Monday, July 31, 2023

Why Kings Confess (audio)

  Why Kings Confess (2014) by C. S. Harris (#9 in the Sebastian St. Cyr [Viscount Devlin] series)

Regency England, January 1813: A Frenchwoman from Sebastian St. Cyr's past is found badly injured beside the body of the Dr. Damion Pelletan in the Cat's Hole, a lane in one of London's worst slum areas. Sebastian is brought into the case because his friend, surgeon Paul Gibson, was the one who stumbled upon the couple and he wants Sebastian to find out what happened and why. The woman has suffered a horrible blow to the head and the man...well, he was stabbed in the back and then someone removed his heart. 

When the woman, Alexandrie Sauvage, regains consciousness, they find that she remembers little of the attack and can offer little help in tracking down the culprit/s. But she (and Sebastian) definitely remembers the brutal betrayals of wartime that she experienced with Devlin. Neither trusts the other--she because he is Lord Jarvis's son-in-law and he because he feels she's just as much to blame for certain deaths in Spain as he is. He's also quite sure that she isn't telling him everything she knows...and he's troubled by the relationship that seems to be developing between Alexi and his friend Paul.

Working in the dark (sometimes quite literally), Sebastian learns that Dr. Pellatan was tied to a secret French delegation tasked with approaching the British about the possibility of an end to the long-running war between the two countries. Is someone trying to sabotage the mission? It certainly appears that way when other members of the delegation are killed as well. Jarvis is said to oppose a settlement with Napoleon--could he be behind it? There are also members of the exiled French royal family in England. Could the deaths be related to a plot to retake the French throne? But then there are also a few more personal victims in the ever-mounting body count--is the motive related to secret passions and revenge? Sebastian needs to find out before the danger he skirts on a regular basis reaches those he holds most dear.

Davina Porter continues her excellent narration of what is one of my all-time favorite historical mystery series. Here she manages to not only convey a variety of English and Irish characters, but she also gives voice to several characters with French accents--and manages to make each one distinct. As I mentioned in my previous review: one thing I really enjoyed about this story was the focus on Paul Gibson. While Sebastian and Hero are great characters and I am interested in following the development of their life together, we haven't spent a lot of time with Paul other than his reports to Sebastian on the various post mortem examinations he's done. This entry in the series shows more of Paul's struggles with pain (from the loss of his leg in the war) and it gives him a budding romantic relationship which I hope to see develop more fully in the future. He has grown beyond side-kick status to have a storyline of his own and I certainly hope it continues. 

I will say, however, that it would be nice if Paul could have a different opening line/scene when Devlin comes to see him for a post mortem. Every single time: "Ah, there you are" and then Gibson wipes his bloody hands. Devlin (who has seen dead bodies all over the place during war) then has to step to the doorway and inhale fresh air. It's like finding Gibson working on a dead body is a surprise to him and he's not prepared for what he sees. 

It also would be nice if just once Devlin could engage in a fight with a bad guy and NOT have to see Paul for stitches. It's hard to believe that the man has any place on his upper body that does not have an ugly scar--and, given how often he's been involved in murder investigations over the past ten months to a year, it seems impossible that he's had time to heal properly. Occasionally, in the same book mind you, he's later seen performing athletic feats or engaging in another fight and we don't mention him ripping the stitches open again. Maybe Devlin is one of the first superheroes. 😉 But that's a small quibble...and I highly recommend the series to those who enjoy a historical mystery. 

First line: Paul Gibson lurched down the dark, narrow lane, his face raw from the cold, his fingers numb.

Last line: And still they stood, her hand creeping out to take his, their gazes meeting as the wind snatched at her hair and her lips curve into a trembling smile.


Deaths = 11 (four stabbed; three natural; two beaten/hit on head; one blown up; one fell from height)

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Bell in the Fog

 The Bell in the Fog (1936) by John Stephen Strange (Dorothy Stockbridge Tillett)

Barney Gantt isn't too pleased. After being in hospital for several weeks because of injuries suffered from a train wreck and explosion, he thinks he's going back on duty at the Globe. But when the photographer shows up for work and promptly faints on his boss's floor, he's sent to the quiet island of Sowback where "nothing ever happens." All he'll be expected to do is fish. He expects to be bored stiff. But he winds up fishing for a murderer instead of cod.

The mystery begins with an odd postal robbery. Job Reardon, postman, grocer and ferryman for island, discovers that someone has slit a hole in the postbag he was carrying to the mainland and taken just one letter. He claims not to remember who it was to or from, but Barney doesn't believe him. Then the only other stranger who traveled by the boat to the island is found dead on the beach--stabbed in the back. Barney is the one who finds him and his nose for news has him taking pictures of the corpse and searching the clothes for clues to the man's identity. Not a paper or an ID card to be found--not even a return ticket. Which definitely strikes Barney as odd because he distinctly remembered the man mentioning that he'd be going back to the mainland. 

Barney's friend, Postal Inspector Tom Powell is on the island to investigate the mail bag incident, he's not the police, but until the police arrive from the mainland he takes up the murder investigation just in case it ties in with the missing letter. Neither he nor Barney can get Job Reardon to give any more details about the letter. Which is a shame...because if he'd told what he knew it's likely he wouldn't have been the next victim. Now Barney and Tom have two murders on their hands and they need to get busy finding the real killer. Otherwise, their old nemesis Jake Hewson of the State Police is bound to arrest an innocent man. 

This is the second Strange book that I've read--and also the second to feature Barney Gantt. Looking back at my previous review, I find that I've got the same minor complaint as before--I spotted the culprit too quickly. Not only is the plot fairly clued, I'd say that it's too fairly clued. The clues practically grab you by the hand and lead you down the correct path. Fortunately, Strange provides us with an interesting lead character in Gantt and I also appreciated his associates Postal Inspector Powell and Muriel, fellow newspaper staff member and his "heart throb." All three character are well-rounded--even though we don't see as much of Powell and Muriel. The fog and the island location make major contributions to the plot and Strange does a good job with setting the scene. She provides a good look at the small New England community in the years before the Second World War. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: On a certain clear, cold day in February, Barney Gantt, a staff photographer for the New York Globe, was riding on a train through New Jersey. 

Barney admired pretty girls who chattered at dinner. He could bear it when they chattered at lunch, but a girl who chattered at four-thirty in the morning...He withdrew his pained gaze. (p. 11)

News spreads in a small place by some mysterious magic unknown in cities. (p. 40)

You'd think at my age, I'd have learned patience, wouldn't you? But I still think the hardest thing in the world to do is to wait. Especially, when you don't know what it is you're waiting for. (Mrs. Carney; p.65)

Last line: And went upstairs to get glasses and a bottle, humming cheerfully under his breath.


Deaths = 8 (two stabbed; two drowned; two shot; one fell from height; one hanged)

Friday, July 28, 2023

Soldiers Don't Go Mad

 Soldiers Don't Go Mad: A Story of Brotherhood, Poetry, and Mental Illness During the First World War (2023) by Charles Glass

Glass uses the history of the friendship between Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, two British officers who became two of the greatest poets from World War, to frame a study of the treatment of "shell shock" and the role of literary response to trauma. Both Sassoon and Owen, like many young men, volunteered early for a war they thought would be fought in the old style and would be over by Christmas. But they and their fellow soldiers faced unparalleled dangers--from machine gun barrages to relentless artillery attacks, from flame throwers to chemical warfare. Dangers that not only caused physical damage and fatalities in huge numbers, but also brought about the nervous collapse of ten percent of its officers (in addition to a similar percentage of enlisted men)--a leadership loss the Allies could ill afford.

New war hospitals devoted to mental health were established--with the best and most successful stationed at Craiglockhart in Scotland. The new hospital took ove the health spa which previously served the upper classes who needed a rest cure. Its two prominent physicians, Dr. Rivers and Dr. Brock followed a number of Sigmund Freud's therapy methods--using dream analysis and "talk therapy" as primary responses to the nervous tremors, intense nightmares, and psychosomatic conditions brought on by the men's experiences.  Rivers and Brock varied in their additional therapies, however. Brock favored activity and work for rehabilitation--assigning patients to schedules full of athletic activities, gardening, tending to the chickens which provided eggs, etc. Rivers favored intellectual and artistic activities and encouraged the patients in the establishment of a hospital newsletter which featured poetry, stories, jokes, and the like written by the patients themselves as well as musical evenings, theatricals, and debates. 

When Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon arrived at Craiglockhart, they each were assigned to precisely the right doctor. Sassoon benefited from intellectual talks with Rivers while Owen found help in the physical activities assigned by Brock. But each man found solace in the rejuvenating power of poetry. They also benefited from the friendship which grew between them during their stay at the hospital. Sassoon initially served as mentor to the younger man, but he soon realized that Owen was a powerful poet in his own right and the two men encouraged each other and served as critics. Their stories make a persuasive case for the power of literary/artistic pursuits for therapeutic purposes.

The narrative includes the differences between how officers and enlisted men were treated. Officers suffering from mental fatigue were sent to hospitals such as Craiglockhart. Enlisted men were lucky if they received any therapy at all for their shell shock. Most were promptly sent back to the front...or if their nervousness and inability to fight were too severe, they might be shot for cowardice or disobeying orders. Glass also highlights the unsettling story of doctors whose goal is to heal the broken--whether in body, spirit, or mind--only to certify them fit to return to bloody battlefield where they may be broken again...or worse. Doctors who may well agree with the men they work with that the war is unjust or being fought for the wrong reasons, but who nevertheless must send them back to fight again. 

An insightful work, that taught me a great deal about the treatment of shell shock victims in WWI. This was particularly interesting to me because of my love for the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries written by Dorothy L. Sayers. Not that I doubted Sayers' representation of Lord Peter's experiences with the after-effects of war, but it was good to see how well she did represent shell shock. One wonders if she knew of Craiglockhart and if she did why she didn't use it as part of Lord Peter's story. As Major Wimsey, he most definitely would have been eligible to be sent there. Of course, then his nervous reactions in several of the stories might not have been the same--if treatment had been successful. 

First line: Historian surmise that Craiglockhart took its name from the Scots Gaelic Creag Loch Ard--"crag of hill [on] the high lake," although the hill boasts neither lake nor great height.

Last line: Dr. Brock would have seen the healthy outdoor activity as useful therapy. It was the only therapy such enlisted men were likely to get.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

What Darkness Brings

 What Darkness Brings (2013) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); narrated by Davina Porter

It's September 1812...a mere ten months or since Sebastian St. Cyr was himself accused of murder and had to begin his unofficial career as a detective to clear his own name. Ten months and he's already involved in his eighth round of murders. This time an unsavory gem dealer Benjamin Eisler, who also dealt with a spot of usury and blackmail on the side as well as dabbling in the black arts, has been killed and the husband of Sebastian's former lover, Kat, has been accused of the murder. Russell Yates, shipping captain with rumors of piracy in his wake, was found standing over the body just moments after the shot was heard. Both Kat and Yates swear he's innocent and Sebastian will do anything for the sake of his former love--even at the risk of his newly forming relationship with his own wife Hero.

The local magistrate is so sure that Yates did the deed that he didn't even bother to question potential witnesses closely. Sebastian's investigation reveals that Eisler had recently been handling a rare blue diamond--rumored to be the missing centerpiece to the French crown jewels. But the diamond has gone missing and Sebastian isn't the only one interested in its connection to the gem dealer's death. The strands of the case reach all the way from the Prince Regent to Napoleon of France and every time Sebastian finds a valuable witness they wind up dead before he can get their full story. It doesn't help that he begins to doubt that Kat is being completely honest with him. In the past, if she couldn't tell him something for reasons of her own, she'd tell him so. Now, he doesn't trust what she does tell him. There's one witness left who may be able to give him the last pieces of the puzzle--but can he find her in time?

I have to admit that upon listening to this one I wasn't as taken with the mystery as I was the first time. The final twist at the end doesn't seem quite as satisfying--but that is a minor point. Porter's narration is on point as always. I'm amazed at the variety of tones and accents she is able to accomplish. 

I still appreciate the amount of historical research Harris puts into these books. This adventure uses real people and real incidents regarding the history of the Hope diamond. For a period of time, it is uncertain what became of the jewel and she uses one of several theories as the basis of her plot. A very enjoyable rendering of historic events. 

First line: The man was so old his face sagged in crinkly, sallow folds and Jenny could see pink scalp through the thin white hair plastered by sweat to his head.

Last line: Her lips curled into a slow smile, and he thought she'd never looked more beautiful. "Yes."


Deaths = 12 (one poisoned; five shot; two stabbed; one hit on head; two drowned; one fell from height) I can always count on C. S. Harris to up the body count for me....

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Private Wound

 The Private Wound (1968) by Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day-Lewis)

1939 Ireland. Harriet "Harry" Leeson was the first woman Dominic Eyre ever saw sit alone in a pub. But Harry was daring in many other ways. She had a habit of carrying on affairs right under her aging husband's nose and he appeared to be willing to pretend not to see the blatant flirting she did in his presence. Or he made jokes about it. It wasn't long before Dominic, who had taken a summer's lease on a cottage rented by Flurry Leeson's brother, fell under her spell. The local priest, Father Bresnihan, warns Dominic off and someone else in the village seems intent on warning him off as well--leaving warning notes in his cottage, searching his things, and knocking him on the head and leaving him trussed up out on the beach.  But it isn't Dominic that winds up dead in this murder mystery. Harriet's nude body is found stabbed to death by the river and Dominic and Flurry team up to hunt for the murderer.

Not a very comfortable read--a rather squalid little stand-alone mystery that spends over half the book on Dominic and his affair with Harry--his host's wife. The biggest surprise to me was that Dominic wasn't the one murdered after watching how Flurry dealt with the man who caused his wife to fall from her horse during a race. Of course, since Dominic was our narrator throughout the book, it was obvious he wasn't going to be the victim. I don't understand why he wasn't more worried about Flurry, though--if I had watched Flurry nearly beat another man to death because he had hurt his wife, I'd certainly think twice about fooling around with her. 

Blake as a poet can, of course, write descriptively and he captures Ireland in the late thirties very nicely. His use of language also points to him being a master of his writing craft, but I much prefer his early mysteries starring Nigel Strangeways. I don't have much more to say--not my favorite Blake novel. ★★

First line: It is time that I told this story.

Last line: A kind of jockey cap.

Deaths = two stabbed

Monday, July 24, 2023

When Maidens Mourn (audio version)

 When Maidens Mourn  (2012) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); Narrated by Davina Porter

If you haven't read the previous books in the series, then there are spoilers ahead. Spoilers about the life of Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, that is. So...if you want to read the series and have the background story unfold for you, you might want to wait to read my review.

I am again continuing my quest to listen to the Devlin books in audio version while I wait for the next installment to come out next year. As mentioned in the previous book, Devlin had finally persuaded Hero, the soon-to-be mother of his child, to marry him. Of course, Hero, being the strong-willed young woman she is, made the match for reasons of her own. Now the two are working on just what their marriage will be...and just how much they really mean to each other. They plan to escape the heat of London and spend their honeymoon in the country when Gabrielle Tennyson, one of Hero's friends, is found stabbed to death at an antiquary dig at Camlet Moat. Gabrielle firmly believed that Camlet Moat was the site of the original Camelot--the background source for the Arthur legends. 

Her work as an antiquary riled her male colleagues, but were they upset enough to resort to murder? Or is there a deeper plot afoot? When it is discovered that Gabrielle's two young nephews are also missing, it begins to look like there's more than scholarly jealous at work. Hero and Sebastian each take an interest in the case--sometimes working at cross-purposes and never fully confiding in each other. Especially when circumstances involve Hero's father, Lord Jarvis (sworn enemy to Devlin) or Sebastian needs to consult his former lover, Kat Boleyn, about French spies. But the information they gather will need to be pooled if they are to discover the killer before it's too late for the boys. They may also learn some uncomfortable secrets about Lord Jarvis and Sebastian's past along the way. 

One thing that struck me about the story while listening to the audio version was the humor surrounding Philip Arsenault and his little brown and white dog, Chien. Nearly every episode with the two finds the proper French lieutenant trying (most inexpertly) to get Chien to behave. The scene out at Camlet moat when he and Devlin take the dog in attempt to have him find the missing boys is especially fun, even as it is tinged with melancholy (because of the lack of success and the additional murder--not the boys!--discovered). When the doubtful local magistrate questions the presence of the Frenchman and the dog, Devlin explains that Chien is a highly trained Strand hound. Of course, the story doesn't have quite the ring of truth it could as we watch Arsenault try in vain to keep the dog from chasing rabbits...

Harris has given us another fine historical mystery. I enjoy watching the relationship between Hero and Sebastian grow--even though I already know where it's heading. It's still a delight to watch it unfold again. The mystery aspect is really well done with a good range of suspects and red herrings to keep the reader occupied and looking for the culprit. I also liked the way she brought in Arthurian legend as well as the family of the (later) Poet Laureate of England, Alfred Lord Tennyson, though she did take some liberties with the number of family members. It was a nice change to get away from the more politically charged plotline and delve into one with a more literary background. A highly enjoyable read. ★★

First Line: Tessa Sawyer hummed a nervous tune beneath her breath as she pushed through the tangled brush and bracken edging the black waters of the ancient moat.

Last Line: And he raised his head to meet her kiss.
Deaths = 5 (three shot; one stabbed; one hit on head)

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Where Shadow Dance (audio)

 Where Shadows Dance (2011) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); Narrated by Davina Porter

[Synopsis from my previous review--I found the plot just as fascinating upon listening to the audio version that I wanted to highlight it again.] This time Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin and sometime investigator, faces an unusual situation. His friend Paul Gibson asks him to investigate a murder that cannot be acknowledged without getting the surgeon and anatomist into trouble. When Gibson hears about the death of Alexander Ross, recently a young rising star at the Foreign Office, the surgeon and anatomist wants to examine his heart to see what caused a man in his twenties to die of heart failure. The only way to do that is to arrange for the body snatchers to lift the body from its grave (and that's not exactly legal...). When he begins to examine the body, he discovers  a healthy heart and a nasty little stiletto wound at the base of the skull. The man's been murdered and Gibson doesn't want a murderer to go free. But as he tells Devlin

It's not like I can walk into Bow Street and say, "By the way, mates, I thought you might be interested to hear that I bought a body filched from St. George's churchyard last night. Yes, I know it's illegal, but here's the thing. it appears that this gentleman--whose friends all think he died in his sleep--was actually murdered.

No, that wouldn't do at all. Luckily Devlin doesn't like to see murderers go free either, so he agrees to investigate even though it's going to be tricky. At first it seems that the likeable young man was an unlikely candidate for murder, but the further Devlin digs the more he learns about shady dealings, spies, and a plot to win allies in the fight against Napoleon. Ross was an honorable man and when he discovered dishonorable doings, he was bound to report it. But someone silenced him first. But who? Was it the Turkish diplomat? Perhaps one of the Russian contingent? Or maybe a French spy in the pay of Napoleon? There are also rumors of an American connection. It isn't until Devlin gets too close to the source and the villains kidnap his bride-to-be that he finally figures it all out. 

This is another grand historical mystery. Harris does well pulling political events of the time into her stories and, as I mentioned in the previous book's review, giving the reader both personal and political motives to sift through. One never knows which type of motive will wind up being the true one and it keeps the reader on her toes. There are hints aplenty to point the way to the solution, but it will take a reader more observant than I to recognize them as they come. Another excellent read. ★★★★

*******More spoilers about the long story arc covering Devlin's personal life ahead! Read at your own risk if you prefer to watch the story unfold over the course of the series and you haven't read this far yet*******

In the past I've tried not to reveal much about Devlin's personal life in my reviews--there is a thread of deceit and family cover-ups running through his story that I'd hate to spoil for anyone who hasn't read these but who wants to give them a try. Let me just say that he starts out in love with one woman...various things happen that make that relationship impossible and then he winds up in a relationship with the daughter of his nemesis Lord Jarvis. Hero Jarvis is a strong female character and well able to match Devlin in courage and intelligence. When I read this the first time, I could only hope that Harris would allow the couple to work their way through events and that Devlin won't have another shock or disaster thrown in his path. I enjoy this series very much, but I can't stand authors who can't let their hero/heroine be happy for more than about five minutes (Elizabeth George, I'm looking at you.) I've just read the most recent installment and I'm happy to say that Hero is still safe. I hope that continues in the the next book.

And I still have this random question: Why does everyone in this particular installment "huff a laugh"? Follow-up question: Exactly how does one "huff a laugh"?

First line: A cool wind gusted up, rustling the branches of the trees overhead and bringing with it the unmistakable clatter of wooden wheels approaching over cobblestones.

Last line: For his world had narrowed down to the silken hair that slid across his belly and the heated invitation of her legs wrapping around his hips and the gentle wonder with which his wife whispered, "Sebastian..."   (and...that makes our historical mystery sound very much like a bodice ripper...)


Deaths = 12 (seven stabbed; two shot; one hit on head; two strangled)

What Remains of Heaven (audio--spoilerish)

 What Remains of Heaven
(2009) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); narrated by Davinia Porter

All spoilers are regarding the long story arc of Sebastian (Lord Devlin) St. Cyr and do not give away vital clues about the mystery itself. Those who want to read the series in order may want to wait to read the review that follows. For a full review of the plot, please see my previous review (title link above).

This is another of my audio rereading adventures. I recently read the latest of the Devlin novels (after waiting in a long hold line at the library). I enjoy this historical mystery series so much that it made me want to go back (not quite to the beginning because I really don't have a lot of patience with his early relationship with Kat Boleyn) to the roots of his relationship with Hero Jarvis. Hero is, in my opinion, a much better match than Kat would ever have been. I had already listened to the first of these (Where Serpents Sleep) to fulfill a prompt from a reading challenge) and I now plan to listen to the rest of the series while I wait for the next installment (due out next year)--just to refresh my memory of certain points in Devlin's life.

In this installment, Hero is forced to admit that there have been repercussions from her brief encounter with Devlin during what they thought might be their last moments on earth before succumbing to a watery grave. She has begun to make arrangements for her child. But when the sympathetic bishop orchestrating the adoption is killed, she's left uncertain of her decision and how to carry it forward if she decides to do so. She's also trying very hard to keep the knowledge from Devlin. He has already told her that if there are any repercussions that he is prepared to do the honorable thing and marry her--but marriage is the last thing she wants. 

She had made up her mind to be an "old maid." Her wealth and her position as her father's daughter would give her a freedom that so many women in the early 1800s would not have access to. And although she comes to realize that she really doesn't want to give up the child she also realizes that even her position as Jarvis's daughter wouldn't protect her from the scandal of openly bearing and keeping a child out of wedlock. By the last chapters, she's come up with a plan to travel abroad (which she's always wanted to do anyway), have the child, and then when enough time has passed, return to England with the "orphan" she's adopted. However, her mother's delicate mental and emotional health puts paid to that idea...and she realizes that her options are running out. Devlin has also discovered that she is, indeed, carrying his child and is intent on convincing her to allow him to do the right thing. She may have to let him...

Davinia Porter is a terrific narrator. I'm saddened to hear that she has retired from narrating and there is a new narrator for the two most recent Devlin audio books. I hope the new narrator does justice to the characters, but it will be difficult adjusting to new tones. Davinia manages a wide range of accents, social status, and vocal timbre with ease. Her male voices are as on point as any female could hope to manage and I've gotten quite comfortable with her rendition of Devlin. His voice will be the bar by which the new narrator will be judged. ★★★★

First line: His breath coming in undignified gasps, the Reverend Malcolm Earnshaw abandoned the village high street and struck out through the lanky grass of the churchyard.

Last lines: He expected her to make one of her usual provocative remarks on the inequities of modern English marriage laws. Instead, she gave a strange, soft laugh and said, "Perhaps I shall."


Deaths = 4 (one hit on head; two stabbed; one burned in fire)

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Clouds of Witness

 Clouds of Witness (1926) by Dorothy L. Sayers (narrated by Mark Meadows)

I'm continuing what looks to be turning into a regular orgy of listening Lord Peter Wimsey audiobooks. If you would like a more complete review of the story itself, please see my previous review (HERE). As I mentioned in my latest review of Whose Body?, I've read these stories so often that I don't often have much that is new to say about the mysteries themselves, but I do love listening to them when I want a nice comfortable story that I'm familiar with. 

My main reaction to this visit to Riddlesdale Lodge is focused on the audio version itself. Hoopla promised me Ian Carmichael. It said so right there on the website. But when the audio started, I got Mark Meadows. He's a fine narrator in every way but two. He is not by any stretch of the imagination Lord Peter Wimsey. I've been spoiled by Ian Carmichael and Edward Petherbridge and I'm afraid that his take on Lord Peter just doesn't sit well. And he has turned Bunter into the most dreadfully supercilious-sounding manservant I've ever heard. Bunter is, indeed, Peter's valet and a superior one at that--but he has also been his comrade in arms in the Great War and there is an underlying friendship and affection that stays just on the correct side of the man and master relationship. There is little of that to be found in Meadows' rendition. The only real hint of it we get is when Peter is nearly potted in the bog and even then Bunter sounds more annoyed that Peter has gotten himself mired than alarmed.

Meadows does do an excellent job with the rest of the characters--giving distinct voices to everyone from the Duke of Denver to Sir Impey Biggs to the Dowager Duchess. He manages the female voices better than most male narrators. And I really enjoyed listening to his French--I don't understand nearly as much as I used to (when my French classes were much fresher in memory), but his accent is beautiful.  ★★ and 1/2 (for this particular audio version)

First line: Lord Peter Wimsey stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hotel Meurice.

Last lines: "Mr. Parker an' all," said Inspector Sugg, adding devoutly. "Thank Gawd there weren't no witnesses."


Deaths = 2 (one shot; one hit by car)

Monday, July 17, 2023

Whose Body?

 Whose Body (1923) by Dorothy L. Sayers; read by Ian Carmichael

For a more complete run-down of the story, please see my first review HERE. If I were offered the chance to read any single author again for the first time, I think I'd choose Sayers. At this point I have read the Lord Peter novels so often that I rarely have anything to add to my thoughts on the actual mystery. What I can say (and have said before) is that these are my comfort reads. Whenever I need something soothing or familiar, I tend to turn to Sayers. And recently I've wanted something to listen to as I settle down to go to sleep. So I popped in my audio version starring my first video Lord Peter, Ian Carmichael. I love Carmichael narrating Sayers--his vocal take on Wimsey in these early cases is, in my opinion, perfect. And he does an excellent job with most of the voices. He doesn't have quite the range for women's voices that he does with men's, but he still manages to give each lady her own flavor. 

It was quite lovely to settle down and listen to this familiar story with Carmichael guiding the way. And it is always a delight to hear the passages involving the Dowager Duchess--from her rendition of the Coroner's interactions with the deaf Mrs. Thipps to her mental tennis match with Mr. Milligan as she tries to figure out what invitation her son has delivered in her name (without giving away that she has no idea what the man is talking about). And the book is worth the price of admission just to hear/read the scenes with the young medical student. His thoughts on Lord Peter in particular:

This Lord Peter was not very tall--in fact he was rather a small man, but he didn't look undersized. He looked right; he made you feel that to be six-foot-three was rather vulgarly assertive; you felt like Mother's new drawing-room curtains--all over great big blobs.

 A thoroughly entertaining story at any time. 

First line: "Oh, damn!" said Lord Peter Wimsey at Piccadilly Circus.

Last lines: "Bunter!"  "My lord?" "The Napoleon brandy."


Deaths = 2 hit with blunt objects

Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Final Appointment

 The Final Appointment (1979) by Marcia Blair (Marc Baker)

Tory Baxter is a nurse who has discovered a talent as an amateur sleuth--at least she thinks so. Her friend Lt. Jay Thorpe of the San Francisco Police isn't so sure. He thinks she's more liable to get herself into trouble and drag him along with her. But when Dina Severson approaches Tory about a problem she and her two friends, Felicia Adams and Candice Jeffers, are facing, Tory simply can't resist. 

Someone has been harassing Felicia--entering her apartment and making it obvious that someone has been there, though not stealing anything. Then threatening messages are written on fashion designs that Felicia has been working on. And finally, just before Tory is called upon, copies of a group phot of the three young women are sent with Felicia's face X'd out in red. When Felicia disappears from her apartment and is later found dead at the bottom of the building's stairs, Jay and the police say it looks like an accident. But Tory is sure it's not and begins following up clues--from tracking down the child of man dismissed from the Adams & Jeffers firm for embezzlement to "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" golden charms found at the scene of the crimes. Her researches lead her to a final showdown with a dangerous killer....she can only hope that Jay will be in time to prevent one more murder--hers!

This book is one of a series of Zebra Mystery Puzzler Books. As indicated on the cover, the set-up for these books is that all the clues necessary for the reader to solve the mystery before the final reveal are given in the cover photo, various illustrations within the story, and, as with good mysteries clues given in the text. I obtained and read one of this series a very long time ago (over 30 years). I enjoyed it but never came across another until fairly recently. I got an assortment of them for Christmas last year and thought I ought to see if the set-up holds up now. 

The mystery plot is fairly decent, but I will say that there aren't a lot of suspects to choose from. By the time the book indicates that we have all we need to solve the mystery, there are really only two suspects remaining. The clues are all there (I think I spotted them all), but I didn't really need them since it became a matter of process of elimination. So, my only real criticism about the plot is that it's not complicated enough. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. I did, but I would have appreciated a bit more challenge.

The other point I'd make is that Tory spends an awful lot of time shouting at Jay. Of course, this is because the two are attracted to each other and just haven't admitted it yet and the trend in mysteries often seems to be to have the couple who will wind up together at odds with one another throughout the book and then suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, they wind up in each other's arms at the end having discovered that they really do like each other after all. In this instance it seems pretty out of character for Tory because she's so level-headed and calm in every situation that comes along, but as soon a Jay shows up (he doesn't even have to say anything) she starts bristling and shouting. 

All that said, this is still a fun, light read. If you don't want an overly complicated plot and just want to exercise the little grey cells a little bit, then this may be the right format for you. It was a nice little evening's diversion for me. ★★

First line: Tory Baxter was more puzzled than alarmed when she realized she was being followed.

Last line: Sighing, she leaned back in the chair to get her breath and to relive that staggering moment.


Deaths = 5 (one fell down stairs; two auto accident; one drowned; one natural)

Ghostwalk (spoilerific review)

 Ghostwalk (2007) by Rebecca Stott

My response is full of spoilers. If you haven't read the book and don't want the plot spoiled, then you should wait to read anything following the synopsis.

Synopsis [from Kirkus Reviews]: In Stott's fictional debut...writer Lydia Brooke agrees to complete the unfinished manuscript left behind by her former lover's dead mother, and she enters a world where the dead do not go gently into the night.

Cambridge University's Trinity College provides the setting for this spellbinding tale that intertwines a dark 17th-century journey with the present. Lydia, a successful writer, returns to Cambridge to attend the funeral of Elizabeth Vogelsang, whose fascination with Sir Isaac Newton led her to write a potentially controversial book about the scientific and mathematical genius. But Elizabeth's investigation into Newton's live and his practice of alchemy has gone wrong. Found dead in the river with a prism clutched in her hand, Elizabeth leaves behind a meticulously researched manuscript missing its final chapter. Cameron Brown, Elizabeth's brilliant neuroscientiest son and Lydia's former lover, compels Lydia to ghostwrite the last chapter and finish his mother's book. Drawn both to Cameron and the project, Lydia acquiesces and moves into Elizabeth's cottage, with its strange, unexplained lights and colors that appear to come from nowhere. Here she meets an odd girl named Will and and even odder friend of Elizabeth's who claims to speak with the dead. Lydia also pursues a relationship with the married Cameron, who is stalked by a violent animal-rights group that objects to his use of laboratory animals. Stott embroils Lydia in a past steeped in the mysticism of alchemy and plagued by black ambition. Intrigue from Newton's past creeps into the present, eventually sweeping both Lydia and Cameron into a series of climatic events suspended somewhere between life and death. 

So....faithful readers of this blog should know that I generally like to summarize books for myself. When I use blurbs from the back of the book or the fly-leaf or a Kirkus Review, then I either have little to say about the book or I'm pretty fed up with it. This time it's the latter.

What star points I'm handing out are for the bare bones of the story. There is so much here that could have made a great mystery/thriller. I'm not a huge fan of stories from the past that somehow connect up with modern events, but it does work sometimes. Not here. The book starts out with Elizabeth's death. I was all set to have Lydia take up the reins of finishing the book and, in the course of her research, actually discover who killed Elizabeth. Oh she does....but it was a ghost. A freaking ghost. And at the end of the book we find out that one of the other characters is arrested, tried, and convicted for that death and other modern mischief. 

And can we talk about that ghost? Here we have this supposedly brilliant alchemist/scholar who was all set to get a big deal fellowship at Cambridge when along comes this nobody Isaac Newton who looks to be even more brilliant and people are starting to ignore the first dude. So, does he kill his rival and ensure that he'll get the fellowship after all? No. Of course not. He arranges for a bunch of fellowship holders to die just so good old Isaac will be sure to get a fellowship. Does this make any sense to any of you? And then he waits 300 years to take out revenge when another scholar comes along and starts connecting the dots about how Newton got his scholarship. And won't rest until every bit of evidence is gone indicating what he did. And manages to kill off a few more modern people in the process. O---kay....

Then we have Lydia. Who makes a deal with the ghost that she'll write Elizabeth's book in such a way that all the evidence is suppressed and says she'll destroy everything Elizabeth found. Except she doesn't keep her word and another death results (two if you count the modern-day person who is blamed for the deaths and hangs themselves in prinson). Lydia is not, in my opinion, the wisest of women. We also have the fact that this is written from Lydia's point of view and we have no idea if she is a reliable narrator--we also aren't sure who else to believe. Cameron seems very shady and so does the girl Will. The woman who can speak to the dead comes out as the most trustworthy of all the characters directly involved in this mess.

And then on top of everything we throw in this business about the animal activists. Why? All I can figure is that it was to try and provide some red herrings about who murdered Elizabeth. And, of course, they made convenient scapegoats for the official story--because how on earth could they possibly bring a ghost to trial?

Overall, a very unsatisfying read that I completed only because I had committed myself to reading it for a challenge. When I read the synopsis I was taken by the academic connections (I love me an academic mystery). But, sadly, despite the scholarly research done by Elizabeth, this didn't strike me as an academic mystery. It was more a tale of paranormal activity. ★★--barely.

First line: Unrepaired and swollen with rain, the gate in the orchard wall refused to move until Cameron put his full weight against it and pushed, hard.

Last line: And you, Cameron Brown, man of fractures and disguises, lie closer still, under, between, inside, for we became once, and still are, entangled together, imprisoned, like time, in a skein of silk.


Deaths = 10 (two drowned; four fell downstairs; one natural--after-effects of a fall; two beaten to death; one hanged)

Tuesday, July 11, 2023


 Juggernaut (1929) by Alice Campbell

Esther Rowe is a young Canadian nurse who has come to France with a patient. The post was temporary--lasting only until the woman met up with friends--so Esther must decide if she is going to return to cold, snowy New York or remain in Cannes where it is much warmer and more beautiful. She's never had a chance to travel before and decides to stay a while, provided she can find a job. So, she answers an advertisement for an English nurse put out by a Dr. Santorius. The job will not be arduous as the rather forbidding man takes a few patients as possible--just enough to support his research. 

Esther hasn't been with him long before he tells her he's shutting up shop and taking a position as personal physician to Sir Charles Clifford, a wealthy mill owner who has made his money in fabrics. Apparently, Santorius believes he will make enough from just this one patient to allow him to fund his research for a while. She is dismayed at first because she thinks she'll need to find another job or head back to America, but Santorius tells her that a position for a day nurse is also available if she would like it. She decides that she does....and finds herself involved not only in caring for a typhoid patient but in the middle of mystery and intrigue. 

She notices little the fact that Sir Charles's young, beautiful wife seems to be seeing an awful lot of Captain Arthur Holliday. And Lady Therese is a temperamental young thing who doesn't like to be told who she can see and what she can spend money on. Lady Therese also has little tete-a-tetes with the the most inappropriate times. Then Roger Clifford, Sir Charles's son by a previous marriage, arrives and there is a definite antipathy between him and his stepmother. Sir Clifford doesn't make things any better when he makes changes to his will that makes Roger the trustee with complete power over the distribution of Lady Therese's inheritance. Lady Therese begins searching for something....first under her husband's pillow and then in Roger's room. What is she looking for? When Sir Clifford relapses and dies from the second round of typhoid, Esther becomes even more uneasy. And then Esther disappears. Roger, who has slowly been succumbing to Esther's innocent charms, doesn't know what to think What's happened to the nurse? Will he find her in time?

*****************Spoilers ahead!!!!!

So....this was one long, slow ride to the inevitable, clearly signaled finish. Even Inspector Clouseau should be able to figure this one out if he reads it. As soon as the point was made that "dear devoted" little Therese had taken over giving Sir Clifford his milk, my villain detector went off. There was no way I was going to believe that she had suddenly decided to be all domestic and wifely and wanted to bring him his glass of milk. But my main complaint? Why on earth if the villains were intent on knocking off Sir Charles Clifford did they not just do it? Why make him sick and then let him be nursed back to health only to give him a heft dose of the live typhoid culture and kill him? There was no benefit at all. In fact, if they had done it straight off Sir Charles wouldn't have had time to make adjustments to his will and that pesky Nurse Rowe wouldn't have gotten all suspicious. And, we wouldn't have had to wade through a good third to half the book to get to the murder. That first half really dragged. Other more minor quibbles: How on earth could Roger have missed the plot going on under his nose?  And why is Esther so shy about telling him all the little things she's noticed? Could have saved herself a lot of grief if she'd just mentioned a few of them. 

The second half was more exciting and it was quite suspenseful when Esther disappears for a while and poor Roger is trying to figure out what's going on. The wrap-up is a bit anticlimactic (especially since we know who did it the whole time)...not nearly as good a mystery as anticipated. ★★ and 1/2

*Thanks to Rick Mills for my edition of Juggernaut--a prize from when he was able to offer them for the challenges he sponsors.

First line: When Esther rang the bell of Numero 86 Rue de Grasse, she felt within her that pleasant sort of stage-fright--a mixture of dread and exhilaration--which one is apt to experience when venturing into the unknown.

Last line: "Since you force me to admit it," she whispered against his neck, "it's quite long enough for me--too!"


Deaths = 3 (two poisoned; one fell from height)

Friday, July 7, 2023

Slay Bells

 Slay Bells (written ca1956; published posthumously 2021) by Eunice Mays Boyd with Elizabeth Reed Arden

Christmas is coming to the Big Five and a Half. Santa has surprises in his bag of goodies...but not all of them are good. When the Big Five and a Half, a group of high school students--five young men and one young woman--who were all voted "Most Likely to Succeed," were leaving high school for bigger and better things, they met for a farewell picnic in Mariposa. They and their influential teacher Mr. Northcliffe expect to see great success in the very near future and they decide to have a reunion party on Christmas Day ten years down the road to see if their expectations have been met.

Christmas Day ten years later isn't quite the festive occasion they expect. Only three of their number are doing well. There have been divorces and affairs. One of the group is in prison and the one who started with the most is nearly broke. Even their teacher has met with hard times. His application for a premier post was turned down--apparently because at least one of his references (all from the Big Five and a Half) was less than glowing.

As the members of the group prepare for the party they are all dreading, Santa Claus begins making the rounds. He has a little heart-to-heart talk with them--reminding them of all the ways they have been naughty during the last ten years. At the end of his visit, he offers a chocolate treat...laced with poison. At least three will be dead before Santa is dragged off to an icy jail cell instead of the North Pole.

A short--more novella than novel--mystery with thrillerish overtones. Overall the plot is a good one  and I wish that Boyd had left a full-length manuscript that explored the characters and action a bit more. As I followed Santa to the next visit, I kept having to change my mind about who was hiding behind those snowy-white whiskers. The tension level is good and the story works well as a morality play--just what is the cost of success? And is success really measured in dollars and cents or the size of your house or the clothes that you wear?  I did find the ending a bit abrupt, otherwise I might have given a slightly higher star rating. ★★★ and 1/2

First line: Through the doorway to the hall (Honduras mahogany--how much had that door cost per square foot when he built the house three years ago?), Irving Pluit hear the strains of "Noel."

Last line: "I'm Cecil Northcliffe, and I taught them all."


Deaths = three poisoned

See Also Murder

 See Also Murder
(2015) by Larry D. Sweazy

Marjorie Trumaine is trying to get used to her new life. Farming in 1964 North Dakota has never been easy, but everything is much harder after her husband Hank had an accident that left him blind and paralyzed. In order to help meet the bills, she took up a job as a free-lance professional indexer. She's under deadline for a book on the myth of headhunter civilizations when Sheriff Hilo Jenkins comes to her with horrific news.

The Trumaines' nearest neighbors, Erik and Lida Knudsen, have been found murdered in their beds. Their boys Peter and Jaeger are fine--well, as fine as they can be after the discovery--and the only clue is an ancient Norse amulet that was found clutched in Erik's hand. Jenkins knows that Marjorie's job involves research and asks her to try and find out what she can about the strange object. 

As Marjorie dives into Norse mythology more murders occur and each seems to have a connection with what she finds. The Sheriff's wife is killed and found holding a sprig of mistletoe. Then a professor from the local university who had an interest in Norse history and folklore is also murdered. What is the connection? Marjorie, who is used to cross-referencing and finding connections, feels like she ought to know, but her personal troubles and the looming deadline for her job keep distracting her. Will she find the right reference before it's too late?

The mystery plot is good--Sweazy lays down the clues (although I missed several important ones) and gives the kaleidoscope a final shake and twist that keeps the solution on theme but provides an interesting surprise. I also like Marjorie a lot--she's a strong female character in a time when women weren't expected to be quite so tough. I did have a bit of trouble with the depressing atmosphere. Poor Hank, it's difficult in the scenes with him in them. The murders are also quite brutal.

Sweazy does a great job capturing the time period and the North Dakota setting is quite vivid. I've only been to the state once (in the 70s), but the scenes in the book had a definite familiarity. A good, solid first book in the series. ★★★

First line: I saw a plume of dust through the window over my desk, and something told me trouble was heading my way. 

Last lines: Shep barked, circled after me, and followed me into the house, happy to be inside, watching over Hank and I (sic). And I was glad of it too.


Deaths = 8 (five stabbed; one shot; two natural)

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay

 I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay
(2004) by Harlan Ellison based on short stories by Isaac Asimov

Synopsis (from the back of the book): The Greatest Science Fiction Movie Never Made! For more than 25 years numerous attempts were made to adapt Isaac Asimov's classic story-cycle, I, Robot, to the motion picture medium. all efforts failed. The magical, memorable tales of mechanized servitors with positronic brains, and the ways in which such amazing creations would forever alter human society through the justly famous Three Laws of Robotics, defied the most cunning efforts of scenarists and filmmakers. In 1977, producers approached multiple-award-winning author Harlan Ellison to take a crack at this "impossible" project. He accepted the challenge, and produced an astonishing screenplay that Asimov felt would be "The first really adult, complex, worthwhile science fiction movie ever made."

But it wasn't...made that is. Due to creative differences...or, as Ellison tells it, because he told a producer at Warner Brothers that he had "the intellectual capacity of an artichoke" after said producer proved he hadn't even read the screenplay he was attempting to make "suggestions" about...the plan was scrapped. The result? This incredible screenplay moldered for a while, then was published in Asimov's SF Magazine, and, finally, was brought to the public in this edition. The movie Ellison envisioned and Asimov approved is what science fiction fans deserved to see...not the movie we got with Will Smith.

Ellison frames the collection of separate stories with a story of Robert Bratenahl, a reporter, seeking the truth behind the connection between Dr. Susan Calvin, a famous robopsychologist, and Stephen Byerly, the recently deceased first President of the Galactic Federation. In doing so, he brings Calvin and her story very much to forefront--something not apparent in the Asimov stories, but which the author approved. We follow Bratenahl on his journey as seeks an interview with the reclusive Calvin...a journey that ends in an ancient structure in the Amazon jungle.

The book itself is beautiful with lavish illustrations by Mark Zug. It had been awhile since I had read a screenplay, so it took me a bit to get into the rhythm of reading work that was meant to filmed. But once I settled in, I thoroughly enjoyed Ellison's vision of Asimov's world. Now I have a sudden urge to reread all of Asimov's robot stories and novels again....  ★★★

The Frightened Pigeon

 The Frightened Pigeon (1942) by Richard Burke

Diary, diary...who's got the diary? Vichy, France during World War II. General von Stamm, a German who is Army but not Party has been keeping a very indiscreet diary in which he has criticized many of the orders he has nonetheless carried out "faithfully." The diary has disappeared and he commissions his son (a true Nazi) to find it before the Gestapo do. Although Colonel Kurt von Stamm is contemptuous of a father who could A. not be a devotee of the Fuhrer and B. keep such a diary, he agrees to find it when he realizes that the sins of the father could tarnish the son. Corporal Otto Fleber, a man with his eye to the main chance and an ear for eavesdropping, overhears this conversation and is quite pleased when the general assigns him to assist the colonel. Fleber has an entirely different plan for the fate of the diary.

Meanwhile, Charles John Dillon (known by the nickname "Ching" because of a period during the Spanish revolution when he shaved his head and his slightly upturned eyebrows made him look as if he were trying to appear Chinese), a war correspondant, has managed to get his hands on the diary and plans to smuggle it out of France and back to America where it can be published. He passes the diary off to his girlfriend Valerie Bright. Val is a dancer and he has decided that they can use her profession as a cover--a fake telegram will offer her a dancing gig in a town near the Spanish border. He'll make his unobtrusive way there and they'll slip into Spain where friends he made during the revolution will help them get away to America. 

Except...rival reporters Lotus Nedry and Jurg Sampson also know about the diary have plans of their own. For a good portion of the book, the diary switches hands faster than a game of hot potato. Now Val has it. No--Lotus and Jurg do. No, wait--the colonel and the corporal got it. Or maybe it was the Gestapo. All this makes for an interesting, action-packed adventure ending in a crypt on the Spanish border and a face-off between the good guys and the bad guys. There are double- and triple-crosses and what is meant to be a surprising reveal at the end. I'm afraid I wasn't surprised--I had my suspicions from the beginning...

And all Val wants is to go home with the man she loves. For a good chunk of the story, Val is an immoral wench--sure the Nazis are doing bad things, but they aren't doing them to her and as long as they leave her alone why should she do anything to put herself in danger? It was fairly unexpected, in a wartime thriller of this nature, to find the character growth that takes place in Val. She changes pretty significantly as she becomes entangled in the operation (at first pretty much against her will) and then more and more committed to the objectives. 

This is an engaging and satisfying war-time thriller. ★★ and 1/2

First line: Corporal Otto Fleber, attached to the Kommandant's headquarters staff in Paris, tilted his swivel chair back against the thin wall which separated his cubicle-like space from General von Stamm's office.

Hitler didn't excite her at all. He bore to her a marked resemblance to a Mr. Glank who'd attended the plumbing deficiencies of her home in Terre Haute from time to time. (p. 9)

Last line: The Spanish boy looked at him vaguely. "Good. Shall we be going?"


Deaths = 5 (one shot; three; stabbed; one strangled)

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Who Cries for the Lost

 Who Cries for the Lost (2023) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor)

In this latest chronicle about Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin, all of London is waiting for news that Wellington and the allies of Britain are ready to unseat Napoleon for the final time. But, although Waterloo lies ahead of him, Wellington seems content to party and seems confident that the Little Corporal will meet him on the battlefield at time of his (Wellington's) choosing. Sebastian isn't so sure and is chafing at the bit to join his former comrades on the continent. However, Sebastian is still recuperating from a nasty leg wound received in Paris over six months ago while on a mission to find his missing mother. And his detective skills are needed at home when the mutilated corpse of Major Miles Sedgewick is dragged out of the Thames.

Sedgewick was known to Sebastian during the war on the Peninsula--known as a man who could be charming, fearlessly brave,  and clever as an undercover officer, but also treacherous, untrustworthy, willing to do anything to get what he wanted. He was also known, under the name Miles Sauvage, to Paul Gibson's French lover Alexi whom he tricked into a bigamous marriage during the war and discarded as soon as they were in England. Given the nature of the wounds on Sedgewick's body, it appears that someone hated him enough to mutilate him--could it have been Alexi? Or one of the other women he deceived, including his wife and his most current mistress, a governess who lost her position because of him? It's also possible that a cuckolded husband (and there were several) may have decided to seek revenge.

But when more mutilated bodies are found--several with ties to the military and/or espionage--Sebastian begins to wonder if the deaths are political. And when he learns that Sedgewick had been carrying a list of those who once spied for Napoleon, he's sure that his father-in-law, Lord Jarvis is involved somehow. But those killed by Jarvis's men are usually killed more cleanly and efficiently. Then, of course, there is Sedgewick's odd interest in folklore and the occult. Sebastian's investigation reveals that many of the mutilations have connections to folklore about werewolves. Did Sedgewick's interest in the occult lead to his death? Sebastian needs to work fast to find out because someone doesn't like his nosing about for clues and has sent him a message threatening all he holds most dear.

The Sebastian St. Cyr series is one of my all-time favorite historical mystery series. It is also the only modern mystery series that has me on the edge-of-my-seat, I-can't-wait-till-the-next-one-comes out. I had been waiting in the library's hold line for this for what seemed like eons (okay, only since April...but still). And then, once I brought it home from the library, I still had to wait because I was in the middle of another book and had to finish it first. Rather than savor it, I just devoured it in practically one sitting. That's how good these are. 

Harris has an MA and PhD in European history and her stories always feature interesting bits of history that are vital to the plot. The information is worked into the dialogue and descriptions in such a way that readers learn a lot without feeling like they are getting info dumps. I remember reading something about the island of Cabera, but I couldn't tell you where and I didn't remember its importance. She also has a gift for character. Each person introduced has a vibrant personality--no matter how brief their time on Harris's stage. 

This is one of Harris's more intricate plots. There are several threads that might lead to the killer, but it will take someone more observant than me to pick out the right one that shows the way through the maze. It consists of quite a tangle of lies, deceptions, and apparently contradictory evidence and the intrigue is enough to keep the reader engaged from the first page to the last. One of Harris's best. ★★★★★

First lines: The dead man smelled like fish. Rotting fish.

Last lines: And then he said it again in case she couldn't quite believe him. "I mean it."


Deaths = 13 (three stabbed; three natural; three strangled; two fell from height; one shot; one drowned)

The Birthday Murder

 The Birthday Murder (1945) by Lange Lewis (Jane Lewis Brandt)

Victoria Jason is a brilliant novelist and screen-writer who seems to have a gift for understanding people--too well sometimes. However, her professional success hadn't been followed by success in her personal life--her first marriage failed when she saw her husband for what he was. But now she seems to have found her perfect match--Albert Hime, a B-movie producer who seems to adore her. And the two of them are making a perfect team. Victoria's suggestions about his most recent movie helped to propel it to popularity and now it looks like Albert will get a chance to make his first A-list film. The film in question just happens to be an adaptation of Victoria's novel Ina Hart.

But just before he can realize his dream, he's poisoned...on Victoria's birthday. When Lieutenant Tuck of the LAPD is sent to investigate, he finds that there are a limited number of suspects with access to the sugar bowl that contains poison: Moira Hastings, the young actress who was hoping the lead in Ina Hart would help her break out of ingenue roles into more serious dramatic parts--but Albert always listened to Victoria and Victoria didn't think Moira was right for the part; Bernice Saxe, Victoria's friend since childhood--who just might have been jealous of the couple's happiness; Captain Sawn Harris, Victoria's ex-husband who has turned up just in time to help throw suspicion on Victoria (by design?); Hazel, Victoria's near-sighted servant, who may have killed by mistake rather than out of malice; and, of course, Victoria herself. But if the death wasn't due to accident then try as he might, Tuck can't figure a real motive for any of them. And even if Victoria really did want to get rid of her husband of a mere six months, would she really use the method that was highlighted in the very novel Albert was going to turn into film?

When I read two other mysteries by Lewis (Meat for Murder & Juliet Dies Twice) I either missed or wasn't as struck by the description of Lt. Tuck. This time around it makes me think of Lieutenant Columbo:

They [other detectives on the force] could never understand why when violent death left its usual haunts on the wrong side of the tracks and entered a home in Beverly Hills, a Los Angeles University or other such genteel places, it was Tuck whom Gufferty placed in charge, rather than one of themselves. It certainly wasn't that he was a smooth man; he was a slow man, and his inevitable brown suit was apt to want pressing.

An untidy detective who isn't smooth....definitely sounds familiar. His sidekick, Detective Froody, is just as unusual:

Froody was a little fat man with sad green eyes, a waddling walk....Froody loved all niggling detail; he was the perfect leg man. He never swore; he knew his sherlock Holmes by heart, and his Tarzan almost as well. He clipped poetry from the editorial page of the city's most conservative newspaper and kept it for weeks in his wallet. His private life was as colorless as Tuck's own.

An interesting pair, this LA Homes and his Watson. One tiny disappointment--after making such a point of Froody's love of detail and abilities as a leg man, Lewis didn't really make much of those qualities. But--overall, this mystery is well done. The puzzle plot is a good one and the clues to the solution are very subtle, so subtle that I didn't catch them. Lewis does a good job of spreading the suspicion around even without concrete motives to hang that suspicion on. I kept changing my mind about who really snuck into the kitchen and grabbed the ant poison but never did come up with the right answer.  Very enjoyable--and very appropriate. I started this book on my birthday. Fortunately, no fatalities at my house. ★★★

First line: When Victoria Jason married Albert Hime, her fifty most intimate acquaintances gasped.

You asked my advice. You don't have to take it. You probably won't. Most people ask advice hoping to be told to do what they want to do. (Victoria Jason; p. 29)

He recognized this stage of the case as the hardest of all; the stumbling-in-the-dark period which would be terminated by some sudden new fact or some twist of the old ones, but took patience to get through. (p. 97)

Last line: "There's time ahead," said Sawn.


Deaths = two poisoned