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!

Sep 292014

Who shot solicitor Sampson Warrenby? The man certainly had more than his share of enemies in the English town of Thornden - richly deserved them too, as far as anyone could tell. Chief Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard, who was sent down to investigate the murder, anticipated a difficult case. But he really didn't expect that just about everyone in town would be eager to offer possible solutions - and an assortment of possible villains - to the police. As one resident observed to the chief inspector, “Between you and me and the gate-post, there’s a bit too much amateur detection going on in Thornden!”

Is it a mystery? Or a sophisticated comedy of manners? Actually, it's a little of both. It's Georgette Heyer's last mystery, Detection Unlimited, first published in 1953, and it's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

 I suspect that Georgette Heyer's Regency romance novels have a wider readership than do her mysteries. That's a shame; her plots were usually quite clever and her writing full of a dry humor. She knew the standard ingredients readers expected to find in small-English-village murder mysteries, and she could undermine them very nicely indeed. 

In Detection Unlimited, when the unpopular and unsympathetic Sampson Warrenby is murdered, the local chief constable decides that too many of the potential suspects are his friends, so he calls in Scotland Yard. Enter Chief Inspector Hemingway and his assistant, Inspector Harbottle. They find far too many unanswered questions – and far too many suspects, none of whom seems to have any sort of alibi for the time the murder must have been committed. For that matter, there was no shortage of possible motives. What they also found was a town full of people who treated the murder almost as a new form of entertainment. After all, as one older female resident of Thornden put it, "although it was disagreeable to persons of their generation to have a murder committed in their midst, it was very nice for the children to have something to occupy them, Thornden being such a quiet place, with really nothing to do in it at this season except to play tennis."

So will Chief Inspector Hemingway and Inspector Harbottle be able to cut through all these helpful suggestions and figure out what really happened – who wanted Sampson Warrenby dead and why? Read Detection Unlimited and find out. It's available both in print and in electronic versions.

The Challenge

As it happens, I don't own this particular Heyer book, but my town's library had it in stock and on the shelf - and so I borrowed it. And part of my continuing commitment to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, I am submitting this to cover the Bingo square calling for "one book that you have to borrow (you do not own)." For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Sep 222014

There are people who read traditional, puzzle-and-plot oriented mysteries from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction who simply revel in matching wits with the author. Give me the clues available to your detective, these readers say, and I should be able to follow those clues to their logical conclusion. They take great pride in their chosen roles as armchair detectives, although - more often than not - they find themselves having been fooled by a clever author.

To such people I offer The Blind Barber, by John Dickson Carr, who was widely acknowledged as the master of classic locked room and impossible crime mysteries. The Blind Barber is, as mystery critic Anthony Boucher observed, quite simply a farce about murder. It is also as pure an "armchair detective" novel as you can get. And I suspect that few readers will be able to interpret the clues, avoid the brilliant misdirection, and come to the correct solution...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Blind Barber is the subject of the review on today's Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

The Blind Barber, originally published in 1934, sometimes reads more like a Three Stooges slapstick comedy than a solid, bloody murder mystery. The action takes place on board the S. S. Queen Victoria, on a transatlantic journey from New York to London. The complex plot is hard to summarize here without totally confusing you – or confusing me, for that matter. Among its elements, there is some stolen movie film that could prove very embarrassing and dangerous to people in very high places, a stolen emerald elephant, and a very bloody shipboard murder with a victim who disappears - and nobody is missing from the ship. There are also four central characters who manage inadvertently to assault the ship's captain several times in the course of all the mayhem.

The armchair detective is, of course, Dr. Gideon Fell, who solves the case and the impossible disappearance without ever leaving his London flat. When the Queen Victoria docks, and before anyone else is allowed off the ship, one of the central characters is permitted to go to Dr. Fell and tell him the story of what happened. Dr. Fell, who appears only at the beginning, once in a kind of intermission and at the end, comes up with the solution - pointing out, as he goes along, the clues that those characters - and the readers - will have missed along the way which will explain quite fully what has been going on.

I must say that The Blind Barber is still funny, but a lot of its humor doesn't necessarily hold up all that well 80 years after the book was written. There's an assumption that anything having to do with drinking to excess - and there is a lot of that in the book - is hilariously funny. But there are some inspired scenes of mayhem, usually involving another assault on the Queen Victoria's captain, and the very clever impossible crime situation make this a book that is still very much worth reading. At the moment, it is available only as an ebook in a variety of formats, but there seem to be a lot of old paperback copies available from your favorite mystery book dealer or through Amazon's dealers. By all means, let me know if you manage to solve the mystery before Dr. Fell points out the correct answers.

The Challenge

As part of my continuing commitment to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, I am submitting this to cover the Bingo square calling for one book that involves a mode of transportation. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Sep 012014

Who killed Aunt Alexandria?

The Chicago police figured it was her niece - after all, her fingerprints were on the weapon, she had a very good motive and she was found unconscious next to the victim in the room where the murder was committed. So they were inclined to ignore all the inconsistencies and peculiarities, such as the fact that the window was wide open despite the wintry weather, or the fact that all eight clocks in that house had stopped running with their hands set precisely to 3 AM - the time the murder apparently was committed.

So things looked pretty bad for the niece, Holly Inglehart. But that's when John J. Malone, Jake Justus and Helene Brand got themselves involved in the investigation. You'll find the story in 8 Faces at 3, by Craig Rice, the queen of the "screwball mystery." 8 Faces at 3 was her first book, published in 1939, and it introduced readers to a remarkably unlikely trio of investigators: shady Chicago lawyer John J. Malone, and his good friends and frequent drinking companions, press agent Jake Justus and socialite (and overall hell-raiser) Helene Brand. 8 Faces at 3 is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

The book is both an excellent mystery and a very funny comedy. A lot of the humor comes from the heavy drinking of the three central characters. Jake and Malone are heavy drinkers, and, as for Helene, she can outdrink both of them put together. We are given a lot of alcohol-related humor, including some very funny (but perhaps excruciating to some of today’s readers) scenes involving drunk driving. As mystery scholar Curtis Evans commented, “these characters make Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe look like a teetotaler.” As for the mystery itself, I suspect most readers don't need to be told that the trio's emphasis on the oddities surrounding the murder - particularly the stopped clocks - is well-placed. 

8 Faces at 3 is a fast and funny read with a cleverly plotted mystery. It's a good way to meet this oddball trio who were featured in many of Rice's other books. It's available in a print edition from the Rue Morgue Press.

(Yes, I'm publishing a day early this week. It's a holiday weekend. So sue me. :-)

The Challenge

As part of my continuing commitment to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, I am submitting this to cover the Bingo square calling for one book with a number in the title For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Jun 162014

There is no question that the book that Monica Stanton wrote was scandalous. For a minister's daughter to write a book named Desire was certainly something her relatives wished had never happened. For a British movie company to buy the film rights turned her world upside down - particularly when she discovered that the studio was not hiring her to rewrite her own book. Instead, she would rewrite a detective novel...and the man who wrote that book would rewrite Monica's book for the movie version. And all that was before the deadly attacks began...

That's the situation we find in And So To Murder, by John Dickson Carr, writing as Carter Dickson. The 1941 mystery, featuring Sir Henry Merrivale, is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.

The attacks on Monica really began in earnest when somebody lured her to the set of another movie and tried to pour vitriol - sulfuric acid - down a speaking tube and onto her face. The unsuccessful attack was followed by frightening anonymous letters. And there were more attacks. Fortunately for Monica, Bill Cartwright, the writer of that detective story which she had been assigned to rewrite, was nearby - and a friend of Sir Henry Merrivale. And it turns out that Sir Henry was very interested in some other mysterious goings-on at the movie studio, which might have been the work of enemy spies.

 I have always been fond of Carr's Sir Henry Merrivale mysteries. The Old Man, as "H.M." is known, is a brilliant but irascible man, apparently qualified as both a lawyer and a doctor. He spends much of his time working for the British government - particularly in wartime books, such as And So to Murder, where he is heading up British secret service. In many of Carr's books, Sir Henry provides a great deal of comic relief - not nearly as much so, however, in And So to Murder. There is a lot of humor in the goings-on at the film studio, where it is considered only normal to have two writers working to adapt each other's books rather than adapting their own work. But Sir Henry is remarkably restrained. He doesn't even appear in the book until well past the halfway point, and, aside for a few bursts of bad temper, he is mostly serious. Perhaps that was only to be expected in 1941 Britain, deep into the war years.

It is also worth noting that, by the time of And So to Murder, Carr had had very bad experiences with film studios; Carr's wife is quoted as saying that her husband hated "with complete loathing" his time at the studio. He certainly gets his revenge in his biting and often hilarious picture of the industry.

And So to Murder isn't my favorite Carr book - for one thing, without drifting into spoiler territory, I think Carr violated one of his own fair-play rules to mislead the reader. Still, for the characters, for the film industry byplay, and for the plot, you will most likely enjoy And So to Murder. Contrary to what I said when I recorded the podcast version of this review, the book is available in a trade paperback edition from the Langtail Press, and it's certainly worth your purchase!

This is another entry in the continuing Vintage Mystery Bingo reading challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog. On my bingo card, it fulfills the requirement for "one book set in the entertainment world."

Jun 012014

Strange doings in the English town of Lindsay Carfax, a remarkably commercial little town with a large tourist trade. It is a town where people who may seem "out of place" find themselves suddenly accident prone. Sometimes those people disappear for a while. And sometimes worse things may happen...

Into this town comes the elderly Mr. Albert Campion, concerned because of an apparent attack on his wife's niece. What he finds there is told in Mr Campion's Farewell, a brand-new Albert Campion novel, completed by author Mike Ripley. Already published in the U.K., Mr. Campion's Farewell will be released in the U.S. in electronic formats by Severn House Publishers on July 1 of this year, to be followed shortly by a print version of the book. 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.

First, a few words about this book, and why I think it warrants being reviewed as a "classic" mystery. Generally regarded as one of the great "crime queen" writers of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, Margery Allingham created the character of Albert Campion in 1929. He began as a rather foppish, outwardly foolish but really quite intelligent young man, and he matured over the course of many novels and short stories.

When Allingham died in 1966, her husband, Philip ("Pip") Youngman Carter completed the Campion novel on which his wife had been working, Cargo of Eagles. Carter went on to write two additional Campion books before he died in 1969. He left behind four chapters of another book featuring Albert Campion - but no plot outline, or any kind of summary or indication of what kind of story he had had in mind. After many years, those chapters wound up in the hands of the Margery Allingham Society - and they eventually invited British author Mike Ripley to try his hand at finishing Carter's last book. The result is the brand-new Mr. Campion's Farewell, and it fits quite well into the Campion saga.

The story is set in the village of Lindsay Carfax, a place where tourists are more than welcome to come, wander the town, visit local museums and somewhat doubtful historic sites, and – to be sure – spend a lot of money buying souvenirs. That is the way the town likes it. That is the way the people who may run the town want it – a secretive group of nine people called the Carders – a group which may or not actually exist. But people who don’t fit in – say, a band of what were then called "hippies" – are unwelcome, and bad things may happen to them; in fact, a couple of them died quite recently from apparent drug overdoses. People who go against the grain sometimes disappear – always for a period of nine days – and, when they reappear, they have nothing to say about where they have been or what may have happened, or the occasional bruises they exhibit. And they no longer seem as inclined to cause what the Carders and other townspeople might consider “trouble.” As one character puts it, “We’ve been a carefully preserved gold mine for at least seventy years and it has never paid anyone to step out of line. People who do become accident-prone.”

When a booby-trapped staircase nearly causes the death of Campion's wife's niece, he agrees to visit the village to investigate the odd events there. What he finds is a series of mysterious events - many involving the number nine - and at least a couple of murders.

Mike Ripley has done a fine job taking these plot twists and adding new ones of his own. Because Albert Campion is one of the few fictional detectives who apparently aged and matured in the course of their books, the inevitable changes in Campion's character, caused by the fact that different authors have contributed to the character's development, play quite well and do not jar. I think fans of the original Campion novels - including the Youngman Carter books - will welcome Campion's return under the excellent guidance of Mike Ripley, who brings his own considerable wit and good humor to bear on this story. The publishers provided me with an electronic version of the book for review, and I heartily recommend it.

May 012014

Saxon Wall was not exactly one of those lovely, idyllic and peaceful little English villages, so often the setting for a rather genteel murder or two. The people were rather nasty and unfriendly, everyone seemed to share some rather sordid secrets, and there was an uneasy aura of witchcraft which hung over the town. So when there were several unexplained deaths - not to mention persistent rumors about babies being switched at birth - psychiatrist and consultant Beatrice Lestrange Bradley was called to town to try and make sense out of what was going on at Saxon Wall.  What she found is explained in Gladys Mitchell's marvelous 1935 book, The Devil at Saxon Wall. 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.

What kind of village is Saxon Wall? Here's how Mitchell describes it:

“The village of Saxon Wall, where they had come to live, was in a remote part of Hampshire. It was an ugly, straggling place, and Constance disliked and feared the people. They were like no villagers that she had ever seen. She had a poor memory for verse, but every time she encountered any of the inhabitants of Saxon Wall there came into her mind the line ‘ugly squat and full of guile.’…Both men and women seemed stupid and ferocious, so that, mixed with the fear of them, was a good deal of disgust. Even the children were ugly, and most of them threw stones at her whenever they saw her.”

Suffice it to say that Constance does not thrive in Saxon Wall. And it is only when an outsider comes to town, an author named Hannibal Jones, that anyone begins to connect the dots around a number of disappearances and mysterious deaths, along with those rumors about exchanged babies. And it is up to Mrs. Bradley to pursue those clues and find some resolution to the case.

That summary probably makes the book sound grimmer than it really is. Gladys Mitchell has a wonderful way of working humor into her text, amid some genuine horrors. Readers looking for eccentric behavior and eerie atmosphere in an excellent Golden Age classic will find much to enjoy here – whether it’s the eldritch laugh of Mrs. Bradley, or the odd behavior of the sisters who keep a goat as their household pet, or the minister who refuses to pray for rain in the midst of a terrible drought, or the rumors of the “long, thin man,” a spirit buried outside town in a prehistoric barrow and believed by villagers to be sleeping there. And, always, back to witchcraft again.

Fair warning: the plot is quite convoluted - so much so that, after the novel ends, we are presented with Mrs. Bradley's notes about the case, which include pointers to the clues (many given to us while reading) that led her eventually to solve the various mysteries of Saxon Wall. This is probably not the best introduction to Mrs. Bradley for a new reader. But if you've encountered her before, and enjoyed the eccentricities and humor along with the requisite horrors, then by all means read The Devil at Saxon Wall. Long unavailable in the U.S., it's now back in print in a new edition and also available as an ebook, and I recommend it strongly to Mrs. Bradley's fans - and Mitchell's fans as well.

I am submitting The Devil at Saxon Wall as another title read as part of the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, filling the square on my Golden Bingo card calling for "one book set in England."

Mar 312014

There's more news to share about the forthcoming "continuation" novel by Mike Ripley featuring Albert Campion, the gentleman detective/adventurer created by Margery Allingham.

As I posted here in January, the new book, Mr Campion's Farewell, is really a continuation of a book begun by Allingham's husband, Pip Youngman Carter, after his wife's death. Carter died after writing only a few chapters, and the manuscript was never finished or published. Now, Mike Ripley has completed it, and I believe it has just been published by Severn House in the U. K. It's scheduled to be released in the U.S. on July 1st.

Mike Ripley has done an interview with Shots Crime & Thriller Ezine about the new book, its origins, and his involvement with the project. I've been given an advance copy of the book, and I look forward to reviewing it on the blog and podcast as we get a little closer to the release date. For fans of Margery Allingham and Albert Campion, I would bet that your favorite friendly mystery bookstore would be more than happy to order a copy of Mr. Campion's Farewell for you. In the meantime, Ripley's interview answers a number of excellent questions and may whet your appetite.

Mar 242014

Asey Mayo was probably the only person on Cape Cod who didn't care about the big charity auction. Everybody else was eager to bid on the items up for sale - largely because they had heard rumors that the late John Alden had hidden a lot of cash inside something that would be sold at the auction. Asey didn't care. He didn't think much of those rumors and he hated auctions. He just wanted to go fishing. So it was just his bad luck to be on hand when one of those auctioned items was opened - and turned out to contain a corpse.

Welcome to the auction in Going, Going, Gone, a 1943 Asey Mayo Cape Cod mystery by Phoebe Atwood Taylor. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries website. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

Because Asey Mayo, also known as "the codfish Sherlock," is on the scene…and because it is wartime and a lot of the usual authorities are busy elsewhere…he finds himself stuck with the job of investigating the murder. That proves to be difficult and fairly dangerous. Poor Asey finds himself knocked out when he tries to catch someone prowling around at night and very soon after that finds himself tied up and dumped unceremoniously in the woods right next to the equally trussed policeman who had been left on guard.

All this is told in a surprisingly cheerful manner. Phoebe Atwood Taylor was very good at making the events in her Asey Mayo books light enough so that the humor never seems out of place. She manages to keep a smile on the reader’s face no matter what seems to be happening. Asey Mayo, who stars in two dozen of Taylor's books, is a wonderful character, and the Cape Cod background provides a first-rate setting for these mysteries. If you haven't met Asey before, Going, Going, Gone would be a fine introduction.

This is another entry in the My Reader's Block blog Vintage Mystery Bingo reading challenge, filling the square on the Golden score card for "a book by an author you've read before."