Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Edison Effect: ARC Review

Bernadette Pajer continues to charm readers with The Edison Effect, #4 in her Professor Benjamin Bradshaw mysteries set in early 1900s Seattle. The Christmas season is rapidly approaching and department stores are gearing up with the latest holiday decorations...including Thomas Edison's new stringed holiday lights. But the festive colored bulbs aren't the only evidence of Edison's presence in Seattle. Edison, a ruthless business man who seeks control of every electrical patent he can get his hands on, has sent agents to Bradshaw's city in search of the misbegotten invention of one of Bradshaw's former students (see book #1, A Spark of Death). Edison himself asks Bradshaw for information about the device, but the good professor tells him as little as possible. Before long Edison's agents have struck a deal with a local diver to try and locate the box which had been tossed from a ferry into waters of the bay. Bradshaw hopes that the device will stay lost, but realizes that someone might find it...and that if someone does maybe it should be him.

But then an electrician employed by the Bon Marché  Department store is found electrocuted in a store display window. He is clutching a string of Edison's holiday lights. Bradshaw, the police department's resident expert in electricity, is called upon to investigate the death and he and Detective O'Brien must determine what connection there is to Edison and is search for the missing device--if any. For the connection to Edison isn't the only possibility, there are in-store rivalries, a wife who has been cheated on, and a mistress in the offing as well. Bradshaw's task isn't made any easier by worries at home. His courtship of Missouri Fremont has reached a critical point and he must make decisions that will affect his relationship to Missouri and his personal faith. Will he be able to resolve the murder, the mystery of the missing device, and his feelings for Missouri in time for Christmas?

This fourth entry in the Bradshaw mysteries series is every bit as delightful as the previous stories. The historical and scientific details are smoothly integrated into the story--just enough to solidly anchor the series and provide a realistic tale without weighing down the narrative with too much information or highly technical facts. Bradshaw is a wonderfully flawed individual--facing his fears and doubts with all-too-human responses and working his way through murders and relationship mysteries with thoughtful, soul-searching. And it is fun to watch his relationships with his friends, his son, and, of course, Missouri grow and develop. The people in Pajer's books are more than just characters, they have become friends who I greet warmly when I begin the latest installment and who I miss until the next story is available. 

I highly recommend the Bradshaw books to anyone who enjoys mysteries or historical novels with great characterization and interesting mysteries. Who knew there were so many ways to polish people off using electricity?  ★★

[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 are entirely my own honest opinion.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Death Takes a Sabbatical: Review

Death Takes a Sabbatical (1967) is the debut mystery novel for Robert Bernard, pen name for Robert Bernard Martin, a professor of English at Princeton University from 1951-1975 who already had several scholarly tomes to his name.  A few internet sources claim that he wrote four mysteries, but I can find evidence of only three (even looking among the listing of his papers at Princeton). I was absolutely delighted when I discovered Deadly Meeting at our Friend of Library used bookstore several years ago. After all, we all know how much I love those academic mysteries.

DTaS features middle-aged American professor, Richard Halsey in the midst of his titular sabbatical. He has returned Oxford where he spent time as a Rhodes Scholar in his youth. While in England, he is actually staying at the cottage home of friends (while they spend a year elsewhere themselves) and traveling back and forth to London by train as necessary for historical research and pleasure. It is during one of his return trips that Halsey's adventures begin. 

On this particular trip to London, he has rounded off his evening with a musical performance. The first leg of his journey back to Oxford takes place by underground. Halsey is drowsy after a long day and the motion of the car sets him to dozing. He takes little notice of the three drunken men at the end of his car and is startled when the fourth passenger, sitting at his side, hisses at him, "For God's sake, get off this train at once!" Halsey is hustled off the train and the stranger introduces himself as a doctor--claiming that he realized that the middle of the three "drunks" was actually a dead man. He takes Halsey address as a fellow witness--even though the professor tells him he really didn't notice much at all--and rushes off saying he will report the incident to the authorities.

Poor, innocent Richard Halsey decides to report the experience to the police as well and immediately lands himself in a mystery involving missing dead men, murders, stolen gems, and hidden secrets. The good professor comes under suspicion himself when a body finally does turn up in a trunk at the train station and to add to his troubles his cottage is burgled and he is beaten, abused and kidnapped before it's all over. Of course, there are a few perks to the being the lovely woman who lives close by and with whom Halsey carries on a very successful romance. He also has the opportunity to play the hero for a bit at the very end and who can complain about that?

This is a pretty light-weight mystery offering. There are few clues to speak of and I really can't see how the average reader could possibly figure out what it's all about and who is responsible based on the meager crumbs we're given. There is a very tiny clue offered up that supposedly, according to the villain of the piece, should have revealed all to Halsey (who is much ridiculed by the evil-doer for being too obtuse to get it), but I don't believe even the good professor would have deduced the grand plot had he picked up the clue and run with it.

Now, despite the fact that this is in no way, shape, or form a classic fair-play mystery, it is an enjoyable romp and as a reviewer in the contemporary Saturday Review put it "jolly good fun." I describe it more as an adventure-mystery than a straight detective novel. Lots of action and I find Professor Halsey's actions to be pretty believable (except for the portion where he tries to go into hiding....). I can certainly understand his bewilderment as a stranger in foreign country feeling like the police have fastened on him as a suspicious criminal type. Excellent central characters from Halsey to his lady and her young son to his daily help to Mrs. Levering, lady of the manor and a very refreshing character, indeed. In fact, I do believe my favorite scenes all involve Mrs. Levering.

★★ all for character, fun, and a well-told tale--even if not fairly clued.

This fulfills the "Academic Mystery" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Agatha Christie Audionovels: 2 Mini-Reviews

I had to take a bit of a road trip this weekend, so I took advantage of the three hours each way to listen to a couple of Agatha Christie audionovels that I picked up at our Friends of the Library Used Bookstore last fall. On the way north to Wabash on Friday, I listened to The Sittaford Mystery and then on the way home today I listened to Joan Hickson herself read The Herb of Death and Other Stories. It made the trip just fly by. The only downside is that I never feel like I can do justice to the work in a review when I listen rather than read--I get caught up in the performance, as it were, and tend to just let the words flow over me. But I'll do my best with these two works by the one and only Dame Agatha Christie. (No substitutions here!)

First up, The Sittaford Mystery, originally published in 1931, is a non-series mystery. It is set in a small village on Dartmoor and opens at Sittaford House. Mrs. Willett and her daughter Violet have rented the house in the country from Captain Trevelyan. The villagers think it a bit add that the ladies from South Africa would want to come to the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter, but there's no telling what foreigners will do, is there? The ladies host a little party, inviting the good captain, Captain Trevelyan’s long-standing friend, Major Burnaby, Mr Rycroft, Mr Ronnie Garfield and Mr Duke. But due to a heavy snowfall, the Captain isn't expected to make it from Exhampton--his place of residence while the Willetts occupy his home. And he doesn't.

During the course of the evening, the group decides to do a harmless bit of table-turning. It all starts as a lark, but the evening turns serious when the spirits suddenly tell the company that Captain Trevelyan is dead. The message ends with a single word...M-U-R-D-E-R! Mrs. Willett is sure that one of the young men is just having a rather morbid joke, but Major Burnaby is worried. It's an evening that he and Trevelyan normally see one another, so he decides to head out into the snow and walk the six miles to Trevelyan's place. When he arrives, he can't get anyone to answer so he ousts a policeman and the doctor from their warm station and house to help him investigate. What they find would seem to prove that seances really do work....Captain Trevelyan is dead from a killing blow from a sandbag. Inspector Narracott is called in to sift through the possible suspects--the Captain's relatives all inherit equal shares of his rather large fortune; all but one have alibis. When it's discovered that James Pearson, Trevelyan's nephew, was actually on the spot at the right time it looks like the police will easily wrap-up the case. But Pearson's girlfriend Emily knows Jim couldn't commit a murder and sets out to prove his innocence. It isn't long before she provides the police with broken alibis and a renewed cast of suspects.

The audio version was actually a BBC dramatization with a whole line-up of performers. It was very nicely put together and quite entertaining. I spotted the  murderer right away, but I'm sure that was because I've read the novel before (albeit long ago and far away). I don't believe I figured it out the first time. In fact, I'm quite sure I know who I fastened on as suspect #1 before, because I nearly changed my mind in his/her favor this time. This is classic Christie--several possible solutions, red herrings galore, and all the clues on display. I gave the story four stars the first time I read it and I give it  ★★ now--only because she didn't quite fool me on the re-read. She very often does--if I've left it long enough between reads. 

Next up: The Herb of Death & Other Stories (all stories originally written 1933 and earlier; first appeared in The Tuesday Club Murders). This collection features three stories which were presented as puzzles for the members of the "Tuesday Club" to solve--with Miss Marple always appearing as the successful detective--even when pitted against Sir Henry Clithering of Scotland Yard. The final story takes place long after the gatherings when Sir Henry happens to be visiting St. Mary Mead. The stories which Joan Hickson reads are "The Herb of Death," "The Thumbmark of St. Peter," "The Affair of the Bungalow," and "Death by Drowning." I'll give a short description of each...

"The Herb of Death": Mrs. Bantry takes her turn at presenting a puzzle for the group. She tells of a dinner party where fox gloves leaves were mixed in with sage and everyone at the dinner became ill. Everyone recovered except the ward of the host. The young woman died and it was initially thought that the leaves were simply mixed in by mistake. But Miss Marple spots the clues that prove murder...and correctly names the murderer as well.

"The Thumbmark of St. Peter": Miss Marple tells the story of her niece Mabel who wed unwisely and soon regretted it--for her husband was a bit of bully and they quarreled often. After one particularly heated argument, the husband died mysteriously the next night. Small villages just can't resist gossip and soon rumors are flying round that Mabel has poisoned her husband. Mabel called upon her aunt to help her out of her mess. Miss Marple was able to discover that the man was indeed poisoned and the guilty party was soon identified.

"The Affair of the Bungalow": Jane Heiler, a beautiful actress, tells this story. She presents it as having happened to "a friend," but the others are quite sure that the story is Jane's own. While on tour with a play, she was called in by the police to be identified by a young man who claimed she had written a letter and requested his presence at a certain bungalow which belonged to another actress. He had met her there and then been drugged.  A robbery had taken place at the bungalow and he is being held as a suspect. But when Jane arrives at the police station, the man says that she isn't the right woman. What really happened? Miss Marple knows...even though she says she doesn't while the group is all together.

"Death by Drowning": Rose Emmett has been found drowned in the river near St. Mary Mead. She was pregnant and her lover had refused to marry her so everyone thought she had killed herself. But Miss Marple knew she'd been murdered. When she hears that Sir Henry Clithering is in town for a visit, she asks him to investigate. She has no proof and doesn't think the local police will take her reasons seriously. She writes down the name of her suspect and asks Sir Henry to find a way to discover whether she's correct. When an apparently unshakeable alibi is produced, it begins to look as if Miss Marple has made her first mistake....but Christie fans know that can't be possible.

Joan Hickson provides a very entertaining reading of these four classic short stories. And Agatha Christie provides her usual caliber of mystifying narrative. I was quite taken in--particularly in the last one where I was sure I knew the name written on that piece of paper, only to find out that I was wrong. Excellent mysteries by the Queen of Crime.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ten Little Indians: Review

Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None, and originally published in 1939 under a more politically insensitive title) is one of my all-time favorite Agatha Christie novels. It is the ultimate locked room mystery (a "locked" island to be exact) or, in the broader term, impossible crime. The story is a familiar one to most mystery lovers: ten people of various backgrounds are invited for a holiday on Indian Island and at the end of the holiday everyone on the island is dead. Each has been lured there using a different bit of bait...but all for the same purpose--murder. Someone, using the name U. N. Owen, wants to kill them, apparently to provide justice for murders they have committed but which are untouchable by law. The first guest was poisoned after dinner. The second just didn't wake up in the morning. When the general was clubbed to death, they realized that the murderer was one of them. As their number grew smaller with each killing, their terror mounted. Was there no way out? Somehow, soon this vicious killer would have to be caught--before he had the pleasure of announcing: "and then there were none."
Even though I've read it many times, I still get nearly the same pleasure from it each time I reread it. Of course, the pleasure would be complete if I could conveniently forget the solution--but the story is told so well that I don't mind knowing ahead of time what will happen. I have had an ongoing practice of telling my friends whenever I find out that they plan to read this one for the first time, "If you can honestly tell me that you figured out who did it before the end of the story, I will buy you dinner--wherever you want to go." Thirty years and counting....I have not had to pay up yet.

I have read this so often and have seen so many reviews of it, that I don't really have much to say about the story itself. Instead, just a brief response to the audionovel version that I listened to this time. Norman Barrs, unknown to me prior to this audionovel, does an excellent job with a very smooth narration.  He provides very distinct voices and intonation for each of the characters--making it easy to follow who is speaking. The almost four hours required to listen to the story flew by and I was completely immersed in the story once again. Christie has garnered five stars on all previous readings and I once again award both novel itself--and the reading--★★★★

Of course, Christie's novel is so famous it has not only been read as an audionovel several times, but it has also been made into several films. My favorite is the 1945 version filmed under the title And Then There Were None and featuring Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, and not-yet Dame Judith Anderson. 

This fulfills the "Locked Room" (aka Impossible Crime) square on the Golden Vintage Bingo Card and completes my 4th Golden Bingo.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Challenge Complete: Alphabet Soup

alphabet 2014 500 
Dollycas at Escape With Dollycas Into a Good Book is hosting another A-Z Challenge in 2014.

The Alphabet Soup Challenge means that by December 31, 2014
your bowls must be full of one book for each letter of the Alphabet.

Each Letter Counts As 1 Spoonful

Twenty-six spoonfuls are now in my bowl and the challenge is complete!

List of possible books:
A: Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown (1/12/14)
B: By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (5/23/14)
C: Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland (2/16/14)
D: Dangerous Visions 3 by Harlan Ellison, ed (1/11/14)
E: Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (2/4/14)
F: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell (1/5/14)
G: Gambit by Rex Stout (2/8/14)
H: Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison (3/17/14)
I: India's Love Lyrics by Laurence Hope (3/4/14)
J: John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars by Roland Hughes (3/17/14)
K: The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux (1/20/14)
L: The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout (3/23/14)
M: Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos (2/18/14)
N: Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg (4/8/14)
O: Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald (1/26/14)
P: The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/2/14)
Q: Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym (7/25/14)
R: Red Cent by Robert Campbell (9/10/14)
S: Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak (1/6/14)
T: Triumph by Philip Wylie (1/18/14)
U: Undead & Unpopular by MaryJanice Davidson (6/17/14)
V: Vicious Circle by Douglas Clark (3/11/14)
W: The Wonder Chamber by Mary Malloy (1/15/14)
X: The Xiabalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14)
Y: You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts (2/9/14)
Z: Zingers, Quips, & One-Liners by Geoff Tibballs, ed (8/25/14)

Red Cent: Review

Jack Hatch, Robert Campbell's railroad detective in Red Cent (1989), is detailed to meet the Burlington Northern at Osceola. Millionaire Harold Chaney who has been a frequent passenger from Chicago to points west has been shot while seated in the dining car. When Hatch reaches Osceola, a group of young Native Americans have already been taken into custody for getting drunk and riding out in pickup trucks to "kill the Iron Horse." The local authorities seem to be satisfied that it was just an unlucky shot that killed Chaney instead of the train and there's no reason for Hatch to dispute that--after all he's just supposed to be representing the train company to be sure no one will be trying to hold Burlington Northern accountable. But there are too many little pieces that just don't seem to fit into the big pictures. And when he starts nosing around on his own, he finds that there are several people who might have wanted Chaney dead from a current business partner or a current wife to an ex-mistress or an ex-partner. And there's someone playing musical cells with the six young men in custody, as if they want to keep the waters so muddy that no one will notice the barracuda about to get away with murder.

Hatch comes across as detective cast in the traditional tough-guy mold, but he is also determined to get at the truth despite there being no fee involved. He is honest and amiable and sprinkles his narrative with homespun stories and brief asides that give us a peek at his life philosophy. He enjoys the job which allows him to ride the rails as he pretends to be a regular passenger while he scopes out the cars looking for pickpockets, con artists, and other bad guys. It is his honest determination to see justice done that brings the crime home to the proper villain--although villain may be a bit strong once you know the circumstances. The motive is perhaps understandable and the killer not completely evil.

This novel was, in many ways, a nice surprise. Hatch speaks directly to the reader in a first person narrative that works really well (and you all know how I like to complain about the first person POV). It's a shame that Campbell wrote only two novels starring Hatch, because he's detective I would have enjoyed following through several cases. And even though it is written in a more hard-boiled style, it really is an old-fashioned mystery with a solid cast of characters. The one item that keeps the book from rising above the ★★ rating is the handling of Hatch's love life. He follows in the footsteps of many a private eye by having a lady friend in nearly every station town. That's not the problem--the problem is that this is 80s and AIDS is on the rise and every single one of his lady loves are cutting him off. At. The. Same. Time. Yes, I understand that the promiscuous life-style needed to come to a halt--or at least be reevaluated. But I find it hard to believe that all the ladies would decide during the same three-day period that this was a crisis. Campbell tries a little to hard to drive that point home in my opinion and repeats it once (or twice) too many times.

Overall, a solid mystery outing which fulfills the "Mode of Transportation" square on the Vintage Silver Bingo card.

[Oh...and one other thing. That cover picture is way too tame for what actually happened to Chaney. Not that I want to see a gory picture on the cover....]

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Challenge Complete: I Love Library Books

 Gina @ Book Dragon's Lair

January 1, 2014 – December 31, 2014
Gina is encouraged us to read books from our library this year.  And while I planned to read mostly from my own shelves this year, I knew that there would be books calling my name when I go to the library and I would need to get books to fulfill certain challenge categories from somewhere other than my own shelves.  So, I signed right up for the Adult Challenge level which required 36 books. I just finished the last one on Monday. Challenge Complete!

And My List:
1. Dandy Gilver & the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson (2/12/14)
2. The Wonder Chamber by Mary Malloy (1/15/14)
3. The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14)
4. The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux (1/20/14)
5. Where There's Love, There's Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares & Silvina Ocamp (2/5/14)
6. You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts (2/9/14)
7. Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland (2/16/14)
8. XCIA's Street Art Project by Hank O'Neal (2/20/14)
9. To Kingdom Come by Will Thomas (2/26/14)
10. The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd (3/8/14)
11. It's Not All Flowers & Sausages by Jennifer Scoggin (3/10/14)
12. A Girl Walks Into a Bar by Helena S. Paige (3/12/14)
13. A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan (3/21/14)
14. Decoded by Mai Jia (4/5/14)
15. After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman (4/6/14)
16. The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Denis O. Smith (4/13/14)
17. Death by the Book by Julianna Deering (4/21/14)
18. The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi (4/26/14)
19. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin (5/6/14)
20. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw (5/9/14)
21. Whispers of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers (5/21/14)
22. Steampunk Poe by Edgar Allan Poe; illustrated by Zdenko Basic & Manuel Sumberac (5/30/14)
23. 12.21 by Dustin Thomason (6/6/14)
24. The Corsican Caper by Peter Mayle (6/11/14)
25. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein (6/12/14)
26. This Private Plot by Alan Beechey (6/26/14)
27. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (7/8/14)
28. Death in an Ivory Tower by Maria Hudgins (7/16/14)
29. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (7/21/14)
30. Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell (7/30/14)
31. The Mangle Street Murders by M. R. C. Kasasian (8/5/14)
32. Book Clubbed by Lorna Barrett (8/16/14)
33. The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh (8/30/14)
34. Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes (9/5/14)
35. The Unfinished Crime by Elsabeth Sanxay Holding (9/8/14)
36. Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet by Harry Kemelman (9/8/14)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet

Back in the mists of time (when I was in high school), I gave Harry Kemelman's Rabbi David Small series a whirl. I don't have reviews from that era of reading and I apparently didn't even think enough of (or read enough of) my sampling to think it merited an entry with a star rating in my reading log. But it seems to me that Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet (1976) is the very book I tried and didn't connect with. So, when it came up as I did a search for a suitable "Silver" book that I would have to borrow to read for the Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge, I decided to give Rabbi Small another try. Unfortunately, I have to report that he still doesn't do a whole lot for me. Oh, the plot is serviceable enough, but the characters just don't engage me. According to the book flap on my library's edition, Rabbi Small is supposed to be one of the "most endearing sleuths in modern fiction." I'm afraid that I just don't see it; he comes across as rather bland to me. But...let's talk about the plot for a moment.

This sixth outing for Rabbi Small involves the mysterious death of an elderly man with his fair share of enemies. Old man Kestler dies from an apparent mix-up in medication. Was it an accident on the part of the dispensing pharmacist? Did a family member give him too much--thinking if one is good then two is better? Or was there some malice aforethought? When Kestler's son starts stirring up trouble with threats of a malpractice suit against the doctor involved, Police Chief Hugh Lanigan begins to quietly investigate...taking Rabbi Small into his confidence along the way. But when Lanigan arrests a troubled young man who has come home to his father's pharmacy and who had a past history of difficulty with Kestler, the good rabbi begins to investigate in earnest and finds ties to his own congregation and a planned real estate deal.

As mentioned above, the plot is serviceable. But it is also uninspired and not quite what I expect of a murder mystery (spoiler--in faint-colored font: highlight apparent blank area if interested). I expect an apparent murder to actually be murder. Not death because of unforeseen circumstances. Mischief was planned...but not death.So  I cry "Foul!" It's hard to stay interested when the mystery isn't entirely what one has bargained for. And the characters didn't engage me either. They just seemed to be going through the motions of a role in a mystery story. The book was a quick read for all that and decent. But I'm fairly certain that I won't be revisiting Rabbi Small again. ★★

This satisfies the "Book You Have to Borrow" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card and gives me my third Silver Bingo.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. Every week we check in with what we read, what we're reading now, and what's next on the reading docket.  I keep falling off the meme bandwagon, but I'm trying again to get back in the swing of things. Here we go....

Books Read Last Week (click on titles for review): 
The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh
 The Shakespeare Mask by Newton Frohlich
 Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes
 Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh
 The Unfinished Crime by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Currently Reading: 
Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet by Harry Kemelman: Things aren't kosher in Barnard's Crossing. An unpleasant member of the congregation dies mysteriously and the suspect is a troubled young man. Rabbi Small comes to the case with Talmudic reasoning and insight -- and finds a solution that no one else sees.
**I tried one book in the Rabbi Small series once upon a time back in high school....and didn't really connect with it. I thought I might give it another try.
Books that spark my interest:
Death Takes a Sabbatical by Robert Bernard 
The Scarlet Pimpernel  by Baroness Orczy
Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough

The Unfinished Crime: Review

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding began writing mysteries or rather suspense novels as a result of the Depression's effect on the sales of her mainstream books. She was one of the first authors to write stories that asked whydunnit rather than whodunnit--or even will they get caught. The Unfinished Crime (1935) is a prime example of a novel in which we know immediately who has done it.

Andrew Bascombe is a tiresome, priggish member of the country-club set. He is independently wealthy and has been left everything in his father's will with the understanding that he will provide for his sister. His understanding of taking care of her seems to mean that he will prevent her from having any social life because nobody out there is good enough to associate with her. He, of course, has no compunction about making friends of his own and falling in love with a woman who he believes to divorced--but discovers that she is merely separated from her absent husband. He feels uncomfortable this for about five minutes.

He's just trying to figure out how to encourage Hilda Patrell to file for divorce so they can marry when Charles Patrell shows up. In a fit of impulsive rage, Bascombe attacks Patrell beating and kicking him to death. He panics at first, but realizes that if he can just hide the body he may be able to get away with it. But then the complications start piling up faster and faster: there’s a witness who must be bought off (will he face blackmail for the rest of his life?); there’s the dead man’s daughter, who saw him and Branscombe together earlier that day; there’s the dead man’s mistress who suddenly appears. Andrew Branscombe just has one problem after another that must be dealt with--will he be able to keep it together and avoid detection?

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's strong point, I think, are her characters. Very strong and finely drawn--but not always likeable. Andrew Bascombe is particularly tiresome and unlovable...which is okay because I believe that's what Holding intended. He's definitely not a protagonist with whom we're supposed to sympathize. The situation becomes a bit squalid and the reader hopes that Bascombe will get caught, almost more to put him (and us) out of his misery of lies and cover-up than to see justice done. The atmosphere is perfect and the tension well-done. It adds up to a  ★★ and 3/4 performance (almost, but not quite ★★).

Anyone who enjoys Patricia Highsmith or Ruth Rendell's more suspense-driven work will certainly enjoy this early version of the suspense story. I find that while I enjoyed this sort of novel in my late-teens and early-twenties they're not quite my cup of tea any more. I much prefer the straight puzzler--less high tension suspense, a real hunt for the unknown killer, and definitely not following the perpetrator about. I actually read this one as the first novel in a newer 2-in-1 edition published by Stark House in 2013. But I'm afraid that I won't be reading The Girl Who Wouldn't Die and, since each was originally published as a novel in its own right, will be claiming only The Unfinished Crime for challenges.

This fulfills the "Read One That You Have to Borrow" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I Dare You To... Challenge

Image Credit

So...I really need to just stop looking at challenges sites on GoodReads and A Novel Challenge.  Really. 'Cause I'm kindof out of control here. But...the "I Dare You To" Challenge has no time limit, so I can do as much or as little as like in whatever time I like. Right? I'm not going to set a goal.  Here it is: My Goal will be to read at least 70 of these--with a sub-goal of at least 10 by the end of the year (so I can count it towards my 2014 challenges fulfilled). I went ahead and removed the dares that I know I will not take (not even if you double-dog-dare me :-) ) Why don't you join us (click the link--you know you want to)? I Dare You.

(sponsored by Joanne♥~Bookworm Extraordinaire at All Challenges, All the Time)

1. Read a book in one day
2. Read a book over 450 pages
3. Read a book over 1000 pages
4. Read a novella (under 200 pgs)
5. Read a book from a listopia list (link the list)
6. Read a book on one of your GR friend's shelf
7. Read a book released this year (2014)
8. Read an ARC book: The Edison Effect by Bernadette Pajer (9/20/14)
9. Read a book with a one word title
10. Read a book with at least 5 words in the title
11. Read a book where the author's name is above the title on the cover
12. Read a book where the author's name is below the title
13. Read a book where the title and the author's name are two different colors
14. Read a book from your favorite genre
15. Read a book from a genre that you dislike
16. Read a book whose cover is your favorite color
17. Read a book whose cover is a color you don't like
18. Read a book in a male POV: Red Cent by Robert Campbell (9/10/14)
19. Read a book in a female POV
20. Read a book with two or more POV's (multiple POVs)

25. Read a book set in your country/location/state
26. Read a book set in a country/location/state that is different from yours
27. Read a book that is set in the same hemisphere as where you live
28. Read a book that is set in a different hemisphere than where you live
29. Read a sequel
30. Read a standalone
31. Read a book with less than 1,000 reviews
32. Read a book with more than 10,000 reviews
33. Read a book that starts a new series
34. Read a book that ends a series
35. Read a book that was originally written in a language that is not your own
36. Read a book that was turned into a movie
37. Read a book that was turned into a tv series
38. Re-read a favorite book
39. Read a book that you have up on (give it another try)
40. Read a book by your favorite author
41. Read a book by a new to you author
42. Read a book by a new to you genre
43. Read a book on your TBR list
44. Read a book that you own
45. Read a book that you borrowed from a library: Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet by Harry Kemelman (9/8/14)
46. Read an ebook: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy [from project Gutenberg]
47. Read a classic novel
48. Read a novel you read in high school

50. Read a banned book
51. Read a non-fiction book
52. Read a book outside of your comfort zone
53. Read/Listen to an audio book: Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None) by Agatha Christie [read by Norman Barrs] (9/11/14)
54. Read a (auto)biography
55. Read a hardcover book
56. Read a paperback book
57. Read a book on one of the groups you are in shelves (tell us what group its from)
58. Read a book that will help you with a challenge
59. Read a book recommended to you

61. Read a book set somewhere you have gone on vacation to
62. Read a book set in a place where you would like to go on vacation to
63. Read a book set in the country your ancestors are from (if your of a dual heritage you can pick whichever country yous like)
64. Read a book with a main character who has a silly/weird name
65. Read a book set in a school
66. Read a book set in the past

70. Read a book on the Good Minds Suggest list
71. Read a book with people on the cover
72. Read a book with an animal on the cover
73. Read a book with some kind of scene on the cover (beach scene, night scene, ect)
74. Read a book with an inanimate object on the cover
75. Read a book with only one person on the cover
76. Read a book with a person from the waist down ONLY on the cover
77. Read a book where the title's font is bigger than the author's name font
78. Read a book where the author's name font is bigger than title's name font
79. Read a book (novel) by two authors

81. Read a book by an author who uses at least one initial in their name
82. Read a book by an author who doesn't use any initials in their name
83. Read a book by an author who has at least 3 names (first, middle, last; middle name must be spelled out): The Unfinished Crime by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (9/8/14)
84. Read a book by an author who uses at least 3 names where the middle name is an initial only
85. Read a book by a male author
86. Read a book by female author
87. Read a book by a debut author
88. Read a book by an author who has at least 10 books published
89. Read a book of short stories
90. Read a book by an author who is from the same country/state/location as you
91. Read a book by an author who is from a different country/state/location than you
92. Read a book by an author who shares your birthday month (if you really want a challenge try to find an author who is born on your birth date, excluding the year
93. Read a book that you've been avoiding
94. Read a book in a trilogy
95. Read a book in a series that has at least 10 books in it
96. Read a book in a series that will bring you up to date on the series (No books that end the series are allowed for this one)
97. Read a book from a series that you have been meaning to get back into or that you forgot about
98. Read a book that you just found out about and want to read
99. Read a book with an author whose first name starts with the same letter as your first name
100. Read a book with an author whose last name starts with the same letter as your last name
101. Read a book with an author whose first name starts with the same letter as your last name
102. Read a book with an author whose last name starts with the same letter as your first name: Death Takes a Sabbatical by Robert Bernard (9/16/14) "B" for Bev
103. Read a book whose title starts with the same letter as your first name (exclude A, An and The)
104. Read a book whose title starts with the same letter as your last name (exclude A, An and The)
105. Read a book of your choice

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Death in a White Tie: Review

Death in a White Tie is a reread for me. I discovered Ngaio Marsh back at my hometown Carnegie Library (more moons ago than we need to count) and I promptly read through all the Marsh books they had. Later, about twenty years ago, I read some of them again and Death in a White Tie was one simply because it's one of my favorites. There are so many things I enjoy about this tale of murder and blackmail amongst the London Society at the height of the Season--from the witty dialogue, to the scenes at the various society dos (debutante balls and teas and Agatha Troy's one-man art show), to the understated romance between Alleyn and Troy, to his affection for his mother, to the undercurrents of gossip in the chaperone circle at the dance. It's all so veddy, veddy British and elegant and well-done. And Marsh presents us with one of the most sympathetic victims--who doesn't want Bunchy's killer found and punished to the full extent of the law?

The story begins with Inspector Roderick Alleyn asking Lord Robert "Bunchy" Gospell to assist him in tracking down a despicable blackmailer who is at work among the cream of London society. Bunchy moves through society like everyone's favorite uncle. He can talk to anyone and go anywhere and no one would suspect that behind his twinkle and rather high, almost silly voice lies a very sharp brain that has helped the officials with other difficult problems in the past. His first assignment--to attend a performance of Bach at one of the new concert-rooms and attempt to find out who collects the blackmail money which the latest victim has been instructed to leave in her purse stuffed into a blue sofa.  As Alleyn tells him:

Bunchy, let nothing wean you from the blue sofa. Talk to Mrs. Halcut-Hackett. Share the blue sofa with her and when the austere delights of Bach knock at your heart pay no attention...

Lord Robert does his job well and becomes convinced he knows the blackmailer's identity even though the lights were dimmed when the bag was collected. But he wants to be sure of his facts and confirmation comes at the next society function, a ball held by Lady Carrados for her daughter's coming-out. He calls up Alleyn before he leaves (to be sure the Inspector will still be at the Yard) and, unfortunately, someone walks in on his conversation. Two hours later, a taxi rushes up to the Yard with the driver announcing that his fare's been murdered. He's right...and the murdered man is Lord Robert Gospell.

Alleyn is dismayed and clearly shaken, not because he's lost a vital witness but because he's lost a very dear friend. He also feels directly responsible since Lord Robert was involved purely at his behest and he gives us a bit of the avenging hero speech when he speaks to Bunchy's sister.

I tell you this, Mildred, if it takes me the rest of my life, and if it costs me my job, by God! if I have to do the killing myself, I'll get the murderer and see him suffer for it.

He quickly realizes the melodrama of his words and says, "Good Lord, what a speech! Bunchy would have laughed at it." But, with the aid of  Detective-Inspector Fox, he sifts through the movements of each suspect and makes good on his vow--bringing the crime home to murderer in less than two days.

This is, I believe, one of Marsh's best novels. It doesn't matter that I've read it before and know who the culprit is. I enjoy every minute that I spend in the company of the dashing gentleman policeman, Roderick Alleyn. ★★★★  and 1/2 for a lovely vintage read.  

The story was adapted for television as part of a BBC mystery series and I've also viewed the episode starring Patrick Malahide as Alleyn in honor of the book's entry in the book to movie portion of one of my challenges. While the series is very good and engaging, I do take exception to a few changes made to the story--particularly one character's response to his wife's experience of being blackmailed and the loss of Alleyn's poetic way of declaring his love [quotes below]. Malahide, although not quite the handsome detective I pictured, absolutely owns the character of Alleyn. An excellent performance following the most excellent read. As an added bonus, I also listened to Benedict Cumberbatch read a slightly abridged version of the novel through Youtube.  You could say that I've had quite the White Tie orgy.

It is a curious thing that when one speaks from the heart it is invariably in the worst of taste. (Roderick Alleyn; p. 61)

She's extremely common, but that doesn't matter. Lots of common people are charming. Like bounders. I believe no woman ever falls passionately in love with a man unless he has just the least touch of the bounder somewhere in his composition. (Lady Alleyn; p. 196)

Vassily broke into a loud laugh, excused and bowed himself out, and shut the door behind him with the stealth of a soubrette in a French comedy. (p. 246)

He stooped, took her face between his hands, and kissed her hard on the mouth. He felt her come to life beneath his lips. Then he let her go.
"And don’t think I shall ask you to forgive me," he said. "…I’m your man and you know it….When I kissed you just then you seemed to meet me like a flame. Could I have imagined it?"

"It was as if you shouted with your whole body that you loved me. How can I not be arrogant?" 
"How can I not be shaken?”   (Roderick Alleyn, Agatha Troy; p. 248)

AT: I’ve been very weak. When I said I’d come I thought I would keep it all very peaceful and impersonal. You looked so worn and troubled and it was so easy just to do this. And now see what’s happened.
RA: The skies have opened and the stars have fallen. I feel as if I’d run round the world in the last hour. And now you must leave me. (Roderick Alleyn, Agatha Troy; p. 249)

AT: How extraordinarily well-trained your eye must be! To notice the grains of plate-powder in the tooling of a cigarette case; could anything be more admirable? What else did you notice?
RA: I notice that although your eyes are grey there are little flecks of green in them and that the iris is ringed with black. I notice that when you smile your face goes crooked....
AT: Please tell me the end of the case.
RA: I would rather tell you that since this afternoon in the few spare moments I have had to spend upon it I have considered your case and that I have decided to take out a warrant for your arrest. The charge is impeding an officer of the law in the execution of his duty." (Alleyn, Troy; p. 271)

Troy, I love you more than anything in life. I've tried humility: God knows, I am humble. And I've tried effrontery. If you can't love me, tell me so, and please let us not meet again because I can't manage meeting you unless it is to love you. (Alleyn; p. 273)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Memes

I've been very delinquent in my meme participation, but here I am trying to get back in the swing of things.

Book Beginnings on Friday is a bookish meme now sponsored by Rose City Reader (who originally inspired the meme). Here's what you do: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments section. Include the title and author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you are so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line and if you did or did not like that sentence. Link up each week at Gilion's place.

Here are the first few lines from Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh:
"Roderick," said Lady Alleyn, looking at her son over the top of her spectacles, "I am coming out."
"Out?" repeated Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn vaguely. "Out where, mama? Out of what?"

The Friday 56 is a bookish meme sponsored by Freda's Voice. It is really easy to participate. Just grab a book, any book, and turn to page 56. Find a sentence that grabs you and post it.
Here is the mine from Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh:

"This bloody murder, this is, and I want to see this Mr. Clever, what's diddled me and done in as nice a little gent as ever I see, swing for it."