Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "The Scorched Face" by Dashiell Hammett


"The Scorched Face" is a Continental Op story, over thirty pages long, a novelette I guess. First published in 1925 in Black Mask

The Op works for the Continental Detective Agency, in the San Francisco office. He is looking for two missing girls, the daughters of a rich family in the area. The job involves a lot of footwork and tracking down information about friends and acquaintances, and the detective has support from other operatives. Once a death is involved, even though it is clearly a suicide, he also gets help from a policeman he knows. The story was very readable, and I did not lose interest at any time, even though it took a lot of footwork and dead ends before hitting upon the solution. It was a good picture of working at a detective agency at that time. And there is a great twist at the end. 

I had previously read two novels by Hammett, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, but this was the first short story that I read by him. Now I will find more of those to read.

I read this story in Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian. It has over 500 pages of stories published from the 1920s through the 1990s, with a preponderance of stories from the 1930s and the 1950s. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday list: Mysteries with an Academic Setting

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is a School Freebie (come up with a topic that somehow ties to school/education). I am keeping it simple, a list of my favorite books with a school setting.

And here's my list:

Murder is Academic by Christine Poulson

Poulson set her debut novel at St. Etheldreda's College at Cambridge. Cassandra James is a professor of English, and she finds the head of her department drowned in a pool, surrounded by exam papers. In Murder is Academic, in addition to the college setting, we have plagiarism, séances, and the pressures to publish research. And the characters are well-done and believable. The UK title of this book is Dead Letters. Published in 2002. She has published two more books in this series and three books in the Katie Flanagan series.

The Secret Place by Tana French

This is the fifth book in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series. The setting is primarily a girls' boarding school in the suburbs of Dublin. The case is the death of a teenage boy who was found murdered, a year before, on the grounds of the girl's school. The action all takes place in one day. The story is told in alternating narratives. The first narrative is from the point of view of a policeman working on the case. The second narrative (in third person present tense) follows the eight girls, boarders at the school, in the year leading up to the crime. Published in 2014.

Cat Among the Pigeons 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 loved the girls school setting, but the espionage story was a bit too unrealistic for me. Julia Upjohn and Jennifer Sutcliffe, two students at the school, are very good characters, and I liked their letters home which moved the plot along. Julia is clever and notices things, Jennifer is more focused on herself, but together they are a good pair. Published in 1959.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

There are three main characters who share the narration of the story. All three are interesting, with very different points of view on life. Clare is an English teacher at a high school; a close friend at work has been brutally murdered. Harbinder Kaur is a policewoman working on the investigation of the death of Ella Elphick, Clare's friend. Georgia is Clare's fifteen-old-daughter, who is a student at the high school that her mother teaches at.  Some of Clare's sections are told via entries from her diary, which does play an integral part in the story. Published in 2018.

Quoth the Raven by Jane Haddam

Quoth the Raven is the 4th book in a 20-book series about Gregor Demarkian, retired FBI agent, living in Philadelphia. This one is set in rural Pennsylvania at a small college, where Gregor has been invited to give a lecture. Halloween is a major event at the college and there will be the annual lighting of the bonfire the same night. The story takes place in the two days before that event; thus this is the perfect book for fall and the Halloween season. I liked the academic setting, and the mix of students and faculty as characters. Published in 1991.

Publish or Perish by Margot Kinberg

This is the first book in Margot Kinberg's Joel Williams series. The setting is academia: a university in Pennsylvania. I know that the academic setting is a competitive one, although I have no first-hand knowledge of this. Williams is an ex-policeman who now teaches in the university's Department of Criminal Justice. There is a good subplot about a group of students investigating the murder. Published in 2008.

A Killing Spring by Gail Bowen

A Killing Spring is the 5th book in a mystery series about Joanne Kilbourn, a political analyst and university professor who gets involved in criminal investigations. The setting is Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. This story begins as the head of the School of Journalism at the university where Joanne Kilbourn teaches is found dead, in embarrassing circumstances. Then a student in Joanne's class complains of sexual harassment and stops coming to class. Published in 1996. 

The Shortest Day by Jane Langton

This is the 11th book in the Homer Kelly series. This story is set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Homer and Mary Kelly are teaching a class at Harvard University. This is a quirky and humorous mystery in an academic setting. Mary is participating in the annual Christmas Revels when a young singer in the event dies in an automobile accident. When other deaths follow, Homer resists getting involved, even though he was once a homicide detective. The author illustrated the story with her own pen and ink drawings. Published in 1995.

Last Seen Wearing by Hillary Waugh

The story starts with the disappearance of a young female college freshman, Lowell Mitchell. The college she attends is in Bristol, Massachusetts, a fictional small town near Boston, Massachusetts. She goes missing on a Friday in early March 1950 after attending a morning class. Once the college dean ascertains that she is missing, the police are called in to investigate. The small police department in Bristol has less resources and less men to assign to the case than a big city police force. The press and the public are soon pressuring them for a solution, and Lowell's distraught parents also come to town. Published in 1952.

A Novena for Murder by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

This is a very cozy mystery starring a nun as an amateur sleuth. Sister Mary Helen has retired at 75 and is sent to Mt. Saint Francis College for Women in San Francisco. Shortly after she arrives the body of a professor at the school is found, following an earthquake. The police blame the wrong person, in Sister Mary Helen's opinion, so it is up to her to find out what happened. The setting in San Francisco is nicely done, and there is an interesting subplot involving Portuguese immigrants who have been helped to enter the US and are now students or workers at the college.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Burglar in the Closet: Lawrence Block

The Bernie Rhodenbarr series by Lawrence Block now consists of 11 books. The series started in 1977, although the first book, Burglars Can't Be Choosers, was not intended to be the start of a series. The most recent novel was published in 2013. I read some of these books many years ago; they would have been from the first five books which were published between 1977 and 1983.

The Burglar in the Closet is the second book in the series. Bernie lives in New York City and supports himself by burgling apartments. In this book Bernie is working for his dentist, who wants to get back at his ex-wife. Once in the apartment, Bernie has to duck into the closet when the dentist's ex-wife's comes home earlier than expected. And then she is murdered. Out of desperation, to save his own neck, Bernie ends up solving the case. 

The books are humorous and I enjoy Lawrence Block's writing, but this is a series that I find most appealing for the characters. Bernie is proud and confident of his ability's as a burglar. He doesn't always get away with it and he has been in prison for brief stays. Bernie tells his story in first person, and he is a very likable character. Not only is he charming, but he runs into many interesting people as he endeavors to prove that he is not a murderer. 

Block excels at fleshing out characters in small roles. Early in the book Bernie has an entertaining conversation with an elderly lady in the garden of a very exclusive building; that comes back to haunt him later in the book. Later he calls a lady in his building to check out whether the police have visited his apartment. She knows he is a burglar but thinks that is fine, as long as he keeps his burgling outside of the building. 

I also enjoyed this story for the picture of New York in the 1970s. I want to read the next book in the series soon because Bernie is a used book store owner in that book. Later books were published in the 1990s and two after 2000, and I would like to check those out also to see how Bernie has changed over time.

Lawrence Block has written another book in this series which is scheduled to be published in October 2022. In that book, The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown, he will deal with the realities of new technology such as security cameras and closed-circuit TV and locks that are truly pickproof.  


Publisher:  HarperTorch, 2006. Orig. pub. 1978.
Length:      320 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Bernie Rhodenbarr, #2
Setting:      New York City
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copy. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "Fire Watch" by Connie Willis

My short story for this week is the title story from Fire Watch by Connie Willis. 

I have read (and reviewed) all of the four novels in the Oxford Time Travel series: Doomsday Book (1992), To Say Nothing of the Dog (1995), Blackout (2010), and All Clear (2010). Those books are set sometime around 2050, when time travel is possible and used by academics to study the past. "Fire Watch" is a novelette that preceded those books; it is set in the same time and its main character, Bartholomew, is a historian sent back to London in 1940, during the Blitz.   

Bartholomew has been training for years to go back to the time of St. Paul, the apostle, and due to some confusion, is assigned instead to go to St. Paul's Cathedral during the Blitz. He will volunteer for fire watching on the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. The trip will be considered his practicum, and he has two days to learn about London during the Blitz before he leaves. That is not enough time to prepare so he supplements his research by using memory-assistance drugs to put information into his long-term memory, for access when needed. He is extremely unhappy about the change in plans and doesn't even get a clear understanding of his goal for this "mission."

The story is written in diary format with an entry for many of the days in the three month period that he is in London in 1940. This works well because the reader is as much in the dark as Bartholomew. A minor drawback is that the time travel mechanism is not described at all, although the story makes it clear that Bartholomew travels back in time and that he is a part of a group that does this regularly. That did not bother me but might be a problem for readers not familiar with the series.

I enjoyed reading this story tremendously. I like reading about the Blitz and I think the depiction of that time and how it affected people was very well done. This story made me want to go back and reread all the books in the series, even though each book is at least 500 pages long.

"Fire Watch" was first published in Asimov’s Science Fiction (Feb 1982), and was later reprinted in this collection in 1985 and in many anthologies. It won the 1982 Nebula and the 1983 Hugo Award for Best Novelette. It is available to read online here

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Books Read in July 2022


I read thirteen books in July, many more than any other month this year. Some of them were short books. Also, a couple of books I had read parts of earlier in the year. But there were some longer books too.  So I was surprised by how many books I read.


My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop (2012) by Ronald Rice (Editor), Leif Parsons (Illustrator)

In this book about independent bookstores throughout the US, 84 authors have written essays about one bookstore that has been special for them. In some cases the reader learns more about the author also. Some were more interesting than others but any reader (at least in the US) would have some favorites. 

Snippets of Serbia (2015) by Emma Fick 

At Goodreads: "This is Emma Fick's illustrated journey through the weird, the fun and the unique adventures to be experienced across this small Balkan country." Her illustrations are lovely and personal. Some pages have a good bit of text, others just have titles, so it is a very quick read. She records various memories and experiences that she had on two visits to Serbia. Lots of pictures of food. 

General Fiction 

The Bookshop (1978) by Penelope Fitzgerald 

Having never read anything by this author, I had no idea what to expect from this book. The cover led me to think this was a light-hearted book about a bookshop, and it wasn't that at all. I did give it a high rating, because I liked the writing and I think the author was expressing exactly what she wanted to, and did it well, but in the end it was too depressing for me. I do want to read more by this author.

How the Penguins Saved Veronica (2020) by Hazel Prior 

The original title of this book was Away with the Penguins. I learned about this book from a booktube reviewer, Bookworm Adventure Girl, and I learned about the booktuber from Cath at Read-Warbler (see her review). The two main characters are a curmudgeonly old woman (Veronica, 86 years old) and her grandson Patrick, who she found only late in life. Veronica and Patrick both have poor social skills (that is putting it mildly), and they don't get along initially. Veronica takes a trip to Antarctica to spend time at a research station for penguins. I loved the book, every bit of it. 

Fiction / Classic

The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was the book I read for the latest Classic Club Spin. The story is told beautifully, and the buildup to the conclusion is done well, but I was disappointed in the book. My review here.

Historical Fiction

The English Wife (2020) by Adrienne Chinn

This was the second book I read for the Canadian Reading Challenge. The story covers three time periods: during World War II, in the UK and in Newfoundland; 2001, at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when many planes coming into New York were rerouted to Newfoundland; and ten years later in the town of Tippy's Tickle, Newfoundland. It was a very good read and I liked the ending. This book was recommended by Constance at Staircase Wit (review here), and she generously sent me her copy to read.

Crime Fiction

Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express (2001) by Stuart Kaminsky

This book is part of a series by Stuart M. Kaminsky, set in Russia under Communist rule (to begin with) and later in Russia, following the breakup of the USSR. I started reading the series in 2005 and now only have two books left to read. My review here.

In the Market for Murder (2015) by T. E. Kinsey

The premise of this series of mysteries, set in the early 1900's, is that Lady Hardcastle and her maid solve mysteries while living in the English countryside. The key is that the lady and her maid are more friends than employer and employee. I was ready for a cheerful, upbeat read and this was perfect. This is the second book in the series, and I am now reading the third, Death Around the Bend.


Box 88 (2020) by Charles Cumming

Charles Cumming is my latest favorite spy fiction author. (I have a lot of them.) Box 88 is a new series featuring Lachlan Kite, an agent for a covert spy agency. Kite is abducted, possibly by terrorists, after leaving the funeral of an old friend from boarding school. It turns out that the abduction is related to an event in the late 1980s when Lachlan was just out of boarding school, visiting his friend in France. At that time Lachlan began spying for the Box 88 group, and there are flashbacks to his introduction to the craft of spying. I loved this book.

Dead in the Water (1983) by Ted Wood

This was the second book I read for the Canadian Reading Challenge. My review here.

An Elderly Lady Must not be Crossed (2020) by Helene Tursten 

This is a book of five short stories and one novella by the author of the Inspector Irene Huss series. Helene Tursten is Swedish, and the stories were translated by Marlaine Delargy. I reviewed the first five stories here and the novella, "An Elderly Lady Takes a Trip to Africa", here.

(1999) by Stuart Kaminsky

Stuart Kaminsky is one of my favorite authors, due to his Inspector Rostnikov series set in Russia (see above). I had never tried his Lew Fonesca series set in Sarasota, Florida. Fonesca is not legally a private detective; he works as a process server. But in this book he takes on two cases: a runaway teenage daughter and a missing wife. I loved the book, and it is a plus that the writing style is entirely different from the Inspector Rostnikov series. There are five more in the series and I will be getting to the next one soon.

The Man from Berlin
(2013) Luke McCallin

A historical mystery, set during World War II, in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. The protagonist is Gregor Reinhardt, a German officer in counter-intelligence, stationed in Sarajevo during German occupation. Sarajevo is now the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which shares a border with Serbia. Serbians are mentioned a lot in the book, so it was interesting to be reading it at the same time as Snippets of Serbia.

Currently reading

Death Around the Bend by T.E. Kinsey

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The photos at the top and bottom of this post are of Tibouchina heteromalla (Silver leafed Princess Flower) plants in our front flower beds. We have lovely flowers and foliage on these two plants this year. Photos taken and processed by my husband. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Part 1

The first book of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is on my Classics Club List and on my 20 Books of Summer list. So, earlier this week I dipped into it for the first time.

I don't have much experience with the Sherlock Holmes books. I have only read the first novel. I did enjoy reading A Study in Scarlet, but it was not at all what I expected. I have read at least three of the short stories in anthologies over the years and liked two out of three of those. 

The edition I have, shown above, combines The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in one book. It has an Introduction by John Berendt, and notes by James Danly.

Most of the stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are close to the same length, about 20 pages each. The first three stories seemed lighter, flimsier to me. Not at all what I expected. These three stories are:

"A Scandal in Bohemia"

"The Red-Headed League"

"A Case of Identity"

The first story, "A Scandal in Bohemia," is the only story that Irene Adler appears in, which makes it a special story. And it is very interesting. I was just expecting more.

The solutions to the next two stories seemed obvious to me and others have said the same, so I have to note that it is enjoyable just to read the dialogue between Holmes and Dr. Watson, the description of the proposed case, the meeting of the client, and the narration by Watson. 

My least favorite story was "A Case of Identity". Holmes is very patronizing to his young female client and I could find no excuse for that.

My favorite story in this book so far is "The Boscombe Valley Mystery." This is a story with the mystery, complexity, and depth I was expecting. 

In this story, Sherlock Holmes asks Watson to join him on a trip to Boscombe Valley to investigate a murder. Watson's wife thinks he needs a break from his medical practice and encourages him to go. Charles McCarthy has been murdered on his farm, in a secluded area, and his son James has been accused of the murder. A young woman has asked Lestrade of Scotland Yard to look into the case, because she thinks the son is innocent. Lestrade then invites Holmes to assist him. The culprit is fairly obvious in this story also, but it was fun to read about the investigation and how it all worked out.

I have eight more stories to read in this book. I will report back on my thoughts on those stories once I have read more of them.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Six Degrees of Separation: From Ruth Ozeki to Louise Penny

The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavoriteandbest. The idea behind the meme is to start with a book and use common points between two books to end up with links to six books, forming a chain. The common points may be obvious, like a word in the title or a shared theme, or more personal. Every month Kate provides the title of a book as the starting point.

The starting book is The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. I know nothing about this book so I am using just a few sentences from the Goodreads summary to describe it:

After the tragic death of his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house – a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn't understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.

This time I am using a simple approach, linking from a word in the current title to a word in the next title. 

Using "Emptiness" in the starting title, my first link is to An Empty Death by Laura Wilson. That book is the second in a historical mystery series set from the early 1940s into the late 1950s, a period I enjoy reading about. The novel provides a vivid picture of the wartime years in Great Britain, and how the war affected family life in particular. Set in 1944 after several years at war, it also focuses on the deprivation that was experienced during those years.

From An Empty Death, I move on to A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson. This book has two story lines, one set in the 1940's in Germany and Portugal, the other set in the late 1990's in Lisbon. The later time line features a police detective whose investigation of a teenage girl's murder links back to the experiences of a Berlin factory owner forced into Hitler's SS in 1941. The story is suspenseful and compelling, the characters have depth, but there was too much violence and sex for me. This book won the CWA Gold Dagger in 1999.

From A Small Death in Lisbon, I next link to The Lisbon Crossing by Tom Gabbay. Comparing the two books, this story is much lighter and very picturesque. Jack Teller is a US citizen visiting Lisbon with international film star Lili Sterne in 1940, to help her locate a childhood friend, Eva Lange. This is the 2nd in the Jack Teller series and each book is set in a different city and time period. 

The Lisbon Crossing leads me to The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths. That book takes me out of the World War II period to a more contemporary mystery. This is the first book in the Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries. The main character is a forensic archeologist who often ends up working with the police when there are questions about skeletal remains. There are 15 books in the series but I have only read the first four. 

My next link is A Beautiful Place to Die (2008) by Malla Nunn, a story set in 1950s apartheid South Africa. This is the only one of the six linked books that I have not read.  And it has been on my TBR pile for five years now! 

Description at the publisher's site:

In a morally complex tale rich with authenticity, Nunn takes readers to Jacob's Rest, a tiny town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique. It is 1952, and new apartheid laws have recently gone into effect, dividing a nation into black and white while supposedly healing the political rifts between the Afrikaners and the English. Tensions simmer as the fault line between the oppressed and the oppressors cuts deeper, but it's not until an Afrikaner police officer is found dead that emotions more dangerous than anyone thought possible boil to the surface...

A Beautiful Place to Die leads me to my last link, The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. This is the eighth book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, set in a secluded monastery. I enjoyed the new setting. The stories set in Three Pines are charming, but I also enjoy exposure to other parts of Québec. It was interesting to get a look at the workings of a small monastery. (I am currently reading the tenth book in the series, The Long Way Home.)

All of my links are crime fiction stories, and all are set outside of the USA. Settings are in the UK, Portugal, Germany, South Africa, and Canada. 

If you are participating in the Six Degrees meme, where did your links take you? If not, have you read these books? Any comments on The Book of Form and Emptiness or A Beautiful Place to Die, which I have not read yet?

Next month (September 3, 2022), Six Degrees of Separation will begin with the book you ended with this month. (So, for me it will be The Beautiful Mystery.) For those who did not participate this month, start with the last book you read.