Sunday, December 27, 2015

Review: Wax by Ethel Lina White

by Mary

Young journalist Sonia Thompson arrives at the dreary little town of Riverpool on a raw November day to work on the local paper. The first sight she visits is the Riverpool Waxwork Gallery, inhabited by shabby figures of Victorian celebrities and historical persons. It's not a top notch attraction. In fact, it's gone downhill to the point where, as the author puts it, it has sunk to be a place of assignation—of stolen meetings and illicit love. And this despite its sinister reputation after more than one death on the premises, starting with the suicide of the speculative builder who erected it. He hanged himself in the Hall of Horrors.

Sonia has hardly been in town five minutes before she receives a call at ten past three in the morning from an woman unknown to her who claims to be doomed. As time passes suggestive cross-currents and hints begin to surface, reinforcing Sonia's conviction that more than one resident harbours a secret. Then another body is found in the waxworks...

Has Lilith, Doctor Nile's much younger wife, been as immoral as she is painted? Is flirtatious alderman and future mayor William Cuttle, openly philandering with more than one woman, truthful when he insists he has always been faithful to his wife? Could Dame Rumour be correct in declaring Regina Yates, the alderman's secretary, intends to be the second Mrs. Cuttle one way or another? Is snobbishness the reason why local history teacher Mary Munro, so obviously desperately lonely, rejects all friendly overtures? Why is timid Edith Miller so devoted to the wax figure of Mary of Scotland?

In an ever tensely wound plot the waxworks plays a central role, a spider looming ever larger at the centre of a web whose threads reach far and wide in surprising ways.

My verdict: A short but terrific novel. The wonderfully written chapter in which Sonia spends a night in the Riverpool Waxwork Gallery to gather material for her series on the waxworks will give many readers the creeping heeby-jeebies. I particularly liked the way the Gallery is revealed to be connected to a matter ultimately tying in an unexpected yet logical way to an outbreak of seemingly unconnected crimes, while the denouement sports a terrific and yet fairly clued sting in its tale.

Etext: Wax by Ethel Lina White

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas

Eddi's Service

(A.D. 687)

by Rudyard Kipling

Eddi, priest of St. Wilfrid In his chapel at Manhood End, Ordered a midnight service For such as cared to attend. But the Saxons were keeping Christmas, And the night was stormy as well. Nobody came to service, Though Eddi rang the bell. "'Wicked weather for walking," Said Eddi of Manhood End. "But I must go on with the service For such as care to attend." The altar-lamps were lighted, -- An old marsh-donkey came, Bold as a guest invited, And stared at the guttering flame. The storm beat on at the windows, The water splashed on the floor, And a wet, yoke-weary bullock Pushed in through the open door. "How do I know what is greatest, How do I know what is least? That is My Father's business," Said Eddi, Wilfrid's priest. "But -- three are gathered together -- Listen to me and attend. I bring good news, my brethren!" Said Eddi of Manhood End. And he told the Ox of a Manger And a Stall in Bethlehem, And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider, That rode to Jerusalem. They steamed and dripped in the chancel, They listened and never stirred, While, just as though they were Bishops, Eddi preached them The World, Till the gale blew off on the marshes And the windows showed the day, And the Ox and the Ass together Wheeled and clattered away. And when the Saxons mocked him, Said Eddi of Manhood End, "I dare not shut His chapel On such as care to attend."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: Christopher Quarles: College Professor and Master Detective by Percy James Brebner

by Mary

Detective Murray Wigan narrates various cases he solved with the assistance of philosophy professor Christopher Quarles.

If a case interests Quarles he tries to solve it for his own satisfaction but never gives his opinion unless asked, nor does he interfere except to prevent a miscarriage of justice. As he explains to Wigan, his method is the reverse of that used by detectives, for they "...argue from facts; I am more inclined to form a theory, and then look for facts to fit..." A rather dangerous way to solve a crime in my opinion, but Quarles is a keen observer of small details and knows his psychology, pointing to the right person every time.

In the opening story of this 1914 collection, Wigan meets Quarles for the first time when the owner of 12 Blenheim Square is found dead. There are no marks of violence on the deceased and a large blue stone and the components of a set of Chinese nesting boxes are arranged in a semicircle on a blotting-pad in front of him. Thus begins The Affair of the Ivory Boxes.

Quarles' theory relating to a particularly gruesome crime is supported by an architectural clue, but why would The Identity of the Final Victim never be known, given Wigan believes it is possible to discover it?

A string of medical men are burgled but in each case nothing is stolen by the burglar. Once The Riddle of the Circular Counters is solved the crime spree makes a certain amount of sense.

A touch of woo-woo and psychological reasoning help Wigan and Quarles solve a bibliophile's murder in The Strange Case of Michael Hall, the latter being not the victim but the man sentenced to death for the crime.

The next case begins with a woman's telephone call for help, cut off in mid sentence. When the authorities arrive at her home, she has disappeared. The Evidence of the Cigarette-end points towards the solution.

The companion of the murdered titular character in The Mystery of Old Mrs. Jardine has disappeared, making her the prime suspect. But there are indications Mrs J's nephew might be the culprit...

The murder method is explained by The Death-trap in the Tudor Room, but what could be the motive? Perhaps the least rewarding of the stories in this collection, not least because the title is my favourite.

It takes five years but justice is served in an unexpected way on the perpetrator of a murder, finally clearing up The Mystery of Cross Roads Farm.

There's more than just a game of golf being played at an east coast resort. A bit of burglary and inspired code-breaking solves The Conundrum of the Golf Links.

The Diamond Necklace Scandal breaks out when a valuable piece of jewelry is stolen and then returned -- or rather a paste imitation is sent back. Who has the real necklace and how did they steal it from the neck of the wearer without her realising it was gone?

After The Disappearance of Dr Smith the wreckage of his boat is cast ashore, followed two days later by his body. Dr Smith was insured for a large sum so the question to be solved is was his death an accident, suicide, or worse?

Following a series of safe robberies in London, Quarles and Wigan investigate The Affair of the Stolen Gold. Was the same gang responsible for the theft or was it carried out by a recently dismissed employee, now gone missing -- and if it was, how did he manage to transfer all that weighty gold out overnight?

The Will of the Eccentric Mr. Frisby is that of a man who made a fortune in Australia and then came home to Boston, Lincolnshire. He dies leaving an adopted son and a nephew he has given ten thousand pounds and informed he should have no expectations. But no will can be found...

Some nice misdirection obfuscates investigation of The Case of the Murdered Financier. A veiled woman is known to have visited him on the night of his death. Who was she and why was she there?

A moneylender goes out the day he expects a dinner guest of some importance. The host does not return and the guest does not turn up, leading to an investigation of The Strange Affair of the Florentine Chest.

An old man leaves puzzling statements in his will as clues to aid his disliked heirs find their inheritance. As the result of a faithful servant being accused of theft, Quarles and Wigan become involved in The Search for the Missing Fortune.

My verdict: I'd mark this collection with an A. Each story closes with an explanation of how Quarles deduced information instrumental in solving the case and some clues in these narratives are so subtle readers will kick themselves for missing them as I did. There is one entry where a significant matter connecting to a later clue is not mentioned before the explanation, perhaps an oversight on the part of the author. In any event, I enjoyed this collection so much I now intend to read The Master Detective: Being Some Further Investigations of Christopher Quarles. Stay tuned!

Etext: Christopher Quarles: College Professor and Master Detective by Percy James Brebner

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Read an Excerpt from Murder in Megara

by Eric

Our eleventh Byzantine mystery, Murder in Megara, came out in October.

As described by our publisher, Poisoned Pen Press:

John, former Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, has been exiled from Constantinople to a rustic estate John has long-owned in Greece, not far from where he grew up. But exile proves no escape from mystery and mayhem. The residents of nearby Megara make it plain John and his family are unwelcome intruders. His overseer proves corrupt. What of the other staff-and his neighbors?

Before long, John finds himself accused of blasphemy and murder. Now a powerless outsider, he’s on his own, investigating and annoyingly hampered by the ruthless and antagonistic City Defender who serves Megara as both law enforcer and judge. Plus there’s that corrupt estate overseer, a shady pig farmer, a servant’s unwelcome suitor, a wealthy merchant who spends part of his time as a cave-dwelling hermit, and the criminals and cutthroats populating such a seedy port as Megara.

Complicating matters further are two childhood friends whose lives have taken very different paths, plus the stepfather John hated. John realizes that in Megara, the solution to murder does not lie in the dark alleys where previous investigations have taken him, but in a far more dangerous place-his own past. Can he find his way out of the labyrinth of lies and danger into which he has been thrust before disaster strikes and exile turns into execution?

Which is a nice description. However, we like to think of our Byzantine mysteries as a bit quirky and eccentric and not without humor. If you want to see what we mean there's an excerpt at Historical Fiction Excerpts in which a defendant advances a demons did it defense:

Murder in Megara excerpt

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Review: The Brigand by Edgar Wallace

by Mary

Some readers may well claim that this work is not what most would call a mystery. However, others will agree with me its stories do feature mysteries, in that what is concealed until their ends is how protagonist Anthony Newton is going to turn the tables on a collection of largely criminal sorts and thus pull off another coup advantageous to himself. For while Anthony thinks of himself as an "honest adventurer", he's really a con-man -- but with certain ethics.

The problem with this collection is since individual stories are not too long, describing their content without giving away vital plot points is somewhat difficult, but faint heart n'er wrote a fair review, so I shall do my best.

We are introduced to ex-army officer Tony Newton in A Matter of Nerve. It is after the war, he's down on his luck, and being thrown out of his lodgings for non-payment of rent to boot. Those who admire a rogue will take to him right away when they discover how he persuades a perfect stranger to pay for his dinner and then goes on to thwart a man trying to pull a fast one.

Tony plans On Getting An Introduction to elusive millionaire Gerald Mansar and accomplishes it via Mansar's daughter Jane. However, papa has the last laugh...or does he?

In Buried Treasure our protagonist, aided by his friend Bill Farrell, manipulates butter and margarine magnate Montague Flake by appealing to the latter's all too evident greed, aided by a clever bit of literal manipulation on Tony's part.

A Contribution to Charity takes Anthony to Newcastle, which grabbed my attention as it's my home city. However, Theodore Match, known as the Shipping King, lives in a mansion and refuses to give a penny to good works. Match is quite aware of Tony's exploits and more or less challenges him to force him contribute twelve thousand pounds to charity. But Match has met his match.....

Sybil Martin is the titular gal in A Lady In Grey, the widow of Tony's colonel during the war. Sleazy Mr Jepburn, who owns seven gambling hells given respectability by operating under the auspices of well-born hostesses in the West End of London, is also involved. One of the more predictable stories in this collection, perhaps.

Tony next takes up a temporary new career by investing in a betting business run by The Bookmaker. Proprietor Mr Yarrow is not a straight dealer and has the tables turned on him in a satisfying fashion.

The Plum Pudding Girl involves Tony taking up a job writing love letters to a titled lady in order to overcome her attraction to her chauffeur, which naturally has horrified her family. Obviously there's a catch...and a twist ending involving a matter which on consideration the reader will have to agree is fairly clued.

The Guest of the Minnows is Mr Antonio Anquilina, a sought-after fellow in the theatrical world as he not only wants to fund productions but also goes about buying up theatres. He's keen on playing cards, so naturally the Minnows Club is of interest to him.

Next, Tony goes into the newspaper business after buying a small newspaper not long before The Bursted Election. Josias Longwirt, an old school friend who had not only refused to give Tony the price of a meal when he badly needed it but then had also suggested he apply for National Assistance, the cur, is now running as Conservative candidate to represent Burted in Parliament...

The Hon Lammer Green is The Joker, and while some japes were relatively harmless, such as engaging labourers to tear up Piccadilly Circus and holding up traffic for twelve hours, he is not above carrying out unkind pranks. This time he proposes to propose to Mathilda, the rather homely daughter of Oxton Manor's St Joshua Gaggle, late of 'oxton (that's to say Hoxton in London). Anthony is reluctant to go along with Lammer but in the end decides to do so.

Kato is the title of a much darker tale, involving Anthony and his friend Bill stepping out of character to engage in a spot of burglary in order to nab the unsavoury Mr Poltue's emerald. They are aided in their venture by Poltue's equally odious servant Kato, but needless to say there's more to it than appears on the surface.

In The Graft cardsharp Jay Gaddit is sent to Dartmoor and asks Tony to see if he can do something for Mrs Gaddit. Quite capable of getting along without her imprisoned husband, she is the innocent source of vital information that ultimately brings Tony happiness and, it seems safe to assume, abandonment of his old life.

My verdict: An engaging collection about a protagonist who has something of Raffles in his blood even though Newton's path is down a different part of the grey area of the street. Fans of the twist-ending will enjoy these short stories, particularly those with some neatly blatant pieces of misdirection.

Etext: The Brigand by Edgar Wallace

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ol' Blue Eyes and Me

by Eric

Today is Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday. That places him in the generation of singers my parents loved. Which is to say, those my generation, kids who followed the Beatles and rock n'roll, did not love. Still, Sinatra being the icon he is, I haven't avoided his music altogether.

I associate Frank Sinatra with three songs: My Way, thanks to the rendition by Sex Pistol Sid Vicious (whose way turned out less successful than Frank's), Strangers in the Night, because of the jaw dropping tastelessness of a father- daughter duet about a pick up, and High Hopes.

The latter is the only Sinatra recording I actually liked. During my early years I didn't enjoy anything except novelty songs or The Colonel Bogey March as played on my grandparents' old Victrola. High Hopes with its doughty ant hauling its rubber tree plant worked for me. As far as Sinatra's performance went, I would have preferred Sheb Wooley.

Ol' Blue Eyes was always hanging around the house in the fifties, in the record cabinet, on the turntable. I recall seeing the album covers, although I don't specifically recollect hearing the music. My inexplicable familiarity with certain standards might be due my parents playing Sinatra's versions. He did not interest me. Judging by the album covers he was just some old guy. Older than my parents even because he wore a hat. My grandfather wore a grey felt hat, my father didn't.

My dad liked the fifties Sinatra well enough to play his albums but he preferred Ella Fitzgerald. The Sinatra whose music he loved was the skinny Big Band singer from the forties.

When I developed an interest in rock music during the sixties I occasionally sampled earlier artists and found singers I liked -- Fred Astaire and Hank Williams for example. I never tried Sinatra. He was too much "my parents' music."

So I was shocked one day in the late seventies when my Manhattan "hairdresser to the punk bands" was playing a new Sinatra album. I went to his probably illegal, private apartment hair salon -- i.e. barber chair and mirror in what was obviously a dining room -- to get my hair snipped into spikes. Rather than Johnny Thunders or the Dead Boys or any of the customers he mentioned in his Punk Magazine ad, he had Sinatra crooning through his sound system.

The explanation was simple. His dad was a session musician who'd played on the album. His dad had also played on Jobriath's albums, which accounted for the gigantic Jobriath poster on the wall. Luckily he did not play Jobriath while I was in the chair.

For a short time my ex wife and I lived in the tiny New Jersey town of Weehawken, across the Hudson from Manhattan and just north of Hoboken, best known for being the birthplace of Frank Sinatra. There are a lot of Sinatra fans in that part of New Jersey.

One blistering hot summer Sunday we decided to go into the city. As we waited outside our apartment building for the bus, growing ever more uncomfortable an enormous Cadillac pulled up and middle-aged, business suited driver asked us where we were going and offered a ride. Being young and foolish we leapt into the refreshingly air conditioned interior. The seats had more padding in them than all the thrift store furniture in our place put together. Sinatra was blasting over the stereo speakers.

Along with the music we got an enthusiastic lecture on Frank, the hometown boy made good and his proper place in music history. I have often wondered whether this Sinatra fan made a point of picking up young people and trying to convert them to his hero.

I wasn't converted. And years later, by the time I might have been prepared to give him a chance he'd become an elderly, obnoxious celebrity.

But there was always High Hopes. Unlike Sinatra's usual schmaltz, that song really spoke to me in the same way Purple People Eater or Little Space Girl or the Mighty Mouse theme did. (Ants were so much more interesting than girls.)

One day my dad's friend Mr. Petrillo (in the fifties kids didn't address adults by their first names) drove my brother and me and all his kids -- seven or eight, or maybe nine...I lost count -- to a Yankees game. Mr Petrillo was an artist and the most imperturbable man I ever met. He and his wife lived with that incalculable gang of kids, assorted mutts and two ancient mothers-in-law engaged in a never ending Sicilian blood feud. He'd sit calmly smoking his pipe, reading an art magazine, in his own world of sublime aesthetics, totally oblivious to the bedlam surrounding him.

During the long drive to New York he puffed his pipe serenely while we kids spotted cows, argued, wrestled, and finally sang, and sang, and sang. We got to the chorus of High Hopes:

But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes
He's got high apple pie, in the sky hopes

Then there was a big cut in the vinyl and the needle kept jumping backwards.

He's got high-i-i hopes! He's got high-i-i hopes!!

It was the perfect refrain for a backseat choir nine, or ten, or eleven (or so it seemed) massed sub-teen screechers.

How loud could we sing? This loud? No, we can do better than that.

High-i-i...hopes!!....HIGH-I-I HOPES!!!!

Mile after mile we increased the volume. Finally, incredibly, Mr Petrillo slowly removed his pipe from his mouth, looked back over his shoulder, and without raising his voice said, "Will you damn kids please shut the hell up."

We shut up.

For him that amounted to a towering rage.

Definitely not his way.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Review: The Paternoster Ruby by Charles E. Walk

by Mary

The Paternoster Ruby may not be bang in the middle of the generally accepted dates for the Golden Age but don't let that stop you from reading this novel. For those who like them -- and I do, very much -- it features a floor plan and a cipher of several numbers, oh frabjous day! Not to mention colour illustrations. Can't beat such riches with a big stick!

But what of the plot? Well, the narrator, Inspector Knowles Smith, remarks at one point he believes "the reader will unhesitatingly admit, by this time, that the Page affair presented many remarkable aspects".

And so it does.

As the book opens on a January day in 1892, Inspector Smith is investigating the murder of wheat king Felix Page, who had recently made a killing on that grain and in the process trounced hated rival Alfred Fluette. There are two immediate suspects: the murdered man's two overnight guests, these being his private secretary and a young man sporting a fresh black eye who initially refuses to say what business brought him to Page's mansion the night before. However, the secretary reveals the latter's visit has to do with the titular ruby. Naturally, the ruby was involved in two deaths, three if you count the man hanged for murdering its owner Paternostro, who gave his name to the gem.

And so begins a convoluted tale in which the narrator, then in his 20s, tells of the twists and turns of his investigation. There is more to the situation than murder and the theft of the fabulous ruby, and much of the action takes place in the dead man's mansion which at one time or another has a number of unexpected visitors while Smith and a colleague are in residence seeking clues and the missing ruby.

My verdict: The novel is written in a surprisingly modern style and moves along like all get out. There's a twist at the end completely demolishing my theory about the gem, who pinched it, and Page's murderer. I suspected just about every possible culprit except the person who confesses and even then...but no spoilers here. I'll be looking out for more of Walk's works.

Etext: The Paternoster Ruby by Charles E. Walk

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: The Clue of the Twisted Candle by Edgar Wallace

by Mary

Assistant Commissioner of Police T. X. Meredith, a man of unorthodox though successful methods of detection and best friend of mystery writer John Lexman, has been investigating Remington Kara, an extremely rich Greek with something of a turbulent history and a former suitor for the hand of Lexman's wife.

Kara was almost murdered years ago, and such is his fear of another attempt being made his bedroom is “practically a safe.” It features burglar-proof walls, reinforced concrete roof and floor, an unreachable window, and its sole door has in addition to a lock “a sort of steel latch which he lets down when he retires for the night and which he opens himself personally in the morning”.

Of course Kara is eventually found dead, locked in this safe-like room. How was Kara’s murder accomplished, why did his secretary disappear and his manservant run away, and for that matter who killed the dog in the basement of his house? Was Kara killed by the men he has feared for years or someone else, and if so, who was it and why?

Answers to these conundrums are revealed at a gathering at the end of the book in which All Is Explained, including how the challenge presented by the locked room was overcome.

My verdict: On the negative side I felt there were perhaps one too many coincidences and the identity of the murderer was not as well hidden as it might have been. On the other hand, the locked room explanation is ingenious, clues to how it was accomplished are revealed in a fair fashion in the narrative, and I confess I did not foresee one of the final twists. I would sum it up as a diverting, light read.

Etext: The Clue of the Twisted Candle by Edgar Wallace

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: The Kennel Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

by Mary

Readers must have been surprised to learn Philo Vance bred Scottish terriers, but it was as well for the forces of law and order he did, for it was this interest, coupled with his vast knowledge of Chinese ceramics, that ultimately provided the solution to the Kennel Murder Case.

The novel begins with one of my favourite fictional crime scenes: a suicide in a room locked on the inside. This is merely window dressing, for it is in fact murder. And murder most peculiar, for collector Archer Coe had been shot after his death. In addition, his coat and waistcoat have been removed and his dressing gown substituted but his street shoes have been left on -- not to mention he has been struck on the head and a rib broken. Then there is the question of the badly injured Scottie found downstairs, an unknown dog in a household that does not care for them.

Leaving aside intruders, there aren't many suspects. There's Archer's brother Brisbane and niece and ward Hilda Lake. Milanese museum official Eduardo Grassi, is a house guest, Raymond Wrede, a friend of the family, visits often, and the Coe's Chinese cook Liang Tsung Wei is naturally viewed as suspicious. Financial motives of various sorts provide most of them with an interest in the affair, although Mr Wei is an unknown quantity and seems too cultured for a mere servant. There is talk of revenge for shady deals and tomb robbing and further mayhem ensues but of course Vance ultimately solves the case.

My verdict: The Kennel Murder Case rattles along faster than other entries in the series and there is less eyeball glazing vapouring on esoteric topics than usual. This is intriguing, given the solution hinges on knowledge of canine matters and porcelain, but the leaner prose is the better for it. The reader is cleverly misled through their own expectations although part of the solution begins to manifest to the really attentive towards the end of the book. As for the kennel, we don't see too much of it so the title is somewhat misleading but the little Scottie goes to live with Vance, so it ends happily for her, if not for certain others. In a discussion of methods used to lock rooms from the outside to give the impression of having been bolted by someone inside the room Van Dine naughtily reveals examples from two named novels, so beware of spoilers.

Etext: The Kennel Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: The Sleuth of St. James's Square by Melville Davisson Post

by Mary

Sir Henry Marquis is Chief of the C.I.D. at Scotland Yard. This collection relates some of the cases in which he played a part, although in a few entries he takes a more peripheral role.

The Thing On The Hearth is blamed for the death of Mr Rodman, a scientist who invented a process to make precious gems. He is found dead in a locked room guarded by an Oriental servant and his death involves what appears to be a visitor from...somewhere else. Sir Henry visits Rodman's New England mansion to investigate the matter.

Sir Henry has been looking over the memoirs of Captain Walker, head of the US Secret Service. In their ensuing discussion Walker tells him the tale of an inebriate hobo, who, when everyone else had failed, was instrumental in locating a number of stolen plates for war bonds, thus earning The Reward.

The next story involves a large sum of money Madame Barras is foolishly carrying on an unaccompanied two mile journey through the forest lying between the home of an old school friend and the village hotel in which madame is staying. Sir Henry is also a hotel guest and helps search for The Lost Lady.

The titled parents of a young man fighting at the front in France are extremely distressed. His fiancee has been staying out half the night motoring all over the landscape with Mr Meadows, and even admits to having deliberately picked him up! But when Mr Meadows obligingly gives a lift to Sir Henry, who is on his way to investigate a murder, footprints from The Cambered Foot, not to mention other clews, turn out to be not at all what they seem.

In the next story, an Englishman, an American, and an Italian are *not* sitting in a bar but rather are chatting about the justice systems of their respective countries at Sir Henry's villa. The Italian count relates how it was legally possible for The Man In The Green Hat, proved without a shadow of doubt to be guilty of premeditated murder, to escape the death penalty.

Sir Henry owns a diary kept by the daughter of his ancestor Mr Pendleton, a justice of the peace in colonial Virginia. The diary describes cases in which Pendleon was involved and this one concerns dissolute Lucian Morrow's wish to buy a beautiful Hispanic girl from Mr Zindorf, whose ownership of her is dubious to say the least. However The Wrong Sign turns out to be right for saving the innocent.

Another Pendleton story follows. Peyton Marshall's will favouring Englishman Anthony Gosford has gone missing and it transpires Marshall's son has hidden it for what appears to be good reason. But can the lad's unsupported claims be proved, allowing him to inherit what his father promised him? The Fortune Teller will reveal the answer.

The next tale relates a third case involving Sir Henry's ancestor. Pendleton meets a girl wandering about in despair. This is not surprising given her uncle, with whom she had been living, has just kicked her out of his house after informing her that her father was a rogue who robbed him and absconded. The Hole In The Mahogany Panel bears mute witness to the truth.

The war is over and the traitoress Lady Muriel is in desperate financial straits as she can no longer sells British secrets. She overhears a conversation that ultimately leads to her to kill a man when discovered in the act of stealing an explorer's watercolour of, and map showing the route to, an African lake where treasure lies at The End Of The Road.

In The Last Adventure explorer Charlie Tavor tried to find the ancient route of gold-bearing caravans crossing Mongolia in order to salvage the precious metal from those that foundered. He returns to America with only a few months to live and his friend Barclay undertakes to sell Tavor's map to the location to a man who had previously swindled Tavor...

Jewel dealer Douglas Hargrave meets Sir Henry at their London club. Sir Henry is puzzling over an advertisement run in papers in three European capitals, trying to deduce what The American Horses represent in an obviously coded message. Then Hargrave meets a lady who wants to buy a large lot of valuable gems from a Rumanian who demands payment in cash....

Lisa Lewis, American Ambassadoress, relates a curious tale at a dinner party at Sir Henry's house. The Dominion Railroad Company has experienced a number of terrible accidents and fears numerous reports alleging negligence will lead to its bankruptcy. Yet despite all possible precautions the Montreal Express derails because of The Spread Rails. Lisa's friend Marion Warfield, who revised a textbook on circumstantial evidence, solves the mystery.

At the same dinner party Sir Henry describes the case of the hardhearted lawyer who demands more money to represent a butler on trial for murdering and robbing his employer. The money cannot be found and the accused's wife wanders the streets in despair. A wealthy opera singer takes pity on her, treats her to a meal, and listens to her story. Is she a fairy godmother in the modern equivalent of The Pumpkin Coach and can she help the man on trial?

Miss Carstair is having doubts about her marriage to diplomat Lord Eckhart despite her fiance's gift of a stunning ruby necklace, for she is extremely troubled by gossip he is the worst ne'er do well in London. While she is pondering the matter Dr Tsan-Sgam, who has been dining with Sir Henry, arrives with news of the death of her father in the Gobi Desert, ultimately learning of its connection to The Yellow Flower.

Next, a post-war story narrated by a weekend guest at Sir Henry's country house. Sir Henry reveals the true story of an incident on a hospital ship boarded by Prussian submarine commander Plutonburg. Wounded St Alban defies him with the fighting words "Don't threaten, fire if you like!", becoming an instant hero to the British. But there's a lot more to it than that, and a situation as bitter as the rolling waves is revealed in A Satire of the Sea.

In the final yarn, the uncle of narrator Robin tries to put him off visiting him, but the envelope in which the letter arrives has a hastily scrawled appeal to ignore the contents and come to The House By The Loch. Will his uncle's labours to cast a perfect Buddha ever be successful? Who is the highlander sitting knitting while talking about the Ten Commandments and taking a great deal of interest in the movements of Robin's uncle?

My verdict: A first rate collection with several stories having a O. Henryesque twist or two catching the reader by surprise. My favourites were The Last Adventure, a wonderful biter-bit yarn, and A Satire of the Sea, with its psychological underpinnings. An author's note for The Man In The Green Hat cites a specific American legal case and readers may like to know it was heard in 1913.

Etext: The Sleuth of St. James's Square by Melville Davisson Post

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Review: As a Thief in the Night by R. Austin Freeman

by Mary

As is her custom, Mrs Barbara Monkhouse is away for a week or two helping organise a women's emancipation movement but this time she returns home to find her husband Harold is dead.

The exact nature of chronic invalid Harold's illness has never been diagnosed although he's been ailing for years. During Barbara's absence Harold's brother Amos visited him and was so shocked by his appearance he insisted on an expert opinion. It is all to no avail, however, for a few days later Harold dies of arsenic poisoning. Was it administered in his food or drink or perhaps added to his medicine? Everyone in, or with access to, the house at the time is under suspicion -- domestic science teacher Madeline Norris (Harold's daughter by his first wife), Harold's highly strung secretary Anthony Wallingford, the servants, and even medical man Dr Dimsdale, not to mention regular visitor and narrator Rupert Mayfield, a barrister and inseparable childhood friend of Barbara Monkhouse and her now deceased stepsister Stella Keene. Mayfield asks Dr Thorndyke to investigate so that innocent parties can be cleared of suspicion, but the true depravity of the culprit is only revealed at the close of the novel.

My verdict: This entry in the Thorndyke saga revels in a particularly inventive plot, richly decorated with such details as mysterious bottles of unknown origin and an infernal machine in the post, not to mention what well may be the most inventive way of administering poison ever utilised in the annals of detective fiction.

Etext: As a Thief in the Night by R. Austin Freeman

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Review: The Cat's Eye by R. Austin Freeman

by Mary

Dr Jervis being away advising on a case in New York, Robert Anstey, KC, narrates the mystery of The Cat's Eye as the complicated affair unfolds.

Anstey is crossing Hampstead Heath one night when, just after a man runs past him, he hears a woman crying for help in the other direction. He finds her in time to see her knocked down and her attacker get away.

The mysterious woman has been stabbed and Anstey carries her to a nearby house to seek aid. Just as he arrives, he hears the terrified housekeeper Mrs Benham calling the police, for her master Andrew Drayton has been murdered in his small private museum of inscribed objects -- lace bobbins, ornaments, jewelry, and the like.

The dead man is the brother of Sir Lawrence Drayton, a neighbour of Anstey's in the Temple as well as an acquaintance of Dr Thorndyke's, who is brought in to investigate while the police pursue their own enquiries. Anstey has acted as Thorndyke's leading counsel for years and, in order to provide him with useful evidence, takes -- illegally, one would think -- two pieces of fingerprinted broken glass away from the crime scene.

The injured woman, Winifred Blake is interested in inscribed jewels and had visited Drayton that evening to look at his collection. She had hardly entered the house when he was shot in another room, and in foolishly trying to follow a man escaping from the scene was herself assaulted. Evidence shows two criminals were involved and that certain items of jewelry have been stolen.

The plot then thickens into a rich stew whose ingredients include Biblical verses with no apparent relation to each other, a good luck charm made from a porcupine ant-eater bone, a strand of blue hair, spectacles which allow the wearer to see what is happening behind him, and a mystery within a mystery.

My verdict: A particularly rich plot featuring a dash of romance, with clues realised to be in plain sight once the reader knows the solution. The novel includes some interesting asides, such as an explanation of how Scotland Yard's Habitual Criminals Registry compares hundreds of fingerprint records kept on cards when seeking matches to a particular set of dabs. The preface mentions a particular incident, identical to one that happened in real life, was already in a chapter written some time before the actual event occurred.

Etext: The Cat's Eye by R. Austin Freeman

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Review: The Hunt Ball Mystery by William Magnay

by Mary

Give me a novel opening with a fellow arriving for a social gathering at a country house, and I'm as happy as the proverbial clam.

The Hunt Ball Mystery begins in just this fashion, and right away we are in crisis mode. Hugh Gifford discovers he is without evening clothes due to a mistake the guard made in unloading luggage. It seems Gifford and his friend Harry Kelson are going to a "ripping dance" -- the Hunt Ball of the title -- to be held that evening at Wynford Place, now the home of Dick Morriston although once the property of Gifford's uncle.

The station master wires up the line to arrange for Gifford's traps to be transferred to a down train at the next stop, although Gifford won't get them until about ten. Still, the night will still be fairly young at that hour and he will have plenty of time to attend the festivities.

The two men depart in a fly with a stranger who has the gall to ask them for a lift given he will be a fellow guest at the Golden Lion Hotel. They are outraged at his request and amazed to hear the stranger is also going to the Hunt Ball. Gifford sniffily decides the man is not of their class, a conclusion based largely on the other's looks and manner. It transpires the man is Clement Henshaw, brother of Gervase, whom Gifford knows by repute as a fellow legal eagle.

In private conversation at the Golden Lion, Gifford and Kelson indulge in a positive orgy of character shredding. Henshaw is, they tell each other, the "[w]rong type of sportsman...spoilt by that objectionable, cock-sure manner" and similar comments.

At this point I was almost starting to hope this nasty pair of snobs would be found stark dead behind the stables at Wynford Place.

But it's Henshaw who's found dead, locked in a room in the tower at Wynford Place -- a room with the key on the inside. Admittedly there's a window big enough for an adult to use to escape but there's an 80 feet drop to the ground. The general consensus is Henshaw committed suicide by stabbing himself with a chisel.

Suicide by chisel seems an unlikely method, I hear you remark, and indeed this is the opinion of Gervase Henshaw, who now appears at the house door. His opinion it was not suicide is shared the doctor who gives evidence at the inquest.

At this point the mystery gallops off in full cry after the fox of whodunnit, how, and why.

My verdict: I have long been a fan of the Country House Mystery, set on estates owned by families residing in rambling houses with secret passages, panelled halls with huge fireplaces, morning rooms opening onto peacock infested terraces, libraries lined with leather bound tomes and ancestral portraits, wooded grounds featuring lakes and terraces and gamekeepers, and carriages rolling up and down wide drives sweeping between rows of ancient oaks to exit past lodges guarding ornate iron gates. Being born and raised in a grimy industrial city, these mysteries were an alien land to me and one I enjoyed and still enjoy exploring.

Thus I was disposed to like The Hunt Ball. Alas, this particular visit was not too successful. For example, the locked room solution is pedestrian and most readers will guess it. I found the characters unsympathetic and the police presented as inept, not least in overlooking a couple of clues -- including one of a particularly glaring nature. It may be this novel was intended as a spoof of the Country House Mystery, but all in all I found The Hunt Ball Mystery something of a disappointment.

Etext: The Hunt Ball Mystery by William Magnay

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Review: Average Jones by Samuel Hopkins Adams

by Mary

As an assiduous reader of personal advertisements -- and if you won't admit to doing the same, I think you'll agree they are important plot points in a number of detective novels -- I warmed instantly to Adrian Van Reypen Egerton Jones, nicknamed Average Jones for obvious reasons.

A highly intelligent, very rich, and terribly bored young man, as the first yarn opens he is wondering what to do with himself. His friend Mr Waldemar, owner of The Universal, an important NYC paper, suggests Jones set up as a kind of one man consumer protection wallah, giving advice, as Jones' business card will later declare, "upon all matters connected with Advertising". As a bonus, Jones will pass on discoveries about various swindles perpetrated through ads to Waldemar, thus keeping the paper's lengthy advertising columns "clean".

Jones gives it a whirl and soon becomes engrossed in the work to the extent of setting up an agency to handle the more humdrum requests for advice while he looks into ads that grab his attention, particularly those hinting at criminal activity. Average Jones relates the cases he investigates.

It's difficult to review short stories without giving too much away, but I'll take a stab.

THE B-FLAT TROMBONE is a locked room mystery. By what method was mayoral candidate William Linder blown up in a locked room on the third floor of his mansion on Kennard Street in Brooklyn?

After three unsuccessful attempts on his life, Malcolm Dorr keeps two guard dogs. Both are killed yet neither were shot or poisoned. Then there is a rash of canine deaths in Bridgeport, CT. Is there a connection between them and the mysterious RED DOT?

Where is young rakehell Roderick Hoff? His father, who made millions selling quack medicine, engages Jones to find him. Jones follows an OPEN TRAIL to find the lad and outfoxes Hoff's swindling father when he tries to wiggle out of paying the reward money.

MERCY SIGN is rooted in a real historical tragedy and is much darker than the first three stories. Jones and his friend Robert Bertram look into a strange case involving a missing academic assistant, a wrecked houseboat, and a dead foreign dignitary.

The jewels are called BLUE FIRES and form a beautiful necklace, a gift from a Mr Kirby to his fiancee Edna Hale. Their disappearance means their wedding is postponed -- yet they were neither stolen nor returned. What do a torn curtain and broken-off bed knob have to do with the matter?

Anonymous letters of a particularly nasty sort -- being attempts to persuade their recipient to commit suicide or commit himself to an asylum -- are written out in PIN-PRICKS on junk advertising mail sent to William Robinson. What is the purpose of these communications and who is responsible?

Bailey, the l4 year old son of rural minister Revd Peter Prentice, is missing after a meteor lands on a New England barn, setting it ablaze. Then an ad appears revealing he is alive but not where, and a certain bit of BIG PRINT aids Jones in tracing the lost boy.

Enderby Livius is THE MAN WHO SPOKE LATIN, claiming he has been transported from Roman times to the present day and cannot speak English. He is up to no good in bibliophile Colonel Ridgway Graeme's chaotic library, and to find out what Livius is at Jones poses as a mute classical scholar.

THE ONE BEST BET begins with a man committing suicide because he arrives at Waldemar's newspaper too late to amend his personal ad, having had second thoughts about what he wrote -- as well he might since the ad reveals a plot to murder the governor. Can Jones prevent the crime?

THE MILLION-DOLLAR DOG involves one of those odd wills so beloved by the rich in detective fiction. In this instance, Judge Hawley Ackroyd's advertisement seeking 10,000 black beetles puts Jones on the trail of an attempt to gain a fortune by killing the titular dog and concealing its body.

My verdict: What an inventive way to introduce a detective to cases in all levels of society! I enjoyed this collection a great deal and recommend it to readers who enjoy slightly offbeat and very clever short stories. Now I'm off to read the personal ads in today's papers....

Etext: Average Jones by Samuel Hopkins Adams

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Review: The Bat by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart

by Mary

Everyone in the city, from millionaires to the shady citizens of the underworld, goes in fear of The Bat. All that is known of him is like his namesake "he chose the night hours for his work of rapine; like a bat he struck and vanished, pouncingly, noiselessly; like a bat he never showed himself to the face of the day". The media scream in vain for his arrest. Such was his tawdry fame that, inevitably, "a popular revue put on a special Bat number wherein eighteen beautiful chorus girls appeared masked and black-winged in costumes of Brazilian bat fur; there were Bat club sandwiches, Bat cigarettes, and a new shade of hosiery called simply and succinctly Bat".

But the fact remains the Bat was a cold-blooded loner whose crimes range from jewel theft to murder and whose calling card was a drawing or some other form of expression of bathood.

Detective Anderson asks his chief to be transferred to the Bat case. His superior is reluctant, because his other best investigator, Wentworth, was killed by The Bat. However, Anderson insists, having been a friend of the dead man, and so his chief, convinced Anderson will meet the same fate as Wentworth, promises the next time the Bat strikes and a new case is opened Anderson will be transferred to work on it.

We next meet wealthy, elderly, and independent spinster Miss Cornelia Van Gorder, scion of a noble family and the last of the line. An adventurous spirit, at 65 and comfortably situated, she still longs for a bit of an adventure. It maddens her to think of the sensational experiences she is missing as she contemplates that "...out in the world people were murdering and robbing each other, floating over Niagara Falls in barrels, rescuing children from burning houses, taming tigers, going to Africa to hunt gorillas, doing all sorts of exciting things!" Why, she'd love to have a stab at catching The Bat given half a chance!

But all is not lost, for having taken a house in the country for the summer Miss Van Gorder finds herself within twenty miles from the very area wherein the Bat had committed three crimes. Courtleigh Fleming, owner of the house, has died, and the bank of which he was president just failed, possibly because Mr Bailey, its cashier, has stolen over a million dollars -- or so it is said.

Since Miss Van Gorder's arrival at the Fleming mansion strange things have happened: she has received an anonymous letter advising her to leave, the lights mysteriously went off one evening, her butler claims he spied someone looking into the kitchen, and Lizzie Allen, Miss Van Gorder's personal maid for decades, is convinced she saw a strange man on the stairs.

Miss Van Gorder's niece, Dale Ogden, is a guest and her aunt senses she is unhappy about something, perhaps an affair of the heart. As the story opens, Dale has a phone call and goes off to the city. While she is there she will look for a gardener. After she departs, it transpires the cook and housemaid have decided to leave for obviously false reasons. Despite all persuasion, Miss Van Gorder states she *will* remain in the house with or without a full staff, but as it happens an agency promises replacements in three days. Until then they will just have to manage with the aid of the butler and the hoped-for gardener.

And then adventure makes its appearance in Miss Van Gorder's life, for in the morning post there comes another anonymous letter stating "If you stay in this house any longer--DEATH. Go back to the city at once and save your life". Being a stubborn person, Miss Van Gorder decides to handle the matter not by calling in the authorities but by ensuring the numerous windows and doors of the house are kept locked and by making a phone call, the recipient of which we are not told at that point.

She is practicing with a revolver she purchased for a trip to China when Dale arrives with the news a gardener will be there to take up his duties that evening. After dark a storm begins to rise while Dale goes off to the local country club to visit Richard Fleming, the deceased house owner's nephew and heir, who lives at the club. Miss Van Gorder, left with her maid and the butler, finds herself growing nervous. So she gets out the ouija board and she and a very reluctant Lizzie hold a session. The board first spells out a string of nonsense and then B-A-T.

Not long afterwards, Brooks, the new gardener, arrives. The advancing tempest knocks out the lights and the stage is set for various characters to flit in and out a many doored and windowed living room lit most of the time only by candle and firelight. The Bat is based upon a stage play and I imagine one that must have had its audiences perched on the edge of their seats a fair bit of the time.

My verdict: I would describe The Bat as related to the old dark house mystery, with enough obfuscation to keep the reader guessing although one or two surprises are less well concealed. I found it a light, diverting read which held the interest without taxing the attention too much and would sum up The Bat as an excellent cold-night-outside read.

Etext: The Bat by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Break Out the Bubbly!

by Eric

The Yankees clinched a playoff spot over the weekend, a few days before the official publication date for Murder in Megara so, as a baseball fan and writer, it has been a good week for me. When I read about the Yankees' clubhouse champagne celebration I recalled the last time I had champagne, on the first of January, outside in the cold and snow, at Mendon Ponds Park in Rochester, New York. The C.A.T.S. running club put on a New Years Day 10K race. Beyond the finish line, in the icy parking lot, folding tables held boxes of bagels and plastic cups of bubbly.

The park terrain was formed by ancient ice sheets so we ran up and down a confusion of hills and hollows, puffing steam, our procession gradually lengthening as fast runners pulled away from those of us laboring behind. There is one particularly steep incline curving around the hill into which ancient ice gouged out a kettle pond called The Devil's Bathtub. I can still see clearly that challenge rearing up in my path. Heavily bundled, early morning dog walkers gave us perplexed stares as we passed, warmed only by light sweats and our own efforts.

I loved running. There's a camaraderie in getting together to do something pointless and stupid simply because you can. It's exhilarating. In retrospect. At the time, at the five mile mark, where the route turned out of the park onto a slushy highway exposed to a raw north wind, I wondered what the hell I'd been thinking to sign up for this.

That was a long time ago. Longer than it seems because after my back decided I could no longer run I kept making sporadic attempts and held out hope. Now it has become obvious that running is a chapter that's finished. It was one of my favorite chapters.

Running is simple. It rewards your efforts. If you put in the miles you improve. Unlike the arts where efforts can go forever unrecognized. Nor is there the subjective quibbling artistic works are subject to. At the end of the race the clock gives each competitor the objective, inarguable truth. There's no room for critics. Blowhards can't change reality or promote themselves into prominence.

These days my endeavors are limited to activities which do not require healthy of spinal discs. Things like writing. Today Murder in Megara is out. It is always exhilarating when a new novel appears. The writing itself can be grueling. With each bend in the plot a writer is confronted by new challenges. And towards the end, when we're already exhausted, rewriting feels like running an endless straight-away into a bitter north wind. Now that the finish line has been crossed maybe we should break out the bubbly.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Review: The Man In Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart

by Mary

Lawrence "Lollie" Blakely, narrator of The Man In Lower Ten, is a partner in the Washington law firm of Blakeley and McKnight. In this novel he describes "the strange events on the Pullman car Ontario, between Washington and Pittsburgh, on the night of September ninth, last".

Blakeley is going to Pittsburgh to take a deposition from John Gilmore, an ailing millionaire and the prosecution's chief witness in a big forgery case. Strictly speaking, it is his partner Richard McKnight's turn to take the journey, but he's cried off, claiming he's "always car sick crossing the mountains." However, the real reason, as Lollie well knows, is McKnight wishes to visit a girl he loves, as on a number of previous weekends.

While Lollie is packing a bag, McKnight drops in to give him certain vital documents relating to the forgery case. During his visit, even before Lollie sets out on his journey, mysteries start to gather. Who is the woman McKnight claims to see staring into Lollie's room from a house across the way, a house that has supposedly been empty a year? McKnight connects this strange event with the documentation Lollie is to carry, and advises him to guard it with every care, for its loss will mean disaster for the prosecution.

So Lollie visits Gilmore's house, where he notices a framed photo of a lovely girl named Alison, Gilmore's granddaughter. Needless to say, this photo makes quite an impression on Lollie. Having obtained Gilmore's deposition, Lollie visits a restaurant for a meal before taking the overnight train back to Washington, and while dining notices a couple whose relationship seems rather strained and that the man is somewhat intoxicated. At the station, he is just about to buy his sleeping berth for the return journey when a woman unknown to him asks him to buy her a lower berth when he purchases his, as she has been traveling in upper berths for three nights.

I would have thought anyone approached by a stranger in this fashion, and especially a lawyer, would consider it somewhat odd, the more so given the social mores of the time. In any event, Lollie being a gentleman obliges. Given the choice of berths, he gives the lady lower eleven and takes lower ten for himself.

However, when he goes to his berth later that evening he finds the man from the restaurant snoring away in it, evidently having mistaken it for his due to his intoxicated condition, and so Lollie instead occupies lower nine. But sleep eludes Lollie, so he is up and about in his jammies and bathrobe while just about everyone else aboard is in the arms of Morpheus. He eventually retires to bed and wakes up next day to find his clothing and bag (wherein is locked the vital legal evidence) missing and the man in lower ten murdered.

Forced to wear the clothing left behind by whoever stole his clobber and due to circumstantial evidence of a convincing nature, Lollie is suspected of the murder. He is saved from arrest by perhaps one of the most outrageous deux ex machina in detective fiction: a train crash in which he and one or two others are the only survivors.

But to be fair, this crash later leads to an important pointer on a line of enquiry in the investigation of the murder, although this pointer is one whose method of appearance rather strains credulity.

Suspected of murder, Lollie (arm is broken in the crash) returns home and finds himself plunged into all manner of strange goings on. With his partner McBride and one or two helpers he tries to find out the who and why of the death, while himself being shadowed by the police and fighting a growing attraction to McBride's light o' love.

The Man In Lower Ten is written in MRR's usual light style but offers a fairly dense plot with an occasional red herring and a large cast of characters bound together in occasionally unexpected ways. Narrator Lollie is not as giddy as some of her protagonists, though there are dollops of humour here and there. Ultimately the mystery is tied up in a satisfactory fashion. I haven't read all the author's works yet, but enjoyed this one, not least because it's a sort of locked room mystery -- but not quite. My eye always lights up when I see plans of houses or rooms or fragments of documents reproduced in the text, and this novel features a sketch of the carriage where the murder was committed although its role is minimal compared to what is revealed in similar diagrams included in, say, Agatha Christie's works.

Etext: The Man In Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Review: The Opal Serpent by Fergus Hume

by Mary

After falling out with his boorish country gentleman father, Paul Beecot ups and goes to London to make his way as a writer. There he rents a Bloomsbury garret and while not setting the literary world ablaze manages to get along although only just this side of falling into debt. Then he finds himself caught up in evil events.

It all starts when one afternoon he happens to meet his old public schoolmate Grexon Hay in Oxford Street. Hay is turned out like the proverbial dog's dinner but condescends to share Paul's supper of plump sausages. During their conversation over the bangers, Paul talks about his beloved, Sylvia Norman, whose father Aaron runs a second-hand book shop with a bit of pawnbroking on the side, or rather in the cellar. Alas, Paul and Sylvia cannot marry until he can support a wife and they have said nothing to her father for fear he will forbid Paul to visit.

Apparently Aaron Norman has "the manner of a frightened rabbit" and seems to be always looking over his shoulder with his one good eye. Obviously something fishy is going on there, but what?

Even stranger, when he sees the titular opal, diamond, and gold brooch, Aaron faints. Shown the brooch during their dinner, Hay makes an offer for it, but Paul refuses because it is his mother's and he prefers to pawn it so he can hopefully redeem it in due course.

We now meet the memorable Deborah Junk, servant of the Norman household and devoted to Sylvia. By far the most colourful person in the novel, her unique style of conversation would not disgrace a working class character created by Dickens, and when she is on-stage she dominates the scene.

But there's plenty going on when she's engaged elsewhere. Why did Aaron Norman faint when he saw the serpent brooch? Who is the man who warns Beecot against Hay, describing the latter as "a man on the market", and what does the curious phrase mean? Why did an Indian visitor to Aaron Norman's book emporium leave a pile of sugar on the counter? Does a truly ghastly guttersnipe born to hang know more than he lets on?

My verdict: The Opal Serpent contains some surprisingly strong content, such as certain comments made by the murderer, which would be disturbing even in this day and age, while the method used to kill the victim in full view of others is so awful I was surprised to find it in a novel of this vintage. Plus the use to which the brooch is put is equally grim.

This novel trots along at a steady pace with as many twists and turns as a serpent as it slithers its way to a rip-roaring denouement, and I must say the plot certainly underlines the traditional belief opals are unlucky! Recommended.

Etext: The Opal Serpent by Fergus Hume

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review: Jack O' Judgement by Edgar Wallace

by Mary

The novel opens on a snowy night with the murder of drug addict "Snow" Gregory, found with a jack of clubs in his pocket. Some whisper he could tell a lot about the wealthy and exceedingly shady businessman Colonel Dan Boundary, a classic example of an honourable title assumed by a dishonourable man. Now of course Gregory is silent forever.

The colonel subsequently receives several jacks of clubs from an anonymous source, and not being one to hesitate when his life is in danger, goes to see Stafford King of the CID. You might say he knows King by way of business in that the investigator has spent the past three years trying to smash Boundary's gang of associates, an unsavoury bunch but as yet unprosecuted. For while Boundary's business acquisitions are on the surface above board, the method by which they were obtained is not, but the problem is proving it. The irony of this visit is not lost on King.

Next we meet the odious Pinto Silva, a stage door johny enamoured of theatrical artiste Maisie White, who dislikes him intensely. Silva belongs to Boundary's bunch, and other members include Maisie's father Solomon White. Solly now wants to break away from them. Will he literally turn King's evidence and blow the whistle on the criminal syndicate?

Another gang member, er, associate is Lollie Marsh, a femme fatale whom Boundary has set to follow King. She discovers King is spending a lot of time with Maisie. Meantime, Boundary tries to blackmail the girl into agreeing to tie the knot with Pinto -- he's already married but says he will get a divorce, the cur -- by threatening if she refuses her father will be framed for forgery.

But then Boundary is arrested and brought to trial for blackmail and conspiracy.

Meantime, the mysterious Jack o' Judgment whose calling card is the jack of clubs keeps popping up, a strange, almost supernatural, shrill-voiced figure disguised in a long black silk coat, slouch hat, and a face concealed by a white silk hanky. Jack makes it his business to stick spokes in Boundary and company's various wheels and does it extraordinarily well. Indeed his machinations are so troubling Boundary offers a hundred thousand pounds to anyone who can rid him of that pestilent Jack.

The mystery here is two-fold. Who is Jack and will he succeed in bringing to justice all the members of Boundary's gang? And just as importantly what is his motive?

My verdict: The answers to these conundrums certainly caught me by surprise. Boundary and company are particularly nasty villains, not above kidnapping and murder, and readers will likely cheer Jack on despite his illegal activities as they are carried along at the gallop to a satisfying conclusion.

Etext: Jack O' Judgement by Edgar Wallace

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Review: The Canary Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

by Mary

Broadway beauty Margaret Odell, dubbed The Canary after her rise to fame playing that yellow avian at the Follies, is found murdered in her flat. The only way to enter or exit her building after 6 pm, when the side door is bolted, is through the front entrance, clearly visible from a telephone switchboard manned 24 hours a day. The side door is still bolted when Miss Odell is discovered strangled, her flat ransacked, and valuable jewelry missing. Yet nobody was seen entering or leaving her home during the relevant period.

Miss Odell has kept company with a number of admirers at one time or another and their ranks provide the suspects: socialite Charles Cleaver, wealthy manufacturer Kenneth Spotswoode, fur importer Louis Mannix, and neurologist Dr Lindquist, not to mention professional burglar Tony Skeel. Philo Vance investigates to the babble of his usual erudite running commentary, seeking answers to such questions as how did the murderer get into Miss Odell's flat without being observed? What was the motive? Could more than one person be involved?

My verdict: The novels in this series always require some suspension of belief, what with Vance and his biographer/narrator Van Dine traipsing around crime scenes with the connivance of DA Markham, in this entry to the extent of lying about in Miss Odell's flat smoking themselves silly. Then there's the question of Vance being permitted to participate in police interviews. But if you lock your disbelief in the cupboard the story rattles along quite well, or at least until the closing stages wherein the identity of the murderer is deduced via a poker game in DA Markham's home, a daring stroke of plotting, I admit, but somehow it felt curiously flat. This is probably because I'm not a poker player so the lengthy explanation needed acted as a brake on the action for me. And how did the murderer get into the locked flat unseen? GAD fans will probably know the method from elsewhere but my gripe is Vance coneals the necessary information from Markham *and* the reader until very late in the game. So ultimately a bit of a disappointment for this reviewer at least.

Etext: The Canary Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Review: The Dragon Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

by Mary

The Dragon Murder Case is kicked off when weekend house-guests on the Stamm estate decide to go for a nocturnal swim during torrid weather. All of them have been imbibing too much alcohol and when one of the men dives into Dragon Pool...he vanishes.

The estate itself is an oddity, being situated in a heavily wooded rocky area of Manhattan and yet more or less cut off from the busy city. Mine host is exotic fish fancier and semi alcoholic Rudolph Stamm. Also present is his sister Bernice, fiancee of Montague, the man who went missing. Then there is stockbroker and family financial advisor Alex Greeff, dissipated man about town Kirwin Tatum, widowed Mrs Teeny McAdam, who may have been a past flame of Montague's, Ruby Steele, an artiste much enamoured of dramatic gestures, and the level-headed Mr Leland, who lives in a cottage on the estate and is routinely insulted by certain guests for his Native American blood. Most of them have reason to wish Montague ill and none seem particularly upset about his death. In addition, Rudolph Stamm's ailing mother, given to oracular announcements and mentally unwell, lives under the care a nurse on the top floor of the mansion and tells the investigators rambling stories of the strange sights she has seen, such as the flying dragon who protects the family.

Once Philo Vance and company are called in, events unfold in sometimes startling fashion, most notably when Dragon Pool is drained. The operation discloses a trail made across its silt floor by l4" long feet, accompanied by prints from a three-clawed beast. Could the latter be the dragon of local and family legends?

My verdict: It's always fun trying to work out how a seemingly impossible crime is carried out. My theory on how a body could be removed from the pool without other guests noticing was nothing like the solution advanced by Vance -- and mine was (of course) wrong. Bizarre as it is, Vance's explanation is workable in the scene as given, even though it must be one of the most outrageous methods to remove a corpse without being discovered in the act ever utilised in a mystery. An aside: readers will learn Vance bred exotic fish as well as Scotties. Is there nothing Vance can't undertake?

Etext: The Dragon Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: The Benson Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

by Mary

Narrator 'Van' Van Dine originally met Philo Vance at college and is now not only a close friend but also his full-time legal and financial advisor. He is thus on the spot to record cases in which Vance becomes involved.

Vance is rich and cultured, possessing many beautiful and rare examples of art and artefacts from various eras and continents. He easily out-Wimseys Wimsey, what with addressing people as 'Old dear' and constantly talkin' ragin' nonsense, often dropping French or German into conversations with an occasional bit of Latin for variety, not to mention quoting luminaries such as Milton, Longfellow, Cervantes, and Rousseau as well as Spinoza and Descartes. But it's all a front, of course.

John Markham, DA for NY County, arrives at Vance's flat while Van and Vance are discussing business and announces wealthy broker Alvin Benson has been murdered. Alvin's brother Major Anthony Benson has asked Markham to take charge, and Markham had promised Vance he would take him along on his next important investigation. It seems the authorities were casual about protocol as well as crime scenes, because not only do both Vance and Van tag along but they are also present at several interrogations.

At one point Vance produces a list of suspects based upon reasoning from available information and physical evidence. The only snag is they are innocent. It is a demonstration of his conviction that "The truth can be learned only by an analysis of the psychological factors of a crime and an application of them to the individual". Who then is the culprit? The actress Muriel St Clair, in whom the dead man had taken more than a passing interest? Her fiance Captain Philip Leacock, he of the hasty temper and jealous disposition? Major Benson, given the brothers did not get along? What about Mrs Anna Platz, Alvin's housekeeper, who seems to be hiding something, or the precious and impecunious Leander Pfyfe, a close friend of the deceased?

My verdict: Some will find Vance's insistence on keeping the identity of the murderer secret irritating but given he had it sussed out within an hour or two of visiting the crime scene, one can see why. To be fair, he all but takes Markham's hand and leads him to the culprit. There are clues aplenty, and to my delight the author provided those much-loved and now sadly missed tidbits -- a room plan, a character list, and footnotes from Van. Although readers may find Vance's lit'r'y meanderin's a bit tedious, his explanations of his psychological reasonings are interesting and convincing, although I am still not certain if the author was sending it up or using it as a genuine plot device. All in all, however, a good read with plenty of red herrings to confuse the issue.

Etext: The Benson Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Review: The Dream Doctor by Arthur B. Reeve

by Mary

The Dream Doctor is narrated by ace reporter Walter Jameson, Professor Craig Kennedy's flatmate. Jameson is instructed by his editor at The Star to write an article describing an average month for the scientific detective and this collection relates, in the form of a continual narrative, the cases Kennedy handles as Jameson undertakes the task.

Price Maitland, fatally stricken by cobra venom, has apparently committed suicide. His wife is being treated by Dr Ross for "nervous trouble" (apparently of a Freudian nature -- something to do with her broken engagement to Arnold Masterson perhaps?) so her claim to have dreamt of her husband's impending death is pretty well ignored. The wonderfully named Lovibond Tintometer contributes to the solving of the puzzle.

The next case involves the Novella Beauty Parlour, wherein actress Blanche Blaisdell is found dead. Her married boyfriend, top lawyer Burke Collins, wants his name kept out of the papers and parlour owners Professor and Madame Millefleur seem a wee bit shady too -- but what about the young girl found wandering in the street, babbling about a woman with shining lips? Suspects gather in Kennedy's lab, where they are hooked up to a long-distance lie detector....

Yvonne Brixton asks Kenndy to help her millionaire father, who's hiding out in his country house convinced he is constantly spied upon and that his telephone is tapped. Oh, and he hears voices in his country home's fortress-like office/study as well. What does Count Conrad Wachtmann, Miss Brixton's fiance, know about those threatening letters sent to Mr Brixton, signed The Red Brotherhood of the Balkans?

Hardly have Kennedy and Jameson returned home after solving that puzzle when wealthy J. Perry Spencer sweeps them off to his private museum and art gallery, where green objects have been vandalised and his collection of French emeralds stolen. Lucille White, caretaker of Spencer's library, relates a strange tale involving a greenish yellow Egyptian coffin. Kennedy's optophone assists the truth to emerge.

Next comes a call from steel millionaire Emery Pitts. His chef has been murdered in the kitchen, although by the look of its bloody shambles he appears to have managed to stab his assailant several times before being overcome. A torn-up note to Mrs Pitts and some remarkable theories about aging help round out the story.

The breakneck pace continues when Kennedy is retained by the Curtis family to investigate the death of Bertha Curtis, whose body has been found in the river. A phantom boat is seen visiting the dock of a deserted riverside house at night, and while 'Big Jack' Clendenin, who runs a dope joint frequented by Miss Curtis, will be well worth investigating, first a tong war in Chinatown must be put down.

The next consultation involves thefts from a high class emporium and a Fifth Avenue jeweller, where valuable jewelry has been stolen and replaced by imitations. Suspicion initially points to well-known shoplifter Annie Grayson but delicate sleuthing is required, given the last person looking at the diamonds pinched in one case is a Wall Street broker's wife, Mrs William Willoughby. Fortunately Kennedy's telegraphone and psychometer come to the rescue!

Next, a Mr Winslow and his daughter Ruth call on Kennedy. The Winslows live in Goodyear, a town famous for its rubber (Reeve's little joke perhaps?). Bradley Cushing, Ruth's fiance, has invented an improved type of synthetic rubber whose widespread use is inevitable and which will ruin many residents. Thus there are numerous suspects when Cushing is found murdered in his laboratory. There is a scent of oranges in the air...but this crime conceals one that in some ways is far worse.

The excitement continues when District Attorney Carton summons Kennedy to the Criminal Courts Building, where Kennedy nonchalantly dismantles a bomb sent by kingpins in the vice trade. Carton has hopes of getting a fellow called Haddon, one of the wretches involved in the filthy business, to sing like the proverbial canary. Unfortunately, Haddon disappears....

In Kennedy's world, it's often dangerous for men to get engaged, for yet another fiance is suspected of having a hand in criminal activities. A German, Mr Nordheim, is affianced to the daughter of Captain Shirley. The latter has invented a wireless-controlled submarine using a process Kennedy calls Telautomatics. But someone has been tinkering with its operation. Warning: claustrophobes will find part of this story difficult going but there is a nice twist vis a vis who is responsible.

Montague Phelps has died after going into a coma whose cause cannot be discovered. Not long before he had married the dancer Anginette Petrovska, but during their honeymoon trip the family banking house failed and Phelps returns home pretty well wiped-out financially. As if that was not bad enough, the family mausoleum is desecrated and Mrs Phelps receives a blackmailing letter. Then her husband's body is stolen and it's up to Kennedy to solve the matter.

Sanford Godwin is in Sing Sing, awaiting execution after conviction for poisoning his adoptive father, Parker Godwin. Sanford and the Elmores, the three grandchildren of Parker Godwin's sister, are co-heirs and the state asserts the cause of Godwin's crime was a new will which in effect disinherited him. Nella Godwin, Sanford's wife, appeals to Kennedy for help. The solution features both a twist and a particularly satisfying denouement.

My verdict: Though the mysteries are sometimes slight with few suspects unless the culprit might be a passing pedestrian who carpe diemed, the scientific explanation are delightful if somewhat long-winded for modern taste. I found myself wondering if the various types of equipment utilised by Kennedy would operate as stated, so consulted an electrical engineer of my acquaintance about one, the phantom circuits -- and apparently it's correct. Presumably the other contraptions strewn in the path of wrongdoers would also work as stated. An enjoyable collection, especially for those interested in sleuthing aided by science.

Etext: The Dream Doctor by Arthur B. Reeve

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review: Ronald Standish by Sapper

by Mary

Narrated by Bob Miller, this collection of short stories involves his friend Ronald Standish. Wealthy and something of a sportsman -- particularly keen on golf and cricket -- Standish only takes cases that interest him and having done so persists until he solves them or, according to Miller and unusually for amateur detectives, must own himself beaten. His greatest assets when investigations are afoot are an excellent memory for faces and unusual facts and a talent for noticing small details others have missed.

In this entertaining work, Miller relates several investigations undertaken by Standish.

THE CREAKING DOOR tells what it knows and thus aids the discovery of the culprit when an artist is murdered after a scene precipitated by his kissing a girl against her will. The story ends with a rather nasty twist.

THE MISSING CHAUFFEUR works for the Duke of Dorset and has done a bunk the week before Grand Duke Sergius of Russia is due to stay for a few days. A letter written in blood arrives...

Visiting the small Cornish town of St Porodoc, Standish and Miller hear a strange tale from a young curate who sees a ghost in THE HAUNTED RECTORY. A garden snail points to the solution of the mystery.

Love's young dream is thwarted by lack of cash, and when a valuable tiara is stolen only the suspect's beloved believes him innocent. It takes A MATTER OF TAR to show who was really responsible for the theft and associated assault.

The sister of one of Standish's fellow cricket-players consults the detective about her new neighbour, who runs a boarding kennel but mistakes an Irish terrier for an Airedale -- and reacts with fury when corrected. And whose is the terrified face seen peering from a window of THE HOUSE WITH THE KENNELS?

Standish is consulted about a letter his client's uncle received instructing certain papers be left in a specified place. Not long afterwards the uncle fell to his death, his son came into the estate, is sent an identical communication, and in turns dies. What will THE THIRD MESSAGE say?

It takes Standish some thought to solve THE MYSTERY OF THE SLIP COACH, wherein a man is found shot to death on a train with a smashed egg splashed about his compartment in a nice example of the locked room mystery.

An extremely unpopular village resident is found murdered and nobody mourns him. It looks bad for the man with more than one reason for a grudge against the departed. THE SECOND DOG provides the clue clinching the solution to a case of revenge....

Threats from Indian priests over disrespectful behaviour toward temple dancing girls follow a man who has returned to England and who now fears for the safety of his niece at the hands of THE MAN IN YELLOW seen flitting about the house and yet never found.

A blackmailing cur is brought to book by THE MAN WITH SAMPLES in a story getting my vote for the best in the collection, not least because of the method used to catch him, which neatly sidesteps a situation in which as is usual with blackmail his victims are very reluctant to involve the police.

When a retired businessman purchases THE EMPTY HOUSE and arranges for its renovation, incidents of vandalism begin and he receives warnings he will regret taking up residence, escalating in an attempt to run him down. Yet what could be the reason?

An obnoxious landowner is found drowned in THE TIDAL RIVER and a young man is brought to trial on charges of murdering him in what appears to be an open and shut case. But Standish casts his line out for other fish...

My verdict: An enjoyable read presenting challenges of various degrees to those who enjoy trying to guess whodunnit. Standish is more of a cerebral detective than a scientific sleuth, which will add interest for those who like their crimes solved without bubbling test tubes or advanced electrical whatnots getting involved.

e-text: Ronald Standish by Sapper

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Review: Average Jones by Samuel Hopkins Adams

by Mary

As an assiduous reader of personal advertisements -- and if you won't admit to doing the same, I think you'll agree they are important plot points in a number of detective novels -- I warmed instantly to Adrian Van Reypen Egerton Jones, nicknamed Average Jones for obvious reasons.

A highly intelligent, very rich, and terribly bored young man, as the first yarn opens he is wondering what to do with himself. His friend Mr Waldemar, owner of The Universal, an important NYC paper, suggests Jones set up as a kind of one man consumer protection wallah, giving advice, as Jones' business card will later declare, "upon all matters connected with Advertising". As a bonus, Jones will pass on discoveries about various swindles perpetrated through ads to Waldemar, thus keeping the paper's lengthy advertising columns "clean".

Jones gives it a whirl and soon becomes engrossed in the work to the extent of setting up an agency to handle the more humdrum requests for advice while he looks into ads that grab his attention, particularly those hinting at criminal activity. Average Jones relates the cases he investigates.

It's difficult to review short stories without giving too much away, but I'll take a stab.

THE B-FLAT TROMBONE is a locked room mystery. By what method was mayoral candidate William Linder blown up in a locked room on the third floor of his mansion on Kennard Street in Brooklyn?

After three unsuccessful attempts on his life, Malcolm Dorr keeps two guard dogs. Both are killed yet neither were shot or poisoned. Then there is a rash of canine deaths in Bridgeport, CT. Is there a connection between them and the mysterious RED DOT?

Where is young rakehell Roderick Hoff? His father, who made millions selling quack medicine, engages Jones to find him. Jones follows an OPEN TRAIL to find the lad and outfoxes Hoff's swindling father when he tries to wiggle out of paying the reward money.

MERCY SIGN is rooted in a real historical tragedy and is much darker than the first three stories. Jones and his friend Robert Bertram look into a strange case involving a missing academic assistant, a wrecked houseboat, and a dead foreign dignitary.

The jewels are called BLUE FIRES and form a beautiful necklace, a gift from a Mr Kirby to his fiancee Edna Hale. Their disappearance means their wedding is postponed -- yet they were neither stole nor returned. What do a torn curtain and broken-off bed knob have to do with the matter?

Anonymous letters of a particularly nasty sort -- being attempts to persuade their recipient to commit suicide or commit himself to an asylum -- are written out in PIN-PRICKS on junk advertising mail sent to William Robinson. What is the purpose of these communications and who is responsible?

Bailey, the 14 year old son of rural minister Revd Peter Prentice, is missing after a meteor lands on a New England barn, setting it ablaze. Then an ad appears revealing he is alive but not where, and a certain bit of BIG PRINT aids Jones in tracing the lost boy.

Enderby Livius is THE MAN WHO SPOKE LATIN, claiming he has been transported from Roman times to the present day and cannot speak English. He is up to no good in bibliophile Colonel Ridgway Graeme's chaotic library, and to find out what Livius is at Jones poses as a mute classical scholar.

THE ONE BEST BET begins with a man committing suicide because he arrives at Waldemar's newspaper too late to amend his personal ad, having had second thoughts about what he wrote -- as well he might since the ad reveals a plot to murder the governor. Can Jones prevent the crime?

THE MILLION-DOLLAR DOG involves one of those odd wills so beloved by the rich in detective fiction. In this instance, Judge Hawley Ackroyd's advertisement seeking 10,000 black beetles puts Jones on the trail of an attempt to gain a fortune by killing the titular dog and concealing its body.

My verdict: What an inventive way to introduce a detective to cases in all levels of society! I enjoyed this collection a great deal and recommend it to readers who enjoy slightly offbeat and very clever short stories. Now I'm off to read the personal ads in today's papers....

Etext: Average Jones by Samuel Hopkins Adams

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review: The Case and the Girl by Randall Parrish

by Mary

Captain Matthew West has just been honourably discharged from the army after twice being wounded during l8 months of service in France during World War I. Feeling restless and not yet ready to return to civilian work, he is browsing a paper at his club and decides to answer a personal ad running thus:

"Wanted: Young man of education and daring for service involving some personal peril. Good pay, and unusual reward if successful. May have to leave city. Purpose disclosed only in personal interview."

As it transpires, truth in advertising certainly applies to the warning.

Instructed to bring his evening clothes -- and a good job he has them! -- he is soon off to a rendezvous with orphaned heiress Natalie Coolidge. She does not explain what task she requires him to undertake but Captain West agrees to help her even so, and is whirled off in her limo to the family mansion, where he is astonished to be introduced to the house guests as her fiance.

One of those in attendance is Natalie's uncle and guardian Percival Coolidge, and the two men dislike each other on sight -- in fact, Uncle Percy accuses Captain West of being a fortune hunter, the cad. It is not until next morning that the gallant captain is able to have a private chat with Natalie and learns someone is impersonating her but nobody believes her story because the responsible party is so like her she fools even Natalie's friends, not to mention the servants and bank clerks who know her well.

Is Natalie telling the truth, mistaken, or demented? Well, despite doubts at times, natural enough in the circumstances, West takes it on faith and agrees to try to solve the mystery. There are a couple of odd happenings, statements made don't quite check out, and then a death occurs and West is plunged into an adventure with enough twists and turns to make a scriptwriter swoon. The detective work is partly deductive and partly wearing out shoe leather and when it comes to action, West usually wipes the floor with his opponents, yet in a manner that shows he is not a super hero unlike some modern protagonists we might mention.

My verdict: Apart from the fact Captain West is a bit slow on the uptake at times -- at one point I was muttering *don't* go in there, usually reserved for women who are alone in the house and yet insist on going to investigate odd noises in the cellar after both the phone and power mysteriously fail -- this was a rollicking read and kept the interest to the end. I particularly admired a sequence towards the close of the novel, in which West and Natalie are trapped in...but no, I will not ruin the suspense although I will say it gave me the creeping heebie-jeebies.

Etext: The Case and the Girl by Randall Parrish