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