Monday, September 27, 2021

Murder: Parnell Hall

Murder was the second book in the Stanley Hastings series by Parnell Hall. My husband is a big fan of that series and I am slowly catching up. Stanley is a bumbling private detective (sort of). Actually, most of the time he does quite well at it, he just doesn't have confidence in himself. 

His primary work is following up on accident reports where people want to sue for damages, to supply evidence for his boss, attorney Richard Rosenberg, who is a piece of work. It sounds like a terrible job. But inevitably he gets involved in a real murder that he has to solve. I enjoyed this entry in the series a lot.

This time the subject matter was pretty serious (prostitution and pornography, but with no graphic violence or sex). A woman has been blackmailed into working as a prostitute, and needs help to get out of a difficult situation. Stanley's wife knows her, sympathizes, and asks Stanley to help. He has a hard time saying no to his wife, so he gets involved.

Some readers complain about the series being dated. Murder was published in 1987, and Stanley has to respond to a pager and hunt around for a telephone booth to make a call from to get his assignments for his job. But that is exactly what I like about books set in the 1980s and 1990s. No cell phones and no internet to look things up instantaneously.

I like humor in mysteries, but I prefer the subtle approach. In the past, I have avoided mysteries that are written specifically with the intent to be funny, but my enjoyment of all types of humor in mysteries is broadening. In the Stanley Hastings series, the humor is present in every interaction, but my favorite parts so far are Parnell Hall's descriptions of Stanley's day-to-day job of meeting with applicants who want to sue for damages after an injury. He usually has much sympathy for the applicants because they are often living in bad situations with low-paying jobs, but he also describes the rough neighborhoods he has to go to to meet the clients, the dangers involved, and his fear of that part of the job. 

The stories are told in first person narration by Stanley. I like that style of storytelling, and it works well here. We get the whole story from Stanley's point of view. The stories are also fast-paced and keep my interest from beginning to end. This was a fun book and I hope it doesn't take me so long to read book 3 in the series.

This is my husband's review on Goodreads, from 2013. Since then he has read seven more books in the series and has enjoyed them all.

This second volume in Parnell Hall's Stanley Hastings detective series is every bit as good as the stellar original. With a witty, self-deprecating protagonist (who, amazingly, has a home life and is personally undamaged) and an intricate clockwork plot (although the ending does feel a bit rushed) you really can't ask for a more entertaining read. Since I came late to this long-running series I anticipate more reading pleasure ahead.

This is my second book read and reviewed for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.


Publisher:  Donald I. Fine, 1987.
Length:      256 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Stanley Hastings, #2
Setting:      New York, New York
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Anthologies and Collections from the Book Sale

Today, for Short Story Wednesday, I am sharing a few short story anthologies or collections that I purchased at a book sale this weekend. This year Planned Parenthood is having their annual book sale, after having to call it off in 2020. The sale started on Friday, September 17 and will continue through Sunday, September 26. We went to the book sale on both Friday and Saturday, and on the first day I picked up several short story books. I have not sampled any of them yet. So, here they are.

Montalbano’s First Case and Other Stories by Andrea Camilleri, Stephen Sartorelli, translator

The late Andrea Camilleri is the author of a long-running police procedural series featuring Inspector Montalbano. The series is set in Italy. For this volume, Camilleri selected twenty-one short stories that follow Italy’s famous detective through cases throughout his career.  The introduction by the author is interesting.

Maigret's Christmas by Georges Simenon, Jean Stewart (translator)

From the back of the book:

It's Christmastime in Paris, and the great detective Maigret is investigating holiday mayhem in nine delightful short stories. The mysteries abound: an otherwise sensible little girl insists that she has seen Father Christmas, a statement alarming to her neighbors, Monsieur and Madame Maigret. Then, a choirboy helps the inspector solve a crime while he lies in bed with a cold; and another boy, pursued by a criminal, ingeniously leaves a trail to help Maigret track him.

Alabama Noir, edited by Don Noble

I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I did not even know that this book existed; it was published fairly recently, in 2020. I don't believe that the cover photo is identified, but it is the perfect representation of what I remember about Alabama. Lush green landscapes, trees reflected in a body of water. I am very excited to read the stories in this book.

Hard-Boiled, edited by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian

I was also very excited to find a copy of this book. It had been on my want list for a couple of years, and when I looked for it initially, it was hard to find a copy at a price I was willing to pay. The subtitle of this book is "An Anthology of American Crime Stories." It contains over 500 pages of stories published from the 1920s through the 1990s. 

See a very good review by Bill Crider at his Pop Culture Magazine blog. The review also lists the Table of Contents.

Dublin Noir edited by Ken Bruen

The subtitle of this book is "The Celtic Tiger vs. the Ugly American." I don't know exactly what that means, but there is this explanation in the introduction by Ken Bruen:

At first it was straightforward -- Dublin authors to write on their city... Then we turned the concept on its head, as you do in noir. The Irish are fascinated by how we appear to the world, so let's have a look, we thought, at how this city appears from the outside. In addition to a couple of us locals, let's take a cross section of the very best of today's crime writers from America, as well as Britain, Europe, and Canada.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Lady Vanishes (AKA The Wheel Spins): Ethel Lina White

In 1938, Alfred Hitchcock released The Lady Vanishes, a film based on a book by Ethel Lina White, The Wheel Spins. The book was published in 1936. The film differs in many ways from the book, but having seen the film before, several times, I knew the basic premise of book. A young woman, Iris, meets an older lady while traveling on a train. They have tea and talk for a while, and then, Iris takes a nap. When she awakens, Miss Froy, the older woman, has disappeared, and the other people in the same carriage deny that there ever was a Miss Froy in the  carriage.

Iris frantically searches for the woman Miss Froy, and can not find her. When she asks other passengers on the train to comfirm that they saw her, no one will admit that she exists. Even other English passengers on the train from the hotel, who had seen Miss Froy on the train, deny that they saw her. They each have their own reasons, but that doesn't help Iris. 

The panic she feels when no one believes her or will listen to her is palpable. For various reasons, she lets herself be convinced that she imagined the old lady, that she was having hallucinations. The only other explanation is that there is a conspiracy afoot to cover up Miss Froy's absence, which seems ridiculous.

My thoughts...

This is a mystery, but it is also a character study and full of psychological suspense, with a bit of romance thrown in. It is hard for me to judge how much I was affected by previous viewings of the film when reading this book. I think it did cut down on some of the tension. I enjoyed reading the book and I preferred it to the film, if only because the characters are better developed.

The novel explored Iris's character and psychology. As the book opens, she is at the hotel, a remote vacation spot in Europe, with a large group of friends. She is kind of flighty, does not have a lot of self-confidence, drifts into relationships.  The friends are artificial, obnoxious, and shallow, and she grows tired of them. She decides not to leave the resort when they leave, but to wait until a day or two later. Thus when she runs into trouble on the train, she is alone and has no one to turn to. She does eventually find a young man her age who helps her out. Iris's behavior matures on this trip. She wants to throw off the superficiality of her previous life. 

I also liked that the book gives us brief glimpses of Miss Froy's family at home, with her parents and her dog eagerly awaiting her return from her governess job for a government official in a distant country.

We watched the 1938 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, again after I finished the novel. I enjoyed it as usual, although I noticed the changes to the story this time around. There is much more humor in the film, and the blossoming romance between Iris and a young man on the train is more believable. All the characters are different from the book. The ending is more tense and more thrillerish. 

The edition I read contained this novel plus one other by Ethel Lina White, The Spiral Staircase, which was first published as Some Must Watch in 1933.

Also see:

Christine Poulson's post at A Reading Life on Ethel Lina White and her career, titled A Forgotten Woman Crime Novelist.

Reviews at Clothes in Books, FictionFan's Book Reviews, and Crossexaminingcrime.

This is my first book read in September for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.


Publisher:   Wordsworth Classics, 2015 (orig. publ. 1936)
Length:       157 pages (of tiny print)
Format:       Trade paperback
Setting:       Train trip through Europe
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy in 2017.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Sweet Baby Jenny" by Joyce Harrington

In A Moment on the Edge, Elizabeth George collects 26 crime fiction stories over the past 100 years, all written by women. This week I decided to feature a story from that anthology, "Sweet Baby Jenny" by Joyce Harrington.

This is the story of a young woman, born on a farm, and still living there; she is the youngest of six children, with five older brothers. Her mother died shortly after her birth and no one has told her much about her mother or how she died. Her father, who she remembers vaguely, disappeared several years after that. 

Jenny wants to get out of the life she is stuck in but she feels like she has to take care of her older brothers. Most of them make some money for the family, but not much. Only the youngest brother, Pembroke, is getting an education and he encourages Jenny to do the same. 

She knows her mother once worked as a maid for a family in town named the Carpenters; the father is the town's one and only bank president. So she decides to work for them to make some money. She gets the job easily; she is a good cook and is not afraid of work. As a result of that, she learns much more about what happened to her mother and her father.

The story is told in first person by Jenny, in a rural dialect. I found it very easy to read and understand. The story is about a serious subject, but it has humor to give it balance. The ending was fantastic, I always like a good ending. It was clever, and not predictable at all. 

This story was first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1981. I have read one other story by Joyce Harrington, "The Purple Shroud," in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril -- R.I.P. XVI

This year I will be participating in R.I.P. XVI, the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event. This event was originally hosted by Carl V. Anderson at the Stainless Steel Droppings blog. Since then it has been taken over by other bloggers and lately has been primarily on Instagram and Twitter. You can use #RIPXVI or tag @PERILREADERS to connect with other participants.

This is Carl's description from one of the R.I.P. announcement posts:

The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril ... is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as:

  • Mystery.
  • Suspense.
  • Thriller.
  • Dark Fantasy.
  • Gothic.
  • Horror.
  • Supernatural.

Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

I have already read several books and a short story this month that fit those categories. 

This is one book I will be reading...

And I will read some short stories from this book as Halloween nears...

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Reading Summary for August 2021

I read nine books this month, a bit more than usual. I read two historical fiction novels, two science fiction novels, and five crime fiction novels. Some were contemporary novels and some were older novels from 1950 and before. And a decent number of short stories, although I should be reading more.

I finished all of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list, and am glad to be back to unplanned reading. 


Historical Fiction

The Women in Black
(1993) by Madeleine St. John

In some ways this is a wonderful book. It is about several women who work in the women's dresses department in a big department store, in 1950's Australia during the Christmas rush and post-Christmas sales. The setting is great. I enjoyed reading the book, I cared about the characters, but it was too light and "feel good" for me.  I keep having mixed feelings about this; I might come back to it and review it in December. There is a film adaptation directed by Bruce Beresford.

Historical Fiction / Romance

The Grand Sophy (1950) by Georgette Heyer

Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy is an outrageous woman. She is young but was raised by her father to be independent and think for herself. She is always trying to fix people and usually succeeds. This is only the second Regency romance by Georgette Heyer I have read (and I haven't read any by other authors). I enjoyed this as much as I did Frederica. The plots are quite different, but I did notice similarities in the heroines in the two books, and the types of families involved. Both feature a number of younger children, which was interesting.

Science Fiction

Way Station (1963) by Clifford D. Simak

All I knew when I started this book was that it was a science fiction classic about a man on earth, in the US in the 1960s, providing a station where aliens from other planets stop overnight while traveling from planet to planet. This is completely hidden from the rest of the world. It is a very interesting and entertaining book, with lots of tension, because his station is discovered, and I was surprised at the ending. It is very much of its time, but I did not mind that at all.

Just One Damned Thing After Another (2013) by Jodi Taylor

This is the first book in a time-travel series. The main protagonists are historians from St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. Each has a special area of expertise but the assignments may take them to any time in the past. The story carries you along pell mell through adventure after adventure, and the historians find out that there are lots of challenges ahead.  There are now 12 books in the series and I will be reading the next one for sure. 

Crime Fiction

Lockdown (2020) by Peter May

This is a police procedural mystery set in London during a pandemic that has paralyzed the city. I enjoyed it, but it is not my favorite book by Peter May. See my thoughts here.

The Art of Violence (2020) by S. J. Rozan

This is the thirteenth book in S.J. Rozan's series about private investigators Lydia Chin and Bill Smith, and I have read every book in the series. I loved this book, especially the ending. See my thoughts here.

The Turquoise Shop (1941) by Frances Crane

Beginning in the early 1940's, Frances Crane wrote a series of over 25 books featuring Pat and Jean Abbott. This is the first book in the series, set in a fictionalized version of Taos, New Mexico, where Jean Holly owns a shop that sells antiques, art, and jewelry. Pat Abbott is a private investigator, who at the beginning of the story maintains that he is just there on vacation. Most of the books had a color in the title, and they were set in a variety of locations. In all the books, Pat does most of the investigating, and the stories are narrated by Jean. The other book I read in this series, The Indigo Necklace, was set in the French Quarter in New Orleans during the closing months of World War II. For me, these are enjoyed for the locations and the ambiance of the 1940's and 50's, and the mystery is just a sideline.

The Mouse in the Mountain (1943) by Norbert Davis

This is a book I have been meaning to read for nearly 10 years. It is vintage crime fiction from the US, published in 1943. The story is humorous. One of the characters is a large dog named Carstairs, a Great Dane. His owner is Doan, a private investigator. It is a very short novel, set in Mexico, about 150 pages. There are two more short novels and two short stories in the Doan and Carstairs series, and I will be reading them all. Coincidentally, Norbert Davis was related to Frances Crane, author of The Turquoise Shop (above). Davis was Crane's son-in-law and they both wrote mysteries in the 1940's. 

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1973) by John Godey

This novel is about the hijacking of a New York City Subway train. The story takes place in one afternoon and is told from the point of view of the hijackers, policemen, staff from the transit agency, and some of the passengers taken as hostages. My full review here.

Currently reading and What's Next?

I am currently reading a Miss Silver mystery by Patricia Wentworth. The title is The Chinese Shawl, it is the 5th book in the series, and it was published in 1943. Loving it.

I will be taking part in RIP XVI (Readers Imbibing Peril), although it is now an event that takes place primarily on Instagram and Twitter. But other bloggers are joining in and it isn't a stretch for me, since I mostly read mysteries anyway. It was Kay's post at Kay's Reading Life that motivated me to do it this year.

I will be finding a couple of books to read for The 1976 Club in October and also novellas to read for Novellas in November. I am planning to stick with books I already own, but if anyone has suggestions, I would welcome them.

The lovely flowers above are geraniums. The cat is Rosie in her favorite chair. Both photos were taken by my husband.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Sugar and Spice" by Vera Caspary

"Sugar and Spice" is a short story first published in 1943; it is about 60 pages long, close to novella length. Vera Caspary, the author, was the author of Laura, a novel that I enjoyed reading. Laura was adapted to film, starring Dana Andrews as a police detective and Gene Tierney as Laura.

In "Sugar and Spice," Mike Jordan visits a friend and tells her who killed a famous actor, Gil Jones, and how. Two women, cousins and life-long rivals, are the suspects in his murder. The two women grew up in the same small town where Mike Jordan lived, and the three were in high school together. Mike tells the history of their relationship, how it changes over time, and how they mature as they marry and have careers. The two women both fall for Gil Jones, and support his acting career and eventually one of them kills him.

It is the background of their childhood and how they competed with each other over time that explains how one of the women has become capable of murder. When they were teenagers, Phyllis was beautiful, but her family was poor; Nancy was plain and overweight, but her family was wealthy and she gets everything she wants. Their grandmother is a vicious old woman who sets them against each by constantly pointing out Phyllis's beauty and superior talent.

The narrative structure of Mike Jordan telling the story to his friend while waiting for a telephone connection to New York City to talk to one of the suspects is what makes the story especially interesting.

My description does not do this story justice, but I do recommend it and also the anthology that it is in, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman. See two previous posts on this anthology at my blog, here and here.

I did notice that Weinman's introduction to Caspary's story has the details quite wrong. But no matter, I enjoyed the short story a lot and am glad it was included in the anthology.

See two other reviews of this book by John at Pretty Sinister Books and Curtis at The Passing Tramp.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three: John Godey

In 1974, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was released as a film starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. If you have seen that film, then you have a good idea of the basic plot of this book. 

This is the story of the hijacking of a New York City Subway train. The train that is hijacked is designated Pelham One Two Three to indicate its point and time of origin. Thus it had left Pelham Bay Park station at 1:23 p.m. Four men take over the train: one ex-mercenary soldier; one former motorman (driver) for the subway; one ex-Mafia crook; the fourth is hired muscle. They demand a $1 million ransom, or else hostages will be killed.

The story is told from the point of view of the hijackers, policemen, staff from the transit agency, and some of the passengers taken as hostages. With so many characters, at times it can get confusing, but I enjoyed the story. It takes place over one afternoon, although there are a few flashbacks to the preparations for the attack.

The tension builds up well. I had no idea how it would turn out. Would there be a very dark ending or a more upbeat ending? 

Through the interactions of various characters, the book provides insight into racial issues and the realities of race interactions in the early seventies in New York City. There were characters working in the police and in the transit system with prejudices towards blacks (and women). There are several important characters who are black and we see race relations at that time from their point of view. Some readers complained about racial slurs in this book, but I felt like it gave a balanced picture of racial prejudices at that time and how it affected individuals.

The Adaptation

A few days after I finished reading the book, we watched the 1974 film adaptation. Robert Shaw is the leader of the hijackers, Martin Balsam plays the ex-motorman, and Walter Matthau is a lieutenant in the Transit Authority police. Tony Roberts has a small role as the Deputy Mayor, which he handled very well. 

It is a fairly faithful adaptation, although we get little background on the characters. Many characters have different names, and the four hijackers are not identified by name, but are called Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Brown. The story moves well, no dull spots. I enjoyed it especially for the picture of New York City at the time. There is more humor in the film than in the book, although the subject is still treated very seriously.

There have been two other adaptations, in 1998 and in 2009, but I have not seen those.


Publisher:  G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1973.
Length:      316 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      New York, NY
Genre:       Thriller
Source:      I purchased my copy in 2018.