Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Death Beneath the Christmas Tree

 Death Beneath the Christmas Tree (1991) by Robert Nordan

Miz Mavis Lashley, a pleasant Southern widow, is looking forward to her church's Living Christmas Tree pageant. Her favorite (only) nephew Dale is escorting her and she's wearing her best Christmas finery. It will be lovely to listen to the choir and watch the little shepherds and wise men in the procession to the manger. What she doesn't expect is for one of the choir members to come tumbling out of the tree after being killed by a rifle shot from the balcony. 

Mavis and Dale are mystery fans and are quick to help Detective Charles Morgan (long ago member of Mavis's Sunday School class and more than willing to accept any help he can get). But it's difficult to see why anyone would have wanted to kill Frances Sedbury. No one at church seems to know much about her--except that she was quite, kept to herself, was faithful in attendance, and choir singing was apparently her only real interest. Fortunately, Mavis has this quality that just gets people to talk to her and before long she's learning all kinds of things about Frances and other members of the choir and church family. Then the choir direct is shot outside his home and folks begin to wonder if someone has it in for church singers. Mavis's instincts tell her that something deeper is behind it.

There are several things to like about this one. First--Mavis. I just fell in love with her and her Southern charm. And she's fairly forward-thinking for an older woman written in the early 1990s. She has a way of being interested in people without being downright nosy. I also like her relationship with her nephew Dale and how she deals with the neighborhood kids. The book is short, but Nordan is able to present the atmosphere of the south in the brief sketches he gives of the town and townspeople. The plot has an interesting twist...though I do have difficulty with what prompts the first murder. Not that I don't understand the motive or think it's realistic--it just touches on one of the topics I really don't care to read about. Any more specific than that and I'll be spoiling the ending. The other thing that prevents the book from garnering a higher rating is the lack of clues--there is one big clue that Mavis spots (and I didn't until she told us), but most of the revelations come from conversations that Mavis has with folks. And there's no mystery about the conversations. It's not like someone says something that tips Mavis off and maybe you, the reader, will spot it and maybe you won't. No--you know right then and there what the meaning of everything is, so there's not a lot of tension and mystery.

Good atmosphere and appealing main characters. I'd like to try another in the series with (hopefully) a less touchy motive for me. ★★

First line: Well, she was ready.

Last line: To think what she had been missing all these years!


Deaths = 6 (two shot; one hit by car; three natural)

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Wrapped Up in Crosswords (slightly spoilerish)

 Wrapped Up in Crosswords (2005) by Nero Blanc (Cordelia Frances Biddle & Steve Zettler)

Rosco Polycrates, private detective, is in search for the perfect Christmas present for his partner Belle. He stops, entranced, before a shop window and his canine companions are convinced that he's decided that what Belle needs is a pair of live lovebirds. The dogs are not in favor of avian competitors for their humans' affections (besides birds are prey...not housemates). So, they decide that the best way to show their displeasure is to shred feather pillows and destroy the crossword puzzle clues that Rosco is planning for the big Christmas present reveal.

Meanwhile, three escaped convicts have gotten their hands on Santa suits and have descended on Rosco and Belle's town of Newcastle Massachusetts. They hold up a gun shop owner--stealing weapons--and break into a local diner. Rosco and two of his pals from the police department (where he served before becoming a private eye) are also running around in Santa suits, collecting toys and other presents for needy children. Confusion ensues when State Troopers mistake our heroes for the bad guys. Of course, all's well that ends well and the costumed convicts will be back behind bars by the end of the story and our heroes will get the presents to the kids. But will Kit and Gabby (the dogs) have to make room in their inn for a couple of wandering lovebirds? We'll just have to see...

A very light piece of Christmas fluff with a hint of mystery thrown in--though there is very little detecting going on. Two of the crooks are caught off-stage by the "Staties" (State Troopers) and the third pretty much falls into NPD Detective Al Lever and Rosco Polycrates' laps. I'd just like to know what the escaped convict was doing in the greenhouse. Not exactly an ideal hideout in the middle of a Massachusetts winter. The book is very sweet and seems to be more focused on the relationships between all of the ongoing characters. I wasn't terribly keen on the talking dogs--that is, they talk to each other and other dogs and not to the humans (do they do this in all the stories? I don't remember animals having conversations in the others I've read in the series). But it was a pleasant day's read. ★★ and 1/2

First line: Rosco Polycrates entered the Newcastle Police station through the side door on Cabot Alley.

Last line: "I guess it's going to be cold enough for my gift after all."

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Murder in Black Tie

 Murder in Black Tie (2019) by Sara Rosett

Olive Belgrave welcomes the invitation to a house party at Parkview Hall, home of Sir Leo and Lady Caroline Stone. She's about to be homeless because the owner of her boarding house is giving up the business in favor of a new marriage and it will be good to get out of London and away from the worry about where she will live next. Parkview Hall feels like a second home--she grew up spending loads of time there with her cousins Gwen and Peter Stone. Other guests include her father and stepmother, Cecil and Sonia Belgrave; Deena Lacey, a local young heiress; Inspector Lucas Longly (whom Gwen longs for...); Captain Thomas Inglebrook, a dashing young man whom Lady Caroline prefers for her daughter; Miss Marion Miller, a dithery spinster who's often asked to help even numbers at table and to make a fourth at bridge; Lady Gigi (Gina) Alton, childhood friend of Olive and Gwen; Vincent Payne, gentleman who sells antique maps on the side; and Jasper Rimington, family friend and often Olive's partner in crime...solving. 

When Vincent Payne is found dead in the conservatory from the proverbial blunt instrument, Peter Stone is the main suspect. Peter suffers from trauma from the Great War and after having blacked out in the conservatory was found hunched over Payne's body. He has bruising around his eye and the state of the room indicates that a struggle has taken place. Peter has "episodes" where he believes himself to be back in the trenches--could he have thought Vincent was the enemy and killed him during an episode? Olive and his friends and family can't believe he did, but there is no motive apparent at first glance.

Several of the house party ask Olive to investigate and prove Peter innocent. Olive isn't sure that is what an investigation will prove, but she does want to make sure that the truth--whatever that may be--comes out. Jasper, as ever, is ready to help her and it isn't long before they discover that motives abound. Vincent's rare maps weren't quite as rare as advertised--the maps are indeed antique, but most of them come with famous autographs--that aren't as real as the maps. Would someone kill over a fraud? Vincent also liked to indulge in a spot of blackmail whenever the opportunity arose and more than one of the house party has a secret they'd prefer to keep hidden. And some of those secrets date back to the war when Parkview Hall was turned into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. 

This was another enjoyable entry in a historical mystery series that is set during the Golden Age of crime fiction. It follows the typical country house murder mystery with plenty of suspects milling around the house and grounds and lots of motives cropping up. The culprit's motive may be a typical one but the actions that provided the motive have a surprising setting and background. Olive is a clever, interesting character who has grown quite a bit as a detective since her first outing. She definitely caught a clue that missed--but given the nature of the clue, I'm not surprised that I missed it. It simply wasn't something I normally pay much attention to anyway. I enjoyed learning more background about her friends and family as well as learning about the transformation of the country house into a hospital during the war. A good, solid mystery. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: The slash of red stood out against the brown and beige of the November countryside.

Last line: "So, Jasper," I said, "have you ever considered owning a parrot?"


Deaths = 5 (one hit on head; two natural; one shot; one suffocated)

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Longer the Thread

 The Longer the Thread (1971) by Emma Lathen (Mary Jane Latis & Martha Henissart)

John Putnam Thatcher, senior vice president of the Sloan Guaranty Trust bank makes his way to Puerto Rico to sort out a situation at Slax, a garment manufacturer specializing in women's pants. The Sloan has backed the company to the tune of a 3 million dollar loan and there's some dispute about which arm of the company should be managing the account. Commercial Credit has backed all of Slax concerns within the contiguous United States and the bank officers in charge feel that they know the business. International Credit takes care of businesses outside the United States and believe that Puerto Rico, U.S. territory or not, should fall under their purview. Somebody needs to bring harmony back to the Sloan family. So, Thatcher goes to Puerto Rico to see the situation at first hand. He expects only business problems.

But then the garment factory suffers a spate of "accidents" that can only be sabotage. Could the Puerto Rican workers be getting tired of the American bosses? There's been talk of a push for independence and a group of young radicals have already protested at the university. Benito Dominguez, the line foreman, seems to take great delight in the difficulties posed by the sabotaged lot of clothing and the ruined machinery, but none of the Slax management believe that he could be in league with the radicals...until Dominguez is found shot to death with a membership card for the radical group in his pocket and a handful of sand. Sand which was apparently used to doctor the lubricant for the cutting machines. Did one of the managers discovery Dominguez's complicity and kill him? Or are there other factors at work? When Harry Zimmerman, head of the New York Slax office disappears and a letter is received from the head of the young radical group claiming responsibility and making demands before he will be returned, it looks like maybe the protestors have been behind everything all along. But then Zimmerman is found killed as well and Thatcher and Captain Vallejo (the Puerto Rican police officer in charge of the case) will need to review the case from other angles.

This was quite a slog. I learned way more than I wanted to know about 1970s politics in Puerto Rico--whether they wanted independence or wanted to remain connected to the U.S. The details about the Slax company weren't all that interesting and most of it did nothing to move the plot along. And--for this being "A John Putnam Thatcher Mystery" per the book blurb, there was little of Thatcher throughout most of the book. When he was there and actually investigating (which pretty much only occurs in the last few chapters), the plot moved along nicely and held my interest. But both he and Captain Vallejo (the Puerto Rican police officer in charge of the case) disappear for a good chunk of the time. You would think the most important thing in the book was whether or not Slax was going to keep production going--not that two men have been murdered. I'm glad that this wasn't my first taste of the Thatcher books--I know from the previous book I read that the mystery is good when he's more involved. If this had been my first Lathen mystery, I doubt that I would have picked up another. ★★

First line: Wall Street is the greatest financial market in the world, and the function of the market is to provide an arena for smooth and orderly transactions.

Last line: "Well, now," she marveled, "what do you know about that?"


Deaths = 2 (one shot; one throat cut)

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The 2023 TBR Pile Challenge


Here I go again...another challenge. But I have to do this one. Really. I always do Adam's The TBR Pile Challenge over at Roof Beam Reader. It was one of the first challenges I did when I started blogging and I have to do it.

Here's the main point: If you join the challenge, then you will commit to read 12 books (one for each month) from your TBR list. Each of these books must have been on your TBR list for AT LEAST one year. None of the books may have a publication date of 1/1/22 or later. Once you submit the list, you are committed to those books with two alternates (in case you just cannot finish one or two of the titles).

For the full run-down of the challenge details, hop over to Adam's blog (click on link above), read the rules, and join me in my quest to reduce the teetering stacks.

My List:
1. It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr
2. Sidney Chambers & the Perils of the Night by James Runcie
3. Tom O'Bedlam by Robert Silverberg
4. The Pride of the Peacock by Victoria Holt
5. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
6. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (1/23/23)
7. The Covenant of the Crown by Howard Weinstein
8. Fatal Inquiry by Will Thomas
9. I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay by Harlan Ellison & Isaac Asimov
10. Garden of Deadly Delights by Cynthia Manson, ed.
11. The War Come Home by Deborah Cohen
12. Beyond by Theodore Sturgeon

1. The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox
2. Danger at the Drawbridge by Mildred A. Wirt

Stacking the Series Reading Challenge


As a companion to Leana's other series challenge, I'm also going to try the Stacking the Series Challenge.  For examples and full details click the link above. My commitment goal will be to stack to ten. I may go higher, but will be able to claim the challenge complete at ten.

- Read a book that is part of a series, to try and create as tall a stack as possible
- ONLY series books are allowed BUT there are no page limitations so feel free to read novellas etc to make up a number
- For series books with double digits, you can use the sum of the series number [So if you read Peace Talks by Jim Butcher which is #16, you could tick off row 16 in one go, or you could count it as a 7, because 6+1=7]
- You don't have to work in order, but only rows that are complete count towards your highest number

1. The Becket Factor by Michael David Anthony [Canterbury Catherdral #1] (1/9/23)
2. The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson [Sir Henry Merrivale #2] (1/7/23)
5. Madeline & the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans [Madeline #5] (1/30/23)
8. Beauty Marks the Spot by Kelley Roos [Jeff & Halia Troy #8.1] (1/7/23)
 OR The Dante Game by Jane Langton [Homer Kelly #8] (1/13/23)
14. The Crimson Clue by George Harmon Coxe [Kent Murdock #14] (1/30/23)

Series Catch-Up Reading Challenge

I seem to read a fair amount of books that are part of series, so I thought I'd give Leana's Series Challenges a try. First, she has the Series Catch-up Challenge. She plans on having give-aways as well--full details at link above.

I'm going to aim for 20 points. I may do more than that, but will be able to claim the challenge finished for my 2023 tally if I complete 20.

πŸ“š ANY book that is part of a series, in any format, counts
πŸ“š +1 point if a book is a continuation of a series
πŸ“š +3 points if a book is the latest volume of an incomplete series
πŸ“š +5 points if a book is the final volume of a complete series
πŸ“š +1 point if you REREAD a book in order to continue a series (i.e. you decide to reread Chain of Iron to refresh your memory before going in to Chain of Thorns)
πŸ“š -1 point for a new series you start in 2023 (if you then continue the series it earns points the same way as any pre-2023 series)

1. The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson [Sir Henry Merrivale #2] (1/7/23) [+1]
2. Beauty Marks the Spot by Kelley Roos [Jeff & Halia Troy #8.1] (1/7/23) [+1]
3. The Dante Game by Jane Langton [Homer Kelly #8] (1/13/23) [+1]
4. Swing Low, Swing Death by R. T. Campbell [Professor Stubbs #8] (1/17/23) [+1]
5. The Crimson Clue by George Harmon Coxe [Kent Murdock #14] (1/30/23) [+1]
6. Madeline & the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans [Madeline #5] (1/30/23) [+1]


Monday, November 21, 2022

Yuletide Spirit Reading Challenge & Readathon


Michelle at Seasons of Reading is once again sponsoring her holiday challenge & readathon. The rechristened Yuletide Spirit Reading Challenge & Readathon. In short, the challenge runs from November 21, 2022 through January 6, 2023. The books read for the challenge must be Christmassy in nature--novels, short story collections, books of poems, etc. Readathon books need not all be holiday-oriented.
Three ways to participate:
1. Challenge: Pick a level
      ~Candy Cane: read 1 book
      ~Mistletoe: read 2-4 books
      ~Christmas Tree: read 5-6 books (this is the fanatic level...LOL!)
2. Readathon: read as much (or as little as you want)
3. Participate in both!

Additional levels for watching Christmas movies and reading children's books with your kids--but you must complete one of the main reading levels to fulfill the challenge.

For more details and to join up, follow the link above.

As usual, I am joining at the Mistletoe level for Christmas books and the Readathon as well since I can also count non-Christmas books for that:

1. Wrapped Up in Crosswords by Nero Blanc [Christmas] (11/27/22)
2. Death Beneath the Christmas Tree by Robert Nordan [Christmas] (11/29/22)
3. The Last Noel by Jean Hager [Christmas] (12/3/22)
4. Holmes for the Holidays by Martin H. Greenberg, Jon L. Lellenberg, & Carol-Lynn Waugh [eds] (12/21/22)
Mistletoe Level 
5. The Longer the Thread by Emma Lathen [readathon] (11/25/22)
6. Murder in Black Tie by Sara Rosett [readathon] (11/26/22)
7. The Clue of the Velvet Mask by Carolyn Keene [readathon] (12/12/22)
8. Where Two Ways Met by Grace Livingston Hill [readathon] (12/12/22)
9. Murder at the College by Victor L. Whitechurch [readathon] (12/17/22)
10. The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner [readathon] (12/23/22)
11. The Candle Shop Mystery by Eileen Hill [Christmas] (12/25/22)
12. Sweet Poison by Douglas Clark [readathon] (12/26/22)
13. Murder Impossible by Jack Adrian & Robert Adey, eds [readathon] (12/30/22)
14. The Triple Hoax by Carolyn Keene [readathon] (12/31/22)
15. A Nameless Coffin by Gwendoline Butler [readathon] (12/31/22)
16. Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (1/1/23)

And...that's a wrap. I did really well with reading in December and then fell off the reading wagon in the New Year. Not as many Christmas books as I might have liked, but I did meet my goal. Happy New Year, everyone!

The Old English Peep Show

 The Old English Peep Show
(aka A Pride of Heroes; 1969) by Peter Dickinson

Old England or the Peep Show as it's known locally, is Disney-style theme park set at a graceful country house. The servants greet visitors with a bob and curtsy, the butler makes everyone think of Jeeves, and the eccentric owners keep pet lions. There are daily duels and "live" hangings for the more blood-thirsty thrill-seekers. Everything's running according plan...until Sir Richard Clavering's manservant hangs himself. But why would the loyal and faithful Arthur Deakin hang himself in his pantry? And why didn't he leave a note? Oh...and why does Mr. Harvey Singleton (Clavering's son-in-law) insist that he heard a thud and then a drumming sound at the time of the death?

Scotland Yard superintendent James Pibble is sent to deal with the incident and he has to wonder why the local police didn't take care of a supposedly simple suicide. He soon learns that life at Herryngs (the estate in question) is anything but ordinary. Sir Richard and his brother Sir Ralph, retired admiral and general respectively, are war heroes who have gone from charmingly eccentric to downright certifiable. A disappearance and an encounter with a man-eating lion make Pibble understand that danger lurks behind the theme-park façade. And if he's not careful he may wind up next on the killer's list.

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Peter Dickinson. The very first one I ever read caused me to merely list him in my "books to be found" spreadsheet with a notation of  "NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"  I don't know what it was, except that it was a mystery. I don't have the title logged. I sortof suspect it may have been this one, though I haven't had quite that violent a reaction upon reading it this time (if, indeed, this was the title in question). I just find the whole thing very weird--from the behavior of the family to the behavior of our detective. I don't understand why Jimmy Pibble, an officer of the law, is willing to try so hard to ignore the signs that Deakin's death was not a suicide. He spends about three pages telling himself he's being conned, listing things that don't fit, and then choosing to say that they don't mean much and, by golly, it sure is a suicide after all. "O.K., he was going quietly. But let them stretch his conscience one notch further and the lion would feel the talons of the vulture, blunt, bourgeouis talons though they were." So, I guess he's willing to believe eight impossible things before breakfast...just don't make it nine. I, personally, stopped believing after the first two...and promptly skimmed my way through this thing just so I can count it towards challenges. But, honestly, Pibble and his investigation did very little for me here. I liked him a heck of a lot better in One Foot in the Grave

First line: Pibble thought, I am the chosen vulture spiraling down onto a dying lion.

Last line: With a noncommittal grunt (risky to be affable with a potential scapegoat) Harry Brazzil slouched into Herryings.


Deaths = 2 (one hanged, one shot)

The 52 Book Club Reading Challenge


I'm back for another round of Liz's reading challenge at The 52 Book Club. Hers is a low-key challenge, so there is no pressure to fulfill all 52 categories I'm setting a personal goal of 26. I may read more that fit the categories, but at 26 I can claim my challenge goal fulfilled. In 2021 and 2022 I managed to pull off all 52--so who knows, maybe I'll get there again. I'll list some tentative selections below and update as needed. And I've also made a padlet showing all the selections: HERE.

1. Book with a Subtitle: I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay by Harlan Ellison & Isaac Asimov
2. Featuring an Inheritance: Postmark Murder by Mignon G. Eberhart
3. Title Starts with "G": The Ghost & Mrs. Jeffries by Emily Brightwell or Garden of Deadly Delights by Cynthia Manson (ed)
4. Title Starts with "H": Hemlock Hollow by Culley Holderfield
5. Title Starts with "I": The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh
6. Under 200 Pages: Beauty Marks the Spot by Kelley Roos (1/7/23)
7. City/Country Name in Title: Murder, London-New York by John Creasey
8. Dystopian Fiction: Tom O'Bedlam by Robert Silverberg
9. Book with a Dedication: The Ticker-Tape Murder by Milton Propper
10. Takes Place During the Roaring Twenties: The Mammoth Book of Roaring Twenties Whodunnits by Mike Ashley (ed)
11. Book about Secrets: The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox
12. High Fantasy: Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
13. Published Posthumously: Curtain by Agatha Christie
14. A Survival Story: When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer
15. Set in Australia: Wings Above the Diamantina by Arthur W. Upfield
16. Features One of the "Seven Deadly Sins": The Pride of the Peacock by Victoria Holt
17. By a Caribbean Author: The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey
18. Set During War Other Than WWI or WWII: Murder at Manassas by Michael Kilian
19. Typographic Cover: Harjunpaa & the Stone Murders by Matti Joensuu
20. Book About Siblings: Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (1/23/22)
21. Second-Hand Book: The Siamese Twin Mystery by Ellery Queen
22. Body-Positive Message: My Pocket Meditations for Self Compassion by Courtney Ackerman
23. An Alliterative Title: Danger at the Drawbridge by Mildred A. Wirt
24. Nordic Noir: Borkmann's Point by Hakan Nesser
25. A Fashionable Character: The Beauty Queen Killer by John Creasey
26. Has an Epilogue: Mysterious Invitation by Bernice Bloom (1/27/23)
27. Newbery Medal Winner: Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (1/1/23)
28. Includes a Funeral: The Becket Factor by Michael David Anthony (1/9/23)
29. Sends You Down a Rabbit Hole: Abby in Wonderland by Sarah Mlynowski
30. Author with Same Name as You: Murder by Degrees by Ann Pearson (my middle name)
31. Set in a Workplace: Marked Down for Murder by Spencer Dean
32. Published by MacMillan: This Death Was Murder by March Evermay
33. Banned Book: Madeline & the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans (1/30/23)
34. Featuring Mythology: Pandora's Jar by Natalie Haynes
35. Book You Meant to Read Last Year: Sydney Chambers & the Perils of the Night by James Runcie
36. Chapters Have Cliffhangers: The Dante Game by Jane Langton (1/13/23)
37. Written in the Present Tense: The Cave of Time by Edward Packard
38. An Enemies to Lovers Plot: Where Serpents Sleep by C. S. Harris
39. Final Book in a Series: Beverly Gray's Surprise by Clair Blank
40. Written by a Comedian: I Must Say by Martin Short
41. A Character Who Is a Refugee: Refugee by Alan Gratz
42. Time in Title: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
43. Book "Everyone" Has Read: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (did a poll amongst my fellow vintage mystery fans--this one came out on top)
44. A Contemporary Setting: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
45. First Word in Book is "The": A Gentleman's Murder by Christopher Huang (1/22/23)
46. Script Font on Spine: Dead, Mr. Mozart by Bernard Bastable
47. Set in Dublin: Hopeland (aka Skippy Dies part one) by Paul Murray (1/19/23)
48. Book by Octavia Butler: The Wild Seed by Butler
49. Books on the Cover: See Also Murder by Larry D. Sweazy
50. Book Related to the Word "Murder": The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (1/7/23)
51. Doesn't Fit Any of Other Prompts: TBD
52. Published in 2023: Who Cries for the Lost by C. S. Harris

My Reader's Block 2023 Reading Challenges


Just a reminder that all the new Reader's Block challenges for 2023 are posted and ready to go. If you're looking for a challenge to join, then please check out those I have on offer. Click on the links to view  the details for each one. I'd love to have you join me for one...or a few...or all of them!

Mount TBR is for those who accumulate books faster than they can read them and need incentive to read more from their own stacks.

The Virtual Mount TBR Challenge for those who read masses of books from the library or other non-owned sources.

The Vintage Scavenger Hunt Challenge is for those who like their mysteries with a bit of age on them. Two levels are available: Golden (Pre-1960) and Silver (1960-1989 inclusive). Read mysteries that fit various Scavenger Hunt categories by finding specific items on the covers.

Calendar of Crime: Read mysteries from any era that fit various calendar-related prompts.

Reading by the Numbers: 2023 is the second year for this challenge whose main goal is to log all your books. No pre-set challenge levels. You decide your goal for the year and then just keep track of the books you read. I put it together primarily so I'd have a handy place on the blog to track absolutely everything I read in one place.

The Color Coded and Read It Again, Sam challenges are both housed at the same page. In the first, readers choose books on color names in the titles or cover colors and the second is for those who enjoy rereading old favorites. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

No More Dying Then

 No More Dying Then
(1971) by Ruth Rendell

Nine months ago Stella Rivers, twelve years old, disappeared when walking home from riding lessons. Inspector Reg Wexford and the Kingsmarkham police did everything in their power to find her, but there was no trace. Now a five year old boy, John Lawrence, has gone missing after walking away from the neighborhood park. This time letters start arriving--saying that the kidnapper only wanted to keep John for a while and--if the police keep out of it--he will be sent safely home. But when Mike Burden, recently returned from compassionate leave after the death of his wife, discovers Stella's body in the well of an abandoned house, they fear that little John Lawrence may never come home. If the same person is responsible for the disappearance of both children, then it is a race against time that Wexford can't afford to lose.

I actually finished this a couple days ago. I haven't been exactly sure what I want to say about the book. My reading tastes have changed a bit since my teens--not in all ways, but I'd say my affinity for Ruth Rendell is one of them. Back then I read everything of hers our local library had because I couldn't get enough of her. And kept picking up her newer ones into my twenties. In recent years I've revisited some of her books and have been disappointed to find that they just don't hold me the way they did back then. I couldn't even finish A Judgment in Stone though I still realize what an important book it was.  

No More Dying Then was better, though the child endangerment trope hits me harder now than it did before I had a son. The mystery plot itself was intriguing and the motive for the murder was an interesting one and led to a satisfying, surprising ending. But I have to say that Mike Burden got on my nerves here. He's supposedly grieving for his wife (and, yes, he does think about some sweet moments with her)--but it seems to me that what he's really missing is sex. Until about midway or so in the book he's been too prudish to seek relief outside of the marriage bed--which turns him into a snarly, distracted colleague for Wexford. It's amazing how his late-book fling turns things around for him (not that Burden is ever an extraordinarily cheerful kind of guy). And the way he treats his sister-in-law and children--well, he ought to be ashamed. He is a bit at the end, so there's that. [Though I still get the sense that he's very self-absorbed.]

Good mystery. Less focus on Burden would have made it better. ★★

First line: The spell of fine weather which so often comes in the middle of October is known as St. Luke's Little Summer.

Last line: She leaned towards him, her face serious and intent. "Let's talk," she said.


Deaths = 2 (one strangled; one drowned)

Friday, November 18, 2022

Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks



hosted by Robyn

I'm ready for year nine! The rules are simple. Just read one book per week for a total 52 books in the year. I generally have no problem reading at least one book per week...so this is one of my slam dunk challenges. I will list my books below as I read them. If you'd like to join in, just click the link above. Robyn offers other challenges as well--including a perpetual Agatha Christie challenge and a book bingo among others.
1. Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (1/1/23)
2. The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (1/7/23)
3. Swing Low, Swing Death by R. T. Campbell (1/17/23)
4. Mysterious Invitation by Bernice Bloom (1/27/23)
5. The Crimson Clue by George Harmon Coxe (1/30/23)

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The King Is Dead

 The King Is Dead (1952) by Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay & Manfred Lee)

Ellery Queen and his father Inspector Queen are practically kidnapped from their New York apartment. Abel Bendigo, brother to multimillionaire and weapons broker King Bendigo, arrives with armed bodyguards and insists on the pair accompanying him to his brother's secret island. The Queens are none too happy to have their home invaded and told what to do. But he comes bearing a letter from an unnamed person in Washington (but it's obviously the President) and Ellery gets interested. It seems that King has been receiving progressive threating notes. That is--the message becomes progressively longer. The first reads "You are going to be murdered--." The second reads "You are going to be murdered on Thursday--." The implication being that the next note will tell him just which specific Thursday is doomsday. Possibly followed by one that will tell the exact time.

But when the Queens arrive on the island, they find that the investigation isn't going to be simple. King Bendigo thinks that the messages are from a crank and doesn't take them seriously. They're told they can go anywhere on the island except areas marked "restricted" but they still run into difficulty searching where they need to and talking to those involved. Ellery still manages to discover who is behind the notes--it's the third (middle) brother Judah. Judah isn't bothered by being found out. He readily admits that's he's the one. That he's definitely going to kill his brother on "Thursday, June 21, at exactly twelve o'clock midnight." He even shows Ellery the gun he's going to use. 

It seems that brother Judah is tired of the way King uses his wealth and his influence to manipulate the officials of the world. Buying and selling loyalty like a high-powered car dealer. Providing weapons to certain parties to increase the need for more weapons. It's rumored he even managed to help Hitler get bold enough to start a war that made Bendigo the number one provider of military armaments. Judah doesn't think anyone--not even his brother--should have that much power and believes the only way to stop him is to kill him.

On the night in question, King and his wife Karla are locked in Bendigo's conference room--a room specially built to be impregnable. It has no windows. It has only one door. It has an air conditioning system that can't be fiddled with. The Queens thoroughly search the room before allowing the couple to work in the room. They search it three times to make sure there is nowhere a man could hide; there is nowhere a booby-trap could be disguised. Inspector Queen and King's security force guard the door to the room. Ellery takes the gun that Judah says he will use and empties it of all cartridges--handing them to his father. He then searches Judah's room to be sure there are no extra cartridges hidden. Ellery and King's personal guard stand over Judah all evening. At two minutes to midnight Judah stands up, picks up the empty gun, and stretches his hand towards the wall facing the conference room. At exactly midnight he squeezes the trigger and nothing happens. But...

When Ellery and his father unlock the conference room. King is slumped in his chair with a bullet hole in his breast. Karla is lying on the floor in a faint. And there is no one else in the room--and no weapon. Somehow Judah managed to shoot his brother with an empty gun--and he did so through two walls, one of which is three feet of solid concrete!

So...on the one hand, this is a very clever locked room mystery. And even though by this point the authors had dropped the "intermission" where they told us that we had all the clues and should be able to solve the mystery--we do have all the clues needed to determine how King was killed and what happened with the gun. I enjoyed that part of the story very much. What I had trouble with was the megalomaniac character King Bendigo and the way this man supposedly pulled all the strings behind every major political thing going on anywhere. The whole evil mastermind trope doesn't really fit with the Ellery Queen style (or in very many of the Golden Age stories--I like few of the Christie capers with such people, for instance). I also had a bit of trouble with big reveal scene with King. [spoiler encoded in ROT13]  V svaq vg uneq gb oryvrir gung whfg snyyvat va gur cbby (n frpbaq gvzr!) pbhyq punatr guvf cbjreshy, tvnag bs n zna gb fnttvat, qebbcvat byq zna. Lrf, Ryyrel sbhaq bhg uvf frperg--gung ur pna'g fjvz, ohg guvf vf n zna jub ercrngrqyl jerfgyrq jvgu uvf obqlthneq naq znaunaqyrq uvz. Snyyvat va gur jngre jbexf yvxr xelcgbavgr qbrf ba Fhcrezna?

If we ignore the evil mastermind thing, then this is an interesting and satisfying mystery. Lots of clues spread around so transparently that, if you're like me, you'll look right through them and not even know they're there. Motive is a bit more dicey--you have to wait for Ellery to go dig that up--but motive is not the key ingredient here. It's all about how what happened could possibly have happened. ★★ and 1/2.

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

Fist line: The invasion of the Queen apartment occurred at 8:08 of an ordinary June morning, with West 87th Street just washed down three stories below by the City sprinkler truck and Arsene Lupin in grand possession of the east ledge, breakfasting on bread crumbs intended for a dozen other pigions of the the neighborhood.

Last line: "I do," said Judah.


Deaths = 5 (four natural; one shot)

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

2023 Cloak & Dagger Reading Challenge: My Sign-Up


The Cloak & Dagger Challenge is back at Carol's Notebook. Those who have participated before will recognize the rules and format--check out the link for full details and to sign up. Since my primary reading genre is mysteries, I will be joining in again at the Sherlock Holmes level of 56+ books in the mystery and crime fields.
1. The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (1/7/23)
2. Beauty Marks the Spot by Kelley Roos (1/7/23)
3. The Becket Factor by Michael David Anthony (1/9/23)
4. The Dante Game by Jane Langton (1/13/23)
5. Swing Low, Swing Death by R. T. Campbell (1/17/23)
6. The Angry Heart by Leslie Edgley (1/21/23)
7. A Gentleman's Murder by Christopher Huang (1/22/23)
8. The Crimson Clue by George Harmon Coxe (1/30/23)

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Alphabet Soup Author Edition 2023: My Sign-Up


The Alphabet Soup Challenge--Author Edition is a companion challenge for Lori's Alphabet Soup Challenge. The goal is to read books by authors whose first or last name will allow us to read one book for every letter of the alphabet. If you'd like to join in, please click on the link above for full details. X is going to be a tricky one--especially if I'm trying to read primarily from my own shelves. So--my declared personal goal is 13 books (half the alphabet). I will try to do all 26, but if I meet 13, I can count the challenge complete on my challenge tracker page.

A: The Becket Factor by Michael David Anthony (1/9/23)
B: Mysterious Invitation by Bernice Bloom (1/27/23)
C: Swing Low, Swing Death by R. T. Campbell (1/17/23)
D: The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (1/7/23)
H: A Gentleman's Murder by Christopher Huang (1/22/23)
L: The Dante Game by Jane Langton (1/13/23)
M: Hopeland (aka Skippy Dies part one) by Paul Murray (1/19/23)
O: Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien (1/1/23)
R: Beauty Marks the Spot by Kelley Roos (1/7/23)