Friday, June 30, 2023

Lessons in Chemistry

 Lessons in Chemistry (2022) by Bonnie Garmus

Synopsis (from back of book): Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it's the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with--of all things--her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America's most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth's unusual approach to cooking ("combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride") proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn't just teaching women to cook. She's daring them to change the status quo.

Don't get me wrong, this is a good book. But let me get something off my chest at the start--"Laugh-out-loud funny" (from the book blurb), it ain't. There are a lot of heavy topics in here--from misogyny to attempted rape to suicide to atrocities committed in the name of religion. The book had me thinking--about how difficult it was (and still is) for a woman in a man's world; about how we need to do so much better as humans. What I didn't do was laugh. Not once.

But, as I said, this is a good book. It shows where women were...and unfortunately too often still are. There were moments in the 70s where it seemed that women and girls were making progress. I never felt growing up that there wasn't anything I wouldn't be able to do just because I was a girl. I had parents and teachers that encouraged me in every area that I wanted to explore. But something went wrong and well...just look at what the Supreme Court has been doing lately to see where we are now. 

I was rooting for Elizabeth throughout the whole book and enjoyed watching her come full circle back to "real" chemistry. I do wish that we could have represented her as a brilliant woman without making her so abrasively awkward--but I also understand why she is the way she is. And nice girls don't usually finish first in a boy's world anyway. ★★★

First line: Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there'd even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when big wars were over and the secret wars had just begun and people were starting to think fresh and believe everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.

Last line: "Abiogenesis," she said. "Let's get started."

Thursday, June 29, 2023

The Distant Hours

 The Distant Hours (2010) by Kate Morton

1992 London. Edie (Edith) Burchill's life is about to get interesting. A long-lost letter from the 1940s--initially mailed during World War II and just discovered languishing in a bagful of mail in a former postman's attic--arrives for her mother. It's obvious from Meredith Burchill's reaction that the letter has upset her, but Edie and her mother have never been very close and Meredith won't answer all of Edie's questions. She does tell her that she had been evacuated during the war and the letter was from one of the sisters she stayed with. The letter wasn't upsetting--just a shock.  But Edie notes the return address on the envelope. 

Through a set of fortuitous events, Edith winds up in the country near Milderhurst Castle--the place where the letter originated and she meets the now elderly women with whom her mother spent time in the 40s. It also just happens to be the home of Raymond Blythe, the author of Edie's favorite children's book The Mud Man. The Blythe sisters have spent their entire lives at the castle--in part because their father's will insisted on it and in part because the elder sisters (twins) have been taking care of the youngest, Juniper. Juniper has never been the same since the night her fiance was supposed to come to dinner and he never showed up--and was never heard from again.

Edie's aunt gives her letters that Meredith wrote to their parents during the evacuation which piques her curiosity even more. She becomes determined to discover the secrets that she's certain her mother is keeping. But there are bigger secrets in the castle--secrets that date from Raymond Blythe's time through the years that Meredith spent at the castle. And it just might be the case that some secrets should never be told.

The heart of the story is a really good one. The mysteries surrounding Meredith's childhood, Juniper's love affair, the origins of the Mud Man, and the Blythe family and their castle were definitely intriguing. And Morton has a definite gift for atmosphere and description of place. You can see the castle in all its dusty ruin. The place is full of despair and broken dreams. The poor Blythe sisters who longed for something more, but whose father arranged things so they could never have it. There are definite Gothic elements and I wanted to just sink into the story and enjoy all the shivers and mystery that come with Gothic. But I just couldn't immerse myself the way I wanted to. 

My biggest quibble with Morton's story is that she not only insists on telling us a great deal of the plot (through second-hand accounts in Meredith's letters and journal) but she then turns around and shows us the same details in flashbacks to the 1940s. We don't need both and it is always preferable to be shown than to just be told what happened and how the characters felt and acted. The book would have been considerably shorter if we could have just followed the action during each time period rather than being told about it first. 

Spoiler encoded In ROT13 (to decode, copy & paste, then click on the link and enter in the appropriate place)

Zl bgure qvfnccbvagzrag jnf jvgu gur npghny fbyhgvba gb jung unccrarq gb Whavcre'f svnapr. V thrffrq cneg bs vg, ohg vg jnf n uhtr yrg-qbja gung gur zna jnf xvyyrq va gur jnl ur jnf. V zrna, yrg gur qrngu unir fbzr zrnavat sbe Crgr'f fnxr. Vg jbhyq unir znqr gbgny frafr vs Crepl unq uvg uvz bire gur urnq naq qvfcbfrq bs gur obql gb xrrc Whavcre sebz zneelvat naq gur pnfgyr orvat tvira gb gur Pngubyvp Puhepu. Crepl jnf fb cebgrpgvir bs gur snzvyl'f vagrerfgf naq jnf fb qribgrq gb gur pnfgyr gung V pbhyq unir obhtug gung. Ohg gb unir uvz gel gb pyvzo hc gur pnfgyr jnyy* va n enva fgbez naq gura Fnssl cnavp (be unir n oenvafgbez--fvapr gung frrzf gb eha va gur snzvyl) be jungrire naq onfu uvz ba gur urnq jnf fhpu na nagvpyvznk. Vg whfg znqr n irel qrcerffvat fgbel nyy gur zber qrcerffvat. Whavcre vf qevira znq jvgu tevrs orpnhfr ure fvfgref xvyy ure oblsevraq (Fnssl) naq uvqr gur obql (Crepl)...naq yrg ure oryvrir sbe gur erfg bs ure yvsr gung ur wvygrq ure.

★★★  for the basis of the story and for the atmosphere. 

More Spoilers: *Naq, ol gur jnl, jung xvaq bs travhf tbrf gb zrrg gurve tveysevraq'f snzvyl sbe gur svefg gvzr naq qrpvqrf gung fvapr gurl nera'g pbzvat gb gur sebag qbbe va n gvzryl snfuvba gung vg jbhyq or n oevyyvnag vqrn gb fpnyr gur pnfgyr jnyy va gur zvqqyr bs n enva fgbez? Lrf, lrf, ur jnf tbvat gb gel naq svk gur fuhggre fb gur yvtug jbhyqa'g fubj va gur oynpx-bhg--ohg fgvyy. Naq jung xvaq bs nhgube znxrf gurve punenpgre qb fhpu na vafnaryl ovmneer guvat--rkprcg gb cebivqr n engure varyrtnag rkcynangvba bs jung unccrarq gb gur cbbe zna?

First line (prologue): Hush...Can you hear him?

First line (1st Chapter): It started with a letter.

Last line: The door closes behind her, leaving the ghostly lovers alone once more in the quiet and warm.


Deaths = 19 (nine natural; two shot; two fell from height; five burned to death; one hit on head)

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

First Chapter, First Paragraph, Teaser Intros & Teaser Tuesday


Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews hosts a bookish meme where we share the first lines, first paragraph or first chapter of our current read or the next book on our TBR. 

She's also hooked up with Ambrosia at the Purple Booker for Teaser Tuesdays.
~Grab your current read or next TBR.
~Open to a random page.
~Share two "teaser" sentences--just be careful that they don't include spoilers!

Here's mine from The Distant Hours by Kate Morton:

First lines (before the first chapter): Hush...Can you hear him? The trees can. They are the first to know he is coming.

First lines (of the first chapter): It started with a letter. A letter that had been lost a long time, waiting out half a century in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic of a nondescript house in Bermondsey. I think about it sometimes, that mailbag: of the hundreds of love letters, grocery bills, birthday cards, notes from children to their parents, that lay together, swelling and sighing as their thwarted messages whispered in the dark.

Teaser (from page 215): But he looked so glum, and the memory came upon me so intensely of how I'd fallen into the world of the Mud Man when I was laid up with mumps or whatever it was, that I couldn't help saying, "If you really want to know, I suppose I could read it to you."

Synopsis (from Goodreads): The #1 internationally bestselling author of The Forgotten Garden mesmerizes readers with a haunting tale of long-buried secrets and the twists of fate that can alter lives forever. This enthralling romantic thriller pays homage to the classics of gothic fiction, spinning a rich and intricate web of mystery, suspense, and lost love.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Inspector West Kicks Off

 Inspector West Kicks Off
(aka Sport for Inspector West; 1949) by John Creasey

Guy Randall was on top of the world. He was newly engaged. He had just landed a big contract for his printing company. But someone wanted him dead and stole his briefcase with the details of contract deal after shooting him. When Chief Inspector Roger West is assigned to the case, those who knew Randall are bit taken aback--because there's a great deal of similarity between West and the dead salesman. The shock value comes in handy for a few of the interviews. But the trail is a twisty one and West finds two themes coming up repeatedly--a big food company and a particular football team. It seems that all of the suspects involved in the case are fans of the same team. West has to discover what football and food has to do with each other. And why Randall had to die. An eager journalist is hot on the trail as well and is always one step ahead of the police. But when he disappears, West finds the links that he can make into a chain to trap the villains. The grand finale finds West on the field in front of thousands of spectators facing off with the leader of the gang--and he scores a goal that makes the crowd go wild.

I was so relieved that Turnbull wasn't in this one that I would have given out more stars for that alone. But the story is absolutely worth every star point I give it. West is on the top of his game here and all of his subordinates do an excellent job of detecting as well. The plot is intricate and full of action and I was pleased with how it all came together. My only real quibble is with the motive for Randall's death and how long it took to get even a hint of it. I'm also wondering how often West is going to get hurt in this series and what his secret is for recuperation--he seems to be up and rarin' to go awfully quick for a man who had a large chunk of building fall on him... ★★★

First line: Guy Randall had no idea that he was going to die.

Last line: But the laughter rang hollow and it was a dejected man who left the house.


Deaths = 5 (one shot; two run over by car; one fell from height; one beaten to death)

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Busman's Honeymoon

 Busman's Honeymoon (1937) by Dorothy L. Sayers; read by Ian Carmichael

This time of year must be time for Busman's Honeymoon. I listened to Ian Carmichael read this lovely little romantic story with mysterious interruptions in June of last year. Carmichael is perfect when reading the Wimsey books. Petherbridge looks more like Wimsey, but I have a particular fondness for Ian Carmichael since his was the first portrayal of Wimsey that I saw (and heard). For those who need a refresher, here's the synopsis from the last time I read the hard copy (but CAREFUL--Spoilers ahead if you have not read the Wimsey novels which precede this one):

So...Lord Peter finally gets the girl. Well, we knew that at the end of Gaudy Night...what with them kissing madly in the middle of Oxford and all. But this one seals the deal. The book begins with the details of the months leading up to the wedding, the wedding itself, and on to the honeymoon. Not that Sayers is so gauche as to reveal ALL about the wedding night, but it's abundantly obvious that our favorite lord and his new lady have quite a nice time of it.

The mystery fun begins the next day when the body of their neglectful host is found in the basement. It soon becomes clear that the reason the honeymoon house was not prepared was because Mr. Noakes has been dead for almost a week. Harriet rather wishes that Peter need not be bothered with all this murder business while on his honeymoon--if only because it will bring the mobs of reporters descending upon them--but soon realizes that his "job" is something they will need to come to terms with if theirs is to be happy marriage.

What follows is, as Sayers notes in the subtitle, A Love Story with Detective Interruptions. We follow Peter and Harriet as they sort out how their love story will begin and in the intervals they pick up clue after clue that will ultimately lead to the discovery of the culprit. However, the point of the story is not the murder. The point is love and marriage and what Sayers thought was the ideal way for two adults to sort things out.

The mystery isn't a very deep one and it shouldn't be hard for anyone to spot the criminal. But the detective story is not the reason I can read this novel (or any of Sayers' mysteries, for that matter) over and over again. I read them for the language and the characters and their interactions. Rereading Busman's Honeymoon, I was struck once more about how delightful the opening chapter is. It is told entirely in letters and excerpts from the Dowager Duchess's diary and I chuckle over it every single time. The voices of the various characters--from Peter's insufferable sister-in-law to the irrepressible Countess of Severn and Thames--are so distinct and vibrant. And the images they convey are such a hoot--can anyone who has read the stories not snort over the picture of the "hell-hound" reporters trying bribe Bunter? Or Peter and Harriet composing rude rhymes in order to get rid of Helen (the insufferable sister-in-law)?

I love this book. And can only regret that it is the last full-length novel written entirely by Dorothy L Sayers. The books penned by Jill Paton Walsh just aren't the same.

The opening of the story is brilliant. It is so fun to hear all of the different viewpoints in the letters. Bunter's letter to his mother particularly struck me this time and, of course, the Dowager Duchess's diary entries are always a delight--as is she. I also thoroughly enjoyed the latter scenes where Peter and Harriet stay with his mother at the Dower House and Harriet comes across the ghostly Wimsey Gregory. As I said before, there are so many little moments in this novel that I can't possibly talk about them all without completely spoiling the plot. You just need to go read it (or listen to it) yourself. ★★★★★ always.

First lines: Mirabelle, Countess of Severn and Thames, to Honoria Lucasta, Dowager Duchess of Denver. My Dear Honoria, So Peter is really married: I have ordered willow-wreaths for half my acquaintance.

Last line: So she held him, crouched at her knees, against her breast, huddling his head in her arms that he might not hear eight o-clock strike.


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

Murder, London--New York

 Murder, London--New York (1958) by John Creasey

Margaret Roy, a beautiful young woman connected to the art world, is killed--her beauty ruined by the vicious, slashing attack. She and her cousins owned a gallery and business that shipped "old world" art to America. "Handsome" Roger West is assigned to the case and soon finds himself in the middle of an international case that has to do with art dealers, con men, and paid killers. When the elderly owner of the American gallery which handled the British firm's artwork is killed in a similar manner, West sets up an overseas partnership with Lieutenant Goodison of the NYPD. The men work as fast as possible tracking former employees, lovers, anyone who might have a grudge against the art dealers or who might have a stake in what's been going on at the galleries. But it takes time to track down leads and the person behind this is a ruthless killer who doesn't mind murdering anyone who gets in their way... last Inspector West book (The Beauty Queen Killer) had West dealing with a pretty full of himself, fairly insubordinate young police detective by the name of Turnbull and the murders involved beautiful young women. And wouldn't you know, seven books later, here we are watching West (just promoted to Superintendent) deal with the self-same, just as full of himself, coming back up through the ranks Turnbull. Turnbull bragged at the end of Beauty Queen that busting him back to sergeant wouldn't keep him down for long and, by golly, he was right.  Oh...and the woman who is killed? She was a rare beauty with a sister almost as beautiful as she was.

I didn't care for Turnbull in my last read and he hasn't improved with age. He certainly hasn't learned any tact or how to control his insubordinate mouth/nature. He doesn't seem to have any regard for West at all, despite the fact that the Superintendent stuck his neck to prevent Turnbull from being drummed out of the force altogether the last time. And this episode ends pretty much as that last one did--Turnbull goes off on his own (after being explicitly told to do no such thing), gets injured, nearly gets an innocent person killed, and only the fact that West recognizes full well that his subordinate is doing his own thing again prevents there from being two more deaths added to the score.

Quite honestly, I was disappointed by the ending--not with the mystery. The mystery is fine, though tending more towards thriller than classic whodunnit. I enjoyed the parts with West and Goodison and thought their detective work quite good. But, for the life of me, I can't understand West's continued willingness to cover for Turnbull. The man's insubordination put an innocent person at risk and caused himself and others to be injured. West himself was in danger. And West is "happy" that he can arrange for Turnbull to resign from the force in good standing rather than be dismissed as he should be. The man plans on going off on his own--I assume to be a private detective where he doesn't have to answer to anyone. That ought to work out splendidly.  --though I'm tempted to go lower simply because of Turnbull.

First line: "Handsome," Turnbull said, from the door of the Chief Inspector's Office.

Last line: He deliberately avoided her, but wasn't surprised when Janet told him, weeks later, that the Turnbulls were going to make a fresh start.


Deaths = 7 (two stabbed; one smoke inhalation; one hit on head; two burned to death; one shot)

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Feb 1961

 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Feb 1961 edited by Ellery Queen

Another of the EQMM's that I picked up in a search for short stories by the Lockridges. This collection isn't as strong as those I've read earlier in the year. Of the stories, the ones I would recommend are the Lockridge, "The Rubber Doorstops" by Pentecost, and "The Marvelous Mundo Case." The rest are mostly just okay--or barely so. ★★ and 1/2.

"A Winter's Tale" by Frances & Richard Lockridge: A miserly old man who was thought to have died from a fractured skull is found to have froze to death. Captain Heimrich must figure out how he froze to death in an 80 degree house. [one froze to death]

"Dead Heat" by Juan Page: A short little riddle about horse race.

"A Matter of Speculation" by H. C. Bailey: Miss Pumphrey, the last (poorest) of the Pumphreys launches her detective career at the behest of a butler of her acquaintance. The man wants her to look into the bona fides of a new claimant to be an heir of the Madans.[one died at sea; two natural]

"The Rubber Doorstops" by Hugh Pentecost: When a member of a law team set to present a case for the Grand Jury is killed, it looks like the gangster Carl Zorn has made an attempt to "get" Warren Cuyler just as he promised to do. But another member of the staff realizes that all may not be what it seems.[two fell from height; one electrocuted; one hit on head]

"Always Keep Running" (aka "Pale Tea for Hannihan") by Walt Sheldon: Hannihan runs to Japan to get away from his fears--fears of inadequacy as a cop, as a man. But when trouble follows him, he learns that the best way to conquer fear is to face it.

He was beginning to understand that until a man actually risked danger or ruin or death for what he really believed, he never would feel strong, and would always keep running.

"Out of the Darkness" by Gordon R. Dickson: A lighthouse keeper who is on the brink of forced retirement, has one more adventure ahead of him. [two poisoned]

"The Dead Do Not Come Back" by Jack London: Would a man really commit murder over an argument about the reality of existence? [one hit on head]

"The Truelove Chair" by Susan Thimmesch: A slick young man is well on his way to being a con man. But just who is conning who?

"The Marvelous Mundo Case" by June McMahon Roy: Mundo nearly pulls off the perfect method for corpse disposal. If he just hadn't had that one piece of bad luck....[one strangled; one natural]

"The Man in the Next Cell" by Henry Slesar: A businessman speeds through a small town and winds up with a ticket and a visit to a jail cell when he tries to bribe the trooper who stops him. While there, a violent man accused of killing a young woman is placed in the next cell. An angry mob is on its way to make sure justice is served...[one stabbed]

"Exploit at the Embalmed Whale" by Jacob Hay: When the British government decides it wants to get its hands on a ton (really!) of new rocket fuel, they call on their most irritating, yet brilliant spy. He takes the instruction to "steal it from right under their noses" quite literally.

First line (1st story): At a quarter after one on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-January, Florrie Watson parked her battered sedan and for a moment sat in it shivering, hugging a worn cloth coat around her.

Last line (last story): "I shall miss the old girl."

Monday, June 19, 2023

Small Things Like These

 Small Things Like These (2021) by Claire Keegan

When Bill Furlong's unwed mother became pregnant, the good-hearted Mrs. Wilson did not turn her servant out like so many employers in the 1940s would have...and did. She didn't mind what the neighbors might say about the situation. It didn't matter that the more openly religious villagers might think she was condoning sin. She simply did what she considered right according to her own moral code. 

Bill has never forgotten how kind Mrs. Wilson was to him and his mother. Nor has he forgotten how she gave him a start in life when he became engaged to be married. Here and there, he's managed to give a few coins to those less well off than himself and his little family--and his friends and his wife think he's too soft-hearted. Just as Christmas is getting close, he gets an up close and personal look at what goes on at the local convent's laundry business and he's not sure his conscience will let him forget what he's seen. He has to decide if he will follow in Mrs. Wilson's footsteps and do what's right--even if it means the nuns at the convent and his own family will be angry. 

Was it possible to carry on along through all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to against what was there and yet call yourself a Christian and face yourself in the mirror?

A small book that packs a big punch. It shows the reader how one person can stand up against what is morally wrong--even in the face of a monolithic presence like the Catholic Church in Ireland of the 1940s. And how that act of kindness can affect future generations. Bill has to decide if it's worth it to keep on behaving "respectably," keeping one's head down and not making any waves to make sure he keeps getting by and yet be morally bankrupt. It is sometimes very difficult to go against convention and do the right thing. Bill makes his choice and we have to hope that his family will support him. ★★★★

First line: In October there were yellow trees.

Before long, he caught a hold of himself and concluded that nothing ever did happen again; to each was given days and chances which wouldn't come back around.

Last line: Climbing the street toward  his own front door with the barefooted girl and the box of shoes, his fear more than outweighed every other feeling but in his foolish heart he not only hoped but legitimately believed that they would manage.

6 X H: Six Stories

 6 X H: Six Stories
(aka The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag; 1959) by Robert H. Heinlein

Heinlein is an author that I have read only in novel-length works prior to this. His abilities in world-building, stage-setting, and characterization translate well into the shorter form. From the novella-length titular story to the shortest of the short stories, he pulls the reader in and we believe in the time, place, and characters even if we find the story itself a little unbelievable. He gives us a little of everything from straight fantasy to hard science fiction. And, like most collections, he gives us a mix of good stories and not-so-good.  ★★

"The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag": Jonathan Hoag becomes convinced that he must do something terrible during the day. The trouble is, he can't remember anything at all about what it is. He hires Ted and Cynthia Randall, private detectives, to follow him and find out. But what seems like a simple "tail" job turns into a nightmare for the team when their memories of what happens during the investigation don't match.

"The Man Who Traveled in Elephants": John Watts used to be a traveling salesman and his wife, Martha who loved to travel and see new things, would go with him on the road. They loved visiting all the carnivals and festivals and country fairs that they found along the way. Even after John retired, they still traveled, claiming (to those whose curiosity was such that they just had to know why they traveled so much) that now John "traveled in elephants." And now--now Martha is gone and John is keeping the tradition alive by traveling on his own. But then the bus he's on has an accident and he finds himself at the most fantastic festival he's ever seen.

"--All You Zombies--" A time travel story full of all kinds of paradoxes. Most aptly, a jukebox in the bar which features in the story is playing "I'm My Own Granpaw" on what seems like endless repeat....

"They": Our unnamed protagonist is an inmate in a mental hospital. He is sure that he is one of the few "real" entities in the universe and that those around him are trying keep him from others like him and from finding out the truth. Is he just paranoid? Or is there some truth to his apparent delusions?

"Our Fair City": When a corrupt local government takes on a reporter, a newspaper photographer, and an old parking attendant with an unusual pet, they reap the whirlwind--quite literally.

"And He Built a Crooked House": When Quintus Teal, architect, thinks up a new way to build houses--based on the fourth dimension and the idea of tesseracts, he believes it will revolutionize home-building. It will allow large houses to be built on much smaller plots of land and save on building costs overall. He builds his first model--but a couple of earthquakes thoroughly shake up the process.

First line (1st story): "Is it blood, Doctor?" Jonathan Hoag moistened his lips with his tongue and leaned forward in the chair. trying to see what was written on the slip of paper the medico held.

Last lines (last story): Teal ducked in time. He always was a man of action.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book (mini-review)

 Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book
(2013) by Diane Muldrow

Pretty much giving all the star points for nostalgia. This is a very (actually, TOO) short little book that doesn't really make the most of Golden Books and the knowledge we gleaned from them when we read them. While I can appreciate that Muldrow was attempting to follow the short sentence structure of the Little Golden Books she was using as source material, it would have been much more appealing for the adults (at whom this was aimed) if the book had a bit more substance. More complete examples of the points she was making--more words. Big people can take bigger, more complex sentences (and, of course, so can a number of smaller people). The most enjoyable part of the book was seeing all the images from Little Golden Books that I remember owning and reading (and rereading and rereading) when I was young. ★★

First line: Is your life starting to feel like a circus?

Last line: As long as you do, your life is bound to be Golden!

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine July 1958

 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (July 1958) edited by Ellery Queen

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 a number of the short stories 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. This is one of the collections that I didn't think I'd gotten to--but most of these stories had a very familiar feel to them. Perhaps they've been included in anthologies I've read along the way. I do know that I've read the Christie story before--but then I'm pretty sure I've read all of her work at some point. This is another strong group of stories, as one might expect from an issue dubbed the "all star issue." My favorites are "The Silent Informer," "Dead Boys Don't Remember," "Lioness vs. Panther," and "Tea Shop Assassin." ★★

"Hunting Day" by Hugh Pentecost: When a bad-tempered man is shot while out hunting for a dog he abused, there are several people in the area with cause to wish him dead. But it looks like the boy who rescued the dog might be responsible. Uncle George Crowder thinks there is another solution. (one drowned; one natural; one shot)

"Investigation by Telegram" (aka "The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge") by Agatha Christie: Poirot is sick and Hastings goes to Hunter's Lodge to be his eyes and ears when Harrington Pace is murdered by a mysterious man in a black beard. The beard is probably a disguise--but is it the only one? Poirot solves the case through messages sent to and from Hastings. (one shot)

"The Silent Informer" by Helen McCloy: Holmes made a deduction based on the dog who did nothing in the night-time. When a woman is killed at a charity dinner, Dr. Basil Willing makes a deduction about the culprit based on a muddy dog who does do something. (2 stabbed)

"The Man Who Lost His Taste" by Lawrence G. Blochman: A well-known tea-taster, who has a palate in a million, threatens suicide when he loses his sense of taste for no apparent reason. Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee is asked by the man's sister to try and find the cause. The very night Dr. Coffee meets him, Quentin Laird seems to have regained his taste. And yet later he's found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gun shot. (2 car accident; one shot)

"Dead Boys Don't Remember" by Frances & Richard Lockridge: Captain Heimrich is called on to assist in the hunt for a kidnapped boy. He's very much afraid that it's already too late--the boy is old enough to remember details about his kidnappers and Heimrich knows that dead boys can't remember details...

"An Official Position" by Somerset Maugham: The title refers to the position held by our protagonist Louis Remire. Louis is a prisoner who was convicted of murdering his shrewish wife. But he had held an official position before the crime and conducted himself well as a prisoner afterward, so he was offered the position of public executioner. This is France, so he maintains and operates the guillotine. Despite the fact that his fellow prisoners despise him, he comes to realize that for the first time he is happy. He's allowed more freedom than the other prisoners--can, in fact, go into town and go to his favorite fishing place. He doesn't have to worry about a place to live or food for his table and the only negative in his life (the constant nagging) is gone. All he wants to do is finish his sentence and be able to fish. But will he be allowed to do so? The man who previously held his position went missing and was later found killed.... (one stabbed) 

"Lioness vs. Panther" by Q. Patrick: A case of the butler got done in. Lieutenant Trant attends opening night for what promises to be the hottest play of the season. When the man playing the butler is poisoned on stage during the last scene, Trant must decide if the butler was the intended victim or maybe it was the leading lady who was originally supposed to down the last glass of Scotch. (one poisoned)

"Wanted: An Accomplice by Frederick Nebel: Stockwell comes up with what he believes to be a fool-proof plan to rob the bank where he has been employed for years--to pay them back for his lack of advancement on the ladder of success. All he needs is the perfect unsuspecting accomplice.... (one fell from height) 

"For Tom's Sake" by Sheila Kaye-Smith: When a poacher shoots one of the keepers of Scotney Castle, he appeals to his best friend Tom's mother for help in escaping justice. She has never been fond of the ne'er do well, but she agrees to do so...for Tom's sake. In the end, it's surprising what she will do for Tom's sake... (one shot)

"Nothing Is Impossible" by Clayton Rawson: This is more of a how-dunnit, than a whodunnit. It's pretty obvious who must have done it--if we don't believe the surface "evidence" that a little two-foot tall alien who walks through walls was responsible. The Great Merlini sets out to prove how the trick was done. (one shot)

"Tea Shop Assassin" by Michael Gilbert: Our narrator, a crime reporter, finds Superintendent Hazelrigg in a tea shop. The superintendent enlists his help in identifying Engels, a paid assassin. The police have received a tip that the man will be lying in wait to kill a man arriving at Victoria Station (across from the shop). Hazelrigg believes the reporter knows the man well and will be able to point him out....

Chicago Night's Entertainment" by Ben Hecht  (is actually a sketch from Hecht's A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago). Sergeant Kuzik of the first precinct is speaking to the unnamed journalist who provides the reader's point of view. Apparently, the journalist has asked Kuzik to relate some of his most interesting cases for a newspaper article. The sergeant insists that he needs time to remember his stories properly and the proceeds to give us little paragraph snapshots of some of his cases. We get a peek at the man who killed his wife and used her skull as an ashtray and the alderman who was a terrific hypnotist and convinced one of two burglars robbing his house that he (the burglar) was a policeman and he should shoot the other burglar, among others. (one hung; one poisoned; one burned; one shot)

"Carnival Day" by Nedra Tyre: When her father lets her down over going to the carnival, a little girl goes on her own--visiting booths that her father never would let her visit. But when she finally gets on her favorite ride--the merry-go-round, the one her father always rode with her--there he is among the other parents waiting for their children. But why is the policeman with him? 

First line (1st story): The death of Fred Simmons of natural causes would have been taken by the town of Lakeview as a downright blessing.

Last line (last story): The carnival around them was not yet the blur it would be when they went at full speed and Betty could still see Mr. Williams watching them, watching most of all her father, and the policeman's face was very sad.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

All the Light We Cannot See

 All the Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr

This is the story of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a girl who is six years old when struck blind. She lives with her father in Paris where he is the locksmith and keeper of the keys for the Museum of Natural History. Each year for her birthday he creates a puzzle box for her to solve in order to find the treat inside and when he can he also gives her books in Braille. in 1940, they are forced to flee Paris when the Germans bomb the city. They head to Marie-Laure's great-uncle's house for safety. When they leave, the museum's director sends her father away with one of four duplicate stones. The museum has held a fabulous diamond called the Sea of Flames. A jewel said to be cursed--anyone who holds it will never die, but those around them will. The director has had three paste diamonds made--one stone will stay in the museum and the other three are sent with museum employees. None of them will know where the real one is.

This is also the story of Werner Pfennig, a German boy left an orphan with his sister when their father is killed in a mining accident. Werner discovers he has a gift for fixing mechanical and electronic devices and soon gains the attention of adults throughout the area for his wizardry with the fairly new radios. He and his sister often go scavenging in the ruined buildings nearby and when they find a broken radio Werner works his magic and provides entertainment for the orphanage. The two are fascinated by a late-night program they hear from a Frenchman who talks about science--hard science and natural science. But the radio becomes a threat once Nazism takes over and people can be punished or even killed for listening to foreign broadcasts. The last broadcast his sister Jutta hears before he destroys the radio tells of the German bombings in France.

Werner's talents soon earn him a place at an elite Hitler Youth school and eventually lead him to an assignment to a special team of hunters. Hunters whose sole job is to find contraband radios in occupied countries and destroy them...and anyone they find with the devices. The longer he works for the team the more he thinks of Jutta's face when she talked about the bombings. She couldn't believe that they were at war with France where that nice man spoke from. And he thinks of Frederick, his friend at the school, who refused to participate in cruelties dished out to prisoners and who paid a dear price for defying the Reich.

And finally this is the story of Reinhold von Rumpel, a German officer charged with tracking down jewels, artwork, and other valuable objects and snatching them in the name of the Fuhrer. When he learns about the Sea of Flames, he becomes obsessed with getting hold of it--not for the Fuhrer, but for himself. He has cancer and he plans to obtain the jewel and live forever. He methodically hunts down every stone (all false) until the trail leads him towards Saint-Malo, the last place Daniel LeBlanc and his blind daughter was known to be. 

In fact by 1944, all roads lead to to Saint-Malo. Von Rumpel is coming in search of the diamond. Werner's team is headed there, on the track of an illicit radio which the Germans believe responsible for coded messages which have led to the ambush and destruction of many German troops. Also on the way are the Americans...and they're destroying towns held by Nazis. And the real story is what will Werner do when he locates that radio and what will happen if Von Rumpel comes calling at the house in Saint-Malo.

This is an absolutely first-rate historical novel. Beautifully written even as it covers some pretty dreadful events. All of the characters are brought vividly to life and it is painful to watch what happens to some of them. I kept hoping that Werner would finally learn the lessons from Jutta and Frederick; that he would somehow be redeemed at the end of the story. There is much cruelty and there is much heroism. There are moments of sadness and moments of joy mixed in with the terror of occupation. A number of the characters do really amazing things while others do some really amazingly horrible things. The bravery of the resistance group in Saint Malo is incredible, as is the devotion of Daniel LeBlanc to his daughter and the effort he puts into making her as safe and comfortable in her environment as he can. And...yes, there is a redemption of a sort for various characters. 

One of the best books I've read this year--I'm grateful to Lavonne Weller and Richard Nash for suggesting this for the 12 Challenge that I'm participating in. ★★★★

First line: At dusk they pour from the sky.

To really touch something, she is learning--the bark of a sycamore tree in the gardens; a pinned stag beetle in the Department of Etymology; the exquisitely polished interior of a scallop shell in Dr. Gefford's workshop--is to love it. (p. 30)

Last lines: She listens until his footsteps fade. Until all she can hear are the sighs of cars and the rumble of trains and the sound everyone hurrying through the cold.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Death Among Friends & Other Detective Stories

 Death Among Friends & Other Detective Stories (aka Best Detective Stories; 1959) by Cyril Hare (Alfred Gordon Clark)

A collection of thirty short stories, most of which use Hare's background in the law. He also has a positive mania for short stories with a sharp twist in the tail. Nearly all of the stories have a surprise ending--some are more obvious to long-time mystery fans, but most did catch this mystery fan out. It is a very strong collection which I heartily recommend. My favorites are "Where There's a Will--," "Weight & See," "It Takes Two...," "The Heel," and "Monday's Child." ★★★★

"Where There's a Will--": When Julian Symondson's aunt dies leaving him an inheritance with strings attached, he knows just enough about the law to think he's found a way around the strings. But you know what they say...a little learning is a dangerous thing.

"Miss Burnside's Dilemma": Poor Miss Burnside has discovered an unscrupulous, but perfectly legal bit of trickery on the part of someone she and the community admire...what on earth is she to do about it?

"Name of Smith": When a judge who was known as a competent lawyer yet with a somewhat scandalous personal reputation passes on, his colleagues finally learn the reasons behind his most infamous court room summing-up. There was method in his apparent madness after all...

"Murderer's Luck": It's no good to commit the perfect murder if the results still aren't quite what you expect...

"The Tragedy of Young Macintyre": A Wodehousian story of a young barrister, elocution lessons, a Mexican dance, and the lure of Hollywood.

"Weight & See": An apparently unbreakable alibi is smashed to bits by hefty policeman with a very apt name.

"It Takes Two...": The title tells us that it takes two to make a murder--the murderer and the victim. But the story itself proves that sometimes it takes three...and no one was more surprised by that than the murderer.

"Death of a Blackmailer": When a wealthy married woman has a fling with a ne'er-do-well, she oughtn't be surprised when she finds herself blackmailed. But Mrs. Mainwaring is a stubborn woman and doesn't submit to blackmail easily. 

"The Old Flame": A man gets a nasty surprise when he plans to snuff out an old flame before marrying a rich, young bride.

"'As the Inspector Said...'": Another case of the best-laid plans going awry. When a local inspector stops by to warn Robert French about a ruthless burglar thought to be in the area, his wife and her lover see a perfect opportunity to clear Robert out of the way. Maybe...

"Death Among Friends": This story has one of Hare's most ironic twists. Here we have another man plotting a murder that will revenge not only himself, but his only friend. But fate has something else in mind...

"The Story of Hermione": Hermione goes from penniless daughter of an explorer lost in a mountaineering accident to heiress of her uncle's estate in a very short time. And then becomes engaged to a very eligible bachelor. It's a bit odd that he abruptly breaks off the engagement...or is it?

"A Surprise for Christmas": When Jimmy Blenkiron's nieces and nephews decide to give him a surprise for Christmas, it turns from a pleasant sugarplum dream into a nightmare--all because they wanted to give him a Christmas tree.

"The Heel": Have Americans been killing each other while stationed in England for the war? Or is one particular American using his fellow Yanks as cover to avoid justice of another sort?

"The Rivals": When a young woman is killed, it looks like one of her violent young boyfriends is responsible. But the policeman in charge of the case can't find solid evidence that points to just one of them. But the Chief Constable can...just goes to show, murderers should always pay close attention to what they wear when the commit murder and concoct a cover story.

"The Ruling Passion": It's a terrible thing when a passion for collecting leads to murder.

"The Death of Amy Rossart": Inspector Mallett uses the old "reconstruct the crime" method to flush out the killer of a young actress--was it the jealous wife? The director who's film was losing money but who had insured the actress's life? Or maybe the lover had tired of her?

"I Never Forget a Face": It doesn't help that our narrator never forgets a face when he can't for the life of him remember the name that goes with the face...especially when it comes to picking up strangers at train stations.

"A Life for a Life": Can a man make amends from the grave for having taken someone's life? 

"The Markhampton Miracle":The managing director of the Football Pools asks William White, formerly Detective Inspector and now private inquiry agent, to investigate what looks like a massive fraud--53,619 residents of Markhampton all submitted the correct numbers for the Pools. How could anyone have worked a fraud that big?

"A Very Useful Relationship": Another fraud story--this time surrounding the building for for new town hall. Evil nephews (or nieces) are all the rage in detective fiction, but what about other relatives?

"Sister Bessie": A tale of a man and his blackmailer. Just when he thinks he's free of the blackmail...he finds himself drawn more deeply into the web.

"Line Out of Order": Like any technology, automated phone calls are great for anonymity--but not so great when something goes wrong. A spy network has a bit of trouble with the phone line.

"Dropper's Delight": A man tasked with "dropping" (passing) counterfeit notes thinks he's come up with the perfect plan to get rid of them

"Monday's Child": A museum director arranges for a decoy to cover an art theft. Except he didn't tell the decoy about his plans...and she wasn't pleased.

"Tuesday's Child": A pastor giving a much-used (memorized) sermon solves a crime from the pulpit.

"Wednesday's Child": A little matter of dates is all it takes to prove whether a young woman really was the fiancee a now-dead rich young man.

"Thursday's Child": A man seeking mineral rights on a small Scottish island finds another secret hidden there.

"Friday's Child": A slick confidence man is done out of his expected coup by the mark's need for a drink.

"Saturday's Child": When a persistent policeman dogs his footsteps, an exhausted young doctor begins to wonder if he's done something illegal during a few periods of blackouts.

First line (1st story): Julian Symondson reached the crest of the hill and stood for a moment looking across the valley at the agreeable little house for which he was making.

Last lines (last story): "Good day, Doctor, and if I might presume to advise you, take a long rest. You look worn out."

Deaths = 35 (eight natural; two shot; one hanged; nine hit on head; two drowned; one strangled; two car accident; one mountaineering accident; one hunting accident; three poisoned; one electrocuted; one stabbed; two fell from height; one plane crash)

Saturday, June 10, 2023


 Piranesi (2020) by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi, our narrator, lives in a world he calls House--an infinitely large place with rooms stretching in every direction, including up to rooms with clouds and down to rooms flooded by the sea. Nearly all of the rooms have large statues and he finds comfort in the statues that watch over him. There have been, as far as he knows, only fifteen people in the House--all but one whom he calls the Other are dead. He meets with the Other only on specific days. Otherwise, he is all alone in the world. He spends his time cataloguing the rooms, doing research for the Other, and recording his findings in journals. He imagines that at some time there might be a sixteenth person; someone new that he can talk with and learn from. But the Other warns him against 16--says that they will try to drive them mad and that Piranesi must, on no account, talk with them. Piranesi begins to have doubts about the Other and when strange messages appear in chalk on the floor of some of the rooms, he begins to question what he has believed to be true. When he finds disturbing evidence in his earlier journals, he's even more confused about what and whom to believe. When 16 finally appears, will they be friend or foe?

There was a great deal that I did not understand though this, I expect, is usual with prophets, their minds being very great and their thoughts following strange paths.

I have many questions. Not least--how did 16 get in and out if Piranesi didn't/couldn't until 16 came to save him? I don't see that they had any more knowledge about how the ritual worked that first time than Piranesi did and yet somehow 16 managed not to be trapped in the House. Why did the Other follow so closely in the footsteps of his mentor {can't be more specific without spoiling the plot}? Why does the House have the effect of amnesia on those who stay so long (kindof like the Turkish Delight Edmund eats in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that makes him forget how to behave himself properly).

This book was a compelling read even though I'm still not sure I fully understand what's going on. I do understand the backstory to how Piranesi got stuck in the House. It seems to be a somewhat darker take on the parallel worlds of Narnia, This is a place that people from our world can step into and perhaps not make it back. Or a place where they can be held prisoner. Dark and yet a beautiful, captivating story that I found difficult to put down when I needed to do something else (life has a way of getting in the way sometimes...). ★★★★

First line: When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule to witness the joining of the three Tides.

Last line: The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.

Friday, June 9, 2023

And Be a Villain

 And Be a Villain
(1948) by Rex Stout; read by Michael Prichard

According to Archie Goodwin, things are looking bleak at Nero Wolfe's brownstone on West 35th Street. The taxman cometh and there's not enough in the coffers to pay him off and still be able to have gourmet meals and orchids. Unless Wolfe wants to stop reading poetry and do some work. Once Archie convinces him that matters really are as dire as stated, Wolfe decides to take advantage of the fact that Inspector Cramer and company have made little headway in the latest spectacular murder case to hit the papers.

Madeline Fraser is the host of a popular radio talk show, so publicity isn't a new thing for her. But she's not used to the kind of publicity that a murder case brings. Someone decided to polish off her latest guest--Cyril Orchard, the publisher of a weekly horse racing sheet called Track Almanac--while the show was on the air. During a break, Fraser and her guests pour and drink Starlite (Hi-Spot in the audio version), one of the sponsors of the show. On this particular occasion, Orchard's portion contains a dose of cyanide and Fraser's listeners now know what it sounds like when someone dies from poison. 

Wolfe offers his services to Miss Fraser--telling her that she's going to get publicity whether she likes it or not and that she might as well have good publicity. It will look a lot better in the papers if she can say that she's willing to hire the best detective in the business to bring justice for Cyril Orchard. Fraser and her sponsors agree that would be a good idea and so Wolfe takes the case. Who wanted Orchard dead and why? How did the cyanide get in the bottle and how did they make sure he got it? And what, if anything, does Orchard's death have to do with the shooting of another publisher of political journal? Once Wolfe can answer those questions, he'll be ready to hand the murderer over to Cramer on a silver platter.

It's always a treat to visit the brownstone where all is in order--beautiful orchids in the rooms above and delicious meals simmering away in the kitchen. Archie needling Wolfe into work and Wolfe trying his best to pretend he doesn't need to. And, of course, Inspector Cramer chomping through cigars in frustration at Wolfe's antics. This was a particularly good visit because I listened to the story as read by Michael Prichard and he does such an admirable job with Archie's voice. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to most of the mystery on my road trip home to my parents' house and back. The radio program setting was good and I really had a good time listening to Archie's method for bringing Nancylee and her mother to see Nero Wolfe. Very clever, Archie. Stout had me fooled on the culprit until just before the big wrap-up scene in Wolfe's office. But I got there just in time. As Wolfe would say, "Satisfactory." ★★★★

First line: For the third time I went over the final addition and subtractions on the first page of Form 1040, to make good and sure.

Last line: "Good God, no. It begins with a Z!"


Deaths = 4 (three poisoned; one shot)

52 Miles to Terror

 52 Miles to Terror
(1966) by Ruth Christoffer Carlsen (misspelled on cover) & G. Robert Carlsen (eds)

This is a pretty weird short story collection. Some of the stories are just that--weird, apparently for the sake of being weird. Some are just little fiction vignettes. There's one straight mystery. One where the title makes you think you're getting a mystery (spoiler alert--you're not). One that's just plain fun. And one that's either fictionalized nonfiction or just nonfiction. All have to do with cars and/or racing. I think younger me (in the late elementary school years) might have enjoyed this a lot more than late middle-aged me. ★★ and 1/2--primarily for the more mystery-related portions.

"Fifty-Two Miles to Terror" by Alex Gaby: An odd little story about a man traveling with his family to a relatives house when a souped-up red jalopy challenges him to a drag race and then a game of chicken. What on earth is this middle-aged man thinking?

"The Affair of the Wayward Jeep" by Bill Mauldin: For once the army assigned the man with the right talent to the right job--Private Franklin loves working with cars and is actually assigned to work on the jeeps and supply vehicles. But what happens when he gets pulled to act as driver for a general and he decides to add some refinements to the standard-issue vehicle?

"Hit and Run" by John D. MacDonald: Follows investigator Walter Post as he tries to track down the driver in a hit and run which resulted in the death of a pretty young mother. Just when you think he's found the one responsible, MacDonald adds another piece to the puzzle. [one hit by car]

"1924 Cadillac for Sale" by William Saroyan: A rather bizarre little monologue by a used car salesman. Is he telling the truth? Or is this one elaborate ploy to sell that Caddy?

"Death Saw the Stop Sign" by Kathryn McFaun: A big truck pulling a horse trailer suddenly loses its breaks and makes a mad-dash downhill and through a busy town. 

"Too Big a Dream" by Will White: Another bizarre story...I'm actually not sure what's going on in this one. I think the man has built his own car from scratch. And then he takes "her" out one night for a drive in the moonlight. And....I don't know what the heck that ending means.

"Jalopies I Have Cursed and Loved" by John Steinbeck: Our narrator just gives us a run-down of cars he has had in the past and how people were more connected to their cars when they actually knew how to work on them. But was that a good thing?

"Hearse of the Speedway" by Peter Granger: A race car gets the reputation as a killer when drivers repeatedly get into accidents under the most innocuous circumstances. One man thinks he's mastered the machine after a string of successful (and winning) races. But is he the master or has the machine mastered him? [five auto accidents]

"A Race Driver's Long Good-bye" by Angelo Angelopolous: Short piece based on the actual events of the day prior to and the beginning of the 1958 running of the Indianapolis 500 which infamously opened with a fifteen car pile-up in the first lap.

First lines (1st story): There was a little, persistent ache in his right shoulder, as there always was now when he was behind the wheel for more than an hour or two, but that was all. Everything else was fine.

Last line (last story): Somehow, Bryan drove through it, saddened, to win.--Ed


Deaths = 6 (one hit by car; five auto accidents--drivers)

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Murder Is Pathological

 Murder Is Pathological (1986) by P. M. Carlson

1969 in a New England college town. Someone seems to be determined to disrupt the experimental phase of Dr. Weisen's revolutionary new drug for brain tumors. First there is the exploding trash can. Then there is the slaughter of a group of experimental rats. Maggie Ryan, statistician for the project, thinks it's more than just random vandals. And when the lab's maintenance man is found dead in a ditch, she refuses to believe that it was the accidental bicycle accident it has been ruled. Of course, the students associated with the project are all her friends and she is reluctant to believe that any of them could be behind the the sabotage and murder.

Enter Nick O'Connor--Maggie's friend who would like to be more than friends. When she sends him a letter announcing that she's managed to sell an article to a leading journal, he comes to Laconia ostensibly to celebrate with her, but really because he wants to try and settle things between them. He listens as she tells him what's been going on at the lab and he decides to be a hero. He goes undercover as a replacement janitor in an effort to find out what and who is behind the mayhem in the biology lab. But what he and Maggie find out may end their chance to find happiness fact it may end things for both of them permanently.

This is the second Maggie Ryan mystery I've read (3rd in the series) and I have enjoyed both. Murder in the Dog Days is the sixth in the series and featured Maggie more as the detective. Here, Nick takes center stage and does quite a good job with his undercover work. He's an actor, so he's used to slipping into character and he never makes a false step while pretending to be "Rick." Well, except for stumbling into the mysterious night-time visitor to the lab and not preventing another massacre of a batch of rats. But "Rick" was hired to be a maintenance man, not a security guard. He quickly deciphers the clue that his predecessor left behind and then he and Maggie work together to figure out how it figures into the bigger picture.

A better academic mystery than my previous read--the atmosphere is good and the mystery plot and investigation hang together better. Maggie is a little bit prickly in this one (compared to my previous) read, but given her romantic track record it's understandable. Her emotional distractions probably keep her from coming to the same conclusions as Nick as quickly, but she still manages to shine as a co-investigator. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: B-716 was not a particularly happy rat.

Last line: "Well, can't argue with two authorities like that." She yawned again, nuzzled his chest, and slept.


Deaths = one hit on head

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Family Skeletons

 Family Skeletons (1997) by Rett MacPherson (Lauretta Allen)

Torie (Victory) O'Shea is a bit surprised when Norah Zumwalt approaches her at the annual Old German Days festival and asks her to research her family trees. Torie is New Kassel's resedent historian, genealogist, and tour guide for the historic Gaheimer house. Norah has always been a bit standoffish and Torie hasn't spoken more than about three words to her. But Norah tells the historian that her main objective is to track down her father--a father who never married her mother and never came home from World War II. She also wants to know about her ancestors, but it's her father she wants to find. 

She gives Torie the last letters Eugene Counts wrote. Letters that say how much he loves Violet Pritcher and that he plans to come back to her. Why didn't he? Torie is intrigued and even though it's her busiest time of year as historian she agrees to do what she can. Given how little information Norah has about her father and his family, Torie doesn't expect to find anything quickly. But she has amazing luck and within a day she knows that Norah's father is still alive...and lives just down the road in another small Missouri town. She speaks to Norah on the phone and tries to tell her the news, but their conversation is interrupted when someone comes to Norah's door and she abruptly ends the phone call. When Torie tries to call her later, she's nowhere to be found--not at home and not at her antique shop where she was expected to show up and relieve the woman who was minding the store. 

Torie is particular as Norah was, it's hard to imagine that she wouldn't show up at her shop without calling her assistant. She decides to go to Norah's house and check on her, only to find the door ajar and Norah's brutally murdered body. She soon finds herself more involved in the murder investigation than either her husband or Sheriff Brooke would like. But her inquisitive nature won't let her leave it alone. Did Norah stir up trouble when she asked Torie to search for Eugene Counts? Or was it a coincidence that she was killed just after the request? Her son and daughter don't seem too upset about the murder and her boyfriend didn't even come to the funeral. Both her boyfriend and her ex-husband are beneficiaries on life insurance policies, so maybe money is a motive. Torie and the Sheriff work together to catch a murderer.

This is the first in one of the earliest cozy series featuring a genealogist. For a first mystery, it is nicely plotted with plenty of action and several suspects to choose from. It also has a good small-town setting and the historical festival adds to the background. However, it is evident that MacPherson is finding her feet with the series theme and genealogical research isn't really displayed to full advantage. Torie does a bit of scanning old newspaper articles and interviews a few relatives, but there isn't much beyond that. The most disappointing part of the mystery was [*spoiler encoded in ROT13] gung gur znva zheqre jnfa'g rira eryngrq gb gur trarnybtl gurzr. Bgure qrnguf qvq pbaarpg gb Gbevr'f vavgvny vairfgvtngvba vagb Abenu Mhzjnyg'f snzvyl gerr, ohg Abenu'f qrngu? Anu--whfg n pnfr bs "vs V pna'g unir ure, abobql pna." Given the genealogical theme, it just wasn't satisfying as a solution. 

It was interesting enough that I'd like to try another--just to see if genealogy plays a bigger role in future installments and also to see if the recurring characters grow on me. I'm not completely sold on Torie as an amateur sleuth or her interactions with other people (she's one moody lady...). ★★

*To decode: copy coded portion and paste into the decoder at the link above. 

 First line: The Lick-a-Pot Candy Shoppe is located on the corner of Jefferson Street and Hermann Avenue, in the town of New Kassel, Missouri.

Last line: Sheriff Brooke leaned close to my ear then, and whispered, "Now I can be closer to your mother."


Deaths = 7 (six stabbed; one natural)