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 (2/24/23)
2. Sidney Chambers & the Perils of the Night by James Runcie (3/11/23)
3. Tom O'Bedlam by Robert Silverberg (5/16/23)
4. Pride of the Peacock by Victoria Holt (4/23/23)
5. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (6/29/23)
6. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (1/23/23)
7. The Covenant of the Crown by Howard Weinstein (9/12/23)
8. Fatal Inquiry by Will Thomas (4/9/23)
9. I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay by Harlan Ellison & Isaac Asimov (7/5/23)
10. Garden of Deadly Delights by Cynthia Manson, ed. (2/7/23)
11. The War Come Home by Deborah Cohen
12. Beyond by Theodore Sturgeon (3/26/23)

1. The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox (3/29/23)
2. Danger at the Drawbridge by Mildred A. Wirt (4/10/23)

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)
3. Wings Above the Diamantina by Arthur W. Upfield [Inspector Bonaparte #3] (2/3/23)
4. The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie [Miss Marple #4] (3/1/23)
5. Madeline & the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans [Madeline #5] (1/30/23)
6. Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas [Barker & Llewelyn $6] (4/9/23)
7. Bony & the Kelly Gang by Arthur W. Upfield [Inspector Bonaparte #25; 2 + 5 =7] (3/23/23)
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)
9. Death Demands an Audience by Helen Reilly [Inspector McKee #9] (4/17/23)
10. And So to Murder by Carter Dickson [Sir Henry Merrivale #10] (4/12/23)
11. Heart of the Sun by Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski [ST: TOS #83; 8 +3 =11] (2/19/23)
12. The Figure in the Dusk by John Creasey [Insp. West #12] (7/2/23)
13. Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac [Insp. MacDonald #13] (2/19/23)
14. The Crimson Clue by George Harmon Coxe [Kent Murdock #14] (1/30/23)
15. Who Speaks for the Damned by C. s. Harris [Sebastian St. Cyr #15] (9/5/23)
16. The Beauty Queen Killer by John Creasey [Inspector West #16] (5/14/23)
17. The Final Appointment by Marcia Blair [Zebra Mystery Puzzler #17] (7/16/23)
18. Who Cries for the Lost by C. S. Harris [Sebastian St. Cyr #18] (7/4/23)
19. The Quest of the Missing Map by Carolyn Keene [Nancy Drew #19] (12/22/23)
20. Gone West by Carola Dunn [Daisy Dalrymple #20] (4/6/23)
21. The Secret in the Old Attic by Carolyn Keene [Nancy Drew #21] (12/31/23)
23. Murder Is Suggested by Frances & Richard Lockridge [Mr. & Mrs. North #23] (6/1/23)
25. Bony & the Kelly Gang by Arthur W. Upfield [Inspector Bonaparte #25] (3/23/23)
27. The Will of the Tribe by Arthur W. Upfield [Inspector Bonaparte #27] (10/21/23)
36. Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie [Hercule Poirot #36] (9/16/23)


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]
7. Wings Above the Diamantina by Arthur W. Upfield [Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte #3] (2/3/23) [+1]
8. Here Come the Dead by Robert Portner Koehler {Pecos Appleby #2] (2/5/23) [+1]
9. Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac [Insp. MacDonald #13] (2/19/23) [+1]
10. Heart of the Sun by Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski [ST: TOS #83] (2/19/23) [+1]
11. Phi Beta Murder by C. S. Challinor [Rex Graves #3] (2/20/23) [+1]
12. The Fear Sign by Margery Allingham [Albert Campion #5] (2/22/23) [+1]
13. It Walks by Night by John Dickson Carr [Henri Bencolin #1--have read others] (2/24/23) [+1]
14. The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie [Miss Marple #3] (2/28/23) [+1]
15. The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie [Miss Marple #4] (3/1/23) [+1]
16. Towards Zero by Agatha Christie [Supt. Battle #5--last of the Battle books] (3/5/23) [+5]
[20 points total--Commitment met! Still Reading]
17. The Black Cat Murders by Karen Baugh Menuhin [Major Heathcliff Lennox #2] (3/7/23) [+1]
18. Tintin in America by HergΓ© [Tintin #3] (3/10/23) [+1]
19. Sidney Chambers & the Perils of the Night by James Runcie [Sidney Chambers #2] (3/11/23) [+1]
20. A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie [Miss Marple #5] (3/17/23) [+1]
21. Bony & the Kelly Gang by Arthur W. Upfield [Inspector Bonaparte #25] (3/23/23) [+1]
22. Gone West by Carola Dunn [Daisy Dalrymple #20] (4/6/23) [+1]
23. Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas [Barker & Llewelyn #6] (4/9/23) [+1]
24. Danger at the Drawbridge by Mildred A. Wirt [Penny Parker #3] (4/10/23) [+1]
25. Nine--And Death Makes Ten by Carter Dickson [Sir Henry Merrivale #11] (4/11/23) [+1]
26. And So to Murder by Carter Dickson [Sir Henry Merrivale #10] (4/12/23) [+1]
[30 points]
27. Death Demands an Audience by Helen Reilly [Inspector McKee #9] (4/17/23) [+1]
28. Silent Witness by Margaret Yorke [Patrick Grant #2] (4/22/23) [+1]
29. Death Turns the Tables by John Dickson Carr [Dr. Fell #14[ (5/9/22) [+1]
30. The Four False Weapons by John Dickson Carr [Henri Bencolin #5--last of series] (5/12/23) [+5]
31. The Beauty Queen Killer by John Creasey [Inspector West #16] (5/14/23) [+1]
32. Murder in Burgundy by Audrey Peterson [Jane Winfield #3] (5/17/23) [+1]
[40 points]
33. Blackstone Fell by Martin Edwards [Rachel Savernake #3] (5/23/23) [+1]
34. Murder & Blueberry Pie by Frances & Richard Lockridge [Lt. Nathan Shapiro #2] (5/25/23) [+1]
35. Murder Is Suggested by Frances & Richard Lockridge [Mr. & Mrs. North #23] (6/1/23) [+1]
36. The Curriculum Murders by Marlis Day [Margo Brown #3] (6/6/23) [+1]
37. Murder Is Pathological by P. M. Carlson [Maggie Ryan & Nick O'Connor #3] (6/8/23) [+1]
38. And Be a Villain by Rex Stout [Nero Wolfe #13] (6/9/23) [+1]
39. Murder, London--New York by John Creasey [Inspector West #23] (6/22/23) [+1]
40. Inspector West Kicks Off by John Creasey [Inspector West #8] (6/23/23) [+1]
41. The Figure in the Dusk by John Creasey [Inspector West #12] (7/2/23) [+1]
42. The Birthday Murder by Lange Lewis [Lt. Tuck #4] (7/3/23) [+1]
[50 points]
43. Who Cries for the Lost by C. S. Harris [Sebastian St. Cyr #18] (7/4/23) [+3]
44. The Final Appointment by Marcia Blair [Zebra Mystery Puzzler #17] (7/16/23) [+1]
45. The Body in the Cast by Katherine Hall Page [Faith Fairchild #5] (8/1/23) [+1]
46. Ashes to Ashes by Emma Lathen [John Thatcher #12] (8/3/23) [+1]
47. The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [Professor Challenger #1] (8/9/23) [+1]
48. The Alarm of the Black Cat by D.B. Olsen/Dolores Hitchens [Miss Murdock #2] (8/14/23) [+1]
49. Birthday Party Murder by Leslie Meier [Lucy Stone #9] (8/27/23) [+1]
50. Beverly Gray on a Treasure Hunt by Clair Blank [Beverly Gray #8] (8/31/23) [+1]
[60 points]
51. Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie [Colonel Race #4] (8/31/23) [+5]
52. The Case Against Paul Raeburn by John Creasey [Inspector West #7] (9/1/23) [+1]
53. The Covenant of the Crown by Howard Weinstein [ST:TOS #4] (9/12/23) [+1]
54. Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie [Hercule Poirot #36] (9/16/23) [+1]
55. Who Is Simon Warwick? by Patricia Moyes [Inspector Tibbett #14] (9/22/23) [+1]
56. Nemesis by Agatha Christie [Miss Marple #12] (9/23/23] [+1]
[70 points]
57. The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman [Thursday Club Murders #3] (9/28/23) [+1]
58. Murder on the Purple Water by Frances Crane [Pat & Jean Abbott #10] (10/8/23) [+1]
59. While the Clock Ticked by Franklin W. Dixon [Hardy Boys #11] (10/9/23) [+1]
60. Hopjoy Was Here by Colin Watson [Flaxborough Chronicles #3] (10/17/23) [+1]
61. The Will of the Tribe by Arthur W. Upfield [Inspector Bonaparte #27] (10/21/23) [+1]
62. Body Blow by Kenneth Hopkins [Dr. Blow & Prof. Manciple #3] (10/22/23) [+1]
63. The Quest of the Missing Map by Carolyn Keene [Nancy Drew #19] (12/22/23) [+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 (7/5/23)
2. Featuring an Inheritance: Towards Zero by Agatha Christie (3/5/23)
3. Title Starts with "G": Garden of Deadly Delights by Cynthia Manson [ed] (2/7/23)
4. Title Starts with "H": Hemlock Hollow by Culley Holderfield (8/19/23)
5. Title Starts with "I": Inquest by Percival Wilde (4/15/23)
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 (6/22/23)
8. Dystopian Fiction: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (4/20/23)
9. Book with a Dedication: Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (4/14/23)
10. Takes Place During the Roaring Twenties: The Mammoth Book of Roaring Twenties Whodunnits by Mike Ashley, ed (4/30/23)
11. Book about Secrets: Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn (3/30/23)
12. High Fantasy: Sabriel by Garth Nix (3/21/23)
13. Published Posthumously: Slay Bells by Eunice Mays Boyd (7/7/23)
14. A Survival Story: Tom O'Bedlam by Robert Silverberg (5/16/23)
15. Set in Australia: Wings Above the Diamantina by Arthur W. Upfield (2/3/23)
16. Features One of the "Seven Deadly Sins": The Pride of the Peacock by Victoria Holt (4/23/23)
17. By a Caribbean Author: Looking for a Jumbie by Tracey Baptiste [lived in Trinidad until 15] (2/22/23)
18. Set During War Other Than WWI or WWII: Silent Witness by Margaret Yorke [the Cold War] (4/22/23)
19. Typographic Cover: Phi Beta Murder by C. S. Challinor (2/20/23)
20. Book About Siblings: Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (1/23/22)
21. Second-Hand Book: Beyond by Theodore Sturgeon (3/26/23)
22. Body-Positive Message: My Pocket Meditations for Self Compassion by Courtney Ackerman (2/22/23)
23. An Alliterative Title: Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac (2/18/23)
24. Nordic Noir: Borkmann's Point by Hakan Nesser (9/10/23)
25. A Fashionable Character: The Beauty Queen Killer by John Creasey (5/14/23)
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: It Walks by Night by John Dickson Carr [sent me searching for who Barbey D'Aurevilly was] (2/24/23)
30. Author with Same Name as You: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie [my middle name] (4/27/23)
31. Set in a Workplace: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (4/7/23)
32. Published by MacMillan: Bony & the Kelly Gang by Arthur W. Upfield (3/23/23)
33. Banned Book: Madeline & the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans (1/30/23)
34. Featuring Mythology: The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox (3/29/23)
35. Book You Meant to Read Last Year: Sydney Chambers & the Perils of the Night by James Runcie (3/11/23)
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 (4/26/23)
38. An Enemies to Lovers Plot: Where Serpents Sleep by C. S. Harris (4/3/23)
39. Final Book in a Series: The Four False Weapons by John Dickson Carr (5/12/23) [last book of the Henri Bencolin mystery series]
40. Written by a Comedian: Number One Is Walking by Steve Martin (3/9/23)
41. A Character Who Is a Refugee: A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie (3/17/23)
42. Time in Title: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (6/29/30)
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) [9/9/23]
44. A Contemporary Setting: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley (5/11/23)
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 (3/15/23)
47. Set in Dublin: Hopeland (aka Skippy Dies part one) by Paul Murray (1/19/23)
48. Book by Octavia Butler: Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler (3/4/23)
49. Books on the Cover: See Also Murder by Larry D. Sweazy (7/7/23)
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: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (5/26/23)
52. Published in 2023: Who Cries for the Lost by C. S. Harris (7/4/23)

February Mini-Challenge
1. Set in Winter or Spring: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
2. Shadow on the Cover: The Beauty Queen Killer by John Creasey
3: Time Loop: The Cave of Time by Edward Packard
March Mini-Challenge
1. From Animal's Point of View: Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
2. Feather on Cover: Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie
3. Character Who Works with Animals
April Mini-Challenge
1. Egg on Cover:
2. Title Includes the Letter "E," "G," and "G": Danger at the Drawbridge by Mildred A. Wirt
3. Featuring Chocolate: Slay Bells by Eunice Mays Boyd (method of poisoning)

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.