Sunday, October 15, 2017

Death in the Doll's House: Review

Death in the Doll's House (1943) by Hannah Lees and Lawrence Bachmann features a story where a good hefty dose of child psychology comes in handy to find the killer of Celia Bliss Starling. Celia was a dark-haired beauty who just couldn't help the fascinating effect she had on the male species. Randall, her husband loved her more than anything--but couldn't help being jealous of his wife's attraction for other men. His jealousy drives him to drink and who knows what a drunken jealous man might do if pushed far enough? Blacker Farragon, doctor and friend to the Randall Starling is summoned by Celia on the night of the tragedy. She says she's afraid that "something's going to blow" and wants Blackie to find a way to calm Ranny down. Blackie isn't so sure that it isn't a cover for the dark-haired siren to try her charms out on him one more time, but makes an effort to talk to his friend. But he makes little progress and leaves the house convinced that Celia is making mountains out of molehills just for a little attention.

He immediately feels guilty when he's awakened several hours later by a phone call telling him that Celia is dead from a gunshot and Ranny is in bad shape from an apparently self-inflicted wound. The cops are ready to accept the obvious--that Starling's jealousy finally got the better of him and he killed his wife and then attempted to commit suicide once he realized what he'd done. But Blackie doesn't believe it. He's known Ranny far too long and knows that his friend isn't a murderer. But if Ranny didn't do it, then who did?

There are plenty of suspects. For instance, Philip Starling is Randall's pompous brother--a brother that Ranny has trusted with his financial affairs. Is it possible that Philip isn't as trustworthy as he seems and Celia found him out? Or maybe Caroline, Philip's wife, killed to protect her husband. Or Dell Bliss, Celia's sister who has always lived in the shadow of her more glamorous sibling. Everyone says Dell adores her sister. Is that really true? And then there's Judy Walnut--Blackie's nurse who has connections with Celia that no one ever knew.

Blackie is determined to find out the truth and it may all depend on Mimsy, Celia and Randall's six-year old daughter. Ever since the murder, Mimsy has been a changed girl in ways that speak to something deeper than grief. Once full of boundless energy and a mouth full of stories for her "Uncle Black," Mimsy is now a somber child who has lost her taste for stories and, more importantly, no longer wants anything to do with her beloved Babar--a toy elephant that has been her constant companion. Instead, she has latched onto Cupid, a reindeer for which she has previously had nothing but disdain. Black's boss at the hospital insists on sheltering the child, but Black is convinced that she has seen something important and if they can just find out what then the truth of that dreadful night will be revealed. His colleagues are amazed when he has a dollhouse installed in his office and brings Mimsy in to play house with him. But the story of the dollhouse may just lead to the true story of murder.

This was a delightful surprise from authors from whom I had never read anything before. The plot is competently rendered and I particularly enjoyed Black's interactions with Mimsy in his efforts to help her tell the story of what she saw on the night of the murder. Black is an interesting character--a large, almost clumsy doctor who obviously is more suited to psychology than the general practice (which he finally realizes at the end of the book). The rest of the characters are also well drawn and there are plenty of efforts to mislead the reader. An enjoyable mystery set during the war era. ★★

[Finished on 10/9/17]
This fulfills the "Furniture" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Sherlock Holmes & Mr. Mac: Review

Young Inspector Alec MacDonald was introduced to Holmes readers in The Valley of Fear. MacDonald works well with Sherlock Holmes and doesn't have the same need to compete with him that Lestrade does. Gary Lovisi has expanded on the relationship built in the Doyle novel and gives modern readers two new cases: "The Affair of Lady Westcott's Lost Ruby" and "The Case of the Unseen Assasin." The former is a band new case while the latter is built upon the mention of "...the tracking and arrest of Huret, the Boulevard Assasin--an exploit which won for Holmes an autograph letter of thanks from the French President and the Order of The Legion of Honor."

When "The Affair of Lady Westcott's Lost Ruby" begins MacDonald (or "Mr. Mac" as Holmes calls him) believes he is being called upon to track thieves who have stolen a valuable jewel. He's a bit disgruntled when he discovers he's been summoned to find a lost dog. But he becomes very interested in Lady Westcott and decides to do his best for her. Then the elderly woman herself disappears and Mr. Mac finds the need to consult Holmes. Who would have guessed that the case of a missing dog could have have a great effect on the security of England?

In "The Case of the Unseen Assassin," Mr. Mac and Holmes find themselves racing against time to find one of London's earliest mass-murderers. Someone is shooting society members as they go about their business on the streets of London. The victims include a bank clerk, a newly-elected M.P., and a banking manager. But then Holmes finds evidence that the chain of murders began even earlier with a window washer and an attempt that went awry. He and Mr. Mac sense a connection, but what could possible connect men from such different walks of life? There is an even earlier rash of murders that occurred in Paris and when the two detectives find the missing links there, then the pieces fall into place for the London crimes.

Lovisi has obviously done his research before writing these stories--both historical research of the Victorian era as well as having a genuine understanding of the Doyle characters and style of writing. There are a few instances where the reader is aware that these stories spring from a modern pen rather than from Doyle himself and overall the Holmsian aura is very genuine. Lovisi fleshes out the character of Mr. Mac and makes him a worthy detective to work with Holmes. Two highly entertaining mysteries in the Holmes tradition. ★★★★

[Finished on 10/8/17]

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Looking Towards the 2018 Edition of the Vintage Mystery Challenge

Hello, fellow vintage mystery lovers! It's the time of year when challenge hosts start thinking about next year's challenges. Anyone who's been involved with my Vintage Mystery Challenge knows that I like to change things up every couple years or so. We've had the Scavenger Hunt style challenge for two years and it's been fun hunting images on the covers, but I wanted to ask your opinion on the 2018 Edition. Would you like something completely different (which will be a surprise, because I'm still working on the details) or would you like a reprise of an earlier version of the challenge? Below, you'll find links to the various editions of the challenge so those who've been playing from the beginning can refresh your memories and newer folks can see what we've done before. In the side bar to the left, you'll find the poll. Here are the poll options

1. Vintage Mystery Bingo
2. Vintage Scattergories
3. Vintage Mystery Themes
4. The Original Vintage Mystery Challenge
5. Another Round of Vintage Scavenger Hunt 
6. New & Improved--Surprise 2018 Edition

Two things--If we return to the Original Vintage Mystery Challenge, I will not be able to promise prizes for everyone again. I will have to arrange check-in posts or other prize awarding competitions. And if a previous edition is chosen that did not yet include Silver Age  participation, I will add a Silver Age level for those who like their mysteries with a little less age on them.

Mount TBR Checkpoint #3 Winner!

My apologies for not getting to the prize drawing as soon as planned. This week has been a bit of a horror at work and I just came home yesterday and became a couch zombie (just staring at my laptop and not really doing anything). It might have turned out that way tonight--but I just remembered that I had some random number generating to do for challenge prizes. So....let's get this prize show on the road!

The Custom Random Number Generator is all warmed up and after plugging in our numbers, it has given me....Number 3, Joel @ I Should Be Reading. Congratulations, Joel! I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list.

Thanks to everyone for joining in on the check-point. Are you all ready to finish the last 3-month haul on our trek?


Vintage Challenge Checkpoint #3 Winner!

My apologies for not getting to the prize drawing as soon as planned. This week has been a bit of a horror at work and I just came home yesterday and became a couch zombie (just staring at my laptop and not really doing anything). It might have turned out that way tonight--but I just remembered that I had some random number generating to do for challenge prizes. So....let's get this prize show on the road!

The Custom Random Number Generator is all warmed up and after plugging in our numbers, it has given me....Number 13, Christina @ You Book Me All Night Long. The painting on The Five Red Herrings has turned out to be a blue ribbon winner! Congratulations, Christina! I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list.

Thanks to everyone for joining in on the check-point. Now for a mad-dash round of scavenging before the end of the year.

Also--I've been thinking about my plans for next year's challenge and will setting up a poll to get your input. So, keep your investigative eyes peeled for a Vintage Mystery Challenge polling post coming soon.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Night Walk: Review

Night Walk (1947) is the twelfth book to feature Elizabeth Daly's antiquarian book dealer and part-time sleuth, Henry Gamage. Gamage makes his way to the isolated village of Frazer's Mills when an old friend finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation. Garry Yates comes to the village in an effort to see his lady love on the sly. Rose Jenner's guardian doesn't like her to see strange young men--doesn't really like her meeting any young men at all, truth be told. But Yates has made her acquaintance and the two have fallen in love. He has the chance to be in the area, so he takes it. 

He just happens to arrive on the very night that a mysterious prowler roams through the village, scaring various inhabitants. The prowler moves from Edgewood, a rather exclusive sanitarium, where s/he rattles Mrs. Norbury's door handle to trying to enter the Public Library where Hattie Bluett is working late on a donation of books, to leaving a fire axe outside the room that Yates is given at a local rooming house. But the prowler isn't finished. Because someone has entered the Carringtons' stately home (home of Rose Jenner) and killed her elderly guardian. 

Yates is sure he'll be a suspect as soon as the police know he's Rose's suitor--a suitor who would have found no favor with old man Carrington. And even if he's lucky enough not to be suspected (he thinks he has an alibi), he still wants Gamage to get to the bottom of things for Rose's sake. Gamage goes undercover as an inmate of Edgewood (supposedly in need of recuperation from overwork) and soon he's following the footsteps of the prowler and tracking down clues. Appropriately enough, our bookish detective finds a vital clue in the local library and he's quite sure that prowler was no random maniac, but someone well-known to the deceased.

Gamage is a low-key detective who does his sleuthing primarily through conversation with the villagers and official help from local police (who have had a good word about him from his friends on the force in the city). A bit of reconstruction comes in handy as well. Daly offers up engaging characters and plays fair with her clues--making for an entertaining read. I particularly enjoyed the scenes in the library and the way she worked books into the plot.★★and 3/4.

[Finished on 10/3/17]
Fulfills the "Written Document" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

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

I'm still running a bit behind on reviewing and summing up--but at least I'm doing better than July and August. is my September wrap-up post and my contribution to Kerrie's Crime Fiction Pick of the Month.  I'll also be handing out the coveted P.O.M. Award for the best mystery. So, here's what happened here on the Block in September....

Total Books Read: 16
Total Pages:  2,879

Average Rating: 3.23 stars  
Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 47%
Percentage by US Authors: 47%
Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  13%
Percentage Mystery:  86% 

Percentage Fiction: 100%
Percentage written 2000+: 7%
Percentage of Rereads: 13%
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 (63%)

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. September was another big month for mysteries with all but two of the sixeen books falling into that genre. The only five-star winner was a non-mystery, Adam McOmber's My House Gather's Desires, so we'll have to look further for our P.O.M. Award Winner.
Here are the mystery books read in September:
The Far Traveller by Manning Coles (4 stars) 
Let Dead Enough Alone by Frances & Richard Lockridge 3 stars) 
The Title Is Murder by Hugh Lawrence Nelson (3.75 stars) 
Case With No Conclusion by Leo Bruce (2.75 stars) 
Coffin from the Past by Gwendoline Butler (3 stars) 
McGarr at the Dublin Horse Show by Bartholomew Gill (1 star)
The Menehune Murders by Margot Arnold (4 stars)
The World's Best 100 Detective Stories Vol. 7 by Eugene Thwing, ed (3.5 stars)  
The Gloved Hand by Leigh Bryson (3.5 stars) 
Mr. & Mrs. North & the Poisoned Playboy by Frances & Richard Lockridge (4 stars) 
The Small World of Murder by Elizabeth Ferrars (1 star) 
Journey's End by Evelyn Berckman (DNF) 
Stag Dinner Death by John Penn (3 stars) 
To Wake the Dead by John Dickson Carr (4 stars)

September finds us with four books earning a four-star rating: The Far Traveller by Manning Coles, a comic mystery that's heavy on ghosts and light on mystery--but great fun; The Menehune Murders by Margot Arnold, another winner starring the team of Penny Spring and Sir Toby Glendower; Mr. & Mrs. North & the Poisoned Playboy by Frances & Richard Lockridge, the Norths are always fun; and To Wake the Dead by John Dickson Carr that master of locked room mysteries. I am pretty sure that all of these authors have gone home with a P.O.M. Award in the past (though it's getting harder to keep up--note to self, go back and make a list of all the previous winners). So, we're going to move along to the next in rank...
The Title Is Murder by Hugh Lawrence Nelson with 3.75 stars. A killing spree at the bookstore! Who would have thought there would be more blood than ink in the fiction section? Nelson shows us what murderous fiends bookworms and book dealers can be in his debut mystery. 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.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Hoosier Hills Book Fair

It's that time again...time to feed my book-buying habit in a big way with my yearly visit to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank Community Book Fair. Last year I attended the paid entry first day just to see if it made a difference in what I came home with. It sure seemed to--I brought home a record-breaking 103 books and a LOT of vintage mysteries. So, this year I decided to do the paid entry thing again just to see if results remained consistent. Not so much. I came home with just a little over half my haul of last year--55 books (one is destined to go to my mom) and among them is one duplicate because past Bev forgot to cross off a first edition (new Avon) Lord Peter Wimsey novel. Ah well, it doesn't seem to have been a very good year for vintage mysteries in general around here. For the first time ever, I came away from the Friends of the Library clearance sale without buying a single book. Not one (Brad thought I was sick). There just wasn't anything in my area.

Here's what this year's treasure hunt found:

The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird (as a stand-in for the copy that I can't find in my stash of books)
Tether's End by Margery Allingham (MacFadden Books)
Give the Little Corpse a Great Big Hand by George Bagby 
The Mouls House Mystery by Charles Barry
The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case by George Baxt
The Cream of Crime: More Tales from Boucher's Choicest by Jeanne F. Bernkopf (ed)
Blue Octavo by John Blackburn
Earthman, Come Home by James Blish (Avon #T-225)
Red Snow at Darjeeling by Lawrence G. Blochman (Saint Mystery Library #125)
Cat and Mouse by Christianna Brand (Avon #385)
The Soundless Scream by Michael Butterworth
Take Only as Directed by James Byrom 
The Saint Closes the Case by Leslie Charteris (TV tie-in) 
No Orchids for Miss Blandish by James Hadley Chase
The Club of Queer Trades by G. K. Chesteron (Delta Books; UK)
The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie (Dell #5860)
The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (Pan Books) 
Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie (Dell #6848)
Table D'Hote by Douglas Clark
Help from the Baron by John Creasey 
The Crisscross Shadow by Franklin W. Dixon
Rebecca's Pride by Donald McNutt Douglass 
The Medical Center Murders by Lisa Drake with Otto Penzler 
Poppy Ott & the Stuttering Parrot by Leo Edwards
Murder on Wall Street by John B. Ethan
Murder at the Nook by A. Fielding  (Alfred Knopf hardback, 1930 edition)
The Safety Pin by J. S. Fletcher
A Murderous Journey by Kenneth Giles
Puzzle in Parchment by Elizabeth Greshem (academic mystery)
Cleek The Master Detective by T. P. Hanshew
2.L.O by Walther S. Masterman
An Ad for Murder by John Penn
The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer Detective by Charles Felton Pidgin & J. M. Taylor
The Great Mistake by Mary Roberts Rinehart (Dell #3127)
The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart (hardback w/illustrations by Howard Chandler Christy)
Ripley's Believe It or Not! by Robert Ripley (Pocket Books #96; 2nd printing)
Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers (New English Library; UK press)
Unnatural Death by Dorothy L.Sayers (Avon, 1st printing) 
The Mystery of Swordfish Reef by Arthur Upfield (Pan Books)
Judge Dee at Work by Robert van Gulik
The Willow Pattern by Robert van Gulik
The Feathered Serpent by Edgar Wallace
Dead Man Manor by Valentine Williams
The Fox Prowls by Valentine Williams
The Mystery of the Gold Box by Valentine Williams
The Portcullis Room by Valentine Williams
Behind the Green Door by Mildred A. Wirt 
The Clock Strikes Thirteen by Mildred A. Wirt
Danger at the Drawbridge by Mildred A. Wirt
Saboteurs on the River by Mildred A. Wirt
Tale of the Witch Doll by Mildred A. Wirt

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Vintage Scavenger Hunt Check-in Post (aka Prize Opportunity)

Calling all scavenger hunters! We are now three-quarters of the way through our vintage mystery cover scavenger hunt. [Where has the time gone?!] Back in 2016 when I launched this year's version of the reading challenge, I randomly picked categories for various check points along the way. Here are the categories for this round:

1. Painting/Photograph

2. Cigarette/Pipe
3. Staircase
4. Spider/Spiderweb
5. Snow/Snowy Scene
6. Green Object

You may enter once for every object already found and claimed prior to this post going live. Objects count from both Gold and Silver cards. Links may point to relevant reviews OR you may create Check-in Specific posts. Please use the following for the link title for the Check-in:

Name (Object) Card   [example: Bev (Pipe) Gold]

If you do not blog (or have a way to link up through Goodreads, etc), please enter in the comments and point me to the cover of the edition you read.

The linky will be available until Tuesday, October 10th. On Wednesday, I will use the magic random number generator to draw a winner who may choose a prize from my prize vault.



Mountaineering Checkpoint #3

Oh my goodness!  Where does the time go?  Last I checked, September was just starting....and now it's gone and it's time to get the third quarterly checkpoint up and running. Let's see how our challengers are doing after they've got 9 months under the ol' mountain-climbing belt.  

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. 

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
A. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
B. Pair up two of your reads. But this time we're going for opposites. One book with a male protagonist and one with a female protagonist. One book with "Good" in the title and one with "Evil." Get creative and show off a couple of your books.
C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?
D. Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search.  Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.

Please prepare your answers in a Checkpoint blog post and link up below.

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 Tuesday, October 10.  Sometime next Wednesday 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 you've already finished your climb, I'd love to have you check in with us and tell us all your news!

***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.  Enter here OR on my Goodreads Challenge site (but not both places, please).

Sign in below with your Checkpoint post.

October Follow the Clues Reviews

October Mount TBR Reviews

October Vintage Scavenger Hunt Reviews


Sunday, October 1, 2017

To Wake the Dead: Review

It looks like Christopher Kent has landed himself in a whole lot of trouble. He has just returned to England on the last leg of a journey from South Africa that has resulted from a bet with his friend Dan Reaper. Reaper claims that Kent, a writer who also has a private income, hasn't done a real day's work in his life and that he will wager that Kent won't be able to work his way back to England in time to meet Reaper there on the morning of February 1st. The only rule--he can't draw on his bank and he can't use his own name because he might be able to draw credit on it.

January 31st finds Kent in Picadilly--just one day away from winning that wager--but he's not got one penny in his pocket. He hasn't eaten since yesterday's breakfast and he's sure he could make it if he could just get a hot meal inside him. He finds himself outside the Royal Scarlet Hotel where he's scheduled to meet Reaper and comes up with an ingenious idea. Despite being without funds, he still looks presentable and he's sure that if he just walks boldly into the dining room like he belongs then he can order up a hot breakfast and charge to a room (any room) and just walk out again.

It's all going splendidly until a hotel attendant comes and tells him there's a problem regarding his room. It seems that the previous occupant has called with claims to have lost a valuable bracelet and won't rest until the room is checked. The attendant doesn't wish to disturb the gentleman's wife who is still sleeping, so would he just go in and check through the drawers and whatnot to see if the bracelet is there. What's a guy to do? If he tells the attendant he's not the husband and reveals why he's cadged a meal, then the bet's off. If he goes along with the attendant and manages to get in the room, how's he to explain himself to the good lady occupying the room? He's still puzzling that last bit out when the attendant uses a master key to get him in the room and he discovers that he's got a far worse problem on his hands. The good lady is dead--strangled with a towel. And, by the way, she's not just any good lady...she happens to be the wife of his cousin...who just happens to be in the hotel as part of Dan Reaper's party. But Kent doesn't recognize her in the dimly lit room.

So...Kent does what any innocent young man in a John Dickson Carr novel does. He sneaks out the side door (the suite conveniently comes with another entrance) and makes his way to his friend Dr. Gideon Fell's home for advice and help. The good news? Fell and Superintendent Hadley (who is there to consult Fell on the murder at the Royal Scarlet Hotel) seem to believe that he's innocent--provided he can prove when he arrived and his whereabouts the previous evening. The bad news? Jenny Kent isn't the only one who's dead. Christopher's cousin Rodney Kent was killed in a very similar manner to his wife about two weeks previous at a country house in Northfield.

There are various clues available to Fell and Hadley--from the man in the hotel uniform who was observed at both scenes around the time of the murders to a drawer full of ripped up photographs (and one that was not ripped up) to a second bracelet belonging to the dead woman. There are also a great many connections to the past--both the past of the dead woman and the past in Northfield. 

Carr, as per usual, provides a highly entertaining story with interesting characters. He spreads clues about and displays most of them--but there is a bit of information that isn't revealed properly until it's too late for the reader to beat Fell to the punch. And there is one bit of business that takes a bit of swallowing to believe that (oops, can't tell you who) didn't, in all those years, discover that (oops can't tell you what, either). I, mean, really...if my (that thing I can't tell you) had the characteristic that the one in the story did, I'd think I notice at some point. But--other than those two points--the story is quite good and Fell in fine form. He tells Hadley that he is not going to lecture on the mystery and then proceeds to do so. He enumerates various questions that, if they can answer them properly, will provide the solution to the crimes. Naturally, Fell is able to answer them all by story's end. ★★★★

[Finished on 9/30/17]
First published in 1938, this fulfills the "Tombstone" category on the Golden Vintage Mystery card.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Stag Dinner Death: Review

Stag Dinner Death (1983) by John Penn (pen name of husband & wife team Jack H. Trotman & Palma Harcourt)

The very posh backroom of a gentleman's club is one of the last places you'd expect a pregnant woman to spring a scandal...but that's what Sally-Ann Belmont does. Earlier in the day, she stops by the practice of Dr. John Breland, a young doctor who has set himself up with a lucrative Harley Street type practice. She wangles a last-minute appointment by claiming to be a friend of Breland's friend Gerald Hinton. Her complaint? Vague discomfort cum pain associated with her pregnancy. Breland can't find any definite cause and asks for her regular doctor's name and address so he can send along what notes he has. She produces the information with some reluctance and, once she's gone, Breland who is the suspicious sort asks his nurse to look the doctor up. He doesn't exist. 

The next glimpse we get of Sally-Ann is when she makes a grand theatrical entrance at Hinton's stag party where he's celebrating his forthcoming wedding to the very lovely Elizabeth Lydney. Sally-Ann announces that she's pregnant and Hinton is the father. She swears vengeance for his dumping her and disappears. A stunned Gerald, who swears he's never seen the woman before, follows in pursuit but can't find her. A few hours later, the body of the club's ladies'-room attendant is found and then Sally-Ann is also found murdered some days later, though the autopsy reveals that she was also killed on the night of the stag party.

Was Gerald really daft enough to kill these women directly after the announcement when his motive would be so glaringly obvious? Would he really kill to try to cover up a paternity suit scandal? The police focus their investigative spotlight on him, but they don't seem to think he fits the bill. Breland, who knows Gerald rather well, definitely doesn't think so and starts to dig for alternatives. He discovers that two of the club's members did know Sally-Ann very well. Well enough that they might have needed to keep her from spilling their beans along with her announcement about Gerald. Elizabeth's cousin, who had hopes of marrying her himself, could--just possibly--have arranged a hoax to frame Gerald. Or is there a sinister Mr. X directing things? Breland remembers a conversation and that sets him on the right track. But will he be able to prevent a third murder...possibly his own?

It's been about 25 years or so since I read my first John Penn novel (and their first novel as well, An Ad for Murder). I did enjoy that one quite a bit, though, and promptly put Penn down as one of the authors to look for. It was a long time before I found any more of the books. Stag Dinner Death is an entertaining little puzzle from the post-Golden Age period where fair play isn't quite as important. There are a few clues that don't get displayed, but Breland is a charming amateur detective and it is fun to watch him go to work to clear the name of his friend. I did guess the culprit--but without those vital clues (that are only displayed at the end) I wouldn't have been able to prove it. A very pleasant day's read and I look forward to the others I've managed to find. ★★

[Finished on 9/26/17]
Fulfills the "Bird" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Journey's End: Review

Journey's End (1976) by Evelyn Berckman is a second disappointing read in a row. So much so that I didn't read straight through, started skimming, and then read the last couple chapters so I could try and get a good sense of how things turned out and could claim it for various challenges. The back of the book was little misleading (and would be one of the reasons I picked it up at the Friends of the Library Bookstore a couple of years ago)...

The great lady was dead. The battle for the estate was on. Just out of reach was a mysterious something of impossible value, guarded by a beautiful, cunning man with a singular hunger--and a priceless secret. Ahead lay an alluring trap of the senses, a whisper of staggering, riches, and an unwaking nightmare...a nightmare that has just begun.

{Possible Spoilers Ahead as I try to unpack my thoughts on this thing}

Okay--that totally sounds like the cross between a treasure hunt/race for the goodies and something out of horror, right? Priceless secret. Singular hunger. Staggering riches. Unwaking nightmare. Yeah, no. At least not nearly in as exciting a manner as I was led to believe. The whole first part is spent with Dominic Godfrey who is part of a husband and wife team assigned to appraise the belongings of Madame de Leovil. Madame de Leovil was an eccentric recluse who lived in a home that somehow managed to escape the ravages of the French Revolution and may be stocked with priceless furniture. We get to watch him deal with the greedy daughters who can't wait to get their claws on all the lovely money the objects will bring at auction. I went for half the book waiting for the whole treasure hunt business to start or for something exciting to happen.

In the background is Dominic's wife Val who adores him and whom he doesn't really love...because he's gay. But the appraising firm they work for is very old-fashioned and proper and wouldn't stand for the lifestyle he wants, so he's married Val for a cover story--but she doesn't know yet. And...ooh look there's this beautiful young man who hangs around Madame de Leovil's house (supposedly as a librarian--but I didn't see him do much except wander around for Dominic to lust after). Somewhere in there we discover a valuable document....but that gets burned up in a fire. Dominic's life is kindof ruined because he tells Val about his longing for the beautiful young man (who by the way was going to totally use Dominic to get to London and hunt for richer pastures) and then the beautiful young man dies because of the fire. At least I think that's what happened--that whole last few chapters wrap-up business was very confusing.

No rating. I'm marking it as DNF although I read/skimmed enough to say I finished it for challenges.

[Stopped reading on 9/25/17]

Fulfills the "Written Document" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

The Small World of Murder: Review

The Small World of Murder 1973) by Elizabeth Ferrars isn't your standard Christmas murder mystery. No snow, no Yule log, no holly and hot cider. It's murder on the way to Australia where Christmas will take place with turkey and plum pudding...with a blistering ninety degrees outside. It's not exactly the happiest of holiday journeys either. Nicola and Jocelyn Foley have decided to take a long journey to Australia (with stops in Mexico, Fiji, and New Zealand) to spend Christmas with Jocelyn's brother Aidan. Jocelyn has hopes that the trip will be good for them as they try to recover from the disappearance of they infant daughter who vanished from her pram outside a local supermarket. There was no demand for ransom and the police have found no leads in the months that followed. They're quite sure that the little girl is dead.

Jocelyn invites Nicola's long-time friend Nina Hemslow to join them and Nina, who could never afford such a trip on her own, accepts readily. But the atmosphere is uncomfortable, at best. Nicola soon confides in Nina that she shouldn't have come--that she is quite sure that Jocelyn is trying to kill her. There have been a few "accidents" at home and in Mexico Nicola is nearly run over when (she says) Jocelyn pushes her from the curb. But Jocelyn also tells of incidents that have made him think Nicola wants to be rid of him. It's all very confusing and oppressive.

And what about Bill Lyndon, a friend of Jocelyn's family? Why does he keep popping up wherever they go? Nina wants to confide in him--and feels herself drawn to him--but can she trust him? There is more drama and the first death occurs in Australia. But the mystery isn't unraveled until Nina returns to England...and it's even more confusing than she thought. I've read many of Elizabeth (E. X.) Ferrar's books--mostly in her series featuring retired professor of botany Andrew Basnett--and I've generally enjoyed them. But this one did not do a thing for me. Very oppressive, instead of suspenseful as most of her non-series books are. And really quite convoluted--especially the explanation. I'm still not sure that I understand the motivation behind the kidnapping and the murders. Unlike other novels I've read by Ferrars, there wasn't much to like about the characters, either. I didn't feel the empathy that I would expect to feel for parents who had lost their only child and I didn't feel drawn into their difficulties in recovering from the loss. The most likeable character was Nina, but even she doesn't draw my attention the way a protagonist should. Overall, a very disappointing read.

[Finished on 9/25/17]
This fulfills the "Broken Object" (poor teddy!) on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Mr. & Mrs. North & the Poisoned Playboy: Review

In Mr. & Mrs. North and the Poisoned Playboy (originally published as Death of an Angel in 1955), Frances & Richard Lockridge's amateur sleuth couple find themselves plunged into murder at the theater. One of North's authors, Samuel Wyatt, has turned playwright and his show Around the Corner has just racked up its 100th show. With the lovely Miss Naomi Shaw in the lead, its success is guaranteed and it's just possible Wyatt and the rest of the company are on their way to the big time.

But then Bradley Fitch, well-known wealthy playboy, chooses the 100th night celebration party to announce that he and Naomi Shaw are going to be married.

"Going to steal your girl, cousins....Put her in my pocket."

And he means just that. He's going to marry her and take her off the stage. Just like that. No more packed houses at Around the Corner. No more ticket sales. Because, despite Fitch saying they can get another girl, there just isn't another Naomi Shaw and Miss Shaw has made that part so much her own that no one could step in and keep the play's momentum going.

So, it's not unreasonable that a lot of people see red when the wedding bells start ringing. Sam Wyatt isn't exactly delighted to know that his shares won't be pouring in. Wesley Strothers, the producer of the show, isn't particularly thrilled with the idea either. Jasper Tootle, Naomi's agent, isn't delighted to know that his percentage is going to evaporate. Phyllis Barnscott and Sidney Castle, also leads in the play, are a little miffed that their bread and butter may be in short supply soon as well. And, then, there are other matters. Fitch's relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson--who have counted on the perennial bachelor remaining a bachelor and remembering his family appropriately when it comes to wills and things--aren't really all that excited to see him ready to settle down.

And somebody decides to act on their feelings. The morning after Fitch throws a stag party to celebrate his forthcoming nuptials, his housekeeper finds him dead with the remains of a hangover "cure" beside him. Somebody added a dose of oxalic acid to his pick-me-up and ended the threat to Broadway's latest hit. Enter Acting Captain Bill Weigand and Lt. Mullins who just happen to be on loan to Homicide East (due to a rash of emergency and regular leaves) to take up the case. Of course, the Norths are in it too--from their connection to the playwright to the appearance of one of their monogrammed (!) cocktail napkins in the dead man's apartment--and are kept thoroughly up-to-date on the proceedings by Bill...and by Sam Wyatt (who's sure the cops are going to clap the cuffs on him any minute.

This one is great fun for those of us who like fair-play mysteries. It is more fairly-clued than most of the Lockridge books and careful readers will be able to spot the right clues among the red herrings. It also marks one of the few times that Pam is wrong--she normally "jumps" to the right solution, though following her thought processes may be a bit tricky, but this time she is very surprised by Bill's selection of culprit. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the witty dialogue and interactions of our recurring characters. Sam is a bit of a sad-sack, but close association with the Norths does seem to help. ★★★★

[Finished on 9/23/17]
Fulfills the "Cat" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Gloved Hand: Review

In The Gloved Hand (1947) by Leigh Bryson (pen name of Nancy Rutledge) Gena Zonn and Julian Burdick have decided to get married. Julian's sister, Ruth, is a little apprehensive--after all she's never met the girl and what she's heard about her doesn't calm her sisterly fears. But when the couple hosts a cocktail party to celebrate the happy event and Ruth meets Gena for the first time, she thinks: They're really in love. Julian loves her and she loves him. Maybe it will be all right.

What she doesn't understand is the extreme reaction she receives from Gena when she tries to give her a family heirloom. It is their mother's ring (one of a pair that had belonged to their grandmother and her twin sister) and Ruth wants her brother's bride to have it. But the sight of the ring terrifies Gena.

She pushed the ring from her with a swift gesture that sent it to the floor. She stared at Ruth in horror. "Not you!" she whispered. "Not you!"

Ruth can't imagine what she means. Ruth is further confounded when making her way around the room she finds a bundle of cash hidden in a potted plant. Maff Peroni, a cop who is also a life-long friend of Gena's, thinks he's found a blackmailer.

Maff is at the party at Gena's request. A blackmailer has gotten hold of letters written by various of her previous lovers--very prominent men who will pay what it takes to keep scandal out of the papers. An elaborate system whereby the blackmailer manages to keep him/herself hidden while showing a gloved hand with an antique ring to signal that a payment must be made--a ring very like the one Ruth tried to give Gena. The ring is the signal for Gena to perform specific actions that alerts the blackmail victim to put the money in place. When Ruth picks up the bundle of cash from the rubber plant, it looks like he's found the culprit. But further questioning of Ruth and the events that follow put her guilt in question. And when Gena is killed, Maff becomes convinced that Ruth's brother is behind it all. Ruth is determined to prove him wrong.

The Gloved Hand is the only novel written under the Leigh Bryson pseudonym. She published about twelve novels (two only in England) under her own name. Hand is cleverly plotted and provides several culprits and red herrings to keep the reader busy. Maff is bull-dog cop, portrayed as less clever than his boss--but appearances can be deceiving. He doesn't miss much and his doggedness helps him stick to the scent even after his superior officer is satisfied that the case is closed. Ruth is also an appealing character--she begins as a typical "old maid" (in her 30s) with her younger sister amused to find her at a cocktail party. She discovers a taste for adventure as the story progresses...even going in disguise at one point in an effort to clear her brother's name. Very entertaining fare. ★★ and a half.

[Finished on 9/21/17]
This fulfills the "Glove" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.