Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Frame Work: Review

Frame Work (2011) by Anne G. Faigen: Professor Sarah Brandau had her trip to Prague all planned. She invited her stylish, vivacious grandmother, Edith, along for the ride and once her duties as a session leader at her literary conference were taken care of she expected to spend the rest of her time seeing the sights in the historic city, shopping in the local stores, and sampling the cuisine of nearby restaurants. They manage a little bit of each of these--stopping by an antique store and purchasing a miniature landscape in an ornate frame for one of the "aunts" back home in New York. 

When they get back to the hotel with their purchase, Sarah notices that the print has shifted and a bit of white paper is behind the print. The women are astonished to find a sketch that has a familiar look about it. Further investigation reveals that they may have an early work by Mary Cassat, a famous Impressionist artist. They consult a couple of new friends--a fellow conference attendee with a knowledge of art and an older local man who volunteers at a nearby museum...and who has taken a special interest in Edith. 

But before they can decide precisely what they should do, the clerk from the antique shop calls them in a bit of a panic. It seems that the particular painting they bought was NOT supposed to be for sale and the owners of the shop are quite upset with him. He begs them to return the painting in exchange for something else or for a refund. When they go back to the shop as arranged (though they plan on telling him that they bought the painting good faith and will not be returning it), they discover the police in possession of the establishment and the clerk has disappeared. It isn't long before his body is fished out of the river. What exactly have the women gotten themselves into? 

Before long, they find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving an art-smuggling network that is actually a cover for a family descended from a Nazi "hero." These ruthless men were not only responsible for deaths in the Holocaust, but they were part of the Nazi scheme to "liberate" valuable art from lesser mortals. These ruthless men will stop at nothing to retrieve what they believe is rightfully theirs and to prevent Sarah and Edith from leading the police to their network. 

This was a very fast-paced read--especially when I was expecting a cozy academic mystery. But it has excellent pacing and an interesting plot, though it did take a bit of belief suspension to picture the academic from small college USA taking on Nazi-descendants/sympathizers. Sarah also had a bit of the Gothic mystery heroine thing going on and when she went out of the hotel with X after specifically being told NOT to leave the hotel for any reason I wanted to throttle her. Anyone with mystery-reading experience just knew what was going to happen next.

I enjoyed the historic tidbits about Prague and learning even more about the Nazi efforts to snatch up priceless artwork from those they conquered. The personal story of Joseph Meyer, the museum guide, was very compelling as he told about the persecution of the Jews and his involvement in trying to rescue artwork that had been stolen by the Nazis. Overall, an interesting novel--with more emphasis on the historic background and an action/thriller atmosphere than a straight mystery, but still very enjoyable. ★★ and 1/4.

[Finished on 6/26/17]

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tree House Mystery: Review

Tree House Mystery (1969) by Gertrude Chandler Warner is the fourteenth book in the Boxcar Children series, but it's the first one I've actually read. My previous experience with the Alden children was bringing home books on tape/CD from the library for my son when he was small and hearing some of the stories. I can't honestly say if this was one of them or not. I picked this one up from the library to go along with the Birth Year Reading Challenge (as well as others).

In this particular adventure, the Alden kids (Benny, Henry, Jessie, & Violet) are excited when new neighbors move in at the house next door. The Beach house has been empty for so long that they often had forgotten it was even there. But a family moves in with two young boys and soon the friendly Aldens have broken through their reserve and have convinced Jeffrey and Sammy Beach that the thing their new home is missing is a tree house.

While building the tree house and the kids get to know each other, the Aldens learn that Jeffrey and Sammy's dad and his brother used to have a tree house in that same tree. They used to have great fun until one day their prize possession--a telescope--went missing. Each blamed the other and, as sometimes happens, this small disagreement built up over the years and now the men rarely see each other or talk at all. There is also a secret room in the attic of the Beach house which shows evidence that a little boy (other than the Beach brothers) once lived there and played with a much beloved rocking horse. The kids are determined to discover what happened to the missing telescope and who the little boy was. They're certain that finding the telescope will help bridge the gap that has divided the Beach family for so many years. A telescope and a rocking horse are just what the Aldens need to solve a mystery and bring a happy ending for their new friends.

This is a cute story with a mystery that is just right for young readers. There is no danger involved and just a good dose of children's curiosity. A very pleasant read and I understand why my son liked these stories so much when he was little. ★★

[Finished 6/23/17]
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This counts for the "Tree" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Challenge Complete: Where Are You Reading?






Hosted at Book Dragon's Lair

This one was all about places. There's one about states but this one counts cities, counties, and fictional locations too. Read a book set in a location for each letter of the alphabet. West Virginia only counts for W, Bowling Green only counts for B, but the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey that is on a fictional planet counts as P ;-) 

I have finally completed my bookish travels--well, at least enough to cover the alphabet. I'm sure I'll be hitting more fictional places before the year is up. Thanks, for hosting! Hope we'll don our traveling clothes for another trip next year.


My List:
A: (Alabama) March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (1/26/17)
B: (Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo) The Body Missed the Boat by Jack Iams (3/6/17)
C: (Cannes) Murder at the Masque by Amy Myers (1/16/17)
D: (Delphi; Greece) Decision at Delphi by Helen MacInnes (5/28/17)
E: (England) Death at Swaythling Court by J. J. Connington (1/4/17)
F: (France) The Black Count by Tom Reiss (1/21/17)
G: (Granada) Spice Island Mystery by Betty Cavanna (2/10/17)
H: (Harlem) Blind Man with a Pistol by Chester Himes (5/10/17)
I: (Iowa) The Thursday Turkey Murders by Craig Rice (2/13/17)
J: (Jerusalem) Zadok's Treasure by Margot Arnold (2/22/17)
K: (Kenya) Murder at Government House by Elspeth Huxley (3/13/17)
L: (London) The Snake on 99 by Stewart Farrar (1/11/17)
M: (Maine) Murder at Teatime by Stefanie Matteson (5/9/17)
N: (New York City) The 24th Horse by Hugh Pentecost (1/13/17)
O: (Ohio) Publish and Perish by Sally Wright (6/23/17)
P: (Pittsburgh) Episode of the Wandering Knife by Mary Roberts Rinehart (2/17/17)
Q: (Quebec) Petty Theft by Pascal Girard (5/16/17)
R: (Rhode Island) The Ghost & the Dead Deb by Alice Kimberly (6/16/17)
S: (Sleepyside-on-Hudson) Trixie Belden & the Gatehouse Mystery by Julie Campbell (3/16/17)
T: (Tennessee) If Ever I Return Pretty Peggy-O by Sharyn McCrumb (5/29/17)
U: (United States) Deadly Nightshade by Elizabeth Daly (5/19/17)
V: (Venus) Battle on Venus by William F. Temple (1/7/17)
W: (Wales) Death Finds a Foothold by Glyn Carr (6/14/17)
X: (Xi'an China) The Little Red Guard by Wenguang Huang (6/7/17)
Y: (Yugoslavia--the country as it was when book published; Slovenia was just part of it) The Golden Bird: Folk Tales from Slovenia by Vladimir Kavčič (5/16/17)
Z: (Zimbabwe) Alfred & Emily by Doris Lessing (6/14/17)

Mink Is for a Minx: Review

Mink Is for a Minx (1964) edited by Leo Margulies is the 1st Annual Edition of stories from Mike Shayn's Mystery Magazine. It offers up a variety of story styles--from successful murders to successful arrests. Burglary, murder, and fraud all take center stage. Some criminals get away and some are dealt their very just reward for stepping over the line. And, as with most story collections, there is a range of entertainment on offer. The best of the stories are "Death of a Dead Man," "Murder Slick as a Whistle" (for an interesting twist at the end), and "Death, My Love." I didn't much care for "Corpus Delecti" and the rest of the stories are pretty middle-of-the-road...which gives us a ★★rating.

Story Synopses:

"Death of a Dead Man" by Brett Halliday [Dennis Lynds]: Mike Shayne, Miami-based detective, is called to Westhampton, Long Island to get an old acquaintance out of jam. A dead man has been parked in his beach-front property's garden. A man from Alistair Finch's past. A man who already died in World War II.

"Partners of the Dark" by Alson J. Smith: Lt. Phil Egan is detailed to put a stop to a string of jewel robberies that The Commissioner has decided must be syndicate jobs. At first, there isn't a hint of a clue--no word on the street among his favorite stool pigeons. Then the leads start to come in but they seem to point to a trio of two-bit players. Could these guys really be in with the syndicate?

"Truck Drivers Like Girls" by Dorothy Madle: When Rod O'Meara brings home extra guests for a dinner party, his wife heads out to a delicatessen to pick up extra food. While on the way in the car, she hears a news bulletin that says a psychotic killer may be loose in the area. She leaves the delicatessen only to find that an erratically drive truck with its bright lights on full is following her and won't be shaken off for anything. Is the killer after her? [This may be the source for a story that makes its way around the internet every now and again....]

"Murder Slick as a Whistle" by Arthur Porges: Martin Calder has been living it up at his rich, widowed sister's expense. Then sis gets herself another husband and Martin's style is a bit cramped. He comes up with a brilliant plan to kill his brother-in-law that involves a Doberman and a dog-whistle. What could go wrong?

"The Marrow of Justice" by Hal Ellson: Chief of Police Jose Santiago is given an ultimatum by the Mayor--find the killer of Rose Belmonte, the third young girl to be murdered, by midnight or he'll be looking for another job. Santiago knows exactly what do--and fingers a local crook Manuel Domingo, for the job. When Domingo tries to escape and dies trying, it looks like Santiago was right after all and the Mayor is happy. But Detective Fiala has his doubts...and winds up taking them to the Mayor.

"Man on the Run" by Dennis Lynds: Little Maxie Lima was the mob's best hit man. But Maxie wasn't satisfied with the dough the mob handed out and started moonlighting with private contracts on the side. Such entrepreneurship on the part of their men is frowned on by the mob--so the mob put out a contract on Maxie and now he's on the run. But Maxie's got a sure-fire plan to escape the country and the mob....

"Death, My Love" by John Douglas: A cautionary tale for all would-be crooks. Make sure you always pack all the necessary gear for the get-away in your own suitcase. You can't trust a dame when she's in love...

"Mink Is for a Minx" by Tighe Jarratt: Chip Stack is hired by an insurance company to track down a missing minx. The insurance folk don't like being taken for a ride and their quite sure they've just paid out on a fraudulent claim. Stack finds a way to make the insurance company happy, clear a poor innocent coat check girl, and let a beautiful little minx hold on to the mink she really wants.

"Murder of an Unknown Man" by James Holding: A cryptic message holds the clue that leads Lieutenant Randall to the identity of murder victim....as well as his murderer.

"Corpus Delecti" by Talmage Powell: A back-alley abortionist thinks he's found a scapegoat to take the rap for the dead woman on his surgery table. But then he finds out he's got the woman on his table...what's a man with one woman's blood on his hands to do?

Publish & Perish: Review

Publish & Perish (1997) is the first book in Sally Wright's series starring Ben Reese. Reese is a World War II veteran, former intelligence officer, and currently works as an archivist at a small private Ohio college. The time period is 1960. We first meet Reese at two o'clock in the morning. He is on a research trip in England when his friend Richard West, current chair of the English Department, calls him and is quite upset. He tells Reese that he has "uncovered an act of treachery which demands some form of retribution." Before he can explain further, someone comes to his office door and he says, "The culprit has just put in an appearance and I'll have to call you tomorrow." Culprit would seem to be prophetic, for the next message Reese gets from the States is a telegram informing him that West has died from an apparent heart attack.

Reese, who is West's executor, heads home for his friend's funeral and to take care of the estate. He also can't resist asking questions about his friend's final hours. He soon finds that West's conservative views and adherence to old-fashioned values (like honesty...) pitted him against someone who would do anything to prevent the secret lies of the past from being exposed in the present. Professional jealousy and academic integrity lie at the heart of the matter and Ben's life will be in danger as well once he discovers the reasons why West had to die.

A decent academic mystery and a fair start to a new series--and, from what I can tell, a fair debut novel of any sort. Ben Reese is an interesting character with a background that would be worth fleshing out. The mystery was fairly obvious (suspects aren't exactly thick on the ground), so hopefully future installments in the series will make improvements in this area. [Side-note, I was disappointed to find that future installments are not necessarily academically-tied.] A quick and entertaining read for those who like their mysteries with an academic flavor (as do I). ★★

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Fulfills the "Set at Work" category on the Reporter's Challenge.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Challenge Complete: Color Coded Reading Challenge



I thought last year would be my last year participating in my own Color Coded Reading Challnge. I keep thinking that I've used up all the shades of brown on my TBR piles (I insist on having the color in my titles) and I keep finding another (or I keep buying more books with a suitable word...). So, I signed up one more time and have now completed the challenge. We'll see if I can produce another brown (or brown-like) title next year...

Here are the books read: 

1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title/on the cover.
Death with Blue Ribbon by Leo Bruce (4/20/17) 

2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc) in the title/on the cover.
The Little Red Guard by Wenguang Huang (6/7/17)
 
3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
The Golden Bird Folk Tales from Slovenia by Vladimir Kavčič (5/16/17)

4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title/on the cover.
The Green Turtle Mystery by Ellery Queen, Jr. (3/19/17)

5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title/on the cover.
The Secret of the Wooden Lady by Carolyn Keene (6/19/17)

6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title/on the cover.
The Black Count by Tom Reiss (1/21/17)
The Ebony Bed by Rufus Gillmore

7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title/on the cover.
Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon (6/11/17)

8. A book with any other color in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.).
When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (1/24/17)

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.).
The Polka Dot Nude by Joan Smith (5/2/17)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

PKD: It's not you, it's me.

No wait. Actually, I think it's you. 

You'd think after reading The Man in the High Castle and Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? and announcing in the former's review I'd come to the conclusion that PKD really isn't the science fiction author for me that I would have learned. But J. G. at Hotchpot Cafe dangled the Birth Year Challenge in front of me and in the quest to find books from 1969 that I hadn't already read for the previous versions of the challenge (and such 1969 books as were readily available to me), I discovered that Philip K. Dick had written a little Science Fiction novel by the name of Ubik. Also, it made the list of 100 Best SF Books of all time. So I ordered it up from the library. And, Philip, it's really you.

Once again, Dick manages to come up with an unique idea and the story just doesn't hold me the way Ellison and Zelazny do. For me, he just can't manage to build a new and interesting world, throw out thought-provoking ideas, and tell a spectacular story all in one go. This time he produces a world with psychic spies where companies (and individuals) will hire anti-psi techs to block the telepaths who might be reading their minds and discovering their secrets. It's also a world where people don't really die...they just fade away through "half-lives." You can keep your dearly departed safely stored in cold storage for decades. And go visit them for little chats and advice whenever you want. It could have examined the topics of life and death and psychic privacy in interesting ways...oh what could have been.

Glen Runciter owns and runs one of the anti-pyschic coportations. And is doing quite nicely by it, too. Until he and a group of his top team members are ambushed by a rival. Runciter is gravely injured and stuffed into cold storage while his team tries to take countermeasures. But then the team members begin experiencing strange temporal phenomena and everything seems to be moving backward in time--food spoils and money changes time periods faster than they can keep up with. And then team members begin dying as well. The team leader Joe Chip begins to suspect that there is a malevolent person behind this; not just a rival, but someone with more primitive reasons. But then Chip discovers that reality may not be quite what he thought it was after all...and his very existence may depend on a substance called Ubik.

Psychic warfare and spycraft could have made a really cool story line. Could have. Or the temporal shifts--that could have been good. Or following up the idea of the half-life which strikes me as a sort of purgatory where you don't really earn escape through good deeds, but you get to affect those you leave behind through conversations and consultations. Any of that could have been quite interesting (and apparently is for a large number of people), but it wasn't for me. It started off strong. I was very interested to see where Runciter, Chip, and the team were headed when they set off to track down some unknown psychics--but then it all dissolved into what pretty much amounts to a teenage temper tantrum. Teen angst meets psychic abilities meets half-life la-la land. Yeah...it made about as much sense as I bet that does to those of you who haven't read the book. I realized at the half-way point who was behind all this and found I didn't much care what happened to any of the characters after that. ★★

Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz

Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz (2013) is a gorgeous coffee-table size book. Ortiz who has worked for Disney and Warner Brothers and published his own comic book series was looking to create something unique and uniquely his. He has definitely done just that with  his re-imagining of the classic episodes of Star Trek. The images are reminiscent of movie posters and combine elements which evoke the spirit of the classic television series as well as the 1960s of Trek's initial run. Each poster-size page is a gem in and of itself, but as a collection the book is extraordinarily lovely.

In addition to the beautiful artwork, the back of the book gives short, sometime humorous synopses of each episode as well as a brief explanation from Ortiz on the influences on his artwork for the particular poster and the effect he was striving for. 

This makes a perfect gift for the Trek fan in your life (ask me how I know...my best friend gifted this to me for Christmas of 2015). Or indulge yourself and splurge on this one-of-a-kind collection of artwork. ★★★★

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Secret of the Wooden Lady: Review

Captain Easterly has made his home on an old clipper ship by the name of the Bonny Scot. He's been renting her, but he'd like to buy her outright and asks Carson Drew to help him find a clear title for the ship so it can be purchased. But a missing title isn't the only trouble the old sea captain has been having--he has been hearing mysterious noises on his boat and he's sure he's got intruders. Mr. Drew asks Nancy to come to the Boston area with him to help clear up the mysteries. But before they can leave, someone breaks into Bess Marvin's home and steals her parents jewelry. Nancy quickly finds a few clues that point the police in the direction of a known jewel thief. And Bess and her cousin George Fayne wind up joining Nancy and her father on the seaside adventure.

Then in the bayside town where the Bonny Scot lies in harbor, Nancy spies the jewel thief. Why has he followed the girls to Boston? Nancy and the girls take up residence on the ship to search for clues that might help Mr. Drew find a clear title as well as to find out how the intruders can get off and on the vessel without being seen. The clues they find lead them to believe that the Bonny Scot had been re-christened and if they can discover the ship's original name and find her lovely figurehead the mystery may be solved...and a treasure may be found. Their every move seems to be monitored and they face more thefts, a fire, and the Captain is kidnapped. But Nancy's nose for secrets leads her to the right answers and Mr. Drew and the police show up just in time to capture the crooks when Nancy flushes them out.

I was a faithful fan of Nancy Drew from the moment my mom gave me her six-volume set of tweed-covered mysteries. Most of the collection I had till recent years were the re-vamped, shortened yellow-spine editions from the 1970s (and sometimes these came with totally changed plots). Over the last three years or so, I have been working on getting my hands on tweed-covered versions (where available) with the original 25 chapters rather than the 20-chaptered later versions. So--while I have read this title before, I haven't read this particular edition and version. 

The Secret of the Wooden Lady wasn't, I have to admit, one of my favorite Nancys when I read them back in the day. I may have read it twice, possibly three times where I read my favorites over and over. All that to say--I don't remember the details well enough to know what exactly the newer version has left out or changed. I do know that despite the dust jacket making it seem that there is an auburn/redhead, a dark brunette, and a brown-haired girl--at least one of those girls should be blond. This 1950 edition definitely says that Nancy is blond with blue eyes (unlike the titian-haired young woman in the 70s). 

This story has a lot of action--mostly for Nancy. I was a bit disappointed that George and Bess show up to "help" Nancy (and even Ned, Burt and Dave put in an appearance), but then the cousins and their special dates spend more time off having fun than actually helping Nancy. Ned is loyal to his girl and helps her investigate while he's there--but the others just want to swim and go to restaurants. The whole gang do have an adventure sailing the clipper to try and escape the intruders, but that's about it. When Nancy comes back from various sleuthing excursions, George keeps saying, "You should have told me." But she knows Nancy has adventures--she ought to know that if she wants to be involved in them, then she needs to stick with Nancy and not let Bess talk her into a swim. My memories of the stories had George (as the tom-boy) being a lot more adventurous and involved than this particular novel indicates. Will definitely have to read more and see if she's more consistently involved.

Overall, a fun adventure. Nancy reads a lot into very little and manages to come up with the right answers--a system that worked well for me as seven-year-old, but as an adult, the clues seem a little thin. Fortunately, the fun and nostalgia factor more than make up for it and I give this a solid ★★ rating--much as I think I would have when I first read the newer version.

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This counts for the "Statue" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. "Wood" = brown for the Color Coded Reading Challenge.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Challenge Complete: Cloak & Dagger

CDChallengebadge2016 
Once again I joined Stormi at Books, Movies & Reviews! Oh My! and Barb from Booker T’s Farm for the Cloak and Dagger Challenge.  As before there were several levels to choose from and I decided to sign up for the Sherlock Holmes level and read 56+ books in the mystery and crime field.
Since mysteries are the staple of my reading diet, this one always goes pretty fast for me and I have just finished my 57th book. I'm quite sure there will be many more mystery and crime books in my reading future--but I'm going to keep track of the rest on the review lists that track all of my books for the year. Thanks to Stormi & Barb for hosting another round and I hope it will be up again in 2018 for more delicious detective reading!
 
Books Read:

1. Death at Swaythling Court by J. J. Connington (1/4/17)
2. Death of a Racehorse by John Creasey (1/7/17)
3. The Snake on 99 by Stewart Farrar (1/11/17)
5. The 24th Horse by Hugh Pentecost (1/13/17)
6. Murder at the Masque by Amy Myers (1/16/17)
7. The Unconscious Witness by R. Austin Freeman (1/28/17)
8. A Losing Game by Freeman Wills Crofts (1/31/17)
9. Death Takes a Bow by Frances & Richard Lockridge (2/5/17)
10. All for the Love of a Lady by Leslie Ford (2/9/17)
11. Spice Island Mystery by Betty Cavanna (2/10/17)
12. Deception Island by M. K. Lorens (2/13/17)
13. The Thursday Turkey Murders by Craig Rice (2/13/17)
14. Episode of the Wandering Knife by Mary Roberts Rinehart (2/17/17)
15. A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen (2/18/17)
16. Zadok's Treasure by Margot Arnold (2/22/17)
17. Search for a Scientist by Charles Leonard (2/24/17)
18. Death in the Wrong Room by Anthony Gilbert (2/27/17)
19. The Body Missed the Boat by Jack Iams (3/6/17)
20. Thrilling Stories of the Railway by Victor L. Whitechurch (3/9/17)
21. Murder at Government House by Elspeth Huxley (3/13/17)
22. Miss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser-Sampson (3/15/17)
23. Dread & Water by Douglas Clark (3/15/17)
24. Trixie Belden & the Gatehouse Mystery by Julie Cambell (3/16/17)
25. The Green Turtle Mystery by Ellery Queen Jr. (3/19/17)
26. Fit to Kill by Hans C. Owen (3/22/17)
27. Silence Observed by Michael Innes (3/28/17)
28. I Could Murder Her by E. C. R. Lorac (4/7/17)
29. A Grave Case of Murder by Roger Bax (4/10/17)
30. Murder Comes First by Frances & Richard Lockridge (4/11/17)
31. Stroke of Death by Josephine Bell (4/12/17)
32. Coffin's Dark Number by Gwendoline Butler (4/16/17)
33. They Tell No Tales by Manning Coles (4/19/17)
34. Death With Blue Ribbon by Leo Bruce (4/20/17)
35. Who Is the Next? by Henry Kitchell Webster (4/24/17)
36. Grounds for Murder by Kate Kingsbury (4/26/17)
37. The Fennister Affair by Josephine Bell (4/28/17)
38. The Vanishing Violinist by Sara Hoskinson Frommer (4/30/17)
39. Storm Center by Douglas Clark (5/1/17)
40. The Polka Dot Nude by Joan Smith (5/2/17)
41. The Invisible Intruder by Carolyn Keene (5/4/17)
42. The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt (5/6/17)
43. Murder at Teatime by Stefaine Matteson (5/9/17)
44. Blind Man With a Pistol by Chester HImes (5/10/17)
45. Death Cracks a Bottle by Kenneth Giles (5/13/17)
46. The Mystery of the Talking Skull by Robert Arthur (5/13/17)
47. Murder in Mount Holly by Paul Theroux (5/15/17)
48. Deadly Nightshade by Elizabeth Daly (5/19/17)
49. The Constantine Affliction by T. Aaron Payton (5/23/17)
50. Decision at Delphi by Helen MacInnes (5/28/17)
51. If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O by Sharyn McCrumb (5/29/17)
52. The Case of the Seven Sneezes by Anthony Boucher (5/31/17)
53. Where There's Smoke by Stewart Sterling (6/4/17)
54. Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon (6/11/17)
55. Death Finds a Foothold by Glyn Carr (6/14/17)
56. The Ghost & the Dead Deb by Alice Kimberly (6/16/17)
57. Deed Without a Name by Dorothy Bowers (6/18/17)

The Wailing Siren Mystery: Review

The Hardy Boys are back for their thirtieth adventure in The Wailing Siren Mystery (1951). This one starts with Frank and Joe out for a run in The Sleuth, their sleek motorboat. A sudden storm whips up and while the boys are fighting to keep the boat going and upright on the waves, a weird wailing siren sounds, another boat nearby flashes its lights, and they hear a plane's motor overhead. Suddenly a large wallet hits the water near the boat and Frank manages to grab it before it sinks beneath the waves. It's chock full of money--two thousand dollars once the boys are safely back on land and have a chance to count it.

They turn the money into the police, but their adventures aren't over yet. The next day their friend Chet Morton has a truck full of camping gear and high-powered rifles (which belong to his uncle) stolen while he stops for a snack. They trace the stolen truck to the North Woods, but lose the trail before it begins to get dark. So the boys hook up with Chet and Biff and Tony for a camping trip in the woods to look for the truck and any other clues they might find.

Fenton Hardy is currently working on a hush-hush assignment involving missing money, missing planes, and the selling of arms. Could all these mysteries be part of a bigger plot? [If you know your Hardy Boys, then you know the answer to that one...]. The boys will face kidnappers and ravenous wolves; be knocked out and tied up and nearly drowned; trace stolen money and airplane parts; and search out the source of the wailing siren--all before the mystery is finally wrapped up.

Another fun adventure with Frank and Joe. Not the strongest of the series--it relies even more heavily than usual on coincidence, but the boys do some real detective work (tracking cars by their tire marks and following faint signs and trails through the wood. It's a fast-paced, easy read and just the kind of mystery adventure that kids should enjoy. ★★


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This fulfills the "Boat" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Deed Without a Name: Review

In Deed Without a Name (1940) by Dorothy Bowers Archy Mitfold is a self-important young man who has often daydreamed about playing Sherlock Holmes and has often made ordinary events mysterious just to feed his longing for adventure. He reminds me a bit of Walter Mitty--turning everyday events into Something Important. That is, until something important actually does happen. As he tells the maid in his aunt's house (where he has been staying since summer), it's something he "stumbled onto by chance" and he's just got to see it through on his own. It doesn't matter that somebody has already tried to kill him three times--once by speeding automobile, once by a shove in the back when he was at the train station waiting to meet someone, and once through poisoned chocolates--that just adds spice to the game. And, really, that's all it is to Archy...just a game. But somebody's playing for keeps and he won't survive attempt number four.

After the three stymied attempts, Archy meets two of his friends at an "Old Boys" weekend for their school. He gives them a brief summary of the facts and when they urge him to tell the police, he insists that this is his show and he's going to come up with more clues before turning them over to the police. He then heads back to his aunt's house--which is empty because she has gone away for the weekend herself--where he plans to write up his latest findings in his diary. While he's working away, there is a knock at the door. He opens it, says "Oh, it's you, is it?" and lets someone (we're not told who) in. The next we see Archy, he's dead. He's found hanging from a curtain rod in an apparent suicide. 

But it doesn't take Inspector Dan Pardoe and Sergeant Tommy Salt long to figure out that it's murder they're dealing with. Archy was bashed on the head before being strung up and then, of course, his  friends come forward with the tale of the previous attempts on Archy's life. The maid also has information about Archy's late-night rambles. She doesn't know where he went, but he was dreadfully excited and secretive about it. 

Meanwhile, all of England is on the hunt for the whereabouts of Sampson Vick, a philanthropic millionaire who has recently gone missing. And Pardoe's investigation reveals that Archy was interested in Vick's disappearance as well. Is there a connection? And what is the meaning of the bird drawings and clay figures that Archy has left amongst his papers and around his room? Pardoe believes the birds to be a secret code and if he and Salt can just find the key then they'll be able to pinpoint Archy's murderer.




This is a solid Golden Age Mystery. The war has just begun and the blackout plays a bit of role. Pardoe and Salt are good coppers, not quite as idiosyncratic or charismatic as some policemen of the period, but an interesting pair all the same. Bowers plays fair with her readers--and, if you know much about birds (particularly the birds of England), you'll probably spot the villain much earlier than I did. I did get there before all was revealed at the end though.  ★★


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This fulfills the "Policeman" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. 

Deal Me In #25: "Almost Perfect"


Still working my way steadily through the short stories for Jay's Deal Me in Challenge--52 short stories in 52 weeks based on shuffling and drawing a new card every week. Today I shuffled the remaining cards in my Deal Me In deck and the King of Hearts it is. This matches up with "Almost Perfect" by William MacHarg, a mysterious short story found in Murder by Experts edited by Ellery Queen.

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The story describes a murder that is just what the title says--almost perfect. The murderer fools the local police and the state troopers, but when O'Malley, a New York cop, is called in he immediately spots what the others have missed and lays a trap to catch the culprit. The story is plot-driven and O'Malley may use a trick to get his man/woman, but it is a straight-forward entertaining story.


Deal Me In #24: "Scherzo with Tyrannosaur"


I'm still working my way through Jay's Deal Me In Challenge . In a nutshell--we line up 52 short stories for the year, we match those stories up to a card in a regular deck of card, and each week we shuffle our deck (of real cards) and draw a card from whatever remains in the deck. Last week I drew the Queen of Spades which gave me
"Scherzo with Tyrannosaur" by Michael Swanwick from The Year's Best Science Fiction 17th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed.

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 Swanwick's story reminds me a bit of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams. But--instead of treating time-travelers to a view of the end of everything--this place allows folks to go back in time to the era of dinosaurs and see a T-rex up close and personal (through a window that's rated at twenty tons per square inch). Our narrator is the palenontological director and host of Hilltop center, a research center in the late Cretaceous period. The Time Safety Officers are always on guard to make sure no one uses their knowledge of the past for profit--or changes anything that will affect the timeline. But what if the director discovers something personal that he just has to fix? Will the Officers let him get away with it? Will his future self?

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Ghost & the Dead Deb: Review

Penelope Thornton-McClure, co-owener of the Buy the Book bookstore, has a ghost. Not just any ghost. Hers is a P.I. by the name of Jack Shepard who was murdered on the spot nearly fifty years ago. In The Ghost & the Dead Deb, the second in Alice Kimberly's Haunted Bookshop series, the Buy the Book bookstore is hosting an author reading and book-signing with Angel Stark. Angel has just written a true crime novel about a recent unsolved mystery among the young and upper-class. When Angel starts taking questions after the reading, it becomes clear that not everyone in the audience is a fan. There is a particularly nasty confrontation with a young woman who claims the book is full of lies. And who knew there'd be so many connections to "cornpone" Quindicott, Rhode Island? But when Angel is killed and the sister of the "Dead Deb" featured in the book's murder case disappears, Penelope finds more connections than she is comfortable with--including a forgotten cousin in her deceased husband's family. Penelope and Jack are soon on the case looking to see if someone wanted to keep Angel from discovering the real killer of the Dead Deb or if there is another motive hidden the quiet Rhode Island town.

Observations:
--The initial attraction of the book was its interesting hook: the relationship between the ghostly Private Eye Jack Shepard and the amateur detective and bookstore owner Penelope Thornton-McClure (on purely the detective-duo portion of the relationship--see comments on "romance" below). It was also its weakness. After all, Jack was supposedly firmly attached to the bookstore, the site of his own murder. That idea was apparently sold in the first novel and continued to be to mode of operation through about half of this one. Then...I guess Kimberly figured out that there wasn't much scope for a detective partnership that couldn't roam far from the bookstore and we discover that Jack has some supernatural connection to a buffalo nickel and if Penelope carries that about with her she can also take Jack along for the ride. Mmmmkay. Way to dream up something to get yourself out of the corner you painted yourself into...instant magic carpet.

--The "romance" which seems to be hinted at between Jack and Penelope is just plain weird. He's dead. It has no future unless all she wants is a mental/emotional turn-on. 

--Quite honestly, I was much more interested in Jack and what happened in the forties. I think I'd rather that Alice Kimberly wrote about his earthly life as a P.I. than his after-life.

--If Penelope really pauses to have the internal dialogues with Jack while others are around as often and for as long as some of the conversations seem to last, why aren't her friends, neighbors, and/or customers noticing that she seems to be zoning out and wondering if she's okay? I mean, seriously. My husband occasionally has a tendency to go into "daydream mode" while I'm talking to him--some word or phrase or whatever will trigger a memory or another thought and he glazes over. It doesn't take me long to notice and say "Hey!" You can't tell me that those closest to her don't notice that Penelope is no longer in the real-life conversation.

Final Analysis: Really had potential. Jack is an interesting character that I wish were featured in his own book about his own investigations. Except for the hints of romantic interest, I do like the exchanges between Jack and Penelope. It would be nice if they could just operate as friends and co-investigators and leave out the romantic tone. The mystery plot is so-so. I prefer it when all of the clues are readily available and the reader has a fair chance of figuring things out for themselves. ★★ and a half. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Alfred & Emily: Review

Alfred & Emily by Doris Lessing is two stories in one. She combines a fictional tale of what the lives of her parents, Alfred and Emily, might have been if World War One had never happened--if her father had not come home wounded both physically and emotionally and if her mother had not be damaged as well through caring for a wounded man who suffered from shell shock and who took her from England to a farm in Zimbabwe. The novella which begins the book gives her parents their ideal life. Her father becomes the farmer in England he always dreamed he could be, successful with a wife who enjoyed living on the farm and with two brawny sons. Her mother still becomes a nurse, but after marriage to a doctor who dies in middle-age and leaves her well-off she is able to fund schools and then a refuge for women in trouble. Through her fiction, she allows her parents to become what she imagines might have been their best selves.

The second half of the book tells the real-life story of her parents' struggles with life after the Great War. It shows in detail just how devastating that war was not only for those who lost loved ones, but for those who came home and those who loved them. The despair and depression the parents fought deeply affected Doris and her brother. Doris grew up hating her mother--in part because she pitied her and didn't know how to deal with those emotions as a young girl. Processing her emotions and reactions to her parents' plight may have sent her into therapy later in life, but it also fueled her fiction. It's likely that Alfred and Emily may have been happier if the war had never happened, but would Doris Lessing have been the author she became had she grown up in England? Of course, we'll never know for sure--but it certainly seems like the struggles she experienced in dealing with her parents molded her in ways that shaped her writing.

Each section of the book is interesting in its own right. But I'm not entirely sold on the combination in one volume. The transition between the two sections is inadequate and doesn't quite make a smooth connection. There are hints in reality towards the fictional biography Lessing writes for Alfred and Emily, but she doesn't fully explain some of the choices she made for them. ★★


Death Finds a Foothold: Review

Death Finds a Foothold (1961) is the 14th mystery in Glyn Carr's [Frank Stowell Styes] Sir Abercrombie Lewker series. Lewker is a former commando, celebrated Shakespearean actor, and accomplished mountain climber. He's sortof the Jessica Fletcher of the mountaineering crowd, though--where he goes death seems to follow. On this particular outing, Lewker heads to Snowdonia, Wales for the annual dinner meet of the Foothold Club at the Pen-y-Pass Hotel. The Club has over 400 hundred members--all of whom are welcome at the general annual dinner, but only the current president, past presidents, the original founding members of the club, and their invited guests are allowed at the dinner meet. Lewker extends his invitation to his old friend Detective Inspector George Grimmett, knowing that Grimmett has long been curious, as a student of human nature, to study the mountaineering fraternity (and sorority) in their natural habitat. He also plans to talk the Inspector into climbing a bit himself.

They have just settled in their room with plans to change for dinner, when the current president, Mark Stoner comes in to consult Lewker--known for his abilities as an amateur sleuth--and finds that he has the added bonus of a detective inspector. Stoner has received a threatening letter

You thought youd got away with it but its catching up with you you dirty skunk your not fit to live and wont if you persist in taking the job so watch out.

The president is baffled and yet frightened. He can't think what "job" the anonymous letter writer is referring to and he can't think of anyone who might have animus against him. But he feels the threat nonetheless.

But when tragedy strikes the next day, it's not the president who dies. Professor Julius Wiernick, who is a particularly odious man with few, if any, friends, but a brilliant climber falls to his death in what appears to be an accident. Wiernick was climbing with another seasoned mountaineer, Donald Ferguson, and Ferguson's niece Flora Massey. The Professor was lead on the team and had decided to take an alternate route on what should have been a fairly moderate climb--just to add a bit of challenge. The route took him out of sight of his fellow climbers and that's when he fell. Neither Lewker nor Inspector Grimmett are inclined to believe that this was an accident. And when a note just like the one Stoner received is found in Wiernick's pocket, it seems they are right. But tracking down who had a motive as well as the opportunity to kill a man on a fairly tricky bit of rock face will take some doing. And what did the man's cry of "Jack!" right before his fall mean?

At first, it seems that the detective duo has an impossible crime on their hands. Those with motive either have alibis or would have been hard pressed to get themselves into position to kill the professor in the time allowed. When another death occurs, it becomes apparent that the past event mentioned is at the heart of the mystery and they will have to unearth the details before they can catch their man...or woman.

Just a few thoughts on this one--possible spoiler in next paragraph. First, Sir Abercrombie makes it plain that those who know him well and whom he considers friends don't call him "Filthy" (although apparently someone, somewhere does--otherwise, why bring it up?). In fact, nobody in the whole book calls him by that name. So why on earth do we even bring that name up; why does the back of the book insist on calling him "Filthy" Lewker; and why is the series known under that name on various sites? I mean, sure, it's an obvious play on his name--but it'd work better if Carr had actually made something of the play on words.

Second, once the reader knows that the professor's death was murder, it becomes obvious who did it. Might not know exactly how, might not know the details on why--but definitely who. And speaking of how--I'm not sure exactly how that trick was worked. There's no way on earth I can see that you, as murderer, could have been sure that the rope would catch in the way it had to and would leave Wiernick's body dangling (sorry for the image) in the way it was found. 

But, those two quibbles aside, this is very interesting mystery. I'm quite taken with Sir Abercrombie (who, admittedly, is a bit taken with himself) even though he does lecture Inspector Grimmett a bit much on his own job. Carr manages to deliver necessary mountain-climbing details to the uninitiated in a manner that is absorbing rather than overwhelming or boring and his descriptions of the area in Wales is delightful. Once the denouement arrives, the readers also finds that Carr has played fair--displaying his clues and even allowing Sir Abercrombie to recite most of them to us. I still didn't pick up on the meaning of a couple of them. An entertaining read...earning ★★and a half.

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This fulfills the "Snow/Snowy Scene" category on the Silver Scavenger Hunt card.