Monday, May 17, 2021

Checkmate to Murder: E.C.R. Lorac

This book was published in 1944, and is set in London during World War II. The story starts out with five people in a large studio which adjoins a house in a neighborhood in London. The four men in the main room are busy. Two men are focused on a game of chess; Bruce Manaton is working on a painting; the fourth man, André Dulaunier, is posing for the painting. Rosanne Manaton, Bruce's sister, is in the kitchen cooking their dinner and occasionally looks into the studio to see what they are doing. Later, after dark, Rosanne goes out to check the blackout precautions for the studio, to make sure that they will not be fined.  

After the group sits down to dinner, a Special Warden comes to the door with a young soldier. He accuses the soldier of killing the next door neighbor, demands that they hold on to him until the real police come to pick him up, and goes off to make the call to the police. The young soldier turns out to be the nephew of the dead man, Albert Folliner. That is a complicated opening but it does introduce most of the major players in the story.


After reading about half the story I would have described this as a standard police procedural, with no really outstanding characters, but still I was enjoying the story. The characters and their relationships are interesting, but it does take a while to establish the connections.  

Then, as the investigation gets underway, some characters get fleshed out and more background is added to the story. The head investigator, Chief Inspector Macdonald, is clever and doesn't jump to conclusions; he begins several lines of investigation, including directing Detective Reeves to investigate the previous tenants of the studio, who have since disappeared. Detective Reeves is a very likable character, determined and innovative in his techniques.

Some of the smaller roles were the most appealing. Detective Reeves seeks information from a neighbor, Mrs. Stanton, whose yard has been used as a shortcut to get to the house behind her where the dead man lived. Initially she is somewhat hostile and overbearing, but he compliments her on her garden and she eventually shows him her Christmas roses, or hellebores. Those types of interactions add to a story.

As the story moves along, it gets more and more complex and only comes together at the end. The denouement was unexpected and satisfying. 

A big plus for me was the World War II setting, which is used to good effect here. Blackout regulations are imposed, and Air Raid Wardens monitor the neighborhood. Those in this neighborhood are not well off, suffering more than usual due to the war, the shortages, and the lack of work. People feel like their lives are on hold until the war is over. The police are still doing their jobs, but some wish they were off fighting instead of at home.

E.C.R. Lorac was a pen name of Edith Caroline Rivett (1894-1958). She also wrote as Carol Carnac and was a prolific writer of crime fiction from the 1930s to the 1950s. She wrote several series, and this book was the 25th book in the Robert Macdonald series (of 46 books).


-------------------------------------------
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press, 2021 (orig. pub. 1944)
Length:    214 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Series:     Chief Inspector Macdonald #25
Setting:    London
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    Borrowed from my husband.


Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Pursuit of Love: Nancy Mitford

This is a witty, entertaining look at the strange lives of aristocratic families. I think all families are weird in their own ways, but it is interesting to see that people in all economic circumstances have to deal with embarrassing or eccentric family members. My family was not well-to-do at all, yet we had some family members very much like the Radletts.

The Pursuit of Love was published in 1946, so it is the picture of an aristocratic family from an earlier time. The story is roughly based on members of Nancy Mitford's family, and I still haven't read enough about them to know which ones. And I think I preferred reading it that way.


This is the story of Linda Radlett, told by her cousin Fanny. Linda, daughter of Matthew and Sadie Radlett, grows up at Alconleigh with her five siblings. Fanny tells anecdotes from their childhood, and about Linda's love life as they grow older. The story continues into the years before and during World War II. Linda's choices in love and marriage are not very wise.

I enjoyed reading this book. I wasn't sure I would, but it worked well for me. Although the story is told with humor, I cared about the characters and was tearful at the end. I liked the depiction of the years between the early 1900s and into World War II, whether or not it was totally realistic.

Some of the characters are wonderful, or at least fun to read about. Matthew Radlett is a bully and an autocrat, but means well. Uncle Davey is a hypochondriac and very particular about what he eats. Fanny's mother brings a Spanish boyfriend home during the war, and it turns out he is a fantastic cook. The loyalty of the family to all its members is a joy.


One complaint I have, which has nothing to do with the writing, is that the text on the cover of the 1949 paperback edition I read is totally wrong. There is no point in the book, at least not that I remember or could find, where Linda's uncles chide her for being a kept woman (front cover) or living in sin (back cover). That is a total misrepresentation. In fact, they love her very much and want only her happiness. All in all, it is a lovely story and I am glad I read it.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Pocket Books, 1949 (orig. pub. 1946).
Length:   230 pages
Format:   Paperback
Series:    Radlett and Montdore #1
Setting:   UK
Genre:    Fiction
Source:   I bought my copy in December 2018.


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Two Stories by S.J. Rozan



I am a big fan of S. J. Rozan's Lydia Chin and Bill Smith series. Briefly, the series is about two private investigators. Lydia Chin is an American-born Chinese private eye in her late twenties who lives in New York’s Chinatown with her mother; Bill Smith is a white private eye in his forties who lives in Manhattan.  They are not partners but they often work together on cases. I have read all of the books in that series except the latest one, The Art of Violence, which will be on my summer reading list.

S.J. Rozan has written several stories using Lydia Chin's mother, Chin Yong-Yun, as the main character. The first one I read was "Chin Yong-Yun Finds a Kitten" in Bullets and Other Hurting Things, edited by Rick Ollerman. I enjoyed that story so much I started looking for others featuring that character.

I am fairly certain that the first story about Chin Yong-Yun is "Chin Yong-Yun Takes a Case", which was first published in 2010 in Damn Near Dead 2, edited by Bill Crider. I don't have a copy of that book, but the story was available as an eBook. In that story, Lydia's mother gets a call from a woman she plays mahjong with, asking that Lydia help her and her son with a serious problem. Chin Yong-Yun says that Lydia is unavailable, but says that she works with Lydia often (not true) and will help them herself. Along the way, Chin Yong-Yun shares her thoughts about her daughter and her family.

These are the first few lines of the story:

My daughter is a private eye.
You see? It even sounds ridiculous. She follows people. She asks the computer about them as though it were a temple fortune teller. She pulls out their secrets like dirt-covered roots to hand to the people who hire her. What is private about that?

The next story I read, "Chin Yong-Yun Sets the Date", was published in 2020 in Deadly Anniversaries, edited by Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller. The Chin Yong-Yun stories that I have read are lighter than most crime fiction, but even so, I found this one to be very moving. Chin Yong-Yun is visiting her husband's grave on the anniversary of their marriage. She tells the story as if she is talking to him, telling him about a case that she recently solved, and also about some recent family news. This one was the best of the three I have read so far.

I don't think you need to have read any of the Lydia Chin and Bill Smith novels to enjoy these stories. I found them very entertaining. There are at least three more stories featuring Chin Yong-Yun and I hope to find copies of those to read also.





Monday, May 3, 2021

Reading Summary for April 2021



I read ten books in April, although some of the books were ones I had started in February or March and finished at the end of April. I was happy with the mix. I read six crime fiction books, and five of those were published before 1970. 


Nonfiction / Essays

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998) by Anne Fadiman

This is a wonderful book of essays, especially for people who love books, language and words. The author's family were all serious readers (her father was Clifton Fadiman), and her husband too, so many of the essays are related to books and reading. The first essay was titled "Marrying Libraries", and talks about when she and her husband combined their libraries after five years of marriage, rather than having some shelves for her books and some shelves dedicated to his books (and duplication of books).


General Fiction

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955) by Brian Moore

The setting is Belfast in Northern Ireland, in the 1950s. Judith Hearne, plain and in her late thirties,  has just moved to a new room in a boarding house.   My full review is here.

The Pursuit of Love (1945) by Nancy Mitford

This was my book for the Classics Club Spin in April. Nancy Mitford was one of the Mitford sisters, and the characters in the family are based on members of her family. I haven't read much about that family yet so I had no idea of who was based on who, or how accurate it might be. The story is humorous but there are also serious moments and I was quite invested in the ending of the book. I liked it a lot, and thus will seek out others in the three book series.



Historical Fiction

Post Captain (1972) by Patrick O'Brian

This is the second novel in the highly acclaimed historical fiction series about Jack Aubrey (a naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars) and his friend Stephen Maturin (physician and naturalist). I enjoyed this one even more than the first book, probably because I had gotten used to the nautical jargon. Also, Jack and Stephen spend more time on land this time, and get involved with several women looking for husbands. I look forward to further adventures in this series.


Crime Fiction

Case for Three Detectives (1936) by Leo Bruce

This was one of the four books that I reviewed for the 1936 Club this month. It is a humorous mystery, poking fun at the Golden Age detectives created by Sayers, Christie, and Chesterton. Set in a country house, and surrounding villages, it is a lot of fun. My review is here.

Murder in Piccadilly (1936) by Charles Kingston

This was another book that I reviewed for the 1936 Club this month. Murder in Piccadilly tells the story of a young man, Bobbie Cheldon, who has expectations of inheriting the family estate and a large income when his uncle dies. The hitch is that his uncle, Massy Cheldon, is healthy and he could easily live another 20 years. This book provided a good picture of London in the 1930s, especially the less well-to-do London environments. My review is here.


The Clocks
(1963) by Agatha Christie

This month I read two later books in the Hercule Poirot series, published in the 1960s. In general they are not as good as earlier books but I still found them to be entertaining reads.

In The Clocks, a good number of the chapters are told via first person narration by Colin Lamb, a secret agent, who gets involved with a case of murder while following up on an espionage assignment. Colin visits his friend Hercule Poirot, and describes the crime. An older man was found dead in the sitting room of a blind woman's home, and the body was discovered by a young woman who had an appointment to do some stenographic work for the blind woman, Miss Pebmarsh. Colin challenges Poirot to solve the crime without talking to any witnesses himself, but just based on the facts of the case as brought to him by the investigators. So Poirot makes suggestions and Colin continues to visit him and discuss the case.

Hallowe'en Party (1969) by Agatha Christie

Overall Hallowe'en Party was less satisfying for me than most other mysteries by Christie, but I do love it when Ariadne Oliver shows up. Again she involves Poirot in a mystery by asking him to come help out.  One unusual thing in this story is that the murder victim was a child and children play a big part in the story.  

The Meaning of Night (2006) by Michael Cox

This is a Gothic tale of revenge, set in the 1850s, mostly in London but with a good bit of time spent at a lavish country estate, Evenwood. Edward Glyver is the main character and he believes he is rightful heir to the estate. Many readers loved this book; I did not. It took me two months to finish reading it, and I considered not finishing it many times. But after 400 pages (out of 700) I wanted to see if it would improve and how it all ended. I did like the last third of the novel, and I think that was because finally more is shared about the story and it is no longer a mystery as to what the whole thing is about.

Sunset over Soho (1943) by Gladys Mitchell

I read this book between April 5th and April 26th, and that is a long time for such a short book (192 pages). But this was a read along and I am very glad I read it that way. It was quite confusing, with a very complex structure, and having a group commenting on that element was very helpful. I loved the book because it was both written and set during World War II, mostly in or near London, with some seafaring scenes, including a chapter about Dunkirk. Just fantastic, and I will surely read it again. Unfortunately, it is only really affordable in the e-book edition. There are four posts at Jason Half's blog about this book and the group's thoughts, all in April 2021.


READING NEXT?

I started The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel on April 28th. I think it may be a long slow read, because it is hard for me to follow the large number of characters and it is about 750 pages long. I am enjoying it so far.


I may be blogging a bit less for a while, and spending more time on gardening and other home maintenance tasks. Below is a photo of one of my geraniums in bloom this month. The photo at the top features a geranium in my front area with curly variegated leaves and multicolored flowers. Click on the images to enlarge.




Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: The Big Book of Espionage, ed. Otto Penzler


I first learned about this book of short stories at George Kelley's blog. George gives a good overview of what the book has to offer and lists all the stories and authors, so be sure to check out his post.

The book has four sections with a total of 55 stories: The Great War (19); World War II (6); Other Terrors, Other Battles (19); and The Cold War (11). The book is large format with over 800 pages. Some of the authors are surprising, at least to me (Sara Paretsky, Erle Stanley Gardner, Brendan DuBois).


I have only read the Introduction by Otto Penzler and two stories so far. The introduction is very informative, and I enjoyed both of the stories.

"Charlie’s Shell Game" by Brian Garfield is one of 12 Charlie Dark stories. Charlie Dark is an American agent, in the CIA. This story was first published in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Feb 1978, and was also published in the collection Checkpoint Charlie. Fortunately I have that collection on my Kindle, so I can read more of the stories.

"The Spy Who Clutched a Playing Card" by Edward D. Hoch is one of his Jeffery Rand stories. Rand is a British agent, director of the Department of Concealed Communications. This story is very complex and a lot of fun (plus it is the first thing I have ever read by Hoch!). Per the Spy Guys and Gals site: "approximately 81 stories were written about Rand from the first in 1965 to the last published the year of the author's death, 2008." Again, I am fortunate to have an e-book of The Spy and the Thief: A Jeffery Rand and Nick Velvet Collection, which includes seven of the Jeffery Rand stories. I will be looking for other collections of stories by Hoch.

Even if these two stories and the other stories about those characters was the only thing I got out of this book, it would be well worth the price. But I am sure I am going to find many more stories to enjoy in this book.


Friday, April 23, 2021

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne: Brian Moore

This year Cathy at 746books is hosting a year long read-along of Brian Moore’s work. She will be reading one of his books each month and will discuss it in the last week of that month. She has invited others to join in. The book for April is The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.

From the back of the book:

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is an unflinching and deeply sympathetic portrait of a woman destroyed by self and circumstance. First published in 1955, it marked Brian Moore as a major figure in English literature (he would go on to be short-listed three times for the Booker Prize) and established him as an astute chronicler of the human soul.

Judith Hearne is an unmarried woman of a certain age who has come down in society. She has few skills and is full of the prejudices and pieties of her genteel Belfast upbringing. But Judith has a secret life. And she is just one heartbreak away from revealing it to the world.


The setting is Belfast in Northern Ireland, in the 1950s. Judith Hearne has just moved to a new room in a boarding house. Her lack of money is a problem. She lives on a small annuity from her aunt and doesn't have even enough money to buy enough nutritious food, which is affecting her health. She only gets breakfast provided at the boarding house and that is only toast, except once a week. She has no marketable skills, and makes a bit of extra money by teaching piano lessions. But she has lost several students lately.

Judith is desperate to find a man to marry. She alternates between being attracted to any available man and fantasizing about the possibilities, and looking down on those she is attracted to because they are too common. 

She has few friends and nothing to do in her life. She looks forward to visiting the O'Neill family each Sunday after church, and sees them as friends, but in reality they are just tolerating her out of a perceived duty. The O'Neill children laugh at her in secret and are rude in her presence.

At the new boarding house, she meets James Madden, brother of her landlady and recently returned from years of living in the US. Madden's goal is to open a diner, but he needs an investor to provide more cash. He sees Judith's jewelry and decides she has money to spare. Judith misinterprets his advances towards her and sees a future with him as her husband. They are both so eager to get what they want that they ignore the reality of the situation.

Judith is hard to like. She feels sorry for herself, ingratiates herself to others, makes up things to impress people, and she is overly concerned with what people will think of her. Yet she keeps trying, although she is delusional in her view of herself and her life.


My thoughts:

The book is beautifully written. It was amazing to me that a male author could tell this story of a woman's lonely life so well. The characterizations are lovely, from the in-depth portraits of Judith Hearne and James Madden, to the smaller but important roles of the landlady, her son, and the other boarders.

But the story is very sad and the book is painful to read. It held my interest, even as Judith wrestles with her religious beliefs at her church, but at no time was it a pleasant read. It is a perfect length, though (223 pages). I am glad I read the book, and I might even try a reread someday.


For further information on the Brian Moore at 100 Read-Along, check here


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  New York Review of Books, 2010 (orig. pub. 1955)
Length:      223 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:      Belfast, postwar
Genre:       General Fiction
Source:      Purchased in March 2021.


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Clever and Quick" by Christianna Brand

 


This is a very clever short story about a couple who earn their living acting in the theater, but are not getting roles any more. They are running out of money to support their lifestyle, and are fighting over whether to get rid of their au pair girl.

I made a discovery after reading this short story. I can tolerate unsympathetic characters much better in short stories. No one in this story was likable, but that wasn't an issue for me, probably because I don't have to spend a lot of time with them. And, of course, the number of characters is limited in a short story.

The introduction to this story says:

In the short-story form, Brand specialized less in pure detection than in the twist-upon-twist double-or-triple-cross crime story of which “Clever and Quick” is a prime example.


I read this story in A Moment on the Edge, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. I believe the story was also published as "Madame Thinks Quick." Although I think of Christianna Brand as a Golden Age mystery author, this story was first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1974.

A Moment on the Edge consists of 26 short stories by women, selected by Elizabeth George. The stories are in chronological order by copyright date. The first story is "A Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell from 1917, an excellent story which I had read before and was worth rereading. The last two stories are from 2001, one by Joyce Carol Oates and one by Minette Walters. 

I have only read the first nine stories in the anthology, and will continue reading them. 


Mathew Paust wrote about this anthology and the story by Joyce Carol Oates at Crime Time.

B. V. Lawson wrote an overview of the anthology at In Reference to Murder.


Sunday, April 18, 2021

#1936Club: The Rubber Band

For my fourth and last book for the 1936 Club, I am reviewing The Rubber Band by Rex Stout. It is the third book in the Nero Wolfe series. Rex Stout is my favorite author, so bear in mind that my opinion of his books is biased. 

Nero Wolfe is a genius, a lover of orchids and fine food, who supports himself (and his household) as a private detective. Archie Goodwin, the narrator of the stories, is both his assistant and a private investigator, and he does most of the legwork. Archie does secretarial work for Wolfe when they are not working on a case. (He also is the narrator for every book in the series.) They live in a New York brownstone and share the house with Theodore, the plant expert, and Felix, Wolfe's cook. 


On a Monday in October, Archie has scheduled two appointments for Wolfe in the afternoon.

   The first one, down for 3:30 in the afternoon, was with a guy named Anthony D. Perry. He was a tycoon, a director of the Metropolitan Trust Company, the bank we did business with, and president of the Seaboard Products Corporation—one of those vague firms occupying six floors of a big skyscraper and selling annually a billion dollars’ worth of something nobody ever actually saw, like soy beans or powdered coconut shells or dried llama’s hoofs. As I say. Perry was a tycoon; he presided at meetings and was appointed on Mayor’s Committees and that kind of hooey. Wolfe had handled a couple of investigations for him in previous years—nothing of any importance. We didn’t know what was on his mind this time; he had telephoned for an appointment.

The second appointment is more vague...

   The second appointment was for 6 P.M. It was a funny one, but we often had funny ones. Saturday morning, October 5, a female voice had phoned that she wanted to see Nero Wolfe. I said okay. She said, yes, but she wanted to bring someone with her who would not arrive in New York until Monday morning, and she would be busy all day, so could they come at 5:30. I said, no, but they could come at six, picking up a pencil to put down her name. But she wasn’t divulging it; she said she would bring her name along with her, and they would arrive at six sharp, and it was very important. It wasn’t much of a date, but I put it on the memo pad and hoped she would turn up, for she had the kind of voice that makes you want to observe it in the flesh.


Anthony D. Perry wants to hire Wolfe to investigate the theft of thirty thousand dollars from his company. One of the high level executives in the company insists that a woman employed by the company, Clara Fox, is guilty of the theft. Perry does not think that is true, and wants Wolfe to find the truth.

Clara Fox turns out to be the woman who made the second appointment, and she wants to hire Wolfe to negotiate a settlement of a debt for herself and several other people. Her father and several other men helped a man escape a charge of murder in the old West, in Nevada in 1895, and he had promised to give them a share of his wealth when he came into his inheritance. The man escaping from the law has been identified as the Marquis of Clivers, an English diplomat, who is currently visiting New York on official government business. Clara's father died in World War I, but she has gathered up the other men who engineered the escape, plus the daughter of one of them who was too old to travel.

The situation is complex to begin with, and it becomes even more complex when one of the men in Clara's group is killed.

I don't usually include such detailed descriptions of the plot, although I think the excerpts from the book help to give the tone of Rex Stout's writing, and clues to Archie's character. And the part of the plot I have included so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

What I love about these stories is primarily (1) Archie's telling of the story and (2) the relationship that Archie and Wolfe have developed over time.  Like many fans of this series, I have reread all the books multiple times, and in most cases when I read them now, I know who the perpetrator is.  Thus I am not reading the books for the resolution of a crime but to enjoy the time with my favorite characters. These are not light mysteries, but there is a good amount of humor. There are recurring characters in most of the books. Inspector Cramer, in charge of the New York City homicide department, shows up in this one, along with Lieutenant Rowcliff. Also Fred Durkin, Saul Panzer, and Orrie Cather, the team of freelance operatives that Wolfe hires when needed.


In this book, I especially like that Clara Fox is a strong female character. She know what she wants and she won't be intimidated. Wolfe could be described as a woman hater, although really he just doesn't want to deal with a woman in his daily life. Which makes it doubly interesting when he harbors Clara in his house to keep her from being questioned by the police. Rex Stout often includes strong, intelligent female characters in his books, which balances out the negative comments about women.


See also these reviews:

At Crossexaminingcrime, where Kate notes comparisons to the Sherlock Holmes series.

At In So Many Words, because Yvette loves the Nero Wolfe series as much as I do and rereads them.


The Pocket Book edition shown above was published in 1943, and notes that the book can be sent "to a boy in the armed forces anywhere for only 3 cents postage." 


Thanks to Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings for hosting the 1936 Club this week.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Bantam, 1992. Orig. pub. 1936.
Length:     267 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Nero Wolfe, #3
Setting:     New York
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copies.


Friday, April 16, 2021

#1936Club: Murder In Mesopotamia

 


Murder in Mesopotamia
is one of three Hercule Poirot mystery novels by Agatha Christie published in 1936. The other two are The A.B.C. Murders, which I read and reviewed in 2017, and Cards on the Table, read and reviewed in 2019. 

It was also the first of Christie's novels to feature an archaeological site, which Christie was very familiar with because her second husband, Max Mallowan, was an archaeologist, and she went with him to work on some of his sites.

This Hercule Poirot mystery is set in Iraq, at an archaelogical dig located near Hassanieh. Dr. Giles Reilly asks Amy Leatheran to take on the position of nurse to the wife of the chief archaeologist at the dig. The wife, Louise, is nervous and is in fear of her life, partly as the result of threatening letters she has received. No one takes this very seriously until Louise is killed, in what seems to be an impossible situation. Poirot happens to be passing through the area and is called upon to look into the death. 


My favorite part of this novel is the narration by Nurse Leatheran. She is telling the story four years after the event, again at the request of Dr. Reilly. The reader sees all events through her eyes and learns about the characters from what she is told or experiences herself. Her initial reaction to Hercule Poirot is very funny.

Here it is:

I don’t think I shall ever forget my first sight of Hercule Poirot. Of course, I got used to him later on, but to begin with it was a shock, and I think everyone else must have felt the same!

I don’t know what I’d imagined—something rather like Sherlock Holmes—long and lean with a keen, clever face. Of course, I knew he was a foreigner, but I hadn’t expected him to be quite as foreign as he was, if you know what I mean.

When you saw him you just wanted to laugh! He was like something on the stage or at the pictures. To begin with, he wasn’t above five-foot five, I should think—an odd, plump little man, quite old, with an enormous moustache, and a head like an egg. He looked like a hairdresser in a comic play!

And this was the man who was going to find out who killed Mrs Leidner!

I suppose something of my disgust must have shown in my face, for almost straightaway he said to me with a queer kind of twinkle:

‘You disapprove of me, ma soeur? Remember, the pudding proves itself only when you eat it.’


The workings of the dig were very interesting. In addition, I thought all the characters were well defined. Louise Leidner is reported to be attractive to men and manipulative in relationships with both men and women. When she joins the dig, the comaraderie of the established team is disturbed. Sheila Reilly, daughter of Dr. Reilly and a very outspoken young woman, was my favorite character aside from the nurse.

Many reviewers have pointed out that the solution to this crime is ridiculous and/or seriously strains the reader's ability to suspend belief. I can understand that point of view, but when I read the book I found the solution acceptable. Overall, I enjoyed reading the novel. 


Agatha Christie's dedication for this book:

  Dedicated to
  My many archaeological friends 
  in Iraq and Syria


I am enjoying reading and reviewing novels from 1936 this week for the 1936 Club, hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Fontana, 1979. Orig. pub. 1936.
Length:     190 pages (of tiny print)
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot
Setting:     Iraq
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014. 


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

#1936Club: Murder in Piccadilly

This is my second post for the 1936 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. There are so many good books published in 1936, it is hard to choose just one or two. This one was reprinted by the British Library, and available in the US from Poisoned Pen Press. The cover illustration is gorgeous.

Murder in Piccadilly tells the story of a young man, Bobbie Cheldon, who has expectations of inheriting the family estate and a large income when his uncle dies. The hitch is that his uncle, Massy Cheldon, is healthy and and could easily live another 20 years.

Bobbie has been spoiled by his mother, Ruby, so he is not interested in working and not prepared for a job. He daydreams about his uncle dying (sooner than expected) so that he can get his inheritance while he is still young.

Bobbie's desire for more money becomes more important when he falls in love with a nightclub performer in a London nightclub. She has made it clear that she will not marry a man without money. Some of her friends start plotting the uncle's death, hoping to gain from it.

My thoughts...

This was a good picture of London in the 1930s. I liked the big city setting, especially the depiction of the less well-to-do London environments. The contrast between Uncle Massy's luxurious lifestyle and the extremely reduced circumstances that Bobbie and his mother live in is interesting. 

This story is a variation on the inverted mystery, even though the death doesn't take place until midway into the story. We don't know who did it, but we know who is planning the crime. That is not unique, but I liked that the structure of the story is a bit different. 

For most of this book I was on the fence about whether I liked it or not. The characters were portrayed well, but the majority of them were unsympathetic, and there was no one character that I liked or cared about. Even so, I did enjoy a lot of the conversations and scheming of the characters. When there finally is a murder, Chief Inspector Wake of Scotland Yard takes on the challenging case. However, he is not a major player in the story.

Ruby's machinations to convince her brother-in-law to help Bobbie out are both humorous and painful. Massy, though miserly, is not a mean person. He just doesn't approve of Bobbie wanting others to support his lifestyle and he points out that if Bobbie had a job, he and his mother could afford better lodgings, etc.

The story moves fairly slowly at times, but the slower pace is to be expected in vintage mysteries. And I often enjoy that. In this case I wanted the story to pick up and move on. 

Yet in the end there was a marvelous twist, delivered in a very realistic and entertaining way, which made up for any quibbles. At least for me.

After reading this book, I would like to read more of Charles Kingston's books, especially more in the Chief Inspector Wake series. I am interested in whether Wake has a larger role in later books.


  ----------------------------------

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press, 2015 (orig. pub. 1936)
Length:    305 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Series:     Chief Inspector Wake #1
Setting:    London
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    On my TBR piles since 2015.


Monday, April 12, 2021

Classics Club Spin #26

One of the events offered by The Classics Club is The Classics Club Spin. Spin #26 has just been announced. Members who participate list twenty books from their classics list that they have not read. As usual, my list is mostly the same as the one I used for the previous spin. 

On  Sunday 18th April, 2021, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The goal is to read, review and post about whatever book falls under that number on my Spin List by 31st May, 2021.

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


  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe   [209 pages]
  2. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte   [452 pages]
  3. Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier  [410 pages]
  4. The Sign of Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  5. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston 
  6. The Quiet American (1958) by Graham Greene   [180 pages]
  7. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by Carson McCullers
  8. Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov  
  9. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  10. Beast In View (1955) by Margaret Millar
  11. The Pursuit of Love (1945) by Nancy Mitford
  12. The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy   [200 pages]
  13. Much Ado About Nothing (1598) by William Shakespeare
  14. My Ántonia (1918) by Willa Cather
  15. Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen   
  16. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker    [420 pages]
  17. The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame 
  18. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  19. The Invisible Man (1897) by H.G. Wells
  20. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson



Sunday, April 11, 2021

#1936Club: Case for Three Detectives

I read this book for the 1936 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. I have had this book on my TBR for eight years so I am glad I got around to it now. 


This book by Leo Bruce was reviewed in 1001 Midnights, ed. by Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller and described thusly:  

Case for Three Detectives is at once a locked room mystery worthy of John Dickson Carr and an affectionate spoof of the Golden Age detectives created by Sayers, Christie, and Chesterton.

Dr. Thurston and his wife Mary are entertaining four younger men at a weekend party: Alec Noriss; Sam Williams; Mr. Townsend, and David Strickland. At dinner the first night, the vicar, Mr. Rider, is also a guest. Later in the evening, Mrs Thurston and two of the guests have gone up to bed, the vicar has gone home, and Townsend, Williams, and Dr. Thurston are still downstairs talking. While they are talking, a scream is heard from above, and the men rush upstairs to find Mary Thurston's door locked. Once they break the door down, they find her lying in the bed, covered with blood. Her throat has been slit.

Due to the nature of the crime, it is deemed prudent that Scotland Yard be called in. The local policeman, Sergeant Beef, is offended by this. He says that he has already solved the crime. However, the next morning three "indefatigably brilliant private investigators who seem to be always handy when a murder has been committed, began to arrive." The first is Lord Simon Plimsoll, a parody of Lord Peter Wimsey; his man, Butterfield, is with him. Next is Monsieur Amer Picon, representing Hercule Poirot. Last is Monsignor Smith, a comic depiction of Father Brown.

One of the guests at the Thurman's house, Townsend, is the narrator of this book. That works really well for telling the story, because he is fascinated with how the detectives work, and follows them around as they work. 

My Thoughts:

I did not find this story quite as comical or the parodies as convincing as many other reviewers. I am very familiar with the Peter Wimsey series and the Hercule Poirot series, but I have read only one Father Brown story. The spoof of Hercule Poirot seemed the best of the three detectives to me; Lord Plimsoll as Wimsey seemed overdone. One thing that all of the detectives shared was an insistence that they know who did the crime, but each refuses to share that information with anyone. That does happen often in classic mysteries, and it often irritates me when they do that.

However, I did enjoy the storytelling and I was committed to staying with the story to see how the three consulting detectives (plus the local detective, Sergeant Beef) would pull it all together. I found the ending to be very satisfying. 

This is also a nice variation on the country house mystery, and I enjoyed the depictions of the Thurston's servants: a butler, a chauffeur, a cook, and a housemaid.

Case for Three Detectives is the first book featuring Sergeant Beef, and there are seven more books in the series. I have learned that Townsend narrates all of the mysteries in this series. As I enjoyed him immensely as narrator of this book, I will be seeking out more books in this series.




 -----------------------------

Publisher:    Academy Chicago Publishers, 1997 (orig. pub. 1936)
Length:        240 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Series:        Sergeant Beef, #1
Setting:       UK
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       On my TBR since 2012.


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "So Much Cooking" by Naomi Kritzer


This short story is written as a series of blog posts, beginning with hints of an outbreak of bird flu. The blog focuses on food and cooking and that is a great way to illustrate the differences that a catastrophe can make in your life. The setting is in Minneapolis and takes place mostly in February so it is cold. 

The flu in the story is H5N1 and it soon leads to social isolation and difficulty in getting food and other supplies. The blogger lives with a boyfriend or husband (don't know if that was specified). They are both able to work from home. Then she takes in two of her nieces because her sister-in-law is a nurse and could easily expose them to the flu. Later two more kids are added to the "family" because their mother is sleeping in her car so she won't expose the kids, and one of them is a three year old. 

The story reminded me a lot of how it felt at the beginning of the current pandemic ... with food shortages and speculating what was the best way to avoid exposure or how long it would last. Just not knowing what the next day would bring.

I have to say I loved this story. It was written in 2015, and it was interesting to see what the author imagined a viral pandemic to be like and what did and did not correspond to how it has gone with this pandemic. It was emotional and sad, but not depressing.


Other things I liked:

  • The first blog post is about a recipe for chicken with potatoes, garlic, and lemon. It sounds great.
  • Some interesting information on substitutions in making recipes.
  • A constant refrain of how she has to have some caffeine everyday. (She ran out of coffee early on.)

The story is available online at Clarkesworld. It has also been published in a collection of the author's stories, Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories, which I will be getting soon. The stories in the collection are science fiction or fantasy.

The author wrote an article about this story in April 2020 at the Tor website.



Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Reading Summary for March 2021

I read eight books in March, in addition to short stories from various sources. One of the books was nonfiction, and the remaining were crime fiction. Of the crime fiction books I read in March, four were vintage mysteries (before 1960) and three were contemporary novels. This was another month where I read three books by Agatha Christie, all in the Hercule Poirot series. I am very close to finishing all the novels in that series. 


Nonfiction / Self Help

Essential: Essays by The Minimalists (2012) by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus

This book could be considered self help or personal development, with a little bit of philosophy thrown in. The authors of this book have a blog, The Minimalists, which has been going for over ten years now. If you are at all interested in minimalism, this book may be interesting. 


Crime Fiction

Cat Among the Pigeons (1959) by Agatha Christie

This novel in the Hercule Poirot series is set primarily at the prestigious Meadowbank School for Girls in England, but the action begins with international intrigue in the fictional country of Ramat. I enjoyed the story. My review is here.

Three Act Tragedy (1934) by Agatha Christie

This is the ninth Hercule Poirot novel, following Murder on the Orient Express. There is a large cast of characters, but the main ones are the renowned actor, Sir Charles Cartwright, now retired; Mr. Satterthwaite, his friend; Dr. Bartholomew Strange, a specialist in nervous disorders; and Miss "Egg" Lytton Gore. The gentlemen are all older; Miss Lytton Gore is a much younger friend. The structure is like a play; the first act is Suspicion, the second act is Certainly, and the third act is Discovery. This began too slowly for me but I ended up liking it overall.

Dead Man's Folly (1956) by Agatha Christie

This was the third Hercule Poirot novel that featured Ariadne Oliver, the mystery writer, as a character. In this case, she has been invited to run a Murder Hunt game for the village summer fête, and Poirot is invited to give the prizes away. Miss Oliver has a key role in the story, but she shows up at the beginning, fades into the background for a good while, and then comes back to help a bit at the end. As always, a good read, but not one of Christie's best.


I Hear the Sirens in the Street (2013) by Adrian McKinty

This is the second book in the Sean Duffy series set in Belfast in the early 1980's, during the Irish Troubles. I read this for Reading Ireland Month at 746books. Based on these two books, it is a very good series. My review is here.

The Secret Place (2014) by Tana French

This is the fifth book in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series and my second read for Reading Ireland Month.  I have enjoyed all the books in the series, so far. My review is here.

Stage Fright (2003) by Christine Poulson

This is the second book in a series about academic Cassandra James, the head of the English Department at Cambridge University's St. Ethelreda's College. In this one, the story centers around a stage production of East Lynne. I loved this story; the characters are fantastic, the pacing is good, and there is just enough tension. See my review here.



The Rubber Band (1936) by Rex Stout

This is the third book in the Nero Wolfe series, and I have read it several times. This time I read it in preparation for the 1936 Club and will be reviewing it soon.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Malice: Keigo Higashino

Description from the book cover:

Acclaimed bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home on the night before he's planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. His body is found in his office, a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems.

At the crime scene, Police Detective Kyoichiro Kaga recognizes Hidaka's best friend, Osamu Nonoguchi. Years ago when they were both teachers, they were colleagues at the same public school. Kaga went on to join the police force while Nonoguchi eventually left to become a full-time writer, though with not nearly the success of his friend Hidaka.


This story is told in first person by two different characters. One is the policeman investigating the murder and the other is a suspect, Osamu Nonoguchi, a friend of the victim. 

I liked the way the story was written; the structure is unusual. The first six chapters alternate between the suspect's written account of his activities (and thoughts) and Detective Kaga's accounts of the investigation. There is a chapter of interviews from people who knew Hidaka and Nonoguchi when they were middle school students. Then the last two chapters are Detective Kaga's accounts as he wraps up the investigation. 

Malice is not a thriller, but more of a character study. The investigation takes Detective Kaga back to the school days of the victim and his friend. The novel explores the how and why of the murder less than who did it. I like this kind of story and it was a very satisfying read. 

My husband read this book shortly after it was published in the US in 2014. Here is his review at Goodreads:

Malice is another meticulously plotted mystery/procedural from Keigo Higashino, author of incredibly clever The Devotion of Suspect X. This relatively brief book doesn’t waste time in getting the plot going (the murder on which everything hinges happens almost immediately) and also efficiently introduces the characters (of which there are really only five: police detective Kaga, writer friends Hidaka and Nonoguchi, and Hidaka’s two wives (one is deceased). Each first person section is an interview or account or interrogation or confession and at times it can be a bit confusing. The book has virtually no action with clever detective Kaga assembling and reassembling motives and alibis in an effort to ascertain the why of the crime. Well done.

 

In Japan, ten novels featuring Detective Kyoichiro Kaga have been published. This is the 4th book in the series but only the first book translated to English. The eighth book in the series, Newcomer, has also been translated into English. 

This was the second book I read for the Japanese Literature Challenge.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2014 (orig. pub. 1996)
Translator:  Alexander O. Smith with Elye Alexander
Length:       276 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Kyoichiro Kaga, #4
Setting:       Japan
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       Borrowed from my husband.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: A Tale about a Tiger and Other Mysterious Events by S.J. Rozan

In 2009, Crippen & Landru published nine of S. J. Rozan's early short stories in A Tale about a Tiger and Other Mysterious Events. The stories in that collection were first published between 1994 and 2001. I recently purchased a hardback edition of that book and have since read four of the stories. 

S.J. Rozan is the author of the Lydia Chin / Bill Smith mystery series. That is one my favorite contemporary mystery series. Bill Smith is a white private investigator in his forties who lives in Manhattan; Lydia Chin is an American-born Chinese private investigator in her late twenties who lives in New York’s Chinatown with her mother.  They are not partners but they often work together on cases. The element that I have always liked about this series is that the narrator of the books alternates. The first book was narrated by Lydia; the second book was narrated by Bill; and so on.


In A Tale about a Tiger and Other Mysterious Events, six of the stories feature either Lydia Chin or Bill Smith or both. These are the four stories I have read:

  • "Film at Eleven" features both Lydia and Bill; they are hired to expose a murderer who was acquitted when he was tried for the crime. 
  • "A Tale about a Tiger" is the longest story at 41 pages. Shun Shang Xian sells Chinese herbal remedies. He wants Lydia to find a man who is illegally hunting and killing tigers to use in bogus remedies. Lydia brings in Bill to help.
  • In "Hoops", Bill is hired to prove that a high school basketball player did not kill his girlfriend and then commit suicide.
  • The fourth story I read, "Seeing the Moon," did not feature Lydia or Bill. It was set in the art world.

I enjoyed reading more about Lydia Chin and Bill Smith in the short story format. 


Here is a list of the stories:

  • "Film at Eleven", pp 9-41 (Chin and Smith)
  • "Hoops", pp 42-74 (Smith)
  • "Seeing the Moon", pp 75-93 (Jack Lee)
  • "Passline", pp 94‑108
  • "Night Court", pp 109‑114 
  • "Subway", pp 115‑143 (Chin)
  • "A Tale about a Tiger", pp 144‑186  (Chin and Smith)
  • "Childhood", pp 187-213  (Smith)
  • "Double-Crossing Delancey", pp 214‑240 (Chin)


Monday, March 22, 2021

The Secret Place: Tana French

From the book cover:

The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls' boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM. 

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin's Murder Squad–and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. "The Secret Place," a board where the girls at St. Kilda's School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

 

Holly Mackey, daughter of a policeman and student at St. Kilda's, brings the new piece of evidence to Stephen Moran, a detective in the Cold Cases division who would really rather be in the Murder Squad. Stephen and Holly have a previous relationship from an earlier case that her father, Frank Mackey, was personally involved in.

Stephen takes the information to Conway in the Murder Squad, who was the primary on the case the year before. They immediately go to St. Kilda's, and start interviewing the girls who had access to The Secret Place at the relevant time. 

The action all takes place in one day. The story is told in alternating narratives. The first is in first person, from the point of view of Stephen Moran. The second narrative (in third person present tense) follows the eight girls, boarders at the school, in the year leading up to the crime and all the way up the point where Holly turns in the photo.


First I will start with what I liked about the book. I especially like the characters in French's books; sometimes it seems like the character exploration is just as important as solving the mystery. Most of the eight students that are important to the story are interesting. Scary kids, not what I remember teenage girls being like when I was in a very non-posh high school in Alabama (in the 1960s), but still interesting. Miss McKenna, headmistress of the school, is a good character. Her primary concern is the reputation of the school, and she is having a very bad day. We don't see a lot of her, but she is important to the plot.

The depiction of the two detectives is very well done. Stephen Moran is the narrator of the portion of the story about the investigation and the interrogations. We know about his goals, his fears, and his good and bad points (at least from his point of view). The reader knows less about Antoinette Conway because we are getting only Stephen's assessment of her and the situation, but she is an intriguing character and she grew on me. And then there is Holly's father, Frank, a policeman in the Undercover Division, who becomes involved later in the story. He is quite a character.

The school setting is excellent. The school takes boarders, the girls board four to a room, and there are two sets of four very close friends that are under suspicion. The girls' families are mostly very well-to-do and the girls are used to getting what they want. 


The rest of my comments are more neutral than negative...

I feel emotionally wrung out when I finish books by Tana French. The ending is usually a downer. The murder is solved, life goes on, but no one ends up happy at the end. That is OK now and then but I would not want a steady diet of that kind of reading.

This book was about 450 pages and took me five days to read. The pacing was good but I had to really focus to keep up with all the characters and the two alternating narratives. 

I do have a bone to pick with the author related to the introduction of some supernatural elements that never seemed to go anywhere or fit into the book. That distracted me and nearly took me out the story completely. However, some readers liked that aspect a lot.

Yet, regardless of any criticisms I have, overall this was a good book, rewarding and with good character development. I liked it a lot. I think I would enjoy rereading this someday. 


See Moira's review at Clothes in Books, John's review at Goodreads, Barbara Fister's review at Reviewing the Evidence.


This is my second read for Reading Ireland Month at Cathy's blog at 746books.




 -----------------------------

Publisher: Viking, 2014
Length:    452 pages
Format:    Hardcover
Series:     Dublin Murder Squad
Setting:    Dublin, Ireland
Genre:     Police Procedural
Source:   Purchased in August 2020.