Friday, November 27, 2015

Challenge Complete: Alphabet Soup

I have completed the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge sponsored by
 Dollycas at Escape With Dollycas Into a Good Book.

January 1, 2015 – December 31, 2015

The Alphabet Soup Challenge means that by December 31, 2015
your bowls must be full of one book for each letter of the Alphabet.

Each Letter Counts As 1 Spoonful

Basic Details
This challenge will run from January 1st, 2014 until December 31st, 2014.
You can join anytime.  You do not have to review the book.  
For those pesky Q, X AND Z titles the word with the challenge letter can be anywhere in the title.

Here are the books read for the challenge:

A: Asimov's Choice: Black Holes & Bug-Eyed Monsters by George H. Scithers, ed (1/9/15)
B: Bones in the Barrow by Josephine Bell (5/29/15)
C: The Case of the Painted Girl by Frank King (1/6/15)
D: A Dead Man in Istanbul by Michael Pearce (1/14/15)
E: The Eye in the Museum by J. J. Connington (5/8/15)
F: The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey (4/1/15)
G: The Great Dinosaur Robbery by David Forrest (5/15/15)
H: Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever by Ellison; Adapted by David & Scott Tipton (6/5/15)
I: I KIlled: True Stories of the Road from America's Top Comics by Ritch Shyder & Mark Schiff (2/10/15)
J: Jewelled Eye by Douglas Clark (9/1/15)
K: Keep Cool, Mr. Jones by Timothy Fuller (8/24/15)
L: Lost Laysen by Margaret Mitchell (2/17/15)
M: Mother Finds a Body by Gypsy Rose Lee (1/12/15)
N: Night Train to Paris by Manning Coles (3/14/15)
O: One Touch of Blood by Samm Sinclair Baker (2/5/15)
P: Police Procedurals by Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini (1/9/15)
Q: A Question of Identity by June Thomson (11/27/15) 

R: Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes (1/3/15)
S: Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon (2/13/15)
T: Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home by James Tiptree, Jr. (1/2/15)
U: The Underdog & Other Stories by Agatha Christie (3/17/15)
V: The Vanishing Corpse by Ellery Queen (10/31/15)
W: The Wilberforce Legacy by Josephine Bell (4/19/15)
X: Xenogenesis Book 1: Dawn by Octavia Butler (11/5/15)
Y: Young Mrs. Cavendish & the Kaiser's Men by K. K. Beck (7/4/15)
Z: Rod Serling's Twighlight Zone Revisited adapted by Walter B. Gibson (1/20/15)

A Question of Identity: Review

The archaeological society thought they were prepared for any remains they might find when digging in George Stebbings's back field. Of course, they expected those remains to be at least two centuries old rather than a mere two years, so they're a bit surprised and dismayed when their efforts reveal the moldering fragments of a boot and what is left of the foot within. When they realized they had a much more recent corpse on their hands, they called in Inspector Rudd (originally Finch in Great Britain) to handle the case. 

Rudd has a lot of questions as he begins the investigation. Not the least of which is who is this man? There is nothing in the shallow grave to identify the man, his fingerprints have disappeared from what's left of his fingers, he had false teeth (missing), so there are no dental records to trace. The only thing found near him is a silver-plated crucifix. And why was the man laid out as if someone had taken great care over the ceremony of his burial? Rudd also wonders about the burial site itself. It's quite a distance from both Stebbing's home and that of his nearest neighbor, Geoff Lovell as well as being well away from the road. Whoever killed the man and buried him would have had to tote the body a fair ways from any likely spot.

As Rudd and his assistant Sergeant Boyce start asking questions they find a likely candidate for the corpse. But finding enough evidence to prove their victim's identity positively winds up being trickier than they thought. It all ends with a dramatic show-down at the home of one of the farmers. But will Rudd be in time to prevent any more murders?

This is a very atmospheric piece by June Thomson. From the beginning, Rudd senses the desperation and tragedy surrounding the players in the drama. He isn't able to put all the pieces together until it is almost too late, but the clues are there for those who can pick them up. Desperation is the moving force behind the murder and the reactions of those Rudd questions. Finding the reason for the emotion unlocks the puzzle for him. A Question of Identity is another very good police procedural from Thomson with Rudd featured as an insightful detective attuned to the psychology of both murderer and witnesses. ★★ and a half.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cruisin' Thru the Cozies

Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews is hosting the sixth annual Cruisin' thru the Cozies Reading Challenge! And, of course, I'm signing right up.  For a full run-down of the rules, hop on the link above.

To find out exactly what a cozy mystery is, check out This site is dedicated to cozy mysteries and does a great job of defining them as well as giving a list of cozy mysteries. This challenge is NOT restricted to what is on their list, it's just to be used as a guideline in case you need some hints on what to read.

For my participation, I'm going for:
Level 2 - Investigator - Read 7-12 books
I may level up at some point, but my challenge will be complete when I hit the Investigator range.

What an Animal IX

I'm ready to sign up for the What an Animal Reading Challenge IX.  Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews began hosting this challenge in 2010, when she took it over from Kristi at Passion for the Page.  If you love reading books about animals or just have a lot of books on your TBR shelf with animals in the title or on the cover, come join us in the challenge. There are several levels--click the link to get the full details and to sign up.
I'm going to start with Level 1 (read six books). I may level up...but my commitment will be complete once I get my six.


What's in a Name 2016

What's In A Name 2016 logo

This is the sign-up post for the ninth annual What’s In A Name challenge, originally started by Annie, handed to Beth Fish Reads, and now continued at The Worm Hole
The basics
The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the following categories: 

  • A country (try not to use ‘Africa’!) Suggestions: Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China, Martin Wagner’s Deutschland)
  • An item of clothing (Su Dharmapala’s Saree, Ann Brashare’s The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, Javier Moro’s El Sari Rojo; Pierre Lemaitre’s Vestido De Novia)
  • An item of furniture (Marghanita Laski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue; C S Lewis’s The Silver Chair; Goslash;hril Gabrielsen’s The Looking-Glass Sisters)
  • A profession (Adriana Trigiani’s The Shoemaker’s Wife; Mikhail Elizarov’s The Librarian)
  • A month of the year (Elizabeth Von Arnim’s The Enchanted April; Rhoda Baxter’s Doctor January)
  • A title with the word ‘tree’ in it (Ai Mi’s Under The Hawthorn Tree; Elle Newmark’s The Sandalwood Tree)
 Here are my proposed titles from my stacks:

1. Four Against the Bank of England by Anne Huxley [Country]
2. Puzzle in Petticoats by Samuel Melvin Kootz [Clothing]
3. The Bridal Bed Murders by A. E. Martin [Furniture]
4. Which Doctor by Edward Candy OR Miss Pinkerton: Adventures of a Nurse Detective by Mary Roberts Rinehart [Profession]
5. The April Robin Murders by Craig Rice [Month]
6. The Crabtree Affair by Michael Innes OR The Coffin Tree by Gwendoline Butler OR The Lazarus Tree by Robert Richardson ["Tree"]

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Augie Wren's Christmas Story: Mini-Review

My first review for the Christmas Spirit Challenge is going to be a mini-review for a mini book. Michelle, our lovely hostess, sent me Paul Auster's Auggie Wren's Christmas Story as part of my prize package for a previous year's challenge. It is a slim volume with a lovely Christmas fable--without Santa or reindeer or snowmen or Christmas trees. The most holiday-type thing in the story is a very unconventional Christmas dinner. How can this be?

It is a tale about a writer who has been asked by The New York Times to write a Christmas story to be featured on Christmas morning. But he doesn't want to write one of those mushy, gushy, sentimental stories that serve as "wishfulfillment dreams, fairy tales for adults." He wants an unsentimental Christmas story even though he knows it is "a contradiction in terms, an impossibility, an out-and-out conundrum. One might as just as well try to imagine a racehorse without legs, or a sparrow without wings." So, the next time he ventures into his favorite cigar store, he tells his friend Auggie Wren his troubles. Auggie tells him that if he'll buy him lunch, he'll tell him the best Christmas story ever. The best because it's absolutely true. 

This is Auggie's story about a shoplifter, a lost wallet, a blind grandmother, and that unconventional Christmas dinner that I mentioned above. It is a fable that encourages us to question whether a lie can ever serve as the truth and who is the giver and who is the taker. Auggie learns a little something about himself and what Christmas might really mean. ★★★★ for a surprisingly lovely unconventional Christmas story.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chef Maurice & a Spot of Truffle: Mini Review (in honor of Hamilton, the mini-pig)

CM: Snatched from below our noses!
AW-S: It was three days ago, Maurice. Our noses weren't even out of bed.
~Chef Maurice; Arthur Wordington-Smythe

When Chef Maurice plunges into the realm of investigation, all he thinks he's going to find is a new source of a very expensive truffle. What a coup for Le Couchan Rouge, his little restaurant in the south of England! But before he knew where he was, he had landed smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation and had acquired a mini-pig in the bargain. Hamilton, the mini-pig, was, of course, necessary--since Chef Maurice needed a champion truffle finder to help him track down the source of the mysterious truffles. But the murder he could certainly do without. After all, the victim was Ollie Meadows his wild herb and mushroom supplier and how was Chef Maurice supposed to make all those delectable mushroom dishes if Ollie was no longer delivering various forms of fungi? Things get serious when Hamilton is pignapped and the inquisitive chef receives a threatening note. He convinces his friend Arthur Wordington-Smythe to play Hastings to his Poirot (no, really--this book is an obvious hat-tip to Christie's creation) and the two are off, Camembert and crackers in hand, to track down the miscreant. The two amateur detectives will encounter a missing dog, a stolen map, an angry gun-totin' uncle, and magic mushrooms before they get to the bottom of the mystery.

I have the Puzzle Doctor at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel to thank for bringing J. A. Lang's delightful cozy mystery series to my attention (click link for his review of Truffle). And he didn't steer me wrong. This book which offers a tribute to Agatha Christie has a plot that definitely follows in her footsteps while injecting a good deal of humor. I laughed out loud several times throughout the story just picturing our heroes in their detective efforts. And this is one of the few times when an author writes from animal points of view and it actually works. Hamilton's take on the world and brief snippets from Wordington-Smythe's dog and a few cows are great fun. Chef Maurice is over the top, but in a good way--he doesn't distract from the plot and, at bottom, he seems like a very nice guy. The supporting case--from his Hastings-like side-kick to his assistant chefs to the local PC--are great fun and the book serves as a very good introduction to Lang's cast of characters. ★★★★ for a fun, cozy series debut.

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Queenly Collections

TNB "cover" designed by Bev*

Noah over at Noah's Archives is hosting the latest round of The Tuesday Night Bloggers, the brain-child of Curtis at The Passing Tramp. It's a weekly gathering of like-minded folk to discuss a mystery author from the Golden Age of Detection. We began our meetings with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and the month of November has been devoted to Ellery Queen. I missed participating last week and wasn't sure if I'd have anything ready for the final Queen posting. But here's a short look at Queenly Collections.

Not only did Queen produce a substantial body of work of their own, but the Queen name has provided mystery readers with collections of high-quality short stories under the Master of Mysteries Series, the Queen's Awards Annuals, and various collections of top-flight stories from the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. EQMM has always had high editorial standards and as a result is one of the few fiction magazines to survive the decline of such publications. It was first launched in 1941 and currently holds distinction as the longest-running mystery magazine. It has always encouraged new writers and still accepts unsolicited submission both by mail and the online submission manager. The feature "Department of First Stories" has introduced readers to hundreds of new writers who have gone on to delight mystery fans for years.

I read a lot of collections under the Queen name during elementary and junior high--nearly as many as the Hitchcock books (I was blessed with well-stocked libraries growing up). My most recent Queen collection read was Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual. It is a collection of short stories that contains an example of nearly every mystery form in the genre--from pure puzzles to spy thrillers; from whodunnits to howdunnits to whydunnits. There are professional detectives and amateurs investigating crimes that cover the gamut from blackmail, theft, frame-up, and sabotage to the ultimate crime...murder. And our authors include well-known names such as Nicholas Blake, Paticia Highsmith and Helen McCloy as well as those unfamiliar to me like A. H. Z. Carr, Holly Roth, and J. F. Pierce. There are serious crime fiction pieces and even a send up of Ellery Queen himself in a lovely little story starring Celery Green.

Every story is a winner on one level or another and several are just flat-out amazing. My favorites are "The Purple Is Everything" by Dorothy Salisbury Davis (when a theft really isn't a theft), "The Washington Party Murder" by A. H. Z. Carr (where Sarah Burton, famous foreign correspondent, returns to Washington DC to discover what really happened the night her husband died), "The Cobblestones of Saratoga Street" (in which we learn the real reason Miss Augusta & Miss Louisa don't want the cobblestones removed), and "Murder Ad Lib" by Helen McCloy (in which Dr. Basil Willing picks up on a clever clue on a "dark and stormy night).  

For those who like their murders in small doses, a collection published under the Queen name is sure to please--whether you pick up an issue of EQMM or dip into the hard-bound anthologies.

Next week at the Tuesday Night Bloggers, we'll be meeting up at Moira's place (Clothes in Books) to investigate the works of Ngaio Marsh. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Murder at the ABA: Review

Darius Just, a second-string writer whose works are just "too good" for the average Joe who wants a good "Best Seller" main stream book, attends the ABA (American Booksellers Association) earlier than planned. His friend asks him to show up a day early to help with a public relations event and thus (in Just's mind at least) starts him down the path that leads to murder. One thing after another happens to put Just in just the right frame of mind to forget another favor that his protégé Giles Devore asks of him. When Devore winds up dead, Just is convinced his sin of omission may have been the catalyst and he sets himself the task of tracking down the killer.

The trouble is, Just and his conscience are the only ones who think there has even been a murder. The hotel security and the police all believe Devore simply slipped in the shower and died when his head met the porcelain.  Just spends the rest oft he conference tracking down clues, interviewing (and annoying) possible suspects and witnesses, and basically composing the plot for the mystery novel that the fictional version of Asimov has been commissioned to write. Just's own life will be attempted and his delirious ravings after being coshed on the head himself will lead him to the last clue necessary to trap a murderer.

Back in the mists of time, I read Isaac Asimov's Murder at the ABA (1976; aka Authorised Murder) from either the local Carnegie library or the school library, I'm not sure which. I think I must have been coming off of an Asimov science fiction high, because I gave it a four-star rating. So, it was natural that I'd want a copy of my very own to reread some day. I picked up a copy sometime before 2010 (I didn't log just when) and when one of my fellow challengers read it for my Vintage Bingo Challenge, I decide it was time to pick it up again. I'm afraid I should have left it as a nostalgia piece.

This time around I was not nearly as charmed with Asimov's thinly-disguised Harlan Ellison protagonist, Darius Just nor with Asimov inserting himself into the narrative as comic relief. And I say that as some who is incredibly fond of both Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison as writers. Just is annoyingly self-centered, despite his deprecating comments, and the peek at the 1970s treatment of women isn't nearly as amusing as Asimov thinks it is. When you add the fact that the killer (and the reason) is blazingly obvious from the chapter when the body is found (less than half-way through the book), I have to say that Mr. Asimov is not up to his usual standard. His Black Widower tales are much better mystery stories. 

★★ for an okay read. IF you manage to miss the clue when Just discovers the body, then it's possible the mystery will entertain--I'm assuming I did miss it back in the 80s. The banter between Asimov and Just, both in the narrative and in the footnotes, is amusing. And the book is a nice look at the 1970s convention/conference scene.

This fulfills the "Read by Another Challenger" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card as well as giving me two more Bingos. Neer over at a hot cup of pleasure read this one (with more pleasure than I did this time round). Check out the review at the link.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Vintage SciFi Month

Vintage SF badge

From Redhead at Little Red Reviewer:
Throughout the month of January, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 I will be reading and discussing as much “older than I am” science fiction and fantasy that I can, and everyone is invited to join me!  We’ll be talking about time travel, laser guns, early robotics, first contact, swords and sorcery, predictions for humanity and the authors who came up with it all. Haphazardly, the defining year for “vintage” is 1979.  Read all about it herehere, and here and most recently here.  The only “rule” for this not-a-challenge is that your blog post must be during the month of January.

You too, can be on red alert for the Interstellar Patrol by using the badge above in your posts, or blog side bar, or wherever you’d like. 

To Join: Go to the Vintage SciFi Not-a-Challenge site.

What Qualifies:
Anything or anyone who created science fiction, or something speculative fiction-ish that was published (or recorded, or put on TV or the silver screen) before 1979.  It can be hard scifi, or not. Have aliens, or not.  Fantasy is OK too.  Jules Verne is perfect, so is Mary Shelley. Or maybe War of the Worlds, original Star Trek, C.L. Moore, Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, Cordwainer Smith, Clifford Simak, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut, James Tiptree Jr, A.E. van Vogt, Frank Herbert,  I can go on forever here.

I am in for another round. As in the past, my commitment will be at least two science fiction reads in January.


Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

November 23, 2015 – January 6, 2016

This reading challenge is hosted by The Christmas Spirit. For full information and to sign-up, please see this post.

I am back for another season of Christmas reading. The last two years, I have been lucky enough to win a batch of Christmas-themed books from the challenge hostess, Michelle. So, I am all set with plenty of books to read. Thanks, Michelle!  I plan on doing my usual Level:
--Mistletoe:  read 2-4 books
It's possible I will do more--I have plenty to choose from thanks to Michelle's generosity.

Here are my reads:
1. Auggie Wren's Christmas Story by Paul Auster (11/25/15)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Perpetual Check: Review

Perpetual Check by Conrad Haynes (pen name for Dana Haynes) is the second in a short academic mystery series featuring Professor Harry Bishop. Bishop is the hard-drinking, black sheep of the political science department at Portland's mythical John Jacob Astor College--a liberal arts school for Oregon's elite. Harry has a taste for scotch and as many naps as he can fit into the academic day. After someone killed the editor of the campus newspaper, nearly adding Harry to the list of victims, and the professor managed to help the police track down the culprit, he also earned a reputation as an amateur sleuth.

So, when Harry is made the reluctant faculty liaison to the Board of Trustees and the most ambitious and obnoxious member is murdered, it is natural for the Chair (and incidentally the number one suspect) to ask the professor to take a hand in clearing things up. Harry teams up with the arrogant young journalist who saved his life the first time around and between them, they dig up enough motives for Richard Llewelleyn's death to ascribe one to every board member. For it seems that the Board's most successful fund raiser was also a successful blackmailer on the side. But whose secret provides the greatest reason to get Llewelleyn out of the way? The dynamically nosy duo had better work quick to find out--or Harry may have another near-death experience.

Haynes writes a competent mystery that touches on some of the intricacies of academic life. Harry Bishop is perfect as the scapegrace absent-minded professor (with a sharp mind for detail when he wants to put it to use). Harry is a likable amateur detective and his relationships with various faculty members and Tucker Nelligan (the journalist) make for interesting interactions. The crime itself is a fairly interesting one. I'm not entirely sure that it is fairly clued, however. And some of the Board personalities came across as stock characters. An enjoyable enough series that I do want to finish if I can manage to find the last entry.  ★★

This fulfills the "Same Initial" category on the Silver Vintage Bingo card (Haynes is almost the same as Hankins--three more squares for full card!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Call for the Dead: Review

On the face of it John le Carré's Call for the Dead is so not my kind of book. I'm not attracted to espionage novels as a rule. The descriptions of George Smiley

Short, fat, and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes, which hung about his squat frame like skin on a shrunken toad. Sawley, in fact, declared at the wedding that 'Sercomb was mated to a bullfrog in a sou'wester'. And Smiley, unaware of this description, had waddled down the aisle in search of the kiss that would turn him into a Prince.

don't exactly inspire great confidence or admiration in those of us whose primary connection with British espionage novels revolves around a man whose name is "Bond.  James Bond." Do spies actually waddle? [And, if they do, shouldn't they be described as ducks and not toads? But I digress....]

On the other hand, this is some book. It introduces le Carré's most famous character, the quite ugly, unfashionable Smiley. Smiley is an intelligence officer who works for "the Circus," Britain's overseas intelligence agency. He had been quite good during World War II, but since the war ended he has fallen a bit from grace and works in a somewhat menial job which includes doing security clearance on civil servants. He is sent on a routine interview to check out an anonymous tip on one Samuel Fennan. Smiley thinks it just "busy work" and reassures the man that the agency has no quarrel with him and that there will be no repercussions.

He is shocked, therefore, to be told the next day that Fennan has apparently committed suicide. When Maston, Smiley's talentless boss (a civil-service bureaucrat who is the current head of service),  sends him to do a quick investigation--purely to tidy the file and mark it closed, Smiley finds the situation is not as simple as Maston would like. There's the matter of the "wake-up" call arranged by Fennan, the lies Fennan's wife tells, and the letter Smiley receives from the dead man. Smiley quickly decides that Fennan has been murdered and resigns from the service when Maston orders him to drop the investigation. With the help of a retired policeman and one of his former colleagues, Smiley finds evidence of East German spies at work....and an old friend at the bottom of it all. But someone is determined to take Smiley out of the game for good. The first try misfires....will Smiley be so lucky after that?

After a beginning that had me wondering if I wanted to finish the book, le Carré reeled me in with his descriptive story-telling. A "toad"-like man may not have been my ideal spy when I began, but I was completely convinced of his abilities and his reality by the end. The picture of post-war Britain that le Carré paints is brilliantly rendered--I looked up from my book in the final chapters fully expecting to see the fog swirling round me and to hear the river traffic below the bridge. The story itself reads less like a spy-thriller to me than a more traditional mystery. Smiley is following up clues in the best Scotland Yard fashion. I absolutely will be on the look-out for copies of the other Smiley books.  ★★

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Review

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900) is an American children's classic. I could just stop right there. Those who have never read the novel are familiar with the basics of the story thanks to the 1939 MGM technicolor musical comedy-drama extravaganza. For years (before VHS, DVD, and other forms of media made it available any time), the film was a fall TV standard that children grew up watching every year. I'm sure that most people are unable to think of the story without conjuring up Judy Garland and the song "Over the Rainbow. For this reason, I'm not going to recap the basic story line. I'm just going to write about my perceptions of the book.

Of course, as is usual when film makers turn a beloved book into a visual piece, there are many differences between the written work and the filmed version. Not the least of these is the fact that in the novel, Dorothy's experiences in Oz are real. She really does travel from her home in Kansas to that magical land by means of the cyclone. The film turns this journey into nothing more than dream--a dream brought about by her injury during the cyclone. Apparently, fantasy films had not been doing well at the box office in the 1930s and the studio felt that the adventures would be better received if it was made clear to the audience that these things Were Just Pretend. 

A great many of Dorothy's adventures are also cut from the film version. There are fewer obstacles to overcome--no great gorge to leap over, no rushing river to cross. There is no land of Dainty China figures, no Hammerheads, no giant spider creature for the Lion to defeat. The flying monkeys are not controlled by a magic crown and Dorothy never needs them to aid her in reaching Glinda the Good Witch. Glinda simply watches over Dorothy and her friends--appearing when she is most needed.

The book is very much a quest story and re-emphasizes this with every challenge the group meets. It also makes much of the value of friendship and cooperation. Dorothy never would have made it home to Kansas if she hadn't found and become friends with the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion because there were certain challenges that could only be overcome with the talents of a particular character. In turn, none of these would have gained their heart, brains, and courage without Dorothy and their adventures together. The film does have these elements, but the condensed version  onscreen loses some of the effect of the novel. 

The book is a wonderful fantasy adventure for children and adults alike. I am very glad that I have finally read the classic behind the film that I loved as a child. ★★★★ and a half.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Red Redmaynes: Review

The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts (1922) helps me fill in another year for the Century of Books Challenge as well as providing the reason that I asked Rich if we could do 1922 as November's year for his Crimes of the Century feature. Eden Phillpotts isn't exactly a household name in 2015. But his protégé is. Phillpotts is known in mystery and detective circles for offering encouragement to a young, hesitant writer by the name of Agatha Miller--later known as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. Phillpotts had a fairly impressive output himself, producing approximately 65 novels and short story collections from 1888 to 1959 though not all were mysteries. For more on this lesser-known crime author, please see Curt's informative piece on his very fine blog The Passing Tramp.

And now, on with the show: The Red Redmaynes is an atmospheric piece, set for the first half of the novel on the sinister, ominous landscape of Dartmoor. The bleak moorland and the beautiful Devon coastline emphasizes the gruesome story of the Redmayne family and the tragic way that its members die. Jenny, the youngest member of the Redmayne clan, marries Michael Pendean against the wishes of her three uncles. The uncles hold the Redmayne fortunes in their hands and can withhold Jenny's portion if they do not approve of her husband. The young couple attempt to win the gentleman over, but before they can find out if their efforts will bear fruit tragedy strikes. 

Robert Redmayne, one of the uncles who has a history of violent temper, begins a relationship with his estranged niece and her husband and all seems to be going well until one evening when the two men are alone at the bungalow that Pendean is building for his wife. When morning comes both men are missing and a bloody bungalow gives evidence that a most heinous crime has taken place. Everyone believes that the "great red devil" (Robert) has done away with Pendean and Jenny calls upon Inspector Mark Brendon of Scotland Yard who is holidaying in the area to take up the case. 

But, despite sporadic reports that Redmayne has been spotted, there are few clues and fewer leads. All signs point to Redmayne having gone mad and killed in an insane fury, but surely a madman would not be so difficult to track down. It doesn't help that Brendon is dazzled by the young widow and is not living up to his stellar reputation as a brilliant detective. Further deaths occur and it isn't until Albert Redmayne's friend Peter Ganns, a celebrated American detective, joins the hunt Italy (where Albert has lived for many years) that culprit is finally run to earth and the mystery is completely solved.

As a mystery connoisseur, there are many things to like about the novel. As mentioned, it is atmospheric and Phillpotts does the sinister undertones very well. It is also interesting historically because it one of the few, if not the only, mysteries with an American detective created by an English author. Phillpotts also provides an incredibly detailed look at both the mind of the detectives, the psychology of the protagonist, Brendon, specifically, and the personality and intellect of the culprit. 

One of the features that detract from the novel is, to put it bluntly, Brendon's lovesick nature. He's the first career detective I've met (so to speak) to go so completely off the deep end in love during the course of an investigation and miss nearly every vital clue put it front of him. It's hard to believe that a man who was so dedicated to and exemplary in his job prior to the advent of Jenny Pendean could fall down on the job so thoroughly. Especially after having his short-comings pointed out quite plainly by the elder detective. I expected him to come to his senses at some point prior to the denouement. Alas. Another problem is its length. There are a great many descriptive passages, whether about the countryside or the characters, that just go on forever and could have been better served in quick summation rather than rambling prose. It makes the reader long to skip pages and perhaps miss something vital. Things move much more swiftly once Ganns is introduced. The quicker pace and more action-oriented scenes provide an ending which helps redeem the novel. It's not difficult to guess the culprit but a few of the finer details may escape all but the keenest eyes. Overall, an interesting entry in the annals of crime, though not one destined to be one of my all-time favorites. ★★