Super Book Password

The third round of Super Book Password is off and running. Two clues up for the "Movie Title" Password. Click sidebar picture to find the appropriate link.

Some of Bev's Favorite Quotes...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Strange Wine: Review

What can I say about Harlan Ellison that I haven't already said in other reviews of other books? This extraordinary author writes with a burning luminosity that most authors only dream of. His writing has an energy and compelling tone that pulls the reader in and sweeps her along with the force of the story. He writes everything from straight science fiction to dark humor to bone-chilling horror. He is hard-hitting and pulls no punches. He parades ideas before the reader, disguising them as fables and stories that seem at first glance to be mere throw-away lines, but they are packed with everything that Ellison expects the reader to know and feel...and ultimately do something about. Whether it is making a change in yourself or getting angry enough about what's going on in the world today (whether that's the today of 1978 when it was written or the today of now) to try and make a broader change in the way things are.

As I've said before, Harlan Ellison is not for everyone. He's not for the squeamish. Or the prudish. You want your fiction all neat and tidy and full of rainbows and sunshine and happily-ever-afters. Ellison is not your man. That's not to say he can't write a happy ending. He can. He does in this collection. But it's not your everyday, fairy tale happy ending where everyone lives happily ever after....and getting there may be a bit more painful than you'd like. His horror isn't based on the non-human, but on the worst behaviors and twisted desires of very human people. He shows us ourselves at our weakest and ugliest and then tells us that we are better than that. That he believes that we could be better than that (who would think it of one of the crankiest, old so-and-sos in science fiction) if we'd only want it badly enough.

Each of the stories in this collection is a winner--making for another ★★★★ outing from an excellent author. If you want a few highlights, then "In Fear of K," "Hitler Painted Roses," "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," and the titular "Strange Wine" are not to be missed.

Harlan Ellison was born on May 27, 1934, so his book counts as my May entry for the Birthday Month Reading Challenge.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Three Fears: Review

The Three Fears by Jonathan Stagge (aka Richard Webb & Hugh Wheeler) (1949) is the last novel by the duo to feature Dr. Hugh Westlake. Westlake has been invited by his wartime friend, Dr. Macdonald "Don" Lockwood, and his wife Tansy to spend a month at their home in the Massachusetts resort of Bittern Bay. There will even be entertainment on hand in the form of two rival  acresses--Daphne Winters, with her "five sweet symphonies", budding actresses to whom she gives summer tutelage, and Lucy Millken, ""America's Most Beloved Actress"", one time understudy to the Divine Daphne, now her bitter rival. They expect fireworks and maybe even a cat fight or two, but no one expects murderous attempts to made on Daphne. 

Someone very clever is using the atmosphere to make attempt after attempt on Daphne's life and sanity--using knowledge of her three fears: fear of poison, fear of being closed in, and fear of fire against her. The culprit is relentless and doesn't even seem to mind that innocent victims are collected along the way. Two of Daphne's Symphonies are caught in the killer's web. The first intercepts a poisoned capsule meant for Daphne while they are at tea at the Milliken's house and the second dies in a fire in the summerhouse. Westlake, having previous experience with murders, joins the police in the search for the murderer, but they run into blank wall after blank wall. It isn't until one of the Symphonies makes an urgent phone call to Westlake that he begins to see the intricate plot behind it all.

Of all the pen names taken up by Webb and Wheeler as well as Martha Kelley and Mary Aswell (Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick, and Jonathan Stagge), I think I enjoy the Stagge books with Dr. Westlake the best. This one has a nifty puzzle plot with a nice juicy clue dangled right before the reader's eyes in the opening chapter. I don't think that's a spoiler--most people still aren't going to get it. I know I zoomed right over it. Westlake is a good amateur detective. He's not infallible by any means and the way he works through the twists and turns of the mystery is very realistic. Solid characters--the police chief is perhaps a little bit too inept, but overall the characters are very well done. The rivalry between the actresses adds just the right about of spice and spite to the mix. ★★★★  for a lovely vintage mystery.

Since the first death occurs over tea and cake, this counts for the "Eat, Drink & Be Merry" Square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card--and collects two more Bingos. This is also my second entry for Curt's Crimes of the Century feature. This month is focused on crime fiction from 1949.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Great Dinosaur Robbery: Review

The Great Dinosaur Robbery by David Forrest (1970) reads like it was written with a movie deal in mind. Which is convenient because Disney made a movie from the book (One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing) in 1975. I've never seen this particular Disney film with Helen Hayes and Peter Ustinov, but the novel's plot reminds a great deal of another Disney film, The North Street Irregulars. As in Irregulars, we have a group of ladies (middle-aged church parishioners in Irregulars and various-aged British-born nannies in Robbery) taking on a group of down-right baddies. 

In the records of crime there have been many great robberies--The Great Train Robbery, for instance--but never has there been a robbery like the The Great Dinosaur Robbery. Five very British nannies who are taking care of their charges in New York City find themselves plotting the biggest heist of them all...the lifting of a 200,000,000-old brontosaurus skeleton from the American Museum. It all begins when one of Nanny Hettie MacPhish's charges falls dead at her feet in the middle of the museum. His last words:

W-W-World security...avoid t-t-total destruction...m-m-museum...the th-thirteen...largest beast...don't t-t-trust anyone...Get it save the Q-Q-Queen.

After leaving the nursery, Lord Quincey de Bapeau Charmaine-Bott had become a very important person indeed...a member of the British Foreign Office and the most reliable, trustworthy, discreet, and fearless wearer of the Silver Greyhound, the insignia of the Queen's Couriers. 

The 25th Earl carried word of a top-secret plot by the Red Chinese under Mao Tse-tung to conquer England (and the rest of the world) using the Great Leap Downward plan. He had intended to pass the information (via microdot) on to his contact under guise as a British tourist. But his fellow Courier had not arrived and Mao Tse-tung's minions had pursued him through the museum. In a moment's respite from the gang, the British lord had stashed the secret in one of the museum's displays before collapsing at his former Nanny's feet. It's up to Nanny Hettie and her band of loyal caregivers to find the microdot before England's enemies. But who would have thought it would require stealing an entire dinosaur?

This is a very silly--but fun--take on the caper crime. I mean, after all, can you really call it a crime when a bunch of British nannies are stealing a whole dinosaur in the name of Queen and Country? Not terribly realistic and definitely not a puzzle plot, but I did enjoy myself. I'm pretty sure the Disney movie has toned it down though--there are a few adult scenes (one of the nannies has a lover!) and informational bits that I just can't see making it into a 1975 Disney film. Park your realism expectations at the front cover and settle in for a fun ride with Nanny Hettie and company.... ★★

"You can drive a lorry, Nanny Emily?" 
"I drove a caterpillar tractor during the war..." 
"We heard about that," said Hettie. "At the Land Army Club they said it was the longest furrow ever ploughed....You nearly cut of Devon and Cornwall"

 This counts for the "Made into a Movie" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card as well as making up Clue #2 in the Super Book Password Challenge. The key word is "Dinosaur."


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dead Lion: Review

Murder only interests me when I feel I could have done it myself. (Miss Pritchard; p.102)

Cyprian Druse was a well-known literary critic who excelled in skewering lesser mortals (known as authors) and revealing their shortcoming to the reading public. No one's work was exempt from literary geniuses to mystery authors to poets. Druse was a self-made expert on it all and considered none of it to be much good. But Cyprian Druse alive was also a world-class cad. He delighted in making women fall in love with him and then turning their emotions into a subtle weapon against them because as he told the radio audience on his last recorded session of "The National Quiz Team": Love does not exist. 

Cyprian Druse dead was a problem. Not for the police or anyone the least bit official--his death is conveniently ruled an accident resulting from an insecure window sash. But his American nephew Simon Crane arrives at his flat ready to meet his British uncle for the first time, hoping for an introduction to the British literary world, only to find Druse's dead body. After the police have gone away, Simon begins finding little bits of evidence which lead him to believe that someone has gotten away with murder--from a torn bit of The New Statesman to a decorative earring to a set of six very unusual records among Druse's famous collection.

The more Simon learns about his uncle the less he regrets his death, but having fallen head over heels in love with one of the women involved he has to know who did it. When Professor Mandrake, one of Druse's fellow panel members on the Quiz Team, comes to the apartment later that night, he is also convinced that Druse has been murdered and is as eager as a bloodhound hot on the scent. Simon initially welcomes the professor's help, but he soon realizes that he doesn't want the amateur detective investigating his new-found love. The two men spend the rest of the book working at cross-purposes--Mandrake is determined to take full advantage of this golden opportunity to solve a real crime. He says to Simon:

Do you mean to tell me you've had this information [previously mentioned bits of evidence] in your hands o'clock, and now it's nearly midnight, and you haven't mentioned it to a soul except me....But how perfectly wonderful. I'd almost given up hoping that something like this could happen to me.

And Simon is equally determined to A. find out if the woman he's fallen in love with is his uncle's murderer and B. keep Mandrake from finding out about her. He doesn't really care if the lady is the killer--he just has to know. He exerts a great deal of energy sending Mandrake off on other trails and keeping back vital clues.

Neither of the men are true detectives in the classic sense. There isn't much detecting going on, not many clues [beyond the initial display] are discovered, and there isn't much interrogation of suspects. Mandrake does a lot of scribbling in his notebook and muttering to himself about the murder, but the mystery seems to solve itself. Although this is not a traditional crime puzzle, it does provide us with a very interesting examination of the emotions and several views on what love is. While I like Simon very much, I'm not entirely convinced about his fall into love. It seems a bit incredible that a voice on a record could so firmly ensnare him. A good solid read at ★★ and a half. And I look forward to the two other Bonett titles sitting on my shelf. I hope that Professor Mandrake develops quite a bit as an amateur detective.

Dead Lion by John and Emery Bonett [aka husband & wife team of John Coulson and Felicity Winifred Carter] (1949) is my first entry for Curt's Crimes of the Century feature. This month is focused on crime fiction from 1949.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Spock, Messiah!: Review

Spock, Messiah! by Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano, Jr. is the all-time worst Star Trek novel that I've read. Previously that "honor" was held by The Prometheus Design (torture theme and Spock being extraordinarily un-Spock-like). This is another "let's make Spock [and all the other crew members of the Enterprise while we're at it] as unlike himself as we possibly can" story. It is also a very early Star Trek novel (the second original novel published) and, unfortunately, the authors seem to have a very tiny (Spock could give you the exact percentage--like maybe .0000000000000001%) understanding of the Star Trek world and characters. According to the blurb in the back of the first edition (which I just happen to have right here) Charles Spano, Jr. was "a devoted Star Trek follower and an authority on all the characters, events, and background of the series." If that was true (which I quite frankly doubt), then apparently Spock came back in time and did that whole Vulcan memory-wipe thing (like he did for Kirk when Rayna died) because he doesn't seem to use any of his Star Trek knowledge beyond the fact that he (and Cogswell) get character names right and they know they're aboard the Enterprise. For the record....Sulu was born in San Francisco not on "Alpha Mensa Five" (whatever the heck that is) and Scotty does NOT have red hair nor does Chekov have bushy black hair. 

Of course, little matters like getting the Trek world right isn't going to bother these guys. They've got more important things to take care turning one of the female crew members into a "sexpot" stripper and having Kirk, McCoy and the rest of the men make lewd jokes about her. As far as I can tell the whole point of the plot was to make it possible for straight-laced Ensign George to implant herself with a hook-up to every straight man's fantasy--a beautiful woman who wants to dance naked and get it on with anybody who's willing (and they're all willing). Oh, sure, they say that the plot is all about how Spock gets implanted with a hook-up to a crazy guy with a Messiah complex--but that's just a cover for their teen-age boy fantasy fulfillment.

Maybe if I had read this when I first got it (back in the 80s) I might have appreciated just having a new Trek story to read and could have overlooked the incredibly bad characterizations and the sexism. Maybe. But I certainly can't now--there are too many good Trek stories out there. Take my advice and go read them (any of them--they're all better than this). If I could give less than a star on Goodreads and have it register I would. Here on the block...No stars. None.

The Eye in the Museum: Review

In The Eye in the Museum by J. J. Connington (pen name of Alfred Walter Stewart), the terms of her father's will ties Joyce Hazelmere to her odious, whiskey-swilling, gambling Aunt Evelyn until she turns 25. If she doesn't stay with the old battle-axe or leave with her blessing, then all the money reverts to Evelyn. It's not bad enough that Evelyn treats her horribly--spewing abuse every time she has a whiskey or two too many--but the older woman is also terribly jealous of her lovely young niece and is determined to stand in the way of young love when Evelyn meets the handsome Leslie Seaforth and wants to marry him. After a particularly acrimonious exchange with her aunt, Joyce tells Leslie that all their problems would be solved if only an accident would happen to Evelyn. After all, her aunt has a bit of heart trouble and it's just possible that a bit of excitement might bring on a particularly deadly attack.

You're a lawyer, Leslie. What would happen...suppose I lost my temper and struck back, and she...well, if her heart failed under the strain? They couldn't do anything to me, could they? It would just be an accident, wouldn't it?

And,then, as if her words had some sort of magic power, it seems like that very thing happens. That evening Joyce and Leslie go for a night-time canoe ride and when Joyce returns home she finds her aunt dead in the drawing-room. She calls out to Leslie (who's down by the canoe) who comes to help. There is no sign of violence or disturbance so it would seem that Joyce's wish for freedom has come true. All that remains is to call in Evelyn's doctor, get him to sign the death certificate, and all will be lovely in the garden....

Except Dr. Platt won't sign. He doesn't like the "atmosphere" between the two young people and he insists that although Evelyn's heart wasn't strong there wasn't any reason for her to die suddenly. By the time the postmortem results are in and the inquest is done there are hints of attempted poisoning, a definite death by pressure on the vagus nerve and carotid artery (a lovely method that required medical know-how or special training), and a verdict of "murder by person or persons unknown."

Superintendent Ross is called in to sort out the suspects and hunt for clues. He has to follow a trail strewn with forgery, gambling debts, digitalis, mysterious comings and goings in the dead woman's garden, stories of grudges past and jealousies present, and a view through an all-seeing eye. The harassed niece and her fiance aren't the only suspects. There are several to choose from--from the dead woman's estranged husband who wanted a divorce to marry his lady-love (Evelyn naturally couldn't possibly allow that) to Dr. Hyndford who wasn't Evelyn's doctor but may have had a different sort of bed-side manner to Watchet, Aunt Evelyn's estate agent who may have been cooking the books. Ross will get his villain in the end--after an adventurous chase down the river--and, as in all good vintage mysteries, all the clues will be displayed and the good detective's reasoning will be revealed in a final wrap-up scene.

Connington provides a very nice English countryside murder that is fairly-clued and complete with a red herring or two. Engaging characters--particularly Ross and a lawyer's clerk who turns out to be something of an expert in graphology--and the adventurous ending all make for an interesting reading experience. Quite enjoyable-- ★★ and a half.

With Superintendent Ross investigating, this counts for the "Professional Detective" Square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. This is also my first entry in the Super Book Password "Movie Title" category...the clue is "Museum."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Partners In Crime Tour: The Golden Age of Murder

The Golden Age of Murder

by Martin Edwards

on Tour April 28 - May 31, 2015

Book Details:
Genre: Biography, Mystery, Classic Crime  
Published by: HarperCollins  
Publication Date: May 7th 2015  
Number of Pages: 512  
ISBN: 0008105960 (ISBN13: 9780008105969)

Purchase Links:



A real-life detective story, investigating how Agatha Christie and colleagues in a mysterious literary club transformed crime fiction, writing books casting new light on unsolved murders whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets.

This is the first book about the Detection Club, the world’s most famous and most mysterious social network of crime writers. Drawing on years of in-depth research, it reveals the astonishing story of how members such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers reinvented detective fiction.

Detective stories from the so-called “Golden Age” between the wars are often dismissed as cosily conventional. Nothing could be further from the truth: some explore forensic pathology and shocking serial murders, others delve into police brutality and miscarriages of justice; occasionally the innocent are hanged, or murderers get away scot-free. Their authors faced up to the Slump and the rise of Hitler during years of economic misery and political upheaval, and wrote books agonising over guilt and innocence, good and evil, and explored whether killing a fellow human being was ever justified. Though the stories included no graphic sex scenes, sexual passions of all kinds seethed just beneath the surface.

Attracting feminists, gay and lesbian writers, Socialists and Marxist sympathisers, the Detection Club authors were young, ambitious and at the cutting edge of popular culture – some had sex lives as bizarre as their mystery plots. Fascinated by real life crimes, they cracked unsolved cases and threw down challenges to Scotland Yard, using their fiction to take revenge on people who hurt them, to conduct covert relationships, and even as an outlet for homicidal fantasy. Their books anticipated not only CSI, Jack Reacher and Gone Girl, but also Lord of the Flies. The Club occupies a unique place in Britain’s cultural history, and its influence on storytelling in fiction, film and television throughout the world continues to this day.

The Golden Age of Murder rewrites the story of crime fiction with unique authority, transforming our understanding of detective stories and the brilliant but tormented men and women who wrote them.

My Review:

Fantastic and fascinating book that is an absolute must-have for anyone with interest in the Golden Age of mysteries, crime, and detection. The Golden Age is one of my favorite periods for detective novels and it was an absolute delight to get an inside view of the Detection Club. It is just a real shame that the Club did not have an Archivist before Martin Edwards and that the Minute Book and other materials from the time of the Club's inception through the Blitz have disappeared. What a treasure trove of information that would have been. Edwards gives us a detailed look at the original members of the Club--tracing their careers and investigating certain mysterious circumstances in their lives. And even though many of the authors' mysteries were already familiar to me (as a long-time reader of Golden Age crime fiction), Edwards managed to discover new and interesting tidbits about even the most well-known of the Golden Age writers. Pacing is just a tad slow in places and there's a tendency to revisit some of the key events (Christie's disappearance and Sayers' secret shame, for instance), but overall a definite winner that all mystery lovers need to have on their reference shelf. ★★★★ and a half.

[Disclaimer: My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate....The book was offered to me for impartial review  and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments in this section are entirely my own honest opinion.]   

Author Bio:

Martin Edwards was educated in Northwich and at Balliol College, Oxford University, taking a first class honours degree in law. He trained as a solicitor in Leeds and moved to Liverpool on qualifying in 1980. He published his first legal article at the age of 25 and become a partner in the firm of Mace and Jones in 1984.

He is married to Helena with two children (Jonathan and Catherine) and lives in Lymm. Martin is a member of the Murder Squad collective of crime writers, and is chairman of the nominations sub-committee for the CWA Diamond Dagger (crime writing's most prestigious award). In 2007 he was appointed the Archivist of the Crime Writers Association.

Catch Up:

Tour Participants:


This is a giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for Martin Edwards & Harper Collins. There will be one winner of 1 physical copy of The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards to a US recipient. The giveaway begins on April 28th, 2015 and runs through June 3rd, 2015
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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours


Sunday, May 3, 2015

April Wrap-Up and P.O.M. Award

Found on

I'm enjoying another year of tracking reading progress and statistics for all things bookish on the Block. I will also be contributing to Kerrie's Crime Fiction Pick of the Month. Here's what happened here on the Block in April....

Total Books Read: 15
Total Pages:  3,482

Average Rating: 3.23 stars  
Top Rating: 4.5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 20%

Percentage by US Authors: 60%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  0%
Percentage Mystery:  80% 

Percentage Fiction: 93%
Percentage written 2000+: 13%
Percentage of Rereads: 6%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}    
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 5 (12%)

AND, as mentioned above,
Kerrie had us all set up for another year of Crime Fiction Favorites. What she was looking for is our Top Mystery Read for each month. March was a big month for mysteries with nine coming from that field and two in non-fiction. And one of the non-fiction was all about poisoning, so it could almost count. Here are the books read:

The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey (4.5 stars) 
Poison Jasmine by Clyde B. Clason (3.5 stars) 
The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey by John Dickson Carr (3.5 stars) 
Murder in the Wind by John D. MacDonald (3.5 stars) 
Flying to Nowhere by John Fuller (1 star) 
The Ringmaster's Secret by Carolyn Keene (4 stars) 
The Cavalier in White by Marcia Muller (3 stars) 
The Wilberforce Legacy by Josephine Bell (3 stars) 
The Smiler with the Knife by Nicholas Blake (3.5 stars) 
Safari by Parnell Hall (2 stars) 
Call for Michael Shayne by Brett Halliday (3 stars) 
The Adventure of the Three Students by Doyle; adapted by Vincent Goodwin (3 stars) 
The Case of Colonel Marchand by E. C. R. Lorac (4 stars)

And the run-away winner of the P.O.M. Award is The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey with 4.5 stars.

This is a terrific, near-perfect mystery in the traditional mode--it has everything: murder, ship-board romance, small-time crooks, mistaken identity (several), and a closed set of suspects. Lovesey expertly sets the reader up for certain scenarios and then, with a quick flick of the wrist changes things up in the most logical manner. He also seems to be having a great deal of fun playing with all the standard tropes of both detective and romantic fiction--from the passion of the romance-obsessed Alma to the Inspector who isn't really an inspector to the doting mother who's bound and determined to marry off her daughter.


May Read It Again, Sam Reviews

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May Mount TBR Reviews

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Super Book Pasword May/June: Movie Title

It's time for the third round of Super Book Book Password. 
Here are our current point totals:
Ryan@Wordsmithonia: 180 points
Debbie@Exurbanis: 130 points
Phinnea@ravenscroftcloud: 40 points
Bev (hostess, playing for fun): 240 points
I've got my Movie Title all lined up. Anybody going to join me?  I've decided that rather than post weekly links that this round I will post one link for May and another for June. Eight clues are not required, but participants are asked to provide as many clues as possible with their reading schedules. Remember that points can be claimed for each clue until the next clue from that particular participant goes up. So--if I post my first clue this week, but don't post my second clue until the last week of May, then participants will have three weeks to ponder my Movie Title and try to claim the full points. If I post the second clue next week, then first clue points will only be available until next week.  And, from now one, if a participant posts at least four clues and manages to stump the panel, I will award a bonus of 40 points.
When you post your clues, please use the following format: 
Bev's Clue #1 ("book" title)***
and link to your blog or other review site (Goodreads, etc). If you do not have a blog and would like to post clues, then please use the format above and submit your clues in the comments. Don't forget to email me (phryne1959 AT gmail DOT com) your chosen password.  Let's have some more fun--and see if anyone can catch Ryan in the points category!

***Just as a point of clarification: If only part of your title is the clue, please indicate which word or words are relevant--put that portion in quotes for the link up (see above). My clues will also be in bold at my review site.  

Please use the Google Form below for your Password guesses. The form time-stamps each guess, so points will be awarded to the first person to log the correct Password.