Friday, September 22, 2017

My House Gathers Desires: Review

My House Gathers Desires (2017) is the the most recent story collection by Adam McOmber. Like his earlier collection, This New & Poisonous Air, these stories are not strictly scary, but they do have a very unsettling, Gothic feel. He uses dark and unusual settings and atmosphere to explore the hidden corners of the human psyche. The tales are sometimes uncomfortable but always compelling and this collection in particular examines haunting manifestations of gender and sexuality. The backdrops come from the worlds of science fiction, history, fairy tales, and the Bible. In "Petit Trianon" we find two women who have a most disturbing experience in the refuge of Marie Antoinette when they visit the Palace of Versailles years later. "History of a Saint" describes the separate obsessions of a man and his wife with the incorruptible body of a dead woman...who was never quite designated a saint. "The Rite of Spring" is the story that most closely falls into the horror category. It features Mrs. Elizabeth Jordan who teaches at a boys' school and who faces a terrifying horror on a nearby island when two of the students take her teachings about myth and ritual a little too literally. 

There was a difference, she thought, between a god and monster. She should have told them while she could.

And "Metempsychosis" tells the tale of a young man who is led to the secrets behind the scenes of a traveling museum and discovers that some secrets are better left unknown.

These are (for me) the most affecting of the stories, but even the weakest are very, very good. Some of the other stories feature a confederate soldier, a retelling of Sodom and Gomorrah, and slightly different take on ghost stories. McOmber takes the stuff of nightmares and sets it to lyrical music. He opens up Pandora's box and the reader is both horrified and delighted at what flies out. ★★★★

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 7

The World's Best 100 Detective Stories (1929) edited by Eugene Thwing is a ten-volume set made up of ten short stories per set. I have already reviewed the first volume and I also own volumes six through ten (need to get my hands on the others). This is the seventh volume. As Thwing says in his introduction, picking the 100 best stories even in the early years of the mystery field was no easy job. It's easier to just select personal favorites--but one really needs to select a wide variety of popular favorites to meet the tastes of more readers. Of course, no matter what an editor does, he will still not pick everyone's favorite and be able to make everyone happy. This volume is fairly strong--nearly all of the stories ring in at three stars or more. My favorites are "Pink Bait," "The House Divided," "The Riddle of the Rainbow Pearl," and "The Pathologist to the Rescue" (roughly in that order). ★★ and a half for the volume as a whole.

"Common Stock" by Octavus Roy Cohen: Cohen's private detective, Jim Hanvey is playing chaperone to the courier of an important document. He knows the opposition will be sending someone to prevent the delivery of the document and employs an ingenious bit of sleight of hand to disrupt the villain's plans.

"Pink Bait" by Octavus Roy Cohen:  finds master criminal Thomas Matlock Braden in my home state of Indiana. Braden isn't just your average Moriarty-type of master criminal--directing vast nefarious organizations. He works alone, but handles "only tasks which require extraordinary finesse, infinite patience and an all-embracing knowledge of human nature." When he comes into possession of a purloined necklace of perfectly matched pink pearls, he travels to a resort in Indiana to look for the perfect "mark" upon which to work his magic. Because if anyone can sell an unsaleable stolen necklace, it's Thomas Matlock Braden.

"The Pathologist to the Rescue" by R. Austin Freeman: In this story Dr. Thorndyke does not have the use of DNA to catch a murderer. But he is able to examine a blood sample left at the scene of the crime and he uses knowledge of of a particular disease to help reach the correct conclusion and prove a man innocent. 

"The Blue Sequin" by R. Austin Freeman:  Thorndyke is called in when a beautiful young woman is found dead in a railway carriage. She has an odd combination of head injuries--including scratches to the face and a penetrating wound which was inflicted with great force with a sharp, round object. The police immediately suspect and arrest her former lover who had traveled by the same train and with whom she was seen quarreling. His brother believes fervently in his innocence and seeks Thorndyke's help in finding another solution. The solution is, quite honestly, fairly outrageous, but Freeman manages to make it believable within the story's framework and it answers all the questions quite nicely.

"The House Divided" by Thomas W. Hanshew: Monsieur Cleek--or as he refers to himself, "Cleek of Scotland Yard, Cleek of the Forty Faces, if you want complete details"--rushes off to Devonshire to see what is troubling the lovely Ailsa Lorne. The trouble belongs to the fiancĂ© of Miss Lorne's dearest friend. Lieutenant Bridewell's father, a retired sea captain, has been stricken by a mysterious wasting disease that is slowly eating away at his right arm. A famous doctor has taken up the case, but Captain Bridewell just gets worse and worse. The Lieutenant fears that his father's life is in danger and suspects foul play. It can't be poison because the Lieutenant has a portion of everything served to the older man. The young lieutenant begs Cleek to get to the bottom of the mystery and save his father. It doesn't take the famous detective long to discover the source of the "disease" and to pinpoint the guilty party. 

"The Riddle of the Rainbow Pearl" by Thomas W. Hanshew: Cleek is approached by Maverick Narkom of the Yard to assist in a matter of international importance. The coronation of King Ulric of Mauretania is set to take place in the near future and a scandal of huger proportions threatens the king and his kingdom. He had once gotten himself entangled with a beautiful Russian woman who, when scorned, managed to run off with the kingdom's most prized possession, The Rainbow Pearl, as well as some very incriminating documents. Cleek is asked to retrieve the items, but he is reluctant to do so. He does not admire King Ulric--who deposed the rightful heirs to the throne. His mind is changed when he discovers that Ulric's current wife is the daughter of the previous king--for he has some reverence for her and her family and off he goes to Mauretania to save the kingdom for the sake of the Queen. The entertainment is in figuring out where the items were kept (the lady's possessions and servants had been searched repeatedly) and how Cleek was able to remove them. I couldn't help but be reminded of the Sherlock Holmes story about The Woman. There are several parallels to "A Scandal in Bohemia"--the main difference being that the Russian lady does not get the better of Cleek.  

"The Mystery of the Steel Room" by Thomas W. Hanshew: Cleek, is back--this time he has been asked to discover who is after a famous racehorse and how the villains are getting into a locked stable where the horse is guarded in an impenetrable steel cage. Two men have been attacked while guarding the horse--the first was left paralyzed and the second was murdered outright. Cleek discovers not only who and how--but the deeper objective behind the attacks.

"Vidocq & the Locksmith's Daughter" by George Barton: Barton's story revolves around a spate of robberies which the Paris police cannot solve. So, Monsieur Henry, the Prefect, calls in Vidocq, former thief and master in the art of disguise, to help put an end to the crime wave. M. Henry's colleagues scorn the idea, but Vidocq goes undercover and fools the chief of thieves, Constantine. And proves that the Prefect's confidence in him was not in vain.

"Suspicion" by William B. Maxwell: The title tells you everything you need to know about Maxwell's short story. Old Mrs. Mayhew lives in a house crammed with knick-knacks and personal treasures. Things may be overflowing, but she knows exactly what she has and where things ought to be. When she can't find certain of her treasured items, she decides to have a "big tidying" to return misplaced items to their rightful place. But the tidying session fails to bring them to light. That's when the air of suspicion settles on the house. Did her nephew remove them--thinking Aunt Kate would never notice? Or was it the faithful cook who had been with her for years? Or maybe it was the housemaid who had that one unfortunate incident long before she ever came into Mrs. Mayhew's service? Everyone looks suspicious when there's no evidence...Will Mrs. Mayhew get any of her treasures back?  


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deal Me In Week #39: "Farrar Fits In" by Edmund Snell

I'm trying very hard to stay on track with Jay's 7th annual Deal Me In Challenge. This week's draw is the Three of Clubs which matches up to "Farrar Fits In" by Edmund Snell (found in The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 7 by Eugene Thwing, ed.). This also finishes up that volume of detective stories by Thwing.

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Snell's story (which takes place in the 1920s, thus the Art Deco card above) finds Edward "Teddy" Farrar, late of the Indian Police, driving along a narrow British lane when he runs into a thick bit of fog. Out of the fog comes a young woman named Dagni who leads Teddy into a weekend house party where the guests are decked out with all the jewels they own with every expectation of being visited by a jewel thief. The big display of loot is supposed to be a trap whereby the woman and her detective partner (who has gone astray) was supposed to nab the thief/thieves before the jewels disappeared--she wants Teddy to stand in for "George." Was there ever a George? Is Dagni who she says she is? And what happened to the jewels that vanished right under their noses?

The Menehune Murders: Review

The Menehune Murders is the seventh book in Margot Arnold's mystery series which features American anthropologist, Penny Spring, and British archaeologist, Sir Toby Glendower. This adventure finds the duo headed for the Hawaiian islands for a vacation. Of course, no vacation is truly restful for Penny and Sir Toby, and this is no exception. The widower of one of Penny's friends has asked the renowned anthropologist to mediate a dispute between himself and another member of the University of Hawaii's faculty. Giles Shaw, a stereotypical wild Irishman if there ever was one, has lately made claims to proof of the fabled Menehunes--legendary Polynesian "little people" not unlike the leprechauns of Ireland. 

While most of Shaw's colleagues sensibly ignored him and let him go his way, Helmut Freyer responded with scathing criticism. This spurred Shaw to even more extravagant claims which he committed to paper in a book. The rivalry grew and the press made much of it--until finally Penny was called up to help settle the dispute. Penny drags Toby (grumbling about another interrupted vacation) to the meeting spot, an isolated, god-forsaken area which is supposed to work into Polynesian legend, to find no trace of Shaw and the dead body of Freyer. 

He was stretched out on the ground, his arms neatly at his sides, face up, eyes closed, and but for a grimace that twisted the flaccid mouth looked as if he were quietly napping. [But...] On the bare skin [of his right leg] was a purplish patch and a small scratch from which ran a trickle of blood, that pointed like an arrow to something that glittered dully in the sunlight: it was a tiny, finely-flaked spearpoint of obsidian attached to a small shaft of polished wood.

Freyer has been poisoned by what looks like a miniature spear --as if the legendary Menehune have risen against him and struck him down.

Of course, the Hawaiian police immediately decide that Shaw must be the guilty party. Because every bright person who decides to turn murderer definitely leaves big clues that says "Hey, guys, it was ME!" Penny thinks Giles is a bit thick when it comes to interpersonal relationships, but can't believe he'd hang out a Menehune sign that would indicate that he is the culprit. She insists that she must get to the bottom of Freyer's murder with or without Toby's help. Toby--knowing Penny's penchant for getting herself into dangerous situations--reluctantly pitches in. They soon discover that more people were interested in the Menehune dispute than first met the eye--for reasons of greed rather than anthropological or archaeological glory.

Arnold is, as usual, very adept at her descriptions of place. For those of us who have never been to Hawaii, it is very easy to visualize the places Penny and Toby visit in their efforts to untangle the mystery. The beauty of the Hawaiian islands and the waters surrounding them come alive. This particular outing is also a better-clued mystery than some of her previous novels. Quite often Sir Toby holds clues close to his chest in Holmes-fashion rather than vintage fair play. Readers of The Menehune Murders have a fair chance to discover the villain before the final chapter. Over all, an entertaining read with the standard Arnold grand finale with a last-minute helicopter rescue--this time it's Toby in danger and Penny flies in with the rescue team just in the nick of time. ★★★★

[Finished on 9/16/17]
This fulfills the "Any Other Weapon" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Monday, September 18, 2017

McGarr at the Dublin Horse Show: Spoilerific Review

There is no way I can talk about my reaction to this one without giving away a plot point. Read at your own risk...But if you read the back blurb of this edition, you may not get the kind of mystery you expect. Just sayin'.

McGarr at the Dublin Horse Show* (1979) by Bartholomew Gill was a very disappointing read. After having read The Death of an Ardent Bibliophile (pre-blogging, so no in-depth review) and having fond memories of it as well as having given it a four-star rating, I was looking forward to this one. The St. Louis Post Dispatch didn't help matters with their "McGarr is a man mystery fans should get to know...a quiet, unassuming sleuth with powers of deduction rivaling Sherlock Holmes himself" blurb on the back cover. Along with a summary that makes it sound like a nice, normal police procedural mystery. After all--according to the back cover, McGarr is supposedly investigating a nice, quiet strangling of an older lady in a tidy little apartment. 

Who would want to kill old Mrs. Caughey? The simple Dublin housewife had never harmed a soul. She lived alone with her beautiful daughter in a tidy apartment that contained not a trace of the past...a past that was suddenly revealed to be a cauldron of greed, passion, and revenge...a dangerous bress that would come to a boil at the Dublin Horse Show, turning an elegant pageant into a chilling spectacle, plunging McGarr into a pounding race against time.

No muss, no fuss. Not even a drop of blood. What I got was an Irish gangland/IRA shoot-em-up with more bodies lying around with bullets in them than I can remember. Oh, sure, Mrs. Caughey does get strangled and McGarr does investigate that murder but that leads him to all the IRA/Irish gangster business with a dose of revenge-style killing and a grand finale at the Dublin horse show.

Now, of course, Goodreads gives a synopsis from a different edition of the book and it is a little more upfront with the reader. It does seem to me that Murder Ink misrepresents things a bit--the kinds of passion and revenge I was expecting was more personal and less bloody. One thing Gill does do is offer up several suspects--everyone from Margaret Caughey's racetrack hound brother to the daughter Mairead who may have wanted more freedom to the daughter's boyfriend with shady connections to the priest who taught Mairead piano to the rich race horse owner who bought the Caughey's land for a song. Any of these may have had even deeper motives and any of them may have connections to the IRA. McGarr just needs to figure out how it all ties together.

My rating is really quite personal this time--primarily because I felt tricked by the synopsis on my edition, but also because IRA/gang-type shoot-em-ups really aren't my cup of tea. It's quite possible that someone who goes into the book knowing the type of crime novel it is (I can't really call it a mystery in the lines that I normally read) may quite enjoy this.

*APA: The Death of an Irish Tradition
[Finished on 9/13/17]

This counts for the the "Cigarette" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt Card [will add back cover w/cigarette later tonight].

Deal Me In: Week 38: "Common Stock" by Octavus Roy Cohen

I'm trying very hard to get back on track with Jay's 7th annual Deal Me In Challenge. This week's draw is the Ace of Clubs which matches up to "Common Stock" by Octavus Roy Cohen (found in The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 7 by Eugene Thwing, ed.)

I have several of Cohen's novels sitting on the TBR stack and have already read one story by him for this challenge ("Pink Bait"--same collection). Cohen's private detective, Jim Hanvey is playing chaperone to the courier of an important document. He knows the opposition will be sending someone to prevent the delivery of the document and employs an ingenious bit of sleight of hand to disrupt the villain's plans.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Coffin From the Past: Review

A Coffin from the Past (1970) by Gwendoline Butler presents Detective John Coffin with a scandalous murder. The newspapers have a field day when Thomas Barr, a rising M.P., and his lovely secretary, Sheila Daly, are found dead in the office area of the small house he had been using as a headquarters. It wasn't just that they were found dead together; their state of undress was suggestive to say the least. But if the two were having a torrid affair, would they really risk Barr's career by indulging their passions in the headquarters...on the very night that the M.P. held open hours for his constituents?

Coffin smells a set-up. But what kind of set-up? He's very interested in the fact that Barr's estranged wife Camilla had hired a private detective to follow his movements. Did she suspect an affair? Was she planning to disgrace her husband...even if it took murder to do so? Coffin is also interested in the fact that the private detective Camilla hired is an ex-cop who was suspected of being on the take. Martin Kelly seethes with anger and has a grudge against the police force and the government. Did he see an opportunity to settle his grudge? And who is Charlie Grinling? That was the name on dying secretary's lips when Clement Grove, one of Barr's volunteers, walked in on the dreadful scene later that evening. Coffin will have to answer that question and several others as he moves through layers of deception, love, and hate to find the killer who claimed two lives and who will attempt to take two more.

I have to say that Butler writes some pretty weird mysteries. She tends to use human nature's bizarre fantasies or modern paranoia masking deeply buried secrets to construct her plots and provide the foundations of motive.The motive for this one is pretty convoluted and a bit contrived. Without giving it away--if it were only half what it is, I could have swallowed it better; multiplying it by two really was a bit much. Butler does do well with her police procedure and Coffin is an interesting detective. I enjoy watching him work and interact with the suspects and witnesses. He is the calm face of orderly investigation in the middle of Butler's strange plots. ★★

[Finished on 9/11/17] ***********
This fulfills the "Hand Holding Weapon" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Contest: Mini-Review

The Contest is an Armenian folktale adapted and illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian. The book was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1977. This colorful book tells the tale of two robbers, Hmayag and Hrahad who meet by accident under a pomegranate tree. As they begin to talk and eat their lunches, they see that they each have identical items in their pouches. And then they discover that they share a line of work. And that's not all they share--they are both engaged to the same girl, Ehleezah, who has prepared those identical lunches. Obviously, they both can't have her, so they devise a contest with the winner maintaining his engagement to Ehleezah. The tasks they set themselves truly test their thieving mettle. But the results of the contest and the decisions they make at the end are not quite what they expect. Both the thieves and the reader are surprised.

Beautiful illustrations set the stage for the story and children of all ages will be delighted. ★★

Case With No Conclusion: Review

It's been quite a while since I read one of Leo Bruce's Sergeant Beef novels. I read Case for Three Detectives over twenty-five years ago and enjoyed it very much. I immediately put Leo Bruce down as an author to look for and found Case With Ropes & Rings not too long after. I enjoyed that one as well, though not quite as much as Three Detectives. From there on, it was a long, dry Beef spell and all the novels I found (both at the library and to own) were from his Carolus Deene series. Not that I was complaining. Deene is a history schoolmaster and I do love me an academic mystery. But if my reading of Case With No Conclusion (1939) is anything to go by, it would seem that I have lost my taste for Beef (pun well and truly intended).

Despite the fact that he is incredulous that (former) Sergeant Beef has set himself up as a private detective, Lionel Townsend stands prepared to play Watson and faithfully record whatever cases may come Beef's way. And despite his Watson's doubts, Beef has a case in no time. Peter Ferrers calls on Beef to prove his brother Stewart innocent of murder. The family doctor, Dr. Benson, has been stabbed in the neck in the library of Stewart's cold, dark Victorian mansion, The Cypresses. Dr. Benson wasn't exactly well-loved and there are rumors that Stewart was having an affair with the doctor's beautiful wife. It doesn't help that the murder weapon, a favorite knife of the accused man, is lying on a table near the body and the only fingerprints on the knife are Stewart's. The police are certain they have their man, but Beef isn't convinced. He's certain that the butler is holding something back and there's the little matter of blackmail to be looked into. But who is blackmailing whom?

~~~~~Possible Spoilers Ahead: read at your own risk~~~~~

As I mention above, Sergeant Beef doesn't seem to do as much for me as he once did. I think he's supposed to be humorous. At least, it seems to me he's supposed to be poking fun at the mystery genre and his method of detection is supposed to be better than Lord Plimsoll and that lot. But Townsend's asides about how Beef's methods aren't so good and his general lack of enthusiasm for the hero just doesn't go over well. Yes, he's an anti-Watson, I get that--no adoring, faithful side-kick he. But I guess that's just not what I'm looking for these days

The mystery itself is fairly well done (thus earning most of the star-points), with an interesting (if now well-known) twist. I do have to say that I was disappointed to find that--as the title warns us--there is no real conclusion to the story. That is to say, Beef discovers the real killer but then doesn't do anything about it. The reason why is the twist. I understand Beef's reasons, but the lack of investigative closure is a bit dissatisfying. and 3/4.

[Finished on 9/9/17]
This fulfills the "Bloodstain" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Title Is Murder: Review

A killing spree at the bookstore! Who would have thought there would be more blood than ink in the fiction section? Hugh Lawrence Nelson shows us what murderous fiends bookworms and book dealers can be in The Title Is Murder (1947). Braxton's is San Francisco's most exclusive bookstore.

From the sidewalk, the neat gold lettering of the one word BRAXTON'S on the sparkling windows, the small display instead of the pile-type of window trimming, told of exclusiveness. A small, mirrored foyer with a single table holding a large vase of flowers and one book, continued he impression.

Women in furs come to buy presents for their nieces and nephews--assured that the staff at Braxton's will know just the right book. And, of course, they want the books gift wrapped and emblazoned with the Braxton sticker (to emphasize how exclusively the niece or nephew has been thought of). What customers of Braxton's don't expect is to find their favorite bookstore closed off, inundated with policemen and and Mr. Braxton himself dead at his desk...

He had slumped forward, face down on the desk as if pillowing his head on his right arm. A stained, hook-bladed knife lay a few inches from his bloody fingers. 

Mr. Braxton has a bloody gash in his throat to match the stained knife and fingers.

A strange way to commit suicide and it doesn't take Detective Lieutenant Stephen Johnson long to discover that there are plenty of people who might have had a deadly grudge against the bookstore owner. Braxton's office was in a balcony overlooking the sales floor and he was quick to spot any infraction of the many rules of his domain or any disruption in the enforced harmony among his employees. Offenders would quickly receive a sarcastic note...or in extreme cases be called to the upper level for a "conference."

Nan Hunter, of the fiction department, is the most recent staff member to be summoned into the presence. Her conference results in her quitting, but Braxton refuses to accept her notice. Personal history--she was once engaged to his son, now deceased--ties her too firmly to Braxton and she leaves the office (after hours) in a distraught frame of mind. She is the last person known to have seen Braxton before his body is discovered. There are those who are eager to believe that Nan is the killer--or at least are eager for the police to think so.  Malice and rivalries--both personal and professional--had many of the staff from the nonfiction buyer to floor saleswomen to stockroom workers ready to shift the blame and keep the police from investigating them too closely.

The difficulty for Johnson is that so many of them have alibis and Nan Hunter doesn't. He's sure that she's innocent but he's going to have to break an alibi or two if he's going to prove it. Otherwise, his chief is going to expect him to arrest the most likely suspect....

While this is a delightful second-tier mystery from the 1940s, it is understandable why Hugh Lawrence Nelson isn't as well-known as Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr or many others from the period. The clues aren't exactly thick on the ground and the plotting isn't as tight as one of the masters of the genre. Given the number of bodies that pile up, it becomes more a matter of process of elimination more then deductive reasoning on the part of the reader. But Nelson knows his way around the book world and gives us a good view of an exclusive bookshop from the 40s. Good characterizations and light romance help balance the story and it makes for an enjoyable evening's read. There are six more books in the Lt. Johnson series (this is the debut) and I will certainly keep my eye out for more. ★★ and 3/4.

[Finished on 9/5/17]
This fulfills the "Book" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Deal Me In: Playing Catch Up

Still working my way steadily through the short stories for Jay's Deal Me in Challenge--52 short stories in 52 weeks based on shuffling and drawing a new card every week--although you wouldn't know it by my posts recently. When I started this post, I wrote: "I'm a little bit better this time...I'm only one week behind. Last week I drew the Ace of Spades which gave me "Galactic North" by Alastair Reynolds (found in
The Year's Best Science Fiction 17th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed.; 2000). Well...that's not true anymore. I'll scurry and see if I can get caught up.
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Previous to this short story, my only experience with Alastair Reynolds was his collection of short stories, Zima Blue & Other Stories. (2006) I mention in that review that Reynolds is a hard science science fiction writer with a tendency towards dark stories--but an excellent story-teller. This is evident again in "Galactic North," an earlier story published in 1999. Here we have a story of betrayal, obsession, and revenge that spans 40,000 years of future history. It all stems from an ambush of a cargo ship transporting cryogenically-frozen sleepers. The captain of the ship has been conditioned to do whatever it takes to bring her cargo through safely...even if it means chasing the one she believes has betrayed her through all of space and time.

My next draw was the Four of Clubs. That card matches up with "The Pathologist to the Rescue" by R. Austin Freeman (found in The World's Best 100 Detective Stories Vol 7 by Eugene Thwing, ed).

In this story Dr. Thorndyke does not have the use of DNA to catch a murderer. But he is able to examine a blood sample left at the scene of the crime and he uses knowledge of of a particular disease to help reach the correct conclusion and prove a man innocent. 

Next up is the Eight of Spades...or the short story "Suicide Coast" by M. John Harrison (found in The Year's Best Science Fiction 17th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed.; 2000).

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This story shows us what people will do to make their lives seem more real once everything is virtual and humanity is "cored" (directly plugged in to virtual reality). But is even the real thing real anymore?

Week #33: I drew the Jack of Clubs which gave me "The Wedding Album" by David Marusck (another from the SF Collection).

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Another story about virtual reality. In this one instead of creating photo albums--people have created Sims of their favorite moments in life. But what happens if your simulations become just as real as you are? What if they demand rights as individuals. And what if all that is left of you is one of your simulations?

Week #34: This time the Nine of Spades comes to the top with "Hunting Mother" by Sage Walker. 

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 "Hunting Mother" continues my run of SF stories from the large Best of...Collection. It tells the story of genetically engineered "humans" colonizing new worlds. The colonists are mixtures of humans and human/animal combinations. Our protagonist, Cougar, has some of the genetics of his namesake. And he faces a choice as his mother, a human, becomes sick and is coming to the end of her life.

Week #35: Another SF story (it's a big book!) when the Four of Diamonds gave me "A Martian Romance" by Kim Stanley Robinson.

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Robinson has been on my SF radar for a long time. But, as far as I can remember, this is the first story I've read by him. This story tells about a terraforming effort on Mars that has gone wrong. The "old ones" who were involved in completing the project are heartbroken that all of their work has been for nothing--but the younger Mars colonists see hope for the future...even on a cold and barren world.

Week #36: The Ten of Hearts finally took me back to mysteries with "Puzzle for Poppy" by Patrick Quentin (in Murder by Experts by Ellery Queen, ed.)

not quite a St. Bernard...

This mystery features Quentin's regular protagonists, producer Peter Duluth and his wife Iris as they try to solve the attempted murder of a St. Bernard. It appears that no one is guilty--but someone clearly must be. Quentin parades all the clues before the reader and yet one feels like one has come to the blank wall at the end of a dead end street. And it's all done with a zany humor that is uniquely Quentin's. [Quentin is a pseudonym used by Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler.]

Week #37: Back to SF with the Seven of Spades and "Hatching the Phoenix" by Frederik Pohl.

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This story takes place in Pohl's universe of Gateway--where the Heechee, an enigmatic race of aliens have left discarded technology which helps humans explore the universe. In this one, an ultra-rich woman has financed a mission to observe a planet whose sun is about to go nova.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Let Dead Enough Alone: Review

I've already read a few books from Frances and Richard Lockridge this year, but Let Dead Enough Alone (1955) was my Captain Heimrich novel in a good long while. This one finds Lynn Ross, recently recovered from a nervous breakdown, invited to a New Year's Eve party at the home of her psychiatrist. Dr. Margaret Halley has invited an assortment of people to share the holiday with her and her husband John. As she tells John, it will be a nice change of pace for them. It will stimulate and provide therapy for him. She insists that he has been falling into a depressive state of late--he doesn't agree. Says he feels fine--speaking as a layman, of course.

Those who have been invited, aside from Miss Ross, are Dr. Brian Perry--another psychiatrist and neurologist; Struther Boyd, a golfing friend of John's who invents and has received monetary support from the Halleys; Tom Kemper, the perennial house guest, always available for a party; and Audrey Lathem, a protege of John's--who makes claims to something more. Once the party is complete, they settle down to dinner and, later, drinks while a winter storm comes along to isolate the house. When morning comes, John Halley's body is found in the lake and Margaret Halley is upset to think that John's depression was even worse than she thought.

But Trooper Crowley, first on the scene, isn't convinced that it was suicide. After all, as he points out to Captain Heimrich later, "Why would a man go out and jump in a cold lake? Do it the hard way?" Heimrich agrees that it must have been cold. And not nearly as comfortable a death as a nice warm garage, with the motor running.

Or sleeping pills. Half full bottle in his room. Nembutal, his wife says. She prescribed it. It would have been the easy way.

So, why did John Halley choose the hard way? Or, if someone else chose it for him, how did they get John Halley down to the lake in the middle of a snow storm in order to offer up his head for a good bashing (because, yes, he was bashed--or hit his head on a rock when he slipped into the lake...if it was an accident)? Then Miss Ross mentions an electric blanket that stopped working in the middle of the night and that provides the clue to how Halley was lured to the boat house at the lake's edge. And when Heimrich starts digging he finds motives aplenty among the guests. Dr. Perry may have wanted revenge for his wife's death--an boating accident at the hands of Halley that may well have been less accidental than first thought. Or maybe Margaret wanted out of a marriage to an older man. It's also possible that Halley was forcing Struthers Boyd to repay that money loaned him and maybe Boyd didn't have the money. Audrey may have discovered that Halley wasn't as serious about her as she thought, and you know what they say about a woman scorned. Kemper seems a little too knowledgeable about the generator in the boat house--the generator that was the lure to get Halley down to the lake. Heimrich has his choice of suspects, but he and Charlie Forniss gather the clues and force the hand of the murderer in a final battle of wits.

Heimrich really harps on "the character fits the crime" in this one. I've seen notes that there really isn't any clues to the killer's identity and that Heimrich "just guesses" who the culprit is. I think it's a mixture of that and taking psychology clues first and then adding them to a few late clues provided by the second victim. I was quite certain who the villain was--primarily from certain psychological indications that came through their testimony. Of course, that wouldn't stand up in court, but with the additional clues brought out in witness statements there is a line of reasoning that is more than mere guess. That said, this isn't one of the strongest Heimrich cases. Possibly because the focus is split between his investigation and seeing events through the eyes of Lynn Ross. It feels a bit like the Lockridges couldn't make up their minds whether to make this one of their suspense novels (with focus on a heroine) or a Heimrich novel. But it is still an entertaining mystery and I did like the "country house" feel and the chapters that focused on Heimrich's investigation. ★★

[Finished on 9/3/17]
This fulfills the "Tree" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

The Far Traveller: Review

The Far Traveller (1956) is a light and frothy tale by the creator of British spy Tommy Hambledon. Manning Coles gives us the Graf van Grauhegel and his servant Franz who, after being dead nearly a century and haunting the castle in the interval, rematerialize in order to right an old wrong so they may finally rest in peace. In the meantime, they also manage to star in a romantic musical movie based on the Graf's life and filmed at the Graf's castle on the Rhine as well as unmask a fraudulent medium.

When George Whatmore's star falls down the staircase at the Castel Grauhegel, the director is at his wits' end. Where is he going to find an actor who can take the role of a 19th Century German count at such short notice? What luck--two young men, the very image of a German aristocrat and his servant, arrive on the scene just in time. In fact "Herr Reisenfern" is a little too good--trying to tell Whatmore that "the Graf would never have done that" and "No, no, no--that's not the way it was." But things soon settle down and Whatmore is ecstatic with the way his new star improves on the dueling scene--why, one think he really was an expert swordsman from the 19th Century. 

It is also interesting how the castle staff treat Reisenfern with so much deference--the atmosphere of the play must be rubbing off on them. Or could it be they really do recognize the castle's ancestral master? Things get very interesting indeed when a suit of armor becomes animated (courtesy of the ghostly Franz), a ancient treasure is uncovered and then vanishes before the witnesses' eyes (golden coins secreted in the ghostly pockets of the Graf and his servant), and a family ring--long thought lost when the Graf lost his life. The Graf and Franz were drowned on the night the German noble was rumored to have married his lady love--and ever since the family has denied the woman her place in the family and even told tales to her discredit.

The Graf must convince his descendant--the current Graf--to restore his lady's honor and bring her remains to rest beside her husband. Only then will the Graf be able to quit his ghostly ramblings along the castle corridors and join his wife in the great beyond. Speaking of the great beyond--the Graf who knows "the other side" well also takes the time to reveal a spiritualist for the fake he is. Two village boys, set on pranking the local constable by coating his goat in luminous paint, unknowingly help the Graf give the fraudulent medium the scare of his life.

This is a delightful ghostly romp--light on mystery, but full of fun and frolic. Coles gives the reader likeable characters who partake in crazy antics which may be unrealistic, but are dazzling funny. Franz chasing housemaids while clanking about in armor; the Graf's display of swordsmanship; their ghostly escape from jail; the befuddlement of black marketeers and the unmasking of charlatans--this could easily have been made into a comedic action movie with Cary Grant in the part of the Graf. ★★★★

[Finished on 9/2/17]
This fulfills the "Suit of Armor" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

July & August Wrap-Up & P.O.M. Awards

It just goes to show how behind I've been this summer on reviewing and summing up--I only just realized that I never did a July round-up or P.O.M. Award and here it is time to look at August. So...this wrap-up post will give the stats for both July and August and we'll hand out two P.O.M. Awards. So, here we go....

July Stats

Total Books Read: 11
Total Pages:  2,734

Average Rating: 3.59 stars  
Top Rating: 4 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 73%
Percentage by US Authors: 82%
Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  0%
Percentage Mystery:  100% 

Percentage Fiction: 100%
Percentage written 2000+: 28%
Percentage of Rereads: 9%
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: 19 (52%)
August Stats
Total Books Read: 12
Total Pages:  2,878

Average Rating: 3.03 stars  
Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 33%
Percentage by US Authors: 42%
Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  0%
Percentage Mystery:  100% 

Percentage Fiction: 100%
Percentage written 2000+: 17%
Percentage of Rereads: 17%
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: 20 (65%)

AND, as I note each month, 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. Both July & August were big months for mysteries with all 23 books falling into that genre. The only five-star winner came in August: Trixie Belden & the Happy Valley Mystery. But Trixie has already had her moment of glory this year, so we'll have to look further for our P.O.M. Award Winners 
Here are the mystery books read in July:
Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly (4 stars)
Death Before Bedtime by Edgar Box (3 stars)
Murder in Little Shendon by A. H. Richardson (4 stars)
Quick Curtain by Alan Melville (4 stars)
Juliet Dies Twice by Lange Lewis (3.5 stars)
The Barker Street Regulars by Susan Conant (3 stars)
Room for Murder by Doris Miles Disney (4 stars)
Your Turn, Mr. Moto by John P. Marquand (3 stars)
Lie of the Needle by Cate Price (3.5 stars)
The Mirror Crack'd by Agatha Christie (4 stars) 
Murderer's Choice by Anna Mary Wells (3.5 stars)
And the mysteries from August:
Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard (3 stars)
The Big Grouse by Douglas Clark (3 stars)
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (3 stars)
The Happy Valley Mystery by Kathryn Kenny (5 stars)
Best Max Carrados Detective Stories by Ernest Bramah (3 stars)
What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! by Agatha Christie (4 stars)
Every Second Thursday by Emma Page (3 stars)
Salt Is Leaving by J. B. Priestley (3.5 stars) 
Dead as a Dummy by Geoffrey Homes (3.5 stars)
Honeybath's Haven by Michael Innes (1 star)
Murder Is Served by Frances & Richard Lockridge (3.5 stars)
Natural Suspect by William Bernhardt et al (1 star) 

July is spoiled for choices with five books earning a four-star rating: Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly, a horror/historical mystery cross-over; Murder in Little Shendon by A. H. Richardson with a satisfactory homage to the Golden Age village mystery; Quick Curtain by Alan Melville, a Golden Age theatrical mystery; Room for Murder by Doris Miles Disney, a perfectly blended domestic suspense/standard mystery, and The Mirror Crack'd from one of Queens of Crime, Agatha Christie. August was a less spectacular month once we take out Trixie and her five stars and another Agatha Christie with 4 stars. Dame Agatha has racked up a couple of P.O.M. Awards, so neither The Mirror Crack'd nor What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! will taking home the prizes this time round. Next up in August then are two 3.5 star winners: Dead as a Dummy by Geoffrey Homes, a fun little story with lots of action in Arizona, and Murder Is Served, another light mystery from Frances & Richard Lockridge.
July really is a tough decision. There is much to like about all of the novels, but when it comes down to handing out the month's top honors, I must go with...

Disney writes a perfect blend of domestic suspense and standard mystery. There are clues that a clever reader can follow to their logical conclusion and, while there aren't a large number of suspects, it is very interesting to follow Miss Aggie and Dennis in their separate investigations. There's quite a lot of interest in this slim volume; it's amazing how much Disney packs into 176 pages. Deft charactizations, human interest, humor, and nicely done suspenseful mystery.

The choice for August is a little easier--but only because the Lockridges have been winners in the past. That leaves us with...

Dead as a Dummy by Geoffrey Homes which was loads of fun--lots of action, lots of sleight-of-hand with the appearing and disappearing corpses, and plenty of red herrings to distract the reader. Not quite fair-play--I don't see how a reader's supposed to know the real motive behind the murders, though one might be able to spot the villain of the piece without understanding the whys and wherefores. Ben Logan is a likeable protagonist--it's a shame there aren't more novels featuring him and there is only one other mystery with Madero as the detective.