Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Secret in the Old Attic

 The Secret in the Old Attic (1944) by Carolyn Keene

Once again Nancy and her father Carson Drew are pursuing two cases that dovetail into one. Carson Drew has been asked Mr. Booker to help him prove that Horace Dight has stolen his top-secret silk formula. He suspects a supposed "top" scientist named Bushy Trott (I ask you--who on earth is going to believe that a "top" scientist goes by the name Bushy) of having worked for him temporarily with the sole purpose of discovering his secrets--but he has no proof. Carson has had Trott followed for quite some time with no result. 

Since he is busy with the Booker case, he asks Nancy to help him with another client Philip March. Mr. March is trying to find music that his son left behind when he was killed in World War II. He's sure the music is hidden somewhere in their family mansion, but has been unable to find it. He's also sure that if found, the music will bring in a good income that will help him raise his orphaned granddaughter Susan. Clues to the hidden music are supposed to be found in his son's love letters to his wife (now also deceased). Nancy's treasure hunt soon turns into an effort to prove theft when Mr. March begins hearing some of his son's songs on the radio--under someone else's name! As she investigates, she begins to suspect that Trott has something to do with the stolen music as well. But how to prove it? Nancy, Bess, and George wind up staying at the March estate in order to hunt for clues.

This was one of my favorites when I was young--easily making the top ten. I loved the spooky mansion setting and the treasure hunt aspect and the hidden room. And I didn't mind the coincidences that allowed Nancy's mystery to tie in with her father's. I thought Effie (the maid that Nancy brings in to help Mr. March in the house when Susan gets the measles) was hilarious...seeing ghosts and bad guys everywhere. It was a lot of fun to revisit this one and while I recognize the odd coincidences that happen they didn't detract from fun one bit. ★★★★

First line: "It seems strange to hunt for a clue among these, Nancy, but that's exactly what I've been 
asked to do."

Last lines: "Nevertheless it took courage," her father replied. "If you hadn't had it, you never would have discovered the attic's secret."


Deaths  = 2 (one in war; one natural)

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Bookish Books Reading Challenge


I keep telling myself that I'm going to do fewer challenges....and my self just keeps on finding challenges that look so good that I can't resist. And, hey, I only have to read ONE book to qualify for this one (but you know I'll read more than that...). Here's the scoop on Susan's Bookish Books Reading Challenge:

Read bookish books lingering on our shelves and TBR lists. Any book counts as long as one of its main themes is books (reading them, writing them, hoarding them, stealing them, eating them, burning them, decorating with them, organizing, them,, sniffing them, selling them, etc.). Any book that is essentially bookish in nature counts. all formats are acceptable. Since this challenge isn't about pages read, length doesn't matter. 

There are several levels, but I am going to sign up for Toe in the Door (1-10 books). I may read more, but will count my commitment complete with that level.

1. Murder by the Book: Mysteries for Bibliophiles by Martin Edwards, ed (1/20/24)
2. The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa (2/14/24)
3. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2/24/24)
4. Write Murder Down by Richard Lockridge [death of an author; backdrop = publishing world] (5/4/24)

Murder Is a Collector's Item

 Murder Is a Collector's Item (1939) by Elizabeth Dean

Dean's first book was written as a dare--this seems to be a theme with several of our Golden Age authors. A group of friends all decided to if they could each write 20,000 words of fiction in a month's time. Dean was the only one who met the deadline and her friends challenged her to turn it into a novel. So, she did and created Emma Marsh, antique saleswoman and a fair judge of character. She works as right-hand woman to Jeff Graham who has helped her several times in the past.

One of their wealthy clients makes an appointment with Jeff to view a valuable secretary, but when Emma opens the shop the next morning she find the client, Richard Norwitch, stabbed to death on the floor and the secretary is missing in action. So is Jeff. She is certain that Jeff is no murderer, but Lieutenant Donovan finds the circumstantial evidence to be a bit compelling. And if the missing antiques dealer didn't do it, then probably Emma did. Or maybe Emma's boyfriend, Hank Fairbanks--who also happens to be the nephew and joint-heir of the dead man. Of course, being friends with Hank and Emma, he doesn't seriously believe it, but when all the clues seem to lead nowhere, he doesn't know what to believe.

Fortunately, Emma and Hank make pretty good amateur detectives and they manage to locate Jeff's missing car (with a bullet hole in the window and blood on the seat...but no Jeff) as well as several important witnesses. When a rival antiques dealer winds up dead in the shop, the mystery gets even murkier and the killer will try to kill two more people before Emman, Hank and Donovan figure out who they are.

This was a fun, almost screwball comedy mystery that would have ranked a bit higher if some of the humorous banter hadn't been so hard to follow. There are two scenes where Emma, Hank, and Donovan are going back and forth about clues and suspicions and whatnot and then a little light bulb goes on for one (or more) of them and we all supposedly know what they've just figured out--except I didn't either time because the banter lost me in mid-bant. Whatever I was supposed to catch flew by so high over my head that it missed my glove completely (over the fence and into the bleachers). I do like the relationship the three have. I just wish some of the conversation weren't so convoluted.

I had a sneaking suspicion that the villain really was the villain and I was right. I was pretty proud of myself for figuring it out before either Hank or Emma. Overall, this is a good debut mystery and I look forward to reading the other Dean book I have on the TBR (Murder a Mile High) and to finding the remaining book in the series (Murder Is a Serious Business).    ★★ and 1/2.

First line: It was almost five-thirty.

Last line: "They're going out to eat and then," Emma turned a wicked eye on Jeff, "he's going to wire a chandelier."


Deaths = 3 (one stabbed; two shot)

Pick Your Poison 2024


I've been anxiously awaiting the new Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge for 2024. I first found Gregory's challenge in 2020 and have enjoyed the prompts that he devises.  As I have in the past, I'm going to commit to a Baker's Dozen (13 books). I'll probably do more, but my commitment will be met at 13.

The Standards
~A Thriller: Red Bones by Ann Cleeves (3/24/24)
~A Classic: Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (3/21/24) [classic mystery from  1923]
~A Mystery: Death, My Darling Daughters by Jonathan Stagge (1/1/24)
~A Fantasy: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa (2/14/24)

To Coin a Phrase
~Coins on the Cover:
~Author Known for Introducing a Phrase:
~Title Based on a Well-Known Phrase: There is a Tide (aka Taken at the Flood) by Agatha Christie ["There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." ~from Julius Caesar by Shakespeare] (1/14/24)
~Book About Language:

Our Amazing World
~Book About the Ocean
~Memoir About Living with Nature
~Book About an Explorer
~Book About a Lost Species

Classic Computer Games
~Oregon Trail (characters might die of dysentery): Man of Two Tribes by Arthur W. Upfield (2/22/24)
~Legend of Zelda (protagonist is not the title character): The List of Adrian Messenger by Philip MacDonald (5/4/24)
~Pacman (maze on the cover)
~Space Invaders (book with aliens): Q-Squared by Peter David (3/17/24)

~Book About Something You Might Find Dead on the Road:
~Mystery Set During a Vacation: The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla by Stuart Palmer (4/18/24)
~Hotel on the Cover:
~Something Flat on Cover: Miraculous Mysteries by Martin Edwards, ed (2/9/24)

How Does Your Garden Grow?
~Author with Plant/Flower Name: Murder on Deck by Rosemary Herbert (ed) OR Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth
~Coming of Age Story:
~Three Main Characters: Death Takes a Bow by Frances & Richard Lockridge [Mr. & Mrs. North and Lt. Weigand] (2/24/24)
~"Silver" or "Shell" in Title:

Bright & Shiny
~Book Released in 2024: What Cannot Be Said by C. S. Harris (5/22/24)
~Memoir/Biography of Someone with a Hollywood Star: Making It So by Patrick Stewart (4/10/24)
~Book with Gold or Silver Cover: Sepulchre Street by Martin Edwards (5/8/24)
~Picture of the Sun on Cover: Doom in the Midnight Sun by Eunice Mays Boyd (6/4/24)

Things That Are Good For Us
~Vegetable in the Title:
~About Walking Away:
~Lots of Fresh Air on Cover: A Fete Worse Than Death by Dolores Gordon-Smith (2/20/24)
~About Positive Changes:

~"Secret" in the Title: The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton (7/3/24)
~Someone Sleeping on the Cover:
~About a Secret Society: The Moneypenny Diaries by Kate Westbrook (2/29/24)
~Book You Hope Will Quiet Your Mind:

Reasons a Book Might Be Banned
~About Gender Identity:
~Written by a POC: The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton (4/25/24)
~Offensive Language:
~Talking Animals: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (3/22/24)

~Mirror on the Cover:
~About Looking Back: Zombies of the Gene Pool by Sharyn McCrumb (3/27/24)
~Book You Know Will Make You Think:
~Antonyms in the Title: The Silent Speaker by Rex Stout (3/5/24)

Book Cliches
~The Butler Did It (book with a butler): Murder & Mendelssohn by Kerry Greenwood [a butler named Mr. Butler] (1/27/24)
~It Was a Dark & Stormy Night (great first line): Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney ["I was born with a broken heart."] (3/26/24)
~Once Upon a Time (fairytale retelling): It's Not Little Red Riding Hood by Josh Funk (7/4/24)
~There Can Only Be One (book pits characters against each other): Unnatural Ends by Christopher Huang (4/14/24)

~Book with Pirates: The Dragon Boat Mystery by John Bechtel (6/19/24)
~Sword on the Cover: The Song of Roland translated by Dorothy L. Sayers (2/2/24)
~Daring Adventure Graphic Novel:
~About a Stowaway:

New Year's Resolutions
~Read Anything--Goal Is to Read More: The Emperor's Snuff Box by John Dickson Carr (1/3/24)
~Title That Sounds Like Exercise:
~About Cleaning House/Getting Organized:
~About Getting Away From It All:

How Do You Want Your Eggs?
~Hardboiled Crime:
~About Finding the Sunny Side of Life:
~Book with a Poacher:
~Devil as a Character: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

Doing It "Old School"
~Stamp or Rotary Phone on Cover: One by One They Disappeared by Moray Dalton (3/2/24)
~Author Old Enough to Be a Grandparent: Inspector of the Dead by David Morrell (2/7/24)
~About Someone Traveling by Foot
~Set Before You Were Born: The Passenger from Scotland Yard by H. F. Wood (1/11/24)

~Written by Someone Same Generation As You: Mad About the Boy? by Dolores Gordon-Smith (3/13/24)
~Multigenerational Story:
~Set When the Boomers Were in Their Prime: A Guilty Thing Surprised by Ruth Rendell (1/28/24)
~Book That Generates Hope:

Food Groups
~Dairy (a cheesy book):
~Meat (book you can sink your teeth into):
~Fruit (fruit in the title): The Case of the One-Penny Orange by E. V. Cunningham OR Murder on Mulberry Bend by Victoria Thompson
~Grain (Set in a farming community):

Love Them Pockets!
~A Key or a Pocket on the Cover: Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz (3/16/24)
~Read a "Pocket Guide":
~Purse on the Cover:
~Book That Might Have Been Carried in a Soldier's Pocket: The Blue Geranium by Dolan Birkley [has "send this book to the soldiers when you're done with it" blurb at the back] (3/3/24)

Just Desserts
~Book About Revenge: The Cambridge Murders by Glyn Daniel (1/24/24)
~Something Sweet on the Cover:
~Book You'd Like to Settle in With an After Dinner Drink:
~Author Who Has a Good Reputation With Fans:

Color Me Up!
~Color Word in Title: Mystery at Greenfingers by J. B. Priestley (4/23/24)
~Favorite Color on Cover:
~Author with Color Name: Playing with Myself by Randy Rainbow (1/31/24)
~Book That Looks Like Someone Went Crazy With Crayons:

Seems Sketchy
~An Illustrated Book: Amphigorey by Edward Gorey (5/24/24)
~Unreliable Narrator:
~Sketchbook/Notebook on Cover:
~"Fake" in Title:

TBR Busters
~Meant to Read Last Year:
~Any From TBR Pile: Murder in C Major by Sara Hoskinson Frommer (1/15/24)
~Gift You Haven't Read Yet: Cold Bed in the Clay by Ruth Sawtell Wallis [Xmas 2018] (4/30/24)
~Has a Dusty Cover:

~About a Monster Nobody Believes Exists: Seance for a Vampire by Fred Saberhagen (4/9/24)
~Author Who Uses a Pseudonym: When Blood Lies by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor) (2/18/24)
~Fiction Based on True Story:
~About Something Counterfeit:

Spice It Up
~Nonfiction About a Controversial Person:
~A Spice in the Title:
~A Spicy Cover:
~Set Somewhere Known For Its Cuisine: The Unicorn Murders by Carter Dickson [France] (2/28/24)

The Long & the Short of It
~Over 500 Pages:
~Under 150 Pages: Grand Cru Heist by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen (3/28/24)
~Title At Least 7 Words Long: Murder by the Book: Mysteries for Bibliophiles by Martin Edwards, ed (1/20/24)
~Author Whose Last Name Has No More Than Five Letters: The Blood-Dimmed Tide by Rennie Airth (2/16/24)

Wild Cards
~Gothic Novel:
~A Geeky Character: Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb [a whole convention full of them] (1/21/24)
~About Prophecies:
~Book Someone Says "Changed Their Life": The Midnight Library by Matt Haig [several people have said so in reviews--but I didn't think it was that astounding] (4/24/24)
~About Someone With a Disability

Thursday, December 28, 2023

What's in a Name Challenge


Andrea at Carolina Book Nook is back with another round of the What's in a Name Challenge. And I'm so glad--I've been anxiously awaiting the new version. This has always been a favorite of mine, so of course I'm back for another round as well. The format is the same--six categories and one book required for each one. The prompt must appear in the title of the book. For full details, see the link above.

My Tentative List:
1. Double Letters: The Emperor's SnuFF Box by John Dickson Carr (1/3/24)
2. An NFL Team: The Golden Eagle Mystery by Ellery Queen Jr. (6/14/24)
3. A Natural Disaster: Taken at the Flood  (aka There Is a Tide) by Agatha Christie (1/14/24) 
4.  A Virtue: Out of Order by Phoebe Atwood Taylor (Ben Franklin's list) OR Pieces of Justice by Margaret Yorke
5. Shape: Q-Squared by Peter David (3/17/24)
6. Footwear: The New Shoe by Arthur W. Upfield (5/25/24)

The Clock Reading Challenge


Jo at Jo Linsdell is sponsoring a very straightforward reading challenge: 12 books in 12 months. Each book should have numbers from one to twelve in the title so we can fill in our clock face. For more info and to join in, please see her link. I've listed my tentative choices.

One: One by One They Disappeared by Moray Dalton (3/2/24)
Two: Man of Two Tribes by Arthur W. Upfield (2/22/24)
Three: Bodies from the Library 3 by Tony Medawar, ed (1/7/24)
Four: Bodies from the Library 4  by Tony Medawar, ed (5/3/24)
Five: Death in Five Boxes by Carter Dickson (5/20/24)
Six: Six Queer Things by Christopher St. John Sprigg (5/21/24)
Seven: The Door with Seven Locks by Edgar Wallace OR The Seven Deadly Sisters by Patricia McGerr
Eight: Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi
Nine: Wycliffe & the Guild of Nine by W. J. Burley OR Nine Times Nine by Anthony Boucher
Ten: The Tenth Life by Richard Lockridge (5/23/24)
Eleven: Eleven Came Back by Mabel Seeley
Twelve: The Twelve Deaths of Christmas by Marian Babson OR The Twelve Disguises by Francis Beeding

Buzzwords Challenge

 Books and Lala sponsors the Buzzword Reading Challenge on Storygraph. The goal is pretty simple--just read one book per month which has the following prompt words in the title. I decided that I just don't have enough reading challenges, so here we go for one more...

I'll post my tentative picks below and will update as I go along.

January--There/Their/They're: There Is a Tide by Agatha Christie (1/14/24)
February--Positive/Happy Words (sweet, cute, joy, etc): A Fete Worse Than Death by Dolores Gordon-Smith [fete = fun frolic/carnival]
March--Character Name in Title: The Moneypenny Diaries by Kate Westbrook (2/29/24)
April--Nature Related Words (earth, dirt, grass, ocean, etc): Cold Bed in the Clay by Ruth Sawtell Wallis (4/30/24)
May--"Every": Crows Are Black Everywhere by Herbert O. Yardley & Carl Grabo (5/17/24)
June--Same word twice (or more): Old Hall, New Hall by Michael Innes (6/12/24)
July--Measurement Words: Death in a Small World by Laura Colburn; The Big Midget Murders by Craig Rice
August--"Like": Nothing Like Blood by Leo Bruce; No Police Like Holmes by Dan Andriacco
September: Senses (and related words): Death in a Pheasant's Eye by James Fraser; Red Eye for the Baron by Anthony Morton (John Creasey); Touch the Devil by Jack Higgins
October--Relationships (mother, father, sister, friend, etc): Murder Among Friends by Lange Lewis; Old Lover's Ghost by Leslie Ford; The Seven Deadly Sisters by Patricia McGerr
November--"Only": Take Only as Directed by James Byrom
December: Holiday Words (Christmas, thankful, merry, etc): Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury by Louisa May Alcott; The Twelve Deaths of Christmas by Marian Babson; The Gift Horse by Frank Gruber

Linz the Bookworm/Logophile Reading Challenge


Linz the Bookworm and Tress @The Logophile co-sponsor a 2024 Reading Challenge that works on a tiered-level format. There are five levels for a total of 60 books if all levels are completed. I plan on opting in for the first level: Book of the Month Club. After that, I may read more books for the challenge--just to see how many categories I can fill--but my personal commitment will be met at Level 1. I've filled in possible choices.

Level 1 Book of the Month Club
1. Book you got for free: Murder by the Book: Mysteries for Bibliophiles by Martin Edwards, ed [Christmas gift] 
2. Book by an author you've previously read: Man of Two Tribes by Arthur W. Upfield (2/22/24)
3. Book Under 400 pages: Bodies from the Library 3 by Tony Medawar, ed [374 pages] (1/7/24)
4. Book published in 2014: The Penny Detective by John Tallon Jones
5. Reread a book you've recommended to someone:
6. A fairytale or classic book retelling: It's Not Little Red Riding Hood by Josh Funk (7/4/24)
7. Read a comedy/satire: Mystery at Greenfingers by J. B. Priestley (4/23/24)
8. Book that's been on the shelf over a year: The Emperor's Snuff Box by John Dickson Carr [on my shelf since 2010] (1/3/24)
9. Book with a color in the title: The Blue Geranium by Dolan Birkley (3/3/24)
10. Book from LA Public Library Staff Recommendations: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa (2/14/24)
11. Read a caper story (heist/theft/etc.): Grand Cru Heist by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen (3/28/24)
12. Free Space (any book): The Passenger from Scotland Yard by H. F. Wood (1/11/24)

Level 2 Casual Reader Club
13. Book One of a Duology: Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb (1/21/24)
14. Book Two of a Duology: Zombies of the Gene Pool by Sharyn McCrumb (3/27/24)
15. Book about faeries: 
16. Book you meant to read for last year's challenge:
17. Book with 3 or more colors on cover: The Mystery at Orchard House by Joan Coggin (1/13/24)
18. Book by author who shares a name with a family member: A Guilty Thing Surprised by Ruth Rendell [Grandma Ruth] (1/28/24)
19. Published by Simon & Schuster (or one of its imprints)
20. Book with "Dark" in the title: Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney (3/26/24)
21. Book published in 2004: The Blood-Dimmed Tide by Rennie Airth (2/16/24)
22. Book with a Gothic theme: Six Queer Things by Christopher St. John Sprigg (5/21/24)
23. Banned Book:
24. Free Space (any book): There Is a Tide by Agatha Christie (1/14/24)

Level 3 Dedicated Reader Club
25. Enemies to Lovers Story:
26. Lovers/Friends to Enemies Story:
27. Starts with Letter "S": (The) Silent Speaker by Rex Stout (3/5/24)
28. Book from Refinery 29's "The Ultimate Book Bucket List"
29. Book with a grey cover: Death has a Small Voice by Frances & Richard Lockridge (1/31/24)
30. Book by author with an interesting name: Playing with Myself by Randy Rainbow (1/31/24)
31. Historical fiction novel: Murder & Mendelssohn by Kerry Greenwood (1/27/24)
32. Place name in title: The Cambridge Murders by Glyn Daniel (1/24/24)
33. Book about a vet/someone who works with animals: The Tenth Life by Richard Lockridge (5/23/24)
34: First in a series you've wanted to start: A Fete Worse Than Death by Dolores Gordon-Smith (2/20/24)
35. Published before you were born: The Song of Roland translated by Dorothy L. Sayers (2/2/24)
36. Free Space (any book): Murder in C Major by Sara Hoskinson Frommer (1/15/24)

Level 4 Speed Reader Club
37. Book by Eleanor Hibbert (or one of her pseudonyms): 
38. Memoir:
39. Book referenced in a film/TV show:
40. Book with a skull on the cover: Twice Retired by Richard Lockridge (5/13/24)
41. Book with "Truth" in the title:
42. Book that involves a game/fandom/geek culture: Making It So by Patrick Stewart [he talks about his interactions with Trek fans at conventions in one section] (4/10/24)
43. Book with scientist main character: Death, My Darling Daughters by Jonathan Stagge (1/1/24)
44. Takes place in a cold climate:
45. Book with double letters in the title: The HoLLow (aka Murder After Hours) by Agatha Christie (2/26/24)
46. By two or more authors: Death Takes a Bow by Frances & Richard Lockridge (2/24/24)
47. Book involving/inspired by Egyptian mythology:
48. Free Space (any book): The Final Days of Abbot Montrose by Sven Elvestad (2/3/24)

Level 5 Overachiever Club
49. Book with a unicorn in it: The Unicorn Murders by Carter Dickson (2/28/24)
50. Takes place in the 18th Century:
51. Book by Jonathan Coe
52. Book over 700 pages:
53. Title has five words: One by One They Disappeared by Moray Dalton (3/2/24)
55. Picture of food or drink on cover:
56. Author has "Fred" in their name: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Seance for a Vampire by Fred Saberhagen (4/9/24)
57. Takes place in South America:
58. Book previously started but did not finish: Q-Squared by Peter David (3/17/24)
59. Rickrolled: Book that has one (or more) of the following words in title--Never Going To Give You Up: 
60. Free Space (any book): Inspector of the Dead by David Morrell (2/7/24)

Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Ultimate My Reader's Block Challenge Wrap-Up


For a few years now, I've gone to a one-stop shopping plan for challenge wrap-up posts. If you participated in any of the Reader's Block challenges, then you may submit your wrap-up posts here. The linky will be open until Friday, January 5th. Then on Saturday, January 6th, I will pick random winners* from all the challenges to select a prize from the prize vault. If you have participated in more than one challenge, you are welcome to submit a separate wrap-up post for each challenge and earn yourself an entry for every challenge. (*Number of winners will depend on where winners are from--I don't want to exclude my friends from outside the US, but shipping costs won't allow me to do many of those.)

Please list your name in the following manner (especially if you've got more than one entry): 

Name (challenge name) [example-- Bev@My Reader's Block (Vintage Scattergories)]

If you don't blog and don't have an URL to link up, you may post your wrap-ups in comments below (one comment per challenge) and I'll add you into the drawing. I will keep my eye on the entries and enter everyone onto a spread sheet in the order I see the entries appear. That order will determine the number for the random number generator to select.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Quest of the Missing Map

 The Quest of the Missing Map (1942) by Carolyn Keene

The case of Nancy Drew and the expanding mystery: Nancy's involvement in this one starts with Hannah Gruen. Hannah introduces Nancy to Ellen Smith, daughter of the family where Hannah served as housekeeper before coming to the Drews. Ellen is now around Nancy's age and attending a music school. Her family's fortunes have taken a down-turn and she's considering taking a position as a piano teacher to Trixie Chatham. But Ellen has some qualms about the house where Mrs. Chatham (a widow) and her daughter live--as well as Mrs. Chatham's attitude towards her daughter. She wanted Hannah to come with her to meet Mrs. Chatham, but Hannah suggests that she take Nancy instead.

The vibes are definitely off at the Chatham house. And it doesn't help that Trixie says that the studio where her mother's first husband's possessions are stored is haunted. There's a man with fierce staring eyes who appears and disappears. Nancy is sure she can show the little girl that her fears are misplaced, but Nancy experiences some odd things in the studio. First, there is a piano that won't play...and then does. While Nancy's trying to figure that out, a hidden panel opens and a menacing voice tells her to "Leave here at once and never come back!" So, Nancy tells Ellen to ask for time to make a decision about the position to give her a chance to investigate.

Then Ellen tells Nancy that her father has a mystery that needs solving as well and takes her to meet him. Mr. Tomlin Smith was one of twin boys who had a sea-faring captain as a father. Before he died in an accident to his ship, Captain Tomlin gave the boys each one half of a map which he said would lead to treasure. The boys were put in separate lifeboats and never saw one another again. Mr. Tomlin Smith was eventually adopted by a family names Smith, but always wanted to try and find his brother. Now he'd like Nancy to help him.

Nancy's investigations into the Chatham and Tomlin mysteries lead her into several encounters with a gang of criminals determined to find the two pieces of the map and make off with the treasure themselves. Nancy is kidnapped, hit over the head, crowned queen of a dance, and makes the discovery of hidden passages--all on her way to finding all the clues to the treasure. But the criminals seem to be a step ahead...will Nancy, her friends, and the Tomlin families be in time to save the treasure from the bad guys? Well...this is a Nancy Drew story, so what do you think?

This is another of the Nancy Drew series that I remember enjoying well enough when I was young, but it wasn't one of the favorites that I read again and again. I'm not entirely sure why. There's all kinds of action; there are secret passages and hidden treasure maps and creepy "ghosts" and a real-live treasure hunt and Ned gets to do a rescue and... But somehow all that action just didn't add up to the kind of excitement I found in The Clue of the Broken Locket or The Clue of the Dancing Puppet or any of the others I loved to reread. And reading it now, I can't blame my younger self. It's a perfectly good Nancy Drew story. Nothing wrong with it, but it definitely doesn't rank among the best of them. ★★

First line: Golden hair flying in the wind, Nancy Drew ran up the porch steps and let herself into the front door of her home.

Last line: The adventure was at an end.


Deaths = 3 (one drowned; two natural)

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Mistletoe Murder & Other Stories

 The Mistletoe Murder & Other Stories
(2016) by P. D. James

A quartet of mysterious short stories--three of which take place during the Christmas holiday season and two of which feature James's Adam Dalgliesh. She provides the reader with some surprises and twists to delight the mystery fan. I knew there was a twist coming the first of the stories, but I actually anticipated it twisting in a different direction. Nicely done. ★★★★

"The Mistletoe Murder": An unpleasant distant relation of our narrator is murdered on Boxing Day. And it seems as if none of the three people in the house could have done it. But James manages to pull off an interesting little twist.

"A Very Commonplace Murder": Not really a detective story--but a very creepy one about a man whose taste for pornagraphy puts in the the position to exonerate a young man accused of murdering his lover. But will he? And if he won't, why?

"The Boxdale Inheritance": Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh's godfather, a very conscientious man of the cloth, asks him to investigate a 67-year-old murder. The woman accused (and acquitted) of murdering his grandfather has recently died and left Canon Boxdale the money she inherited. The Canon doesn't want to touch the inheritance if his Great Aunt Allie (really step-grandmother) was really guilty. Will the Canon be able to enjoy the inheritance with a clear conscience? (*originally published as "Great Aunt Allie's Flypapers" in 1979. I knew I had read it before somewhere.)

"The Twelve Clues of Christmas": A young Sergeant Dalgliesh runs across a suspicious death on his way to his aunt's house. He produces a dozen clues that convinces the ranking local officer that the bizarre suicide is really murder.

First line (1st story): One of the minor hazards of being a bestselling crime novelist is the ubiquitous question, "And have you ever been personally involved in a real-life murder investigation?"; a question occasionally asked with a look and tone which suggest that the Murder Squad of the Metropolitan Police might with advantage dig up my back garden.

Last lines (last story): "My dear Aunt Jane, I don't think I'll ever have another case like it. It was pure Agatha Christie."


Deaths = 10 (one drowned; one hit on head; one suicide; one shot; two natural; one stabbed; one hanged; two poisoned)

John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles

 John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles (1995) by Douglas G. Greene

Carr is widely recognized by Golden age fans as a grand master when it comes to locked rooms and impossible crimes. He spent his writing life coming up with more ways to kill people in impossible situations than just about anybody. And he did it while (mostly) playing fair with his readers. He believed, as did most of the Golden Age detective novelists, that all of the clues should be fairly displayed--that the reader should have every chance to beat the detective to the solution. Or at least arrive there at the same time. Even when he was writing his historical novels, he still included a bit (or more) of mystery and followed the same rule. 

Greene has given mystery fans a detailed, intensely researched look at Carr's life, but more importantly a detailed look at the books he wrote. The themes, the tricks, the process, and the evolution of Carr's series characters. If you haven't read all of Carr's books, then there are parts you'll want to skip because in talking about the author's writing process and themes Greene often needs to spoil a plot or two. But he gives ample warning so no one will read a spoiler unawares.

I will say that this isn't really a book to sit down and read straight through (though I did). It will be far more useful as a reference book to have handy when I read the Carr novels still left on my TBR pile. I'll enjoy reading The Unicorn Murders, for instance, and then turning to Greene's book to see what I missed and how things came together for Carr as he was writing. 

A fine literary biography. Recommended for mystery fans--especially those who enjoy impossible crimes and those written by a master. ★★★★ 

First line (preface): For more than forty years, John Dickson Carr created and explained miracles in novels, short stories, and scripts.

Last lines: When John Dickson Carr was asked whether he would change any part of his life, he answered, "Oh, I've been a damned fool, sometimes, you know, but otherwise, no." The world has plenty of damned fools--all of can claim that title--but it had only one John Dickson Carr.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

2023 TBR Pile Wrap-Up


Well, this is it. The last fling for 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 had to do it every time Adam offered it. Well, Adam is hanging up his challenge host hat and has begun a new blogging adventure at the Contemplative Reading Project

So--how did I do on this last round? As always, I aimed to do all twelve of my original list as well as the two alternates. I almost made it--ending the year with thirteen read. I tried to read the Cohen book, but it just wasn't quite what I thought I was getting myself into and I decided that life was too short to finish it since I didn't absolutely have to have it to complete the challenge.

For an end of year wrap-up, Adam has asked us which book/s we loved and which book/s we hated from the list. Most of these earned a nice, middle-of-the-road three stars. Enjoyable books, but nothing extraordinary. The best of the bunch were Over Sea, Under Stone by Cooper and I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay by Ellison & Asimov. Cooper's book was delightful and I'm sorry I didn't discover her when I was young--I would have loved those books even more then. And Ellison & Asimov together are dynamite--explosive ideas and story line with terrific illustrations. When revisiting science fiction authors I loved as a teenager, I'm sometimes disappointed--but Ellison and Asimov never disappoint. 
Speaking of disappointments...Robert Silverberg was a favorite when I went through my big SF phase. But reading books by him that I added to the TBR stacks and never got round to until middle age has not gone so well. Last lines of the review for Tom O'Bedlam: I'm sorry, but I'm just not feeling this one. It took too long to get to the Crossing and then when we got just fell flat and it seemed like there should have been something more. Very anticlimactic. Not the best Silverberg I've read (but then...I'm wondering what I would think now of some of the work I enjoyed so much back in the 80s). The other that made the least favorite list is Runcie's Sidney Chambers & the Perils of the Night. Verdict (from review): I wasn't all that excited about his debut when I read it two years ago, but I wanted to give him another chance. The most endearing thing about the man is he brings up Lord Peter Wimsey in the cricket match story. But, overall, my view of these stories still stands--the characters just don't grab me and I don't buy Chambers as an amateur detective.

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)

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Blind Man's Bluff

 For the last several years, Kate at Cross Examining Crime has been rounding up the vintage mystery bloggers and having us perpetuate her brilliant brainstorm (one of many that she has had). In the wake of various publishing houses recognizing the virtues of Golden Age (and more recent) vintage crime novels through reprint editions of both well-known and more obscure titles, Kate thought those of us who love those vintage mysteries would like the chance to feature the year's reprints and make a pitch for our favorites to be voted Reprint of the Year. We loved the idea so much that we keep coming back for more.

My second choice for the 2023 Awards is Blind Man's Bluff (1943) by Baynard Kendrick. Synopsis [from the book]: The Miners Title and Trust is typically dead quiet, having gone bankrupt. Then late one evening, the bank's blind president, Blake Hadfield, plummets eight stories to his death in the building's lobby. The only witnesses are the security guard and Blake's estranged wife, who were both on the first floor. Blake's son, Seth, is found drunk and dazed on the eighth floor, making him a suspect if the president's death wasn't suicide. That's when Harold Lawson and Sybella Ford call upon Captain Maclain for help. 

And, yes, I know I say "Vote for..." on every single reprint that I nominate for the ROY Awards. But I really mean it this time. Blind Man's Bluff is the best Kendrick mystery I've read so far* and is absolutely deserving of your vote. If you want an unusual detective, Kendrick's got that. Captain Duncan Maclain was blinded during WWI and has spent years working on methods to help him navigate in a world of darkness and to strengthen his other senses in realistic ways to help compensate for his lack of sight. He also has two dogs to help him--one to serve as a guide and the other to serve as a guard/protector. Drieste is highly trained, is fearless under fire, and will attack anyone who thinks of threatening Maclain. To add to this interesting set-up for a detective, in this mystery, Kendrick has thrown in a bonus. Not only is our detective blind, but so is one of our first victims.

 If you like impossible crimes, then Kendrick's got that too. Here we have a string of deaths that the upper levels of the police have called suicides. Beginning with a man who apparently shot at Blake Hadfield and merely blinded him before turning the pistol upon himself and followed by a string of victims who plunged to their deaths from great heights. With no one around to push them or help them over the balcony or out the window. Even though his superiors believe in suicide, Lieutenant Davis doesn't and he's all set to figure out how Seth Hadfield, Blake's son, managed to kill not only his father, but a shyster lawyer and the nightwatchman at Blake Hadfield's office building. When the friends of Seth's mentioned above call on Maclain to clear the young man and discover the truth, he agrees with Davis that it's murder--but he has a different killer in mind. All he has to do is figure out how someone could "push" men off the edge without being anywhere near the buildings.

"We're dealing with a strange criminal, gentlemen, a murderer who kills for change, fountain pens, and paperweights, a lowerer of blinds on the eighth floor of a building who cuts the lowering cord entirely off so that the Venetian blind can never be raised again."

If you not only like an impossible crime, but an ingenious method for accomplishing it then once again, Kendrick's got you covered. It's both ingenious and terrifying. And he plays fair with the reader. The clues are all there waiting for the observant armchair detective to pick them up and put them together for a clever solution. I'll just go ahead and confess...I wasn't observant or clever enough. I did spot the killer, but that wasn't because I picked up the right clues. It was based on behavior and my impressions of the person from the moment they walked onstage. And I certainly couldn't have told you how they did it. ★★★★

 And if you need more encouragement to vote for Kendrick, then check out Brad's review earlier this year at Ah Sweet Mystery. He may not have Blind Man's Bluff on his nomination list for the ROY, but he certainly did enjoy it!

*Have read Death Knell, The Odor of Violets (twice), Out of Control, and the novella The Murderer Who Wanted More.

First line: Julia Hadfield cleared the dishes away from the drop-leaf table laid for three and stacked her own in the sink against the coming of her part-time maid in the morning.

"We have to break it, Davis. There is no such thing as a perfect crime." Duncan Maclain (p. 89)

Last line: "Why the hell don't you marry me?"


Deaths = 4 (one shot; three fell from height)