Monday, July 6, 2015

The Case of the Borrowed Brunette: Review

Della Street, knowing how much of his success was due to his ability to make instantaneous appraisals of character, and to a sympathetic understanding of human nature, saw nothing unusual in the fact that Mason should interrupt a busy schedule to count the brunettes who were standing at corners on the south side of Adams Street. 

But by the end of The Case of the Borrowed Brunette (1946), Perry Mason will be very sorry that he stopped to find out what it was all about.

...the next time I run across anyone who is borrowing a brunette, I'm going to let him keep her!

Of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty and he has no way of knowing that by the end of this little adventure he will have just barely escaped a Grand Jury charge of perjury (at best) or accessory after the fact to murder (at worst). But...as Mason tells Assistant District Attorney Harry Gulling he's doing in the wrap-up scene...I'm getting the cart before the horse.

When Perry and Della stop at one of the Adams Street corners and ask Miss Cora Fulton why she (and at least seven other brunettes) are playing a game of Statues on the street corners, they find that a Mr. Hines has advertised for just such a thing--looking for brunettes of a certain size, shape, and age to "audition" for a "colorful, adventurous job." Fifty dollars a day sounded pretty good to Cora and her friend Eva Martell, so they each answered the ad and were assigned positions along Adams. Eva winds up meeting the mysterious Mr. Hines's qualifications and is hired (along with her chosen chaperone, Adelle Winters) to take up residence in an apartment and to answer to the name of Helen Reedley.

All of Mason's instincts are instantly on alert--especially when Adelle Winters makes a secret visit to his office. What is Hines's game? Why should he hire Eva to wear another woman's clothes and live in her apartment? Is Helen Reedley still alive? And if she is will she remain so for much longer? The thing is--when murder strikes, it isn't Helen Reedley who is found dead with a .32 bullet through the forehead. It's Mr. Hines and the police and Harry Gulling think Adelle and Eva are just perfectly suited as the killers. Especially when Adelle seems to make telling lies into an art form and Mason spends a great deal of effort hiding Eva from the authorities.

Mason is going to have to work even faster than usual to find the real killer before his clients are sent to the electric chair....and he has to face jail time himself. There are several other suspects handy--from the girl who thinks Hines has double-crossed her in love to Helen Reedley's husband who may have believed Hines to be her secret lover to Helen Reedley's real secret lover. But the real trick will be finding proof. At the moment, all the evidence points to his clients. Anyone who knows Mason knows that he won't let that bother him, though. He excels at the last minute production in the court room.

I was definitely intrigued by the opening premise of this one. All those brunettes hanging out on the street corners in answer to a mysterious ad. The build-up was excellent and the plot was believable enough (in the realm of fiction). It seemed to be even faster-paced than the usual Perry Mason novel--picking the reader up with Perry and Della at the beginning and running fast and furious to the last scenes. Great fun with a plot that kept me guessing even though there were a limited number of possible suspects. A definite winner in the cases of Perry Mason. ★★★★

This counts for the "Lawyer, Judge, etc" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. Erle Stanley Gardner was born on July 17, so he is my July author for the Birthday Month Challenge as well.



Mount TBR Checkpoint #2 Winner!


Well, I hauled out the Custom Random Number Generator and after feeding in all the entries, listening to it clank and whir, we have a winner! Our lucky climber is #2 Neeru at A Hot Cup of Pleasure! Congratulations, Neeru! I'll be contacting you with the prize list very soon.

Thanks again to all of you who checked in. I enjoyed reading your answers...and thanks also to all who are busy climbing with us! See you at the next checkpoint! 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Hand of Fate: Review

It is not easy to commit the perfect murder, though Frank Wimble never doubted his ability to do so.

And, apparently, Frank has. That's no spoiler--Michael Underwood makes it plain from the first sentence (above) of Hand of Fate (1981) that Frank Wimble has plotted to do away with his wife and that his wife Elspeth has disappeared. Wimble had fallen out of love with his wife of 27 years and into love with his young mistress Maureen. He'd asked, repeatedly, for a divorce, but Elspeth adamantly refused to indulge him. He would have been happy to keep things as they were--a form of marriage with his wife and all the benefits of Maureen on the side, but Maureen was getting skittish and demanding a wedding ring or she'd call it quits. 

When Elspeth disappears one September night, there is no hue and cry. Wimble first explains her absence to their housekeeper as a sudden trip to visit a sick aunt. But after weeks have passed and Elspeth still hasn't returned, rumors of foul play begin to fly through the small town and the police find it necessary to being asking questions. Wimble admits that the sick aunt was a lie, a lie told to save him the embarrassment of having to acknowledge that his wife has left him for good. Try as they might, the authorities can't find any evidence to prove Wimble wrong even after searching the house, grounds, and surrounding woods. Of course, they can't find any trace of Elspeth either.

It isn't until a dismembered hand, complete with Elspeth's wedding ring, is found six months later that Wimble is arrested and brought to trial. But without a body and proof of murder will the prosecution be able to bring a crime home to him? Wimble steadfastly claims his innocence and the prosecutors will have a difficult job proving otherwise--despite his penchant for changing his story every time a new angle is brought to light. Both the prosecution and the defense have tricks up their sleeves and Underwood spends most of the story giving us the complete courtroom drama from the opening arguments to the jury's decision....and beyond. Throughout the trial, we get lots of brief character studies of the presiding judge, Wimble's defense lawyers, the prosecuting counsel, witnesses--including the Wimble's son and daughter, and member of the jury. In some ways, it is a long drawn-out courtroom drama. But the verdict is up for grabs until the very end and it is made totally worth it by the quite spectacular ending.

Overall, this is a very good courtroom drama. Plenty of suspense waiting to see if Wimble will be declared guilty or not. And a grand finale worth waiting for. In general the character studies are interesting and incisive. Except perhaps when it comes to Justice Gentry. Nearly all of the references seem very sexist--focusing on her motherly, domestic, hen-like nature. I can't imagine similar remarks being made about any of her male counterparts. For instance:

Dame Isabelle Gentry rather liked wearing her judge's robes, not from any sense of judicial vanity, but because they hid her somewhat unstreamlined figure. (p.32)

...she settled back into her chair like a hen on its nest...(p. 33)

Mrs. Justice Gentry always took a watchful interest in this part of the proceedings. She felt like a dutiful hostess trying to put strangers at ease in her home. (p. 33)

The judge watched the jury with wry amusement. They were just like children with a new picture book. (p. 45)

The best words for Justice Gentry come from the defending counsel, Alan Coe: I have great respect for Isabelle Gentry. She possesses a more judicial mind than some of her male colleagues and she never shows her feelings until the proper moment. (p. 31) Thank goodness someone recognizes that she's a judge who got where she is through her abilities at law and not as a society hostess.

But this is a minor quibble. Once we settle down in the court proceedings, Underwood leaves such commentary on our female judge behind and gives us an intriguing inverted mystery piece. ★★★★

With a skeletal hand on the cover, this counts for the "Something Spooky" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Young Mrs. Cavendish & the Kaiser's Men: Review

Leading off for my entries into Rich's Crimes of the Century 1987 version is K.K. Beck's Young Mrs. Cavendish & the Kaiser's Men, a historical romp through a spy-laden San Francisco shortly before America's entrance into World War I. Mrs. Cavendish is Maude Teasdale Cavendish--currently a society columnist for The Globe, but she has hopes of doing more serious newspaper work. When "Hindoo" henchmen working for German spies kidnap her in a case of mistaken identity, Maude sees a chance to finally get her byline beside something more important than who wore what and when. After all, she's a reporter with the unique opportunity to report first-hand on the startling incident.

Little does she know that she'll land smack in the middle of the biggest story of her life....but it will be one that she won't be allowed to tell. It concerns a conspiracy that goes beyond kidnapping to include blackmail, international treachery and villainy, and reaches beyond the U.S. border into Mexican territory. The cast of characters cover foreign and domestic spies, a beautiful German opera star, a blustering owner of a German shipping company, Maude's flirtatious ex-husband, her brother George who sees spies under every bush, and a monocled and scarred Austrian baron. There will be daring escapes and rescues, chases by automobile (at the breakneck speed of 25 mph!), a train crash, a new type of plane, and a few German zeppelins just to add a little zest to the proceedings.

This should have been a delight. Beck gives us such a wide and interesting group of period characters--from Maude as the "new" woman, recently divorced and working in a typical male-only field, to Louise Arbour, young debutante whose skill at the wheel of her fancy motor car gives her the unchaperoned freedom to go where she wants and to break the stereotypes of the spoiled rich girl to all the standard players in a spy thriller spoof. Beck also provides a profound sense of time and place through her descriptions San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake and fire and the references to the Arizona/Mexican border countryside. There is plenty of action to be had as well. But, for me, it all just fell a little flat. My attention wandered and I just wanted to get to the end and see how it all worked out--not from a sense of eagerness, but simply to be done. The novel starts out very promising and I enjoyed my introductions to the major characters. And the ending is quite exciting and interesting as well--but the bulk of the action didn't keep me interested. Most of the ratings on Goodreads (82%) are at 3 stars or higher, so I'm ready to admit that I've managed to miss something in my reading. But my rating stands at ★★ and a half. 

This counts for the "Woman in the Title" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card as well as several other challenges. For the Monthly Motif Challenge category "Stand Up"--we have Maude standing up for her right to do a "man's job" as well as Maude and her friends standing up to the German spies.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Challenge Complete: What an Animal VIII


I just finished up my commitment for the What an Animal Reading Challenge VIII hosted by Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews. I signed up for the lowest level--read six books. I've still got books with animals in the title or on the cover waiting on this year's TBR pile, so I'll probably be adding a few more to the list and hitting a higher level (or two)--but officially my challenge is complete. Thanks for hosting again, Yvonne!

1. Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes (1/3/15)
2. The Underdog & Other Stories by Agatha Christie (3/17/15)
3. Safari by Parnell Hall (4/21/15) [cheetah on the cover]
4. Dead Lion by John & Emery Bonett (5/13/15)
5. The Great Dinosaur Robbery by David Forrest (5/15/15)
6. Grammy Lammy & the Secret Handshake by Kate & M. Sarah Klise (7/3/15)
 

Grammy Lamby & the Secret Handshake: mini-review

Grammy Lamby & the Secret Handshake by Kate and M. Sarah Klise is a delightful children's book about the relationship between grandparent and grandchild. Instead of a more expected, traditional view--where "grands" are natural allies and friends, the book gives us Larry Lamb, a boy who seems to meet his grandmother later in life and who is embarrassed and confused by this loud, exuberant person who wears loud hats, sings much louder than anyone else in church, and wants him to do the secret "I love you" handshake when all he wants is for her to go away.  

But Larry soon learns that Grammy's spirited personality can be a great thing when storms hit and his family and his community need help. As he helps Grammy to help others, he finds out what a special person she is and what it can mean to have a secret handshake meant just for you. A really sweet book with a great story told in simple language and beautiful illustrations.

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This is the first book in my July/August "Musical Group" Password clues. The clue is "Grammy."

The Turquoise Shop: Review

The Turquoise Shop (1941) is the first book in Frances Crane's Jean Holly [later Abbott] and Pat Abbot mystery series. Jean Holly is the owner of The Turquoise Shop, selling silver and turquoise jewelry and a few paintings here and there. Patrick Abbott is a handsome private detective from San Francisco who has come to Santa Maria, New Mexico on an artistic holiday. He wants to take up painting as a hobby--or so he says. But is it just coincidence that he has arrived just in time for a murder and some counterfeit bills to trickle through town?

Mona Brandon swooped down upon Santa Maria a few years ago--dominating everyone with her money and her manner. And everyone included her artistic husband who had disappeared several months prior to Abbott's arrival. Did he grow tired of his bossy wife and head for parts unknown? Or is his the body found murdered in the desert and made unrecognizable by the turkey vultures. Suspicion falls upon Carmencita Dominguez--a woman of Mexican descent who had lived in a cabin with the man who called himself Arkwright and who has been identified as the body in the desert. She was prosecuted by Mona Brandon a few years ago for allegedly stealing a diamond bracelet. Rumor has it that Tom Brandon, Mona's missing husband, was infatuated with the girl and had returned to Santa Maria to live with her.

But if Arkwright was Tom Brandon, why would Carmencita kill him? And if she didn't, then who did? The local sheriff, Jim Trask consults Abbott on the case--finding Jean Holly's shop with its cozy fireplace to be an ideal spot to talk things over. When another murder happens--this time at Mona's expensive hacienda on the outskirts of town--Trask and Abbott are faced with even more questions and suspicion gets evenly spread among the artistic crown in Santa Maria. The spotlight of scrutiny focuses first on Mona and then on her handsome Indian chauffeur Luis. Fellow artist Michael O'Hara, town gossip and resident poet Gilbert Mason, and Jean's good friend Daisy Payne all fall under suspicion as well. But who benefits most--and does it have anything to do with the counterfeit twenties passed at Jean Holly's shop? 

This is a fairly solid series opener. Good introduction to our main characters, Jean and Pat, and an interesting and eclectic group in the supporting cast. These are definitely on the softer side of the private eye genre, especially with the addition of the budding romance between Jean and Pat. There are lots of red herrings and Pat keeps the clues fairly close to his chest, but the mystery is intriguing nonetheless. A good read for those looking for a bit of mystery and a light touch. ★★

For the full scoop on Frances Crane, you can't do better than to check out Tom & Enid Schantz's essay on her over at the Rue Morgue Press.

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



Thursday, July 2, 2015

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



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 May....

Total Books Read: 12
Total Pages:  2,603
Average Rating: 3.46 stars
Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 50%
Percentage by US Authors: 66%
Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  0%
Percentage Mystery:  92%
Percentage Fiction: 100%
Percentage written 2000+: 16%
Percentage of Rereads: 0%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's easy to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}  
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 8 (20%)

Well...twelve is pretty darn good considering I didn't read anything at all when I went on vacation with my parents. My page total did take a bit of a hit without a hefty nonfiction book to bulk up the numbers this month. We'll see what July brings.


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:


Double Cross Purposes by Ronald A. Knox (4 stars) 
The Darling Dahlias & the Cucumber Tree by Susan Wittig Albert (3 stars)
The Line-Up by Helen Reilly (3.5 stars) 
Falling Star by Patricia Moyes (3.5 stars) 
The Diamond-Studded Typewriter by Carlton Keith (4 stars) 
The Riddle of the Traveling Skull by Harry Stephen Keeler (6/21/15) 
The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie (6/22/15) 
Whisper Murder! by Vera Kelsey (6/24/15) 
The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case by George Baxt (6/26/15) 
Murder on Her Mind by Vechel Howard (6/27/15) 
The Summer School Mystery by Josephine Bell (
Again--as in May, I actually handed out one full five-star rating in June, but that went (also again) to science fiction master Harlan Ellison for Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever, a graphic novel adaptation (by Scott & David Tipton) of Ellison's original screenplay for arguably Star Trek's best television episode. Unfortunately, that wasn't a mystery collection and doesn't qualify for the P.O.M. So, for the best mystery fiction we have two contenders with four stars each. The first is Agatha Christie's The A.B.C. Murders starring the brilliant Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. It looks like England has a serial killer on its hands. Will Poirot be able to use his "little grey cells" to outwit the murderer before he can work his way through the rest of the alphabet? But Dame Agatha is a previous winner of the coveted Reader's Block P.O.M. and already abundantly decorated with honors, so let's move on. The Diamond-Studded Typewriter by Carlton Keith was a pleasant surprise. Keith put together a nifty little caper and a very likeable progatonist in Jeff Green. Jeff plays by his own rules--law-abiding citizen for the most part, but not above stretching a point here or there to ensure that justice as he sees it needs to be done. Not a puzzle plot, but recommended as a fun, light read. But I do like to give out P.O.M. awards to puzzling plots when possible....
Which means that this month's winner is





Double Cross Purposes by Ronald A. Knox. Knox was a fellow Golden Age author and member of the Detection Club with Christie and his novel is a quite lovely Golden Age Detective story--in every sense of the word. It was written between the wars, it's fairly clued, and it has a nifty, intricate puzzle plot. What more could a GAD-lover want? It has disguises and maps and suspicious chauffeurs. It has a curse on the treasure and a missing key. There is minister who seems a tad too interested in the treasure hunt and policemen who don't seem interested enough in dead bodies. 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

July Read It Again, Sam Reviews


Please post reviews below.




July Mount TBR Reviews


Please post reviews below.




July Vintage Bingo Reviews



Please post reviews below.




Super Password #4: July & August Musical Group


It's time for the fourth round of Super Book Book Password. We had a couple of new participants snag some points in the May/June round. Thanks for joining in, John and Noah!


Here are our current point totals:

Ryan@Wordsmithonia: 180 points
Debbie@Exurbanis: 130 points
Phinnea@ravenscroftcloud: 40 points
John@Pretty Sinister Books: 30 points
Noah@Noah's Archives: 10 points
Bev (hostess, playing for fun): 360 points [reading those books and giving out clues really adds up!)

I'm all set for the Musical Group Category for July/August. Anybody going to join me?  I will again post linkys for each month rather than weekly links. 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 June, then participants will have three weeks to ponder my Musical Group 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!

Complete rule may be found through the Headquarters (sidebar) or HERE.

***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. 








Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Summer School Mystery: Review

Participants at the summer music school at Falconbury plunge into their work with a little Wagnerand a symphony by Sibelius...little do they know that they ought to be playing a requiem.

The music school takes place in the country, but students come from all over--including the Royal School of Music in London. The conductor is disconcerted when Derek Fox (his student leader) and Belinda Power, the percussionist, fail to appear for the initial session. Derek then slips in just in time for the first musical pieces, but there is still no sign of his fiancée Belinda. The orchestra goes on without her, but Mr. Hanington, the conductor, is not at all satisfied with her replacement--reading him the riot act for not coming in on his part. When Godfrey Farre, the unlucky percussionist, insists that he had done his part properly and that something seemed to be wrong with the timpani, an inspection of the instruments seems to be in order. When they remove the head they find that there is something wrong with drum--something very wrong indeed.

Godfrey lifted his stick and brought it down on the largest of the three timpani. A curious dead sound came from it, as if a pile of leather had been struck. The whole orchestra turned and stared at him...

Stashed inside the largest drum is the body of a young woman who is immediately identified as Belinda Fox.

Inspector Fitch and Superintendent Mitchell immediately suspect the boyfriend when they learn that the young lovers often had disagreements. Derek turns to Dr. David Wintringham--Bell's leading gentleman sleuth--a medical man with a penchant for solving crimes. But Derek does little to help his own cause, giving Wintringham little information to back up his plea of innocence. The good doctor is forced to look for other suspects on his own. Fortunately, for Derek, there are several likely candidates--from the conductor who wanted to marry Belinda himself to the member of the Royal School of Music who had a sharp disagreement with her back in London to the aunt who would inherit upon her death to a roommate who may have had cause to want an apartment all to herself.

The first thing Wintringham must discover is what in the world in Derek hiding? And who is the killer if Derek is innocent? 
 
This mystery doesn't lack for clues. In fact, I think perhaps Bell sprinkled them a bit too liberally and/or obviously about. It wasn't difficult to figure out who did it and why. The plot is fine and the characters are well done. It was interesting to visit a British summer music school and the Royal School of Music, so the setting was good as well. But this winds up being a very middle of the road book for me. If I hadn't spotted the solution well before the end of the book, this would might have collected four stars, but as it is-- ★★

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This was a prize from Freda over at Freda's Voice in the 100 Plus Reading Challenge--and, thus, the last book I received for free.  

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mount TBR Checkpoint #2

The year is almost half-way over....how does that happen so quickly? I must lose track of time just concentrating on the mountain trail ahead of me. But--it's that time again. Your mountaineering guide is calling for a second quarterly check-in post. Let us know how your climb has been so far. Seen any mountain goats? Any particularly pretty wildflowers? How about the abominable snowman? For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:
 

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
 A. Choose two titles from the books you've read so far that have a common link. You decide what the link is--both have strong female lead characters? Each focuses on a diabolical plot to take over the world? Blue covers? About weddings? Find your link and tell us what it is.
 B. Tell us about a book on the list that was new to you in some way--new author, about a place you've never been, a genre you don't usually read...etc.
 C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?
 
OR (Counts as both part 1 and 2)
 
Use titles from your list to complete as many of the following sentences below as you can.  If you haven't read enough books to give you good choices, then feel free to use any books yet to be read from your piles. I've given my answers as examples. Feel free to add words (such as "a" or "the" or others that clarify) as needed.

My Day in Books
 
I began the day with A Stitch in Time
before breakfasting on Strange Wine
 
and walked by Brighton Rock
to avoid [the] Playground of Death
but I made sure to stop at The Eye in the Museum
 
In the office, my boss asked me how to use The Diamond-Studded Typewriter
and sent me to research The Riddle of the Traveling Skull

At lunch with The Cavalier in White
playing a game of Ride the Pink Horse

 
When I got home that night, 
Finally, I went to bed and dreamed about Gods of Gold


Please post your answers on your blog and link up your post in the linky below. And what do you get for all that hard work (and distraction from the actual climb)? The link will close at 11:59 pm on Sunday, July 5.  On Monday, July 6,  I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick a winning climber. He or she will have the chance to add to their TBR stack via my gently-used book vault (prize list will be sent). Just think, if you win a book you can start up a pile for next year's Mount TBR Challenge. 

Even if you're not in the mood for a prize or if you've only got one leg of the journey under your belt, I'd love to have you check in and tell us how your climb is going!

***Please note--the linky is for Checkpoint posts only.  The link must be to a specific Checkpoint post (not your blog's home page in general). Links that are not Checkpoint-specific will be removed--to make it easier for me to track a winner.

Sign in below with your Checkpoint post.





Murder on Her Mind: Review

For the TBR First Lines square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card, I needed to pick out four books from the TBR stacks and, based on reading only the first line of each, decide on my next read. Here are the books I decided to sample.

Cocktails & the Killer by Peter Cheyney: Even today I don't know much about her.

Murder on Her Mind by Vechel Howard: It was some high-ranking saint's day, or maybe national carpenters' or mechanics' or bricklayers' day.

The Summer School Mystery by Josephine Bell: The two girls climbed down from the front seat of the lorry, and turned to lift out their belongings.

Death Lifts the Latch by Anthony Gilbert: The fog, that had begun as a grey mist about three o'clock, thickened as the afternoon drew on, until by night it hung, a thick grey blanket, obscuring London and the outlying suburbs.

Which first line strikes your fancy? As my post title indicates, I was struck by Vechel Howard's Murder on Her Mind (1959). I do have to confess--I couldn't keep my eyes from taking in the next line as well: Anyhow, it was one of those Mexican mornings when the dawn was shattered by a frantic tolling of church bells and fusillades of cannon crackers and gunfire. How could I resist? 


But, having now read the book, I think the most compelling quote comes from page 64: 

Death, in a silk suit, had just passed and the music of the wheel and the merry-go-round now sounded strictly like a dirge.

Private Eye Johnny Church is in Mexico--hired by Mrs. O'Dell in San Francisco to find out who killed her son with a .32 bullet in the forehead. There were three lovely ladies sharing his bed who might have had reason to kill him. A young, luscious blonde, a fiery redhead, and a smouldering brunette. Questioning those three closely is a hard job--requiring the personal touch--but Johnny is definitely up for the job. If you know what I mean. There is also O'Dell's ex-wife and his lawyer. She inherits everything upon his death and the lawyer may have had his hand in the till beforehand. There are whiffs of blackmail and a missing ex-convict. And there is someone taking potshots at Johnny as he makes his investigative rounds. There's also the little matter of the shadow who follows him wherever he goes. Johnny will hop in and out of a few beds, run through several theories, and find another dead body or two before he finally gets to the bottom of the case.

I'm afraid that this medium-boiled private eye story just isn't my particular cup of tea. I don't run to hard-boiled detective stories in general, but there have been a few that I've enjoyed. This one didn't go down quite as well. There isn't much detecting going on. And quite frankly I didn't see many clues hanging about for Johnny to pick up. When he talks about his various theories, he seems to be making them up out of thin air---an accusation thrown at him by one of the suspects. Most of the action involves Johnny's interactions with the various females in the story. And while the sex isn't graphic, it certainly is plentiful. ★★ --primarily for getting the book off the TBR pile and counting it for several challenges. But I will also give Howard credit for excellent descriptions and some apt turns of phrases.