Thursday, October 22, 2020

A Trick of the Light: Louise Penny

The books in the Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny often focus on murders and activities in the fictional town of Three Pines in Quebec. Two of the characters in that town are Clara and Peter Morrow, both artists. Penny has focused on their relationship in several of the mysteries prior to this one, and they are the main focus in this one.

In A Trick of the Light, a murder takes place in the Morrow's back yard, while they entertain neighbors and people from the art scene following Clara's show at the Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal. In the Morrow family, Peter has always been the prominent artist, well-known and appreciated. Clara has been in his shadow but now she is getting more attention than he is, and he doesn't react well.

The body of a dead woman is found the following day and Inspector Gamache is called in to investigate the death.  He is a friend of the Morrows and many other people in Three Pines, thus working on the murder is a bit awkward for him. Another element of the story, intertwined with the mystery plot, is the increasing strain on Clara's relationship with Peter.  

In previous posts on this series, I have noted that Inspector Gamache is almost too perfect, with no flaws. He is a likable character, a dedicated policeman yet compassionate. As the series progresses we learn more about Gamache; he has had some traumatic experiences to deal with. And he becomes more interesting.

Louise Penny is very good at creating characters we want to read about, and she has some new ones in this book that are very compelling, even if most of them are devious. She also continues to develop the main characters, both in Three Pines and in Inspector Gamache's team. This was a good entry in the series, and I enjoyed returning to Three Pines.

This book is #7 in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. There are now 16 books in the series, which means I still have quite a few of them to read. I recommend reading them in order.

See other reviews at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan and Mysteries in Paradise.

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2012 (orig. publ. 2011)
Length:      351 pages
Format:      Trade paper
Series:        Inspector Gamache, #7
Setting:      Three Pines, Quebec,  Canada
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased this book.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: Clarkesworld Year 5

Clarkesworld Magazine is an online magazine started in 2006 which publishes science fiction and fantasy stories. Neil Clarke is the editor and publisher. 

The stories in Clarkesworld Year 5, ed. by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace, were published in Clarkesworld Magazine between October 2010 and September 2011. Of the 24 stories in the book, most are science fiction, a few are fantasy, and some I am not sure about. I enjoyed reading almost all of them. 

Rick Robinson at Tip the Wink generously sent me this short story collection to read.

Here are my thoughts on the first three stories in the book, all of which were good reads. 

"Ghostweight" by Yoon Ha Lee

This is the first story in the book and my favorite of the collection. As soon as I finished reading it, I read it again. Partly because the ending confused me, but mostly just because I enjoyed it so much.

At Yoon Ha Lee's website, this story is described as "Fantasy in space: origami, ghosts, and atrocities." A young cadet seeks revenge on the mercenaries that attacked her planet. She has a ghost attached, sewn on by her parents, which was a tradition in her society. The ghost assists her in her quest. Yet she finds out later that nothing is as it seems. Some reviewers noted that the resolution of the story was unclear. True, but not a problem for me.

The story is available online here. More stories by Yoon Ha Lee's stories are available online Free Speculative Fiction Online

"Perfect World" by Gwendolyn Clare

Another very interesting story set in space, dealing with interspecies communication. The Mask People are hyper-expressive and hyper-observant, and they wear masks to hide their expressions. Humans want to negotiate an agreement with them. Nora is hired by the UN's Interworld Relations Organization as an ambassador because she can control her expressions and lie successfully to the Mask People.

The story is available online here

“Tying Knots” by Ken Liu

This was one of the stories that did not seem like science fiction or fantasy to me. No matter, I liked the story a lot.

There are two main characters, Soe-bo and To-Mu, who each narrate parts of the story. To-Mu is from the US and has traveled from Boston to visit Soe-bo's village in the Burmese mountains. Soe-bo is gifted at knot-writing, used by his people to keep historic records. He is persuaded to come to Boston and share his knot-writing skills with To-mu in exchange for new rice seeds to improve the harvest. 

A thought-provoking story, and very sad. The story is available online here


Publisher:   Wyrm Publishing, 2013 
Length:       287 pages 
Format:       Trade paper
Genre:        Science fiction, Fantasy, Short stories
Source:       A gift.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A Necessary End: Peter Robinson

This is the 3rd book in the Inspector Banks series.  I read the first two books in this series before blogging, thus at least 8 years ago. It was a good book to pick up the series with, giving some background on Banks' family and his reasons for moving to Eastvale. 

From the description at Goodreads:

A peaceful demonstration in the normally quiet town of Eastvale ends with fifty arrests—and the brutal stabbing death of a young constable. But Chief Inspector Alan Banks fears there is worse violence in the offing. For CID Superintendent Richard Burgess has arrived from London to take charge of the investigation, fueled by professional outrage and volatile, long-simmering hatreds.

Richard Burgess is a policeman that Banks had worked with a few times in London, before he transferred to Eastdale. He is sometimes referred to as "Dirty Dick" Burgess, and Banks has found him a hard man to work with. He is a recurring character in this series, showing up in three later books in the series.

Burgess focuses some of his investigation on a group of people living at Maggie's Farm in a commune-like setting. The author provides excellent characterizations of that group of people and their relationships. The reasons behind the death of the constable are gradually revealed. I like the way Peter Robinson tells the story and also how we get some idea of Inspector Banks' personal life without it intruding on the story.

In my opinion, this book can be read as a standalone; you don't need to start at the beginning of the series. And I have read other reviews where the readers had hopped around in this series. I would rather read in order but when a series has been around this long (with a total of  26 books now), it is good to have other options.

I enjoy books set in the 1980s and 1990s, before so much technology in society and detecting. Also, there are several mentions of the music that Banks enjoys throughout. I am not a big music fan but I do think such information can give you a better picture of a character.

The author is Canadian (born in the UK, but emigrated to continue his education in Canada) but the series is set in Yorkshire, England. Five of the novels in the Inspector Banks series have been awarded the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.


Publisher:  Avon Books, 2000. Orig. pub. 1989.
Length:     340 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Inspector Alan Banks, #3
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Police Procedural
Source:    I purchased this book in 2011.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" by Agatha Christie

 I recently read three of the short stories from Detective Stories (chosen by Philip Pullman). They were:

"The Speckled Band" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"Cold Money" by Ellery Queen

"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" by Agatha Christie

I enjoyed all of those but today I will talk about the Agatha Christie story. We have been watching adaptations of the Hercule Poirot stories in Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring David Suchet. I don't know why it took me so long to try the adaptations of the Hercule Poirot stories, although at some point it was probably because of having no access to them. Now we have Brit Box via Prime and can watch all the seasons. We have not gotten to this episode which is fortunate, because I would rather have read it first. I am enjoying the series and David Suchet's version of Poirot. He is perfect in the role. "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" is the first episode in Season Five and we have watched most of Season Three. 

In "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb," Hercule Poirot is requested to investigate the death of Sir John Willard, who died after the discovery and opening of the tomb of King Men-her-Ra. Several other deaths of members of the expedition involved in that event have also died, and there is much talk of a curse related to the opening of the tomb.

Lady Willard, Sir John's wife, is concerned that there will be more deaths, and her son is now continuing the excavations at the tomb. After some investigation of the related deaths, Poirot decides he and Hastings must travel to Egypt, even though he hates the thought of traveling by sea.

And in the end, of course, Poirot solves the mystery of the many deaths connected to the opening of the Egyptian tomb.

I love Hastings' narration. When I began reading the novels in 2012, I was disappointed that Hastings did not narrate all of them.

Hastings describes their arrival in Egypt:

The charm of Egypt had laid hold of me. Not so Poirot. Dressed precisely the same as in London, he carried a small clothes-brush in his pocket and waged an unceasing war on the dust which accumulated on his dark apparel.

‘And my boots,’ he wailed. ‘Regard them, Hastings. My boots, of the neat patent leather, usually so smart and shining. See, the sand is inside them, which is painful, and outside them, which outrages the eyesight. Also the heat, it causes my moustaches to become limp—but limp!’

This was my favorite of the three stories I have read so far in Detective Stories. And it is the first Hercule Poirot short story I have read. It did not disappoint.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling #22: Travel Books

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times meme. It was originated by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but Katrina at Pining for the West is now gathering the blogposts.

This time I have a shelf of my husband's travel books. 

Of these books, his favorite is Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater. Frater was, at the time this book was published, the chief travel writer for the London Observer

From the dust jacket of my husband's edition:

For two months, Frater followed the Indian monsoon–as closely as storm-driven or -hindered transportation would allow–along its unpredictable course through the country: from the "burst" on the beaches of the tropical city of Trivandrum...through inundated or parched landscapes and towns...through sweltering, impatient Delhi, to Calcutta, for his first meeting with the monsoon's eastern arm...across the flooded expanses of Bangladesh... and finally to the storm's grand finale in Cherrapunji, where the stories Frater had heard as a child came to life in an amazingly sodden reality.

The book on this shelf that I am most interested in is Last Train to Toronto by Terry Pindell. Pindell has written other train travel books (including Making Tracks: An American Rail Odyssey, which is also on this shelf). 

From the back of the trade paperback Owl Book edition:

Crossing North America on Canada's transcontinental railways has long been among the travel wonders of the world. But, in 1990, government cutbacks forced the remarkable Canadian to make its last run from Vancouver to Toronto over the tracks that founded the nation. Amid political controversy about the future of Canadian unity that raged during the last years of the route's existence, author Terry Pindell explored the thousands of miles of Canadian rails. In this memoir-travelogue, he recounts from a unique perspective not only a journey but a land and a culture.

Another book I may try someday is The Big Red Train Ride by Eric Newby. That book is about the author's trip across the USSR on the Trans-Siberian Railway, accompanied by his wife, an official guide and a photographer. 

Some reviews indicate that this book is tedious because Newby was not allowed to talk to many people in the USSR and many cities were not open to foreign visitors. I think I would enjoy it anyway. This sounds much like Michael Palin's North Korea Journal. I did not find Palin's book tedious at all, but Palin's access to North Koreans and some areas in North Korea was limited.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

#1956Club: The Keys of My Prison

This book is my second submission for the 1956 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. The Keys of My Prison by Frances Shelley Wees is a novel of domestic suspense set in Toronto, Canada, and this was the first book by that author that I have read.

As the story opens, Julie is keeping vigil at her husband's bedside, nearly two weeks after he was in a terrible car accident. Rafe Jonason has been in a coma since the accident, but seems to be getting better. Rafe and Julie have been married 15 years and have an infant son. Julie was born with a disfiguring birthmark on her face, which affected how she was treated by people and her own self-image. The birthmark was removed after her marriage to Rafe, but she still bears the mental scars of its effects.

When Rafe awakens from his coma in the hospital, he doesn't know where he is or who Julie is, and his behavior is rude and vulgar. On his return to their home, he doesn't recognize it and he turns to drink and cigarettes, which are habits that Rafe never indulged in all the time that Julie knew him. He seems to have amnesia, but his personality is completely different. Julie doesn't know where to go from there. 

I liked the characterizations in this book. Not only the main characters but also the secondary characters are well defined and interesting. Julie is supported by both her Aunt Edie and the family doctor who was treating Rafe. Robin, a lawyer and close friend of the family, seeks help from a psychologist associated with the police, Jonathan Merrill. Once Rafe comes home, Henry Lake, a policeman who works with the psychologist, takes an undercover position at Julie's home for both her protection and to observe the situation. Merrill and Lake have been compared to Holmes and Watson, or Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, in reviews I have read. The Wolfe / Goodwin comparison seems more apt to me, since Henry Lake takes a very active part in the case.

A major theme is identity. Not just Rafe's identity, but Julie's. Rafe is belligerent and swears he would never have married Julie. Julie is tense, scared, wonders what the future holds. Since their marriage, Julie has depended on Rafe's love and emotional support; now he is rejecting her, and showing a side of his personality that she has never seen. Did he every love her? What does her future hold?

Per the introduction by Rosemary Aubert in the Vehicule Press edition, the 1966 reprint edition was billed as "A Gothic novel of suspense." Not my usual type of reading, but I enjoyed it. The author takes a while setting up the situation but at no time did my interest lag. As the story played out I liked it more and more. The final resolution was interesting and handled well, although a lot of my questions were left unanswered.

I first heard about this book when Brian Busby discussed it at his blog, The Dusty Bookcase. He compared Wees's writing in this novel to Margaret Millar's, and I agree with that assessment, as Millar's book mainly focus on the psychology of relationships and behavior. A few years later, Brian was able to bring out this new paperback edition of the book as a part of the Ricochet Books imprint at Vehicule Press. 

The introduction by Rosemary Aubert is an excellent analysis of the book, but it reveals more of the story than I would want to know before reading the book. I saved it until after I finished the book.


Publisher:  Vehicule Press, 2017 (orig. pub., 1956)
Length:    187 pages
Format:   Paperback
Setting:   Toronto
Genre:    Domestic suspense
Source:   I purchased this book.

Monday, October 5, 2020

#1956Club: Voyage into Violence

I read this book for the 1956 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings.

Voyage into Violence is the 21st of 26 mysteries featuring Mr. and Mrs. North. Amateur sleuths are not my favorites, but Pam and Jerry North usually work with a New York City homicide detective, Bill Weigand. So the cases are really solved by the police, with their help. It seems that in the ones I have read recently, Pam is the sleuth in the family, but her contribution is often more intuitive than actual sleuthing.

The main characters in this series are very likable. If I remember correctly, Pam and Jerry are directly involved in a murder in the first one, and that is how they meet Bill Weigand. In the early books, Dorian is Bill's girlfriend and the two couples become friends. By the time of this mystery, Bill and Dorian are married and the two couples have gone on a Caribbean cruise together. 

Very shortly, a murder occurs and the Captain of the ship calls in Bill to help out. Dorian is not happy about this at all, but resigned to the inevitability of it all. Pam and Jerry are of course glad to help out.

The people involved in the crimes in these books are usually upper middle class. Jerry North is a book publisher and comparatively well off. Weigand is a police officer, but has money from other sources. And in this case, they are on a cruise, among other people with enough money to take a cruise. Definitely not something my parents were thinking about doing in 1956.

I enjoyed the depiction of a cruise in 1956, and the investigation that ensues when a dead body, clearly murdered, is discovered onboard. The limitations that Weigand has to deal with in his investigation are interesting. Communications between the ship and the mainland was more difficult at that time. 

I noted lots of smoking, in fact the cruise ship has a smoking lounge. And a lot of imbibing of alcohol. In my review of an earlier book in the series, Murder within Murder, I compared Pam and Jerry to Nick and Nora Charles, although that is only in relation to their drinking and the light tone of the stories. Nick Charles is clearly a sleuth where Jerry North is more in a supporting role, especially in this novel. The novels about the Norths are light, with humor, but not laugh out loud funny.

There are lots of interesting passengers on the cruise: a group called the Ancient and Respectable Riflemen, led by Captain Folsom; a well-known private investigator, now retired, J. Orville Marsh; Olivia Macklin, traveling with her daughter. And all of these people seem slightly shady to me.

I read a good number of the Mr. and Mrs North books decades ago and enjoyed them. Of course, at the time I was reading them, they were not set so far in the past; these books may not appeal to younger mystery readers.


Publisher:   J. B. Lippincott, 1956
Length:       191 pages
Format:       Hardcover 
                  (book club edition)
Series:        Mr. & Mrs. North, #21
Setting:       On a Caribbean cruise.
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copies.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Reading Summary for September 2020

I am having a hard time believing that we are already into October and I am summarizing my reads for September. My reading changed a lot this year. It was partially due to Covid-19, I am sure but not only because of that. I think some of my challenges that I started the year with are not going to be completed and I doubt if I will push myself in the last three months to catch up. 

This month I read seven books. Four of the books were vintage mysteries, published in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Two of them were spy fiction, although they were very different books. And one of the books was science fiction. All of them were very good reads.

Science Fiction

The Last Emperox (2020) by John Scalzi

This is the last book in the Interdependency trilogy. The first book was The Collapsing Empire, which I reviewed here. I liked the 2nd and 3rd books in the trilogy even more than the first one.

Crime Fiction

The Way Some People Die (1951) by Ross Macdonald

This is the third Lew Archer book, and Lew is trying to find a missing woman for her mother. He tells the mother that this type of case is for the police; she doesn't want the police involved. The plot is very convoluted and the characters are great. My review here.

The Arms Maker of Berlin (2009) by Dan Fesperman

I could not decide whether this was spy fiction or just a thriller. Certainly intelligence agents are involved, and the thrills are low key. A history professor who specializes in German resistance during World War II gets mixed up with the FBI when his former mentor is arrested for stealing important documents. His work leads to exposure of wartime secrets and deceit, and includes visits to Bern, Switzerland and Berlin, Germany. I loved this book; it did have a slow start, but there is lots of action towards the end.

The Beast Must Die (1938) by Nicholas Blake

This is the 4th book in the Nigel Strangeways series. Frank Cairnes is a writer of detective fiction, a widower, and cannot accept that his only son is dead and the hit-and-run driver has never been found. The book starts with a journal where Cairnes describes his plans to find and kill the person who killed his son. Strangeways doesn't show up until about halfway through the book. My review here.

Laurels Are Poison (1942) by Gladys Mitchell

This is the 14th book in the Mrs. Bradley series, a series which totals 66 books. In this one, Mrs. Bradley is serving as Warden of Athelstan Hall at Cartaret Training College. She is there to investigate the disappearance of Miss Murchan, the previous Warden. I read this as part of a group read, hosted at Jason Half's blog. I enjoyed the book and will be reading more in this series.

American Spy (2019) by Lauren Wilkinson

This is a debut novel. It can be classified as spy fiction, but it is not only focused on espionage. The protagonist, Marie Mitchell, is black and female, and has been working for the FBI in the New York office. The story is set partially in New York, and partially in Burkina Faso, and it has an unusual structure, told in the style of a journal written for her young sons. It is an exploration of family dynamics and influences, and how the past shapes us. There are many flashbacks to Marie's childhood, her motivation for being a spy, and why she fits in that job so well. 

Voyage into Violence (1956) by Frances and Richard Lockridge

This is the 21st of 26 mysteries featuring Mr. and Mrs. North. I consider these mysteries to be light, fun reads. I don't want a steady diet of them, but they are great for mixing in with more gritty or serious reading. Over the course of the series, Pam and Jerry North have become good friends with Bill Weigand, New York City homicide detective, and his wife Dorian. In this book the two couples are taking a Caribbean cruise to Havana. A man is murdered and Bill is called on to investigate.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Way Some People Die: Ross Macdonald

This is the third Lew Archer book by Ross Macdonald. The private detective is trying to find a missing woman for her mother. The daughter, Galatea (or "Galley" to friends) is twenty five and very beautiful; the mother hasn't heard from her in about three months. Archer tells the mother that this type of case is for the police; she doesn't want the police involved.  For $50, he starts looking in Pacific Point.

Lew Archer travels over a good bit of California in this novel, starting in Los Angeles, then to Pacific Point (a fictionalized version of La Jolla), Palm Springs and San Francisco. I could hardly keep up. He meets a lot of questionable people, mobsters and swindlers. The characters are great, and people are seldom what they seem to be initially. 

The plot is very convoluted; I don't remember having so much trouble following the story in the first two novels in the series. However, I have no trouble at all following Lew Archer through the twists and turns of the plot as long as the writing is well done, with lovely descriptions and interesting dialog.

Archer goes to the place where Galley used to live:

The court consisted of ten small stucco bungalows ranged five on each side of a gravel driveway that led to the garages at the rear. The first bungalow had a wooden office sign over the door, with a cardboard NO VACANCY sign attached to it. There were two acacia trees in the front yard, blanketed with yellow chenille-like blossoms.

When I got out of the car a mockingbird swooped from one of the trees and dived for my head. I gave him a hard look and he flew up to a telephone wire and sat there swinging back and forth and laughing at me. The laughter actually came from a red-faced man in dungarees who was sitting in a deck-chair under the tree. His mirth brought on some sort of an attack, probably asthmatic. He coughed and choked and wheezed, and the chair creaked under his weight and his face got redder. When it was over he removed a dirty straw hat and wiped his bare red pate with a handkerchief.

This introduces Mr. Raisch, Galley's former landlord. He and Archer have an entertaining conversation about Galley and the many people who have visited Raisch trying to find her.

I am aiming to read all the books by Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Macdonald wrote over twice as many books as Chandler. There are 18 Lew Archer novels and Chandler wrote only 7 Philip Marlowe mysteries.  Right now they are running neck and neck as far as my opinion of their books and writing. Chandler's books are more confusing, less focused on plotting. Macdonald's plots are more logical and coherent, although this one was challenging. And they both write very well and are a pleasure to read.

When I reviewed Shooting at Loons by Margaret Maron in August, I noted that I really liked the cover by Gary Kelley. He was a new illustrator to me, and I had not noticed other book covers by him. Shortly after that, I found that my copy of The Way Some People Die has a cover by Gary Kelley also. Not as striking as the one for Shooting at Loons, but still very nice.


Publisher: Warner Books, 1990 (first publ. 1951)
Length:    195 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Lew Archer #3
Setting:    California 
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy at the 2016 Planned Parenthood book sale.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Rose Garden in Santa Barbara's Mission Park

In late June of this year, we visited the Rose Garden in Mission Park, which is across from the Santa Barbara Mission. And took lots of photographs. It was a lovely overcast day, and we had a great time taking pictures and enjoying the roses.

This was only three months into the pandemic, and we were a little worried about whether there would be lots of people there. It was actually pretty deserted. The only people we saw were one woman caring for the roses (a volunteer) and joggers running through the area. And some sort of small gathering on the steps of the Mission, but we were too far away to tell what it was.

Here we are at the entrance to the rose garden, with a lovely fountain. Walking into the garden area you can see the Mission in the distance.

Here you can see the neighborhood behind the Rose Garden. How lovely to be able to walk to the garden anytime and around in Mission Park.

And now some of our photos of roses.

This yellow rose, labeled the Julia Child rose, was my favorite. It is known in the UK as the Absolutely Fabulous rose. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times #21

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times meme. It was originated by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but Katrina at Pining for the West is now gathering the blogposts.

So here I am looking at a small portion of a shelf in the glass front bookcase. The vintage mysteries on their side are usually hidden by the wooden frames of the two doors. 

If you have problems reading any of the titles, you can try right clicking on the image of the shelf, and open the link in a new tab.

The book on the right side, King & Joker, I have read and reviewed on the blog. It is one of my most favorite books, and also has a great skull on the cover.

The book on the left side, Icy Clutches by Aaron Elkins, is the 6th book in the Gideon Oliver series. Elkins has written several series and some standalone novels, but he is best known for this series. Gideon Oliver is a forensic anthropologist, known as the 'skeleton detective'. The fourth Oliver book, Old Bones, received the 1988 Edgar Award for Best Novel. I have only read two books in this series but I have many more of them because I collect books with skeletons or skulls on the cover. So I will continue with the series, sooner or later. Each book is set in a different and often exotic locale (Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, France; Egypt; Tahiti). 

In case the titles on the stack in the middle are not clear, here is a close up photo. I have not read any of the vintage mysteries in that stack. I have read one book by Richard Hull, The Murder of My Aunt. I really liked that one.

All of the cover illustrations for the British Library Classic Crime series are lovely, but below are two of my favorites.

See reviews of Murder in Piccadilly by Anthony Wynne at Pining for the West and Mysteries Ahoy! Per Aidan at Mysteries Ahoy! this is an inverted mystery, and that appeals to me.

The pluses for Murder of a Lady by Charles Kingston are (1) set in a castle and (2) set in Scotland. However, it is a locked room mystery and I am not very fond of those. See this review at The Invisible Event, which has links to several other reviews.


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Beast Must Die: Nicholas Blake

The story begins with these lines from Frank Cairnes' journal, in which he plans the death of the person who killed his son. 

I am going to kill a man. I don’t know his name, I don’t know where he lives, I have no idea what he looks like. But I am going to find him and kill him…

Cairnes is a writer of detective fiction, a widower, and cannot accept that his only son is dead and the hit-and-run driver has never been found. He describes his journey towards discovering who the killer is and how he gets close enough to the killer to follow up on his plan.

Cairnes meets his quarry, George Rattery, and his family, and the reader realizes that George is truly an awful man, one that might be worth killing. In fact there is a discussion of that topic at (Can it be valid to kill a man who is toxic to everyone around him?) at dinner one night. Cairnes' plan does not succeed, but George Rattery is killed, the diary is discovered, and Nigel Strangeways is hired to prove that Cairnes is not the killer.

As I read the book, I thought of many ways it could end and who could be the culprit. The way it did end was one of my many solutions but certainly low on the list. So the author successfully fooled me throughout the book.

I resisted reading this book for years, even though it is widely acknowledged as a crime classic. The reasons? The opening lines convinced me it would be a book about a dark, obsessed man... and I wasn't looking for that. I also did not see how it fit into the Nigel Strangeways series. The story is pretty dark, with the themes of revenge, obsession, and dysfunctional family dynamics. But a good read, nevertheless, and I am glad I finally did read it.

The Pan Classic Crime edition that I read has a brief introduction by P.D. James. The front matter in that edition includes this information about the author:

Nicholas Blake is the pseudonym for C. Day Lewis CBE, who was Poet Laureate [in the UK] from 1968 until his death in 1972, aged sixty-eight.

C. Day Lewis had an illustrious career both as an academic and as a literary figure, producing many collections of poetry, critical works, translations and novels under his own name.

However, for his twenty detective novels, and his crime short stories, he adopted the pen name of Blake. His central character in most of the novels was the cultivated amateur sleuth Nigel Strangeways, who appears in The Beast Must Die. Julian Symons described Strangeways as 'a real innovation, a genuine literary detective' and there is certainly a strong literary tone to the novels.

C. Day Lewis married his second wife, the actress Jill Balcon, in 1951. He had four children, one of whom is the actor Daniel Day Lewis.


Publisher:  Pan Books, 1999 (original publisher Collins, 1938)
Length:    260 pages
Format:   Paperback
Series:    Nigel Strangeways
Setting:   England
Genre:     Mystery
Source:   On my TBR pile since 2013.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Novena for Murder: Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

This is a very cozy mystery starring a nun as amateur sleuth. Sister Mary Helen has retired at 75 and is sent to Mt. Saint Francis College for Women in San Francisco. Shortly after she arrives the body of a professor at the school is found, following an earthquake. The police blame the wrong person, in Sister Mary Helen's opinion, so it is up to her to find out what happened. 

I read this book back in February, but I still have fond memories of it, even though the mystery is much lighter than my usual reading. I liked the setting and the characters; it was the perfect read for me at the time.

I don't read many cozy mysteries, although I do have a goal to try out more cozy mysteries by new (to me) authors. That could be the subject for a post. What is a cozy mystery? Why do some readers prefer them and others look down on them?

Anyway, moving on to this book:

I haven't read many books with a religious setting, but I have enjoyed those that I have read. The author was a nun and was working actively in the monastery while writing this series. Sister Carol Anne O'Marie was 54 when she wrote the first book in the series; the protagonist in this series is 75 and retiring. She is not really ready to retire so she naturally gets involved with a crime that has occurred on campus.

There is an interesting subplot involving Portuguese immigrants who have been helped to enter the US and are now students or workers at the college. When Sister Mary Helen starts looking into that issue and the murder, she meets several cops who continue to show up in later books in the series: Inspector Gallagher; a female inspector, Kate Murphy, assigned to the case; and her boyfriend, Jack Bassett. There are lots of characters (other nuns, students, employees, and the police) and that can get confusing. 

I enjoyed the depiction of San Francisco, especially the chilly weather and fog rolling in, which is so true. Also, the descriptions of life in a religious community (in 1984) were intriguing. 

Sister Mary Helen is an avid reader of murder mysteries and, when detecting, she refers to what fictional detectives would do (such as Charlie Chan). That was entertaining but sometimes those comments felt forced and repetitious. She was also heavily into literary quotes and I definitely got tired of that; it felt like padding. Issues like those I would attribute to the novel being the first one she wrote. The series continued for ten more books.

So, overall this is a story I enjoyed and a series I would like to continue, if I can fit it into all the other books I plan to read.

See this article at Clerical Detectives for more about the author, the series, and evaluations of all eleven books in the series.


Publisher: Dell, 1986 (orig. pub. 1984)
Length:    182 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Sister Mary Helen
Setting:    San Francisco, California 
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book in 2006.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Top Ten Book Covers with Skulls and Skeletons


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is a Cover Freebie (pick your own topic related to book covers). I love book cover art and have been known to by a book solely for the cover, so I had to take part in this one. 

I am a big fan of older, and especially vintage, paperbacks, and I love interesting book cover art of all kinds. I collect covers that feature skulls or skeletons so I decided to stick with that theme this week. 

Here are my top ten covers, in no particular order:

Death Wears Pink Shoes by Robert James

A dancing skeleton. A book sent to me by Moira at Clothes in Books because she knows I love skeletons on books. And I loved the story too.

These Bones Were Made for Dancing by Annette Meyers

More dancing skeletons. This is the second book in the Smith and Wetzon series by Annette Meyers. 

Murder Sunny Side Up by R. B. Dominic

This is the first book in a series about Congressman Ben Safford. The series was written by Emma Lathen under the pseudonym R. B. Dominic.

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

There are several sub-series within the Discworld series by Pratchett. One of them is the Death series. Mort is the first book in that series, and I read that a few years ago. Reaper Man is the second book in the series, and I have not read it yet.

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

A story set on Halloween night. It takes several young boys on a journey through several countries to see different versions of the Halloween story. The illustration is by Leo and Diane Dillon.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

A mystery set at Christmas and one of the better ones I have read. A book sent to me by Moira at Clothes in Books. 

Holiday Homicide by Rufus King

This mystery begins on New Year's Day but is only peripherally related to the holiday. Published in 1940, it is a Nero Wolfe / Archie Goodwin pastiche. A Dell mapback paperback.

Rough Cider by Peter Lovesey

This is one of Peter Lovesey's earlier novels. Published in 1986, it is set in 1964, and involves events that took place during World War II. See reviews at the Historical Novel Society site and At the Scene of the Crime.


Land of Dreams by James P Blaylock

A fantasy novel set in a village on the northern California coast. I haven't read and I have had it for years. I did buy it for the cover, but I do plan to read it someday.

King & Joker by Peter Dickinson

This is one of my favorite books ever, AND it has a beautiful skull cover. King & Joker is an alternate history/mystery set in an England where George V's elder brother did not die but lived to become King Victor I, and is later succeeded by his grandson, King Victor II.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times No. 20

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times meme. It was originated by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but Katrina at Pining for the West is now gathering the blogposts.

So now I have some new photos of bookshelves to share, and I will start with this one...

If you right click on the image of the shelf, and open the link in a new tab, you will be able to read more of the titles.

On the left side are six hardcover books. Except for Field Gray by Philip Kerr, those are all newly acquired books that I want to read soonish. 

Escape Velocity is the second book by Susan Wolfe. Her first book was The Last Billable Hour, published in 1989. Howard Rickover is an inexperienced lawyer who works for a Silicon Valley law firm filled with sleazy and / or very ambitious lawyers, Tweedmore and Slyde. He has only been there for a few months when one of the founders, Leo Slyde, is killed.  I enjoyed that book a lot and wished there were more by the same author. However, it wasn't until 2016 that the author published her second novel, Escape Velocity.

Two reviews for Escape Velocity are at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan and at Clothes in Books.

To the right of those books is a stack of more of my Soho Crime books. The top book on that stack is Murder in the Off Season by Francine Mathews. It is set on the island of Nantucket. That book was originally published in 1994, but substantially revised before republication in 2016. I had not heard of an author taking that approach before. Read about that book at Reader in the Wilderness and at Caroline Bookbinder.

Further on the right are three books by J. Robert Janes, a Canadian author. The books are Mannequin, Sandman, and Stonekiller. The series is set in Occupied France, in 1942 and 1943. It is the story of two men who are on opposite sides but must work together. Gestapo Haupsturmführer Hermann Kohler and  his partner, Sûreté Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr have been thrown together by circumstances to investigate crimes.  They have developed a trusting relationship, but know that due to the realities of war, it will probably not end well. One side or the other will be the victor, and then where will their loyalties lie?

I have read the first four books in the series. See my reviews for Kaleidoscope and Salamander. And at Kirkus, see J. Kingston Pierce's interview with J. Robert Janes from 2012.

On the shelf above those books, you can see Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen and The Dive from Claussen's Pier by Ann Packer. I have had both of those books for years and years. So long that I don't have a record of when I got them or where. And also two books about tap dancing. I love tap dancing in films and have at least a couple of other books related to that subject.

Have you read any of these books? What is your opinion?

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Grand Hotel: Vicki Baum

This was an easy book to read and to love, but not easy for me to review. There is so much going on, and so many sad people coming together over a few days and nights at the Grand Hotel in Berlin. I don't think one of the characters is really happy, although some of them find some happy moments during their stay, and all of them are in some way changed by the experience.

Here are our characters:

  • Grusinskaya, the aging dancer who still has a lovely body but is losing confidence in herself.
  • Baron Gaigern, debonair, likable, handsome, loves to dance and gamble, but beneath it all, a thief.
  • Two men from the Saxonia Cotton Company in Fredersdorf. Preysing is the Generaldirektor of the company; Kringelein is his minion, a clerk. Kringelein has come to Berlin after finding out he has a short time to live. He has brought all his money and plans to live it up for once.
  • Doktor Otternschlag, a man damaged by World War I, who is a longterm resident of the hotel.
  • Flämmchen, a typist, who aspires to be an actress and is prepared to give her body away to get ahead.
  • In the background of all of this, we follow the hall porter, Senf, whose wife is in the hospital having a baby. I was quite worried about that baby all the way through the story.

As I read the book, I found myself focusing on Grusinskaya and the Baron, but really all of the people visiting the hotel are equally interesting and given quite a bit of background. There isn't really a main plot and subplots, they all rotate around each other and interact. I was expecting a more surface look at the characters and their interactions, but there was depth to each character's story.

So, clearly, I enjoyed this book. It was very thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read. It provides a good picture of Germany in the late 1920s, between the two wars. The characters are very well drawn. The story is pretty dark at times, yet it did not drag me down. 

The film from 1932 is a good adaptation of the story, but I am glad I read the book first. As usual, the book provides more insight into the characters. Some of the actors were: John Barrymore as the Baron, Lionel Barrymore as Kringelein, Greta Garbo as Grusinskaya, Joan Crawford as Flämmchen, and Wallace Beery as Preysing. The sets for the hotel lobby are gorgeous.

Other resources:

At Clothes in Books and His Futile Preoccupations.


Publisher:  New York Review Books, 2016 (orig. pub. 1929)
Translated from the German by Basil Creighton with revisions by Margot Bettauer Dembo
Length:     270 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:     Berlin, Germany
Genre:      Fiction, Classics
Source:     I purchased my copy, 2018.