Saturday, September 30, 2023

They Called Us Enemy

 They Called Us Enemy (2019) by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Scott Becker (illustrated by Harmony Becker)

George Takei tells the story of his family's (and thousands of others of Japanese descent) incarceration during WWII in American internment camps--all in the name of American defense. 

In 2016 I went with friends to see Allegiance (the live performance viewed through the local cinema), a Broadway musical based on the events depicted in this graphic novel. It was a moving experience--I came out of the theater weeping, which doesn't happen often. Both that production and this graphic novel depict events from World War II of which this country should be ashamed. We were off to fight in a war that was being waged because certain people thought they were better than others--either part of the "master race" or part of the chose empire or whatever. Hitler was evil because he and his gang had decided that Jews, the Roma peoples, homosexuals, and the disabled all did not deserve the life of the master race. They were sent to camps to either be worked to death or just straight up put to death. Horrible!

And in America we immediately began to round up people who did not look like "real" Americans (for which, read white). Those of Japanese/Asian heritage were easy targets because they didn't look like the white folks running the country--and any of them might be spies. So better safe than sorry, you know. It was a little more difficult to single out German or Italian "spies"--there were no physical markers that let "real" Americans who the German or Italian Americans were. 

Takei's story highlights the prejudice and fear that fueled the push to segregate Japanese Americans for their own good. And he ultimately ties that story into present-day events that are disturbing echoes of the past. The way "real" Americans are still eager to target those who don't look like them--to limit their access to enter the country. To put them on no-fly lists. And, sometimes, to even kill them. There are lessons to be learned from these horrible mistakes from the past--lessons that I wish everyone would learn from and help to change our country--and our world--for the better. ★★★★

First line: "George! Henry! Get up at once."

Last lines: "Justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other...that history can't be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress...that my liberty depends on you being free too...but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past." ~President Barkck Obama

Depart This Life

 Depart This Life (1958) by E. X. Ferrars

Hilda Gazeley has lived with her brother Stephen and niece for the last six years. She came to help take care of Katherine after her sister-in-law died in a car accident. Now Katherine has grown up and is engaged to Colin Luckett--there's just one problem, her father and the Lucketts don't get along. But neither Hilda nor Katherine know exactly why. On the day that Katherine tells her father of her plans, he's murdered--struck over the head in his study. Hilda and Arthur Luckett were talking on a bench not far from the study windows. When they hear a crash and a cry, they immediately rush towards the house--no one came out the front. Stephen's friend Nelson Winguard was painting near the river and coming up the path at the back. He saw no one there either. If all the witnesses are telling the truth, then it seems impossible that Stephen should have been killed. And yet he was. 

And the question is...why? Stephen could be difficult at times, but bad enough for murder? Apparently so, as Inspector Crankshaw digs, he discovers the truth behind the feud between the Lucketts and Stephen. He learns the identity of the mysterious Mrs. Frearson and her sister; two women who have recently taken a cottage on the other side of the river and in whom Stephen had taken a sudden interest. He learns that Stephen liked to know secrets about others and liked the power and control it gave him. Whose secret was worth killing for?

Observations: Not really any characters that I could relate to or root for. Hilda is either the most unaware person on earth or is deliberately fooling herself about her brother. I have no idea why Ferrars made her our protagonist and point of view--she annoyed me from the moment she arrived on the page until the end of the book. Just when I thought she was finally seeing the light on her brother, she'd come out with another "Oh, but that was just Stephen's way. He didn't really mean it." Even when it was blatantly obvious how cruel he had been. 

When we found out what a slimy fellow Stephen was, I was all set to feel sympathetic to his murderer. After all, they were just trying to stop the pressure/blackmail. But then we find out that they weren't exactly the victim we thought they were and were quite willing to sacrifice others to protect him/herself. Committing that second murder and trying to set up an innocent person to take the blame made any possibility of sympathy go right out the window. 

Honestly, the big reveal here is the insight into the murderer and what they are willing to do after Stephen is dead. The identity was no great surprise. Ferrars is usually better at plot than this. Not the best of her mysteries and not the most appealing set of characters. ★★ and 1/4

First line: It was precisely six forty-five when Mrs. Frearson appeared by the river.

Last line: "You'll be needed, Miss Gazeley."


Deaths = 5 (one shot; two car accident; two hit on head)

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Bullet That Missed

 The Bullet That Missed (2022) by Richard Osman

It's time once again for the Thursday Murder Club gang to get themselves involved in another murder investigation. The eclectic group of septuagenarians include Elizabeth, an ex-MI5 agent; Ron, a former union activist who's always up for bucking the system; Ibrahim, a retired therapist whose insight into the human psyche and knack for puzzle-solving comes in handy; and Joyce, a former nurse whose appearance has deceived many a miscreant along the way. When they sat down to debate what cold case was next on the agenda, Elizabeth is taken with story of the spinster who died "leaving three unidentified skeletons and a suitcase containing fifty thousand pounds in her cellar." But Joyce, who always seems to get her way when she really puts her foot down, wants them to investigate the case of Bethany Waite.

Bethany had been an investigative reporter and co-host of South East Tonight when her car went off Shakespeare Cliff and she was declared dead, though her body was never found. She had been hot on the trail of a massive fraud and money-laundering scheme and had just sent her co-host Mike Waghorn a message that said she had found something that was absolute dynamite. It apparently blew up in her face.

As the gang investigates, there are more murders and more missing money. They find themselves involved with high-powered crooks, an ex-KGB man, and a mysterious foe the name "Viking" who wants Elizabeth to kill the ex-KGB officer. If she doesn't, he threatens to kill Joyce. The case really heats up and the friends will have to work fast if they don't want to get burned.

So...this was another fun ride. Osman has given us a great set of characters and while there needs to be plenty of suspension of disbelief it doesn't matter that things may not be all that believable at times. This is just a fun group and as long as you're with them you believe they can do all the things that they do. They can outwit the Viking. They can play nice with ex-KGB. They can charm TV personalities into helping them with their investigations. It's all possible. I was a bit disappointed that I saw the solution coming--both the solution to Bethany's murder and who was behind it all. But again, that didn't detract from my enjoyment that much because the characters make the book. The story is so character-driven that it helps compensate for the flaws. ★★★★

First line: Bethany Waites understands there is no going back now.

She has read enough detective novels to know you must never trust a murder without a corpse. (p. .37)

Last line: You keep your head above the water for as long as you can.


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

Monday, September 25, 2023


 Pax (2016) by Sara Pennypacker

Pax is Peter's fox--has been since the young fox was just a few weeks old. And the two have been inseparable. Until now. Now war rages and Peter's dad has to join the forces and use his wiring skills to beat the enemy. Peter's mother died several years ago (not long before he found the fox kit) and so Peter must go and stay with his prickly grandfather. But Pax isn't welcome and his father insists that it's time the fox was returned to the wild anyway. So, they abandon Pax in a location that Peter believes will be safe and the boy is taken 300 miles away.

As soon as he settles into his new room for the night, Peter knows he isn't where he should be. His place is with Pax and he knows Pax needs him. The fox was tamed and never learned how to hunt or cope in the wild. His friend will never survive without him. So after his grandfather goes to bed, Peter packs a knapsack with everything he can think of to help him on the journey and sets off to find his pet. He has studied an atlas and sees a way across country that will save him about a hundred miles--but the terrain is difficult and he finds himself in trouble and hobbling along on a damaged leg. Fortunately, he stumbles onto land that belongs to a hermit-like woman by the name of Vola who takes him in (grudgingly at first), nurses him back to health, teaches him a few life lessons, and helps him continue his journey. But the area where Pax was abandoned isn't as safe as Peter thought and the war is approaching. Will Peter be in time?

Meanwhile, Pax, sure that his human will come back to him is reluctant to leave the area where Peter left him. But he must eat and he must find water and in his search he encounters other foxes--foxes that teach him a few life lessons as well as teaching him to hunt and defend himself. Both Pax and Peter learn about what truly makes a family and how to be true to one's deepest self. Excellent children's story with complicated themes. ★★★★

First line: The fox felt the car slow before the boy did, as he felt everything first.

What I am is for telling the truth about it. About what it costs. People should tell the truth about what war costs. (Vola; p. 130)

Last line: And Peter hurled the plastic soldier over the brush and into the woods, as far away as he could.


 Nemesis (1971) by Agatha Christie (Read by Joan Hickson)

Several years ago Miss Jane Marple and Jason Rafiel shared a murderous adventure in the Caribbean. Miss Marple had shown up in Rafiel's room late one night with a pink wooly scarf around her neck and, in the persona of Nemesis, had asked him to help prevent another murder. When Rafiel began making plans to see justice done in another matter, he included Miss Marple (all unawares) in those plans. So, when Rafiel dies Miss Marple has an invitation to visit his solicitors where she will receive an unusual request through a letter he left with Mr. Broadribb:

Our code word, my dear lady, is Nemesis....I want you to investigate a certain crime. I have ordered a certain sum to be placed so that if you accept this request and as a result of your investigation this crime is properly elucidated, the money will become yours absolutely.

And that's pretty much all she's told about Rafiel's request. There's a crime to be investigated--either one that already occurred and justice was not done OR one that will occur and the wealthy businessman wanted to be sure justice would be done. The solicitor, Mr. Broadribb, knows no more about it than she does. 

She decides to take on the task and makes some tentative efforts to learn more about Mr. Rafiel's life (beyond what she knows from their brief encounter in the Caribbean). Her best bet is to try and find Rafiel's former employees and see what they can tell her. She meets, as if by accident, Rafiel's former secretary who tells her that there had been some scandal involving the businessman's son, but she knows little beyond the fact that there was a scandal. Miss Marple cannot find the valet/masseur who attended him and she begins to think her investigation will be over before it's barely begun when she receives two more communications.

The first is another letter from Rafiel telling her that since she's accepted his request, she will receive a second message in two days time. She does and it is from a tour company telling her that Mr. Rafiel had reserved a space for her on their Tour No. 37 of Famous Houses and Gardens in Britain. Miss Marple doesn't know if the purpose of the tour is to introduce her to one of her fellow passengers of to take her to a particular place where crime has happened...or will happen, but she is prepared to find out. She meets several people who are able to tell her more about the scandal surrounding Michael Rafiel. Two girls--including one named Verity that Michael supposedly love--disappeared several years ago. Verity was found strangled with her face beaten in. The other girl was never found. And Michael was convicted of Verity's murder. But when one of Miss Marple's fellow passengers is killed by a falling boulder, she decides that her job must be to find out the truth of Verity's death--because Miss Elizabeth Temple knew Verity and had told Miss Marple that she was on a pilgrimage to find out the truth as well?

This is one time that Dame Agatha didn't pull the wool over my eyes. I recognized the clues and picked up on the culprit right away. But that didn't detract from my enjoyment. Nemesis is enjoyable for a reason that normally doesn't attract me. Often I find when an author takes a favorite detective and places them outside their normal locale that I don't much care for the story (most of the Nero Wolfe stories that take him out of the brownstone for extended periods of time--Death of a Dude and The Black Mountain, for instance). But taking Miss Marple out of St. Mary Mead and placing her on the bus tour, put her at the center of the action for most of the novel and I liked that a lot. It was interesting to watch her go from having no idea what Jason Rafiel wanted her to investigate to picking up pieces bit by bit and finally fitting them all together. Excellent read. ★★★★

~~~One interesting note--in the novel, Rafiel promises Miss Marple 20,000 pounds if she successfully unravels the mystery and sees justice done. I watched the Marple episode with Geraldine McEwan after I finished the novel and among the changes made to the story was the reduction of the sum to a mere 500 pounds. I just wonder why they cheated Miss Marple out of 19,500 pounds of her inheritance?

First line: In the afternoon it was the custom of Miss Jane Marple to unfold her second newspaper.

Last line: "It must have been another of Mr. Rafiel's little jokes," said Mr. Broadribb.


Deaths = 7 (one natural; two plane crash; two poisoned; one strangled; one hit by boulder)

Friday, September 22, 2023

Who Is Simon Warwick? (spoilerish)

 Who Is Simon Warwick? (1978) by Patricia Moyes

When Lord Charlton's brother and sister-in-law were killed in a London bomb attack during WWII, he wanted nothing to do with his young nephew and arranged for a quiet adoption to an American soldier and his wife. Charlton had felt ill-used by his family when he was young and so, when he made his millions, he determined that none of them would benefit. For years, his will would leave everything to a foundation whose sole purpose was to dispense the funds to suitable charities with a substantial legacy for his secetary as well. Late in life when his doctor tells him that he has little time to live, he repents of his earlier behavior towards his young nephew and decides to leave everything to the young man who was born Simino Warwick. He hopes to live long enough to meet any claimants.

But who is Simon Warwick? Once the will is signed and his attorney, Ambrose Quince, has placed notices in all the important newspapers (both in England and America), Lord Charlton dies. Soon after two claimants (out of all the usual hopefuls) rise to the top. Each hold important documents that give credence to their claim--Simon Finch has letters from the attorney (not Ambrose Quince) who arranged the adoption to his parents, the Finches and the man currently known as Harold Benson has a passport made out to Simon Alexander Warwick, newborn. Quince believes Finch to be the legitimate claimant and is even more sure after a visit to America. But he still has one question that he plans to put to both men. And he decides to meet them both at the same time, in the hopes that the confrontation will help solve the issue.

The meeting never takes place. Simon Finch arrives early for the appointment and is sent by the secretary to wait in the waiting room. Harold Benson arrives and finds Finch dead. Enter Chief Superintendent Henry Tibbett who must decide not only who the murderer is but also who the victim really was. Is Simon Warwick dead and will the inheritance now (as stated under Lord Charlton's will) revert to the terms under the old will? Or is Benson really Warwick and killed in an effort to claim the inheritance? Tibbett keeps saying that Simon Warwick's identity doesn't concern him...but until he knows who Finch really was, he won't know who killed him.

~~~~~Spoiler ahead! read at your own risk~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is an unusual mystery in a number of ways. Not least because there are actually two mysteries whodunnit and who was it done to. It isn't often that the identity of the corpse is in such dispute because the victim claimed to be someone that they may or may not have been. Another unusual point is Tibbett's apparent lack of concern about the identity of the victim. He does find out during the course of his investigation but it doesn't seem to be all that important to him. And, finally, the big reveal about who Simon Warwick really is. That is a first for me in all of my mystery reading. And, considering when the book was published, it is also unusual in the way it handles certain issues--issues that are very much a hot topic right now in 2023 (and, quite frankly, are not handled nearly as well by a great many in today's world). It is all made to seem very matter of fact by Tibbett and his wife It certainly would have made for an interesting point of law if Warwick had decided to follow up on the claim.

This is, I think, one of the best mysteries I have read by Moyes. An interesting mystery with an intriguing premise and I appreciated how Emmy Tibbett got involved and managed, in certain ways, to save the day. A quick read with plenty of action once the initial groundwork was laid. ★★★★ and 1/2. 

First line: A rainy November night in London.

Last line (of main text--last line of the epilogue is a spoiler): "You know what men are like."


Deaths = 9 (five natural; two bombed in WWII; one plane crash; one strangled)

The Man in the Cellar

 The Man in the Cellar (1907; aka Amy's Cat) by Palle Rosenkrantz

Holger Nielson is a Danish lawyer and amateur criminologist on a three month holiday in London. Nielson may be a lawyer, but he has unusual ideas about law and order and justice. He has long thought that just because there is a crime it does not follow that the perpetrator is a criminal. During his stay in London, he wants to observe the British mode of justice and refine his ideas. He rents a house which he plans to share with his friend Dr. Jens Koldby who has given up his practice in favor of painting. The house is a bit more expensive than Nielson would have liked, but it is admirably set up with a well-lighted room that will be perfect as a studio for Koldby.

The men move in along with Madame Siverston, their housekeeper, and all goes well until both Nielson and Madame Siverston begin hearing odd noises from below. It sounds like a cat may be trapped and hungry in the basement. But when they investigate there is no trace of a cat. It isn't until the housekeeper is gone for the day that the men do a more intensive search and discover a cellar hidden below a concealed trap door. They find the cat...but they also find a long, sealed box that contains a dead man. A dead man whose face has been obliterated and whose clothes have had the tags removed. Contrary to his stated beliefs, Nielson's first thought is to go for the police. But Koldby tells him this is the chance to prove his theories of justice. Besides....they might be considered the prime suspects and they don't want to go to jail.

And so begins their amateur investigation. They discover that the previous owner of the house, a Major Johnson, has "gone to the colonies"--but there is some evidence that he may have never left and might be the man in the cellar. There is the question of who really owned the house--Major Johnson or a man named Throgmorton? There is also the chain around the cat's neck bearing the inscription "Amy's Puss" and a love note addressed to "James" and signed by Amy. Questions put to the realtor leads them to two Amys. The first is Miss Derry, the former fiancee of Major James Johnson. The second is Mrs. Weston, sister of Mr. Throgmorton, and there's rumors that Major Johnson was enamored with her. Did one of the Amys do away with Major Johnson because of love gone wrong? Or maybe Mrs. Weston or Major Johnson killed her husband to pave the way for a new relationship? The theories fly fast and furious and Nielson and Koldby wind up following Throgmorton and the Westons to Denmark in the search for more clues.

This is an interesting look at early Danish crime fiction. The writing still has elements of Victorian sensation novels, but there is also a Holmesian feel to the investigation with definite detection. Nielson as our lead is more Watson-like--he jumps from theory to theory as new information is found while Koldby brings him down to earth and reminds him that they don't have all the facts yet. The two do make a good team and I enjoyed watching Koldby poke holes in Nielson's theories. An intriguing mystery with some unorthodox detective work and a fairly satisfying ending. Without the sensation elements and the one rather contrived bit of coincidence once the men are back in Denmark, this would have been a four-star novel. ★★ and 1/2 (rounded up on Goodreads & Amazon). If you are interested in the roots of Scandinavian crime before it became Nordic Noir or you're looking for a good mystery and don't mind a bit of Victorian melodrama and an element of coincidence, then I can definitely recommend this to you.

First line: "It is dirt cheap, sir, dirt cheap!"

And Mr. Anderson tried to look superior but failed because of his thin yellow mustache. (p. 3)

Of course, he knew that there was at least one cat in each house in London, all well-treated animals that enjoyed some kind of civil rights, under no constraint, and able to pass their lives day and night as they pleased. (p. 10)

Everyone has a right to ride his hobby horse if he does so only within his own four walls-- (p. 39)

Only in comedies and bad novels is the right thing said first. In life it is always the other way around. (Dr. Koldby; p. 104)

Last line: So, they found happiness and life together.


Deaths = 5 (one stabbed; one drowned; three natural)

 ~~~A pdf copy of the book was given to me as a review copy by Kazabo Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All comments are my own and I have received no payment of any kind.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Hemlock Hollow

 Hemlock Hollow (2022) by Culley Holderfield

When Caroline McAlister was young, her family would spend summers at their cabin in Hemlock Hollow. It was her mother's special place--she loved the mountains of Carolina. Late one night, when Caroline had two of her friends staying with her, she saw a figure standing at the end of the bed. He was a tall, sad-faced man in brown with a hat. She never quite knew for sure what she'd seen and she wasn't sure she believed in ghosts, but the memory stuck with her. Not long after that incident, her beloved mother died of cancer and she, her brother, and her father stopped coming to the cabin.

Years later, Caroline is college professor whose life seems to be coming apart. Her father has now died, her marriage has come to an end, and research for a new book has stalled. When she learns that her dad still owned that cabin in Hemlock Hollow and had left it to her, she goes to check it out. After years of disuse (and abuse from random squatters and "hippies") it is in desperate need of renovation and she hires Micah, a local general contractor, to oversee the job. There are still treasures among the clutter and debris--including a curio cabinet where Caroline would store her "archeological" finds (a professor in the making), some of the more practical furniture (a bed, a table, etc.), her grandmother's quilt, and...a metal box that Caroline has never seen before.

The box contains a journal written by Carson Quinn in the late 1800s. Quinn was suspected (but never arrested or tried) of the murder of his older brother, Thomas. The young men had grown up smitten with the same girl, but Thomas was the one she married. Because there were other suspects and no real proof, the murder was never solved. Caroline suspects that the sad-faced man who visited her that night long ago was Carson. As she begins reading the journal, she finds an intelligent, curious young man with a deep love of the natural world and especially the place called Hemlock Hollow. She finds it difficult to believe that the same young man who wrote this journal could be a killer and decides to investigate. The case may be cold, but her research skills are used to investigating the past. But the answer may not be as simple as she'd like.

This novel is a lovely mix of fact and fiction. Holderfield builds on the historical facts of life in the Carolinas in the troubled years after the Civil War and includes a rich mixture of characters that reflect the conflicted views of Southerners during the period. The Quinn family had a set of values that didn't always mesh with those of their neighbors, but for the most part they each, in their own way, stayed true to them. I loved the characters of Gramps, Carson's mother, and Carson. They are fully realized in Carson's journal and come to life as Caroline learns about the events that led up to the murder. Hemlock Hollow is just as much a character as these folks with the presence of the mountains and the trees and the secluded spots that Carson, his mother, Caroline, and her mother all love influencing events as much as the people do. And when Caroline finds that they will need to remove some of the trees sheltering the cabin (due to an insect infestation), the sudden sunshine falling on the cabin seems to indicate that the mystery is clearing and soon all will be revealed.

The identity of the murderer didn't come as a huge surprise to me, but Holderfield has woven such an interesting tale, told with emotional subtlety and a real sense of place, that it doesn't bother me. The detective fiction lover in me would have like Caroline to do more independent investigating and not have the solution given first in a seance with the ghost and then through one more written document from Carson (long after the journal ends), but the solution is satisfying and the story is compelling. A really nice piece of historical fiction. ★★★★

First line: The box wasn't much to look at.

In life people will say lots of things about you, some of it terrible and some of it wonderful. Cling to neither good nor bad, and you'll be fine. (Carson's mother; p. 201)

Last line: I sat back in the rocking chair and looked out over the hollow, lit differently now without the hemlocks, yet still somehow the same, ever haunted by the spirits of those who loved it and left it and returned.


Deaths = 6 (four natural; one shot)

 ~~~This book was given to me as a review copy by Regal House Publishing & Mindbuck Media in exchange for an honest review. All comments are my own and I have received no payment of any kind.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

 Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer
(2006) by James L. Swanson

Synopsis (from the book): The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history--the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin led Union cavalry and detectives on a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington D. C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginian, while the nation, still reeling from the just-ended Civil War watched in horror and sadness. 

At the very center of the story is John Wilkes Booth, America's notorious villain. A Confederate sympathizer and a member of a celebrated acting family, booth  threw away his fame and wealth for a chance to avenge the South's defeat. For almost two weeks, he confounded the manhunters, slipping away from their every move and denying them the justice they sought.

Based on rare archival materials, obscure trial transcripts, and Lincoln's own blood relics. Manhnt is a fully documented work and a fascinating tale of murder, intrigue, and betrayal. A gripping hour-by-hour account told through the eyes of the hunted and the hunters, this is history as you've never read it before.

The primary difficulty I have with this book is the word "Chase" in the title (and "gripping" in the synopsis above). The beginning of book, which details the lead-up to the assassination and the assassination itself, is riveting--even though anyone who knows much of anything about American history knows that Booth successfully carried out his plan to murder President Lincoln. And the end of the book is just as interesting with Booth pinned down in the barn and waiting for the final outcome. The problem....the "chase" that takes place during the remainder of the book. There really isn't any chasing going on here and there's not much that's gripping about the manhunt. Booth holes up in a pine forest for days with searchers ambling by. He and his conspirator hear search parties go by and none of them seem to be in a hurry. Things don't get interesting until the final chapter or so. We really didn't need the nitty-gritty detail about Booth's time in the woods. It would have been more in line with the title of the book if we'd followed more closely in the footsteps of the men on his trail instead of spending so much time cozied up to a president's murderer.

The book is well-researched and taught me (or reminded me of) some things about the assassination plot that I either didn't know or didn't remember. I had forgotten that the plan included the deaths of Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward--though neither attempt succeeded. And it was interesting to learn about those who joined Booth in the plot or who aided and abetted him during his escape. If the actual chase part of the narrative had been as "gripping" as advertised, then I would have given a full four stars. As it is: ★★ and 1/2

First line: It looked like a bad day for photographers.

Last line: Today, almost a century and a half since the great chase for Lincoln's killer began, its blued steel needle still dances on its spindle, still pointing the way South.


Deaths = 6 (two shot; four hanged)

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Cat Among the Pigeons

 Cat Among the Pigeons
 (1959) by Agatha Christie; read by Hugh Fraser

We open at the beginning of the summer term at Meadowbank, the British girls' school--the one every mother is anxious to get her girl into. Miss Bulstrode, the founding headmistress, is preparing to retire and name her successor. She watches with anticipation as the new group of girls arrive. These include Princess Shaista, a disconcertingly mature Middle Eastern princess; Julia Upjohn, a girl whose aunt has paid the fees so she can attend the exclusive school; and her new friend Jennifer Sutcliffe, who spent the summer in the Princess's kingdom of Ramat. There are also several new staff members in residence including the inquisitive new French instructor, the equally nosy new games mistress, and Miss Bulstrode's new secretary as well as a brand new sports pavilion that is the pride of the school.

Over the summer, there was a revolution in Ramat and Prince Ali Yusuf, the endangered ruler, had entrusted both his jewels and his life to his friend and pilot, Bob Rawlinson. Bob successfully concealed the glittering treasure amongst his sister and niece's possessions (that would be Jennifer and her mama) while they were away from their hotel room, but the two men perished when their plane crashed in the escape attempt. Rawlinson wasn't able to deliver a message indicating where the jewels were hidden, so no one knows their whereabouts. Or do they?

Not long after the school year begins, things take deadly turn when Miss Springer, the games mistress is found shot to death late one night in the new pavilion. What was she doing at the sports pavilion at one o'clock in the morning? And why would anyone want to shoot her? The police investigate, but cannot find anything of interest in the building--so, if there was anything then it was taken by Miss Springer's killer. The first death is followed by another (in the pavilion!) and a kidnapping. It isn't until Julia Upjohn is wise enough to figure out what the killer is looking for and then consults her aunt's friend Hercule Poirot that they are able to spot the "cat among the pigeons."

Dame Agatha never ceases to entertain. This book has it espionage, missing jewels, kidnapping...and, of course, murder. It was truly delightful to take a break from James L. Swanson's Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer for a little mystery and mayhem in a British girls' school. Working at an educational institution myself, I always enjoy a good academic mystery. It's a bit disappointing that Poirot comes in late to the game, but when he does his little grey cells are firing on all cylinders and he soon gets right to the heart of the matter. I really liked Julia and the way she puts two and two together to solve part of the mystery. As always, Dame Agatha pulls off a bit of sleight of hand and had me suspecting the wrong person. One of these days, I'll guess correctly.  ★★★★

First line: It was the opening day of the summer term at Meadowbank school.

Last line: "A most unusual woman."


Deaths = 6 (two plane accident; two shot; two hit on the head)

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Covenant of the Crown

 The Covenant of the Crown (1981) by Howard Weinstein

Eighteen years ago, a young Lieutenant James T. Kirk helped King Stevvin and the royal family of Shad escape safely into exile when a dangerous rebellion broke out on the planet. Taking the powerful Crown of Shad with him, the King has waited a long time for the right time to return and unite his people. The time is now--but the area of space where Shad is located is disputed space and the Klingons would love to get hold of the crown and bring Shad under their power. 

The Enterprise is assigned to transport the King and his entourage back to Shad because Stevvin will accept no one but Kirk. However, when the starship arrives they find the King near death and an inexperienced Princess Kailyn in line for the throne. If she is to take her place as Shad's next Queen, they will need to retrieve the crown from its hiding place on another planet and she will need to prove herself worthy to wear it. According to Shaddan legend, only those with the control to clear the crystals of the crown to a brilliant blue are the true leaders of Shad. With a Klingon warship dogging their path, Kirk sends Spock and Dr. McCoy with Kailyn by shuttlecraft to find the crown while the Enterprise acts as decoy. But there is a spy in the King's retinue and the Klingons know more about the plan than is good for the mission. Can Spock and McCoy keep Kailyn safe on a planet with dangerous weather patterns, primitive hunters, and a Klingon espionage team on their heels? And, if they survive and find the crown will does Kailyn have the power to control the crown?

Meanwhile, Starfleet wasn't aware of the need for the the crown's retrieval and they're none too pleased to have found out only by monitoring Klingon communications. They insist that Kirk discover who the spy is among Stevvin's staff before he returns to Sigma 1212 for the shuttlecraft team. The longer it takes to find the traitor the longer Kailyn will be in danger...

I absolutely did not plan this--but I pretty much read this for the Star Trek Anniversary. Fifty-seven years of Trek in one form or another. This book was part of a boxed set advertised at Walden Books in Christmas '80s. Having been born the year the original series went off the air, I grew up with it in syndication. It provided the background of my early years--coming on at about 5/5:30 on week nights, it was on when we were having supper. I enjoyed the show, but my interest in Trek didn't take off until I spotted that boxed set with a bow on it in a Christmas display. And being a reader, I promptly put it on my Christmas wish list. Santa delivered and I'm quite sure I blazed through all five of those books by the end of January.

This was one of my favorites of the set which also included The Abode of Life, The Klingon Gambit, The Entropy Effect, and The Prometheus Design and it still is. My previous reference to the novel said that I didn't much care for the fantasy elements--since that's not one of my preferred genres. But that aspect really didn't bother me much this time. I absolutely love that McCoy takes center stage as well as the fact that his relationship with Spock is featured. It is also appealing that I could see this as an expanded episode for the original series. Most of these early novels try to be faithful to the series and the characters--sometimes adding to their backstories, but the feel of the characters and the adventures are right. It was fun to watch Spock try to give advice to McCoy about the crush Kailyn has developed on our favorite doctor and interesting to hear the different versions of what makes a good leader from Spock, McCoy, and Shirn O'tay, the leader of the mountain settlement whom Stevvin had entrusted with the task of hiding the crown. 

Lots of good adventure, a tangle with Klingons, and a good amount of humor (which was integral to some of the best episodes of the series). Chekov's efforts to lose the ten pounds he'd mysteriously gained since his last physical added just the right amount of levity to the tense situation on board the Enterprise. Still one of my favorite Trek novels.★★★★

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Borkmann's Point

 Borkmann's Point (1994) by Häkan Nesser

Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is in the last days of his vacation when his boss calls him to ask if he'd like to stay in the area a little longer. There has been a violent murder in the nearby coastal town of Kaalbringen and the local police have requested some assistance. They're not used to brutal deaths...especially not ax murders. And there doesn't seem to be any connection between the two men who have died so far. Even when a third murder occurs after Van Veeteren in on the job, it's difficult to find a pattern or connections. The only thing the men have in common is that they have recently returned to Kaalbringen after living elsewhere. Things get more intense when Detective Beate Moerk disappears after telling a team member that she's noticed something "bizarre" and just wants to check something. The killer left the weapon at the site of the last murder...but does that mean he won't kill the detective too? Van Veeteren and the team must find the connections that will lead them to the killer before he decides he must kill again.

It took forever to get to the point where Nesser explained what the title had to do with anything. I started the book thinking that Borkmann's Point could have be a place. It wasn't. Borkmann was one of the few policemen that Van Veeteren respected. And Borkmann always maintained that "there comes a point beyond which we don't really need any more information. When we reach that point, we already know enough to solve the case by means of nothing more than some decent thinking. A good investigation should try to establish when that point has been reached, or rather, when it has been passed; in his memoirs, Borkmann went so far as to claim it was precisely this ability, or lack of it, which distinguishes a good detective from a bad one."

This is the second book in the series but the first one translated into English. It was a decent, middle-of-the-road mystery. Some parts were so excellently written/translated that I lost myself in the story while some parts seemed more stilted (whether from the translation or a carry-over from the original, I don't know). And some of the characters and scenes are well done. I especially liked Detective Moerk and Detective Münster. In fact, I think they might have made a more compelling lead team for the investigation. The final few chapters carry more action the rest of the book and wrap-up is handled well--if only the big reveal were really as surprising as intended. It wasn't a surprise to me. I knew where we were headed long before Van Veeteren did. And speaking of Van Veeteren...he's a bit full of himself. Says at one point that all he needs to do is look at a suspect and he'll know right away if he's the guilty party. Spoiler alert--by the end of the book he's been looking at the culprit for quite some time and didn't recognize the guilt until the very end. 

The actual detective work leaves a bit to be desired at times as well. Apparently, investigations consist of a great amount of time spent sitting around chatting about the case with the all the detective team members and eating pastries (policemen and doughnuts cliche, anyone?) or soaking in bathtubs and having deep thinking sessions. I'm giving this one ★★...but maybe I should rethink that....

First line: Had Ernst Simmel known he was to be the Axman's second victim, he would no doubt have downed a few more drinks at The Blue Ship.

He'd been a police officer for thirty years--more than that--but no matter how hard he searched and ransacked his brain, he couldn't dig out a single ax murderer from the murky depths of his memory. (p. 12)

better make the most of everything that comes along. It looked suspiciously as if things might get more difficult. (p. 72)

Last line: What wouldn't one do for a decent glass of wine? Thought Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren as he started groping in the glove compartment for Penderecki.


Deaths = 8 (three killed by ax; two natural; one beaten to death; one blown up; one fell from height)

Saturday, September 9, 2023

What the Devil Knows

  What the Devil Knows (2021) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); Read by Davina Porter

In 1811 John Williams was arrested and ordered for pre-trial in what became known as the Ratcliffe Highway murders. In the first event, Timothy Marr, his wife, infant son, and shop boy were brutally killed in their draper's shop. A few days later, Old John (John Williamson), his wife, and their female servant were killed in a similar manner in their public house. London was held in a grip of terror before Williams was placed in a jail cell. But before he was even officially bound over for trial, Williams was found hanged in his jail cell--and his suicide was taken as an admission of guilt. All London breathed a sigh of relief--the murders ceased and the terror was over. Or so it was thought...

Three years later, a seaman named Hugo Reeves and an East End magistrate by the name of Edwin Pym are found murdered in the same manner as those killed in the Ratcliffe Highway murders--their heads bashed in with a heavy instrument and their throats cut. Bowstreet magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy barely has time to bring Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin to the site of Pym's death before the rumors start swirling that maybe Williams was innocent...or had an accomplice who has decided to kill again. It's also possible (though less likely, at this late date) that a copycat killer has started up. 

The more Devlin investigates the more convinced he becomes that Williams was innocent and set up to take the blame. But then who was really behind the killings and why are more people dying now? The trail is a long and bloody one...and more blood is destined to be spilled before Devlin is able to fully unravel the complicated story behind the murders. 

Throughout the St. Cyr series, Harris has woven real life events into her stories. Sometimes the historical facts serve as simply a background setting for the mystery, but in this installment the primary mystery relies on the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 for its premise. My previous knowledge of the horrific killing of seven members of two households came from the true crime book The Maul & the Pear Tree by P. D. James and T. A. Critchley. Their examination of the materials still available about the crimes (the original depositions of evidence disappeared in 1812) makes it clear that the handling of the investigation was mismanaged at best and justice deliberately subverted at worst. Harris takes the doubts surrounding John Williams's guilt and builds a realistic fictional explanation while giving Devlin a series of murders to investigate in 1814.

This is--in my opinion--Harris's finest historical mystery yet in a completely absorbing series. The Ratcliffe murders make an excellent starting point and her explanation of the murders and the fictional murders of 1814 make for a gripping mystery. It never takes me long to read her books, but I seemed to fly through the pages of this one in my eagerness to see what happened next. The motive for the more recent murders isn't difficult to figure out, but I must admit that the "who" took me by surprise. 

I was also very intrigued by some of the additions to Devlin's personal story. The events are small (in comparison to some of the big changes we have seen occur over the course of 16 novels), but very dramatic and compelling. Davina Porter, as always, narrates this beautifully. I am very sad that when I move on to the next audio version hers will not be the voice that brings Sebastian and the other familiar characters to life. Hers are very big shoes to fill and I fear the next reader will not be up to the task. ★★★★

First line: Molly Maguire hated the fog.

Last lines: Pippa was already turning away, but she paused with one hand on the hackney door to look back at him. "Patrick. His name is Patrick."


Deaths = 24 (ten head bashed & throat cut; one hanged; five stabbed; two strangled; one fell from height; two drowned; two shot; one hit with flotsam from the brewery flood) [Harris's books are always pretty death-ridden, but this one was a regular blood-bath. It includes all of the deaths related to the original Ratcliffe Highway murders which are detailed in the story.]

The Big Sleep

 The Big Sleep (1939) by Raymond Chandler

Introducing...Philip Marlowe. Chandler's first detective novel gives us the educated, streetwise private eye. A man who can handle himself, a gun, and all the dames and tough customers that life throws at him. In his debut on the investigation stage, Marlowe is hired to make the drop on a blackmail payoff for elderly General Guy Sternwood. But the detective is blunt and honest and he can't stand to see the old guy get bitten. 

As honest as you can expect a man to be in a world where it's going out of style.

So Marlowe takes on more than he's paid for and finds himself in the middle of murder spree that seems to have connections to the disappearance of Sternwood's ex-bootlegger son-in-law, Rusty Regan. He also tangles with the daughters--both of whom alternately seem to hate him and want him in their beds...but for all the wrong reasons.

I don't mind your showing me your legs. They're very swell legs and it's a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bac. I grieve over them during the long winter nights.

Marlowe doesn't seem to fall into the mold of the hardboiled detective who jumps into bed with every dame that gives him the glad eye (even if he suspects she might be out for his blood). He keeps his head and his eye on the investigation. He's determined to find out what's really behind the blackmail...and, just maybe, find out what happened to Rusty Regan along the way.

"Hard-boiled, mean streets" detective novels aren't normally my thing. But I picked up this edition of the novel because it was a digest-size paperback and I love those. And Chandler is kind of a big deal in American detective fiction. I read it now because I needed a book that "everyone has read" and I chose to interpret that as the most people from my Facebook friends group. I presented them with a listchallenge with all the mysteries on my TBR pile (there are A LOT) and asked them to mark all the ones they had read--whichever book was marked the most would be the one. So here we are with The Big Sleep.

Marlowe is my kind of private eye--honest, courageous, and ready to help out an old man who wants to believe his daughters aren't as naughty as they really are. I enjoyed meeting Philip Marlowe and following him as he tried to get to the bottom of the blackmailing game. The mystery was well done and Chandler certainly knew how to handle language. I was right there on the mean streets with Marlowe and I believed every moment of it. A very good American private eye story. ★★

First line: It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.

Last line: All they did was make me think of Silver-Wig, and I never saw her again.


Deaths = 5 (three shot; one drowned; one poisoned)


 Holding (2016) by Graham Norton

British talk show host Graham Norton serves up a mystery debut wrapped in dark comedy. Set in the small Irish village of Duneen; a village where nothing happens and the local Garda Sergeant P. J. Collins has nothing to do but issue traffic tickets and investigate minor break-ins. That is...until the day contractors are digging up the old Burke farm to make way for new construction and human remains are found. Now Collins has to work with a detective inspector from Cork ("he was an awful prick") to find out if the remains are those of Tommy Burke who disappeared about seventeen years ago. Everyone always said that Tommy left town on the bus to London. But no one actually admits to being the one who saw him go.

Digging up the past unearths secrets long hidden and resentments that have simmered since the day Brid Riordan (then Tommy's bride-to-be) and Evelyn Ross (who thought she was the woman in Tommy's life) had a knock-down, drag-out fight in the middle of town. Collins is desperate to solve the case--his first case of any importance--and prove that he really is doing something worthwhile. But when DNA tests come back and say that the remains are no relation to the Burkes interest in the case dies down. But then an older set of bones are found and the questions they raise are even more intriguing...

Norton gives us a very good look at life in small town Ireland. He deals with love, loss, alcoholism, relationships, and feelings of inadequacy--from Collins to the "prick" to the women in the life of Tommy Burke. He also gives us a pretty decent debut mystery. He could have spent a little more time developing more of the characters, but I did find myself rooting very hard for Sergeant Collins to solve his first big case. My primary complaint--the identity of the culprit was pretty obvious to me. If that hadn't been the case, I could have easily bumped the rating up.  and 1/2

First line: It was widely accepted by the residents of Duneen that, should a crime be committed and Sergeant Collins managed to apprehend the culprit, it would be very unlikely that the arrest had involved a pursuit on foot.

Last line: The last piece of bread was forgotten.


Deaths = 6 (three natural; one hanged; one hit on head; one drowned)

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Who Speaks for the Damned

 Murder is unseemly. Making certain a killer doesn't get away with what he has done is an obligation we the living owe to the dead--no matter how unsavory we consider them to be. ~Who Speaks for the Damned (2020) ~C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor)

Who speaks for the damned? In this particular historical mystery series--Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin, who so often finds himself investigating murders that no one else will touch. And in this particular case, he is speaking for Nicholas Hayes, the younger son of the late Earl of Seaforth, who was tried and found guilty of the murder of the beautiful Countess Chantal de LaRiviere 18 years ago. His sentence was commuted to transportation to Botany Bay for life and he had been reported dead after an accident not long after his arrival in Australia. But, in truth, he had escaped and made a life for himself in China. So, why was he found stabbed in the back with a sickle in a less-than-fashionable tea garden? Devlin's valet Calhoun would like his master to find out.

Calhoun was friends with Hayes before he was exiled from England and believes that the man was innocent. He says that Hayes was a loyal and honorable man--perhaps a bit wild in his youth, but certainly not a killer of women. Devlin trusts Calhoun's judgment and has an abhorrence of senseless death. There is also a young child to be found--a child whom Hayes had brought with him from China and who disappeared as soon as they had told the valet of the murder. It isn't long before Devlin has discovered four men who had reason to fear Hayes's return to England. Men who were inextricably tied to Hayes's guilty verdict. Could it be that Hayes came back to exact revenge on those whom he thought had set him up? Or is there another reason behind his return--a reason that resulted in his death? When Hayes's cousin (who had ascended to the title Earl of Seaforth on the strength of the report of Nicholas's death--and the deaths of his two older brothers) joins the list of those killed, Devlin begins to wonder if someone has a grudge against the Hayes/Seaforth family. Or is he missing something? 

In the background, the crowned heads of Europe are still gathered in England to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon and the powers-that-be want nothing more than to sweep these ugly matters under the rug. Heaven forbid that unseemly events (like murder) should tarnish the aristocratic glamour of the elite. But as long as Devlin is around, murderers will get their comeuppance...even if they do walk among the elite.

This one was particularly good to revisit. It offers up several old scandals which provides plenty of red herrings, possible twists and clues. I really enjoyed the sub-plot with Ji, the missing child and I loved the ending provided for them. ★★ and 1/2

First line: Alone and trying desperately not to be afraid, the child wandered the narrow, winding paths of the tea gardens.

Last line: Then she reached out and felt the woman's hand close protectively around hers.


Deaths = 10 (six stabbed; one drowned; two shot; one strangled)

Saturday, September 2, 2023

The Night Gardener

 The Night Gardener (2014) by Jonathan Auxier

Set in Victorian England, The Night Gardener features two Irish siblings, Molly and Kip, whose family has become separated when leaving the famine in Ireland in search for a better life. Part mystery, part paranormal fantasy, the story has its roots in Washington Irving and Ray Bradbury. The children answer an advertisement searching for servants at the Windsor country estate in Cellar Hollow--an area known to locals as the sourwoods. When they lose their way, the locals pretend not to know where the house is (in an effort to save them from harm) but they finally make their way there. 

Constance Windsor, the lady of the house, is not pleased to see them. She hadn't wanted her husband to advertise for servants. There is something strange about her--pale and lifeless, she is by turns nice and mean. And she looks nothing like the warm, healthy woman in a painting above the fireplace. It's as if something is sucking the life out of her. Before long Molly and Kip realize that there's something strange about the house as well. Muddy footprints appear in the hallways. Flowers grow overnight. And there's a thin, dark stranger who roams the grounds in the moonlight. And why do the Windsors insist that the tree which grows way too close to the house mustn't be trimmed? It will take all of Molly and Kip's courage--to help the Windsors fight the evil that surrounds their house and find their way back to the happy family they once were.

This is an interesting and atmospheric fantasy/mystery. I am quite sure that if I were younger I would have enjoyed it much more--probably as much as Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. But I'm afraid that at this point in my life, it just doesn't hit all the notes for me. The pacing seemed a bit slow in the middle and I wasn't a fan of the bullying that went on by Alistair (the son of the house). It was nice to see him redeem himself at the end, though. And the ending was very strong. I thought the method for defeating the Night Gardener and the tree was very clever. 

First line: The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October.

Last line: Molly and her brother swapped stories as their little wagon carried them out of the valley and into the warm light of the new day.


Deaths = 5 (four killed by the tree; one burned to death)

Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) XVIII


It's been a while since I participated in the R.I.P. Event first hosted by Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings. The event is now hosted by Andi and appears on Instagram and Twitter, but for all the details, please see the link. The main object is to have fun and to share that fun with others while reading books that fall into one of the categories listed below.

Dark Fantasy

There are several levels and while it's not a challenge per se, I always set a personal goal so I can add this to my list of "challenges" accepted and completed. I'll be going with my usual Peril of the Fiction Read (read four fictional tales that fit the categories). I may also get some viewing in, but we'll see. I don't have a set list yet, but I can say with great confidence that most, if not all, of the books (films) will come from the Mystery category. I'm a big weenie when it comes to horror and thrillers. I will post my list as they come.

Peril of the Fiction Read
1. The Case Against Paul Raeburn by John Creasey (9/1/23)
2. The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier (9/2/23)
3. Who Speaks for the Damned by C. S. Harris (9/5/23)
4. Holding by Graham Norton (9/5/23)
Commitment Complete!
5. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (9/9/23)
6. Borkmann's Point by Hakan Nesser (9/10/23)
7. Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie (9/16/23)
8. Hemlock Hollow by Culley Holderfield (9/19/23)
9. The Man in the Cellar by Palle Rosenkrantz (9/20/23)
10. Nemesis by Agatha Christie (9/23/23)
11. The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman (9/28/23)
12. Depart This Life by E. X. Ferrars (9/30/23)
13. Murder on the Purple Water by Frances Crane (10/8/23)
14. While the Clock Ticked by Franklin W. Dixon (10/9/23)
15. What Happened at Hazelwood? by Michael Innes (10/14/23)
16. Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery as ed. by Alfred Hitchcock [ed. by Robert Arthur] (10/16/23)
17. Hopjoy Was Here by Colin Watson (10/17/23)
18. Death & Chicanery by Philip MacDonald (10/19/23)
19. The Will of the Tribe by Arthur W. Upfield (10/21/23)
20 The War of the Worlds Murder by Max Allan Collins (10/24/23)
21. Death & the Conjuror by Tom Mead (10/26/23)
22. The Floating Lady Murder by Daniel Stashower (10/28/23)

Friday, September 1, 2023