Sunday, December 18, 2016

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

by Mary

Philanthropist Benjamin H. Kyle is found murdered in a private museum run by Egyptologist Dr Mindrum Bliss. Philo Vance becomes involved when Donald Scarlett, a British college friend now working for Dr Bliss, arrives in terrible haste. Scarlett had gone to the museum, discovered Kyle’s body, and then left rapidly because he did not want to get involved. He has come to Vance for help.

DA John Markham and his police department cohorts are soon on the job, assisted by Vance. It transpires Kyle was funding Bliss’s Egyptian expeditions and when found is clutching a financial document drawn up by Bliss, whose scarab cravat pin is on the floor nearby.

It looks bad, especially given the only fingerprints on the statuette that crushed Kyle’s head belong to Bliss, and so does a shoe with a bloody sole. Is it an all too obvious attempt to pin the murder on him? If so, why?

Suspects include half-Egyptian Mrs Meryt-Amen Bliss, who is a lot younger than her husband, and her Egyptian servant Anupu Hani, who insists Dr Bliss’s excavations are sacrilegious tomb plunderings.

Assistant curator Robert Salveter (Kyle's nephew) is not only seems overly interested in Mrs Bliss but will receive a large inheritance under Kyle’s will. The servants seem a shifty pair as well — Dingle, the cook, who hints she may know more than she lets on, and butler Brush, who goes about looking terrified.

My verdict: The Scarab Murder Case is a book or three into the Vance series and his verbal embroidery has toned down considerably although still retaining his distinctive voice, while footnotes proliferate as usual. Markham is now a personal friend of Vance’s, remaining rather a Doubting Thomas when it comes to the psychology of criminals, Vance’s preferred method of solving crimes. Fortunately Vance is extremely knowledgeable in matters ancient Egyptian, which comes in very handy in this instance. Those keen on Egyptology will enjoy certain nuggets of interest strewn here and there, although overall the pace of the novel is slow.

I suspect many readers will geuss whodunnit, but as for proving it, ah, that is a task only Philo Vance could accomplish, and accomplish it he does despite clouds of ever-present cigarette smoke and various devilish machinations.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Review: Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards

by Mary

A British Library Crime Classic reprint from Poisoned Pen Press, Crimson Snow presents a collection of mysteries set during winter, most of them during the Christmas season. Editor Martin Edwards provides notes for each as well as an introduction in which he describes the collection as "the contents of a luxurious box of assorted chocolates", the quality and variety of whose contents he hopes will give readers enjoyment.

Short story collections are always difficult to review without giving away too much, but hopefully these brief descriptions will suffice to indicate the content of these vintage stories in a discreet fashion!

Dr Lascelles accepts Percy Ringan's invitation to spend Christmas at Ringshaw Grange, country seat of the family. It is said to possess a haunted room wherein THE GHOST'S TOUCH warns of incipient death. Naturally a guest insists on sleeping in that very room. By Fergus Hume.

Alphonse Riebiera is a blackmailer who has victimised many women who foolishly wrote him passionate letters. He is also one of two men shot dead in THE CHOPHAM AFFAIR, while the other is a man successfully defended against a murder charge by brilliant lawyer Archibald Lenton. How could these dual deaths have come about? By Edgar Wallace.

Albert Campion is a guest at a house party at Pharoah's Court with the unofficial task of keeping an eye on a diamond necklace owned by a rather vulgar house guest. Thefts take place in THE CASE OF THE MAN WITH THE SACK, but it's not just personal adornments that disappear. By Margery Allingham.

CHRISTMAS EVE is an unusual contribution in a form of a Sherlock Holmes playlette in which the great detective solves the loss of Lady Barton's pearls and kind-hearted Dr Watson does a good deed on the titular night. By Sydney Castle Roberts.

Chief Inspector Bill Cromwell accompanies his junior officer Johnny Lister to a house party at Cloon Castle. Arriving during a storm, they briefly see a figure that on investigation left no tracks in the snow. A guest sees a body that disappears, leading to an investigation of a DEATH IN DECEMBER. By Victor Gunn.

Ludovic Travers is staying with Chief Constable Robert Valence for Christmas and is surprised to see recently released swindler John Brewse is living locally. But not for long, since Brewse is the victim of a MURDER AT CHRISTMAS. There are multiple suspects, given some of his victims live in the area. By Christopher Bush.

An older woman attempting to enter a house via a window on the roof falls to her death OFF THE TILES. Since there's a parapet in front of the window it seems impossible it could be an accident, so Inspector James Quy is inclined to think it was suicide. But was it? By Ianthe Jerrold.

Martin Edwards notes in his introduction that MR CORK'S SECRET formed part of a Christmas competition in which a magazine invited readers to guess the secret. Two cash prizes were awarded and the winning entries appear at the end of this collection.

Insurance wallah Montague Cork is dissatisfied with a policy issued by his company covering a famous collection of jewelry known as Alouette's Worms, recently purchased by Anton de Raun for his bride, film star Fanny Fairfield. An unknown man is murdered at the hotel where the de Rauns booked the bridal suite, the jewels are gone, and the newly married couple are nowhere to be found. By Macdonald Hastings.

Francis Quarles attends THE SANTA CLAUS CLUB dinner to keep an eye on Lord Acrise, who's been receiving threatening letters. The latest informed Lord Acrise he would not survive the club's annual dinner, at which rich men dressed as Santa participate in a raffle for a expensive prize, the proceeds of raffle ticket sales going to a Christmas charity. Despite Quarles' vigilance the predicted death takes place. By Julian Symons.

Suffering from incipient flu and with snow lying DEEP AND CRISP AND EVEN, Detective Sergeant Petrella joins a carol-singing party organised by a minister friend. Petrella feels uneasy about a man at one house even though he treats the carollers kindly. Subsequently consulting the Notified Away List Petrella learns the householder is away so what is the stranger up to? By Michael Gilbert.

Detective-Inspector Brooks investigates a burglary resulting in the death of an elderly lady. The thieves had overlooked the most valuable items, which disappear afterwards as the result of a kind deed but return to the family via a roundabout route while THE CAROL SINGERS provide an important lead to the burglars. By Josephine Bell.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Review: The Angel of Terror by Edgar Wallace

by Mary

We know early on in The Angel of Terror who is out to cause mayhem and why, so the question is can the responsible parties be brought to justice? For the main villian is cold-blooded, exceedingly cunning, and possessed of an inventively evil mind.

The Angel of Terror is not a very satisfactory title but it gets off to a rousing start when James Meredith's death sentence is commuted to commuted to one of penal servitude for life. The crime is the murder of Ferdinand Bulford, the motive jealousy of Bulford's behaviour toward Jean Briggerland, Meredith's cousin and fiancee -- it's remarkable how many couples in novels of this era are engaged to or marry their cousins. But I digress.

Scarce has Meredith's friend Jack Glover, junior partner at Rennett, Glover and Simpson, vowed to prove Meredith's innocence when an attempt is made to kidnap orphaned Lydia Beale, who works as a fashion illustrator for a newspaper. Miss Beale is in dire financial straits, having voluntarily taken on the task of clearing her deceased father's enormous debts and as a consequence has been tormented by a constant procession of judgement summonses against her -- seventy-five in the previous two years.

As she is carried off in a taxi from which she cannot escape, Glover and Rennett suddenly appear, rescue her, and take her to Dulwich Grange, senior partner Charles Rennett's home. There she is asked an astonishing question: would she be willing to marry Meredith, who is at large with the connivance of Glover and Bennett and is in the house? If she agrees, she will not be bothered by her husband -- who'll be turned in and return to prison -- but will receive 20,000 pounds when the nuptials have been performed and 5,000 pounds a year thereafter for the rest of her life. Meredith's reasons for wishing to go through such a marriage are sound, but it must be performed by the following Monday. Despite her financial difficulties we have already learnt Miss Beale is not a gold-digger but rather a decent young woman so the reader is not put off by her eventual agreement to the bizarre proposal.

And so Meredith and Miss Beale are married next morning at Rennett's residence. Moments later Jean Briggerland shows up out of the blue and then Meredith is found in the garden, an apparent suicide.

Having made his will while in the house overnight, Miss Beale or rather Mrs Meredith inherits his wealth, but as a consequence is in great danger. Now it's tally ho as the villains make one attempt after another to despatch her.

My verdict: For all its dark subject matter, The Angel of Terror includes comical interludes, particularly in the bungling of various murderous machinations, which include a particularly nasty attempt on the Riviera and a comically noir twist in another. The ending is somewhat ambiguous and at first glance unsatisfying although thinking about it later I realised it could be interpreted at least two ways. I enjoyed the book and think many will find it a rollicking good yarn.

E-text: The Angel of Terror by Edgar Wallace

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Review: The Albert Gate Mystery by Louis Tracy

by Mary

The Albert Gate Mystery: Being Further Adventures of Reginald Brett, Barrister Detective begins with a locked, heavily guarded London mansion where more than one crime is committed in a single night, and then moves back and forth over the English Channel and around the Mediterranean.

Barrister Reginald Brett takes note of two items in the morning paper. The first reports an "affair of some magnitude" at a mansion in Albert Gate, London. Details are scanty so speculation is rife but what is known is that a party of high-ranking Turkish gentlemen, servants, and guards are living in the house under strict security. What's more, fourteen expert diamond-cutters have shown up from Amsterdam and are working there daily.

The previous night the Dutch visitors and the various Turkish attendants were detained at Scotland Yard, and Dr. Tennyson Coke, "the greatest living authority on toxicology", is among medical wallahs being consulted by the authorities.

What does it all mean?

Brett thinks it may well be connected to a brief note in the same paper reporting a close relative of the Turkish Sultan has it off to France in suspicious circumstances.

Brett has hardly started to connect the dots when the Earl of Fairholme shows up in an awful bate. It seems his fiancee, Edith Talbot, refuses to marry him until her brother Jack is located and cleared of wrongdoing. The Foreign Office put Jack in charge of arrangements for the Turkish visitors and their priceless gems and not only has Jack disappeared, so have the diamonds -- and four men have been murdered at the mansion, including the Turkish envoy, His Excellency Mehemet Ali Pasha.

And all this takes place before the end of the first chapter!

Brett agrees to take the case and goes to visit Edith Talbot, who tells him that due to the various precautions taken and certain structural alterations made before the Turkish gents arrived it was absolutely impossible for anyone to get into the house except through the front door and an entrance hall where a dozen policemen and an inspector stood guard.

Thus begins a merry chase that ultimately leads Brett and his companions across France and beyond.

My verdict: Fans of the impossible crime will find the explanation disappointing but Brett is an interesting character. He is an analytical detective of the Holmesian type but deduces information and future actions based upon observation and rumination rather than extensive knowledge of bicycle tracks or cigar ash. Because these feats occur only occasionally in the narrative readers will find them convincing. The Scotland Yard detective turns out not to be so dim-witted as usually thought, and Golden Age of Detection fans will not be surprised at the thorough thrashing administered to a man instrumental in casting mud on the reputation of Edith's brother. One piece of justice meted out towards the close is so fitting that despite possible moral outrage on the part of some readers, bearing in mind the character's attitude (valiantly trying to avoid spoilers) I suspect most of them will laugh out loud....

Etext: The Albert Gate Mystery by Louis Tracy

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review: The Abandoned Room by Wadsworth Camp

by Mary

How was the murder accomplished in a room with both doors locked on the inside and the windows too high for someone to climb in without warning the occupant? Were what one character firmly believed were psychic forces at work in The Abandoned Room?

The Abandoned Room begins with an account of the discovery of the body of Silas Blackburn in that very bedroom, long shunned because of its history of family members dying there from various types of injury to the head. And this death was after Silas had been going around terrified out of his wits, but refusing to say why he was afraid or indeed who or what it was he feared.

Silas is the grandfather of cousins Katherine (who lives with him) and Bobby, who has been having what Camp politely calls a “lively life” in New York and is thus about to be cut out of his grandfather’s will, which otherwise would have left him a million or so with which to be even livelier.

As the story backtracks about 24 hours, Bobby and his good friend, the lawyer Hartley Graham, are talking at their club. Hartley is trying to persuade Bobby to give up his fast ways and go and see his grandfather at The Cedars, a lonely and eerie tumble-down country house.

Bobby agrees to do so but is prevented from catching the vital 12.15 train by a dinner appointment with Carlos Paredes, who brings along theatrical dancer Maria. Lawyer Graham strongly disapproves of Carlos, that “damned Panamanian”, and after reminding Bobby he has to catch his train leaves in disgust.

Next morning Bobby wakes up with his shoes off in a decrepit old house near The Cedars with no recollection of how he got there or indeed anything that happened after his dinner with Carlos and Maria the night before. Ashamed to be seen by his grandfather and cousin in crumpled evening dress and somewhat dazed condition he hoofs it for the railway station to return to New York.

On his way to the station he is met by county detective Howells, who more or less accuses Bobby of doing away with his grandfather in order to prevent the threatened changing of the will. Told to go to The Cedars to await events, Bobby finds his friend Graham already there and not long after Carlos shows up and invites himself to stay. It is a testament to their good breeding they do not tell him to be off although at times the reader will do the job for them.

What follows is a rich stew of events, including strange happenings in the candle-lit dwelling, haunting cries in the surrounding woods and outside the house, suggestions of ghostly presences infesting the decaying mansion, a woman in black glimpsed in the woods, and Bobby’s growing fear he somehow entered the locked room and murdered his grandfather in a drugged haze.

A tightening net of suspicion seems sure to bring him to trial for the crime. When one of his monogrammed hankies is found under the bed in which his grandfather died and his evening shoes fit a footprint under the window, it looks really bad for him — and he cannot summon any memories of the missing hours to his own defence.

My verdict: I really enjoyed this novel and thought the descriptions of the unhappy house and its run down grounds were excellent. The suggested supernatural element is conveyed beautifully, making this a work that would have made a wonderful Hitchcock film, in particular because of a terrific shock near the end when the explanation begins to be revealed.

If nothing else this old dark mansion mystery demonstrates that on the whole monogrammed hankies are probably best avoided. And how was the crime accomplished? The method is prosaic enough, but with a little twist from numerous similar explanations.

E-text: The Abandoned Room by Wadsworth Camp

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Review:The Mystery of June 13th by Melvin L. Severy

by Mary

The fateful date occurs more than once over more than a quarter century, in a saga involving Maoris on a mission of vengeance, an eloping couple whose ship passes that captained by the scorned fiance, the naive and about to be swindled inventor of a method of wireless telephony somewhat reminiscent of cell phones, a villainous businessman who out-Jaspers Sir Jasper, an actress taking the town by storm, assorted love affairs, and a number of other matters, all wrapped in a densely woven plot featuring among other things a cypher solved in a scientific manner, impossible locked room type disappearances, the struggle of rival groups of stockholders to gain control of a company following an event the author calls a “cool display of commercial depravity,” and more than one twist along the way.

George Maitland is called in to investigate a series of threatening letters, communications bearing the same device as that on the blade of the dagger used to murder the recipient’s father 25 years before, as well as on the hand of the assailant of a major character, and seen in various other places. And so murderous doings are set afoot and even Maptland admits “the method employed [for a murder] was unparalleled, fantastic, outre and bizarre in the extreme.”

My verdict: I found this novel difficult to get into because of the lengthy opening sequence in a Maori village describing the events that set the plot in motion. It might, I venture to suggest, have worked better if shortened and presented as a prologue, but don’t skip it! The story may unfold too slowly for some readers, but patience is advised as once into the thick of the plot, it rattles along like all get out.

I liked the idea of recurring fateful events on June 13th, and the explanations of how various matters were accomplished are fascinating. Some readers will guess the who and why since they are privy to information Maitland has not, but the how is what will almost certainly puzzle to the end, so it’s worth persisting with the novel even if you read the rather spotty copy on archive.org as I did! < Etext: The Mystery of June 13th by Melvin L. Severy

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Review: The Stoneware Monkey, R. Austin Freeman

by Mary

Although Dr Jervis narrates the second part of The Stoneware Monkey, the first is written by Dr James Oldfield, and it opens with his description of an incident during his stint as a locum-tenems in the small country town of Newingstead. Biking back to the surgery after a professional call, he stops on a country road to smoke a pipe and enjoy the pleasant evening air. He is thus near enough to hear a cry for help from nearby Clay Wood. There he discovers Constable Alfred Murray, who has been dealt a fatal blow with his own truncheon.

It transpires he was chasing whoever stole a packet of fifteen diamonds worth some l0,000 pounds, newly brought from Amsterdam by Arthur Kempster. A dealer with a business in Hatton Garden, London, Kempster had carelessly left the gems unattended for a short time and the miscreant had popped in via a window, taken them, and scarpered. Kempster's absence from the room was so brief he was able to see and run after the thief, engaging the aid of Constable Murray in the pursuit. Thief and constable outpace Kempster so the latter did not see the murderous assault, and the criminal escapes by stealing Dr Oldfield's bike, subsequently found in a cart shed on the London side of town.

The scene then shifts to Marylebone in London, where Dr Oldfield has purchased a practice. One of his patients is Peter Gannet, who lives at l2 Jacob Street -- a thoroughfare with more of its ration of crime! Gannet shares the studio behind his house with his wife's second cousin, Frederick Boles, a maker of jewelry. Gannet is a potter, and among creations displayed on his bedroom mantelpiece is the titular statuette. This monkey and other works do not impress Dr Oldfield much to say the least, for he describes them as "singularly uncouth and barbaric" and exhibiting "childish crudity of execution". Be that as it may, Gannet's illness defies all the treatments prescribed, and so Dr Oldfield, a former pupil of Thorndyke's, decides to consult his old teacher about the case.

They make a startling discovery, pointing to an attempt to murder Gannet, who is admitted to hospital.

Is the culprit Mrs Letitia Gannet, who does not appear to get along with her husband? Or is it Boles, suspected of being over familiar with Mrs Gannet?

Might it be the Gannets' servant, or perhaps even an unknown outside party?

Whoever it is, with their attempt having been rumbled Gannet is certain there will be no further action in that line and returns home. He and Dr Oldfield become friends and the doctor learns a fair bit about making pottery and even tries a hand at it himself, forming a pot which turns up in unexpected fashion later in the book. Despite disagreements between Gannet and Boles, things jog along more or less as normal until Mrs Gannet returns from a week's holiday to find her husband missing and Boles has disappeared. Then a startling discovery is made and Thorndyke is called in to solve the mystery.

My verdict: Although I guessed whodunnit and why before reaching the closing stages of the book, it was more by intuitive leap rather than Thorndyke's careful step by step building up of a case, so I missed some of the more subtle clues planted along the way. There was perhaps one too many coincidences for my taste, although I got a kick from RAF's nod his The Jacob Street Mystery. There's a fair bit of interest in the explanation of the procedure to be followed in bringing a capital case, while the portion devoted to pottery technique may make readers' eyes glaze, no pun intended, but also forms an important part of the narrative.

All in all, however, I found this one of RAF's less interesting works, and so give it a mark of B-. Other readers will probably enjoy it more.

Etext: The Stoneware Monkey, R. Austin Freeman

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review: From Whose Bourne by Robert Barr

by Mary

With Halloween looming a review of this novel seems appropriate, given the investigation is materially assisted by a dead man. How so?

Well, William Brenton comes back from death's undiscover'd country, the bourne or destination from which no traveller returns -- at least according to Hamlet -- in this relatively short novel.

The story opens on Christmas Eve in Cincinnati. During a festive dinner given for two dozen friends Brenton feels unwell and goes to lie down. He awakes to find himself invisible to others in the house and unable to communicate with them. A stranger named Ferris is at his elbow; his role is to advise Brenton about the new (after)life he has entered.

Ferris introduces him to former newspaper man John Speed, and it is to Speed Brenton turns when he realises he must take a hand to ensure justice is done for his widow Alice, now facing trial for poisoning him. Together they think *really* hard at Chicago reporter George Stratton, urging him to interest himself in the case. As indeed he becomes, going to Ohio to take it up. For good measure a certain Monsieur Lecocq is also called in to investigate, though in an unusual way.

My verdict: A quick read featuring a couple of red herrings, at least three suspects with good motives for Brenton's removal, and a nice twist at the end.

Etext: From Whose Bourne by Robert Barr

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review: The Safety Pin by J. S. Fletcher

by Mary

Solicitor Francis Shelmore deals only in conveyancing and lives a calm and ordered life in Southernstowe, "within sixty miles" of London.

One afternoon Miss Cynthia Pretty, youthful half-owner of a Cornish tin mine, appears in his office to ask for help in locating the mine's co-owner James Deane, her guardian and trustee, who has disappeared from the hotel where they had arranged to meet before leaving for a trip to the continent.

Mr Deane is found murdered not far from a mansion occupied by Mrs Sophia Champernowne and her shiftless brother Alfred. She is a rich woman, mayoress of Southernstowe and owner of its biggest drapery store. Deane's body is discovered by special constable John Hackdale, under-manager of Mrs Champernowne's emporium and older brother of Shelmore's shifty clerk Simmons Hackdale. John removes The Safety Pin from Deane's jacket and conceals its existence from those investigating the crime, not exactly the sort of behaviour most readers would expect from a special constable.

What significance can be attached to the fact that of 400 scenic postcards found in Deane's hotel room only one has a particular house marked? Did his murderer act alone or with accomplices? Was it a random crime for profit, planned for a particular motive, or one that became inevitable when old secrets began rising from the dark waters of the past to gibber hideously on its slimy surface?

My verdict: The Safety Pin features a convoluted plot featuring blackmail, another disappearance, bribery, and sibling rivalry gone bonkers for a start, as well as more than one shady character with good motives for their behaviour -- from their points of view at least. Miss Pretty gains sympathy at the beginning but ultimately, as my mother would say, lets herself down. Fletcher plays very cleverly on readers' assumptions about characters' motives and then briskly turns them on their heads towards the end of the novel. The denouement will annoy some readers and yet even they will have to admit it's just the sort of thing that *would* happen in real life. My only quibble: I'd like to know what finally happened to that safety pin...

Etext: The Safety Pin by J. S. Fletcher

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It Wasn't the Cat

by Eric

At Halloween I always recall my childhood brush with the supernatural. My parents had taken my grandmother to visit relatives and so my grandfather had been left in charge of my brother Todd and me, not to mention my grandmother's very fat black cat.

My brother and I were fed easily enough. My grandfather carted us down cellar, opened the furnace door and we roasted hot dogs over the coals while conjecturing cheerfully about what might be lurking in the dark coal bin, behind the boxes of earth where the dahlia roots were buried for winter.

The cat was another matter. After futilely calling, my grandfather shoved an opened tin of Puss N' Boots under a kitchen chair.

"The cat must have got out. If he shows up he can eat." He preferred looking after his tomato plants. He always knew where to find them.

"Maybe something eat kitty," piped up Todd.

The expression on my grandfather's face became, as my grandmother would've said, "sour as pig swill."

"What would do that, here?"

"Don't know...something," said my brother, giving the final word a certain alarming twist

My grandfather did not lack imagination. In later years, after he'd cleared the pigs and rabbits out of the barn and had some spare time in the evening, he'd often don his spectacles and launch himself into a book of flying instructions which, while not as current as they had been during the bi-plane era, were every bit as adventuresome.

No, what he was against was the febrile wool gathering that during his boyhood had been a prime cause of tuberculosis in obscure romantic poets. When he saw Todd threatened he nipped it quick as he'd pick a cut worm off a cabbage.

"My razor strap will something you," is how he put it.

Todd chose not to pursue his theory. The razor strap wasn't as mind bendingly awful as what might be lurking in the coal bin, but it stung worse.

"Kitty just out," he agreed.

I suppose I was somewhat responsible for my brother's flights of imagination. Being five years older I felt I should take some part in his education. I decided to teach him useful words. A selection of everyday items would be laid out on the table in front of us.

"Scissors," I'd explain, pointing. "Apple ... orange ... banana ... bandanna (I was a tough taskmaster) ... amorphous horror."

Todd cast a bewildered look at the empty air I pointed toward.

"Can't see."

"Exactly," I said, giving the word a certain alarming twist.

My grandfather marched us upstairs early. The unfamiliar bed was high. More than high enough for something to have slithered underneath. But before we could check, the light was switched off and the room plunged into darkness.

As with all children, we spent our last moments of wakefulness waiting for sudden shrieks, eerie glows, disembodied voices and things that dropped off the ceiling smack into the middle of your bed. I generally slept with the covers pulled up over my head, snorkeling air through one partially exposed nostril, fingers clutched at the bed sheet in case something tried to pull it off.

In the strange dark of my grandparent's spare room our sensations were heightened. For awhile we listened for telltale scratching from beneath the bed. It struck me that this was a good time for a favorite diversion - recounting recent nightmares.

It's been a long time since I've had a nightmare worth remembering. My dreams have grown gray and mundane. But when I was younger my nights were filled with killer robots, werewolves and skull littered plains stretching endlessly into the distance beyond my closet door. This evening I plunged into the "barn dream."

"It was dark," I began. "When I climbed the stairs I suddenly felt another presence. Something waiting. Something indescribably horrible. Waiting for me...behind the boxes piled in the corner."

Todd's face floated in the dark before me like a gibbous moon. His eyes were round with fear. It took few words to call forth that consciousness of inexplicable horror shared by the young and submerged later in life beneath the paltry annoyances of reality.

When I paused the room filled with a terrible quiet. There was a sudden rush of breath from my brother's side and then, from somewhere all too near, there came a distinct, hideously loud THUMP.

When he spoke, Todd's voice was heavy with resignation. "There it is."

"And it isn't the cat."

For a few seconds we both contemplated this mind numbing truth in mute terror. Then my brother regained his voice.

"A morpus horror!" he cried. We both started shrieking.

My grandfather came upstairs and cleared the air with his razor strap. Next morning the cat was nowhere to be seen, but the cat food had been eaten.

I'm glad I didn't see what ate it.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review: The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton

by Mary

Retired Metropolitan Police sergeant Samuel Whitehead is landlord of the Rose and Crown public house in the East Anglian village of High Eldersham. Hitherto the pub has not been a paying concern but since Whitehead took over as mine host it has done well, despite the fact the locals are not the friendliest of folk and outsiders who take up residence in the village tend not to prosper.

Then late one evening village bobby Constable Viney finds Whitehead murdered in the pub. Given the till has not been rifled, it seems robbery was not involved. What then could the motive have been? Chief Constable Bateman has hardly been on the scene five minutes, much less interviewed any of the villagers except Constable Viney, when he decides to call in Scotland Yard.

Enter Detective-Inspector Robert Young of the Yard. Taking up residence at the Rose and Crown next day, he soon senses there is something, well, odd about the village and writes to his friend Desmond Merrion asking him to come to High Eldersham to discuss the case.

My verdict: Alas, I found this entry in the Merrion series less entertaining than some of his other adventures. One secret of High Eldersham will leap out at the alert reader a few chapters before it is revealed by the author and the other telegraphs itself in similar fashion. In all fairness it is possible these matters were considered much more shocking at the time the book was published than nowadays. Questions such as the identity of the lady who shows up in the village in a Rolls Royce and why the publican was murdered and by whom are solved in a satisfactory manner, and there's even romantic interest for Merrion. While generally slow-paced there are several gripping episodes, but to avoid spoilers their nature had best remain shrouded in thick fog rather than trumpeted forth in this short review. On balance, then, if I had to assign a grade, I'd mark it as a B.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Review: The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

by Eric

When Sir Eustace Pennefather arrives at the Rainbow Club he finds in his mail a parcel containing a box of chocolates. The choleric baronet is outraged at being made the target of an advertising promotion, as indicated by the accompanying note. He passes the box on to a fellow club member who has arrived at that moment by chance. Graham Bendix, only vaguely acquainted with Sir Eustace, takes the chocolates home to his wife who, after eating several, dies of nitrobenzene poisoning.

Sir Eustace is, we are told, a thoroughly "bad baronet." For one thing, while most country squires are content to pursue foxes, Sir Eustace pursues women. No doubt he's made enemies, but who sent him the poisoned chocolates?

Scotland Yard is stumped. So stumped that Chief Inspector Moresby gives the Crime Club a crack at the case.

Detective novelist Roger Sheringham's Crime Club consists of six members who have passed a stringent test proving their crime solving expertise: "There was a famous lawyer, a scarcely less famous woman dramatist, a brilliant novelist who ought to have been more famous than she was, the most intelligent (if not the most amiable) of living detective-story writers, Roger Sheringham himself, and Mr. Ambrose Chitterwick, who was not famous at all, a mild little man of no particular appearance..."

Inspector Moresby briefs the club on what little Scotland Yard has learned. The members agree that each will attempt to solve the crime and report their conclusions the following week.

The book's plot is simple. Inspector Moresby makes his presentation and then each member details his or her solution and the methods and reasoning employed.

That's right. The book consists almost entirely of speeches!

If you're looking for a thriller or non-stop action, this novel isn't for you. If, on the other hand, you enjoy savoring an intellectual mystery puzzle The Poisoned Chocolates Case is a classic. (I admit that puzzle solving, for me, is a spectator sport. I'm no good at solutions but I enjoy the cleverness of them when they are revealed.)

The mystery lover will find here six different investigations and solutions, each one entirely convincing until the next presenter adds new facts or casts a different light on what is already known.

Each club member makes his or her presentation in a distinctive voice, from the bombastic lawyer to the timid Mr Chitterwick and each approaches the case in a unique manner. Methods of proof include inductive investigation, deduction from facts given or a combination. One member depends on psychology another on science. One looks for a motive of financial gain another jealousy. As an added fillip, each member also alludes to a parallel real life case. Mr Chitterwick, the final presenter, helpfully offers a chart summing up the approaches taken by those who came before.

The book is a treatise on the tricks of mystery writing filled with observations like that of detective novelist Bradley who says, "Artistic proof is, like artistic anything else, simply a matter of selection. If you know what to put in and what to leave out you can prove anything you like, quite conclusively. I do it in every book I write."

At the end of book, after five false alarms, Mr Chitterwick finally reveals the true murderer.

Or does he?

Surely if Anthony Berkeley, as author of the Poisoned Chocolates Case, had not included Mr Chitterwick in the club then the fifth speaker would have had the final say and the woman dramatist's solution would have been conclusive.

Or if Berkeley had decided a seventh member should speak, then poor Mr Chitterwick would have turned out not so smart after all.

The solution to a mystery novel really depends on where the author decides to stop doesn't it?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Review: The Case of the Blonde Bonanza by Erle Stanley Gardener

by Eric

One of the problems in trying to review a mystery is that you can't give away the solution and whether the solution makes sense, is fairly clued, is surprising and clever goes a long way to determining how the reader reacts to the book. The solution to Erle Stanley Gardner's 1940 Perry Mason mystery, The Case of the Blonde Bonanza, meets the criteria, as far as I'm concerned, and that's all I can say!

Another problem in reviewing mysteries is that the victim may not be revealed for several chapters. I hate reviewers giving away the identity of the victim since guessing who will be killed and how is part of the interest of many mysteries. I've given up reading the back covers of mysteries because very often the blurb will leap right into the middle of the story to spill the beans about the murder. As for The Case of the Blonde Bombshell....well, if I admitted I would feel uneasy about saying anything about the murder you might guess that it doesn't take lace on the first age.

So, forget I said that!

What can I say that might entice you to try this novel out?

Consider the initial set-up? Perry Mason's secretary Della Street, while dining every day at an open-air lunchroom on the beach, observes a young woman who has a puzzling routine. After drinking a glass of half milk and half cream she downs a steak, French fried potatoes and a salad, followed by apple pie a la mode and two candy bars. On her way out she checks her weight on the scales by the doorway. Della reckons the girl has gained five pounds in eight day.

When she calls Perry's attention to the mystery it seems simply frivolous. But as Mason observes:

"Apple pie a la mode . . . chocolate malted milk . . . there simply has to be a catch in it somewhere, Della--and there's an irresistible body meeting an immovable bathing suit. Something is bound to happen."

Of course he's right. The naive girl is in trouble and it's Perry Mason to the rescue. (Shades of Travis McGee) The solution to the girl's behavior is weird and interesting and the solution to the murder that follows depends on an intricate dance of suspects coming and going.

It amazes me how Erle Stanley Gardner handles everything from narrative to description in dialogue, but it works, especially in the court room show down. It's been a long time since I graduated from law school, and I never practiced law, but the sparring between the two lawyers and the judge at the preliminary hearing sure sounded authentic to me. Not surprisingly since Gardner did litigation work for a dozen years.

I was never much impressed by the Perry Mason television show. That was one of my parents' shows. Apparently I like Gardener's books better.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Review: Death On The Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay

by Mary

It is four on a January afternoon as we are introduced to a quartet of first year undergraduates attending the all female Persephone College, Oxford: Sally Watson, Daphne Loveridge, Gwyneth Pane, and Nina Harson. They are perched on the roof of the college boathouse, having assembled there for the purpose of inaugurating a secret society to be named the Lode League, the Lode being that part of the River Cherwell on the side of the island on which the college is situated.

The young women have hardly begun to organise the League when a canoe floats downriver, its sole occupant the body of the college Bursar, Miss Myra Denning, who was not popular with the students. Inspector Wythe, later joined by Detective-Inspector Braydon from Scotland Yard, are soon on the job, questioning the quartet and others, including Draga Czernak, an excitable Yugoslavian student who is convinced Miss Denning insulted her, talks about blood feuds, and was the only person to see Miss Denning leave to go on the river. Possible suspects are presented very quickly, but are their motives sufficiently strong to do away with Miss Denning?

Next to appear are Sally's sister and brother-in-law Betty and Basil Pongleton (what a wonderful surname!) as well as the bursar's only relative, her orphaned niece Pamela Exe, an undergraduate at Girton College, Cambridge.

The quartet sitting on the boathouse roof feel called upon to look into the bursar's death, feeling guilty about the fact that, as Sally tells Simon,"The four of us were forming a league to—well, to curse the bursar, and before we’d quite curse the bursar, and before we’d quite finished forming it, she came floating down the river. So now the league is going to try to solve the mystery...." Thus parallel investigations get under way: the police working through official channels and the ladies on the q.t., aided by male student friends at St Simeon's College, located a bit higher up the river.

My verdict: The alert reader may well begin to suspect a certain party once a few chapters have unspooled, but half the fun of getting there is the journey, which in this case involves watching the various investigators at work digging up the necessary information and making deductions from it. The solution to this novel depends on geography and timetables, making it a complicated tale that will need to be approached with attention to details, especially in its later stages. You have been warned!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Review: The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude

by Eric

It is a dark and stormy night on the Cornish Coast when Reverend Dodd and Doctor Pendrill meet at the vicarage as they do each week for dinner, conversation and to share a selection of books from the local library. As always the books are mysteries: Edgar Wallace, J. S. Fletcher, A Farjeon, Dorothy L. Sayers, Freeman and Agatha Christie. All Golden Age authors, not surprisingly since this novel appeared in 1935 at the height of that era. Little does the vicar suspect that he will soon have the chance to test the deductive methods he has acquired through his reading..

Even as the two friends discuss mysteries of the literary kind, while lightning flashes and thunder peels, a murder is committed. At Greylings Manor, overlooking the sea and barely a hundred yards from the vicarage, old Julius Tregarthan is shot dead.

There are plenty of suspects. For a start, old Tregarthan was not particularly well liked by the villagers of Boscawen. Then there are the servants at Greylings, and Tregarthan's niece, and her boyfriend who the old man hated.

Investigations reveal unexplained, or suspiciously explained, comings and goings. the night of the murder. Footprints in the mud and absence thereof, on the paths around the manor, add to the confusion, as do the three oddly spaced shots which were fired, without anyone hearing.

The case is handled by the amiable Inspector Bigswell, from nearby Greystoke, who is determined to keep Scotland Yard out of it, and open minded -- and eventually desperate -- enough to accept assistance from the Reverend Dodd. Happily, this isn't the stereotypical situation where the utterly incompetent law officer shuns the efforts of the brilliant amateur. In fact, Bigswell uncovers most of the evidence but is assisted at key points by the reverend who is thrilled to be involved in a real life murder but a bit ashamed that he should feel thrilled.

I enjoyed this novel thoroughly. But, be forewarned, it is the type of thing that, as Mary says, you'll like if you like that type of thing. Which is to say a classic puzzle oriented mystery. The book's basic structure is this: evidence is discovered and the inspector or the vicar forms a reasonable theory of the murder. Then more evidence is discovered which shoots that theory out of the water. So a new theory fitting the known facts is formulated and more evidence turns up which invalidates the new theory. This is repeated chapter after chapter. A delight for anyone who loves trying to make sense of the evidence, but perhaps not a thriller lover's cup of tea, if thriller lovers drink tea.

NOTE: In his informative introduction to this British Library Crime Classic (Poisoned Pen Press edition), mystery writer Martin Edwards, notes that the novel was originally issued by Skeffington, a small publisher which sold mainly to libraries. Copies of the first edition are hard to find and possibly quite valuable. And in fact, as I write this, a seller listed at AbeBooks has a first edition with dust jacket for $1,250!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Review: When Rogues Fall Out by R. Austin Freeman

by Mary

Didbury Toke collects and deals in antiques and works of art. Alas, he's also a fence and not always scrupulous in his dealings with non experts. It is this latter trait that leads him to rook Thomas Hobson and his wife, buying a beautiful 1692 walnut and marquetry long case clock for £2. After restoration the clock sells for about ten ten times that, but not before Toke discovers diamond jewelry hidden in its base, a treasure trove he keeps before putting the clock on the market.

Hobson's attempt to get the clock back ultimately leads to a flourishing criminal partnership between his representative, Arthur Hughes, and Toke. The former supplies stolen jewelry and other goods, the latter disposes of them. Inevitably cracks appear in the relationship, and then Toke disappears while on the continent.

The second part opens with the murder in Kent of a certain police officer known to readers of the Thorndyke stories. The deceased had gone there to dentify one Frederick Smith, and the body, robbed of official documents, is found in the Greenhithe railway tunnel. Naturally the police, Thorndyke, and Jervis are keen to catch the perpetrator.

In passing we learn Dr Jervis is married to a lady he met during one of Thorndyke's previous cases, and once this is known, the alert reader will begin to put two and two together as to how a swizz was worked, but no matter, it's still interesting to follow Thorndyke's careful investigation of a case that ultimately involves strange noises in the sealed wing of a country house and links back to the disappearance of the owner, the two-faced Toke.

My verdict: Readers who have read the previous case mentioned, particularly if they are also familiar with a certain novel by John Meade Falkner, will be a few steps ahead of Thorndyke as he unravels the inter-connected crimes, but even so it's a pretty good outing. The usual explanations of scientific doings -- and the way in which two of Thorndyke assistant Mr Polton's particularly useful inventions work -- hold interest to the end, where justice is finally done.

Etext: When Rogues Fall Out by R. Austin Freeman

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Review: A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon

by Mary

Published in 1940 and set in London during the blackout, A Scream in Soho opens with the introduction of protagonist Inspector Patrick Aloysius McCarthy of Scotland Yard. Of Italian-Irish extraction, he was born and raised in Soho and still lives there in Dean Street.

Late one evening, then, McCarthy is sitting in a Soho eatery known as Café Milano -- the story of how it opened for business reveals a great deal about his temperament and methods -- waiting to have supper with Assistant Commissioner of Police Sir William Haynes. They talk of spies, local residents, and malefactors in general and on parting McCarthy tells Haynes he is off to bed and will not get out of it again for anybody.

But in fact he does, after the titular scream rings out from Soho Square an hour or so later. Hastily donning slippers and throwing an overcoat over his night wear, he rushes in that direction forgetting his torch but remembering his gun. By an amazing bit of luck for the authorities, a fire in a nearby house breaks out, lighting up the square and allowing a search. The lintels and pillars of the porch of an old house in the square are "painted in a deep green, but the door itself was spotless white—except where both lintel and lower panels were liberally bedaubed with blood, some of which still slowly trickled down..." Left behind: a bloodstained three-edged stiletto and a woman's lace-edged handkerchief. But the victim has been spirited away despite the fact McCarthy and the bobby on the local beat arrived on the scene within two minutes of hearing the scream. However, they do later discover a body -- a constable placed on guard behind the house with the bloodstained door.

So begins a mystery-thriller that rollicks along, featuring more deaths, a West End pickpocket, an Austrian baroness who regularly consults a crystal gazer, a gang boss/police informant with an extremely nasty manner and a beautiful girlfriend, a lady with a striking secret, the seemingly impossible theft of important papers, colourful personalities on the wrong side of the law, and much more.

My verdict: A Scream In Soho features an almost amiable narration despite occasional lively scenes of fisticuffs. In a tangled case set in a colourful millieu, the novel surprises readers with a striking twist or two and its dialogue is often imbued with humour despite its grim topic. Having enjoyed my introduction to Brandon I shall keep an eye open for further of his works.

A Scream in Soho is one of the British Library Crime Classics reprinted by Poisoned Pen Press

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Review: The Case of the Stuttering Bishop by Erle Stanley Gardner

by Eric

My grandmother was an avid reader. She particularly liked mysteries and her favorite author was Erle Stanley Gardner (or his alter-ego A.A.Fair) She had stacks of his slim paperbacks on her shelves. I was a science fiction reader as a kid. Mysteries didn't strike me as intellectual enough. How could my grandmother move so easily between Dickens and books about a television lawyer? Yes, I was familiar with the Perry Mason series starring Raymond Burr and didn't much like it either. When I did pick up one of the paperbacks and leafed through it appeared to be nothing but dialogue. Pretty thin gruel.

So it was a half century later that I finally read one of Gardner's Perry Mason novels, The Case of the Stuttering Bishop, and discovered that my grandmother was onto something. Published in 1936, the 9th Perry Mason novel begins when Perry is consulted about a twenty-two year old manslaughter case by Bishop William Mallory, who not only stutters (an odd thing for a bishop) but is keeping a secret. The ensuing investigation uncovers a possibly counterfeit heiress and perhaps an orphan girl who may or may not an heiress. A cast of high-born and hirelings maneuvre for the fortune that's at stake. People go missing and inevitably someone dies.

Perry is in his element. "How I love a mystery, " he tells his secretary, Della Street. "I hate routine. I hate details. I like the thrill of matching my wits with crooks. I like to have people lie to me and catch them in their lies. I love to listen to people talk and wonder how much of it is true and how much of it is false. I want life, action, shifting conditions. I like to fit facts together, bit by bit, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle."

Fortunately, for a reader who prefers detective whodunits to legal thrillers, Perry acts a lot like a private eye of the era, and isn't always as above board as one might expect. As District Attorney Hamilton Burger tells him, "You know, I've always had a horror of prosecuting innocent men. I want to be certain a person's guilty before I bring him into court. You've got a wonderful mind. There are times when you've unscrambled some mighty tough cases which would otherwise have resulted in the escape of the guilty and the conviction of the innocent, but you simply won't keep within ethical limits. You won't sit in your office and practice law. You insist on going out to try and get hold of evidence, and whenever you do, you start matching wits with witnesses and pulling some pretty fast plays, altogether too damn fast."

You might gather from the foregoing that Perry's sidekicks Della Street, investigator Paul Drake, and nemesis Hamilton Burger are more nuanced characters than they appeared on the small screen.

It should be pointed out that this is, from what I've read, not a typical Perry Mason novel. Perry does need to clear a suspect who all the evidence seems to point too, however there is no climactic courtroom scene. Those scenes, as depicted on the TV show struck me as preposterous, but the brief courtroom action here feels authentic, not surprisingly since Gardner practiced law for twenty year.

I'll need to read another Mason that sticks closer to the usual forumla but this book at least was a pleasant surprise.

By the way. I have read over the years that Gardner never bothered to describe his famous lawyer (who we all know looks like Raymond Burr) but this isn't strictly true for at one point in The Case of the Stuttering Bishop Gardner writes: "Standing with his shoulders squared, feet spread slightly apart, the soft shaded lights of the library illuminating his granite-hard profile and steady, patient eyes, he said, "Yes, I'm Mason." That is a description, of sorts.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review: The Three Hostages by John Buchan

by Mary

While some will certainly disagree, I view The Three Hostages as a mystery-thriller because there is a mystery to be solved: where are the three missing people and who is behind their abductions?

The book opens a couple of years after WWI. Sir Richard Hannay and Mary Lamington are now married with a young son. They reside in Fosse Manor, a nice touch given they first met when she was staying with her aunts at the Manor while engaged in a bit of undercover work herself, as related in Mr Standfast.

One evening the Hannays' friend Dr Greenslade visits and their conversation turns to how to write what he calls a "shocker". Dr Greenslade's theory is the author should take three apparently unconnected things, invent a connection, and dream up a problem to solve involving the connection. His example is: "an old blind woman spinning in the Western Highlands, a barn in a Norwegian saeter, and a little curiosity shop in North London kept by a Jew with a dyed beard."

In the real world ugly international doings are afoot and eventually they intrude into Hannay's household. Members of the families of three great men -- "the daughter of the richest man in the world, the heir of our greatest dukedom, the only child of a national hero" -- have been kidnapped and are being held as hostages by a combine whose members are outwardly respectable but which is using the disaffected across Europe and elsewhere to further their own concerns, including fraud, profiteering, and even murder. Though known to the authorities, if members of this combine are captured too soon the hostages will doubtless be executed and certain delicate political matters in the balance upset.

By a twist of fate Dr Greenslade's literary example serves to aid Hannay and his friends get on the track of the villains in a race against a deadline at which they can only guess.

My verdict: Was Buchan following Dr Greenslade's advice, I wonder? Hannay has quite a puzzle to solve and the first half of the book follows his attempts to make sense of the sole clue: six lines of doggerel sent to each of the three great men. There is more intelligence work and less physical action in this novel and the slow working-out of the mystery is convincing. Mary Hannay, while mostly off the page, plays a role near the end that is both gripping and believable and received a loud hurrah from here!

The Three Hostages by John Buchan Qu

Friday, July 29, 2016

Eating Maggots and Other Reasons I'm No Gourmet

by Eric

After one of our typical home heated up dinners I noticed that the ingredients listed on the bag included gorgonzola. Neither Mary nor I like to cook. To us, ingredients aren't things you measure, chop, or mix, but reading matter on the back of packages.

After one of our typical home heated up dinners I noticed that the ingredients listed on the bag included gorgonzola. Neither Mary nor I like to cook. To us, ingredients aren't things you measure, chop, or mix, but reading matter on the back of packages.

"Gorgonzola. That's cheese, isn't it?" I said, immediately activating the useful auxiliary brain called Google. Quicker than I can remember my Social Security number, I learned that gorgonzola is indeed a cheese, with bluish green veining.

"Whoa," I muttered. "Blue cheese. And look at this, the varicose veins are caused by -- you're not going to believe this -- mold spores growing into hyphae."

Mary frowned. "It doesn't really say "varicose viens" does it?"

"Gaaa," I replied sensibly. "I ate mold spore hyphae!"

In case I'm not being clear here, I don't care for blue cheese.

"Tasted all right to me. At least it's not the kind of cheese where you have to scrape the cheese mites off before you eat it."

"Cheese mites! Don't say that when I've got coffee in my mouth," I choked, frantically wiping off my keyboard. "You're kidding?"

"Look it up."

Unfortunately I did. According to Wikipedia, mites clinging to the rind of Milbenkäse are consumed along with the cheese, which has a "distinctive zesty aftertaste."

"Well, I can believe it has a distinctive taste!"

Mites are also help age Mimolette, the grayish crust being the result of cheese mites intentionally introduced to add flavor by their action on the surface of the cheese.

"I guess we can be sure that frozen pizza is never topped with Milbenkäse or Mimolette," I observed hopefully.

"If it were, the mites would have frozen to death."

"Maybe, but a mouthful of crunchy hard-frozen mites doesn't appeal to me."

I really should have stopped researching, but you know how it is with Google and the Internet and Wikipedia. You start out looking for information on the most innocent subject and a half hour later you are deep in the realms of things man was not meant to know.

Such as casu marzu, otherwise known as "rotten cheese".

Found mainly in Sardinia casu marzu contains live insect larvae. To be exact -- although "insect larvae" seems all you really need to know -- the larvae of the cheese fly. These larvae resemble translucent white worms about one third of an inch long. (So they say, and I'm willing to take their word for it and leave it at that.) A typical cheese contains thousands of these larvae -- known to the non-cheese lovers amongst us as maggots.

Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but I've never been into eating maggots. In fact, I was always been pretty much against eating anything while it was still alive. When my family went out to eat, the "very rare" (i.e. bleeding) steaks my mom ordered looked to me as if they were going to moo when you stuck them with a fork so I always demanded my steak be well done and then burned to a crisp, twice, just to be on the safe side.

Once, I admit, I ate a raw oyster at a street fair in Brooklyn. What can I say? I was young and stupid, the sun was hot, I'd had too much sangria. Sometimes when I remember it I can still feel the slimy mollusc sliding down, desperately fighting for life all the way.

Okay, so when it comes to food I've always had delicate sensibilities. I had to avert my gaze every time I passed the restaurant with the big sign announcing Tripe Pizza. Mary told me she liked tripe but I couldn't force myself to go there, not even when we were first married. I did however try to please her once by preparing another of her favorites, liver and onions. (Yes, we did try to cook once in a while until we both decided that the only thing worse than cooking was trying to eat each other's cooking.)

As a child liver had revolted me and I had revolted when it was served for dinner. But, I told myself, now I am an adult. Surely I am mature enough to consume a few token bits of a cow's internal organ?

So I forked up a chunk and chewed, and chewed, and chewed. It was like trying to chew a sponge. I couldn't grind it up, nor could I swallow it down. Every time I tried to gulp my throat balked with an instant gag reflex.

Yes, as an omnivore I am a dreadful failure.

But not even tripe or liver can match the aforementioned rotten cheese.

Apparently connoisseurs of the finer things in life enjoy spreading the stuff on bread. But then they have to hold their hands over the bread to eat it because those living maggots can jump as much as six inches! Holy leaping larvae, Batman! You wouldn't want a maggot up your snout when you were trying to get your tasty treat down your gullet, would you?

Now I think I'll go and have some tasty Pepto-Bismol. Now I think I'll go and have some tasty Pepto-Bismol.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: Mystery In White: A Christmas Crime Story by J. Jefferson Farjeon

by Mary

When a deep fall of snow brings the 11.37 from London's Euston Station to a halt in a rural area on Christmas Eve, the scene shifts to a country house cut off from the world by bad weather (a favourite scenario of mine!) as the continuing storm sets in motion a tale of the strange events related in Mystery In White: A Christmas Crime Story by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

Four occupants of the third-class carriage have abandoned the snowbound train in an attempt to walk to a station about six miles away in hopes of continuing their journey from there. The quartet consists of milquetoast clerk Robert Thomson, on his way to visit an aunt, platinum blonde chorus girl Jessie Noyes, who absolutely must get to Manchester that day for professional reasons, and siblings David and Lydia Carrington, who are going to spend Christmas at their uncle's town house.

The two other travellers in their compartment do not accompany them: there's an elderly bore name of Hopkins, who thinks the idea is madness, and Edward Maltby, an older man and member of the Royal Psychical Society. The latter has plans to visit an old house at Naseby in connection with the ghost of Charles I but has suddenly bolted from the train, much to the others' surprise.

Circumstances thwart the attempt to reach the station and the quartet are forced to take shelter in the house mentioned, which they are able to enter through the unlocked front door. Yet although the place is deserted, there's a kettle boiling, tea is laid out in the drawing room, fires have been lit -- and a bread-knife lies on the kitchen floor. A suggestive situation to say the least.

There's a sense of menace about the place and when the decamped Maltby and a Cockney giving his name as Smith show up the atmosphere becomes even more ominous. Particularly when Smith subsequently runs or rather flounders off and the bore Hopkins is rescued from the storm by Carrington and Thomson. Hopkins claims he is on his way to locate a constable because a dead man has been found in the compartment next to the one occupied by those now in the house. But is what he says true?

And that's just the start of this complex and engrossing mystery.

My verdict: The solution to the mystery gives one pause at first and yet, after consideration, the reader must admit it fits with all that went before. I read this novel at one sitting. Can there be any higher recommendation than that?

Mystery In White: A Christmas Crime Story by J. Jefferson Farjeon is available from Poisoned Pen Press as part of their reprints of the British Library Crime Classics.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review: Mr Polton Explains by R. Austin Freeman

by Mary

Dr Thorndyke and company investigate the case of Cecil Moxdale, deceased, in a double-part novel. In the first section, Mr Polton narrates his life up to his momentous meeting with Thorndyke. I always think of Mr Polton as the older of the pair, but lawks a mercy, going by internal evidence Thorndyke is probably l5 years his senior, if not more. I found this section very interesting, as we learn much about Nathaniel Polton, beginning with his recollections as a three year old orphan with a sister called Maggie living with another family in the country, and then the various stages of his somewhat Dickensian life up to his making Thorndyke's acquaintance, the circumstances of which explain his devotion to Dr T and also some of his more unusual skills.

Much detail is given about Mr Polton's interest in a particular profession and a specific bit of invention which, years later, provides a vital clue to unravelling a mysterious death, the circumstances of which form the second part of the book, narrated by Dr Jervis. To my surprise Mr Polton actually states which of his particular skills contributed to the solution of the crime, though this revelation was not really needed because between the autobiographical details and the description of the scene of the crime it is obvious how the murder was accomplished, if not the person responsible.

Most of my school reports stated I should concentrate more and it seems this flaw still applies to a certain extent, for I soon found myself trying to calculate Mr Polton's age, given he mentions his childhood was a time when Finchley was still outside London and the omnibus to Finchley where his sister lived was horse-drawn, perhaps not the effect the author intended but there it is. Then I began to wonder about Dr Jervis' life and how he and Thorndyke met. Not having read all the Thorndyke yarns, it may be this is explained in one of them.

But pressing on regardless, onward I trundled to part the second. In brief, a fire completely guts a house where Mr Haire has taken rooms. Fortunately for him, he was in Ireland at the time, but unfortunately his cousin, Cecil Moxdale, was staying in the flat. The building is completely burnt out and the body is found more or less charred out of recognition though certain items found in the debris of the fire establish its identity.

And yet...certain aspects of the death suggest it was not accidental or even suicide and so Thorndyke and Jervis become involved. A pointer to the solution is provided by Polton from knowledge mentioned in the first section and although the resolution hinges on a honking great coincidence, rereading Polton's section I found circumstances described there in a more subtle manner than that mentioned above do provide a fair clue or two.

My verdict: Alas, this is the most disappointing of this author's works read so far. In fact, it gives the distinct impression Mr Polton's autobiography was grafted onto a short story to form a novel. Mr Polton's necessary information could, I believe, have been provided within the second section easily enough and in a far less obvious manner. Shocking to relate, I found Mr Polton's biography more interesting than the mystery and its resolution though the latter did have an unexpected twist.

E-text: Mr Polton Explains by R. Austin Freeman

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Review: Miss Marple's Final Cases and Two Other Stories

by Eric

So where's Mary today?

Since she reads faster than she writes reviews, I offered to ease the burden by contributing an occasional GAD review myself. Unfortunately, she took me up on it!

The first book I want to talk about was an antidote to a recent Best Mysteries of the Year collection which featured one or two actual mysteries among twenty noir crime stories. It was enjoyable enough but badly mislabeled. I'd wanted mysteries!

So I turned to Agatha Christie. Where else?

Miss Marple's Final Cases and Two Other Stories was published posthumously in 1979. Presumably the six cases are "final" in that they were the last ones left to be collected at the time. None of the stories suggest that the end of Miss Marple's career is at hand.

The six mysteries include a man dying of a bullet wound in a church who utters a mysterious last word, a woman found dead in a closed room, and a maid framed for theft. They all contain fairly clued puzzles.

Amazingly I fingered the killer in The Tape Measure Murder.

"It must have been a weak story," Mary observed, having long since taken the measure of my powers of ratiocination.

It's true, I rarely figure out whodunit. The only other time I can remember it was not because of the clues but the way the story was constructed: i.e. a character who appeared to have no function in the story whatsoever, unless he was the villain.

Being a sucker for treasure hunts, I particularly liked Strange Jest wherein an eccentric great uncle's legacy is hidden somewhere on his estate. Only a cryptic deathbed clue marks the spot. The two bright young things who are directed to Miss Marple for help are dubious about the seemingly dotty old lady's abilities, until she finds the treasure after recalling her own dear old Uncle Henry who had a similar sense of humor to the deceased.

I suppose if I knew as many odd people as Miss Marple my own ratiocinative abilities would be better.

The "Two Other Stories" are supernatural, The Dressmaker's Doll is perhaps the best in the book. A vaguely malevolent doll appears out of nowhere, although no one can recall when, and gradually takes over a dressmaker's establishment. Creepy!

I've yet to read an Agatha Christie book I didn't like. This is a enjoyable little collection for those who of us who still crave a bit of mystery in the classic style.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

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

by Mary

The Bishop Murder Case is a mystery that grabs the reader by the lapels and drags them into the story, for it's hard to resist the statement that the matter "seemed too incredible and too wicked for acceptance by the normal mind of man".

Once again, Philo Vance aids DA John Markham and his police colleagues after Joseph Cochrane Robin is found dead, an arrow in his chest, in the private archery range behind retired professor Bertrand Dillard's New York house. Also residing in Dillard's house are his niece Belle and his protégé and adopted son, mathematical genius Sigurd Arnesson. The Drukkers, an over protective mother and her crippled son Adolph, live in the house whose back yard adjoins the Dillard's. More than one person appears to know something useful even if they are not saying anything, and included among them are a neighbouring chess expert, John Pardee, and civil engineer Raymond Sperling, Robin's rival for Belle's hand.

The connection between the nursery rhyme relating how Cock Robin was killed and the murder is noticed even before messages signed by The Bishop, pointing this out, are sent to the press. Soon there is another death whose circumstances again echo a nursery rhyme, and that's only the start.

My verdict: An intriguing premise that will doubtless remind readers of Agatha Christie's A Pocket Full of Rye. Is Philo Vance right when he declares abnormal psychology is involved or is there some other reason for the crimes? The only way to find out is to read this serpentine entry in Van Dine's series, for more I cannot say without revealing too much.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Review: White Face by Edgar Wallace

by Mary

White Face involves more mystery than a number of Wallace's novels. Who is the titular character, a man with a nasty habit of concealing his face with a white cloth and going about robbing people, and how can a man be fatally stabbed without his assailant being seen by people close by?

The characters are a nice array from both high and low life. White Face is set in east London's Tidal Basin, so naturally it is replete with poverty and darkness. A shining light there, however, is Dr Marford. He runs a clinic for the local populace, with an unlikely assistant in the shape of Janice Harman, a rich girl loved by crime reporter Michael Quigley. Unfortunately she is more interested in well-off Donald Bateman, newly arrived from South Africa with thrilling tales of life out there and marriage on his mind. And let's not overlook Dr Rudd, an unpleasant police surgeon.

Tidal Basin residents include Lorna Weston, said to live in the Basin's only respectable flat but also described with a wink as going to the West End every night all dolled up, and the ancient cabby and notoriously honest Gregory Wicks, who lives in Gallows Court, a troublesome place separated by a brick wall from the doctor's yard.

The mystery gets under way the night Dr Marford looks out and sees two men fighting, a not uncommon occurrence in the area. One goes off and the other, in evening dress no less, proceeds in the opposite direction, only to suddenly drop to the ground further down the street. In the course of robbing him, a third man is apprehended and though the doctor hastens to the fallen man's aid, the man is dead, having been stabbed. The weapon is nowhere to be seen and none of the men saw his assailant.

But there's a lot more going on than that...

My verdict: I really enjoyed White Face, especially the short but beautifully written bit of misdirection towards the end and the subtle placement of clues. As the affable Detective-Sergeant Elk remarks "In a murder case everybody has got something to hide, and that's why it's harder to get the truth about murder than any other kind of crime" and he is absolutely correct. I rate White Face one of Wallace's best.

Etext: White Face by Edgar Wallace

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review: The Joker by Edgar Wallace

by Mary

As the story opens, Stratford Harlow is on his way to meet solicitor Franklin Ellenbury in Devon. Harlow sees a convict working party returning to Dartmoor Prison and on a whim decides to go back to the hotel he has just left and summon Ellenbury to come to him. We know right away who else is on the wrong side of the law, since Harlow instructs Ellenbury to pretend they are strangers when they meet at the hotel. Ellenbury cannot refuse this or any other summons, for Harlow has helped him pay debts and replace money embezzled from clients. Indeed, Ellenbury is still receiving money from Harlow in payment for his participation in certain of Harlow's financial dealings.

By changing his plans and returning to the hotel Harlow notices and eventually scrapes up acquaintanceship with Aileen Rivers. She's on her way to visit her actor uncle Arthur Ingle, now doing a stretch in Dartmoor for forgery and fraud.

Harlow, a multi-millionaire, is an unusual rogue. He enjoys his "jokes" -- many would call them criminal -- no end, so it's not surprising the name of Sub-Inspector James Carlton of Scotland Yard comes up in conversation between Harlow and Ellenbury. Several months later, in typical Wallace fashion, Carlton meets Miss Rivers by accident (literally) on the Thames Embankment. Fortunately she is only shaken and her elbow slightly injured, but he insists on escorting her home.

Miss Rivers is looking after her uncle's flat while he's in durance vile and when it is burgled she calls Carlton for help. While he's there, Harlow shows up out of the blue to offer her a job or so he says, but suddenly faints and when recovered leaves in a hurry. Carlton has his eye on Harlow, but the latter has covered his tracks so well it looks highly unlikely Carlton will ever be able to pinch his prey.

What follows is a gallop through a plot featuring a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, burglary, a man held a prisoner in luxurious surroundings, underground rooms, a sinister housekeeper, fortunes made and lost, and strange goings-on in the House of Commons, among other shenanigans.

My verdict: Stratford Harlow is one of those engaging villains readers feel they should boo and yet there is something charming about him, as Miss Rivers freely acknowledges. Wallace engages in some wonderful misdirection and while his characters and situations are in true detective fiction fashion not always what they seem, he manages his literary sleight of hand so well readers will almost certainly be surprised when at the end of the novel they learn...well, I won't say what. Read it and find out!

The Joker by Edgar Wallace

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Review: Blue Hand by Edgar Wallace

by Mary

Legal clerk Jim Steele VC is horrified when told by Eunice Weldon, the girl he loves, that she has taken the post of secretary to the mother of Digby Groat and is going to live in the Groat family home in Grosvenor Square.

As well Jim might, for Digby Groat out Sir-Jaspers Sir Jasper. Among other things, he is not above menacing his kleptomaniac mother and torturing small animals. His mother will inherit a fortune from her deceased brother on a certain date if her niece Dorothy Danton cannot be found. Since Dorothy disappeared in a boating accident while still a baby and has not been seen since, it looks as if the Groats will soon be extremely wealthy. But Jim, who is interested in the Danton case, is determined they will never get their hands on the fortune.

The first night under the Groats' roof Eunice receives an unseen nocturnal visitor who leaves a card stamped with a blue hand, advising her to flee the house. Despite this ominous warning, after Jane Groat suffers a stroke Eunice stays on. Other blue hand marks appear at the house and soon the reader is in the thick of a plot featuring a mysterious veiled woman, drugs, gangs, derring-do on trains, in planes, and on the high seas, and a lot more besides. Aside: if this had been a film, no doubt the audience would cheer when they see how a minor baddie comes to a particularly spectacular end.

The plot is revealed fairly early in the book, and the last part taken up by a prolonged chase involving cars, vans, yachts, and seaplanes. Jim and Eunice are standard models of rectitude, and it is the cunning solicitor Septimus Salter and the Portuguese yacht captain who are the most interesting characters. A fairly routine book for Wallace, though fans will want to add it to their collection.

My verdict: There's somewhat less mystery in Blue Hand than in other Wallaces and parts of the plot are transparent, but still a few twists will catch the reader by surprise. The pace picks up towards the end of the book and it was refreshing to see a novel whose heroinne has backbone.

Blue Hand by Edgar Wallace

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon

by Mary

As this country house mystery opens, John Foss, following an injury to his ankle as he descends from a train at Flensham Station, is taken by fellow passenger Nadine Leveridge to Bragley Court, upon which Nadine and eleven other guests are converging for a weekend house party. Foss has to go to Bragley Court because the doctor is there to attend to the elderly mother-in-law of Lord Aveling, owner of the house. Although the imobilised Foss is a stranger he is considered a gentleman (partially on the basis of his old school tie and an uncle listed in Debrett), and so in the way these things go, he is invited to stay at the house until his ankle mends.

It is not long before he meets fellow guest county cricketer Harold Taverley, who fills Foss in about the other guests, including those who haven't yet arrived. Besides Nadine there's artist Leicester Pratt, sausage king Mr Rowe, his wife, and daughter Ruth, Liberal MP Sir James Earnshaw, writer Edyth Fermoy-Jones (concerning whom Taverley observes she would "die happy if she goes down in history as the female Edgar Wallace"), actress Zena Wilding, and waspish gossip columnist Lionel Bultin. There's also a somewhat mysterious couple named Chaters, about whom Taverley knows nothing.

Once assembled for the weekend there would have been twelve guests but as Foss points out he's the thirteenth. However, his cricketing informant claims au contraire, any bad luck that showed up would fall on the thirteenth guest who comes through the door of the house.

But all is not well at Bragley Court.

"The shadows seemed to contain uneasy secrets...Something's wrong...." Foss reflects. He is not wrong. Disturbing events take place. Then a stranger keeping constant watch on the railway station is found dead in a quarry. Fortunately Detective-Inspector Kendall is in the area gingering up the local constabulary so is on the spot when the police are called in.

My verdict: Published in 1936, Thirteen Guests is smoothly written, displaying little evidence of its age except for a humorous reference to Mussolini and another to Vinolia soap. The solution to the crimes is based largely on a (mercifully not extensive) timetable constructed by Detective-Inspector Kendall. I must however mention the author is not quite fair in relation to a couple of clews and one coversation, although the work-round needed to convey a major clew is subtly done and easily missed. Despite that, cosy readers as well as fans of Golden Age novels should enjoy Thirteen Guests. Martin Edwards contributes an interesting and informative introduction to this entry in the British Library Crime Classics series.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Review: The Mystery of the Thirteenth Floor by Lee Thayer

by Mary

"How had the crime been committed? How, conceivably, could it have been done in the time and the murderer make good his escape?"

Thus a character muses and the reader along with them.

As the novel opens, rich and much hated lawyer James Randolph Stone is dictating his will to a stenographer who, along with one of his clerks, witnesses the document. They have hardly stepped away from Stone's office when they hear a thud and a groan and find Stone dead with a dagger in his heart.

It's obvious the culprit got into Stone's private office via the door opening directly into the hall. Stone was in the habit of leaving the door unlocked for the benefit of visitors who did not want to be seen by his employees, but how did the murderer manage to creep up on Stone? The senior clerk sees a strangely familiar figure racing along far below, apparently having used the fire escape to leave the building in haste....and the just-signed will is missing.

Detective Graves appears and must solve such conundrums as how the seemingly impossible deed was done and who stole the will and why. Is the culprit a man with an old and justified grudge against Stone? He's rented the office next door to Stone's and furthermore was seen dropping a dagger. Then there's Stone's nephew, overheard quarrelling violently with his uncle the night before the murder.

When the nephew is arrested, office boy Peter and telephone operator Maybelle collaborate with Mr Gregory to investigate the case. Thus begin episodes of romance, secrets, and breaking and entering, not to mention suspicious behaviour by Stone's other nephew.

While the dialogue is sometimes stiff, the exchanges between Peter and Maybelle are lively, and once through the first few chapters the action begins to speed up and carries the reader along. The plot is deceptively simple in that suspects' actions present such an appearance there seems little doubt one or the other is guilty. Indeed, the reader may, as I did, begin to suspect a third party to boot.

Plus there is always that lingering puzzle: how did the murderer kill Stone and get away so quickly? Stone's office has an open window but it's over 20 yards from his old enemy's window and besides they are on the thirteenth floor. There's a communicating door between the two offices but it's blocked with obviously undisturbed books and in any event the books couldn't have been removed and put back in the very short time Stone was alone in his office between signing his will and being found dead.

My verdict: There's some well-done misdirection which, together with the matter of the missing will, is ultimately explained in excellent fashion. However, the revelation of the murder method, while perfectly acceptable in itself, is somewhat disappointing because there's not a jot nor tittle of a clue to hint at it earlier nor any indication why the murder was committed until the culprit reveals it. So while I'd give another Thayer novel a whirl, I shall award The Mystery of the Thirteenth Floor a B-.

Etext (some minor scrambling ): The Mystery of the Thirteenth Floor by Lee Thayer

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Postmaster's Daughter by Louis Tracy

by Mary

John Menzies Grant is taking an after-breakfast stroll in the garden of The Hollies, a charming house just outside the hamlet of Steynholme, Sussex. An ex-officer and now writer, he's another of the typical Golden Age "healthy, clean-minded young Englishman" so sadly lacking in detective fiction these days. But what is not lacking is a body -- in this case a bound woman dragged from the river at the end of a line tied to Grant's side of the river.

Grant recognises the woman as actress Adelaide Melhuish, to whom he had proposed marriage three years before. He then discovered she was married, and her suggestion he pay her husband to facilitate a divorce so disgusted Grant it precipitated their parting. He had not seen her since except hers was, he thought, the face in the window he had glimpsed fairly late the evening before but had dismissed as his imagination running riot.

The other woman in the case is a mere slip of a girl, Doris Martin, the postmaster's daughter of the title. She lives across the river and she and Grant signal back and forth from home and garden. There is an as yet unacknowledged attraction between them, and the pair were in Grant's garden the evening of the murder stargazing at Sirius at a time deduced to be not long before the murder took place.

It transpires Miss Melhuish had been in Steynholme for a couple of days asking questions about Grant and his friends and doings, and so suspicion naturally falls on him. Feelings start to run high in the village, fanned by the arrival of Isidor G. Ingerman, Miss Melhuish's husband, who hints at a suit for alienation of affection against Grant and is otherwise quite beastly. Grant has some moral support from Miss Martin as well as the owner of another pair of boots which take up residence under his dinner table, this particular set belonging to Grant's close friend and global adventurer Walter Hart, whose conversational turns of phrase would make a number of present day humourists envious.

Tracy's delightful pair of dueling Scotland Yard detectives solve the mystery, although the eccentric Charles Furneaux initially turns up without his more stolid investigative partner James Winter, who does not get onstage until about half way through the book.

My verdict: This is the sort of novel where the reader is drawn along at a rattling pace. There are few clews and much obfuscation, with comic interest added by badinage between the Scotland Yard men and Hart. Readers will quibble with how some of the evidence is obtained, but the shifting moods of the local residents are well portrayed and the mystery ends with a strong denouement in the hamlet's main street, followed by a brief "what happened next" chapter tying up the loose ends. It's fair to say cozy fans as well as GADers will enjoy this novel.

Etext: The Postmaster's Daughter by Louis Tracy