Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Mammoth Book of Roaring Twenties Whodunnits

 The Mammoth Book of Roaring Twenties Whodunnits (2004) by Mike Ashley, ed.

For those of us who have a definite idea what a whodunnit is, this collection is a mixed bag--of course most short story collections are, with stories of varying strengths. Ashley makes a big deal in the intro to "Putting Crime Over" by Hulbert Footner that he was surprised by how few short stories written in the 1920s (beyond the obvious ones by Sayers and Christie) were both good whodunnits and reflected the period well. So, new stories set in the period were commissioned (save for three originally from the 1920s). He claims to have excluded hard-boiled crime stories written in the 1920s as well. I find these statements odd when you consider that he didn't mind including stories with little or no mystery or "whodunnit" aspects or hard-boiled/gangster-themes that weren't written in the 1920s--exhibit A: "Kiss the Razor's Edge" by Mike Stotter; exhibit B: "He Couldn't Fly" by Michael Kurland; exhibit C: "A Pebble for Papa" by Collins & Clemens. I much prefer whodunnits in the style of Christie and Sayers and would have enjoyed this collection a lot more if he'd actually stuck to what he says his purpose was--or if he'd just not claimed that he was presenting us with whodunnits in the style of the 1920s. 

Best of the bunch: "Thoroughly Modern Millinery," "The Day of Two Cars," "The Austin Murder Case," "The Man Who Scared the Bank," "The Problem of the Tin Goose," and "Without Fire" by Tom Holt, which is really the very best of the best. These all give a good flavor of the Roaring Twenties in addition to being good whodunnits. ★★ for the entire collection.

"Timor Mortis" by Annette Meyers: Olivia "Oliver" Brown has inherited her aunt's townhouse as wells a private detective agency. She and her partner (employee?) Harry are on the hunt for a missing heiress. As far as I can tell, the whole point of this story is to name-drop as many 1920s personalities as possible to prove that this is set in the 1920s. The mystery isn't much (and no clues or investigation to speak of) and none of the characters are likeable or even interesting. [one shot with arrow] 

"Brave New World" by H.R.F. Keating: Murder at the cricket match. Wilfred Boultbee, who holds the purse strings to a large trust fund, is murdered. The beneficiary of the trust is of course among the crowd--as are others with a motive for murder. Keating does a great job capturing the flavor of England between the wars. Good story--though little in the way of investigation or clues. [one poisoned]

"So Beautiful, So Dead" by Robert J. Randisi: Val O'Farrell is hired to protect a beauty contestant. Her monied "sponsor" fears someone will harm her. Someone does. I liked Val O'Farrell a lot. Solid short story--the culprit is perhaps a bit obvious. [one shot]

"There would have been murder" by Ian Morson: A suspected communist plot gets mixed up in politics and football. But is the King's appearance at the new stadium really the target of the plot? Great characters--especially Sgt. Banks. Superintendent O'Nion is sort of a pain, but necessarily so. (And just as an aside--I kept reading his name as Onion. [one stabbed]

"Someone" by Michael Collins: Dan Fortune's father is one of the few honest cops in the 1920s. Even the gangsters respect him...or so he thinks. [one shot]

"Kiss the Razor's Edge" by Mike Stotter: Billy is a boxer who just wants to box. Doesn't care if he loses one here or there as long as it's not fixed. But Kruger, big man in London's East End gangland, has other ideas. No "whodunnit" here--just a grimy little story about gangs in 1920s London.[one stabbed]

"Thoroughly Modern Millinery" by Marilyn Todd: Murder amongst the Bright Young Things of London. Outrageous French painter, Louis Boucard is killed just prior to his grand opening at the Westlake Gallery. Fun mystery. Captures the spirit of the Bright Young Things and has terrific sketches of character. It would be interesting to see a full-length mystery featuring Fizzy, Squiffy, Bubbles and the gang. [one stabbed]

"The Day of Two Cars" by Gillian Linscott: Tadley Gate has had quite a run of excitement. First they got a petrol pump. Of course only one person had a motor car, but soon there'd be more (or so thought Davy Davitt, owner of the pump). Then the first phone box was installed. Of course, no one ever called anyone--no one in the rural village knew anyone with a phone number. But day two cars show up on the same day and when they were gone there was a dead body left in the phone box. Very nice short story showing the changes coming to rural England. Interesting characters. [one hit on head]

"The Hope of the World" by Mat Coward: A country house murder with a difference. What is one of the most capitalistic of capitalists doing at a house party dedicated to planning the socialist revolution? It doesn't really matter, for he won't be doing anything at all after his first night at the house. And then we must wonder what two undercover officials (one Special Branch and one Scotland Yard) are doing there as well...  [one electrocuted]

"Bullets" by Peter Lovesey: Father Montgomery is doubtful when the police rule Patrick Flanagan's death a suicide. It isn't long before he discovers a puzzling motive for murder. [one shot]

"He Couldn't Fly" by Michael Kurland: The bagman (money courier) for a gangster decides to sing for the grand jury in exchange for protection. But even a police guard can't prevent him from flying out the window when the boss man wants him dead. Typical gangster short story. Not my cup of tea. [one fell from height; two shot]

"Putting Crime Over" by Hulbert Footner: Madame Storey and her secretary are robbed at gunpoint. But Madame Storey isn't at all put out--she just devises a plan to catch the crooks. One of the few stories in the book which were actually written in the 1920s. More of an adventure/caper story--but a hint of the whodunnit in the search for the big man behind the crime wave.

"Valentino's Valediction" by Amy Myers: Things get a little complicated when two British housewives, with a Valentino infatuation look for a Sheik closer to home. Interesting mystery twist--but doesn't really seem to me to be in the 1920s tradition. [one appendicitis complications; one strangled]

"Skip" by Edward Marston (Keith Miles): Skip Halio, a bookie, who got his name from skipping town when the odds went against him, tries to skip town once too often and winds up a murder victim. Interesting twist at the end. [one hit by train]

"The Broadcast Murder" by Grenville Robbins: A locked room radio murder mystery and the murder is broadcast live over the air. Tremayne, an announcer on the radio, appears to have been strangled while giving the news. He was alone in the recording studio, a locked room. When the manager bursts into the studio there's no one there--not even Mr. Tremayne, alive or dead. A clever mystery with a very surprising twist at the end.[one hit on head]

"For the Benefit of Mr. Means" by Christine Matthews: The murder of the hostess of a star-studded birthday party forces Fatty Arbuckle (already disgraced by the accusations of rape and the death of an actress) and the titular Mr. Means (also a disgraced personage) to turn sleuth in an effort to find the killer before the cops arrive. Interesting set-up--but little in the way of actual detection. The truth comes out because everyone keeps making snide comments to each other. [one fell from height]

"Without Fire" by Tim Holt: When murder strikes on a cross-Atlantic steamer from England to New York, the Captain, lacking a ship's detective, conscripts a failed barrister turned "play doctor" (a writer who fixes up poor lyrics for musicals) as amateur sleuth. [one poisoned]

"The Austin Murder Case" by Jon L. Breen: A Philo Vance pastiche--Vance is on the spot for murder when his friend, District Attorney Markham, invites him to a masquerade party hosted by Jack Austin. Austin is an unpopular theatre actor on the verge of bursting into the talking picture world. But someone decides to prevent his journey west...permanently. A really well-done pastiche--it pairs a good mystery with just the right amount of self-aware, tongue-in-cheek humor. [two stabbed]

"The Man Who Scared the Bank" by Archibald Pechey: When one of a bank's most trusted customers tries to scam them (and apparently most successfully), the bank's president turns to "The Adjusters" a group of people led by a very intelligent young woman who take on cases that the police can't help with.

"A Pebble for Papa" by Max Allan Collins & Matthew V. Clemens: A murder to prevent a gang war. Belongs in a book titled The Mammoth Book of Gangsters & Mobster," NOT a book of Whodunnits. [two shot]

"Beyond the Call of Beauty" by Will Murray: P.I. Norris from the Weld Detective Agency is on the hunt for a missing co-ed. What he finds is a fortune-teller with a past after his search leads him through smoky jazz clubs. A tip of the hat to Dashiell Hammett.  [one stabbed; one hanged]

"The Problem of the Tin Goose" by Edward D. Hoch: The pilot in a barnstorming, stunt-flying troupe is stabbed while alone in the the locked cockpit of one of the planes. Doc Sam Hawthorne solves the case.[one stabbed]

"I'll Never Play Detective Again" by Cornell Woolrich: When roses destined for a bride-to-be kill her younger sister with a thorn prick, the best man sets out to discover who the intended victim was and who the killer is. The answers ensure that he'll never play amateur detective again. A somewhat dark take on the whodunnit. [one poisoned; one explosion]

First line (1st story): Greenwich Village is our enclave, our village, and we rarely venture east of Washington Square Park, unless of course it is for one of our fancy dress balls which we hold at Webster Hall on Eleventh Street near Third Avenue.

Rumsey, the dear little man, is not at all a brilliant person; but he is a perfect compendium of crime, and, since crime seems to be the most interesting of subjects to persons of every degree nowadays, Mme Story finds him very useful at the dinner table. (from "Putting Crime Over" by Footner)

"...I lost my way. It was raining, murky but not dark, and I set off in entirely the wrong direction. I found what I took to be my assigned destination, only to find it was full of Germans. Fortuitously, they were even more surprised than we were. With respect, if you want someone to help you find something, I think you've got the wrong man." (from "Without Fire" by Tom Holt)

Last lines (last story): "I'll never play detective again. You find--crawling things under the stones you turn up."

Total deaths = 28

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Ancillary Justice (spoilers)

 Ancillary Justice (2013) by Ann Leckie

Breq is a soldier. Breq is an AI in human form. Breq used to be a ship known as the Justice of Toren--she was both the entire ship and ancillary components of that ship. She operated as attendant to captains and lieutenants, serving as the eyes and ears for all events as the great ships brought "justice" to the universe. The ships and the soldiers served the Radch empire as it annexed worlds and its interstellar territory grew. The ships were created to serve and obey--to obey their captains and officers, but ultimately to obey the lord of the empire, Anaander Mianaai. 

But when a war within the empire breaks out, the Breq's lieutenant is killed and the Justice of Toren is broken apart. Breq is on her own and is on a mission--ships aren't supposed to have favorites, but they do. Lieutenant Awn was Breq's favorite and now, trapped in a human body, Breq is on a mission to exact revenge on those who conspired against the empire and who killed her lieutenant. She finds herself allied with a lieutenant she never liked and on a search for a weapon that can bring down anyone--even soldiers like herself with built-in shielding. 

There are a lot of things to like here--great world-building (universe-building, actually). The reader is gradually immersed in the new culture, so while it is a bit confusing at the beginning things do come together the longer you read. The concept of the ship's "hive-mind" is interesting--it takes the idea of Star Trek's Borg to a different level and I found it interesting to see Breq as an individual broken off from the rest of the ship. In the Trek world 7 of 9 started out human and when separated from the Borg had to work on relearning how to be human again. Breq is an artificial intelligence (more like Data) stuck in a re-animated human body. But even Breq is prone to human emotions--favoritism and the need for revenge.

I enjoyed watching the relationship between Breq and Seivarden grow. Seivarden recognizes what qualities he had that made the ships not like him as well as other captains and he works on those qualities. Breq has a difficult time accepting the changes and learning to trust Seivarden and those challenges make for an interesting plot line. Leckie's story also does what good science fiction should do--it addresses problems in our current world in the guise of space drama. Questions of gender and privilege are investigated. How to address citizens of the empire who don't recognize gender. How to determine when gender designations should be employed. Why have certain types of people been denied access to certain jobs or positions of authority? What are the consequences of questioning the status quo? All important questions to consider.

Spoiler Ahead!! Can't talk details about the rating without spilling the beans on the plot.

The thing that kept this from a higher rating was the mulitple Anaander Mianaai characters. It was challenging enough to wrap my head around the multiple ancillary components of the ships. But then to have dozens (hundreds??) of emperor clones (??) running around at war with each other was a bit much. I tried to keep them straight and to figure out which one (if any) was the true emperor and the "good" guy. But didn't succeed. And I'm still not sure that any of them was a good guy. ★★

First line: The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around it.

Last lines: Choose my aim, take one step and then the next. It had never been anything else.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Cave of Time

 The Cave of Time (1979) by Edward Packard

As I've mentioned in a previous review of Choose Your Own Adventure books, this series was a staple of my young reading life. I read the first ones from the local library and went on to collect numerous more of my own. They were terrific stories--bringing the reader into the story even more directly than the usual experience because the reader becomes the protagonist and is regularly presented with choices to determine their next action and the plot's outcome. The stories covered every sort of adventure from mysteries to science fiction tales to journeys under the sea and through the air by hot air balloon. When I was trying to find likely books to interest my son, I loaned out my collection and bought more. I'm not sure that he was ever as fascinated with them as I had been, but they did help my reluctant reader.

The Cave of Time was one of the first CYOA books I read. I got it through the Scholastic Book Club at school--along with The Mystery of Chimney Rock (my all-time favorite) and By Ballon to the Sahara. It was a great introduction to time travel for this young reader. I had a great time visiting the past and future...and even a place of timelessness. Revisiting the book now, the story lines are a bit simplistic and I wish for a bit more detail, but it was still great fun to see where my choices would take me. ★★★★

First lines: You've hiked through Snake Canyon once before when visiting your Uncle Howard at Red Creek Ranch, but you never noticed any cave entrance. It looks like a recent rock slide has uncovered it.

Packing My Library

 Packing My Library: An Elegy & Ten Digressions (2018) by Alberto Manguel

When Alberto Manguel finds himself leaving France and a large number the books in his library behind, he begins to muse on the nature of libraries, what it means to collect books and what our collections say about us, what reading is and what words mean (or don't mean...), and a myriad of other topics related to books and the love of reading. One thought leads to another and he mingles what he calls digressions among his short essays on the written word. But his "digressions" most definitely connect with the essays which precede and follow and I don't really see them as digressions. 

This is a beautifully written tribute to books and a love of reading--something I can certainly relate to and agree with. I haven't collected 35,000 books (!) and I can't imagine going through even the 5,500 books I own and having to pare that collection down to move to a smaller space. I definitely can't see how one could go from 35,000 books to a tiny amount to fit in a tiny apartment in New York City. But I can see how needing to do so would prompt the kind of musings that Manguel gives us in Packing My Library. I love to lift good quotations from the books read. If I were to really list favorite quotes from Manguel's book, I would need to pretty much quote the whole thing--but I have selected a few to share below. My one disappointment (totally on me) was that from the blurb on the book flap I had expected there to be more about collecting and the contents of his library (before the great purge). There's one essay about collecting and bits and pieces about the books that used to be in his collection--but not as much as anticipated. ★★★★

First line: My last library was in France, housed in an old stone presbytery in the Loire Valley, in a quiet village of fewer than ten houses.

Of course, literature may not be able to save anyone from injustice or from temptations of greed or the miseries of power. but something about it must be perilously effective if every dictator, every totalitarian government, every threatened official tries to do away with it by burning books, by banning books, by censoring books, by taxing books, by paying mere lip-service to the cause of literacy by insinuating that reading is an elitist activity. (p. 133)

The discovery of the art of reading is intimate, obscure, secret, almost impossible to explain, akin to falling in love, if you will forgive the maudlin comparison. It is acquired by oneself alone, like a sort of epiphany, or perhaps by contagion, confronted by other readers. I don't know of many more ways. The happiness procured by reading, like any happiness cannot be enforced. (p. 139)

Last line: "In my end is my beginning," Mary Queen of Scots is said to have embroidered on her cloth while in prison. This seems to me a fitting motto for my library,

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Pride of the Peacock

 Pride of the Peacock
(1976) by Victoria Holt

 Jessica Clavering always knew there was a mystery in her past. Most people might put it down to the fact that her family--once landed gentry with sufficient means--came down in the world just before her birth. For hundreds of years Claverings lived in Oakland Hall, but after her grandfather and father both succumbed to the gambling bug the family fortunes never recovered and her father was forced to sell the family home to one of the new rich, Mr. Ben Henniker of Australia. After the family moved to the Dower House (still pretty fine in the grand scheme of things), they refused to have anything to do with Mr. Henniker and Jessica's mother never failed to point out how far down in the world they had come and how they owed their life of penury to her husband. 

But Jessica knows there's more wrong with her circumstances than simply being poorer than the family used to be. There's also the fact that she's not supposed to go near the stream that runs through the woods. And the hidden grave in the "Wasteland" area where no one goes...except for someone who puts a small bundle of flowers on the grave once a year. Every time she asks a question the family and servants tell her it's better that she not know. Jessica isn't satisfied with that, but it seems she'll never find out what everyone is keeping from her....

Until Ben Henniker returns to the Hall after an accident at his mines in Australia. He's out in the grounds alone in his wheelchair and Jessica runs to the rescue when it careens out of control down the hill. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and Jessica begins to learn a bit about her past--both from Ben and from the servants who stayed with the Hall when her family had to downsize. She has a few shocks in store...not least that Ben plans to arrange her marriage to his son Joss Madden. Ben hasn't exactly painted a rosy picture of Joss. Oh, sure, he's a fine figure of a man, but from what Ben tells her Joss is headstrong, stubborn, and full of pride--just like the peacocks Ben's Australian home is named for. Will she and Joss be able to resist the offer Ben makes them, contingent upon their marriage? And if Jessica does say yes, will she survive in the wilds of Australia? Because there's someone...maybe Joss himself?...who wants to make sure she doesn't.

So...once upon a time I read a lot of Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney novels. And I liked them a lot. But I'm not entirely sure this sort of book is my sort of book anymore. I'm just not really into these "oh we hate each other...he's so full of himself...he doesn't like me at all...she's the worst...she treats me like I've got the plague..." stories which turn suddenly (once we find out he's really not the brooding ogre we thought) into "Ooooh, I adore you. I can't live without you!" and let's live happily ever after.

Holt is a lot better at the mystery portion of the plot than the romance portion (at least in the opinion of my 50-something self). Not a lot of clue-planting, but good build-up and an interesting twist at the end. I don't think my previous paragraph is much of a spoiler--anyone who reads much in this line must know that the brooding "ogre" of a husband is never behind all the evil things happening to our heroine. ★★

First line: I was quite young when I realized that there was something mysterious about me, and a sense of not belonging came to me and stayed with me.

Last line: "I can," I retorted. "And I will."


Deaths: 7 (one natural; one broken neck; one fell from a horse; one drowned; one buggy accident; one shot; one fell from balcony)

[Finished 4/23/23]

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Silent Witness

 Silent Witness (1972) by Margaret Yorke

The most silent witness of all is a dead one...

Set at an Austrian ski station at Greutz, we have an international mix of characters. A travel group from Britain, a vacationing couple from Holland, and few Germans. The day before a snowstorm and threats of avalanche cuts Greutz off from the outside world, a young newlywed has a dangerous skiing accident when her skis are tampered with. And why doesn't her new husband visit her more often? One of the guests makes a mysterious visit to local chalet. Fiona, the operator of the hotel discotheque, flirts outrageously with everything in pants but then gets drunk and drapes herself over the quietest, most unlikely guest. Freddie Derrington and Barbara Whittaker claim never to have met, but seem all-too studious in the avoidance of each other. Liz Morris senses tension in the air, but puts it down to the enforced inactivity once the skiing slopes are shut down.

Then Bernard Walker goes missing. At first, no one notices. Walker was such a nondescript man. Didn't really join in with the others in most activities and liked to ski alone after the skiing classes had finished. But after he hadn't been seen at meals and then it was discovered that his bed hadn't been slept in, the travel guide got worried. Liz Morris's fried Patrick Grant, Oxford don and sometimes amateur sleuth, had just arrived with the last group of tourists before the snow storm. He's staying with his friend Professor Klocker. Liz tells him about the missing man and Patrick is sure that something nasty has happened to Bernard. When Bernard's body is found in the stream under the bridge connecting the ski lodge with the village, it looks like an unfortunate accident--at least the burgomeister would like to think so. But Patrick wonders what the fussy little man was doing out in the snow without his galoshes. And why he has a suspicious lump behind his ear. Did Bernard witness something that someone wanted to keep quiet? Was someone jealous of the attention Fiona gave him that night at discotheque? Patrick won't be satisfied until he figures it out

Yorke sets the scene for a nice little closed circle mystery--snowbound ski lodge and tense atmosphere. Lots of red herrings to investigate and wade through before finding the answer. And I love me a mystery with an academic connection--and we have both an Oxford don and a professor in the cast of characters. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of clues to the murderer and the motive. I actually guessed who the killer was even though I can't point to any good reasons for my guess based on the text. When I found out the motive, the plot fell kind of flat. [spoiler encoded in ROT13*] V jnfa'g ng nyy gnxra jvgu gur snpg gung Tenag'f sevraq jnf gur xvyyre. Naq gura gb unir uvz xvyy Oreaneq orpnhfr ur "guvaxf" gur zna bireurneq uvz gnyxvat nobhg trggvat Senh Uvyyre bhg bs gur pbhagel. Naq, dhvgr senaxyl, jub jnf Oreaneq tbvat gb gryy? Gurl'er fabjobhaq--ab Pbzzhavfg ntragf ner tbvat gb pbzr ohmmvat vagb gur ivyyntr gb gnxr Senh Uvyyre onpx be xvyy ure. Vg jbhyq unir orra qvssrerag vs Oreaneq guerngrarq gb fcvyy gur ornaf be gevrq gb oynpxznvy gurz be vs gurer unq orra n erzbgr cbffvovyvgl gung ur pbhyq trg jbeq gb nalobql jbegu gryyvat. Fheryl gb tbbqarff jr pbhyq unir qrivfrq n orggre zbgvir. Naq bar gung unq qrprag pyhrf juvpu gur ernqre zvtug cbffvoyl unir qvfpbirerq. Naq--jung gur urpx unccrarq gb Znk ng gur raq. Ur unq na "nppvqrag"--ur jnf bar bs gur orfg fxvref va gur tebhc. Ubj qvq ur unir na nppvqrag?

A very middle-of-the road mystery. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't all one could want either. Nice setting and set up, but could have used a better follow through. 

First line: Through the softly-falling snow it came down to the valley, descending the mountain propped like a doll, frozen stiff in its seat.

Last line: "You see, it is best to run away," she said.

[*to decode: cut & paste coded part; click on ROT13 link and use site to read spoiler]


Deaths = 6 (two gas chambers WWII; one suffocated; one motorcycle accident; one climbing accident; one skiing accident)

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Station Eleven

 Station Eleven (2014) by Emily St. John Mandel

What happens when civilization crumbles in less than year? The characters of Station Eleven find out. The story opens with the last performance of Arthur Leander, starring in the title role of King Lear. Leander has a heart attack onstage and Jeevan, an EMT in the audience, races on stage to try and save him. In the wings is Kirsten Raymonde, a child actor, whose life will change dramatically in the next few days, but who will find herself performing Shakespeare again the the most bizarre circumstances.

Over the next few days a pandemic which has its roots in Russia and has been spreading round the globe finally reaches Toronto. The death of a major screen and stage star is overshadowed by the sheer numbers lost to the deadly Georgian flu. Arthur's best friend from his younger years, two of his ex-wives, his son, Kristen, and Jeevan all find themselves trying to survive in the world post-pandemic. Some will and some won't. Kristen finds herself traveling with The Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who play classical music and perform Shakespeare's plays for the sporadic groups of survivors. 

This is a haunting story of a world broken by pandemic. It cuts close after having lived through Covid. It's frightening to think that as deadly as Covid-19 was, that there could have been something worse. Something that spread so quickly and had such a short incubation period that millions (billions?) could be gone in such a short time. No time to stock up on face masks (would masks have been useful?). I do wish that the story had been told in chronological order--sometimes jumping around in time works better than others. Here, I found the jumping back and forth between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic to be a little jarring. I think if we had followed the characters from the night of Arthur's death (with a few flashbacks here and there) then that would have worked better for me. I was able to see where one of the characters would wind up--even though I think Mandel was trying to build up suspense around that particular plot point. But I wasn't too disappointed because it made a great deal of sense. I did appreciate the way she wove the various storylines together in a way that made it appear natural and not full of coincidence.

A few things that confused me and/or I wished were better explained [some of which became clearer, but these are notes that I made while reading]: 

It would have been nice to have more details on the effects of the pandemic. After going through Covid and knowing how essential workers had to keep working to keep everything going, I find it incredible that everything just shut down. Boom. Nobody left who knew how to run electrical plants or get other sources of power? I realize that this fictional Georgian flu seemed to spread much more quickly (with a shorter incubation time) than Covid, but I'm still amazed at how quickly civilization was lost. 

A better sense of how old the people in the Shakespeare troupe are. Characters are like "there used to be air conditioning? I think it just came out of a vent?" It's like they've completely forgotten what came before or only heard vague rumors about what it was like. I could understand better if this were set closer to 100 years after the epidemic, but it's only been 15-20 years.

Why do so many places and people have new names after the flu pandemic? And why do people in The Symphony use their instruments for their names. Did we not want to associate now with the people and places we were and went to before everything fell apart? I would think that in unsettling times most people would want to hold on to as much that was familiar as possible. [One of the characters late in the book does wonder if they should be teaching their children about what life was like before the pandemic. Will it be any use to tell them about things they haven't experienced and...for all they know...may never have the chance to experience? Will it just confuse them--or even, in some way make them miserable?]

Overall, a very interesting and poignant look at a dystopian world that could, most disturbingly, be possible.  and 1/2

First line: The King stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.

Hell is the absence of the people you long for. (p. 238)

First we only want to be seen, but once we're seen that's not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered. (p. 308)

Last line: He likes the thought of ships moving over the water, toward another world just out of sight.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

In the Garden of Beasts

 In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin (2011) by Erik Larson

Synopsis [from the book flap]: The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the New Germany, she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler's true character and ruthless ambition.

Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Goring and the expectedly charming—yet wholly sinister—Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.

My Take: An unsettling look at how swiftly fascism could change a nation--and how the world (in general) refused to recognize it until it was too late. Dodd, the historian, saw signs of what was to come, but even he didn't want to believe that Germany could go down that dark path in the 20th Century. He thought that surely diplomatic pressures and calls for restraint would have effect. As we know, they didn't. Of course, looking back, after the fact, it's easy to judge and ask why didn't democratic nations make a better effort to curb the rise of Hitler? As Larson says in his prelude: One has to put aside all we know--now--to be true, and try instead to accompany my two innocents [Dodd & his daughter] through the world as they experienced it. These were complicated people moving through a complicated time, before the monsters declared their true nature.

That's a difficult thing to do, but Larson makes a very good job of--giving reader's a real sense of how things appeared to the Americans when they first came to Germany and then the changes that happened before their eyes. 

First line ("Das Vorspiel"): Once at the dawn of a very dark time, an American father and daughter found themselves suddenly transported from their snug home in Chicago to the heart of Hitler's Berlin.

First line (chapter one): It was common for American expatriates to visit the U.S. consulate in Berlin, but not in the condition exhibited by the man who arrived there on Thursday, June 29,1933.

Last lines: "In that case, diplomacy would no longer be a service, but a pleasure. And it might end in marriage!" 

Monday, April 17, 2023

Death Demands an Audience

 Death Demands an Audience (1940) by Helen Reilly

The shoppers who window-shop along Fifth Avenue have gotten used to stopping by the window displays of Garth & Campbell's store. There's always something new and interesting every week--from a centaur carrying a mannequin wrapped in an insufficient white tunic to a lair of ermine and mink to a jeweled dagger and exquisite jade green gauntlets lying artistically on a bench in front of a summer sea scene. The expensive and exciting are always on display. But when a new display rises unexpectedly one afternoon, the inquisitive crowd doesn't expect to see a murder scene. Sprawled before a very life-like mannequin in a beautiful gown is the body of man with very real blood trickling from his mouth.

One of Inspector McKee's men, a non-descript little detective by the name of Todhunter, just happens to be in the crowd outside. He spies the original model of the mannequin in the crowd (one Judith Borrow) and instinct tells him to follow her after she stares at the scene for a moment and then heads away with an air of determination. She'll lead him on a merry chase to the home of the murdered man...where both she and Todhunter will be knocked out by a mysterious assailant. The dead man is her father and he had told her if anything ever happened to him that she should go to his house and retrieve a dispatch case hidden there. But someone got to the case before she did. Todhunter and McKee will have to figure out what was in that case in order to solve the case of the display window murder.

Somehow, the murder of Franklin Borrow, late of the store's display department, connects to the Cambridge family who live outside New York City. Borrow had asked for an appointment that night with Luke Cambridge, eldest of the clan, but Cambridge claims that he didn't know what the man wanted. Then Luke Cambridge makes an appointment to see the daughter Judith, but is poisoned before he can meet with her. It begins to look like making appointments is an unhealthy practice. Most of the Cambridge family and entourage--Luke's brother Gregory and his wife Irene; their children Ellen and Leslie; Ellen's fiance Toby Newell;  and Leslie's wife Muriel are all acting suspiciously. And then there's Michael Savage who claims to love Judith but who seems determined to make her angry. McKee has quite a collection of characters to sort before he'll find the culprit.

In general, I enjoy the early McKee stories. They are more mystery and police procedural than the latter novels which tend to veer towards suspense. My one complaint here is that McKee makes a huge error after Luke's murder--one that I can't believe an inspector of his quality made. He leaves suspects alone in the room where Luke has been murdered. There has been no proper search of the room or the desk. He notices that drawers are pulled out. It doesn't seem to occur to him that there might be things that the police need to know about on or in the desk. Later, he goes back in the room and notices that the drawers are different--those pulled out are in and others are out. Gee--you think the suspects had a nice little search? There's no way to know if a certain item that winds up missing was taken by the suspects he left in the room with no supervision--but there's also no way to know that it wasn't. Since when do we NOT seal murder scenes and keep suspects out? 

But, if we forgive McKee this blunder, then this is a clever police procedural with an interesting twist at the end. Reilly's police procedurals are appealing because they aren't dry, "just the facts, ma'am" stories. McKee is an interesting detective and Todhunter is growing on me (I wasn't too impressed with him in the first book I read with him in it (Compartment K). Their cooperative effort is very good in this one. ★★ and 1/2.

*One thing to note: I have no idea what's going on with the cover of my edition. There are no ghosts. There are no mentions of ghosts. No cemeteries feature in the story. 

First line: At four fifty-three o'clock on the afternoon of January 11th dusk was coming down over the city.

"The gun is gone. It's difficult to check on what you haven't got." (Inspector McKee; p. 63)

A gun floating around in a murder case was something he wasn't fond of. A weapon that had killed once had a nasty habit of going off again. (p. 63)

Last line: McKee got out, mounted the stairs, and called the commissioner and District Attorney Dwyer.


Deaths = 4 (two shot; one natural; one poisoned)

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Murder in Miniatures

 Murder in Miniatures (1940) by Sam Merwin, Jr.

"Old Russia and modern New York; a sophisticated debutramp and an enigmatic commissar from the Soviet Union; an advertising agency and a toy replica set of the army that repelled Napoleon"--these are just a few of the ingredients in Merwin's story of intrigue in the Big Apple. Michael Troop (Tropovsky) is co-owner of an advertising agency that's on the brink of landing some big clients--but then murder and international intrigue come knocking. Michael's estranged father was a Russian prince under the old czar and when his father is killed in Shanghai, Michael falls heir to all the trinkets and baubles that his father stashed in America with Michael's mother. Somewhere amongst those forgotten relics hidden in the family's basement is a treasure worth stealing--or killing for.

Michael's cousin Alexis is the first to die (well...the first in New York, that is). And, initially, Michael is the prime suspect after the cousins had a falling out over the very pretty Patricia McBride. But as the bodies start piling up (and Michael has alibis for the deaths), Sergeant Lanning begins to think there must be some connection between the deaths and the Russian toy soldiers that are part of Michael's heritage. But are toys really worth killing for? Some collectors might think so...

Poor Michael...he keeps getting into scrapes. First suspect of murder. Then blackmailed by a pushy dame who just wants him because of his title and because she thinks he's dangerous. When she determines that he's not really the killer, she drops him like a hot potato (some women are so strange...). Then he's slipped a Mickey Finn and wakes up to discover that [redacted] is really the killer and has this weird plot to make money off of it. So...I like Michael. I like his relationship with other people in the story--Patricia, Sergeant Lanning, his houseman/bodyguard Jimmie (even though Jimmie doesn't seem to be all that great as a bodyguard--people keep getting into Michael's apartment...). The plot is an interesting one--it's not often you have murder done over toys.{Slight Spoiler Ahead!!!!}

But...seriously, the culprit and their motive just sortof appear out of nowhere. Not that it's a culprit we've never met before (at least Merwin didn't break that Golden Age rule), but they just pop up as the villain of the piece with no real warning that there's any reason to think they might be. Not very satisfactory. But other than that--a fun, quick read. ★★

First line: Though the sun was already nearing the choppy roof tops that composed the western horizon, the big man was still in pajamas.

"Men are silly," he said. "I thought most girls were aware of it." (Sergeant Lanning; p. 76)

Last line: Sergeant Lanning fell backward across the bed.


Deaths = 6 (five stabbed; one shot)


 Inquest (1940) by Percival Wilde

Best-selling author Aurelia Bennett hosts a party on the Fourth of July weekend to celebrate her 70th birthday. On hand are her man of business, Dwight Charlton; her publisher, Mr. Peabody; her nephew Charles Platt and his wife; her great-niece Alice Minturn and husband William; and Oliver Bligh Stickney, the literary critic who has blasted her books for about twenty-five years. Also of note is Tams the butler and old Ben Willett who tends the grass on the village green (and has done as long as anyone can remember) who also, at Mrs. Bennett's request, helped around the house that weekend. 

Charlton is Aurelia Bennett's favorite and it comes out that she has made a new will his favor. William Minturn is definitely not a favorite and has been treating his wife and her parents badly for years and had hopes that Aunt Aurelia would come through with a tidy inheritance for the Minturns. Stickney isn't wanted--no one knows what possessed Aurelia to invite the man who has downgraded everything she's ever written nor do they know why he accepted the invitation cloaked in a challenge ("Come if you dare..."), unless it was so he could drink all he wanted for free.

After an uncomfortable birthday dinner, the next day is spent in target practice in the back garden. Everybody takes an opportunity to get off a few shots and between the target practice and the Fourth of July fireworks going off, it's hard to tell who is shooting what and when. At some point somebody took a shot at Dwight Charlton who had gone off to sit in a secluded area of the garden. Was it a mere accident--a shot gone wild? But, if so, why had someone shot in the opposite direction from the target? And if it is murder, did William Minturn really pull the trigger? For Charlton is found with a letter in his hand which ends with "I know that if William Minturn takes my life, he will pay for it." 

This is an interesting and unusual book. It is entirely set at the coroner's inquest--not a courtroom trial--just the inquest. The only thing we're supposed to determine is how the deceased came by his death--was he shot, did he die of heart failure, sudden apoplexy, or, as has been suggested at the very beginning, a "shock to the nervous system"? We hear evidence from Ben Willett, Tams the butler, Mr. Minturn, and Aurelia Bennett. The coroner seems willing to let everyone talk to their heart's content (after all, the jury is being paid $3 a day and he gets 50 cents for every folio [page?] of testimony given while the court stenographer gets 25 cents for every page she types up, and we've got make ends meet somehow). We hear about how to cut grass as well as every little detail of the weekend party. We hear about all the shooting, but nobody can seem to remember who had the gun when and who left to go get more cartridges and when folks went up to the house or the garage or just where. Nothing seems too clear until Mr. Stickney has a private word with the coroner...and even he doesn't have quite the straight of it. But the coroner isn't quite the backwoods, ignorant county official everyone might think and he knows exactly who did what when...

For a very long time, it appears that Wilde is merely giving us a commentary on early 20th Century American justice (or miscarriages thereof). We see how (apparently) little towns where everyone knows everyone and officials are either in someone's pocket or have people in their pocket. There is a lot of good local color and Ben Willett is an absolute hoot to listen to. I very much appreciated that our coroner is much shrewder and on the lookout for justice (in its truest sense) than first appears. It was also interesting to have all evidence and clues brought forth in the ramblings of the witnesses at the inquest. 

First line: This book is the fruit of a strange evening.

To those unnecessarily well-informed readers who will point out that the Honorable Lee Slocum could never have been elected coroner in my home state, my answer is that I know it--and I trust they, like me, will not permit mere facts to interfere with entertainment. (p. 2)

First I want to think it, and then I want to write it. If all the thoughts I have thought was laid end to end, they'd reach from here to the Milky Way--and keep right on going. (Ben Willett; p. 22)

Last line: Court is adjourned.


Deaths = 6 (three natural; two shot; one died of drink)

Friday, April 14, 2023

Little Men

 Little Men (1871) by Louisa May Alcott

Little Men takes place ten years after the end of Little Women. Jo March, now married to Professor Fritz Bhaer, has inherited Plumfield and the couple have turned the country house into a school for boys--their own and their nephews, as well as boys in need of a good family life and good training. A few girls are in the mix as well, to help the young men learn to be a bit more gentlemanly. The school is well-established when we enter the story and we see how the work of the Bhaers affects their young charges--especially the newest additions to the Bhaer menagerie, Nat and Dan. Nat is a timid, shay boy who has spent his young life as a street musician, often suffering beatings when things weren't going well. Mr. Laurie (friend of the Marches) discovers the young boy who has just been orphaned and sees promise in the little musician. He just knows that Plumfield will be the making of him. Once Nat is established at Plumfield, he sends for his friend Dan. 

Dan is also an orphan, but a much rougher character than Nat. He doesn't settle in so well at first and, in fact, Mr. Bhaer has to send him away to another home for boys when he sees the influence Dan has over his school. But Dan's heart is with Plumfield and he soon comes back, bruised and in need of a good home. Once Jo finds the key to Dan's interest (natural/biological studies), the Bhaers are able to help him grow and blossom. It is fun to watch Nat come into his own and exhibit his violin skills as well as to see Dan tamed and taught to use his strength for good. Of course, with a houseful of boys there are always adventures and scrapes, but the Bhaers manage them with firm yet gentle hands.

I loved Louisa May Alcott when I was young--so much so that when we had to choose someone literary to dress up as for school, I picked her. While I loved Little Women, Little Men was my favorite. Like Jo, I always preferred boys and knew that if I ever had children that I wanted sons. Also, like Jo and Nan, I was a tomboy and always preferred playing with the boys to the more standard girlish pursuits of playing house or playing with dolls. Give me a good old game of football or ball tag or a tramp through the woods any day. 

My vintage copy
As an adult I appreciate how the Bhaers tried to find the right method of education for each child. They would observe the children to see where their hearts lay--whether it was music for Nat or natural history for Dan or anything to do with sailing ships for Emil. And the girls were treated equally--Daisy may prefer homemaking skills such as cooking and tidying up, but Nan had a gift for treating cuts and bruises and was encouraged to follow medicine; being a doctor wasn't ruled out just because she was a girl. Once the child's specific interest was found, then in addition to the basics (which everyone needs)--reading, writing, and 'rithmetic--they were given studies and tasks that would help them with their areas of interest. A really good way to raise and educate children, in my opinion.

This is a charming book that I thoroughly enjoyed.

First line: "Please sir, is this Plumfield?" asked a ragged boy of the man who opened the great gate at which an omnibus left him.

Last line: For love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted by autumn frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

And So to Murder (spoilerific)

 And So to Murder (1940) by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr)

Monica Stanton, sheltered vicar's daughter, goes off and writes a bombshell bodice-ripper that sells like hotcakes. Before she knows it, she's asked by a film company to come and write up scripts--she thinks she'll be doing the screenplay for her own book Desire, but discovers that there is more to film-making than meets the eye. Authors don't do screenplays for their own books, oh no. So, she'll be putting together a lovely little mystery screenplay for William Cartwright's mystery-thriller, And So to Murder, and Cartwright will be adapting her book for film. She doesn't know the first thing about writing screenplays and she definitely doesn't know about writing screenplays for mysteries--but she's not going to pass up an opportunity to work in films for anything. 

But then someone takes a dislike to Miss Monica Stanton. She's nearly blinded by a bottleful of vitriol dumped down a speaking tube. She misses being shot by a hairsbreadth. And her unfortunate fellow screenwriter, Miss Tilly Parsons, is poisoned by cigarette laced with belladonna that was apparently meant for Monica. But Monica doesn't know any of these people. Nasty anonymous notes make it pretty clear that she's the target, but why on earth would someone be out to kill her? Don't worry, Sir Henry Merrivale will find out what's going on and point out the villain of the piece.

So...the title is a lie. There is no murder. Attempted murder? Yes. But no murder. This is the first Dickson/Carr novel I've read where there is no impossible murder to solve. A somewhat impossible attempt at murder--there seems, on the surface, to have been no opportunity for anyone to have doctored the near-fatal cigarette at the end--but the Old Man readily explains how that happened. But, despite there being no murder--and only one death by natural causes mentioned at the very beginning--this is a delightful mystery. The action is brisk and the dialogue sparkles. Dickson/Carr pulls out his standard "boy meets girl, the two despise each other at first sight but later are madly in love" trick, but in this story, it works! For one thing, (unlike my previous read) he allows us to see the two characters actually recognize and acknowledge what's happening. There's a progression towards romance that just didn't happen in Nine--And Death Makes Ten. Dickson/Carr also plays a fine game of misdirection in the middle section that completely fooled me and made me keep my eye on the wrong person.

I, like William Cartwright, do have a problem with one bit (the same bit, actually)--I still don't think the disappearance of the valuable sections of film is properly explained. Who did it and why was it spliced into the other bit of film? Oh--and just out of curiosity (for those who have read this)--did I miss the scene with the ax? I can't for the life of me figure out what that ax is doing on the cover of my Dell Mapback. It's a nice cover and all, but I don't remember an ax being mentioned anywhere. But, overall, a great, fast-moving read. 

First line: In spite of herself she was excited.

It was not that he expected Monica to resemble the voluptuous and world-weary Eve D'Aubray, the heroine of Desire. Just the opposite. In Mr. Hackett's experience, the ladies who wrote passionate love stories were usually either tense business women or acidulated spinsters who petrified every male in the vicinity. (p. 9)

"You appear to be confusing fiction with autobiography. Recently we both made the acquaintance of Mr. William Cartwright, who writes the detective novels. He made quite a favorable impression on you, if I remember correctly. You do not seriously suggest that Mr. Cartwright spends his spare time cutting people's throats?" (Rev. James Stanton; p. 14)

...William Cartwright had a beard. Again justice must be done. It was not one of those scraggly beards abominated by everybody. On the contrary, any male would have said it was a pretty good hirsute effort, as beards go; trim, close-clipped like the mustache, giving its owner something of the look of a naval commander. (p. 26)

"The highest paid scenario writer in the world" was a little, dumpy, bustling woman in her early fifties. She had a positiveness of manner which carried everybody along with her. Though her lipstick always looked as though it had been put on in the dark, so that it was just a fraction of an inch sideways across her mouth, she had a good deal of charm. (p. 91) 

" are gradually driving me to the loony bin. I informed you last week that exaggerated was spelled e-x-a-g-g-e-r-a-t-e-d. Unless the authorities have got together and done something about it in the meantime, it is still spelled like that." (William Cartwright; p. 94)

Last line: "It's just one of those things that happen in the film business."


Deaths = one natural

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Nine--And Death Makes Ten

 Nine--And Death Makes Ten (apa Murder in the Submarine Zone; 1940) by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr)

January 1940. The story takes place on an ocean liner, the Edwardic, which has been converted to wartime use and carries a minimum number of passengers, a huge load of munitions, and one stowaway--murder. The passengers aboard ship are those in a big enough hurry to make the crossing from New York to England that they could stand the danger of entering the submarine zone with a boatload of explosives. Those passengers include a newspaper reporter recovering from a dangerous fall while covering a fire, a member of the NYPD on his way to collect a dangerous criminal, a blonde wrapped in sable with a mysteriously bulging pocketbook, a young woman with a mysterious mission, a French captain who is only seen at mealtime, the younger son of a Lord who has a serious case of seasickness (or the worst hangover ever...we're not too sure, a doctor, and British businessman who talks like a car salesman.

When Mrs. Zia Bey, the woman with the bulging bag, winds up murdered, Max Matthews--the reporter and brother of the ship's captain--is sure the arrogant young woman with the secret is involved. But there are too many questions that need answers--questions that don't seem to point to Miss Valerie Chatford. Whose fingerprints are pressed in blood on the murder woman's back? And why don't those prints match anyone on board? Who had been throwing knives in the passageway late at night? Who was the man wearing the gas mask and poking his head into other passengers' compartments? Fortunately, there is one more passenger on board the Ewardic...the Old Man himself, Sir Henry Merrivale. If anyone can figure this screwy case out, it's H.M.

I enjoyed this so much more than the last ship-board mystery by Dickson/Carr (The Case of the Blind Barber). That one came across as too much slap-stick and over-the-top. And there was not nearly enough of Gideon Fell. I was beginning to think that we were going the same route here with Merrivale--he doesn't show up until almost half-way through the book, but once he does, he's very present with all his "Burn mes!" and "for the love of Esaus!" And, of course, he spots all the clues that went right over my head. I should have noticed them, but I was too busy being entertained by H.M. 

I do have a couple of complaints though...First, why do all the little romances have to start off with the guy and the gal at odds? They both think the other is insufferable until suddenly at the very end (with no scenes to indicate a change in mood) they realize they can't do without one another. Seriously? And, second, I was expecting a motive with a little more oomph to it. Especially with all the certain kind of overtones we get (can't explain...because spoilers). It just seemed to fall a little flat. Otherwise, this would have been a five-star winner--great characters, I love a mystery on a ship, nicely done clues (that I missed), and a lot of fun with Merrivale. As it is...

First line: Painted battleship-gray, the line lay by the pier at the foot of West Twentieth Street.

I have come across this sort of thing in books and films; but, by all the gods, I never imagined it could happen in real life. Do you seriously imagine that you, or any other woman outside a story, can get away with that? Do you think you can tell what you choose to tell, and keep back what doesn't suit your purpose; and then look like a matyr and say you're sure some poor goop will trust you? They ruddy well won't. I won't. (Max Matthews; p. 58)

But, if you ask me, this whole case is screwy. It sounds like Nick Carter. First the bloody thumb-mark, and now the packet of papers. If you can only dig up a hypodermic full of strange Indian poison... (John Lathrop; p. 67)

It's the infantile mind that planned this murder, and every detail of the business. That's what you're dealin' with, son; arrested development in an adult. What makes it worse is that it seems to be an adult of caution and brains as well; and that's an awful bad combination. (Sir Henry Merrivale; p. 74)

Last lines: But as the orchestra struck up at signal from Commander Matthews, they sang God Save the King. And never had those words been sung more strongly, never was more sincerity poured from the heart, than when those strains rose to the roof, and the great gray ship moved up the Channel; and, steady as a compass-needle in death and storm and peril and the darkness of great waters, the Edwardic came home.


Deaths = 5 (one neck broken; one stabbed; one shot; one natural; one hit on head)

Monday, April 10, 2023

Danger at the Drawbridge

 Danger at the Drawbridge (1940) by Mildred A.Wirt

This is the third in the Penny Parker detective series and my second attempt to get on with Mildred Wirt's favorite character (a girl detective that Wirt apparently thought was "a better Nancy Drew than Nancy is" (quote reference). If she says so...  I didn't think much of Penny when I first met her in Behind the Green Door, though she did improve as that book went along. I still don't think she's better than Nancy. In this particular adventure, she is trying to get her dad to let her cover the society wedding of the season. Miss Sylvia Kippenberg is set to marry Grant Atherwald and no reporters or photographers are allowed. There's been a mystery surrounding the Kippenberg's ever since Sylvia's father disappeared a few years ago. He was suspected by the Feds of having bought up gold when it was illegal to do so, but disappeared before anything could be proved. Mrs. Kippenberg doesn't want any notoriety marring her daughter's wedding and, so, has barred the newspapers from the event.

But Penny is resourceful and she and Salt, the Riverview Star's photographer manage to get into the grounds of the castle-like family estate...only to discover another mystery: the mystery of the missing groom. Atherwald arrives at the estate on the same boat launch that brings Penny and Salt. He's handed a note by one of the servants, heads down a path in the garden, and disappears into thin air. Penny discovers footmarks that seem to indicate a struggle and also a wedding ring that the bride-to-be says looks like the one Atherwald bought for her. Did someone kidnap the prospective groom? And if so, why? Penny is out to find out...and hopefully get a big scoop for her dad's newspaper. 

So...there's quite a bit of action in this one and Penny comes close to a watery grave. I'm not sure what I think of her investigative reporter skills. She seems to have a lot of hunches that manage to pan out. She is brave and willing to put herself in danger for what she thinks is the right thing to do...especially if it will get her a good story for the paper. But given that she's still a high school student, I'm surprised that her dad isn't more worried about the fact that his daughter is nearly drowned by the bad guys. A fairly decent mystery/adventure for girls, but I'm still not convinced that she's in Nancy's league. I'm not sure what I would have thought of her if I had discovered the books at the time I was reading the Nancy Drew books. But now?  --just.

First line: Penny Parker, leaning indolently against the edge of the kitchen table, watched Mrs. Weems stem strawberries into a bright green bowl.

Last line: "I just hope I won't have to wait too long for the next mystery to come along."


Deaths = one natural

The 1940 Club


The 1940 Club: Each Fall and Spring Simon at Stuck in a Book sponsors a week of book club reading based on a particular year. From April 10-16, our goal is to read as many books from 1940 as we can/want to--post your reviews at the link. With my addiction to Golden Age Mysteries, I have a pretty large selection of books from that year. I don't think I'll be able to do all 46 that I've got on tap, but I'm going to see how many I can get to. I'll list them below as I do them.

1. Danger at the Drawbridge by Mildred A. Wirt (4/10/23)
2. Nine--And Death Makes Ten by Carter Dickson (4/11/23)
3. And So to Murder by Carter Dickson  (4/12/23)
4. Inquest by Percival Wilde (4/15/23)
5. Murder in Miniature by Sam Merwin, Jr. (4/15/23)

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Fatal Enquiry

 Fatal Enquiry (2014) by Will Thomas:

Years ago in China, fighting in a war that wasn't his own, Cyrus Barker thought Sebastian Nightwine was his friend. Then Nightwine proved how treacherous he could be by sending Barker brother's on a mission he knew would fail. Cyrus vowed to make the man pay for his brother's death. Later in England, Barker exposed Nightwine's villainy which forced the colonel to flee England. But now the disgraced soldier has returned and has somehow earned the respect of the government and the right for police protection...from Barker. 

Nightwine has secret maps and a plan that will allow Britain to expand her already vast empire and not even Cyrus Barker will be allowed  to interfere with the scheme. It isn't long before Barker is framed for murder and he and his "Watson," Thomas Llewelyn are on the run from both the police and Nightwine and his henchmen. When a hefty reward is offered for their capture even long-time allies are tempted to turn them in. And, of course, Nightwine has a highly skilled assassin on their their trail as well--just to make certain sure that Barker won't mess up his plans, now or in the future.

Barker is just as determined to stop Nightwine--for good this time. He knows, as does Nightwine, that the twenty-five-year feud will come to end...because one of them will be dead at the end of this last confrontation. But he needs time to gather the evidence of the colonel's perfidy and time isn't a luxury that he and Llewelyn have.

So...once upon a time in 2014 I received this as an advanced reader copy. And somehow managed to not read and review it as planned. I think I wanted to read the two previous books first and then got sidetracked from my mission (soooo many books, too little time). But how on earth did almost ten years go by? 

Anyway...on to the review: Barker is in fine form as a far more mobile Nero Wolfe style detective. Highly intelligent, far ahead of the coppers, and always right. It was interesting to learn more of Barker's back story in this one--previously his past had been wrapped in mystery. But we learn a great deal about his early days in China. A past that very much informs the present adventure. It was also nice to see Llewelyn on his own for a bit. He isn't quite up to Barker's standard yet, but he acquits himself well--especially in his encounter with the spymaster. I was a bit dismayed at the number of victims who fell under the assassin's hand--and one victim in particular. I do see the point of the deaths, but still.

This isn't a whodunnit--we know who the bad guy is from the beginning. The mystery lies in how Barker will prove his innocence and how he and Llewelyn will be able to bring Nightwine to justice (of a sort). I am intrigued by the last chapter and wonder what might come of the news Barker is given at the end. ★★ and 1/2

First line: It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least among private enquiry agents, that the most momentous of cases, the real corkers, begin on the blandest, most ordinary of days.

Meaning is as much in how we say a thing as in what we say. Even his grunt held a tone of disappointment. (p. 24)

The problem with nicknames, I've always thought, is one never gets to invent one's own. (p. 54)

Barker believes that all poets should have the decency to be dead at least a century or two. I feel the same way about politicians. (p. 245)

One cannot go about indiscriminately telling the truth. It must be doled out in bits and pieces or no one shall ever believe it. (p. 261)

Last line: "And Nightwine knew it the entire time!"


Deaths =  9 (three natural; two stabbed; one shot; one poisoned; one hit on head; one shot)