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.
photo credit
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).

image credit

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).

image credit
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. 

image credit
 "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.

image credit

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.

image credit

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. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Natural Suspect: Review

Natural Suspect (2001) is a collaborative mystery story devised by William Bernhardt and contributed to by ten suspense novelists--most of whom I had never come across before. I suspect I know why. The Goodreads blurb says that Bernhardt has put together a "Dream Team" of "today's hottest suspense writers" and makes it sound like he and Carl Hiassen (who did the same in Naked Came the Manatee) had come up with a brilliant idea that had never been done before. Hello? Ever heard of folks like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers and G. K. Chesterton? They and other members of the Detection Club did collaborative mysteries long before Hiassen and Bernhardt even knew how to write (and quite probably before they were even born)--and did them much better.

The best thing about this book is that all proceeds were donated to the Nature Conservatory. That and brief episodes of humor (very brief). The plot is a well-worn one--Head of the Family with Big Bucks threatens to divorce wife and cut everyone out of his will and winds up dead on a big holiday/at a big family gathering (in this case, Thanksgiving). Wife is the prime suspect and winds up on trial. Rest of book is spent making things so convoluted that anybody else might have killed him and no clues really add up and throwing in multiple torture scenes with psycho dressed as a clown (or a ninja or an employee of Footlocker) either really cutting off people's extremities or threatening to as well as an abnormally large rabbit just for fun. I started to give this two stars, but then I realized that there was no way I could rate it higher then the Michael Innes book I just gave one star. So it is.

[Finished on 8/31/17]

Murder Is Served: Review

Professor John Leonard's psychology course has focused on human emotions--how they motivate people; how they can be misused and distorted; how they can fuel psychological disorders. He's expecting the usual run of mediocre final papers on the effects of a particular human emotion on the normal individual--with the bulk of the class writing on love. There are a handful of students from whom he expects very interesting papers indeed--students who have minds that seem to grasp the nuances and intricacies of human psychology. What he doesn't expect is for one of them to write a searing paper full of personal hate.

Who would have thought that the heart of the lovely Peggy Mott could harbor such ugly emotion? But it's right there on the paper for Leonard to see. He's been a psychologist long enough that he knows honest emotion when he sees it and he's quite sure that Peggy Mott is working herself up to kill someone. He's also quite sure that the police won't see a final paper in a college night course as anything like evidence--but he's got to do something about what he knows. What to do? Then he remembers that Mr. Gerald North, the man who published his last psychology book, has managed to get himself involved in several murder investigations. So, he calls up Jerry North to arrange a lunch-time meeting...

....thought of you. Because you know this detective, know about things like this. I tell you, I'm damn serious, North. I want help. Can I come around and talk to you?

He suggests that Jerry (and Pam, who of course comes along for the meeting) should present his story to Lt. Bill Weigand. If nothing else, telling someone about it will make him feel like he's done what he can. Weigand listens to the Norths and while he agrees that the paper was concerning, he confirms what they already knew...that there's nothing in it that he can take action on.

But then Tony Mott, Peggy's playboy husband, is found dead in his office with a steak knife buried in his neck. Mott had recently bought a share of the Restaurant Maillaux, providing a much-needed influx of cash for the exclusive dining spot. André Maillaux, the restaurant's owner and maître d', discovers the body of his new partner when he visits the office to consult him on a few matters (we never do find out what the consultation was supposed to be about). Weigand and Sergeant Mullins are on the case and even without prior knowledge of that revealing essay on hatred, their attention is soon focused on Peggy Mott. Motive? Bypassing base hatred, there's always the piles of cash that Tony Mott has left behind. Opportunity? Peggy was seen entering the office before the earliest possible time of death? Means? How fortuitous that the Restaurant Maillaux had just ordered a new style of steak knife and there happened to be a sample right there on the desk for anybody with a murderous bent to snatch up and use.

There's just one thing preventing Weigand and Mullins from bringing Peggy in for questioning. They can't find her. And the longer Pam North thinks about the situation and all the information that comes to the surface while the police hunt for Mrs. Mott, the more she's convinced that someone is serving Peggy up as the main course on a silver platter, hoping to escape their own just desserts as the true villain of the piece. Meanwhile, Bill Weigand is starting to think so as well and he set a trap that will bring the killer out into the open.

It was amusing to read a Mr. & Mrs. North book where, for most of it, it looks as though Artie O'Malley (Weigand's boss) is finally going to get his way. Bill Weigand is all set to go for the simple, straightforward solution. Those Norths aren't making things all screwy.

"We've wrapped it up," O'Malley said. "Nice going, Bill. Way I'd've done it myself. None of this fancy stuff, no Norths to make it screwy. Quick and simple."

But, of course, when the Norths are in it, you have to know that it won't be straightforward. It won't be that simple. And if Pam North takes a shine to your prime suspect you know that someone else must have done it. 

One thing that I did find a little out of character for Bill Weigand was how harshly he treated Peggy Mott when she's finally brought in for questioning. Generally speaking, Bill's a pretty good guy. There's none of the bright lights and rubber hose treatment about him (not even implied) and yet while he's thinking how shaken Peggy is, while he's thinking "Poor kid" he's pretty harsh with his questioning of her. The approach goes against all previous examples of Bill's treatment of female suspects. Since the book starts out with psychology, I'm going to take a stab at a little armchair analysis and theorize that subconsciously Bill knows he's rushed his conclusions and picked the wrong candidate for the crime and he's taking his frustration at himself out on Peggy. 

The other slight flaw with the book is that once you realize that Peggy must be innocent there really aren't that many suspects to choose from. It's not difficult to pinpoint the killer even if you might not know the precise motive. Fortunately for me, I read the Lockridge books more for atmosphere--you can't beat their descriptions of the 1940s/1950s New York City--and the enjoyable characters. They also have a way with dialogue among people who know each other well. There is an easy, short-hand style to the North's conversations with the Weigands and Mullins that is comfortable and fun. ★★ and a half.

[Finished on 8/30/17]


Published in 1948, this fulfills the "Skeleton" category on Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.