Friday, May 26, 2023

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine October 1965

 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (October 1965) edited by Clayton Rawson

About four years ago, I picked up a batch of older EQ Mystery Magazines on Ebay because they had short stories by the Lockridges in them. In 2020, I put this collection down as part of the Deal Me in Challenge--but somehow (I'll blame it on the pandemic) I went off the rails on reading the short stories I had lined up for that. I've decided to revisit the collections and finish the stories I didn't get to. I'll keep adding mini-reviews until this collection is finished and then add a wrap-up for the magazine.

Wrap-up: Overall, a fine collection of stories. Just about every one of them is a tasty little tidbit for when you're looking for something short and sweet, but still has a nice mystery bite to it. The only one I really have a quibble with is "Want to Buy a Cat?" by Kersh...I just wouldn't call it a mystery. Not in the detective sense, anyway. Very enjoyable. ★★

"Flair for Murder" by Frances & Richard Lockridge [last short story the couple wrote together]: Captain Heimrich is called upon to find out who killed "Old John" and buried him in a bed of asparagus. How the elderly caretaker had become a danger to anyone? [one natural; one shot]

"Want to Buy a Cat?" by Gerald Kersh: A curious story about the cat who would not go away and the man who tries to get rid of it.

"The Course of Justice" by Hugh B. Cave: John Houghton believes he has plotted the perfect dish of justice for the man who raped his wife--even if that man is the protected president of a Caribbean country. But what happens when the plot goes awry? [one shot]

"The Three R's" by Ellery Queen: Ellery is called upon by Dr. Barlowe of Barlowe College to find out what happened to the missing Professor Chipp. All signs point to murder--with clues following the three R's.

"Miss Potter, Chipp's being ten days late is as unlikely as--as my being Mrs. Hudson in disguise. Unlikelier." (Dr. Isaiah St. Joseph A. Barlowe)

"The Great Glockenspiel Gimmick" by Arthur Moore: Albert thinks he's come up with a foolproof plan to replace the money he's embezzled from Faceless Robert's Horse Parlor. But he doesn't taken into account the fools he's got helping him.

"The Japanese Card Mystery" by James Holding: King Danforth and Martin Leroy, coauthors of numerous mystery novels, are on a cruise with their wives. When they get caught up in what they think is a con game, they're determined to figure out how a man's niece can predict what card you draw...over the telephone.

"Not Easy to Kill" by Philip Wylie: Someone is out to kill millionaire Emerson Stickney while he's on a cruise ship. When it appears that someone has succeeded, suspicion falls first on the ship's young Doctor, Mark Adams, because Stickney had signed papers giving Adams complete control of his business empire in the event of his death. But it's not as simple as that. [two shot]

"Baskets of Apples & Roses" by Victor Canning: Baskets of apples and roses, sent as gifts to various journalists, contain deadly explosives. It's up to Mascaux of the Department of Patterns (connected to the French Police) to discover the pattern that will lead to the culprit/s and their motive. [one broken heart]

"The Sound of the Peepers" by Caroline Breedlove: Trudy's dad has been murdered and no one knows who did it--looks like a tramp or a hitchhiker. But Trudy keeps thinking that there's something that she mustn't tell... [one hit on head]

"The Right Way & the Wrong" by Sondra Morrow: Jim Chambers isn't too happy when his brother Mark, a lieutenant in the police department, tells him to give back the fifty dollars Jim took from his wallet. Doesn't Jim know there's a right way and a wrong way to come by money?

"Father Crumlish & the Cherub Vase" by Alice Scanlan Reach: Father Crumlish sets off an unfortunate string of events when he picks out an ugly cherub vase as a door prize for the Ladies' Aid Society's annual supper.[one hit on head; one natural]

The Theft of the Black Jupiter" by Margaret Austin: It is 1641 and our narrator is puzzling over the theft of a rare black tulip. A very odd way to steal, indeed.

"Grandfather & the Labor Day Mystery" by Lloyd Biggle Jr.: A man named Dick Scott shows up for the Labor Day fire works and then promptly disappears. Nobody admits to knowing who Scott is. [one stabbed]

"Devil to Pay" J. F. Pierce: A elderly man makes a deal with the devil (well...the devil's representative) and finds a way to keep his soul after all....

"Jericho & the Dying Clue" by Hugh Pentecost: This finds Pentecost's artist/detective John Jericho staying at the home of presidential hopeful Senator Willard Rice. Rice wants Jericho to paint his portrait and Jericho wants to get the atmosphere surrounding the man before he begins. But the Senator's death after an accusation of impropriety takes him from artist to detective overnight. It would look like suicide--if there had been a note and the weapon weren't missing. And, as the title implies, the Senator's supposed last words provides him with the solution to the mystery.[one drowned; one shot]

First line (1st story): The dog was constantly bringing things home.

Last lines (last story): "We can't live without truth, David. If we try, everything else becomes meaningless."

Letters to a Young Poet (mini-review)

 Letters to a Young Poet (1929) by Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke's poetry is well-known for its lyricism and depiction & investigation of the depths of the human heart. Many people, touched by his poems wrote to Rilke about their dreams and their poems. This slim volume provides letters which Rilke wrote from 1903 to 1908 to a young man who wanted to know if he had what it takes to be a poet. Rilke wrote heartfelt responses on how to observe the world and use those observations in one's work as well as how to look within and discover one's own strength. These letters continue to speak to would-be writers today and have useful insights for anyone who wants to know their self better. 

I love Rilke's poetry and it was interesting to see inside his head from a different angle--to see, in a way, what made him tick. Even though the additional material indicates that he was going through some rough periods himself at this time, he was still able to give very wise advice to the young man he was corresponding with. A delightful read. ★★

First line (1st letter): My dear sir, Your letter only reached me a few days ago.

Last line (last letter): May the year that is at hand uphold and strengthen you in that. Ever yours, Rainer Maria Rilke


Thursday, May 25, 2023

Murder & Blueberry Pie

Murder & Blueberry Pie (1959) by Frances & Richard Lockridge

Synopsis from my previous review (9/3/13): Lois Williams is a  recent widow--getting over the loss of her airline pilot husband.  She's been trying to distract herself with involvement in the community and is helping to organize a tour of historic houses on the occasion of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Glenville, her home town.  When she stops in to ask Mrs. Abigail Montfret, 84 year old descendant of a leading Glenville family, for permission to place her home on the tour list, she is asked to serve as a witness to the elderly woman's will.  Not a half hour after Lois leaves, the woman dies.

Then the odd things begin to happen.  Lois will hear the woman's voice again....but this time from the mouth of a much younger woman.  The attorney who drew up the will seems to have taken extreme precautions to be sure that the signature is accepted as genuine.  When Lois shares her doubts with Bob Oliver, owner and editor of the town paper, his reporter's instincts kick in and they begin an investigation.  Soon Lois is the recipient of phone calls with no one on the line and someone is lurking outside her patio doors.  One of the tires on Bob's car is cut--by the villain in the case or by a gang of hoodlums in Greenwich Village?  

When a woman Bob knows who just happens to be an actress who excels at portraying older women just happens to die in a "mugging"--and coincidentally just happens to die the same night Bob and Lois pay her visit, Bob winds up taking their theories to Detective Nathan Shapiro.  Shapiro's superior, Bill Weigand, sends Shapiro to Glendale to nose around "just in case." Between Shapiro's apparently purposeless questioning and Bob's nose for news, it isn't long before the culprit is revealed.

Murder and Blueberry Pie is one of the lightest of the "light and breezy" mysteries by Frances and Richard Lockridge and features even less of the detection and intricate cluing that classic mystery fans may long for in their detective fiction. There isn't even a lot of suspect interviews. Nate Shapiro comes late to the scene and conducts what seems to be very lackluster "interrogations." Those interviewed can't see how he makes his way on the police force--and we may be tempted to agree. I'm used to Shapiro's methods and even I have difficulty figuring out how he managed to come to the correct conclusion based on the clues we're shown and the questions he asks.  

A further note: normally the any item or items mentioned in Lockridge titles have somerelevance to the mystery--given that track record, one might expect the corpse in question to have died by poisoning courtesy of the titular pie. But not this time. Lois using pie-baking to distract herself from the fact that someone has apparently tried to kill her and Bob for being to inquisitive about a certain actress and all the other odd little details that her busy imagination keeps dwelling on. It also makes for a nice little scene between Lois and Bob--but relevant to the mystery? Not really.

So, for detective story purists, this isn't going to be your cup of tea--there are no Golden Age, fair-play rules being followed here. But for character and fun, it a good read--and it's a quick read. I was able to finish it in a single day.  No heavy (mental) lifting involved--just a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.  ★★

First line: A jet-fighter, on routine training flight, knifed out of the white innocence of a cloud over Arizona at a little after two o'clock on an afternoon in mid-October.

Last line: "Bob," she said. "At least let me put the pie down first."


Deaths = 4 (one plane accident; one natural; one hit on head; one fell from height)

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Blackstone Fell

 Blackstone Fell (2022) by Martin Edwards

It's autumn 1930 and disgraced crime reporter Nell Fagan is on the trail of a story which she hopes will pave her way back to the good graces of Fleet Street. The trail starts with Vernon Murray and his request that Nell help him solve the murder of his mother. After his father's death she had married a younger man whom Vernon was certain was just after her money. Thomas Baker soon put a barrier up between Vernon and his mother and before the marriage was too old, Ursula Baker fell ill (according to Baker) and was sent to a sanitarium at Blackstone Fell for rest and recuperation. Except she didn't recuperate...she died. Vernon is certain that his mother was deliberately killed so Baker could make off with the money, but has no proof and the authorities just believe him to be a disgruntled, disinherited man.

Nell goes to to Blackstone Fell and finds plenty of mystery...the place has been the site of two disappearances--300 years apart--from a locked gatehouse connected to Blackstone Tower. Two men went into the gatehouse and never came out (or so they say) Nell, under a pseudonym, professes great interest in the legends surrounding the disappearances and uses her interest to cover her investigation of the sanitarium. But someone has seen through her pose and a boulder narrowly misses her when she walking in one of the areas where the men's bodies may have been hidden. So, Nell returns to London to seek help from an unexpected source...Rachel Savernake, the woman who made every effort to see that Nell would never write for a reputable paper again.

But Rachel has a reputation for solving incredible mysteries and Nell is sure that Rachel won't be able to resist the stories circulating about Blackstone Fell. She's right, but Rachel still isn't keen to help the woman who tried to dig up her past especially since she knows Nell isn't telling her everything she knows. When Vernon Murray winds up dead--an "accident" in the underground--and then Nell is also killed in an apparent accident, Rachel decides to take up the case in earnest. As might be expected, she finds that the mystery is deeper than even Nell imagined.

Martin Edwards has done his best to tick all the boxes for Golden Age fans--from clues hidden in plain sight to a handy map at the front of the book, from shady clerics and charming medicos to characters who aren't at all what/who they seem, from a locked room setting to mediums and seances, from small village setting to fog-bound countryside to a suspenseful wrap-up scene and a handy Cluefinder list at the end to show readers where they missed all those "plain sight" clues. The only thing missing to make it perfect in GAD trappings is the list of characters with pithy little descriptions.

This is the third in the Rachel Savernake series and Edwards is still going strong. Great setting and set-up and he manages to keep things fresh with new ways to connect to the Golden Age era but with his own twists. A thoroughly enjoyable mystery experience that I raced through. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: "Seeing isn't always believing."

Last line: "Someone who knows exactly which path to take."


Deaths = 19 (five poisoned; one suicide by gas; one buried alive; one run over by underground train; one car accident; one hit on head; two hanged; two fell from height; two shot; one battered to death; two natural)

Monday, May 22, 2023


 Line-Up (1940) by John Rhode (ed) [collection also published by Avon as The Avon Book of Modern Crime Stories, 1942]

This line-up includes several non-fiction pieces among the collection of short stories. Two of the non-fiction essays are interesting (Connington and Freeman), but I can only guess that G. K. Chesterton was included because...well, because he was Chesterton. I can't say that I felt like his two-page essay was all that informative or interesting. Rather than really pick the best detective story (and by story, we must mean short story), he just chooses what is often considered the first. I mean, seriously, if you don't want to have to choose a "best," then choose some other topic for your essay. There's a lot of things to say about detective fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed those that were new to me and it was fun to revisit the seven that I had already read in various other (more recent) collections.

Okay...enough of my rant on GKC's piece. This is a fairly good collection of short stories by members of the Detection Club. I am quite sure it was welcomed with open arms by the reading public in the 1940s, especially since this anthology was the first appearance of these stories in anthology form.   ★★★★

"The Sweet Shot" by E. C. Bentley: A man is found dead on the second hole of the golf course. He's either been given a huge electric shock or there's been an explosion. But there was no one near him at the time.  [one death]

"The Genuine Tabard" by E. C. Bentley: Mrs. Langley tells Philip Trent about her husband's prized tabard. When Trent hears about how it was obtained, he's sure there's something fishy about the set-up.

"Person or Things Unknown" by John Dickson Carr": A historical mystery in which the host of a holiday party invites his guests to investigate a supernatural death from the past--which took place, naturally, in a room where no one wants to sleep now. [two stabbed; one natural]

"The Best Detective Story" by G. K. Chesterton: Chesterton's short piece on what the best mystery story is. 

"Wireless" by Agatha Christie: Mary Harter is an elderly lady with a weak heart--but her doctor tells her if she takes it easy and avoids shocks that she will still have many more years left. Her nephew persuades her that a radio would be just the thing to help occupy her secluded times at home...and then the radio starts putting out some very startling messages. [one natural--shock]

"Death by Drowning" by Agatha Christie": Rose Emmett has been found drowned in the river near St. Mary Mead. She was pregnant and her lover had refused to marry her so everyone thought she had killed herself. But Miss Marple knew she'd been murdered. When she hears that Sir Henry Clithering is in town for a visit, she asks him to investigate. She has no proof and doesn't think the local police will take her reasons seriously. She writes down the name of her suspect and asks Sir Henry to find a way to discover whether she's correct. When an apparently unshakeable alibi is produced, it begins to look as if Miss Marple has made her first mistake....but Christie fans know that can't be possible. [one drowned]

"Too Clever by Half" by G.D.H. & M. Cole: Dr. Tancred tells a story to prove that it doesn't pay to be too clever if you want to get away with murder. When Sam Allsop is found shot, there are too many clues left about to "prove" that it was suicide. The murderer should have left well enough alone. [one shot; one hanged]

"A Criminologist's Book-Shelf" by J. J. Connington: A non-fiction piece by Connington on accuracy in crime fiction. He mentions how advancements in medical knowledge, police work, and the average reader's knowledge place mystery writers at the mercy of angry afficionados if they get any details wrong. Can you imagine what Connington would think of today's world where readers have the entire internet at their fingertips? 

"The Match" by Freeman Wills Crofts: Inspector French must unravel the clues to a near-perfect murder committed to cover up someone's embezzling ways. One tiny slip is all it takes... [one hit on head; one hanged]

"The Hiding-Place" by Carter Dickson: Hard-core gangsters rob a bank--killing a couple of people along the way, but are immediately caught by the police. The only difficulty? The loot has completely disappeared--twice. Leave to Colonel March of the Department of Queer Complaints to figure out the hiding place. [unfortunately for the Medical Examiner's challenge--the people aren't named]

"The Crime in Nobody's Room" by Carter Dickson: After a night on the town, Ronald Denham comes home to what he thinks is his flat--only to discover it's not his flat and it's got a dead man in it. Then he's hit on the head and wakes up in the hall. When his roommate finds him, he thinks he's drunk--especially after hearing his bizarre story. But the bump on Denham's head convinces him--except where's the body? And where is the room Denham saw? Because it doesn't match anyone's sitting room in the building. Colonel March arrives to unravel the mystery. (one stabbed)

"The Art of the Detective Story" by R. Austin Freeman: Freeman's defense of the literary nature of detective fiction. He posits that critics judge the detective story by its worst examples while judging all other forms of fiction by its best. He then goes on to explain what makes good detective fiction.

Devices to confuse and mislead the reader are bad practice. They deaden the interest, and they are quite unnecessary; the reader can always be trusted to mislead himself, no matter how plainly the data are given.

"A Professional Episode" by Arthur Morrison: The public hangman is worried that word of his job will get out--especially after he had to "fix the straps" (as he says in the narrative) on his next-door neighbor. [one hit on head; one hanged]

"A Shot in the Night" by Baroness Orczy: When retired businessman Edward Greeneadge is shot to death, it looks like his nephew is the culprit. Patrick Mulligan, lawyer (known by the nickname "Skin o' My Tooth") manages to find the solution in time to save Ralph Legge-Bright from the gallows. [one shot]

"The Tytherton Case" by Baroness Orczy: An elderly lawyer is attacked and certain papers in his office and safe are destroyed. There seems to be only one person who could have benefited from the destruction, but Orczy's Old Man in the Corner has other ideas.

"Striding Folly" by Dorothy L. Sayers": This one has a bit of the mystic about it. A man has a dream which appears to be strangely prophetic about the murder of his neighbor. Except it didn't predict that he would be accused! Lord Peter comes to the rescue, of course! [one strangled]

"The Haunted Policeman" by Dorothy L. Sayers": The story of the poor policeman who saw a house numbered thirteen where no thirteen ought to be and a murdered man where no one has been murdered. Lord Peter helps him prove that he wasn't drunk nor delusional.

"The Sub-Branch" by Henry Wade: A man running an informal branch of a bank (who knew such thing was a thing?) in a street-level front room is apparently killed while the building owner and his doctor is in the room above. Is a disgruntled customer the culprit? [one throat cut]

"Four to One--Bar One" by Henry Wade: When a race course gang tries to put the screws on the wrong bookie, they get more than they bargained for. The odds are definitely not in their favor. [four shot]

"The Perfect Close" by Hugh Walpole: An elderly man realizes that he's living his last day. The story follows him as he decides how to spend his last few hours. [one natural]

First line (1st story): "No, I happened to be abroad at the time," Philip Trent said.

Last line (last story): Minna looked up into his face and gave a cry.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Alif the Unseen

 Alif the Unseen (2012) by Willow Wilson

Alif is the handle of a young Arab-Indian hacker in a Middle Eastern security state who uses his computer skills to shield anyone who wants protection from "the man"--whether they be communists or Islamists or feminists. The Hand is the head of State security who makes it his job to hunt down hackers like Alif and punish them. Alif makes the mistake of falling in love with the woman who winds up betrothed to the Hand. Things go from bad to worse when Alif develops a new program that can identify someone's presence on the web--no matter how many aliases they use, fake emails, cycling ISP locations, etc. And then Intisar (the woman in question) sends him a rare book dictated by a jinn to a Persian scholar centuries ago--a book that the Hand wants desperately. Alif finds himself on the run--helped by human friends, jinn, and other forces not seen by humans for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. What is so important about this book that the Hand is willing to kill for it? And can Alif prevent it from falling into the wrong hands?

So...a superhero Alif isn't. He's a pretty unaware, screw-up a great deal of the time. He constantly gets all those who help him along the way in precarious situations and spends a lot of the book making things go from bad to worse. But once he starts to grow and shoulder the responsibility (rather than blundering along and just apologizing to everyone for what a mess he's made or swearing up a storm when things go wrong), the character really comes into his own. I enjoyed watching him grow up before my eyes. 

It was also very interesting to read a techno-fantasy novel based in and on a culture that is very unfamiliar to me. Though I am very familiar with the story of Aladdin and the lamp, it was still difficult at first to immerse myself in this story out of the One Thousand and One Nights from the opposite side. Here we get stories based on the Middle Eastern folk tales from the view of the jinn. Humans who got hold of the rare book of stories believed it would bring great power...but Alif learns that you should be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. Combining this world with the present-day and the world of technology was an impressive effort which worked very well for the most part. I really like the idea of combining religious thought and philosophy with computer coding to create a new computing technology. Did I understand it all--no. But that's okay. I understood enough to follow the story and to appreciate the end of the story.

I will say that Alif is not my favorite character in the book. Hands down, my favorite is Dina, his next-door neighbor. Dina is smart and stubborn and loyal. She sticks with Alif even when he's making bad decisions that could cost them dearly. She loves Alif--not for who he is, but for the man she knows he can become. it's satisfying to see her proved right at the end. I also really like Vikram a dangerous jinn who risks everything to help Alif and Dina. He's sortof like the bad boy who has a heart of gold and does the right thing in the end. 

A really good fantasy/thriller that kept me hooked to the very end. ★★★★

First line: The thing always appeared in the hour between sunset and full dark.

Last line: Night birds began to sing in the stunted dusty trees, and the breeze from the harbor carried with it the sound of cheers and shouts and horns.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Murder in Burgundy

 Murder in Burgundy (1989) by Audrey Peterson (Audrey C. Buckland)

When Michael "Poppa" O'Connor's doctor recommends plenty of rest after a couple of serious heart attacks, his family thinks a pleasant cruise down a French canal will be just what the doctor ordered. The famous American musical agent can just enjoy the scenery as they make a leisurely trip from Dijon to lyon. But Poppa can't stand things to be too quiet, so he surrounds himself with musicians from his "stable" as well as inviting Andrew Quentin and Jane Winfield, two musical academics who have been commissioned to write the great man's biography, to join the party.

Things get really interesting when Poppa's ex-wife contacts him just before the group sets sail and surprises him with the news that he really is a Poppa. Apparently Odette was pregnant when she left him and now she wants him to get to know his child--they make arrangements to meet when the cruise is over. Molly, Poppa's adored second wife, is worried about what this means for her two children--Poppa's step-children. Poppa has always provided for them and took Don into the agent business with him. But he refused to adopt Don and Ellen. Molly asks her husband to make a will--providing for all the children equally, but the musical agent has a phobia about wills. And the entire boat hears about it, because Poppa has a booming voice and no sense of decorum.

When Poppa falls into the canal, claiming that he was pushed, it looks like someone has a grudge against him. And when he winds up dead from an overdose of his heart medicine, it looks even more likely. And then Molly is attacked as well. Could it be possible that Poppa's unknown child is hidden among the guests (or possibly the crew) and saw a chance to get their hands on an inheritance? Poppa also had an argument with his star opera singer over a part she insisted he arrange for her--was that worth killing for? There's also a mysterious man on a motorcycle that has been following the boat down the canal and having secret meetings with the stewardess. Is that just a romantic liaison or something more sinister? Andrew Quentin and Jane Winfield had been mixed up in murder before and helped the police solve the case. This time Andrew's French friend is the policeman in charge of the case, so Andrew and Jane are back on the hunt for a killer.

This is a fairly solid cozy mystery. Plenty of suspects and red herrings. I did suspect the final answer--except I just couldn't see how it could be true given certain circumstances. One drawback is that so much is told us--lots of telling instead of showing. Most of the details come out in the suspect interviews. A bit more action would have gone a long way. Also, since it stars academics as the amateur sleuths I would have enjoyed more of an academic connection, but the French locale was nice. I do like Andrew & Jane and I look forward to reading the others in the series that are waiting on my TBR shelf.  ★★

First line: "I knew I shouldn't have let you out of my sight, Jane."

Last line: "No, darling, but even without the loaf of bread underneath the bough, I'd say we have paradise enow."


Deaths = 5 (three natural; one accident; one poisoned)

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Tom O'Bedlam


Tom O'Bedlam (1985) by Robert Silverberg

It's 2103 and the world is made up of patches of blasted wastelands, full of radioactive particles, made uninhabitable by the Dust War. The coastal areas of the former United States are havens of clear air and thousands of refuges had made their way there in the decades following the dusting. Life is still hard in California--the winds from the east might blow the radiation in or savage scratchers (looters) might kill you for what you have (or what they think you have). But into this landscape comes Tom--poor Tom--crazy Tom. Tom is a man who has scene visions from the time he was young. He sees other planets and other peoples. Godlike beings who rule in peace and joy for all. As he makes his way north through California, he realizes the time the Crossing is at hand--a time when the other worlds will beckon and mankind will be able to join in a new age of peace. And as the time nears, Tom isn't the only one having visions of the other worlds, soon hundreds and thousands of others are having the visions too and they converge on a psychic healing center where Tom has found friends. Also headed north is a huge caravan of people following another prophet of the gods. A former taxi driver who also believes a time of changes is coming. But when these groups meet up with a band of scratchers who are also looking for Tom, will it result in a new age or just the end of humanity?

First thoughts: Very confused. This is a post-apoplectic world There are people who find it hard to believe that there once were airplanes that could make the trip across the United States in a few hours and yet...there are "mind picker" machines that can wipe selected memories from people's minds. The center has walls which act like viewscreens that can display information. There are vehicles that can hover along the ground rather than having wheels. There are "cubes" that will play any kind of music the owner selects. All sorts of technology seems to have survived the Dust War that left radioactive dust across the country's midsection and disrupted everything.

Second thoughts: I'm quite sure that I would have liked this a lot more if I'd read this during my heavy science fiction phase. At that time (1980s/early 90s) I was reading everything by Silverberg that came along. Silverberg can get pretty "out there" (Dying Inside, anybody?) and this novel is out there on the edge. Reading Silverberg in the latter half of my life is more of a crap shoot (The Masks of Time didn't do a whole lot for me when I read it in 2012; The Silent Invaders had a much better hook and story line). 

Third thoughts: Silverberg could have used a more ruthless editor on this one. The book is almost 400 pages long--about twice as long as necessary. We really don't need a dozen or more rehashings of the various otherworldly dreams (especially the Green World and how beautifully green and peaceful it is). We got it the first time. Honest.

Fourth thoughts, Robert Silverberg, I'm sorry, but I'm just not feeling this one. It took too long to get to the Crossing and then when we got just fell flat and it seemed like there should have been something more. Very anticlimactic. Not the best Silverberg I've read (but then...I'm wondering what I would think now of some of the work I enjoyed so much back in the 80s). 

First line: This time something had told Tom to try going westward.

Last line: And he got up, wondering if there was still time to find Tom somewhere back in that madness, and began slowly to walk through the rain toward the bright green light that blazed before him in the heavens.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

The Beauty Queen Killer

 The Beauty Queen Killer (aka A Beauty for Inspector West [original]; So Young, So Cold, So Fair; 1954) by John Creasey

When beautiful Betty Gelibrand is found strangled after she and her boyfriend Harold Millsom have a very public argument, Detective Inspector Turnbull, is sure this is going to be an easy one. Especially after he and Chief Inspector Roger West find out Millsom also beat up the man who overheard the argument. And that during the argument, Millsom had said that he'd rather see her dead than "ruined by that theater mob." Millsom runs the boyfriend to earth atop a church roof, but the young man falls from the roof and dies before he can be questioned properly. It looks like the case will be closed without the cost of a trial.

West, on the other hand, isn't convinced and soon discovers that another pretty young woman was strangled previously in similar circumstances...and that both women were contestants in the same beauty contest. And another young woman follows the first two.It isn't long before he and Turnbull are in a race to find the killer before s/he eliminates all bathing beauties. Is it a case of someone getting rid of the competition for their favorite? Or does someone just hate beauty that much?

Generally speaking, I have enjoyed the Inspector West police procedural series. I've given out mostly four stars with one three star winner in previous My Reader's Block reviews. But this one falls flat for me. I really don't care for Turnbull at all and, like West's fellow police officers, I can't for the life of me figure out why West doesn't take him down a peg or two from the very beginning. Turnbull is cocky and overbearing and very full of himself. He may be a bright young detective but he goes plunging in when a lighter touch is required and he says things to West that no subordinate should ever say unless a relationship has been established that would allow for him to speak his mind freely (it hasn't). And even then, some of the things he says are so out of line, that a good working relationship wouldn't excuse them. On top of it all, he's not even really contrite when West solves the murders and saves him (Turnbull) from the discipline he's got coming from the higher ups. He's been busted back to Detective Sergeant but he tells West "What the hell difference do you think a year or two is going to make? I'll catch up and pass you before you're really awake!" The quote my edition has from Anthony Boucher, indicates that Boucher thought this conflict between West and Turnbull "affords Creasey a chance for the most rounded characterization he has written." Um. If you say so, Mr. Boucher. 

Not my favorite Inspector West novel by a long shot. 

First line: "But listen, Betty," Harold Millsom said huskily, "it won't get you anywhere.

Last line: Two days later he was briefing Detective Sergeant Turnbull about a job in the East End.


Deaths = 7 [five strangled/suffocated; two poisoned]

Saturday, May 13, 2023

The Four False Weapons

 The Four False Weapons (1937) by John Dickson Carr 

Rose Klonec, a Parisian courtesan, is found dead in the deserted villa which belongs to her former lover, Ralph Douglas. Douglas has recently become engaged to Magda Toller, but all the evidence seems to point to Ralph--a letter directing her former maid to make things ready at the villa and the maid's vehement assertion that she knows he stayed with Rose at the villa on the night of the murder--and the French newspapers are eager to believe in a lovers' quarrel gone wrong. Ralph's English solicitor, Richard Curtis, is on hand--Ralph having noticed odd goings-on at the villa in the days leading up to the murder and seeking advice--and soon helps his client prove a solid alibi. But that doesn't go very far to proving who apparently wounded Rose Klonec grievously, let her bleed to death in the bathtub and then tucked her up in bed.

Never fear, Monsieur Henri Bencolin, retired French sleuth, is in the neighborhood and comes out of retirement to take on the case. He has a variety of clues to follow up: the four weapons left at the scene of crime (a stiletto, a revolver, a cut-throat razor, and a bottle of sleeping pills): the mysterious woman seen leaving the villa; the man in the brown coat who claimed to be Ralph; the fact that the maid can't see without her glasses--and those glasses were knocked to the ground and broken when "Ralph" came to the villa; and yet that same maid claims to be certain what time the clock said, and don't forget the questions surrounding the dead woman's jewelry. There aren't many suspects in the case who could have impersonated Ralph...and most of them have alibis almost as solid as his. But Bencolin declares that he knows who did it--he just can't believe it and he can't prove it well enough to take to court. All the fun is saved for the end when Bencolin gets the final evidence he needs through a high-stakes card game at the Corpses' Club gambling establishment. 

Last of the Bencolin novels, this has been my favorite of the mysteries featuring the French detective so far. Lots of clues and red herrings and even Bencolin goes down a few blind alleys before arriving at the solution. Like our detective, I knew who did it (well, knew who I thought did it) early on, but I didn't see any way to prove it. At one point Carr tempted me with an almost perfectly disguised red herring, but not enough to make me give up my first suspect. I certainly didn't see the explanation of how X managed to pull it off coming at me. The scene at the gambling party is nicely done indeed and I appreciated the wrap-up, even if it did seem to take an awful long time. ★★★★

First line: If anyone had told him, on the afternoon of May 15th, that only a day later he would be in Paris: that he would be involved in the rather sensational murder case which came to be known as the affair of the Four False Weapons, even as a spectator: he would have suspected someone of having surprised his dreams.

Last line: Only Bencolin, getting out his intolerable pipe and leaning back affably in his chair, for one short moment looked serious.


Deaths = one poisoned

Thursday, May 11, 2023

The Hunting Party

 The Hunting Party (2019) by Lucy Foley

For ten years, a group of friends from Oxford have been gathering during Christmas break for a reunion at New Year's. A new locale is chosen every year and this year Emma, the most recent addition to the group, has set them up with a a retreat in the remote Scottish wilderness. The hostess, Heather, had told her that they would have the entire lodge to themselves and they could have a nice cozy little get-together. Except one of her co-workers booked an odd little couple from Iceland. That's the first jarring note in the much anticipated party. Next they learn that they need to be careful at night...there are poachers lurking in the woods. Oh...and there's the Highland Ripper wandering about--a nasty home-grown serial killer. But don't worry, Doug the gamekeeper is good at keeping poachers and other riff-raff off the property.

So, the party begins and at first things seem to go well. There's good food, plenty of drink, and lots of jovial reminiscing. But then a historic blizzard hits and the lodge is cut off. And then tensions crop up among the friends--long-buried resentments bubble to the surface. After a heavy night of drinking on Christmas Eve, one of the friends disappears. When the body is found, it's clear that this was no accident. Someone on the lodge property is a murderer. Is it one of the guests? Is it the hostess or the gamekeeper? Or maybe the Highland Ripper has taken another victim. 

This book could have been so good. I really enjoyed Foley's The Guest List and had high hopes for this one. The setting is great. I loved the idea of the snowbound hunting lodge with a murderer on the loose. Alex Michaelides is quoted as saying "Reminiscent of Agatha Christie at her best--with an extra dose of acid." I generally take such comparisons to any of the Queens of Crime with a healthy dose of salt, but I had to say that the synopsis did sound appealing and reminiscent of And Then There Were None. Unfortunately, the reminiscing stops as soon as you get a chapter or so into the book. Christie she ain't and ATTWN, this isn't.

When you take the comparison to Christie and add the title "The Hunting Party," I was definitely expecting something more along the lines of ATTWN. I mean, I figured there would be more killings and it would happen during the hunting expedition or maybe one of them would go crazy and start hunting the victims down like he was stalking deer. But no. That's not what we get. What we get is a bunch of people who really don't like each other much (why on earth do they keep taking these mini-vacations together?) and who have odd little reasons why they might do each other an injury. And the mystery within the mystery--not only do we have to figure out whodunnit, but we're supposed to be mystified about whogotdonein--really wasn't much of one. I pretty much knew whose body was out there in the snow the first time we met them. I can't say I liked any of the "friends," but the victim is the hands down winner in the least liked sweepstakes. Foley did a better job of keeping the identity of the killer from me--so all the star points go for that. I started to give three stars, but then I realized that I wasn't even that fond of the book. So: 

First line: I see a man coming through the falling snow. From a distance, through the curtain of white, he looks hardly human, like a shadow figure.

Last line: Perhaps it's time to make some new friends.


Deaths = 2 [one smoke inhalation; one strangled]

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Death Turns the Tables

 Death Turns the Tables (aka The Seat of the Scornful; 1941) by John Dickson Carr

Judge Horace Ireton likes to think that he's infallible. That he knows an innocent man when he sees one and that evidence can't lie, no matter how circumstantial. Many accused have stood before him and all have, he importantly thinks, received the justice due them. Not only that, he delights in using the law to play cat and mouse with those who come before him. He loves to let them think they're "perfectly safe, winning hands down: and then catching [them] in the the corner." 

But when his daughter presents him with an undesirable fiance who later winds up dead in his study and the Judge is found sitting and staring at the body while holding the pistol which killed Anthony Morrell, all the evidence points to him. By his own standards, he must be guilty. Yet he says he didn't do it and expects to be believed. But it's obvious his daughter thinks he did--though she bravely stands by him and tells a story she thinks will help him.

Dr. Gideon Fell arrives on the scene at the behest of a young woman who is in love with Judge Ireton's protege, Frederick Barlow. He notes various oddities about the scene of the crime--from the red sand under the body to the broken, powder-burned phone receiver to subject of chewing gum. And then there are certain discrepancies in the witnesses' stories. will be infernally difficult to prove definitely who did what on that fatal night. So Fell decides to play a little cat and mouse game of his own.

I am a bit torn over this one. On the one hand it is such a beautifully done, simple little mystery. There is no need of showy extras or weird atmosphere and Carr doesn't even employ his trademark impossible crime. It's perfectly obvious how the man was killed and it's simple a matter of bringing the crime home to the proper culprit. The investigation is carried out very nicely and the characters fit into the picture snugly. It's a delight to read. knew there was a but coming...I cannot go along with the ending. [Spoiler encoded in ROT13] Whqtr Ubenpr Vergba vf n frys-evtugrbhf byq ulcbpevgr. Jura ur'f hc ba gur orapu, ur'f nyy nobhg whfgvpr naq gur thvygl trggvat gurve whfg qrffregf naq nyy gung. Ohg, ol tbyyl, yrg uvz xabpx bss uvf qnhtugre'f haqrfvenoyr svnapr naq ur'f cresrpgyl jvyyvat gb nyybj uvf vaabprag cebgrtr gb gnxr gur jenc. Ur qbrfa'g ong na rlr jura gur cbyvpr neerfg Serqrevpx. Vg gnxrf n ybg bs orngvat qbja ol Qe. Sryy orsber uvf pynvzf gb vaabprapr trg funxra. Ohg gung'f abg gur jbefg cneg bs gur gur svany fprarf. Bu, ab. Jr unir Qe. Sryy svanyyl trggvat gur zna gb unaq bire n pbasrffvba naq gura ur qrpvqrf gb yrg gur Whqtr bss. Ur oheaf gur pbasrffvba! Ur qbrfa'g frrz gb guvax nobhg gur snpg gung jura gur cbyvpr yrg Serqrevpx tb naq gura dhvrgyl yrg gur pnfr qvr sbe ynpx bs rivqrapr gung cbbe Serqrevpx zvtug whfg or haqre n pybhq bs fhfcvpvba sbe gur erfg bs uvf yvsr. Nsgre nyy, sbyxf ybir gb fnl gung "gurer'f ab fzbxr jvgubhg sver." Ohg ab--yrg'f znxr n cbvag bs fubjvat zrepl gb n zna jub arire fubjrq zrepl gb n fvatyr crefba jub jnf oebhtug orsber uvz. Frevbhfyl, V'q engure unir frra uvz gnxr gur pbasrffvba, nyybj gur Whqtr gur gvzr ur nfxrq sbe gb pbzzvg fhvpvqr naq pyrne Serqrevpx bapr naq sbe nyy. Were it not for my disappointment with the denouement, this would have been a five-star read. As it is--

[To decode: Copy the coded portion, follow the ROT13 link, and paste it in to the appropriate box.]

First line: "Members of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?"

Last line: Both men sat silent, watching truth burn.


Deaths = 2 (one beaten to death; one shot)

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Mystery of the Hidden Hand (mini-review)

 Mystery of the Hidden Hand (1964) by Phyllis a. Whitney

Gale Tyler is twelve years old and having an adventure of a lifetime on the Greek isle of Rhodes. She, her mother, and brother Wareen are staying with her mother's family while her American father takes care of diplomatic business in Athens. The ancient ruins and beautiful scenery should be exciting enough--but when she and Warren surprise a mysterious figure in a black cape jumping around the suppedly empty fourth floor of the the family's hotel an exciting mystery opens up. Who is the the person in black and why are they leaping about? Why has someone hidden broken pieces of pottery in a box in that fourth floor room? Who is Geneva Lambrou and what is behind her apparent need for revenge? And why is someone in a nearby house signaling with a mirror. Gale's curiosity leads her to a family secret that could bring disgrace to her newly found "Grandfather" Thanos and she and Warren find themselves helping their Greek cousins to clear up the family mystery.

A pleasant little read--but not nearly as mysterious as one is led to believe. Basically, the whole thing could be cleared up if the members of the Greek side of the family would just talk to one another. But misunderstandings and pride get in the way (as is often the case) and so it takes Gale, family--but not directly involved, to show them the way to make everything right. It's interesting how all of these older family members are willing to be instructed by the youngest among them... ★★

First line: It was a Saturday morning in early June on the Greek island of Rhodes.

Last line: This, she knew was the beginning of her growing up.


Deaths = one drowned

The End of the Alphabet

 The End of the Alphabet (2007) by C. S. Richardson is a gorgeous gem of a book with a fairly straightforward story. When Ambrose Zephyr is about fifty, he is diagnosed with an unspecified, terminal disease.  His doctor gives him a month (or thereabouts) to live.  Ambrose has always had a fascination with alphabets and travel.  When he was growing up, he would write to embassies and consulates requesting brochures about various countries and cities that interested him.  After receiving the shocking news from his doctor, he and his wife, Zipper (Zappora Ashkenazi), decide to travel in the time remaining to him. They will travel to a different place for every letter of the alphabet. Ambrose has it all planned--has already made his list from A to Z. Life, of course, is never as straightforward as we'd like and the plan has to be adjusted and then abandoned all together when Zipper sees that Ambrose is failing. So they head back home.

This is a touching and heart-breaking tale of love and loss and the nature of life and death.  It beautifully illustrates how two people can make the most of their time and it reminds us that we should live life to the fullest every day.  It shouldn't matter if we know how many days we have left.  If we lived as if today might be the last would it change how much we enjoy even the smallest of pleasures?  Would we seek out friends and loved ones more avidly--to share more of life with them?  It all too easy to get caught up in the struggle to make a living and to make ends meet and miss out on all the opportunities for pleasure and happiness. ★★

First line: This story is unlikely.

Those who knew him described Ambrose Zephyr as a better man than most. Wanting a few minor adjustments, they would admit, but didn't we all. His wife described him as the only man she had loved. Without adjustment. (p. 9)

[about paintings/art]
Ambrose went back to looking. What he saw didn't need his mother going on about symbols and meanings and madness and genius, he thought. She knew a lot, but she didn't know when to stop complicating things. (p. 26)

She opened her journal and thought of writing. E is for Eiffel's tower, standing in Paris. L is for London and home. Z is for Zipper. T is for terrified. H is for hopeless. (p. 51)

Last line: This story is unlikely.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Nala's World

 Nala's World: One Man, His Rescue Cat, and a Bike Ride around the Globe (2020) by Dean Nicholson w/Garry Jenkins

A heart-warming story about Dean's journey with Nala, his rescue cat. When Dean Nicholson begins his biking journey around the world 2018, he has a human companion. His best mate Ricky and he had come up with the awesome idea to bike around the world. They left Dunbar, Scotland in September with big plans, but there came a parting of the ways in less than three months and Dean was continuing the journey alone. Then, in the mountains of Bosnia, he found a new companion--a tiny kitten abandoned by the side of the road. 

Dean had always had a soft spot for animals and couldn't just leave her there. He managed to smuggle her across the border and into Montenegro and from that point on he was committed to keeping her by his side. He took her to a vet, got her set with an official pet passport, named her Nala, and became an internet sensation. Soon people from all over the world were watching and cheering on the exploits of Nala and her human, Dean. Through the journey, Dean learns a lot about himself and through Nala he finds a deeper purpose for his life. He learns about the influence of instagram and Youtube and is able to use Nala's appeal to viewers to set up funding for various charities near and dear to his heart.

He also learns about the goodness of people from all walks of life, all nationalities, and all religions. How alike we all are despite the media's and politician's efforts to enforce (and sometimes demonize) our difference. Dean's journey with Nala is more than just covering miles--it is a journey of spirit and an expansion of worldview that he shares with us. It is less a travelogue (so those looking for detailed descriptions of the countries and countryside may be disappointed) than an honest telling of one man's journey to find himself and a sense of  purpose. ★★★★

First lines: There is a wise old saying where I come from in Scotland: What's fer ye'll no go past ye. Some things in life are destined to happen.

Last lines: We'd see where the road took us. As long as we stuck together, I knew we'd be fine.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Gentle Hangman

 The Gentle Hangman (1950) by James M. Fox (Johannes Knipscheer)

A pretty young blonde is a contestant on one of those gimmicky post-WWII game shows. In this case, she's given a $1,000 diamond ring and told to go out on the street and sell it for $10. If she can make the sale without telling the buyer that she's doing it for a game show and brings the buyer back to the studio, then both parties will get a genuine diamond ring for the $10. So, Helen Cooper walks out of the studio, manages to lose her program escort, and disappears. The game show execs and sponsor get a bit worried about liability and hire John Marshall, private eye, to track the girl down. They don't even care much about the diamond; they just want her to sign a release form. It isn't difficult--the trail leads straight to a motor court room. The only problem? Someone has strangled the girl and the diamond is missing. 

Marshall figures his job is done. Can't get a release signed by dead girl. But "the little woman" (that would be his wife Suzy) manages to wangle it so he's still in the middle of it all. By the time he's done--he'll have more clients than he needs and more interactions with unsavory characters than he wants. There are union busters and feds and pushy brunettes with talking parrots. There's more than one blonde in the picture and a missing briefcase in addition to the diamond. And it all spells trouble with a capital "T" for Marshall and his relationship with the local law enforcement. Luckily, he's able to find the diamond and the briefcase and hand the boys in blue a murderer all before the Chief decides he's really going to revoke Marshall's license this time.

So, this was a pretty good, mildly boiled private eye story. I need to find the first one so I can find out how our college-educated Marshall wound up as a detective. He's an interesting character--mixing his college background (and quoting Robert Burns frequently) with standard hard-boiled descriptions

She offered us a smile that you could have bottled and sold for weedkiller.

And, for the most part, I enjoyed his relationship with his wife. What I could have done without was his constant references to Suzy as "the little woman." Once would have been enough--but putting it on constant repeat was about as pleasant as nails on a chalkboard. His detective methods are decent as is the plot--though it does get a bit convoluted with the feds and the union busters. I'm still not clear on why we needed them in there. A fun little read. ★★

First line: The pretty girl's face was chalk white.

The human mind is an amazing product. Confront it with a nasty corpse on Monday morning, a couple of thugs on Monday night, and a disgruntled cop for breakfast on Tuesday, then supply the proprietor with a kiss and a pat on the back from the right party and he winds up feeling fine. (p. 55)

Last lines: "Don't worry about this ring, sweet, it's bad for you. They're used to giving them away..."


Deaths = 2 (one strangled; one shot)

Monday, May 1, 2023

Jimmie Dale & the Blue Envelope Murder

 Jimmie Dale & the Blue Envelope Murder (1930) by Frank L. Packard

When Jimmie Dale returned from serving in World War I, he thought he had left the Grey Seal behind him. Using the Grey Seal persona in what had begun as a lark, Jimmie moved among New York's underworld and righted wrongs even as the Seal took the rap for crimes he didn't commit. During the course of his exploits he had fallen for the Tocsin (Marie), a female counterpart who also uses disguises to move among the underworld. But he and Marie have put all that behind them and are preparing for their wedding in just a month's time.

And then...he receives an urgent message from Marie (who is spending time with old friends in Paris and buying items for her trousseau) telling him that his best man's life is in danger and the only way to save him is to don the Grey Seal mask one more time and steal a blue envelope that is in Ray Thorne's possession. Possession of the envelope means certain death--but if the Grey Seal steals it and leaves behind his famous calling card, those who are out to get the envelope will leave Thorne alone. 

Jimmie has no second thoughts--off he goes that very night and steals the envelope, leaving behind the diamond-shaped 'grey seal' pasted on the safe door. Imagine his dismay when his good friend Herman Carruthers calls him just a few hours later to tell him that Ray is by the Grey Seal! Jimmie and Marie slip back into their underworld personas (Mother Margot and Larry the Bat) to hunt the people responsible for Ray's death and to clear the Grey Seal once and for all.

High adventure, lots of disguises and detecting through methods that won't exactly win friends and influence people on the police department. In addition to the murder, we also have smuggling, jewel thefts, and secret codes. The culprits are fairly obvious, but the the real mystery is how Jimmie will be able to deliver the crooks into the hands of the police without revealing who the Grey Seal is. A fun read for when you just want a lot of action and intrigue. ★★  and 1/2

*Photo above is the dust jacket that belongs with my copy--unfortunately, I don't have a dust jacket.

my copy
First line: The lounge windows of the St. James Club, that club of clubs, looked out on Fifth Avenue.

Last line: "Then for heave's sake step on it, old man!" urged Jimmie Dale frantically--and winked confidentially at the receiver as he replaced it on the hook.


Deaths = three shot

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