Saturday, April 25, 2015

500th Post! More Skulls and Skeletons


For my 500th post, I thought I would celebrate by featuring one of my favorite things... mysteries with skulls or skeletons on the cover. Only one of the books in this post has been featured on the blog before, and my goal is to read all of these by the end of the year.


Murder Sunny Side Up is the first book in a series about Congressman Ben Safford. The series was written by Emma Lathen under the pseudonym R. B. Dominic. At least ten years ago, I discovered the existence of this series. Being a big fan of the other books by Emma Lathen, I searched for books in the series. This book was very hard to find at a reasonable price, but my wonderful and dedicated husband found it (and three others in the series) at a used book store in the San Jose area.

Emma Lathen was the  joint pseudonym of Mary Jane Latsis, an economist, and Martha B. Henissart, a lawyer. From Whodunit? A Who's Who in Crime & Mystery by Rosemary Herbert:
The pair introduced their most famous character, John Putnam Thatcher, executive vice president of Sloan Guaranty Trust, in Banking on Death (1961). During a thirty-six-year collaboration, they portrayed Thatcher as using business savvy and urbane wit to investigate mysteries in a variety of business settings. In Murder Sunny Side Up (1968), under the joint pseudonym R. B. Dominic, they introduced another popular series character, Congressman Ben Safford. Safford solves crimes mostly set in Washington, D.C. The success of both series had much to do with the authors' ability to make readers feel like insiders in the worlds they depicted.
I have read three of the seven books in the Ben Safford series. I have copies of all of them.



There are seven mystery novels starring Masao Masuto, a Japanese-American detective in the Beverly Hills Police Department who grows roses and practices Zen meditation. The mysteries were written by Howard Fast,using the pseudonym E. V. Cunningham.The first was The Case of the Angry Actress (1967, originally published as Samantha). I enjoyed the first book in the series mostly because of the setting (Southern California), the time period it was written in, and the political and social commentary.

The last book in the series was The Case of the Murdered Mackenzie (1984).  Since it came 17 years later, it will be interesting to see how it compares.

Andrew Macdonald discusses Masuto in Howard Fast: A Critical Companion:
The detective hero Masuto combines Buddhist meditation with Holmesian ratiocination to make intuitive leaps of both reason and imagination that leave his colleagues and superiors puzzling over the assumptions that further investigation, physical evidence, and testimony confirm. The close observation that allows the Buddhist in Masuto to see beauty where others see ugliness also allows him to see the mundane, the corrupt, and the repulsive behind the beautiful facade of Beverly Hills. These stories look at the wealthy California scene from the perspective of an outsider, racially, culturally, and economically. Masuto can bring Asian perceptions to unraveling the mysteries of his adopted community and counters the mainstream disintegration of family values with his own deep-seated commitment to home and family.



I have had Fender Benders over ten years. The edition I bought was a trade paperback with skeleton playing the guitar. I don't think I bought the book just for the cover, but this book is clearly humorous and that is not strictly my kind of mystery. Maybe I was trying to broaden my horizons.

Author description at Amazon:
Bill Fitzhugh was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. He has also lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles. He writes satiric crime novels, the occasional comic mystery, and for five years, wrote, produced and hosted "Fitzhugh's All Hand Mixed Vinyl" for the Deep Tracks channel of Sirius-XM Satellite Radio.
Story synopsis from the author's site:
Fender Benders is set primarily in Nashville. The backdrop is the country music industry. The story was originally going to be in the pop/rock music industry set in Los Angeles, but my agent kept telling me to do something set in the south, so I guess this is it. Suffice it to say there are some murders, some attempted murders, and some other nefarious activities. Oh, and lots of fried food.
I bought the hardcover edition above (for the cover of course) at the Planned Parenthood book sale last year.



A year and a half ago I purchased Sugar Skull (2003) by Denise Hamilton at the Planned Parenthood book sale. Sugar Skull is the second in a five book series about Eve Diamond, a journalist in the Los Angeles area. Recently I read and reviewed the first book, The Jasmine Trade, and I hope to read this book before the end of 2015.

Review at Publisher's Weekly:
In Edgar finalist Hamilton's (The Jasmine Trade) passionate new puzzle, feisty Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond is anxious to advance from the Valley to a more prestigious desk downtown. She gets her chance when, while writing the roundup of weekend murders, she's confronted by a man frantic to find his runaway daughter. Then the nude body of beautiful socialite Venus Della Viglia Langdon, wife of mayoral candidate Carter Langdon III, turns up in the couple's pool. These two seemingly unconnected occurrences reverberate across the vast urban sprawl that is home to one of the country's most diverse populations. The Mexican Day of the Dead festivities are in progress, and the little sugar skulls given to mark the occasion appear in the strangest places. Eve is soon immersed in the down and dirty worlds of runaways, a high-powered political campaign and the exploding Latin music scene—and caught up in a torrid affair with Silvio Aguilar, son of a music-industry tycoon and Venus's brother. The tenacious Eve discovers that even the most twisted and distant paths can converge, that very little separates the privileged from the desperate and that it's all-too-easy to step over the line of journalistic ethics, become part of the story and maybe wind up dead.

26 comments:

  1. Congratulations on 500 posts...and for making it such an interesting topic. I've not really considered the issue of skulls/skeletons on book covers before but of course I had to go looking at my own collection. I like the picture on Fender Benders but I can imagine owning the book and not reading it too...not sure that kind of quirky is up my street but it IS a cute cover.

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    1. Thanks, Bernadette. I don't remember when I first began to like skull imagery. I did not know so many vintage books existed with skulls or skeletons in the cover illustrations until they became more easily available over the internet. Although none of these examples are vintage. A fun but somewhat expensive hobby.

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  2. Tracy, many congratulations on your 500th post! And here's to another 500 soon! That's a lot of skulls and skeletons on the covers. Thanks for a fascinating post.

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    1. Thank you, Prashant. I do hope for many more blog posts.

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  3. Congratulatons ! 500 blogpost....that is a real milestone!
    I have been searching ...Emma Lathen is very hard to find hear too!

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    1. Thank you, Nancy. I am glad I have persevered with blogging. I have read some reviews of Lathen's books while writing this post and some reviewers find her books "of their time" and not so enjoyable now. Her books are comfort reading for me. I pick up some facts about finance or politics and often about some specific locale while reading about interesting people.

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    2. As an experiment I ordered one of her books via our libary " Shark out of water' . I have to get it sent from Amsterdam to my local in Leeuwarden. Let's see what Emma has to offer!

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    3. I am glad you found one to try, Nancy. That is the last one in the John Thatcher series and I have not read that one or the book before it. I do have them though. It will be interesting to see how they compare to the earlier books.

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  4. Congratulations and well done, Tracy! Impressive! And I really like your theme here! I have to read that other Emma Lathen series (I'm more familiar with their John Putnam Thatcher series). Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. Margot, I cannot imagine how many posts you have written with one a day for many years. I know it is so much work, on top of a full time job.

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  5. So enjoyed this post, Tracy! And the covers! Congratulations on 500 very well done post.

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    1. Peggy, I love book covers almost as much as the contents inside. And thanks for the kind words.

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  6. 500 -- awesome! Bravo!
    Since you are fond of bones, perhaps you ought to take a look at the Aaron Elkins series. I will keep my eye out for others, but I imagine you know much more about cover art and titles than I do.

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    1. That is a good suggestion, Robert. I have read two of the Elkins series, and have copies (sometimes multiples) of almost all of them, because of the covers. My son has read the first 7 or 8. I do want to get back to that series; there are just too many good books to read. And any skeleton or skull cover recommendations are welcome. If I bought every one of them that I coveted, I would be broke.

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  7. Congrats on hitting 500, looking forward to the next 500!
    I was tempted by the cover and the words of praise for the Dominic book, but reading on I guess they would be hard to find and I don't really need them.
    I think I have the Fitzhugh book with probably that cover as well - I'll find out soon enough.

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    1. Thank you, Col. If you are going to like any of these, it would probably be Fender Benders. Glen wants to try that one or another one of his after I read it.

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  8. Congratulations on the milestone Tracy, that's brilliant. Loved the excuse to see some of your covers, and particularly liked the Fender Benders one....

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    1. Thanks, Moira. I look forward to actually reading that book after 10 years. It will be interesting. Nashville and country music.

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  9. Congrats TracyK - that is a mighty impressive number - look forward to you at least doubling that (please). All the best, Sergio

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    1. Thanks, Sergio. I hope so too. More years of blogging and more book review posts (with some movies too).

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  10. Congratulations Tracy and here's wishing you achieve your goal of reading all these books in this year (and add many more to your collection :).

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    1. Thank you, neer. I do hope to attain my goal of reading them this year. As for adding more, I am always on the lookout for books with skulls or skeletons on the cover. Usually I can find affordable copies.

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  11. Congrats Tracy on your 500th post! I am well behind you. Looking forward to more!

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    1. Keishon, I thought you had been blogging a long time before me. I hope we both look forward to lots of blogging in the future.

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  12. TracyK: Thanks for 500 posts! I enjoy reading your thoughts and look forward to the next 500 and ........

    I loved the John Putnam Thatcher series. I read as many of them as I could find a generation ago. I appreciated how skilfully the authors integrated banking into good mysteries with a character who never needed a gun to solve a mystery.

    Lastly, might there be a skeleton in a closet at the TracyK home?

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Bill. I agree with you on the Thatcher series. An intelligent series that always entertained me. A skeleton in our closet? I like that idea.

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