Mar 282015
 

Dagobert and Jane Brown make a charming couple - and a very readable pair of sleuths. Here are links to some reviews (and further information) about some other detective couples whom you might enjoy:

Jeff and Haila Troy, created by the husband and wife writing team of Audrey and William Roos, writing as Kelley Roos: The Frightened Stiff:

Moving is never fun. Especially if you’re a young couple moving into a basement apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1940s…only to discover your furniture isn’t there yet, there’s no lock on the door, no shades on the street-level windows, strange things going on in your apartment building…and the police wake you to tell you there’s a corpse out in your garden that seems to have been drowned in your bathtub.

Then there are Henry and Emily Bryce, created by Margaret Scherf. I enjoyed Glass on the Stairs:

Take what appeared to be an open-and-shut case of suicide. Stir in a few clues that don't add up - a pink glove, some possibly poisoned toothpaste, a few sounds that should have been on a tape recording that somehow weren't there, and a few shards of broken glass. And let Emily and Henry Bryce shake up the mix - because, as Emily observes, “When we have a murder, we don’t like to be piggish about it. We want all our friends to share it with us.” What you have is a rather remarkable screwball comedy-mystery called Glass on the Stairs, by Margaret Scherf.

Another husband-and-wife writing team, Frances and Richard Lockridge, came up with an extremely popular couple of detectives in the mid-twentieth century: Pam and Jerry North. They're rather hard to find now, but there's a Kindle edition available of The Dishonest Murderer:

The Dishonest Murderer surely reflects a peculiar way of looking at a violent crime such as murder, right? And yet here's a case in which the entire setting of the murder - from its victim, to the method of murder, to the setting where the body was found - all seemed wrong. It was up to Pam North to sum it up, quite well: “we’re looking for someone dishonest. A dishonest murderer…a setup designed to mislead. Dust in our eyes. In other words, a kind of sleight of hand. So that we’d look in the wrong place. Fundamentally dishonest."

And, of course, no list of husband-and-wife teams would be complete without Nick and Nora Charles, the creation of Dashiell Hammett, who appeared in the classic American mystery, The Thin Man:

When the young woman approached Nick Charles and insisted he should search for her missing father, Nick really didn’t want to get involved. But each time he proclaimed his lack of interest, more and more people – including the police, the missing man’s family, a few assorted mobsters and more – became convinced that Nick knew something about the disappearance of that missing man – who may, by the way, have murdered his mistress. Eventually, he found himself forced into investigating the whole business – although he was careful not to let it get in the way of his serious drinking.

By the way, I have done podcast reviews for all four of these books. You can hear those reviews in their entirety by clicking on the appropriate links:

The Frightened Stiff

Glass on the Stairs

The Dishonest Murderer

The Thin Man

You can find other books by these authors on the backlist page as well.

Mar 262015
 

The book featured in this week's podcast review, Corpse Diplomatique, was the third in the series of books by Delano Ames to feature Dagobert and Jane.

The first book featuring this rather odd couple was called She Shall Have Murder, published in 1948. I first reviewed this book several years ago - and enjoyed it. Here's how I summarized it:

Jane works in the office of a London law firm. As with most law firms, it has its share of difficult clients. One of those clients, a Mrs. Robjohn, who believes that she is being spied upon and followed, is found dead one morning, the apparent victim of an accident involving a gas line. The police – and almost everyone else – are satisfied with the verdict of accidental death.

Jane’s boyfriend, Dagobert, however, is suspicious. And he is soon able to prove – to his and Jane’s satisfaction, at least – that the old woman must have been murdered. We are never told exactly why the evidence did not make the police suspicious, but this IS a mystery novel, after all, and the fictional detectives have to be given some leeway.

At any rate, Jane and Dagobert set out to investigate further. I should mention that Dagobert is unemployed – which, at this point in his life, appears to be a chronic condition – and he is quite happy to have the amateur detective work to fill up his time.

There's more, to be sure - and you can listen to the original podcast review by clicking here. I'm happy to say that the Manor Minor Press has a Kindle edition of She Shall Have Murder available. They also have an e-book version of Corpse Diplomatique as well, and they say they're trying to get hold of the other Dagobert and Jane books. They're entertaining, funny and good reads.

Mar 222015
 

There are a fair number of married couples who moonlight as sleuth teams in classic mystery novels. There were Nick and Nora Charles, Jeff and Haila Troy, Henry and Emily Bryce, Jake and Helene Justus, to name just a few. And then there were Dagobert and Jane Brown, who brought their own odd brand of detection to mysteries written by Delano Ames in the late 1940s and through the 1950s. Dagobert, a young man who appears to be chronically allergic to any kind of job, spends some of his time investigating murders; his wife Jane, who writes mysteries (which, apparently, bring in enough money for the couple to live on), helps Dagobert and serves as the narrator for these books, which really fall into the category of "screwball comedy-mysteries."

The third book about this rather odd couple is called Corpse Diplomatique, originally published in 1950. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you're invited to listen to the full review by clicking here. Dagobert and Jane find themselves staying at a small hotel in Nice, on the French Riviera. They meet Don Diego Sebastiano, the Vice Consul in Nice for the small Central American republic of Santa Rica, who - not to put too fine a point on it - tries to pick up Jane, but fails. Soon thereafter, as the Vice Consul is walking down the street, someone apparently takes a shot at him - missing him narrowly, but killing another resident of that small hotel, Major Hugh Cartwright. Was Don Diego the intended victim? He certainly thinks so - although Major Cartwright turns out to have been doing quite a lot of blackmailing of just about everyone in the hotel and the surrounding neighborhood - including both Don Diego and Dagobert.

It's all done with a very light touch; there are some very funny scenes and bright exchanges in the dialogue. I can carp over a lot of the details of this book – there are a number of plots and subplots which, in my view, don’t really dovetail into a coherent story. But Dagobert and Jane are a charming couple who manage to get away with a great deal of what in most people would be considered very unusual behavior as they team up to find a killer. If you don’t know the Browns, you would probably enjoy meeting them in Corpse Diplomatique, by Delano Ames.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, Corpse Diplomatique is my entry for the square (top row, fifth column) calling for one book with a detective "team."

Vintage Golden Card 2015

[Updated 3/29 to correct the title for my Bingo challenge submission. Sorry!]

Mar 022015
 

His name was Jay Otto. He was not quite three feet tall. He was an entertainer, performing as "The Big Midget." The audiences, apparently, loved him. As for the people around him...well, here's what one woman had to say:

"He looked exactly like any other peson, only tiny. And he hated everybody. He hated everybody so much that the hate seemed to ooze out of him, like sweat."

So perhaps it wasn't surprising that Jay Otto was murdered. And that's when he really started making trouble for Chicago lawyer John J. Malone and his two close friends, Jake and Helene Justus, in one of Craig Rice's screwball comedy-mysteries from 1942 called The Big Midget Murders. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

Jake and Helene are now the owners of a Chicago casino, and Jay Otto is performing there when he is murdered backstage. Now we all know the first thing one is supposed to do on discovering a murder scene is call the police – and never to touch the body or disturb the crime scene. That rule is pretty well ignored by Malone, Jake and Helene, who don’t want a dead body discovered in their casino. So they put the body into a case designed for a big bass fiddle – I told you this was a screwball comedy mystery – and go outside to discuss what to do next. When they go back inside, they discover that the fiddle case – and the body – have disappeared. And that's just the beginning of the complications. Somehow, Rice manages to keep us laughing - though the laughter often has a very dark edge - while increasingly surreal events surround the "now-you-see-it, now-you-don't" appearances and disappearances of the body. it’s to her credit that she maintains the black comedy while providing an interesting and complex plot and a fair number of memorable characters. 

"The Big Midget Murders" appears to be out of print, but there is an e-book version available. It's grim but funny, as with so many of Rice's books. If you're in the mood for something a little off the beaten path, this book deserves your consideration.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

As you probably know by now, I am participating in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. The Bingo card has 36 squares to be filled by reading a book appropriate to each square's instructions. The Big Midget Murders is my entry for the square (second row, fourth column) which calls for a book with a lawyer, courtroom, judge, etc. Malone will fill that square very nicely.

Vintage Golden Card 2015

Feb 152015
 

While I very much enjoyed this week's Georgette Heyer book, No Wind of Blame, I'd also like to remind my visitors here about one of my favorite Heyer books, Envious Casca, which I reviewed on this blog a few years ago.

On my podcast review, here's what I said:

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to hold a family reunion over the Christmas holidays? A time when family members and friends get together for a little old-fashioned celebration. Of course, the head of the family is a tyrannical and bad-tempered old man. His brother is a wooly-headed optimist. His nephew matches the old man in personality and temper AND is engaged to a pure gold-digger. His niece is an actress who wants him to pour money into an awful new play by an unknown author. His business partner is engaged in some shady deals. What could possibly go wrong?

It's a most ingenious plot, complete with an impossible murder inside a locked room. The characters are compelling, the wit is dry and the humor often laugh-out-loud funny. I recommend the book heartily.

Feb 092015
 

Pity poor Inspector Hemingway.

Sent by Scotland Yard to investigate a murder, he found himself confronted with a large number of suspects, nearly as many motives, a scarcity of good alibis - and Ermyntrude. And Vicki.

What am I talking about, you ask? Why Georgette Heyer's 1939 mystery No Wind of Blame, a witty story about a very English murder. It is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

I have read (and reviewed) a number of other Georgette Heyer mysteries - as a group, they're quite well done, with clever plots, witty dialogue and delightful, often outrageous characters. A friend who enjoys Golden Age mysteries recommended No Wind of Blame to me, saying it was one of Heyer’s funniest mysteries. I’d have to agree with her.

Consider Ermyntrude - and I love that name. Ermyntrude Carter used to be an actress. She married a very rich man named Fanshawe who was good enough to die and leave her a very wealthy widow with a young daughter, Vicki. Ermyntrude then had the misfortune (or bad taste) to marry Wally Carter, a man whose behavior and character were both dubious at best. She has also attracted a fortune-hunter of an exiled Georgian prince who is looking to marry the very wealthy Ermyntrude, if she will only divorce her husband. As for her daughter Vicki - now Wally's step-daughter - she is indeed a Drama Queen, going so far as to change her personality and her clothing to fit her mood of the moment (now being a Woman of Sport, now a Comfort-to-Mother, now a Woman of the World, or perhaps a Notorious Woman - all fine roles, to be sure). There are some unsavory neighbors, too, and assorted other friends and servants. Oh, and some hints of a blackmailer working in the neighborhood, too.

A lot of people are unhappy with Wally, so perhaps it's no surprise that someone apparently takes a shot at him one day. Everyone insists it was an accident - except Wally, who may be forgiven for taking such things seriously. And there is, very soon, a murder. And Inspector Hemingway arrives to find himself surrounded by this very unusual if highly entertaining group of characters.

It's all handled with a light and deft touch and it is indeed very funny. One quick example of what to expect: at one point someone says to Ermyntrude – talking about Vicky –

“If I were you, I’d let her go on the stage…I believe that’s what she’d really like best.”

“Don’t you suggest such a thing!” said Ermyntrude, quite horrified. “Why her father would turn in his grave – well, as a matter of fact, he was cremated, but what I mean is, if he hadn’t been he would have.”

Yes, that's Ermyntrude.

George Heyer is best known for her historical regency romances, but I believe her mysteries - she wrote several very good ones - deserve a wider audience. No Wind of Blame is available in printed and e-book versions. It's a delightful light read.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

Regular visitors to this blog know that I am participating in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. The Bingo card has 36 squares to be filled by reading a book appropriate to each square's instructions. As I do not own a copy of this book and borrowed it from the excellent mystery collection of my local (Springfield, NJ) public library, No Wind of Blame is my entry for the square (bottom row, fifth column) which calls for one book that you have to borrow (you do not own).

Vintage Golden Card 2015

Feb 062015
 

Word today from the British Crime Writers' Association (via Janet Rudolph and Mystery Fanfare) that the Crime Writers' Association will present this year's prestigious Diamond Dagger Award to Catherine Aird. The award honors her long - and, happily, continuing - career as a writer of traditional mysteries, including the long-running series called "The Calleshire Chronicles" featuring Inspector C. D. Sloan of the Calleshire police.

I have had the pleasure of writing about several of Aird's earlier novels - you can find my podcast reviews on this blog's backlist page - several of which have been republished by the Rue Morgue Press. Her books can be fairly hard to find in the US, which I think is almost criminal negligence. Her mysteries are stylish, with some police procedural elements, some very interesting plots, delightful characters, and witty and often quite deliberately funny writing (Sloan, for instance, usually finds himself stuck working with Detective Constable Crosby, who is known behind his back among his colleagues as "the Defective Constable).

The CWA explains its Diamond Dagger this way: "Nominees have to meet two essential criteria: first, their careers must be marked by sustained excellence, and second, they must have made a significant contribution to crime writing published in the English language, whether originally or in translation." Congratulations to Catherine Aird for a well-deserved honor. The award will be presented in London in June.

Feb 052015
 

As the Classic Mysteries podcast is now more than 7 1/2 years old, pre-dating the birth of this blog by nearly a year for that matter, I promised my readers at the beginning of this year to start looking back at some of the mysteries I reviewed in the early days of the podcast. 

I thought that Edmund Crispin's Swan Song would be a good place to start. When people talk about Crispin's mysteries, the first one that usually comes to mind is The Moving Toyshop, but I must admit that Swan Song is my favorite. Here's an edited version of my original review:

Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger is one of the great, high romantic comedies in the operatic repertory. It seems a pity to have a Wagnerian baritone murdered in the preparations for this opera – but that’s what happens in Swan Song.

Edmund Crispin was the pen name of Bruce Montgomery, a prolific composer of movie scores and an accomplished organist and choirmaster, according to Wikipedia. Music plays a significant role in at least a couple of Crispin’s crime novels, and it is central to the plot of Swan Song. A particularly nasty baritone, scheduled to play the leading role of Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger is found dead, hanging from a rope in his dressing room. Was it suicide? It certainly appears impossible for anyone to have murdered him – yet an autopsy reveals a large quantity of a sleep-inducing drug in the body, and there are signs that the singer’s hands and feet had been tied.

Nobody can be said to be grieving over the singer’s death – in fact, the singer’s brother, when notified, sends a telegram back to the authorities, reading: “Delighted. Hoping for this for months. Suicide eh query. Don’t bother me now.” But the police, quite obviously, cannot simply ignore what has happened.

Assisting with the investigation – at least, he would argue that he was assisting and not hindering it  – is Crispin’s detective character, Gervase Fen, a professor of English literature at Oxford University. Fen is a close friend of the chief constable, and, as such, tends to get involved in such criminal goings-on as may occur. Eventually, there will be a second murder and a reasonable amount of mayhem before the mystery is solved.

To my mind, what makes this story stand out – and, for that matter, makes Crispin’s work stand out overall – is the author’s sense of humor. He has a fine touch for the ridiculous. This is sometimes overdone, and it is often incongruous to laugh through a particularly funny passage only to have it turn into something quite unpleasant and bizarre before the end. But in Swan Song, Crispin strikes a good balance between the humor and the unpleasant events of the book.

Swan Song is extremely fair: the reader is given all the clues – although quite often in ways designed to drag a red herring across the correct path to a solution. What we are presented with is another example of the so-called impossible crime, with a witness situated to swear that nobody could have entered or left the singer’s dressing room between the time the singer was last seen alive and the discovery of his body. And yet we are given the clues needed to determine what really happened – if we can interpret them.

When I wrote my original review, Swan Song was long out of print. That's no longer the case; the Felony & Mayhem Press has reissued most of Crispin's books - including Swan Song. I recommend it very highly indeed.

 

 

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Dec 042014
 

As any reader of this blog is aware, I have been taking part in the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge at Bev's terrific My Reader's Block blog. The idea was to read books that would - in Bingo fashion - make up horizontal or vertical lines on the challenge image - this one:

Vintage Golden Card 001

This Golden card was to be filled with mysteries published before 1960. There was also a Silver card for mysteries published between 1960 and 1980. I chose to concentrate on the Golden card.

Of course, we were also challenged to try filling in the ENTIRE card. And I'm pleased to say that this is exactly what I have done. For those who either want to check my honesty or - perhaps on a brighter note - read my reviews, here are links to all of them. I am listing them by row from top to bottom, in order going across left and right.

Row 1:

Row 2:

Row 3:

Row 4:

Row 5:

Row 6:

That's 36 books, 36 reviews, 36 squares covered. Whew. And now, time to get ready for Bev's 2015 challenge - same idea, different categories. Where to start, where to start...

Oct 012014
 

Happy October to and from Mike Ripley, who greets the new month (as always) with a new column for "Getting Away with Murder" for the Shots Crime & Thriller Ezine. As always, you'll find news and gossip about new mysteries being released in the UK - and also about mysteries being re-issued.

I'm particularly happy to learn that the great Catherine Aird is publishing a new collection of short stories, some featuring her marvelous series detective, Chief Inspector C. D. Sloan and his not-so-marvelous sidekick, Detective Constable Crosby. Quite typically, it's called Last Writes: A Chief Inspector CD Sloan collection. She's not always easy to find, which is a pity, as she's a smart and witty writer. I see on Amazon that it's being released in the U.S. later this month. There goes another pre-order...

At any rate, there's a lot of news and even more interesting notes and comments in the latest Ripley. Take a look at it!