Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla


 The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla (1937) by Stuart Palmer

Inspector Oscar Piper is headed to Mexico for a well-deserved vacation. Sure, he has to be an "official presence" on guard for the Democratic contingent headed south of the border to celebrate the new Mexico-US highway, but once those duties are done, he'll be free to enjoy some time off in the Mexican capital city. Well, maybe. On the train ride following the ribbon-cutting ceremonies, a customs inspector dies after he sniffs a perfume bottle in the luggage of Alderman Francis X. Mabie's wife Adele. Adele swears the bottle wasn't even hers. Was the customs agent the intended victim or does someone have it in for Adele Mabie? When someone provides Adele with a "cute little baby lizard" that is in reality a deadly poisonous snake, it becomes clear that her life is in danger. But then another passenger on that train is found stabbed to death at the bullfight. He had been sitting front of Adele. Is this another botched attempt on the Alderman's wife or is there more going on than meets the eye? Piper tries to investigate even though he's way out of his jurisdiction, but gets put in jail for his trouble. Fortunately, he has been in telegraphic communication with his old friend Hildegarde Withers and Miss Withers arrives just in time to spring him from his cell. Between the two of them, they manage to unravel the mystery surrounding Adele and the party on the train--just in time to prevent another death.

As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions of Miss Withers and Inspector Piper. She definitely gets to one-up him in this round, solving the mystery before him and recognizing who certain people are when he hasn't a clue. She also has an interesting go-round with self-proclaimed amateur sleuth, Julio Mendez who seems to be on the spot every time something happens and whose English seems to be straight out of central casting for cheesy Mexicans trying to speak English. But in general the mystery is underwelming. I just don't buy the motive for the murders--it seems pretty weak. I honestly can't believe the murderer would have taken the risk with the snake that Miss Withers says they did. One could not be certain that there would be someone available to take the necessary action. [I can't say more without spoiling it.] The setting is great; the mystery could have been stronger. ★★ and 1/2

First line: A small and excited wire terrier answered the doorbell, paws sliding on waxed floors, whiskers flying.★★

Last line: "About twenty years, Oscar," the schoolteacher told him sadly.
********************

Deaths =2 (one poisoned; one stabbed)

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Unnatural Ends


 Unnatural Ends
(2023) by Christopher Huang

Early 1900s, Britain. Sir Lawrence Linwood and his wife were unable to have children of their own, so they adopted three children: Alan, Roger, and Caroline. Linwood was a stern and demanding taskmaster--expecting his children to compete against each other and excel in every contest and "experiment" that he put before them. By any means, necessary. Just so long as they were winners. The Linwoods have since grown and gone forth into the world to prove how successful they can be there--Alan is an archaeologist with a exhibition now on display in London. Roger, a successful military man during WWI, now designs his own automobile engines and aircraft. He hopes to run his own company. Caroline is a journalist in Paris. 

They've all been called home to Linwood Hall--Sir Lawrence Linwood is dead. When they arrive home, they find that their father is not just dead--he was found beaten to death with an ancient mace and, rather than Alan inheriting outright as the eldest child had every right to expect, Sir Lawrence's will divides the estate equally among the three children...unless one of them successfully solves their father's murder. In that event, the clever sleuth will inherit everything. So, even in death, Linwood has found a way to challenge them and try to set them against each other. The inspector in charge of the case reluctantly allows them to view the evidence--he doesn't want to go against the victim's last wishes, after all. But he's surprised when they start finding clues that he and his men missed. Like the hidden grate in Sir Lawrence's study where it looks like a legal document was burned. Was there another will? And the pocket watch that was dropped in the area below the study's window. And the secret passages that riddle the house. 

Alan, Roger, and Caroline make little headway on the mystery though until a strange woman visits Sir Lawrence's final resting place with a show of obvious contempt. As the children begin searching for the woman, they find evidence of other women connected to their father and indications that everything they've been told about their adoptions may be false. But what do these women have to do with Sir Lawrence's murder? And why does all the evidence uncovered by the police seem to point to their mother--a broken woman who would never have done anything against Sir Lawrence's wishes, let alone to the man himself? Are the Linwoods up to this final challenge? Or will someone get away with murder?

This is the second book by Huang that I have read and enjoyed. Last year I read A Gentleman's Murder on the suggestion of my friend Ryan Groff (for a challenge based on suggestions from friends). I was so glad he drew the book to my attention. So when this Huang title came up as a possibility in the Book Challenge by Erin bonus round I knew I had to try it. I'm glad I did. Huang writes such good historical mysteries and they're set right in the Golden Age period which is all the more delightful for this GAD fan. The set-up is good--it was interesting having the victim directing his heirs to find his killer and giving them extra incentive to do so. 

As a mystery, it has an intriguing premise but I have to say that Huang did not deliver on mystification (at least not for me). I saw where this was going before I was half-way through the book. There are a couple of phrases that were used repeatedly that just clued me in to the motive and once I had that, the solution followed. That's not to say that I knew every twist and turn, because I didn't. And that's not to say that it was worth reading to the end, because it was. The characters of the three Linwoods are great and when I finished I wanted there to be more to tell me what happened to Alan, Roger, and Caroline next. So--Huang left me wanting more and that's always a good thing. ★★★★

First line (Prologue): In the beginning was Linwood Hall, and Linwood Hall was the world.

First line (Part 1): There were better reasons for coming home, Alan supposed, than Father's funeral.

Last line: Light restored, the four of them made their way back up the path to the house above.
***********************

Deaths =  8 (one beaten; two stabbed one shot; two poisoned; one natural; one fell from height)

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Making It So


  Making It So (2023) by Patrick Stewart

Covid has struck and it has been nearly a week since I finished this. I'm still not quite up to writing a more substantial review, but I want to get these thoughts down while the book is fairly fresh...

 Sir Patrick Stewart--Shakespearean actor. Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Professor X--the well-known man of stage, television, screen has put together a delightful memoir that takes the reader from his hard early life in Yorkshire, England through school until he found his feet the first time he set foot on stage. He was no instant star and he may have taken a slight detour into journalism before making it his life's work, but he really knew from that first part in a school play that acting was what he wanted to do. He worked his way up through repertory theater to a stint of more than forty years as a part of the Royal Shakespeare to world-wide fame as Captain of the Enterprise and the leader of X-Men. 

It was really interesting to learn about his early years and his experiences in the theater. I felt like I knew about him during the The Next Generation years--both through watching the show and seeing various reunion segments with the actors (clips from conventions or talk shows and whatnot). There are portions of his life that he doesn't spend much time on--mostly about his personal relationships post-Star Trek. It would have been nice to hear a few more stories about his friendship with Ian McKellan. But overall, a very entertaining read. ★★★★

First line: We called it t'bottom field, never wondering where, in relation to "t'bottom," t'middle field and t'top field might be.

Last lines: And I hear Sunny calling. Supper's ready.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The 1937 Club


 Twice a year Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings sponsor a group book club where those who would like to read books from the declared year. This April, the chosen year is 1937--a most appropriate year for those of us who like our Golden Age Mysteries. As I prepare for next week's reading, I thought I'd take a look at what 1937 books I've already read and list those that are on the TBR mountain range and could be used for the event.

Here are the books from 1937 that I've read and reviewed on the Block
Dancers in Mourning by Margery Allingham
A Bullet in the Ballet by Caryl Brahms & S. J. Simon
The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr
The Four False Weapons by John Dickson Carr
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
The Camera Clue by George Harmon Coxe
Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon
They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer
Double Cross Purposes by Ronald Knox
Bats in the Belfry by E. C. R. Lorac
The Castle Island Case by Van Wyck Mason
The Devil to Pay by Ellery Queen
Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Red Box by Rex Stout
Beginning with a Bash by Alice Tilton
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein
Murder Down Under by Arthur W. Upfield

As you can see most of these are mysteries. But then mysteries make up the bulk of what I read. There are also a large number of mysteries in the list of 1937 books I read in my pre-blogging days...

The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham
Trial & Error by Anthony Berkeley
There's Trouble Brewing by Nicholas Blake
Dead Man's Mirror by Agatha Christie
The Anatomy of Murder by The Detection Club
Six Against the Yard by The Detection Club
Tenant for Death by Cyril Hare
Brentwood by Grace Livingston Hill
Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes
The Haunted Bridge by Carolyn Keene
The Whispering Statue by Carolyn Keene
Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh
The Case Is Closed by Patricia Wentworth

So, what does that leave on the TBR as possible 1937 Club Members? Well, quite a lot, actually...We'll see how many I can fit in.

The May Week Murders by Douglas G. Browne
The Burning Court by John Dickson Carr
The Peacock Feather Murders by Carter Dickson
A Figure in Hiding by Franklin W. Dixon
Pattern of Murder by Mignon Eberhart
The Black Envelope by David Frome
The Case of the Lame Canary by Erle Stanley Gardner
The D.A. Calls It Murder by Erle Stanley Gardner
Sunrise by Grace Livingston Hill
The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand
Think Fast, Mr. Moto by John P. Marquand
The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla by Stuart Palmer (4/18/24)
Mystery at Greenfingers by J. B. Priestly
Mystery at High Hedges by Edith Bishop Sherman
The Hand in the Glove by Rex Stout
Figure Away by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
Octagon House by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
Who Killed Robert Prentice? by Dennis Wheatley


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

April Vintage Scavenger Hunt Reviews

 


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April Virtual Mount TBR Reviews

 


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April Reading by the Numbers Reviews

 


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Seance for a Vampire


 The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Seance for a Vampire (1994) by Fred Saberhagen

This is a follow-up story to Saberhangen's The Holmes-Dracula File from 1978. Here, Dr. Watson reluctantly calls on the sanguinary count when Holmes is apparently kidnapped by a vampire. But...I get ahead of myself. Ambrose Altamont has lost his eldest daughter in a tragic boating accident. His wife has gotten mixed up with a couple of spiritualists who claim to be able to put them in touch with their beloved Louisa. Altamont is convinced the two are charlatans and wants Holmes to prove it. His wife has become convinced of the spiritualists' power after the last séance produced what seemed to be their dead daughter. When another séance takes place it seems that Louisa has truly come back from the dead, but before Holmes can investigate, he is snatched up by a powerful man who disappears with him into the wood. What Watson witnesses, convinces him that both Louisa and the kidnapper are vampires and his only hope is to summon Dracula to help rescue Holmes and get to the bottom of the vampires' involvement with the Altamont family. They soon discover that the vampire which kidnapped Holmes holds a long-standing (over a century) grudge against the Altamonts and has used their daughter as a means to avenge himself. Holmes has gotten in the way and must be put out of commission. Will Dracula and Watson be able rescue Holmes and then work together with the detective to put an end to the vampire's hold on the Altamont family? 

Life got in the way after I finished reading this and I'm having a bit of trouble gathering my thoughts to put a review together. Saberhagen's second book about the Dracula-Holmes connection is entertaining and I still feel like he got the characters of Holmes and Watson right, but it doesn't quite have the charm of the earlier novel. Dracula isn't quite as appealing and the mystery isn't quite as solid. That's not to say it's a bad book, it's not. It's still quite fun and I enjoyed the alternating narration from Watson and Dracula. Definitely a good choice for those who like a bit of the supernatural mixed with their mysteries. ★★ for a solid read.

First lines: Of course, I can tell you the tale. but you should understand at the start that there are points where the tell may cause me to become rather emotional.

Last line: In fact, there were witnesses  who heard Mr. Prince, just before departing for Scotland, confide to his cousin Sherlock Holmes that he wanted nothing more to do in any way with Gregory Efimovich Rasputin.
*****************

Deaths = 4 (one strangled; one stabbed; one hit on head; one shot)

Monday, April 8, 2024

"The Speckled Band"


 "The Speckled Band" (1892) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [read from story included in the Sherlock Holmes jigsaw puzzle of the same name]

A locked room mystery from the pen of Conan Doyle. It introduces Holmes and Watson to Miss Helen Stoner who comes to the great detective in terror from she knows not what. She and her twin sister had been living with their step-father after their mother's death. He had inherited the mother's money--with the proviso that he provide for the young women and that an annual sum should be given to them upon their marriages.  Her twin died two years ago just prior to her marriage. No cause of death was found, but just before she died she told Helen, "It was the band! The speckled band!" The room had been locked until her sister opened and the windows barred. Helen believes she died of pure fright, but has no idea what caused the terror. Now, two years later, Helen is preparing to wed. And she has been forced by certain "necessary" repairs to move into the very chamber where her sister died. Holmes listens to the details of her story and insists that he and Watson must come at once to Stoke Moran and investigate if the remaining Stoner sister is to be saved.

This is a classic Holmes story--one that shows up often in English classrooms, along with "The Red-Headed League." It is one of my favorites because of the initially impossible situation and the cold-blooded ruthlessness of the killer. I was a bit disappointed in the jigsaw puzzle, however. Supposedly, you read up to a certain point and then put the puzzle together. Once the picture is complete, it's supposed to provide you with clues that will enable you to solve the mystery before Holmes reveals all. There is, as far as I could see (and as far as my son could see--I asked him to take a look as well) nothing in the picture that you didn't already learn about in the story up to the break. No new clue. Nothing. So--  for the story and  for the puzzle. The picture is nice (except for that incredibly ugly carpet), but it didn't do its job. 


First line: On glancing over my notes of the seventy-odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic, some comic, a large number merely strange, but none commonplace.

Last line: "In this way I am no doubt indirectly responsible for [redacted]'s death, and I cannot say that it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience."
*************

Deaths = 4 (one beaten; one railway accident; two snake bite)


Friday, March 29, 2024

The Inheritance Games


 The Inheritance Games (2020) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Avery Grambs, who has an absent father and a mother who died unexpectedly, lives with her half-sister and both have to work extraordinary hours to get by. Avery is highly intelligent and puts in just enough effort to keep her GPA in the scholarship range, but devotes every other bit of energy to earning enough to help Libby make the rent. And then everything changes. 

One day, Jameson Hawthorne shows up at Avery's school with a summons from his grandfather's lawyers. Avery must appear in order for Tobias Hawthorne's will to be read. Avery is certain she has never heard of, let alone met Tobias Hawthorne and she and Libby can't figure out why the elderly billionaire wanted her to be at the reading of the will. When the family and Avery (and Libby) gather to hear how Hawthorne left his money, they are astonished to hear that almost everything has been left to Avery. She is set to be the richest teenager in America. While Hawthorne's four grandsons and two daughters get chicken feed in comparison. In fact, the servants get more than they do. The only catch for Avery is she must spend one year in Hawthorne House--living with the family members who have every reason to hate her and wish her dead. Except even if she dies, they won't get the money.

She learns a lot about the man who left her practically everything he had. Everything except why he chose her. Most of all, she learns that he loved puzzles and games and everything around her is a puzzle to be solved--from figuring out which key on a huge bunch full of odd-looking keys fits the front door to what the brief messages he left for her and his grandsons really mean. She and Jameson, Grayson, Xander, and Nash aren't sure they can trust each other--but if they're going to solve Tobias Hawthorne's last riddle they're going to have to work together.

Okay...this is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I picked it up for one of the challenges I'm doing (big surprise). For this part of the challenge, I have to read books that other people have picked. This makes it even more challenging for me because my tastes don't seem to coincide with most the others in the challenge. Having steered clear of the books that were what I call trauma drama and the intense thrillers, I opted for a young adult mystery. Young adult isn't one of my go-to genres either, but the premise sounded good. And, for the most part, the premise is good. I liked the puzzle-aspect to the plot. But there wasn't enough of it and the puzzles and riddles weren't the all-time best. As far as the characters go, I like Avery. I like Grayson and Nash. Jameson gets on my nerves. I'm just meh about Xander. And I really like Avery's newly-acquired bodyguard Oren. Libby, I'm not so much a fan of. She needed to kick Drake to the curb and leave him there a long time ago. I also wasn't terrible keen on the little romance triangle Avery had going on with Grayson and Jameson. I'm guessing that sort of thing is standard in YA, but it didn't do anything for me. And I was disappointed that the end of the book isn't really the end of the story. We didn't find out exactly why Avery was chosen. I have this sneaking suspicion that there is a connection between Avery's mom and Hawthorne given that they both loved games. And Avery's mom repeatedly told her that she had a secret. Overall, I liked it, but didn't love it. 

First line: When I was a kid, mom constantly invented games.

Last line: Find Tobias Hawthorne II.
*****************

Deaths = three natural

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Grand Cru Heist



 Grand Cru Heist (2004) by Jean-Pierre Alaux &

Boüard  get to the bottom of the wine thefts. Oh...and Cooker gets his Mercedes and the notebook back intact too!

This is a perfectly fine little story. Most interesting for the locale and the interesting tidbits about wine. I also really enjoyed Cooker and Virgile and their working relationship. There is, however, no great complex mystery. For one, there just aren't really a lot of suspects to sift through. It's not difficult to figure out whodunnit. Definitely more of a comfort read than an intellectual puzzle. My biggest question is--did the culprit just happen to be in Tours at the same time as Cooker or was it planned? And if was planned, how did they know he'd be there? 

******************

Zombies of the Gene Pool


 Zombies of the Gene Pool (1992) by Sharyn McCrumb

Jay Omega (Professor James Owen Mega) is back for another mystery set in the world of science fiction fans. This time Erik Giles, fellow professor in the English department (who, once upon a time, was an early fan of science fiction and SF author C. A. Stormcock), invites Omega's partner Professor Marion Farley and Omega to what promises to be the Fan event of the year. In the 1950s Giles was member of a fan group known as the "Lanthanides"--several members went on the be famous as either authors, critics of the genre, or, in the case of "Bunzie" (Reuben Bundschaft Mistral), a famous Hollywood movie producer. 1954 saw the group decide to go cross-country from Wall Hallow, Tennessee to the Worldcon in San Francisco, but their car broke down and they had to return home to the FanFarm. So, they held their own convention and buried a SF time capsule with short stories from all members along with other SF memorabilia. It's time for a reunion and Mistral has set it up with plenty of fanfare. News outlets will be on hand as will representatives of various publishing houses who will bid for the right to sell the collection of SF stories.

But there are a few surprises in store. First, Pat Malone, one of their number who supposedly died long ago, crashes the reunion party. Malone had always been the most caustic of the group and was most famous in fandom for having written a treatise saying most fans and authors had sold out. He hasn't changed a bit and makes several references to events the other Lanthanides would rather forget. Someone decides they don't want Malone ruining their chances for a terrific book deal and poisons him. So Omega goes to work finding out if Malone really did rise from the dead only to be killed or if something else is going on... 

This one didn't have as much charm as the first Jay Omega book (Bimbos of the Death Sun). Part of the fun of that first one was the SF convention setting. The send-up of science fiction fans felt more light-hearted and thought it poked fun at the ways and mores of those fans, it didn't seem mean-spirited. Zombies seems to have a touch of meanness. We also have to wait way too long for the murder to happen and then it's wrapped up in a rush. And then there's the fact that there really isn't any way for readers (this reader, anyway) to figure out who did it and why. There's a whisper of a hint early one, but you'd really have to read between the lines (with a crystal ball in hand) to figure out what it really means. There is a surprise at the end that could make up for some of this--but I had a feeling something like it might be in the works. Again--no real clues to say so, but once a similar idea floated through my mind the ending didn't surprise me as it could have. ★★ and 1/2

First line: Jay Omega decided to wait until the shouting stopped before he knocked.

I don't see any harm in keeping quiet about this for the time being. It isn't obstructing justice to refrain from mentioning a death to a bunch of reporters and book editors. (Jim Conyers, p. 116)

Last line: He glanced at it and laughed again. "Fuggheads."
************************

Deaths = 6 (one car accident; four natural; one poisoned)



Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Daisy Darker (Spoilerific)


 Daisy Darker (2022) by Alice Feeney

It's time for Nana (Beatrice) Darker's 80th birthday and she decides to invite her dysfunctional family to her tiny tidal island for the celebration. They all come--Daisy Darker, Nana's favorite granddaughter and our narrator. Nancy and Frank Darker, Daisy's parents (now divorced); Rose and Lily, Daisy's sisters (who seem more like the evil stepsisters from Cinderella); and Trixie, Daisy's beloved niece. Also on hand, though late to the party, is Conor Kennedy--a young man who grew up with the Darker girls and was treated like family when his father was "unwell" (read drunk). It's not surprising that the family has gathered, even if they haven't gotten along well for quite some time. Because Nana believes what a fortune teller once told her...that she will die in her 80th year...and plans to reveal what's in her will. They all could use an inheritance and don't mind spending eight hours in each others' company if that means they're in the will. Eight hours? Well, for eight hours after the tide comes in, the Darkers will be cut off from the mainland. And, of course, a nasty storm is thrown in for good measure--just in case someone wants to leave by boat (or swimming) before the tide goes out again.

And why would they want to leave you might ask. Well...just after midnight, Nana is found dead in the kitchen. She appears to have fallen from a chair while chalking a particularly nasty poem on the wall and has a gash on her head where she may have hit the table. But then when other Darkers start dying every hour on the hour, it looks like someone in the house has it in for the family. Which of them is doing it? Or is there someone else on the island that they don't know about? But if so--who could have a grudge against an entire family.

SPOILERS AHEAD! The only way to give my full reaction is to spoil the ending. If you haven't read this and think you might want to, you might want to stop reading the review now.


So....I have mixed feelings about this one. I loved the set-up. Feeney plays nicely on Christie's And Then There Were None theme--with the group trapped on the island, the poems to match the murders, and the murders themselves. She also uses Christie's red herring--again with a twist. The accomplice in this case actually does some killing and isn't knocked off by the herring.  The atmosphere is great and the family relationships (or lack thereof) add to the tension. Feeney does a pretty good job of using Christie-like sleight of hand to mislead the reader about the true nature of our narrator. I had to really think about previous scenes to realize that she hadn't played unfairly. BUT....a ghost? Really? And how on earth is Trixie not going to be arrested and convicted of murdering everyone? We're told that names have been changed--but surely in the "real" world someone will notice that these people who have lives outside of Seaglass island are suddenly not showing up where they're supposed to be and an investigation will be made. Maybe Trixie plans on doing a disappearing act. But we're not told that. 

I had two ideas about the killer (neither correct, of course). One: that Daisy wasn't a ghost and actually did it (after all, she tells us straight up that she lies sometimes and we get to see how she could take revenge). Two: that Conor's dad was really still alive and was hidden on the island and doing it all. I'm still trying to figure out where the men's boots came from....So, yeah, there are a few loose ends here and there.

But overall--I think this was a pretty good effort to walk in Dame Agatha's footprints and I did enjoy it. So....  and 1/2.

First line: I was born with a broken heart.

Doesn't everyone wonder who they would have been if they weren't who they were? (p. 22)

My mother used to button up her resentment, but it has grown over the years, and no matter how much she tries to hide it, a little is always left on show. (p. 25)

Sometimes, if the thoughts inside her own head are not forthcoming, she'll scribble an inspirational quote from a dead author on there. The dead often seem to know more about living than those still alive. (about Nana; p. 33)

"There are much cleverer ways of ending a person than killing them." (Nana; p. 36)

We make moments with our families. Sometimes we stitch them together over time, to make more of them than they were. We share them and hold on to them together as if they were treasure, even when they start to rust. (p. 139)

The trouble with little white lies is that they sometimes grow up to become big dark ones. (p. 172)

Life is a performance, and we don't all like the scripts we're given; sometimes it's best to write your own. (p. 181)

When you love someone, you can't just turn it off, there isn't a switch. Even if you hate someone that you once loved, there is still a little bit of love there. Love is like the soil that hate needs in order to grow. (Rose; p. 234)

Where does the love go when someone dies? Their last breath disappears into the atmosphere, their body gets buried in the ground, but where does the love go? If love is real, it must go somewhere. (Trixie; p.328)

Last line: There are some stories only time will tell.
**********************

Deaths =  9 (five poisoned; three fell from height; one shot)

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Red Bones


 Red Bones (2009) by Ann Cleeves

Hattie James is an intense, sometimes troubled young graduate student working on an archaeological dig on a croft in the Shetland Island. She hopes to prove a theory that a large merchant house was once on the land. When human bones are discovered and sent to be dated, she's hoping it will at least prove that the place was occupied during the period she's interested in. Mima, the owner of the land, is very enthusiastic about the dig, until she turns white at the sight of the skull. Hattie can't figure out why Mima should be so affected. 

Then Mima is found shot to death the next foggy night. It looks like a horrible accident. Ronald Clouston, with a few drinks under his belt, went out to "lamp" rabbits (shine lights on them to make them easy pickings for shooting) and it seems that he must have hit Mima in the dark. But DI Jimmy Perez isn't so sure. What was Mima doing out in that weather at that time of night? Then when Hattie's body is found--an apparent suicide--just after she had made a second, more significant discovery at the dig site, Perez is certain that the two deaths are really murder. But do the murders tie to the archeological discoveries or to some secrets buried in the past lives of current inhabitants. That's what Perez must find out before anyone else is killed.

I've read a couple of Ann Cleeves novels in the past (one Inspector Ramsay and one George & Molly Palmer Jones)--both before I began blogging and keeping detailed notes/reviews. Both were marked as pleasant, middle-of-the-road mysteries (three stars each) and I seemed to think they were "cozy." This particular Jimmy Perez story seems to be at about the same level, though I wouldn't call it cozy. Nor would I really label it a thriller (though I am totally claiming it as such for one of my challenges, since they stuck it right there on the cover). In my book, thrillers should be more tense, suspenseful, and action-driven. The murders are definitely more brutal than a cozy mystery should allow and there's a bit of psychological drama going on, but nothing too heavy. 

The location is as much a character as any of the people in the book. The croft and the surrounding area becomes very real with Cleeves's descriptions and use of locale in the polit. She also did a good job of keeping the killer's identity from me. I absolutely did not see the ending coming. I really like DI Perez--I like his humanity, his way of listening more than talking in his interviews, and the way he deals with Sandy Wilson, the island's constable. Sandy is seen as a dim-witted policeman, but Perez sticks up for him and even gives him some pretty important assignments to assist the investigation. 

A very good introduction to the series (for me--this is actually the third of the Perez books).  and 1/2

First line: Anna opened her eyes and saw a pair of hands, streaked and shiny with blood.

Last line: "I was thinking," she said, "that we could ask them to the wedding."
*****************

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

Friday, March 22, 2024

The Wind in the Willows


 The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame

Mole, Ratty, and Badger have their hands full trying to keep their friend Toad out of trouble. Toad is wealthy and lives in the large country house, Toad Hall. With his wealth, he is able to take up various "passions"--such as sailing and rowing and careening about on a caravan. The water sports and the caravan (pulled by horse) get him in quite a bit of trouble, but it isn't until he falls in love with motor cars that go "poop-poop" that he gets into real trouble. Causing accidents, destroying several of his own vehicles, and finally (after "promising" to give up cars) stealing a really fine motor and winding up in jail. While he's languishing in prison, a gang of stoats and weasels take over Toad Hall and when Toad escapes (dressed as a washerwoman of all things) and returns to his friends--it's up to them to find a way to fight off the gang and return the Hall to its rightful owner.

Toad is one of the most annoying characters ever. Always getting into trouble because of his enthusiasms; always creating difficulties for his devoted friends. Always crying "bitter tears" when confronted with what a conceited Toad he is and how much trouble his friends have gone to for him; claiming that he's a reformed Toad...and always immediately doing it all again. Until he "really, truly" turns over a new leaf at the end. But, seriously, does he? Am I supposed to believe it will stick this time? I'm not sure I do.

The best part of the book is the friendship between Ratty and Mole...and Badger, though Badger tends to keep himself more to himself. He's not much for Social occasions and all that, but Badger is always there when someone needs him. The lessons of friendship are great. And I do get that Ratty, Mole, and Badger are the type that sticks by their friends no matter what--so good on them. But that doesn't make Toad's behavior any less annoying. I'm glad they stick by him, but I'd like to believe that it's been worth it and Toad will be a much better friend himself from now on. 

First line: The mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.

Last line: This was a base libel on Badger, who, though he cared little about Society, was rather fond of children; but it never failed to have its full effect.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Whose Body?


 Whose Body? (1923) by Dorothy L. Sayers; read by Nano Nagle (2023)

I have read the detective works of Dorothy L. Sayers more times than I can count. If you would like a more in-depth review of the story itself, then please visit my previous review. This current review is devoted to Nano Nagle's audio version which is a slightly sanitized version of the Lord Peter Wimsey novel. Nagle indicates in a note on the audio novel blurb that she wanted to give the story a "modern voice" for today's readers. With the term "modern," my first thought was that she meant to transport Wimsey and company to modern Britain. But, no. Modern seems to  mean changing derogatory references to Jewish businessmen and applying the statements to businessmen in general. Because it's okay to paint all businessmen with the same greedy, distasteful brush, just as (I suppose) the phrase "first kill all the lawyers" would be okay--as long as we don't choose a particular portion of the business or law community. I'm not a supporter of racial stereotyping/profiling (or stereotyping in general), but I am also not a fan of "cleansing" works from the past. In my opinion, we shouldn't tidy up an author's work to make it more palatable for modern audiences or ban a book because of its content. The modern audience should read these works and consider why such stereotypes are a bad thing, look at how (or if) society's attitudes have changed, and what we can do to make things even better. It is better to learn from the past rather than pretend these things never existed. [Note: she managed to miss one late in the story. I wonder if she even realized what the word was and what it meant.]

Nagle also uses a very odd pronunciation of Sir Julian Freke's name. Every other reader I have listened to for Whose Body? pronounces it like freak (using the e at the end to provide the long vowel sound). Nagle seems to think the word is foreign, giving the final e a sound that should come with an accented é (such as is found in French): Frehké. And then there's the ominous tone she tends to use for the narrator's voice. It makes everything sound so dramatic and tense, especially as we begin the next chapter. Even when it's not the most dramatic or tense moment. In general she does pretty well with most of the supporting characters--making them distinct and it is easy to identify who is speaking. I can't say, however, that I care for interpretation of Wimsey, Parker, and Bunter, though Bunter fares the best of the three. One really doesn't get a good idea of the brains behind Wimsey's social pose and Parker sounds more like he should be driving a taxi.  for this audio edition.

One interesting tidbit (for me at least): This reading was the first time I picked up on Sayers's reference to Robert Louis Stevenson's story The Wrong Box when our murderer quotes Michael Finsbury saying, "What hangs people is the unfortunate circumstance of guilt."

First lines: "Oh, damn!" said Lord Peter Wimsey at Piccadilly Circus. "Hi, driver!"

Last line: "The Napoleon brandy."
******************

Deaths = 2 (one hit with poker; one traffic accident)

The Philadelphia Murder Story


 The Philadelphia Murder Story
(1945) by Leslie Ford (Zenith Jones Brown)

Myron Kane is a well-known, thoroughly impossible columnist and contributor to The Saturday Evening Post. He makes life difficult for everyone--from editors to staff members to the subjects of his feature stories. This time he has decided to do a feature on Judge Whitney and he uses his slight acquaintance with Grace Latham to wangle an interview with Abigail Whitney, the Judge's aged, eccentric sister. Though the siblings have live next door to each other, they have not spoken for eight years and Whitney is hoping to dig up dirt to spice up his feature story. He does come up with some juicy tidbits (in written documents)--but not through the Judge's Dear Sister (Abigail simply adores capital letters and sprinkles them liberally throughout her speech). 

Abigail Whitney imperiously demands that Grace come to help get the documents back from Kane and Grace finds herself dragged deeper and deeper into the Whitney troubles. Colonel Primrose and Sergeant Buck happen to be on the spot...and it's just as well because the manuscript disappears and then Kane is found stabbed to death, floating in the goldfish pond in the lobby of the Curtis Building, home of the Post. There are plenty of suspicious comings and goings on the fatal day--mysterious movements of the Post staff, surprise visits from various members of the Whitney household, and even a sighting of Benjamin Franklin (whose statues appear in various places in the building). When a blood-stained Franklin costume is discovered in a Post filing cabinet, it begins to look like the famous Revolutionary figure is the culprit. But Primrose has a few ideas about that....and, if Grace would just reveal all she knows and yet not interfere too much, he might prove it before the killer strikes again.

So...can I just say that Grace Latham is pretty infuriating in this outing. She has no reason on earth to have any loyalty to Abigail Whitney and yet she feels that she must keep faith with the Whitneys even if it prevents Primrose and the local police from finding the killer in time to prevent another murder. I understand her taking a liking to Monk (stupid name), Judge Whitney's son, but keeping back information from the authorities is never a good idea. And this is her twelfth adventure with Colonel Primrose--you'd think she would have learned to trust the man by now. My other difficulty with this one is that the culprit sticks out from the beginning. I know who Ford wanted us to suspect as a red herring, but there wasn't any real reason to do so. The one saving grace of the plot is that the motive is not nearly as obvious. I knew who, I just didn't know exactly why. Other good points are Primrose and Buck--I wish that we had seen more of them. Grace is much more engaging when she's with them than when she's operating alone. I would have paid good money for a scene where she put Abigail Whitney in her place and told her to stop calling her "Dear Child."  and 1/2.

First line: The editors of The Saturday Evening Post have finally overcome what I think I may call their natural reluctance about telling the full story of the body found in the goldfish pond in the entrance lobby of The Curtis Publishing Company Building on Independence Square, in Philadelphia, last winter.

It does seem obvious that a widow on what someone kindly called the glamorous side of forty, living in Georgetown, District of Columbia, should not, in the ordinary nature of things, be constantly stumbling over corpses. (p. 5)

Last lines: Colonel Primrose looked at me and smiled. "Well?" he said.
*********************

Deaths =  5 (one plane crash; one stabbed; one natural; one suicide; one hit on head)

Monday, March 18, 2024

Q-Squared


 Q-Squared (1995) by Peter David

Take Q and make him even more annoying and arbitrary and you get....Trelane. The infamous Squire of Gothos with whom Captain Kirk had a run-in over a hundred years ago. Wound up he was just a kid Q who got loose from his parents and wanted to interact with humans for "fun and games." Well...a century has passed and Trelane hasn't grown up much. But now Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise D crew must deal with a Trelane who has tapped into the universal power source and has delusions of godhood. He messes with the powers that keep all alternate mutliverses separate and with the plan this teen-aged Q filled with teen-age angst has for "life, the universe and everything" it seems more like devilhood. Because if Trelane has his way all possible alternate timelines will be gone--but only after the Enterprise crew (and everyone else in the universe) and their alternate selves fight it out to the death to see which one will remain. According to Q, Picard is the only one who can save the universe...and all of its alternates. But how can a mere mortal take on a god...or a devil?

In his introduction, Peter David says that he generally writes two types of Star Trek novels. One is simply problem-oriented--the crew, whether Kirk & company or Next Gen, get involved in events with alien races or whatnot and they have to resolve it. The other takes a look at Trek as a whole and tries to stitch together threads from various iterations of the Trek universe to make a tapestry of sorts. This is the latter type of story. And, overall, I like it very much. I enjoyed the way he brought Trelane into the Q Continuum and made his interactions bridge the time period between Kirk and Picard. I'm also really interested in the multiverse (alternate timeline) trope in science fiction and enjoyed David's take on that concept. The one thing that kept this from a full four-star review was the chaos at the end--I realize that was the point of Trelane's little "experiment," but with all of the various Picards and Rikers and Crushers (both Beverly and Jack [!]), etc. running in and out of each other's timelines it was very difficult to keep everybody straight. And (slight SPOILER ahead)...


even though we're meant to believe that we're back to the "real" universe (that is the one from the TV show) at the end. I'm still a little unsure. A great concept, pretty nicely realized. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: The child looked up at the adult eagerly, wonderingly in that way that children had.

And which of these multiverses is the real one? (LaForge; p. 126)

Last line: She turned back to ask him why he sounded so strange when he said that...but he was already gone.


Saturday, March 16, 2024

Moonflower Murders


 Moonflower Murders (2020) by Anthony Horowitz

At the end of Magpie Murders, Susan Ryeland had retired from publishing and joined her partner Andreas in a venture to run a hotel on the island of Crete. The Polydorus has beautiful views and the weather is lovely and everything should be just marvelous. Except--it isn't. The help is not reliable. Deliveries are not reliable. And the tourists aren't filling the hotel the way they'd like. She and Andrus are so busy trying to make things work that they don't have the time for each other that they need. Susan is feeling restless.

That's when the Trehernes show up at the Polydorus. And they've come specifically to see Susan. About eight years ago, there was a horrible murder at the hotel they (the Trehernes) own back in England. It occurred on the day of their daughter's wedding and the result was that Stefan Cordescru, one of the hotel's employees, was convicted of the murder. Alan Conway, one of her former authors, had later visited the hotel, talked with various people who were around on the day of the murder, and wrote a mystery which featured characters loosely based on them. The Trehernes daughter Cecily recently read the book, Atticus Pund Takes the Case, and called her parents to say that she was right all along, Stefan didn't kill Frank Parrish and the answer was staring at her from the book. Cecily disappeared that very afternoon.

Now the Trehernes want Susan to come to their hotel, talk with the people involved, and reread Conway's book--and tell them what Cecily found out and what has happened to their daughter. They believe that since she worked with Conway she'll know how he would have hidden the answers. And they'll pay her 10,000 pounds to do it. Susan & Andreas could definitely use the money. So, despite Andreas's misgivings (when she looked into Alan Conway's death in Magpie Murders, she found herself in danger...), Susan agrees. But when she begins investigating she finds everyone, including the Trehernes, would prefer not to answer her questions. Why would the Trehernes ask her to do the job if they weren't going to support her efforts? The further she digs, the more motives she finds for Parrish's murder, but she still can't see what Cecily saw "on the very first page." And when she does see it, there isn't much in the way of proof. So, how about a nice, gathering of the suspects, point the finger of suspicion this way and that....and after all the build up the villain will confess--just like in Alan Conway and Agatha Christie novels.

Horowitz provides another unique mystery-within-a-mystery--a technique he seems to like. In some ways this was better than Magpie Murders. I completely missed all of the clues hidden the Atticus Pund story, both those that pointed to Pund's murderer and those that pointed to the killer Susan was trying to spot for the Trehernes. So, Horowitz did an excellent job of distraction. But I did spot the "real-life" murderer even thought I attributed a completely different motive to them. I found it difficult to like or root for any of the characters this time. Even Susan and, while her editor's eye gave her an investigative edge--spotting discrepancies in witness's statements, for instance--the pacing of her investigation seemed slow, almost plodding. It's been a while since I read the first book, but it seemed to me that the Pund story and the "real-life" framing story meshed better. The mysteries are still pretty absorbing and well-done, just not quite as strong as Magpie.

The best part of the book is the homage Horowitz pays to Agatha Christie and other Golden Age mystery writers. The gathering of the suspects at the end is very appropriate and in keeping with the Golden Age feel. I do wish that the Conway story had actually played a much bigger role in Susan's wrap-up.  ★★ and 1/2

First line: The Polydorus is a charming family-run hotel, located a short walk away from the lively town of Agios Nikolaos, one hour from Heraklion. 

Last lines: "Then let's go." And that's exactly what we did.
*****************

Deaths = 11 (one hit on head; five natural; one shot; two strangled; one stabbed; one hit by train)

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Mad About the Boy?


 Mad About the Boy? (2008) by Dolores Gordon-Smith

The second in the Jack Haldean mystery series finds Jack in the middle of another murder "in the family." This time, his aunt and uncle are celebrating 25th anniversary with a gala ball and fireworks--provided by Lord Lyvenden--who switched from arms for the Great War to pyrotechnics to keep the funds rolling in. The occasion comes with some built-in tension. Isabelle (Jack's cousin) has been keeping his best friend Arthur on a string (Arthur is head over heels in love with her), but has recently become engaged to dashing Malcolm Smith-Fennimore (merchant banker, aviator, racing driver...that is to say, a ready-made hero). Arthur is miserable, on top of suffering from the effects of shell-shock. There is also trouble between Lord Lyvenden and his secretary, Tim Preston, whom he [Lyvenden] treats as a general gopher instead of a confidential secretary. And then there's the weird Russian bloke who shows up looking for Alfred Charnook, brother of Isabelle's mother and the black sheep of the family.

The party is completely ruined, however, when Preston is found dead--apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Everything points to suicide. There's even a note beside the body that appears to support the theory. But Jack isn't convinced. And when Lord Lyvenden is stabbed to death and all evidence points to Arthur, Jack knows that something devilish is going on. Did someone have it in for both Lyvenden and his secretary? Could it have anything to do with the coded message Preston apparently saw by mistake? Is it a Russian plot? Or is it more complicated than that? And can Jack discover the true villain before Arthur is brought to trial and convicted?

Gordon-Smith evokes the spirit of Christie's thrillers in this one. It makes me think of The Secret of Chimneys and some of the Tommy & Tuppence adventures. There are Russian agents and secret meeting places and what seems like a code. There's Russian gold and Englishmen in tight places over money. There's even a little gun-running. Of course, the real question is what (if anything, this has to do with the murders). This is a grand adventure and lots of fun. I would love to rate it a bit higher--but this time the main culprit was fairly obvious even though their motive wasn't. Not quite as good as the debut of the series, but I am definitely eager to move on to Jack's next adventure. ★★ and 1/2

First line: Arthur Stanton stubbed out his cigarette, peering anxiously through the haze of smoke at his reflection in the mirror.

Last lines: "Try asking anyone else," he said with a grin. "I'll forbid the banns."
*********************

Deaths = 8 (five shot; one stabbed; one fell from height; one froze to death)

Monday, March 11, 2024

Dorothy & Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers & C. S. Lewis


 Dorothy & Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers & C. S. Lewis by Gina Dalfonzo (2020)

What happens when we push past the surface and allow real, grounded, mutually challenging, and edifying friendships to develop? This is the question posed by Gina Dalfonzo in her biographical examination of the friendship between Christian thinkers and apologists Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis. The friendship had its beginning in a fan letter that Sayers, then celebrated for her mystery fiction and less known for her Christian work, wrote Lewis the first of what became a fifteen-year correspondence. They met on various occasions, but the friendship grew primarily through the written word--letters exploring their mutually held views, debating their differences, critiquing each others work, bolstering one another on points of perceived weakness, and praising & encouraging strengths. 

"Over the years they had helped, educated, guided, teased, critiqued, chastised, defended, consoled, and laughed with each other."

What more could two friends ask for?

One thing that I found frustrating about this book is that most of the letters which promised (in Dalfonzo's descriptions of them) to be very interesting were "apparently lost." She repeatedly employs references in letters--most often in Lewis's replies to Sayers (DLS appears to have kept nearly everything Lewis sent to her)--which indicate that a previous letter held some interesting or profound observations, but we don't get to see them. And, in fact, Dalfonzo quotes very little of the correspondence even though she quotes Lewis's admiration for Sayers' letter-writing abilities. Which reminds me that I really need to read the two collections of Sayers' letters that I have.

On the plus side, it was very refreshing to read about this amazing intellectual friendship--to watch how each influenced the other over the years and gave to the other something that was missing in their other friendships. Having enjoyed Sayers' translation of Dante, I especially appreciated Lewis's commentary and critiques of that work. A very strong literary biography of the friendship between two of my favorite authors. ★★★★

First line (Intro): They could not have been more alike.

Last line: "He is down on the thing like a rat, he is God's terrier, and I wouldn't be without him for the world." (Sayers about Lewis)


Thursday, March 7, 2024

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Sept 1965


 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Sept 1965 by Ellery Queen, ed. 

I have to say that I thought this collection one of the weakest of the EQMM's I've read so far. The best of the bunch are the Christie and the Queen...and I've read both of them before. "A Fine Winter Thirst" is good and pulls at the heart strings a bit with that ending. "The Mystery of the Fulton Documents" is a much better Dupin pastiche than the Goulart story's parody of hardboiled pulp (quite frankly it made no sense to me and I didn't find it funny at all). The Chandler story is a much rougher version of his novel The Big Sleep (which I read last year and enjoyed very much). I didn't get much out of "to Reach the Sea" or "Who Walks Behind" and the rest of the stories are okay. ★★ and 1/2

"Blood Brothers" by Christianna Brand: The Birdswell identical twins are said to be devoted to each other. And so they are...until they both get involved with the same woman. Then murder and competing alibis put them in Inspector Cockrill's sights and it's every man for himself. [2 hit by car]

"Unc Probes Pickle Plot" by John Jakes: A story chock full of slang that makes it a bit of a trudge to read through. And the big mystery--who switched a jar of about-to-be prize-winning pickles for a jar of beets at a town fair--is pretty ho-hum.

"The Mystery of the Fulton Documents" by Michael Harrison: An Auguste Dupin pastiche in which Dupin discovers how the top-secret weapon plans were smuggled out of a French official's safe.

"Bloehm's Wall" by George Emmett: Bloehm is slowly dying from a cancer eating away at him. He's always know that Emil will show up one day to settle old scores. But when Emil does things don't quite go as he anticipated. (one neck broken)

"A Fine Winter Thirst" by George Emmett: A mute itinerant worker finally finds love--only to have it snatched away from him by a cruel barkeeper. (one poisoned; one stabbed)

"All the Way Home" by Jaime Sandaval: Tommy has to listens to rumors about his dad and Miss Abby Hunter, the young teacher who taught school about a mile from their home. Tommy's dad had installed Miss Abby in the lighthouse near their property and Tommy's mom was none too pleased. Things come to a head one windy night when the lighthouse burns down and Tommy's Dad's boat is found adrift. (2 burned to death; one natural)

"The 'Supernatural' Murder" by Agatha Christie: Dr. Pender takes center stage next with a tale of a seemingly impossible murder cloaked with a bit of mysticism. The murder was committed on the night of a costume party near the grove of Astarte. The grove was on the estate of Sir Richard Haydon, a man who was rival of his cousin Eliot for the love of the beautiful Dianna Ashley. The grove contained a mysterious summer house which was rumored to have been a place where secret rites were held long ago. Diana decided to dress the part of Astarte--appearing in a mysterious glow in the summer house. The vision startled Sir Richard and he then stumbled to the ground. when the others reached him, he was dead from a knife wound...but there was no knife to be found. Miss Marple spots the answer. [one stabbed]

"The Needle's Eye" by Ellery Queen: A man suspects his new son-in-law and his father of having evil designs of one sort or another on either himself or his daughter (or both). He asks Ellery to investigate--and in the process Ellery solves a murder and the mystery of a pirate's hidden treasure. (one natural; one shot)

"To Reach the Sea" by Monica Dickens: An odd little story about a woman having an affair and a wig with hair that grows--oh, and one drowning. In a river. Nowhere near the sea...as far as I can tell. [one drowned]

"The Curtain" by Raymond Chandler: A rehearsal story for Chandler's The Big Sleep--all the bones are there--from the old General who wants to know what happened to his son-in-law to red herrings before Carmody (Marlowe's predecessor) figures out what really happened. The killer has changed--but not the motivating factor. [four shot]

"The Peppermint Striped Goodbye" by Ron Goulart: Seems to be a mash-up parody of Chandler's "The Curtain" and a Ross MacDonald Lew Archer story. Rumor has it this is funny. Don't attribute that rumor to me...[two fell from height]

"The Restorer of Balance" by Avram Davidson: In the matter of feeding tigers--who is the hunter and who the hunted? [one fed to tigers]

"Who Walks Behind?" by Holly Roth: George feels compelled to help a man who claims to be a refugee...but he's not sure if it's safe. If perhaps there's someone following after...

First line (1st story): "And devoted I hear?...David and Jonathan?" he said.

Last line (Last story): George was not wrong to be suspicious, and she must learn to live with the understanding that he might some day be right in his ceaseless doubts.