Wednesday, October 17, 2018

1944 Club: The Book of the Dead by Elizabeth Daly

I am a long-time fan of the mystery novels of Elizabeth Daly. She wrote 16 books in a series starring Henry Gamadge, an expert in rare books and manuscripts. Over the past few years, I finally found copies of the last three books of hers that I had not read. The Book of the Dead, 8th  in the series, was one of them.

The story is set in the summer of 1943, and New York City is experiencing a heat wave. In the first chapter we meet a very sick man, Howard Crenshaw, who is being cared for by Pike, a man he met in Vermont when settling his uncle's estate. He has recently found out that his illness is fatal and he will die soon.

In the next chapter, a young woman, Idelia Fisher, visits Henry Gamadge and asks if he can help her find out what was once scribbled in the margins of an old edition of some plays of Shakespeare. That edition belonged to Howard Crenshaw; he had brought it with him on his visit to Vermont, and Crenshaw and Idelia had struck up a friendship while he was there. When he left Vermont without saying goodbye to Idelia and she found the book in his house, she wanted to return the book to him. Although she has no real reason to be worried or suspicious about the situation, she wants to know what was erased from the pages of the book.

Gamadge is glad to help Idelia and the steps they take lead to him getting involved with a case of murder. He ends up going to Vermont to check out Crenshaw's actions while he was there.

This book was published in 1944 and as such shows us some of the culture and life in the US in wartime. The war is not mentioned a lot in the book. Gamadge is doing "war work" and his assistant is off in the Marines. Gas is scarce and cars are not used so much for transportation due to the shortage. Other than that, we just get a very good picture of the times. Women wearing hats; doctors who make home visits.

And, since I have mentioned 1944, I will note here that this book is submitted for the 1944 club, hosted by Kaggsy at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon at Stuck in a Book. Also, for Friday's Forgotten Books at pattinase, Patricia Abbott's blog.

My reactions to the book:

As I mentioned above, many years ago I had read 13 of the Henry Gamadge books and I liked them a lot. Coming to more of Daly's books after so many years, I wondered if I would still like the series. I must have read most of the Elizabeth Daly books in the 1970s and 1980s, and at that time the 1940's did not seem so long ago. I think I enjoyed reading about New York and the life of the upper class characters, something I knew nothing about. And in this reading, I still found Gamadge and his investigations good reading.

In this book, Gamadge has a definite idea of what is going on but keeps it to himself. I find that somewhat irritating (in general) but as long as the story is interesting and entertaining, it is not a deal killer for me. (Rex Stout does that sometimes in the Nero Wolfe stories, and I love all of his books.)

I like the author's writing style and the characters she has created. Gamadge is a very likable person and there are many interesting secondary characters. Gamadge is very prominent in this story; hardly anyone else has a large role, yet he carries the story very well. And he is determined to solve the crime.

I was very surprised at the ending of the story, the resolution to the crime and how it was carried out. I think there must have been clues, because I kept feel like something did not make sense to the story, but I never noticed them. I don't mind that kind of story; solving a puzzle myself is not my primary goal when reading mysteries. I can enjoy just following the thread of the story and watching out for red herrings, of which there are plenty here.

So, all and all, a very pleasurable reading experience. I have two more books to read (Deadly Nightshade and Murders in Volume 2) before having completed the series, then I will reread the other books.

Other resources:

This book has been reprinted by Felony & Mayhem in trade paperback and is available in e-book format.


Publisher:  Bantam Books, 1948. Orig. pub. 1944.
Length:     185 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Henry Gamadge, #8
Setting:     New York, Vermont
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copy.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Sale 2018, Part 3: My Husband's Books

It is not enough that I bring home way too many books from the book sale, but my husband and son also buy books that I want to read.

These are a selection of the books my husband found at the book sale.

Two years ago my husband found American Lit Relit by Richard Armour, this year he got English Lit Relit and It All Started with Eve. I have never read anything by this author, but I really like the illustrations.

Below are excerpts from a post at TOR.COM by Jo Walton. Read the whole post for examples of other books like this, and more about the book.
In 1939, L. Sprague de Camp came up with one of the wonderful ideas of science fiction, the man taken out of his time to a time of lower technology who works to change history and technology. ...
De Camp’s Martin Padway is a historian of the sixth century, the period he winds up in. There’s barely a handwave of explanation as to how Padway makes his way across time. As soon as Padway’s there, he puts his head down and starts to concentrate on what makes these books such fun—improvising technology from what he knows and can find around him.

Above are reissues of four vintage mysteries.

The first, Called Back, is from the vaults of HarperCollins and involves a blind man who stumbles across a murder, but is released by the assassins. Later he regains his sight, and he ends up searching for the solution to the murder. Originally published in 1883.

The Last Best Friend (1967) is from the British Library Classic Thrillers series. Murder Underground (1934) and A Scream in Soho (1940) are reissues from the British Library Crime Classics series. All three are set in London. And all have lovely covers.

A nice hardback edition of The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing, featuring Ray Milland and Maureen O'Sullivan on the cover. O'Sullivan was the wife of the film's director, John Farrow.

My husband is a fan of Ben McIntyre's nonfiction books. As the subtitle says, this one is about "The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War." I am looking forward to reading it myself someday.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Book Sale 2018, Part 2: My Son's Books

For the next couple of book sale posts, be prepared for more variety than usual. My son reads mostly fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction. My husband reads all types of fiction, but also leans toward non-fiction.

This post showcases some of the books that my son found at the book sale, and there are a lot of gorgeous covers here.

Terms of Enlistment is military science fiction, and the first book in a six book series.

The Dragon Never Sleeps is a science fiction standalone book by Glen Cook, who is more well know for his fantasy series (the Garrett P.I series and the Black Company series are examples).

Blindsight is a hard science fiction novel about a First Contact situation, written by Canadian writer Peter Watts, published by Tor Books in 2006.

Archivist Wasp is set in a post-apocalyptic world, with a young female protagonist who is an Archivist. She hunts and studies ghosts and she has her position because she killed the previous person in the position. And every year other young girls try to do the same to her to get her job.

From the author's blog:
Meet Edinburgh Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh, head of the Innovative Crimes Investigation Unit, otherwise known as the Rule 34 Squad. They monitor the Internet for potential criminal activity, analyzing trends in the extreme fringes of explicit content.
I knew I had heard of Rule 34 before. Margot wrote a Spotlight on this book at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

Two fantasy novels:

Chasing the Moon is described at as:
an unabashedly zany comedic fantasy that combines Douglas Adams-style humor and a protagonist who could be the sister of Bridget Jones with horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft.
The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams is described as noir urban fantasy. It is the first in a series and features an earthbound angel who helps souls get to heaven. It is not quite as long as some of his fantasy novels, and I think I am going to have to try it.

This book, The Manual of Detection, is very hard to describe. From what I can gather, it is a very unusual mystery, with elements of fantasy, science fiction, and literary fiction. From the back cover:
In an unnamed city always slick with rain, Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency. But when the illustrious detective Travis Sivart turns up murdered, Unwin is suddenly promoted to detective and must solve the mystery himself, aided only by the Manual of Detection.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Book Sale 2018, Part 1: Forgotten Books

The 44th Annual Planned Parenthood Book Sale ran from September 20th -30th this year, over two weekends. We went on 4 of the days. I bought way too many books, as usual, but a lot of them were small paperback editions of vintage mysteries, which don't take up too much space.

So here are a few "forgotten" books that I got at the sale.

I just finished reading this book, the 8th book in the Miss Marple series. The wrap around cover illustration is by Tom Adams.

The Sound of Murder is a Rex Stout mystery that does not feature Nero Wolfe. I reviewed it earlier under the original title: Alphabet Hicks. This copy is a new addition to my collection of Pyramid Green Door mysteries.

The Unfinished Clue is one of Georgette Heyer's mystery novels.

I have heard good things about the short stories of Dorothy Salisbury Davis but haven't tried any. And this is is very interesting cover.

Ross Macdonald (pseud. of Kenneth Millar) was married to Margaret Millar. They lived in Santa Barbara, California for many years and both wrote mystery novels. Macdonald's books were primarily hardboiled detective novels; Millar's books were mostly psychological suspense.

The Case of the Lucky Legs was the third Perry Mason mystery (out of over 80 books in the series). The book was published in 1934 but this Cardinal edition, with cover illustration by John Fernie, was published in 1959.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Reading Summary, September 2018

September was another good reading month. The eight books I read were divided equally between vintage crime fiction and more contemporary fiction. I read a children's book, unusual for me, but I maintain that a good children's book will be equally enjoyed by adults.


Saffy's Angel by (2001) Hilary McKay
Winner of the 2002 Whitbread Children's Book of the Year award. I read about this book at Clothes in Books (and here) but I actually decided to read it when I read the first three or four pages in a preview. I loved the story because personally (even in my old age) I can identify with Saffron and her quest, but also because the author makes each of her brothers and sisters interesting, caring people. 

CRIME FICTION reads in September:

The Drowning Pool (1950) by Ross Macdonald
This is the second Lew Archer novel, published in 1950 and set on the southern California coast (Ventura, although the name is changed), in an area where oil is the prime source of money. Archer is dealing with an extremely dysfunctional family. My full review is here.
The Demolished Man (1953) by Alfred Bester
This book is a cross between mystery and science fiction and was the winner of the first Hugo for best novel. Set in 2301, the police are aided by humans with advanced ESP (called "espers") and it is impossible to get away with murder. Nevertheless, business mogul Ben Reich is plotting to murder his rival, Craye D’Courtney. I think I missed a lot in this book. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it. But when I read other reviews or articles on the book, there was a lot of symbolism, etc., that I just missed. This is one of those books I will reread.  
Brewing Up a Storm (1996) by Emma Lathen
This is the next to the last book in the Emma Lathen series about John Thatcher, Wall Street banker. This one focuses on a group that is against the selling of non-alcoholic beer in grocery stores, seeing it as a mechanism to encourage young people to move up to real beer.  As usual it is the characters and their interactions that really shine.
Real Tigers (2016) by Mick Herron
The third book in one of my favorite espionage series, set in the UK. The basic setup is that agents who have messed up in some major way are put out  to pasture at Slough House, and thus are called the Slow Horses. Their leader is Jackson Lamb; everyone in the group has their problems, but none of them give up hope that someday they will get back to a "real job" in the secret service. A great series and this one was my favorite so far. 
Outrage at Blanco (1998) by Bill Crider
This is a Western, set in 1887, with a strong female protagonist, Ellie Taine. It does start out with several crimes, and we know exactly who the bad guys are. A  very good and unpredictable revenge story, with interesting characters. The book is described as "True Grit meets Grand Torino" and I can see the comparisons there.

The Asphalt Jungle (1949) by W.R. Burnett
This is a noir heist novel, set in an unnamed city in the midwestern US. It has a large cast of characters and the focus is on the team setting up and carrying out the heist. My first novel by W.R. Burnett, who also wrote Little Caesar and High Sierra. We watched the film adaptation, and it was very true to the book, with a marvelous cast.

The Murder of My Aunt (1934) by Richard Hull
This story is an inverted mystery, in which the reader knows who commits the crime. In this case, the narrator, Edward, is planning to murder his aunt  and that takes up a large part of the book. He is an unlikable character but still entertaining. A very interesting story, just different from most crime fiction. See my thoughts here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Murder of My Aunt: Richard Hull

Edward, the main character and narrator of this novel, is a self-centered, amoral, spoiled brat. He lives with his aunt and depends on her to provide money for his needs. The money she gives him is not enough to support himself unless he lives with her, and he is unwilling to find work in order to provide his own support. Naturally he resents the situation and his aunt. So he decides to do away with her, and spends most of his time plotting her demise.

They live in the lovely town of Llwll, in Wales, and he detests the area, of course. No decent roads to drive his car on. Too much rain. And not enough culture.

This story is an inverted mystery. In that sort of book, the reader knows who commits the crime, and the remainder of the book is devoted to how he or she is caught. Well, usually. Just as there are many sub-genres of crime fiction, there are different types of inverted mystery. In this case, the planning for the crime takes up most of the book and the investigation is hardly there. But it is still a very good and very interesting story, just different.

I cannot help but compare this story to Malice Aforethought, which shares some characteristics with this book. Both are inverted mysteries, and both feature unlikable main characters. Yet I enjoyed this one much more than Malice Aforethought. In The Murder of My Aunt, the unpleasant characters are much more fun and the secondary characters were more realistic. Not everyone likes this type of mystery, but if you like something different now and then, I would recommend this book. The characterization is very good, and there are surprises at the end.

I will be seeking out more of Richard Hull's books. This book is available in a British Library edition with an introduction by Martin Edwards. The edition I have, from International Polygonics, has a different introduction which is also very interesting. One warning: There is an incident with a pet which doesn't end well. That is my sole complaint against this book.

Other posts on this book, most with much more detail than I have provided:

At JASON HALF : writer.
At crossexaminingcrime.
At His Futile Preoccupations...
At Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine, a lovely paperback cover post.


Publisher:   International Polygonics, 1979 (orig. pub. 1934)
Length:      174 pages
Format:      Paperback
Setting:      Wales
Genre:        Inverted Mystery
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2018.