Wednesday, November 28, 2018

And Be a Villain: Rex Stout

This book, the 13th in the Nero Wolfe series, is the first in a trilogy that features Wolfe's archnemesis, Arnold Zeck. This is a re-read for me, of course. In this story, the characters include a radio talk show host, Madeline Fraser, and her entourage. A guest on the show dies from poisoning, and Wolfe investigates. An enjoyable read, as always.

From the dust jacket...
Motivated by money alone, Nero involves himself in a crime which has been broadcast over a great national network. A leading lady of the microphone interviews a racetrack tout and a professor of mathematics. In the course of the interview, as a plug for one of the sponsors, a noted soft-drink manufacturer, each guest is served a bottle of the beverage. To the astonishment of the radio public, the embarrassment of the soft-drink manufacturer, and the annoyance of the New York Police Department, the racetrack oracle instantly drops dead of cyanide poisoning. How did cyanide get into the drink? And how could anyone be sure that the tout would receive the fatal bottle? Or, for that matter, was the poisoned bottle intended for him at all? 

Nero Wolfe's usual approach to detecting is to work only when he needs money. He often charges so much to work on a case that he can pick and choose when he wants to work. Occasionally he will be motivated by friendship or a feeling of responsibility to investigate, but this is one of those times that he has run out of money and wants to persuade the central figures in the case to hire him. In And Be a Villain, he has multiple clients: the radio personality, and the many sponsors of her show, all of whom want this incident far behind them.

And this is one case where Wolfe really has to work for his money. There are no easy answers, and the perpetrator is very, very clever. The investigation involves a lot of leg work, which Wolfe never does and is even more than Archie can handle. Wolfe tries (somewhat successfully) to use the police to follow up on clues he has found.

As mentioned above, this book is part of the Arnold Zeck trilogy. The two other books that feature that villain are The Second Confession (1949) and In the Best Families (1950). In this book, Wolfe only encounters Zeck at the very end, more like a cameo to whet our interest. The next two novels in the series include more involvement with Zeck. All three were published together in an omnibus, Triple Zeck.

Many fans of this series consider these three books to be some of the best in the series. I do like this one a lot. Usually it is Nero Wolfe's "family" (Archie, his legman; Fritz the cook and Theodore, the gardener; and the stable of freelance investigators) that I enjoy reading about. This time, Madeline Fraser and her employees, sponsors, and devoted fans provide the entertainment, until the deaths continue to mount up. Stout often likes to poke fun at big businesses like the marketing and advertising industries, and he gets a lot of opportunities here.

An interesting tidbit that I had not noticed before:

In the Book Club Edition I read this time, the beverage in question was called Starlite. In later editions, it was called Hi-Spot and that is the name that I remember. I actually did not notice the difference at all until it was pointed out in a review on Goodreads. That review is very good and has lot of insights, other than the issue of the drink name, but it does get into detail about the story, so keep that in mind if you read it.

I found this Wikipedia page that discusses the issues with the different wording for the drink and it appears that the title of the drink went back and forth over various editions:
1948 Viking FE – Hi-Spot;
1948 Viking BCE – Starlite;
1949 Wm. Collins, Crime Club (Great Britain) – Starlite;
1950 Bantam Paperback – Hi-Spot;
1950 Viking BCE/Full House Omnibus – Starlite;
1974 Viking FE/Zeck Trilogy – Hi-Spot;
1975 Severn House (Great Britain) – Starlite;
1994 Bantam Paperback – Hi-Spot

The two different sources give different reasons for the name changes but either way, it was interesting.

See other reviews at:
Bill Crider's Pulp Culture Magazine
Clothes in Books
Noah's Archives
The Passing Tramp
In So Many Words...    (covers all three Arnold Zeck books)


Publisher: Viking Press, 1948 (book club ed.)
Length:    216 pages
Format:    Hardcover
Series:     Nero Wolfe
Setting:    New York City
Genre:     Mystery

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Joining the Classics Club

Back in 2016, I posted a list of classic books I wanted to read. At the time I was in the mood to have a loose goal, an open-ended personal project to read more "classics." Since then I have read 10 of the books on that list and written about 8 of those.

Recently I decided I wanted to revise the list, and make it official by joining The Classics Club, an online group that focuses on reading classics and posting about books read. The main requirements are to create a list of at least 50 classic titles that I plan to read and blog about within the next five years.

So here is the new list, now with about 70 titles.  Since I am posting this on November 25, 2018, my goal date to have finished all the titles is November 25, 2023.

Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart (1958)
Louisa May Alcott – Little Women (1868)
Margery Allingham – Tiger in the Smoke (1952)
Isaac Asimov – Foundation (1951)
Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility (1811)
Vicki Baum – Grand Hotel (1929)
Nicholas Blake – The Beast Must Die (1938)
Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles (1950)
Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Anne Bronte – Agnes Grey (1847)
Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre (1847)
Mikhail Bulgarov – The Master and Margarita (1967)
James Cain – The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
Albert Camus –  The Stranger (1942)
Truman Capote – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) [read October 7, 2019; reviewed October 27, 2019]
Lewis Carroll – Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
Willa Cather –  My Ántonia (1918)
Raymond Chandler – The Long Goodbye (1953)
Agatha Christie – And Then There Were None  (1939)
Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)
Charles Dickens – Bleak House (1853)
Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol (1843)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Sign of the Four (1890)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Adventures of Sherlock Holmes  (1892)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)
Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca (1938)
John Meade Falkner – The Nebuly Coat (1903)
Edna Ferber – Giant (1952)
Edna Ferber – Show Boat (1926)
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (1925)
Ford Madox Ford – The Good Soldier (1915)
Kenneth Grahame –  The Wind in the Willows (1908)
Stella Gibbons – Cold Comfort Farm (1932) [read August 19, 2019; reviewed Sept. 25, 2019]
Graham Greene – Our Man in Havana (1958)
Graham Greene – The Quiet American (1955)
Dashiell Hammett – Red Harvest (1929)
Robert A. Heinlein –  Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
Patricia Highsmith – The Talented Mr.Ripley (1955)
Dorothy B. Hughes – In A Lonely Place (1947)
Victor Hugo  – Les Misérables (1862)
Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
Christopher Isherwood – Goodbye to Berlin (1939)
Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
Madeleine L'Engle – A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
Ira Levin – A Kiss Before Dying (1953)
Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
Margaret Millar – Beast In View (1955)
Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love (1945)
Walker Percy – The Moviegoer (1961)
J. D. Salinger – Catcher in the Rye (1951)
J. D. Salinger – Franny and Zooey (1961)
Dorothy l. Sayers – The Nine Tailors (1934)
William Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
Mary Shelley – Frankenstein (1818)
Nevil Shute – On the Beach (1957) [read May 4, 2019; reviewed May 22, 2019]
Betty Smith – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) [read July 16, 2019; reviewed Oct. 16, 2019]
Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle (1948)
Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)
John Steinbeck – Cannery Row (1945)
Robert Louis Stevenson – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)
Bram Stoker – Dracula (1897)
William Thackeray – Vanity Fair (1848)
James Thurber – The 13 Clocks (1950)
Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina (1878)
Anthony Trollope – The Warden (1855)
Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-Five  (1955)
H. G. Wells –  The Invisible Man (1897)
Eudora Welty – The Optimist's Daughter (1972)
Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
Virginia Woolf – Flush (1933)

The definition of a classic is pretty much up to the person creating the list. My list is still primarily works of fiction that were published over 50 years ago that have "stood the test of time." I removed some titles, adding more titles. I did add one title that was published in 1972, so not quite 50 years old. Because the number of titles is greater, I also increased the number of classic crime fiction, science fiction, and fantasy books.

The club acknowledges that readers may want to change the list around over time, and it is allowable to "switch up the titles on your list after you post it, at any time during the duration of your challenge."

How to join the Classics Club

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Blood and Rubles: Stuart M. Kaminsky

The Inspector Rostnikov series began in 1981 when Russia was still part of the USSR; the 16th and  last book in the series was published in 2009. I am now at book 10 in the series. The protagonist is a metropolitan police detective in Moscow. Per the description on the dust jacket:
Crime in post-communist Russia has only gotten worse: rubles are scarce; blood, plentiful. In the eyes of Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov and his metropolitan police team, newfound democracy has unleashed the desperation that pushes people over the edge, and has emboldened those already on the path to hell. ...A trio of nasty cases confirms their worst fears.
The major case involves a Mafia shoot-out at a cafe; several innocent bystanders are killed or injured, and one of the dead is someone important to Inspector Emil Karpo. An American FBI agent, a Black man who can speak Russian, is assigned to the team to observe and help with this case. The second assignment involves three young boys who are robbing and beating people in their neighborhood, and another member of the team works on the disappearance of valuable artifacts.

Inspector Rostnikov is the center of each novel. He has a leg injury suffered during military service, which causes him pain and inconvenience in his job. He reads Ed McBain novels. His wife is Jewish, which has also caused problems with his job. His grown son is fighting in Afghanistan when the series begins.

There are several police colleagues on Rostnikov's team who have recurring roles. Their relationships play a part in each novel.

Inspector Emil Karpo, known as "the Vampire," is cold and forbidding, almost robotic in his behavior. He has always supported Communism and still does, even after the change in government in Russia after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. As the series progresses, he  becomes more human and thus a more interesting character.

This series is intriguing because of the picture of life in Russia during this interesting period. Rostnikov's strongest characteristic is his support of his staff in the face of the continuing changes in Russia and his ability to get the best out of them. He recognizes their differences and their gifts.

For me, the criminal plots are less important than the interactions of all the characters, yet each subplot is interesting, if sometimes depressing.

This series is best read in order; the characters grow and their lives change from book to book.

Stuart M. Kaminsky (September 29, 1934 – October 9, 2009) was an American mystery writer and film professor. He was a very prolific writer, and he is known for four long-running series of mystery novels. Two of the series feature police detectives, the Inspector Rostnikov series and the Abe Lieberman series. The other two series are about private detectives; the Toby Peters series is set in 1940's Hollywood and the Lew Fonescu series is set in Florida. The Toby Peters series is the longest and those mysteries are humorous; the other series are more serious in tone, sometimes dark. Kaminsky received the 1989 Edgar Award for Best Novel for A Cold Red Sunrise, the fifth novel in the Inspector Rostnikov series.

Many of Stuart Kaminsky's books are available through Road in e-book format or in trade paperback.


Publisher:  Fawcett Columbine, 1996
Length:      257 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Series:      Inspector Rostnikov, #10
Setting:     Moscow
Genre:      Police Procedural
Source:     I purchased my copy

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Water Rat of Wanchai: Ian Hamilton

Ava Lee is a forensic accountant and this story finds her working for a family friend, usually referred to as Uncle. Together they track down large sums of money for their clients. In The Water Rat of Wanchai, Uncle has contracted with the nephew of an old friend to recover five million dollars that has gone missing after he provided financing for a seafood company's operations.

Goodreads currently has a very detailed overview for the Ava Lee series. From that overview:
Methodical. Resourceful. Courageous. Determined. Strong. Confident. 
Ava Lee is a young Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who specializes in recovering massive debts that aren’t likely to be recovered through traditional methods. 
In the first book of the Ava Lee series, The Water Rate of Wanchai, her character takes shape through learning about her traditional Chinese upbringing, her family dynamic and the people that are most important to Ava.
I am always surprised when a male author does a good (and thorough) job with clothing. Here Ava meets the sister of the new client at a dim sum restaurant in Toronto:
She was tall for a Chinese woman, and made taller still by stiletto heels that looked as if they were made from the finest, most supple red leather. The silk blouse was worn with a pair of black linen slacks and a gold belt with the Chanel logo on the buckle. Her eyebrows were plucked into two thin lines and her face was caked with makeup. And even from a distance Ava could see the jewellery: enormous diamond stud earrings, two rings — one looked like a three-carat diamond, the other was carved green jade surrounded by rubies — and a crucifix encrusted with diamonds and emeralds. The only thing that marred the picture of a perfect Hong Kong princess was her hair, which was pulled back and secured demurely at the nape of her neck with a plain black elastic. 
Ava stood and waved in her direction. The woman’s eyes settled on her, and in them Ava read — what? Disappointment? Recognition? Maybe she hadn’t been expecting a woman. Maybe she hadn’t been expecting one dressed in a black Giordano T-shirt and Adidas track pants.
I haven't said a lot about the story. It is complex, and tracking the missing money takes Ava to many different countries. She spends time in Hong Kong, Thailand, Guyana, and British Virgin Islands. Each place that she spends any significant amount of time in is described in great detail. In this book, Guyana is depicted as an incredibly unattractive place to visit or live. I hardly knew its location, let alone the living conditions in the country. (I am incredibly lacking in knowledge of geography, but eager to learn more.)

Petite Ava Lee is the last woman one would expect to be able to "kick ass" but looks are deceiving. She has training in the martial arts, and can take care of herself. I love a strong female character; Ava Lee is capable and intelligent. I found the history of the large Chinese population in Toronto especially interesting; also the comparison of Ava's role within her family vs. the dynamics of her job.

As far as the plot, the story was a bit over the top but it engaged me so much I will be coming back for more. Action-packed and fast-paced.

This is my first book for the 12th Annual Canadian Book Challenge.

See other reviews at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan and Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...


Publisher:   Picador, 2015 (orig. publ. 2011)
Length:       390 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Ava Lee #1
Setting:      Toronto, Canada
Genre:       Thriller
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2018.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Death on the Nile: Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile is the 15th novel in the Hercule Poirot series. I have been reading the books -- within each series -- in order when possible, but this time I skipped ahead three books to this one so I could watch the movie version (from 1978).

From the back of my paperback edition:
Linnet Doyle is young, beautiful, and rich. She's the girl who has everything--including the man her best friend loves. Linnet and her new husband take a cruise on the Nile, where they meet the brilliant detective Hercule Poirot. It should be an idyllic trip, yet Poirot has a vague, uneasy feeling that something is dangerously amiss...
The first section of the book (very brief) sets up the story, introducing the varied group of people who will end up taking a cruise on the Nile.

I enjoyed the last Poirot book that I read, Death in the Clouds, but I liked this one even more. It was a good bit darker. The death occurs on the cruise in an enclosed environment, and Hercule Poirot, along with his old friend Colonel Race, must solve the mystery.

What did I like?

  • I have a fondness for Colonel Race (in The Man in the Brown Suit, which also involves a luxury cruise) and I liked that he has a significant role here. 
  • In Death in the Clouds, Poirot talks about the psychology of crime and that is also a big element here. 
  • There was a large cast of interesting characters, thus lots of suspects. I did figure out who did it way in advance but still Christie kept me wondering ... all the way through the book. I love the way she does that.
  • There were many mysteries beyond just the normal whodunit. A lot of the relationships and the reasons for people taking the trip were questionable and had me wondering. A perfect mystery in that respect.

I think the Poirot books are just getting better and better. I look forward to getting back to the three I skipped:  Murder in Mesopotamia (1936); Cards on the Table (1936); and Dumb Witness (1937), aka Poirot Loses a Client. But sometime soon I will also move ahead to Evil Under the Sun, because I want to watch the movie based on that book.

The Film Adaptation

I watched the 1978 film with Peter Ustinov as Poirot. I think he is a fine Poirot. The back cover (above) shows the most prominent stars in the cast, which include: Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Olivia Hussey, David Niven, George Kennedy and Jack Warden. Some of the main roles are played by actors I was less familiar with but they were good in their roles: Lois Chiles as Linnet and Simon MacCorkindale as Simon, her husband.

I preferred the book over the movie because of the depth of the characterizations  and the details of relationships in the book, even though Christie did keep some of the motivations vague in order to heighten the suspense. In the movie, some of the minor characters changed or disappeared from the story entirely. But the movie was very entertaining and I liked all the actors and how they portrayed the characters.

See reviews at A Crime is Afoot (with lots of links to other reviews), Classics Mysteries, Vintage Pop Fictions, and Clothes in Books.


Publisher:   HarperPaperbacks, 1992 (orig. pub. 1937)
Length:       313 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Hercule Poirot #15
Setting:      Egypt
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copies.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Polish Officer / Lumen

Two Novels set in Poland in World War II

In February of this year I read two novels set in Poland: The Polish Officer by Alan Furst, published in 1995, and Lumen by Ben Pastor, published in 1999. Both covered roughly the same time period, 1939 - 1941.

The Polish Officer

The Polish officer of the title is recruited into the Polish underground after Poland is invaded by
Germany in 1939.

This is the summary at Alan Furst's website:
September 1939. As Warsaw falls to Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Captain Alexander de Milja is recruited by the intelligence service of the Polish underground. His mission: to transport the national gold reserve to safety, hidden on a refugee train to Bucharest. Then, in the back alleys and black-market bistros of Paris, in the tenements of Warsaw, with partizan guerrillas in the frozen forests of the Ukraine, and at Calais Harbor during an attack by British bombers, de Milja fights in the war of the shadows in a world without rules, a world of danger, treachery, and betrayal.
As you can see from that description, a lot of the book takes place in other countries, and especially in France.

I was surprised by this book. It was drier than the first two books in the Night Soldiers series, and it felt more like a history than fiction. I liked the story but the characters did not grab me, not even the main character. Furst is very strong on research and the story feels very authentic.

Many fans of Alan Furst's books consider this their favorite, so I think I am in a minority in my opinion. It doesn't deter me from moving on to the next one in the series, though. I plan to read the whole series of historical espionage novels that he has written. (They are only loosely a series. There are some recurring characters and some books are connected, but most of them are stand alone stories.)


Immediately after reading The Polish Officer, I started reading Lumen. The books were a perfect pair. I learned a lot about Poland during the time period from Alan Furst's book, and that knowledge made this an easier and more interesting read.

The protagonist of Ben Pastor's novel is a Wehrmacht captain in Intelligence, Martin Bora, stationed in Cracow during the Nazi occupation of Poland. He is tasked with investigating the death of a nun. Father Malecki is in Cracow to investigate Mother Kazimierza's prophetic powers. He is ordered to stay and assist in the inquiry into her killing. Thus the two men must work together. The story is about solving the mystery of her death, but also is about much more, including the treatment of the citizens of Poland during the occupation. 

Reading a book set during World War II with a German officer as the protagonist is challenging. Bora has doubts about some of the atrocities carried out by other groups of soldiers, but he is committed to the Nazi cause. At times the story seems fragmented because of the focus moving from murder investigation to war time activities, but that is realistic. I was more interested in the picture of the times, seeing the activities from a different point of view, than I was in the mystery plot.

I will definitely take the opportunity to read the second book in this series, should I find a copy. I found it very good reading and I always like to read about the events of World War II. But this book stands alone pretty well.

Further reading on these books:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Birthday Murder: Lange Lewis

I got the idea for a birthday-related post from Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink. Two weeks ago, he posted a review of The Happy Birthday Murder by Lee Harris on his birthday. Because my birthday was earlier this week, I decided to follow up by reading and reviewing The Birthday Murder by Lange Lewis.

Victoria Jason Hime is a successful screen writer and novelist. Her most recent novel, Ina Hart, has been bought by a film studio and her second husband, Albert Hime, who is a producer for B films, may get the opportunity to produce the film version, which will be quite a coup for him.

The afternoon we meet Victoria, she has three visitors at her lovely home in Beverly Hills. The first is Moira Hastings, an actress who very much wants the title role in the new film. Victoria thinks she is much too young for the part.

Next is Bernice Saxe, who has been Victoria's closest friend for many, many years, since they were in school together. This afternoon Bernice is seeking counseling for her relationship problems. She wants to leave her husband for a man who cannot support her and isn't really interested in a relationship. Victoria, of course, tries to dissuade her from that course.

Later Sawn Harriss, Victoria's first husband, shows up out of the blue, ten years after their divorce. One gets the feeling that he would like to take up where they left off, but he had not realized that she is currently married.

In the evening, Albert and Victoria share a dinner that the maid, Hazel, has prepared in advance. This is a Thursday ritual, because it is Hazel's day off. They have a pleasant evening alone. And the following day will be Victoria's 35th birthday.

Unfortunately, Victoria wakes up on the morning of her birthday to find her husband dead in his bedroom. The cause of death is ant poison, and this mirrors the plot in Victoria's novel. Lieutenant Tuck investigates the crime, but takes nothing for granted. His partner is E. Byron Froody, devoted to following up on details, the perfect legman.

I enjoyed this story immensely, and especially the setup, getting to know the characters. The story is revealed primarily from Victoria's point of view, as she takes in what has happened in her life and realizes that the evidence points to her as the murderer. But each character has issues and prejudices that affect the outcome, although we don't get really close to anyone else in the story. The book felt very modern to me, possibly because there were many surprisingly current attitudes expressed.

The ending totally surprised me, but was consistent with the story and the clues. Although a lot was made of where the poison had come from and who had opportunities and such, it was really all of the interactions of the various characters that kept me engaged with the story.

I had forgotten that Lange Lewis was a pseudonym for Jane Lewis Brandt. She wrote four other mysteries and I believe they all feature Lieutenant Tuck. See other reviews at Clothes in Books, Tipping My Fedora, and Ed Gorman's Blog.

My paperback edition is a wonderful copy; it is a Dell mapback AND the front cover features the hand of a skeleton.


Publisher: Dell, 1945.
Length:    192 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Lieutenant Tuck
Setting:    Los Angeles, California 
Genre:      Mystery, Police Procedural
Source:    I purchased this book in 2014.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Reading Summary, October 2018

I read eleven books this month. One book was a re-read. One book was a fantasy, the rest were crime fiction. About half the books I read were vintage mysteries. I started one new (to me) series, and continued a few more recent series that I am glad I returned to.


The Halloween Tree (1972) by Ray Bradbury
This book is described as being both as fantasy and horror fiction. I would  categorize it more as spooky, not so much horror. I was initially attracted to this book because of it cover. It is a  charming children's book that I can see myself re-reading every Halloween. My thoughts are here.

CRIME FICTION reads in October:

Behind That Curtain (1928) by Earl Derr Biggers
My first book in October was a return to the Charlie Chan series. Although there were many Charlie Chan movies released in the 1930's and 40's, there were only six novels in the series. This one is set in San Francisco, and Charlie meets a retired Inspector from Scotland Yard, Sir Frederic Bruce, who has come to the US to continue the investigation of a case he was never able to solve. My husband and I are both fans of this series.  

The Case of the Weird Sisters (1943) by Charlotte Armstrong
I picked up quite a few books by Armstrong at the 2017 Planned Parenthood book sale, but I had not read any of them. Colm Redmond's review at Clothes in Books motivated me to read this one. I remember Armstrong's books as being just a bit more creepy and weird than I like but this one was "pleasantly creepy" as described on the cover.
The Book of the Dead (1944) by Elizabeth Daly
I remember Elizabeth Daly as one of my favorite authors from the 1940's, but it had been a long time since I had read one of her books. I was glad to find that I still enjoy her writing. My review here.
The Mirror Crack'd (1962) by Agatha Christie
This is a Miss Marple mystery and I always enjoy a visit with that elderly sleuth. This time Miss Marple is really feeling her age, which made me sad. But her wits are just as sharp as ever and I liked the picture of the changing times in St. Mary's Mead, with a new housing development and more modern shops.
The Water Rat of Wanchai (2011) by Ian Hamilton
This is the most current book that I read this month. Ava Lee is a forensic accountant who works for a family friend, Mr. Chow, who she calls Uncle. Ava is Chinese-Canadian, living in Toronto, but Uncle is based in Hong Kong. Together they track down large sums of money for their clients. I found this story to be a bit over the top but it engaged me so much I will be coming back for more. A book by a Canadian author with a setting initially in Toronto, but later the action moves to many other parts of the world. 
And Be a Villain (1948) by Rex Stout
This book, the 13th in the Nero Wolfe series, is the first in a trilogy that features Wolfe's archnemesis, Arnold Zeck. This is a re-read for me, of course. In this case, the characters are a radio talk show host, Madeline Fraser, and her entourage. A guest on the show dies from poisoning, and Wolfe investigates. An enjoyable read, as always.
His Burial Too (1973) by Catherine Aird
This is the fifth installment in the Inspector C.D. Sloan book series by Catherine Aird. The novels are set in the fictional County of Calleshire, England, and also feature Sloan's assistant, Detective Constable Crosby. Although Sloan usually tries to avoid working with Crosby because he is generally inept. There is always an element of humor in the stories, although it is not prominent. I must mention here that this is a locked room mystery, since I forgot to say that in my review.
A Colder Kind of Death (1994) by Gail Bowen
The fourth mystery in the Joanne Kilbourn series. This book won the Arthur Ellis award for Best Novel in 1995. At this point in the series, Joanne is a widow, with older children, but now raising an adopted child, the daughter of a close friend who died. She is an educator who is deeply involved in politics. In this book, the man who killed her husband a few years earlier has been shot and killed while in prison, and the fallout from that event reveals secrets and surprises for Joanne. Another book by a Canadian author, set in Saskatchewan.
The Shortest Day (1995) by Jane Langton
The 11th book in the Homer Kelly series. This story is set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Homer and Mary Kelly are teaching a class at Harvard University. Mary is participating in the annual Christmas Revels when a young singer in the event dies in an automobile accident. When other deaths follow, Homer resists getting involved, even though he was once a homicide detective. This book centers around the production of the Revels and an activist group seeking housing for the homeless; the author illustrated the story with her own pen and ink drawings. 
Blood and Rubles (1996) by Stuart M. Kaminsky
The Inspector Rostnikov series began in 1981 when Russia was still part of the USSR; the 16th and  last book in the series was published in 2009. I am now at book 10 in the series. The protagonist is Moscow detective, Chief Inspector, Porfiry Rostnikov. Per the book cover: "Crime in post-communist Russia has only gotten worse: rubles are scarce; blood, plentiful. In the eyes of Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov and his metropolitan police team, newfound democracy has unleashed the desperation that pushes people over the edge, and has emboldened those already on the path to hell. ...A trio of nasty cases confirms their worst fears."