Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Hunting Party: Lucy Foley

This is a crime fiction novel taking place around New Year's Eve / New Year's Day. A winter getaway in a lovely setting, which goes wrong, of course.

Summary from the book :
During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.
They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.
Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

This book had an unusual setup. The story is told from the point of view of five characters, alternating between brief chapters. It also skips around in time, which can be confusing. But still, those are both aspects that I like as long as I can keep up with the story.

The book starts on January 2nd, when a body is discovered. Then it quickly moves back to 3 days earlier, and the guests arrive at the estate. The reader knows from the beginning that one of the group has died, but it takes a good bit of the book to actually find out who it was.

There were things that annoyed me about this book. At the end of each chapter, the author has fed us a bit more about the characters to make us wonder about them (or other characters), and leave us wanting to know more. This element felt manipulative to me. I know all mystery writers have to be manipulative with the reader to keep the full story hidden from them, but this was too obvious for me.

It also has elements I love. The snowed-in, cut off from civilization setting for one. The relationships within the group and the characterization was very good.

All the friends, and their significant others plus one child, make a big effort to get together for this regular event. But there are obvious tensions between various people in the group. This reader wondered why most of them are still taking part in the annual gathering.The gradual reveal of what changes have taken place within the group in the ten years since being in school together is well done and interesting.

Although the author leaves it open that anyone may be the villain, there are hints that some of the characters are more dependable, reliable, etc. than others. However, almost all the members in the group were unsympathetic, and there was at least one that I was rooting for to be the victim. They all have secrets.

Also interesting are Heather, the manager of the estate, and Doug, the gamekeeper. They each have problems in the past which have led them to this isolated place.

In the end, I did like this book overall. And some elements of the ending were surprising to me, not a letdown at all. Psychological suspense is not my preferred type of mystery, but I would be willing to try this author again.

Another note, the story is told in present tense, which often turns me off and takes me out of the story. I have finally read enough books written in present tense that I have gotten used to it. However, I like to mention that aspect for those who don't want to read that style.

Also see John Grant's review at Noirish and Kristin Centorelli's review at Criminal Element.

And Moira's post at Clothes in Books, with excellent images to accompany her review.


Publisher:  William Morrow, 2019.
Length:     327 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Setting:     Scotland
Genre:      Psychological suspense
Source:     Borrowed from my husband.

Monday, December 30, 2019

2020 European Reading Challenge

In the 2020 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader, participants tour Europe through books. The books can be read (and reviewed) anytime between January 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021.

The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. Each book must be by a different author and set in a different country. A book must be reviewed in order to count towards the goal.

I am joining at the FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries. I usually read 10 to 15 books for the challenge but don't always review them all.

This is the list of countries:
Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.


Switzerland:  The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Luxembourg:  The Expats by Chris Pavone
Spain:  Tattoo by Manuel Vazquez Montalban
Norway:  Nemesis by Jo Nesbo
Greece:  Assassins of Athens by Jeffrey Siger

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Reading Classic Books Challenge 2020

Because I always need a little push to keep me working on completing my Classics List, I have been looking for a related challenge. I found the Reading Classic Books Challenge at The Broken Spine hosted by Erica.

The rules are simple:
1) ALL books must have been first published 50 years ago or earlier
2) Books must be read between January 1st and December 31st
3) Books may be used for up to two prompts

I have added books on my list that I may read for some of the topics.

The Challenge Prompts:

1) Read a classic over 500 pages
Charles Dickens – Bleak House (1853)
2) Read a classic by a POC and/or with a POC as the main character
Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
3) Read a classic that takes place in a country other than where you live
Christopher Isherwood – Goodbye to Berlin (1939)
4) Read a classic in translation
Vicki Baum – Grand Hotel (1929)
5) Read a classic by a new to you author
Madeleine L'Engle – A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
6) Read a book of poetry

7) Read a classic written between 1800-1860
Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility (1811)
8) Read a classic written by an LGBT author and/or with an LGBT main character

9) Read a classic written by a woman
Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love (1945)
10) Read a classic novella

11) Read a classic nonfiction

12) Read a classic that has been banned or censored
Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Crime at Christmas: C.H.B. Kitchin

This is the first book I have read by C.H.B. Kitchin. The setting is one often used in vintage mysteries taking place around Christmas -- a large house where many people are gathered for Christmas celebrations. This time the house is not in the country but on Hampstead Heath in London.

The protagonist, Malcolm Warren, has an unusual job (for an amateur sleuth in a mystery); he is a stockbroker, and he is visiting Mr. Quisberg, his most important client. Mr. Quisberg's wife has five children by previous marriages, aged from 12 to mid-twenties, so with the family and some of Quisberg's friends, they have a full house, although Quisberg and his secretary Harley have gone off on a business trip.

After dinner on Christmas Eve and a game of bridge, they play a game of musical chairs, and during the shenanigan's Malcolm falls and seriously injures his arm. The doctor (one of the guests) gives him something to help him sleep. When he wakes in the morning he discovers a dead body on a balcony, which is quite a shocker although it seems to have been an accident.

In the next few days, there are more strange and deadly occurrences. Malcolm is suspicious of what is going on in the house, and feels that things are off but he cannot put his finger on the problem. When a second body is found, Inspector Parris shows up. He immediately befriends Malcolm, using him somewhat as a spy in the household, and at the least a source of information. I did not particularly care for the inspector, but he is useful to the plot.

The story moved slowly, but I enjoyed the slow pace. Malcolm tells the story in a first person narrative and he has a lot to say about his surroundings, the house, its furnishings, and it occupants.

He describes his impression of the house...
The less I say about the furnishing and 'appointments' of the house, the better, perhaps. Both Bloomsbury and Belgravia would (for different reasons) have described them as appalling. A few pieces of furniture were beautiful. All of them were expensive, but the general effect was deplorable. Somehow everything about the house was a little wrong. Despite the size of the rooms, they seemed too full. The electric light fittings, specially made in Paris, I was told, did not harmonise with the carving on the walls and doors...
After the first death...
It was perhaps fortunate that it was early in the morning; for at such an hour my emotions are rarely acute. While shaving, I can forget even that I am in love. My chief feeling, I think, was one of annoyance. There we were, all gathered together for a Christmas party, and plunged suddenly into gloom and the menace of official inquiry.
Malcolm is a very strange creature, in a good way. I liked him a lot and did not really care how things turned out otherwise. A lot of the other people staying at the house were also strange, some likable, some not so much.

The last chapter was unusual, wrapping up the story with a Question and Answer session. I liked that also, but some reviewers did not.

Per his Author Bio at Allen & Unwin...
C. H. B. Kitchin was born in Yorkshire in 1895. He read classics at Exeter College, Oxford and, after serving in France during the First World War, was called to the Bar in 1924.
This is the 2nd book by Kitchen featuring Malcolm Warren. Other books in the series are:

  • Death of My Aunt (1929)
  • Death of His Uncle (1939)
  • The Cornish Fox (1949)

See other reviews...
at Beneath the Stains of Times, crossexaminingcrime, Pining for the West, and View from the Blue House.

My husband has provided several of my recent reads set during the holidays. This one, and The Christmas Egg and one coming up, The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley (published this year).


Publisher:   Faber & Faber, 2015, (orig. pub. 1934)
Length:       249 pages
Series:        Malcolm Warren #2
Format:       Trade Paperback
Setting:       Hampstead, London, UK
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.

Monday, December 23, 2019

European Reading Challenge 2019: Wrap Up Post

This is my wrap up post for the 2019 European Reading Challenge. The goal was to read and review at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries. I enjoyed reading these books and will be signing up for this challenge in 2020.

These are the books I read and reviewed for the challenge:

NORWAY:  What Never Happens by Anne Holt
Anne Holt is a Norwegian author of crime fiction, and this is the second book in her Adam Stubo and Johanne Vik series, set in Oslo. Adam is an inspector in the Criminal Investigation Service and Johanne has worked with the FBI as a profiler.

SWEDEN:  The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
This book is set in Tumba, Sweden, and features Detective Inspector Joona Linna and Erik Maria Bark, a hypnotist. 
DENMARK:  The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Carl Mørck is a homicide detective in Copenhagen, and has been chosen to head the new Department Q, focusing on high profile cold cases.
ICELAND:  Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson
Snowblind is the first book in the Dark Iceland series. The setting is the northernmost town in Iceland, Siglufjörður, close to the Arctic Circle.

UNITED KINGDOM:  The Shortest Way to Hades by Sarah Caudwell
The Hilary Tamar series centers around a group of young barristers who often seek Hilary's help when they run into trouble. This story is about an heiress, who is trying to avoid excessive estate taxes by an amendment to her grandfather's will. 
IRELAND:  Broken Harbor by Tana French
The fourth book in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series features Mike "Scorcher" Kennedy, who had a minor role in Faithful Place, and his new partner, rookie detective Richie Curran.
FRANCE:  Turncoat by Aaron Elkins
Peter Simon, a professor of history at Brooklyn college, takes a journey to Spain and France, in search of his wife who has disappeared.

GREECE:  Murder in Mykonos by Jeffrey Siger
Inspector Andreas Kaldis has been assigned to the beautiful island of Mykonos as Police Chief. The first case after his arrival on Mykonos is the discovery of a young woman's bones in a church.
NETHERLANDS:  Death in Amsterdam by Nicolas Freeling
This is the first book of the Van der Valk series by Nicolas Freeling. It was originally published in 1962 in the UK with the title Love in Amsterdam.
GERMANY:  City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin
City of Shadows is set mostly in Berlin, starting in 1922 and then picks up the story again in 1932. Esther Solomonova and Nicholai Potrovskov are both Russian émigrés in Berlin. The difference is Prince Nick is rich and Esther is very poor and a Jew.

SWITZERLAND:  Allmen and the Dragonflies by Martin Suter
Forced to downscale, Allmen inhabits the garden house of his former Zurich estate, attended by his Guatemalan butler, Carlos. Refusing to lower his expenditures in order to live on the money he takes in, he gets involved in petty theft, and then in more serious crimes.

CZECH REPUBLIC:  Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius Kovály
This novel was written in 1985, and is set in the 1950s, in the early days of Communist Czechoslovakia, a time when no one knew who to trust, and policemen and State Security agents were looking for traitors at the slightest excuse. 

RUSSIA:  Tarnished Icons by Stuart M. Kaminsky
This is the eleventh novel in Stuart Kaminsky's Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov series, set in Russia in the late 1990's. Rostnikov and his team in the Office of Special Investigations have a new boss, Igor Yakovlev, formerly of the KGB. And Rostnikov's son, Iosef, has decided to join the police and is working with Rostnikov's team

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Nothing Lasts Forever: Roderick Thorpe

This is the novel that the film Die Hard (1988) was based on. The book was published in 1979 so the time frame is about the same in the book and the movie.

From the description on the back of the book:
A dozen heavily armed terrorists have taken hostages, issued demands, and promised bloodshed all according to plan. But they haven't counted on a death-defying, one-man cavalry with no shoes, no backup, and no intention of going down easily. As hot-headed cops swarm outside, and cold-blooded killers wield machine guns and rocket launchers inside, the stage is set for the ultimate showdown between anti-hero and uber-villains. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fight to the death. Ho ho ho!

I would like to think that I could have evaluated this book without comparing it to the movie as I read it, but that wasn't really possible. I have seen the movie many, many times and practically have it memorized. And the plot of the book is close enough to the movie that it was hard to separate them.

In the book the main character is Joseph Leland. He is a former policeman, once had his own private detective agency, and now is a security consultant.  When terrorists take over the skyscraper he is visiting, he evades them and soon knows how dangerous they are and that he is the only one who has a chance to foil their plan.

If anything, the book has more violence than the film, and the story is definitely darker than the film. There is very little humor. The story is set at Christmas, beginning Christmas Eve and ending on December 25th. Much of the action is very similar to the film, but characters and relationships are different.

I did like the story very much. It is told from Leland's point of view, and we learn a lot about his past and his attitudes in between action scenes. Other characters are important to the story, but we never get to know them as well. The ending was a shocker.

Roderick Thorp wrote an earlier novel, The Detective, published in 1966 and also featuring Joseph Leland.  It is twice as long and doesn't get many good reviews so I am undecided whether to give it a try someday.


Publisher:   Graymalkin Media, 2012 (orig. pub. 1979)
Length:      245 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Joseph Leland #1
Setting:      Los Angeles, California
Genre:       Thriller
Source:      I purchased this book.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Classics Club Spin #22

One of the events offered by The Classics Club is The Classics Club Spin and Spin #22 has just been announced. A number will be announced on December 22nd and the goal is to read, review and post about that book by January 31, 2020.

Members who participate list twenty books from their classics list that they have not read. I enjoyed the last spin and I still need a push to get me reading from my list, so I am in for another one. I am mostly using my list for the previous spin and substituting a few new ones in.

So, here is my list of 20 books for the spin.

  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe 
  2. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte 
  3. The Master and Margarita (1967) by Mikhail Bulgarov
  4. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  5. The Sign of the Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  6. And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie
  7. Tiger in the Smoke (1952) by Margery Allingham
  8. Our Man in Havana (1958) by Graham Greene
  9. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith
  10. In a Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy B. Hughes
  11. Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov
  12. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  13. A Kiss Before Dying (1953) by Ira Levin
  14. Beast In View (1955) by Margaret Millar
  15. The Pursuit of Love (1945) by Nancy Mitford
  16. The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy
  17. Much Ado About Nothing (1598) by William Shakespeare
  18. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley 
  19. Bleak House (1853) by Charles Dickens 
  20. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker

It was suggested that the list contain longer, chunkier books this time, but the only chunky book I added was Bleak House. There are several other longish books on my list.  I don't really have any favorites from this list;  any one of the books on the list will be a nice read.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Black-Headed Pins: Constance and Gwenyth Little

Leigh Smith's father died and she had no money at all. Miserly Mrs. Ballinger moved to a big house in the country, and offered Leigh a job as companion and housekeeper, or as "Smithy" puts it, "general slave." Mrs. Ballinger decides to invite her young relatives to a house party for Christmas.

A few days before the house party, Leigh and Mrs. Ballinger hear noises in the attic, like something is being dragged across it. There is a family curse that someone in the Ballinger family will die if that dragging noise is heard. The house guests arrive, and they bring along uninvited guests. And soon, there is a death and it is a member of the Ballinger family.

This book is one of 21 mysteries written by Constance and Gwyneth Little. All of their books were standalone books, and they were all very humorous. At Girl Detective, their books are described as a “cozy blend of vintage murder and madcap comedy.”

That site is where I first heard of the books by the Little sisters, years ago. This is the first one I have read, and I think I put it off for so long because I had a prejudice against funny or comical mysteries, even though I had previously enjoyed such mysteries by Donald Westlake and Janet Evanovich.

I should not have waited so long because I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It was a quick and easy read, with some very funny moments. I will be looking for more books by these authors.

I liked the first person narrative by Leigh Smith. She is a plucky, intelligent heroine. Although she was hired as a companion, she ends up being Mrs. Ballinger's maid and gofer (and mistreated at that). There is a lot of cleaning in this book, and I wish I could learn Smithy's tricks to cleaning a room up so fast.

A lot of vintage Christmas books (and some newer ones too) center around a group of people visiting a relative for Christmas ... and then someone is murdered. Often the victim is some curmudgeonly old person disliked by all his/her relatives. This story is also along those lines but the first murder victim is not old or unpleasant and some of the guests are quite pleasant, although most  of them are well-to-do and spoiled. They reminded me of characters out of a Georgette Heyer mystery but in a very different setting.

In addition to the humor, I thought the mystery was very clever, although the story was never very realistic. The small town policeman was a hoot; entertaining and intelligent. And there is a potential romance or two going on.

See also


Publisher:   Rue Morgue Press, 1999 (orig. pub. 1938)
Length:      155 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Setting:      New Jersey, USA
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Hypnotist: Lars Kepler

I read this book for the European Reading Challenge because it is set in Tumba, Sweden. It had been on my shelf of books I might discard without reading, because of length and subject matter, but when I gave it the 50-page test, I just kept on reading all 503 pages. To my surprise, it also turned out to be set around Christmas time. (More about that later.)

The discovery of the body of a teacher, dead, stabbed and mutilated, in the locker room of the high school leads to an even more horrendous scene. Policemen go to his house to notify his family, only to find all of them slaughtered, stabbed and bloody. It turns out that one of the children, a teenage boy, is still alive, and he is rushed to the hospital. Later the police find out that there is an older daughter, and fear that the killer may be after her also.

Detective Inspector Joona Linna takes on the case and requests that the victim be hypnotized, in hopes that he will be able to tell them more about the crime and the criminal. Erik Maria Bark is called in, even though he was disgraced years ago when a patient study he was working on ended badly. Joona feels that Erik is the most qualified to have success with hypnosis in this case, where the young boy is badly injured and barely alive. The results of the experiment are surprising and devastating.

This book had a lot of issues for me. It is fragmented. It goes back and forth in time. The story is told in present tense. It is over 500 pages long. And the story is filled with very creepy villains. It follows two crimes, the multiple murder being investigated by the police, and a kidnapping that may or may not be related to the police investigation. The back story of one of the protagonists is followed in depth. Those aspects can be either good or bad, depending on the reader, but they can also make for a confusing book.

Yet I enjoyed reading the book. I liked both of the main protagonists, even though they are flawed and often irritating. In this book, Erik, a hypnotist whose career was ruined by poor choices, shares the limelight with Joona Linna, the policeman. Erik does not want to get involved with the case, and has promised his wife that he won't ever hypnotize anyone again. The second plot line, which is given a good deal of time, is about a threat to a member of his family.

I also liked a lot of the secondary characters in the book, and I got to know them well enough to care about them. That is one of the advantages of a long book. I really did not mind the narrative in present tense in this one. I stayed interested in the story throughout, even as it jumped around from one group of people to another.

Getting back to the Christmas element, this book takes place in the two weeks before Christmas, and ends on Christmas Eve. Clearly this is not a cozy Christmas tale, but the juxtaposition of the Christmas decorations and celebrations as a background to the investigation for a killer and a kidnapper is effective.

The bad guys in this story are really scary and creepy. From what I have read about the rest of this series, they are not the type of books I usually enjoy reading. So I am in a quandary about whether to continue the series, even though I enjoyed this one very much.

I would only recommend this story to readers who like thrillers and like Scandinavian mysteries, and can get  past the extreme amounts of violence. I found this an easy to read, engrossing book, but the reviews are divided.

I will also note that I read the translation of the book by Ann Long, published in 2011 by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. In 2018, there was a new edition by Vintage Crime, with a translation by Neil Smith. Some reviews say that the new translation is an improvement.


Publisher:   Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2011 (orig. publ. 2009)
Translator:  Ann Long
Length:       503 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Joona Linna, #1
Setting:       Tumba, Sweden
Genre:        Thriller
Source:       Purchased in November, 2012.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Christmas Egg: by Mary Kelly

This book is not a typical puzzle mystery, and even though the main characters in the book are two policemen, Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale and Sergeant Beddoes, it is not a typical police procedural either.

The story starts with the death of an old Russian woman, Princess Olga Karukhin, just a few days before Christmas. She seems to have died in her sleep, but some very valuable jewels and Russian art objects have been stolen from a chest in her room at the same time. Is this a coincidence? Based on the sighting of a green van in front of her building at the time in question, the police link the theft with a gang of robbers who have been working in the area recently. There is also the name of a jeweler left beside her bed. Nightingale and Beddoes follow up on these leads.

I enjoyed the interplay between the two policemen; we spend a good bit of time with them in this story. Nightingale likes his job, but it is not the only thing in his life. His wife is a singer, and he sings in an amateur opera company. Beddoes is ambitious and doesn't hesitate to speak his mind.

Nightingale is searching for a Christmas gift for his wife, which he ends up buying from a jeweler who he is questioning in regards to the theft of the Princess's valuables. At the same time he finds that the Princess also had two records that she planned to sell, rare recordings by Jean de Reszke (real life Polish tenor and opera star) that a collector would be willing to pay a good amount of money for, adding another dimension to the theft.

My experience with this book was very positive. The case the police are focused on relates to robberies, not murder, and the story is more following down clues (and guesses) and tracking the missing jewels in order to find the gang. The story reveals details of life at the time the book was written. There are surprises along the way (at least for me).

Anthony Boucher said: "The book is fascinating as a stage in the development of an important writer, and a pleasing entertainment in its own right." Kirkus Reviews described the story as "more pursuit than procedure" and "fast to follow, with no remission of interest."

This book is the third of three mysteries featuring Brett Nightingale. I am interested in the previous books and they are available online in used copies at reasonable prices so I will pursue them soon. The later books written by Mary Kelly were standalone mysteries and many critics have preferred those later books.

Martin Edward's introduction to this British Library edition is excellent, giving the reader more information about the author.


Publisher: British Library, 2019 (orig. pub. 1958).
Length:    219 pages 
Format:    Trade Paperback 
Series:     Inspector Brett Nightingale #3
Setting:    London
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    Borrowed from my husband.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

November 2019 Reading Summary

In November, I read only crime fiction novels. And a good number of the books I read were related to Christmas (three books set at Christmas, and one following Christmas into the New Year). Two books were published before 1960, four were published between 1961 and 1999, and two were published after 2000.

These are the books I read:

Death After Breakfast (1978) by Hugh Pentecost
I read the Pierre Chambrun novels by Hugh Pentecost years ago, and remember them fondly. Chambrun is the manager of a luxury hotel in New York and the stories are narrated by Mark Haskell, the hotel’s public relations director. Per Goodreads, this is the 13th in the series of 22 books. My thoughts here

Motherless Brooklyn (1999) by Jonathan Lethem
This was my first experience reading anything by Jonathon Lethem and this book is certainly different. It is described as a "riff on the classic detective novel." Leonard Essrog works for Frank Minna at a limo service / detective agency. When his boss is killed, he decides he will find out who did it. The catch is that he has Tourette's Syndrome and communication with others is challenging. I liked the book and want to try other books by this author.

The Hunting Party (2019) by Lucy Foley
A group of friends from Oxford vacation together at an isolated luxury hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands, continuing a New Year's tradition that started ten years ago. The estate is beautiful but during inclement weather it can be cut off from the world. The friends all have secrets, as do the manager, the gamekeeper, and the caretaker. As we expect, this is a recipe for disaster. The dilemma of being snowed in is a standard Christmas mystery trope. This book was an engrossing read although sometimes I was confused by the multiple narrators.

Nothing Lasts Forever (1979) by Roderick Thorp
The film Die Hard (1988) was based on this novel. If anything, the book has more violence than the film, and the book is definitely darker. The story is set at Christmas, and much of the action is very similar, but characters and relationships are different. Regardless, I liked the story very much. As usual, the novel reveals more about the characters and their background than the film.

The Christmas Egg (1958) by Mary Kelly
This is a "seasonal mystery" published by the British Library in its Crime Classics series. The author was new to me and she did not publish very many mystery novels. It was different, and concentrated on interesting characters, which I liked. I do hope to find more books by this author.

Off Minor (1991) by John Harvey
This month I returned to the police procedural series starring Charlie Resnick, written by John Harvey. This is the 4th book in the series; I read the first three books in 2008 and 2009. This one is about child abductions, not a pleasant subject, but a good entry in the series. 

The Black-Headed Pin (1938)
by Constance and Gwenyth Little
Leigh Smith's father died and she was left with no money at all. After moving to a big house in the country, miserly Mrs. Ballinger offers her a job as companion and housekeeper, or as "Smithy" puts it, "general slave." The fun begins when Mrs. Ballinger invites her young relatives to a house party for Christmas. The authors were sisters, born in Australia; their family later moved to East Orange, New Jersey. Their books were all standalone mysteries. This is a very funny mystery and I will be looking for more books by these authors.

Magpie Murders (2016) by Anthony Horowitz
This is a book within a book, and in this case we get two mysteries for the price of one. The first book starts with Susan Ryeland, an editor, reading a mystery by one of her clients for the first time. That story is set in the late 1950s in a small town in England, and features a private detective somewhat like Hercule Poirot. I liked this book, it was a page turner, and both parts of the story were entertaining on many levels. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Killed in the Ratings: William L. DeAndrea

William L. Deandrea is an author I have been planning to read for years. Finally I have read one of his books and I will be reading more.

Description at The Mysterious Press:
This Edgar Award–winning debut novel introduces Matt Cobb, vice president of special projects at a large television network—where “special projects” means anything sensitive, or even fatal, that the company wants to keep quiet.
Cobb’s no stranger to following mysterious orders, so when he receives a telephone call asking him to visit a hotel room he obliges. The invitation, however, means a dead body, a sharp blow to the head, and suspicion from the police that he committed the crime. And while one of the detectives put on the case has known Cobb since he was a child, the other is convinced of his guilt.
It turns out that the dead man that Matt discovers in the hotel room was the ex-husband of Matt's old flame, Monica Teobaldi.  And he was also the person in charge of ARGUS, a computer that compiles the ratings for TV shows. So the case he is involved in mixes his personal life and his business responsibilities.

Here is Matt's description of the department he works in:
Special Projects is the guerrilla band of broadcasting. We wait in the weeds until some incident pops up that could harm or embarrass the Network. For example, if an important congressman has a favorite show, we'll find out what it is and whisper to the programming department not to cancel it until after the licensing bill is dealt with. We'll follow the kleptomaniac star around and pay for what she stole. We do everything that's too touchy for Public Relations, and too messy for the legal department.

He keeps hoping he will be moved up and out to a position in Programming or Production, but is probably stuck in his current job because he is very good at it.

What did I like about this book?

  • To start with, Matt Cobb is a very engaging narrator. I usually enjoy stories told in first person. It does mean that the reader gets a limited view of the story, but it also means that we get to know the narrator pretty well. And more than one reviewer noted that Matt is similar to Archie Goodwin (Nero Wolfe's assistant).
  • Another thing I loved was Matt's obsession with word usage and grammar (which also reminded me of the Nero Wolfe series). Don't get me wrong, this book is not at all like the books in Rex Stout's series, but it does have the same light, not too serious, feeling. 
  • I also like books written and set in the 1970s and 80s before computers and technology were so pervasive in our daily lives.
  • There is  a lot of action in this book and the characters are fun. Many of them (especially at the top of the corporation Matt works for) are unlikable and corrupt, but still interesting. 

I first became aware of William L. DeAndrea when he wrote a column ("J'Accuse") in The Armchair Detective magazine. He wrote eight books in the Matt Cobb series. He also published three other series, including an espionage series, and several standalone mysteries. A collection of short stories was published posthumously by Crippen & Landru. DeAndrea's books are easy to find in eBook format.

He was married to mystery writer Jane Haddam (pseud. of Orania Papazoglou), and died in 1996, at age 44. DeAndrea was awarded three Edgars.  One (as mentioned) for this book. One for The Hog Murders, his second novel, for Best Paperback Novel. The third was for Best Critical/Biographical Work in 1995, Encyclopedia Mysteriosa.

See Also:


Publisher:   Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1986 (orig. publ. 1978)
Length:       243 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Matt Cobb #1
Setting:      New York City
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy in 2005.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Keeper of Lost Causes: Jussi Adler-Olsen

Carl Mørck has returned to work as a homicide detective in Copenhagen, after being on leave following his last case, which ended badly, leaving him nearly dead. Another policeman was killed and the third was left paralyzed. Mørck feels guilty and responsible, has lost his  edge, and is not keeping up with his work. Not only that, but he is not well-liked in his department. He is a very capable detective, but he alienates other detectives in his department, seeing their work as shoddy and letting them know it. Thus, his boss plots to put him in charge of a new department to follow up on high profile cold cases and funnel the majority of the funds for the new department to shore up the main Homicide area.

Carl's office for the new Department Q is located in the basement and has few amenities. He gets an assistant, Assad, a Syrian immigrant, who is really supposed to clean and organize but ends up being an asset to the tiny department. Carl doesn't much care where he works, and initially gets little real work done.

Soon his boss has to show results for the new department, so he pushes Carl to name a case he is currently working on. By chance, he and Assad start looking into the case of Merete Lynggaard, a rising politician who went missing during a ferry crossing and is assumed dead. Her handicapped younger brother, Ulle, was initially charged with her murder but the charges were dropped.

I found this to be a very compelling mystery. I enjoyed every part of the story. The narrative goes back and forth between Mørck's present life and the current investigation, Merete's story, starting 5 years earlier, and the disastrous incident which led to Mørck's change in responsibilities. I will point out, for those who love puzzles, this is not really that type of mystery. It is pretty easy to figure out, and the story is more about following the process of the investigation.

Many of the secondary characters, more than I can mention here, are very well-developed. The protagonist has an unusual living arrangement, with an almost ex-wife living nearby, her teenage son living with Mørck, and a tenant who cooks and cleans. Assad, the assistant, is a fantastic character. Carl is very much a flawed detective, but with all the other interesting threads going on in his life, I can forgive that.

Jussi Adler-Olsen is a Danish author of crime fiction novels. This was the first book in the Department Q series, and was published in the UK as Mercy. I intend to continue this series.

Other reviews...


Publisher:   Dutton, 2011 (orig. pub. 2007)
Translated by Lisa Hartford.
Length:      395 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Department Q #1
Setting:      Denmark
Genre:       Police procedural
Source:     I purchased this book in 2013.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wicked Uncle: Patricia Wentworth

I started reading Miss Silver mysteries again, after a long hiatus, in November 2017. This is only the third I have read, but I have noticed some similarities. Miss Silver shows up later in the books, not at the beginning, and each one featured a romance to some extent. In this one the romance was more prominent and for a while that bothered me, but I ended up liking that element too.

Summary on the back of my edition:
Gregory Porlock had brought them together... the dithering Mrs. Oakley and her rich businessman husband... nouveau riche Mr. and Mrs. Tote, still uncomfortable hobnobbing with the hoity-toity... the Mastermans, a brother and sister raised above genteel poverty by the timely death of their aunt... Leonard Carroll, actor and clever man-about-town... Moira Lane, sophisticated society beauty... Justin Leigh, her escort... and the innocent Dorinda Brown, young social secretary with an older man in her past.
A group of house party guests with apparently nothing in common ... until their host, the oh-so-charming and "wicked" Gregory Porlock is found with a knife in his back and blackmailer as his epitaph.

Dorinda Brown is the focus of the story; she is invited to the house party because she works for the Oakleys. I liked her because she did not have much money and was self-supporting, very independent and responsible.

The detectives are Frank Abbott and Chief Superintendent Lamb, who have worked with Miss Silver before. They bring Miss Silver in on the case because she helped out Dorinda when she was accused of shop lifting on a trumped up charge. They discover that what the guests have in common is being blackmailed by their host, which leaves almost everyone under suspicion.

I enjoyed the post-war setting, and I liked the way the relationships were important to the solution. I was surprised at the ending, because it seemed a bit obvious to me. But still a good read overall.

Wicked Uncle was published in England under the title Spotlight.


Publisher: Warner Books, 1991 (first publ. 1947)
Length:    264 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Miss Silver Mysteries #12
Setting:    UK 
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy at the 2010 Planned Parenthood book sale.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Les Misérables: Victor Hugo

This book was quite a challenge to read in its entirety–1230ish pages in my edition–but it was a journey worth taking. The translator, Norman Denny, has written an introduction to the book, explaining the liberties that he has taken in translating the text. Two appendixes (one about convents, one about argot) were removed from the text and banished to the end of the book but they are not that long, so I read them too.

Description from the edition I read:
Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.
A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.
Les Misérables is more than a story about Jean Valjean and the orphan girl he takes on as his responsibility; it also functions as a history of those times and a look at the social issues that concerned Hugo. And for me, both aspects of the book succeeded. I did not mind at all the side excursions into the Battle of Waterloo and convent life, etc.

However, the book is very long and it was hard to stay focused on it. I started reading it on January 1, 2018, as part of a chapter a day challenge. The book in its long version has 365 chapters, many of them quite short. But that approach did not work well for me and I was reading it in e-book format. About a third of the way through I switched to a paperback copy, but that still did not keep me from reading in fits and starts. I will admit that parts of the book were a slog to read. Worth it in the end, of course. By the beginning of December 2018 I still had only read 800 pages. At that point I could not give up so I read the remaining 400 pages and finished at the end of January 2019.

Some parts of the story just flew by, and I was emotionally gripped by the story. The parts that diverted from the story and showed us a picture of France at the time were there for a reason and sometimes provided necessary background for the story. Yet they were slower to read and broke the momentum.

The last 150 pages of the book was a very emotional section of the book, pulling it all together, and I am glad I read the book. I don't recommend it to everyone, for the reasons I have mentioned above, but I will say that if you are interested, the book is worth trying and it has a lot to offer.

There are different translations of the unabridged book, and if you are interested in the differences, Brona's overview covers that very well.


Publisher:  Penguin Books, 1982 (orig. pub. 1862). 
Length:     1232 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:     France
Genre:      Fiction, Classic
Source:    I purchased this book.
Translation from French by Norman Denny.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Death After Breakfast: Hugh Pentecost

I read the Pierre Chambrun novels by Hugh Pentecost years ago, and remember them fondly. Chambrun is the manager of a luxury hotel in New York. The narrator of the stories is Mark Haskell, the hotel’s public relations director.  He is devoted to Chambrun, as is the rest of the upper level staff.

Summary from the back cover of my paperback edition:
Something was terribly wrong. Pierre Chambrun, manager of the elegant Beaumont Hotel, was late for breakfast–an ominous sign for a man whose schedule ran with the precision of a fine Swiss watch. What's more, he was nowhere to be found.
But that was just the start. Suddenly a beautiful socialite is found dead in her suite. Suddenly the most prominent guests are under suspicion. Chambrun's loyal staff must find him and the missing piece in a deadly puzzle before ... a sadistic killer strikes again.
The problem with reading this particular story as my re-introduction to the series is that Chambrun is missing for a good bit of the story. Thus this is not typical of the series. Although Pierre Chambrun usually does the sleuthing in this series, in this story, Mark Haskell and the hotel's security chief, Jerry Dodd, are in the spotlight.

There really is not a lot of tension about whether Chambrun will be rescued, but there is the mystery as to who would abduct him and why. I actually did begin to suspect the reason as the plot progressed but that did not spoil the fun for me. And there is the complication of the murder of the hotel guest to solve.

I do think it is the setting of a luxury hotel, and the behind the scenes look at how it runs, that appeals the most to me.  Of course if the characters were not interesting, that might not be enough. I enjoyed reading this book, it was very nostalgic for me. I will read one or two more to see if the quality holds overall in the series and continues to entertain.

About the author:

Hugh Pentecost was a pseudonym used by Judson Philips. Philips wrote many, many mystery novels (over 100?), including standalone books and series about John Jericho, Uncle George Crowder, Luke Bradley, Pierre Chambrun, Julian Quist, Grant Simon, Dr. John Smith, and Peter Styles. But it is only his Pierre Chambrun series that I have read. Twenty two books in that series were published between 1962 and 1988.


Publisher: Dell, 1980 (orig. pub. 1978).
Length:    208 pages 
Format:    Paperback 
Series:     Pierre Chambrun
Setting:    New York City
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2019.