Friday, December 30, 2016

Short Stories with a Christmas Theme

Last year I started reading stories from The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited and with an introduction by Otto Penzler. It is one of those huge books: around 650 pages with two columns per page, and 59 stories. (That is how many I counted, some descriptions say 60 stories.) So it will be a few years before I finish reading all of them.

The stories are divided up into groups:

  • A Traditional Little Christmas
  • A Funny Little Christmas
  • A Sherlockian Little Christmas
  • A Pulpy Little Christmas
  • An Uncanny Little Christmas
  • A Scary Little Christmas
  • A Surprising Little Christmas
  • A Modern Little Christmas
  • A Puzzling Little Christmas
  • A Classic Little Christmas

So far I have read mainly stories from the first section of Traditional Christmas stories. My favorites in that section are:

"The Butler's Christmas Eve" by Mary Roberts Rinehart

First published in her short story collection Alibi for Isabel (New York, Farrar & Rinehart, 1944). I enjoyed this for the wartime setting. It was sort of a spy story, but it was really about a family and friendships, and I liked it a lot.

"The Adventure of the Dauphin's Doll" by Ellery Queen

First published in the December 1948 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I did not expect to like it as much as I did, but I was charmed with the description of the Queen family Christmas dinner preparations.
"So it was that when Attorney John S. Bondling called, Inspector Queen was in his kitchen, swathed in a barbecue apron, up to his elbows in fines herbes, while Ellery, behind the locked door of his study, composed a secret symphony in glittering fuchsia metallic paper, forest-green moiré ribbon, and pine cones."
This was an impossible crime story. The solution seemed fairly obvious to me, but it was still fun to read. The best part is that the structure and the humor reminded of the episodes of the Ellery Queen TV show, starring Jim Hutton. This story is examined in more detail at Reading Ellery Queen and Cross Examining Crime.

“MoreThan Flesh and Blood” by Susan Moody

This was first published in A Classic Christmas Crime, edited by Tim Heald (London, Pavilion, 1995). I thought this was a very good story, and very dark. It is the story of a man who has finally found a long lost relative after a long search. It loosely has a Christmas theme, but it did not seem to fit into the Traditional Christmas story section at all.

"The Haunted Crescent” by Peter Lovesey

This one is from the section titled Uncanny Little Christmas stories. It was first published in Mistletoe Mysteries, edited by Charlotte MacLeod (NewYork, Mysterious Press, 1989). That is actually where I first read the story. The story is narrated by a man looking into the reported haunting of a house in Bath.
"The ghost was reputed to walk on Christmas Eve. Knowing of my interest, they had generously placed their house at my disposal. I am an ex-policeman, by the way, and it takes a lot to frighten me." 
It is not a scary ghost story but it does have a nice twist. Very enjoyable reading.

Several other stories that are in this book appeared in Silent Nights, which I reviewed last year. These are:
  • "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" by Arthur Conan Doyle 
  • "The Flying Stars" by G. K. Chesterton
  • "The Necklace of Pearls" by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • "The Case is Altered" by Margery Allingham
  • "Waxworks" by Ethel Lina White
  • "Cambric Tea" by Marjorie Bowen

Of those, my favorite was "Waxworks" by Ethel Lina White, which I discuss here.

And how could I forget to mention my favorite Christmas story: "Christmas Party" by Rex Stout, which is in the Classic Little Christmas section. I first read that in a collection of four novellas in the book And Four to Go.  It was first published in Collier's, January 4, 1957, as "The Christmas-Party Murder". I reviewed it here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Thou Shell of Death: Nicholas Blake

Towards the end of each year, I try to include a few Christmas mysteries in my reading. Often, Christmas and the associated events are an excuse to gather people who normally would not be together, and that is the case in Thou Shell of Death.

Summary from the back of my paperback edition:
Nigel Strangeways is off to a Christmas houseparty hosted by Fergus O’Brien, a legendary World War I flying ace now retired ... who has received a series of mocking letters predicting that he will be murdered on Boxing Day.  
His guest list includes everyone who could even remotely be suspected of making the threats, including several people who stand to profit from O’Brien’s death, as well as Nigel, who is invited in his capacity as a criminal investigator. 
Despite Nigel’s presence, the murder takes place as predicted, and he’s left to aid the local police in interviewing the suspects. One of them is Georgia Cavendish, a brave and colorful explorer who has been romantically linked with O’Brien ...
I have always enjoyed country house mysteries, and three of the Christmas mysteries I read this year fit in that sub-genre. One attraction of that type of story is the mix of classes, and the interactions of well-to-do owners and guests, the investigators and police, and the servants of the house.

I am a big fan of the Nigel Strangeways mysteries by Nicholas Blake. I read a good number of them when I was younger, and on reading three of them in the last few months, I have found that they still entertain me. They are very well written and full of literary allusions (most of which I don't get). They are puzzle mysteries, at least the first ones in the series.

Although it is only a minor quibble, I have the same complaint for this book as I did for Minute for Murder (1947). There is too much conversation at the end about the reveal of the culprit. Once the sleuth knows who it is, I don't want the denouement to be strung out.

This is the second mystery in the series. In the first one, A Question of Proof, Nigel has several odd quirks. The one I noticed the most was that he drank a lot of tea, almost seeming addicted to his cups of tea. In this story he seem less quirky.

Blake wrote 16 mysteries in this series over 31 years (1935-1966). From what I have read the earlier books were the more formal classic mysteries of the Golden Age and his post-war books were more character driven works. I look forward to reading through them in order and following this evolution in his writing.

Nicholas Blake is a pseudonym used by Cecil Day-Lewis, who was an Anglo-Irish poet and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. He was the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Per various sources, he wrote mysteries to supplement his income and support his family.

This post is submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog. Check out posts for other forgotten books HERE and this week there are some "Best of 2016" lists also. Also this is my last entry for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Bloodstains" category.


Publisher:  Rue Morgue Press, 2009 (orig. pub. 1936)
Length:     191 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Series:      Nigel Strangeways #2
Setting:     England
Genre:      Country house mystery
Source:     Purchased in April 2016.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas is Murder: C. S. Challinor

Of the five Christmas mysteries that I read this year, three were set in a country house surrounded by snow.

This summary is from the starred review at Booklist...
The amateur detective is Rex Graves, a Scottish barrister, fond of Sudoku puzzles and Latin quotations... Although set firmly in the present, with numerous references to the Iraq War, this tale reads like a classic country-house mystery. Rex and the others are snowed in at the Swanmere Manor hotel in East Sussex, England. Being the last to arrive (on two tennis rackets lashed to his feet à la snowshoes), Rex immediately hears of the unexpected demise of one of the other guests. Even though they are in touch with the outside world, the authorities instruct the hotel staff to keep the body in a cool room with the windows open.
A guest who is a paramedic takes Rex aside and voices his suspicion that the death was not a heart attack, but poisoning. Rex takes it upon himself to unravel the mystery while waiting for the authorities to arrive.

I am of two minds about this book. On the positive side, it kept me entertained and my interest in the story did not lag. Unfortunately, I had several niggles that I could not ignore. There were problems with the logic throughout, and (most of) the characters were not convincing or very interesting. The denouement did not seem to make sense to me and the way it was handled was too frivolous and light. The attitude seemed to be "let's get this done with and move on to the farewells."

There were some characters I liked. Two of the guests, Anthony Smart, an antique dealer, and Patrick Vance, Smart's gay partner, were charming and the most fun. I also like Clifford, who "just creaks along doing odd jobs in the house and garden. He lives alone in the lodge by the gate." Thus I have some confidence that, in future books, the author can come up with both a more convincing story line and characters that interest me.

Other positives: It is short, and the excerpt from the second novel that is included at the end of my edition reads very well.

My quandary is that, not only do I have mixed feelings about the book, I find that reviews are divided. About half the reviewers find this a fun cozy read, set in contemporary times but written like a traditional Golden Age mystery. The other half have similar complaints to mine. Also, the author has published eight books in this series, and this says to me that there are people enjoying the series. So, while I cannot recommend the book based on my experience, I can suggest that you give it a try if you think it may appeal to you. I will list some links to reviews at the end.

The second book in the series is set at an exclusive nudist resort in the French West Indies (Murder in the Raw). That sounds interesting. The third book is set in Florida (Phi Beta Murder), where Rex Graves' son is attending college. In the fourth book, Murder on the Moor, Rex finally spends some time in Scotland.

See reviews at:
florigegium444 (positive, and the reviewer also liked later books in the series)
Notes from a Readerholic (negative)
Letters from a Hill Farm (positive)
Mysterious Reviews (positive)

Per the author's site:
C.S. Challinor was raised and educated in Scotland (St. George's School for Girls, Edinburgh) and England (Lewes Priory, Sussex; University of Kent, Canterbury: Joint Hons Latin & French). She also holds a diploma in Russian from the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. She now lives in Southwest Florida.


Publisher:   Midnight Ink, 2014 (orig. pub. 2008) 
Length:       200 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Rex Graves, #1
Setting:      Swanmere Manor, English countryside
Genre:       Amateur detective
Source:      I purchased this book in October 2015.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Favorite Reads of 2016

Goodreads says that I have read 83 books in 2016, which means I will probably end with a total of 85 books read. I tried to cut my list of favorite books for 2016 down to less than ten, but that did not work, and for the third year I ended up with 11 books on the list.

Four of the books fall in the spy fiction sub-genre. Five of the books were published between 1939 and 1986. Six of the books were published between 2001 and 2016 and three of those were published in 2016.

The links go to my reviews / overviews.

Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout (1939)
As usual, the Nero Wolfe mysteries I read this year were among my top reads (and all were rereads). I chose just one book to represent this author.

Nero Wolfe is well known for his extreme distaste for leaving his home. Some Buried Caesar is one of two novels that I can remember where Wolfe and Archie are away from the brownstone from the beginning to the end of the book. Archie drives Wolfe to an exposition where he will display some of his prize orchids, so the story places Archie and Nero into an environment that they know little about. But my favorite thing about this book is that it introduces Lily Rowan.

She Shall Have Murder by Delano Ames (1948)
A Golden Age mystery, set in post-war London, with rationing, feeding the gasmeters, etc. At the beginning of this book, Jane Hamish is writing a mystery story and Dagobert, her lover, is giving her ideas for the plot. Dagobert is unemployed; Jane works in a lawyer's office. Although at first I found Dagobert very annoying, he grew on me as the book moved along and Jane Hamish and Dagobert Brown quickly became my favorite detecting couple in Golden Age fiction.

From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming (1957)
This is the fifth novel in the James Bond series, the fourth that I read this year, and it is by far my favorite so far. I have always loved the movie, and luckily in this case the movie and the book are very close.

The three previous Bond books I read were more like adventure stories. From Russia with Love sticks closer to the conventional type of spy story I prefer. Early chapters focus on SMERSH agents setting up a plot to assassinate James Bond and our hero doesn't show up until later in the story. The plot is complicated, there is a train trip on the Orient Express with a beautiful enemy agent, and plenty of exotic settings.

The Labyrinth Makers by Anthony Price (1970)
David Audley works for England's Ministry of Defence, but as a researcher, doing behind the scenes work. For his latest assignment he goes out in the field and he is not thrilled with this change. A WWII-era British cargo plane has been discovered at the bottom of a drained lake, complete with the dead pilot and not much else. His job is to figure out why the Soviets are so interested in the empty plane. The beginning of a spy series with eighteen more books, this is just the type of spy fiction I like: a quiet book, a lot of talking and thinking and not a lot of action.

A Perfect Spy by John le Carré (1986)
This is one of seven books I read this year by John le Carré and they were all excellent books. I picked just one of them to represent this author.

Magnus Pym, a British spy assigned to an important post in Vienna, has disappeared. After he gets a call that his father has died, he leaves for the funeral in London, but he doesn't return when expected. British intelligence agents mount a search for him. Being the gifted spy that he is, Pym easily eludes them for the majority of the book. A Perfect Spy revolves around Magnus Pym's relationship with his father, Rick, a con man who uses everyone in his life to achieve his own goals. The story is mostly autobiographical.

Pashazade by John Courtenay Grimwood (2001)
The first book in the Arabesk Trilogy. The story starts with the investigation of a murder, but the chapters skip back and forth in time, sometimes a few days, sometimes going back years in flashbacks. The setting in the present time is El Iskandryia, a North African metropolis in a world where "the United States brokered a deal that ended World War I and the Ottoman Empire never collapsed," as described on the back of the book. So this is an alternate history, sci-fi, coming of age thriller, and just my cup of tea. Pashazade has elements of a police procedural; the crime is investigated by Chief of Detectives Felix Abrinsky, formerly a policeman in Los Angeles, California, and high tech forensics are used .

Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman (2008)
The first in a series of five novels about Dev Conrad, a political consultant. In this novel he is working for an Illinois Senator who is running for reelection. The attitude towards politics in this novel is very cynical. Conrad truly wants his candidate to win because he believes he is the better choice of those available, but he does not see one side as bad and the other as good. No political party or ideology is demonized.

Dev Conrad is a great character. Human, not perfect, he cares about people and about his work. The people working on the campaign appear to be a close-knit group but not everyone is what they seem. The story's ending worked very well. It was logical and made sense but was a surprise to me.

An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer (2012)
Steinhauer is close to the top of my list of favorite spy fiction authors. An American Spy was the third book in his Tourist trilogy,  featuring Milo Weaver, CIA agent in the Department of Tourism. "Tourists" are undercover agents with no identity and no home. Milo is not the James Bond type, although there are plenty of thrilling escapades and violence. But we see the other side of this spy's life, the family he wishes he could spend more time with. I enjoyed picking up on Milo Weaver's adventures again. I like the depth of the characters and the exploration of the conflicts in their lives within this framework. The first book in the trilogy is The Tourist, the second is The Nearest Exit.

A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward (2016)
This is Sarah Ward's second novel featuring Detective Inspector Francis Sadler and his team. It is a good police procedural, focusing as much on some of the people related to the crime as on the investigative team.

The dead body of a man is found in an abandoned mortuary, located in an overgrown area outside of Bampton, Derbyshire. The deceased was supposedly murdered twelve years before. His wife, Lena, confessed to the crime and served a ten year prison sentence. Thus begins an unusual case which combines an investigation into who was killed years ago with an inquiry into whether the proper procedures were followed at that time. The plot is very complex but not at the expense of the reader's enjoyment.

See Also Deception by Larry D. Sweazy (2016)
This is the second book in a series featuring Marjorie Trumaine, set on a farm in rural North Dakota in 1964. Marjorie is an indexer, creating indexes for non-fiction books. She does this work freelance to make money that she and her husband, Hank, badly need. The area is affected by a drought, with a severe impact on the crops and livestock on the farm. Hank is an invalid due to an accident on the farm and Marjorie shoulders the responsibility for running the farm.

In this book, Marjorie's best friend in the area, a librarian, commits suicide. She begins to suspect that the suicide was faked but the police will not discuss the case with her. In addition to providing an intriguing mystery, the story gives us a vivid picture of what it was like to be a woman at this time, and how difficult it was to be heard in a man's world.

Shot in Detroit by Patricia Abbott (2016)
A novel of psychological suspense, set in 2007 Detroit. It does not paint a pretty picture of that area or the struggle to survive financially in that environment. The story centers on a female photographer who is working on a project to photograph black men who have died much too young. The subject matter is sometimes unsettling and the story is dark.

Violet Hart is the center of this story. She has family issues; her father deserted her family and her sister died when she was young. She has trouble making ends meet and wants very much to succeed in artistic photography. She is not a very likable person, willing to use people to get what she wants, always pushing her agenda first.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Kill Now, Pay Later: Robert Kyle

The book opens with this paragraph:
The bride wore a bouffant gown of off-white silk taffeta with a fitted bodice of Alençon lace. The groom wore striped pants, a carnation and a look of bitter regret. As for me, Ben Gates, I was wearing my .38 in a shoul­der rig inside my best dacron and worsted. But I wasn’t a guest. Most of the wedding receptions I go to socially take place in bar-and-grills. An insurance company had hired me to come to this one and make sure that no­body went home with any of the wedding presents.
The narrator is Ben Gates, private eye. Unfortunately, someone at the wedding drugged his coffee, and when Gates wakes up, everyone assumes he got drunk and allowed a theft and a murder to occur in the house. Thus he has to pursue the investigation to regain his reputation. And shortly after that, the bride's father gives him another job to look into also.

The storytelling is well done; I was entertained throughout. The plot is detailed and intricate, sometimes a bit hard to follow, but I just enjoyed the ride. The Ben Gates series is the type that features beautiful, well endowed women, either scantily dressed or in revealing clothes. I have no problem with that ... I don't find that the women are presented as silly or stupid. Most of them are just as amoral and conniving as the men in the story. In fact, many of  the people that Gates investigates in this story are selfish and self-involved.

A big plus for me is that this detective doesn't seem like a copy of anyone else. This book was published in 1960, and there are plenty of detective novels from that time that I haven't read. But a lot of more contemporary private eyes in fiction seem like they are copies of Chandler's Philip Marlowe, even using the same style of writing, and I grow weary of stories like that.

Ben Gates is cynical, which is fairly typical of this sub-genre. He is attractive to women but not macho. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he is serious about his job. Even though the police cannot prove negligence and take away his license, they are doing their best to ruin his reputation and that is the driving motivation behind his pursuit of this case.

I forgot to mention that this is the third book in the Ben Gates series (of five books). I have the fourth book and will certainly be looking for the others. See also reviews at Ed Gorman's Blog and at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased. There is also a fine overview of the series by J. Kingston Pierce at Kirkus.

I purchased my copy of this paperback original edition because of the cover illustration by Robert McGinnis. The illustration also graces the cover of a book titled The Art of Robert McGinnis, with text by Art Scott. Kill Now, Pay Later was published in a new paperback edition in 2007 by Hard Case Crime. The newer edition also has a cover illustration by Robert McGinnis, commissioned for that edition. The book appears to be available only in a Kindle version now.

I am glad that the Crimes of the Century meme for December, hosted at Past Offences, motivated me to read this book. This month the year chosen was 1960. 

Robert Kyle is one pseudonym adopted by Robert Terrall. Just based on reading this book, I don't know why he isn't more widely known. He wrote some books under his own name, this series and some standalone novels under Robert Kyle, and seven novels as John Gonzales. I think that they were all crime fiction. He also wrote using the pseudonym of Brett Halliday, writing a good number of the later Mike Shayne novels.


Publisher:   Dell, 1960
Length:       191 pages
Format:      Paperback Original
Series:       Ben Gates, #3 
Setting:      New York
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Read Scotland 2017

I participated in the Read Scotland challenge at Peggy Ann's Post in 2014 and 2015. Last year I sat it out, but this year I am getting back to this challenge because I have so many books by Scottish authors and I want to read them.

The challenge has always been set up at Goodreads too, and this year that is the headquarters. I have signed up for the Highlander level of 6-10 books but I hope to exceed 10 books for this challenge.

Basically the challenge goes all year, and includes books of any genre "written by a Scot (by birth or immigration) or about or set in Scotland." Mostly I want to read books by Scottish authors, set in Scotland, but I do have some set in Scotland by authors from other areas. See the Goodreads group HERE or check out this post for more information.

And here are books, series and authors that I have and want to read:

Ann Cleeves
Red Bones
Blue Lightning
A. D. Scott (profiled by Peggy here)
A Small Death in the Great Glen
A Double Death On the Black Isle
Beneath the Abbey Wall
William McIlvanney
The Jack Laidlaw series
Denise Mina
The Garnethill series
The Paddy Meehan series
The Alex Morrow series
Catriona McPherson
The Winter Ground (Dandy Gilver series)
The Child Garden
As She Left It
Peter May
The Blackhouse
Ian Rankin
John Rebus series
Val McDermid
The Distant Echo
Barry Maitland
The Brock and Kolla series
T. Frank Muir
DI Gilchrist series

Friday, December 16, 2016

Cold Mourning: Brenda Chapman

I always aim to have a few Christmas mysteries to review at this time. This is my second book for 2016 set around Christmas.

Kala Stonechild, a First Nations police officer with a troubled background, arrives in Ottawa, Ontario for a new job just a few days before Christmas. She has been hired by Detective Jacques Rouleau, who heads a specialized unit in the Major Crimes division. Very shortly after Kala reports in for her new job, wealthy businessman Tom Underwood goes missing. Kala is assigned to the case before she even has time to find a place to live. As she and other members of the team interview his family and business associates, they uncover dysfunctional family relationships and disagreements within Underwood's business, pointing to many people who might want him dead.

There are a couple of secondary plots. Kala has moved to the area to look for a cousin who she has lost contact with. She spends any extra time she has looking for this woman. A secondary case the team is working on is related to a man assaulting women in apartment building lobbies and fondling them.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints. Kala's. Rouleau's. Geraldine, the missing man's daughter. Susan, a friend of Tom and his first wife. The story moves along quickly. The characters are well developed, especially Kala and her boss. Enough background about the characters' lives is provided so that they are believable, although Tom Underwood's family is an exceptionally mixed-up, conflicted group. The gradual reveal of various relationships and issues they have is very effective.

I enjoyed reading this book; for those who like police procedurals, I recommend it. I would like to continue the series, and see what happens next in the lives of Kala and Rouleau. They are both likable characters, dealing with issues in their lives, but in a healthy way. Kala is a strong female, secure in her abilities as a policewoman, and dealing well with the racism and sexism she encounters. Detective Rouleau is older, recently divorced, and dealing with that loss in his life.

As noted above, I picked this book to read and review at this time because of the Christmas setting. It does not have a Christmas theme as such, but Kala does arrive in Ottawa shortly before Christmas, and Tom Underwood disappears after leaving a company Christmas party. And because this is Canada, there is snow and cold weather and it really feels like Christmas time... unlike Southern California at Christmas. There are more parties and the buildup to Christmas is going on during the investigation, and the characters are having to deal with trauma in their lives in one way or another during the Christmas season, which should be bright and merry (in theory). Of course, Christmas is often not so merry for those who work in law enforcement.

See other reviews at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan and Peggy Ann's Post.


Publisher:   Dundurn, 2014.
Length:       389 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       A Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery, #1
Setting:      Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased this book.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Boobytrap: Bill Pronzini

This is the 25th novel in the Nameless Detective series about a private detective working in the San Francisco area. The series began in 1971 and now consists of nearly 40 novels, plus novellas and short story collections. Over the years the character has aged, matured, and changed his lifestyle.

I started reading these books when they first came out, then introduced them to my husband. We found several copies at a used book store in Santa Barbara in the early 1980s and he bought all that were available there. Pronzini ended up being one of his favorite authors of mysteries and he buys every one of them as soon as they come out.

In this book, Nameless is on a solo fishing trip, staying in a cabin on a lake in the High Sierras. He needs a break but his planned vacation with his wife has been canceled due to her work responsibilities. An Assistant D.A. in San Francisco has offered Nameless the use of a friend's cabin at a mountain lake if he will drive his wife and son up to the area. Unfortunately, Nameless just happens to be at the lake at the same time as a bomber is seeking vengeance on the people who sent him to prison.

I like the way the story was told partly through journal entries written by the bomber, who has just been released from prison for an attack on his ex-wife and her lover. The reader knows from the beginning there will be trouble coming when Nameless arrives at the lake. Suspense is maintained by not knowing which other newcomer at the lake is the culprit or how he has set up his boobytrap. The relationship between the D.A.'s twelve-year-old son, Chuck, and Nameless is very well done.

There are significant ways this book differs from earlier books that I read. The story here focuses mainly on Nameless, less on his personal relationships and the changes at the office. Normally the entire story is told from the detective's point of view, in first person; this time we have the bomber's point of view, giving us more information. Also, we are away from the more usual setting of San Francisco. This was a good place for me to get back into the series, but not necessarily a good place to start for those who haven't read any other books in the series.

I enjoyed the book knowing the character's previous struggles and the type of person he is, and none of that is rehashed with each book (which is a good thing). At this point in the series Nameless has added one or more persons in his office and is less of a loner, but that is definitely in the background in this book. As a side note, Nameless actually gets a first name in this book; he is called Bill by one of the characters. It is just a throwaway line, no emphasis on it ... and I completely missed it.

With a series that has been ongoing for 40 plus books, it is probably futile to recommend that the reader start at book 1 and read in order. That is a time investment most won't make. There are advantages to reading the earlier novels. There is a progression in the life of the detective. He may have hit some rough spots but he is not a flawed character with major problems.

Bill Pronzini was born in 1943 and has been a full-time professional writer since 1969. He is a very prolific writer; in addition to the Nameless detective series, he has published many standalone novels, including westerns, and many short stories. He has also edited a huge number of anthologies, alone and with others. He was the first president of the Private Eye Writers of America. Both he and his wife Marcia Muller have been honored with the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

For more information on this series, there is a great description of Nameless and the evolution of the series at The Thrilling Detective website.

This post is submitted as an entry for Patti Abbott's Forgotten Friday Books meme at her Pattinase blog, which will feature Marcia Muller or Bill Pronzini on December 16


Publisher:   Carroll & Graf, 1998 
Length:       213 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Nameless Detective, #25
Setting:       High Sierras, California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       Borrowed from my husband.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Few Challenges for 2017

In 2017, I am joining in on three challenges hosted by Bev at My Reader's BlockFirst up is The Read It Again, Sam Challenge. This challenge is for those who like to reread old favorites.

There are four levels for this challenge. I am joining in at the Déjà vu level: Reread 4 books. I will probably reread more than that, but I will start slow.

My favorite author to reread is Rex Stout, but I also hope to include books by: 
Josephine Tey
Margery Allingham
Emma Lathen
Jill McGown
Charles McCarry
Patricia Moyes

Next is the Color Coded Challenge. I took part in this one in 2013 and now I am back for more. These are the basic rules:

* Read nine books in the following categories.
1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title. 
2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgundy, etc) in the title.
3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title.
4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title.
5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title.
6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title.
7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title.
8. A book with any other color in the title (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magenta, etc.).
9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.).

I have a lot of books with a color in the title and a couple of series I want to read more of that feature colors in the title: the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald and the Pat and Jean Abbott series by Frances Crane.

And finally, the Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt 2017

The goal is to to find as many objects on the scavenger hunt list as possible on the covers of the mystery books you read. Participants can play along in either the Golden or Silver Mystery Eras or both.

For the purposes of this challenge, the Golden Age Vintage Mysteries must have been first published before 1960. Silver Age Vintage Mysteries may be first published any time from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive). 

My goal will be to read six Golden Age mysteries to satisfy this challenge. I am sure I will read more than that number but sometimes matching objects to the scavenger hunt list is harder. I was not successful with the Silver Age mystery covers in 2016, but if I am luckier this year I will join in on that one later.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The 2017 Sci-Fi Experience

For the fifth year I am joining in on the Sci-Fi Experience, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. The 2017 Sci-Fi Experience began on December 1st and runs through January 31st, 2017.

Per Carl...
The Sci-Fi Experience will hopefully give people an opportunity to: 
     a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
     b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
     c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be. 
If you have ever wanted to give science fiction a try, or are already a fan of the genre and are looking for a group of kindred spirits, this is the event for you.

This is not a challenge. There is no number of books to aim for. You can read any type of literature related to science fiction or even nonfiction material about space travel and enjoy any other media related to these topics. There is a site where reviews are shared, if you should desire to write one.

December isn't a great month for science fiction reading for me, or for starting up any new endeavor relating to reading, but I do plan to try to fit in some science fiction reading this month, and will continue with a few in January.

I plan to read one graphic novel, Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars. Also The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. I also hope to read a book by John Scalzi (TBD), World of Ptavv by Larry Niven, and The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Murder Goes Mumming: Alisa Craig

Charlotte MacLeod is a mystery author known for her unconventional characters and outrageous plots. Rest You Merry, published in 1979, was her first mystery novel. It was followed by nine more in the Peter Shandy series, ending in 1996. While she was writing that series, she had three other series going. The Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series was also published under her own name. Under the pseudonym of Alisa Craig she wrote two series set in Canada: the Grub and Stakers series and a series featuring Detective Inspector Madoc Rhys of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The first book in the Madoc Rhys series is A Pint of Murder, published in 1980. In that book Madoc meets Janet Wadman, and there is an immediate attraction between them. Murder Goes Mumming is the second book in the series and follows up on that relationship. Madoc is a Royal Canadian Mountie, and he is visiting Fredericton, New Brunswick where Janet works and lives in a boarding house. This book has the fastest engagement ever, with Madoc's mother, Lady Rhys, practically pushing an heirloom ring on them to seal the deal. (Not that I have anything against relationships that move along quickly; if you know you have found a good thing, why not go for it?) Madoc is the black sheep in a family of talented musicians.

This is my first Christmas mystery of the season. The couple is invited to spend Christmas with acquaintances of Lady Rhys, Donald and Babs Condrycke, at the family estate, Graylings. It doesn't hurt that Donald is a board member at the company where Janet is a stenographer. And of course Madoc, Janet, and the huge Condrycke clan all get snowed in. So this is a traditional country house mystery, very much on the cozy side, with lots of humor and some very unusual characters.

In the first mystery in the series, Madoc is sent undercover to investigate a suspicious death. In this one, he is in undercover in the sense that he does not announce that he makes his living in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Condryckes assume he has some unspecified research position in the government. When an elderly member of the family dies, only Madoc suspects that the death was not natural. Since a doctor cannot be called in and they cannot get out to report the death, he proceeds to do as much investigating as he can without alerting the others to the situation.

This is a fun story. I have always wondered what mumming is, and now I know at least one version of it. In this case the costumed group did not visit neighbors, but just traipsed and danced around the big house and partied.

One drawback is that most of the members of the Condrycke family are coarse, self-centered, and unlikable. It is hard to care who did what or why if no one is likable. (We never meet the victim, Granny Condrycke.) Janet and Madoc are really the only likable characters, and they are almost too good to be true. There is a very interesting Welsh butler, Ludovic.

As far as the solution to the mystery goes, it is sort of slapdash, and the explanation is long and involved. But really in this type of story, solving the mystery is not so important and I was mostly enjoying the author's wit and satire.

I will admit that I was drawn to this book because of its wonderful cover, which my husband discovered and pointed out to me.

In December of 2014, I read and reviewed MacLeod's first mystery, Rest You Merry, which also is set at Christmas.


Publisher:   Doubleday Books, 1981 
Length:       180 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Madoc Rhys, #2
Setting:       New Brunswick, Canada
Genre:        Cozy Mystery
Source:       I purchased this book.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Reading in November 2016

Another wonderful month of reading with a good bit of variety. Some relatively current crime fiction, a fantasy novel, a couple of mysteries set at Christmas, and some mysteries from earlier decades.

I started out the month with a book from the fantasy genre, one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. I read Mort, the first book in the Death series. I am glad that I have finally started reading Pratchett's books.

I also read a very short graphic novel, RED. This graphic novel by Warren Ellis was the basis for the movie of the same title, released in 2010, starring Bruce Willis, Mary Louise Parker, and a lot of other entertaining and talented actors. When I say it was short, it was only three issues when first published, for a total of 66 pages. The book also includes character design sketches and the script and layouts for issue 1. I found these very interesting since I don't know the processes for developing a comic.

These are the crime fiction books I read in November...

A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake
(Originally published in 1935, this book is set in a boarding school. This was the first book in the Nigel Strangeways mysteries by Nicholas Blake. Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym of Cecil Day Lewis, a poet laureate in the UK in the late 1960's into the early 1970's.)

Thou Shell of Death by Nicholas Blake
(This was the second book in the Nigel Strangeways mystery series. It is set at Christmas, and is a traditional English country house mystery.)

The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald (reviewed here)

Past Tense by Margot Kinberg (reviewed here)

Dupe by Liza Cody (reviewed here)

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves
(This is the second book in Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope series, which is also now a TV series. A woman was put in prison ten years before for killing a teenage girl, the daughter of her ex-lover. Now it has been discovered that the woman was innocent, and Vera is looking into the original investigation.)

Murder Goes Mumming by Alisa Craig
(Another book set at Christmas. This one is a cozy, a humorous tale set in New Brunswick, Canada. Alisa Craig is the pseudonym of Charlotte MacLeod, used for two series set in Canada . Review coming soon.)