lyzard's list: Reading many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore in 2021 - Part 7

Talk75 Books Challenge for 2021

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lyzard's list: Reading many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore in 2021 - Part 7

Dec 27, 2021, 5:50pm

Please note:

This thread is for catching up my 2021 reviewing only.

I have allowed myself to get abysmally behind with my write-ups; and since (for a variety of reasons) just letting them go isn't an option for me, I've decided to maintain this separate thread.

I will have a new thread in the 2022 group as well, and will post the link when it's up.

If anyone feels like dropping in here and commenting, I would be extremely grateful - and there WILL be sloths...eventually - but no-one should feel obliged. :)

Edited: Dec 27, 2021, 5:52pm

Dec 27, 2021, 5:57pm

2021 reading:


1. The Pelham Murder Case by Monte Barrett (1930)
2. Mystery At Lynden Sands by J. J. Conningtion (1928)
3. Dead Man Twice by Christopher Bush (1930)
4. Eight To Nine by R. A. J. Walling (1934)
5. The Secret Of The Old Clock by Carolyn Keene (1930)
6. The Van Diemen's Land Warriors, or The Heroes Of Cornwall by "Pindar Juvenal" (1827)
7. The Reviv'd Fugitive: A Gallant Historical Novel by Peter Belon (1690)
8. The Land Of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll (1980)
9. Patty Blossom by Carolyn Wells (1917)
10. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (2019)
11. Fools' Gold by Dolores Hitchens (1958)
12. Beast In View by Margaret Millar (1955)
13. The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith (1956)
14. Cause Of Death by Cyril H. Wecht with Mark Curridan and Benjamin Wecht (1993)
15. The Secret Of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur Jr (1964)


16. Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope (1862)
17. The Benevent Treasure by Patricia Wentworth (1953)
18. Patty--Bride by Carolyn Wells (1918)
19. Lost Boy Lost Girl by Peter Straub (2003)
20. Call For The Dead by John le Carré (1961)
21. 813 by Maurice Leblanc (1910)
22. Blanche On The Lam by Barbara Neely (1992)
23. The Autobiography Of Mark Rutherford by William Hale White (1881)
24. The Adventuress by Arthur B. Reeve (1917)
25. The Secret History Of The Four Last Monarchs Of Great Britain by "R. B." (1691)


26. The Source by James A. Michener (1965)
27. The Mystery Of The Stuttering Parrot by Robert Arthur Jr (1964)
28. Gray Dusk by Octavus Roy Cohen (1920)
29. Mr Jelly's Business by Arthur Upfield (1937)
30. Death Comes To Perigord by John Alexander Ferguson (1931)
31. Simon The Coldheart by Georgette Heyer (1925)
32. Patty And Azalea by Carolyn Wells (1919)

33. The Recess: A Tale Of Other Times by Sophia Lee (1785)
34. Anecdotes Of A Convent by Anonymous (1771)

Edited: Dec 27, 2021, 6:02pm

2021 reading:


35. The Observations by Jane Harris (2006)
36. Valley Of The Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (1966)
37. The Executor by Margaret Oliphant (1861)
38. The Rector by Margaret Oliphant (1861)
39. The Panama Plot by Arthur B. Reeve (1918)
40. Elsie And The Raymonds by Martha Finley (1889)
41. The Murder Of Sigurd Sharon by Harriette Ashbrook (1933)
42. The Wraith by Philip MacDonald (1931)
43. Poison In The Pen by Patricia Wentworth (1954)
44. President Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer (1936)
45. Midnight by Octavus Roy Cohen (1922)
46. Sing Sing Nights by Harry Stephen Keeler (1927)
47. Missing Or Murdered by Robin Forsythe (1929)


48. The Arrangement by Elia Kazan (1967)
49. The Mystery Of The Whispering Mummy by Robert Arthur (1965)
50. The Doctor's Family by Margaret Oliphant (1863)
51. Beauvallet by Georgette Heyer (1929)
52. The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim (1920)
53. The Life Of Mansie Wauch, Tailor In Dalkeith by David Moir (1828)
54. Elsie Yachting With The Raymonds by Martha Finley (1890)
55. The Window At The White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1910)
56. The Case With Nine Solutions by J. J. Connington (1928)
57. The High Adventure by Jeffery Farnol (1925)
58. Winds Of Evil by Arthur Upfield (1937)
59. Six Minutes Past Twelve by Gavin Holt (1928)


60. Mr Fortune Wonders by H. C. Bailey (1933)
61. X Y Z: A Detective Story by Anna Katharine Green (1883)
62. Murder In A Library by Charles J. Dutton (1931)
63. Airport by Arthur Hailey (1968)
64. The Sea Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts (1928)
65. The Spider's Touch by Valentine Williams (1936)
66. The Soul Scar by Arthur B. Reeve (1919)
67. Crumpled Lilies by W. Carlton Dawe (1933)
68. The Kennel Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (!933)
69. The Drums Of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer (1939)
70. The Vanishing Of Betty Varian by Carolyn Wells (1922)
71. Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1912)
72. The Listening Eye by Patricia Wentworth (1955)
73. The Marquise Of O. by Heinrich Von Kleist (1808)
74. The Foundling by Francis Spellman (1951)

Edited: Apr 24, 8:31pm

2021 reading:


75. The Struggles Of Brown, Jones, And Robinson by Anthony Trollope (1862)
76. Blood Money by John Goodwin (1931)
77. Inspector Frost In The City by Herbert Maynard Smith (1930)
78. The Mill Mystery by Anna Katharine Green (1886)
79. Elsie's Vacation And After Events by Martha Finley (1891)
80. The House Of Peril by Louis Tracy (1922)
81. The Choice by Philip MacDonald (1931)
82. The Swimming Pool by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1952)
83. The Mystery Of The Green Ghost by Robert Arthur (1965)
84. Courier To Marrakesh by Valentine Williams (1944)
85. Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker (1995)
86. No More Parades by Ford Madox Ford (1925)
87. Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer by Patrick Süskind (1985)
88. Run! by Patricia Wentworth (1938)
89. Murder In Earl's Court by A G. Macdonell (1931)
90. Murder At Fenwold by Christopher Bush (1930)
91. Forest Of Montalbano by Catherine Cuthbertson (1810)


92. The Crystal Stopper by Maurice Leblanc (1912)
93. The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy (1926)
94. The Sealed Envelope by Ben Bolt (1931)
95. Murder Without Motive by R. L. Goldman (1938 / 1945)
96. Shadow On The Wall by H. C. Bailey (1934)
97. It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr (1930)
98. Elsie At Viamede by Martha Finley (1892)
99. Zastrozzi, A Romance by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1810)
100. St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1810)
101. The Second Baronet by Louis Tracy (1923)
102. The Clifford Affair by A. Fielding (1927)
103. The Gazebo by Patricia Wentworth (1955)
104. Some Unknown Hand by Elaine Hamilton (1930)
105. Death In The Dentist's Chair by Molly Thynne (1932)
106. Crime In The Arcade by Walter Proudfoot (1931)
107. Chez les Flamands by Georges Simenon (1932)


108. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant (1863)
109. Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy (2000)
110. A Woman In Exile by Horace Annesley Vachell (1926)
111. The House Of Murder by H. L. Gates (1931)
112. The Five Suspects by R. A. J. Walling (1934)
113. Murder On The Blackboard by Stuart Palmer (1932)
114. The Mystery Of The Vanishing Treasure by Robert Arthur (1966)
115. Invisible Death by Brian Flynn (1929)
116. The Dark Highway by Arthur Gask (1928)
117. The Grouse Moor Mystery by John Alexander Ferguson (1934)
118. McLean Of Scotland Yard by George Goodchild (1929)

Edited: May 30, 12:53am

2021 reading


119. Ellesmere by Mary Meeke (1799)
120. The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer (1931)

121. The Mysteries Of London: Volume III by George W. M. Reynolds (1847)
122. The Mysteries Of London: Volume IV by George W. M. Reynolds (1848)
123. Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)
124. The Fingerprint by Patricia Wentworth (1956)
125. The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene (1930)
126. Death Must Have Laughed by John Victor Turner (1932)


127. Elsie At Ion by Martha Finley (1893)
128. Recollections Of A Detective Police-Officer by "Waters" (William Russell) (1856)
129. The Cat's Paw by Natalie Sumner Lincoln (1922)
130. The Secret Of Skeleton Island by Robert Arthur (1966)
131. Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith (1970)
132. The Case Of Jennie Brice by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1913)
133. The Casual Murderer by Hulbert Footner (1932)
134. Love Story by Erich Segal (1970)
135. Brother Lowdown by S. K. Epperson (1990)
136. Blood Royal by Grant Allen (1892)
137. Passers By by John Galsworthy (1927)
138. The Bone Is Pointed by Arthur Upfield (1938)
139. Death Wears A White Gardenia by Zelda Popkin (1938)
140. The Tower Mystery by Paul McGuire (1932)
141. Richelieu: A Tale Of France by G. P. R. James (1829)
142. Self-Control by Mary Brunton (1811)


143. Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope (1863)
144. To The Islands by Randolph Stow (1958 / 1981)
145. The Dragon Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1933)
146. Wheels by Arthur Hailey (1971)
147. Sunglasses After Dark by Nancy A. Collins (1989)
148. In The Blood by Nancy A. Collins (1992)
149. The Affair At Flower Acres by Carolyn Wells (1923)
150. The Alington Inheritance by Patricia Wentworth (1958)
151. He Dies And Makes No Sign by Molly Thynne (1933)
152. The Confessions Of Arsene Lupin by Maurice Leblanc (1913)
153. Dr Night by Aidan de Brune (1926)
154. A Most Immoral Murder by Harriette Ashbrook (1935)
155. Swan Song by John Galsworthy (1928)

Dec 27, 2021, 6:41pm

Happy last 2021 thread, Liz!

Dec 27, 2021, 7:15pm

>7 FAMeulstee: What Anita said, Liz. A clean up thread like this is a good idea. Happy new one.

Dec 27, 2021, 7:18pm

I am waiting for the sloths. . .impatiently!

Dec 28, 2021, 1:19am

>7 FAMeulstee:

Thanks, Anita!

>8 PaulCranswick:

Fingers crossed that it works out as planned---be nice if something did. :D

Thanks, Paul!

>9 alcottacre:

Five reviews to the July (!) sloth...we'll see...

Dec 28, 2021, 3:24am

Of course I'll be looking for your reviews! (Does that help with the motivation?)

Edited: Dec 28, 2021, 6:28am

I'll be hanging around, reading reviews, thanking my lucky stars I haven't had to read that and hoping for sloths, as ever.

And, seeing I'm hanging around, how are you doing on obtaining Royal Escape? Do I need to list that for January??

Dec 28, 2021, 6:39am

Well, if there are going to be sloths, I'll have to try to be around more in 2022.

Dec 28, 2021, 4:31pm

>11 CDVicarage:

It does!

>12 Helenliz:

thanking my lucky stars I haven't had to read that

Glad to be of service, I guess?? :D

I just found out Royal Escape was serialised in The Australian Women's Weekly during 1939, meaning I can avoid the end-of-year-shutdown ILL hassles---so yes, definitely on!

>13 rosalita:


Dec 28, 2021, 4:44pm

>14 lyzard: Excellent. My home town gets a name check, failing to assist in the Royal Escape of the title. Part of me is quite pleased that we failed to come up to scratch in that regard. >:-)

Dec 28, 2021, 4:45pm

>15 Helenliz:

I know! Thanks to my blog I have a pretty passionate dislike of the Stuarts so I'm not sure how I'm going to cope with this one! :D

Dec 30, 2021, 6:50pm

My 2022 thread is now up, I'll hope to see you there!


Edited: Dec 31, 2021, 7:28pm

Forget your stresses and strains
As the old year wanes;
All that now remains
Is to bring you good cheer
With wine, liquor or beer
And wish you a special new year.

Happy New Year, Liz.

Dec 31, 2021, 4:35pm

>18 PaulCranswick:

Thanks, Paul! Best wishes to you and yours. :)

Jan 2, 4:20pm


Jan 2, 5:35pm

Publication date: 1925
Genre: Contemporary drama
Series: Parade's End #2
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (tagged 'military')

No More Parades - The second volume in Ford Madox Ford's WWI tetralogy follows Christopher Tietjens to France, where his age and health keep him from active duty, and instead find him assigned to overseeing the equipping and dispatching of troops to the front. His task is impossibly complicated by indecisive commanding officers, a profiteering quartermaster, nearby searchlights that make the depot a target, inadequate defences---and his own growing identification with the men temporarily under his care. Tietjens, for the best of reasons, denies leave to a conscript known as 09 Morgan---only for Morgan to be hit during a German bombardment and to die, bloodily, in Tietjens' own tent. As he struggles with his impossible assignment, and with his responsibilities to the men under his command, Tietjens finds himself haunted by Morgan's fate---with the doomed young conscript becoming for Tietjens a symbol of his own emotional and moral isolation... In parallel with its angry deconstruction of the misconduct of the war by the authorities, military and civil, No More Parades is a rumination upon the social and sexual mores of its time, and the growing disconnect between the actions of Tietjens' generation and what it professes to believe. Even more so than Some Do Not..., its predecessor, No More Parades is a novel of interiority, with Ford conveying in his fragmented, staccato style Tietjens' painful awareness of his physical surroundings and the likely fate of his men, even while tracing in minute detail his thought processes as he attempts to find a path between his own sense of right and wrong and fitness, and the world of violence, cynicism and expediency in which he must survive and act. Fully aware of his own absurdity, Tietjens nevertheless continues to cling to a social code made absurd by the horrors around him, and which the rest of his generation is actively discarding like so much useless rubbish. The result is a painful irony, with a yawning gulf developing between (as his godfather, General Campion puts it) Tietjens' "positive genius for getting all sorts of things out of the most beastly muddles" and his "positive genius for getting into the most disgusting messes". Ford uses infidelity and divorce as his novel's moral fulcrum: Morgan is denied leave in order to prevent his confrontation with his wife's lover; the shell-shocked Captain Mackenzie is conversely granted divorce leave, but returns without taking action; while Tietjens himself ponders his relationship with his wife, the erratic, passionate, serially unfaithful Sylvia, and his desire - unacted upon - for Valentine Wannop... Over its second half, No More Parades shifts increasingly to Sylvia's perspective---her obsession with her husband growing in the face of his refusal to react to her provocations. Self-absorbed as always, Sylvia thinks nothing of pursuing Tietjens to France, and enacting their marital dramas in front of his fellow officers; but when she involves the foolish and egotistical but powerful General O'Hara in her cruel games, it precipitates a disaster that sees Tietjens, in spite of his unfitness, sent to the front...

    Intense dejection: endless muddles: endless follies: endless villainies. All these men given into the hands of the most cynically care-free intriguers in long corridors who made plots that harrowed the hearts of the world. All these men toys: all these agonies mere occasions for picturesque phrases to be put into politicians' speeches without heart or even intelligence. Hundreds of thousands of men tossed here and there in that sordid and gigantic mud-brownness of God, exactly as if they were nuts wilfully picked up and thrown over the shoulder by magpies... But men. Not just populations. Men you worried over there. Each man a man with a backbone, knees, breeches, braces, a rifle, a home, passions, fornications, drunks, pals, some scheme of the universe, corns, inherited diseases, a greengrocer's business, a milk walk, a paper stall, brats, a slut of a wife... The Men: the Other Ranks! And the poor ------ little officers. God help them. Vice-Chancellor's Latin Prize men...
    But to pack a million and a half of men into and round that small town was like baiting a trap for rats with a great chunk of rotten meat. The Hun planes could smell them from a hundred miles away. They could do more harm there than if they bombed a quarter of London to pieces. And the air defences there were a joke: a mad joke. They popped off, thousands of rounds, from any sort of pieces of ordnance, like schoolboys bombarding swimming rats with stones. Obviously your best trained air-defence men would be round your metropolis. But this was no joke for the sufferers.
    Heavy depression settled down more heavily upon him. The distrust of the home Cabinet, felt by then by the greater part of that army, became like physical pain. These immense sacrifices, this ocean of mental sufferings, were all undergone to further the private vanities of men who amidst these hugenesses of landscapes and forces appeared pigmies! It was the worries of all these wet millions in mud-brown that worried him. They could die, they could be massacred, by the quarter million, in shambles. But that they should be massacred without jauntiness, without confidence, with depressed brows: without parade...

Edited: Jan 6, 5:42am

Publication date: 1985
Genre: Historical drama
Read for: Potential decommission / TIOLI (prize for translation)

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer (Original title: Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders; translated by John E. Woods) - France, 1738. In the street, in the middle of a fish market, a young woman gives birth to an illegitimate child. Drawing the attention of the authorities, the woman is summarily condemned and executed for previous infanticides; while her newborn son becomes a ward of the church. He is given to a wet nurse, who soon rejects him on the grounds - inexplicable to the bewildered priest who takes him in - that he has no scent. The strange child, christened Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, is raised within the church before being apprenticed to a tanner. As he grows, he becomes aware of how different he is from other people---not only in having no bodily scent himself, but in possessing an olfactory sense of extraordinary strength and sensitivity, which allows him to identify, classify and remember each individual odour he encounters. One day, as a young man, Grenouille discovers a new and mesmerising scent: that of a certain young woman. Obsessed with possessing it, Grenouille murders the girl and stays with her until the scent has left her body. From this time he knows that merely remembering scents will no longer be sufficient. He sets himself to learning the art of perfumery, so that in future he may extract and preserve whatever scent he desires---whatever its source... Patrick Süskind's Perfume is a bizarre and often uncomfortable work of historical fiction---one self-evidently not for all tastes. The novel blends several distinct styles of writing. Süskind's depiction of 18th century France, and in particular of the contemporary techniques of perfumery, are absolutely grounded in reality and minutely observed in their detail. At the same time, the descriptions of Grenouille's abilities and his hunt for the perfect scent have a heightened realism about them - almost magic realism - in order to convey the extraordinary olfactory world in which he exists; with Süskind's prose likewise heightened and rich (and occasionally purple). There is, in addition, a very black thread of mordant humour running through the narrative, with Süskind taking an evil pleasure in (almost literally) rubbing his readers' noses in the horrors of his pre-hygiene and sanitation society, and in the contrast between the matter-of-fact vileness of day-to-day life and Grenouille's unique appreciation of the beautiful, the delicate, the rare scents that only he can detect; with this tendency finding its fullest expression in the novel's grotesquely funny twin climaxes. After describing its protagonist's attempt to live within human society, and then his complete rejection of it - each equally unsuccessful - Perfume follows Grenouille as he realises that he can no longer be satisfied with merely the memory of the murdered girl's scent: a crisis reached when he encounters the beautiful young Laure Richis, whose unique scent becomes his obsession. Determined to possess it, and possess it permanently, Grenouille sets out to develop methods by which such a scent may be extracted and preserved---his quest requiring, of course, a steady supply of raw materials...

    Grenouille garnered his first individual odour in the Hôpital de la Charité. He managed to pilfer sheets that were supposed to be burned because the journeyman sackmaker who had lain wrapped in them for two months had just died of consumption. The cloth was so drenched in the exudations of the sackmaker that it had absorbed them like an enfleurage paste and could be directly subjected to lavage. The result was eerie: right under Grenouille's nose, the sackmaker rose olfactorily from the dead, ascending from the alcohol solution, hovering there---the phantom slightly distorted by the peculiar methods of reproduction and the countless miasmas of his disease---but perfectly recognisable in space as an olfactory personage. A small man of about thirty, blond, with a bulbous nose, short limbs, flat, cheesy feet, swollen genitalia, choleric temperament, and a stale mouth odour---not a handsome man, aromatically speaking, this sackmaker, not worth being held onto for any length of time, like the puppy. And yet for one whole night Grenouille let the scent-spectre flutter around his cabin while he sniffed at him again and again, happy and deeply satisfied with the sense of power that he had won over the aura of another human being. He poured it out the next day.
    He tried one more experiment during these winter months. He discovered a deaf-mute beggar woman wandering through the town and paid her one franc to wear several different sets of rags smeared with oils and fats against her naked skin. It turned out that lamb suet, pork lard, and beef tallow, rendered many times over, combined in a ratio of two to five to three---with the addition of a small amount of virgin oil---was best for absorbing human scent.
    Grenouille let it go at that. He refrained from overpowering some whole, live person and processing him or her perfumatorily. That sort of thing would have meant risks and would have resulted in no new knowledge. He knew now he was master of the techniques needed to rob a human of his or her scent, and he knew it was unnecessary to prove this fact anew.
    Indeed, human odour was of no importance to him whatever. He could imitate human odour quite well enough with surrogates. What he coveted was the odour of certain human beings: that is, those rare humans who inspire love. These were his victims...

Edited: Jan 5, 7:51pm

Publication date: 1938
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Read for: TIOLI (title gives advice or an order)

Run! - On his way back from successfully demonstrating and selling a Rolls Royce, James Elliott gets lost in the fog. He finds himself accidentally in the grounds of a country property, and enters the house to ask directions. It is dark, and seems to be empty---until a girl runs down the stairs. Seizing James by the arm, she cries to him to run. They do run---as a bullet just misses them... The girl leads James into a hiding-place in a hayloft, where she tells him a what he considers a lot of lies; though it is clear to him, from her reluctance to go to the police among other things, that she knows who shot at them. After they go their separate ways, only to meet again at the home of James' cousin, where he learns that she is Sally West, the sister of an of school friend---and that her stories weren't just stories... One of Patricia Wentworth's standalone thrillers, Run! is an effective mix of intrigue and humour---the latter largely built around Wentworth's somewhat dour and self-satisfied Scottish hero, with whom she has quite a lot of fun. But the thriller narrative itself is serious enough, blending a treasure hunt for a hidden family heirloom with attempts on the life of Sally's young brother, Jocko, and the difficulty of spotting the guilty party, or parties, amongst the eminently respectable members of Sally's social circle. For James the matter becomes real when his professional colleague and rival is found dead in a country laneway---after taking credit for one of James' car sames and going off to meet a new client. From Sally, James learns of a family heirloom supposedly hidden by her and Jocko's late aunt, just before her death; of the letter from the Lady Clementina declaring Jocko the heir to Rere Place, her country house, and everything in it, which reached him in Switzerland; and Jocko's inexplicable, near-fatal fall almost immediately after reading the letter aloud: inexplicable, that is, unless it was not an accident... Present at the time were Sally herself; her guardian, the novelist Ambrose Sylvester; his enigmatic wife, Hildegarde; the latter's cousin, Henri Niemeyer; James' own cousin, Daphne; and her husband, "Bonzo" Strickland: among these people, Sally, Jocko and James must look for a deadly enemy...

    “Well, that’s you and Jocko, and Bonzo and Daphne, Sylvester and Mrs Sylvester and her cousin Niemeyer. How many of these people were on the ledge with Jocko when he fell?”
    “All of them,” said Sally.
    “Do you know who was nearest to him?”
    She shook her head.
    “I was in front. The last time I looked back Jocko was between Bonzo and Hildegarde. It was quite a wide ledge and there was room to pass. Daphne says she stayed behind to pick gentians---she didn’t see what happened. The ledge was very winding. Honestly, James, if he was pushed, anyone might have pushed him, and if the letter was taken out of his pocket, anyone might have taken it.” She slid back the chair and got up. “I’m glad I’ve told because I had gone over it, and over it, and over it in my mind until I’d got it all twisted up, but now I’ve told you, I can see that there isn’t anything in it. It was just an accident---it must have been.”
    “Yes? What about the letter?” said James.
    She flashed into a sudden radiant smile. “I’ve been stupid. Oh, how stupid I’ve been! Don’t you see, Jocko must have torn it up himself. Why should he keep it? Of course he tore it up. What a relief!” She snatched up her cloak and pulled it round her. “I must hurry, hurry, hurry! I want to dance now---I didn’t before! Oh, don’t you wish you were coming too? Would you like to?”
    Suddenly, violently, James did wish it. His eyes said so. His tongue said something that it had begun to say.
    “Somebody shot at us all the same. And someone did Jackson in.”
    That was what his tongue said, but next moment he could have bitten it savagely, because Sally’s smile went out and her eyes stopped shining at him. She said in a woeful voice, “I’d forgotten. I was only thinking about Jocko. You mustn’t come. We mustn’t see each other again.”
    It knocked James off his balance. He minded. That was what knocked him over---he minded frightfully...

Edited: Jan 6, 5:43am

Publication date: 1931
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Peter Kerrigan #1
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (a place you could visit in title)

Murder In Earl's Court - Peter Kerrigan is a man who - to put it politely - lives by his wits; but both his money and his luck have run out when, in desperation, he poses as a police officer and falsely accuses a man in evening clothes with a petty crime. He is hoping to be bought off, and leaves the scene in possession of twenty pounds; he also becomes convinced that something untoward is going on between his victim and a man who seemed briefly inclined to intervene. Keeping watch on the latter's house, Kerrigan sees a small, disreputable-looking individual slink away from it. When he speaks to him, he again gets more than he bargained for---ending up embroiled in a dangerous war between drug-gangs... Originally published as by "Neil Gordon", then reissued under the author's real name, A. G. Macdonell, Murder In Earl's Court is an unusual British thriller with a frankly criminal protagonist---although, being the first book in a series, it remains to be seen whether Peter Kerrigan carries on his crooked ways, or whether he gets swiftly reformed (as tends to be the case with these sorts of stories, particularly with a "good woman" in the offing). The novel's title is something of a misnomer: there is indeed, eventually, a murder in Earl's Court; but this is merely one incident in an escalatingly violent narrative, not a focus in itself. Kerrigan, as it happens, draws the line at drug-trafficking - although not at bleeding drug-traffickers via blackmail, if he can - and his attempt to exploit the growing London drug war involves him in the case of Lord Ferndell, an addicted young aristocrat deeply embroiled with the gangs, whose sister, the Lady Mary Carde, is desperate to rescue him from the consequences of his own folly. Much to his own bemusement, Kerrigan finds himself increasingly on the side of the angels---working with the spirited and determined Lady Mary as she tries to extricate her brother from his dangerous situation; partnering with Dick Towers, Lady Mary's not overly bright but devoted suitor, and learning some reluctant respect for him in the process; and finally, much to his own mortification, cooperating with the police as they try to break up the vicious criminal gangs---but chiefly to solve the Earl's Court killing, for which Lord Ferndell is tried and convicted...

    The solicitor replied for his client. "We intend to continue our inquiries on the same lines as before," he said a little stiffly.
    "Right," answered Kerrigan, "though as a matter of fact I don't think much of that firm of private detectives you're employing."
    "Bennet and Drew are the most reputable firm in the country."
    "Of course they are, bless their little hearts. Terrifically respectable. But what we want is a disreputable firm. They'd cheat us, of course, out of a hell of a lot of money, but they'd certainly be more likely to deliver the goods. And if I keep a sharp eye on them I'd be able to save you from a good deal of cheating."
    "I don't know, Mr Kerrigan," replied the solicitor coldly, "I don't know that we want you to keep an eye on anyone for us."
    "Don't be silly," returned the young man. "You can't get on without me."
    "H'm!" said the solicitor.
    Kerrigan paid no attention to this, but addressed himself to Lady Mary.
    "Lady Mary, make them be sensible. I'll work twenty hours a day till I get your brother out of jail. And I swear I'll get him out. I'm the crookedest crook you'll ever meet---"
    "Hear, hear," murmured Towers.
    "---and one result of that is that I do know my way about. I know lots and lots of people. I've got lots of ways of getting information..."

Jan 6, 4:13am

>22 lyzard: You have been helpful in my downsizing, Liz. Having read this review I know I am never going to read Perfume and my copy has gone straight to the charity shop pile, after having languished on my shelves for many years!

Edited: Jan 6, 4:35pm

>25 CDVicarage:

Glad to be of service! :D

I quite like it myself - though I'm not sure "like" is the right word - appreciate? - but a reaction like yours is perfectly understandable. It's not a book I'd ever try to persuade anyone into.

Edited: Jan 6, 6:10pm

Publication date: 1930
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Ludovic Travers #4
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (title 3 words or less)

Murder At Fenwold (US title: The Death Of Cosmo Revere) - While staying in the country, former police detective, now private investigator, John Franklin tells his friends Geoffrey Wrentham and Ludovic Travers of a strange incident which he once observed in London: a violent confrontation between three criminals---yet one of them a man whose voice and appearance suggested a high social position, prompting Franklin to mentally dub him "the Marquis". The next day, Franklin and Travers visit the ancient local church---discovering much of the history of the Revere family, including a grim prophecy carved into their pew regarding fate of the last of them. Wrentham, meanwhile, is at Fenwold Great Park conducting business with Leeke, the agent, when word comes that Cosmo Revere has been found dead in the grounds, crushed by a falling tree. The police and the doctor are sent for but, before they arrive, Wrentham takes his friends to view the body---with Franklin confirming Wrentham's suspicion that the scene has been staged... Christopher Bush's Murder At Fenwold is in some respects a classic "country house mystery", though one that depends as much upon the geography of the grounds and the details of country life, as upon the group of people gathered at Fenwold Great Park. In the first instance, and as usual to this point in his series, Bush divides up the investigation into the death of Cosmo Revere amongst his trio of protagonists; also as usual, though it is Franklin who does most of the work, it is Travers whose observations end up cracking the case. Meanwhile, Wrentham, with his detailed knowledge of the country, is the first to spot something wrong: Revere was an expert woodsman, but the tree is not cut as it should have been; and there is a smear of sandy soil on the body for which no source can be found at the scene. Travers carries the story to London, to his and Franklin's employer, Sir Francis Weston, head of the Durango Corportion, who arranges for them to stay at Fenwold Great Park. With the connivance of Revere's solicitor, who has his own suspicions, Travers is able to pose as the representative of Revere's heir, Harry Grant, who has been summoned from America; while Franklin in turn poses as Travers' confidential servant, "John Francis". Once established, they discover that Cosmo Revere was living in the centre of a tangle of motives involving his niece, Leila Forteresse, who gossip links simultaneously to Captain Leeke, the agent; Castleton, the son of the former minister, a gentleman and ne'er do well who ekes a living out of antiques; and even Mr Haddowe, the current minister. Two other interested parties are Colonel Warren, a magistrate, who was very swift to have the crime scene cleaned up, and to push through a verdict of accidental death; and George Carter, a some-time colleague of Castleton, who was seen in the woods near to the presumed time of the murder. Taking up their assignments at Fenwold, Travers and Franklin quietly set to work determining everyone's movements at the time of the murder---only to have the situation take an unexpected and dramatic lurch when Franklin becomes convinced that the Reverend Mr Haddowe is none other than the man he thinks of as "the Marquis"...

    As Franklin approached that spot in Lammas Wood it was with feelings vastly different from those of a week before. Then there had been mild interest tinged with respect, and a certain impatience at an accident which looked like spoiling the last days of a holiday.
    Now there was a vague apprehension, a sense of the unreal and a recalling with almost painful vividness of the first sight of the dead man. For one thing, he now knew intimately, if not the actors in the drama, at least those whose fortunes were most affected by it. He knew the village, and most of all he knew the Hall---that centre from which the small community radiated---and could feel something of its brooding and inherited magnificence. But above all, he felt at the moment, more than ever he had done, the presence of the sinister; of something working relentlessly, mole-like, something which could be sensed everywhere but which eluded all definite contact.
    The body of the keeper was not lying where his master had been found. The idea had been far-fetched; perhaps even a symbolic one, since Cosmo Revere had also gone out at night and had been found in the woods which Westfield alone had frequented...
    As he walked back to the village he asked himself many questions. If Westfield's absence was a legitimate one, why had he left no word? If he had been made away with, how had it been done? Had he let out an inadvertent word or made a veiled suggestion? Had he questioned Carter too closely and given him---and therefore Castleton---cause for action? And surely those visits to the cottage had been secret enough and unobserved? True there had been that half-seen movement in the hedge and that rustling sound---but that again was far from certain. But if those visits had been watched, then every movement of his own might have been watched also. Somebody knew who John Francis really was...

Jan 6, 6:26pm

July stats:

Works read: 17
TIOLI: 17, in 16 different challenges, with 1 shared read and A SWEEP

Mystery / thriller: 10
Young adult: 2
Classic: 2
Contemporary drama: 1
Historical drama: 1
Non-fiction: 1

Series works: 8
Re-reads: 2
Blog reads: 1
1932: 0
1931: 3
Virago / Persephone: 0
Potential decommission: 2

Owned: 2
Library: 0
Ebooks: 15

Male authors : female authors: 13 : 5

Oldest work: Forest Of Montalbano by Catherine Cuthbertson (1810)
Newest work: Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker (1995)


YTD stats:

Works read: 91
TIOLI: 91, in 80 different challenges, with 6 shared reads, and 1 sweep

Mystery / thriller: 51
Classic: 14
Young adult: 10
Contemporary drama: 5
Historical romance: 3
Historical drama: 3
Non-fiction: 2
Horror: 2
Humour: 1

Series works: 53
Re-reads: 11
Blog reads: 6
1932: 0
1931: 6
Virago / Persephone: 2
Potential decommission: 5

Owned: 12
Library: 18
Ebooks: 61

Male authors : female authors: anonymous authors: 59 : 32 : 1

Oldest work: The Reviv'd Fugitive: A Gallant Historical Novel by Peter Belon (1690)
Newest work: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (2019)

Edited: Jan 6, 6:28pm

Finishing my July reviewing has left me tired but happy.

Like this sloth---

Edited: Jan 6, 6:29pm

>29 lyzard: SLOTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He looks so delighted with your progress. As are we all. ;-)

Jan 6, 6:30pm

>30 rosalita:

OMG I was just posting a nudge on my other thread!! :D

Aww, thank you!

Jan 6, 6:30pm

>31 lyzard: I'm trying to keep up better this year but a nudge is never misplaced. :-)

Jan 6, 6:34pm

>32 rosalita:

Speaking of which, I assume you're not having a thread this year?

I'd be the last person to insist upon anyone else writing reviews! - but you could have one just for book listing and chatting...?

Jan 7, 3:15am

YAY! A July sloth!
Nice Sweeping there.

Edited: Jan 9, 3:56pm

>34 Helenliz:

Thank you, Helen! :)

I wish I could think the August sloth would be along any time soon...

Jan 12, 6:44pm

Publication date: 1966
Genre: Young adult
Series: The Three Investigators #6
Read for: Shared read / TIOLI (involves sunken treasure)

The Secret Of Skeleton Island - Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews are hired to participate in the making of a short film involving scuba-diving, to be filmed off the south-east Atlantic coast, where Pete's father is already working on a motion picture. The setting, Skeleton Island, has history as a pirate retreat, and rumours abound about hidden treasure. Meanwhile, on the mainland, the film crew is working at an abandoned amusement park, which some claim is haunted. When the three boys are met at the airport, they find that their reputation as detectives has proceeded them. Obeying their guide unsuspiciously, the three find themselves stranded at night on a tiny, bare island known as The Hand. They are lucky enough to be rescued by a boy called Chris, the son of a Greek fisherman, who pilots them back to shore. On the way, he tells them of his discovery of a gold coin. As Chris's boat passes the amusement park, all four boys see the carousel suddenly light up---and a misty figure riding it... Despite its typically short length, The Secret Of Skeleton Island manages to wind together four separate plot-threads, with dangerous adventures on the titular island and the hunt for pirate treasure mixed in with the haunting of the amusement park, the sabotaging of the film-crew, and the local treatment of Chris Markos, who is subjected to the worst sort of "racial profiling" and blamed for everything that is going wrong in the area. The visiting boys, however, champion Chris's cause, and assist him in his hunt for the lost treasure of the infamous "Captain One-Ear": a venture that nearly ends up up costing Chris, Pete and Bob their lives... Meanwhile, having fallen ill, Jupiter's activities are chiefly confined to lying around, asking questions, and thinking: activities which finally lead him to a coherent theory of the wave of troubles, natural and apparently supernatural, afflicting the area, and which tie back not to pirate treasure, but a more prosaic crime committed some ten years before...

    Pete sighed. "You're always so logical. But I suppose you're right. For Chris's sake, though, I hope he finds a lot more so that he can take his father back to Greece."
    The mention of Chris reminded them of his plight, and they became gloomy again. But there was nothing they could do, and soon they went to bed.
    Pete and Bob fell asleep right away. Jupiter, however, couldn't sleep. his mind was turning over with special sharpness now. There was still another mystery to be figured out. He had all the facts, he was sure, if only he could put them together correctly.
    He thought about old Captain One-Ear, fooling the British by dumping his treasure down the blow-hole. Then, abruptly, a bit of conversation he had heard and almost forgotten came back to him. And all of a sudden something clicked into place.
    "That's it!" he exclaimed, sitting up suddenly. "Ten years. That's what happened. It has to be. Bob, Pete, wake up!"
    The other two awoke, and yawned sleepily. "What is it, Jupe?' asked Pete. "A nightmare?"
    "No," said Jupiter. "You two have to get your clothes on and row out to Skeleton Island. I've deduced the real secret of the island!"

Jan 12, 9:16pm

>36 lyzard: I am bookmarking these reviews until I get caught up to this spot in the series, Liz, but I look forward to reading your thoughts when I do!

Jan 12, 10:42pm

>37 rosalita:

The more visits, the better! :)

Jan 16, 4:28pm

Best-selling books in the United States for 1971:

1. Wheels by Arthur Hailey
2. The Exorcist by William P. Blatty
3. The Passions of the Mind by Irving Stone
4. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
5. The Betsy by Harold Robbins
6. Message from Malaga by Helen MacInnes
7. The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
8. The Drifters by James A. Michener
9. The Other by Tom Tryon
10. Rabbit Redux by John Updike

In 1971, "literature" largely took a back seat to popular fiction.

John Updike would no doubt resent that conclusion: Rabbit Redux is the second work in his series featuring Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a star athlete in high school, whose adult world is crumbling around him.

Meanwhile, Irving Stone's The Passions of the Mind is a biographical novel about Sigmund Freud, covering his life from his student days to when he fled Austria to escape the Nazis.

Herman Wouk's The Winds of War addresses WWII up to December 1941, as seen through the eyes of an American naval family. James A. Michener's The Drifters is a war novel of a very different kind, following a handful of alienated Vietnam-era young people as they try to find a place in the world.

Helen Macinnes's Message from Malaga is a Cold War thriller about an American businessman drawn into a crisis involving a Cuban defector; while Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal deals with a French dissident group hiring an assassin to kill Charles de Gaulle.

Set in small-town Connecticut in the 1930s, Tom Tryon's The Other is the archetypal "evil twin" story, as a well-meaning young boy tries to keep his sociopathic brother under control. William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist is the story of a young girl seemingly possessed, and the efforts of two priests to reclaim her.

But finally, cars won the day: Harold Robbins' The Betsy is about the elderly head of an automotive firm overseeing one final project, the designing and building of a new kind of car.

The best-selling book of 1971, however, was Arthur Hailey's broader take on the automotive industry, Wheels.

Edited: Jan 16, 4:35pm

This was Arthur Hailey's second time at the top of the best-seller lists, having hit #1 with Airport in 1968.

My overview of his career and my review of that novel may be found here.

Edited: Jan 16, 5:38pm

Publication date: 1971
Genre: Contemporary drama
Read for: Best-seller challenge

Wheels - Caught in a battle with the giants of the American automotive industry - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler - the smaller American Motors company pins its hopes to its new secret design, the Orion. For Adam Trenton, AM's Vice-President of Public Relations, the project has become the focus to his life---to the dismay and frustration of his much-younger wife, Erica. The same is true for Brett DeLosanto, of the company's Design-Styling Center, who has overseen the shaping of the Orion: it is an absorbing project, but sometimes Brett cannot help mourning his old dreams of a life in art. On the factory floor, the AM production lines turn out completed cars at an almost frightening rate, under the watchful eye of assistant plant manager, Matt Zaleski; but watchful as he is, Zaleski is all too aware of the potential for trouble on the floor: industrial action, petty and serious crime, and tense race relations combine to impact the rate and quality of production. When Rollie Knight, a former criminal hired under the company's social assistance program, is put to work on the floor, he finds there opportunity, danger and temptation... Following the success of Airport, with its dissection of the successes and failures of the aviation industry, Arthur Hailey returned, in effect, to the same well for this equally comprehensive examination of the contemporary automotive industry. To my mind, he does not succeed as well here---although to be fair this may be due to my own lack of interest in the subject. That said, Hailey didn't succeed in making me interested---at least, not in the challenges and woes, professional and personal, of the higher-ups in the industry, as chiefly represented by Adam Trenton; nor in making me understand the characters' body-and-soul devotion to the industry. I was also disappointed that, after an opening introducing a Ralph Nader expy (and the executives' hatred thereof), the issues raised around safety, quality and pollution didn't play more of a role in the overall narrative, as this is certainly as relevant now as it was then. Wheels is far more successful when it lowers its eyes to the factory floor. Its descriptions of production-line manufacturing are both gripping and terrifying, both with respect to the conditions under which the workers must operate, and in light of Hailey's no doubt well-researched revelations about corner-cutting and compromise along the way. However, to my mind the real success of Wheels has nothing to do with the automotive industry per se, but is rather the novel's depiction of race relations post the 1967 Detroit riots, and the enormity of the social issues confronting the city's black population. Via Rollie Knight, as unheroic and unpromising a character as can well be imagined, yet one who, when given a chance, trembles on the verge of making something of himself in spite of everything, Hailey makes us feel the enormity of the problems faced by a society where endemic poverty and endemic crime are a way of life. Set against this brutal reality, the problems of the novels other focus characters - the marital woes of Adam and Erica Trention, and the thwarted ambitions of Brett DeLosanto - are petty indeed.

    With the car after that he managed to get two bolts in and made a pass at tightening them, though he wasn't sure how well. With the one after that, he did better; also the car following. He was getting the knack of using the wrench, though he found it heavy. He was sweating and he had skinned his hands again.
    It was not until the fifth car gone by that he remembered the third bolt he was supposed to insert in the trunk.
    Alarmed, Rollie looked around him. No one had noticed.
    At adjoining work positions, on either side of the line, two men were installing wheels. Intent on their own tasks, neither paid the slightest heed to Rollie. He called to one, "Hey! I left some bolts out."
    Without looking up, the worker shouted back, "Forget it! Get the next one. Repair guys'll catch the others down the line. Momentarily he lifted his head and laughed. "Maybe."
    Rollie began inserting the third bolt through each car trunk to the chassis. He had to increase his pace to do it. It was also necessary to go bodily into the trunk and, emerging the second time, he hit his head on the deck lid. The blow half-stunned him, and he would have liked to rest, but the next car kept coming and he worked on it in a daze.
    He was learning fast: first, the pace of the line was faster than it seemed; second, even more compelling than the speed was its relentlessness. The line came on, and on, and on, unceasing, unyielding, impervious to human weakness or appeal. It was like a tide which nothing stopped except a half-hour lunch break, the end of a shift, or sabotage.
    Rollie became a saboteur on his second day...

Jan 23, 5:03am

Publication date: 1923
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Pennington Wise #7
Read For: Series reading / TIOLI (1st sentence, 7 words or fewer)

The Affair At Flower Acres - After two years abroad, Malcolm Finley returns to the United States---and to the realisation that he is still in love with Nancy Kent, now Mrs Raynor. Learning that Nancy is unhappy in her, to him, inexplicable marriage, Finley persuades a reluctant Ezra Goddard to angle for an invitation for him to join an upcoming gathering at Flower Acres, the Raynors' estate on Long Island. Goddard does so reluctantly: to his mind, Douglas Raynor's easy acquiescence spells trouble... The household at Flower Acres also includes Miss Mattie, Raynor's sister; Orville Kent, Nancy's troubled brother; and Eva Turner, the latest in a series of dieticians, there to help Raynor with his health. Other visitors are Dolly Fay, a young neighbour, and Lionel Raynor, Douglas's son from his first marriage. Finley is not long in concluding that Nancy is indeed unhappy, and that Raynor takes pleasure in tormenting and attempting to provoke her. The tension grows---and it ends in murder... The Affair At Flower Acres begins promisingly but then peters out, like rather too many of Carolyn Wells' mysteries, and for the usual reasons. Once again, Wells devotes most of her narrative to her characters throwing accusations at one another, and to the failure of the official investigator - the local police detective, Dobbins - to get anywhere. However, the opening phase of the novel, with Raynor deliberately goading his wife and the man he believes to be her lover, has a nasty believability about it; while the murder itself is well set up, with the odious Raynor shot dead in a pavilion with no less than four doors. Rushing in at one - apparently - Eva Turner finds Nancy going either in or out another, and Finley standing over the body with a gun in his hand. While Detective Dobbins hesitates - Finley? Nancy? Finley and Nancy? - the medical examiner throws a spanner in the works via his announcement that Douglas Raynor's health issues were the result of arsenic poisoning... Alas, from here it's downhill all the way, with improbable explanations and behaviour abounding, and secrets and motives coming out of the woodwork, until Ezra Goddard takes the step of calling in private investigator, Pennington Wise, who arrives with his teenage sidekick, Zizi, to discover that the case has expanded yet again to incorporate a bout of will-tampering. Retaking everyone's statements and checking their movements, Wise and Zizi soon draw their separate conclusions...

    "I'll promise this, Mr Kent," said Pennington Wise. "I'll promise to tell you first of all, when I have learned the identity of the real criminal. And I will tell you within the twenty-hour hours..."
    "I know what ails that Kent man," Zizi said as they walked away, and went for a little stroll in the gardens. "He has no sense of humour."
    "My word, Zizi! Do you call this an occasion for an exhibition of a sense of humour?"
    "Not precisely, but I mean he couldn't even see how funny he was, bargaining with you to let him know when the psychological moment had arrived for him to commit perjury to save his sister,---and not only that, but he can't see that he can't be accused and convicted of a crime which he cheerfully admits he only pretends to have committed."
    "Your English is nearly as involved as his plans! Now, Zizi, the will business must be looked into next,---and settled before we can accuse the beautiful widow."
    "Don't, Penny,---it hurts me when you speak like that."
    "Didn't she shoot her husband?"
    "No,---a thousand times no!"
    "Who did, then?"
    "You know well enough, Penny Wise!"

Jan 23, 6:11pm

Publication date: 1893
Genre: Young adult
Series: Elsie Dinsmore #19
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (title refers to a woman)

Elsie At Ion - In spite of its title, this 19th entry in Martha Finley's series finds Elsie Dinsmore Travilla pretty much everywhere but Ion (the property in Virginia inherited from her late husband). The early stages find the extended family travelling north by yacht, to visit Max Raymond at Annapolis. They then move on to Philadelphia; then to Pleasant Plains, Pennsylvania, to visit their relatives, the Keiths; then to Princeton, to attend commencement and visit with Herbert and Harold Travilla; before returning home and embarking on a series of house-parties at the various estates---Woodburn, Fairview, Roselands and the Laurels, as well as Ion. There's not much point to all this moving around---and even less to the excruciatingly long "humorous" scenes involving Elsie's Scottish cousin, Ronald Lilburn, and his (or rather, Martha Finley's) obsession with ventriloquism, which go on literally for chapters. As far as plot goes, Elsie At Ion resurrects the anti-Mormonism of the earlier series entries, by bringing back into the narrative Marian McAlpine, who was befriended by Captain Raymond and his children when they travelled west in Elsie And The Raymonds, and who has now fled the authority of her converted father. The families are still arguing over who will take her in when it is discovered that Marian's late mother was a cousin of Ronald Lilburn's, making her a connection of the Dinsmore-Travilla clan too. Another family excursion follows, with the clan removing for the summer to a series of beach-side cottages in Massachusetts. The question of Marian's permanent home is then settled when she is courted and won by Arthur Conly, the family's physician-cousin; but her happiness is threatened when she learns that her father has discovered her whereabouts, and intends resuming his authority over her---by which he means forcing her into a Mormon marriage...

    Mary had scarcely ceased speaking when a loud peal from the door-bell startled every one. Harold stepped out to the hall to answer it. There stood a tall, broad-shouldered man, who accosted him with, “How do you do, sir? I understand that this is the house occupied by Mrs Travilla, Captain Raymond, and others.”
    “Mrs Travilla is here; Captain Raymond is not,” returned Harold. “May I inquire what is your errand to either of them?”
    “Yes. I understand that they are harboring here a daughter of mine, considerably under age, who ran away from me some months ago. I have come to take possession of her; and let me say I intend to do so, let who will object.”
    “She is not here,” answered Harold.
    At that the man pushed him suddenly and rudely aside and walked boldly and defiantly into the parlor. Mr Lilburn instantly rose and faced him. “William McAlpine, what brings you here?” he asked in stern tones.
    “Is it you, Ronald Lilburn?” exclaimed the other in astonishment. “I thought you were in auld Scotland and probably under the sod long ere this. And is it you that’s carried off my bairn?”
    “I have never seen Mormon land and didna carry her off,” was Mr Lilburn’s reply in a tone full of scorn and contempt; “but if I’d had the chance I wad hae rescued her at the risk o’ my life from sic a fate as you---unnatural beast o’ a mon that ye are---had prepared for her. You are worse than a heathen, William McAlpine, wi’ your three or four wives; and you broke the heart o’ Marian’s mither, my ain sweet cousin, who demeaned hersel’ to marry you---a mean fellow not fit to wipe the dust from her shoon.”
    At that the man turned white with passion and lifted his clinched fist as if about to strike the old gentleman down...

Jan 25, 10:47pm

Publication date: 1958 / 1981
Genre: Contemporary drama
Read for: Random reading self-challenge

To The Islands - At an isolated Anglican mission in the far north-west of Australia, having tendered his resignation, Father Heriot can only wait for his superiors to find someone they consider a suitable replacement. As his younger staff members, appointed or volunteer, go about their duties, Heriot finds himself overwhelmed by a sense of failure---and by the crumbling of his faith. Matters come to a head when several of the young aboriginal men who live and work at the mission begin to defy Heriot's authority. When Rex, whom Heriot blames for the death of his god-daughter, Esther, returns to his family at the mission and refuses to leave, the escalating tension between himself and the priest leads to a sudden outbreak of violence that leaves the minister with blood on his hands and a consciousness of sin that will require no ordinary expiation... Randolph Stow was only twenty-two when he wrote this remarkable novel about ageing, purpose and faith: a tale set against one of the most evocative portraits of the Australian outback ever attempted, and which shows a deep understanding of the land itself and of the relationship between the native population and their country. To The Islands is a novel that has since only gained in importance as perspective upon, and attitudes towards, the position of the indigenous population and the history of race relations in this country have shifted and evolved. In a sense, Randolph Stow here positions himself as "part of the problem": his own attitude towards the outback missions that took on the task of "civilising" the displaced aboriginals whose traditional way of life was in the process of being destroyed is largely positive: accepting, as was widely the case at the time, that the white government was obliged to "do something" to address the situation; but lacking the historical perspective to recognise that these various attempts to counter the damage were in their way every bit as destructive. Indeed, one indelible touch in this novel is its image of the much younger Father Heriot "spreading civilisation with a stock-whip"; while the mission itself operates in the shadow of a massacre carried out years before by the local troopers. (In 1981, Stow slightly revised his text to remove some of the broader commentary about the missions, which by then had become irrelevant.) Overall, however, To The Islands is the story of one man's journey, literal and figurative, into the depths of his soul. Ironically, in his great crisis it is not the white man's faith to which he has devoted his life that sustains Heriot, but the image of "the islands" - perhaps real, perhaps mythical - which form one aspect of the aboriginal concept of the afterlife, and which become the focus of Heriot's parallel external and internal journeys. Physically and mentally exhausted, his belief drowning in feelings of pessimism and futility, Heriot undergoes a series of crises that culminate in his violent confrontation with Rex. Wracked with guilt, the minister flees on horseback, involuntarily accompanied by the aboriginal known as Justin, who was raised at the mission, and who stubbornly refuses to leave him. The two men head ever deeper into the remote outback, where the vast emptiness and silence of the landscape leaves Heriot with no escape from himself and the memory of his choices...

     They came to a valley in the foothills, the floor covered with broken rocks, the sides cliff. Thick grass grew up through the rocks, signs of a stream, but the water was overgrown and probably foul and the source was not to be seen.
     "Might be pool up there," Justin said, pointing. "Better we go up there and camp now."
     Heriot said nothing. He was in a daze, tired to the bones, and the stillness racked him like an eternally recurring noise. So lulled, so deadened, he followed Justin without a word as the brown man turned his horse across the valley floor to the smooth shelves of rock at the base of the cliffs.
     They rode in a silence relieved only by the rattle of stones from the horses' hoofs. Trees, grass, and water were as still as death, and beyond them there was nothing but rock. They passed a stretch of rock pitted and wrinkled like lava. How old is this country? Heriot wondered. But it's not old, it's just born, the sea has never been over it, it was created yesterday, dead as the moon. Let the sea some day come up and drown it and fish come swimming out of the rock-pigeons' holes. I will ride with my hair green and wild, through the canyons of the sea...

Edited: Feb 13, 5:17pm

Publication date: 1912
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Arsène Lupin #5
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI {about someone who can't stop bragging}

The Crystal Stopper - Arsène Lupin, along with two subordinates, attempts a burglary at the house of a powerful and wealthy politician, Deputy Daubrecq. However, he soon realises that his companions have their own agenda; and to his horror, the episode ends in murder... Lupin manages to escape, but must leave his companions behind---swearing, however, that at all costs he will rescue the innocent Gilbert from prison. Once safe, he inspects the small object that drove them to such extremes, and discovers to his bewilderment that it is the crystal stopper of a decanter. Furthermore, Lupin himself is then robbed of the object: what its value can be, he is unable to imagine; but he realises that the mystery must revolve around Daubrecq---who soon reveals himself as the most dangerous and formidable opponent Lupin has ever faced... The weird "devolution" of Maurice Leblanc's gentleman-burglar, Arsène Lupin, continues (and hopefully reaches its nadir) in The Crystal Stopper. From the light-hearted anti-hero of his original conception, Lupin has since become a figure of tragedy, which much of the fun drained out of his adventures; but here is something new and even more unwelcome, with Lupin repeatedly outsmarted, defeated and humiliated by Daubrecq---and even his eventual triumph feeling like an authorial contrivance, rather than something earned. The results are frustrating and even depressing. The narrative of The Crystal Stopper is two-pronged. Lupin promises upon his honour to rescue young Gilbert, condemned as one of the murderers of Daubrecq's valet; but as the execution date draws nearer, Lupin struggles to find a way to keep his word and save the young man's life. Meanwhile, Lupin discovers that Daubrecq is a blackmailer, who has built his position and fortune on the misery of others, and has a number of prominent individuals in his grip. Lupin is thrown into partnership with a woman called Clarisse, who has reasons even deeper than his own for hating Daubrecq. Years before she rejected him, to marry Victorien Mergy; and since that time has been subject to the politician's vicious campaign of revenge, which ended in her husband's suicide and the ruin of her son: a young man who now hides his true identity under the name "Gilbert". With time running desperately short, Lupin and Clarisse join forces to rescue Gilbert, and to unravel the mystery of the crystal stopper...

    Lupin hesitated. He would have liked to talk big and to come out with a farewell phrase, a parting speech, like an actor making a showy exit from the stage, and at least to disappear with the honours of war. But his defeat was so pitiable that he could think of nothing better than to bang his hat on his head and stamp his feet as he followed the portress down the hall. It was a poor revenge.
    “You rascally beggar!” he shouted, once he was outside the door, shaking his fist at Daubrecq’s windows. “Wretch, scum of the earth, deputy, you shall pay for this!... Oh, he allows himself...! Oh, he has the cheek to...! Well, I swear to you, my fine fellow, that, one of these days...”
    He was foaming with rage, all the more as, in his innermost heart, he recognised the strength of his new enemy and could not deny the masterly fashion in which he had managed this business. Daubrecq’s coolness, the assurance with which he hoaxed the police-officials, the contempt with which he lent himself to their visits at his house and, above all, his wonderful self-possession, his easy bearing and the impertinence of his conduct in the presence of the ninth person who was spying on him: all this denoted a man of character, a strong man, with a well-balanced mind, lucid, bold, sure of himself and of the cards in his hand.
    But what were those cards? What game was he playing? Who held the stakes? And how did the players stand on either side? Lupin could not tell. Knowing nothing, he flung himself headlong into the thick of the fray, between adversaries desperately involved, though he himself was in total ignorance of their positions, their weapons, their resources and their secret plans. For, when all was said, he could not admit that the object of all those efforts was to obtain possession of a crystal stopper!

Feb 13, 6:14pm

Publication date: 1913
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Arsène Lupin #6
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI {unrealistic illustration on cover}

The Confessions Of Arsène Lupin - Possibly Maurice Leblanc realised that he had gone too far in The Crystal Stopper, dragging down his anti-hero and sucking all the fun out of his series; because this follow-up work is far more (though not entirely) in tune with the earliest and much lighter-hearted entries in his series---and with the original concept of the character of Arsène Lupin. Significantly, however (and as per the quote below), the adventures recounted here in the form of short stories all took place before the far more serious tales that followed; so I won't get my hopes up yet that the glummer works are gone for good. The Confessions Of Arsène Lupin consists of ten short stories, supposedly as told to Lupin's unnamed biographer (who occupies the same position here as Dr Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories that inspired these). In Two Hundred Thousand Francs Reward!, Lupin interests himself in the case of a notorious baroness, who has disappeared after robbing her own husband of his fortune, and of a cache of jewels that she obtained on loan under a promise to buy... In The Wedding-Ring, Lupin's chivalry is stirred by the case of a woman with a brutal husband, who has taken her young son from her and plans to divorce her on a false charge of adultery... In The Sign Of The Shadow, Lupin becomes one of a party hunting for a long-lost treasure... In The Infernal Trap, a woman who blames Lupin for the death of her husband plots a ghastly revenge... In The Red Silk Scarf, Lupin teams up with his old enemy, Inspector Ganimard, to solve a murder; though as Ganimard suspects, there is more to the case than meets the eye... In Shadowed By Death, Lupin comes to the rescue of a young woman whose life is sought by an unknown enemy... In A Tragedy In The Forest Of Morgues, Lupin intervenes in the case of an isolated village terrorised by a strange killer... In Lupin's Marriage, Lupin announces in the newspapers his upcoming marriage to a wealthy and aristocratic young woman---who he has never met... In The Invisible Prisoner, after becoming trapped within the high walls of a victim's property, Lupin begins a lengthy game of cat-and-mouse... In Edith Swan-Neck, when Lupin is thwarted in his attempt to steal a valuable tapestry, he retaliates with a threat to steal the entire set of twelve...

    "Lupin," I said, "tell me something about yourself."
    "Why, what would you have me tell you? Everybody knows my life!" replied Lupin, who lay drowsing on the sofa in my study.
    "Nobody knows it!" I protested. "People know from your letters in the newspapers that you were mixed up in this case, that you started that case. But the part which you played in it all, the plain facts of the story, the upshot of the mystery: these are things of which they know nothing."
    "Pooh! A heap of uninteresting twaddle!"
    "What! Your present of fifty thousand francs to Nicolas Dugrival's wife! Do you call that uninteresting? And what about the way in which you solved the puzzle of the three pictures?"
    Lupin laughed: "Yes, that was a queer puzzle, certainly. I can suggest a title for you if you like: what do you say to The Sign of the Shadow?"
    "And your successes in society and with the fair sex?" I continued. "The dashing Arsène's love-affairs!... And the clue to your good actions? Those chapters in your life to which you have so often alluded under the names of The Wedding-Ring, Shadowed by Death, and so on!... Why delay these confidences and confessions, my dear Lupin?... Come, do what I ask you!..."
    It was at the time when Lupin, though already famous, had not yet fought his biggest battles; the time that preceded the great adventures of The Hollow Needle and 813. He had not yet dreamt of annexing the accumulated treasures of the French Royal House, nor of changing the map of Europe under the Kaiser's nose: he contented himself with milder surprises and humbler profits, making his daily effort, doing evil from day to day and doing a little good as well, naturally and for the love of the thing, like a whimsical and compassionate Don Quixote...

Edited: Feb 13, 11:35pm

>41 lyzard: Yikes, I'm behind. I thinkI liked Wheels better than you did, but agree that it's not as strong as Airport, though the main thing I missed was a thriller ending. I also agree that the treatment of race was the book's strongest theme, with a perspective that'd probably get it banned in Tennessee still today.

Also, I'm impressed how you keep on with the Elsie books. Fu Manchu has nothing on that series.

Edited: Feb 14, 1:41am

>47 swynn:

You're not the only one. :D

It has its points but I found it less consistently engaging than Airport. However the racial aspects make it a pretty valuable document IMO.

Would that they offered anything as interesting as a marmoset! Or even a volcano laboratory. But I'm in the home stretch now and determined to get the (excuse me, Elsie) GODDAMN THINGS FINISHED.

Feb 14, 4:52pm

Publication date: 1926
Genre: Contemporary drama
Series: The Forsyte Saga #5
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI {traditional anniversary gift in title}

The Silver Spoon - Although their marriage has stabilised since the birth of their son, Christopher, both Michael and Fleur Mont struggle to find a greater purpose in life. Fleur's discontent is further stirred by a visit from Francis Wilmot, Jon Forsyte's brother-in-law, who brings news of Jon, his wife, Anne, and his mother, Irene; and who is in turn immediately attracted to Fleur. Michael, newly elected to Parliament, tries to walk a line between party and work of real significance to himself, and adopts the creed of "Foggartism", which tries to address poverty, unemployment and England's future---but soon finds himself looked at askance as an unrealistic idealist. Soames Forsyte, meanwhile, is increasingly bewildered by the changing mores of the post-war world. When he overhears a guest in Fleur's house making a disparaging remark about her, he reacts instantly---and instigates a crisis that will bring his daughter's fragile social standing crashing down... While all of John Galsworthy's Forsyte novels paint a picture of a way of life long passed, The Silver Spoon is perhaps the hardest for the reader to embrace---chiefly because of its evident sympathy with things and people that, from this distance, seems taken for granted rather than earned. Even Michael's concern for his country takes on an unpleasant edge, when his plans involve a blithe exploitation of "the colonies", and reveal a profound ignorance of the working-class people at their heart, for whose good he believes himself to be striving. As always, however, the narrative's overriding exasperation is its men's worship of the brittle and superficial Fleur, in which, in this case, Soames and Michael are joined by Francis Wilmot. When Soames' interference at Fleur's party, after he overhears one of her social rivals refer to her as a snob, brings disaster upon his daughter's head, it is not at all clear how the reader is expected to react: Fleur is a snob, a "lion-hunter" in her society's own terms, whose pursuit of social prominence via the prominence of others seems hollow and pathetic in about equal measure. Frankly, it is difficult not to take a certain evil pleasure in things, when this initially trivial incident escalates into a major social scandal, and then a lawsuit that exposes Fleur equally to her society and to herself. Fleur's crisis coincides with Michael's own, when his experiments in Foggartism lead equally to failure and exposure; until finally, retreat seems the only option for both of them...

    In spite of assumed levity, Michael had been hit. The knowledge that his adored one had the collector’s habit, and flitted, alluring, among the profitable, had, so far, caused him only indulgent wonder. But now it seemed more than an amusing foible. The swiftness with which she turned her smile off and on as though controlled by a switch under her shingled hair; the quick turns of her neck, so charming and exposed; the clever roving, disguised so well but not quite well enough, of the pretty eyes; the droop and flutter of their white lids; the expressive hands grasping, if one could so call such slim and dainty apprehensions, her career---all this suddenly caused Michael pain. Still she was doing it for him and Kit! French women, they said, co-operated with their husbands in the family career. It was the French blood in her. Or perhaps just idealism, the desire to have and be the best of whatever bunch there was about! Thus Michael, loyally. But his uneasy eyes roved from face to face of the Wednesday gathering, trying to detect signs of quizzicality.
    Soames followed another method. His mind, indeed, was uncomplicated by the currents awash in that of one who goes to bed with the object of his criticism. For him there was no reason why Fleur should not know as many aristocrats, Labour members, painters, ambassadors, young fools, and even writing fellows, as might flutter her fancy. The higher up they were, the less likely, he thought with a certain naïveté, they would be to borrow money or get her into a mess. His daughter was as good or better than any of them, and his deep pride was stung to the quick by the notion that people should think she had to claw and scrape to get them round her. It was not she who was after them, but they who were after her! Standing under the Fragonard which he had given her, grizzled, neatly moustached, close-faced, chinny, with a gaze concentrated on nothing in particular, as of one who has looked over much and found little in it, he might have been one of her ambassadors.
    A young woman, with red-gold hair, about an inch long on her de-shingled neck, came and stood with her back to him, beside a soft man, who kept washing his hands. Soames could hear every word of their talk.
    “Isn’t the little Mont amusing? Look at her now, with ‘Don Fernando’---you’d think he was her only joy. Ah! There’s young Bashly! Off she goes. She’s a born little snob. But that doesn’t make this a ‘salon’ as she thinks. To found a ‘salon’ you want personality, and wit, and the ‘don’t care a damn’ spirit. She hasn’t got a scrap. Besides, who is she...?”

Edited: Feb 14, 5:11pm

Publication date: 1927
Genre: Contemporary drama
Series: The Forsyte Saga #5.1
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI {author read with past 3 months}

Passers By - This is one of John Galsworthy's "interludes", short stories that link the major episodes in his Forsyte Saga, and frankly a far more powerful and engaging piece of writing than the preceding novel. Having beat a retreat from a London in the face of their separate disasters, Fleur and Michael Mont take a world trip in company with Soames Forsyte, the last leg of which finds them in Washington DC. To Soames' horror, he discovers that his former wife, Irene, her son, Jon, and Jon's wife, Anne, are not only in Washington, but staying at the same hotel---and begins a frantic campaign to avoid an encounter... Much of the Forsyte Saga is exasperating in its own way, but Passers By is so by the very skill of its writing, which places the reader squarely within the consciousness of Soames Forsyte - not a place I want to be - and forces upon them every nuance of his consternation, every memory of the past, and every fear for the future of his daughter...

    He closed his eyes, and instantly saw Irene in her emerald-green dinner-gown, standing in the Park Lane hall, first feast after their honeymoon, waiting to be cloaked! Why did such pictures come back before closed eyes---pictures without rhyme or reason? Irene brushing her hair---grey now, of course! As he was seventy, she must be nearly sixty-two! How time went; Hair feuille morte---old Aunt Juley used to call it with a certain pride in having picked up the expression---and eyes so velvet dark! Ah! but handsome was as handsome did! Still---who could say! Perhaps, if he had known how to express his feelings! If he had understood music! If she hadn’t so excited his senses! Perhaps---oh, perhaps your grandmother! No riddling that out! And here---of all places. A tricksy business! Was one never to forget?
    Fleur went to pack and dress. Dinner came up. Michael spoke of having met a refreshing young couple at Mount Vernon, “an Englishman; he said Mount Vernon made him awfully homesick.”
    “What was his name, Michael?”
    “Name? I didn’t ask. Why?”
    “Oh! I don’t know. I thought you might have.”
    Soames breathed again. He had seen her prick her ears. Give it a chance, and her feeling for that boy of Irene’s would flare up again. It was in the blood!

Feb 14, 6:06pm

Publication date: 1928
Genre: Contemporary drama
Series: The Forsyte Saga #6
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI {from a 'What should you borrow?' list}

Swan Song - In 1926, as London is gripped by the General Strike, Soames Forsyte's own attention is focused upon the news that Jon Forsyte is back in England. He knows it is only a matter of time before his daughter, Fleur Mont, also hears the news: how will she react...? The strike offers Fleur a chance to show her best side, one that revels in overcoming immediate challenges and is capable of hard work and sacrifice. She co-founds and helps run a campaign for the replacement railway workers---one of whom, she discovers, is Jon. Their inevitable meeting is warm and amicable; there is an intention on both parts to just "be friends"; but as time goes on, Fleur's memories of the past begin to dominate her, and she institutes a reckless pursuit of Jon, heedless of her marriage and his... The sixth novel in John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga, the third in his post-WWI 'Modern Comedy' trilogy, Swan Song is memorable chiefly for the shocking and audacious stroke with which it concludes. The build-up to that point, however, features the series' usual exasperations and a number of new ones; though it is also by far the most "Forsyte" novel we have had for some time, reintroducing the characters of Winifred Dartie, her son, Val, and his wife, Holly; and the erratic June Forsyte who, like her uncle Soames, has her own painful memories overlying her fears regarding Jon and Fleur: the terror that history might repeat itself. The use of the General Strike as a backdrop to the initial stages of Swan Song is fascinating as history, but galling for the novel's entire sympathy with the upper classes. Soon enough, however, the focus switches to the meeting, for the first time since their brutal parting in To Let, of Jon Forsyte and Fleur Mont---both now married to other people. The reader has been aware all along of the ambiguous nature of Fleur's relationship with her husband, Michael, and the persistence of her feeling for Jon; though (whether intentionally on Galsworthy's part or not), there is also a sense that this feeling is less "real" than the consequence of their separation being the first and almost only time in her life that Fleur was thwarted in anything: the first time she ever heard "no". As he pursues his parliamentary career, initially unaware of danger, Michael Mont learns for the first time of the relationship that once existed between Jon and Fleur, and must absorb the fact that when she married him, she was probably still in love with another man. For Jon, meanwhile, returning to England means coming home: with the wholehearted concurrence of his American wife, Anne, he plans to purchase a farm and settle down. Jon is confident that his feelings for Fleur are a thing of the past; but as their meetings grow more frequent, his own memories are stirred. It is Fleur, however, who finally throws caution to the wind---initiating a dogged and calculated pursuit of Jon that finally brings disaster upon all those concerned...

    The ball-room was somewhat detached, and Soames went down a corridor. At its end he came on a twirl of sound and colour. They were hard at it, “dolled up” to the nines---Mephistopheleses, ladies of Spain, Italian peasants, pierrots. His bewildered eyes with difficulty took in the strutting, wheeling mass; his bewildered ears decided that the tune was trying to be a waltz. He remembered that the waltz was in three-time, remembered the waltz of olden days---too well---that dance at Roger’s, and Irene, his own wife, waltzing in the arms of young Bosinney; to this day remembered the look on her face, the rise and fall of her breast, the scent of the gardenias she was wearing, and that fellow’s face when she raised to his her dark eyes---lost to all but themselves and their guilty enjoyment, remembered the balcony on which he had refuged from that sight, and the policeman down below him on the strip of red carpet from house to street.
    “ ‘Always’---good tune!” said someone behind his ears.
    Not bad, certainly---a sort of sweetness in it. His eyes, from behind the neck of a large lady who seemed trying to be a fairy, roved again among the dancers. What! Over there! Fleur! Fleur in her Goya dress, grape-coloured---“La Vendimia---the Vintage”---floating out from her knees, with her face close to the face of a sheik, and his face close to hers. Fleur! And that sheik, that Moor in a dress all white and flowing! In Soames a groan was converted to a cough. Those two! So close---so---so lost---it seemed to him! As Irene with Bosinney, so she with that young Jon! They passed, not seeing him behind the fairy’s competent bulk. Soames’ eyes tracked them through the shifting, yawing throng. Round again they came---her eyes so nearly closed that he hardly knew them; and young Jon’s over her fichued shoulder, deepset and staring. Where was the fellow’s wife? And just then Soames caught sight of her, dancing, too, but looking back at them---a nymph all trailing green, the eyes surprised, and jealous. No wonder, since under her very gaze was Fleur’s swinging skirt, the rise and falling of her breast, the languor in her eyes! “Always!” Would they never stop that cursed tune, stop those two, who with every bar seemed to cling closer and closer! And, fearful lest he should be seen, Soames turned away and mounted slowly to his room...

Feb 14, 6:10pm

Wow, look at you winging your way through the Forsyte saga! I hope for your sake they go down easier — and are less numerous — than Elsie ...

Feb 14, 7:34pm

>52 rosalita:

For these catch-ups I find doing series works back-to-back is easier. I'm hoping to get to the Miss Silvers one of these days! :D

Almost everything goes down easier than Elsie...

Feb 14, 8:54pm

>53 lyzard: I'm glad you at least didn't read them back-to-back. I was worried about you!

Feb 15, 1:40am

>51 lyzard: I think the last 2 are definitely better than the middle 3, so at least you're on an upward trajectory from here to the end.

Feb 16, 4:42pm

>54 rosalita:

I guess I can understand your thinking that, given the things I do do to myself (see also: Elsie). :D

>55 Helenliz:

Good to know! Though I've had my immediate access to Maid In Waiting cut off again, so it might be a while until I get to them.

Edited: Feb 16, 6:25pm

Publication date: 1931
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Read for: 1931 reading / TIOLI (furniture vocabulary word in first paragraph)

The Sealed Envelope - Driving through the night, Gregory Melcombe has just realised that he taken a wrong turn into a private road when he glimpses a deadly wire-trap in his path. To avoid it he must crash his car; and when he comes to, it is to hear several American voices discussing his presumed death, and the fact that he has been mistaken for someone else. When he gets a chance, he tries to slip away; but a second blow sends him back into darkness... This time, Melcombe awakes to find himself inside the house at the end of the private road. The occupant, another American, listens to his story and promises to call the police; though instead, Melcome hears him leaving the house. Later he is awakened by the sound of breaking glass---and upon investigating, is stunned by a glimpse of a lovely young woman rifling a safe by torchlight. She slips away then---but Melcombe comes face to face with her again the next morning, as she holds him at gunpoint and addresses him as "Perelli"... This 1931 thriller by "Ben Bolt" (Ottwell Binns) is a fairly typical example of the era's serial-stories, throwing its square-jawed (and amazingly thick-skulled) hero into an adventure centred around an improbably beautiful young woman, with whom, of course, he promptly falls in love. From there the narrative of The Sealed Envelope becomes the usual mixture of dangerous encounters and hair's-breadth escapes---its most notable feature being nothing to do with the plot, but an authorial tic that becomes first absurd, then infuriating, as the main characters react to almost everything by laughing: Bolt uses "he laughed" the way most authors use "he said"; and while I'm sure it was supposed to be a laughing-in-the-face-of-danger thing, it finally makes them seem like a bunch of half-wits. Meanwhile, the bad guys are two warring cliques of American gangsters who finally join forces against Our Heroes; though naturally, the British fist proves mightier than the American gun. The one really interesting aspect of The Sealed Envelope is that rather than substitute and uncle or a step-father, as is more typical of the genre, it is Madeline's father, Horace G. Westley, who is at the heart of some extremely dubious business; and as the story unfolds, Melcombe's involvement becomes as much about putting an ocean between Madeline and her dreadful father as about simply defeating the bad guys. The point of contention is a sealed packet of papers, which contain information that will ruin Horace Westley---or conversely, mean a fortune in blackmail to the rival gangsters. Having come by accident into possession of the papers, Melcombe and his friends, Lord Bobby Medway and Teddy Hamilton of the Foreign Office, team up to defend Madeleine and her father against their enemies: a conflict that climaxes in a literal siege in an isolated house on the mist-shrouded moors...

    The sooner Horace G. Westley arrived and was given possession of his precious envelope the better; for Sacco could scarcely be acting alone; and it was more than likely that presently he would be joined by his friends; in which case things might really become desperate. For a moment he visioned himself shut up with Madeline and the two Snowes in this solitary house enduring a siege. The thing might go on for days. It seemed almost absurd to think of such a thing happening in England; but in this remote Exmoor house to which for weeks together no one from the outside world would ever come, it was highly possible. Three or four desperate men, planted at strategic places, could easily make it impossible for anyone to leave the house, whilst if they were so willed they might make an attack in force.
    There were, however, things to be set on the other side. The presence of Teddy Hamilton in the neighbourhood was one. Evidently he knew something of Sacco's activities; and if he failed to come in touch with him in the mist and darkness, might possibly return in the daylight. Then there was Bobby Medway. As like as not he would be on his way now; and some time after breakfast, fog permitting, would show up with the Avis. Then there was Westley himself. When he appeared the trouble would either come quickly to a head or pass away. But whatever happened, he himself could not desert Madeline, and at all costs he was resolved to deliver her from this peril in which at present she moved...

Feb 16, 10:57pm

Honestly, is there anything more annoying than sitting down to write a review and discovering that you CAN'T FIND THE BOOK!?

Edited: Feb 17, 7:56am

>58 lyzard: Been there, yelled that. :-)

I am starting The Alington Inheritance tomorrow, so I'm almost caught up with you!

Feb 17, 1:02am

>59 rosalita:

I'm hoping to review it tomorrow! - though I'm not making any promises...

Edited: Feb 17, 6:06pm

Publication date: 1938 / 1945
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Asaph Clume #2
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (something on cover mentioned in title)

Murder Without Motive - Some of you may remember me ranting when I realised that the reissued version of R. L. Goldman's 1938 novel was abridged; though as it turned out, it was a case of the 1945 edition being abridged (presumably a cheap, war-time release), and that being used as the basis of the recent revival. As abridgements go, it's not a bad piece of work, though it leaves a very lean and mean version of the story, keeping the mystery plot but cutting away any connecting material. This is problematic in one respect, since (as often happens) this second entry in Goldman's series features quite a different version of amateur detective, Asaph Clume, than did its predecessor. In The Murder Of Harvey Blake, published in 1931, Clume was an amateur criminologist given a foot in the door by virtue of his friendship with the Chief of Police (the usual American plodder), in a very "suburban" mystery; whereas here, he is the crusading owner of a newspaper campaigning against political corruption, and the sworn enemy of those in power---albeit that he still likes to dabble in amateur detection. Whether the original text of Murder Without Motive provided any explanation for this switch, I will probably never know. The other reason why I'm so exasperated by the abridgement is that, in an outrageous twist sure to amuse anyone versed in the Golden Age mystery, Murder Without Motive takes the genre's traditional initial suspect - The Passing Tramp - and makes him the victim. Buy why, as everyone inevitably asks, would anyone want to murder a vagrant? - let alone, if the witness account is to be trusted, so deliberately...? No-one in Fairmont pays much attention to the murder until a week later, when a Mrs Embry calls upon the District Attorney with information previously withheld. Having been alerted to the meeting by reporter Rufus Reed, crime writer Critchfield calls at the DA's office, and discovers that the meeting was also attended by Thomas Wendell, the most powerful man in Fairmont and the deadly enemy of Asaph Clume, owner and editor of the Express. As the meeting breaks up, Critchfield glimpses an hysterical Mrs Embry being shown out, and overhears DA Cook telling Wendell that she is unbalanced, and should be locked up. Moreover, Mr Embry, her husband, and Margaret, their daughter, are immediately dismissed from their jobs at a Wendell-owned company. Clume moves quickly, offering Margaret a new job in exchange for information. She accepts---and reveals that, not only did her mother witness the murder of the vagrant, but that she swears the killer was Thomas Wendell... Many American mysteries take political corruption for granted, but in Murder Without Motive the corruption is very much the point. Fairmont is entirely in the grip of Thomas Wendell, who controls the DA's office and the police department, as well as the lives of many citizens as their ultimate employer. His power is almost absolute---with only Asaph Clume opposing him, and a bloody battle that has been. When Mrs Embry works up the courage to tell the entire story of the murder, no-one has any interest in following up her information: their first and only thought is to terrify her into silence---punishing her husband and daughter, and sending in their tame psychiatrists to threaten her with restraint. Of course, at first sight Mrs Embry's story is absurd: why would the all-powerful Wendell kill a tramp? But if she is not wrong - not delusional - not malicious in her accusation, what then...? Murder Without Motive is a strange mystery, in that it barely is a mystery in the usual sense. It almost has no detective figure, substituting reporter Rufus Reed, who narrates. Reed never really believes Mrs Embry's story, and is in any event far more interested in "a good story", and in scooping the Express's rival newspapers, than in solving the murder as such. The only real piece of detective work here is finally carried out by Asaph Clume---and that involves committing a crime which, as he recognises, leaves him open to prosecution. Whatever Reed's doubts, with Clume choosing to accept that Mrs Embry's account of the murder is accurate, the two investigate the matter from that perspective---attempting to trace the tramp's movements, and to discover what he was doing, not just in Fairmont, but near the Embrys' house on its outskirts. They are making progress when another matter overwhelms their investigation: Thomas Wendell is murdered, and Margaret Embry is arrested for the crime...

    "Don't fidget, Rufus. I'm using you for target practice, so that when I go gunning I'll be able to shoot straight. You are a man of action and few words; I'm a man of many words and few lost motions. That's because you are twenty-five, and I am sixty. Unlike you, I can't feel that I have forty or fifty years in which to rectify any mistakes I may make."
    "I wasn't exactly fidgeting," I said. "I just can't disagree with someone and sit still."
    "This strange affair isn't meaningless, Rufus. The tramp was murdered, and someone murdered him. Mrs Embry accuses Wendell, and there's some reason why she did so. I've dismissed two possible reasons, insanity and revenge. Three possibilities remain: she actually saw Thomas Wendell, or someone resembling him, or someone deliberately impersonating him."
    "In that case," I said, "it must have been someone impersonating him. There may be someone who looks a lot like him, but it isn't likely he'd have a stiff right leg."
    "Exactly! But if someone were deliberately impersonating him, would he have been confounded by the sudden illumination of the street light and made a dash for the car? He'd have welcomed the street light as an aid to his plan."
    Clume paused to let that sink in; then he continued: "Only one possibility remains, and that is made tenuous only by our unwillingness to believe it. I won't dismiss it until I'm at least as justified as I am in dismissing the others."
    "I can give you a hundred reasons offhand," I said. "But one will be enough. No one commits murder without a motive."
    "Can you tell me why Thomas Wendell would meet a tramp on the street and murder him?"

Edited: Feb 17, 10:06pm

Publication date: 1934
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Reggie Fortune #9
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (published between 1930 and 2021)

Shadow On The Wall - Reluctantly, Reggie Fortune attends a charity masquerade hosted by the eccentric Lady Rosnay. He soon sees that her ladyship is delighted by his attendance, whereas her granddaughter, Alix Lynn, is anything but. Reggie is cornered by club gossip, Bertie Luttrell, who regales him with unpleasant stories concerning aspiring politicians, Harley and Osmond - bosom friends, though so different, but fierce rivals for party leadership, and more - Mrs Harley, Alix Lynn, and stage-star Molly Marne. They are interrupted in dramatic fashion: a scream, Lady Rosnay unconscious on a staircase, and a fleeting shadow across a nearby wall... Reggie takes swift action, putting Lady Rosnay to bed and examining her. He quickly notices two things: that her chin is bruised from a blow, and that her diamond tiara is missing; yet Lady Rosnay seems oblivious to both. The next morning, Reggie calls early upon his friend Lomas, the head of the CID, to tell him of his numerous strange impressions from the night before---and learns that Bertie Luttrell has been found dead, having apparently fallen from a window at Rosnay House... The short story was always the preferred format for H. C. Bailey's Reggie Fortune series, but this novel largely succeeds in sustaining itself over a much greater length. The expansion brings with it certain inescapable issues, however, including that the aberrant psychology upon which the series is built becomes a dominating presence here. At the same time, and wisely, I think, Bailey dials back the facetious humour with which he usually offsets his dark narratives. The results are consistently interesting, but very grim. The long and complicated narrative of Shadow On The Wall turns upon Reggie's growing sense that he is being manipulated; more, that other people are being manipulated by someone behind the scenes into forcing him to take a particular view, and particular action. Before the masquerade, for instance, Lady Rosnay forces upon himself and Lomas a discussion of the Poyntz case: a wife's suicide, an anonymous letter sent to her young daughter - Ask your daddy why mummy killed herself - and the husband's subsequent fatal "accident". Reggie gets the same feeling from Bertie Luttrell's gossip, that a reading of Simon Osmond as a corrupt, untrustworthy individual, is being forced upon him---and now Luttrell is dead, and Lady Rosnay silent about what Reggie believes was an attempt to frame Osmond. And hand-in-hand with the sense of manipulation is a series of deaths, all of which look like suicide or misadventure---but all of which, Reggie believes, were arranged with some overriding purpose. But what was their purpose? - and what is the connection with the Poytnz tragedy? When Lady Rosnay's pet monkey dies, apparently of poison meant for her, Reggie takes the opportunity to spend a three-day weekend at Langton, her country house, where those most concerned in the case are gathered, to observe those involved and to conduct a series of tests---including arranging for the men of the party to cast their shadows across a wall. He is convinced he is getting close to a solution---and perhaps someone else is, too, as Reggie has a narrow escape from gunfire...

    “My dear chap!” Reggie gazed at him with large astonished eyes. “Oh, my dear chap! Not so, but far otherwise. It’s gettin’ clearer with every little fact that arrives. You can see the strands which run through all the cases now. There’s persistent effort to destroy reputations---you have to infer it in Mrs Poyntz’s death, it comes out sharp in all the business at the ball, and it’s a probable factor in Molly Marne’s death. There’s a recurring use of men’s relations with women---the Poyntzes and Lady Rosnay’s talk---Molly and Alix and Osmond. There’s handling of dope---and there’s a thread of sheer cruelty---either to frighten, or for the love of it---the beastly letter to the child and the killing of the monkey. Put all that together---and have you never met anything like it before?”
    “You suggest we’re up against a drug and blackmail business,” said Lomas slowly. “Yes, the two things do go together sometimes.” He looked at Bell. “One partner in the firm supplies the dope, the other one blackmails the poor devils who use it. We’ve met that, what?”
    “We have, sir,” Bell grunted. “And it can be very awkward to handle.”
    “It’s going to be,” Lomas shrugged.
    “Yes. It has been.” Reggie contemplated them dreamily. “May be more so. Something bigger than the ordinary dope and blackmail firm. Operations on a large scale, and in many departments. Don’t leave things out, Lomas. We’ve got interference with a blameless wife, leading to suicide; murder of a decent woman after her corruption with morphia; meddling with political careers and love-affairs; and an old family fortune. The evidence is, we’re up against people who are ready to take on any sort of dirty work which makes a big job, and have a preference for cruelty---even wanton cruelty.” His eyelids drooped. “That may have been the original motive. Desire to hurt. Desire to destroy. Yes, I think so...”

Feb 17, 10:12pm

Shadow On The Wall was a tough read in another way: in addition to the dead monkey, no Darius. :(

Edited: Feb 18, 6:21pm

Publication date: 1930
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Henri Bencolin #1
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (characters read and discuss their reading)

It Walks By Night - Just before his wedding, Raoul Jourdain, Duc de Saligny, sportsman and celebrity, receives a message warning him not to go through with it. The intended bride is Louise Laurent, the former wife of Alexandre Laurent who, shortly after their marriage, attacked her with a razor. Louise managed to save herself from her husband's insane blood-lust; others were not so fortunate. Ten months before, Laurent escaped from confinement: his next victim was a Dr Rothswold---a plastic surgeon, who operated on an unknown patient just before he was brutally murdered. Stubborn and egotistical, de Saligny insists upon going through with the wedding. Nor do he and his bride hide away, but spend at the evening at Fenelli's, a popular Parisian nightclub and casino. The police have been notified, however, and they are on the scene with Henri Bencolin, former head of the French Secret Service, now juge d’instruction and director of the police. There also is Dr Grafenstein, a psychiatrist who examined Laurent while he was in custody. While her husband goes into a card-room on the far side of the crowded salon, Louise approaches Bencolin and Grafenstein. She is near her breaking-point, and tells them she is sure she saw Laurent earlier that day. She is taken away by Vautrelle, a friend, and almost immediately an alarm is raised in the card-room. Bencolin himself had watched one door of the room since de Saligny's entrance; the other door was watched by one of his men; yet now, inside, the Duc is found dead, decapitated---and there is no sign of the killer... In this work, the first in the Henri Bencolin series by the American writer, John Dickson Carr, the author sets the scene for what was to follow in several different ways. First, justifying the choice of a French hero, and European settings, Carr has Bencolin outline the inadequacies of contemporary American policing and detection, and how the French, conversely, led the world in the new field of scientific crime investigation; and though Bencolin is speaking in real-world terms, he spells out in this speech much that I have complained about in American mysteries of this time. There is also a conscious literacy about this work, unusual outside, perhaps, the novels of Dorothy Sayers, which further distinguishes it from its competition: with references in particular to Alice In Wonderland and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. As for Bencolin himself, physically he is a rather Mephistophelean figure---appropriately enough, as it turns out: for though on the side of the angels, he is a man capable of extraordinary and ruthless action, when it is necessary---and it often is necessary. In It Walks By Night and the books that followed, John Dickson Carr raised the "impossible crime" to an art-form---though never more so than right here where, in a crowded nightclub, and under the eyes of the police, the Duc de Saligny is murdered by a killer who no-one sees come or go. And if this is not grotesque enough, there is the further suggestion of the Duc's compliance with his killer---kneeling down to accept the fatal blow... Though we do not learn it for some considerable time, It Walks By Night is narrated by Jeff Marle, a young American in Paris, whose father and Bencolin have been friends since their student days. Bewildered, sickened by the details of the murder, but with unwavering faith in Bencolin, Marle acts as the reader's surrogate, reporting faithfully all he sees and hears, but unavailable to make any sense of the crime---or as it soon proves, crimes. A killer on a course of revenge is on the loose, and could be anywhere; and, with the suggestion of plastic surgery, could also be anyone...

    Nobody spoke. The juge d’instruction continued patiently, as though he were explaining it to children: “Here were two doors, both guarded, one by me, and one by my most efficient man. We will take our oaths that nobody left by either door, and I trust François as I would trust myself. I examined the window immediately, you remember; it was forty feet above the street, no other windows within yards of it, the walls smooth stone. No man in existence---not even a monkey---could have entered or left that way. Besides, I found dust thick and unbroken over the sill, the frame, and the ledge outside. But there was nobody hiding in the room; I made certain of that… In short, our murderer disappeared as completely as he disappeared from the eyes of Madame de Saligny. Are you so sure now, Doctor, that it was an ‘hallucination’?”
    “Oh, this is incredible!” snorted Grafenstein. “He must have been somewhere! He must have been hiding---he… François must have been mistaken or lying… How about false walls?”
    Bencolin shook his head. “No, the murderer was not hiding; I saw to that. François is neither mistaken nor lying. There is no possibility of false walls, for you can stand in any door and test the entire partition of the next room. Tear open floor or ceiling, and you will find only floor or ceiling of the next room— that should be apparent to anybody who has studied the architecture of this house.” He paused, and summed it up wryly: “In short, there are no secret entrances; the murderer was not hiding anywhere in the room; he did not go out by the window; he did not go out the salon door under my watching, nor the hall door under François’---but he was not there when we entered. Yet a murderer had beheaded his victim there; we know in this case above all others that the dead man did not kill himself.”
    And, as later events proved, Bencolin spoke the absolute truth. For the present, we were aware only of a confused and numbing sense of terrible things moving behind a veil...

Edited: Feb 18, 7:53pm

Publication date: 1863
Genre: Classic
Read for: Completist reading / group read

Rachel Ray - A complicated will brings Luke Rowan to the Devonshire village of Baslehurst, where he has rights in the brewery managed by Mr Tappitt, which somehow survives despite the poor quality of its product. Mr Tappitt must either take Luke into partnership, or allow himself to be bought out. Mrs Tappitt, however, has a third scheme in mind: to her way of thinking, Luke would make a very proper husband for any of her three unmarried daughters; and, once subdued by marriage, he would surely submit also to his father-in-law's guidance. But Luke is a young man with ideas of his own---like brewing good beer instead of bad---and his eyes are already turned in a very different direction... On the fringes of Baslehurt live the Rays: widowed Mrs Ray, timid and easily swayed; her elder daughter, Dorothea Prime, embittered by her own early widowhood; and pretty young Rachel. When Luke makes his interest in Rachel clear, the ladies' previously quiet, uneventful and narrow existence is thrown into turmoil... Published in 1863, Anthony Trollope's Rachel Ray is something of a deceptive work. It is a novel often described in terms such as "idyllic", one of observation and emotion rather than plot, which devotes itself to the age-old theme of a young woman falling in love (and does so with, for its time, a frankness that shocked some of Trollope's critics). But for all its surface simplicity, there is a far darker thread running through Rachel Ray, which finally offers up a fairly devastating portrait of the negative side of village life, and of the vulnerability of women living on the fringes of society. The Rays, though socially considered ladies - just - are looked down upon in Baslehurst, by virtue of their poverty and lack of connections. The three lead a straitened life, with Mrs Ray rarely leaving their cottage except to go to church; Mrs Prime, soured by her early loss and (in Trollope's view) her embrace of the Evangelical faith, rather grimly devoted to "good works"; and Rachel's loneliness relieved only by walks with the Tappitt girls. When Luke Rowan ignores the material advantages offered by the Tappitts and chooses to court Rachel instead, Baslehurst is outraged---and feels it has the right to interfere... Rachel Ray is overall a work of sympathetic observation. Trollope is able here to take his time and detail the contradictions of human nature, and to make his readers feel both sides---for example, setting the humour inherent in Mr Tappitt's stubborn defence of his own bad business practices, against his genuine distress at losing control of the brewery, from which he draws his social standing and his self-respect. Luke Rowan, likewise, is a very flawed hero: rather conceited, though not without cause; and with a ruthless streak that does not take the feelings of others into sufficient account; yet for all his hardness, there is an unexpected poetic side to his nature, and a generosity that allows him to appreciate a girl like Rachel, who has nothing but herself to offer a man. Rachel is swept off her feet by the first romance that has touched her life, and engaged to Luke almost before she knows it; but disaster threatens when Luke's escalating feud with Mr Tappitt blends with Baslehurst's resentment of Rachel's good fortune. When Luke must depart the village on business, he leaves behind hard feelings, rumours of debt and deception, and a widespread belief that he won't be back. Mrs Ray, after being confronted by Luke's mother, Mrs Rowan, who is determined to prevent her son's "ruinous" marriage, is won over by the gossips and loses her faith in Luke---and finally presses Rachel into writing him a letter calling off their engagement. Though she obeys, Rachel's own faith is unswayed; but as time passes with no word or sign from Luke, she is left to confront the bitter realisation that he may have taken her at her word---and that she has been complicit in her own tragedy...

    "And must I lose him?"
    "She says so. She says that he doesn't mean it, and that it's all nonsense."
    "I don't believe her. Nothing shall make me believe that, mamma."
    "She says it would be ruinous to all his prospects, especially just now when he has quarrelled about this brewery."
    "Ruinous to him!"
    "His mother says so."
    "I will never wish him to do anything that shall be ruinous to himself; never;---not though I were broken-hearted, as you call it."
    "Ah, that is it, Rachel, my darling; I wish he had not come here."
    Rachel went away across the room and looked out of the window upon the green. There she stood in silence for a few minutes while her mother was wiping her eyes and suppressing her sobs. Tears also had run down Rachel's cheeks; but they were silent tears, few in number and very salt. "I cannot bring myself to wish that yet," said she.
    "But he has gone away, and what can you do if he does not come again?"
    "Do! Oh, I can do nothing. I could do nothing, even though he were here in Baslehurst every day of his life. If I once thought that he didn't wish me---to---be---his wife, I should not want to do anything. But, mamma, I can't believe it of him. It was only yesterday that he was here."
    "They say that young men don't care what they say in that way now-a-days."
    "I don't believe it of him, mamma; his manner is so steadfast, and his voice sounds so true."
    "But then she is so terribly against it."
    Then again they were silent for a while, after which Rachel ended the conversation. "It is clear, at any rate, that you and I can do nothing, mamma. If she expects me to say that I will give him up, she is mistaken. Give him up! I couldn't give him up, without being false to him. I don't think I'll ever be false to him. If he's false to me, then,---then, I must bear it..."

Edited: Feb 19, 6:52pm

Publication date: 1933
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Philo Vance #7
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (unrealistic-styled illustration on the cover)

The Dragon Murder Case - Philo Vance and Distract Attorney John Markham are called out to the isolated Stamm estate by Sergeant Heath. During a house-party, reports Heath, one of the guests, Sanford Montague, dived into the pool and did not resurface; in fact, he seems to have disappeared. Markham is annoyed at being disturbed at what, even given the odd circumstances, can only be a drowning; but Vance's interest is piqued by the usually phlegmatic Heath's sense that something is badly wrong. At the estate, the men are greeted by Leland, a neighbour and friend, who took charge in view of Rudolf Stamm's extreme intoxication. They view the so-called "Dragon Pool", a large body of water, part natural, part landscaped, named for local legends of a supernatural creature that inhabits it. Leland explains that, prior to calling the police, the other guests dived in to search for Montague, but found nothing; no-one saw him climb out in any of the floodlit areas; while Heath, having searched, found no sign that anyone left the pool at one of the darker points. In fact, no-one has any explanation for Montague's disappearance---except the elderly, unbalanced Mrs Stamm, who says the dragon killed him... The Dragon Murder Case is, almost literally, a book of two halves. Over the first half, "S. S. Van Dine" (Willard Huntington Wright), develops the real Inwood Hill Park area of Manhattan, with its strange geography and its history of Native American occupation, into a tangible presence in the book; while the part-natural, part-artificial nature of the Dragon Pool itself is a critical feature of the narrative (if you're going to read this, make sure you get an edition with maps and diagrams; not all do). The persistence of legends of dragons and serpents in all human cultures is considered; and we hear, specifically, of the creature that lives in the Dragon Pool, and which, Mrs Stamm insists, killed Stanford Montague and flew off with his body: a belief which explains his disappearance as well as any the investigators can initially come up with---particularly after the body is discovered some distance from the estate in one of the glacial pot-holes of the Inwood area, covered in what looks like claw-marks... The problem confronting Van Dine in The Dragon Murder Case was coming up with a solution to its mystery that was as satisfying as its complicated and rather creepy set-up; and though the explanation offered does fit the facts - mostly - there is still a distinct feeling of letdown, if not exasperation, at realising how much of the atmospheric first half of the narrative is simply smoke and mirrors---even by the standards of this series, wherein Vance's endless lectures are usually considered their own justification. As for the mystery, Van Dine does play fair with his clues; but it is hard to shake the feeling that all those WORDS are there chiefly to ensure that the reader's eyes have glazed over by the time the critical details emerge. As for the human side of the story, the Stamm house-party consists of people who can barely stand one another, and whose personal histories hardly stand scrutiny. Rudolf Stamm hated Montague, in spite - or because of - his engagement to his sister, Bernice, who was also an object of interest to Gale Leland, and to Kirwin Tatum, another guest; young widow, Mrs McAdam, was Montague's former mistress; while the actress, Ruby Steele, was clearly jealous of Bernice. There is also Alex Greef, a stock-broker, who is entangled in the Stamms' finances and who, as an old friend of the family, also disapproved of Bernice's engagement. There is a general agreement that whatever happened to Montague, he got was was coming to him---but what did come? The mystery only deepens when, in searching for the body, the investigators have the Dragon Pool drained, and find embedded in its hard, sandy bottom what look like the footprints of an unearthly creature...

    All the time Vance's eyes were fixed on the basin of the pool, and, instinctively, we kept pace with him along the boards as he walked nearer and nearer to the small plot of low ground at the end of the cliff. When he had come within a few feet of the sloping bank he halted.
    “Sergeant,” he ordered, “throw the end of that board over here.”
    Heath obeyed with alacrity.
    When the board was in place, Vance beckoned to us to step out on it. We filed along the narrow piece of timber in a state of anticipatory excitement; there could be no doubt, from the strained look on Vance’s face and the unnatural tone of his voice, that he had made a startling discovery. But none of us could visualise, even at that moment, how grisly and uncanny, how apparently removed from all the sane realities of life, that discovery was to prove.
    Vance leaned over and pointed to a section of the muddy basin of the pool.
    “That’s what I’ve found, Markham! And the tracks lead from beyond the centre of the pool, near the spring-board, all the way back to this low embankment. Moreover, they’re confused, and they go in opposite directions. And they circle round in the centre of the pool.”
    At first the thing at which Vance pointed was almost indistinguishable, owing to the general roughness of the silt; but as we looked down in the direction of his indicating finger, the horror of it gradually became plain.
    There before us, in the shallow mud, was the unmistakable imprint of what seemed to be a great hoof, fully fourteen inches long, and corrugated as with scales. And there were other imprints like it, to the left and to the right, in an irregular line. But more horrible even that those impressions were numerous demarcations, alongside the hoof-prints, of what appeared to be the three-taloned claw of some fabulous monster...

Edited: Feb 20, 9:08pm

Publication date: 1955
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Miss Silver #29
Read for: Series reading / shared read

The Gazebo - Five years after she breaks her engagement in the face of the hysterical reaction of her hypochondriacal mother, Althea Graham hears that Nicholas Carey is returning to Grove Hill. She must put her thoughts of him aside, however, to deal with the immediate issue of an offer made for the house she still shares with her mother. Althea is puzzled when she meets the potential buyers: Mrs Blount, whose "fancy" for Grove Hill is supposedly behind the offer, seems ill-at-ease and disinterested; while Mr Blount clearly cares nothing for country life. She is even more confused when a second offer for the property sets off a bidding war. So is Mr Martin, the agent, since the second offer comes from his disreputable step-brother, Fred Worple. When Althea and Nicholas meet at a cocktail party, it is if the past five years have never been; though the problem of Mrs Graham remains. Althea finds herself confiding in Miss Maud Silver, another guest, who she knows of through a friend; and she turns to her again when Nicholas proposes immediate marriage and presenting Mrs Graham with a fait accompli. Encouraged to go ahead, that night Althea meets Nicholas in the gazebo in the grounds of the house; but their discussion is interrupted by Mrs Graham, who works herself into a violent rage. Althea takes her mother back to the house and puts her back to bed---only to find her, the next morning, dead in the gazebo; not just dead, but murdered... In The Gazebo, there is a sense of time passing. In one respect it is a typical English village mystery, with the pleasures and pains - mostly pains - of small-community life at its heart; but the development of the area, and the falling value of old houses, is one of its plot-points; and laid upon this is a sense of a larger, and rather dangerous, world lurking just outside. The darker face of post-war Britain shows itself in the ruthless Mr Blount and the manoeuvring Fred Worple; though if an old way of life is passing, there's not much to mourn here, with the narrative of The Gazebo resting heavily upon the impossibility of privacy in the shoulder-to-shoulder existence of Grove Hill, and the village's less appealing residents: spiteful, predatory Ella Harrison, bored with her staid husband and looking for fun elsewhere; the three Miss Pimms, whose entire lives revolve around the collecting and dissemination of gossip; and above all, the selfish, self-absorbed Mrs Graham, who (much like the victim in the earlier Out Of The Past) really needed killing. Set against this ugliness, Patricia Wentworth offers a convincing romantic couple whose situation is the point of her narrative, and not an intrusion; and she allows Miss Silver to appear in what she herself has always considered her true role, helping others; though her detective instincts are called upon soon enough. In the wake of Mrs Graham's murder, Frank Abbott is called down from Scotland Yard; and he has no trouble at all building a strong, prima facie case against Nicholas Carey, who has motive and no alibi. As the net tightens, a desperate Althea turns to Miss Silver for help; and she, exercising her facility of getting along with everyone - and getting them to talk - she is able to supply new sources of information that give Frank pause. In particular, he is moved to follow up her earlier hint about the newcomers to Grove Hill: to investigate the histories of Mr Blount and Fred Worple, and what connection might exist between them; and why on earth they are both so desperate to get access to the Graham house---or more correctly, to its gazebo...

    Miss Silver gave a gentle cough. "I think that you are assuming more than is warranted by Mrs Traill’s statement. Mrs Traill heard a voice say, 'How dare you, Nicholas Carey!' and in view of the other evidence we are, I suppose, justified in assuming that it was Mrs Graham who was speaking. The words are the same as those heard half an hour previously by Nurse Cotton. But whereas Nurse Cotton was able to identify the voice as that of Mrs Graham, Mrs Traill is in no position to do so. Still it is a fair assumption that the speaker was the same in both cases. What I do not feel we are entitled to assume is that the person she addressed was necessarily the same."
    "She used his name!"
    Miss Silver knitted briskly. "It was about half an hour since she had gone into the house, leaving Nicholas Carey in the gazebo. Miss Graham had put her to bed and retired to her own room, where, as she tells me, she fell instantly and deeply asleep. We do not know what it was that took Mrs Graham back to the gazebo. There must have been some evidence of an intruder---probably the flash of a torch. There seems to be no doubt that what she saw convinced her of Mr Carey’s continued presence in the garden, and she could place only one construction on it, that he was waiting there to see her daughter. Hurrying out, she reaches the gazebo, is aware of the intruder, and calls out, using the words overheard by Mrs Traill, 'How dare you, Nicholas Carey!' But do you suppose that she really saw and recognised him? I think the most she would see would be an impression that there was someone moving there. I went up the garden last night just after eleven o’clock. The weather was very much the same as it was on Tuesday. There was no moon, and there are overhanging trees at the top of the garden. As I came up to the gazebo it was very dark indeed. The interior was like a black cave."
    Frank Abbott said, "There was a flashlight in the pocket of Mrs Graham’s coat."
    Miss Silver’s voice reproved him. "If she had been using it, it would not have been found in her pocket. It was probably her sense of hearing which told her there was someone in the gazebo, and I maintain there is no proof that it was Nicholas Carey."
    There was a pause before he said, "I shall have to go up and report to the Chief. I think he will say that the evidence must go to the Public Prosecutor. You are predisposed in Carey’s favour, but you don’t need me to tell you that Mrs Traill’s evidence looks bad for him. On the other hand no one will want to be in too much of a hurry. Those 'Rolling Stone' articles of his made a big splash. But they are pretty tough, you know, and life in the sort of places they describe would be calculated to rub off some of the finer scruples. I think it might be just as well if you didn’t give Althea Graham too much encouragement to expect a happy ending..."

Feb 21, 8:06am

>67 lyzard: Good call on Mrs. Graham reallly needing killing! The last time I so looked forward to a character's demise was the other Miss Silver you mention. It's remarkably satisfying to see a bad character come to a bad end. :-)

Feb 21, 3:32pm

>68 rosalita:

What I liked was that while Althea was shocked and horrified, there was no pretence of grief. Very refreshing. :)

The other really striking detail is that the local doctor was complicit in Althea's situation: he knew very well there was nothing wrong with Mrs Graham but pandered to her hypochondria.

Feb 21, 3:55pm

>69 lyzard: The doctor's attitude was infuriating, although I'm quite sure normal for the times. Who cares whether the young woman's life is ruined, as long as the old lady gets her way?! I was kind of rooting for him to become collateral damage, quite honestly. :-)

And agree on Althea's portrayal — no pretense of grief and no interior monologue where she wrestles with guilt over not being grief-stricken. The old lady was a harridan; Althea and everyone else were well rid of her!

Edited: Feb 21, 4:06pm

>70 rosalita:

The way it's presented is pretty devastating: when Althea tells him her mother is dead (not how), he's completely shocked---and even through her shock she understands the implications of his reaction. All those years of lies...

Feb 21, 4:31pm

>71 lyzard: Yeah, that's when a well-placed umbrella to the noggin would have been called for!

Edited: Feb 21, 5:20pm

Publication date: 1956
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Miss Silver #30
Read for: Series reading / shared read

The Fingerprint - A weekend house party is held at Field End, with a dance to mark the coming-of-age of Georgina Grey, Jonathan Field's niece, and the coming-out of Miriam Field, a young cousin who Field recently discovered in straitened circumstances and brought to live in his house. Among the guests is Frank Abbott, who has been visiting relatives and friends in the area. After dinner, but before the other guests arrive for the dance, Jonathan Field shows off his albums of fingerprints: he is an avid collector, with a story for each set---his favourite being that of the murderer whose prints he collected during the Blitz, when both thought they were going to die. Life returns to normal after the party---until Georgina gets a vicious anonymous letter accusing her of jealousy and cruelty towards Mirrie. Instinctively she carries it to her uncle, and is horrified when, in a burst of irrational anger, he too attacks her: finally intimating that he intends to make Mirrie his primary heiress, rather than Georgina... When Jonathan Field is found shot dead, it is Frank who takes charge---and who quickly sees the strength of the case against Georgina. Only two details bother him: the state of the fireplace, and that a page has been ripped from Field's album of fingerprints... The Fingerprint is a gift to those readers who have read their way through Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver series: it is a throwback to Eternity Ring, the 14th in the series, being set in and near the village of Deeping, and bringing back most of the same characters (including a cameo from Cecily Hathaway's dachshund, Bramble; huzzah!). This is both a help and a hindrance for Frank Abbott: on one hand he has insider's knowledge when he takes charge of the murder of Jonathan Field; on the other, when his suspicions fall upon Georgina Grey, he finds himself passionately opposed by his aunt Monica and his cousin Cecily---and not only by them: the circumstances have caused Monica to call in Miss Maud Silver (who got Cecily's husband, Grant, out of a mess in Eternity Ring); and to his dismay, Frank finds himself pitted against his "revered preceptress", whose understanding of human nature brings her down upon Georgina's side. To be fair to Frank, we can understand his cynical reaction to Georgina's almost painful straightforwardness; but for most readers, I imagine, determining how much of Mirrie's kittenish innocence is genuine and how much an act is the major challenge here. It is Mirrie, however, who is responsible for two of the book's most interesting touches: the unexpected reformation of Johnny Fabian, an unabashed fortune-hunter (who has therefore been hesitating between the two girls), when he falls for Mirrie for real; and the appearance on the scene of Sid Turner. Wentworth played with such a character in her previous novel, The Gazebo, but it is the dangerous Turner who genuinely deserves the signifier, "spiv": a man who would once have been grotesquely out of place in this series, but who is now a symbol of the changing post-war world. For Mirrie, Turner is a reminder of an ugly past, and an incubus she can't shake off in her comfortable present; but is he something more? Despite their differences, Miss Silver and Frank tackle the murder of Jonathan Field together, piecing together the timeline surrounding the making of Field's new will and - if Georgina is to be believed - his change of heart and the document's destruction. But while the question of who was to be Field's heiress seems to be behind his murder, where does the ripped-out page of the album fit into the story? Field, as Frank knows, was very fond of telling his story of the murderer's fingerprint: did he finally tell it to the wrong person...?

    Georgina said, "How do you do, Miss Silver!" The glowing picture painted by Cicely had been in her thought. She was finding it difficult to relate it to this dowdy little person with her neatly netted fringe and small indeterminate features. Cicely’s enthusiastic phrases floated in her mind---'She’s too marvellous---she is really, darling... She saved my life over that Eternity Ring business, and I expect she saved Grant’s too. They were just going to arrest him, you know... She sees right through people... Frank practically eats out of her hand.' She didn’t know quite what she had expected, but Cicely’s fireworks were fading out and leaving a dull greyness behind them. She took the chair she was being offered and sat down.
    Monica Abbott came up to Cicely and put a hand on her shoulder.
    "If Georgina wants to consult Miss Silver, I think this is where we leave them."
    Cicely got to her feet, looked a reluctant protest, and met a perfectly plain glance of dismissal from Miss Silver. She bit her lip, followed Monica out of the room, and could be heard saying "Really, Mummy!" in the hall.
    Miss Silver turned to Georgina Grey. "You would like to talk to me?"
    Quite suddenly Georgina began to feel that she would. She forgot all about Miss Silver looking like the governess in a family group of the Edwardian period. Mrs Fabian had a store of old albums. Miss Silver might have stepped out of any one of fifty groups. She had really been a governess once---Georgina knew that---and now she was a private enquiry agent and Frank Abbott regarded her with reverence. In her own mind Georgina made a correction. There wasn’t a Frank Abbott any longer. There was only Detective Inspector Abbott with the cool, cynical gaze which had given her story the lie.
    The look which Miss Silver had turned upon her was neither cool nor cynical. It was kind, but it was penetrating. She felt as if it went right through her and out at the other side. Strangely enough, it was not a disagreeable feeling. It might have been had there been anything that she wanted to hide, but since she hadn’t there was a certain relief in feeling that she wouldn’t have to explain too much---Miss Silver would understand...

Edited: Feb 21, 5:38pm

>73 lyzard: Yes, it was lovely to meet again the folks from Eternity Ring, though I was less enthused by the recycling of the "anonymous letters lead to murder" plot line from The Poison in the Pen. But then again, I seem to recall the anonymous letters trope was quite in vogue around this time, so perhaps it's not too surprising.

I thought the characterizations of Mirrie and Johnny Fabian were particularly well done; they both had a pleasing complexity that kept me wondering which side of the good/bad line they would end up. (And I'll just add that the description "spiv" is entirely unknown in the US — at least generally unused — though I've read enough Brit fic to get the gist that it's not a compliment.) :-)

Edited: Feb 21, 5:33pm

>74 rosalita:

It crops up so incessantly in British mysteries that you can only assume it must have been a real thing---albeit not preceding murder quite so often as we're led to believe! And a single, deliberately damaging letter is different from a campaign, real or faked. I was okay with that once the whole story was explained.

A spiv is---an adult juvenile delinquent, I guess you could say: the adult version of kids who had run wild during the war after being orphaned or abandoned or just ignored. Usually flashy dressers who were involved in non-violent crime, fraud or theft or blackmail, but there were a subset who carried knives and weren't shy about using them. They tended to operate on the fringes of organised crime, which was also a new phenomenon.

Feb 21, 7:22pm

Publication date: 1958
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Miss Silver #31
Read for: Series reading / shared read

The Alington Inheritance - Jenny Hill has always known herself to be the illegitimate daughter of Jennifer Hill and Richard Alington Forbes: the latter being killed in the war before they could marry. Though Jenny has blood relatives at Alington House - Mrs Forbes, her father's sister-in-law; her grown sons, Mac and Alan; and two young daughters, Meg and Joyce - Jenny has always lived with Miss Garstone, her mother's former governess, who took her in when she returned home pregnant, bereaved, and injured after an air-raid. Miss Garstone is critically injured in an accident: before she dies, she struggles to tell Jenny that her parents were married, that there is a hidden letter proving it---and that the Alington inheritance is hers. In her grief, Jenny barely takes in what is being said: she submits when the autocratic Mrs Forbes carries her to Alington, and finds comfort in the girls---and in Mac, with whom she is infatuated. But everything changes when Jenny overhears a brutal conversation between Mac and his mother, in which her parents' marriage is acknowledged, and Mac coolly announces that the best plan is for him to marry Jenny at once... For the most part, The Alington Inheritance is not a mystery at all, but a Gothic thriller---complete with an imperilled heroine, a fortune at stake, and a saturnine male who may mean marriage, or may mean murder. It generates suspense by providing the reader with more knowledge than is possessed by any one of the characters; and its plot turns on some outrageous coincidences; one in particular; but that is par for the course. About two-thirds of the narrative are divided between Jenny's situation, after she finds a refuge with some more relatives, including another Richard Alington Forbes; and that of Mrs Forbes and Mac, who discover her whereabouts by accident, and must then decide how to handle "the Jenny problem". Miss Maud Silver is late on the scene, hired by a frightened father to help his son after he is arrested and charged with the murder of the young woman he was - increasingly reluctantly - involved with: her body being found on a darkened hillside near Hazelton, the village in which Jenny is living. Miss Silver believes Jimmy Mottingly's story, though the police do not: that he had agreed to meet Miriam Richardson on the hill; that he was late; and that she was dead when he got there. But if Jimmy didn't kill Miriam, who did? - and why? The two halves of The Alington Inheritance are quite different in tone, and do not blend altogether successfully: the traditional Gothic elements sit oddly beside the harder, more realistic details of the co-plot (we gather that Miriam was pregnant, though the word is never used); as do the English-village touches, like the gossipy Mrs Meridew, with the scenes of Jimmy in prison. But as always, there is Miss Silver, who - being Miss Silver - devotes herself equally to helping the weak and feckless Jimmy and the frightened Jenny. And she is frightened for more reasons than one: partly because Miriam had made a bad-faith effort to draw Richard into her schemes, so that he is now being looked upon with suspicion; and partly because she learns after the event of a note intended to draw her onto that hillside...

    “It is possible that you know something that you have not told. If that is the case, I would beg you to think very carefully of what you may be doing.”
    “Of what I may be doing?” Jenny’s voice was a startled one.
    “Yes, my dear. That boy in prison at Colborough---if you know anything at all you owe it to him to be perfectly frank.”
    Jenny’s heart was beating so fast that she stood still. She did not seem to have enough breath to carry her feet forward---not with her heart thumping like this. She said unevenly, “To be perfectly frank? But I don’t know anything---I don’t indeed. It’s only---only---”
    “Yes, my dear?”
    Jenny had turned round and was looking at her. They had both stopped. Before them lay the dip in the road. Then it rose again, and just beyond the dip were Miss Danesworth’s cottage and Mrs Merridew’s small house.
    Jenny raised her eyes to Miss Silver’s face. What she saw there apparently reassured her. She felt steadier. Her mind cleared. All at once the only thing that mattered was that she should tell the exact truth. She said, “I’ve been troubled.”
    “I can see that, my dear.”
    “If I tell you---you see, I don’t know if it will hurt anyone---” She stood there with her lips parted looking at Miss Silver, who was very grave.
    “I cannot tell you that. I can only say that if wrong has been done, the consequences should fall upon the wrong-doer, and not upon an innocent stranger.”
    Jenny said, “Yes---that’s what I keep on saying to myself. If he hasn’t got anything to do with it---and he can’t, he can’t---Oh!” She put up her hands to her face for a moment and covered her eyes as if to shut something out...

Edited: Feb 22, 7:19pm

Publication date: 1938
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte #6
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (featuring 1 or more indigenous characters)

The Bone Is Pointed - When her son, John, is late returning home during the violent rainstorm that has hit Meena Station in the far west of Queensland, Mary Gordon cannot help but remember her husband's death under similar conditions many years before. When John does return, he explains that he and his aboriginal foster-brother, Jimmy Partner, had to move a flock of sheep to higher ground; and he dismisses the bruise on his neck as the mark of a tree branch. The next day, however, it appears that the storm has claimed a victim: Jeffrey Anderson, of the neighbouring Karwir cattle station, does not return after riding out to check boundary fences. Anderson, a big man with a bad temper and a history of violence, is not much missed by anyone but old Mr Lacy, the owner of Karwir; and eventually, he writes to the Chief Commissioner of Police... Sergeant Blake is stunned when the famous Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte arrives in Opal Town. Blake, who led the search for Anderson, tells Bony frankly that he believes Anderson either disappeared voluntarily, or that he was murdered and his body hidden---and that he had no shortage of enemies, white and black... In its framework, The Bone Is Pointed is a typical entry in Arthur Upfield's Bony series. As always, Upfield takes his time in describing the setting of his narrative, its people and their way of life, and events unique to the Australian outback---in this case, offering a horrifying description of a rabbit plague. But all this is the backdrop to the novel's most significant aspect. While all of the novels in the series deal to an extent with race relations, and with the issues faced by its mixed-race protagonist, The Bone Is Pointed gets more deeply into these matters than any of its predecessors: the results are both fascinating and uncomfortable. The local Kalchut tribe is a significant presence in the narrative: many of its people still live the traditional way of life; and it is the pride of the Gordon family that they have fought for this to be so---that they have kept all forms of white interference away, particularly the government, and the missions (Bony, himself raised at a mission, is adamant about the necessity of the latter)---though everyone accepts that it is only a matter of time before white encroachment has the inevitable, tragic ending. Bony is soon convinced that Jeffrey Anderson was murdered, and that almost everyone around Meena and Kanwir knows why, and by whom; and that, if he is to solve the case, he must work around the obstacles placed in his path by white and black alike. It is the latter that proves not merely serious, but potentially fatal: seeing the danger posed by Bony, the tribesmen place upon him the curse known as pointing the bone... How the reader responds to The Bone Is Pointed will very much be determined by their reaction to this pivotal plot-touch. All of the Bony books take for granted that the aboriginal people have certain powers denied to the whites, such as telepathy; quite often, these are put to good use in Bony's investigations; but here, the reverse is true. Upfield goes into some detail with regard to the working of the curse, pointing out that it can kill anyone, black or white---if that person believes---and Bony does believe... Bony's investigation into Jeffrey Anderson's disappearance finds him re-enacting the missing man's presumed movements, and trying to determine who he might have encountered, and where. With his intimate knowledge of the land, Bony locates the point at which he believes the fatal incident occurred; but what happened to the body? The very placing of the curse shows Bony that he is on the right track; and as his health begins to fail, he becomes only the more determined that, if this is to be his last case, he will nevertheless solve it before he dies...

    "Look all about you, Sergeant. You see but a fraction of a great area of land in which eight months ago a man was destroyed and buried. I know, approximately, where he was killed; but as yet I don't know where he was buried and by whom. I have to find where he was buried, who buried him, who killed him---within the next three weeks, at the longest a month. I may be able to extend the limit to six weeks, but I gravely doubt it. I may not need six weeks, or even three, but the time limit is now my master. Because it has never before been my master I have always succeeded. Now that it is my master I may well fail for the first time. What do you make of the ball of gum in which are embedded a mass of my discarded cigarette butts?"
    "I don't know. What does it mean?"
    "It is the announcement to me that I have been boned by the blacks."
    "What's that!" almost shouted Blake.
    Bony turned slightly to regard the policeman who saw in his eyes blue pools of horror.
    "I see that you realise the seriousness of the threat behind the boning," Bony said.
    "Realise it! I realise it all right," Blake replied. "I've never seen the thing done, but I have known men who have. Old Lacy knows of its deadliness. He once told me that he warned Anderson to be careful or he'd be boned. The old man's a believer in the magic. Said he saw a white man die of being boned. Why don't you give up the case and get back to Brisbane as soon as you can?"
    "Give it up?" shouted Bony, springing to his feet. "What of my reputation, my personal pride?"
    "Well, no-one's going to blame you for giving it up. You've been ordered to, remember. Anderson disappeared six months before you came here. It's not as though his body was found and examined by you the day after he disappeared, when you might have discovered a dozen clues, when the scent was hot. Anyway, who's to know that the man is dead?"
    Bony's body sank upon his heels, and for a moment he was silent and motionless. Then he said: "But I know..."

Edited: Apr 1, 7:04pm

Publication date: 1970
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Tom Ripley #2
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (a book that combines the tags crime and LGBT)

Ripley Under Ground - Tom Ripley lives a comfortable life in a villa outside Paris, his income derived from several sources, including an enterprise he thinks of as "Derwatt Ltd". In partnership with gallery owner, Jeff Constant, freelance journalist, Edmund Banbury, and artist, Bernard Tufts, Tom has resurrected the rising artist Philip Derwatt, after he committed suicide in Greece. With Bernard turning out a regular stream of forgeries, supposedly shipped from Derwatt's retreat in Mexico, the four have made an impressive income: one now threatened by an American called Murchinson who, with several Derwatts in his possession, has come to believe one of them a forgery. Tom decides to take the bull by the horns: he travels to London and poses as Derwatt at a gallery reception, to lay any general suspicions to rest, and then meets with Murchison to hear his concerns; while as Tom Ripley, a fellow collector, he later invites Murchison to his villa in France---supposedly to see his own Derwatts, but with another plan in mind... Fifteen years after the publication of The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith decided to prove that crime does pay: she brought back Tom Ripley, now married to Heloise, the daughter of a French pharmaceuticals millionaire, and living comfortably on the proceeds of his first venture into impersonation, forgery and murder. He doesn't actually need the income from Derwatt Ltd; not any more; but feelings of loyalty to the other three - and a disinclination to be exposed as part of a criminal conspiracy, which might revive old suspicions - lead him to take action when the forgery ring is threatened by the pertinacious Murchison. While The Talented Mr Ripley was groundbreaking, in some ways I feel that Ripley Under Ground (the title carries a grimly funny double meaning) is the superior work. Though it lacks its predecessor's shock value, there is a sense here that Highsmith, having matured as a writer, was more comfortable with her creation: that she understood him better; was more sensitive to the blackly humorous aspects of his conduct. Tom is a more mature, more psychologically complete individual here; even though at bottom, he is still a sociopath for whom murder is simply a means to an end... When the arguments of "Derwatt" are insufficient to disperse Murchison's doubts about his painting, Tom Ripley must intervene: he carries the American to France with him, wines and dines him, tries laughing and arguing him out of his position---and when all else fails, murders him. There are questions, of course, about Murchison's disappearance: from the police, and from Mrs Murchison; but Tom has covered his tracks and, as with the case of Dickie Greenleaf, there is suspicion but no evidence. Then a new threat arises in the form of Bernard Tufts, always the weak link in the conspiracy, which has cost him the woman he loves, and leaves him wracked with guilt over his exploitation of Philip Derwatt, to whom he was devoted. With some reluctance, Tom begins to contemplate the removal of Bernard---only to learn the hard way that he is not the only one for whom murder is sometimes the solution to a problem...

    What would Bernard do now, Tom wondered? Drift to Paris? Somehow Tom could not see Bernard going back to London, so he ruled that idea out. But Bernard was so deranged at the moment as to be really unpredictable by any standards. Would Bernard, for instance, inform Jeff and Ed that he had killed Tom Ripley? Bernard might as well shout anything from the housetops now. In fact, Bernard was going to kill himself, and Tom sensed this the way he might have sensed a murder, because suicide was after all a form of murder. And in order for Bernard to go through, or carry out, whatever it was he intended, Tom knew that he himself had to continue to be dead.
    And what a bore it was, in view of Mme Annette, Heloise, his neighbours, the police. How was he to make all of them believe he was dead?
    Tom put on levis and went back to the lane with the lantern from the spare loo. Sure enough, the shovel lay on the ground between the much used grave and the lane. Tom used it to fill in the grave. A beautiful tree ought to grow there at some time, Tom thought, because the ground was so well loosened. Tom even dragged back some of the old branches and leaves with which he had originally covered Murchison.
    R.I.P. Tom Ripley, he thought...

Edited: Apr 1, 8:00pm

Publication date: 1810
Genre: Classic
Read for: A Century Of Reading / TIOLI (author's name contains at least two common nouns)

Zastrozzi - Written when the author was only seventeen, this short work by Percy Bysshe Shelley feels, appropriately enough, more like a piece of fan-fiction than an actual Gothic novel. Most of the familiar Gothic signifiers are present, in particular a larger-than-life villain; and the action and emotions are suitably extravagant; but the narrative so fragmented that it is hard to keep up, the characters' motivations are rarely understandable (in some cases, even after they have explained them), and there is a bizarre and sometimes amusing - to give Shelley credit, probably intentionally amusing - gap between cause and effect. Briefly, Zastrozzi deals with a complicated, two-generational revenge-plot, in which the sins of a father are ruthlessly visited upon his son---with a man called Veroni subject to pursuit, abduction, imprisonment and - worst of all! - repeated attempts at seduction, by Zastrozzi and his co-conspirator, Matilda. Shelley's evident disinterest in his "good" characters is also amusing: Matilda is a familiar example of the genre's sexualised-and-therefore-evil female villains; but Zastrozzi is more complex: and it is he and not Veroni who is the focus of the narrative. Even so early in his writing career, Shelley's burgeoning radicalism is evident in Zastrozzi; and it is hard not to feel that the entire purpose of this short narrative was not its Gothic framework per se, but its climactic scene in which, though threatened with torture by the Inquisition, Zastrozzi defiantly declares his atheism.

    "I have revenged them! Ere I was twenty-four, the false villain, though surrounded by seemingly impenetrable grandeur; though forgetful of the offence to punish which this arm was nerved, sank beneath my dagger. But I destroyed his body alone," added Zastrozzi, with a terrible look of insatiated vengeance: "time has taught me better: his son's soul is hell-doomed to all eternity: he destroyed himself; but my machinations, though unseen, effected his destruction.
    "Matilda di Laurentini! Hah! why do you shudder?. When, with repeated stabs, you destroyed her who now lies lifeless before you in her coffin, did you not reflect upon what must be your fate? You have enjoyed him whom you adored---you have even been married to him---and, for the space of more than a month, have tasted unutterable joys, and yet you are unwilling to pay the price of your happiness---by heavens I am not!" added Zastrozzi, bursting into a wild laugh.---"Ah! poor fool, Matilda, did you think it was from friendship I instructed you how to gain Verezzi? No, no---it was revenge which induced me to enter into your schemes with zeal; which induced me to lead her, whose lifeless form lies yonder, to your house, foreseeing the effect it would have upon the strong passions of your husband.
    "And now," added he, "I have been candid with you. Judge, pass your sentence---but I know my doom; and, instead of horror, experience some degree of satisfaction at the arrival of death, since all I have to do on earth is completed..."

Edited: Apr 1, 8:52pm

Publication date: 1810
Genre: Classic
Read for: A Century Of Reading / TIOLI {name of a mineral water well among the first words}

St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian - Though longer and more thoughtfully constructed than its predecessor, Percy Bysshe Shelley's other 1810 publication, St. Irvyne, is effectively an unfinished work. Originally conceived as a three-volume novel, when it was made clear to Shelley that the circulating libraries would not touch it because of its subject matter (and that therefore it could not be the financial success he hoped for), Shelley abruptly abandoned it, leaving behind a novella full of tormentingly incomplete plot-threads. Like Zastrozzi, St. Irvyne represents a late deployment of the tropes of the Gothic novel---and opens, fittingly enough, amidst a violent storm high in the Alps. A wandering outcast, Wolfstein, is captured by bandits and carried away to their secret hideout. To save his life, he swears fidelity and is accepted into the band. However, Wolfstein becomes obsessed with a fellow-captive, a woman called Megalena, who is herself desired by the leader of the bandits, Cavigni. Consumed by jealousy, Wolfstein poisons Cavigni; but his life is spared when Ginotti, another of the bandits, intervenes on his behalf. He is permitted to leave with Megalena: the two flee to Genoa, where they take a house; and Megalena becomes Wolfstein's mistress. However, they are soon followed by Ginotti, who reveals that he saved their lives for a dark purpose... Though it deals with some of the same themes, St. Irvyne is a more conventionally "moral" work than Zastrozzi, possibly because it was being written (though unavailingly, as it turned out) for the mainstream marketplace. Like its predecessor, it explicitly evokes other Gothic works---most overtly, The Monk, in a striking scene in which Ginotti literally makes a deal with the devil. However, at least as this novella stands, the main narrative of St. Irvyne deals with the corruption of Wolfstein and Megalena: the former, initially appalled by the bandits' crimes, is driven to murder by his passion for Megalena; while she, having virtuously declared a preference for death over a relationship with Cavigni, morphs into one of the Gothic genre's female villains after she becomes Wolfstein's mistress. The two together are drawn ever-deeper into evil deeds. However, St. Irvyne becomes increasingly focused upon the mysterious Ginotti, who reveals himself a member of the equally mysterious Rosicrucians, and who offers to Wolfstein the secret of immortality---in exchange for the renunciation of his faith...

    "My neck was grasped firmly, and, turning round in an agony of horror, I beheld a form more hideous than the imagination of man is capable of portraying, whose proportions, gigantic and deformed, were seemingly blackened by the inerasible traces of the thunderbolts of God; yet in its hideous and detestable countenance, though seemingly far different, I thought I could recognise that of the lovely vision: 'Wretch!' it exclaimed, in a voice of exulting thunder; 'saidst thou that thou wouldst not be mine? Ah! thou art mine beyond redemption; and I triumph in the conviction, that no power can ever make thee otherwise. Say, art thou willing to be mine?' Saying this, he dragged me to the brink of the precipice: the contemplation of approaching death frenzied my brain to the highest pitch of horror. 'Yes, yes, I am thine,' I exclaimed. No sooner had I pronounced these words, than the visionary scene vanished, and I awoke. But even when awake, the contemplation of what I had suffered, whilst under the influence of sleep, pressed upon my disordered fancy; my intellect, wild with unconquerable emotions, could fix on no one particular point to exert its energies; they were strained beyond their power of exerting.
    "Ever, from that day, did a deep-corroding melancholy usurp the throne of my soul. At last during the course of my philosophical inquiries, I ascertained the method by which man might exist for ever, and it was connected with my dream. It would unfold a tale of too much horror to trace, in review, the circumstances as then they occurred; suffice it to say, that I became acquainted that a superior being really exists: and ah! how dear a price have I paid for the knowledge! To one man, alone, Wolfstein, may I communicate this secret of immortal life: then must I forego my claim to it,---and oh! with what pleasure shall I forego it! To you I bequeath the secret; but first you must swear---"
    "I swear," cried Wolfstein, in a transport of delight; burning ecstacy revelled through his veins; pleasurable coruscations were emitted from his eyes...
    "Needless were it for me," continued Ginotti, "to expatiate further upon the means which I have used to become master over your every action; that will be sufficiently explained when you have followed my directions... Seek, at midnight, the ruined abbey near the castle of St. Irvyne, in France; and there---I need say no more---there you will meet with me..."

Apr 2, 7:40am

Not surprised that Shelley produced two weird books.

Great reviews of both, Liz.

Apr 2, 5:02pm

Thank you, my dear! :)

It was an interesting experiment on his part but that both are effectively unfinished works (one intentionally, one unintentionally) makes them disconcerting reads.

Apr 3, 6:52pm

Publication date: 1927
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Inspector Pointer #4
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (title starts with the definite article)

The Clifford Affair - Chief-Inspector Pointer of Scotland Yard is sent to the scene of a murder in Hampstead Heath; his superiors urge rapid action, as the case has hints of political overtones and the Foreign Office has also been alerted. In the bathroom of a rented service flat, Pointer examines the decapitated body of a man: the victim is naked, and his head is missing. Soon enough, Tindall of the Foreign Office arrives: the local officer, Maybrick, shows him newspaper clippings and discarded writings that suggest a political conspiracy. Delighted, Tindall leaps to the conclusion that the dead man is Sanz Etcheverrey, a dangerous anti-royal anarchist who has been long sought by the governments of Europe, and who has been in hiding since a failed attempt upon the life of a Middle Eastern potentate. Tindall immediately begins planning his pursuit of the Shah's agents---leaving, as he kindly says, the minor investigative work to Pointer... This fourth entry in the series by "A. Fielding" is an unusual and complicated mystery, taking several turns away from the kind of work it "seems" to be, though one with a solution that perhaps isn't as well-prepared for as it needed to be---given the length of Pointer's eventual explanaton. One the more positive side, the murder at the centre of The Clifford Affair is an unusually gruesome one for a work of this time, and Fielding does not stint with respect to the medical evidence in the case. Pointer's investigation leans heavily upon that, and upon the rest of the trace evidence from the murder scene, including fingernail scrapings and fibres, in a manner that makes this novel feel like a more modern work of crime fiction than a Golden Age mystery. More typical of its time, however, is the prominence of clairvoyance in the succeeding narrative, and the step taken by Pointer to identify his victim: he calls upon the assistance of "Astra" - aka Mrs Jansen - a professional palmist with a remarkable ability to read character in hands. After testing her on himself - she hits him off with amusing accuracy - Pointer asks Astra to examine the dead man's hands. To his astonishment, rather than merely reading the hands, she tells Pointer that she recognises them as those of a former client: Julian Clifford, a leading author and the younger brother of Sir Edward Clifford, the Permanent Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs---and Tindall's immediate superior. Investigating the complicated, extended Clifford household, Pointer discovers that Julian Clifford had come into possession of letters containing material that blackened the character of Sir William Hasler, the financier whose biography he was writing, and which some people would go to any lengths to suppress. But a secondary motive comes to light when it is revealed that Julian Clifford was also on the trail of Tindall's bête noire, Etcheverrey...

    As far as the servants went, Mr Clifford had not been seen after the butler took him in a glass of iced barley water about ten. Mr. Clifford had told him that "that was all"---his usual words of dismissal for the night. Back on his Yard-bound 'bus, Pointer thought over the househol---over Julian Clifford, who had gone to Astra's to have his fortune told, as he might have gone to a gipsy.
    He had gone recently. And he had asked the palmist to tell him if danger was marked in his hands. A strange question from a man who apparently within the month had passed to where that word has no more meaning.
    Yet if it was his body that Pointer had seen, as the Chief Inspector believed that it was, he had not investigated that flat. He did not seem to have noticed the fastened back lock of that door. It looked as though he had had a definite idea of where the danger lay, and did not expect it to meet him elsewhere.
    What was the best course now? Open or secret?
    As a rule, an inquirer in a murder benefited by the rare chance of the murderer thinking his crime was still undetected. But here? Dared Pointer let him think himself safe? If that cut-off head was cut off with the idea of blocking the investigation, then it and those carefully laid trails by the Basque anarchist looked, Pointer believed, as though something was brewing which the knowledge of Clifford's death would spoil. Some business seemed to be on hand which must stop if it were known who it was that, on this last night, had been lured to a strange address, there murdered, and stripped and beheaded. They might not all belong together---the murder, the beheading, the stripping. But some vital necessity must have ruled to make a man risk any, or all, of them. No one goes to such terrible lengths unless driven. What was it which necessitated, perhaps, the killing of Julian Clifford, but certainly the remaining unknown of the fact that it was he who had been killed?

Edited: Apr 10, 5:34am

Publication date: 1930
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Inspector Reynolds #1
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (indefinite amount in title)

Some Unknown Hand (US title: The Westminster Mystery) - After a studio party, the actress Marjorie Laureen - known simply as "Laureen" - is escorted back to her apartment by financier, Ivan Lansburg. They find several odd things there, including that the maid has been sent away by a fraudulent message; until a nervous Laureen asks Lansburg to search her rooms; but it is she who discovers a dead man in her dining-room... When Inspector Reynolds arrives, Laureen admits to him that she knows the dead man: he is Leslie Delmond, an actor with whom she was once involved; though she insists she has not seen him for years, nor has any idea how or why he entered her flat. Questioning of the apartment building's housekeeper elicits the fact that, during the absences of Laureen and her maid, more than one man was in the apartment---overheard on an uncapped speaking-tube. The investigation determines that Delmond died of an overdose of chloroform; while the fingerprint men discover in the flat the palm-print of a man with the thumb of his right hand missing... This is the first in the series by Elaine Hamilton featuring Inspector Reynolds, who is something a bit different in Scotland Yard detectives---though not always in a positive way. Reynolds knows his business: despite his offhand manner and seeming dullness, his eyes miss very little; but he has an unpleasant attitude that even his colleagues take issue with, a social chip on his shoulder, and a tendency to think the worst that goes beyond reasonable suspicion...and he's a bad speller. This introductory work almost casts Reynolds as the bad guy, dividing its narrative between him and Laureen and her friends, and showing the reader when the inspector is on the right track---and when he has things entirely wrong... Though Lansburg later tells Reynolds that his life has more than once been attempted by a man missing a thumb, Reynolds remains stubbornly convinced that Laureen is the key to the mystery---and he's right, though not at all in the way he thinks. Just out of Reynolds' sight a complicated conspiracy is afoot, involving Laureen, her friend, the Lady Avice Garth, struggling artist Richard Spencer, society woman, Mary de Groot, and a man known only as "Tony". And behind it all, there is a missing girl called Valerie... But while Reynolds is pursuing Laureen and the others, his assistant, Jenkins, is conducting a not-entirely-legal surveillance of Lansburg and his household: a mission that precipitates a near-tragedy when the inspector's lookalike brother is stabbed in the back with a knife found to bear Lansburg's fingerprints---and those of Leslie Delmond...

    Reynolds thumped his clenched fist on his desk. "D'you see what all this means, Jenkins? That knife must have belonged to Delmond, and he evidently struck at Lansberg the night he was murdered, as this slashed shirt proves. So Lansberg was in Laureen's flat, after all. He must have seized the knife after he or his accomplices had chloroformed Delmond, and locked it up in his safe. Butterflies!" commented the detective grimly. "In this case a butterfly with golden hair and a pretty face! He'll have a job to explain away this evidence, I fancy."
    "You would like the fingerprints of Lansberg's servant, sir?" asked Jenkins.
    "Like?" snorted the inspector. "I mean to have them. They're an indispensable link in the chain."
    Then his animation flickered a little. Was not all this merely circumstantial, a trifle too simple and easy? Why should a man of Lansberg's position commit murder and risk its consequences? Certainly not to obtain Laureen, who, if Reynolds could read character, disliked the dead man and liked Lansberg. Also, in that case, where did Tony and Spencer, Lady Avice and Mrs de Groot fit in? What about Valerie Baird and the packet of letters? And who was the man with the missing thumb who had undoubtedly been in Laureen's flat, as his fingerprints on the table proved?
    No, Reynolds decided, he wasn't out of the woods yet, even if there was a glimmer of daylight...

Edited: Apr 10, 7:57pm

Publication date: 1932
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Dr Constantine and Inspector Arkwright
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (occupation in title)

Death In The Dentist's Chair (US title: Murder In The Dentist Chair) - Several people meet in the waiting-room of the dentist, Mr Davenport. Before he slinks away, the unhappy Mr Cattistock, who has just undergone a multiple extraction, sees Sir Richard Pomfrey exchange venomous looks with the overdressed Mrs Miller, who passes on to the surgery. Sir Richard then turns his attention to the widow, Mrs Vallon, and some minutes later greets a new arrival, his friend, Dr Constantine, before leaving the other two in order to make a phone-call. When he returns, he comments that there is trouble in the surgery: the door is locked or jammed, and the key missing, with Davenport on the outside. The lock is finally forced---revealing the dreadful sight of Mrs Miller with her throat cut... In the first instance, the most interesting thing about Molly Thynne's Death In The Dentist's Chair is its superficial resemblance to Agatha Christie's One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, published eight years later: both feature a dentist's room being used as a site for murder, and have the detective one of those gathered in the waiting-room. Whether or not Agatha was intrigued enough by Thynne's scenario to appropriate it for her own purposes, the resemblance between the two mysteries ends there. (Though there is one other detail we might note: Dr Constantine is, like Hercule Poirot, a rare instance of a "foreigner" protagonist in English writing.) Here, Inspector Arkwright, Dr Constantine's friend and occasional colleague, hesitates between a reading of robbery-murder, with one of Mrs Miller's many pieces of valuable jewellery missing from the scene; murder for unknown personal reasons, with Sir Richard and Mr Cattistock both having ten minutes or so on-site unaccounted for, and the latter since missing; and something more arcane: the knife, left at the scene, is a distinctive blade favoured by the Chinese tongs... Death In The Dentist's Chair is quite a lengthy, complicated mystery, in which the detectives must decide amongst three scenarios the true reason for murder, and search out the hidden pasts of three different sets of suspects---and of a second murder victim, after an unidentified woman is found on the steps of a London house, also with her throat cut and a familiar blade nearby. The latter is this mystery's one real weakness: no reason is ever given for the killer leaving the knife, or rather knives, at the scene, and this proves a valuable piece of evidence; though the case ultimately turns on the matter of Mrs Miller's denture... Arkwright and Constantine must each work within their own area of expertise, with the inspector using the resources of Scotland Yard, and Constantine his enormous circle of acquaintances, to dig up the necessary information: the latter with the hope of clearing his friend, Sir Richard, though his discoveries are dismaying. Meanwhile, though Miller himself has an alibi for both murders, Arkwright cannot shake the feeling that he is somehow involved---not least because he is clearly very frightened, yet refrains from appealing to the police. The detectives learn that Miller, who came to England from South Africa, was involved there in a case of receiving stolen gems for which his manager went to jail---and that the manager has just been released; but an even more ominous possibility is raised by the Special Branch, with the case perhaps stretching back to events during the war...

    The laws of coincidence are admittedly amazing, but Constantine refused to believe that the injury to Mrs Miller's denture, an injury that would oblige the dentist to leave her alone in the consulting room while he supervised his mechanic's work, was due to an accident. Assuming that the damage was done intentionally, it placed the murderer definitely as a member of Miller's household, some one who was conversant with Mrs Miller's habits and who had easy access to the bathroom in which she kept the teeth at night. This knowledge must also have extended to Davenport's house and it seemed safe to argue that the murderer was or had been, at one time, a patient of Davenport's.
    Whether he had made use of the empty house next door as a means of escape was still open to question, but it seemed significant, to say the least of it, that this house should turn out to be the property of Mrs Marks, whose affairs were in Miller's hands. The property had been bought as an investment and there seemed little doubt that the purchase had been made by Miller on her behalf. Constantine had a shrewd suspicion that the keys of that house were probably in the possession of her trustee at the moment.
    And, finally, Vera Abramoff was on her way to Miller's house when she died. Miller, it would seem, was the centre to which every path in that bewildering maze led, and yet Miller had been on the other side of London at the time of his wife's death and at work in his library when Vera Abramoff was killed...

Apr 10, 9:30pm

>85 lyzard: Do Americans have more generalized fear/dread of the dentist, so the title was changed to reassure them, "It's fine, the dentist won't hurt you — but I'd kept an eye on your fellow patients if I were you"?!

(Note that I deliberately did not make a joke about the comparative quality of the two countries' dental hygiene at the time this book was written. Whoops, I guess I sort of just did. Sorry about that, Brits.)

Apr 10, 11:07pm

>86 rosalita:

The vast majority of Unnecessary Title Changes involve readers being assured that there will be a murder!

Hmm. Pretty big talk for someone who, as an American, is obviously a gun-toting red-neck. :P

Edited: Apr 11, 6:02pm

Publication date: 1931
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Read for: 1931 reading / TIOLI (furniture vocabulary word in the first paragraph)

Crime In The Arcade - At a lodging-house in the seaside town of Bewmouth, Miss Mary Marden observes calmly that she thinks the victim of a recent freak accident was her uncle; horrifying the socially conscious gathering, who know that William Spence was no more than a retired waiter. Mary's only supporter is Jerry Hay, who tells her that he had been chatting terms with Spence and liked him, and offers to drive Mary around while she finishes up her uncle's affairs and attends his funeral. Along the way, Mary reveals the little she knows of her uncle, who left home at seventeen and led a wandering life; while Jerry comments on the great unlikelihood of the fatal accident, Spence having been killed by falling glass in a local arcade. Despite this, Mary and Jerry agree it probably was just an accident - who would want to murder a waiter? - until Mary comes into her uncle's few effects---which includes a diary of his travels from which pages have been recently torn... This standalone mystery by "Walter Proudfoot" (John Haslette Vahey, probably best known these days by his alternative pseudonym, Vernon Loder) is a very odd mix of mystery, thriller and low-key romance---the latter perhaps its most disconcerting aspect, as it adds a note of humour to a nasty situation. Attracted, but unsure how to advance their casual meeting, Jerry and Mary end up using the death of the unfortunate William Spence as an excuse to go on seeing each other, under the guise of playing amateur detective; though neither really believes it wasn't an accident, in spite of the freakish circumstances. However, as they look into it, it begins to dawn on them that something is badly wrong... The death at the centre of Crime In The Arcade takes some swallowing, though in a way that's the point: though dismissed as an accidental death at the inquest, the more that Jerry and Mary examine the circumstances the harder they find it to believe. How did the glass break, anyway? - and is it actual possible to aim broken glass? - and, for that matter, could the jugular slash that killed William Spence really have been inflicted by falling glass? If it was murder, the only possible motive seems to be connected to Spence's damaged diary: a neat, careful man, would he have town out the pages so roughly? - and why would he want to destroy the record, and just that, of his time spent travelling in America? However, during their investigations Jerry and Mary learn that, sitting along from Spence when the accident happened, was Mrs Grundling, a rather eccentric but wealthy old woman, with a nephew waiting impatiently for an inheritance: an altogether more likely murder victim, they consider; but in that case, what went wrong...?

    Jerry took the piece from her and whistled. "Look here! The straight break is on the side where it fitted into the wood. You can see a tiny discolouration parallel with it. That is where the putty was."
    Mary nodded. "It does look that sort of thing, but what then?"
    He shrugged. "It suggests that someone cut into that glass with a glazier's diamond. If the base of the pane was scored deeply, a slight blow might break out the whole thing, and send it down... If we are right, the pane must have been cut from above, and the only access to the roof from that side would be by means of ladders..."
    Mary bit her lip. "I hate to think it, but it does seem to have been deliberately done. Though, even then, how could the murderer be sure that uncle would be hit?"
    Jerry Hay put the glass back in the paper and stowed it in the dickey once more. "That's our trouble all along. When I said yesterday that your uncle's hat might give a clue, I meant that, as he was wearing it, unless the sliver had cut through the brim it could not strike him on the neck. You remember Mrs Grundling's hat came off badly, but she herself was practically unhurt. It may be difficult or impossible to prove, but a sharp instrument, held in the hand of someone who passed behind where your uncle was sitting, is the most likely weapon..."

Apr 11, 7:25am

>87 lyzard: Ha, exactly! Stones and glass houses and all that.

Apr 11, 5:52pm

>89 rosalita:

It's a slippery slope! :D

BTW, speaking of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe - and sorry, I know I've asked you this before - where are you up to with Poirot?

Edited: Apr 11, 6:55pm

Publication date: 1932
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Maigret #14
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (published between 1930 and 2021)

Chez les Flamands (translation title: With The Flemish; alternative titles: The Flemish House, Maigret And The Flemish Shop) - Inspector Maigret travels to Givet, in the north of France, near the Belgian border, on a case that he knows is none of his business. A Flemish family, the Peeters, are suspected on kidnapping or murdering the mother of the child fathered by Joseph Peeters, a law student, and the only son of the family; and according to the local police, an arrest is imminent. But after Anna Peeters, the stoic eldest daughter, travels to Paris to see him, bearing a letter of introduction from his wife's cousin, who knows her, Maigret feels a strange compulsion to intervene... Like many of Georges Simenon's Maigret mysteries, Chez les Flamands depends very much for its effect upon the author's rich atmosphere; and time is spent depicting the town of Givet, the surrounding waters, the docks and barges and those who work on them; and the Peeters' combined home and business, situated exactly on the border of France and Belgium, half-in, half-out. However, the other key aspect of Simenon's writing, the psychology of the characters and Maigret's extrapolation of this into action, is, I think, not as satisfactory here as it usually is: the grounds for some of Maigret's deductions remain unclear, and the characters' behaviour does not always seem to make sense---and at points, that includes Maigret's. However, Simenon succeeds in evoking the strange, almost suffocating atmosphere that has arisen since the disappearance of Germaine Piedbœuf, and the resulting mix of "tragedy and petty meanness", as Maigret puts it to himself. The Peeters' were resented as "foreigners" even before this; but now the town has united against them. Maigret learns that, despite the Peeters' doubts, Germaine insisted that Joseph was the father of her child, and finally pressured him into agreeing to marry her; thus disrupting the family's long-held plans for his marriage with a relative, Marguerite Van de Weert. Germaine did visit the Peeters' on the night she disappeared; so did Marguerite; and while Joseph was supposedly many miles away, at Nancy, a witness stubbornly - maliciously, according to the Peeters - insists they saw his motorcycle in the vicinity. In light of Maigret's presence, no arrest is made, but tensions remain high---spilling over when Germaine's body is pulled from the river, not at Givet, but some seventy miles away...

    Gérard Piedbœuf's back was turned towards Maigret, and they could only see each other by means of the mirrors.
    The card-players were only playing half-heartedly, making mistakes, and forgetting to score.
    "Some brandy," ordered Gérard. "Liqueur brandy..."
    The proprietor was on the point of refusing, but he didn't want to precipitate a scene. He looked inquiringly towards Maigret, but the latter made no sign.
    "A dirty, filthy, rotten business!... First of all they take our girls, and then cut their throats when they've had enough of them... And the police..."
    But Maigret was picturing the night watchman going round the workshops in his uniform tunic, dyed black, with his storm lantern to light him on his way. How long would it take for those potatoes to cook?
    His mind wandered back to the town side of the river. The Piedbœuf's house. The child sleeping in its railed-in cot. The midwife knitting or reading the paper, waiting until Gérard came home.
    Further off, the Flemish shop. They'd have wakened the old man and taken him upstairs to bed. Madame Peeters pulling down the shutters. Anna all alone, undressing in her room.
    And the barges sleeping in the Meuse, bumping each other, straining at their hawsers, their rudders creaking, the water swirling under their keels...

Apr 11, 7:24pm

August stats:

Works read: 16
TIOLI: 16, in 14 different challenges, with 0 shared reads

Mystery / thriller: 12
Classic: 2
Contemporary drama: 1
Young adult: 1

Series works: 12
Re-reads: 0
Blog reads: 0
1932: 2
1931: 2
Virago / Persephone: 0
Potential decommission: 0

Owned: 0
Library: 0
Ebooks: 16

Male authors : female authors: undetermined: 11 : 4 : 1

Oldest work: Zastrozzi, A Romance by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1810) / St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1810)
Newest work: The Gazebo by Patricia Wentworth (1955)


YTD stats:

Works read: 107
TIOLI: 107, in 94 different challenges, with 6 shared reads, and 1 sweep

Mystery / thriller: 63
Classic: 16
Young adult: 11
Contemporary drama: 6
Historical romance: 3
Historical drama: 3
Non-fiction: 2
Horror: 2
Humour: 1

Series works: 65
Re-reads: 11
Blog reads: 6
1932: 2
1931: 8
Virago / Persephone: 2
Potential decommission: 5

Owned: 12
Library: 18
Ebooks: 77

Male authors : female authors : anonymous : undetermined: 70 : 36 : 1 : 1

Oldest work: The Reviv'd Fugitive: A Gallant Historical Novel by Peter Belon (1690)
Newest work: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (2019)

Edited: Apr 11, 7:26pm

You heard me: August.

Oh, stop looking so shocked...

Apr 11, 7:24pm

>90 lyzard: The next Poirot I will read is Taken at the Flood. I did read One, Two, Buckle My Shoe and apparently really liked it because I gave it 4.5 stars. I remember enjoying the dental office setting and the plot points around that.

Apr 11, 7:27pm

Ahem. Since you're here... :D

Ah, yes. That's a bit of an uncomfortable one. But I remember now discussing the ending of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe with you. And it's another one where Poirot stands up for an "unimportant" murder victim.

Apr 11, 7:41pm

>93 lyzard: SLOTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That cute little guy was not there when I posted in >94 rosalita: or I certainly would have squealed first, talked about Poirot second. :-D

Apr 11, 7:50pm

>93 lyzard: Adorable!

Apr 11, 9:12pm

>96 rosalita:

It was almost simultaneous. :D

>97 cbl_tn:

Hi, Carrie - thanks! :)

Edited: Apr 12, 6:01pm

Publication date: 1863
Genre: Classic
Read for: Virago project / group read

Salem Chapel - Newly qualified Dissenting minister, Arthur Vincent, arrives in Carlingford full of high hopes and ambition, but soon wonders if he has made a serious mistake. Though he carries out his duties at Salem Chapel with fervour and conviction, Vincent finds little to do in Carlingford in terms of working with the poor and those who might be reclaimed. Furthermore, his education has given him the tastes and attitudes of a gentleman, but his position in Carlingford is firmly amongst the businessmen and tradespeople who make up the Dissenting community; and it is not long before the expectation of a constant round of petty social functions begins to grate upon him. More seriously still, Vincent becomes infatuated with the lovely young widow, Lady Western: in seeking her company, he crosses Carlingford's social divide into the realm of the town's upper classes, who are of the Established Church; and his flock is not slow in making their disapproval felt. But Vincent's personal problems are soon overtaken by far more serious ones when some worrying letters from his mother are followed by the news that his sister has disappeared... Preceded by two short stories and a novella, Salem Chapel is the first full-length work in Margaret Oliphant's 'Chronicles of Carlingford'. Though many 19th century English novels deal with the upheaval and factional in-fighting that marked the religious belief and practice of that time, this is a rare one set amongst the Nonconformists; and of course one written with an outsider's eye (devoted Nonconformists did not approve of novels, let alone write them). Oliphant's depiction of the Carlingford 'connection' is both well-observed and a little unfair: there is a distinct note of class snobbery in the scenes involving the tradespeople and their families, though the individual characterisations are both humorous and believable; so that while Oliphant makes Vincent's frequent ungraciousness clear, we also understand why the forced company of his flock begins to shred his nerves. Arthur Vincent is, however, in all respects a problematic protagonist---and not always a credible one. Though himself the son of a Dissenting minister, he arrives in Carlingford apparently completely unprepared for the often dull realities of his duties and social position, including the need to tiptoe around the sensibilities of his congregation, who hired and can fire him. Unable to find any congenial companionship amongst his own people, Vincent is separately drawn to two highly unsuitable women: the beautiful but frivolous Lady Western, who he unwisely and futilely pursues; and the mysterious Mrs Hilyard, who is obviously a lady, but lives withdrawn and isolated, supporting herself through needlework, and whose ambiguous, rather caustic attitude becomes a challenge to Vincent; though he never dreams how deeply she will become involved in the crisis that overwhelms his life... Unexpectedly, the second half of Salem Chapel takes a turn into the realm of the so-called "sensation fiction" so popular at the time, in spite of critical disapproval, with Vincent pulled into the bewildering and tragic matter of his sister's disappearance. Though this outbreak of melodrama is gripping in itself, it blends very uneasily with the novel's domestic scenes, and particularly with Oliphant's semi-comic scenes involving the Carlingford tradespeople. The result is a very uneven novel, excellent in parts, but with a shifting tone that works against the success of the whole.

    Vincent went angry and impetuous down-stairs. “I will not submit to any inquisition,” cried the young man. “I have done nothing I am ashamed of. If I dine with a friend, I will suffer no questioning on the subject. What do you mean? What right has any man in any connection to interfere with my actions? Why, you would not venture to attack your servant so! Am I the servant of this congregation? Am I their slave? Must I account to them for every accident of my life? Nobody in the world has a right to make such a demand upon me.”
    “If a minister ain’t a servant, we pays him his salary at the least, and expects him to please us,” said Tozer, sulkily. “If it weren’t for that, I don’t give a sixpence for the Dissenting connection. Them as likes to please themselves would be far better in a State Church, where it wouldn’t disappoint nobody; not meaning to be hard on you as has given great satisfaction, them’s my views; but if the Chapel folks is a little particular, it’s no more nor a pastor’s duty to bear with them, and return a soft answer. I don’t say as I’m dead again’ you, like the women,” added the butterman, softening; “they’re jealous, that’s what they are; but I couldn’t find it in my heart, not for my own part, to be hard on a man as was led away after a beautiful creature like that. But there can’t no good come of it, Mr Vincent; take my advice, sir, as have seen a deal of the world---there can’t no good come of it. A man as goes dining with Lady Western, and thinking as she means to make a friend of him, ain’t the man for Salem...”
    It was well for Vincent that the worthy butterman was lengthy in his address. The sharp impression of resentment and indignation which possessed him calmed down under this outpouring of words. He bethought himself of his dignity, his character. A squabble of self-defence, in which the sweet name of the lady of his dreams must be involved---an angry encounter of words about her, down here in this mean world to which the very thought of her was alien, wound up her young worshipper into supernatural self-restraint. He edged past the table in the back-parlour to the window, and stood there looking out with a suppressed fever in his veins, biting his lip, and bearing his lecture...
    “I will write to one of my friends in Homerton,” he said, “if you will make an apology for me in the chapel. I daresay I could get Beecher to come down, who is a very clever fellow; and as for the beginning of that course of sermons---”
    He stopped short with a certain suppressed disgust. Good heavens! what mockery it seemed. Amid these agonies of life, a man overwhelmed with deadly fear, hatred, and grief might indeed pause to snatch a burning lesson, or appropriate with trembling hands a consolatory promise; but with the whole solemn future of his sister’s life hanging on a touch, with all the happiness and peace of his own involved in a feverish uncertainty, with dark unsuspected depths of injury and wretchedness opening at his feet---to think of courses of sermons and elaborate preachments, ineffectual words, and pretences of teaching!

Apr 17, 8:37am

So glad to see Salem Chapel here, Liz. I’d just decided yesterday to go back through the Carlingford novels and sort of get up to speed.

Apr 17, 6:35pm

>100 Matke:

I was glad to finally get that written! The consensus has been to keep moving along with this series in the group reads, so we will be doing Miss Marjoribanks next, probably around September.

Edited: Apr 22, 1:55am

Publication date: 2000
Genre: Contemporary drama
Read for: Potential decommission / TIOLI {phrase “bestselling author” on the cover)

Scarlet Feather - In Dublin, friends and catering-school graduates, Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, join forces in a new business venture, Scarlet Feather, offering in-home catering for parties of all kinds as well as for business functions. While the business begins well, the hours poured into it begin to put a strain upon Cathy and Tom's relationships. Cathy is married to Neil Mitchell, and proud of his legal work on behalf of refugees, though it often takes him away from home; while Tom is living with his girlfriend, Marcella whose determination to pursue a career as a model leads her to make some desperate choices. Over the first year of Scarlet Feather's existence, Cathy and Tom experience both success and disaster; both helped and hindered by the network of relatives and friends that makes up their social circles... One of Maeve Binchy's interconnected novels of life in Dublin, Scarlet Feather is well-observed and engaging, though also flawed. The main issue here is that Binchy's determination to make her story "a year in the life" - it runs from one New Year's Eve to the next - means that it is longer than it needed to be, and also contains a bit too much repetition, particularly (on the business side) its scenes of Cathy and Tom cleaning up after a gig, and conversely (on the personal side) Cathy's clashes with her snobbish, disapproving mother-in-law, Hannah. It also seems to me that both Cathy and Tom were more culpable in the difficulties arising in their relationships than Binchy realised, or perhaps was willing to admit; though that said, Cathy and Tom becoming increasingly each other's main emotional as well as professional support is convincing. In any event, the passages involving their preparations for their different business engagements and their often desperate efforts to keep things running smoothly, "on stage" if not behind the scenes, are often strangely gripping and even suspenseful. Around this central concept, Scarlet Feather offers another serving of Binchy's recurring characters (with events and allusions not always entirely graspable, if you haven't read the other books; this is only my second), and a detailed depiction of life in Dublin at all of its levels---exemplified by the parents of Cathy and Neil, his wealthy but stand-offish and rather cold, hers part of an extended working-class circle where the more is the merrier---and with an apparently insuperable divide created by the fact that Lizzie Scarlet used to be Hannah Mitchell's cleaning lady: something Hannah can neither forgive or forget; for which Cathy cannot forgive her. However, the triumph of Scarlet Feather is its characterisations of Maud and Simon, the neglected nine-year-old twins of Jock Mitchell's brother, Kenneth, who are first foisted onto the dismayed Mitchells, and then gradually absorbed into the far more welcoming Scarlet family---and who, in the process, steal the book.

    Tom said that the whole trick for the estate agents' reception was setting up the Spanish atmosphere... Cathy wanted little labels on the individual little plates of tapas showing how typically Spanish they were; Tom begged her to believe that all they wanted was the feel that they were actually in Spain already which the sangria, Rioja and the click of the castanets would give them. They were showing off to potential clients and the press. But she wanted it to be right, there would be some people there, surely, who would know and recognise the real thing.
    "Would it be educational for us to go to it, do you think?" Simon wondered the night before.
    "No," said Cathy briefly, and saw their two disappointed faces. "Thank you for suggesting it, but actually it would be boring and depressing for you. Have I ever told you a lie?"
    They paused to consider this question. "No," they said at exactly the same time. "Will there be leftovers, do you think?"
    "Not at St Jarlath's tomorrow, Maud. Your aunt Hannah is coming to Waterview tomorrow, tomorrow night, to supper with Neil and myself."
    "Are you going to poison her?" Simon asked.
    "Of course not, I'm going to serve her and your uncle Jock some delicious Spanish food and try and make my hair look good."
    "Why would she want to see your hair?" Maud asked.
    "Believe me, Maud, I'm not sure, but she does..."
    The real estate agents loved the lunch. None of them mentioned the food; they all talked about the atmosphere. "Right again, Tom," Cathy said, genuinely admiring...
    "They needed good food as a backup," he reassured her. "If it hadn't been as good as it was, we would have heard the complaints..."
    Cathy was pacing two separate boxes, a small one for the twins who would be hoping for something, and another to provide most of the meal tonight when the Mitchells were coming to Waterview. Please may Neil not be late again. Please may Jock not know any of the estate agents here today who might have mentioned they were at a Spanish lunch. And please may Hannah Mitchell not get into a temper because she hadn't used the hair voucher...

Apr 22, 8:44am

>102 lyzard: I am an unabashed Binchy fan, so I can tell you confidently that Maud and Simon — and Hooves! — steal every single book they make an appearance in.

Apr 22, 5:31pm

>103 rosalita:

AND Hooves! Should certainly have mentioned Hooves. :D

Apr 22, 5:52pm

>104 lyzard: Everyone needs a Hooves in their life. Well, I'm guessing your feline roommates wouldn't agree, but everyone else, certainly. ;-)

Edited: Apr 22, 7:57pm

Publication date: 1926
Genre: Contemporary drama
Read for: Potential decommission / TIOLI (title of the first chapter is a common noun)

A Woman In Exile - The aristocratic d'Aguilars, forced by financial circumstances to leave England and live inexpensively in Brittany, faces a crisis when Chester Cowlard proposes to their only child, Lucy. In one respect the match would be a godsend: Chester is a rising young man, with a fortune part-inherited, part-made; and marriage with him would secure Lucy's future (and, indirectly, that of her parents). The fly in the ointment is that Chester is American, and expects Lucy to live in America; worse still, in California. Nevertheless, Lucy takes the plunge. The marriage is a success - Lucy loves her husband - and she adjusts to life in America, at least up to a point: and the more America thrusts itself upon her, the more defiantly English Lucy becomes... Horace Annesley Vachell was himself English, but lived in California for many years---marrying a local woman and (so legend has it) introducing polo to his new countrymen, before returning to Enland after he was widowed; so in A Woman In Exile, he knew of what he wrote. Though a serious novel in many respects, there is also a thread of wry humour here, with Vachell poking some gentle fun at both sides of the Atlantic divide---right from the initial failure of Chester and the senior d'Aguilars to understand one another: Chester himself is your typical hustling young American, raised to build his life around business and the making of money; while being an aristocrat, Mr d'Aguilar was - as Lucy serenely puts it - raised to spend money...his own or that of others. But though he has his fun, Vachell is sympathetic enough with Lucy's struggle to readjust in her new home, her sense of being a fish out of water, and her resentment at being treated like some sort of exhibit - the Compleet Englishwoman - by her new acquaintances; though she keeps her feelings to herself. While Chester is alive, Lucy's discomfort is a minor thing; but when, as he has always seemed destined to do, he works himself into an early grave, Lucy's sense of dislocation comes to dominate her life... A Woman In Exile is also a generation gap novel: Lucy is the product of Victorian parents, but her own children not only inherit their father's hustle, but are very much part of the reckless, between-the-wars generation---and they consider themselves Americans, to their mother's increasing dismay. Convinced that Perry and April can only be saved from disaster by being removed from their current environment and friends, Lucy carries them away, first to Europe, and then to England - to Dorrington, the ancestral home of the d'Aguilars - for a course of English standards---not anticipating how much England, too, has changed...

    Lucy slept little that night. Possibly her subconscious mind drove sleep from her pillow. She recalled what Alethea had said about the pioneer streak in the children. Out of her subconscious mind welled afresh that amorphous hatred of California which she had thought had passed from her for ever. California had been to her what the sea is to sailors, a dulce monstrum. It had given and taken---Chet: it had made her happy and miserable. Now it threatened the happiness and welfare of her children...
    "I have been living in a fool's paradise," Lucy said.
    "Really? You are not a fool; and I've always wondered whether California was a paradise to you."
    Lucy remained silent. After a pause Alethea went one: "You say you are going abroad to put the finishing touches on the children's education---a silly phrase; as if education was ever finished. It wouldn't surprise me a little bit if Perry and April educated you more than you will educate them..."
    Old Harve, who abhorred smart society but talked with anxious fathers at the Pacific Union Club, also accepted the report without much comment, saying: "It's a phase; it will pass." Then he lay back in his chair and looked keenly at Lucy. "Have you told me everything?"
    "Yes. I shall go first to France, and then to Dorrington. In England I can exercise supervision; I can choose their friends..."

Edited: Apr 22, 11:05pm

Publication date: 1931
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Read for: 1931 reading / TIOLI (last three letters of author's name reversed make word)

The House Of Murder - Basil Towne, a young American, travels to Mentone on the French-Italian border to negotiate for a syndicate the purchase of the famous Harlequin pearls. He arranges with their owner, the Baroness von Stromberg, to have a preliminary viewing at her country house. However, when he arrives it is to find that Baroness shot dead, the pearls missing---and soon enough, himself under suspicion. His main accuser is the dead woman's maid, who insists she heard a shot fired even as Basil was approaching the house. He is saved, not by the medical evidence, which indicates that the Baroness was shot through the very window he approached, but by the discovery at the scene of a tiny crystal bird: the mark of "The Swan", a daring jewel thief long sought by the police of Europe... This French-set mystery / thriller by Henry Leyford Gates is a rather eye-rollingly improbable bit of nonsense. It manages some effective suspense scenes, but it also trots out all of the most absurd tropes of its genre---offering up a beautiful female jewel thief, The Swan, aka The Lady of Death; her murderous accomplice, The Man With The Duck's Bill (no, really); an egotistical, "hawk-like" detective, The Great Giroff, who has vowed to stop them or die trying; and a two-fisted American hero who of course falls in love at first sight with a beautiful but mysterious young woman. "The House of Murder" of the title is not that at which the Baroness von Stromberg is robbed and murdered, but that at which The Swan began her deadly career. From Dr Marsac, the eccentric medical examiner, Basil learns of the career of the elusive Swan, including their first crime at a now-deserted house lying between Mentone and Monte Carlo. Very well aware that Inspector Lacrosse, who was first on the scene, still regards him with deep suspicion, Basil is annoyed but not surprised to find himself under police surveillance. However, as he he prepares to return to Mentone from Monte Carlo, where he has been undergoing interrogation, he receives a strange warning: that the matter of the Harlequin pearls is not over; that The Swan will speak again; and that, if he knows what is good for him, when driving to Mentone he will stick to the frequented Upper Road... Pondering this warning, as he drives through the night a perverse instinct leads Basil to turn off the main road and take the proscribed lower way---and almost immediately, he not only finds himself facing danger and mystery in the so-called House of Murder, but falling hard for a beautiful girl who is somehow connected with the increasingly bizarre and deadly crimes of the jewel thieves...

    “I, too, have thought a great deal---of you, and Worcester.”
    Jacqueline smiled. “That is very nice. But what would they think, there, of a young lady who shoots bandits and protects their leader; who would have killed The Great Giroff, just a little while ago, if you had not been so close she was afraid she might hit you instead?”
    Basil ignored her question, to ask in return: “Why would you have done that? What is the mystery of you, dear girl? Am I never to know?”
    “In a little while. But while we wait, I shall tell you this: I have known the Duck's Bill for only a short time. It was Jules Manton who told me of him. Jules Manton wanted me---and I went into the Lower road to kill him. Guillaume might have temporised. I was afraid he would spare him. I wanted to kill him myself. It has never been The Swan, but Jules Manton, who led The Duck's Bill to his murders. I love The Swan. If Monsieur l'Inspecteur will permit, I shall take you to her. Because of me, Basil Towne, you will perhaps love The Swan a little bit also.”
    “But who---?" Basil began his interminable question. She would not let him finish.
    “For these few minutes, Basil Towne, you will talk to me---how shall I say it? As if you came to me, in your Worcester, and we are going soon to a dance. You would say pretty things, not so? Perhaps you would flirt just a little---very well! Let us flirt a little, Basil Towne, as if I, Jacqueline Ogilvie, knew nothing of The Lady of Death and The Man With the Duck's Bill, and knew nothing of the garotte of the headhunters of Assam---but knew only how to dance! Just talk to me, Basil Towne, my American...”

Edited: Apr 23, 8:25pm

Publication date: 1934
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Philip Tolefree #5
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI ("all" or "nothing" in the title or author's name)

The Five Suspects (US title: Legacy Of Death) - Solicitor Richard Spink and his young protégé, John Herrington, have a violent falling out over the latter's wish to marry Spink's step-daughter, Joan Linfield. During their second argument on the subject, in Spink's garden-office, Herrington refuses to hear what else Spink wants to tell him, and rushes away into the night. After a moment, an exasperated Spink goes after him... Four people subsequently call at Spink's office: Joan; Philip Tolefree, an acquaintance from London; Mr Avery, a local magistrate; and Mr Morland, a lawyer. At length the four depart, having an odd encounter with Spink's unreliable, often drunken clerk on the way out. It is not until Monday morning that Spink is seen again---his dead body pulled from the canal beside the tow-path behind his house; drowned, but with finger-marks on his throat. Of John Herrington, there is no sign... Secrets in a small town is the theme of R. A. J. Walling's The Five Suspects, the fifth entry in his series featuring Philip Tolefree. This is quite a satisfying mystery, though told in Walling's usual low-key, even meandering style; so that it takes its time over where it's going, and even over tipping its hand as to the actual motive for Richard Spink's murder. Tolefree comes at the matter "sideways", as it were: this series, like Tolefree himself, prefers to forget he was ever an insurance investigator; but it is a policy arranged for Miss Anna Minching, for the benefit of Joan Linfield, that brings Tolefree to the town of Farchester; though it is Joan's situation that keeps him there. Having already lost her friend, who treated her like a de facto daughter, Joan must now face the murder of her step-father and the disappearance of the man she considers her fiancé; and it is clear to the chivalrous Tolefree that she needs someone to stand by her. Police suspicion is focused upon the missing John Herrington, but an alternative motive for Richard Spink's murder emerges when it is discovered Spink had arranged to meet with the local Clerk of the Justices, to lay an official information before him; with the cautious phrasing of the letter to the clerk, Mr Halfyard, suggesting not only a matter of grave importance, but that the person involved was of prominent standing in the community. As the investigation proceeds, it becomes evident that Spink was concerned over Anna Minching's estate, of which he was executor, and that documents pertaining to the estate are now missing from his office. To this observation, Tolefree adds a still more startling piece of information: that Anna Minching's will, read after her funeral, was not in fact her last will: this document having been deliberately withheld by Spink, who was killed before he could reveal its contents...

    "Well---I'll trust you," said Morland. "I would like someone to know this, just in case. I believe that if Miss Minching had made me her executor I should be as dead as Spink at this moment. But that's not all---I have actually by a strange turn of the wheel become her executor."
    "What!" cried Tolefree.
    "Yes, indeed: this way. Spink's will is in his safe, and it appoints me his executor. I've inherited his responsibility and all that it involves. But, till the murderer of Spink is safe under lock and key, you can be certain that will don't come out of the safe!..."
    "I've developed some ideas about this case, too," said Tolefree. "I shall certainly pursue them now. Meanwhile, if the police chanced to confine their attention to Herrington, I think it wouldn't altogether be a disadvantage. Your view---"
    "Of course I think so too. Put other people off their guard. But I think so only on one condition---that you try to get under the guard."
    "I might. It's possible---if you tell me what's on your mind. I won't ask if you've fixed it upon any particular person---"
    "No good if you did. I haven't. All I've done is to make up my mind that the person isn't Herrington. The rest is surmise from facts I've noticed... First---six o'clock. Avery and myself called to Spink's, what for? To discuss Miss Minching's affairs. Spink not there---Spink, indeed, dead a few yards away, but effectively out of sight. I draw a conclusion from that, Tolefree: that someone did not want Miss Minching's affairs discussed..."

Edited: Apr 23, 9:36pm

Publication date: 1932
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Hildegarde Withers #3
Read for: 1932 reading / TIOLI (has significant action in an educational establishment)

Murder On The Blackboard - A remark passed, about pretty young teacher, Miss Halloran, and the principal, Mr Macfarland, wins young Leland Jones detention; meaning that his teacher, Miss Hildegarde Withers, must also stay back after class. Miss Withers is pondering her gossipy colleagues - no doubt the source of the rumour - when it occurs to her that she heard Anise Halloran's high heels passing the classroom some time before, headed for the teachers' cloakroom---but that she never came back. She does hear those heels again, eventually, but stumbling oddly; and as soon as she can, she goes looking for Miss Halloran, fearing that she may be ill. What she finds is Anise Halloran's dead body: she has been murdered, and left in the cloakroom. Miss Withers sends hurriedly for Inspector Oscar Piper, with orders for him to come alone, and as quietly as he can, as she is convinced the killer has not left the school; but by the time the two re-enter the cloakroom, Anise Halloran's body has disappeared... Though she first crossed paths with it during a school excursion to the Brooklyn Aquarium, murder finds amateur detective Hildegarde Withers firmly on her home turf in Murder On The Blackboard. Stuart Palmer has some fun with his incongruous elements, with professional rivalries and staffroom gossip rubbing shoulders with bloody murder and mystery; the private lives of the staff becoming very public indeed; the geography of the three-storey (four including the cellar) Jefferson School playing an important role in the action; and the killer initially making his or her escape from the premises via the fire exit and a back-fence gate...which does rather argue a thorough knowledge of that geography. Hildegarde's own detailed knowledge, gleaned during a decade on the job, becomes a vital aspect of the subsequent investigation, which falls even more upon her own shoulders than she was wishing when Piper, having sent her to summon his colleagues, is viciously struck down while pursuing a noise coming from the cellar... In the the absence of the hospitalised Inspector Piper, the police, led by Sergeant George Taylor, take official charge of the investigation. When Anise Halloran's missing body is found in the school furnace, almost destroyed by fire, suspicion falls upon the surly, often drunken janitor, Anderson, around whom the police soon build a prima facie case. Hildegarde Withers, meanwhile, continues to pursue her own train of thought; and while she makes progress, she also begins to suspect that her hand is being forced: worse, that the killer is making use of her for his or her own purposes...

    Miss Withers pursed her lips very tightly. "I only know who."
    "Well, spill it!...who is it? The flower of the old South, Mr A. Robert Stevenson? Waldo Emerson Macfarland, who writes an essay every day and two on Sundays? One of the other teachers---say that big husky Pearson girl who wears low-heeled shoes and mannish clothes?"
    "I'm making no announcements now," insisted Hildegarde Withers. "If I told you what I'm thinking, you would have the Sergeant and probably those two blundering detectives Allen and Burns making an arrest within five minutes. And then you'd discover, after a few weeks, that there wasn't sufficient evidence against that person to convict, and the case would be dropped."
    "Maybe it would and maybe it wouldn't," the Inspector argued. "Say, I bet I know who you're putting the finger on! A woman could have done this job, hatchet and shovel and all!"
    Miss Withers kept her face impassive. "Remember one thing while you're guessing, Oscar Piper. The murderer of Anise Halloran was smart and clever. This is one of the most diabolic and ingenious plots I've ever heard of, but also the most confusing. Because things are not what they seem..."
    "Skim milk masquerades as cream," chimed in the Inspector, finishing the old ditty.
    "Exactly. And the whole thing was planned to represent a crime of passion, when there was about as much passion in it really as a butcher shows when he does whatever is done to a steer..."

Edited: Apr 24, 7:28pm

Publication date: 1929
genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Anthony Bathurst #6
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (author's last name has 7 characters or less)

Invisible Death - Anthony Bathurst receives a plea for help from Constance Whittaker, who tells him only that her husband is in danger, and gives him detailed instructions for reaching in safety their country house. Bathurst is soon convinced that the danger, whatever it might be, is real enough, when he finds himself being shadowed by four different men. Given the odds, Bathurst recruits his friend, Peter Daventry; but in spite of following the elaborate precautions suggested by Mrs Whittaker, they find the four shadowers on their tale, and are forced into desperate action in order to reach Shadowcliffe Hall. Bathurst takes something of a dislike to Major Whittaker, but soon realises his danger is real enough. According to the Major, the situation has its roots in a war-time mission to Petrograd, in which he was involved with the destruction of a dangerous covert group; though in the chaos following the assassination of the Royal family, several of its leaders escaped. Now, according to Whittaker, those individuals have tracked him down to regain possession of critical documents seized at the time; or, failing that, to murder him in revenge... This sixth entry in Brian Flynn's series featuring self-appointed detective / adventurer, Anthony Bathurst, is more a thriller than a mystery, though we eventually do get elements of the latter. Invisible Death contains all of what I consider this series' shortcomings (although that's a matter of taste), adding an overdone laughing-at-danger tone to the standard irritations of Bathurst's and Daventry's conversation - very "dear old" and "jolly old" - too much inane slang, and Flynn's writing style, with his habit of putting anything that even vaguely resembles slang or a nickname into inverted commas (making his jolly old sentences rather "jerky", dontcha know). The narrative also, finally, turns upon one of the most groan-worthy clichés of this particular subgenre. On the other hand, Invisible Death also does something unusual and rather interesting, with Major Whittaker turning out to be an unreliable, even dishonest, client; and Bathurst and Daventry having to face the fact that they may be risking their lives for someone who doesn't deserve it... Gathered inside Swallowcliffe Hall, in addition to the Whittakers, are their old friend, Colonel Fane, his wife, and his niece, Edith Pennington; Whittaker's secretary, Miss Whittingham; his former batman, Neville, and his chauffeur, Richardson, both loyal; and several servants of unknown quality; plus Horace Garland-Isherwood, an American entomologist who picks exactly the wrong moment to wander into the grounds of the Hall. Whittaker continues to insist that the documents demanded by the enemy agents have been destroyed, and when the deadline for their return passes, the household finds itself in a literal state of siege. But even as gunfire breaks out both without and within the house, Major Whittaker collapses, dead... In the wake of this shock - this failure, as he perceives it - Anthony Bathurst steps back and takes stock of the situation---coming to two conclusions: first, that Whittaker was deceiving him about what the enemy agents actually wanted from him; and second, that his death, confirmed to be by poison, means there may be a traitor on the inside...

    Anthony nodded to the floor behind him. "Very well then. If by 'our host' you allude to Major Whittaker of Swallowcliffe Hall, you will find him here. I am afraid that he has fulfilled his last duty of hospitality and I offer you apologies on his behalf. But if you will accept me as his deputy, I am sure you will permit me to express my regret at the coldness of your welcome. Believe me, I would have wished it to be very much warmer."
    Neville grinned at the irony in Mr Bathurst's voice. The "President" glared at Anthony with a mixture of malevolence and doubt. Then he walked across to Whittaker's body.
    "Get up, you scum!" he growled, saluting the prostrate form with a vindictive kick. "You Judas," he continued, get up and show your white-livered face!"
    An oath burst from Colonel Fane's lips, but Schmidt poked his revolver at him ominously and he became silent again.
    "You will pardon me," put in Mr Bathurst, "---I assure you that I hate disturbing you---but you still fail to appreciate the true position. I thought I informed you that Major Whittaker had discharged his last duty as a host. Even the most savage tribes have learned to respect the dead."
    As he spoke, the "President" dropped on his knees beside the body and put an ear to the heart.
    "Dead?" he cried. "Dead? And not by my hand, by God! Then he died too easily, by the Holy Ikon!" He sprang to his feet ad faced them all again. "Which of you killed him? Which of you took the prey from my jaws? Come, speak, you nest of traitors! I'll promise an easy and comfortable passing to the man that killed him. No torture---no pain. Just a friendly bullet..."

Edited: Apr 24, 11:53pm

September stats:

Works read: 11
TIOLI: 11, in 11 different challenges, with 1 shared read

Mystery / thriller: 7
Contemporary drama: 2
Young adult: 1
Classic: 1

Series works: 8
Re-reads: 1
Blog reads: 0
1932: 1
1931: 1
Virago / Persephone: 1
Potential decommission: 1

Owned: 2
Library: 1
Ebooks: 8

Male authors : female authors: 9 : 2

Oldest work: Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant (1863)
Newest work: Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy (2000)


YTD stats:

Works read: 118
TIOLI: 118, in 105 different challenges, with 7 shared reads, and 1 sweep

Mystery / thriller: 70
Classic: 17
Young adult: 12
Contemporary drama: 8
Historical romance: 3
Historical drama: 3
Non-fiction: 2
Horror: 2
Humour: 1

Series works: 73
Re-reads: 12
Blog reads: 6
1932: 3
1931: 9
Virago / Persephone: 3
Potential decommission: 6

Owned: 14
Library: 19
Ebooks: 85

Male authors : female authors : anonymous : undetermined: 79 : 38 : 1 : 1

Oldest work: The Reviv'd Fugitive: A Gallant Historical Novel by Peter Belon (1690)
Newest work: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (2019)

Edited: Apr 24, 12:12am

September! Look at me, tearing through my reviews like---like---

---yeah, okay: like a sloth.

Apr 24, 2:20am

>112 lyzard: Sloth!!!
Only 3 months left to go.

Apr 24, 6:03pm

>113 FAMeulstee:

Less than that, since September was the last 'mostly unwritten' month: so exciting! :D

Edited: Apr 24, 8:26pm

Publication date: 1930
Genre: Young adult
Series: Nancy Drew #2
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (title word starts with 'S')

The Hidden Staircase - Nancy Drew is home alone when she has an ugly encounter with an angry man called Nathan Gombet, who accuses Carson Drew of having helped defraud him in a land deal. Gombet forces his way into the house and tries to search for some papers, but Nancy manages to grab the telephone; and her threat of calling the police sends him away. When her father gets home, Nancy tells him all about it; but a second scene occurs when Gombet returns, claiming he was cheated in the sale of land for the building of a railway bridge. Meanwhile, Nancy calls upon her friend, the elderly Abigail Rowan, who in turn introduces her to Rosemary Turnbull---intimating that Nancy might be able to help Rosemary with a problem. The embarrassed Miss Turnbull then reveals to Nancy that her house seems to be haunted... The second entry in the Nancy Drew series by "Carolyn Keene" (Mildred Wirt Benson, at this point) is a more complex work than its predecessor, The Secret Of The Old Clock, blending together two seemingly disparate and very different mysteries, and having Nancy's investigation reveal an unsuspected connection. The Hidden Staircase also builds and expands upon the earlier work by having the people Nancy helped in that story introduce her to a new "case": with Allie Horner a valuable source of information, and Miss Rowan's friends, the Turnbull sisters, turning to Nancy when they are unable to get official help in the matter of their apparent haunting. After telling of the noises and other manifestations, including objects disappearing, Rosemary admits that they are beginning to get on her nerves; while her sister, Floretta, is so frightened, she wants to sell their old house and move. When Carson Drew tells her he must go away again on business, Nancy decides to stay with the Turnbulls---and almost immediately, she receives an anonymous letter warning her away; but how could anyone have known...? Though a thorough search of the house reveals nothing, on her first night with the Turnbulls, Nancy, too, experiences strange phenomena; though she is sure there is a rational explanation. However, she is diverted from her investigation by a mystery of a far more serious and alarming kind when, after completing his business in Chicago, her father disappears...

    The house was as quiet as a tomb. Yet there was something about the silence which was ominous.
    “This will never do,” Nancy chided herself severely, as she felt a cold chill creeping over her.
    Resolutely, she closed her eyes, but sleep would not come. She tried the time-worn device of counting the sheep, but in vain. It was as though a faculty over which she had no control had elected to maintain a vigil. Restlessly, Nancy Drew tossed about.
    Then, just as she was sinking into a light sleep, she was aroused rudely. What was it that had awakened her? She sat up in bed and tried to pierce the darkness.
    Then she heard a noise which seemed to come from the floor below. There was a dull thud and then a blood-curdling yell! After that---silence...

Apr 24, 8:29pm

Alas, I have so far been unable to access the original, unedited text of the third Nancy Drew mystery, The Bungalow Mystery.

I am still deciding whether to hold off and keep searching, or move on to a hunt for #4, The Mystery At Lilac Inn. Although I'm trying to be better about skipping unavailable series works, I know that in this case the books do tend to cross-reference and reuse the same characters, so there is an increased chance of spoilers and missed allusions.

Apr 24, 8:57pm

>112 lyzard: SLOTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Just hanging around waiting for more reviews, I reckon ...

Apr 24, 10:46pm

>117 rosalita:

Might even get one, if it sticks around...

Apr 24, 11:30pm

Publication date: 1932
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Amos Petrie #1
Read for: 1932 reading / TIOLI (title associated with death)

Death Must Have Laughed - Just before defending his title, Al Fanlagan, middle-weight champion of the world, ruthlessly sacks his manager; declaring that he will no longer be told what to do by anyone. In particular he resents Mottram's assertion that his woman-chasing will finish his career; and he turns on him with all the rage and violence that, in the ring, sees him dubbed "Killer". This scene has barely ended when Fanlagan's ex-fiancée, Doris Shannon, invades the dressing-room, to ask Fanlagan to take her back. When he crudely rejects her, Doris tells him that they will never see each other again---and tells him home home-truths about himself before storming out. Nor is this that last interruption before the fight: Edward Franklin, the husband of Fanlagan's latest flame, actress Sophia Brendell, comes to warn him to stay away from her---or else. None of this distracts Fanlagan, who heads into the ring determined to kill his opponent, Archie Polder---figuratively and perhaps literally; but to everyone's astonishment it is Fanlagan who takes the count; and, as it turns out, the long count... Though its actual mystery is pretty good, this first entry in the Amos Petrie series by John Victor Turner (who also wrote as David Hume) has too many annoyances along the way to be considered successful. In the first place, Death Must Have Laughed pulls the stunt, usually only found in American mysteries (and hard enough to believe in that context), of having an outsider given precedence over the police in the guise of "unofficial help"; though at least in this case, Amos Petrie has some professional qualifications, being a solicitor attached to the Public Prosecutor, and given his authority by Sir Ernest Denton, the Home Office pathologist. As we come to expect of the amateur detective, Petrie is a bundle of tics---most prominently his obsession with fishing, and his insistence upon dragging it into every conversation and/or using it as a metaphor. We can only feel sorry for the superseded Inspector Ripple, who is forced (literally) to grin and bear it. Petrie is, in fact, a rather unlikable character, and the fact that the narrative acknowledges as much does not excuse it. Meanwhile, when it isn't mocking its American characters, Death Must Have Laughed is serving up "female psychology", with lots of smugly misogynist explanations for why women of all sorts were throwing themselves at the brutish Fanlagan. However---as I say, the mystery itself - if you can find it amongst all the smoke and mirrors - is worth persisting for...just. The cause of Al Fanlagan's death, deduced by Petrie from an odour in the dressing-room, and confirmed by Sir Ernest Denton, is poisoning with hydrocyanic acid; although the rider, "probably anhydrous", opens up some extra possibilities. The question then becomes one of how it was administered---and when, given its usual rapid action. Petrie's attention then turns to Fanlagan's many women and, where relevant - and it often is - their husbands: he is particularly interested in the serial invasion of the dressing-room by Doris Shannon and Edward Franklin, particularly as the latter is a toxicologist. However, though those two made themselves prominent, the dead man had no shortage of enemies; and progressively, the question becomes, not who invaded his dressing-room, but who had, or gained, access to his gear...

    Amos Petrie came forward with an apologetic shuffle, after having escorted the volunteer doctors along the corridor.
    "You know, Inspector, there's one job I would do before any other if I were in your place."
    "And what's that, Mr Petrie?"
    "Well, of course, I'm not a policeman. I'm only a solicitor, and a fisherman and the world's prize-winning nosey parker---so perhaps it would be better if I went home. But I think you ought to pack up everything you can find in this room into a suit-case, lock the case, keep the key, and send one of your men to the Yard with it before you do anything else."
    "I was thinking of having a talk with those men in the other room first. That's probably where the story lies."
    "I imagine the story won't be the only thing that'll be lying in that room. So why not pack up the stuff that can't lie before you listen to those who can?"
    "Very good, sir. Would you care to ask those men a few questions yourself or are you going home?"
    "My dear Ripple, I should find it physically impossible to go home while I had the opportunity of interfering in someone else's business. If you haven't any gloves, you'd better borrow mine while you pick up those bandages and oddments. Riley, you know, would have been a superintendent by now if he had worn gloves when he carried Steiner's suit-case to the Yard. You should always remember what happened to Riley. He would have made a bad fisherman."
    Ripple regarded the man with bewilderment. Amos Petrie could do two things superbly well. He could say things that listeners failed to understand, and he could jump from subject to subject with the rapidity of a trapeze performer...

Apr 24, 11:56pm

October stats:

(...including my unwritten blog-posts...)

Works read: 8
TIOLI: 8, in 8 different challenges, with 1 shared read

Classic: 3
Mystery / thriller: 2
Historical drama: 1
Young adult: 1
Humour: 1

Series works: 3
Re-reads: 1
Blog reads: 2
1932: 1
1931: 1
Virago / Persephone: 0
Potential decommission: 0

Owned: 0
Library: 2
Ebooks: 6

Male authors : female authors: 4 : 4

Oldest work: Ellesmere by Mary Meeke (1799)
Newest work: Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)


YTD stats:

Works read: 126
TIOLI: 126, in 113 different challenges, with 8 shared reads, and 1 sweep

Mystery / thriller: 72
Classic: 20
Young adult: 13
Contemporary drama: 8
Historical drama: 4
Historical romance: 3
Non-fiction: 2
Humour: 2
Horror: 2

Series works: 76
Re-reads: 13
Blog reads: 8
1932: 4
1931: 10
Virago / Persephone: 3
Potential decommission: 6

Owned: 14
Library: 21
Ebooks: 91

Male authors : female authors : anonymous : undetermined: 83 : 42 : 1 : 1

Oldest work: The Reviv'd Fugitive: A Gallant Historical Novel by Peter Belon (1690)
Newest work: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (2019)

Edited: Apr 25, 12:00am

Only two reviews needed to polish off October; so I'm not really dashing along: more like...

Apr 25, 3:03am

>121 lyzard: A very happy looking sloth!

Apr 25, 7:50am

>121 lyzard: SLOTH!!!!!!!!!!

As Anita says, that sloth looks very pleased with your progress, Liz. As are we all, of course.

Also, here to report that I have finished The Girl in the Cellar (sob!) and look forward to discussing it with you.

Apr 25, 11:02am

I don't know, i have a busy weekend and there's not one but two sloths appeared!!
Are they like London buses, mostly arrive in threes??

Apr 25, 5:47pm

>122 FAMeulstee:

I like its page-boy haircut; it even has a part in the middle!

>123 rosalita:

Aw, thank you. :)

Well done! - but yes, {*sob*} indeed...

>124 Helenliz:

More like the situation of two back-to-back we tend to get here (one massively overcrowded, one empty). :D

Apr 25, 10:32pm

>124 Helenliz:, >125 lyzard: And here I thought buses moving in packs was a Chicago phenomenon....I suppose they're afraid to travel alone--safety in numbers, right?

Apr 29, 7:31pm

Publication date: 1922
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Inspector Miller #5
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (title completes the phrase, "I am thankful for...")

The Cat's Paw - Washington society is shocked when the elderly Miss Susan Baird dies suddenly---and even more so when the circumstances suggest murder. Inspector Mitchell, taking charge, finds several odd details at the crime-scene: the front door locked from the outside; evidence of someone coming unexpectedly to tea; and some half-eaten peaches that were not in the house earlier in the day. Susan Baird was an unpleasant, rather eccentric old lady who made enemies readily; though most of the household contention centred around Miss Baird's pretty young niece, Kitty, and the men courting her. The investigation discovers that Susan Baird was poisoned via one of the mysterious peaches; and when Mitchell determines that Kitty was the last person to see Susan Baird before her death, and that the two of them had quarrelled on the last morning, suspicion grows against her... Like many American mysteries, Natalie Sumner Lincoln's The Cat's Paw effectively positions its police detective, the brusque Inspector Mitchell, as "the bad guy" in its narrative, for all that he is the series character; while its focus remains the circle of friends and relatives surrounding Kitty Baird, who close ranks when it becomes obvious she is the object of official suspicion. These include Charles Craige, Miss Baird's lawyer; Dr McLean, her physician; Cecilia Parsons, an attractive widow for whom Kitty works as social secretary; Ben Potter, a cousin, and his much-younger wife, Nina; and the two main aspirants to Kitty's hand, Major Leigh Wallace and Ted Rodgers, a newcomer from San Francisco. The case stalls, however, on an apparent lack of motive: overtly, no-one stood to gain from Miss Baird's death; despite her social prominence, she was desperately poor; and she and Kitty had to work hard to keep up appearances. The reader, however, is privy to something that the police don't know: that Miss Baird took tea with an unnamed man on the afternoon of her death; that the conversation turned on Kitty; and that there was mention of poverty, and a "hereditary taint"... Though Leigh Wallace was widely considered most likely to win Kitty, he has returned from Europe suffering badly from shell-shock; and in her grief, it is Ted Rodgers to whom Kitty turns. Impulsively, he promises to help find her aunt's killer. Since he moves within Kitty's inner circle, Rodgers has access to people and information that Inspector Mitchell must struggle to gain; and it is soon evident that Miss Baird's killer must have been someone who knew her and her circumstances very well---right down to her love of peaches. Moreover, there are signs of a sharp intelligence behind the crime: of a clever plot that turned an innocent man into a cat's paw...

    Kitty shuddered. “Who could have planned so diabolical a murder?” she demanded.
    “That is for us to find out.” Kitty looked up quickly at sound of Rodgers’ clear voice. “Tell me, Miss Baird, have you no idea where the peaches came from?”
    “Not the slightest,” she shook her head. “I am positive there were no peaches in the house when I left here Sunday afternoon. They are very expensive at this season of the year and,” with downright frankness, “we could not afford to buy them, although Aunt Susan was inordinately fond of them.”
    “Some one must have sent the peaches who was aware of your aunt’s liking for the fruit,” Craige remarked thoughtfully. “Had she spoken of peaches to any of your friends lately?”
    “Friends!” Kitty looked at him with dawning horror. “You don’t think---you don’t mean that a friend killed Aunt Susan?” She thrust out her hands as if warding off some frightful nightmare. “No, no. It was a housebreaker---a common, ordinary housebreaker.”
    “It may have been a housebreaker,” agreed Rodgers, soothingly. “But it was one with the knowledge that the flavor of a peach would disguise the taste of prussic acid.”
    “Kitty,” Craige spoke with deep seriousness. “You must realise that this murder of your aunt was a deliberately planned crime. Burglars don’t go around carrying bottles of prussic acid in their pockets. Also, there is one point of especial significance---but one side of the knife-blade had poison on it.”
    “You mean---?” She questioned him with frightened eyes.
    “That some one whom your aunt knew must have been taking tea with her, and in administering the poison saw to it that his side of the peach was harmless,” Craige responded.

Edited: Apr 29, 8:40pm

Publication date: 1913
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Read for: Mary Roberts Rinehart completist reading

The Case Of Jennie Brice - The widowed Mrs Pitman was once a member of Pittsburgh high society; but after making a runaway marriage, her estrangement from her family was complete and never reconciled; and now, unbeknownst to her relatives, she supports herself by keeping a boarding-house in the poorest section of the city. Each spring the area is inundated; but one year, record floods invade the streets and houses, sutting down the mills, cutting people off within their homes, and leaving small boats as the only way to get around. Much against her will, Mrs Putman is drawn into the troubles of two of her lodgers, the Ladleys; with matters coming to a head when, at the height of the floods, Mrs Ladley - better known as the actress Jennie Brice, disappears... This early thriller by Mary Roberts Rinehart is a complex and unusual work. The Case Of Jennie Brice is set against the historical Pittsburgh floods (the record one, before the infamous 1936 floods), and Rinehart spends time over the realities of the situation, with people trapped and reliant on others for food and supplies, and frequent instances of drowning. (There are also several cases here of animals meeting an unhappy end, so if that is your trigger, be aware.) Woven in with this setting is the background of Rinehart's narrator-protagonist, who before the floods spends any free evening sitting in the park and looking across the river at the house she grew up in: the house in which her sister still lives, and the niece she doesn't know; and a significant subplot here deals with Mrs Pitman, though retaining her incognito, making friends with the niece who doesn't know her aunt exists. But the main plot of The Case Of Jennie Brice deals with the disappearance of the actress, Jennie Brice, aka Mrs Ladley; and the bizarre thing about this book, published in 1913, is how much it now feels like a forerunner of Gone Girl---because while Jennie Brice certainly disappears, the question is whether her husband murdered her, or whether it was a deliberate act of revenge on her part, planned to throw suspicion on him... Privy to the marital troubles of the Ladleys, Mrs Pitman cannot help but put a sinister construction upon the actions of Mr Ladley who, one night, takes the boarding-house boat out for two hours without permission---he says, to get medicine for his wife, who has been taken ill. The next thing anyone hears is that Mrs Ladley has gone away for a few days, for her health; and this seems confirmed by several witnesses, who saw a woman believed to be her at the station, taking an early train. Yet it soon transpires that Jennie Brice did not let the theatre know she was going away... Deeply worried herself, Mrs Pitman finds herself beset by not one, but two amateur detectives: Mr Holcombe, a retired merchant and another of her lodgers; and Mr Howell, a young reporter---who is also involved with Mrs Pitman's niece, Lida. The two men are friends, but with very different views on the importance of circumstantial evidence; and that, in the disappearance of Jennie Brice, is all there is. Holcombe makes what he considers important discoveries, a stained towel, a broken knife, and a fragment of a letter; while Howell is one of those who saw a woman he insists was Mrs Ladley at the station. Ultimately, however, the case may turn upon the disappearance of a clock...

    Howell shook hands with me, and smiled at Mr Holcombe. "You will have to restrain his enthusiasm, Mrs Pitman," he said. "He is a bloodhound on the scent. If his baying gets on your nerves, just send for me." He went down the stairs and stepped into the boat. "Remember, Holcombe," he called, "every well-constituted murder has two things: a motive and a corpse. You haven't either, only a mass of piffling details---"
    "If everybody waited until he saw flames, instead of relying on the testimony of the smoke," Mr Holcombe snapped, "what would the fire loss be?"
    Mr Howell poled his boat to the front door, and sitting down, prepared to row out. "You are warned, Mrs Pitman," he called to me. "If he doesn't find a body to fit the clues, he's quite capable of making one to fill the demand."
    "Horn---" said Mr Holcombe, looking at the slip again. "The tail of the 'n' is torn off---evidently only part of a word. Hornet, Horning, Horner---Mrs Pitman, will you go with me to the police station?"
    I was more than anxious to go. In fact, I could not bear the idea of staying alone in the house, with heaven only knows what concealed in the depths of that muddy flood. I got on my wraps again, and Mr Holcombe rowed me out...
    We rowed to the corner of Robinson Street and Federal---it was before Federal Street was raised above the flood level---and left the boat in charge of a boy there. And we walked to the police station. On the way Mr Holcombe questioned me closely about the events of the morning, and I recalled the incident of the burned pillow-slip. He made a note of it at once, and grew very thoughtful.
    He left me, however, at the police station. "I'd rather not appear in this, Mrs Pitman," he said apologetically, "and I think better along my own lines. Not that I have anything against the police; they've done some splendid work. But this case takes imagination, and the police department deals with facts. We have no facts yet. What we need, of course, is to have the man detained until we are sure of our case."
    He lifted his hat and turned away, and I went slowly up the steps to the police station. Living, as I had, in a neighborhood where the police, like the poor, are always with us, and where the visits of the patrol wagon are one of those familiar sights that no amount of repetition enabled any of us to treat with contempt, I was uncomfortable until I remembered that my grandfather had been one of the first mayors of the city...

Apr 29, 10:43pm

Publication date: 1932
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Madame Storey #8
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (OO in the title or author's name)

The Casual Murderer - This eighth entry in Hulbert Footner's series featuring Madame Rosika Storey is a fairly lengthy book comprising seven "novelettes", as Footner called them. In the title story, Madame's secretary / assistant, Bella Brickley, comes across a young man in trouble. Edward Swanley tells her that his fiancée, Aline Elder, has disappeared: that she left their small upstate town, supposedly for a day's shopping in New York, and has not been seen or heard from since. Bella takes Swanley to Madame Storey, and what starts as a missing-persons case becomes a complex matter of long-buried secrets, kidnapping and murder... In The Blind Front, Madame Storey interests herself in the case of Stephen Venson, who, after being blinded in the war, terrified of being pitied, has withdrawn from the world. It is clear to Madame Storey that Venson's attendant is a villain, making use of his blind charge for some purpose of her own; and she makes a point of working her way into Venson's life, and forcing an invitation to dinner at his house---only to find herself in real and imminent danger... In The Almost Perfect Murder, Bella Brickley is horrified when her friend, the actress Fay Brunton, gets engaged to Darius Whittall, whose first wife committed suicide not long before. Certain that there is something behind the engagement, Bella begs her employer to intervene. She begins by reinvestigating Mrs Whittall's death... In Murder In Masquerade, in the course of investigating a series of high-society robberies, Madame Storey begins to suspect that an association of butlers is responsible. She and Bella Brickley arrange to attend, undercover, the annual masked ball of the Butlers' Association; and while they start out seeking a gang of thieves, soon they are hunting a murderer... In The Death Notice, Madame Storey receives a warning that a murder is soon to be committed. She is inclined to dismiss the call as a hoax, until she recognises the address given as that of a Mrs Julian, a wealthy but foolish woman whose credulity makes her the victim of swindlers and con-artists without number. There is a murder, but the victim is not Mrs Julian: it is Profesor Ram Lal, a professional psychic---who Madame Storey comes to suspect was someone else's tool... In Taken For A Ride, Madame Storey is called in by Dr Felix Portal, the head of a prestigious scientific research institute, after his principal assistant, Dr McComb, is murdered: a seemingly motiveless crime that has gone unsolved. However, in the weeks since, rapidly spreading rumours begin to accuse Dr Portal... In It Never Got Into The Papers, after the sudden death of Commodore William Henry Varick, an anonymous message to the police raises the spectre of murder. Inspector Rumsey consults Madame Storey as a friend of the Varick family---and her investigation reveals a tangled web of guilty knowledge and family secrets...

    "Did you ever hear of Madame Rosika Storey?" I asked Swanley.
    He shook his head.
    "Everybody in New York knows her," I said. "She's a famous psychologist. I'm her secretary, Bella Brickley."
    "What do you mean by psychologist?" he asked.
    "Her profession is solving human problems," I said. "She works through her knowledge of the human heart."
    "Crimes?" he said.
    "Crimes and other problems. When there is more time I will tell you of the wonderful things she has done. Come along with me now, and talk to her."
    "I have no money," he said dejectedly.
    "Never mind that," I said. "She will listen to you. If you succeed in interesting her, the money will not matter."
    "Ah," he said, "she will just think like everybody else that Aline has gone with some man."
    "Madame Storey never thinks like everybody else," I said. "She is unique."

Edited: May 14, 9:17pm

Publication date: 1990
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Read for: Potential decommission / TIOLI (author's name ending in '-son')

Brother Lowdown - In the middle of a sweltering summer, Wichita homicide detectives Dan Cox and Simon Brith are confronted with a shocking murder, when a woman is found naked in a tree, her throat slashed and lipstick used to decorate the wound; she was also sexually assaulted. Meanwhile, Simon's already miserable personal life takes another down-turn when his dog repeatedly runs away to a rural property. Tracking the animal, Simon finds himself confronted by a tiny woman wielding a big shotgun and an attitude to match his own. However, even while he is exchanging verbal barbs with Terra Donlevy, he finds himself having to help chase a pair of poachers off her land: he is infuriated when she doesn't thank him. Brith takes Terra for a dirt-farmer; he is later stunned to learn from Dan's wife, Janet, that the young woman is worth millions. Brith's antagonistic relationship with Terra takes another turn when she is shot by a masked assailant; it is he who finds her and saves her life. That case must soon take a backseat, however, when it becomes clear that there is a serial killer operating in Wichita... S. K. Epperson's first novel is a generally effective if gruesome work, but suffers from the over-obvious paralleling of its three central characters; and similarly, from its contrasting of Dan Cox's happy marriage and home-life with his partner's isolation and self-loathing. Simon Brith, Terra Donlevy, and the drifter known amongst Wichita's homeless community as "Brother Lowdown" are all survivors - physical survivors - of appalling childhood abuse, with their trauma mishaping their adult lives: potential readers should be warned that the descriptions of that abuse are graphic. Though less uncommon now, when Brother Lowdown was first published in 1990, it was an unusual example of a regional crime novel, with the geography and social structure of Wichita playing a significant part in its narrative. However, this is not a straight crime thriller, but rather uses its serial-killer plot as a framework for a redemption story of sorts: dangling the possibility that, just maybe, together Simon and Terra might be able to save one another, and themselves in the process. But even as these badly damaged people make a tentative connection, Terra inadvertently attracts the attention of the razor-wielding killer who is searching Wichita for his mother---and who finds her, over and over again...

    Simon heard that scream. He had rammed through the mechanised gate and was halfway up the drive when that blood-chilling cry reached his ears. With trembling fingers he snatched up his radio mike and called for backup. Until now he had been wishing, hoping, praying he was wrong. But the white Impala was there in the drive.
    When he skidded in behind the car he became aware that he was moaning. He tried to stop and found he couldn't. The sound was part of a terrible fear that gripped him, and he was helpless to stem it.
    Outside the door other noises reached his ears. Sounds of a struggle. He grabbed the knob and found it locked. Without pause he drew his Ruger and squeezed off rounds until the wood around the lock exploded. One kick sent the door flying back on its hinges. Inside the house he began to shout for her. She was already screaming for him. She was screaming his name over and over with such terror that the sound of it nearly froze him.
    When the scream was abruptly cut off Simon felt his heart stop. He couldn't find her. She was somewhere in the back of the house but he couldn't find her and he was going to be too late to save her this time. He was moaning again but now the moan sounded more like a wail. One more room, there was only one more room back her and---

Edited: May 14, 11:27pm

Publication date: 1892
Genre: Classic
Read for: TIOLI (title where an adjective immediately follows a noun)

Blood Royal - Many years before, Edmund Plantagenet was an aspiring member of London's literary and social scenes; now, he is the dancing-master in the village of Chiddingwick. Only two things bring solace to his existence: evenings spent over a glass - or several - at the 'White Horse'; and the fantasy that he is a descendant of the royal Plantagenets: in fact, as he is wont to hint in his more expansive moments, rightfully the heir to the throne. But what for the elder Plantagenet is merely a pleasant game is, for his two oldest children, Richard and Maud, an article of faith: both strive to live up to their heritage, though they are only a clerk and a governess. However, when Richard becomes smitten by a newcomer to Chiddingwick - a girl called Mary Tudor - he is no longer content merely to live up to his ancestors: he sets out to prove the connection... Grant Allen's 1892 novel is a strange mixture of humour, drama and social commentary: one that doesn't always work, but which is entertaining enough. The main problem with Blood Royal is that it effectively asks the reader to take Richard and Maud seriously and not seriously at the same time. On one hand, Allen shows how having an ideal to live up to, be it ever so delusive, has not only kept the two on the straight and narrow in spite of their relatively disadvantaged circumstances, but inspired them to strive for self-improvement; though the question of how these two could have maintained their illusions living up close and personal with their selfish, often drunken father is never really addressed. At the same time, Richard and Maud's self-evidently futile quest to prove their royal descent is treated with the humour it deserves, though never unkindly; and after taking several turns into drama and even tragedy, the narrative of Blood Royal emerges back into the light with a punchline both fitting and comic. The darker side of the narrative takes over after Richard wins a scholarship to Oxford; and Allen indulges in some stinging satire here, as Richard and a few like him work hard for an education, surrounded by "gentlemen" for whom university is simply a particularly elaborate social club. But when some particular cruel folly on the part of Richard's college associates leads to unintended tragedy, the young man must face squarely a mountain of new responsibilities---and the reality that none of the dreams that have inspired and motivated him will ever come to fruition...

    Gradually, bit by bit, he confided all this, broken-hearted, to Gillespie. There were no secrets between them now; for the facts as to poor Mr Plantagenet's pitiable profession had come out fully at the inquest, and all Oxford knew that night that Plantagenet of Durham, the clever and rising history man, who was considered safe for the Marquis of Lothian's Essay, was, after all, but the son of a country dancing-master. So Dick, with a crimson face, putting his pride in his pocket, announced to his friend the one plan for the future that now seemed to him feasible---to return at once to Chiddingwick and take up his father's place, so as to keep together the clientele. Clearly he must do something to make money without delay; and that sad resolve was the only device he could think of on the spur of the moment.
    "Wouldn't it be better to try for a schoolmaster-ship?" Gillespie suggested cautiously. He had the foresight of his countrymen. "That wouldn't so much unclass you in the end as the other. You haven't a degree, of course, and the want of one would naturally tell against you. But you might get a vacant place in some preparatory school---though the pay, of course, would be something dreadfully trivial."
    "That's just it," Dick answered, bursting with shame and misery, but facing it out like a man. "Gillespie, you're kindness itself---such a dear, good fellow!---and I could say things to you I couldn't say to anybody else on earth that I know of, except my own family. But even to you I can't bear to say what must be said sooner or later. You see, for my mother's sake, for my sisters', for my brothers', I must do whatever enables me to make most money. I must pocket my pride---and I've got a great deal---ever so much too much---but I must pocket it all the same, and think only of what's best in the end for the family. Now, I should hate the dancing---oh, my dear, dear fellow, I can't tell you how I should hate it!"
    "But it's the one thing by which I could certainly earn most money. There's a good connection there at Chiddingwick, and it's all in the hands of the family. People would support me because I was my father's son. If I went home at once, before anybody else came to the town to fill the empty place, I could keep the connection together; and as I wouldn't spend any money---well, in the ways my poor father often spent it---I should easily earn enough to keep myself and the children. It'll break my heart to do it---oh, it'll break my heart!---for I'm a very proud man; but I see no way out of it. And I, who hoped to build up again by legitimate means the fortunes of the Plantagenets!"

May 15, 1:04am

Publication date: 1938
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Mary Carner #1
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (a book with a connection to The Chieftains)

Death Wears A White Gardenia - After the closing bell has sounded in Blankforts Department Store, Joseph Swayzey emerges from his hiding place, rapidly fills a suitcase with valuable merchandise, and conceals in it a cubicle on the loading-docks; he then leaves the store conspicuously empty-handed. When Joe returns early the next day, he finds the store mobbed with customers waiting for the anniversary sale to begin. Using the crowd as a smokescreen, Joe makes his way unnoticed to the loading-dock---only to find his chosen cubicle occupied by a corpse. In his horror, Joe gives himself away to Whittaker, head of store security and an old adversary. Recognising the dead man as Andrew McAndrew, credit manager of Blankforts, Whittaker's contemplates the anniversary sale, the presence onsite of the Governor's wife, and the store's reputation---and summons his most trusted employee: store detective Mary Carner... Though it does not feature the first ever store-detective heroine - that honour, I believe, belongs to Helen Hultman's Murder In The French Room (which I will be revisting for the Mystery Lague before too long) - Zelda Popkin's Death Wears A White Gardenia does several important things with its protagonist, Mary Carner. Hulman's novel was a standalone, but this is the first in a series---and Mary is that rarest of birds, a professional female detective - a detective by choice - who cut her teeth doing hotel work, and had years of experience before being hired at Blankforts. She is intelligent, hard-working---and a lady: even professional criminals don't spot her for what she is; all of which makes her invaluable to Whittaker, her boss. It is Mary to whom Whittaker turns in the wake of the body's discovery: he gives her the unpleasant tasks of securing McAndrew's office, and of breaking the news to J. B. Blankfort, the store's owner, who is bust entertaining dignitaries; and it is she who makes the first suggestive discoveries in the case. The police are necessarily called in but, accepting the value of their intimate knowledge of the store, its personnel, processes and geography, they involve Whittaker and Mary in the investigation. As the credit manager, McAndrew had access to many people's financial information, both business-related and personal; he was involved in certain mysterious money deals that might have brought danger with him; and he was having an affair with his secretary, Evelyn Lennon, who is pregnant: though his neurotic wife was refusing him a divorce. However, much as they wish it otherwise, Mary and Whittaker begin to fear that the motive for McAndrew's murder lies within Blankforts itself: in the dead man's movements on the night of the crime; and in the question of who left a white gardenia at the murder scene...

    Fourteen hours now she had been toiling on the McAndrew case, fourteen hours withoit rest, or very much food. A sandwich and a cup of coffee in Tony's and half a package of cigarettes had sustained her through the exhausting day. Strangely enough, she was not hungry now. Just tired. She needed little food when she was working. Excitement sustained her; hunger sharpened her wits.
    But her head ached now, and her limbs. She leaned back on the leather seat of the cab, saw the shop windows and lights of the Fifties sliding by through eyes that were blurred by fatigue. "After all," Mary Carner asked herself, "why don't I go home to bed? What am I going to this woman's apartment for at this hour of the night? My own idea. Who am I to go rousing people up around midnight because I get ideas? They've got Smith down at headquarters. They've got Mrs McAndrew. Evelyn Lennon. They've got Katie Kovacs. She heard the murderer's voice. They can get Irene Gates. The can get Mike the porter, the elevator operator, Magruder, Pursell, the other people who were in the building last night. They're the ones who can tell them something. Torn up ledger sheets in Blankfort's office might mean nothing in a matter like this. The Chase file is a store affair, business and nothing else. Mine's a wild goose chase. And I'm the goose."
    The taxi pulled up before an apartment house canopy. The driver reached for the door handle. Mary Carner hesitated a moment. Tell him to drive on to my house. Why not? I'm dead tired. But she thought of a torn newspaper and a white gardenia. And the edge of her excitement prodded her sharply...

Edited: May 15, 11:36pm

Publication date: 1932
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Superintendent Fillinger #1
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (another book title on cover)

The Tower Mystery - Albert Tibberts visits his friend, John Hupper, at his country cottage in Devon. Hupper is a quiet, reflective man, with something of a reputation for eccentricity; even Tibberts, who admires him, is sometimes startled by his observations and behaviour. It is soon clear to Tibberts that something in particular is preying on his friend's mind, and Hupper admits to concern over what is transpiring at Rympton Court, the home of financier Sir Appleby Frap. There, Hupper explains, a strange crowd of people have gathered under the care - or influence - of a Dr Letchley Smith, a psychiatrist---but one struck off the medical register for unethical conduct. Hupper has learned that some sort of spiritualism is being practised; though to what end he cannot tell. He becomes particularly concerned by the emotional state of one of the participants, the screen actress, Stella Essington, whose star is just beginning to wane. One day, out walking, Hupper and Tibberts encounter a terrified Stella: she tells them wildly that, while visiting the local church, she had a premonition of her own death. During the night, the neighbourhood is woken by the sound of a tolling bell; and investigation reveals Stella hanging in the tower of the church... Paul McGuire was an historian, a poet, a journalist and a novelist; a diplomat and ambassador; and, though a layman, a prominent figure in the Catholic church of Australia, being envoy to the Holy See for the funeral of Pope Pius XII and the coronation of Pope John XXIII. AND---like many insanely busy people in the first half of the 20th century---he somehow found time to write a string of mysteries, which deserve to be far better known today than they are. McGuire wrote two different police-centred series, one featuring Inspector Cummings, the other, Superintendent Fillinger---and it was rather too late when I learned that they overlapped, with both detectives appearing in several books: a discovery that sent me back to the first appearance of Superintendent Fillinger, in a novel that stands somewhat apart from the author's other works. For the most part, Paul McGuire's own religious belief does not make itself overtly felt in his mysteries (his first, Murder In Bostall, is striking for its Jewish characters); but The Tower Mystery is something of an exception---though what we have here is not Catholicism or even Christianity per se, but a certain feeling, more pity than scorn, for people who can believe in anything but God. Hupper, clearly, is his author's alter-ego, in his compassion and humanism, and his concern for the world's growing materialism and lack of faith in anything. Hupper voices to Tibberts his fears for the emotional and spiritual exploitation of the group gathered at Rymptom Court: fears that are only too justified when Stella Essington is found hanged in the local church, in what looks like suicide. The death brings Superintendent Fillinger to the scene: a local man, and a country product, Fillinger is shrewd and intelligent but, in dealing with murder at Rympton Court, he is somewhat out of his depth; he is also being pressured by his Chief Constable to find the guilty party outside the household of "the squire". Fillinger is smart enough to accept the help offered by Hupper, who has a foot in the door at Rymptom, knows or has observed the other members of the party, and inspected the crime scene long before the police arrived. Hupper passes on to Fillinger three crucial observations, each of which negates the theory of suicide: that the door at the bottom of the bell-tower was locked, and its key missing; that no light was found in the tower; and that the church's small, portable wood-stove had been moved. It is Hupper's belief that Stella was murdered---but that it was not the murderer who hung her in the tower---or pealed the bell...

    "I think that the strange behaviour of the stove will be explained, Fillinger, when you have explained something even odder---"
    "By which," interrupted the superintendent, "you mean the bell?"
    "Yes, I mean the bell. And the bell-rope. Why was Stella Essington hung on that rope? And who tolled the bell? And why was the bell tolled?"
    "She was hung on the rope," said Fillinger, "so that we would think she committed suicide."
    "Yes. And one certainty emerges from that. Whoever killed her, knew of that fright of hers yesterday afternoon. And they rightly reasoned that when she was found dead there, everyone would connect her death with that morbid fear. Her nerves were sick, she had spoken of death awaiting her in that room---it's the 'while of unsound mind' verdict ready-made. Only the slip, the almost incredible slip, with the key spoiled the effect."
    "They always slip," said the superintendent with gloomy satisfaction... "The murderer might be as cool as you like---till he's done. But then he'd want to get away, to get away. And his instinct would be to lock the door behind him, to---to shut It behind him."
    "You can't close remorse behind a wooden door," I said.
    "Remorse is a different thing, Mr Tibberts, sir. I'm talking of fear..."
    "And then," said Hupper, "there is my other question. Why was the bell tolled at all?... As I see it, poor Stella was attacked below, in the church. Then she was carried up the stairs, lifted on to the box, the rope was set around her neck---and the chest was drawn away from beneath her. A weight falling suddenly on the bell-rope would make it ring---once. But last night the bell---pealed..."

May 16, 12:58am

Publication date: 1811
Genre: Classic
Read for: Pandora reading / A Century Of Reading challenge

Self-Control - The product of an unhappy marriage between a half-pay officer and his fretful aristocratic wife, Laura Montreville grows to womanhood in an isolated cottage in Scotland. The delight and consolation of her father, Laura is given a full education by Captain Montreville---but trained in her religious and social duty not by Lady Harriet, but by Mrs Douglas, the wife of the parish clergyman. In particular, Laura is fired by stories of self-sacrifice; with Mrs Douglas assuring her that one need not be a martyr or a saint in order to practice proper forbearance and self-denial in the cause of duty. When Laura is sixteen, several drastic changes occur in her life: the Douglases move away; her mother's health fails, leading to a lingering illness and death; and Captain Montreville, his wife's income passing away with her, finds himself in dire financial straits. However, this difficult time is marked for Laura by an important event of another kind entirely: she falls in love... Handsome, elegant and accomplished, Colonel Hargrave becomes the object of Laura's first, secret passion; but behind his polished surface lie the habits of a libertine; and though he loves Laura in his way, his hope is that her evident love for him will prove stronger than her principles. Horrified by Hargrave's overtures, still more so by discovering him an atheist, Laura turns from him in disgust, determined to cut him out of her heart; even as the rejected Hargrave vows to himself to win her, whatever the cost... Though its overt didacticism and religious lecturing mean that it is not always an easy read, Mary Bunton's 1811 novel is nevertheless a landmark in female-focused literature. Rejecting the emotional excess of the 18th century, Brunton sets before her reader a heroine who is in most respects every bit as tiresomely exemplary as we would expect, but who is also, in what may well be a first, described by her creator as "a reasonable and a reasoning creature": one whose childhood trait of being "slightly inclined to obstinacy" becomes, in her young womanhood, a remarkable capacity for, well, self-control. Most of the narrative of Self-Control deals with the battle of wills between Hargrave and Laura, with the former - older, experienced, unaccustomed to being thwarted, totally unscrupulous - finding himself up against the brick wall of Laura's principles. Shrewdly, Hargrave throws himself on Captain Montreville's mercy, confessing his fault and pleading for Laura's hand - and her "guidance"; and he, his own health failing, terrified of leaving Laura a destitute orphan, begins to pressure her into the marriage. Where, then, does her duty lie...? A large measure of the success of Self-Control lies in its step-by-step exposure of the tactics used by men to control and pressure women into doing what they want. Hargrave's battery of tactics seems bottomless: he makes love, pleads, rages, lays guilt-trips on her, stalks and harasses her, threatens suicide, and promises to reform if she marries him, whichever move seems most likely to succeed; while the increasingly desperate Captain Montreville makes her marriage with Hargrave a matter of his will and her duty. All poor Laura has to set against this - at least at first - is her sense of right: right, that is, in terms of her religious faith, but also in the sense of what is right for her---which neither of the men give much thought to. Laura's battle to decide where her duty lies is infinitely complicated by her lingering feelings for Hargrave, though this is also one of the novel's main weaknesses. Though it is necessary for Laura really to love Hargrave, Brunton resorts to telling not showing---shying away from displaying her immaculate heroine in love with an unprincipled man. However, Brunton compensates for this by doing something rare in 19th century fiction: she has Laura turn away from her first, unworthy love, and form a second relationship with a far more deserving man. (Male dogma at the time was that "nice" girls only loved once; female authors tended to think differently.) For Hargrave, who by this time hates Laura quite as much as he loves her, this is the final straw; and he takes drastic action to ensure that no other man will have her... Though certainly a flawed work, Self-Control is surprisingly readable---perhaps because, depressingly enough, so much of it still seems applicable today. We can understand, too, why it appealed so much to Jane Austen; though in saying that, it appealed in more ways than one. Jane was an eclectic reader; and while she admired Brunton's morality and her heroine's character and sense of duty, she was also capable of laughing at the novel's more absurd touches. Mary Brunton may have rejected 18th century excess, but Self-Control has some excesses of its own, including a climactic sequence in which Laura is kidnapped and carried away to America, but saves herself by---well, if you don't know, I'm not going to spoil it by telling you...

    "What means this strange, this presuming haste?" said Laura. "Why do you seem thus wretched?"
    "I am, indeed, most wretched. Oh Laura, thus on my knees I conjure you to have pity on me;---or, if it will cost you a pang to lose me, have pity on yourself. And if thy love be too feeble to bend thy stubborn will, let a father's wishes, a father's prayers, come to its aid."
    "Oh Hargrave," cried Laura, bursting into tears, "how have I deserved that you should lay on me this heavy load---that you should force me to resist the entreaties of my father."
    "Do not---Oh do not resist them. Let a father's prayers---let the pleadings of a wretch whose reason, whose life depends upon you, prevail to move you."
    "Nothing shall move me," said Laura, with the firmness of despair, "for I am used to misery, and will bear it."
    "And will you bear it too if driven from virtuous love---from domestic joy, I turn to the bought smile of harlots, forget you in the haunts of riot, or in the grave of a suicide?"
    "Oh for mercy," cried the terrified Laura, "talk not so dreadfully. Be patient---I implore you. Fear not to lose me. Be but virtuous, and no power of man shall wrest me from you. In poverty---in sickness---in disgrace itself I will cleave to you."
    "Oh, I believe it," said Hargrave, moved even to woman's weakness, "for thou art an angel. But wilt though cleave to me in---"
    "In what," said Laura.
    "Ask me nothing---but yield to my earnest entreaty. Save me from the horrors of losing you; and may Heaven forsake me if ever again I give you cause to repent of your pity."
    Softened by his imploring looks and gestures, overpowered by his vehemence, harassed beyond her strength, Laura seemed almost expiring. But the upright spirit shared not the weakness of its frail abode. "Cease to importune me," said she;---"everlasting were my cause of repentance, should I wilfully do wrong. You may break my heart---it is already broken, but my resolution is immoveable."

May 16, 1:14am

November stats:

(...including even more unwritten blog-posts...)

Works read: 16
TIOLI: 16 works, in 16 different challenges, with 1 shared read and A SWEEP!

Mystery / thriller: 9
Classic: 3
Young adult: 2
Contemporary romance: 1
Contemporary drama: 1

Series works: 9
Re-reads: 3
Blog reads: 1
1932: 2
1931: 0
Virago / Persephone: 0
Potential decommission: 0

Owned: 1
Library: 7
Ebooks: 8

Male authors : female authors: 9 : 7

Oldest work: Self-Control by Mary Brunton (1811)
Newest work: Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith (1970) / Love Story by Erich Segal (1970)


YTD stats:

Works read: 142
TIOLI: 142, in 129 different challenges, with 9 shared reads, and 2 sweeps

Mystery / thriller: 81
Classic: 23
Young adult: 15
Contemporary drama: 9
Historical drama: 4
Historical romance: 3
Non-fiction: 2
Humour: 2
Horror: 2
Contemporary romance: 1

Series works: 85
Re-reads: 16
Blog reads: 9
1932: 6
1931: 10
Virago / Persephone: 3
Potential decommission: 6

Owned: 15
Library: 28
Ebooks: 99

Male authors : female authors : anonymous : undetermined: 92 : 49 : 1 : 1

Oldest work: The Reviv'd Fugitive: A Gallant Historical Novel by Peter Belon (1690)
Newest work: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (2019)

Edited: May 16, 1:24am

November done!---

---so you get a bonus sloth:

May 16, 3:28am

YAY! sloth!!
Can we expect a sloth in a santa hat anytime soon?

May 16, 8:00am

>136 lyzard: DOUBLE SLOTHS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!,!!!!!

May 16, 6:10pm

>137 Helenliz:

I imagine there'll be something extra. :)

>138 rosalita:

I spoil you people, I really do...

May 16, 6:48pm

>139 lyzard: We are not worthy!

Edited: May 29, 2:09am

Publication date: 1989
Genre: Horror
Series: Sonja Blue #1
Read for: Potential decommission / TIOLI (someone on the cover is wearing or holding glasses)

Sunglasses After Dark - In a cell in the Danger Ward of Elysium Fields, a private mental hospital, a woman naked except for a strait-jacket decides that it is time to go. Shrugging off her bonds, scaling the wall with her fingernails and smashing the reinforced glass of the one tiny window, she vanishes into the night, leaving pandemonium behind her... Fired in the wake of the patient's escape, orderly Claude Hagerty tries to make sense of a waking dream experienced the night before, in which he found himself confronted by a young girl called Denise Thorne. The name rings a bell, and a visit to the library reminds Hagerty of the so-called "vanishing heiress", the sixteen-year-old daughter of wealthy American parents who disappeared during a trip to London in 1969. On his way out, Hagerty is attacked by two men who clearly mean to kill him. His life is saved in a manner almost as terrifying, when a woman emerges from the darkness and tears his attackers to pieces. Hagerty lapses into unconsciousness, and wakes to find himself pressed into the service of the woman who calls herself Sonja Blue... Sunglasses After Dark, Nancy A. Collins' first novel, is also the first in her series featuring the vampire Sonja Blue and, more broadly, the world of the "Pretenders": paranormal beings who exist just beyond the sight and comprehension of most human beings, and who assume human form in order to get closer to their prey. Among the Pretenders are found the vampires, most of which are crude, elemental creatures that exist only to feed. Sonja, however, is something else: the freakish circumstances of her "turning" having created an extraordinarily rare and dangerous entity... Nancy Collins tries to cover a lot of ground in this introductory work, and on the whole succeeds. Her concept of the world of the Pretenders is strong, and her complex, fractured protagonist is presented with assurance; indeed at this point Collins' world-building is stronger than her writing, some of which, particularly the dialogue, is undistinguished. The narrative of Sunglasses After Dark finds Sonja Blue trying to piece together her fractured memories---of her long-lost life as Denise Thorne; of the act of unspeakable violence that made her what she now is; and her dual hunts for her human parents, and for "Morgan", the being that turned her. Meanwhile, she must fight against another entity that she thinks of as The Other: a being whose lust for blood and pleasure in inflicting pain is almost uncontrollable---and which Sonja only slowly, reluctantly, accepts is now a part of herself. Sonja's quest leads her to Catherine Wheele, the widow of the evangelist Zebulon Wheele, who since his death has not only taken over his "ministry" but used it to build an empire of great wealth and power. Catherine is a borderline human, whose frightening mental powers are the basis for her husband's rise to wealth and celebrity. In their grief and anger over their long-missing daughter, Shirley and Jacob Thorne turn separately for help to Catherine Wheele. Shirley wants the comfort of the ectoplasmic manifestations of Denise that Catherine amuses herself by conjuring up; while Jacob, faced with the strait-jacketed, animalistic occupant of a cell at Elysium Fields, pays to have what used to be his daughter buried forever...

    "Who are you and how the hell did you get in here?" Thorne stepped into the room, too outraged by the intrusion to be frightened. It was the same instinct that had helped him amass several million dollars over the years. He was suddenly aware of the reek of garbage permeating the room.
    "He's with me, Mr Thorne. I was gambling that you would keep the access code on the private elevators as a sort of keep-the-home-fires-burning gesture."
    Thorne turned to see a woman, dressed in a black leather jacket and mirrored sunglasses, step out from behind the door. He went pale, grabbing the edge of the desk in order to steady himself.
    Sonja Blue smiled, revealing her fangs. "Hello, Mr Thorne."
    The big man with the bruised face got up, grasped Thorne by the elbows, and eased him into the vacated chair.
    "You'd better fix Mr Thorne a brandy and soda, Claude. I think he needs one in a bad way. I'll close the door. I'd hate to have our little reunion spoiled. If I remember correctly, the bar's next to the bookshelf."
    Thorne stared at Sonja with open fear and disgust. "She...she said you'd never get out."
    "Who? You mean Wheele?" Her face was unreadable, but there was something in her voice that made Claude look up from his place behind the bar.
    "Why? Why couldn't you stay away? After all this time... I used to pray someone would prove you were dead. That way I could get it over with. That's a horrible thing to pray for, isn't it? Proof of your only child's death? I had my prayer answered, all right." His mouth twisted into a bitter smile. "My daughter's dead..."

Edited: May 29, 10:55pm

Publication date: 1992
Genre: Horror
Series: Sonja Blue #2
Read for: Potential decommission / TIOLI (a bloody book)

In The Blood - Private investigator William Palmer survives being shot by his lover, Loli, but only to face charges over the murder of her husband. While in custody, he is visited by a lawyer called Renfield, who tells him that his client, a Dr Pangloss, can get him out of prison---for a price. The price turns out to be delivering a letter to a woman Pangloss insists is his estranged granddaughter... Palmer succeeds in tacking his quarry to New Orleans. It is Carnival, and Palmer finds himself increasingly plagued by the dreams - or visions - of strange beings that have been a part of his life since childhood. He succeeds in making contact with Sonja Blue, but an accidental touch triggers in his mind a vivid fantasy about a massacre in a bar, in which young men had their throats torn open and their blood consumed... Though she flees from Palmer, Sonja has recognised him as a "sensitive", a human being with an awareness of the Pretenders, the supernatural beings that share the human world. In the letter, Sonja finds that Pangloss - her "grandfather" in the vampiric sense - is making her an offer she cannot refuse: information as to the whereabouts of Morgan, the vampire who "turned" her... Nancy A. Collins' follow-up to Sunglasses After Dark is a longer and more complex novel that devotes much of its narrative to fleshing out Collins' concept of the Pretenders: not only vampires, but ghosts, ghouls, demons, ogres, succubi, seraphim - you name it, really - who live just out the range of normal human perception, and are responsible, it is suggested, for the worst outbreaks of human violence: feeding upon the fear and misery evoked, as well as the flesh and blood. In The Blood likewise expands upon what the reader already knows of the genesis of Sonja Blue, revealing that the unique circumstances of her turning - she did not actually die before she turned - has resulted in a rare creature with all the abilities of the vampire, but also great strength and healing powers, immunity to silver, and control over her mind and impulses---most of the time. Since recovering her memories of the brutal physical and sexual abuse that changed an innocent sixteen-year-old into a savage creature of the night, Sonja has been hunting the vampire called Morgan. From the ancient Pangloss, who was himself responsible for turning Morgan several centuries before, Sonja learns that Morgan has conceived a plan to revolutionise the world of the Pretenders: to overthrow the ruling class of vampires and to replace them with a private army of beings bred deliberately - rather than created accidentally - to be just like Sonja...

    "When Morgan told me that you'd killed both Anise and the baby, I went mad. I wanted to avenge myself and prove to Morgan that I was worthy." Fell's laugh was bitter. "So what do I do now?"
    "You come with us to Yucatan. Raise your child in peace."
    "How can I? Look at me! I'm not human!"
    "Neither am I," said Sonja. "Nor is your child. Fell, you don't have to go through this alone. I know what you're feeling. I an teach you how to master your powers! That's a luxury I never had. I learned things on the streets, the hard way. There's still plenty of things I don't know, or understand, but maybe, together, that'll change. But I can tell you that the next stage of your development will be dangerous, and if you're not careful, it will cost you your soul."
    "You mean I still have one?"
    "You're not truly undead, Fell. You never died. Just like I never did. Usually it takes years for a vampire to reclaim the intellect and memory he had before his resurrection. Some never do. The only difference between the two of us was that I was a fluke, while you were deliberately created.
    "I'm not sure how, but Morgan succeeded in altering your genetic structure into that of a vampire's without killing you. Right now you're still more human than vampire---that's why you were able yo impregnate Anise---but soon the vampire side of your personality is going to emerge. And, believe me, you're going to need advice on learning how to control it. There's no going back to what you were, Fell. Adapt or die, those are your only choices..."

May 29, 7:59pm

Publication date: 1933
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Dr Constantine and Inspector Arkwright
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (first or last book in a series)

He Dies And Makes No Sign - When the overbearing Duchess of Steynes, the wife of one of Dr Constantine's best friends, tries to drag him into the matter of their son's engagement to a girl she considers "unsuitable", he is both amused and exasperated. The Duke, he discovers, is in favour of the match, considering Betty Anthony a nice girl, though an actress. When he returns home, Constantine finds Lord Marlowe waiting for him---not to discuss his engagement, but to ask for his help in a more serious matter: Betty's grandfather, her only relative, has disappeared, and he cannot get the police to take the matter seriously. Marlowe shows Constantine a letter he received from Julius Anthony expressing his own objections to the engagement, and making an appointment to discuss them. Constantine agrees to talk to Betty, who tells him the little she knows; and he is with her when she receives a call from a friend of her grandfather's informing her that, when last seen, he was setting out for "Trastevere", a restaurant built where the Steynes' stables used to be under the patronage of the Duchess, and which is connected to their property by a private door... The third and last entry in Molly Thynne's series featuring the cultured Dr Constantine and his friend and some-time colleague, Inspector Arkwright of Scotland Yard, He Dies And Makes No Sign is a mixed piece of crime fiction that starts out as a familiar mystery before morphing into a thriller with an unusual amount of violence and gun-play for a work of this time (and place). The disappearance of Julius Anthony, a reserved and rather austere individual, is complicated by the old man's habitual reticence about his own affairs; though it is gradually determined that a tragedy in his past may have come back to haunt him. No-one at first can imagine what could have taken him to a fashionable establishment like Trastevere, so different from his usual, restricted haunts, until the proprietor, Angelo Civita, explains that they once knew each other in Paris: he adds that Anthony did call, but he was too busy to meet with him then; and that is the last anyone knows... When Julius Anthony is found dead, crammed into a small storage area under the orchestra pit of the cinema where he worked, it is clearly a case of murder. Constantine and Inspector Arkwright ponder the question of whether someone connected with the theatre or the orchestra is responsible, or whether the body was placed there to divert suspicion; but in that case, how and when? Moreover, it is determined that while Anthony disappeared on a Monday night, he was not killed until the Thursday: where was he between those times? Between them, Constantine and Arkwright trace the old man's movements---the latter via the painstaking procedures of Scotland Yard, the former through his connections with and understanding of London's artistic and social scenes; and between them, the colleagues determine that the convoluted trail leads back to Trastevere...

    "Whenever you drag me into one of your unsavoury messes there comes a moment when I realise that the problem is not a chess problem after all, and that the pieces are not chessman. I wish, then, that I'd stuck to my own game and left you to play yours."
    Arkwright tied the last knot and tucked the parcel under his arm. He was puzzled. Constantine's elation seemed to have left him, and he sounded tired and disheartened.
    "If you played my game a bit oftener," he said, "you'd soon learn to take set-backs of this sort philosophically. If the public knew of the times we have to hold our hands through lack of sufficient evidence, perhaps they wouldn't blame us so much. But you're right, he'll get away with this... All the same, I'm disappointed. I thought, when you were so devilish mysterious over those curtains, that you were going to deliver him into our hands."
    "I'm afraid I am," admitted Constantine, with a regret that the astonished Arkwright realised was perfectly genuine. "But not for the murder of Anthony. If you'll come to my flat tomorrow I think it'll be worth your while, but, extraordinary as it may seem, having reached the point towards which I've been working, I'm conscious only of hating the whole business so much that, if it wasn't for the thought of old Anthony and that girl, I should step out altogether and leave things to take their course..."

Edited: May 29, 8:45pm

Publication date: 1926
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Dr Night #1
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (a book with "Night," "Long," or "Dark" in the title)

Dr Night - Robert Hardy, a reporter with Sydney's Morning Mirror, calls at the city's detective division in hopes of information about an incident involving a missing man and shots fired in Darlinghurst. Superintendent Dixon vetoes that story, but directs Hardy to Inspector Frost, who tells him about another case involving a man found unconscious in the street: the doctors, Frost reveals, cannot determine the cause of his condition; while the man is not Carl Humberton, despite carrying a letter addressed to him---a threatening letter signed "Dr Night"... When the man dies, Hardy is permitted to view the body. Unobserved by the police, he collects from the cuffs of his trousers a few grains of a white powder and a small piece of glass. Hardy publishes a story, though withholding these last discoveries until he knows more, and gets more than he bargained for in return: a phone-call warning him away from the matter from Dr Night himself... "Aidan de Brune" (aka Herbert Charles Cull) was a journalist noted for his articles sent in while becoming, during the 1920s, the first person to circumnavigate Australia on foot. He subsequently turned to writing fiction, with several of his works being serialised in the Australian papers---including his 1926 effort, Dr Night, which did not appear in book (or at least, ebook) form until some ninety years later. By this time de Brune had relocated from Fremantle in WA to Sydney; and his crime thriller offers bonus entertainment for anyone familiar with that city in the form of a detailed portrait of the inner and eastern suburbs at that time, and which goes so far as to tell us the name of the very streets that Robert Hardy travels while hunting for the mysterious Dr Night. (We note that Bondi Junction must have been a lot cheaper to live in at the time.) As for Night himself, he an amusingly unabashed Fu Manchu expy---though to what extent he is, is not apparent until the novel's bizarre and dramatic final act. Night's ambitions don't extend quite to world domination, however: rather, he is out for revenge against the British for the damage done to China by the opium trade; and he intends to inflict similar damage upon "the Empire". (A goal we might have some sympathy with, only--- Dude, what are you doing in Darlinghurst?) Hardy, in turn, is determined to thwart and expose the criminal doctor, who has all the usual tools at his disposable, including an army of "Asiatic" minions, skill in mad science, and a plethora of deadly and mysterious drugs with which to punish anyone who gets in his way. Still, for the most part this is a standard crime thriller about drug trafficking---until the pursuit of Dr Night leads Hardy, Frost and their helpers into his (literal) underground hideout, where Night reveals to them the terrifying extent of his powers...

    Facing the semi-circle was a raised platform on which was placed a highly-ornamented throne, supported on each side by two huge peacocks, their tails spread and quivering the slight breeze that floated through the opened door. Throne and stools were occupied by Chinese, evidently of high mandarin rank, and each man wore a head-dress of white silk that came down nearly to his lap. Before the throne and covered by a long piece of silk stood a long low table.
    Hardy shuddered at the sight of it. The thing bore a sinister resemblance to a bier. For a space, the two groups of men remained motionless. The figures seated on the throne had not turned or moved at the entry of the police. They sat as if carved in stone, their faces turned towards, their master. Inspector Frost advanced a couple of paces; then stopped, as if undecided as to what action to take.
    "Whom seek ye?" The ancient question rang through the room, as if penetrating the vast illusionary distances of the paintings on the walls. The gaily plumaged birds, flanking the throne, stretched higher their vivid, quivering feathers.
    "Whom seek ye? Again I ask."
    "I seek the man known as Dr Night." Frost stepped forward, his head erect. Hardy felt a wave of fear sweep over him at the spectacle of his friend confronting, fearlessly, the unknown menace of the east.
    "I am he!" The figure on the throne stood up slowly and removed the veil that hung before his face. It was Dr Night, but changed. No longer the slight grey figure that Hardy had traced from the telephone box in Oxford Street to the house at Potts Point. No longer the scientist, 'snow' importer, criminal; but a monarch on his throne, conscious of his glory and power...

May 29, 9:04pm

>142 lyzard: I've never heard of this author or these books, but they sound rather interesting. I expect Young Julia would have enjoyed them back when I was eagerly reading Anne Rice et al.

However, I'm afraid that Today Julia finds the explanation that supernatural creatures are (conveniently!) responsible for most of the evil that humans do is just too big a camel to swallow in 2022 America.

May 29, 10:53pm

>145 rosalita:

Collins was very active in urban fantasy from these books onwards, though I haven't read her other works. Now that I'm caught up to this point I will probably follow up with these, though.

Oh, no, by no means all of it; they facilitate - though not commit - the big stuff, in order to feed off the fallout.

May 30, 12:38am

Publication date: 1935
Genre: Mystery / thriller
Series: Philip "Spike" Tracy #4
Read for: Series reading / TIOLI (an alliterative title)

A Most Immoral Murder - During a raging storm on Sark Island, off the southern shore of Long Island, a woman enters the summer cottage of Philip "Spike" Tracy and collapses. With no hope of bringing a doctor from the mainland, Spike turns the girl over to Mrs Parsons, a local woman who helps with his housekeeping, for nursing. It is two days before the storm abates, bringing a party from the mainland: they are detectives, seeking a woman called Linda Crossley in connection with the murder of her grandfather, Prentice Crossley, a wealthy philatelist. Briefly questioned at the dock, Spike denies all knowledge... In New York, Inspector Herschman, in charge of the Crossley case, reports to District Attorney R. Montgomery Tracy: he explains that though a woman was carried by ferry to Sark Island just before the storm hit, nothing has been seen of her since. After hesitating, Herschman observes that since the DA's brother is on the island - and since he has, once or twice, been of use to them before - perhaps they should ask for his help...? This fourth entry in Harriette Ashbrook's series featuring amateur detective Spike Tracy offers the usual irritations - including Spike himself, who the reader is apparently supposed to feel indulgent towards in spite of the "boredom" of a life of wealth and comfort at the height of the Depression - but it also has an unusual setting, in the world of philately; indulges itself in several amusing meta-moments (Ashbrook's narky speech about the "super-sleuth" of fiction may be a dig at Carolyn Wells' Fleming Stone); and has a great deal of fun with Spike's role as double-agent. Meanwhile, Ashbrook lets herself go on the subject of philately, with the characters - and us - subjected to several lectures on rare stamps. As a mystery, A Most Immoral Murder suffers somewhat from a dearth of likely suspects; but its narrative is twisty, and its solution presents Spike with (as the title suggests) something of a moral dilemma. When he allows his brother and the inspector to talk him into helping with the Crossley case, Spike has no opinion on Linda's guilt or innocence; but he is determined to shield her until he does. While the police build a case against Linda, Spike goes looking for information about the Crossleys. He learns that Prentice, obsessed with his stamp collection, had few real friends, only rivals, friendly or otherwise: Homer Watson, a private collector; Jason Fream, a professional stamp-hunter; and Kurt Koening, an independent dealer. In addition there is John Fairleigh, another collector who is also Crossley's lawyer---and who is tasked in his will with "guiding" Linda, to "save her from the consequences of her indiscretions"...

    For a while the two men sat smoking in silence. They were on a tiny balcony which gave a view of the city, with dusk settling down, blotting out the ugliness. Street lights from the distance looked like spangling jewels. Koenig broke the silence.
    "For your purposes, you say. Just what are your purposes?"
    Spike hesitated a moment before he spoke. "Why---I suppose they're the same as yours. After all, a lady in distress, flung on my doorstep, all that sort of thing."
    "Yes---for Linda. But I do not fear so much for her now."
    "You mean on account of the Ealing murder?"
    Koenig nodded. "It is very certain that the same person did both of them."
    "Are you so sure?" Spike challenged.
    "I can only draw the obvious conclusion. The manner of the killing, the weapon, the stamp found clutched in the hand. Identical in both cases, for of course the police would have found a stamp in Crossley's hand if Linda had not removed it."
    Spike considered this gravely. "So that if Linda Crossley didn't commit the second murder---"
    Koenig winced visibly. "No, please, my friend, don't even put it in words."
    "I'm sorry. Let's say that if Linda Crossley was fifty miles from the scene of the second crime at the time it was committed, the obvious inference is that she was not present at the scene of the first..."

Edited: May 30, 12:51am

...and that, my friends, is THAT.

Only six months late!


Edited: May 30, 12:58am

So what happens now?

Well, as a glance back up at my reading lists would indicate, I'm not quite done with my reviewing; though I am done here. I have the following unwritten blog-posts to catch up, and I'm hoping that now this part of the exercise is finished, I'll be able to shift my focus back to that:

- The Recess by Sophia Lee
- Anecdotes Of A Convent by Anonymous
- The Mysteries Of London: Volume III by George W. M. Reynolds
- The Mysteries Of London: Volume IV by George W. M. Reynolds
- Recollections Of A Detective Police Officer by "Waters" (William Russell)

(Alas, these are not my only unwritten blog-posts; just the ones from last year...)

Otherwise, I will do my usual year's summary here, showing my progress on various challenges, and putting together a best-of (and if called for, worst-of) list. I should have that done tomorrow, or by Wednesday.

And then that really will be THAT.

May 30, 4:59am

>148 lyzard: That is well worth a picture of a fan-throated lizard :-)

May 30, 5:04am

>150 FAMeulstee:

I definitely think so! Though there will probably be other things too while I get this wrapped up...

May 30, 5:05am

December stats:

Works read: 13
TIOLI: 13 works, in 11 different challenges, with 3 shared reads

Mystery / thriller: 7
Contemporary drama: 3
Horror: 2
Classic: 1

Series works: 10
Re-reads: 2
Blog reads: 0
1932: 0
1931: 0
Virago / Persephone: 0
Potential decommission: 2

Owned: 2
Library: 5
Ebooks: 6

Male authors : female authors: 7 : 6

Oldest work: Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope (1863)
Newest work: In The Blood by Nancy A. Collins (1992)

Edited: May 30, 5:30am

2021: final stats:

Works read: 155
TIOLI: 155, in 140 different challenges, with 12 shared reads, and 2 sweeps

Mystery / thriller: 88 (56.8%)
Classic: 24 (15.5%)
Young adult: 15 (9.7%)
Contemporary drama: 12 (7.7%)
Historical drama: 4 (2.6%)
Horror: 4 (2.6%)
Historical romance: 3 (1.9%)
Non-fiction: 2 (1.3%)
Humour: 2 (1.3%)
Contemporary romance: 1 (0.6%)

Series works: 95 (61.3%)
Re-reads: 18 (11.6%)
Blog reads: 9 (5.8%)
1932: 6 (3.9%)
1931: 10 (6.5%)
Virago / Persephone: 3 (1.9%)
Potential decommission: 8 (5.2%)

Owned: 17 (11.0%)
Library: 33 (21.3%)
Ebooks: 105 (67.7%)

Male authors : female authors : anonymous : undetermined: 99 : 55 : 1 : 1 (63.5% : 35.3% : 0.6% : 0.6%)

Oldest work: The Reviv'd Fugitive: A Gallant Historical Novel by Peter Belon (1690)
Newest work: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (2019)


Last year's reading was somewhat skewed by restricted access at various times, including a complete shutout from my academic library: this is reflected in the high proportion of ebook reading. Likewise, series reading was a dominant area, with more "serious" reading (particularly non-fiction) only a minor contribution to the overall figures. Nevertheless, I am disturbed by the domination by male authors over that twelve months, and would like to make a more concerted effort to have female authors more prominent in my reading.

Edited: May 30, 5:44am

I think at this point we all deserve a basket of sloths!---

May 30, 8:50am

A gorgeous fan-throated lizard AND a bucket of adorable sloths! You sure know how to celebrate milestones, my friend.

Congrats on wrapping up 2021 well before the midpoint of 2022. I'm proud of you. :-p

May 30, 12:16pm

Well done on seeing off 2021. >:-)
Well worth a basket of sloths.

May 30, 6:27pm

>155 rosalita:, >156 Helenliz:

Thank you, ladies!

>155 rosalita:

If only those milestones came around more often!

"Well before", okay... :D

>156 Helenliz:

You guys deserve whatever reward I can serve up. :)

May 30, 7:09pm

2021 in review: best-seller challenge:

Though the library shutouts prevented progress with several of my challenges, I was (along with Steve) mostly able to keep the best-seller challenge going, and completed the following:

1965: The Source by James A. Michener
1966: Valley Of The Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
1967: The Arrangement by Elia Kazan
1968: Airport by Arthur Hailey
1969: Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
1970: Love Story by Erich Segal
1971: Wheels by Arthur Hailey

There were some tough reads in that group! I actively hated The Arrangement and Portnoy's Complaint (self-absorbed-male is not my favourite genre), and I probably would have hated Love Story if it had been longer or had more substance.

As it is, I will have to award "Year's Best" to:

(As always with Michener, the problem is not the content, it's the length.)

And these would be my runners-up, for at least keeping me entertained, one way or the other:


May 30, 7:24pm

2021 in review: Miss Silver:

Julia and I also kept our shared reads of Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver series moving, and completed the following:

- The Benevent Treasure
- Poison In The Pen
- The Listening Eye
- The Gazebo
- The Fingerprint
- The Alington Inheritance

I don't know that I can pick a "best" out of this group: these novels are interesting collectively for Wentworth's experiments with her formula. The Benevent Treasure and The Alington Inheritance are essentially Gothic thrillers, with Miss Silver coming to the rescued of a young woman in danger; The Listening Eye has a potential crime being discovered by a lip-reading deaf woman; The Fingerprint pits Miss Silver against her friend and protégé, Frank Abbott. Poison In The Pen is notable for its leisurely, detailed portrait of post-war village life; while conversely, The Gazebo and The Alington Inheritance both have a rougher and more modern criminal element intruding upon that traditional mystery setting.

However---The Gazebo also serves up one of Wentworth's victims-who-really-need-killing, so perhaps I'll award that one the title:

May 30, 7:52pm

2021 in review: Mysteries / thrillers:

Mysteries and thrillers accounted for over 50% of my reading last year. Here are some of the best (given in order of reading, not ranked; and not including the Miss Silvers):





May 30, 7:59pm

>159 lyzard: Excellent choice! Boy, was the murder of that particular victim satisfying. Heaven help me, I do enjoy when bad things happen to bad people.

Edited: May 30, 8:08pm

2021 in review: general reading:

"The rest", which together accounted for only 47% of my reading: I really should try to do better. However, my second most-read genre was "classics", and I was pleased with that.

Here are my picks for the best of the year, again in reading order (and not including the best-sellers):




Edited: May 30, 8:16pm

...and I think that's QUITE ENOUGH out of Mr 2021!

If nothing else, this should serve as a dire warning against letting 2022 slip into the same mess!

Thank you all for your encouragement in keeping this going. I think you deserve one more reward!

Here, have a quokka---

May 30, 9:37pm

>163 lyzard: QUOKKA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

May 31, 3:14am

was there ever a more cheery creature?

May 31, 3:15am

I think you have done very well to finish what you started!

May 31, 5:47am

Congratulations on a job well done, Liz!

May 31, 5:22pm

Many kudos for finishing! A lesser woman (like me) would have thrown in the reviewer's towel, but not Our Liz.

Jun 1, 1:14am

>164 rosalita:


>165 Helenliz:

They even give sloths a run for their money!

>166 CDVicarage:

Thanks, Kerry!

>167 Matke:

Thanks, Gail!

>168 kac522:

Yyyyyeah, I'm not OCD at all... :D