Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Salon: My Kind of Halloween Movies

A fun/scary movie even my daughter approved of way back when we watched it though she doesn't quite understand my continued and undying devotion. She grew up. I didn't. (P.S.Willie Best practically steals the movie out from under Bob Hope's famous nose.)

For me, this is the best of the haunted house movies especially since the director understood that less is very definitely more when it comes to ghostly apparitions. The movie's undercurrents of illicit love and strange obsessions works well too. Cornelia Otis Skinner makes for an elegantly demented villain.

My favorite of the Frankenstein movies though there are two more of my list which I love to watch when the mood strikes which is usually around this time of year. In this one, Lionel Atwill and the set designer/decorator are the scene stealers. And again I ask, as I always do, why would the child of an English couple have an American southern accent? This continues to be one of the great movie imponderables.

How Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and the Wolfman all wind up in America and get to attend a masquerade party. Still creepily hilarious and, in my book, a classic.

 Eeky slimy Dr. Praetorius and his 'tiny' people - need I say anymore?. And I also like the bride's two tone hairdo. James Whale's brilliant direction, the sinister sets and gorgeous photography, make for a truly atmospheric monster fest.

The first and still the scariest of the mummy franchise primarily because of Boris Karloff's eerie and compelling mummy presence. You can almost smell the fetid odor of decaying flesh and rancid linen.

The second of the 'scary' Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard pairings. While not as good as THE GHOST BREAKERS, it does have Gale Sondergaard and George Zucco and lots of spooky atmosphere as the characters are stranded overnight in an isolated Bayou mansion.

A fabulous Frank Capra film with just about the worst movie posters of all time. Can't find a single one that has any hint of what the movie is about. At any rate, this is a classic movie with a fabulous cast and one of the best beginnings - a fight on the field during a game at Ebbits Field where the  Brooklyn Dodgers played which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Everyone in the film is a hilarious scene stealer and all work together to crazy perfection. Cary Grant should have been nominated for an Oscar for his manic performance - here was a handsome man not afraid to make himself ridiculous on a grand scale.

 A movie saved from banality (well it stars Kent Smith and Jane Randolph) by the captivating presence of Simone Simon whose feline features and foreign accent seem perfectly in tune with the whole idea of cursed exotic females in distress. And Tom Conway all but steals the movie with his portrayal of a really sleazy psychiatrist. Another entry in the 'less is plenty more' sweepstakes of film making in which most of what you think you see is really in your imagination.

I was going to include Lon Chaney Jr.'s werewolf movie which is the better known, but that one always makes me sad. I don't like being sad on Halloween. So here is Henry Hull's werewolf movie which has a dark and shadowy beginning in a foreign land and Warner Oland NOT playing Charlie Chan. And if the wolfie make-up isn't up to modern day standards, so what - it still works for me.

These are the films I love to watch when the spooks and goblins are abroad in the land. No blood and guts for me, thank you very much. Just creepy crawlies, a few scary moments and the occasional mindless joviality.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE FRIGHTENED STIFF (1942) by Kelley Roos


Yet again I cannot remember who recommended this book to me, but whoever you are/were, THANK YOU! Husband and wife detecting teams aren't all that prolific in the annals of vintage mystery fiction though there are a few (besides Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, my stand-out favorites are the Jane and Dagobert Brown books by Delano Ames and the Mr. and Mrs. North books by Francis and Richard Lockridge) so when I stumble across a 'new' Mr. and Mrs. Detecting Duo, I am thrilled. Haila and Jeff Troy now join my list of favorite marital sleuthing teams.

Husband and wife authors Audrey and William Roos aka Kelley Roos, are not as talented as Christie or Delano Ames , but they seem quite on par with the Lockridges and that's quite good enough for me. Based on THE FRIGHTENED STIFF, I'll definitely be looking for the rest of the books in the series.

Apparently the Kelley Roos combo is another of those authors whose books mysteriously vanished from sight over time. But then Rue Morgue Press stepped up and re-published some of the titles a few years ago and VOILA!

THE FRIGHTENED STIFF should especially resonate with readers who lived in New York and have memories of the city of once upon a time. (I grew up there in the 40's and 50's and to me, Manhattan was a fabulous theme park.) Even if you don't have the actual memories, you will probably have seen movies set in the city of that time so you'll have an idea of what I'm talking about. There was a neighborhood feel to the city then but also a sense that adventure was just around the corner. And nowhere in the city was adventure more likely to happen than in Greenwich Village, the artistic enclave of eccentrics which still, to this day, carries its own unique cachet.

The pleasure of being young marrieds moving into an atmospheric basement apartment on a great street in The Village is dampened somewhat by the unpleasantness of a dead man in the garden out back. But there's always something - right? The zest of living in the city of eight million stories is captured wonderfully by the authors - even if this particular story is pretty much confined to one building and its surrounding streets. A second dead body would have added more 'oomph' to the plot and considering the eventual solution and explanation of plot mechanics, I'm surprised there wasn't one, but still I enjoyed what the authors did with this cozy NYC mystery of the early 1940's.

When the aforementioned body is spied by a neighbor from a second floor window, the cops are called in and as they begin tramping in and out of their apartment, Jeff and Haila Troy are put in a difficult position. They have to explain that though the victim is lying nude in their garden, the body literally stripped of any identification - they have no idea who he is. But it turns out (once Haila gets a closer look) that the corpse is the same guy they'd noticed acting suspiciously the night before at a neighborhood restaurant.

It also turns out that Haila had overheard the dead man's half of a strange phone conversation. He was making a midnight assignation to meet someone in, of all places, their new apartment. (The Troys had not been expected to move in until a week later so their sudden appearance had obviously upset some nefarious plan.) Then Jeff had almost gotten into an altercation with the guy who'd turned belligerent. But both Troys assumed he'd just been drunk.

Next thing you know, the same shady character winds up dead in their garden. Naturally, the cops suspect the Troys of knowing more than they're telling. So to keep from being arrested for the crime, Jeff decides to solve it. I mean, wouldn't you?

The building is chock full of quirky folk. All seem uneasy, but then having a dead man show up in the building's garden might make anyone uneasy. Especially since it's obvious that the killer has to be one of them.

The tenants:

1) An old friend of Haila's (who now doesn't seem quite so friendly) and her handsome hubby who if he isn't guilty of anything, sure acts like it.

2) Two sisters, one of whom is sickly and spends most of the day in bed (when she isn't staring white faced and spooky out the window) while the other one assiduously mans the entrance to their apartment fending off even the police who want to chat.

3) A coquettish restaurateur with a watchful eye, a secret and a surly brother.

4) A guy masquerading as an art expert.

5) The landlord who isn't above acting suspiciously himself.

6) And last but not least, the dead man who, unknown to Jeff and Haila, had also lived in the building - top floor rear.

Most of the action takes place within the confines of the building, often in the shadowy hallways where odd noises and surreptitious footsteps make Haila very uneasy as well, not to mention that the landlord keeps dragging his feet about getting them a new lock for the busted in front door. (The cops having been a bit too enthusiastic.) Also not to mention that when Haila learns that the dead man was killed inside their apartment in their bathtub (!), she refuses to bathe and immediately wants to abandon their lease and get the hell out. Sort of the same reaction I'd have.

Noises, bumps in the night and the claustrophobic atmosphere of a West Village brownstone which had once been a speakeasy work very well to enhance the logistics of a most engaging whodunit. Likable and amusing main characters, breezy dialogue and a puzzling mystery make for the kind of story I seem to be in the mood for these days. There's just something comforting about this sort of thing, especially if you have a fondness for the setting and the whole improbably idea of young, energetic marrieds solving a murder that stumps the cops.

"You won't find their [Audrey and William Roos] names among the giants of the genre but their contribution to what that other Allentown mystery writer - John Dickson Carr - called the 'Grandest Game," deserves not to be overlooked. They showed, as son Stephen puts it, what it was like to  be young and in love in New York of the 1940's and, perhaps even more importantly, that mysteries were meant to be fun." From the introduction by Tom and Enid Schantz.

And since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked authors other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Show of Hands
























Didn't much feel like writing about any one book this week, so I'm doing pictures. I've posted book cover themes before (and will continue to do so) primarily because I do enjoy looking at covers from the golden age of mystery even if I've not always read the book. I wish it were easier to find out who the various illustrators were. At any rate, I believe these books qualify for our Forgotten or Overlooked Books weekly meme.

And since it's Friday, time to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, September 29, 2017

THE RIGHT SIDE by Spencer Quinn


This is the prolific Spencer Quinn's (aka Peter Abrahams) newest novel and perhaps the beginning of a new series, this time out with a moody, damaged female protagonist. Quinn is the mastermind behind the brilliant on-going Chet and Bernie books (which I love) and is also the author of a middle school series which I will probably be looking to become familiar with so I can share it with my grandchildren.

In THE RIGHT SIDE, we meet a fascinating new character, a nearly-ex soldier named LeAnne Hogan, a bitter and disoriented Army officer (awarded a Bronze Medal) with PTSD currently recuperating stateside at Walter Reed hospital. She has lost an eye to an i.u.d. explosion while serving in Afghanistan and has the appropriate unsettling scars which she hides behind an eye patch and large sunglasses. She also has an inoperable piece of shrapnell lodged in an inoperable spot in her skull. Prosthetic eyeballs come into play early on, but not till mid-book does LeAnne bother with one.

Disinclined to play nice, she is a suicidal handful of resentment, grief and simmering anger. As the story evolves we get more and more into her earlier life and how she's arrived at this particular moment in time. This is a woman seemingly born to be a soldier and now that's been taken away. LeAnne Hogan is having to re-introduce herself to herself with all the touchstones removed.

After her hospital room-mate and new friend Marci (who had lost a leg in Iraq) dies suddenly from a blood clot, Leanne takes off on her own, temporarily leaving the world of authority behind. This is not the easiest character to learn to care about because she doesn't give a damn whether anyone likes her or not, but she does become a person whose future concerns us and eventually, yeah, we come to like and understand her.

After ambling around the country by bus and then by beat up used car - she gets a brief visit out of the blue from her worried mother (the army had been tracking Leanne's phone) and they sort of arrange for LeAnne to move in with her and her husband. (LeAnne's parents had divorced years before.) But the idea doesn't grab LeAnne and she takes off again. Eventually she winds up in Belleville, Washington where she remembers that Marci's 8 year old daughter lives with her grandmother. Some vague unfinished business has drawn her there though Leanne isn't sure what that might be, her memory being shot to hell.

While staying at a motel's cabin in the woods, a large black dog shows up one night and adopts an unwilling Leanne - can't put it any better than that. There is a kind of mystical aura surrounding all this which works very well in the context of the story. Especially in the episode where the dog saves LeAnne by valiantly upsetting her suicide attempt. I think if I were the author I would have played up the mystics of dog meets woman even more. But why quibble, it works pretty good as is.

When LeAnn goes to visit the grandmother, she finds out that Marci's daughter is missing - has been since the day before - the day, coincidentally, of Marci's funeral. Despite the fact that the local constabulary dislike her butting in, LeAnne decides that she needs to look for the child.

With the help of Marci's first ex-husband (she had two) and the slightly intimidating presence of husband number two, LeAnne investigates and soon makes a startling discovery.

At the same time, the past comes calling in the form of Captain Stallings, army intelligence, who drops in (literally) to 'request' LeAnne's help (yet again) in ferreting out the truth of who was to blame for the incident in Afghanistan which not only wounded her but killed several others including her commanding officer. This episode which entails a quick flight to Kabul doesn't work as well as it should because it stops the previous story and in an odd way, seems almost pointless (unless it's going to be picked up in a sequel). But again, I kept reading because no matter what I was engaged.

 Men writing women doesn't always work, but in truth works better than women writing men (I don't know why) and here, we instantly forget that the author is male. He gets this woman and how her interior operates and that's that.

If you're not familiar with Spencer Quinn, that's too bad. He's a wonderfully inventive writer and if all he'd ever done in his life was create Chet the dog and Bernie the private eye, that would have earned him a trip to Valhalla in my view. This new character he's trying on for size is definitely someone I will want to visit in future if and when another book featuring LeAnne Hogan appears.

It's Friday once again, so don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what forgotten or overlooked books other writers are talking about today.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: DEATH HAS DEEP ROOTS (1951) by Michael Gilbert


Remember when I went on a Michael Innes tear? Well, I'm kind of doing the same thing with Michael Gilbert, so bear with me. This is the sixth (or maybe the seventh) of Gilbert's books I've read so far - and I'm currently also in the middle of some of his Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens short stories.  Though there was one clunker back in the beginning right after SMALLBONE DECEASED (a brilliant classic), the rest have been excellent in varying degrees. Kind of a revelation really, because for a writer this good to have languished undiscovered by me for so long is odd, considering that Gilbert wasn't entirely unknown by everyone else AND he'd already written one classic. You'd think I would have stumbled over him at some point or other. But better later than not at all - right?

Michael Gilbert is kind of unique in that he didn't write the same book over and over -  not that that's always a bad thing, in fact there are some writers I return to over and over precisely because I know what to expect story-wise, but not Michael Gilbert. With this author, you just never know what you're going to get. He writes more in the thriller style than whodunit but somehow manages both equally well. Not all his protagonists are cut from the same cloth though all, so far, have been English, reasonably pragmatic and competent. A bit like Eric Ambler, but maybe not as dry and removed.

DEATH HAS DEEP ROOTS is set a few years after WWII and concerns the plight of a young French woman, Mlle Victoria Lamartine - a minor player in the Resistance - on trial in London, accused of the murder of Major Thoseby an ex-lover and father of her deceased child. Thoseby too had worked for the Resistance, though in a more important capacity and it was during that work that he is supposed to have hooked up with Mlle Lamartine at a lonely farm in the then dangerous French countryside teeming with partisans and Nazis.

But the accused denies any involvement with Thoseby and in fact, claims that the real father of her child was a young English flyer named Wells who was last seen in the clutches of the Gestapo on the same night as the residents at the farm were betrayed and rounded up. Later that same night, an unsuspecting Mlle Lamartine had stumbled right into the Germans on her way back from an errand. Yet somehow she survived incarceration and wound up storm tossed and jobless in London after the war. Very sympathetically a French refugee service found her a job as a receptionist at a small hotel providentially owned and staffed by people from the same area of France as the accused.

When Major Thoseby turns up dead in his room at the hotel (having gone there to meet Mlle Lamartine for reasons unknown) she is almost immediately placed under arrest by the officious and short-sighted Inspector Partridge. Later, the case will receive guidance from the author's series detective, Inspector Hazelrigg,  who hesitates to show up Partridge, but wants to see justice done. His presence in this book is minor but important.

Up front, the accused looks guilty. She seems to be the only one with any previous connection to Thoseby and she's the only one who could have gone into his room and stabbed him at a time when everyone else is accounted for. In fact, no one could have gone upstairs and entered Thoseby's room without having been seen by staff and/or guests. This almost seems like a locked room murder, except that it isn't. Mlle Lamartine insists she had no motive to kill Major Thoseby as he was not the man who had abandoned her and her then unborn child.

But it's obvious that the present crime harkens back to the past in Basse Loire during the war at the French farm when all were betrayed and rounded up by the Gestapo.

After a short postponement when new counsel is brought on board at the accused's last minute request, the case develops a kind of back and forth rhythm between antics in court and the actual nuts and bolts of the investigation. The trial moves swiftly forward with the tenacious Mr. Macrea in charge for the defense and the law firm of Markby, Wragg and Rumbold, Solicitors of Coleman Street in the energetic personification of junior partner Noel Anthony Pontarlier Rumbold (known as Nap) traveling to France to track down any possible leads. The sense of France just a few years after the war is well established as is the notion that old crimes are not dead and done for.

I am not a huge fan of shifting stances and points of view and the back and forth of locales, except when it's handled expertly. Michael Gilbert is a master at this sort of sleight of hand.

Intrigues, lies, shifting alibis and courtroom theatrics abound in London while in France, Nap follows various and nebulous leads at the risk of his life. In the meantime back at the office, his father Rumbold senior, frets in very British stiff upper lip style. Author Michael Gilbert is so good at creating these sorts of competent men who aren't flashy but have just enough charisma to entertain. He's not bad at fashioning intriguing women either.

What can I say? A terrific book set in a time that still fascinates me.

It's Friday and this week, Todd Mason is doing Forgotten Book hosting duties at his excellent blog,
Sweet Freedom.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Salon: The Astounding Work of Contemporary Canadian Painter Judy Garfin






























Judy Garfin is an extraordinary Canadian painter whose majority of work reveals the close-up entanglement and odd scattered beauty of nature, often mixed with a kind of hard-edged fantastical twitch - as when she adds birds to the mix. She specializes in dense detail and texture and elusive hints of mysterious forces at work.

To my mind, she seems the perfect painter for those of us who enjoy reading mysteries.

"In 1990, I returned to canvas for large works and painted on panel for the smaller ones. I painted images of dried and living plant forms to describe an interior world rather than to represent external nature. These gardens, in their concrete description and diversity of forms, textures and patterns, are fictions that tell stories about living things....

My method of working is fused to the content of my painting. I work on a white surface, finishing each element before moving on to the next. There is no underpainting or sketch. Each work grows into its own presence, element by element, on an undifferentiated field." 

Judy Garfin


I discovered Garfin's paintings online (as I have done with many other artists whose work had remained unknown to me until recently) which is why I say, thank goodness for the internet (is it still called that?). If it were good for nothing else but helping us find hidden works of art by brilliant artists, the thing would have been worth all the other angst attached to it. Almost without my consciously knowing it, I also seem to have widened my knowledge and experience of art and find that the most thrilling things of all.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE HOUSE AT SEAS'S END by Elly Griffiths


This is not really a 'forgotten' book, but maybe an overlooked one. I hadn't heard of it until very recently myself. It is the third entry (and possibly my favorite) in an excellent series I've just begun reading with great enthusiasm. Actually I've already read six of the books (my local library being very handy to have close-by) because I can read quite quickly when I want to. The books reminds me, in a very singular way, of Julia Spencer Fleming's Russ Van Alstyne and the Rev. Claire Fergusson mysteries set in a cold and snowy upstate New York town. Those of you who are familiar with those books will get what I'm talking about in a moment. Those of you who haven't, well add another great series to your list. Besides this one, I mean.

The main characters in Griffith's series are involved in a long term 'will they or won't they ever wind up together' relationship in which a married cop and a single professional woman are drawn to each other despite the fact that the cop is happy enough in his marriage and loves his wife. Hey, these things happen especially during a very intense criminal investigation in which a child is the victim and turbulent emotions are running high. (See the first book in the series, THE CROSSING PLACES.)

The result of this particular indiscretion is that in this third book, Ruth Galloway is just back from maternity leave and struggling with the dual difficulties of being a new single mother and a Dr. of Archaeology working with the police while also teaching at an university.

But you won't hold it against the doctor, that's how sympathetically her character is written (again in common with Julia Spencer Fleming) and her motivations are understandable. As are Harry Nelson's (the cop involved) mixed feelings of guilt, desire and confusion. For this reason, I'd recommend that the series be read in order of publication. I did exactly that. The various character relationships will be richer for you taking the time to do it this way.

However, if you don't want to, it's not the end of the world but you'd be missing out on the behind the scenes details of ongoing plot lines developed over time by an intelligent writer who has obvious affection for her characters and their various plights. Everything here is evolving book by book and as one might expect, the reader (as well as the characters involved) will begin to take sides.

Dr. Galloway is a forensic archaeologist and head of the archaeology department at the University of Norfolk. Norfolk is a county in mostly rural East Anglia, U.K. The area is bordered by the North Sea and by an estuary known as The Wash. So you can imagine that winters in this section of England might be a trifle frigid and windblown. Most of the books I've read so far seem to have plots which unravel during rainy, cold, icy, winters which add enormously to the atmospherics.

The mystery is almost an afterthought, if you will, an embellishment to the memorable characters which I grew to care about more and more. Plus there's a bleakness of mood and setting which practically make a hot cup of tea a necessity while reading. All good, in my view. And since I'm a big fan of archaeologists in general, I do gravitate towards them when they add solving murder mysteries to their resume.

Now to the plot:

When erosion reveals six skeletons - hands tied behind their backs - in a ravine on a remote Norfolk beach, Dr. Galloway is called in to take a look. Bones are her specialty and she soon determines that these male skeletons are of German extraction. So the cops are dealing with a possible war crime - the coast having been manned by home troops on the look-out for an invasion early in the British part of the war 70 or so years before.

The on-going erosion not only reveals long buried secrets, but continues to peel away at the ground beneath the property perched atop the cliff. The few inhabitants of Sea's End House know that they must soon abandon their home since it will eventually fall victim to the sea. Jack Hastings, the current owner lives there with his elderly mother and his troubled granddaughter. His father, Buster Hastings, was a member of the Home Guard during the war but apparently the family knows next to nothing about six dead Germans found on the beach.

The problem with old crimes is that possible witnesses are surely dead or almost so which makes learning what might have happened that much more difficult. When a veteran in a nursing home is questioned, he winds up dead shortly thereafter. Then another elderly veteran turns up dead in his own home. Whatever information they might have revealed is buried with them. Someone is moving quickly to stop the true story of what happened beneath the cliffs from coming out. Eventually a German journalist shows up looking for answers. As Nelson and Ruth consider that the locals are not telling all they know, another murder occurs unleashing the possibility that Ruth's baby girl, Kate, might be in danger. The last quarter of the book, a fast-paced anxiety inducing race against time in the middle of a coastal snow storm, makes for terrific reading.

Alongside the clever mystery which, by the way, is loaded with clues (though far-fetched, I especially like the clue of the bunch of mystery books left to someone in a will) just in case you're into trying to solve the case ahead of Nelson and Ruth, we get further visits from a continuing cast - various characters who are not only memorable but are the sorts of people one wouldn't mind knowing.

For instance: Cathbad the druid, a good friend to Ruth and an immensely likable hovering presence in a purple cloak. And Shona, a not as likable friend who doesn't know anything about babies, but is happy enough to babysit when desperation calls for it. And Detective Sergeant David Clough, the not-so-politically correct detective and McDonald's aficionado who grows on you as the books progress. And Detective Sergeant Judy Johnson, the female cop of the team who is engaged to be married to her childhood sweetheart as she finds herself intrigued by the guy in the purple cloak.

Author Elly Griffiths makes us care about all these imperfect characters in a way which gives them additional life, her writing style helps the story develop in a very visual way - the way the best books do. I know that devoting oneself to a series takes a dedicated amount of time, but I wouldn't be recommending this particular series if I didn't think it was worth it. And it's not as though there are thirty books involved - there are only 10 including next year's book. AND there is a handy dandy omnibus with the first three mysteries available. I mean, things couldn't get any easier.

And since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: WHO KILLED THE CURATE? (1944) by Joan Coggin


When this book was recommended on someone's recent blog post I first thought it was one of those modern charmless ultra-cozies being written by everyone these days, but turns out I was wrong. Joan Coggins is a Golden Ager - who knew? I forget where I read the review but whoever it was - A BIG THANK YOU! The book was a joy from beginning to end.

Quote from the backcover: "Coggin writes in the spirit of Nancy Mitford and E.M. Delafield. But the books are mysteries, so that makes them perfect." Katherine Hall Page, mystery author.

Actually this is an ultra-cozy, but loaded with charm and the little delights that writers of that era were so clever about. Why hadn't I known about her work? It turns out that Joan Coggin was not the most prolific of writers, she wrote four mysteries and then stopped. She also wrote a few 'girl books' under the pseudonym of Joanne Lloyd - books with titles like JANE RUNS AWAY FROM SCHOOL and BETTY OF TURNER HOUSE - that sort of thing. After the mysteries published from 1944 - 1949, she wrote no more for thirty years and died in 1980. I can't find any other book listings for her online. For whatever reason four was all she wrote and maybe that's why she never rose up the ranks of fame and mystery-writing fortune. So now it's up to us to spread the word about her talents and her delightful heroine, Lady Lupin Lorrimer Hastings.

Remember how I've previously mentioned books with certain titles will always catch my eye - well, who could resist the allure of WHO KILLED THE CURATE? Not me.

I love a good mystery set in an English village just before or during WWII, especially when it's loaded with the types of villagers that in real life would drive you crazy, but in book form are highly entertaining. AND oh by the way, Christmas happens in the middle of it all. I mean, come on, what could be better?

Lady Lupin Lorrimer is a young bored about town member of the 'smart set' when at a London party she first meets Andrew Hastings, the vicar of Glen Marks Parish. She is in her early twenties, he is in his early forties. It is love at first sight to the consternation of friends and family.  Before long  'Loops' as she's known by her close friends, marries the handsome vicar and off they go (after a proper honeymoon) to his quiet house in a quiet country village in Sussex and a life of quiet parish doings.

Unfortunately Lady Lupin is not sure how a vicar's wife is supposed to behave since she's never actually spent much time around clergy or churches. Her duties seem strange and utterly bewildering and life at the vicarage, instead of being the too quiet life she'd been dreading is instead full of social invitations, dinner invitations, tea parties, sherry parties and villagers coming and going at all hours seeking advice and wanting Lady Lupin to join this committee or that or plan one fete or another without hardly giving the poor girl a chance to breathe.

From the back cover: 'She's hopelessly at sea at the meetings of the Mother's Union, Girl Guides, Temperance Society. Nonetheless, she's determined to make her husband Andrew proud of her - or, at least, not to embarrass him too badly.' 

It doesn't help that Lady Lupin is a scatterbrain who lives up to her nickname of Loops. However, since she is charming, endearing and utterly guileless, she is not faulted for her lack of brilliance. The vicar is besotted with her and she with him and so she's determined not to be undone by expectations except occasionally, but then she thinks how life without Andrew wouldn't suit her at all, and she buckles down to do her best to get things right.

The villagers welcome Lady Lupin with open arms, thankful their vicar has at last brought home a wife even if she is not exactly what they had imagined for him.

The setting is just right: Glanville, a charming village in the English countryside of Sussex, a warm and comfortable rectory with cozy nooks and crannies, working fire places and comfy chairs, the requisite English garden and an exhausting array of assorted villagers to keep things hopping.

Much of the first half of the book is taken up with Lady Lupin's hapless forays into the life of the parish - often just carried along willing to do her duty, reluctant to give offense, nudged here and there,  as things somehow come together and work out in the end. No one seems to really mind Lady Lupin's misunderstandings and occasional faux pas probably because she is, first and foremost, a lady. And being an attractive young woman doesn't hurt.

"The evening on which she was to go to her first dinner party found her rather nervous. She had bought two black evening dresses while they had been in Paris on their honeymoon, laboring under the delusion that they were suitable for a vicar's wife. Andrew was not sure of their suitability, but he liked seeing her in them.

"How do I look, Andrew?" she asked, turning from her looking-glass as he came into the room. Her fair hair had been brushed back until it looked like silver, she had really put on very little rouge or lipstick, and her dress was black; but somehow she didn't look like a clergyman's wife. Andrew burst out laughing, then he caught her up in his arms and kissed her until she had to recomb her hair and repowder her face.

Andrew sighed as he watched her. "To think," he said, "that after sixteen years of blameless priesthood, that this should happen to me! You don't look like a wife at all, least of all a vicar's wife. Come along, we mustn't be late. When they say seven forty-five in Glanville, the mean seven forty-five."

The rest of the cast of characters include Lupin's close London friends Duds and Tommy Lethbridge who, currently traveling, will show up by invitation to spend a few days, alongside the vicar's nephew, Jack Scott, who happens to be a secret service agent on leave and visiting over Christmas.  The curate in the title, Mr. Young is not the most likable sort but is devoted 'to the adventure of Christianity...I should like to see a missionary box in every home, I should like children to spend their leisure hours in reading lives of missionaries; I should like every boy and girl in the parish to grow up with the wish to be missionaries themselves."  See, that's the sort of thing that after awhile just gets to be too tedious - no wonder the guy gets bumped off.

Other villagers worth noting are the ascerbic and witty Diane Lloyd, a 38 year old writer of children's books currently writing a detective story, and her room-mate 20 year old June Stuart whom Lupin thinks she'll turn into a friend. In fact, Lupin likes both women and is therefore most terribly upset with Diane is first suspected of poisoning Mr. Young, the curate. She has a strong motive which you will probably deduce rather quickly.

But almost everyone in the village sooner or later comes under suspicion (for a brief moment, even Andrew!) including the single-minded Mrs. Brown wife of the town doctor, unable to keep her servants for long and always on the lookout for that rarity - an unemployed maid, churchwardens Mr. and Mrs. Grey - she who is involved in almost every social and/or church activity in the village - they are the couple with whom the unfortunate curate had tea on the fateful day and in whose house he died, there's also Phyllis Gardner whose chief interest in life is the Girl Guides and a pimply young fellow named Lancelot who is sure he's going to be arrested at any moment. And of course a whole gaggle of girl guides themselves and a bunch churchy ladies, all in the habit of walking in and out of the vicarage looking in vain for Lady Lupin to take the lead in all manner of activities of which she knows nothing. All very nice people, very respectable and not the sorts of people who would ever think of committing murder.

But you know what Agatha Christie had to say about respectable people.

So when murder does come to Glanville, what else is Lady Lupin to do but turn sleuth especially since Andrew's nephew Jack the secret service agent, is on the premises willing to lend a hand. Her motive is that she doesn't want any of her friends to be the murderer because everyone's too nice and anyway even if she does find out who killed the curate, she's sure they must have a very good reason.

Christmas comes and goes and the day after (Boxing Day in England) is philosophized on by Lady Lupin:

"What I like about Boxing Day," said Lupin, "is that no one can expect one to do anything. The shops are shut, so even if there is no food, one doesn't have to go out and get any. One's friends are occupied in writing thank-you letters, and the poor are usually feeling ill after their one square meal of the year, so one is bound to have a little peace for once."

But not for long.

WHO KILLED THE CURATE? is lots of fun abetted by lots of laughs in service of a pretty good whodunit. Though the primary reason for liking the book is Lupin Lorrimer Hastings herself, with ambience a close second, not to mention the sorts of English village goings on that seem quaint and engaging and oddly attractive - at least to me. Not serious literature by any means, but still a treat and I'll be reading the other three in the series sooner rather than later.

Once again it's Friday, so don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's host blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE CURSE OF THE BRONZE LAMP (1945) by Carter Dickson


Yes, I can hear you saying: But Yvette, you swore you would not be reading anymore Carter Dickson books for awhile. Yes, I did and I gave good enough reasons why in my recent post. But as you all know, I am a woman of capricious nature and faced with a book entitled THE CURSE OF THE BRONZE LAMP – what would you have me do??
I’m not made of steel, you know.

And besides, Sir Henry Merrivale is not, in general, his usual obnoxious self in this one. But I didn’t know that going in and I groaned thinking what I might be in for, but damn me if I could resist the lure of the title. And when I saw the word ‘Egypt’ in the synopsis – it was a done deal. I mean, this is the sort of thing that makes my heart beat just a little faster – THE CURSE OF….or THE MURDER OF….or THE ADVENTURES OF…or THE DEATH OF… and remember MURDER ON SAFARI?? These are the sorts of titles that make my heart go pitter-pat.

(I’ve got another great title coming up next week, but it’s not a Carter Dickson and I’m still in the middle of reading it.)

Hint: Plot-wise, THE CURSE OF THE BRONZE LAMP has something specifically in common with another Dickson/Merrivale book, AND SO TO MURDER. Though one takes place in a movie studio in London and the other takes place in Egypt and then in a big old stately manor house in the English countryside. I can say no more.

If the following doesn’t have you itching to get your hands on THE CURSE OF THE BRONZE LAMP, then your idea of a fun read and my idea of one are irreconcilable. 

In 1934-35, a group of British archaeologists headed by a Professor Gilray and the Earl of  Severn had discovered the tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh on the west bank of the Nile. The world was thrilled. Reporters eager to rhapsodize about the riches supposedly discovered descended on the site. Remembering what happened when the tomb of King Tut had been unearthed a few years earlier, they searched about for a curse angle that would thrill their readers. They wouldn’t have long to wait.

In the second year of the dig, Professor Gilray was stung by a scorpion and promptly died. The curse angle was on with a vengeance. Was it the tomb or the bronze lamp that killed the professor? Or both? Severn and his daughter Helen as well as his associate Sandy Robertson (who happens, of course, to be in love with Helen) all poo-poo the curse.

But now Lord Severn, feeling a little under the weather, insists on sending his daughter along with the infamous bronze lamp, home to Severn Hall. He and Robertson will follow along at a later date.

At the train station surrounded by reporters Lord Severn's daughter emphatically states that there is no curse and all she wants to do is get back to Severn Hall and place the bronze lamp on the mantelpiece in her room. But a local soothsayer named Alim Bey, declares (on the train platform in full view of reporters) that Lady Helen will not reach that room alive.

What fun.

Meanwhile Sir Henry Merrivale traveling on the same train is also headed back to London after his own trip to Egypt.  Not so coincidentally, Lady Helen is sharing the carriage with ‘the old man.’ She garbles some nonsense about curses and gossip and reporter speculation and could he (Merrivale) in his wisdom give her some advice but before he can say much she suddenly has a change of heart and decides she doesn’t want Merrivale’s help at all. And you thought I was capricious.

Sir Henry will later weave this odd moment into his who-did-what-to-whom theory as he puts together the truth of the entire matter.

But before that happens, we have a disappearing Lady Helen who vanishes as soon as she enters Severn Hall. Then we have the matter of a missing portrait AND a mysterious man named Beaumont who shows up wanting to purchase the bronze lamp. Then there is the matter of Kit Farrell, another young gent in love with Helen who is frantic to discover what has happened to her. Not to mention their mutual friend Audrey Vane who happens to be in love with the aforementioned Sandy Robertson – so lots of romantic complications as well as mysterious doings. Not the least of which are the missing gold artifacts which disappeared from the original Egyptian haul and are nowhere to be found – have they made their way illegally to London?

Inspector Masters and Sir Henry are soon on the scene as the merry mix-up gets more and more complicated and yet another person vanishes.

This is one of those hidden in plain sight stories in which the clues are pretty fairly distributed except for the identity of the bad guy which, in the end, seems to me to be more of a ‘close your eyes and pick a killer’ moment than anything really logical. But other than that, a terrific book with plenty of page-turning diabolics to keep those of us who love this sort of thing, reading late into the night.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE ARROW POINTS TO MURDER (1937) by Frederica de Laguna


Thanks to John at Pretty Sinister Books, I was recently able to read this cracking good mystery set in one of my all time favorite murder spots: a natural history museum! I think we can all agree that the atmosphere for murder is ripe in this sort of setting. Think about it: creepy animal dioramas, skeletons of all shapes and sizes, weird anthropological minutia, archaeological rarities, exotic botanical samples, ethnological displays, drawers full of bugs and spiders, mysterious bits and pieces of jungle exotica and natural history and best of all, obscure poisons and blow guns! It's a wonder more murders don't occur there.

I first heard about this book (by an author unknown to me at the time) from John's excellent review at Pretty Sinister Books, so if you want a more detailed look at THE ARROW POINTS TO MURDER, go directly there. He does this sort of thing much better than I do.

Behind the scenes at the ornate New York Academy of Natural Sciences teems a hive of highly dedicated scholars and curators. They are as one might imagine, a quirky, scruffy, pedantic bunch overflowing with enthusiasm for their own scientific specialties, each with their own ax to grind, especially when it comes to funding. But on the whole the group is genial enough so that some of them even lunch together at a local aptly named dive, 'Ptomaine Joe's.' Their conversation there is, as you might expect, mostly museum shop talk which I very much enjoyed.

As soon as they were established in the restaurant and had made the dubious choice between wild rabbit (including the shot) draped with gravelly spinach, and flabby ravioli flanked by sinister string beans (more string than legume), Reichenbach pounced upon his audience.

"I've just made a thrilling discovery," he announced, no longer able to suppress the news. "in that batch of lice and fleas that the Hill Museum sent me to identify I found a new type of louse. It's a head louse - the specimens were actually found on the head of one of their oldest Egyptian mummies - but it looks more like a body louse. The type is extinct. And there's no doubt of its antiquity.....Now in Pediculus humanis capitis - head louse to you - the body is somewhat more slender, and the claws for grasping the host's hair are more highly developed than in Pediculus vestimenti - the body louse. In this respect, and in others of a more technical nature -"  Reichenbach, noting the bewildered expressions of his audience, decided to omit these interesting technicalities.

Our sleuth to be is Barton the archaeologist. (The museum is the sort of place where the men all refer to each other by their last names.) In his eagerness to solve the crime he will withhold pertinent information and surmises from the police. His rationale: he insists the cops would never be able to sift through the museum's behind the scenes arcana and day-to-day details in the same way he could. In reality this would place him in great legal jeopardy, but in a book, all is forgiven when the murderer is revealed.

If you (like me) have a liking for esoteric information (not necessarily about head lice) and other obscurities such as curare poison and its uses by jungle tribes and you enjoy reading about museum hierarchy and the nuts and bolts that the museum going public isn't privy to, then this is definitely the book for you.

In the meantime, here's the plot in a nutshell:

When not-so-nice department head Dr. Oberly is found dead on the floor of his office, it is assumed he pricked his fingers on the sharp end of a poisoned arrow. The arrow was part of a shipment of artifacts being packed up for lending to a museum in Russia.

Oberly's death is seen as a tragic accident. But when a second curator dies horribly, gassed in a sealed store room, it appears a murderer lurks in the museum. Dr. Barton deduces this almost immediately, convinced that he alone can solve the crime. He possesses a bit of knowledge that if revealed would put the murderer on his guard.

"...Give me a week! If I can't discover the guilty person withing that time we must call in the police."

An oddity in the story (or so it seemed to me) is the fact that a medical examiner isn't called in until the second death AND neither are the police. Dr. Oberly's body is cavalierly moved and sent off to the funeral parlor without any official notification of the police. One would think that dying from some form of poisoning might be seen as a suspicious death - even if it looks like an accident. I wonder if that was the norm way back then in Manhattan?? No, I don't think so. After all, Nero Wolfe and his ilk were busy then solving crimes in which a dead body always meant the involvement of the cops, one way or another. (Well, most of the time.)

By the way, this very same thing happened in a British mystery I read recently - the body was moved and the cops weren't even called, just a local doctor. Go figure.

At any rate, once the two murders are linked, Barton sets to work with the help of a doctor friend who will contrive to send results of pertinent scientific tests in the nick of time and the aid of the museum's head guard, a man with the unfortunate name of Winterbutt. Barton not only has to find out who the murderer is, but how the killings were done since most everyone has some sort of alibi for the relevant times and there is no apparent motivation to speak of. He has just a few days to solve the thing before his friend must report their suspicions about the second death to the authorities.

The two main reasons I enjoyed this mystery so much were the museum ambiance which added a nicely unique aspect to the story and the often arcane scientific minutia which runs throughout. Who knew that such intrigue goes on behind the scenes in a place where all the exhibits are dusty and long dead?

Oddly enough, I recently read another mystery in which an arrow also plays a part - THE CHELTENHAM SQUARE MURDER by John Bude. It's odd how that happens some times. I mean, it's not like death by arrow is a regular run of the mill occurrence.

John's review of THE ARROW POINTS TO MURDER will reveal pertinent facts about this talented author who, for reasons unknown, only wrote a very few mysteries, hence her dwelling in obscurity. See link above.

Todd Mason, at his blog, Sweet Freedom, is doing meme hosting duties today for author Patricia Abbott who is away. So don't forget to check in at Todd's for the links.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: DESTINATION UNKNOWN aka SO MANY STEPS TO DEATH (1954) by Agatha Christie


When in doubt, reach for a Christie - words to live by. A quick re-read and all's right with the world again - at least for the moment. (This post is a re-working of a review I did several years ago of a book I never get tired of re-reading, especially when I'm in need of escaping to a more comfortable, more familiar world. And boy, these days do I ever need that.)

Destination Unknown (aka So Many Steps to Death) by Agatha Christie is a stand-alone published in 1954 - the book doesn't feature Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot nor any of the other Christie sleuths. In fact, for the most part this is a thriller though it also has, as a major plot surprise, an element of whodunit thrown in for good measure at the end. Christie was often tricky like that.

Probably not as well known as the titles in the Poirot and Marple canons, but I think this is in many ways, one of Christie's more comforting bests, even if the oh-so-improbable plot requires a larger than average suspension of disbelief. It is in my view, perfect escapist entertainment. The story begins with a sad woman on the verge of suicide and ends with her a heroine no longer sad. Through an extraordinary set of circumstances, she has found the strength to survive.

Hilary Craven is a young, typically subdued British woman who has lost her beloved child to illness and her husband to ennui. As an escape she gets on a plane to Paris, a runaway who discovers almost immediately that you cannot run away from yourself - wherever you are, there you are. Seeing no point to the emptiness of her life, she plans a nice, quite out-of-the-way suicide - wouldn't want to bother anyone back home in England. Christie was not being especially subtle when she named her heroine Craven. Though, in truth, her character's motivation is easy enough to understand.

This quest for oblivion is deduced at a conveniently opportune moment by a shady character named Jessop (of the intelligence service), who picks up on Hilary's intention with no more than an experienced hunch, To watch him reel her into his grand scheme of impersonation (it's her flaming red hair, you see) is a Christie, fairy-tale delight. (Yeah, this is definitely a candidate for my Fairy Tale Crime sub-genre which would also include THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT and THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD, both also by Christie.)

As she is lining up some pills, Jessop stealthily breaks into Hilary's hotel room and upsets her immediate plans:

"...You're not interested in life, you don't want to live any longer, you more or less welcome the idea of death?"

"Yes."

"Good," said Jessop, cheerfully. "So now we know where we are. Let's go on to the next step. Has it got to be sleeping pills?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I've already told you that they're not as romantic as they sound. Throwing yourself off a building isn't too nice, either. You don't always die at once. And the same applies to falling under a train. What I'm getting at is that there are other ways."

"I don't understand what you mean."

"I'm suggesting another method. Rather a sporting method, really. There's some excitement in it, too. I'll be fair with you. There's just a hundred to one chance that you mightn't die. But I don't believe under the circumstances, that you'd really object by that time."

The gist of the plot: several top-notch scientists have disappeared from their various corners of the world and no one knows where they are - not their governments, families, closest friends or fellow workers. Because of the delicate nature of their scientific specialties, government agencies are naturally concerned. The suspicion is that these learned men and women have gone over to the other side, slipped away behind the Iron Curtain - it was that time in history. If so, there's not much to be done, but if there should be another explanation then...

When Olive Betterton, a young, trim red-headed English woman suspected of being on her way to wherever her husband Tom - a nuclear physicist - is hiding, is badly hurt in a plane crash on the very plane that Hilary Craven would have been on had not the weather forced her connecting flight to detour away from the airport, well then, you kind of know where this is headed. Olive Betterton is pulled barely alive from the wreckage and taken to hospital where all she knows (IF she knows) about Tom Betterton's mysterious disappearance will die with her, unless...

Well, this is an Agatha Christie plot, so you have to expect surprises on top of surprises and boy do you get them here. Such an outlandish plot, but I go along with it every time I re-read the book. I mean, why not? It couldn't happen now, but it could have happened once upon a time...

Hilary Craven is quickly remade into Olive Betterton and sent on her way to join a bunch of disparate travelers, any one of which may or may not be an unknown contact, touring Morocco and other exotic locales. When contact is at last made, it comes in the least expected way and Hillary almost blows it.

Then the circuitous adventure begins. Hillary and certain traveling companions are led away from civilization towards 'a new world.' Their destination? A sinister Utopian society hidden away where no one would ever think of looking. 

Terrific book if you're stricken with the doldrums and feel like a strangely comforting tale of spies, murder, travel, an incredible secret hideout, a cold-hearted villain and last, but not least, a bit of romance and a whodunit twist.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book (s): BLOOD AND JUDGMENT (1951) by Michael Gilbert and DEATH IN FIVE BOXES (1938) by Carter Dickson


Two books today. First a book in which I couldn't wait to see what happened next and second a book in which (sadly) I didn't care what happened next because I lost interest in who did what to whom.

BLOOD AND JUDGMENT by Michael Gilbert, a really terrific and - far as I'm concerned - criminally unheralded book. I've only recently become a fan of Gilbert, being a relative newcomer to his work. Somehow I'd never heard of him except vaguely as if his books existed somewhere 'out there' and were not relevant to what I wanted to read at the time. Silly me.

Once I read the classic, SMALLBONE DECEASED, I became a fan. I also blogged recently about THE EMPTY HOUSE, another Gilbert book which I enjoyed though it was completely different from SMALLBONE - a thriller and not a whodunit.

I haven't read many, but what I have read from this author has been pretty good. (Well except for one dud.) As with any prolific writer, not all of Gilbert's books are equally wonderful, some are more wonderful than others, but I'd say if you haven't read any, don't wait around. Begin with SMALLBONE (if you haven't already) and take if from there.

In BLOOD AND JUDGMENT, we meet one of Gilbert's series characters, Detective Sergeant Patrick Petrella of the London Police, a dogged intuitive policeman devoted to his work. There aren't that many Petrella books, but based on this one, I definitely want to read the rest.

Though the title is kind of blah, I liked the synopsis and the cover and I was quickly caught up in the developing whodunit. This is a police procedural (of which I am very fond) with the usual police minutiae of which I am also very fond but written in a way that you won't get bogged down if that has been your only objection to procedurals in the past. Gilbert's writing is so fluid that it's almost as if you're gliding through the tale as one unexpected turn after another shifts the plot from here to there and back again all without the kind of heavy lifting that plagues less talented writers.

The plot moves very swiftly and once you begin reading, BLOOD AND JUDGMENT will prove to be a prime example of that wonderful cliche: a book almost impossible to put down.

Detective Sergeant Petrella (he's half Spanish) happens to be the cop who is called to the scene when the decomposing body of a woman is discovered by two boys in a tangled wood near a reservoir. As the tale develops we learn who the woman was and little by little how she came to be the victim of murder in a sordid and ever widening case involving an escaped felon, a vicious London gang, a jewel robbery and a sinister shadow of a man capable of changing his identity at the drop of a hat.

Amid the mixed cacophony of bird calls and the occasional hissing swan, a dark unwelcoming mood lingers at the scene of the crime and in the damp and lonely caretaker's cottage. A mood that reaches out to envelope the rainy streets of London as the investigation, a bit short-handed, must adjust to a publicity seeking Scotland Yard man. "For the head of one of the London districts to call in a detective superintendent from the Central pool at Scotland Yard is quite rare enough to be remarkable, and remarked upon."

Not completely satisfied by the results of the investigation, Petrella continues to dig deeper defying the higher ups even when a suspect is arrested, tried and convicted. Though threatened with disciplinary action, Petrella pursues his own clandestine inquiries. I especially liked the atmospheric night scenes of underwater diving at the reservoir as Petrella and an experienced police diver break the rules in the name of justice.

Here's a tiny sample of the author's often vivid style which I found especially memorable;
"The successful working out of his hunch depended entirely on the co-operation of this fiery little man with the ginger-colored mustache adhering like a blob of bitter marmalade to his aggressive upper lip." I like that.

A well crafted, entertaining book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading and recommend highly.


Now I remember why I stopped reading John Dickson Carr (Carter Dickson) ages ago. Although on the whole I'm a fan - I have recently written two blog posts on a couple of Carr books I liked very much upon re-reading, one I even loved - there comes a point in reading (or re-reading) Carr when your exhausted mind says, ' puh-leeze, take a break.'

Somewhere along the line the locked room or impossible crime nonsense just becomes tedious, (sacrilege to some, I know). But for goodness' sake, the constant rehashing of the crime scene and the ridiculous and detailed suspicions centering on EVERY person in the murder room, not to mention the recounting of the various and sundry ways to imaginatively poison a bunch of people without being seen, eventually made me sleepy.

 I know John over at PRETTY SINISTER BOOKS doesn't share my views on this particular book, so head on over there and read his much more appreciative review. Look, I didn't hate the book, I just stopped caring and - gasp - found myself skimming. And if I have to hear Henry Merrivale address another male character as 'son' one more time I will spit. A little bit of Merrivale goes a very long way especially if you make the mistake of reading a couple of the books too close together.

Here is the difference as defined by myself to myself: I like whodunits. John Dickson Carr wasn't really writing whodunits, he was writing complicated and often very eccentric puzzles. Yes, I've enjoyed a few so far, but I made the mistake of reading one right after another - you can't do that with John Dickson Carr aka Carter Dickson.

DEATH IN FIVE BOXES begins cunningly enough with a dead man found in a room full of poisoned people who all survive but the victim. The dead guy wasn't poisoned (at least I can't remember if he was or not), instead he was stabbed in the back with a sword blade from one of those tricky umbrellas. So why all the song and dance? Why were the others poisoned? Who poisoned them? And HOW?? What was the point of poisoning the group then turning around and stabbing one guy? Who knows? I still haven't quite come up with the raison d'etre.

At any rate, a doctor who works with the police is almost immediately on the scene (he's the nominal hero) as is the daughter of one of the poisoning victims (the love interest) who, handily enough, was waiting outside the building where the murder takes place AND of course, knows more than she's willing to tell. And that's another thing, the constant lies from everyone involved is SO wearisome after awhile. But maybe that's just me.

Where do the five boxes come in? Well, that's later, first there's the odd contents of the victims' pockets (i.e. four watches in one and the rusted parts of an alarm clock in another) and the speculation about what it all means while Merrivale comes on the scene and smugly deciphers everything almost at once, but won't say a thing. Or in moments when it looks as if he's going to say something, he is ALWAYS interrupted by a door opening or a person entering or a phone ringing or God knows what. Not to mention that the same exact thing happens when one of the suspects exclaims, I KNOW WHO DID IT!  Frustrating? Yeah, I'd say so, and underhanded.

I got tired of this very early, that's why I say, I should probably postpone reading more Carr for a while. I recently ordered another of his titles which I will probably just put at the bottom of my unread pile.

Two Carr books I definitely do recommend: THE EMPEROR'S SNUFF BOX and SHE DIED A LADY. 

And since it's Friday once again, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: MURDER ON SAFARI (1938) by Elspeth Huxley


Well, I mean, how can you NOT read a book titled MURDER ON SAFARI? It's almost automatic even if you know going in that there will dead animals. Three of my blogging friends have already written their reviews of Huxley's book though seemingly I was unaware of it until recently. I know, where have I been?

Elspeth Huxley wrote the non-fiction classic, THE FLAME TREES OF THIKA and assorted other books set in the land of her youth (she grew up on a coffee farm in British Kenya) so was very familiar with the African veldt and assorted wildlife. Her knowledge of inhospitable regions is unquestioned and comes through in her vivid descriptions of the land and safari day-to-day.

Of course these sorts of stories usually feature a dead body (it helps if it's a gorgeous female though in this case the female is a little long in the tooth) and a great 'white' hunter and an assortment of witless rich folk 'roughing' it in the wilds of Africa. This group's idea of 'roughing it' is laughable but eccentric enough that you don't hate them for their absurdity - you just sneer, nicely.

Lady Barradale has hired the stalwart Superintendent Vachell to find out who stole her stash of fabulous jewels which she, inadvisedly, insisted on bringing with her on safari. Who brings jewels on safari? Well you might ask - obviously only a very foolish woman. Despite the halfhearted protestations of her hubby, Lady Barradale flaunts her jewels every night at dinner in the jungle then of course has the temerity to be surprised when these jewels go missing.

Turns out that Lady Barradale was carrying on with the second white hunter (there are always two) a young Dutchman who is in love with the lady's step daughter Cara described as 'one of those hard-boiled, prickly girls' and she with him so it did get kind of awkward especially since Cara's fiance is also part of the safari - an affected sort of fellow named Sir Gordon Catchpole. (I know, but THAT'S his name.) He's an interior decorator and seems an odd choice for an heiress, but apparently still waters run deep. 'He was fair and slender and looked delicate.'  Vaguely gay characters were written a certain way back in the day and I can't fault Huxley since most everyone else was writing these fellows in the same fashion. (See Christianna Brand among others.) It was a kind of accepted mindset - I suppose if any sympathy were shown to them, the publishers or even the reading public might have caviled. I don't like the stereotyping but if I continue to read vintage, which I plan to, I will run across this sort of thing now and again.

The short-tempered Lord Barradale appears oblivious not only to his wife's bad behavior but to everything else that goes on around him and spends most of his time fiddling with his cameras. There are nine Europeans in the bunch, four to hunt and five - including a pilot who uses her plane to spot the game and report back to the group - smoothing the way for the others. The animals who die are not exactly given a sporting chance which, by the way, is the subject of a later conversation where Lord Barradale's enlightened view refreshes.

There are also assorted natives and personal valets and such who do the grunt work. And since it is 1938, these Africans are occasionally referred to as 'boys' even among themselves. But none, far as I can see, are treated egregiously. This is just the way it was. In addition there is also a group of renegade natives, members of an especially ferocious tribe, lurking about in the bush. So, lots of atmosphere and lots of danger.

Yes, I know, Yvette actually read a book where animals die. Well, I prepared myself for it - knowing it must happen because at that time people hunting in Africa were not just shooting with cameras. (Though Lord Barradale does spend an inordinate amount of time taking pictures of flora and fauna.) But I gritted my teeth and kept reading - there's not really that much wildlife blood shed. The real blood shed is reserved for the corpse of Lady Barradale which is only found after a wake of vultures has finished dining on her flesh. Nasty.

Later, there's a second murder by wild buffalo. Yes, you read it here first (unless it was mentioned in the previous three reviews). Unique in my experience.

There are also assorted attacks upon the person of Superintendent Vachell who joins the safari masquerading as a hunter though he has no experience being such and his 'disguise' is soon seen through by the lady pilot who apparently knows more than she's letting on. And if you have a plane in a story, it follows that there must, at some point, be a crash. And there is - vividly so.

A very enjoyable book in which the killer remains masked until the very end, at least to me. Superintendent Vachell is not an especially clever chap or for that matter, an engaging one. But he is, as I said, stalwart and bound to do his duty. He is described as tall, bony and sun bronzed and that's good enough for me.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.