Thursday, August 31, 2023

Beverly Gray on a Treasure Hunt

 Beverly Gray on a Treasure Hunt (1938) by Clair Blank

Beverly Gray, aspiring reporter, and her friends are on a sailing cruise around the world on the Susabella. Their trip has taken them to the far east (and included adventures related in the previous two books). Earlier in the journey, they discovered half of an old map with directions to a treasure located on an island near China and had to outsmart a nasty Count to retrieve the other half. The treasure is hidden on an island with hostile inhabitants and when her friends are captured it takes all of Beverly's ingenuity to effect a rescue. The adventures come fast and furious. The exploits include the discovery of a jeweled dagger that must be returned to the Chinese temple where it belongs; Beverly & Larry flying over Mount Fuji (and an emergency parachute jump when the plane loses power); the exploration of an Indiana Jone-style temple with skulls lining the walls; Beverly being swept overboard and rescued during a hurricane; and Beverly's chance at a foreign correspondent job when Shanghai is invaded. 

There really isn't much mystery to be had in this installment--it reads more like the "Perils of Pauline" as Beverly and company repeatedly fall into danger and get out of it again. It almost felt like Clair Blank was trying to stuff as many types of exotic adventures into the book as possible with nothing to hold them together except the idea of travel. I think I would have enjoyed this one much more if there had been a more intricate mystery connected to the treasure hunt and the focus had been there rather than hopping from danger to danger and adventure to adventure. ★★

First line: A group of six young people waited impatiently on the Shanghai dock and cheered lustily as a girl fled through the crowd.

Last line: Let us say "Aloha Oe" to them here to meet again in "Beverly Gray's Return," when we shall find them in new and exciting adventures.

Sparkling Cyanide

 Sparkling Cyanide (aka Remembered Death; 1945) by Agatha Christie; Read by Hugh Fraser

One year ago, the Bartons held a dinner party at the exclusive Luxembourg restaurant. The lights went down for a cabaret show and when they came up again Rosemary Barton was dead, poisoned by cyanide. Rosemary had been in recovery from flu; a flu that could make the afflicted feel depressed. Her sister Iris also testified that Rosemary had left a paper on her desk indicating how she wanted certain pieces of property left in the event of her death and so the death was ruled a suicide. 

But recently her husband George had begun to wonder if that ruling was correct, especially after he received anonymous notes telling him that Rosemary's death was not a suicide. And so he devises a plan to unmask the killer. It involves hosting another dinner party, with the same guests, and one empty place waiting for a surprise but his plans go awry. Oh, there is a surprise, but definitely not the one George intended...for at the end of the entertainment this time George is the one who dies...from cyanide.

Colonel Johnny Race was meant to be a guest at that first dinner, but he had to cancel at the last minute. Then George Barton tried to get him to come to the most recent dinner, but Race thought George's plan was ill-advised and refused to participate. When George is killed too, Race works with Inspector Kemp to discover who the guilty party is. They soon find that any of those who attended the parties could have had a motive. Iris came into a lot of money when Rosemary died. Stephen Faraday, minor MP, had had an affair with Rosemary and tried to break it off--he faced ruin if she, as she told him she would, gave news of the affair to both George and Stephen's wife Lady Alexandra "Sandra" Faraday. Sandra strikes the men as the type to kill to keep her man. Ruth Lessing, secretary to George Barton, is thought to have been in love with the boss and might have wanted the inconvenient wife out of the way. And Anthony Brown, a mystery man, had also flirted with Rosemary--that is until she revealed that she knew his name wasn't Brown. Then he threatened her to keep her mouth shut..."or else." And, of course, if the murderer of Rosemary had thought that George was getting too close to the truth, then it makes sense that he had to die too. Except--it seems impossible that anyone could have slipped poison into his glass.

Even though I have read this before (long before blogging) and have seen the televised versions of it, Dame Agatha still managed to fool me. This is one of the things I like about her--if it's been long enough I can reread her less well-known titles and still be mystified. I did think about the culprit, but not for the reasons given. I am a little skeptical of the way the poison was introduced to George's drink, but I'm willing to go along with it. Overall, a good mystery and excellently narrated by Hugh Fraser. He manages the different voices for the men superbly. ★★★★

First line: Six people were thinking of Rosemary Barton who had died nearly a year ago.

Last line: And more softly still, "Pray love remember."


Deaths = two poisoned

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Art of the Mystery Story

 The Art of the Mystery Story (1946) by Howard Haycraft (ed)

This is a very comprehensive (for its time) collection of essays and pastiches, poems and lists regarding the mystery. We have everything from "A Defense of Detective Stories" by G. K. Chesterton to Rex Stout's controversial address to a meeting of the New York Baker Street Irregulars title "Watson was a Woman." There are essays dissecting what makes the mystery popular to the best methods of detection to examinations of the various forms. There is a biting parody of Philo Vance in Christopher Ward's "The Pink Murder Case." We are told that the detective sstory is everything from a modern romance with the detective in the role of a modern knight-errant to a morality tale. And, Edmund Wilson's essay "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" notwithstanding, those of us who love a good mystery will agree with Willard Huntington Wright (known for detective fiction under the name S. S. Van Dine) in "The Great Detective Stories" that

There is no more stimulating activity than that of the mind; and there is no more exciting adventure than that of the intellect. Mankind has always received keen enjoyment from the mental gymnastics required in solving a riddle; and puzzles have been its chief toy throughout the ages.

There are other elements that are important (setting/atmosphere; characters; etc.), but a good puzzle is absolutely essential and we love it when we can solve the puzzle before the sleuth in the story.

I will say that if this volume had not come up as a prompt in the Reading Randomize reading challenge, that I probably would not have read this straight through. My suggestion is that those who are interested should pick and choose--read a few essays here, put the book away for a while, and then come back to it. Trying to gulp all this down in one reading was a bit much. There is a lot to think about and a lot to enjoy and it would be best to do so in small batches. ★★

First line (1st essay): In attempting to reach the genuine psychological reason for the popularity of detective stories, it is necessary to rid ourselves of many mere phrases.

Last line (last essay): Possibly the alternative (pace Edmund Wilson!) is for the whodunit to take over the novel of manners.

Who Slays the Wicked

 Who Slays the Wicked by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); Read by Davina Porter

The fourteenth entry in the Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin series. In the twelfth book, Devlin had discovered that two members of the ton were behind the torture and deaths of street children. While he was able to bring the crimes home to one of the culprits (and exact a measure of justice on behalf of the victims), he was unable to prove the involvement of Lord Ashworth. The sadistic young man went on to marry Devlin's niece Stephanie and make her life miserable. Throughout his thirty-some years, he had left a trail destroyed lives.

But now someone has put a stop to all that. Lord Ashbury is found brutally murdered among the bloody silken sheets of his bed. The young lord openly consorted with others after his marriage and was known to like his relations rough and at first it looks like his latest conquest may have panicked and killed him as a result of their treatment at his hands. But there are too many questions that this solution doesn't answer. Why was Ashbury's valet killed also--and left naked in a nearby alley? Where has the housemaid disappeared to? What is the connection to the Russian duchess who has recently come to London? And finally--why has the man's closest friend been killed as well? And then there are the whispers that Lady Ashworth--Devlin's niece Stephanie--was carrying on an affair of her own...perhaps she or her lover are responsible? Someone tells Devlin that Stephanie was seen buying a muff pistol. Now...if Ashworth had been shot, that would be telling indeed.

Devlin is desperate to find answers--not because he cares much that Ashbury is dead, but because he doesn't want the innocent to suffer. Answers that he hopes will prove that his niece is innocent. But evidence keeps piling up that points towards a woman--from a small bloody handprint to a silk stocking left behind in Ashworth's bedroom to a bundle of blood-stained women's clothing picked out of the river by river wherryman. But are these clues telling the whole story? 

Another top-notch historical mystery from C. S. Harris. There are plenty of red herrings to distract and I honestly did not see the ending coming. So well done in the mystifying the reader department! I enjoy the period details and the background history that Harris provides--without cluttering the narrative with info dumps. Each entry in the series teaches me something about the Regency era that I didn't know--or didn't know very much about. The backdrop for this novel is the end of the war with Napoleon and the beginnings of the machinations on the part of England and Russian to determine the fate of Europe after the war. Devlin and all of the main characters continue to interest and delight and I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop in the Jarvis household. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: Bloodred and splayed wide as if in panic, the dried handprint stood out clearly against the white, freshly painted inside panel of the town house's front door.

Yet even as he said it, Sebastian knew it was useless. Giovanni had already picked up his burden of guilt, and he would carry it with him to the grave, if not beyond. (p. 186)

Secrets that shield the wicked should be exposed. But why not hide an ugly truth that would only harm an innocent? (Sebastian St. Cyr; p. 207)

Last line: "We can't."


Deaths = 11 (five stabbed; one drowned; one hit on head; three shot; one strangled)

Birthday Party Murder

 Birthday Party Murder (2002) by Leslie Meier

Miss Julia Ward Howe Tilley is about to turn ninety and the town of Tinker's Cover is gearing up for a big bash for the beloved former librarian. There will be cake and a "This Is your Life"-style presentation. The the marching band will perform and the local television station is planning to air a spotlight segment. And...there will be murder.

On the morning that Lucy Stone and the girls decide to organize Miss Tilley's birthday celebration, Lucy is also asked to look into the death of Sherman Cobb, the town's primary (and oldest) lawyer. Cobb had just received word from his doctor that he has pancreatic cancer and the death has the earmarks of suicide--an old man taking the easy way out before the deadly disease gets too bad. But Cobb's partner in the law practice has severe doubts and wants Lucy to use her investigative reporting skills to poke around. But who would want to kill Cobb? Everybody loved the older man and he never got involved in any bitter court cases. Amongst Cobb's papers, Lucy finds a connection between Miss Tilley...and the mysterious niece and great-nephew who have just appeared in Miss Tilley's life. It looks like the present death...and danger to the town's beloved librarian has its roots in the past. Can Lucy dig up the correct roots in time?

A fairly run-of-the-mill cozy mystery. Lucy, as cozy amateur detectives do, manages to get in a tight spot--even to the point of getting shot--in the denouement. But, of course since it's a cozy, she's not hurt much at all and seems pretty back to normal by Miss Tilley's birthday party. I would have appreciated more detecting on Lucy's part and less worrying about how she's aging and those extra pound she's gained. But, miracle of miracles, those few morning work-out video viewings have worked magic and she's trimmed down and able to fit in those pants that were too tight at the beginning of the book--and that cream she's been smearing into her face must be miracle cream as well, because the wrinkles are smoothed out too. 

The villain of the piece was a nice little cardboard cutout, out for revenge. No real character build to make the revenge motif seem plausible, just enough to provide motive so when the police cart them off at the end we can be glad to see the back of them. And we can be pleased that it wasn't any of the characters we like.  ★★ and 1/2.

First line: Sherman Cobb wasn't feeling well.

Last line: "No way," she said. "I've just begun to fight."


Deaths = two shot


Saturday, August 26, 2023

Why Kill the Innocent

 Why Kill the Innocent (2018) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); Read by Davina Porter

Lady Hero Devlin stumbles (quite literally) over the body of a beautiful young musician while on a socially conscious mission in the area of Clerkenwell. But what was Jane Ambrose, musical teacher to Princess Charlotte, doing in that part of town? The palace decides to hush things up--calling what is clearly manslaughter at best and quite likely murder an "unfortunate accident." Sebastian St Cyr, Lord Devlin takes up the case--for he has never paid attention to the "official" way of handling delicate affairs. He and Hero are determined to seek justice for Miss Ambrose.

The more they learn, the more intricate the plot surrounding the musician becomes. There are ties to the throne through Princess Charlotte, there are stolen letters which may put a spoke in Lord Jarvis's plans for England and Europe, and there is a plot of gold smuggling which Jane may have stumbled across. But there are also more homely matter--Jane's husband keeps a mistress and she herself was in love with another. Had she threatened to leave her husband--not only making for a scandal but also cutting off his livelihood? For Edward Ambrose's operas were not his own--his wife, barred from publishing such musical endeavors under her own name had written the works and he had taken the credit. Devlin and Hero will have to carefully investigate the international and domestic leads--dodging dangers on all sides before untangling the threads to find the one tied to the killer.

This excellent entry in Harris's historical mystery series was the first to garner the coveted ★★★★ rating from me. The setting is superb--the last Frost Fair in England. This is the last time the Thames was completely frozen with games on the ice and all sorts of merchandise sold. She portrays the excitement and atmosphere surrounding the events perfectly. The mystery is well-plotted with an unexpected denouement and she kept me guessing till the end. And I loved that Hero Devlin got to have more involvement in the investigation and a bit of the action herself--taking out one of the bad guys with her little muff pistol.

     “Is he dead?" 
     Alexi knelt in the snow beside the still body. "Not yet. But he will be soon."
     Hero sucked in a deep breath tainted with the stench of fresh blood and burning fur. "Good."
     Alexi looked up at her. "Your muff is on fire."
     "Drat," said Hero, dropping the flaming fur into the melting snow. "I just purchased it.”

She is truly a good match for our hero, Lord Devlin. Strong. Strong-minded. Well able to take care of herself. I said it before and I'll say it again: if Harris decides to kill Hero off in a later installment (a la Elizabeth George and her Inspector Lynley series), I won't forgive her.

First line: A howling wind flung icy snow crystals into Hero Devlin's face, stinging her cold cheeks and stealing her breath.

The truth is frequently more dangerous than a lie (Valentino Vescovi; p. 59)

[on telling the truth] I'm not convinced either of them is. Although if I had to put money on one or the other, I'd pick the Italian harpist over the decorative Dutch courtier any day. (Hero Devlin; p. 63)

We like to believe the world arcs towards justice--I suppose because it reassures us and makes us think there's some sort of order to our existence, but what if we're wrong? What if it's all meaningless chaos and chance? (Alexi Sauvage; p. 295)

Last lines: "She was an extraordinary person--steadfast, loving, and brave." [Devlin] "Yes," said Hero. "Yes, she was."


Deaths =  6 (one hit on head; three stabbed; one shot; one drowned)

The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 3

 The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 3 (1929) by Eugene Thwing (ed)

This volume is part of a ten-volume set made up of ten short stories per set. This is the fifth volume of the set that I have sampled. As Thwing says in his introduction, picking the 100 best stories even in the early years of the mystery field was no easy job. It's easier to just select personal favorites--but one really needs to select a wide variety of popular favorites to meet the tastes of more readers. Of course, no matter what an editor does, he will still not pick everyone's favorite and be able to make everyone happy. And this is the third volume that hasn't made this reader very happy. They may have been popular favorites of the 1920s, but these are not very strong selections--especially the stories by Melville Davisson Post which open the book. The best of the bunch are the final two: "The Un-Punctual Painting" and "The White Line," neither of which involve murder. I can only hope that the rest of the collection is better.  

"Naboth's Vineyard" by Melville Davisson Post: Uncle Abner sets out to prove that a man accused of shooting his employer is innocent. But will he implicate the woman that man loves? (two shot)

"The Problem of the Five Marks" by Post: A story of an innocent abroad. Our narrator, not a man of the world, is sent to France ostensibly to help wrap up the mystery of his great-aunt's death. But he finds himself involved in an adventure with a cryptic clue and a missing pearl necklace. (one natural)

"The Inspiration" by Post: Walker, an American Secret Service Agent, is asked to help get a lovely young girl out of the clutches of her guardian. The young man who loves the girl is certain that the guardian means her no good.... (one frozen to death)

"The Phantom Woman" by Post: Sir Henry Marquis of Scotland Yard aids a young woman in the effort to retrieve her mother's priceless bracelets from the clutches of her stepmother's husband. (one natural)

"The New Administration" by Post: Justices from a very Supreme Court indeed intervene in the trial of a young man about to be sentenced for defrauding his employer. The case is much more complex than the circuit court thought.... (one natural)

"The Pigeon on the Sill" by Herman Landon: Things look bad when a man is released from prison and his uncle, upon whom he vowed revenge, is found shot to death. The truth of the matter rests on a missing cockatoo...and the pigeon on the sill. (one shot)

"The Greuze Girl" by Freeman Wills Crofts: An apparent art swindle leads to a crime of a different sort...

"The House of Many Mansions" by Frederick Irving Anderson: An exclusive apartment complex with its very own gold-plated dining experience houses a den of thieves...and a wily detective who plans on nabbing every one of them.

"The Un-Punctual Painting" by Bertram Atkey: Mr. Bunn & Colonel Fortworth find a kidnapped boy using the clue of the painting that was an hour late...according to the boot-black boy.

"The White Line" by John Ferguson: Two men are making the running for a young heiress's hand aboard a cross-Atlantic liner...everyone on board is placing bets on which will be victorious. The underdog seems to have the upper hand but then one of them is implicated in the theft of the lady's priceless necklace.

First line (1st story): One hears a good deal about the sovereignty of the people in this republic; and many persons imagine it a sort of fiction, and wonder where it lies, who are the guardians of it, and how they would exercise it if the forms and agents of the law were removed.

Last line (Last story): The words in themselves might have committed her to nothing, but there was that in her tones which led every man who heard them to settle his bet without a murmur.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Where the Dead Lie

 Where the Dead Lie (2017) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); read by Davina Porter  

Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin, is drawn into one of his darkest investigations yet. It begins with the interruption of a clandestine burial at an abandoned Clerkenwell shot factory. The body is that of Benji Thatcher, a fifteen-year-old boy from the streets. He was brutalized in terrible ways before he was killed. A constable with a conscience refuses to accept the quick inquest's decision of accidental death. He claims the body for a proper burial, but takes Benji to Paul Gibson for a proper autopsy. As soon as he sees the body, Paul sends a message to Devlin--knowing that if there is to be any justice for the young boy, then Devlin is the only one who will care enough to do something. But it isn't long before Devlin has more deaths to investigate...and growing suspicion that the man his niece is betrothed to is somehow involved.

The last time I read this, I noted how difficult it was for me to read it. Not because it's a bad book. But because I have an extraordinarily difficult time reading about the murder and horrific treatment of children. While the descriptions aren't overly graphic, they are enough to make it very hard to read or listen to. If I hadn't wanted to continue my journey back to the most recent book and also remind myself of certains points in the overarching story about Devlin and Hero and their families then I probably would have given this one a miss. I was pleased to see Devlin and his father, the Earl of Hendon, begin to patch up their differences at the end. I do wonder whether anything will come of certain suspicions I have about the Jarvis household, however. And I'm surprised that Hero and Devlin don't share my suspicions. ★★★★

First lines: The boy hated this part. Hated the eerie way the pale waxen faces of the dead seemed to glow in the faintest moonlight.

Last line: "Well. That should make for some interesting family gatherings," said Ashworth, a faint provocative smile on his handsome face as he moved to take his place beside his bride.


Deaths = 12 (four strangled; seven stabbed; one fell from height)

The Widening Stain

 The Widening Stain (1942) by W. Bolingbroke Johnson (Morris Bishop)

Death comes to the university library at a New York college that may remind readers of Cornell. When Mademoiselle Coindreau, the beautiful and alluring French assistant professor, is found dead below the balcony of the library, it is put down to accident. Why the woman left the President's party and went to the library after hours is a mystery. Why she climbed the step ladder in an evening gown and high heels is also puzzling. But most mysterious of least to Miss Gilda Gorham, the Chief Cataloguer of the how she managed to topple off the steps and over the balcony's railing. Even if she caught her heel in the long gown, she should have landed on the balcony floor...but when Gilda starts putting (what she thinks are) innocent questions, she's told to leave well enough alone. The police think it's an accident, so an accident it is. But when a second professor is found strangled to death in the locked room where rare books and erotica are kept and a very rare book has gone missing, it becomes apparent that Gilda is right. Something nasty is going on among the stacks of books. Does it have more to do with the romantic interludes between the professors or the missing Filius Getronius of Hilarius?

This is a delightful send-up of academic life in the 1940s. It comes complete with debonair Professor Parry and his just-barely-printable (at the time) limericks. And lots of funny repartee between the professors and between Gilda and Parry. Given when the book was written there are, of course, many references that are dated--and possibly mildly offensive, especially to women. But Gilda is a woman who knows her own mind and though romance may be in the air, the outcome may not be quite what readers expect. The plot is serviceable, but not brilliant nor is Gilda's detective work. There is just a tad too much thinking about who might have done what and little actual sleuthing going on. If the plotting and detection had been more solid, this would easily have garnered five stars. What carries the book for me are the characters and the verbal play--as well as the academic setting. Johnson/Bishop certainly knew what he was doing when it came to setting the academic scene and I do love me an academic mystery. ★★★★

First line: In the women's rest room of the University Library, Miss Gilda Gorham, Chief Cataloguer, looked at her face.

Last line: He then set off for the O. K. Diner, for a late and solitary supper.


Deaths: 3 (one fell from height; one strangled; one natural)

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

When Falcons Fall


 When Falcons Fall (2016) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); read by Davina Porter

I'm continuing my reread (listen) of Harris's highly entertaining historical mystery series. Each one could be read as a self-contained mystery, but there is an over-arching story involving Devlin's personal history that encourages readers to read the series in order for best effect. The book should not ruin any previous mystery plots--but it will take the surprise out of a few of the twists in Devlin's own story. And Devlin's story is a very interesting one as are the stories of the recurring characters. 

As I mention in my previous review (below), this is one of the best mystery plots in the series. Not only did she keep me guessing the first time I read it, with my sieve-like memory she managed to keep me in the dark again. Few mysteries stand up that well to rereads.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin, his wife Lady Devlin, and small son travel to Ayleswick-on-Teme so Devlin may deliver a final gift from Jamie Knox to his grandmother and so the nobleman may continue his quest to find answers to questions about his own ancestry. But they have barely settled into the inn in the small village when a young woman's body is found by the river. An empty laudanum beside the body makes the constable think it is suicide, but the young Squire who is new to the role of justice of the peace senses that something is amiss. Devlin's reputation for criminal investigation has preceded him and Squire Rawlins asks for his help in investigating the death. 

It soon becomes clear that Emma Chance. who claimed to be a young widowed woman on a sketching tour, was more than she seemed. With Napoleon Bonaparte's exiled brother and family in the neighborhood, is it possible that she was a spy keeping an eye on the French entourage? But her interests seemed to be more focused on the history of people (men in particular) of the Shropshire village and there's a question of her own heritage. Did she unsettle someone on a more personal basis? And then there's the smuggling operation of a certain major--perhaps she was killed because she inadvertently stumbled across something to do with that...The deeper the investigation runs, the more questions Devlin and Rawlins have. And the more death stalks the village. Since Emma's questions revolved around the past, Devlin realizes that they must also look to the past to find a very present killer.

Harris does an excellent job combining historical facts with her mystery plots. Sometimes the history is absolutely integral to the mystery and sometimes it merely provides background and red herrings, but it is always entertaining and educational if you don't know much about the Regency period. This particular mystery makes use of the historical facts in a very nice way. As with historical novels written by a modern author, it is difficult to keep anachronisms out of the text--but I notice fewer in Harris's work than is often the case. And they are rarely as jarring when I do notice them.

The mystery plot in this one was also done very well. I generally spot the villain of the piece--even if I don't have all the details of motive sewn up. But this time, Harris kept me guessing till the very end. A very satisfying entry in this long-running series. ★★★★ and 1/2.

First line: It was the fly that got to him.

That's what haunts this place, he thought. It's the despair and anguish of the monks who poured their energy and joy, their very lives, into this monastery, only to see it destroyed. (p.145)

Last line: So I guess that narrows it down a bit, doesn't it?" she said, her gaze meeting his as a tentative smile curled her lips.


Deaths = 13 (one poisoned; one shot; two fell from height; one drowned; two natural; two accident; two hit on head; two stabbed) [some are from the past]

Monday, August 21, 2023


 Psycho (1959) by Robert Bloch

Mary Crane is a young woman who has grown tired of waiting for her young man to pay off his father's debts so they can get married. When a golden opportunity to walk off with forty thousand dollars comes along, she takes it and drives 800 miles through a rainy night to give Sam Loomis the good news of her sudden "inheritance." But as she nears Loomis's hometown of Fairvale, she takes a wrong turn and realizes she's too tired to try and figure out how to get there that night. When she sees a glowing vacancy sign at a motel along the road, she decides that she just needs to stop for the night...

Norman Bates is the caretaker of the isolated Bates Motel--bought with his mother's proceeds from the sale of their family farm. He hasn't expected anyone to come along this late on a stormy night and is surprised when the young woman comes in and asks for a room. Then when she asks about somewhere to get something to eat, he impulsively asks her to share his dinner. But Mother isn't pleased and she's even less pleased when Norman uses a spyhole in the wall later to watch the young woman undress and get ready for a shower...

A week later, Mary's sister Lila shows up at Sam Loomis's hardware store looking for Mary. She tells him that Mary has disappeared along with $40,000 and she thought her sister might have come to see Sam. But Sam never saw her as he tells both Lila and the private detective Milton Arbogast who is also looking for Mary. Now the three of them are wondering what happened to Mary Crane between her hometown and Fairvale....

This is the novel behind one of Hitchcock's most famous movies. A movie I have never seen--but you don't have to have seen Psycho to know the basic premise. It is a movie that has seeped into popular culture and everyone's osmosis, apparently. I have to wonder what it would have been like to have read this in 1959 before the movie was made. It would have had much more impact on me if I hadn't known the ending in advance. 

But that said, it was still an interesting and absorbing read. Bloch is a master and we get great insight into the characters of Norman and Mary--less so with the others, though the detective is also interesting even though he's not on the page much. An excellent examination of Norman's psychology and the motivations behind the events at the Bates Motel that fateful night.... ★★★★

First line: Norman Bates heard the noise and a shock went through him.

Last line: Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly...


Deaths = 6 (one auto accident; one natural; two stabbed; two poisoned)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The Mystery of the Yellow Hands

 The Mystery of the Yellow Hands (1995) by Jake & Luke Thoene

A Holmes pastiche offering up the origins of the Baker Street Irregulars--named here as the "Baker Street Brigade" for reasons best known to the authors. When a man with yellow hands starts kidnapping children in London, Sherlock Holmes is on the case. The kidnapper gives specific instructions to the parents to ensure the safe return of the children. But despite the first money drop going off without a hitch, the money wasn't returned. The police bungled the second drop by being too readily observed on the scene. Holmes is determined that the third time won't be as unlucky.

A chance remark causes Holmes to consider the children of the streets as an unofficial detective force, so he recruits Danny Wiggins and his friends Peachy and Duff to help look for clues. Details in a picture sent to the first set of parents (to prove that the kidnappers had their son) make Holmes certain that the children are being kept near the docks. He sends the boys out to look for clues in the hopes that children won't be noticed in the same way as an adult. 

Circumstances lead Holmes and the Yard to an arrest, but when Clair, the daughter of Inspector Avery of Scotland Yard--and a recent acquaintance of the boys, disappears, Danny, Peachy and Duff are sure the grown-ups have made a mistake. Will they be able to find the real kidnappers in time?

First up--the difficulties: The story supposedly offers up the backstory for the Irregulars (who appear in a few of the Doyle stories). But there isn't much logic in Holmes' choice of the boys. Here we have Holmes out on the street and someone makes a random comment that makes him think [my paraphrasing], "The missing children are being held near the docks. "Wharf rats" (children in the area) could look around and not be noticed. Hey--over there are three street children selling newspapers. I bet they'd be perfect." My first thought--would the children selling newspapers be familiar enough with the docks to know what to look for? He wants them just to look for anything "out of place." How would they know? Second thought: He just selects these random boys. Because they're there when he has the idea. It would be much more plausible if a scene had been set up where Holmes is obviously interested in someone in the area where the boys sell their papers. He questions them and the boys prove to him that they're pretty good at noticing details or whatnot. When the idea occurs to him that boys could be useful as undercover detectives, then he immediately thinks of those bright newspaper sellers. And last, as Holmes introduces Danny, Peachy and Duff to the methods of detecting, he repeatedly tells the eager young sleuths to NOT jump to conclusions. To wait until they have all the facts. So what does Holmes do? He jumps to a giant conclusion and arranges for Captain Mewsley to be arrested as part of the kidnapping gang. Not something Holmes would have done in the Doyle stories.

Okay, now that I have that out of my system: The mystery plot is a pretty good one and fairly sophisticated for what is essentially a children's story. Once the boys got the hang of detective work they did a really good job and were important to the wrap-up scenes at the end. Children reading this will be pleased with the amount of adventure and excitement as well the focus on the boys. An enjoyable read with a few hiccups for those of us familiar with the world of Sherlock Holmes.

First line: Fog shrouded the Caravaldi family home at No. 7 Trevor Place, London.

Last line: "Just like Tel el Kebir," Mewsley was saying, "where I had to shoot four cannons all by myself!"

Deaths: three natural

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Alarm of the Black Cat

 The Alarm of the Black Cat (1942) by Dolores Hitchens writing as D. B. Olsen

Synopsis (from the book flap): A strange encounter with a little girl named Claudia and a dead toad sparks elderly detective fiction fan Rachel Murdock's obsessive curiosity, and she winds up renting the house next door just to see how things play out. but soon after she and her cat Samanta move in, Rachel realizes they've landed right in the middle of a deadly love triangle that's created animosity among the three families who surround her.

When Rachel find's Claudia's great-grandmother dead in her basement, she reaches out to a friend in the LAPD to solve the crime. they soon learn the three households have been torn apart by one husband's  and a complicated will that could lead to a fortune. In a house plagued by forbidden love, regret, and greed, Rachel will have to trust her instinct, as well as Samantha's instincts, to survive--and keep Claudia out of the hands of a killer whose work has just begun...

A few general observations:

1. Why is the cat in the title a "black cat"? There is no black cat anywhere in this story. The only cat mentioned is Miss Murdock's cat Samantha--and Samantha is more of a ginger tabby (and sometimes described as yellow).

2. How many times can a 70-year-old woman get clobbered over the head and still retain all her senses? Miss Murdock has the recuperative powers that would give most thriller heroes a run for their money. Bash her on the head and she'll be out cold for a few minutes and then up and at 'em and ready to track down the miscreants.

3. There's a heck of a lot of action going on at night in this cozy little neighborhood. Everybody seems to be awake and running about, but hardly anybody sees anyone else. And the one person who does see something doesn't really realize what they've seen--which misleads Mayhew and Miss Murdock for a good bit of the story.

I have to say that of the four Olsen/Hitchens books I've read so far (and three featured Miss Murdock), this is my least favorite. Miss Murdock does tend to run into trouble in these books, but in this one she seems particularly reckless and could have been killed twice over. She's also terribly secretive with Lt. Mayhew--keeping back important evidence which puts her even further in danger. The other thing I didn't care for was the danger to Claudia. I've mentioned before that I don't like mysteries that feature danger/harm to children and this killer is a bit too ruthless for my liking. Fortunately, Claudia isn't killed.

The motive is a good one and I thought Olsen/Hitchens did a fair job of spreading the suspicion around. But the plot didn't seem to move as smoothly as in her other work--the action seemed fairly jerky to me. ★★ and 1/2

First line: There are times when Miss Rachel Murdock considers that the solution of murders should be left to the general public.

Last line: "With such a name she could do no less," Miss Rachel assured her.


Deaths = 3 (one hit on head; one stabbed; one shot)

Sunday, August 13, 2023

The Golden Spoon

 The Golden Spoon (2023) by Jessa Maxwell

For ten years, Bake Week has brought ten aspiring bakers to Grafton Manor to film a week of bake-off competition with "America's Grandmother," Betsy Martin serving as hostess and judge. Contestants battle for bragging rights as America's best baker, the Golden Spoon trophy, and a cookbook publishing deal and have to work hard to produce the best breads, cakes, pies, and other baked goods. 

This year, the network has decided to shake things up a bit and have given Betsy a co-host--Archie Morris who has had his own show. Betsy is none too keen to share the limelight, especially with Morris whose style is much more abrasive. But when the contestants arrive and filming begins, Morris seems more than willing to follow the tone Betsy has set for the last decade. But then things start to happen...someone switches the salt and sugar in Peter Gellar's cannisters, someone substitutes gasoline for Gerald's orange essence...and then someone winds up dead. 

Is someone trying to sabotage the show or is there a deeper motive?

The first thing I have to say--this is NOT a locked room mystery. A closed circle mystery, yes. But there are no locked rooms involved in the murder. None. The only "locked" area is the mysterious fourth floor--but the murder does not happen there. 

The second thing I have to say is--this isn't bad for a first mystery. It made for compulsive reading--kind of like eating potato chips. But it wasn't filling. The premise is good and I enjoyed the baking competition set-up, but there really wasn't a lot of tension or build-up. It would have worked better if the sabotage incidents had caused the contestants to start suspecting each other--that could have really worked to set up the murder scenes and given us more solid suspects. But not much was made of the fact that someone was sabotaging things--except for Gerald's manic little episode. And the murder and wrap-up just felt rushed.

What I liked most about the story was Lottie and Pradyumna teaming up to do a little detective work--oh, not on the sabotage, mind you. There's a whole other thread that I won't spoil for those of you who haven't read the book. In fact, I found that thread much more interesting than the primary murder. If there had been a connection made between that thread and the current action, then my rating would have been higher.

As it is--a solid first mystery with a good premise and a few very interesting characters. The mystery plot itself could have been expanded a bit more. ★★

First line: Betsy presses her cell phone to her ear, trying to hear.

Last line: [Redacted] smiles smugly as the door buzzes, locking [them] inside.


Deaths = two fell from height

Saturday, August 12, 2023

In the Shadow of Agatha Christie

 In the Shadow of Agatha Christie (2018) by Leslie S. Klinger [all stories pre-1960]

A collection of short stories by the women who paved the way for Agatha Christie. We have early stories that don't really have a detective, but mysteries and crime. There are more than a few that have supernatural overtones. But there are also straight detective tales with police inspectors, private detectives, amateurs, and even a few female sleuths. As I've mentioned several times, collections seem to vary in the strength of their stories. Those without real detection aren't nearly as interesting and a few of those with sleuths still aren't very strong. My favorites are "Trace's of Crime," "Mr. Furbush" (even though a motive seems to be lacking), and "The Regent's Park Murder." ★★ for the collection.

"The Advocate's Wedding Day" by Catherine Crowe: Two young men have a bitter rivalry throughout their childhood and into adulthood. When the young man who always seemed to come out the worst in their encouters has a chance a love and happiness at the expense of the other, he takes it. (one beaten; one natural)

"The Squire's Story" by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell:  A story of a mysterious, rich squire who takes possession of a country house and marries a local man's beautiful young daughter. Everyone admires him--he has excellent taste in food, wine, and horses; can ride to the hounds like nobody's business; and has money to spare. Everyone, that is except one wise woman--after all, who knows where this man came from or where he gets his money... (one stabbed; one hanged)

"Traces of Crime" by Mary Fortune: A detective goes undercover in the gold fields of Australia to track and uncover a rapist and a murderer. His only clue at the outset...a tattoo that many prospectors might sport. (one hanged)

"Mr. Furbush" by Harriet Prescott Spofford: After most of the detective force gives up a case involving the strangulation of a pretty young woman, Mr. Furbush uses his knowledge of photography to find an all-important clue. (one strangled) [My one complaint--there's no real indication of the reason for the murder. One might speculate jealousy, but there's no actual evidence of such a thing.]

"Mrs. Todhetley's Earrings" by Ellen Wood: When a woman's valuable earring goes missing, a squire's prejudices and trusting nature lead to the theft of the other earring. 

"Catching a Burglar" by Elizabeth Corbett: Detective Dora Bell goes undercover as a lady's maid to discover who the insider is who is helping burglars repeatedly steal from a gentleman's house. 

"The Ghost of Fountain Lane" by C. L. Pirkis: Loveday Brooke solves both the mystery of the ghost and the theft of a missing blank check. [I have to say that Miss Brooke is as bad as Holmes about keeping what she knows to herself until the final paragraphs. There's no way for the reader to make the connections which she does...]

"The Statement of Jared Johnson" by Geraldine Bonner: A young reporter proves Jared Johnston innocent of what looked to be a vicious murder. [A fairly ingenious method of death.] (one hit on head)

"Point in Morals" by Ellen Glasgow: The point in question: is it more moral to help a man die painlessly who is destined for a more horrible death? And is it murder if one does? (one poisoned)

"The Blood-Red Cross" by L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace: Madame Sara, the evil adventuress, has her eye on a priceless pearl necklace. She plans to get her hands on it through a bit of blackmail. (two stabbed)

"The Regent's Park Murder" by Baroness Orczy: The Old Man in the Corner solves the murder of Mr. Aaron Cohen in Regent's Park. Cohen was on his way home late one foggy night with pocketsful of gambling winnings when he was set upon and strangled. (one strangled)

"The Case of the Registered Letter" by Augusta Groner: Circumstantial evidence overwhelming indicates that Albert Graumann must have killed John Siders. But Graumann's aunt believes him innocent and pleads with Detective Muller to prove her right. (three natural; one shot)

"The Winning Sequence" by M. E. Braddon: A woman in thrall to the gambling bug, loses her lover over a game of cards. Her distress is so intense that she becomes a ghost after her death. (one shot)

"Missing: Page Thirteen" by Anna Katharine Green: Miss Violet Strange, who had thought to retire from detection, decides to take just one more case--at the instigation of Robert Upjohn. This time, she is busy tracking down a missing scientific formula relating to explosives [aren't they always?]. She quickly solves the mystery of the missing page and is then made privy to another, older secret. (two stabbed)

"The Adventure of the Clothes-Line" by Carolyn Wells: A pastiche of Holmes and various other GAD detectives--who gather at The Infallible Detectives Club and try to solve the riddle of the fashionable lady dangling from a clothes-line.

"Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell: When a man is strangled in his bed--with his wife supposedly asleep beside him--the sheriff and his men are sure she did it. But they can't find a motive. While the men hunt in vain for clues, their wives spot hints in trifles that the superior male eye would never see. Will they point out the clues? [one strangled]

First line (1st story):Antoine de Chaulieu was the son of a poor gentleman of Normandy, with a long genealogy, a short rent-roll, and a large family.

Last line (last story): He did not see her eyes.

Who Buries the Dead (Very Spoilerish)

 Who Buries the Dead (2015) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); narrated by Davina Porter

I don't have a lot new to say about the story--if you would like a good, full review (with less spoilerish content), then please see my previous review from 2021: HERE

My main thoughts this time around are on Harris's tendency to kill off interesting characters--or to kill off people who could help Devlin discover the truth about his parentage or help him locate his missing mother. (If Harris kills off Hero in some future installment, I'll not forgive her.) As I said in the previous review, I would happily have given this installment five stars save for one thing. Her decision to kill off Jamie Knox really is one interesting character's demise too many. Harris has already killed off Russell Yates, the man who married and gave Sebastian's former lover Kat Boleyn protection from Lord Jarvis. Yates had a history of piracy and provided Sebastian with a source of information he would not normally have access to. She also has killed off a woman who knew Devlin's mother and might have been able to tell him more about her. And now we've decided to kill off Jamie Knox, the mysterious man who looked enough like Devlin to be his brother...and probably was (or at least half-brother). I had hoped we would eventually have a book that would explore that possibility more thoroughly and the interactions between the two would have been very good indeed in such an exploration. But now, if Devlin does wind up finding out the truth behind their similar looks, he will do so alone and I think the situation will be robbed of some of its impact. I can understand that we have a single hero in the novels--Devlin, but if Knox had died just after a momentous revelation of any sort, that would have been more powerful.

I was still very glad to see Devlin get a bit of redemption in the final scenes. In general, when the killers in these novels put anyone (beyond their initial, intended victims) in danger or Devlin's involvement in the investigation seems to focus the killer's sights on additional victims, Devlin is too late to save them. This time, he and Tom are able to mount an effective rescue of a woman and her son--who have been used by the killer as bait to trap Devlin. I also enjoyed that a way was found to deal out justice to Oliphant--of a type that seems particularly appropriate to the kind of man he is. I did want him to be the murderer...but this works just as well.

A very strong entry in the series and another excellent audio version narrated by Davina Porter.  ★★★★ and 1/2.

First line: They called it Bloody Bridge.

Last line: "I want you," he said his throat tight with emotion as a gust of wind shuddered the trees overhead and sent a scattering of leaves spinning down to lie pale and shriveled against the cold dark earth.


Deaths =  6 (two stabbed; one hit on head; two shot; one drowned)

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The Lost World

 The Lost World (1912) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The first of Doyle's books to feature the combative, brilliant, and eccentric Professor George Challenger. Challenger has claimed to have found a "lost world" in the jungle of South America. A self-contained eco-system where dinosaurs still roam and many strange and wonderful plants and animals unknown to man may be found. But his evidence was damaged on the return journey and his fellow scientists call him everything from a crank (at best) to a madman to a out-and-out liar. 

Our narrator, reporter Edward Malone, has sought out Challenger in an effort to do something extraordinary and daring in order to win the hand of his lady-love Gladys. Gladys has told him that she never marry a man who hadn't done something courageous or extraordinary. So, off goes Malone to find something to do. Challenger doesn't much like reporters and has thrown all previous comers out on their ear--but the professor takes a liking to the plucky young man and invites him to a meeting of the scientific community. Challenger plans to get the society to admit his claims. But Dr. Summerlee--a fierce rival of Challenger--says there must be better proof and the society votes to send Summerlee to investigate the professor's claims. They ask for volunteers to mount a mission and Lord John Roxton, a famous explorer and big game hunter, and Malone both jump up.

The rest of the story is told in letters from Malone written to his editor back in London. He describes the journey down the Amazon and their tramp through the jungle to the hidden high plateau where dinosaurs still walk the earth. The men will face all kinds of danger--from monstrous animals to ape-men to the loss of their one means for returning to the jungle below. But if they make back to England, will the society accept the word of four men any better than they accepted the word of one?

Once you get past the ridiculous Gladys Hungerton and her supposed expectations of a future mate* and you remember that this was published in 1912 so Challenger and company are full of British Imperialism and feelings towards man of the "natives," then this is a purely fun, boys own adventure story. Doyle is a superb story-teller and I enjoyed every bit of the journey to (and in) South America. I particularly liked that Malone got to have his moments of glory in the presence of these three great men. We get delightful thumb-nail descriptions of Challenger, Summerlee, and Roxton--as well as an intriguing look at what could have been the "missing link" in man's development. Overall, a fun adventure. 

*I can't even with Gladys. In one way she reminds me of Gwendolen and Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest. But at least those ladies, after insisting on certain qualities that their men must have, wind up marrying them. Gladys tells Malone what she expects from a successful suitor and then while he's off doing what she told him to do, she marries a mild little milquetoast of a man. Blah. Surely Doyle could have come up with a better way to send Malone off on the quest with Challenger.

First line: Mr. Hungerton, her father, really was the most tactless person upon earth--a fluffy, feather, untidy, cockatoo of a man, perfectly good natured, but absolutely centered upon his own silly self.

Last line: Lord Roxton said nothing, but a brown hand was stretched out to me across the table.

Monday, August 7, 2023

12 Impossible Daredevil Stunts (mini-review)

 12 Impossible Daredevil Stunts (2020) by Samantha S. Bell

This book features mini-biographies about twelve people who performed seemingly impossible feats. We get a brief look at escape artists like Harry Houdini who was nicked named the "Handcuff King" for his ability to escape from handcuffs as well as straight jackets while dangling stories above the ground, jails, and boxes, sometimes while underwater.  There is also ground breakers like Willie Harris who broke barriers for black stuntmen and Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African American and Native American to earn a pilot's license. Kitty O'Neil reached 618 miles per hour in a rocket car to become the fastest woman in America. "Annie" Edson Taylor became the first woman to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. This book features seven more thrilling stories about people who braved injury and worse to do things that others thought they couldn't...or shouldn't. Each mini-biography includes attention-grabbing photos and fascinating facts as well as resources to learn more. A good introduction for kids to some famous adventurers from throughout the years. 

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Schindler's List

 Schindler's List (Schindler's Ark; 1982) by Thomas Keneally

Synopsis from Goodreads: The fictionalized history of Oskar Schindler, the Czech-born Southern German industrialist who risked his life to save over 1,100 of his Jewish factory workers from the death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. Thomas Keneally's "documentary novel," based on the recollections of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler's Jews), Schindler himself, and other witnesses, is told in a series of snapshot stories. It recounts the lives of the flamboyant profiteer and womanizer Schindler; Schindler's long-suffering wife, Emilie; the brutal SS (Nazi secret service) commandant Amon Goeth; Schindler's quietly courageous factory manager, Itzhak Stern; and dozens of other Jews who underwent the horrors of the Nazi machinery. At the center of the story, though, are the actions and ambitions of Schindler, who comes to Crakรณw, Poland, seeking his fortune and ends up outwitting the SS to protect his Jewish employees. It is the story of Schindler' unlikely heroism...[and it] explores the completx nature of virtue, the importance of individual human life, the roles of witnesses to the Holocaust, and the attention to rules and details that sustained the Nazi system of terror.

On the basis of importance, there is no doubt about the value of Keneally's book. It tells about the bravery of one man in the midst of great evil. Was Schindler a saint. No. He was a flawed man with faults and weaknesses, but he put himself at great risk in order that he might save as many Jews as he could from the concentration camps and gas chambers. There were so many points at which things might have gone wrong and he could have been shot out of hand or sent to a labor camp himself. 

However, judging the book as a novel. I find it lacking. Keneally chose to tell this important true story through the lens of fictionalized history--as a novel rather than as nonfiction. But the book does not read as a novel. It reads very much as a nonfiction account of Schindler's activities during the war. The only real difference between this and the usual nonfiction is that there are no footnotes giving credit to the sources for the information. As a novel, it lacks stylistic flow. The plot is disjointed and people are introduced in sporadic episodes throughout the narrative. With so many unfamiliar names, it is incredibly difficult to keep everyone straight and it took me out of what narrative continuity there was. The most novel-like section comes at the end when peace is imminent and Schindler makes a final speech to the Jewish laborers at his factory. If the entire book had been written in the same style it would have appealed to me much more as a story. This is a rare case where the movie has done a better job of telling a story than the book did. If I rated the work purely on importance, then five stars--no question. As a piece of literature  only (and I'm still giving points for the weight of the story instead of the power of the storytelling). 

First line: In Poland's deepest autumn, a tall young man in an expensive overcoat, double-breasted dinner jacket beneath it--in the lapel of the dinner jacket a large ornamental gold-on-black enamel Hakenkreuz (swastika) emerged from a fashionable apartment building in Straszewskiego street, on the edge of the ancient center of Cracow, and saw his chauffeur waiting with fuming breath by the open door of an enormous and, even in this blackened world, lustrous Adler limousine.

Last line: He was mourned on every continent.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Ashes to Ashes

 Ashes to Ashes
(1971) by Emma Lathen (Mary Jane Latsis & Martha Henissart)

The Archdiocese of New York has decided that the St. Bernadette's parochial school is no longer viable. The costs outweigh the benefits and there just aren't as many teaching nuns as there used to be. So, when Unger Realty shows interest in buying up the school with an eye to building a high-rise apartment building on the spot, the Archdiocese is pleased as punch. The parents of Flensburg, not so much. They all went to St. Bernadette's and they want their children to go to St. Bernadette's. And, by golly, they're not going to take this lying down. 

So, they organize themselves into a group called the St. Berbadette's Parents League and decide to take on big business and the Church. They file an injunction under the name Francis P. Omara (their leader) vs. Joseph, Cardinal Devlin to put a halt to the sale. And John Thatcher, acting president of the Sloan Guaranty Trust, finds himself smack in the middle of it all. The Sloan has agreed to advance Unger Realty the money for the sale and now Thatcher finds himself served with a subpoena to testify in the case. 

But before much can be done about the court case, Omara is killed by a blow to the head with a butcher's mallet. Who wanted to stop the Parents League badly enough to commit murder? Was it someone from the realty company? Or one of the local business owners who hoped to make huge profits once the new apartments went up? Or--would one of the Church officials behind the sale stoop to killing to finance the Church? Things become very murky when the Parents League is joined by other groups with a gripe against the Church--including women fighting for the right to birth control to Hare Krishna Catholics intent on a merger of faiths. Very disruptive protests break out...and then bomb threats cause even more upheaval. A chance remark by one of the concerned parents makes Thatcher aware that everyone has been looking at the murder from the wrong angle.

Of the three Lathen books I have read so far, this one has been the best. I found Thatcher's subtle humor and not-so-secret siding with "the angels" (that is the parents fighting for their children's school) very amusing and well-drawn. Thatcher's view of his Wall Street world is wry, humorous, and honest:

It was John Thatcher's private theory that during such major downward shifts [in the Dow Jones average], the financial community as a whole went slightly and temporarily insane. Orders went undischarged. Syndicates fell apart. Drinking men went on the wagon and abstainers swilled four martinis before lunch.

The mystery is also nicely executed. It mixes the mystery plot with pertinent issues of the time--issues that are still pretty relevant (especially in the Catholic world) today. So, the book doesn't feel nearly as dated as it might. I didn't put the clues together, so the reveal at the end was a pleasant surprise. For one thing, I just couldn't connect that butcher's mallet to anyone....  and 1/2.

First line: Wall Street is the largest and most efficient market the world has ever known.

Last line: "I look forward to seeing what they and Flensburg make of each other."


Deaths = one hit on head

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

The Body in the Cast

 The Body in the Cast (1993) by Katherine Hall Page

Hollywood is coming to New England. The quiet little town of Aleford, Massachusetts is chosen by legendary director Max Reed as the site of his cinematic retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic The Scarlet Letter. The town is already in a bit of an uproar over a local election which features a candidate using smear tactics to try and get an upper-hand on his more popular opponent. The movie folk don't help matters, bringing their own infighting, jealousies, and talented tantrum-throwers.

Faith Fairchild, wife of the local pastor and owner of the Have Faith catering company, is up to eyebrows in the Hollywood glamor--Have Faith has been chosen to provide all the snacks and meals for the horde of glitzy stars. Everything is going well until someone doctors the black bean soup and there is a question of whether it was a practical joke or a targeted attack on certain members of the cast. But when the star's body double is poisoned, it soon becomes apparent that the practical joker is deadly serious. Another death follows and Faith is determined to find the links and help the local police find the killer before the bodies in the cast outnumber the living.

I have to say that I didn't find this entry in the Faith Fairchild series as appealing. For one thing, I didn't much care for the two stories lines--politics and movie-making. Tying the two murders together seemed forced and I think the plot would have been much improved if we'd had just one thread to follow. I'm still not clear how the second victim got their hands on the items that forced the killer to eliminate them. Or why it was necessary to foist that plot line on us. We could have achieved the same effect if the second victim had come from the inner circle of Hollywood folk. 

Faith also annoyed me a bit. She's a pastor's wife, but she's a terrible snob. Both about food and about clothes. Maybe it's always been there and I just never noticed before--but this time around she seemed to be name-dropping famous designer clothes right, left, and center. Most of the small town pastor's wives I've come across would be lucky to own one designer clothes item let alone multiple outfits. But that's a small quibble.

The actual mystery-solving by Faith went well. There's a tiny bit of coincidence--she just happens to be in the right place at the right time to discover the second murder fairly quickly. It's not like she had followed up some clue that helped her figure out who was next on the hit list or where the action might take place. But she does recognize other clues that the police miss and her right-hand helper Pix also does some nifty detective work of her own. 

A decent cozy mystery that unfortunately wasn't (for me) as good as previous selections from the series.  --just.

First line: Aleford, Massachusetts was reeling--literally.

Last line: And Marta winked.


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