Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Too Many Doctors: Review

Trehane operated on a basis of thoroughness: do everthing, do it properly, follow up, check. If he had ever had a moment of intuition, he had slept it off.

Too Many Doctors by Holly Roth (1962). The passengers aboard the M.S. Tilburg, a small German ship, expect a pleasant, uneventful trip to the Far East. But before picking up the last of its European travelers, they have already lost a member of the crew--the ships's doctor--to apparent food poisoning and are forced to take on a replacement as well as passengers at Southampton. 

The ship hasn't even left British waters when an attractive young woman falls downstairs on her way to her cabin and the new doctor has his first patient. Or perhaps she was pushed? Her injuries seem a bit extensive for an accidental fall. If she was pushed, her assailant is lucky--she is suffering from amnesia as a result of her fall. One of her fellow passengers, Dr. Maxwell Owings, is a famous neurosurgeon and he is called upon by the ill-tempered captain to give assistance. Before he can make a complete initial examination, the woman is attacked with a razor blade. 

Dr. Owings begins to smell a rat...the ship's doctor insists the new cuts are simply reopening of wounds sustained in the fall and the captain takes great offense to a suggestion that a report needs to made to the officials ("I am the official!"). Then when another passenger is shoved into an empty swimming pool and is evading questions about who she think did it, Owings becomes even more insistent on an investigation.

Back in London, a psychoanalyst is found shot to death in his office and Inspector Richard Medford begins investigations that involve the doctor's previous involvement with an abortion ring, possible blackmail, and maybe even drug trafficking. Then a body is fished out the Thames--surprise, another doctor! Connections are made with the German shipping line and an autopsy report reveals that the Tilburg's doctor was, indeed, poisoned...but not by food. Medford is sent to meet the ship in Genoa and to establish whether all these apparently unrelated events are part of the same murderous spree. His colleague, Inspector Trehane, follows up clues from England, Germany, and America to help Medford tie it all together.
Well, the title says it all. "Too Many." Too many doctors. Too many dead doctors. Too many people who don't know who they are. Or who aren't who they say they are. Too many injuries and illnesses. Too many suspects. Too many motives. Too many random connections. And one "too much"--as in a plot twist that reminded me a little too much of one of Dame Agatha Christie's well-known ploys. [Spoiler: highlight apparent empty space, if you don't mind a reveal] While Owings is not the narrator, his involvement is very like that of the narrator in Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. We, the reader, get to know, like, and trust him. I, for one, was disappointed with his part in the murders and attacks.

What Holly Roth does well is character. This is no 400+ pager with the long-drawn out passages of detail that seem to be the norm in the door-stop-sized detective fiction of today. It tops out at a mere 204 pages and Roth manages to give us snippet snapshots (such as the opening description of Trehane) that tell us exactly what kind of person we're dealing with. Trehane is a careful plodder, but his checking & double-checking are essential and his thoroughness complements his colleague's (Inspector Medford's) tendency to make leaps of intuition. They sometimes irritate one another, but make a very good team. The short descriptions of the crew and passengers are also well-done and instantly draw the reader's sympathies or suspicions.

The mystery plot itself is quite convoluted--with none of Christie's expertise at pulling all the threads together in one coherent picture. A couple of lines would have been plenty and would have made for a much smoother narrative. ★★ mostly for character and Medford's valiant attempt to explain how it all related.

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Challenge Complete: I Love Library Books

You Read How Many Books?
Reading Challenge

This year I joined new host Gina @ Book Dragon's Lair for a "read as many as you can" type reading challenge.  Amy at My Overstuffed Bookshelf had hosted the 150+ challenge the last few years, and allowed Gina to host this year, with changes :-).
This time 'round we hadthree levels to choose from--having sailed along at the 150+ level for a couple of years, I signed up for Level 2 (at least 150).

Here are the books read for the challenge:

1. The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle(1/2/14)
2. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell (1/5/14)
3. Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak(1/6/14)
4. The Skeleton in the Clock by Carter Dickson (1/8/14)
5. Dangerous Visions #3 by Harlan Ellison, ed (1/11/14)
6. Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown (1/12/14)
7. Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell (1/13/14)
8. The Wonder Chamber by Mary Malloy (1/15/14)
9. Triumph by Philip Wylie (1/18/14)
10. The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14)
11. The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux (1/20/14)
12. Seven Footprints to Satan by A. Merritt (1/22/14)
13. The Winter Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1/23/14) 
14. Death on the Aisle by Frances & Richard Lockridge (1/24/14)
15. The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry (1/26/14)
16. Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald (1/26/14) 
17. Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton (1/27/14)
18. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1/29/14) 
19. Darkness at Pemberley by T. H. White (1/30/14) 
20. Death by Chick Lit by Lynn Harris (2/1/14) 
21. Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (2/4/14) 
22. Where There's Love, There's Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares & Silvina Ocampo (2/5/14) 
23. Shelf Life by Douglas Clark (2/6/14) 
24. Gambit by Rex Stout (2/8/14) 
25. You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts (2/9/14) 
26. Dandy Gilver & the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson (2/12/14) 
27. Death Walks on Cat Feet by D. B. Olsen (2/13/14) 
28. Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland (2/16/14)
29. Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos (2/18/14)
30. XCIA's Street Art Project by Hank O'Neal (2/20/14) 
31. Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual by Ellery Queen, ed (2/22/14)
32. The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie (2/25/14) 
33. The Purple Parrot by Clyde Clason (2/25/14) 
34. To Kingdom Come by Will Thomas (2/26/14)
35. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick (2/27/14) 
36. The Darker the Night by Herbert Brean (3/3/14) 
37. India's Love Lyrics by Laurence Hope (3/4/14) 
38. Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret Lewis (3/5/14) 
39. The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd (3/8/14) 
40. It's Not All Flowers & Sausages by Jennifer Scoggin (3/10/14) 
41. Vicious Circle by Douglas Clark (3/11/14) 
42. A Girl Walks Into a Bar by Helena S. Paige (3/12/14) 
43. Endless Night by Agatha Christie (3/13/14) 
44. John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars by Roland Hughes (3/17/14) 
45. Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison (3/17/14)
46. India Black & the Gentleman Thief by Carol K. Carr (3/19/14) 
47. A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan (3/21/14) 
48. The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout (3/23/14) 
49. Tut, Tut! Mr. Tutt by Arthur Train (3/25/14) 
50. Grimms' Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (3/28/14)
51. The Clue of the Leather Noose by Donald Bayne Hobart (3/31/14) 
52. The Coral Princess Murders by Frances Crane (4/5/14) 
53. Decoded by Mai Jia (4/5/14) 
54. After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman (4/6/14) 
55. A Hangman's Dozen by Alfred Hitchcock, ed (4/7/14)
56. Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg (4/8/14) 
57. The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Denis O. Smith (4/13/14) 
58. Gale Warning by Hammond Innes (4/15/14)
59. Murder at the Museum of Natural History by Michael Jahn (4/18/14) 
60. My Antonia by Willa Cather (4/20/14)
61. Death by the Book by Julianna Deering (4/21/14) 
62. The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi (4/26/14)
63. Dorothy Dixon & the Double Cousin by Dorothy Wayne (4/26/14) 
64. For Old Crime's Sake (aka Lucky Jane) by Delano Ames (4/29/14)
65. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (4/29/14) 
66. Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer (5/1/14) 
67. Ships of the Line by Doug Drexler & Margaret Clark (eds) [5/1/14] 
68. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin (5/6/14)
69. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw (5/9/14) 
70. Death at the Medical Board by Josephine Bell (5/16/14) 
71. Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton (5/16/14)
72. Sinners & the Sea by Rebecca Kanner (5/21/14)
73. Whispers of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers (5/21/14) 
74. Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka/The Fiction of Harlan Ellison by Yerka & Ellison (5/22/14)
75. By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (5/23/14) 
76. Red Herring by Edward Acheson (5/25/14) 
77. Beyond Uhura: Star Trek & Other Memories by Nichelle Nichols (5/29/14)
78. Steampunk Poe by Edgar Allan Poe; illustrated by Zdenko Basic & Manuel Numberac (5/30/14) 
79. Invisible Green by John Sladek (6/2/14)
80. Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (6/5/14)
81.12.21 by Dustin Thomason (6/6/14)
82. The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo (6/8/14) 
83. Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark (6/11/14)
84. The Corsican Caper by Peter Mayle (6/11/14)
85. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein (6/12/14)
86. Total Harmonic Distortion by Charles Rodrigues (6/12/14)
87. A Hearse on May-Day by Gladys Mitchell (6/15/14)
88. Undead & Unpopular by MaryJanice Davidson (6/17/14)
89. The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker (6/19/14)
90. No. 9 Belmont Square by Margaret Erskine (6/21/14)
91. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie (6/23/14) 
92. This Private Plot by Alan Beechey (6/26/14)
93. DeKok & Murder in Ecstasy by A. C. Baantjer (6/27/14)
94. The 7 Professors of the Far North by John Fardell (6/29/14)
95. The Day They Kidnapped Queen Victoria by H. K. Fleming (7/2/14)
96. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott (7/3/14)
97. The Chief Inspector's Daughter by Sheila Radley (7/5/14)
98. On the Beach by Nevil Shute (7/7/14)
99. Selections from the Essays of Montaigne by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (trans & ed by Donald M Frame) [7/7/14] 
100. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (7/8/14) 
101. The Forgotten War by William R. Horstchen (7/9/14) 
102. Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout (7/12/14) 
103. Murder at the Villa Rose by A. E. W. Mason (7/14/14)
104. Death in an Ivory Tower by Maria Hudgins (7/16/14) 
105. The Tattooed Man by Howard Pease (7/17/14)
106. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (7/20/14) 
107. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (7/21/14) 
108. Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (7/22/14)
109. Who Guards a Prince by Reginald Hill (7/23/14) 
110. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym (7/25/14)
111. Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell (7/30/14)
112. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (7/31/14)
113. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Angel of the Opera by Sam Siciliano (8/4/14)
114. The Mangle Street Murders by M. R. C. Kasasian (8/5/14)
115. Introducing C. B. Greenfield by Lucille Kallen (8/6/14)
116. Date With Danger by Roy Vickers (8/11/14) 
117. Button, Button by Marion Bramhall (8/13/14)
118. Book of the Dead by Elizabeth Daly (8/14/14)
119. Book Clubbed by Lorna Barrett (8/16/14)
120. New Orleans Requiem by D. J. Donaldson (8/17/14)
121. Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card (8/19/14)
122. Zingers, Quips, & One-Liners by Geoff Tibballs (8/25/14)
123.  The Bigger They Come by A. A. Fair (8/28/14)
124. The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh (8/29/14)
125. The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh (8/30/14)
126. The Shakespeare Mask by Newton Frohlich (9/2/14)
127. Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes (9/5/14)
128. Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh (9/6/14)
129. The Unfinished Crime by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (9/8/14)
130. Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet by Harry Kemelman (9/8/14)
131. Red Cent by Robert Campbell (9/10/14)
132. Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie (9/11/14)
133. The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (9/12/14)
134. The Herb of Death & Other Stories by Agatha Christie (9/14/14)
135. Death Takes a Sabbatical by Robert Bernard (9/16/14)
136. The Edison Effect by Bernadette Pajer (9/20/14)
137. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (9/21/14)
138. The Footprints on the Ceiling by Clayton Rawson (9/25/14)
139. Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson (9/27/14)
140. A Death for a Dancer by E. X. Giroux (9/28/14)
141. Bleeding Maize & Blue by Susan Holtzer (9/30/14)
142. Blood on the Stars by Brett Halliday (10/4/14)
143. The Witch's Grave by Philip DePoy (10/5/14)
144. Death by Hitchcock by Elissa D. Grodin (10/6/14)
145. Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes (10/8/14)
146. The Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie (10/11/14)
147. Death on Allhallowe'en by Leo Bruce (10/11/14)
148. Only a Matter of Time by V. C. Clinton-Baddeley (10/13/14)
149. Murder on Mike by H. Paul Jeffers (10/15/14)
150. Appleby's Answer by Michael Innes (10/17/14)
151. The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart (10/19/14)

Challenge Complete!

The Haunted Lady: Review

Whatever this case promised, she thought--and it seemed to promise quite a bit--there was no violence indicated. She was wrong of course.... (p. 20)

Mary Roberts Rinehart is considered the mother of the HIBK (Had I But Known) school of mystery writing where the main character and/or narrator (frequently female) proceeds throughout the story in a manner which has the effect of prolonging the action of the novel. The Circular Staircase (1908) was her first novel written in this vein and The Haunted Lady (1942) is full of all sorts of HIBK foreshadowing.

...days later she was to see the importance of that bag; to see its place in the picture. (p.40)

Nurse Hilda Adams, known affectionately as Miss Pinkerton to her friend and sometime employer Inspector Fuller, is called in to keep an eye on the elderly Eliza Fairbanks. Miss Fairbanks has gone to the police with a story of intimidation and attempted murder. Someone has been putting bats and rats in her bedroom and sprinkling arsenic on her strawberries. She is sure that someone is trying to scare her to death...and if that doesn't work, perhaps take more effective measures. Her family thinks she may have gone a bit batty herself, but Nurse Adams soon proves her patient to be perfectly sane. She herself finds a bat and a rat in Miss Fairbanks' apparently sealed room and hears mysterious noises coming from the patient's room as well as other portions of the house. She arranges to sit outside the room every night to keep Miss Fairbanks safe. But to little avail...

That evening, Wednesday, June the eleventh, Marian left the house, bag and baggage....And only a few nights later her mother was murdered as she lay asleep in her bed. (p. 81) 

The inhabitants of the house--from Miss Fairbanks' children, their spouses, and her granddaughter to the servants--as well as the doctor (who is in love with the granddaughter) all have an interest in the lady's death. And each in their own way are behaving oddly--running around the house and grounds at night; sealing up windows and painting after the woman's death; finding themselves scared out their wits and denying it all....

Later Hilda was to know that Susie had done a superb piece of acting that night; that she had been frightened almost out of her senses when she came racing up the stairs. (p. 109) 

On the surface Nurse Adams gives every appearance of a straightforward investigation--peering into dark corners, checking up on mysterious noises, examining the rooms and belongings of various family members, and reporting her findings to Inspector Fuller. But he knows "Miss Pinkerton" too well and believes that she's keeping information back--"If I thought you have any pets around hear and are protecting them, I'd--I'd turn you over my knee." He should...she is at the very least not telling everything she knows whether to protect someone or innocently thinking it not important:

She tucked it away in her memory, however, to wonder later if she should have told it. If it would have changed anything, or altered the inevitable course of events. (153)

Even with Nurse Adams on the spot and gathering up clues, it takes another death--this time of the maid--before Fuller and Miss Pinkerton can put everything together. She finally figures out who put the animals in the room and why, how a radio might play by itself, how a flimsy piece of rope tied to a shutter figures in, what was kept in the cupola, and what the maid knew--and it all points to one person.

Rinehart is an expert at atmosphere--the Fairbanks house is creepy at night and the inhabitants are all a bit eccentric (to put it mildly). And she ties up her murder mystery quite tidily--although I'm a bit unsure about the culprit. Not because I don't believe in the motivation, but I'm not sure that I see how they could have done it.  Spoiler (highlight apparent blank area if you don't mind a reveal): The person in question was given a hypodermic of sleeping medication and was supposedly out for the count. If it had been a pill, I could see her pretending to take it and pretending to be asleep. How do you get out of having had an injection?

But overall, an excellent read and an excellent example of Rinehart's style of mystery. 

This fulfills the "Woman in the Title" square and completes two Bingos on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. Linda at Philly Reader has also read The Haunted Lady for the challenge. Be sure to check out her review as well.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Appleby's Answer: Review

Rather a tiresome man. But it does seem extravagant to propose to murder him. (p. 84)

But it begins to look like that may be what is in store for Sir Ambrose Pinkerton in Appleby's Answer by Michael Innes (John Innes MacKintosh [J.I.M.] Stewart; 1973). It all begins with Priscilla Pringle, well-known author of clerical  murder mysteries, and a train ride with Captain Bulkington. Miss Pringle notices with pleasure that Bulkington is reading one of her novels. When the captain realizes he is sharing the compartment with the author herself, he tries to interest her in collaborating with him on a novel and offers her 500 pounds to do so. But the longer he talks, the odder she thinks he is as he tries to pick her brain on various devious murder methods and she parts from him at the train station without promising anything.

She and her fellow author, Barbara Vanderpump, discuss the incident on the way to the Diner Dupin, an annual banquet for detective novelists where a certain retired Scotland Yard man by the name of Sir John Appleby will be the honored guest and special speaker. Miss Vanderpump, having more romantic leanings in her fiction, suggests that the captain might be romantically inclined and it wouldn't hurt to indulge him--"it might be a matter of doing something kind." Miss Pringle is none too sure about that, but resists her friend's suggestion that if she feels that disturbed about the captain then she ought to share the incident with their distinguished guest.

Next thing we know, Miss Pringle ventures into the captain's territory, ostensibly because she has heard that the last rector of the village died under mysterious circumstances and she wonders if there might be background material for her next novel. She meets up with the captain and actually strikes a deal with him to discuss--by post--possibilities for a murder mystery. As things advance, she soon learns that very similar incidents are happening to Sir Ambrose Pinkerton, despised neighbor of Captain Bulkington. Sir John, who comes upon portions of the story by chance, is also curious about the odd events in Long Canings and helps the local Inspector--Graves by name--to unravel the lethal puzzle.

Innes's situational humor and witty prose are the high points of this novel. The fun he pokes at detective novelists (and to an extent romantic novelists) alone is worth the price of admission. And there is a great deal of enjoyment to be had in Miss Pringle's visit to Long Canings's church services (the great battle of Hymn 203 vs. Hymn 302). There is, unfortunately, very little detecting going on here. Sir John and Lady Appleby are delightful characters, but most of his insights into the goings-on at Long Canings would seem to be inspirational and intuitive rather than deductive. There are very few clues to point the reader in the direction of his reasoning. But the twist at the end is a good one nonetheless.

The book succeeds because of Innes's descriptive powers and his finely drawn characters. The understated rivalry between the Misses Pringle and Vanderpump; the contrasting characters of the Captain's two tutoring charges; the interactions between Miss Pringle and various of Long Canings's inhabitants; and the interplay between Sir John and Lady Appleby as they encounter the folk of Long Canings as well. This all makes for a delightful read and more than makes up for any deficiencies in the mysterious quality. ★★

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Murder on Mike: Review

H. Paul Jeffers' Murder on Mike is like a two-for-one deal in the Vintage Bingo Challenge. Published in 1984, it qualifies for Bev's eccentric Silver Age time frame, but it is set in 1930s New York, so the time period is absolutely Golden.  Hmmm. Perhaps a historical vintage square is in order for next year?

It is circa 1939 and a few days before Christmas. The scene: a Radio City studio, the recording site for the popular Detective Fitzroy's Casebook radio show. Only this time Fitzroy (aka Derek Worthington, star and producer) won't be solving the crime because he is the victim. Worthington is found shot to death in the studio during a rehearsal break. The main clue? The gunshot was heard over an open mike by a Radio City tour group--giving the police an exact time for the murder. And it would seem that everyone connected with the show has an ironclad alibi for the entire break period...except for the announcer David Reed. 

Reed had previously had a rather public altercation with Worthington in which he threatened to kill the star. So when the announcer is the only one who can't produce an alibi, the police are ready to believe they have their man. Reed's girlfriend, Maggie, refuses to believe him guilty and approaches private detective Harry MacNeil to prove the police wrong. When MacNeil starts digging, he finds that everyone connected with the show had a reason to hate the womanizing Worthington--actresses he had loved and dropped; co-stars he was leaving behind for Hollywood; members of the show who might find themselves out of work. But there's still that pesky problem of alibis all round....MacNeil is ready to tell Maggie there just isn't another solution when the tour guide disappears and he finally sees another ending to "Detective Fitzroy's" last case.

This is a pleasant retro-mystery which takes us back to New York City before the United States entered World War II. Even though MacNeil used to be a cop, he's less of a tough guy than most of the private eyes from the era and follows a more straight-forward sleuthing style. He's a likeable character and fun to follow through the story. One of the major points of the solution is telegraphed early and often and it is a bit unbelievable that MacNeil doesn't pick up on it sooner. The plot also plays off of a very famous device by an extremely well-know mystery author. It's one of those tricks that once it's been done, it doesn't come off well again--except maybe in obvious parody. The ending would have been much more satisfying if Jeffers had offered up a different solution. But overall--a nice nostalgia piece which does a good job of recreating 1930s NYC. ★★ and a half--with the ending keeping it from a full four stars.

This fulfills the "Entertainment" square and a fifth Bingo on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Only a Matter of Time: Mini-Review

Dr. R. V. Davie, professor of poetry and sometime amateur detective, has come to Kings Lacey for its annual festival featuring a bit of opera, a bit of jazz-inspired poetry (or is that poetry-inspired jazz), and a bit of madrigal singing. He didn't expect to land himself in the middle of a bit of murder as well. But on the Friday afternoon, the directors of Bexminster Electronics gathered for a top-secret meeting to discuss the dates for the roll-out of their next electronic masterpiece. By Saturday night, Robert Copplestone, one of the men in the meeting was dead.

Robert had two passions in life--he loved fine china and he was a champion of honesty and truth. So when he was browsing in a local antique shop and just happened to find a company secret tucked into the teapot in a pretty little gold and white tea service, he rushed to phone a trusted board member with the news. But someone made certain that Robert never got a chance to share the secret. When the owner of the antique shop also winds up dead--killed in a similar fashion--Dr. Davie can't help but get involved. He had become friends with Jiri Vanasek and he needed to help find his killer. But will Dr. Davie be able to discover the false clue hidden among the true ones?

Only a Matter of Time is the third of five detective novels written by V. C. (Victor Vaughan Reynolds Geraint Clinton) Clinton-Baddeley featuring the scholarly amateur detective. I have to admit to a bit of disappointment with this one--I felt as though the culprit had a huge neon arrow pointing at her/him the entire time. And there really wasn't much attempt to muddy the waters at all--as soon as Dr. Davie started burbling on about the "false clue" and what kept bothering him, it was pretty obvious who must have done it. There was also another clue--something that I thought must have been done on purpose (although Clinton-Baddeley really didn't explain it that way) that first drew my attention to Mr./Ms. X. I kept hoping that perhaps there would be a final twist (there was the teensiest bit of a hint of one) to make things interesting...but, alas.  

A bit of a let-down from my beloved academic mystery sub-genre. Clinton-Baddley does a much better job with mystification in the rest of the series--particularly the first (Death's Bright Dart) and final (To Study a Long Silence). I did enjoy the characters, especially Miss Jesmond, the Bexminster company's confidential secretary, and Dr. Davies is always a delight.  ★★ and a half for a less than best effort.

This fulfills the "Amateur" square and my fourth Bingo on the Silver Vintage Bingo Card.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Death on Allhallowe'en: Review

He could believe that people led stealthy lives, obeying strange impulses and beliefs. Though mystery could belong as much to brightly lighted streets and conventional citizens, there was something in an atmosphere like this, the chilly river mist and the desolate landscape. (p. 19)

Carolus Deene, that intrepid amateur detective who uses the same techniques to unravel mysteries as he uses to unravel history for the schoolboys at Queen's School, Newminster, is invited to investigate the odd "goings on" at a small Kentish village. If it weren't for his long-standing friendship with John Stainer, the rector of Clibburn, he would never credit the tales of eerie atmosphere, local witchcraft, and undefinable evil. But when Stainer says, "I'll tell you candidly--I'm frightened" he believes him. And he understands when Stainer goes on to say

Listen Carolus, I'm not a fool, and I'm not superstitious. Obviously I don't believe in black magic or witchcraft or anything of the sort. That's to say I don't believe in what they represent. But I do believe that there are people who practise the rites, and I think such people are dangerous.

Carolus also takes seriously the death of a small boy who may have seen or actually been forced to participate in one of these rites. So, he agrees to come and put his amateur detective talents to work on discovering the true source of evil in Clibburn.

His task isn't an easy one. Stainer has lived in Clibburn for three years and still hasn't truly been accepted as the new rector. The residents, as often seems to be the case--especially in fiction, don't take well to "foreigners" and Carolus finds it difficult to get the villagers to give him much in the way of information. Fortunately, he's adept at reading between the lines and often what they aren't telling him is just as instructive as what they do. 

He know he's getting close when the local "witch" tries to scare him off and then someone arranges for a telegram regarding the hospitalization of Mrs. Stick, his long-time housekeeper, to be delivered in a further effort to get him out of the way. Despite the trick, he manages to be present when a local figure is shot to death in a room full of people on the stroke of midnight. Once Carolus discovers how and by whom, he has the answers to both the boy's death and that of another, yet unsuspected, murder.

While I always enjoy Leo Bruce's detective fiction, Death on Allhawe'en (1970) is to be noted for its difference from the majority of the Carolus Deene books. It removes Carolus from the influence of both his domestic couple and the headmaster of Queen's School--each of whom constantly cast a disapproving eye on his detective antics while secretly loving every minute of the delicious tale when Carolus holds forth in the wrap-up scenes. We are also spared the frequently annoying presence of his schoolboy tag-along. What we get is straight Carolus on the track of village nastiness.

Bruce effectively describes the claustrophobic atmosphere of a village that keeps itself too much to itself while appearing to take local traditions and witchcraft much too seriously. Full marks for the mise-en-scène. Two things keep this mystery from being a full-fledged four-star read for me: 1. Lack of fair play. Carolus gives a fair impression of Holmes in the final scenes. He discovers vital evidence in a bank strong box, but keeps the clues close to his chest. There isn't any real way for the reader to guess what he's found and be able to fully understand the mystery. 2. The death of the young boy. While what really happened to the boy is not fully described (thankfully), I still get very squeamish when young children are involved. But that's a personal qualm--not necessarily a fault in the story-telling. ★★ and a half stars.

This fulfills the "Spooky Title" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.

Only someone born and bred in Great Britain understands the attraction of all we mean by tea, he thought; not just the infusion that we drink, but the happy associations of it, fireside in winter, sometimes in the garden in summer. He had a pleasant sense of being cosily shut in here from the murky evening and all that was forbidding and dangerous in the night. (p. 22)

"Yes, I think you've got me all wrong, old chap," he [Connor Horseman] said to Carolus. "You detectives see sinister things where none exist."
    If there was one thing Carolus disliked more than being called a detective it was being addressed as "old chap." (p. 29)

What is reasonable to one person may not be so to another. We all have our standards. (Alice Murrain; p. 37)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Labors of Hercules: Review

In the Labors of Hercules (1947), Hercule Poirot is visited by his friend Dr. Burton who winds up remarking upon Poirot's unusual given name and is aghast when he finds that the detective has never read the classical stories about Hercules. When the talk moves on to Poirot's intended retirement, a comparison comes up between him and the twelve labors of Hercules. Poirot is interested and has Miss Lemon get him books on the classic hero. At first he is appalled by this hero--"Take this Hercules--this hero, Hero indeed! What was he but a large muscular creature of low intelligence and criminal tendencies!...No, Poirot shook his head, if that was the Greeks' idea of a hero, then measured by modern standards it certainly would not do." He is dismayed by Hercules lack of order, lack of method. But then the order and method of fulfilling his own twelve labors begins to appeal to him and he sets off on his own heroic journey. {Synopsis of his twelve tasks below.}

This was a fun collection of stories and built very nicely upon the twelve labors conceit. The only unfortunate part is that in order to fulfill his tasks, Poirot had to travel a bit more than usual, but all things considered it is impressive how many of the stories did manage to stay close to home for our detective. As a bonus for me, I got to read this in the pictured volume--one of my little pocket-size editions. ★★★★

"The Nemean Lion": Miss Lemon points Poirot to his first Herculean task. Is a missing Pekingese dog really a labor worthy of a classical hero? Poirot is ready to say no...but there is something that intrigues him about the request.

"The Lyrnaean Hydra": Poirot must defeat the many-headed hydra of village gossip--before it destroys the reputation of Dr. Oldfield.

"The Arcadian Deer": Poirot is called upon to trace a beautiful young woman who disappeared like a deer in a forest.

"The Erymanthian Boar": Planning to take a short break after his last task, Poirot is asked by an old friend to help capture a Parisian gangster who is rumored to be headed to a remote Swiss hotel.

"The Augean Stables": Poirot uses a river of scandal to divert attention from a more serious scandal that threatens the British Prime Minister.

"The Stymphalean Birds": Poirot saves a trusting young man from the clutches of a couple of harpies.

"The Cretan Bull": A young man breaks off his engagement...claiming that he must because of the insanity that runs in his family. The young woman asks Poirot to prove that her beloved doesn't have anything to worry about. But Poirot finds out that isn't precisely true....

"The Horses of Diomedes": Poirot is asked to investigate who is encouraging a young woman to become part of the cocaine party scene...the answer is quite surprising.

"The Girdle of Hyppolita": What do a missing painting and a missing schoolgirl have to do with one another? Papa Poirot knows.

"The Flock of Geryon": Miss Carnaby (from the first story) comes to Poirot out of concern for her friend--who has gotten herself  mixed up with a cult. Poirot depends on Miss Carnaby's courage to bring the con man...and possible murderer to justice. But what if Miss Carnaby succumbs to the Master's message?

"The Apples of Hesperides": A rich collector asks Poirot to discover what happened to his emerald apple-encrusted goblet...a goblet he won at auction but never actually possessed. It's been missing for ten years, can Poirot follow such a cold trail? Mais oui!

"The Capture of Cerberus": Poirot meets an old acquaintance, the Countess Vera Rossakoff, quite by chance in the underground and manages to find her in "Hell." No...not there. At her nightclub with the devilish name--guarded by the dog Cerberus himself. It isn't long before Poirot discovers that there are quite devilish things going on--jewelry being stolen and drug-dealing. The Countess has been involved with jewels before, but has his charming old friend stooped to dope-dealing. Inspector Japp thinks so...but Poirot doesn't believe it.

This fulfills the "Short Story Collection" square and gives me Bingos #9 & #10 on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

The classics aren't a ladder leading to quick success, like a modern correspondence course! It's not a man's working hours that are important--it's his leisure hours. That's the mistake we all make. (Dr. Burton; p. 6)

[about Poirot's intended retirement hobby--raising vegetable marrows]
But seriously Poirot, what a hobby! Compare that to--his voice sank to an appreciative purr--an easy chair in front of a wood fire in a long low room lined with books--must be a long room--not a square one. Books all round one. A glass of port--and a book open in your hand. Time rolls back as you read. (Dr. Burton; p.7)

DCO: I don't know how to fight this--this vile network of lies and suspicion. How can you refute what is never said openly to your face? I am powerless--trapped--and slowly mercilessly being destroyed,
HP: Yes. Rumor is indeed the nine-headed Hydra of Lernea which cannot be exterminated because as fast as one head is cropped off two grow in its place.
~Dr. Charles Oldfield; Hercule Poirot
"The Lernean Hydra" (p. 36)

The man obviously wanted to tell him something--and as obviously had lost the art of simple narration. Words had become to him a means of obscuring facts--not of revealing them. He was an adept in the art of the useful phrase--that is to say, the phrase that falls soothingly on the ear and is quite empty of meaning. ~"The Augean Stables" (p. 97)

You might start a new religion yourself with the creed: There is no one so clever as Hercule Poirot, Amen, D.C. Repeat ad lib! 
~Inspector Japp
"The Flock of Geryon" (p. 200)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Winner! Mountaineering Checkpoint #3

After a busy day at work, I now realize that it's time to find a winner for the Checkpoint prize.  So....without further ado, I will just plug in the random number generator and enter in the parameters....and the lights flash and webpage whirs and we get  (drum roll, please).....Link #7!  That means that TracyK @ Bitter Tea and Mystery is our winner!  Congratulations, TracyK!  I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list.

Thanks to everyone for participating in the check-in.  I enjoy seeing your progress so far. Thanks as well to all climbers for joining me in scaling those Mount TBR heights.  Good luck in the last leg!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lament for a Maker: Mini-Review

Lament for a Maker (1938) would seem--from ratings on Goodreads and in the opinion of such fellow mystery writers as Nicholas Blake and Michael Gilbert--to be considered one of Michael Innes' best books. While I will agree that the mystery itself is quite nicely twisty and surprising, the journey he takes the reader on to get to that brilliant, twisty ending is a rather arduous one. The tale is told through the narratives of various characters--five in all, including his detective John Appleby--and wading through the Scots dialect of the opening narrative nearly put me off entirely. There is also a bit too much extraneous detail about matters that don't really move the story along to suit me.

At the heart of the book is the death of the eccentric recluse Ranald Guthrie the laird of Erchany who falls from the ramparts of his castle on a wild winter night. Suspicion initially rests on the young man who wished to marry Guthrie's niece, but the stories told by each of our narrators prove that there is more to the events of Christmas Eve than meets the eye. Did Guthrie commit suicide in the hopes of ruining the young man? Who was the shadowy figure seen by Miss Guthrie, the American cousin? Why was Guthrie's man Hardcastle looking for the Doctor when Miss Guthrie and Noel Gylby (stranded travelers in a snowstorm) approached Erchany? It will take the narratives of five people involved in the mystery to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Each time Appleby thinks the picture has been completed, another handful of puzzle pieces are brought to the table.

Worth reading for the mystery itself, but not, to my mind, one of Innes' absolute best. I've rated Death at the President's Lodgings, The Weight of the Evidence, and The Long Farewell each higher. I did enjoy being fooled by the final twist and I found the narrative threads by Noel Gylby and Appleby to be the most entertaining. Overall:  ★★

This fulfills the "Pseudonymous Author" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo Square and gives me an eighth Bingo. Michael Innes is the pen name of J. I. M. (John Innes MacKintosh) Stewart a Lecturer in English at the University of Leeds from 1930-35 and, later, a Professor at Oxford.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Death by Hitchcock: Review Request

Death by Hitchcock is the second Edwina Goodman mystery by Elissa D. Grodin. Edwina is a physics professor at Cushing College who manages to spend her spare time helping the attractive Police Detective Will Tenney investigate murders that pop up on campus. This time we have local femme fatale Bunny Baldwin murdered in the bathroom on opening night of the Hitchcock Film Festival. Bunny is a graduate student in the Film Studies Department at Cushing--though it is a bit of mystery how she got there. Her research time seems to be spent on the latest fashions and her latest conquests rather than on the ins and outs of film study. 

Bunny had been planning to run off to California with Chaz Winner, current head of Film Studies. But someone put a stop to those plans--strangling Bunny, tying a strip of film around her head, and stuffing her into an empty stall. There are plenty of suspects to be found--from Winner's spurned wife to Bunny's roommate, Mary Buttery, who may be seeking revenge for a stolen screenplay to an odd older woman by the name of Honeysuckle blessing with her own plans for the head of Film studies to resident film studies genius Milo Marcus who might have been playing knight-errant and removing Bunny on Mary's behalf.

Edwina helps Will sift through the alibis and the departmental connections and finally uses a bit of physics know-how to spot the killer.

Here I am having looked forward to an academic mystery and finding myself let down again--not quite as badly as by the previous read, but still. And not only let down by the mystery itself, but the title was a real hook and then it wound up that the Hitchcock theme really didn't play a huge role. Yes, Bunny was killed at the Hitchcock festival...but that really didn't have much to do with anything. The murder could have taken place anywhere. There was so much that Grodin could have done with the Hitchcock tie-in...but she didn't. I was also disappointed by the quality of the writing. Since this was a second novel, I was expecting Grodin to have her writing legs under her. Scenes and conversations were very choppy with very little narrative flow and sometimes little development (a chapter that took up less than half a page??). It was very difficult to settle down into the story when it seemed like we were constantly jumping about.

On the positive side: I really enjoyed Edwina and Will and their developing relationship. They work well together and the best scenes were theirs. They are very engaging characters and I think if the narrative stuck with them instead of following various characters for short, choppy scenes then the book would have worked much better for me. The mystery is fairly well plotted although I'm not entirely convinced by the motive. It's possible that if the suspects characters had been fleshed out a bit more that it would make more sense. 

Loving academic mysteries as I do, I would be willing to give the series another try in a future installment--in the hopes that there would be better overall characterization and narrative flow. ★★ and a half stars for this outing...leaning more toward two than three.

[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.]

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Attention Vintage Mystery Fans: The October 8 Challenge

Noah, Golden Age Detection (GAD) aficionado and participant in my Vintage Mystery Challenge, has been bitten by the challenge-sponsor bug. In honor of his and a friend's birthday, he has put together the October 8 Challenge. A fiendish Bingo-style reading challenge designed to encourage us to read, think about, and write about GAD fiction in new and exciting ways--as well as to compete for glory and prizes.  I'm in! I'm going to commit to one Bingo by next October and at least one essay by the end of the year to claim it for my 2014 challenges. Please join us. Click on the link for Noah's full post and to let him know you'd like to play along.

Here are the basic rules:

The challenge will run from October 8, 2014 to October 8, 2015. He will keep track of any essay submitted as an entry in this challenge and will collect them at his blog.

On October 8, 2015, He’ll be asking all interested parties (contributors and my readers) to select essays that they feel were best. The three participants who receive the most applause will each receive a small token of his esteem; a collectible paperback from his large collection.

You can create a line of four squares horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. The idea of a “Bingo” was selected to stimulate you to get some work done, not to make you write something in which you’re relatively uninterested; He’d rather see one great essay than four ordinary ones. The other criteria:
  • Each group of books must represent the work of at least two different authors.
  • Each group of books must contain at least three volumes.
  • Volumes of collected shorter stories are welcome as long as all the stories fit the selected criterion.
  • Ambiguous words like “theme” or “location” are meant to be interpreted generously.
  • The books you select should, generally speaking, have been published before 1950. Please don’t misuse the privilege, but if a book written after 1950 directly relates to your chosen theme, feel free to include it as part of the group. The primary focus should still be upon GAD books and authors. (I expect that A-1, about a single series character with multiple authors, will almost always include books written after 1950.)
And the Bingo card: