Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Challenge Complete: Semi-Charmed Summer 2016

photo via @megtristao
 
I just completed the latest round of the  Semi-Charmed Book Challenge series. I've racked up the full 200 points by reading the following books. Thanks to Megan for sponsoring this one.
5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 150 pages long. The Cinnamon Murder by Frances Crane [214 pages] (6/6/16)

10 points: Read a collection of short stories or essays. They may all be written by the same author, or the book may be an anthology from different writers; your choice! Bodies & Souls edited by Dann Herr & Joel Wells (6/28/16)

10 points: Read an adult fiction book written by an author who normally writes books for children. Examples: J. K. Rowlins, Judy Blume, Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, etc. - Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Kelly E. The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne (7/15/16)

15 points: Read a book set in Appalachia. - Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Ericka B. (Try this list or this one for inspiration. And here’s a map if you have a book in mind and want to know if it fits the setting.) Midnight in Lonesome Hollow by Kathleen Ernst [178 pages] (6/4/16)
15 points: Don’t judge a book by its cover! Read a book with a cover you personally find unappealing. The Poet's Funeral by John M. Daniel (7/12/16) [This cover is just so blah.]

20 points: Read a book that you have previously only seen the film (movie) of. - Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Bevchen. The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins (6/19/16)

25 points: Read a book with a punny title. The title can be a play on another book title, movie title or a common expression. Examples of such titles include Southern Discomfort, We'll Always Have Parrots or Bonefire of the Vanities. - Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Jamie G. High Rhymes & Misdemeanors by Diana Killian (6/30/16)

30 points: Read a microhistory. (Try this list or this one for ideas.) A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

30 points: Read one book with a good word in the title, and one with a bad word. Note: This category is reeeeeeeally open-ended! Maybe you like turtles, so The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is a title with a "good" word. Similarly, the "bad" word could be a swear word or a literally negative word like “not” or “none,” or it could just be something you don’t like. Have fun with it! (Remember, you must read both books to get 30 points; this category is not worth 15 points per book.) Too Good to Be True by J. F. Hutton (7/20/16) and  The Devil in Bellminster by David Holland (7/13/16)

40 points: Read two books that contain the same word in the title, but once in the singular and once in the plural. For example: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter and The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer, or Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. (Remember, you must read both books to get 40 points; this category is not worth 20 points per book.)  The Mystery Woman by J. U. Giesy & Junius B. Smith (6/12/16) and The Silent Women by Margaret Page Hood (6/13/16)

Too Good To Be True: Review

Too Good to Be True (1948; aka The Dolphin Mystery AND Dead Man Friday) is the only mystery written by J. F. (Joy Ferris) Hutton. It is set in California and features Don Paulson, who, after being decommissioned by the army, finds himself at loose ends and decides to take an offer of employment as a trouble shooter and sometimes glorified errand boy from Ray Menke--one of California's most prominent businessmen. Menke Enterprises which owns two major companies and dozens of smaller concerns is the most successful operation Paulson has ever seen. 

Paulson's first six weeks goes along just fine. Then Menke sends him to convince a fabulous precision instrument man by the name of Zensler to join the Menke team. He's not to take no for an answer. But "no" is all Zensler is willing to say. He does direct Paulson to another man who might be willing to work for the businessman, but when Paulson enters Abner Solex's shop he finds the man dead with his head bashed in. That's just the beginning of his troubles--Inspector Bradley doesn't seem to think he's as innocent as he claims. And then when more dead bodies--of people whose paths have crossed Paulson's--turn up, it looks like the inspector is giving him just enough rope to hang himself. Paulson is determined to figured out the clue left by the dying man and his amateur investigations take him to an exclusive nightclub, a restaurant called the Dolphin Cafe, and a secluded cabin in the woods. But it will be a tiny little clue and an old children's rhyme that will lead him to the truth.

This is a fairly straight-forward mystery. Paulson is a decent main character--reminding me of Archie Goodwin and Donald Lam...except he's no side-kick to a great detective; he's on his own when it comes to investigating. He's not quite in Goodwin's or Lam's league, but he does a fair job of detecting all on his own. The author makes a good effort at fair play and honest clueing, though I didn't get the solution before the wrap-up. There is a bit of a cheat at the end--if a certain thing hadn't happened right when Paulson was trying to convince Inspector Bradley of the culprit's guilt, they probably would would have gotten away with it. Solid mystery with interesting characters. It makes me wonder what Hutton could have done if she had written any more. ★★

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This counts for the "Skeletal Hand" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Challenge Complete: Mystery Reporter



MYSTERY READER'S CHALLENGE 2015 
Sponsored by Ellie at Dead Herring 
Thru Goodreads Group: The Challenge Factory

The challenge runs from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016.
REPORTER CHALLENGE:
Who? What? Where? When? How?
Why? – because it’s fun to read!

Read books that fulfill the various categories under the reporter's standard questions.

Cub reporter: 5 books (1 from each category)--fulfilled 2/916
Columnist: 10 books (2 from each category)--fulfilled 2/28/16
News Anchor: 15 books (3 from each category)--fulfilled 4/12/16
Editor: 20 books (4 from each category)--fulfilled 5/29/16
Newspaper Mogul: 25 books--fulfilled 7/5/16

BONUS CATEGORY: Pulitzer Prize Winner (Newspaper Mogul plus Bonus Category): 30 books--fulfilled 7/17/16

I originally declared my objective to be Cub Reporter. I met that back in February. I have now completed all books in all categories and earned my status as a Pulitzeer Prize Winner and the challenge is absolutely complete.

WHO

Protagonist is a forensic specialist: Good Bones by Aaron Elkins (5/23/16)
Protagonist is a crime-solving duo: The Calcutta Affair by George S. Elrick [Napoleon Solo & Illya Kuryakin] (2/28/16)
Protagonist is a dead person: The Warsaw Anagrams by Ricard Zimler (7/17/16)
Protagonist works with animals: The Doberman Wore Black by Barbara Moore [vet] (2/9/16)
Protagonist is a legal professional: The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde by Erle Stanley Gardner [Perry Mason--Lawyer] (4/12/16)

WHAT

Number in the title: Four Against the Bank of England by Ann Huxley (1/25/16)
Poison in the title: A Pinch of Poison by Frances & Richard Lockridge (7/5/16)
Weather in the title: The Paper Thunderbolt by Michael Innes (5/29/16)
Color in title: Red for Murder by Harold Kemp (1/13/16)
Title starts with the same letter as your last name: House of Darkness by Allan MacKinnon (3/7/16)

WHERE

Set in a little town: Hunt With the Hounds by Mignon G. Eberhart [little village of Bedford, VA] (1/3/16)
NOT set on land: The Fifth Passenger by Edward Young [submarine & schooner] (2/10/16)
Set in Nevada: The Poet's Funeral by John M. Daniel (7/12/16)
Set on foreign soil (not America or England): The Bachelors of Broken Hill by Arthur W. Upfield [Australia] (2/24/16)
Historical novel (pre 1930): The Limehouse Text by Will Thomas [Victorian] (4/13/16)

WHEN

One book set during a party: The Norths Meet Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge (6/30/16)
One that centers around a holiday: Line Up for Murder by Marion Babson [takes place over the New Year's holiday] (4/28/16)
One Dark & Stormy night: The Spiral Staircase by Ethel Lina White (2/20/16)
One where the protagonist has to beat the clock (time is crucial to solving mystery): Hardly a Man Is Now Alive by Herbert Brean (1/16/16)
One set during a courtroom trial: The Third Encounter by Sara Woods [barrister] (4/1/16)
 
HOW

(Method of Murder)
Poison is murder weapon: Who's Calling by Helen McCloy [strychnine] (1/31/16)
Knife/stabbing is murder weapon: The Bridal Bed Murders by A. E Martin [Chinese dagger] (2/13/16)
Gun/shooting is murder weapon: The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth [girl shot in the cellar] (1/9/16)
Blunt object is murder weapon: Which Doctor by Edward Candy [lead pipe] (1/28/16)
Rope/strangulation is murder weapon: Murder at Arroways by Helen Reilly [strangled with a silver necklace] (1/7/16)

BONUS CATEGORY

WHO - Protagonist is a child (under the age of 18): The Bobbsey Twins at London Tower by Laura Lee Hope (5/13/16)
WHAT - 3 word title (title is only 3 words and they all start with the same letter): Chili Con Corpses by J. B. Stanley (4/28/16)
WHERE - “Locked Room” mystery (not necessarily a room, as long as the scene is contained): The Obstinate Murderer by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding [all action at a country house] (3/17/16)
WHEN – Death occurs during a natural disaster (hurricane, avalanche, tsunami, etc): The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Titanic Tragedy by William Seil [iceberg!] (6/28/16)
HOW - At least 3 different people killed by 3 different means, all in one story: The April Robin Murders by Craig Rice & Ed McBain [death by poisonous fumes; throat cut; run over by car] (2/17/16)

The Warsaw Anagrams: Review

The Warsaw Anagrams (2009) by Richard Zimler is a heartbreaking historical thriller set in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. The story is told by Erik Cohen, an elderly psychiatrist, who leaves a Nazi intern camp only to discover that he is no longer alive. He is an ibbur--a spirit--and no one can see him until he makes his way back to the Ghetto. There he finds Heniek Corben, a visionary man and the only person who can see this spectre from the camp, to whom he must tell his tale. The story begins in the Ghetto, so it is fitting that it can only be told where it began.
Cohen's story centers on his young nephew, Adam. Cohen, like all other Jews in Warsaw, has been forced to relocate to the Ghetto--an area surrounded by barbed wire to keep them separated from Christians. He moves in with his niece and her son and must learn to adjust to living in cramped quarters in close proximity with a young boy. Adam teaches his great-uncle much as Erik learns to love and protect his nephew and overcome his selfishness. But Adam is also savvy to the ways of the underground and risks much to bring back forbidden supplies from "The Other Side" (as life beyond the Ghetto walls is know). One night, Adam does not return home and his mutilated body is found the next morning on the barbed wire. It becomes Erik's mission to find out who did this to Adam--why was he killed and why his right leg cut off?

Erik's investigation leads him to the murders of other Jewish children--all left on the barbed wire with various parts removed and never the same parts. There are rumors that someone is taking the parts to build a golem, but Erik doesn't believe in superstition and isn't even sure he believes in God anymore. What kind of God would allow children to be brutalized like this? Erik is sure there is a darker, more horribly realistic motive behind the killing and he won't rest until he discovers it. 

Generally speaking, I don't do well with books that involve violence of any sort directed towards children. Even when I know it's not real, I just can't do it--I never could and even more so once I became a mother. But this book is so very well done and the focus is so much on Erik's investigation of the murders rather than on the details of the murders themselves, that I could enjoy it. Zimler creates a very moving and intriguing story in the midst of the overall horror of the Nazis' atrocities. He also creates a sense of hope in the midst of hopelessness by focusing on the simple, everyday activities of the Jewish people within the Ghetto--from the children going secretly to school and forming a choir to the small kindnesses that neighbors extend to one another to the few Polish Christians who risk punishment by providing what they can for the Jews they know behind the barbed wire. It is an absorbing and heart-breaking story and well worth your time whether you are looking for a World War II setting or a mystery thriller. ★★★★

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Round-up


For the month of July The Tuesday Night Bloggers have chosen a theme with a bit of bite to it. We will be examining poisons, poisoners, poisonous atmospheres, maybe even poison pens--if it can be connected to poison in any way, it can be talked bout this month. Once again I will be collecting the essays here at the Block. If you'd like to join us as we focus on a month of poisonous mayhem, please stop by for group discussion and I'll add your posts to the list. We tend to focus on the Golden Age of crime fiction--generally accepted as published between the World Wars, but everyone seems to have a slightly different definition and we're pretty flexible. Essays on more recent crime fiction are welcome as well.
This week's Poison Experts:
 
John @ Pretty Sinister Books: "'Murder A La Carte' by Jean Toussaint-Samat"
 
This month in Review:
 
**********
I'm afraid that I've haven't anything on offer this week. It's been a bit hectic at work and I haven't managed anything beyond my regular reading. I hope to get back on track for next week.
 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Red House Mystery: Review

The Red House Mystery (1922) is the one and only adult mystery novel by A. A. Milne, the author of children's stories about Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin, and all the other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood. According to the dedication page, he wrote the book for his father who had a great fondness for the mystery novel.

Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective stories, and feel that there are not enough of them. So, after all that you have done for me, the least I can do for you is to write you one.

Milne also wanted to write the kind of detective story that he would most like to read. And he had a few rules of his own that the perfect mystery must follow. 1. It must be written in English; that is to say--nice, plain, simple English. Nobody was to be "effecting egresses" when they could quite simply "go out." 2. No love interests for the detective. The detective should be busy detecting and not holding hands with Angela (or Jane or whoever). 3. The detective must not have more special knowledge than the average reader. 4. There must a Watson for the detective to explain things to all along the way--no great, grand summation scene where the detective reveals all the cards he's been holding to his chest or, worse yet, last-minute confession by the culprit. The detective should point out everything he's noticed (both clues and red herrings) to give Watson (and the reader) a chance to solve the crime himself.

Milne's detective is Antony Gillingham, a young man of independent means who has been something of a rolling stone--seeing the world by taking up one profession after another and succeeding at everything from a tobacconist's assistant to a valet to a waiter. He never stays at one job very long and has no trouble finding a new profession when he tires of the old one. "Instead of experience and testimonials he offered his personality and a sporting bet. He would take no wages the first month--and if he satisfied his employer--double wages the second. He always got his double wages." At the beginning of the book, he is between positions and when he finds that he has gotten off the train in Woodham, a small town near The Red House, he recalls that his friend Bill Beverley is staying there. After taking rooms at The George, he decides to drop by The Red House and look up Beverley. He arrives just in time to help discover a murder....and to discover his next profession: sleuth.

Beverley's host, Mark Ablett, had announced at breakfast that his ne'er-do-well brother Robert was arriving that very afternoon from Australia and he would meet with him at about three o'clock. His house guests left for a golf outing, leaving Mark, his cousin and right-hand man--Matthew Cayley, and his housekeeper and maid alone in the house. Robert arrives, the two brothers are overheard arguing in the office, a shot rings out, and when Cayley tries to enter the room to see what's happening he finds the door locked. 

Enter Antony Gillingham. He assists Cayley in breaking in at the window and the two men discover the body of Robert Ablett, dead from a gunshot. There is no sign of the master of the house. The crime has every appearance of being a locked room mystery. But where's the gun? And was the window really open when Cayley and Gillingham arrived? And, if not, why would Cayley open it? Gillingham is all set to don his deerstalker and take up a meerscham pipe, if Bill Beverley is prepared to play Watson to his Sherlock.

Antony smoked thoughtfully for a little. Then he took his pipe out of his mouth and turned to his friend.
"Are you prepared to be the complete Watson?" he asked.
"Watson?"
"Do-you-follow-me-Watson; that one. Are you prepared to have quite obvious things explained to you, to ask futile questions, to give me chances of scoring off you, to make brilliant discoveries of your own two or three days after I have made them myself? Because it all helps."
"My dear Tony," said Bill delightedly, "need you ask?"

Gillingham and Beverley have their work cut out for them--looking for clues, discovering secret passages, and observing someone depositing evidence in the estate's pond. There are motives to be examined and people to question. There are various explanations given for some of the evidence--but only one explanation will cover them all. Antony proves himself a proper Sherlock by getting to the bottom of it.

I first read this about 20 years ago or so and have since bought the featured edition to add to my pocket-size edition collection and to reread. Milne's solo foray into the mystery field is delightful--full of humor and fun banter between his "Holmes & Watson." Given that Milne sends nearly all the possible suspects on a golfing expedition, it's not terribly difficult to narrow down the field. I do remember my younger self being fairly surprised at the exact solution, but I was in the ballpark. This story is more enjoyable as a period piece and as an examination of the mystery field itself and makes for a fun, light-hearted read rather than a serious mystery to unravel. Great fun.  ★★★★

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The weird orange window panes on the front cover of this particular edition give me the "Other Color" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Devil in Bellminster: Review

The devil walks among you, for the devil is of your own making, a judgment upon you all, a terrible and dreadful chastisement!

The Devil in Bellminster (2002) by David Holland is a historical mystery novel set in the early 19th century English countryside. It takes place in the cathedral town of Bellminster. The town seems to be a quiet little world all to itself in the country, but even in the early 1800s there are petty little games of politics to be played and the lives of the innocent will be weighed against the sins of the guilty. A dark force has come among the people of the town--someone who believes they have a calling to weed out the sinful tares among the wheat. The first victim to be discovered is the sexton of the Cathedral--who would dare to kill one of God's servants? But Will Sharpton was no saint, often coming to work drunk, and perhaps the sin of drunkeness was what must be weeded out. More deaths follow and panic begins to take over the sleepy little town.

The local lord has called in a Bow Street Runner from London, but Detective Inspector Myles seems more intent on finding someone (anyone) to pin the murder on and quiet the hysteria. He views the truth as a very elastic commodity. The Reverend Tuckworth, lately the town's vicar and soon to be the Dean of Bellminster, seems to be all that stands between the good people of the town and the evil descending upon them. He is also the last hope of Adam Black, the developmentally backward young man that Myles has chosen for his scapegoat. If the good reverend cannot plumb the secrets of the true villain, an innocent man will hang. But Tuckworth has a secret of his own--a secret that he can't afford anyone to know. And it may be difficult to keep the secret in the face of the evil he must confront.

***********Possible spoilers in my thoughts below--although I've tried to be vague. Read at your own risk

This is a fairly solid mystery. I won't say historical mystery because therein lies my dilemma. Despite various descriptions, particularly about superstitions and religious beliefs, that were intended to make the reader believe they were in early 19th C England, there was very little that actually did make me believe it was so. It felt very much like this story could have been taking place at just about any time. And I spent way more time than necessary puzzling over the amount of a bribe mentioned in the novel--I just couldn't honestly believe that someone would have paid a gossipy old woman (probably intended to be viewed as a "witch" of sorts) four pounds during that time period for false testimony and then have her offered twice the amount to actually tell the truth (which she mysteriously turns down). I don't see a Bow Street Runner having that kind of money to throw around. Maybe I'm misjudging amounts--but Sherlock Holmes in the Victorian era was pretty generous when he paid for information and I can't remember him ever paying more than a sovereign--two at the most.

Tuckworth is an interesting character--particularly as the reader watches his struggle with his secret and his growing interest in the detecting occupation. He gets involved for all the right reasons--to make sure that justice is served and not just placated. It was very satisfying watching him learn to have faith in humanity even as he confronts the evil that men do.

I will say that the culprit should have been more obvious to me given the circumstances surrounding the murders and trends in the mystery field when religious beliefs seem to play a major role. I was hung up by the fact that I really wanted a certain person to be the murderer and it was possible...though not as likely, I admit. Just goes to show that one should not allow prejudice to dictate one's detecting. ★★


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Vintage Scavenger Hunt Prize Winner!

Earlier this month, I posted a list of randomly selected items from the Scavenger Hunt cards and made it possible for our hunters to claim a spot in a prize drawing. All items were selected back in November and my middle-aged memory is such that even I was surprised by the categories which were 
 
1. Chandelier/Candle/etc

2. Hat
3. Evil Eyes
4. Town Scene
5. More Than Two People
6. Tombstone

Joel was our leader in sheer number of items found with a grand total of 9 out of a possible 12 (both cards), followed by Kate with 5, JJ with 2, and Cath & Margaret with one apiece. But now it's time to warm up the Custom Random Number Generator and see who our lucky winner is.....
 
 
 
 
And our winner is Link #13. A peek back at the Check-in Post tells me that Kate is our winner with her entry--"Candle/Chandelier/Etc" on The Terror by Edgar Wallace. Congratulations, Kate! And thanks to Kate, Joel, and Linda for your check-in posts and to all the hunters who were off on other trails finding other objects. Don't worry, another prize opportunity will be along before you know it. I can't tell you what the categories will be--but I can guarantee that they won't be the same as this round. Happy Hunting!

Kate, I will be contacting you soon with the prize list. 
 
 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Poet's Funeral: Review

The Poet's Funeral (2005) by John M. Daniel is a somewhat odd little book. It is narrated by Guy Mallon, one-time used bookstore owner and now indie publisher of poetry books. But each chapter begins with a eulogy given by one of the characters about the titular poet, Heidi Yamada. Heidi's book was the first Guy ever published--and the last one he ever published of hers. She was also his lover at one time. She, Guy, several of her other lovers--past and present, many of her rivals and fans, and several hundred other book-related people have all gathered in Las Vegas for the annual American Booksellers Association Convention. And everyone of them, except Heidi, will make it safely home.

Heidi has managed, throughout her sometimes stormy rocket ride to the pinnacle of poetry fame, to tick off an large number of people. And most of them are at the convention. When she is found dead in the late Elvis Presley's king-sized bed at the site of one of the many parties associated with the convention, the police (who don't want no trouble in their town) quickly sweep the incident under the carpet as an accident--a drug overdose. But Guy is convinced it's murder and goes to some trouble to find out who did it. He's threatened several times and there's someone out there willing to kill to get their hands on a certain packet of pictures that make their way into Guy's possession. But his inexperience and small stature non-withstanding, Guy is ready to take on the bad guys in order to get to the truth. And he turns one of them into a cactus pincushion when push comes to shove in the final showdown.

This book had quite a lot of potential. Guy is a likeable character. I enjoyed his interactions with his current business partner and love of his life, Carol. I thought the way he worked his way through his unresolved feelings for Heidi and negotiated his relationship with Carol was realistic. I liked him as an amateur detective. The tension between watching the characters actually interact with Heidi and then reading their eulogies (full of fake feelings and a false sense of loss) was interesting. But in the end, it didn't really come together. There weren't a heck of a lot of clues to go on--so no fair play in the mystery plot--and I didn't particularly care for the cops attitude of "nothing happened," "move along," "nothing to see here" which resulted in no tangible consequences for the murderer. Guy seems to think he'll be able to dole out a punishment of sorts through the publishing world, but it's not really justice. A fairly disappointing book with a few bright spots. ★★



Checkmate to Murder: Review

It's the early 1940s. London. A fog-shrouded night with windows draped in black-out curtains or painted over to meet the black-out standards. In Bruce Manaton's barn-like studio, the hush of the fog seems to seep in and focus the concentration of the oddly-assorted group gathered for the evening. Bruce, a talented but as of yet unsuccessful artist, is fully focused on his latest painting--a portrait of a man in the scarlet robes of a Cardinal. The model for this work is Andre Delaunier, an equally talented and unsuccessful actor, who holds his pose with the import of Shakespearean drama. At the other end of the room, Robert Cavenish, a thoroughly respectable Home Office man, and Ian MacKellon, a brilliant chemist somehow connected with the war effort, are thoroughly engrossed in a game of chess. Moving in and out from the kitchen just beyond, Rosanne Manaton, the artist's sister, prepares dinner and runs her own artistic eye over the tableau. Outside, muffled by the fog are various warning signals and other noises. Among them a shot?

For next door, the Manatons' miserly landlord, Albert Folliner, is shot to death in his sitting/bedroom and apparently robbed of his miser's stash. The Special Constable who has been on his nightly rounds comes bursting into the Manatons' lodging dragging a young Canadian soldier as prisoner. The soldier is Neil Folliner, the nephew of the slain man, and the Special Constable swears he has caught the man red-handed. But Scotland Yard sends Inspector Macdonald to take over the case and when he has finished taking statements, examining the premises--both the studio and the landlord's rooms, and following up the clues that escaped the constable's nervous eyes, he finds that all may not be as straight forward as it seems. For instance--if the constable came upon Neil Folliner after the crime was committed, why have the former's footprints been overlaid by the latter's? And what happened to the loot? And is Mrs. Tubbs really just the jolly cockney charwoman that she seems to be? And what about those previous tenants of the studio?

As I told John from Pretty Sinister Books (who tried to warn me away from this one), I must have a thing for Lorac's fog-shrouded, black-out-centered mysteries, because I thoroughly enjoyed her Checkmate to Murder (1944). Inspector MacDonald is a very thorough yet very human policeman. He is never quick to judge and he has a way of seeing everything--even the things the witnesses and suspects think they've hidden properly. The mystery is fairly clued--maybe too fairly, because I figured this one out. Not absolutely every little detail, but enough that I'm calling it a win for Inspector Bev. 

But figuring out the solution fairly early didn't detract from my enjoyment. The characters are well-drawn and Mrs.Tubbs, Folliner's charwoman; Mrs. Stanton, whose garden backs up against the "murder house' and studio; Mrs. Blossum, the owner of the Green Dragon pub; and Bert Brewer, a rheumatic gardener all add a good bit of local period color to the proceedings. ★★★★ for a highly enjoyable wartime mystery.

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This counts for the "Artist/Art Equipment" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card as well as my second entry in the 1944 edition of Rich's Crimesof Century over at Past Offenses. If you have any 1944 crime fiction hanging out on your shelves, then come join us!

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Poison Jasmine



For the month of July The Tuesday Night Bloggers have chosen a theme with a bit of bite to it. We will be examining poisons, poisoners, poisonous atmospheres, maybe even poison pens--if it can be connected to poison in any way, it can be talked bout this month. Once again I will be collecting the essays here at the Block. If you'd like to join us as we focus on a month of poisonous mayhem, please stop by for group discussion and I'll add your posts to the list. We tend to focus on the Golden Age of crime fiction--generally accepted as published between the World Wars, but everyone seems to have a slightly different definition and we're pretty flexible. Essays on more recent crime fiction are welcome as well.

This week's Poison Experts:
Kate at crossexaminingcrime: "My Favorite (Fictional) Poisonings"
John at Pretty Sinister Books: "The Poisoner's Mistake - Belton Cobb"

********************
And my poisonous offering:

Last spring I took up my second Clyde B. Clason and read his Poison Jasmine (1940) which features poisoning among a group of perfume manufactures.



Clason's detective--Theocritus Lucius Westborough, historian by trade and solver of impossible crimes by instinct, receives a telegram from world-famous perfumier Etienne LeDoux asking him to come to his home in Valle de Flores, California to investigate an attempted poisoning...of himself. Someone put a deadly additive in his pre-meal tonic, but fortunately it wasn't quite enough to kill the transplanted Frenchman. LeDoux doesn't want anyone to know Westborough's real purpose and asks him to arrive under the name of T. L. West. The historian's job is to discover which of LeDoux's family or employees want him out of the way. But when the would-be killer strikes again, it isn't LeDoux but his advertising agent, Paul Michael Charmaron, who is poisoned at table with all the suspects.

The obvious suspect--and the one LeDoux picks--is Derek Esterling. Esterling is a brilliant chemist who has developed a new perfume--which uses ingredients that can also be used as a poison. Esterling is engaged to LeDoux's lovely granddaughter (who will inherit the lucrative perfume business if grandpa dies) and he had quarreled with Charmaron the night before. But Westborough thinks the clues point just a little too conveniently to the chemist. And when another murder takes place the historian is able to unravel the tangled clues and follow the thread directly to a diabolical killer.

When I read this one I felt throughout that I really ought to like it a lot more than I did. That's not to say that I didn't like it--I do. Just not as much as I thought I would. We've got a good, intellectual/academic type for our detective. I love those. The plot has a clever and effective impossible crime. There's a nice bit of misdirection and clueing sleight of hand. The story has a Golden Age country house feel to it--closed set of suspects all gathered together for murder and mayhem. All the pieces are there...and yet it didn't quite knock my socks off. I'm not sure if it's because it seemed to go a bit too long or if it was all about me and the fact that at the time I read it I record that it was an out of sorts kind of week. Regardless--Clason is generally a fine entertainer in the mystery realm and I suggest you give this one a try for yourself.