Monday, March 2, 2015

Brighton Rock: Review

Brighton Rock by Graham Green is a follow-up to Green's novel A Gun for Sale, in which Pinkie Brown arranges for the murder of local mob boss Kite. In Brighton Rock, Pinkie has taken over the gang. He's a little young for the job and faces opposition from Colleoni, a more experienced, wealthy mob boss who is moving in to Brighton.

The story opens with Charles "Fred" Hale who has come to Brighton on assignment from his newspaper. His job as "Kolley Kibber" is to visit various towns, leaving cards worth prizes along his route, and to be prepared for someone to recognize him and "challenge" him to collect a larger cash prize. But Hale has had some dealings with Pinkie's rival--something that Pinkie has taken great exception to. It isn't long before Hale suspects that Pinkie has marked him for murder as well and Hale searches for likely lady friend to use as cover while in Brighton. 

He approaches Ida Arnold, a friendly middle-aged woman who is willing to spend time with him. But she insists on "freshening up" in a ladies room and when she comes out, he's gone. Ida has a very uncomplicated view of life and isn't too disturbed about his leaving her....until she sees his picture in the newspaper. He died that very day, apparently of natural causes. And when Ida thinks over the conversations she had with "Fred" and reads the article on the inquest she finds that she has several questions about what really happened. A little bit of investigation on her part makes her very suspicious indeed and she goes to the police with her suspicions.

They don't take her seriously and Ida sets out to play detective and find out what really happened to "Fred" that day in Brighton. She is determined to find the person responsible for Fred's death--no matter what it takes and no matter how many questions she has to ask. Ida is fearless and represents blind justice in a very real way.

I certainly get why this is classic...and why it appears on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. It is a terrific snapshot of the pop culture of the day and the wicked underbelly of Brighton and the racetrack nearby. But an enjoyable book it is not. It is bleak and there are few appealing characters. Even Ida, whom we feel that we must root for, is a bit frightening in her single-minded quest. Yes, we do want to see Hale's killer brought to justice, but the advancement of justice is such an unrelenting process. By the end of the book, I felt ground down by the weight of Ida's quest and burdened with Pinkie's guilt and horrible treatment of everyone he comes in contact with--from his gang members to to Rose, the girl who loves him. ★★

This fulfills the "Place in the Title" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

All Challenges Fulfilled: 100 Plus Challenge, How Many Books, Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR, My Kind of Mystery, Cloak & Dagger, 1001 Books Before You Die, Dare You, Genre Decades Challenge, Back to the Classics, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge

Sunday, March 1, 2015

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

I'm ready for 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. So, here we go--let's take a look at February....

Total Books Read: 13
Total Pages: 2714
Average Rating: 3.02 stars  
Top Rating: 4 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 46%

Percentage by US Authors: 77%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  0%
Percentage Mystery:  54% 

Percentage Fiction: 85%
Percentage written 2000+: 15%
Percentage of Rereads: 0%
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: 2 (5%)

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. February was a mixed bag with just over half in the mystery field. Here are the books read:

One Touch of Blood by Samm Sinclair Baker (3.25 stars)
Death Over Deep Water by Simon Nash (3 stars)
Caught Dead in Philadelphia by Gillian Roberts (4 stars)
13 Steps Down by Ruth Rendell (3 stars)
A Stitch in Time by Emma Lathen (3 stars)
Panic by Helen McCloy (4 stars)
The Secret of Magnolia Manor by Helen Wells (3 stars)
The World's Best 100 Detective Stories Vol. 1 by Eugene Thwing, ed (4 stars)

This month three books earned four stars out of five: Caught Dead in Philadelphia the debut book for Gillian Roberts, Panic by Helen McCloy, and The World's Best 100 Detective Stories Vol. 1 edited by Eugene Thwing. McCloy consistently entertains with her novels--but I have already awarded her with a coveted P.O.M. Award. The short stories in the collection put together by Thwing were also entertaining, but they have aged and some of the writing leaves a little bit to be desired. So...I'm going to agree with the Anthony Awards and give my P.O.M. Award to Caught Dead in Philadelphia by Roberts. 

This is an excellent debut indeed. It caught my eye because of its cozy academic spin and it kept me reading because it's a nicely done, fast-paced read. Amanda Pepper is a feisty protagonist who still has quite reasonable fears and wobbly legs when confronted with murder. I enjoy her interactions with C. K. Mackenzie (and her efforts to learn his disguised first name) and I look forward to continuing the series to see how their relationship develops. 


March Read It Again, Sam Reviews

Please link up below

March Mount TBR Reviews

Please post reviews below. And don't forget...First Mountaineering Checkpoint will be coming at the end of March!

March Vintage Bingo Reviews

Please link up your reviews below.

Super Book Password-- March/April: Historic Event

And we're off for the second round of Super Book Book Password. I've got my Historic Event all lined up. Anybody going to join me?  Just a reminder: Each week I will post a link for another clue--up to eight weeks of clues. 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 March, then participants will have three weeks to ponder my Historic Event 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.  
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. This format seemed to work well last round. 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. 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.

Super Book Password--Jan/Feb Roundup

As we look ahead to the second round of Super Book Book Password (which will be posted later today), let's look at the point totals. I am playing for fun (no prize for me)--since I know all the answers, I can't make guesses and will collect points based solely on clues given. A prize is ahead for the contestant who collects the most points along the way.

Our current totals:
First Place: Ryan with 120 points. Ryan gave us five clues (20 points each) and correctly guessed both of my Passwords on Clue #4 for 10 points on each. Ryan also stumped the panel with his Password: Marc Antony

Second Place: Debbie with 100 points. Debbie also gave us five clues (20 points each) and kept everyone guessing with her Password: Persephone

My eight clues--four each on two Passwords--earned me a total of 160 points. As mentioned, Ryan correctly spotted William Shatner and Dick Van Dyke as my famous persons.

John over at Pretty Sinister Books also joined us for some guesses and hopefully he'll come back for another round in March and April. And what about you? How about stopping by in the next two months and giving these folks some competition on the next Password: Historic Event? We'd love to have you join us--no reading or clue-giving participation necessary. Anyone is welcome to guess.

Into the Valley: Review

Into the Valley by John Hersey is a reporter's on-the-spot report of a battle which took place on October 8, 1942 on Guadalcanal. Hersey was a correspondent with Time-Life and was attached to Company H of the Marine Corps under the command of Captain Charles Rigaud. The heavy machine gun company was ordered into the valley at the Matanikau River with the goal of forcing the enemy back beyond the river.

As Hersey moves with the company and watches the men under fire, he realizes how much these Marines go through, how many of them deserve citations for their bravery, and how few of them will receive the recognition they deserve--from the runners who carry messages when radio and field telephones won't work to the men who carry the wire spools through the jungle (unable to defend themselves because you can't carry a rifle and a spool at the same time) to the medics who treat and rescue the wounded. 

He gets to know the men very quickly in his short time with them and he asks them the one question he truly wants to know. What are they fighting for? When it comes down to it...out there in the unfamiliar jungles, when it seems like your company is the only one doing its job...what are you fighting for? The answer surprises him until he recognizes it for what it is:

They did not answer for a long time.

Then one of them spoke, but not to me...and for a second I thought he was changing the subject or making fun of me, but of course he was not. He was answering my question very specifically.

He whispered: "Jesus, what I'd give for a piece of blueberry pie." Another whispered: "Personally I prefer mince." A third whispered: "Make mine apple with a few raisins in it and lots of cinnamon: you know, Southern style."

Fighting for pie. Of course that is not exactly what they meant. Here, in a place where they lived for several weeks mostly on captured Japanese rice, then finally had gone on to such delicacies as canned corned beef and Navy beans, where they were usually hungry and never given a treat--here pie was their symbol of home.

Hersey's book is a fine piece of war reporting. He gives us the feel of battle with all the sights and sounds, with all the fears and acts of bravery. We see the men digging shallow grave-like holes to bed down in at night, fording streams, and carrying their fallen comrades from the field of battle. We hear the underlying homesickness and worry that they might not see that home again--but we also see the courage that drives their Captain to make them hold their ground until they can retreat in good order. An interesting peek into the history of World War II. ★★ and a half.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The World's Best 100 Detective Stories Vol. 1

The World's Best 100 Detective Stories (1929) edited by Eugene Thwing is a ten-volume set made up of ten short stories per set. And this is the first volume. As Thwing says in his introduction, picking the 100 best stories even in the early years of the mystery field was no easy job. It's easier to just select personal favorites--but one really needs to select a wide variety of popular favorites to meet the tastes of more readers. Of course, no matter what an editor does, he will still not pick everyone's favorite and be able to make everyone happy.

Personally, I think Thwing did an excellent job. For the most part, these are authors that I was not  familiar with--I had certainly heard of H.C. Bailey and Edgar Jepson, but had not read anything by them prior to this collection and had read very little of Robert Eustace and Mrs. Belloc Lowndes. Everyone else was a new acquaintance and I was very pleased to meet them. I don't know if Thwing did it on purpose (he doesn't mention it if he did), but there is a bit of a revenge theme running through most of these stories and it was interesting to see how each author works their method of revenge. A good collection and I look forward to reading stories in the other volumes. ★★★★

Here is a brief synopsis of each story:

"The One Best Bet" by Samuel Hopkins Adams: Mr. Average Jones, ace investigative reporter, has all the skills necessary to get to the bottom of a fiendish plot to kill the Governor.

"The Little House" by H. C. Bailey: Reggie Fortune decides to look into the case of the lost Persian kitten--a "crime" too small to interest the police--and discovers a dreadful world of dope and revenge.

"The Hermit Crab" by Bailey: Reggie returns and investigates malicious mailings to one Miss Platt Robinson. But it isn't until the poison pen sends her a hermit crab that Reggie is able to find those responsible.

"The Sting of the Wasp" by Richard Connell: When his rival and vowed enemy Lewis Cope is found dead, apparently shot with his gun, all evidence points to Guy Oakley. But, after examining the scene of the crime and hearing Oakley's version of the night in question, Matthew Kelton thinks he's innocent. A wasp sting convinces Kelton that he's right.

"Mirage" by Sinclair Gluck: A rich young American girl sees what she wants to see in the attentions of a Frenchman. Captain Dufreyne is able to look beyond the mirage to the reality behind.

"The Tea-Leaf" by Edgar Jepson & Robert Eustace: In which the daughter of a disagreeable man proves her ex-fiancé innocent of her father's murder--through the evidence of a tea-leaf and the help of a dream.

"The Services of an Expert" by Harry Stephen Keeler: A clever turn-about story on the usual cop and burglar tale.

"Popeau Intervenes" by Mrs. Belloc Lowndes: Hercules Popeau, retired from the French Police, prevents the murder of a lovely Englishwoman.

"The Poacher" by Sidney Gowing: Commander Robert "Bolo" Venables of the Royal Navy tells a whopper of a fish story--that just happens to be true.

"The Tinkle of the Bells" by Anthony Wynne: Dr. Hailey, expert in diseases of the mind, is called upon by a racehorse owner to determine what has caused The Wizard (as his colt is called) to become deathly afraid.  

This, as you might expect, fulfills the "Short Story" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Super Book Password: Jan/Feb Round-up

As February draws to a close, I'd like to remind you that there are two Passwords just waiting to be solved. I thought I'd give you a run-down of the clues so far and perhaps entice you to try your luck at guessing before the first round runs out of time.

The Password category is Famous Person.
Debbie has given us the following clues:
1. "Daughter"
2. "Athens"
3. "Zeus"
4. "Grey"
5. "Cover"
And Ryan has given us the following clues:
1. "Warrior"
2. "Italian"
3. "Emperor"
4. "Suicide"
5. "Sword"

If you'd like to offer up a guess, please click on the Super Password link and enter your guess in the form provided. Anyone may guess--no previous participation necessary.

And, maybe, just maybe I could talk you into joining us for the March/April round. We'll be offering up clues for a Historic Event.

The Secret of Magnolia Manor: Review

The Secret of Magnolia Manor (1949) is the fourth book in the Vicki Barr Flight Stewardess mystery series. It is credited to Helen Wells, but many sites say that Julie Campbell (author of many of the Trixie Belden books) started writing these stories with Magnolia Manor. Vicki begins her career in New York, but in this story she has been reassigned to the New Orleans-to-Guatemala City run. A friend of her family has recommended that she make a pension owned by Paul Breaux and his niece Marie her home base in New Orleans--promising Vicki that she will love both Mr. Breaux and Marie. Vicki quickly becomes friends with the lovely young woman, but Paul Breaux seems awfully severe and moody, especially where his niece is concerned. He often forbids her to leave the pension and becomes very upset when she forgets small things like shrimp for gumbo.

Marie will soon turn 18 and is engaged to Bill Graham, a hard-working young man who is renovating Magnolia Manor, the old Breaux plantation. At first the new owner, Mr. Carlisle, plans to make the manor into a home for himself and his wife, but when they find that the dampness from the bayou does not agree with Mrs. Carlisle, he decides to convert the manor into a club/inn. Part of the new renovation plan calls for a wall to be torn down between the parlor and the library to make a spacious dining room.

When Breaux hears of the new renovation plan, he becomes unreasonably enraged and insists that his former home not be desecrated in such a way. Bill apologizes for bearing bad news, but says that he must follow the orders of his employer and the new owner. Marie's uncle forbids Bill to ever set foot in the pension again and tells his niece that her engagement is off. 

The family chalks Breaux's behavior up to moodiness and eccentricity. But when Bill mysteriously disappears, a "ghost" is seen at the manor, and Breaux, who has formerly been a late-sleeper, starts changing his daily habits, Vicki is convinced that Marie's uncle is up to something. She convinces her new co-worker, Dusty, that her suspicions are well-founded and they borrow a helicopter to search for Bill among the Cajuns in the swamplands. The rescue of Bill and a search for missing family papers in the manor reveal the true reason Paul Breaux doesn't want Magnolia Manor renovated.

Unlike Nancy Drew whose mystery-related travels are more pleasure trips turned detective outings, Vicki Barr represents the career girl as girl detective as a side-line. Her detective radar goes off when passengers act strangely or locals in cities along her flight runs seem to be troubled. And her position as a stewardess gives her valid reasons for becoming involved in mysterious circumstances in so many different places. But like Nancy, she is independent and resourceful--representing the modern young woman in the post-war world. Her independence is particularly apparent in this story where Paul Breaux uses Creole customs as an excuse to curb his niece's freedom.

The story itself is on a par with other girl detective stories of the era. The clues are fairly obvious to those well-read in the mystery genre (and we wonder why they aren't so obvious to those involved in the story), but it is good clean fun with little violence and no murders. Another series that I'm quite certain I would have enjoyed thoroughly when I was in my Nancy Drew phase...and even now I enjoyed the story and the introduction to the New Orleans of the late 1940s. ★★

This fulfills the "Crime Other Than Murder" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Panic: Review

That's clever. A war of nerves. An attack that is always psychological, never physical. (Colonel Armstrong, p. 155)

The world is at war and someone has declared a private war of nerves on Alison Tracey. When Alison's Uncle Felix Mulholland dies, apparently from heart trouble, she is left without a job and without a home. Her cousin Ronnie, who has inherited the bulk of what little their uncle had to leave, offers her the use of the remote cottage in the Adirondacks while she recovers from her loss and sorts herself out. Alison looks forward to the time alone and says that she will not be nervous on her own four miles from the nearest small town.

But that's before the rustling noises begin outside the cottage. And the mysterious footsteps....when no one seems to be there. And the odd, loping shadow that she glimpses in the moonlight. And the small changes in furniture position that provide evidence that someone searches the cottage whenever she's away.

She's not precisely all alone in the woods. Geoffrey and Yolanda Parrish--one old fried (Geoffrey) and one old rival (Yolanda)--are within walking distance. And Mrs. Phillimore, Alison's nearest neighbor, is a fairly new addition to the mountain community. But should she trust the bizarre woman who walks and talks like a man in disguise? Her cousin Ronnie arrives with Dr. Kurt Anders, a psychologist, in tow. But even Ronnie isn't as assuring as he once wasThen there's Matt who drove her from the train station and delivers her groceries...and who has a voice that is disturbingly familiar even though he says they've never met. And finally there's Colonel Armstrong who claims to be Military Intelligence and is looking for the key to an "unbreakable" cipher which Uncle Felix told him he had developed. Armstrong keeps popping up at the most unexpected times. Is he what he says he is? 

Alison isn't sure who she can trust...and when matters come to a crisis one dark and stormy night it will seem that she can't trust anyone. Geoffrey says he'll keep watch on her cottage, but disappears just when he's needed most. Colonel Armstrong appears once more, but dashes out the front door in pursuit of someone that Alison never saw. Even Argos, the faithful family dog who has been keeping Alison company, disappears into the rainy night. 

Alison, in true suspense heroine fashion, goes out into the storm to look for Argos. She hears noises over the storm and sees shadows that may or may not be menacing. And then as if on cue, Alison's flashlight loses power. She stumbles over a dead body and then the world goes black. When she awakens, she is safe and warm in a bedroom at the Parrish's cottage--but why are her friends and even Ronnie looking at her with suspicion? It will take another dash into a dark night and a flash of insight into her uncle's method of encryption before Alison will be able to prove herself innocent and find out which of her friends or neighbors were trying to drive her into a Panic....

Helen McCloy consistently entertains in her mystery stories. Here she sets up the suspense novel--frightened heroine in a secluded novel, but she still provides the readers with a fair number of clues to make this a true Golden Age style mystery. Fair play is definitely evident--even though I didn't pick up on the clues she generously displayed for me. My two quibbles with this one are more personal than actual mystery critiques. First--Alison seems to be a very intelligent young woman. Prior to her uncle's death she has had zero interest or knowledge of ciphers and how they work. But--over a period of four days she manages to unravel the code when others with a background in ciphers can't. Okay? So, she's a smart woman. Let's accept that. Given that premise...then why on earth does this smart woman repeatedly leave the cipher papers scattered about where anybody who stops by for a neighborly visit (or not-so-neighborly in the case of the prowler) can see them? The only reason she can come up with for anyone (other than Yolanda who hates anything in a skirt that attracts her brother's interest) to be spying on her is the cipher. And yet...she does nothing to hide it. It irritates me when normally smart people do obviously stupid things. Especially when they do it on a "rinse and repeat" cycle.

Two--the cipher. Okay, it's central to one of the story lines. I got that. But, seriously, did we really have to have pages and pages of explanation about how the darn things work? I thought it was a little yawn-making when Dorothy L. Sayers had Lord Peter give Harriet a lecture on codes in Have His Carcase. I skipped some paragraphs there....but Sayers has nothing on McCloy. Pages of explanation. Tableau after Vigenère tableau. And not just once. We get several installments. 

Fortunately, the story is a good one and the characters are interesting and memorable--with Argos, the blind cocker spaniel, nearly stealing the whole show. Throw in a vivid setting and slight shift in the mystery motive tableau (see, I did pay half-ways attention to those code lectures), and we have a ★★★★ outing.

This fulfills the "Country House" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo Card. While it is not the standard country house story--cast of characters stuck in a snow-bound or otherwise isolated house with victims piling up--we do have a country house, a stormy night of crisis, and a set cast of suspects. And a very enjoyable mystery.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Just a Girl Detective: October 8 Challenge Square #2

I'm back again for another entry in my friend Noah's October 8 Challenge. Noah is a Golden Age Detection (GAD) aficionado and one of my Vintage Mystery Challengers and he's put together a Bingo-style Golden Age mystery essay challenge of his own. I'm not entirely sure that I'm going to meet my goal of one Bingo. Especially since it looks like I'm hopping around the board rather than making a straight line. But...I'm still going to give it my best shot.

Today's entry is a little essay on Girl Detectives to fulfill B3 (linked by a theme). My first acquaintance with the girl detective genre came, as I'm sure it did for many girls, with Nancy Drew when my mom passed her set of six Nancy books on to me. She was, in fact, my introduction to mysteries.  More than than that Nancy and her blue roadster stood for adventures.  My parents have always supported me no matter what.  They believe I can do anything I want--and made me believe it too and taught me that it never mattered that I was a girl.  Nancy was my first reinforcement of that idea in book-from.  She began her adventures in 1930 and was independent and self-sufficient from the beginning. She was supported by a loving and interested father who had taught her to take care of herself.  When Nancy has a flat tire while out detecting in her roadster, she doesn't have to wait for some strong man to come along and change it for her. She sets to work on it herself.

And she's prepared for the dangers of detective work as well. When Nancy first indicates that she wants to try and track down the missing will in The Secret of the Old Clock, Carson Drew doesn't tell her the job is too difficult or too dangerous for a girl.  He just tells her: "Detective work isn't always the safest occupation in which to engage. I happen to know that Richard Topham is an unpleasant man when crossed. If you actually succeed in learning anything which may help the Horner girls, you are certain to have the Tophams in your wool." He warns her of the dangers....but he doesn't warn her off. Throughout the series Nancy finds herself in tight spots and manages to work her way out of them.
Nancy was my mainstay in detective fiction for a long time. She was always on my Christmas wish list and I regularly spent my hard-earned allowance at the local used bookstore on editions of her stories that I didn't yet have. I worked my way through all 56 of the hardbacks and a few of the soft cover stories before leaving her behind for Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. But Nancy wasn't the only girl detective on my list.

Trixie Belden, whose first book was published in 1948, was in some ways a more realistic character for a middle-class girl to relate to. I might have wanted to be Nancy with her roadster and the ability to travel just about anywhere at the drop of a hat, but it was far easier to see myself as Trixie--the tomboyish girl with a quick temper. Nancy is well-to-do and has a wealthy father to support her in all the travels she does--from ski lodges to Hawaii to Scotland to the jungles of Africa. Trixie has to work hard at her chores to earn spending money and is often struggling with her schoolwork. Her trips are usually to visit family. She seems to face more of the ups and downs of teenage life than Nancy does--everything from squabbles with her brothers to dealing with her own insecurities. But the one thing she does share with Nancy is her knack for solving mysteries.  

Trixie and Nancy were my girls growing up. Nancy was my ideal and Trixie represented a more realistic view of what I might be able to do if I wanted to set up a girl detective business of my own. But I abandoned them once I got started on Holmes and Poirot and Miss Marple and others. Then, just a few years ago, I found a first edition Judy Bolton story in an antique shop--and, on a whim, I bought The Voice in the Suitcase. That story reminded me of my early love for the girl detectives and I've been susceptible to picking up a few every now and then in recent trips to used book stores...including a second Judy Bolton story The Name on the Bracelet.

Created by Margaret Sutton in 1932, the Judy Bolton series seems at first glance to be very like Nancy Drew. Judy's dad is a doctor and Judy still has her mom and an older brother thrown in the mix. Her family is fairly well-to-do as Nancy's is. But for those who may think Nancy a bit too privileged (rich dad who let her go on all sorts of trips to ski lodges and what-not; her own little roadster; etc), Judy is a bit more down-to-earth. She is employed as a secretary to a local lawyer and has thoughts of marriage and a family--and, unlike most of her fellow girl detectives, actually does marry about half-way through the series. 

Another recent acquisition was Dorothy Dixon and the Double Cousin (1933). Dorothy is a lot like Nancy...but even more so, if that were possible. She's just your typical girl sleuth--you know, the kind of girl who can fly planes, pilot motor boats, throw a knife with deadly accuracy, and take the place of an almost-identical twin cousin at the drop of a hat (without ever having met the cousin before and, therefore, without having the first clue how said cousin behaves in day-to-day situations). Dorothy is a mere sixteen years old, but by the time Dorothy Dixon and the Double Cousin takes place, she already has three mysteries under her belt and the local Secret Service agent trusts her enough to take her into his confidence over top secret plans for a super spiffy, super dangerous formula for a brand new explosive. Much adventurous hi-jinks ensue and it all ends readers of these Girl Super Sleuth adventures know it will.

That's one of the good things about these mysteries. Dorothy (or Nancy or Trixie or Judy....) always gets her man--or woman as the case may be. Good triumphs and the criminal is always caught. The clues all come together and it makes for a nice happy wrap-up. They make for very comfortable, feel-good reading...especially for those of us looking for a nice nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lost Laysen: Review

Lost Laysen by Margaret Mitchell is really two stories in one volume. The first half is a real-life love story told in letters and pictures which Mitchell's beau, Henry Love Angel, had kept secret throughout his life. When he died in 1945, Angel left behind love letters from Mitchell, photos taken over the years, and two notebooks which she had entrusted to him. Although those materials were passed on to his son, Henry Jr. did not really examine them until he heard about the Atlanta museum dedicated to Mitchell and Gone With the Wind. He decided to contact the museum to see if they would be interested in what he had. 

The letters and photos tell the story of Angel's unrequited love for Mitchell and of his repeated proposals and her refusals. Though she had great affection for him--affection that is made plain in her letters, she ultimately chose to marry two other men in quick succession. She realized that her first husband had been a mistake almost immediately and divorced him. It is interesting to speculate why she did not choose the faithful Angel. And although he finally fell in love with another and married, he still remained her faithful friend, keeping her letters and her notebooks safe and secret until his death.

The second story is found in the two notebooks. Written by Mitchell in 1916 when she was just shy of her 16th birthday, Lost Laysen is a story of a spirited young woman determined to be "a missionary" to the people on the island of Laysen and the two men who loved her. One is a rough deckhand on the ship which carries her to the island; the other is a gentleman of her own class who is determined to follow her and bring her home to marry him. All three of them value honor--the men will go to any lengths to defend her honor against a villainous man and she values her honor over her life.

It is interesting to see some of the themes and characteristics which Mitchell would fully develop in GWTW here in tentative form. She's clearly a young writer, but she does an excellent job taking on the voice of the rough seaman (our narrator) and attempting to work out complex issues. An impressive early novella from a fifteen-year-old. ★★

A Stitch in Time: Review

A Stitch in Time (1968) by Emma Lathen is the seventh mystery featuring John  Putnam Thatcher, Wall Street Banker and amateur sleuth. The book opens in court with the Freebody vs. Altantic Mutual case. Pemberton Freebody, a wealthy elderly man had been diagnosed with cancer. Rather than face such a dreadful death, he decides to go to the woods with a shotgun and end it all in his own way. A good Samaritan happens to find him and takes him to the Southport Memorial Hospital where Dr. Wendell Martin operates on Freebody and it looks like he'll survive. But four days later, Freebody dies and now the insurance company is balking at a pay-out of the beneficiary's $100,000 claim. Atlantic Mutual cites the suicide clause (which invalidates the claim) but it's just not that simple. An autopsy reveals that Martin left seven hemostatic clips in Freebody and the lawyers for the claimant submit that the old gentleman didn't die from the gunshot wound but from a botched operation.

Thatcher's bank, the Sloan Guaranty Trust, is the trustee for the beneficiary and Thatcher is interested in the case. The more he sees in court, the more sure he is that the hospital staff are covering up. And when Martin is murdered after a few unwise comments to the press Thatcher is even more sure. But is malpractice the only thing Southport Memorial is trying to sweep under the carpet? The next big reveal is that there is money missing from Martin's estate...and money, after all, is what Thatcher does. His search for the missing money will dig up all the secrets those doctors at Southport Memorial hope to keep buried.

This was my first Emma Lathen mystery. Lathen is the pen name for two American businesswomen, Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart. And it's apparent even from my small sampling of their work that these ladies knew their way around the business world. Financial interactions ring true and Thatcher's character is well-developed and grounded--and likeable. I particularly enjoyed his interactions with Benjamin Edes, an older banker in the Southport area who enjoys tracking down financial skulduggery for Thatcher and who gives us a different view of the "stuffy old banker in the three-piece suit." 

Lathen plays fair with the reader. There are plenty of pointers to the culprit and opportunities for the reader to sort out what is really going on behind the scenes at the hospital. A good solid introduction to Thatcher's world and it did not seem to matter that I started well into the series. I enjoyed meeting Thatcher and characters whom I am certain are recurring. I look forward to hunting down further adventures. ★★

This fulfills the "Pseudonymous Author" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.