. 

While this is an entertaining mystery and it has something I always like--an academic amateur sleuth, to be honest, the plot is just a bit too complicated. I'm still not certain that I've got the timings down and I don't quite see how all those people could have been running about and not run into each other. I'm also not sold on Sir Richard as an amateur sleuth. He's not all that engaging and the reason for his being in the village is flimsy at best--especially when his aunt tells him straight up that she already knows who is behind the letters and just wants him to put a stop to it. Not sure how she thinks he's going to do that. And, finally, I would have been much more satisfied with the solution as given in one of the confessions (yes, there's more than one) than the one we are ultimately left with especially given the subtle hints inserted in the text that would make it perfectly plausible (highlight apparent empty space, if you're curious): we're told on a few occasions that people with nothing left to fear may take the risk of murder if they know they'll die before being hanged. There would have been a certain rightness to Daphne's mother exacting a revenge for her daughter's death. 

Overall, a decent mystery and I'm definitely curious to give Daniel's other mystery, The Cambridge Murders, a try. ★★ and 1/4

First line: "Order, order. I call the meeting to order."

Last line: And that night for the first time his dreams were not disturbed by memories of Llanddewi.


Deaths = 6 (one natural; one blood poisoning; one accident; one stabbed; one fell from height; one overdose)