Sunday, April 23, 2017

Death With Blue Ribbon: Review

Death with Blue Ribbon (1969) by Leo Bruce
Carolus Deene #19

Carolus Deene, our ex-Commando turned senior history master and sometime amateur detective, is preparing for the break before the Michaelmas term when Mr. Rolland of the Haute Cuisine Restaurant (and hotel) comes to him for help. Mr. Rolland has been visited by two very alarming customers who have demanded protection money to keep his business operating in a healthy manner. If he doesn't pay up, they have promised him a few "unpleasant incidents" which, when publicized, will leave a bad taste in customers' mouths and send interest in his menu to zero. He's already refused once and they arranged a "frightener"--a gentleman ordered dinner and immediately got sick, swearing he would sue Rolland for serving bad food. They promise more incidents--and more intense ones if the famous restaurateur continues to hold out. It is especially imperative to get to the bottom of things quickly because Rolland is expecting a visit from Imogen Marvell, a very important food critic whose opinions can make or break a restaurant. Absolutely nothing must go wrong while she's visiting!

Deene normally doesn't get interested by anything less than murder, but he finds blackmail of any sort to be so vile that he agrees to stay at the hotel, eat at the restaurant, and see what he can do. But he makes no promises. He has barely begun to investigate when Madame Marvell arrives. She too becomes sick after eating the house specialty, Scampi à la Rolland. They manage to keep the name of the hotel out of the papers, giving Deene more time to hunt for evidence. But, again, he makes little headway before Marvell is dead--of an accidentally miscalculated drug dose (according to the inquest). However, Deene suspects murder. It's difficult for him to tell if it's a case of a "frightener" gone wrong or if there are deeper motives. After all, Marvell was quite a rich woman and there are several who expected to benefit from her death--her harassed assistant who had been promised a place in her will as well as the critic's sister, from whom Marvell learned all she knew about cooking...and, of course, her estranged husband--the actual big winner in the Marvell legacy sweepstakes. And all of these folks were right on the spot when the deed was done. Clues and evidence follow and soon Deene is able to hand both the protection gang and the murderers over to the police on a silver platter.

This particular Deene outing was not nearly as engaging as those previously read. Perhaps it is because the murder doesn't occur until late in the book. As mentioned above, murder is what really interests Deene and even though he's quite against blackmail and is willing to wade in and tackle it, the reader never feels that he is as dedicated and interested as he would have been if the investigation had begun with a murder. Also, in past reviews I've mentioned that Bruce's books are filled with "wonderfully eccentric characters." This time round, the characters seem a bit more stock and stereotypical--from the prima donna critic to her harassed, overworked assistant to the protection gang members. No one really stands out. The setting is still fairly good and Deene is a well-established character with a certain charm. These elements keep the book from being too much to wade through. ★★ and 3/4...not quite good enough to make three.

This fulfills the "Food" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

They Tell No Tales

You would scarcely credit the wonderful things people don't see. Why, there was a Bank messenger knocked down and robbed of fifteen thousand pounds in this very street some years ago, in the middle of the day with the pavements full of people, and how many of them saw it, do you think?

They Tell No Tales (1941) by Manning Coles is the third of his Tommy Hambledon spy novels. Hambledon has just returned to England after a successful spying stint in Germany. He's barely had a chance to get used to British ways again before he's asked to join a junior intelligence officer at Portsmouth Harbor to find the leader behind a series of sabotaged British vessels. Each ship has been outfitted with some revolutionary new gizmo that will make it better, faster, deadlier in wartime. Someone is leaking information and then someone else is arranging for the ships to sink before they can be truly tested.

Jimmy Bellair, Hambledon's intelligence contact, has rooted out a dockyard worker with information who insists on telling his story to someone higher up than Bellair. He will be available on New Year's Eve and they arrange to meet at the Cafe D'Albertini. The Dockyard worker makes it to the cafe, but is shot to death as he walks through the door. Everyone at the restaurant or in the surrounding area is suspect. And at first it seems that no saw or heard anything. Bellair and Hambledon become friends with many of the suspects and manage to check their stories and discover what they really know without arousing suspicion. Bellair even goes so far as to get himself engaged to one of the young women (temporarily). Hambledon manages to keep himself more aloof, yet also manages to discover the finer details which eventual lead to the mysterious "boss" at the top. Both men will be shot at and injured before it's all over...but when it's over the sabotage is too.

Spy thrillers aren't my standard fare, but I regularly enjoy the novels by Manning Coles. Tommy Hambledon is a very human and believable spy. He likes to portray an image of imperturbability and disengagement, but he is very attached to his colleagues and has surrounded himself with men he can trust. The novel is a very satisfying read with plenty of action, a bit of standard detecting, and subtle humor. A recommended series. ★★★★

Monday, April 17, 2017

Coffin's Dark Number: Review

Coffin's Dark Number (1969), the fourteenth book in the John Coffin series by Gwendoline Butler, is my second squalid, depressing little mystery in row. Generally speaking, I find books that feature murdered children or children in danger to be WAY out of my comfort zone. That became especially true once I was a mother. It doesn't matter that my son is now 24; I can't bear the thought of children, real or fictitious, suffering.

Three little girls--average age eleven--have disappeared from Superintendent John Coffin's district in South London. One minute they were there and the next they were gone. The district is full of unsavory types and cranks. Including Tony Young's UFO Watchers who investigate sightings and just maybe believe that the girls have been abducted by beings from another world. Or maybe they just walked into another dimension. It is an odd coincidence that the watchers were out investigating a sighting every time the girls have disappeared. Is one of the club members responsible--or someone connected to a club member? Coffin investigates through the usual channels and throws his own spotlight on the UFO club. Meanwhile, Tony investigates on his own and dictates his thoughts and findings to a tape recorder. The two methods converge and we expect Coffin to find the answers.

SPOILERS ahead. Read on at your own risk.

This book is jarring on a number of counts. First, as previously mentioned, there is my discomfort with the little girls as murder victims. Then there are the various points of view. We begin with Tony Young as our narrator. He is speaking into a tape recorder and gives us the background on the UFO Watchers, his own history, and his views on the disappearance of the children. This shifts to Superintendent Coffin who tells us that "there's a danger to it [the tape recorder]. I can see you might get to trust it too much...." Which definitely clues the reader in that Tony may not be the most reliable of narrators. Coffin gives us the official viewpoint. Then, there is the omniscient narrator who takes over quite frequently just so we can see everything (or maybe not).

And speaking of unreliable narrators...having our unreliable narrator wind up being so very involved in the murders didn't create quite the surprise one might expect at the end of a mystery novel. Butler perhaps tries to make up for that by making Tony's involvement a little ambiguous. Should you believe that your unreliable narrator is reliable up to a point (ie he didn't actually do the killing) and we should believe him and not his confederate? Or is it the confederate who is reliable on this final point? It's a bit too ambiguous for me.

These earlier novels in the Coffin series aren't nearly as engaging as those I've read in the latter half of the mysteries. The characters and relationships in Dine & Be Dead (the other early novel I've read) were much more interesting and the academic setting helped. The characters here really aren't appealing at all and the relationships aren't very interesting either. and 3/4.

With the red beaded necklace, this fulfills the "Red Object" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm: Mini-Review

I picked this up at the local Friends of the Library Used Bookstore because I enjoy a good sarcastic bon mot as much as the next person. And it reminded me of my good friend Richard. Honestly--I think my good friend Richard could put together an even funnier and more stinging collection than James Napoli, the executive vice president of the National Sarcasm Society, has managed. Sure, there were some definitions that had me laughing out loud and a good number that had me nodding and smiling. But there were also quite a few that weren't funny or particularly stinging at all. 

Fairly amusing. Definitely worth checking out from the library or picking up for yourself if you can luck into a $2.00 bargain like I did. Not really worth spending full price on, though. ★★

[finished 4/14/17]

Stroke of Death

Stroke of Death (aka Such a Nice Client, 1977) by Josephine Bell is a rather squalid tale of the death (thus giving us the original title) and nobody official seems to be seeing this person as a real villain. 
of an elderly gentleman. It's far more an examination of the evil that men (and women) do than a real whodunit. In fact, there isn't much question at all whodunit or when or why. The real question is--Is anybody going to catch up to this villain? Because as one social worker puts it. "[S/He] was such a nice client"

Old Mr. Lawrence is visited regularly at his home by various medical professionals to check on his progress after a stroke leaves him paralyzed on his right side and without the power of speech. His daughter-in-law is his primary caregiver--with his son Jim all-too-absent. When Lucy Summers is assigned to him for physiotherapy and first observes her patient (before he sees her), she becomes convinced that the old gentleman is being starved to death.

Just then a blackbird appeared on the hedge. In its beak, held insecurely because of its size, there hung a large crust of bread....Mr Lawrence watched, the trembling left hand moving very slowly upward and out towards the table....The blackbird, hovering uncertainly over the hedge, could hold its heavy burden no longer. It dropped its prize on the centre of the table. Mr. Lawrence's hand swept across and across....The shaking hand closed on the bread, was drawn back and with eager clumsy speed crammed the prize into the lop-sized mouth, already open to receive it.

Mr. Lawrence eats the crust of bread so greedily that Lucy is sure he hasn't had anything to eat all day. Possibly for days. She enlists the aid of Dr. Geoff Harris to investigate but all sorts of official miscues and dropped balls happen. And before any decisions can be made, the daughter-in-law takes Mr. Lawrence to the seaside "for a change in air." He dies in a drowning "accident" when his wheelchair slides off a pier. Things get very interesting when Jim Lawrence, the only son, arrives from Canada to find his father dead and the woman who was in reality Mr. Lawrence's second, much younger wife trying to claim inheritance rights. Jim is convinced that Dorothy Lawrence killed his father for what she thought she would inherit from him--at least the old gentleman still had enough of his senses left to will everything to his son--and he is determined to prove it. Detective Chief Inspector Bartlett is also convinced that murder has been committed, but he's more concerned with the unidentified body which is discovered in the Lawrence's basement.

Generally speaking I enjoy Josephine Bell mysteries--when they really are mysteries. This one I just found to be terribly depressing. I find it hard to believe that a social worker would allow "such a nice client" to so thoroughly pull the wool over her eyes that even when presented with evidence at the end she still can't believe that "poor suffering little woman" killed for personal gain. And I would like to believe that health professionals would be a little more observant and realize that Mr. Lawrence was starving a heck of a lot sooner. That a doctor and a nurse could miss the signs and a physical therapist didn't is staggering. 

Without a true mystery to solve, this just isn't up to Bell's usual standards. The reader feels very sorry for Mr. Lawrence and wants his son Jim to get justice for his father, but there really aren't any characters that one makes a connection with. The sub-plot romance between Lucy Summers and Dr. Geoff Harris, who do a bit of sleuthing on the side as well, doesn't even add much in the way of character interest. If, however, you are interested in the character study of a truly self-absorbed woman who doesn't mind who she sweeps out of her way (permanently), then this might be a book for you. ★★

[finished on 4/12/17]
This fulfills the "Death by Drowning" category on the Mystery Reporter Challenge as well as serving as my first entry for Rich's 1977 edition of the Crimes of the Century meme.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Murder Comes First: Review

"Weigand!" Deputy Chief Artemus O'Maley said, in a great voice.
"Sir?" Lieutenant William Weigand, Acting Captain Homicide West, said in a much smaller one.
"The Norths!" O'Malley told him. "Don't you see them?" 
"I won't have it," O'Malley said. "I've told you a hundred times. You know what happens when you let them in, don't you"
Bill Weigand nodded and looked attentive.
"Gets all screwy," O'Malley said. "Doesn't make any sense. Gets so you don't understand a damn thing."

In Murder Comes First (1951) by Frances & Richard Lockridge, Pamela North's three aunts, the Misses Thelma, Pennina, and Lucinda Whitsett, come to New York City for their annual fall visit on their way south for the winter. In addition to spending time with their favorite niece and her husband Jerry, the aunts always drop in to see Grace Logan, their friend since childhood. They are gathered for tea and reminiscing when Grace takes a vitamin capsule and collapses--apparently from cyanide poisoning. Lt. Bill Weigand and his Chief O'Malley arrive on the scene and it seems that "Arty" has determined that it's an easy one. All sewn up. Because it has been revealed during questioning that Grace Logan stole Thelma Whitsett's beau...25 years ago. But, hey, these dames can get bitter, you know.

Aunt Lucy sneaks a call to her niece and naturally Pam and Jerry come to rescue the aunts. And Pam decides to investigate because somebody has to do something to find the real killer. It's not like there aren't more likely suspects. Grace's son wants to marry the daughter of her [Grace's] companion. But his mother didn't like that idea a bit. She thought Lynn Hickey was a hard, calculating woman--out to change her son and possibly out to marry him for the money he'd one day inherit. Lynn's mother took exception to the disparaging comments about her daughter and quarreled with Grace. But was that enough to inspire murder? Then there's her niece, Sally, and husband who might also have had a mercenary interest in the $50,000 Sally would inherit from Grace...if she died. But Sally disappeared well before Grace was murdered--could she have doctored the vitamins before she left? None of these people liked the way Grace would exert her will and her wishes in their lives, but who resented it enough to substitute a cyanide capsule for a harmless vitamin?

And, of course, it does get screwy. Pam chats up suspects, gets taken out to dinner by a few of them, and finds herself followed by a mysterious "medium" man. She is forced to take refuge in the dressing room of a Fifth Avenue department store and walks out in a new rust-colored dress which allows her to lose her tail. Meanwhile, Aunt Lucy who never forgets a thing she reads [and she read a lot--a woman after my own hear] and gets a sudden inspiration about who and how and why and makes a frantic trip out of the city to prove her theory. Pam & Dorian Weigand (Bill's wife) follow in hot pursuit with Bill and Jerry on their trail and a few FBI men following all of them. They all converge on an isolated cabin for an exciting finish.

This is, perhaps, one of the more outlandish plots in the Lockridge line-up--after all FBI men chasing spies and maiden aunts in pink hats running about the countryside are a bit much. But it's all good fun and I can forgive a lot just for the inclusion of Aunt Lucy who reads as much as I do and loves books and places with books as much as I do too. the very thought of a library she brightened. It had been months, it had been last spring, that she had last been in the New York Public Library, where merely being surrounded by so many books made one tingle exquisitely.

It is entirely appropriate that Aunt Lucy seeks out answers to help her theory in the library. The mystery itself isn't terribly intricate, but I don't really expect that from the Lockridges. I do expect Pam to get into trouble--and she does, taking Dorian along with her. It's easy to see where Pam gets her impulsive nature from--Aunt Lucy is just as bad. I also expect a good peek at vintage New York as well as an exciting finish. The Lockridges deliver on all counts. ★★ and a half--deducting just a bit for the outlandish plot.

This fulfills the "Bottle/Glass for Drinking" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. It also is another entry in The 1951 Club.

Tuesday Night Bloggers: A is for April...and the April Robin Murders

This month at the Tuesday Night Bloggers we decided to shake things up a bit. Rather than feature a specific topic or author, we chose the letter A for April...and Anything goes. As long as what you have to write about deals with mysteries and starts with the letter "A," it's fair game. Everything from Adultery to Arson AND Arsenic to Antimony. Give us your take on writers such as Agatha (Christie) and (Margery) Allingham or detectives like Inspector Alleyn or Arsène Lupin. Moira over at Clothes in Books is collection our posts this month, so stop by, pull up a chair, and tell us what's on your mind.

It's a bit hectic round my parts, so I'm not entirely certain that I'll be coming up with anything indepth such as you'll find Brad or Kate submitting. For my first submission, I'm going to give you the run-down on the book featured in this month's logo: The April Robin Murders by Craig Rice and Ed McBain. I read this last year and here's what I thought at the time. 

As he stared at her, the only thought that flashed through Bingo's mind was that only that afternoon he'd promised Handsome that they were never going to be involved in any more murders in the future!  

The April Robin Murders (1958) by Craig Rice [Georgiana Ann Randolph] & Ed McBain is a screwball mystery starring Rice's photographers with a penchant for landing in the middle of murder, Bingo Riggs and Handsome Kuzak. Bingo and Handsome, late of New York, have decided to head west to seek fortune and fame in Hollywood. Handsome has the added talent of being able to remember everything he has ever read (especially in newspapers). 

The first thing they do is buy a house. Bingo is determined to own a mansion previously owned by a movie star and they manage to luck into an option on the moldering, monstrous mansion which once belonged to the legendary silent screen star April Robin. Winds up that they get much more than they bargained for--all kinds of mystery surrounds the house and its owners. First, there's April. Everybody remembers her. Everybody says she was gorgeous. Nobody knows what happened to her. She just disappeared. Drove off in her car one day and was gone. And Handsome is worried that he's losing his memory because he can't remember anything about her. 

After April disappeared, the next owners were Julien and Lois Lattimer. They've both disappeared too--as well as a bundle of money. Everybody believes that Lois killed her husband and ran off with the dough. Except there's no body. The police have searched high and low--for the body, for the money, for Lois. Nothing. Then along come our boys from New York. A con man posing as a real estate agent sells them the house--with an apparently genuine Julien Lattimer signature on the paperwork.

 "According to our top handwriting expert, he did," Perroni [a police detective] said. "And when Clark Sellers says a signature is genuine, the signature is genuine." 

The night Handsome and Bingo move in a body is found. But not Julien's. The caretaker/housekeeper--who dies from inhaling the poisonous fumes of dry cleaning fluid. Perroni and his partner Hendenfleder kind of wonder about that. They wonder about a lot of things. Who is this guy Courtney Budlong who sold the house to the boys? Why are there so many guys running around with the initials C. B.? Why does one of them (Chester Baxter) wind up dead in an alley with his throat cut? And how much do Handsome and Bingo know about it all? 

But don't get me wrong. I don't disbelieve you. I don't disbelieve anybody. It don't pay. Especially here in Hollywood. 

This is a fun read. A definite screwball comedy/mystery that I could see as a movie starring Martin & Lewis or Abbott & Costello. You've got con men running in and out the picture, gorgeous dames, possibly shady lawyers, the good cop/bad cop pair, the nosy neighbor, and our slightly dim but likable protagonists who manage to bumble their way into a solution to all the mysteries as well as landing a motion picture deal that will make them that fortune they were seeking. Slow-moving for the first half or so, but it picks up speed as it hurtles to the finish. Not an incredibly clever solution, but it works and makes for an enjoyable and solid read.

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Grave Case of Murder: Review

A Grave Case of Murder (1951) by Roger Bax (Paul Winterton aka Andrew Garve) finds the Appleby family of Long Wicklen Village thrust into a murder investigation when they would much rather be celebrating the hundredth birthday of their patriarch William Appleby, known as The Ancient, or the upcoming marriage of The Ancient's great-granddaughter Barbara. But the festivities are interrupted when Barbara's intended is found shot to death in the freshly dug grave which was waiting its rightful inhabitant.

Neville Hutton was a smooth, handsome man who had swept Barbara right off her feet. True to her Appleby blood, she refused to listen to the voices of reason who said that perhaps she should wait till they knew one another better. Then another young woman comes to Long Wicklen and claims that Neville had already married another country and under another name. Before her claims can be investigated, the woman disappears and then Neville's body is found. Did Wanda Thornton shoot her alleged husband and run? Or did one of the Applebys shoot the man who seemed destined to ruin Barbara's life. Inspector James of Scotland Yard arrives in the village to discover the truth. It won't be easy though...the Applebys are stubborn and close ranks when outsiders come to investigate. But James is quick to read between the lines and discover what they aren't saying

A lively crime novel with an interesting family at its heart. Inspector James is a perceptive and sympathetic detective. Not exactly a fair play mystery (although anyone who can spot and figure out the meaning of the primary clue may figure it out before the final reveal), but definitely worth attention and time. It could easily be read in one sitting.  ★★ and a half.

This counts for "Other Building" on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card as well as the next book in the Follow the Clues Challenge (connection = a "supposed" marriage is mixed up in each case).

The 1951 Club

The 1951 Club is the latest edition of a meme sponsored by Stuck in a Book which puts the spotlight on a particular year in publishing every April. I've been reading a few 1951 books in preparation and I've also got quite a list of previous reads and reviews to add to the mix.

Here are my previous reads:
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
The Stars Like Dust by Isaac Asimov 
Trixie Belden & the Gatehouse Mystery by Julie Campbell
Cocktails & the Killer by Peter Cheyney
Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer
The Paper Thunderbolt by Michael Innes
Lament for the Bride by Helen Reilly
The Green Plaid Pants by Margaret Scherf
The Metropolitan Opera Murders by Helen Traubel
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

And just last week:
I Could Murder Her by E. C. R. Lorac 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mount TBR Checkpoint Winner!

I just got the chance to haul out the random number generator and select our Mount TBR checkpoint winner. Let's feed in all the entries, listen to it clank and whir, and we have a winner!  Our lucky climber is Link #7.

A quick peek at the Checkpoint Post tells me that our winner is Link #7 Reese at Typings! Congratulations, Reese! I'll be contacting you with the prize list very soon.

Thanks again to all of you who checked in...and to all who are busy climbing with us! See you at the next checkpoint!

Scavenger Hunt Check-in Winner!

Well, the first check-in post drew few contestants this time. The telephone, musical instrument, bottle of poison, flower/s, food, and moon just weren't popular items. I only found one of those myself--the telephone on Murder at Government House by Elspeth Huxley. So--with only three entries, the custom random number generator didn't have to think too long and hard to come up with a winner. 

Our first Vintage Scavenger Hunt winner for 2017 is link #2: Linda @ Philly Reader who found a piano on Elizabeth Daly's Somewhere in the House. Congratulations, Linda! I will be contacting you soon with the prize list. 

Thanks to everyone who is out there scavenging in the mystery fields with me. Another set of scavenger items is waiting in the wings for our next check-in post.

Deal Me In Challenge Catch-Up Post

I've gotten a bit behind with my reports on my participation in Jay's 7th annual Deal Me In Challenge for 2017. Here are the cards and stories that went by when we weren't looking...

Week #11: Nine of Hearts = "The Last Exploit of Harry the Actor" by Ernest Bramah (found in Murder by Experts by Ellery Queen, ed.). Bramah's story features his blind detective Max Carrados in a mystery featuring the robbery from several safe deposit boxes in a Lucas Street depository known colloquially as "The Safe." The contents of the boxes are held safe behind multiple barriers--both real locks and bars as well as secret passwords known only to the owners. And yet...a large number of the boxes are plundered. Carrodos, whose other faculties have become stronger to compensate for the loss of his sight, is able to "see" the solution to the mystery very quickly. Baynard Kendrick, a mystery writer in the 40s and 50s, has declared this to be "the best detective story I ever read."

Week # 12: Nine of Diamonds = "Evermore" by Sean Williams (found in The Year's Best Science Fiction 17th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed). "We must all hang together," Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said to his revolutionary peers, "or we will assuredly all hang separately." An appropriate sentiment for a crew of a crippled ship which has long since lost contact with Earth. An earth that has apparently abandoned them--at least they have responded to any of the distress signals sent over the thousands of years that have passed. It doesn't help that you and your shipmates really aren't talking to each other...and none of you exist in physical form. When one of the crew finds an unorthodox solution to the problem...will the rest be brave enough to do it?

Week #13: Six of Diamonds = "Exchange Rate" by Hal Clement (found in The Year's Best Science Fiction 17th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed). Clement is a legend in the science fiction field. This story finds human explorers under pressure in more ways than one who must figure out and interpret the motivations of an alien species on an incredibly strange planet before their time runs out. [I just have to say that I did not get this one at all. It may be because Clement's hard science was over my head and there was so much of it that it was a bit mind-numbing.]

  And most recently for Week #14: Two of Spades =  "Dapple: A Hwarhath Historical Romance" by Eleanor Arnason (found in The Year's Best Science Fiction 17th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed). In which we find that females across the universe face similar restrictions--even when they are supposedly the wise ones and in charge. A young girl decides she wants to balk tradition and go into a profession traditionally held by males--but she will have make a perilous journey before she can claim her right to be what she wants to be.

Up next for Week #15: Eight of Clubs = "The Mystery of the Steel Room" by Thomas W. Hanshew from The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 7 by Eugene Thwing.

Friday, April 7, 2017

I Could Murder Her: Review

Muriel Farrington is an updated, 1951 version of Cinderella's nasty stepmother. Except she doesn't limit her nasty behavior to her stepdaughter, Madge. While she does expect Madge to toil in true Cinderella fashion--cooking, cleaning, and general housekeeping drudgery, she also dominates her own children and behaves in a thoroughly selfish manner. In fact, her behavior has practically the whole household muttering I Could Murder Her. The only person in E. C. R. Lorac's mystery novel (originally published as Murder of a Martinet in Britain) who doesn't seem to want her dead is her mild-mannered, thoroughly devoted husband. And only one person actually makes the action suit the muttering.

After a particularly tiring morning of exerting her will over Madge, Muriel takes to her bed with "heart palpitations," demands attention from the elderly doctor who dances attendance whenever she has a "turn," and winds up under the influence of a sleeping pill. The next morning finds her dead. It's a bit of shock--no one but her husband actually believed she actually had trouble with her heart--but everyone is now prepared to accept that she did and succumbed to it.

Unfortunately for the murderer, Dr. Baring had a motoring accident on the way home from the Farrington's and is in no condition to examine the deceased and provide the anticipated no-questions-asked death certificate. Baring's young colleague, Dr. Scott, who had examined Muriel once, also did not believe there was a thing wrong with her heart. He doesn't accept that as a cause of death--particularly when he spots a fresh hypodermic puncture in the dead woman's arm. He refuses to sign the certificate and that calls for a postmortem which reveals that the deceased fell victim to a dose of insulin (and she wasn't diabetic).

Enter Inspector MacDonald of the Yard. MacDonald is a quiet, normal detective who sets to work smoothly and efficiently. None of the eccentricities of some Golden Age detectives and none of the angst and personal issues of many modern policemen. Just an intelligent man doing his job. He quickly discovers that everyone had a motive--from the overworked Madge to Muriel's own children who all resented their mother's interference in and domination over their own lives to Mrs. Pinks, the daily help. Madge, who has been employed as a nurse in the past, is an obvious suspect since she would know the effects of insulin upon a non-diabetic. But most of the suspects seem to be just as well-informed. Even Mrs. Pinks--whose husband is a diabetic.

This is a very interesting study of post-War Britain. It focuses on the reduced circumstances that followed and shows how families who formerly would have had several servants were forced to make do with daily women and sometimes had to do for themselves (or guilted their less fortunate relations into slaving away...). It also spotlights the tensions found when family members who don't care for one another are forced to live in close proximity due to those reduced circumstances. Life would have been much healthier for the Farringtons if all of the adult children (and spouses) could have afforded homes of their own. But then we wouldn't have a murder to solve, would we? 

I thoroughly enjoy Lorac's character studies and descriptions of the post-War era. MacDonald may not be a charismatic detective, but he is a thorough one who misses nothing and keeps no clues to himself. The reader can easily follow the thread that leads to culprit (and may, in fact, spot the killer before all is revealed). It is more interesting to watch MacDonald gather up all the loose ends and explain them all. Quite good vintage mystery. ★★★★

Fulfills the "Broken Object" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. For the record...I don't recall any broken object in the story line that ought to be appearing on the cover.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street: Review

I remember reading William S. Baring-Gould's Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street long ago and far away and being very impressed with it. So, when I came across a similar book purporting to give all the details on Nero Wolfe, his home, members of his household, and his cases, I naturally expected to be similarly impressed. Of course, it's 30-some years later and I'm a different person from the teenager who read the first book. That might explain my disappointment. It's also possible that Baring-Gould, who was known as a noted Holmes scholar, may not have been quite so invested in the story of America's largest private eye. Either way--I wasn't nearly as interested in this book as I remember being in the Holmes "biography."

I was not particularly convinced by his "evidence" explaining Wolfe's parentage. I was even less convinced at the connections he tried to make between Archie Goodwin and Wolfe. The first section of the book which gives the details on Wolfe's background (separate from the parentage speculations) and the description of life in the brownstone home and its inhabitants as well as recurring characters in the stories was quite good and informative. Though all the information is readily available in the novels, it's nice to have it summed up all in one place. The chronology at the back which lists all novels and stories up to 1969 is also helpful. Less so are the flights of fancy about parentage and the synopses of books. While you can't accuse Baring-Gould of spoiling any of the stories by revealing too much, there are numerous synopses which tell barely anything about the story at all. 

This is a decent reference book for those interested in the Nero Wolfe stories. But not quite as interesting or impressive as I expected from Baring-Gould. ★★

Monday, April 3, 2017

March Wrap-Up & P.O.M. Award

I'm ready for another year of tracking reading progress and statistics for all things bookish on the Block. I will also be contributing to Kerrie's Crime Fiction Pick of the Month and handing out the coveted P.O.M. Award for the best mystery. So, here we go--let's take a look at March....

Total Books Read: 11
Total Pages: 2,073

Average Rating: 3.55 stars  
Top Rating: 4.5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 18%

Percentage by US Authors: 55%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  0%
Percentage Mystery:  91% 

Percentage Fiction: 91%
Percentage written 2000+: 18%
Percentage of Rereads: 18%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}    
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 6  (19%)

AND, as mentioned above,
Kerrie had us all set up for another year of Crime Fiction Favorites. What she was looking for is our Top Mystery Read for each month. March found me with ten mysteries out of a total eleven books. Here are the mysteries read:

The Body Missed the Boat by Jack Iams (3.5 stars) 
Thrilling Stories of the Railway by Victor L. Whitechurch (3.5 stars)
Murder at Government House by Elspeth Huxley (3 stars) 
Miss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser-Sampson (4.5 stars) 
Dread & Water by Douglas Clark (4 stars)
Trixie Belden & the Gatehouse Mystery by Julie Campbell (4 stars)  
The Green Turtle Mystery by Ellery Queen, Jr. (4 stars) 
Fit to Kill by Hans C. Owen (3 stars) 
Silence Observed by Michael Innes (3.5 stars) 
Nun Plussed by Monica Quill (3 stars)  

I had another successful mystery-reading month with ten of my eleven logged as straight mystery fare. Our over-all winner as far as star quality is Guy Fraser-Sampson's Miss Christie Regrets with 4.5 stars. He not only invokes the Queen of Crime with his title and a thread of investigation, but he manages an adroit bit of sleight-of-hand with a vital piece of cluing that would make Dame Agatha very proud indeed. This is the second novel in the Hampstead Murders series which makes great use of Golden Age detection--tropes as well as character and author references--but incorporates it all into contemporary settings and modern detection. It was an all-around winner. Unfortunately, just about this time last year, I awarded Guy's first book, Death in Profile, with a P.O.M. award--so, we need to look for another strong mystery.  

Douglas Clark always deliver an entertaining story and Dread & Water is no different. I haven't tired of the Masters and Green team and it doesn't seem to matter that I'm reading this series in an absolutely random manner (using them wherever they fit in the zillion challenges I do). For those who enjoy a good British police procedural and can manage to get their hands on any of the series, these come highly recommended.  But, again, Douglas Clark has taken home P.O.M. honors in the let's move on to the next contestants. 

The two remaining four-star books are Trixie Belden & the Gatehouse Mystery by Julie Campbell and The Green Turtle Mystery by Ellery Queen, Jr. I read each of these books when I was young and just wading out in the mystery waters.  Trixie's story was just as much fun to read as when I was young. It's really a pretty sophisticated mystery for young people--there's real danger for both Trixie and Jim and, although Trixie does jump to a few conclusions here and there, on the whole she makes deductions based on her observations and the clues at hand. The Green Turtle Mystery is much more character-driven. The mystery is pretty obvious--once all the elements are introduced--but all of the main characters from Djuna and Ben to Socker & his managing editor and the Secret Service Agent Sandy MacHatchet are engaging and well-drawn. Even Champ, Djuna's dog, who arrives mid-way through the story to help our heroes, has a distinct personality of his own. There is a great deal of gentle humor and a good atmosphere of thrilling adventure just right for young readers. Each of these books are charming and entirely appropriate for young readers looking for entry into crime fiction--as well as being a lot of fun for older readers looking to revisit their youth. So....


This month, I'm going to let the young people have it and hand out P.O.M. Awards to both Trixie and Djuna.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Nun Plussed: Review

Nun Plussed (1983) is the eight book in the Sister Mary Teresa Dempsey mystery series by Monica Quill (aka Ralph McInerny). Sister Emtee (as she is more familiarly known) is one of three nuns left in Chicago's Order of Martha and Mary and was also, at one time, a history instructor at the Order's college. She has a way of getting mixed up in police affairs that involve her former students. This time it is the murder of Margaret Doyle.

Margaret was one of Sister Emtee's more troublesome students. Never satisfied and her daughter considers her someone who never grew up--permanently stuck in that age where one is sure something better is around the corner. Her dissatisfaction pushes her to divorce her husband, despite the Catholic church's view on such matters. The elderly nun is already disappointed by the divorce and is even more distressed when a wedding invitation arrives announce Margaret's upcoming marriage to Philip Chesney Cord, a member of a prominent local family. 

But the very morning that the invitation arrives sees Margaret's death, apparently at the hands of an intruder when she interrupted a search. Since no one has been living with her, it's difficult to determine if the intruder found what they were looking for--or what they might have been looking for if they didn't. The plot thickens when, after a reporter hinged her story on the impending marriage, Cord's lawyers deny that any nuptials were planned. Then Margaret's ex-husband, Gregory--who is a used book dealer and book-binder, confesses to the murder. The police are all ready to accept that their case is closed, especially when they find that Gregory has a pair of boots that match the footprints of the killer...but then one of that pesky nun Sister Emtee's former students provides proof that Gregory's boots were bought after the murder. It's up to Sister Emtee to get to the bottom of the real reason for Margaret's death.

This is a very middle-of-the-road cozy mystery. It was a quick read and fairly entertaining. The mystery was competent with a plausible culprit, if not my first choice for a satisfying solution. But none of the characters are really impressive. I find ex-nun Christine Bennett (of the Lee Harris series) and Sister Mary Helen (of the Sister Carol Anne O'Marie series) to be much more engaging religious sleuths. The constant references to Sister Emtee's head gear and the way she clings to the old ways are intrusive rather than endearing or even instructive about why she behaves the way she does as a detective. Mentioning it once for those who are just being introduced to the character would be sufficient. Also serving as a distraction was the abrupt changes in scene and characters. We would just get settled in with Sister Emtee and those in the House when suddenly we would be whisked off to the Country Club where Margaret's daughter (who found her mother's body, incidentally) worked in the golf shop where her husband was a golf pro.

A decent read, though not the best in nun-related mysteries. ★★

[Finisehd on 3/30/17]

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April Follow the Clues Reviews

April Mount TBR Reviews

Mount TBR Checkpoint #1

Wow!  Three months into the year already. Well, you know what that means...Your mountaineering guide is calling for the first quarterly check-in post. Let's see how our challengers are doing. Made it a couple of miles? Camping out in a cave 1/3 of the way up the mountain face? Taking refuge in a mountain hut along the way? Let us know how you're doing. For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.
~I have read 33 of my pledged 150 books for Mt. Olympus...which means I'm slightly off-track to plant that flag on Mars. [And I was feeling so good about my pace....]

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
 A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.  
Here's mine (one of the few science fiction books I've read this year.)

 B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
Mine: Inspector Morgan & Sergeant Pitt in The Snake on 99. Two new-to-me police detectives who make a good team and were enjoyable to read about.
 C. Have any of the books you read surprised you--if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you've read ever? Etc.)
 D. Title Scrabble: See if you can spell a word using the first letter of the first word in the titles of some/all of the books you have read so far. Feel free to consider "A," "An," or "The" as the first word or not as it helps you with your word hunt.
My word: Dazed
Death at Swaythling Court by J. J. Connington
All for the Love of a Lady by Leslie Ford
Zadok's Treasure by Margo Arnold
Episode of the Wandering Knife by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Death Takes a Bow by Frances & Richard Lockridge

And what do you get for all that hard work (and distraction from the actual climb)? The link will close at 11:59 pm on Saturday, April 8.  On Sunday, April 9,  I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick a winning climber. He or she will have the chance to add to their TBR stack via my gently-used book vault (prize list will be sent). Just think, if you win a book you can start up a pile for next year's Mount TBR Challenge. 

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

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

Sign in below with your Checkpoint post.