Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Cold Bed in the Clay

 Cold Bed in the Clay (1947) by Ruth Sawtell Wallis

FBI agent Eric Lund has come to a Midwestern university town in search of a wanted criminal. At the university's commencement ceremony he sits in the stands of the stadium and spends more time looking at others in the crowd than at the graduates. One of these innocent-looking townspeople of faculty is the man he's after, but which one? You see, there is no detailed description of the wanted man. Was Lund's presence the catalyst that put events in motion that ended in tragedy? Or was it the arrival of young Mr. and Mrs. Adriance? Don Adriance is a recent addition to the faculty--returning to academia after a few years absence? What happened in those missing years? And why does Audrey Adriance watch him so closely with apprehension and what appears to be fear? And why does she seem unsurprised when he doesn't come home one night?

When Don Adriance is finally found--a victim of a hit-and-run driver, Audrey's lack of surprise seems suspicious to Chief of Police Peterson. If he could find a way to link her to a car (the Adriances had none), then he'd arrest  her in a minute. But Lund, who is staying with Professor Dexter under cover of a lecture of crime he's giving to the university, has met a small group of people at a party which introduced the Adriances to Don's faculty colleagues and he picked up on certain nuances that lead him to believe that someone other than Audrey is responsible. And it just might tie in with the real reason he's come to the State University town.

So, this started slow. And even though I'm a sucker for academic mysteries, the setting and the characters never really reeled me in the way this subgenre should be able to. This was also another case where I often felt like I had missed part of the conversation. I'm not sure if Covid-brain was still kicked in at that point or if the story itself was at fault. Things did seem to pick up in the second half--in part because things started happening. It helped that Lund took a larger role in the lead-up to the big reveal. Chief Peterson just didn't do much for me. He seemed very apt to stick with stereotypical answers than to really investigate. I'm glad he was willing to let Lund help out. And, like Kate over at Cross Examining Crime, I was disappointed that the werewolf clue led nowhere--despite coming up several times. The solution did hold my interest, if the first third or so had been stronger, I would have upped my rating. ★★

First line: Seated high on a cement ledge, the man with the scars around his mouth looked down, down into the enormous blue eye.

Last line: "My wife is going to have a baby."

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

Assistant to the Villain

 Assistant to the Villain (2023) by Hannah Nicole Maehrer

Synopsis [from the back of the book]:  With an ailing family to support, Evie Sage's employment status isn't just important, it's vital. So, when a mishap with Rennedawn's most infamous Villain results in a job offer--naturally, she says yes. No job is perfect, of course, but even less so when you develop a teeny crush on your terrifying, temperamental, and undeniably hot boss. Don't find evil so attractive, Evie. But just when she's getting used to severed heads suspended from the ceiling and the odd squish of an errant eyeball beneath her heel, Evie suspects this dungeon has a huge rat...and not just the literal kind. Because something rotten is growing in the kingdom of Rennedawn and someone wants to take the Villain--and his entire nefarious empire--out. Now Evie must not only resist drooling over her boss but also figure out exactly who is sabotaging his work...and ensure he makes them pat. After all, a good job is hard to find.

I can confidently say that if this hadn't seemed like the most reasonable choice for this particular prompt in the bonus round of the Book Challenge by Erin (where, if I want to fulfill the bonus round I have to read a book selected by someone else...and the someone elses' tastes in this challenge have very little in common with mine)...then I doubt I would have ever picked up this fantasy meets romance meets mystery. The synopsis sounded pretty good. But I was pretty under-whelmed. The romance is not really all that. It's more like a high school crush. There's very little character or world building going on here. Beyond being told that Evie is an "innocent" and must work to support her family, we really don't know her at all. Beyond the fact that we know that The Villain (aka Trystan) became a villain because he has some sort of vendetta going on against the king, we learn very little about him or the backstory to why he hates the king's guts so much until about 10 pages before the end of the book. It would have been nice if we had gradually learned some things about these characters along the way. I wanted to root for Evie and her adventures with Trystan, but it was very difficult to get into the story when I didn't feel like I knew them at all. And...where exactly are we? Is this an alternate, fantasy earth with unexplained magic (we never really know how or why the magic works; it just does)? It really could be any medieval-type fantasy world. The final disappointment was the cliff-hanger ending. Seriously? You take us through 300+ pages, telling us basically nothing about the main characters until the last few pages and then you leave us teetering on the edge in order to make us read/buy the next book? Do I want to know what happens next? Kindof--especially if we're actually going to have some real story and action and character-building. But not if we're going to have to wade through 300 more pages just to find out a teeny, tiny bit more about these people. And I don't think I'm going to take a chance that the next book will be more interesting and engaging over a longer period of time. ★★

First line: Once Upon a Time...It was an ordinary day when Evie met The Villain.

Last line: Or become one trying.

Deaths = 2 stabbed (more killed, but nameless)

Monday, April 29, 2024

The House of Dies Drear

 The House of Dies Drear (1968) by Virginia Hamilton

Thomas Small and his family--Dad, Mom, and brothers--move from North Carolina to an old house in Ohio. Thomas's father is a history professor who has always been interested in the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape to Canada during the Civil War era. When he learns about the Dies Drear house--a major station on the railroad, complete with secrete passages and tunnels--he is eager to take up residence in the home and learn everything he can. But the house comes with a legend of ghosts. Dies Drear, the man who ran the station and assisted slaves, was murdered as were two of the runaway slaves. And now it is said that their ghosts haunt the house where they were killed. The Small family doesn't believe it, but as soon as they move in add things begin to happen. Someone is entering the house at night and leaving artifacts and then the family finds every dish and glass in their kitchen smashed to bits.Who is behind the destruction? Is it really ghosts or is someone trying to drive the Smalls out of the house for purposes of their own?

This young adult Edgar Award winning mystery is beautifully done. Excellent backdrop, wonderful depiction of an African American family in the Midwest, written by an African American with a cast of African American characters. Hamilton brings her readers into the story and we absorb the cultural significance without lectures or obvious references. Young people reading this novel will learn facts about the Civil War without realizing it--because they'll be so caught up in the mystery of the house and the adventures that Thomas and his family have. It's not a complicated mystery (one know very soon who is behind everything), but it's very entertaining and educational. ★★★★

First line: Thomas dreamed he walked a familiar forest, following a timeworn path of the Tuscaroras.

Last lines: And they didn't mind waiting, not this day nor the days to come. They had years.

Deaths = one shot

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Midnight Library

 The Midnight Library (2020) by Matt Haig

From the book flap: Between life and death there is a library. 
Up until now, Nora Seed's life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change. When she finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right.

The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. Each one contains a different life, a possible world in which she made different choices that played out in an infinite number of ways, affecting everyone she knew as well as many people she never met. With the help of an old friend she can now undo every decision she regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. but things aren't always what she imagined they'd be and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger.

My take: So, the synopsis sounded really good. A magical library with books that represent every possible twist and turn your life could have taken. A chance to try those other lives on for size to figure out the perfect combination. I'm not much into the descriptions of most magical realism stories (and I really needed one for a challenge a signed up for), but a story about books and books filled with alternate realities? I was all set to enjoy that. But....I didn't. Or rather I didn't enjoy it like I thought I would. It's a perfectly good story. It has a nice little moral to it. And that's all fine. But the alternate realities weren't all that interesting. And Nora is supposedly extraordinarily bright...but she's a little slow on the uptake when she steps into a new life. Each time she's like, "Man, this is weird. Why is everything so different?" (Oh, I don't know...maybe because that was the whole point--that things would be different and you wouldn't be so sad about your life and want to end it all?) A terrific concept, but the follow-through was not up to expectations. I started out with 3 1/2 stars...but I've thought it over and I don't think it's that good. ★★ and 1/2

First line: Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford.

Last line: And Nora smiled as she stared at all the pieces she still had left in play, thinking about her next move.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Mystery at Greenfingers

 The Mystery at Greenfingers
(1937) by J. B. Priestley

Priestley's mystery play is set at the Greenfingers Palace Hotel on the edge of the Peak District. In fact, one of the characters declares that's it's "easily the highest big hotel in England. We're nearly fifteen hundred feet up." A small group of employees have gone to the hotel in advance of the winter season to make sure the hotel is ready for business. There are several new faces in the crowd--employees who have joined the staff from other hotels--some owned by the same company and some not. A sudden snowstorm strands them all--including Mr. Crowther, a hotel detective sent by the home office to investigate a suspected crime, and Miss Tracey, an investor in the company who has brought along Mrs. Jernigan (described as "her companion."). 

The two ladies are no sooner installed in a couple of empty rooms than the snow cuts the hotel off from outside help, the phone lines go down, and loud bangs that sound like gunshots go off in Mrs. Jernigan's room. When Crowther and the hotel employees reach the room, they find it locked on the inside. The door is forced and, though there is a smell like gunpowder in the room there is no gun and...no Mrs. Jernigan. The windows and the door connecting to Miss Tracey's room are all locked from the inside. Who set off the pistol shots? What happened to the gun? Where is Mrs. Jernigan? And...is she still alive? These are the questions that face Crowther and the hotel staff. And Miss Tracey...for Miss Tracey is a devotee of murder mysteries and she's always fancied herself an amateur detective.

Though Priestley's play does contain a mystery--and a rather cleverly plotted one at that, it is far more steeped in comedy than mystery. It reads like a drawing room comedy where there are people popping in and out of the scene at the oddest moments. You never know who will come through which door next. And I'm quite sure it would have been a hoot to see performed. Miss Tracey reminds me of a far more intense, yet slightly arch Miss Marple or Miss Silver and it was great fun to watch her and Miss Edna Sandars (one of the staff) collect clues that Crowther was too obtuse to recognize. A fun little 1930s mystery/comedy. ★★

First line: Mrs Heaton (scornfully): I'm sorry to interrupt your performance, Mr. Jordan.

I've no drama going on inside, as all you people have. So I can give all my time and energy to noticing what other people are like. You've no idea what a lot you do notice once you've stopped leading an intense personal life yourself. It's people like me who ought to be the detective. That's why I'm enjoying all this. [Miss Tracey; p. 61]

Last line: Miss Tracey: Wrong number! (All three laugh.)

Deaths = one (but to tell how would be a spoiler)

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Figure Away

 Figure Away (1937) by Phoebe Atwood Taylor

The town of Billingsgate is getting ready to celebrate "Old Home Week" and planning to clean up on the tourist trade as visitors flood in for a taste of a quaint old town. They've lined up all the journalists and a radio station and a well-known singer and all sorts of public dignitaries to attend and see the glory of Billingsgate. Town officials hope that it will bring in enough surplus to put the town back in the black and have enough left over to pave roads and support schools and all the other things that have been neglected. But it seems that someone doesn't want Old Home Week to succeed. They tried to set the Town Hall on fire. They've stolen the official town keys--"every last one of them." They sawed through the grandstand supports. And they've taken potshots at the town's selectmen. And after every shot the victims have heard an eerie laugh floating in the night air.

Selectman Weston Mayhew asks his cousin Asey Maho, New England's answer to Sherlock Holmes, to spend the week in Billingsgate to act as temporary chief of police, State Police liaison, and private eye all rolled into one. Everyone knows how good a detective Asey is, so surely that will stop the saboteur in his tracks. Well...it does put a stop to the wanton destruction, but it doesn't stop murder. Mary Randall, owner of the local antique shop, gets word to Asey that she wants to talk to him about something, but when he arrives at her place, he finds her shot to death. Did she know something about who was behind the Old Home Week sabotage and the culprit wanted to prevent her telling? Or is there a more prosaic motive for her murder? After all, Mary Randall knew quite a bit about the secrets of Billingsgate and had a few of her own. There's the life insurance policy leaving a large amount of cash to her goddaughter (who definitely needs the money). There's the henpecked husband who has an eye for the ladies and doesn't want his wife to find out. There's the soprano who seems to attract all the men and the painter whose politics ruffles everyone's feathers. And there's the General whose love for fireworks allowed the noise of the shotgun to go unremarked. Asey has quite a bit of sleuthing to do before he'll be able to find the killer and save Billingsgate's status as a quaint old town.

I don't know if Covid-brain is still in play or what, but I had a really difficult time following Asey's conversations in this one. I've read several of Taylor's Asey Mayo mysteries in the past and I don't remember him being quite so cryptic. There were whole passages where I felt like I was missing about half the conversation. The mystery itself is good--nicely complicated with plenty of suspects running around. I was all set to buy into a certain person, but then Taylor gave things a bit of a shake at the end to show why it couldn't be them. Nice surprise ending. Would have rated it higher if I hadn't felt so out of touch with our hero throughout. ★★

First line: "You listen to me, Asey!" 

Last lines: "Huh," Win said. "Anyone can catch a bluefish!"

Deaths = 2 (one shot; one fell from height)

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 wasn't 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 (4/20/24)
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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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)