Monday, January 30, 2023

Madeline & the Gypsies

 Madeline and the Gypsies (1958) by Ludwig Bemelmans

Madeline is a spunky little redhead who is constantly getting into the most interesting predicaments and having adventures that must have caused poor Miss Clavel to have gray hair long before her time. In this particular adventure, Miss Clavel takes the "twelve little girls in two straight lines" plus their neighbor Pepito (the Spanish ambassador's son) to the gypsy carnival where there are rides and circus-like acts and much excitement for the children. In the middle of their outing there is a sudden storm and Miss Clavell and the children rush back to the convent--only to find that Madeline and Pepito are not with them. When the storm came on the Ferris wheel was stopped and the two children were stranded at the top of the wheel. The rest of the story features Madeline and Pepito's adventures with the gypsy carnival--taking part in a horse-riding act and even appearing as a lion--before Miss Clavell and eleven little girls arrive to take them home.

This particular installment of the Madeline stories appears on the American Library Association's "Top 100 Most Banned & Challenge Books: 2010-2019" presumably because of the term gypsy and the depiction of the gypsy mama as being willing to run off with the children and even disguise them in the lion costume to prevent them from being found. I can only say that when I read these stories as a child, the only thing I had in mind was the adventure--watching Madeline and Pepito have the chance to join the circus (so to speak) and travel with the caravan for a short time before returning safely home to Paris. I don't think I gave much thought to how the people they wound up with were categorized. The illustrations stuck in my mind as circus-related--not gypsy-related. But now as an adult I can certainly see the enforcement of a negative view of the Romani people--which is unfortunate because the story is full of adventure and lovely illustrations that bring back memories of reading when I was young. 

My rating for the story when I first read it would have been four stars (though I never entered it in my reading log or gave it a rating). I loved Madeline and reading about her adventures and always had great fun with these stories. The illustrations were always fun and eye-catching. Reading it now, I will deduct a star for the negative connotations, but the nostalgia and eye-catching illustrations still have a strong pull. 

The Crimson Clue

 The Crimson Clue (1952) by George Harmon Coxe

In his fourteenth outing, Courier photographer Kent Murdock once again finds himself knee-deep in murder. Patricia Canning, an old friend of Kent's, asks him to take pictures at her wedding. This is an unusual request, not because Kent doesn't use his camera outside of office hours but because Patricia's family is notoriously camera-shy. The opportunity to take approved candid shots of the Cannings would be the scoop of the year...if he were operating for the paper. As the wedding day progresses, Kent comes across an even bigger scoop. Except he may not be able to use it.

During a break in the wedding action, Kent is looking for a quiet place to exchange films and reload his camera. The Canning mansion is pretty much stuffed to the rafters with guests, but he ventures up to the third floor and finds a quieter area. Opening the door to what he thinks will be a small bedroom, he finds himself in a closet and he's not alone. It looks like someone stashed a drunken guest out of the way. But when Kent takes a closer look he realizes the man is not dead drunk...just dead. His newspaper instincts take over and he takes some pictures and goes through the man's pockets to discover his name. Then he decides that it can't possibly hurt anything if he waits to report it. In fact, it will help Patricia get away for her honeymoon and it will help the Courier scoop the other newspapers. 

What he doesn't know is that someone knows he found the corpse and the body is going to disappear before he can report it. In fact, he's silly enough to put the used film in his case and then leave the case while he goes off to take pictures of the happy couple riding off into the sunset. guessed it...his camera bag with film included disappears as well. The Canning family (sans Patricia) closes ranks and claims that Kent has mistaken a drunken man for a dead one who must have come out of his stupor and wandered away. It's unfortunate that someone stole his camera bag, but they would be more than happy to compensate him for his loss. 

Kent knows what he saw and when an unidentified body shows up at the morgue (picked up in a suburb), he isn't surprised to find Neil Garvin in the appropriate drawer. As one might imagine, Lieutenant Bacon isn't too thrilled with Kent's story when he finally tells it and the two men spend the rest of the book trying to prove that Garvin really was killed in the Canning's house and looking for evidence that will point to the killer.

So...let's get the quibble out of the way first. While snapping his pictures of the corpse in the closet, Kent thinks he hears a noise. Why on earth would he abandon his film and run off to take more reception pictures? The man has been involved in 13 other murder cases (possibly more--I'm just going with the stories recorded by Coxe), surely to goodness he's learned something along the way. You'd think he'd be a little more careful about leaving evidence behind when it's possible somebody was around when he took the photos. If it's me, I drop the used film in my pocket and go off and take the honeymoon exit pictures. Actually, if it's me, I immediately report what I found. But then where would our plot be? I suspect not too far from what we get--a house full of possible suspects. With everyone milling about, it would be difficult to pinpoint who was where and when, so we really don't need the added difficulty of proving that the body was ever there in the first place.

If we ignore Kent's initial behavior when he discovers Garvin's body, then this is a really good detective novel. Lots of action and motives for the murder. The vital evidence is a bit out of the realm of younger readers, but certainly makes for a good reveal. Coxe does a good job of distracting from the culprit and provides an exciting wrap-up scene. In general, I have enjoyed all of the Kent Murdock stories (three others) I've read so far and I do like his relationship with Lt. Bacon. A good solid mystery.  and 1/4

First line: Among the employees of the Courier the Studio was the term used to designate the photographic department on the third floor.

Last line: Ten seconds later he was asking the Courier operator for the city desk.


Deaths = 4 (one strangled; one natural; one auto accident; one shot)

All challenges fulfilled: BC by Erin,Vintage Scavenger Hunt,Mount TBR,Reading by the Numbers,Medical Examiner,Cloak & Dagger,Color Coded,Alphabet Soup,52 Books in 52 Weeks,Series Catch-Up,Stacking the Series,TBR 23 in '23,Linz the Bookworm RC,Pick Your Poison,Mystery Reporter,52 Book Club,

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Mysterious Invitation (slightly spoilerish)

 Mysterious Invitation (2021) by Bernice Bloom [Mary Brown Mysteries #1]

Mary Brown (and five others) receives an invitation to the funeral of a man she doesn't know. In fact, neither she nor her parents have ever heard of Reginald Charters. And an internet search leaves them no wiser. When she contacts the solicitors mentioned in the invitation to see if perhaps they have the wrong Mary Brown, they assure her that she really is the Mary Brown Reginald wanted at his funeral. All expenses will be paid--for hotel, travel, and incidentals--and if she comes then she will hear something to her advantage. So, she decides "what the heck" and arrives to find that the five other people specifically invited to the funeral also have no idea who Reginald Charters was and why he wanted them there.

Each person finds an envelope with newspaper clipping inside and message from Reginald saying how glad he is that they could come. At dinner, the solicitor tells them that after the funeral there will be a reading of the will--in which they all figure. When the will is read, they are told that there is one million pounds to be divided amongst them if they can figure out who Reginald was and why they have been selected. They have 20 hours to solve the mystery. 

The group decides to pool their resources. Simon Blake, a director, takes the lead and asks each one to share what their newspaper clipping is about and a little bit about their lives. Mary's is dated 1973 and is about a playwriting course offered by a man called Andrew Marks in Bristol, but she hasn't any more idea who Andrew was than she does about Reginald. Simon goes next. His clipping is from 1977 and gives a list of plays written by different playwrights. He hasn't been able to get much information about any of them though he thinks his father may have produced some, or all, of the plays. And he does have a connection to Bristol. He works as a theatre director in Bath which is close to Bristol. Julie and Sally Bramley (sisters) have cuttings from 1976 about nurses from Bristol--and their mother was a nurse. Mike Sween has a paper that is a mock-up of an ad for a Bed & Breakfast in Bristol and his parents ran a B&B in Bristol for years. And, finally, Matt Prior doesn't have a clipping, but has a taxi receipt from 1976 with a smiley face and what looks like a medical cross on it. He can't think of any connection to Bristol. But it definitely seems like Bristol is central to the story. 

Who was Reginald Charters? What do all these clues mean? And will they find out in time to earn the inheritance? Woven between the chapters focused on the modern day puzzle is a story of Marco, an Italian prisoner of war during World War II who was put to work on a farm in Wales. As we read the story of Marco and (eventually) his family, we begin to understand how everything fits together--long before Mary and the others do. 

[Slight spoilers ahead!]

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand it is an interesting story about how our lives affect one another and also about how POWs in the UK were treated. I enjoyed watching how lives changed from the post-war years through the 70s to today. And I was definitely engaged with Marco's story. But I am disappointed that the story isn't quite the mystery which the blurbs on the back of the book led me to expect.  Very little suspense and tension (other than Julie being a major pain in the you-know-what) and the stakes aren't really as high as the group are led to believe. There are emotional mysteries to be solved, but that's about it. One other quibble--I really got tired of all the meals and food talk by our main character. Okay--we get it. Mary Brown likes her food. That's great. And for the most part (again, except for Julie), the others don't shame her for her enjoyment of food--and lots of it. It was good to see a story where people were so accepting of those who weren't like them or whom society in general might not be so generous to. But after a while it just didn't add anything to the main plot. Especially when Mary is the one making such a major deal about it and the others don't even seem to be paying attention. 

First line: "Hi, Mum, it's me," I said, as I plonked myself inelegantly on the edge of the squashy sofa, and listened to my mother's dulcet tones come down the phone line.

Last line: Please come and visit us! Lots of love, Charlie & Eddie Gower.


Deaths = nine (natural)

November = pub month

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Over Sea, Under Stone

 Over Sea, Under Stone (1965) by Susan Cooper

The first book in Cooper's The Dark Is Rising fantasy series has a heavy dose of mystery in it. Barney, Simon, and Jane Drew are headed to Cornwall with their parents to spend a month with their Great Uncle Merry (Merriman Lyon). Uncle Merry is well known for disappearing on quests for treasures that wind up in museums and the children hope that they might find some treasure of their own. When a rainy day see them exploring all the nooks and crannies of the house the family has rented from an old sea captain, it looks like their hopes may be fulfilled. In a dusty corner of a hidden attic, Barney finds an old piece of manuscript with a rough drawn map and with words written in ancient script. The words they are able to decipher lead them to believe that there is a treasure hidden "over sea, under stone" and connected in some way to King Arthur.

As they begin their own quest, they find their journey dogged by a trio on a mysterious yacht as well as the local vicar. It seems that evil forces are gathering and they turn to their great uncle for help. But will he be able to protect them when their search leaves them trapped by the rising tide between the cliff and the sea....and the evil forces waiting on the yacht? 

This is a delightful children's fantasy novel filled with mystery and adventure and a good old battle between the forces of good and evil. I cannot believe that I never discovered and read it when I was growing up. I would have loved and appreciated it so much more if I had. Reading it in my fifties was fun--but not nearly as much fun as it would have been if I had still been in my single digits. 

I enjoyed the connections to Arthur and the way the children worked out the clues that led them to the grail--not the Holy Grail, but a cup that depicts several scenes from the life of Arthur. They work together (despite some mandatory sibling squabbling) and each play an important role in figuring out a step in the process. Great fun! 

First line: "Where is he?"

Last line: "I think we shall know," he said slowly, "one day."


Deaths = two natural

A Gentleman's Murder

 A Gentleman's Murder (2018) by Christopher Huang

There has always been a Peterkin among the members of the Britannia Club, the elite gentlemen's club for those who had been servicemen. In fact, a Peterkin was one of the founding members. And now Lieutenant Eric Peterkin has followed in his father's and forefathers' footsteps to become the newest member with the name. He leads a fairly quiet life--coming in each day to sit in his "Usual Armchair" and read detective manuscripts for a publishing company. That is until an even newer member is added to the roll. 

Albert Benson, a conscientious objector, seems an odd choice for Britannia Club membership but, as is pointed out, Benson served as a stretcher-bearer and saw just as much action without benefit of a weapon to defend himself. The club's President, Edward Aldershott, turns Benson over to Peterkin and Mortimer Wolfe so they can show the new member the ropes. His membership is very short-lived. It begins with a wager and ends with Benson's murder. Wolfe is well-known for making wagers and when the conversation leads to Benson's having stored some items in the Club's safety deposit boxes ("Safer than the Bank of England"), Wolfe declares that he could get into the box and steal one of the items and present it to Benson by noon the next day. Peterkin knows that Wolfe never makes a wager he can't deliver and cautions Benson not to accept. Oddly enough, Aldershott steps in and says he'll take the bet; that he knows Wolfe can't do it.

Peterkin is asked to act as referee and decides that to be completely sure of fair play he should see the items in the box. At first Benson appears reluctant, but then he seems relieved to share the items with someone else. There are four things in the box: a photograph showing a nurse at a birthday party, a medical report regarding one Horatio Parker who had received a cut to the face which required stitches, a hypodermic kit with syringe and a few needles--the kit's lid was engraved with a stylized letter S, and a pair of silver surgical scissors. Though Peterkin is curious at the odd assortment and wonders at their importance, Benson explains little beyond saying, "I expect these things to right a great wrong from the past."

Just before noon the next day Peterkin and Aldershott are waiting for Wolfe and Benson to arrive. Wolfe strolls nonchalantly in and lays a linen bundle on the table. But no Benson, so the men decide to go ahead and inspect what Wolfe has brought. When Peterkin confirms that the surgical scissors do appear to be the same as were in the box the previous evening, he comments that he would have removed the photograph or medical report--they being easier to conceal on his person. Wolfe insists that there was nothing in the box but the scissors and the hypodermic. The men head to the vault area to inspect the boxes and find Benson dead--with Aldershott's letter opener protruding from his neck. When Scotland Yard arrives, the lead detective is Inspector Parker...Inspector Horatio Parker with a nasty scar across his face.

It becomes apparent that the club would prefer to sweep this all under the rug and find a way to blame the incident on a intruder. (Nevermind the porter on the front door, the locked windows and rear door, the locked vault, and the myriad other reasons why it must be someone from the club.) Peterkin's sense of justice and his memory of Benson's last words to him, spur him to try his hand at a bit of detective work. He puts the Peterkin club connection on the line....and then finds his own life in danger. How do a soldiers' recovery hospital, a missing nurse, and the opium dens of Limehouse fit into the story? He needs to find out before the gunman on his trail finally hits his mark.

Huang's story is a delightful homage to Golden Age detection with just a trace of thriller. The plot is intricate and yet displays its clues in ways reminiscent of the best of the classic mystery plots. There are nods to Christie and Earl Derr Biggers and Father Ronald Knox. And Huang pays especial respect to the works of Dorothy L. Sayers. Our hero's last name, Peterkin, is a nod to a name used for Lord Peter Wimsey's small nephew. One of the other characters asks him straight up if he thinks he's another Wimsey. And, of course, our Scotland Yard man is named Inspector Parker. Peterkin doesn't have a Bunter, but he does have his friend Avery and and Ted Cully ("Old Faithful"), the club's porter seems particularly loyal to Peterkin. I felt the spirit of the Sayers stories much more strongly than I did in most of the LPW continuation stories by Jill Paton Walsh.

Peterkin also serves to highlight and provide an answer to the "Yellow Peril" novels of 1920s. He stands astride both worlds--with a very English father and a Chinese mother. Much is made of his outsider status and how much he doesn't look like the proper British gentleman, but it is his outsider status that helps him look at the story from a different angle. This is a very good debut mystery and the story ends with Peterkin heading out to another mystery and one was hopeful that there would be a second story in a series. But his forthcoming novel, while a mystery as well, does not seem to feature the amateur detective. 

*My second selection for the 12 Challenge (read at least 12 books suggested by friends), was definitely a hit. Thanks to Ryan Groff for the suggestion!

First line: The Britannia Club stood on King Street, a respectable limestone facade among respectable limestone facades, with a brass plaque that nobody had looked at in decades; if you had to stop to check the address, you were clearly in the wrong place.

"You always leave something of your humanity behind in a murder. I could never do it." (Avery Ferrett; p. 4)

One of these days, someone would have to write a story, perhaps even a detective story, featuring a Chinese hero. The World needed this as much as a house needed a key. (p. 64; hat tip to Earl Derr Biggers)

We can't close our eyes to unpleasantness if it means living with lies. (Helen Benson; p. 120)

Last line: But Eric had already marched out of the lounge, his stride swift and purposeful, and Avery had to trot to catch up.


Deaths = 10 (one stabbed; three natural; two shot; two drowned; one hit on head; one smoke inhalation)

All Challenges Fulfilled: Virtual Mount TBR,12 Challenge,Cloak & Dagger,Mystery Reporter,Medical Examiner,Alphabet Soup,Alphabet Soup Authors,52 Book Club,Historical Fiction,Linz the Bookworm RC,Pick Your Poison,Calendar of Crime,Reading by the Numbers,

Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Angry Heart

the cover my edition is missing

 The Angry Heart (1947) by Leslie Edgley

Curt Prentice is on a mission. Recently returned from his tour of duty in the second world war, Prentice has vowed to track down the man responsible for gunning down his brother-in-law in cold blood and forcing his wife to commit suicide while Prentice was serving his country. Judson Mason was a dirty cop who didn't mind who he killed as long as got kudos for "cleaning up the streets." But eventually, his deeds caught up with him and he was forced to leave the police department in Chicago. He made his way to Los Angeles where he works as handyman and security for an art gallery. And Curt hires a private detective to find him. 

But when he gets to California, things get complicated and interfere with the mission. Mason's daughter Carol reminds him in some way of his wife and he can't kill the man in front of his own daughter--no matter how much he hates him. And then a drawing of Curt's (he was an artist before army life....) shows up at the gallery and the gallery owners show an interest in his work. And then Nedda Kendall, a patron of the gallery, draws his attention the way no woman has done since he learned of his wife's death. The final complication is murder....and not the one that Curt planned. 

As the drama unfolds, Curt has learned that he cannot commit murder--even if he was able to kill when necessary on the battlefield; even if he fully believes the man was guilty of murder himself. But--if he can investigate the latest murder and prove that Mason was behind it and the state can execute him, then maybe Curt will be able to finally have some peace. But is Mason guilty of murder in California or is Curt trying to twist the facts to fit what he wants...and will he lose someone else who is becoming dear to him before he finds out?

A well-plotted mystery with an interesting look at revenge and how it plays out in Curt's life. We ride along on his roller-coaster as he figures out whether he really can kill the man who destroyed his family. I didn't spot the killer--though looking back, I think I should have. The clues aren't obvious, but they are there. Edgley has a good control of his characters and manages to give a good sketch in just a few words. I do think the relationship between Curt and [redacted] is a little bumpy and doesn't feel quite right in the way it develops (a little quick, perhaps). But that's just a minor quibble. Over all, I enjoyed this first taste of Edgley's work and will definitely pick up any others that I find. 

First line: As the parking lot attendant slouched toward the shabby sedan in the late afternoon, Curt reached under his coat again to touch the cold flat shape of the German Luger in his inner breast pocket.

Last line: "Of course," she said, "We're young."


Deaths = 7 (four shot; two drowned; one natural)

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Hopeland (Alias Skippy Dies Part I)

 So...I joined this reading challenge which prompted us to read twelve books suggested by our friends. I promptly took to Facebook and asked my friends in FB-land to suggest some good reads. And the first person to respond was Katie Levin--who has suggested some good things in the past (The Elegance of the Hedgehog for one...). Her first suggestion was Bunk by Kevin Young. Now, I know Kevin Young as a poet, so I had that on the brain. Imagine my surprise when a nearly 600 page doorstop showed up in a my library holds. Turned out to be a well-researched look at America's fascination with hoaxes, hucksters, forgeries, and...fake news. But I just wasn't ready for a deep-dive into that kind of scholarly work and just couldn't manage 600 pages. Luckily, Katie had provided me with another choice: Skippy Dies (2010) by Paul Murray. 

But the library provided another surprise because when I searched for Skippy Dies, it brought up something called Hopeland by Murray. I thought, what the heck--maybe the publisher decided to rename the thing. I opened to the title page and, lo and behold, it said Skippy Dies. And right there in the first chapter, by golly, Skippy dies in the middle of a doughnut-eating contest with his friend Ruprecht. Then we go back in time and we see the lead up to the big event. We see Skippy the swimming champion for his Seabrook College prep school.We see Ruprecht trying to make contact with aliens. We see Carl and Barry constantly trying to get their hands on prescription meds to either get high themselves or to sell to others (or give the girls at the nearby St. Brigid's school). All the boys getting ready for a Halloween Hop with visions of making it with the girls dancing in their heads. Skippy leaving the dance with the beautiful (but drug-crazed) Lori. But we're not just interested in Skippy and company...we get to see old boy turned history teacher Howard the Coward (as the boys call him) wondering if life with girlfriend Halley is all it's cracked up to be and panting after the lovely Aurelie McIntyre, the substitute teacher for geography. We get to see the sadistic Father Green who loves to berate the boys for all sorts of sins and the "Automator," the fill-in headmaster who longs to have the job full-time so he can modernize the school. And we're waiting to see why Skippy dies and what happens next....but the book suddenly ends. I was so confused...

That's when I realized that the library had gotten its hands on the boxed set (pictured above) which breaks Skippy Dies into three separate books. If I want to find out the rest of the story, I apparently need to read two more books. I'm afraid that's not gonna happen. I gave it the ol' college try, but male teenage angst, especially when some of it is still being had by thirty-something history teacher named Howard the Coward just doesn't seem to be my thing. It doesn't help that it's written in the present tense and it skips around among the characters. I really wanted to like this. I didn't want to let Katie down. But Skippy, I'm sorry, I just can't wade through two more books with all these characters to find out why you died.  and 1/2, and I'm not sure that isn't too generous.

First line: Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race one evening when Skippy turns purple and falls off his chair.

Last line: Good night, you say, not moving, smiling at the stars everywhere...stars in her hair...stars in her eyes...stars...stars

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Swing Low, Swing Death

 Swing Low, Swing Death (1946) by R. T. Campbell (Ruthven Campbell Todd)

"There's always a good murder around if ye know where to look for it," declares Professor John Stubbs. "It may be masqueradin' as accidental death or suicide," he solemnly adds, "but once ye start rootin' around ye'll find that it's murder."

There's nothing so obviously murder as a man covered by a curtain and hanging from a hook in front of a new masterpiece--both of which are unveiled at the grand opening of London's Museum of Modern Art. In the days leading up to the crime, those involved in the museum's opening have been having their troubles. Dr. Cornelius Bellamy, a pompous, self-proclaimed art expert has verified all acquisitions as absolutely genuine--including a newly found work by Chirico. Francis Varley, who knows his stuff as well but no one takes him as seriously because he doesn't proclaim his knowledge loudly and often, doubts that the work is genuine. And Jeremy Ambleside, who provided the painting, begins to get worried. Douglas Newsome, the museum's librarian, has had the keeping and filing of pictures of Chirico's works...but the file disappeared. Then the painting in question was vandalized. And now...Jeremy Ambleside is dead--on display for all those invited to the opening day activities to see.

Professor John Stubbs was invited to the gathering and (per usual) arrives late--but not too late to take an interest in helping his old friend Chief Inspector Bishop track down a murderer. What provoked the killer to display the body like a gruesome bit of artwork? Was it the unwholesome imagination of Mr. Carr, the "interior decorator" who thought sticking bits of rubbish all over the walls made some sort of brilliant modern art statement? Was it Newsome who knew that Ambleside would find something in the photos if the Chirico file ever showed up? Perhaps it was Varley or Bellamy for reasons connected to the vandalized painting. Or maybe dear Miss Emily Wallenstein had gotten angry enough over the money spent on the painting to do murder? Stubbs follows an unusual method of investigation that involves lots of drinking with the suspects and visits to the Yard's ballistic experts.

This story was very heavy going for just about the entire first half. There is an incredibly long and tedious build up to the grand opening of the museum and given my usual reading rate, it should not have taken four days to read 70 pages. But it did. And given my previous experience with Campbell (Bodies in a Bookshop and Unholy Dying), I would have expected this installment to live up to the blurb on the back that promises a "brisk, humorous narrative." It didn't. There are some humorous bits, particularly with the "interior decorator" Mr. Carr and his ancient mother--both of whom can put away great quantities of liquor without batting an eye. And Max, Professor Stubbs's right-hand man, provides some delicious running commentary on his boss and the events. But there isn't nearly enough to say that the narrative overall is humorous. And it certainly isn't brisk. Of the three Campbell books I've sampled so far, this is the most disappointing. I missed the witty narrative of the previous books and the motive and culprit seemed to me to be glaringly obvious--especially when a certain item is continuously harped on.  and 1/2

First line: Many months of intensive work and even more intensive publicity had gone to the making of it.

"Books," she said in a tone of disapproval. "Books, eh? I don't approve of books, young man. They just make mischief." (Mrs. Carr; p. 60)

"I ha' nothing but good ideas. That they don't always work not me fault. It's jus twhat me friend Merrivale 'ud call the innate perversity of things." (Professor Stubbs; p. 110--Sir Henry Merrivale of Carter Dickson/John/Dickson Carr fame, perhaps?)

"Uhhuh," the old man grunted, "that's the trouble wi' doctors. They'll bet their boots on some things, but when it comes to anythin' ye really want to know they'll shilly an' shally...." (Professor Stubbs; p. 110)

After all, in murder one is dealing with human beings who are infinitely variable and unpredictable, while in his scientific work the Professor is dealing with plants with more or less predictable mutations and consequently results which are more capable of being worked out logically. (p. 113)

"My dear man," the Chief Inspector was amused, "what do you want with the ballistics department? I don't surely have to remind you that Julian Ambleside was strangled and hanged and not shot. You haven't discovered some new way of committing a murder by firing a noose or a pair of imitation hands at your victim, have you?" (Chief Inspector Reginald Bishop; p. 126)

This habit of carrying books about with me is one I have picked up from the old man, whose pockets are large enough to hold a small 17th century folio. No doubt it is a bad habit, but it has its compensations, as on occasions like this, when I am left alone with nothing to do. (p. 127)

Last line: I could have given him rats and ladders.


Deaths = 2 (one strangled; one fell from height)

All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR,Vintage Scavenger Hunt,Medical Examiner,Cloak & Dagger,Calendar of Crime,Reading by the Numbers,Alphabet Soup,Alphabet Soup Authors,52 Books in 52 Weeks,Buzzword,TBR 23 in '23,Linz the Bookworm RC,Pick Your Poison,Mystery Reporter,

Friday, January 13, 2023

European Reading Challenge 2023

I'm back for another tour of Europe with Gilion's 2023 European Reading Challenge – where participants tour Europe through books.  And have a chance to win a prize. Please join in for the Grand Tour! (I've linked the review page--but the link for the sign-up is there as well.)

THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour. (See note about the UK, below)

WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"?: We stick with the same list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. This list includes the obvious (the UK, France, Germany, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.

THE LIST: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech RepublicDenmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

NOTE: Even after Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, in Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So one book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom. I'm not going to be a stickler about it because challenges should be about fun not about rules. However, when it comes to winning the Jet Setter prize, only one book from one of the UK countries will count.

I will again be aiming for the 

FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

Books read:
1. The Dante Game by Jane Langton (1/13/23) [Italy]
2. Swing Low, Swing Death by R. T. Campbell (1/17/23) [England]
3. Hopeland (aka Skippy Dies part one) by Paul Murray (1/18/23) [Ireland]
4. Madeline & the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans (1/30/23) [France]
5. Tintin in America by Hergé (3/10/23) [Belgian author]
Commitment met--still reading
6. The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox (3/29/23) [Turkey]
7. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (4/18/23) [Germany]
8. Silent Witness by Margaret Yorke (4/22/23) [Austria]
9. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke [born in Prague, Czech Republic] (5/26/23)
10. Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally [Poland] 
11. Borkmann's Point by Hakan Nesser [Sweden] (9/12/23)
12. The Man in the Cellar by Palle Rosenkrantz [Danish author/part in Denmark] (9/20/23)

The Dante Game

 The Dante Game
(1991) by Jane Langton

Homer Kelly, Harvard professor, is off to Italy to teach modern Italian literature at the newly-christened American School for Florentine Studies. In addition, the students will be studying Dante's Divine Comedy with co-founder Professor Zibo and soaking up Italian history with Professor Himmelfarht--all at a, lovely Italian villa. The students settle in and everything is going well--especially once Zibo devises the Dante Game (a sort of scavenger hunt) to help the students connect the classic literature with objects still to be found in modern Florence.

But all is not well. The maid is an eavesdropper and begins whispering little tidbits to her lover the gardener during their amorous meeting. Someone at the villa has secrets to keep and the maid and gardener are found shot to death in their favorite trysting spot. Then the school's secretary disappears. Followed by the death of one of the students and the disappearance of school's most talented and dedicated student. Zibo is certain that Jill Smith has been kidnapped, but with the murders and an impending visit by His Holiness the Pope to worry about Inspector Rossi doesn't seem much interested in an American girl who may have just gotten tired of the awful goings-on at the school.

Elsewhere in Florence an influential man is upset by the Pope's successful anti-drug campaign and decides to do something about it. He's got to get the money coming in again from all those drug sales. But what's a businessman going to do?

So, just to clear a few things out of the way. This isn't really a mystery. There is no doubt in the reader's mind who is doing what--there is nothing for the reader to figure out. It's not even really an inverted mystery because there is no suspenseful "will the detective figure this all out" thing going on. In fact, Homer Kelly--whose mystery series this is--doesn't even detect anything. He doesn't seem very interested in the unusual things going on in and around the school--sure he has a few conversations with Inspector Rossi about the murders and whatnot, but mostly he just says inane things like "Did you look for fingerprints?" or "Are you looking for the missing secretary?" When it comes to spotting clues and actually putting two and two together, Professor Zibo (Zee) is miles ahead of him. The only time he does anything resembling deduction is when he pulls out* a description of what exactly went on when His Holiness the Pope came to town and explains everything except who the shadowy brain behind the plot is. (*out of the air, apparently, because while the reader is privy to all the doings of the bad guys, there is no way Homer can know all the things he claims to have figure out). 

Most of Homer's time is spent buzzing about on his rented Vespa-wannabe motor scooter acting like a tourist. He supposedly came to Italy to teach a course, but I have no idea when he actually did that. Given the amount of time the book tells us Zee spent in class with the students on Dante followed by field trips to go look at churches and museums with objects related to The Divine Comedy and the hours they spent being bored to do death by Professor Himmelfahrt's lectures on Italian history, I don't see how there was time for Homer to have a class. 

I can't say that I give this high recommendations as a mystery. The descriptions of Florence are good. The details about the Dante game are also good. The best part for me was when Homer was told that Zee would be using Dorothy L. Sayers' translation of Dante's work--because that's the one I read and I thought she did an excellent job. Overall, reading The Dante Game was a bit like reading the Purgatory portion of The Divine Comedy--it seemed to take for-ev-er.  and 1/2

First line: It was a matter of simple geometry.

Last line: It is so bitter, it goes nigh to death;/Yet there I gained such good, that, to convey/The tale, I'll write what else I found therewith... (quoted from Inferno I, 4-9)

Deaths = 9 (seven shot; one fell from height; one hit by car) 

Monday, January 9, 2023

The Becket Factor

 The Becket Factor (1990) by Michael David Anthony [Canterbury Cathedral #1]

Richard Harrison has left intelligence work behind and returned to Canterbury. He serves as the Cathedral's Secretary to the Diocesan Dilapidions Board and takes care of his wife Winnie, who suffers from polio. He promised Winne that he was done with "all that." And then Canon Cratchley dies suddenly--reportedly from a heart attack, though someone says that Cratchely was "stung" on the night before he died. And Harrison's old boss Brigadier Greville shows up asking for Harrison's help. It seems that Cratchley contacted Greville shortly before he died and mentioned something about "the Becket factor." Greville wants Harrison to nose around Canterbury and see if he can find out anything that might prove that Cratchley was murdered.

The next thing Harrison knows, a crew working on refurbishing the stone floor in the Cathedral's crypt discovers an ancient coffin and the rumors fly that the remains of Thomas a Becket have finally been found. Did Cratchley know something about the remains? Is that what his cryptic message to Greville referred to? Or is it code for something else? In Harrison's investigations, he discovers that Cratchley was researching a Bishop with ties to the current front-runner to replace the current Archbishop of Canterbury. And both seem to have mysterious ties to Russia. There are plots within plots and Harrison is nearly too late in putting it all together....because the killer has their eye on another victim.

I am in two minds about this one, so my review has good news and bad news. I'll give you the bad news first. Harrison just isn't all that believable as an ex-intelligence officer. He is SO slow on the uptake and SO gullible, naïve, and blinded by his own prejudices. I cannot believe that England kept this man on the intelligence payroll for longer than two minutes. [spoiler in ROT13 code] Naq tvira gur snpg gung ur'f hfrq gb gur puhepu ngzbfcurer, V ernyyl svaq vg qvssvphyg gb oryvrir gung vg gbbx uvz gur ragver obbx gb svther bhg gung gurer ner zra nyy nebhaq uvz jrnevat pnffbpxf gung ybbx n JUBYR YBG yvxr qerffrf. V zrna, frevbhfyl--zl cebgrfgnag onpxtebhaq vfa'g shyy bs zra va pyrevpny bhgsvgf gung ybbx yvxr qerffrf, ohg V xarj jung jnf tbvat ba. 

On the plus side, I did like his personal relationships. I felt that the way he and Winnie worked their way back to one another (especially with him working his way through some residual effects from the war) was very realistic. He was certainly more perceptive in those instances than he was with anything to do with the mystery. Oh...and the mystery? Well done. The wheels within wheels and the interweaving plot was very good. Just when you thought the last twist had come there was another one and it certainly keeps the reader on his or her toes. I just wish the detection of the plot had been as good as the plot itself.  --just.

First line: A boy began singing.

Last line: There they remained, hands touching, under the shade of the vine, feeling the cool of the breeze on their faces and hearing, above and around them, the continuing sigh of the leaves.

[To decode: copy the encoded text; click on ROT13 link and paste in box.]


Deaths = 14 (one shot; one buried alive; five natural; two car accident; one hit with ox bone; three stabbed; one burned to death)

All Challenges Fulfilled: 52 Book Club,Mount TBR,TBR 23 in '23,Calendar of Crime,Reading by the Numbers,Medical Examiner,Alphabet Soup Authors,Cloak & Dagger,Stacking the Series,Reading Randomizer,Linz the Bookworm RC,Pick Your Poison,

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Beauty Marks the Spot

 Beauty Marks the Spot (1948) by Kelley Roos [Jeff & Haila Troy #8.1]

Halia Troy finds herself in the middle of some very ugly adventures at a beauty school when she responds to a plea for help from a friend of a friend. Susan Harris works at the Burton Sisters School of Beauty, a tall building with a roof-top area for sun bathing and exercises. Natalie Burton, one of sisters, has recently died in a fall from the roof that has been ruled a suicide. But Susan doesn't believe it. She's certain that someone helped Natalie over the edge and she wants Halia to sign up as a beauty school student and do some sleuthing. 

Halia hasn't even finished her first day as a student before she finds evidence that Susan is right, is warned off of sleuthing by Alice Burton, and...later finds Alice Burton dead from a fall very similar to her sister's. Halia's husband Jeff and Lieutenant Hankins arrive on the scene and the three of them soon find evidence that points in the direction of the new owner of the school, Alice's husband Tom Thorpe. But then more clues turn up and it's anybody's guess who the culprit is. And then...Halia realizes the significance of one of the very first pieces of evidence and finds herself racing to avoid becoming victim number three.

This is short little novella, published in Dell's 10 cent book editions, but Roos (husband & wife team of Audrey Kelley Roos & William Roos) does a great job packing a lot into the tiny book. There are the two deaths. Halia is nearly strangled to death and then is chased again by the killer. There's the mystery of the torn piece of fabric and the photo of a known bad boy found among Natalie's things. There's the question of the ten thousand dollar check Natalie wrote shortly before she died. And a debate whether a certain person is near-sighted or not and whether Tom Thorpe really did stay for an entire theater performance. There's a lot going on, but none of it feels rushed and it's all important to the plot. I thoroughly enjoyed my short little visit with the Troys and my namesake, the lieutenant. ★★

First line: The first symptom that this was to be an unusual day came when the alarm clock went off.

Last line: "No," Jessica said. "No, he isn't."


Deaths = two fell from height

All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR,Vintage Scavenger Hunt,Reading by the Numbers,Calendar of Crime,Medical Examiner,Alphabet Soup,Alphabet Soup Authors,Cloak & Dagger,52 Book Club,Series Catch-Up,Stacking the Series,TBR 23 in '23,Linz the Bookworm RC,Pick Your Poison,Mystery Reporter,

The White Priory Murders

 The White Priory Murders (1934) by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr) Sir Henry Merrivale #2

James Bennett pays a call on his uncle, Sir Henry Merrivale, and tells him about some puzzling events involving failed British actress turned Hollywood star, Marcia Tate. Bennett is a very junior diplomat whose main job is to make visiting dignitaries happy. And he met Miss Tate when he was showing Lord Canifest, his daughter, and others the sights. Since that moment, Bennett has been caught up in the affairs of Canifest and Miss Tate. Canifest plans to back a London play featuring the actress who has ditched her Hollywood contract for a chance to show the London critics how wrong they were about her acting skills. 

Marcia Tate makes for London with her producer Carl Rainger and publicity man Tim Emery following in her wake with hopes of talking her out of breaking contract and coming back to Hollywood. They all (including Bennett) wind up at Marcia's hotel suite in time to partake of some poisoned chocolates meant for the actress...oddly enough, Marcia doesn't like sweets. Now, as Bennett tells H.M., they've all been invited to White Priory, an ancient estate owned by the Bohun brothers--Maurice author of the play and who thinks he's lord not only of the manor, but of all creation and John who is in love with Marcia. 

When Marcia winds up dead in a classic "locked room" scenario--all alone in an ornamental temple on a small island in a small pond with one way in and unbroken frozen pond water all around and smooth, unblemished snow all around the pond, we have an impossible crime on our hands. The only footprints belong to John Bohun who discovers the body and it's proved that he visited the building at the time he said he did...several hours after the murder had taken place. The rest of the party, particularly Carl Rainger start pointing fingers at one another. There are certainly plenty of motives to go round--including the ladies of the party, Katherine Bohun who may have let jealousy get to her and Louise Carew who may not have wanted the temperamental actress as a step-mama. It's up to H. M. and Chief Inspector Masters to discover how the murderer got away from the building without leaving another set of footprints.

This is cleverly done. The solution is simple, but everything about the narrative and the way the mystery is investigated leads the reader to focus on the wrong questions and to ignore the possibility of the correct answer. And I certainly didn't have my eye on the culprit. Dickson/Carr thoroughly pulled the wool over my eyes in this one. The setting is also enjoyable. I'm always up for a murderous weekend at a snowy country place. Maurice Bohun got on my nerves a bit and it was fun to watch H. M. take the wind out of his sails when he tried to play god one too many times. ★★

First Line: "Humph," said H. M., "so you're my nephew, hey?"

The doddering scholar, it seems, has begun to cut capers on paper. (James Bennett; p. 10)

"Bah. Subtlety is only statin' a self-evident truth in language nobody can understand. And there's nothing subtle about trying to poison somebody." (H. M.; p. 14)

Tracks! You're talking like a fool detective in a play. (John Bohun; p. 38)

"Sic 'em, my lads," said the little doctor, with an air of refreshed interest. "I think I'll stop on a bit. Yes. Nothing adds zest to a criminal case like a free-for-all fight among the police at the outset." (Dr. Wynne; p.72)

"Son, frankness is a virtue only when you're talkin' about yourself, and then it's a nuisance....And when a person says he intends to be frank about other people, all it means is that he's goin' to give 'em a kick in the eye." (H. M.; p. 134)

Last Lines: "I'll go on, I suppose. Sittin' and thinkin'..."


Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one strangled)

All Challenges fulfilled: Mount TBR,Vintage Scavenger Hunt,Calendar of Crime,Medical Examiner,Six Shooter,Reading by the Numbers,Color Coded,Read It Again,Alphabet Soup,Alphabet Soup Authors,Cloak & Dagger,52 Book Club,BC by Erin,TBR 23 in '23,Linz the Bookworm RC,Pick Your Poison,Mystery Reporter, Stacking the Series, Series Catch-Up

The Ultimate Reader's Block Challenge Prize Winners!


First, thank you again to everyone who played along with my reading challenges in 2022. I am so glad you enjoy the challenges. I'm afraid I just don't get around to visit your reviews and posts like I used to--someone has stolen several hours out of my day and I can't figure out how to get them back. But I do appreciate your participation very much!

Second, I had one person submit their wrap-up in the comments and when I made the numbered list for the random number generator, I inserted them on the day and time indicated by the time stamp on their post relative to the time stamp on the linky list. This means that numbered entries were shifted by one spot after entry number nine in the linky.

After that adjustment, I fired up the Random Number Generator and asked it for three winners and our winners are (in order of selection):

Laura@RBA for her Color Coded entry
Kirsten from the Goodreads Mount TBR group
Mark@CC for his Mount TBR/Virtual TBR entry

Congratulations to all three! I will be contacting you all by email about the prize. If, as I believe, all three are from within the United States then I may be able to add one more name to the winner's circle. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 2, 2023

The Best of 2022


Image Credit: Goodreads

This is a place to celebrate and review my reading journey over the last year. And...despite life going off the rails a bit in the last two months, 2022 was a very good year for reading. Before 2021, it had been a very long time since I managed to top 200 books read. I've now done it a second year in a row...and I visited Marvin Martian and planted my flag atop Mount Olympus on Mars in my Mount TBR Reading Challenge. Olympus (read at least 150 books from my own stacks) is my ultimate goal every year, even though my declared goal is Mount Everest (100 books). I loaded up the rocket ship back in early July and headed to Mars with 100 books under my belt. I thought with half the year left that I might even manage another 100. Not quite--I finished the Mount TBR Challenge with 181 of my own books read and moved off the TBR mountain range. Other victories included completing all of the challenge goals I set for myself for 2022 (all 34 of them!).Overall, a very satisfying year for this reader and challenge-aholic. I still don't visit my fellow bloggers as often as I used to (hardly at all--I'm sorry, folks!) and would like to get back to the early days of the blog when I seemed to have time to read and write reviews and go visit all my virtual friends....why does the time seem to fly so much faster these days?

But...back to celebrating. Let's take a look at the rest of the reading stats.

Total Books Read: 226
Books Owned & Read: 181
Pages Read: 53,341
Percentage of Rereads: 27%
Percentage of New-to-Me Authors: 27%
Percentage Mystery: 90%
Percentage Nonfiction: 2%
Percentage by Women: 45%
Percentage Written 2000+: 22%
Percentage Non-US/UK: 7%
Non-US/UK Authors: Australian, Canadian, Dutch, French, Irish, Israeli, Japanese, Nigerian, Swedish
Non-US States/UK Settings: Australia, Austria, Bermuda Canada, China, Egypt, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Montenegro, Netherlands, Nigeria, Puerto Rico Space, Sweden, Tanzania

Top Vintage Mysteries of 2022 (no rereads)
The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot by Robert Arthur (Silver Age, 1964; 4 stars)
The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy by Robert Arthur (Silver Age, 1965; 4 stars)
Calamity at Harwood by George Bellairs (Golden Age, 1945; 4 stars)
The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs (Golden Age, 1949; 4 stars)
Death Treads Softly by George Bellairs (Golden Age, 1956, 4 stars)
Death Walks in Marble Halls by Lawrence G. Blochman (Golden Age, 1942; 4 stars)
A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon (Golden Age, 1940; 4 stars)
The Witches' Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton (Silver Age, 1967; 4 stars)
Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie (Golden Age, 1942; 4.5 stars)
Murder Goes Minoan by Clyde B. Clason (Golden Age, 1939; 4 stars)
The Curse of the Fleers by Basil Copper (Silver Age, 1976; 4 stars)
Parcels for Inspector West by John Creasey (Golden Age, 1956; 4 stars)
Dead Little Rich Girl by Norbert Davis (Golden Age, 1943; 4 stars)
Midsummer Nightmare by Christopher Hale (Golden Age, 1945; 4 stars)
The Man in the Moonlight by Helen McCloy (Golden Age, 1940; 4 stars)
Four Days' Wonder by A. A. Milne (Golden Age, 1933; 4 stars)
The White Elephant Mystery by Ellery Queen, Jr. (Golden Age, 1950; 4 stars)
Death & the Professor by E. & M. A. Radford (Golden Age,1961; 4.5 stars)
Going Public by David Westheimer (Silver Age 1973; 4 stars)
Murder at the College by Victor L. Whitechurch (Golden Age, 1932; 4.5 stars)
Murder at the Pageant by Victor L. Whitechurch (Golden Age, 1930; 4 stars)
The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo (Silver Age, 1972; 4 stars)

Top Modern Mysteries 2022 (no rereads)
An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch (2021; 4 stars)
The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch (2018; 4 stars)
The Guest List by Lucy Foley (2020; 4 stars)
The Lady With the Gun Asks the Questions by Kerry Greenwood (2021; 4 stars)
When Blood Lies by C. S. Harris (2022; 5 stars)
The Body in the Fog by Cora Harrison (2012; 4 stars)
The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill (1992; 4 stars)
The Ghost Finders by Adam McOmber (2021; 4.5 stars)
Sill Life With Crows by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (2003; 4 stars)
Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick (2014; 4 stars)

Top Fiction 2022 (no rereads)
Brand Spanking New Day by Berkeley Breathed (5 stars)
Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates  by Mary Mapes Dodge (4 stars)
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (4.5 stars)
The One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith (4 stars)

Top Nonfiction 2022 (no rereads)
Only Yesterday by Frederick Lewis Allen (4 stars)
An Hour Before Daylight by Jimmy Carter (4 stars)
What Just Happened? by Charles Finch (5 stars)
Be Holding by Ross Gay (5 stars)
Paperbacks, U.S.A. by Piet Schreuders (4 stars)
Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner w/David Fischer (4 stars)

Monthly P.O.M. (Pick of the Month) Award Winners
January: Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross (a reread from pre-blogging days) (4 stars)
February: Midsummer Nightmare by Christopher Hale (4 stars)
March: The Ghost Finders by Adam McOmber (4.5 stars)
April: The Body in the Fog by Cora Harrison (4 stars)
May: When Blood Lies by C. S. Harris (5 stars) [Co-Winners because Harris had won before]
         Going Public by David Westheimer (4 stars) 
June: Murder Gone Minoan by Clyde B. Clason (4 stars) 
July: The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch (4 stars) [Co-Winners]
         Not I, Said the Sparrow by Richard Lockridge (4 stars)
August: Four Days' Wonder by A. A. Milne (4 stars)
September: Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie (4.5 stars)
October: The Witches' Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton (4 stars)
November: The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill (4 stars)
December: Murder at the College by Victor L. Whitechurch (4.5 Stars)

Now...before we move on to the big winner of 2022--the P.O.Y. (Pick of the Year) Award, I have a few other awards to hand out--my own mystery version of the Razzie Awards.

The Don't Bring Up Ghosts If It's Not Spooky Award goes to Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death by Helen Chappelle. And especially don't bring up ghosts if the whole premise of the book is a fake and a boondoggle from the beginning.

The Lewis Carroll Practice Believing Impossible Things Award goes to The Old English Peepshow by Peter Dickinson. From my review:  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, bourgeois 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... [yes...I misremembered the quote at the time...]

The That's One Weird Cover You Got There, the Where's Your Sense of Humor Awards, and the Where's the Beef? Awards all go to What, Me, Mr. Mosley? by John Greenwood. Exhibit A--see cover below. Exhibit B: The tagline on the book says "Murder Most British Featuring Inspector Jack Mosley." Except it's not--murder, that is. Sure, it's British. And it features Inspector Mosley. But there's not a murder in sight. There's not even decent mayhem. Mediocre theft and kidnapping with a bit of breaking & entering and squatting in other people's houses is what's going on. Exhibit C: Publisher's Weekly ended their review by saying this was a "funny, intricate and wholly enjoyable story." My edition seems to have left out the funny, intricate, and enjoyable parts.

The Fish Out of Water Award goes to Martha Grimes and Fadeaway Girl. Martha, honey, get your focus back on England. Your books are so much better when you set them there. You'd think I would have learned my lesson about Martha Grimes and her books set in the United States instead of England. When I first started reading Grimes (back in the 80s), I worked my way through her Richard Jury series. Then, all unsuspecting, I picked up The End of the Pier when it came out. Kirkus Reviews begins their review of that one with "Something completely different from the author of the popular, ever-so-British Inspector Jury mysteries...." They weren't kidding. It was completely different and completely not my cup of tea. And neither is this one--set in the same area and featuring some of the same families. Martha Grimes may be American, but I'd much rather read her British mysteries any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

And, finally, the Jane Austen, You Ain't and the This Isn't Days of Our Lives Awards go to Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James. So...this is not James at her best nor is it a particularly enthralling continuation (redo, whatever) of Austen. I thoroughly enjoyed James's Adam Dagliesh mysteries. Solidly plotted and well-done. I have also thoroughly enjoyed nearly all the Austen I have read. Delightfully witty, drawing room, books of manners. The mystery here is not solidly plotted. There are few clues that would allow the reader to deduce the solution and when the solution comes it really isn't satisfying. I was plumping for an entirely different suspect--mainly because of how much he annoyed me (and I think that's James's fault as well--I don't recall this character annoying me like this in Austen's work). And...the final chapters and the solution have the air of soap opera about them. This character seduced that one and then this character was supposed to step in and help the seduced character but they (the helper) got run over by a carriage....and so on. It really was all a bit much. 

Now the moment we've all been waiting for...the presentation of the Mystery Pick of the Year! Of course, if the judges look purely at the star ratings, there's only one in the mystery category this year: C. S. Harris's When Blood Lies. This was a highly anticipated book and Harris did not disappoint. But the judges have a thing about not awarding prizes to the same people--especially not two years in a row. So, let's acknowledge the fact that the Sebastian St. Cyr books are terrific historical mysteries that keep this reader on the edge of her seat waiting for the next one (due out in April!). And, like the Miss America Pageant, we'll let the 2021 Winner hand off the, POY to this winner. And...

...what? The judges can't make up their minds? Well, then, let's just give out two...after all, this is my show.

And...the winners of the 2022 My Reader's Block Pick of the Year goes to contestants from different eras. Representing the Golden Age of Detection we have

December's POM Award winner, Victor L. Whitechurch, and his delightful academic mystery Murder at the College (see the November/December's POM post for details). Sharing the honors with Whitechurch, we have a more modern from the pen (computer?....) of Adam McOmber...

The Ghost Finders is (as I noted in my review) a wonderfully gothic, horrifically fun and mysterious adventure. He creates a nifty puzzle behind the gaslit world full of supernatural creatures and humans with extraordinary powers. The three main characters are vividly drawn with interesting backstories that are at once disparate, yet also fitting together so perfectly to provide friendship and kinship among these three wildly different individuals. The separate histories weave together to create the fabric necessary for the final scenes. It was interesting to watch these three work their way through various layers of loyalty and betrayal to discover what is necessary to save themselves...and perhaps all reality. Definitely worthy of the award.