Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Moneypenny Diaries

 The Moneypenny Diaries (2005) by Kate Westbrook

Synopsis [from the book]: Miss Moneypenny's experience with mystery stretches all the way back to her childhood in Africa, when her father inexplicably disappeared in action during World War II. Now, as a young woman in 1960s London, Miss Moneypenny unknowingly stumbles upon her father's trail. In a position like hers, there's no file she can't access, and no document she can't read. Yet Miss Moneypenny is forced to decide whether it's worth risking everything--her job, her safety, and even international security--for the possibility of finding her father alive.

A life of espionage has personal as well as political ramifications. For Jane Moneypenny, the price is high. Romantic relationships with outsiders are necessarily built on lies, and she automatically questions the motives of every man she grows close to. For as her diary quickly reveals, Miss Moneypenny is involved in far more than office politics.

Guarding so many secrets and with no one to confide in, she finds herself breaking the first rule of espionage. Unbeknownst to anyone, she keeps a diary charting her innermost thoughts and state secrets.

Billed as "the explosive, true, private diaries of Miss Jane Moneypenny, personal secretary to Secret Service Chief M and colleague and confidante of James Bond," this is pretty disappointing. There's not a whole lot of Bond--except for during the far more exciting last few chapters where he and Moneypenny share a spy adventure. Most of the time he's off getting drunk and drowning his sorrows over losing his beloved Tracy. I'm not blaming him for being upset, mind you, I just don't think it's fair to make it sound like you're going to get all the inside dope on Bond when he's so conspicuous in his absence. In fact, for an espionage-adjacent book, there's not a whole lot of action going on--again, until the very end. If the entire book had been that exciting..then it would have come closer to meeting my expectations.

This is meant to read like nonfiction--with Jane's niece supposedly going to all kinds of trouble to cross-reference and prove the validity of all these incidents. Which makes this read like a dry-as-dust historical account for about 90% of the book. It would be a heck of a lot more interesting if the story had just been told through Moneypenny's diaries and without all the footnotes and editorializing by Jane Moneypenny's niece. It has a great hook--with Moneypenny wanting to investigate what really happened to her father--but really poor execution. ★★

First line (Intro): The first entry I read was dated 6 July 1962, and began. "007 leaves for the Caribbean today."

Last line: And if he doesn't, I'm going out to look for him too.
Deaths =  9 (one shot; one natural; three blown up; two suicide; one suffocated; one executed)


Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Unicorn Murders (Spoilerific)

 The Unicorn Murders (1935) by Carter Dickson [John Dickson Carr]

I can't possibly talk about this one without letting several cats out of the bag, so I'm just going to warn you up front and not bother with coded comments. If you haven't read this particular mystery by Dickson/Carr, then, you should probably give my review a pass.


So...I don't think I've ever read such a convoluted mystery by such a good detective novelist. Dickson/Carr likes to have tricky little, intricate little solutions to his seemingly impossible crimes. Those sometimes confuse me. But honestly...there are so many people pretending to be somebody else in this one that I couldn't keep up even if I had a scorecard. We start out with our narrator, Kenwood Blake, pretending to be the secret service agent that Evelyn Cheyne (also an agent) is supposed to hook up with in France so they can stick like glue to Sir George Ramsden who is transporting the "unicorn" some sort of top secret, extra-important something-or-other (we aren't told what until the very end) to England. Why on earth the man is going through France isn't really explained--but, whatever.

Apparently, a thieving bad guy by the name of Flamande (shades of G. K. Chesterton's Flambeau) has vowed to be on the same plane as Ramsden and plans to steal the unicorn. Flamande is super-great at disguise and nobody knows what he looks like, so it's going to be difficult to protect Ramsden and his unicorn. To counter Flamande, we have the super-spiffy French Chief Inspector of the Surete, Gaston Gasquet--who, coincidently is also a master of disguise and nobody knows what he looks like either. And he's vowed to be on the plane to catch Flamande. 

So...we have Blake pretending to be the secret service guy. We have the real secret service guy somewhere. We have another guy pretending to be the secret service guy and we have the secret service guy's brother (who looks enough like secret service guy to also pretend to be him if the fancy strikes--it does). We wind up with one these guys (no, I'm not going to completely spoil it and tell you which guy) dead in a French chateau on a island cut off from the main land by a raging river in storm. He was apparently killed in the middle of a stairwell in view of others (albeit by low lamplight) with the horn of a unicorn (you can't make this stuff up--well, you can if your name is Dickson/Carr). Luckily for our hero--whom one of the several guys who claim to Gasquet (don't ask how many--more than we need) accuses him of being Flamande, good ol' H.M. (Sir Henry Merrivale) is also on the spot and will be able to figure out who is who and which one killed who and how and when and where. And, yes, even if I told you all the names and exactly what happened (supposing I could...I'm not sure I can), I don't think you'd be any less confused. Yikes.

The best part of this whole thing is H.M. (and therefore all star points go to him), but, honestly, even he was a bit much. Definitely not my favorite Dickson/Carr novel. ★★

First line: Let me state the case to you, and ask yo what you would do under the circumstances.

Last line: "La, sir, how you do go on!"
Deaths = two stabbed in head

Monday, February 26, 2024

The Hollow/Murder After Hours

 The Hollow/Murder After Hours (1946) by Agatha Christie

 Agatha Christie gives us a nice little country house murder. Lady Lucy Angkatell invites a group of friends and relatives that is sure to cause tension somewhere...and it mostly revolves around Dr. John Christow. Christow is a brilliant doctor with a terrific manner with patients and some innovative ideas about a cure for a deadly disease. But he's not really any good with personal relations. His wife Gerda worships him and is exactly what he thought he wanted yet he treats her poorly. Henrietta Savernake, a sculptor, is his mistress--because she's more vital and intelligent than Gerda, but he wants her to focus only on him (and not her art) Gerda does. Edward Angkatell has always loved Henrietta and hates Christow because Henrietta won't agree to marry him. Others at the house party include Midge Hardcastle, poor relation who must work for her living, who is in love with Edward; David Angkatell, a young intellectual, who feels like an outsider in the family and seems to hate everyone--including Christow. Thrown into the mix is Veronica Cray--Christow's first love who wanted him to give up his life's work as a doctor and come with her to America while she became a Hollywood star. He told her no. She's back in England and determined to get him back. She isn't pleased when he tells her no again.

And then...after he spends a late night at Cray's nearby cottage and then is summoned back in the morning--where he tells her that there most definitely isn't anything doing...he's found dead by the swimming pool, shot to death. And his wife Gerda is standing over him with a gun in her hand. Just at that moment, Hercule Poirot (also staying in another nearby cottage and who has been invited to lunch) comes to the scene...a scene that he initially feels has been staged (as a little joke) for the "great detective" and, as the investigation unfolds, still feels staged, though he's not quite certain by whom and to what purpose. But once the little grey cells have the chance to ponder all of the clues--both real and red herrings--he is able to resolve the question.

I enjoyed this one more for the characters than for the mystery (I spotted what was going on quite early--long before Poirot makes any indication that he knows the culprit, even if he can't prove it yet). Not that the mystery isn't interesting--it is. Christie does some interesting things with the plot and clue placement. But anyone who thinks Christie only does cardboard cutouts and her characters have no depth should really take a look at this one. The standard characters are given motivations and emotional lives that really resonate on the page...and even Gudgeon, the butler who has few scenes, is more than just the wooden-faced, typical butler. But my favorite has to be Lady Angkatell. Probably because with her apparent non sequiturs that have a way of hitting the nail on the head every time she reminds me a great deal of the Dowager Duchess in Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. And I adore the Dowager. Lucy Angkatell is a bit more frightening than the Dowager--she definitely seems to know what she's about in putting together certain persons. But in general she does appear to want what's best for everyone (even if what she thinks is best isn't necessarily what they think is best). A very good mystery that I found most interesting and fun. ★★★★

First line: At 6:13 a.m. on a Friday morning Lucy Angkatell's big blue eyes opened upon another day, and as always, she was at once wide awake and began immediately to deal with the problems conjured up by her incredibly active mind.

Your mind, Lucy, goes so fast, that to keep pace with it your conversation takes the most amazing leaps. All the connecting links are left out. (Midge Hardcastle; p. 7)

He's just down from Oxford--or perhaps Cambridge. Boys of that age are so difficult--especially when they are intellectual. David is very intellectual. One wishes that they could put off being intellectual until they were rather older. (Lucy Angkatell; p. 9)

Queer, thought Henrietta, how things can seep into you without your knowing it. (p. 22)

The truth of it was that he was completely illogical. He didn't know what he wanted. [about John Christow; p. 37)

[about being an artist] You don't understand, John. I don't think I could ever make you understand. You don't know what it is to want something--to look at it day after day --that line of the neck--those muscles--the angle where the head goes forward--that heaviness round the jaw. I've been looking at them, wanting them--every time I saw Gerda. In the end I just had to have them. (Henrietta Savernake; pp. 39-40)

If I were dead, the first thing you'd do, with the tears streaming down your face, would be to start modelling some damned mourning woman or some figure of grief (John Christow; p. 48)

And suddenly one of those moments of intense happiness came to her--a sense of the loveliness of the world--of her own intense enjoyment of that world. (p. 55)

When one has to spend every day of one's life in a damnable little box, being polite to rude women, calling them madam, pulling frocks over their heads, smiling and swallowing their damned cheek whatever they like to say to one--well, one does want to cuss! (Midge; p. 56)

Sculpture isn't a thing you set out to do and succeed in. It's a thing that gets at you, that nags at you--and haunts you--so that, sooner or later, you've got to make terms with it. (Henrietta; p. 60)

You see what you're looking at, yes. You're--you're like a searchlight. a powerful beam turned onto the one spot where your interest is, and behind it and each side of it, darkness! (Henrietta; p. 72)

I can't stand just now, being reminded of happiness. Don't you understand? A time when one didn't know what was coming. When one said confidently, everything is going to be lovely! Some people are wise--they never expect to be happy. I did. (Henrietta; p. 122)

...possibly she believes what is told her. I think if one has not a great deal of intelligence, it is wise to do that. (Lucy Angkatell; p. 134)

What made Lady Angkatell dangerous, he thought, was the fact that hose intuitive, wild guesses of hers might often be right. With a careless (seemingly careless?) word she built up a picture--and if parts of the picture was right, wouldn't you, in spite of yourself, believe in the other half of the picture? (pp. 137-8)

[on whether he is an "artist" as a detective] ...on the whole, I would say no. I have known crimes that were artistic--they were, you understand, supreme exercises of imagination--but the solving of them--no, it is not the creative power that is needed. What is required is a passion for the truth. (Poirot; pp. 152-3)

These foreigners, thought Grange, don't know how to make tea--you can't teach 'em. But he did not mind much. He was in a condition of pessimism when one more thing that was unsatisfactory actually afforded him a kind of grim satisfaction. (pp. 218-9)

Yes, she thought, that was what despair was. A cold thing--a thing of infinite coldness and loneliness. (p. 237)

You do not understand. To you it is unbearable that anyone should be hurt.  But to some minds there is something more unbearable still--not to know. (Poirot; p. 250)

Last line: She said under her breath, "John, forgive me--forgive me for what I can't help doing--"

Deaths = 2 (one shot; one poisoned)

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Death Takes a Bow

 Death Takes a Bow
(1943) by Frances & Richard Lockridge

This one opens with Jerry in a panic because he has to give a short speech introducing one his publishing company's latest stars, Victor Leeds Sproul. He's quite sure he's going to mess it up...even though, as Pam points out, he's quite a good speaker and he always does fine. Little does he know that his audience isn't going to care one way or the other. Not after Sproul declines to come to the lectern when introduced...or rather is incapable of coming to the lectern because he's dead. 

Of course, since the man died while Jerry was introducing him, Pam naturally thinks that this murder is one of theirs. Oh sure, Lieutenant Weigand and Sergeant Mullins will come along and take charge officially, but they won't really get anywhere if she and Jerry don't give them a little help...and a few martinis here and there. And it soon becomes apparent that help might be appreciated because Sproul wasn't exactly a popular fellow--no matter what his book sales might indicate. He was good at stealing other fellows' wives, holding secrets over his "friends'" heads, gloating about his success to those less fortunate, and generally making himself unloved. But who hated him enough to slip him a deadly dose of morphine before his speech? That's what Weigand, Mullins, and the Norths will have to find out. Muddying the waters even more is the presence of a "little dark man" who Jerry sees slipping away from the stage and who may have taken a few vital clues with him.

Pam has her style cramped a bit by the arrival of her nieces. She thinks she's going to be meeting two little girls at the train, but instead she is saddled with two pre-teen/young teenagers (who look and act a bit older than their years) who seem to be magnets for eligible young servicemen. Keeping the girls occupied and away from the sailors and the marines prevents Pam from getting into as much trouble as usual (no tense moments with the killer holding her hostage this time around), but she does manage to spot the murderer based on one key phrase--just before Bill Weigand does. 

This is another fun and light adventure with the Norths. The Lockridges are really very good with dialogue and it's very entertaining to "listen" to the interactions of Jerry and Pam (and her nieces...Pam's way of thinking/talking seems to run in the family ) as well as Weigand and Mullins. I can't say that the mysteries are ever very taxing to the seasoned crime fiction reader, but they are always interesting and entertaining snapshots of New York during the time period. A great escape read. ★★★★

First line: Mrs. North was consoling. never paid to take people as being altogether what they looked to be. Still, he added to himself, that's about the only thing we have to go on. (p. 20)

"You examined him, Doctor?" the assistant medical examiner asked. Klingman nodded and moved a step nearer. The two physicians withdrew into the medical world, symbolically taking the body with them. They nodded over it. Klingman pointed at the eyes and Francis nodded. Francis flexed the dead fingers and Klingman nodded. The lay world waited. The physicians nodded again, now in evident agreement, and unexpectedly shook hands. Dr. Francis came over to Weigand and Mr. North, who waited anxiously.
   "Well," Dr. Francis said, "he's dead all right." (p. 44)

[about Sproul's sensitivity to morphine] "Maybe somebody didn't know it, and gave him a dose of morphine figuring to put him to sleep. Maybe somebody didn't want to hear him give a speech." (Dr. Francis; p. 45) 

It was true, she thought...that when there were dull things to do, women were ordinarily chosen. If it came down to a choice between murder and nieces, men got the murder and women got the nieces. And you couldn't deny that murder was more interesting than nieces. (p. 52)

Realizing how interesting [murder] was, Pam North felt a little worried about herself. Probably, when you came down to it, it wasn't good for you to be so interested in murders. "Habit-forming," Pam thought. You started out able to take a murder or leave it alone--never dreaming of taking it, really. And one murder led to another, and it became--well, a sort of a game. And it should never be a game; not really a game. (p. 52)

Weigand told him that it was unfortunate. "Murder usually is," Weigand said. "Inconveniences a lot of people. Friends, relatives, business associates, the police. To say nothing of the corpse. You have something to tell me?" (p. 60)

"That was the chief thing about Sproul, come to think of it," he said slowly. "He managed to make almost everybody he met feel, in the end, a little ridiculous. Even me--in the old days, of course. It was--a knack he had. And enjoyed. Yes--enjoyed it very much." (Y. Charles Burden; p. 66)

I am not feeling at all the way I should expect myself to feel. I ought to be stirred up and excited, because of Sproul's murder, and I am merely tired, and rather sleepy and--yes, relaxed....Which merely proved that a man's nerves were shamefully egocentric and that they didn't, really, care at all what happened to other people. (Jerry North's thoughts; p. 108)

He realized that he was holding back; that he had been sure it was murder ever since things had gone bump in the night. But there are some things about lieutenants that inspectors should never learn. (p.122)

This didn't, Weigand thought, looking out the window at the streaming rain, look like being a quick one. There was a good deal, come down to it, to be said for the family murder, with suspects conveniently cooped together. Or, if you were to have murder, for any circumstances similarly constricting. (p.125)

Heinrich was a bona-fide enemy agent, like you read about. About Grade C, but genuine. The F.B.I. followed him about and snaffled  off people he spoke to. Heinrich was being very useful, but not to the Reich. The F.B.I. was enjoying Heinrich very much. (p. 164)

"They [marines] indicated that we were taking rather a risk, leaving nieces about. One of them was very serious. He said--well, he said: 'I don't know whether you know sir, but there are some men who wouldn't understand. Sailors, you know.'" (Jerry--who had been a sailor in the previous war; p.166)

No motive was certain. They didn't have enough; it was not a simple, comfortable murder for money or safety or, so far as they could guess, hatred. But it might be any of these. (p. 169)

But if it were Newark,, now--there had been time enough to get to Newark by tube train and to meet the train which was bringing Mr. Demming. A murderer would have to move briskly, but murderers must expect to make some sacrifices. (p. 203)

He, Weigand, had only to sit, and look at papers, and think. He found the prospect uninviting. Now, he decided, would be a fine time for a hunch. He made himself receptive to hunches. No hunch came. (p. 209)

"How do you feel when you're not feeling well?" Mrs. North repeated. "Surely that's clear enough."
"It sounds all right," Bill Weigand admitted. "Words and everything; even a verb. But it doesn't mean anything. When I don't feel well I just don't feel well." (p. 220)

"Men arrange their own murders," he said. "By being what they are, doing the things they do, meeting the people they meet." (Weigand; p. 230)

Last lines: Beth and Margie both looked radiant as they came in. They both had sailors.
"Those girls," Pam said, "are unfair to the army. They ought to be--they ought to be picketed."
Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one smothered)


Thursday, February 22, 2024

Man of Two Tribes

 Man of Two Tribes (1956) by Arthur W. Upfield

I seem to be in the minority on this one, but I just think this is bonkers. The story starts out pretty straightforward: Myra Thomas, accused and acquitted of killing her husband, disappeared from the train carrying her and her mother to live in another part of Australia where perhaps the notoriety would not follow her. But Myra never arrived in Perth--somewhere between Adelaide and the final stop she vanished. As far as anyone could tell, she was wearing only her nightdress and a pair of slippers. And not a trace of her has been found after three weeks of searching by train employees along the line and police officials in the small towns in the great desert plain area. There are few places a woman could be and still be alive--and she is not in any of them.

So, Bony arrives, ostensibly to take up the hunt, but also because an old trapper, who has recently died, left a diary indicating that there have been clandestine journeys by a helicopter during the desert nights. Upper officials are worried that spies are at work, so Bony is sent to look for Myra Thomas and to find out the truth behind the trapper's helicopter sightings. And then it just gets weird. When Bony arrives at the trapper's last camp, he discovers a silky white scarf fluttering above a deep sinkhole. The next thing he knows, a group of tribesmen have unceremoniously dumped him and all his gear (save a really good hunting rifle) down into the underground cavern where he finds himself stranded with Myra Thomas and several convicted (and recently released) killers. And there's a fresh corpse among them. So, now Bony has to figure out which murderer in a group of murderers has decided to kill again. Oh...and he also has to figure out how to get them all out of there (and is, of course, successful after the group has been working on this very thing for weeks...).

The best thing about this one is the descriptions of the desert area of Australia and Bony's interactions with the camels and Lucy, the dog, when he's following the traplines of the old trapper. I've always appreciated Upfield's way of describing the Australian landscape and Bony is such an interesting character that even his interactions with animals are amusing and well worth reading. The mystery could have been way better if it hadn't had such a bonkers set up. I just don't see how the snatching of all these murderers and suspected murderers could work so smoothly without any clues being left. If Bony hadn't seen that silk scarf (which, how the heck?), then they'd never have been found and he's one of the best trackers ever. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: Senior Constable Easter was roused by the alarm clock at three-forty-five a.m.

Last lines: "Fellow of the Released Murderers' Institute. I really earned that, Easter."
Deaths = 5 (one natural; one shot; one poisoned; one hit on head; one fell from height)

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A Fete Worse Than Death

  A Fete Worse Than Death (2007) by Dolores Gordon-Smith

In 1922, Jack Haldean is staying with his aunt and uncle in Breedonbrook and attends the local fete. It's a lovely day filled with games (the coconut shy, darts and hoop-la) where he wins everything from coconuts to violently colored candies to a dolly with carrier, blanket, and pillow. He's also trying desperately to avoid a man who served under him in the RAF. Jeremy Boscombe is an annoying little tick who has always loved finding out people's weak spots and leaning on them hard. 

Apparently he leaned too hard on the wrong person because he's later found shot to death in the fortune teller's tent. Haldean is a detective novelist who has also had a bit of real-life detective experience--solving a little matter of the "mess bill business" while still in the service and then helping Inspector Rackham of Scotland Yard with "the affair at Torrington Place" after the war. He offers to help Superintendent Ashley with this latest local case and they've barely begun to investigate when Reggie Morton (soon proved to be an unsavory friend of Boscombe's) is found in Boscombe's room at the local inn--also shot to death. They uncover signs of blackmail and indications that the motive for the murders may be linked to the battle of Augier Ridge. 

The battle was the source of Victory Cross for Colonel Whitfield, local hero and hopeful suitor to Marguerite Vayle. Jack's uncle is one of Marguerite's trustees and, along with Hugh Lawrence the other trustee, must give approval for her marriage. The battle was also the source of treachery--someone had been spying for the Germans and betrayed the British troops when they discovered a tunnel under the ridge. The blame always fell on Major Tyburn who has been assumed dead. But now there are rumors that Tyburn is still alive. Did Boscombe (one of the few survivors of Augier Ridge) recognize him in the crowd that day and decide on a spot of blackmail? Or was he putting the black on someone else? There are several suspects to choose from and Haldean and Ashley will find their suspicions resting on various people before they discover the real culprit.

This is a lovely first mystery in a historical series that captures the spirit of the Golden Age of crime in every way possible--from the amateur sleuth who gives vibes of Lord Peter Wimsey to the village fete to a nice little circle of suspects, all wrapped up in a well-clued puzzle. Very entertaining with deftly sketched characters and a great setting. I'm definitely looking forward to the next in the series. ★★★★

First line: With a feeling of relief, Jack Haldean walked into the dim green interior of the beer tent.

Last line: "But here's to the pilot."
Deaths = 6 (three shot; three natural)

Monday, February 19, 2024

Ellery Queen's Anthology 1966 Mid-Year Edition

 Ellery Queen's Anthology 1966 Mid-Year Edition
(1966; all stories pre-1960) by Ellery Queen, ed.

I'm still working my way through the Ellery Queen collections/magazines that I've picked up over the last several years. This is another great collection with familiar (to me) names such as Steinbeck, the Lockridges, Crispin, Starrett, and the like. I've read one novel by L.A.G. Strong (All Fall Down) and have Kersh's Prelude to a Certain Midnight sitting on the TBR stacks. I appreciated Strong's novel much more than the short story included here. In fact, Strong and Kersh's stories share a common theme--they're about incidents that may or may not have happened exactly as related. My favorites in this anthology are those by Woolrich, the Lockridges, Walsh, Kantor, and Carr--but overall this is a very strong collection. ★★★★

"All at Once, No Alice" by Cornell Woolrich: Our narrator, Jimmy Cannon, fell head over heels in love with Alice Brown and his feelings were returned. So, after a very (VERY) short courtship, they elope--are married by a justice of the peace along the way and due to a shortage of hotel space in the town where they land for their honeymoon, have to sleep apart on their honeymoon. When Jimmy goes to collect his new bride the next morning, she's gone. And so is all trace that she ever existed. Only one man believes him...but will they find her in time?

"How Mr. Hogan Robbed a Bank" by John Steinbeck: Mr. Hogan is just your average grocery store manager who comes up with a fool-proof plan to rob the bank next door to the grocery store.

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

"You Can't Love Two Women" by L. A. G. Strong: Maurice has been carrying on an affair and the strain of keeping secrets is getting to be just to much. If it goes on much longer he's going to lose his he dreams up a plan that will give him an alibi. [one stabbed]

"The Clue of the Scattered Rubies" by Erle Stanley Gardner: Sidney Zoom is the only one who believes Eva Paine didn't kill her father-in-law for a fortune in rubies. But the evidence doesn't look good... [two shot]

"I Killed John Harrigan" by Thomas Walsh: Walter believes he has pulled off the perfect murder--killing a well-known loan shark who was bleeding him dry. But his conscience won't let him see an innocent man executed... [one shot; one executed]

"The Grave Grass Question" by MacKinlay Kantor: Dr. George Martindale's father and brother were killed when he was a young boy and he promised his mother he'd get the man (men) who did it. He just didn't know it would take almost 60 years to do it... [two hit on head]

"Blind Man's Bluff" by Roy Vickers: When a blind man decides to murder the man in love with his wife, he thinks the police will be too blind to see how it was done. He doesn't realize that the one clue he himself can't see will give him away a few years later. [one natural; one hanged]

"The Crime by the River" by Edmund Crispin: A servant girl in the house across the river from the Chief Constable is dead. The Superintendent thinks he know who did it. Much depends on how one of the men in the case got to the Chief Constable's house... [one strangled; one shot]

"£5000 for a Confession" by L. J. Beeston: A journalist, a doctor, an actor-manager, and an amateur detective walk into The Yellow Club...and the amateur detective has a tale of burglary to tell. With an unexpected punch line.

"Karmesin & the Crown Jewels" by Gerald Kersh: Kamesin is offered seven million dollars to steal the crown jewels of England for King Tombala of South America...

"This Was Willi's Day" by Aaron Marc Stein: Willi is a gigolo with big dreams and he makes slow plans to make those dreams come true. Then he meets a woman who puts those dreams on fast-forward.  [one fell from height]

"Blackmail" by Stephen McKenna: A man is unwise enough to tell a group of fellow passengers how he thinks a good blackmailer should operate. And then puts himself into the hands of his star pupil... [one natural]

"Murder on St. Valentine's Day" by Mignon G. Eberhart: Our narrator, James Wickwire, is a senior vice president at the local bank. He manages the estates of various widows who are clients of the bank. Most of them cause him anxiety--but not Clarissa--she had always kept her head when it came to money matters. Could balance a bank book with the best of them and never fell for wild cat schemes. That is until the day a young assistant cashier brought him a check for $20,000 written in lipstick on a dainty, lace, heart-shaped handkerchief from Clarissa to an unknown handsome young man. He thinks Clarissa has finally fallen for a slick line...but he didn't expect it to lead to murder. [one shot]

"A Piece of String" by Clarence Budington Kelland: Things look black for old man Asbury's grandson when the man is found dead and the only way into his room was through Ransome Asbury's room. But Asbury's old friend Scattergood Baines finds the answer to the puzzle in a piece of string and a broken ice pick. [one hit on head]

"The Tragedy of Papa Ponsard" by Vincent Starrett: Papa Ponsard is a book store owner who dreads parting with his books and yet he knows he must sell some or be ruined--for he owes 300 francs in back rent and fears every day that Monsieur Gebhart will show up and kick him out of his shop. But few customers enter his store these days. So he starts cataloguing his books so he can try to draw in customers through the mail. Then an innocent change (on the part of his daughter's suitor) in a book's price results in an unexpected twist of fate--both wonderful and tragic.

"Taboo" by Geoffrey Household: Our narrator, a psychologist, tells the story of a visit to the village of Zweibergen in the Carpathian mountains. Local men began vanishing without a trace and the villagers began to whisper of creatures in the night. He and another visitor decide to keep watch and trap the killer--whether man or beast--with lasting effects for both of them. [two shot]

"The Silver Curtain" by John Dickson Carr: Jerry Winton is having terrible luck at the gaming tables. Then a man comes along and offers him ten thousand francs to just go to a doctor's house and pick up some pills. Sounds like an easy way to earn some much-needed cash. But then that same fellow winds up dead with a knife in his back outside the doctor's establishment...and there's no one around but Jerry. And he didn't do it. Fortunately, Colonel March of Scotland Yard is on hand to explain what happened and who really did it. [one stabbed]

"Bride in Danger" by Ellery Queen: Ellery has been invited as an eligible bachelor (the bride's mother is hoping to do a little more matchmaking) to a wedding in Wrightsville. He finds himself serving as a repository for various secrets and almost winds up attending a funeral for the bride instead of a reception for the happy couple. His eye for the right word helps him identify the person with murderous intentions toward Dr. Farnham's intended.  

"The Girl Who Lived Dangerously" by Hugh Pentecost: A man who runs rigged carnival games finds himself caught up in a much more deadly game when his helper is killed--apparently over a poker game gone wrong. [two shot; one hit on head]

First line (1st story): It was over so quickly I almost thought something had been left out, but I guess he'd been doing it long enough to know his business.

Last line (last story): "Let's get out of here, Jeff," he said.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

When Blood Lies (audionovel)

  When Blood Lies (2022) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor); read by Jenny Sterlin

This review is devoted to the audio version. For a more detailed review of the book itself, please see my previous review: HERE.

As I'm impatiently waiting for the next Sebastian St. Cyr novel to be published (What Cannot Be Said, April 2024), I have been revisiting the previous books to remind myself of Lord Devlin's over-arching story. This time completely through audio novels. Up till now, Sebastian's story has been told by Davina Porter, who was outstanding--able to give voice to a variety of characters with differing accents and dialects. Her depiction of Sebastian and Hero has become firmly ingrained in my mind. Jenny Sterlin had very big shoes to fill. It's possible that if this were the first book in the series that I listened to as an audio novel that I would have been more impressed by her performance. It's perfectly adequate. But I don't think she has the range for male voices that Porter did. I found less distinction between the men and it was more difficult to remember who was speaking without key phrases like "Sebastian said" or "questioned the Earl of Hendon."

However, it was still a delight to listen to the further adventures of Sebastian and his lady as they are in France, hoping to finally get in touch with Sebastian's mother. Fate, of course, has an entirely different program in mind and they wind up investigating Sophia's murder. A murder with ties to the possible re-emergence of Napoleon on the world's stage. Harris manages to pull in all sorts of historical detail without overloading the reader and this remains one of my all-time favorite historical mystery series. ★★ for the audio version--the novel itself is a five-star winner.

First line: One more day, he thought, one more day, perhaps two, and then....

Last line: Long live the Emperor.


Deaths = 13 (one drowned; one natural; five stabbed; one broken neck; two hit on head; two shot; one strangled)

Saturday, February 17, 2024

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

 The Blood--Dimmed Tide (2004) by Rennie Airth

1932, Britain. Since the dreadful deaths in The River of Darkness, the first of the John Madden books, Madden has retired from the force to become a country farmer--both out of inclination and because his wife was upset at his injuries at the end of the last case. But just as an old hunting dog will stir at the bugle's call, the former police inspector can't resist lending a hand when a young girl goes missing from a village near his home. And when he is the one to discover the battered body he just can't stay away from the investigation. Fortunately, his old team don't mind the help--in fact, they'll take all the help they can get when their one trail goes cold and evidence is found that this isn't the culprit's first killing. And when they find a gap in similar killings in Britain, they wonder if killer took his talents to the continent for a few years. Soon they are working with the German police and the Secret Service to track a murderer who doesn't mind where he kills as long as he can get away with it...

Airth likes his mysteries steeped in psychology--whether it's a damaged soldier from WWI or a psychopathic killer of young girls. Good, solid analysis of the culprit's character--and analysis entirely appropriate to the story's time period. Airth also gives us good, solid police work...tracking down clues, interviewing witnesses, and the rest of the daily procedures that lead to solving a case. And all without boring the reader with detail or slowing the pace. I really enjoyed the introduction of the German police officer Probst and wish we could have seen more of him. Given that the books are heading into WWII territory, I'm doubtful that we'll see him again (unless--since he has expressed his feelings on the Nazis--he decides to leave Germany for England) and that is a shame.

It is a testament to Airth's abilities as a mystery author that I'm ranking this so high. I have great difficulty with stories about children in danger and a serial killer targeting young girls was definitely a hard topic for me. But the writing is terrific and I was very invested in the characters--not just Madden and his wife, but all of them...down to Sam Watkins and his dog Sally and the tramps who helped Madden discover some of the vital clues. ★★★★

First line: Only chance brought the Maddens to Brookham that day.

Last line: And on the dark night that was coming.
Deaths = 10 (four strangled; four natural; one burned to death; one suicide)

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Cat Who Saved Books

 The Cat Who Saved Books (2017) by Sosuke Natsukawa; translated by Heal Kawai

Rintaro Natsuki has grown up in his grandfather's bookshop, Natsuki Books. When his parents died, Natsuki came to live with his grandfather. An introverted boy who has never felt like he fit in with his classmates, he has enjoyed the comfort and seclusion he found among the books. He is devastated when his grandfather dies. He has inherited the bookstore, but he is going to have to sell it and move in with his aunt. He stops going to high school and then he starts having visitors.

Two of his fellow students stop to visit and let him know they're concerned about him--especially the class president, a girl he never would have believed thought about him at all. And then...the talking tabby cat shows up. Tiger, the cat, needs Rintaro's help in a quest. There are those who are destroying books and not using them the way they are meant to be used and Tiger wants the boy to help him free the books. There's the man who owns thousands of books, but keeps them locked up and on display. And the professor trying to develop a new way to speed-read who thinks chopping books up into digestible "sound-bites" is the answer. And the publisher who produces books that he thinks will sell rather than those that are really worth reading. And one final quest with stakes even higher. His new friend Sayo has been taken and won't be released unless he defeats one final twisted soul in the realm of books.

This book is a fantasy and a parable and a coming of age story. Through his adventures, Rintaro learns the true power of books; that they are more than escapes from the world. They hold power. The power to understand others--people like us who are experiencing what we experience but in their own ways and people who may not look or seem like us. They allow us to visit worlds and peoples we might never know were it not for the power of stories.

Books are filled with human thoughts and feelings. People suffering, people who are sad or happy, laughing with joy. By reading their words and their stories, by experiencing them together, we learn about the hears and minds of other people besides ourselves, Thanks to books, it's possible to learn not only about the people around us every day, but people living in totally different worlds.

Rintaro also learns much about himself. He learns that he has gifts that he never realized and that he can stand on his own two feet now that his Grandfather is gone. He learns that he can make friends and work with others (even a talking cat!). He learns about the power within himself as well as within books.  ★★★★

First line: First things first, Grandpa's gone.

Last line: A gentle breeze brushed the doorbell, and it gave a cheerful ring.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Gently Down the Stream

 Gently Down the Stream (1957) by Alan Hunter

Sometimes the folks who rented boats from Sloley's Yard returned the water crafts late. Sometimes they returned them in worse shape than they took them out. But this is the first time one of the yachts didn't come back and is found burned out and the remains of the man who rented it onboard. It might have been an accident...there was a whole can full of petrol on board. Except James Lammas didn't die from the fire or smoke inhalation...he was shot through the head with .22 pistol. 

Chief Inspector George Gently is brought in to help the local police force out. But the deeper into the case he gets, the less it makes sense. Of course it doesn't help that no one is telling the truth--not his wife, not his son, not his daughter...and none of the other witnesses who pop up along the way. And what has happened to Lammas's secretary and his chauffeur. Did they set the older man up and run off together? Just when Gently thinks he knows the answers, the case shifts and it looks like Mrs. Lammas and their son might be responsible. Then he finds a bit of gold paper and half of a set of dentures and everything becomes clear....

As I've mentioned in reviews of other Gently titles, for some reason that I can't quite pin down I keep coming back to these novels by Alan Hunter. I keep him on my TBF list (To Be Found) and pick the novels up whenever I see them. It must be Gently himself--I do like George Gently--and Hunter's way with characterization, because I can't say that any of the books I've read previously were knock-out mysteries. This one is better than most; the plot is really quite nifty--even if I did figure it out quite some time before Gently. Actually, I think that may be one of the reasons I liked it so much. In most of the novels I've reviewed here before, I'd felt that the clues weren't quite fairly given and that I didn't have a chance to solve it before (or at the same time) as our detective. The clues are definitely there this time and I was bright enough to latch onto them. Go me! One quibble that still remains is the dialogue style. In every book so far, there are many instances where I feel that I am overhearing a coded conversation; that there is much being left unsaid that Gently apparently understood and if I only had the code book I would understand the apparent non sequiturs too. That's somewhat annoying. Added to that this time is the river folks' dialect (which is pretty tough to work through) and it doesn't help that Gently starts talking that way too when he's questioning some of them. 

Despite my quibbles, this is a nicely plotted mystery and I enjoyed it more than any I've reviewed previously on the blog. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: There was something wrong at Sloley's Yard.

Last line: "It's a mistake, my being a bachelor."

Deaths = 3 ( two shot; one natural)

Monday, February 12, 2024

Winter in June

 Winter in June (2009) by Kathryn Miller Haines

1943. The war in the South Pacific has been heating up. When aspiring actress Rosie Winter learns that her ex-boyfriend is MIA in the South Pacific, she decides to join the USO with the idea of using the tour to search for Jack. (Like the South Pacific isn't a might big place...) She convinces her best friend Jayne to join her and they find themselves in San Francisco waiting to board a naval vessel where they will join a troop led by the famous actress Gilda DeVane. Lined up on the dock, they're delayed when a body is found in the bay. They later find out that the dead woman was formerly a WAC stationed on the very island which will serve as their home base in the South Pacific. 

That's not the only mysterious business on this trip. Kay, another of their troop, is also an ex-WAC who knew the dead woman. They learn that the woman who died in San Francisco had thought she knew who was responsible for supplies that had gone missing from the camp on Tulagi Island. Then someone takes potshots at the actresses during one of the performances. Jayne is slightly wounded, but Gilda is killed. Is there a connection to the WAC's death? Oh...and don't forget Jack. First, Rosie is told he's dead--killed by a shark. But then she finds out he may be alive. Who's telling the truth? And what are the others hiding?

I don't know if I'm just tired or if my summary really is as much of a mess as I think it is. If it is...well, there's good reason for that. This book was, in my opinion, a bit of a mess. The mystery was all over the place and I love (where's the sarcasm font when you need it) how absolutely everyone is either on the island Rosie goes to or used to be on the island. Looking for Jack in the middle of the South Pacific--guess which island he was last seen on? Dead woman was a WAC? Well, of course, she was stationed on that island too. So was Kay. And, quite frankly, the mystery doesn't make a whole lot of sense--neither the mystery surrounding Jack's disappearance nor the mystery of the WAC and Gilda. The latter felt contrived. And I was disappointed that Jack's situation was never really explained fully. 

Once upon a time I read the first of this series and I liked the unusual motive for murder and plot well enough that I snapped this one up when I found it at Half Price Books. I don't know if Rosie's character has changed that much from the first book to now (this is third in the series) or if I have changed, but I really didn't care for her much at all and she isn't much of an amateur sleuth. At the end of the book, she talks about how selfish she is--and she's right, She has been incredibly selfish...not in a mean-spirited way; she's mostly just oblivious. The best part of the book (and earning all the stars) are the descriptions of life in the USO and the life of those stationed on the islands. Good descriptions of the locale as well. But not the best of mysteries. ★★

First lines: I was hoping we'd get champagne for our bon voyage. Instead, we got a corpse.

Last line: It only seemed fair that if she was willing to accompany me on my journey, I would do the same for her.


Deaths = 4 (two shot; two enemy fire)

Friday, February 9, 2024

Miraculous Mysteries

 Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders & Impossible Crimes (2017) by Martin Edwards, ed.

Another terrific collection of little-known mysteries in the British Library Crime Classics series. This time Martin Edwards is highlighting the classic crime favorites locked rooms and other impossible crimes. And, may I just pull out my soap box and point out that the locked room mysteries really are real, live, honest-to-goodness locked room mysteries and not what passes for "locked room" these days. So many people--including those who profess to have some sort of expertise in the mystery field--seem to think that closed circle = locked room. Here we have victims killed behind locked doors in situations where the room seems inaccessible from the outside; no one could have gotten in or out--either because of locked doors/windows or because all entry-ways were under observation; and/or the idea of suicide is put out of court--either because the weapon is nowhere to be found or the victim could not have possibly done the deed in the way it was done. It appears that no one could have done it. NOT: here we have a group of people trapped on an island, in a house in the middle of a snow storm, whatever and people start dying and no one from outside our little group could possibly have done it. The only island mystery that I've read that I'd count is And Then There Were None because when the bodies are discovered and everybody who was trapped on the island is dead it really does look like nobody could have done it in the way it was done. Okay...I'll put my soap box away now.

I've read about half of these before (Doyle, Rohmer, Robbins, the Coles, Sayers, and Crispin and a couple more seemed familiar but I can't say how or when I came across them. But even having read a number of them before, I still found the collection to be delightful. The Sayers story is one of my favorites and I never get tired of reading it. Of those that were new to me, "The Music-Room," "Death at 8.30," and "Locked In" stand out. Excellent collection. ★★★★

"The Lost Special" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: As Mr. Bland the Superintendent of the Central L. & W. Railway Company says in the story, "Does a train vanish into thin air in England in broad daylight? The thing is preposterous. An engine, a tender, two carriages, a van, five human beings--and all lost on a straight line of railway." And yet, it does happen [three fell from height]

"The Thing Invisible" by William Hope Hodgson: Carnacki investigates the case of a butler stabbed in front of witnesses. The witness are convinced that either the dagger has a mind of its own or an invisible agent has employed it. Carnacki is almost convinced that the supernatural is involved...and then he notices something odd in a photograph.

"The Case of the Tragedies in the Greek Room" by Sax Rohmer: Death invades the room where an ancient Athenian harp resides. Is it a curse or is there a human agent? [one neck broken; one heart attack]

"The Aluminum Dagger" by R. Austin Freeman: Dr. Thorndyke discovers how a man could be stabbed  in a room with the only door locked and the window unreachable.[one stabbed; one shot]

""The Miracle of Moon Crescent" by G. K. Chesterton: Father Brown knows the secret of how Warren Wynd was spirited out of his room and hanged in a tree a quarter of a mile away.[one hanged]

"The Invisible Weapon" by Nicholas Olde (Amian Lister Champneys): How could a man be killed with a heavy weapon when he was all alone in an empty ballroom. The evidence of the water leak holds the answer... [one hit on head]

"The Diary of Death" by Marten Cumberland: When a beautiful woman dies in poverty, she leaves behind a diary vilifying her friends for not helping her in her time of need, someone begins killing the people mentioned--leaving the relevant pages of the diary beside the bodies. But how is the killer getting to their victims? [one natural; one shot two stabbed]

"The Broadcast Murder" by Grenville Robbins: A locked room radio murder mystery and the murder is broadcast live over the air. Tremayne, an announcer on the radio, appears to have been strangled while giving the news. He was alone in the recording studio, a locked room. When the manager bursts into the studio there's no one there--not even Mr. Tremayne, alive or dead. A clever mystery with a very surprising twist at the end.[one hit on head; two hanged]

"The Music-Room" by Sapper (Herman Cyril McNeile): Forty years ago a man was found dead (his face beaten in) in the locked music room of an old mansion. There were rumors of a secret passage and hidden gold. When the new owner holds a dinner party, the guests don't expect history to repeat itself.... [one pneumonia; two beaten to death]

"Death at 8.30" by Christopher St. John Sprigg: A criminal mastermind is extorting money from the rich and powerful--threatening them with death if they don't pay up. He's killed three and extorted money from seven more when he marks the Home Secretary as his next victim. The police set up what they think is a foolproof plan to protect Sir Charles Martell from being murdered at 8:30. They would be wrong. [two poisoned]

"Too Clever by Half" by G.D.H. & Margaret Cole: Dr. Tancred tells a story to prove that it doesn't pay to be too clever if you want to get away with murder. When Sam Allsop is found shot, there are too many clues left about to "prove" that it was suicide. The murderer should have left well enough alone. [one shot; one hanged]

"Locked In" by E. Charles Vivian (Charles H. Cannell): Another dead man behind a locked door with no other possible entrance. Interesting solution--but I will say that as soon as I heard the name Borgia mentioned I knew something tricky would be involved. I was surprised the man wasn't poisoned. [one shot]

"The Haunted Policeman" by Dorothy L. Sayers: The story of the poor policeman who saw a house numbered thirteen where no thirteen ought to be and a murdered man where no one has been murdered. Lord Peter helps him prove that he wasn't drunk nor delusional.

"The Sands of Thyme" by Michael Innes (J.I.M. Stewart): Death on the beach at Thyme Bay is reckoned to be a suicide because of the tale the footprints in the sand tell. But is it the right tale? [one shot]

"Beware of the Trains" by Edmund Crispin (Robert Bruce Montgomery): Gervase Fen and the mystery of the missing train conductor. There's also a little matter of a burglar and a dead body. [one stabbed]

"The Villa Marie Celeste" by Margery Allingham: Inspector Luke and Albert Campion join forces to solve the mystery of the young couple who disappeared from their home leaving their half-eaten breakfast behind.

First line (1st story): The confession of Herbert de Lernac, now lying under sentence of death at Marseilles, has thrown light on one of the inexplicable crimes of the century--an incident which is, I believe, absolutely unprecedented in the criminal annals of any country.

Last line (last story): "I suspect the charm of relatives who call at seven-thirty in the morning," said Mr. Campion.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Inspector of the Dead

 There's no such thing as forgetting. The inscriptions on our memories remain forever, just as the stars seem to withdraw during daylight but emerge when the darkness returns. Thomas De Quincey in Inspector of the Dead (2015) by David Morrell

It is the time of the Crimean War and things are not going well for England. The British government collapses due to the incompetence of its leaders and Queen Victoria is trying to hold things together. Meanwhile, a ruthless killer begins striking at people in power--men who represent the justice system are killed and displayed to produce the most chilling effect on the populace of London. Entire households are slaughtered. And notes are left indicating that the killer means to work his way up to Queen Victoria herself. Enter Thomas De Quincey and his friends Detectives Ryan and Becker of Scotland Yard. De Quincey sees, through an opium haze, a pattern even deeper than political unrest...a pattern of revenge and hate that must be stopped before what's left of the government is brought to its knees. 

The first death is discovered at church. Most of London's elite are at St. James Church for morning services...but also because one of the heroes of the Crimea (one of the few good stories to come from that poorly managed war), Colonel Trask is home on leave and will be in attendance. There is an air of rejoicing...until blood begins seeping out of the closed pew belonging to Lady Cosgrove and she is found stabbed to death. A stabbing that apparently took place during the beginnings of the service. When Detective Becker is sent to inform Lady Cosgrove's household of the tragedy, he finds more death--all the servants and Lord Cosgrove have been attacked. And Lord Cosgrove is posed holding a law book with a paper with "Edward Oxford" on it. Oxford had attempted to kill Queen Victoria some years ago. The next victims are left in a manner that references the law and injustice and with the names of others who have tried to kill the Queen. De Quincey believes they must look for a man who is seeking revenge for some mistreatment of himself or his family at the hands of the justice system and the government. But how many will have to die before the investigators can gather enough clues to catch the killer?

It's been a while since I read a Morrell book--and that was Murder as a Fine Art, the first of his Thomas De Quincey novels. As I said then, I'm not usually one for gruesome serial killings, but when I do read them I like the stories to be far removed from the present day. 1855 England does very well for that. Morrell does a terrific job bringing the brilliant, but troubled Quincey to life and uses descriptions and details to make early Victorian England very real as well. He gives our killer a complicated background and while I don't condone the killings, I certainly understand the circumstances that produced the killer. A very good book all around and even though I had a suspicion about who was behind it all, the ending still managed to surprise me. A little over ★★★★

First line: Except for excursions to a theater or gentleman's club, most respectable inhabitants of the largest city on earth took care to be at home before the sun finished setting--which on this cold Saturday evening, the third of February, occurred at six minutes to five.

Last line: I left the tent, peered up at the stars, and prayed for him.

Deaths = 15 (three stabbed; seven strangled/smothered/hanged; one drowned; one hit on head; two poisoned; one natural)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (November 1965)

 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
(November 1965) edited by Ellery Queen

Another in a small batch of EQMM editions that I picked up some time ago. A very good selection of stories this time--with just one that I wouldn't recommend highly ("The Seeker of Ultimates"--which I'm very doubtful is a mystery at all) . The Pentecost is advertised as a "complete action-suspense novel," but at 58 pages I just don't see how you can call it a novel. Even novella would be pushing it. I'm calling it a long short story--and a terrific debut for the lead character. It is the first appearance of Pentecost's artist turned amateur detective, John Jericho. Here, he is on a quest to find the man who killed a woman on the street outside his apartment--in full view of about 30 witnesses. None of whom will speak. The pastiche of Poirot is delightful. And I enjoyed the nonfiction pieces by Gardner and Innes. ★★★★

"Jericho & the Silent Witnesses" by Hugh Pentecost: All John Jericho wanted to do that night was get down on canvas the look, the mood that he had seen in Lucinda Laverne's face at the bus stop. But a scream outside his window interrupted and he found himself in the middle of a murder investigation (the first of many for Jericho) with ties to a riverfront kingpin. [various references on the internet indicate that this was based on the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964] (one stabbed)

"Getting Away with Murder" by Erle Stanley Gardner (nonfiction): Gardner examines hard-boiled crime and the changes wrought from its infancy to the 1960s. He also says that the "school of realism" isn't as solidly based in the real world as its practitioners might want to claim.

"Death as a Game" by Michael Innes (J.I.M. Stewart; also nonfiction): Innes argues for murder mysteries as entertainment and that if things become too realistic (and literary) that all the mystery goes out of it.

"The Scientist and the Bagful of Water" by Arthur Porges: Lieutenant Trask is sure that Preston Whitney has killed James Connors for financial gain, but has little hope of proving it. It appears that Connors was killed by a prank with water balloons gone wrong. He takes the case to his scientific friend, Cyriak Skinner Grey, on the outside chance he can spot something the good lieutenant has missed. (one hit on head)

"Elementary, My Dear Job Seeker" by Charles McIntosh: An applicant for a private investigator's job finds a unique way to guarantee he gets it.

"The Teccomshire Fen Mystery" by Cathie Haig Star: A delightful send-up of Christie's Hercule Poirot. The master sleuth Pierre Choulot must find out who shot the artist while he was painting. (one shot)

"Poirot Indulges a Whim" (aka "The Adventure of the Cheap Flat") by Agatha Christie: Mrs. Robinson lands an incredible deal on a new flat in a fairly prestigious building. So incredible that Poirot decides he must investigate.

"The Halloween Mystery" by Ellery Queen: Ellery's secretary Nikki is invited to a Halloween party where everyone is directed to dress up as black cats. The invitation specifically says, "Be sure to drag your boss-cat along, also costumed." Ellery is reluctant...but goes. He's expecting to be bored silly by a society party. Of course, there's a murder game. And, of course, there's a real murder. But which of the black cats was unlucky enough to kill while Ellery Queen was in the house? (one throat cut)

"They's Things in the Deep Woods" by M. L. Dunn: About what a man's willing to do when he sees his kin disrespecting the wood. There's some things go on that a man just doesn't want to know about. (four drowned)

"Tiger in the Cellar" by Joan D. Ladd: The wife of a policeman takes on a burglar with interesting results.

"The Seeker of Ultimates" by Joe Gores: A couple of physicists decide to prove that Satan doesn't exist and use a computer in the attempt. But what if Satan doesn't want to be disproven?

"A as in Accident" by Lawrence Treat: Officer Mitch Taylor investigates a murder that's been covered by a fake auto accident. But even that little trick isn't as straight-forward as it looks. (one broken neck)

First line (1st story): A woman's scream, heard at two o'clock in the morning, will produce different results in different localities.

Last line (last story): Lee Fanning sighed

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Final Days of Abbot Montrose

 "Dear Krag, are we all bewitched? How did this piece of paper come to be taken from a locked compartment in the police station and arrive in the possession of this very intoxicated man? Why did he crumple it in his hand, as if life and death depended on its possession? Why was he murdered? And who exactly is this man anyway? (Detective Sirius Keller) The Final Days of Abbot Montrose [aka Montrose] (1917) by Sven Elvestad

A policeman is on his rounds one evening in May when he hears noises from the house of the Abbot Montrose. He summons aid and when he and his colleague reach the scene, they find evidence of a fierce fight, bloodstains, broken glass, a remnant of the Abbot's vestments--but no sign of the gentleman. Detective Sirius Keller and Detective Asbjørn Krag are assigned to the case and it turns out to be quite a tricky one. That there has been a robbery, there is no doubt. But what has happened to the Abbot? Is he dead? Has he been kidnapped by the thieves? Did he go willingly. The detectives suspect the worst. Despite the fact that all the clues seem to point to Arnold Singer, a man who worked in the Abbot's gardens, Krag thinks there is more to it than meets the eye. Things get confusing when a man claiming to be the Abbot shows up at the inn owned by Singer's father-in-law. Then a note is received in the Abbot's handwriting that indicates that he is, indeed, alive. Singer makes two confessions. Detective Keller is tied up twice. And two men are really killed. But is either of them the Abbot? You'll just have to read this for yourself to find out.

At its core, this is a very well-plotted puzzle with intricate clues that lead back to the initial event. It took me a while to settle into the translated style--some of the scenes seemed a bit disjointed to me,  but I'm pretty sure it was the style of the translation and not due to Elvestad's abilities as a writer. His plot is action-packed and new clues pop up in almost every chapter. It almost reads like one of those cliff-hanging serials--though our heroes aren't in danger at the end of each episode. It's more like "And now our heroes have been given clue X...join us in the next chapter to see what our daring detectives will make of this...." He has a solid mystery, great descriptions of the locales, and well-defined characters. I particularly enjoyed the bantering relationship between Keller and Krag (see 5th quote below for an example). These two obviously know each other well and can give each other a hard time without hard feelings. The ending took me completely by surprise and the unique solution really helped offset the difficulties I had early on with the translated style. Thanks to Kazabo Publishing for sending me this interesting early Norwegian mystery. ★★★★

First line: Policeman Number 314 put his police whistle in his pocket, stood motionless, and peered down the street.

Number 314 is standing next to the desk and eating his buttered bread with slow deliberation. Nothing prevents a policeman from eating his sandwich in the evening. Often lonesome souls walking at night can hear paper rustling from a darkened gateway, that's the policeman eating his sandwich. In many quiet cities nothing happens over the long nights at all except that the policeman eats his sandwich.  (p. 6)

There lay Keller, bound hand and foot, with a gag in his mouth. Krag undid the gag, and while he was still cutting Keller's bindings, his friend vented his anger with a volley of curses so inspired that Krag wished he were taking notes. (p. 69)

"The more complicated a thing is," said Krag, "the simpler the solution must be. Once you have found the right thread, any knot may be unraveled smoothly." (p. 106) [shades of Sherlock Holmes]

"Are you taking notes? Is that exactly what he said?" (Krag)
"No. I memorized it and I'm going to take it on stage as a cabaret act. Yes, of course I'm taking notes." (Keller; p. 153) [Gotta love the sarcasm.]

Last line: And Asbjørn Krag is at work once again.
Deaths = 2 (one stabbed; one shot)

 ~~~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.