Aug 042014
 

The Greek philosopher Aristotle is still regarded today, nearly 2400 years after his birth, as the father of Western philosophy. According to the brief biography found in Wikipedia, Aristotle's writings covered many subjects, such as mathematics, physics, biology, zoology, logic, politics and government. As far as I know, however, there is no record that - in real life - he was a detective, in the sense that we use the word in discussing crime fiction. That little oversight, however, is resolved in a thoroughly enjoyable mystery written in 1978 by Margaret Doody entitled Aristotle Detective, and it is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the full review by clicking here.

In Aristotle Detective we are introduced to a young Athenian named Stephanos, a landholder and a former student of Aristotle, who is our narrator for this story. Stephanos is shocked when his neighbor, a respected citizen of Athens, is murdered, apparently by an arrow shot from a bow. Stephanos is even more deeply shocked when his cousin, Philemon, who had already been banished from Athens, is accused of the crime. Stephanos turns to his former teacher for help. And Aristotle draws on his own knowledge of logic and rhetoric - and human behavior - to help discover the truth of what happened.

Along with the story, the reader is given some idea of what everyday life may have been like in ancient Athens in what I must admit is a regular page-turner of a story. It's not really what I'd consider a "fair-play" puzzle; Aristotle does not always reveal his thoughts, plans and clues to Stephanos (or to the reader). That said, however, it is a thoroughly enjoyable book. Margaret Doody is a literature professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of additional mysteries featuring Aristotle. The University of Chicago Press has republished Aristotle Detective and provided me with a copy for this review.

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 set anywhere except the US or England. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here!

UPDATE (Posted August 13): My bad. This book was first published in the 1970s, making it eligible for the silver challenge, but not the gold. I still need a book set anywhere except the US or England. I have one...and will review and post on it eventually...

Aug 032014
 

At the Deadly Ink banquet tonight in New Brunswick, NJ, the conference presented this year's David Award for the best mystery novel of 2013 to Dark Music, by E. F. Watkins. The award is named for David G. Sasher, Sr. For full details and a list of the nominees, please click here. Congratulations to the winner and to all the nominees.

Aug 022014
 

The Deadly Ink conference in New Brunswick, NJ, is nearing the end of its first day.

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Guests of honor, Renee Paley-Bain and Donald Bain are interviewed by Toastmaster (or Toastmistress) Donna Andrews

This is a fairly small conference, but it has the advantage of giving everybody in attendance the chance of meeting and talking to just about any other guest. Still to come Saturday Night, the banquet and the David Award for the best mystery published in 2013. There may be some other surprises as well.

Jul 312014
 

Getting ready to spend the weekend in not-too-distant New Brunswick, New Jersey with more mystery readers and mystery writers. It's Deadly Ink, and while it's relatively smaller than, say, Malice Domestic, it's just as enthusiastic about the mystery genre and its various sub-genres. The guests of honor this year will be Donald Bain and his wife, Renee Paley-Bain, authors of - among other things - the continuing series of about two dozen novels (so far) based on the characters from Murder She Wrote. Jessica Fletcher may share the bylines, but the Bains have the responsibility.

Also in the spotlight will be Toastmaster Donna Andrews, another award-winning author and one of the funniest people I know. I'm very much looking forward to seeing and hearing her again this weekend.

And for full disclosure: the Deadly Ink folks have been kind enough (or misguided enough) to name me as their Fan Guest of Honor this year.

At Saturday night's banquet, the group will announce the winner of this year's David Award, for the best mystery published during 2013. The award is named for David G. Sasher, Sr., and the nominees this year are:

  • Lethal Treasure, by Jane Cleland;
  • There Was an Old Woman, by Hallie Ephron;
  • Condemned to Repeat, by Janice MacDonald;
  • The Wrong Girl, by Hank Phillippi Ryan;
  • Dark Music, by E. F. Watkins.

There will, as always, be panels, book signings, and the usual continuing opportunities for schmoozing with other fans about mysteries, which is really the best part of these things. I hope I'll see some of you there!

Jul 202014
 

The beliefs in Spiritualism and the occult attracted the attention of a great many people in Victorian England. For some, it was a system of religious beliefs mixed with scientific fervor, a system that might offer the possibility of finding some real basis for the manifestations of ghostly spirits allegedly taking place during seances. For others it was a convenient mask to hide all sorts of criminal activity. That is how Sergeant Cribb first became involved in A Case of Spirits: A Sergeant Cribb Investigation, which is the title of Peter Lovesey's book being reviewed today on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the complete review by clicking here.

Peter Lovesey is a marvelous British author who continues to turn out first rate mysteries. He began his mystery-writing career with a series of books set in the Victorian England of the 1880s. They featured Sergeant Cribb, a tough but fair and intelligent detective from Scotland Yard. The books give readers a good feel for what late-nineteenth century London must have been like, the same sense of atmosphere that we can enjoy in a Sherlock Holmes story.

And then there was Spiritualism, a belief (or at least, for some, the hope) that the spirits of the dead could communicate with the living, usually through a person acting as a medium. As we see in A Case of Spirits, Sgt. Cribb had little patience for Spiritualism - like the great magician Harry Houdini, Cribb had seen far too many frauds and charlatans to believe very much of what he observed at seances. He is sent by his superiors to investigate some peculiar burglaries and thefts at the homes of some influential people involved in psychic research. The victims whose homes were robbed were all upper-middle-class people who had been dabbling in séances and Spiritualism – and, in fact, the robberies appeared to have been timed to occur when the homeowners would be safely out of the house, attending another séance. Cribb has a pretty good idea about what has been going on - but he is confronted suddenly by a seance that ends in murder. 

Lovesey writes with humor and wit, and Sergeant Cribb is a remarkably likeable investigator. The reader will also learn a good deal about some of the tricks used by less-than-scrupulous mediums to produce the effects of "spirits" at their seances. There will be some interesting and enjoyable run-ins with some of these characters before Cribb pursues his clues leading to a surprising conclusion. A Case of Spirits is available both in paper and as an e-book, and it is very much worth your time.

First published in 1975, A Case of Spirits will be my entry into the so-called "Silver" Bingo scorecard at the My Reader's Block Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge, filling the square for "One book with a professional detective." (The Silver card covers mysteries first published between 1960 and 1980.) Once again, I urge you to visit that blog to see the many different books being submitted there.

 

 

Jul 132014
 

I make no secret of the fact that my favorite kind of mystery story is the locked room/impossible crime puzzle. I enjoy authors who can lay out a story so that it appears that the crime (or other event) could not possibly have happened, but did. The locked and sealed room, the murder scene surrounded by unbroken fields of snow, the mysterious disappearances, they are all part of the genre. Of course, it requires an exceptional writer to give us such a puzzle and then to explain how the trick was done - and provide the reader with well-hidden clues to the true nature of the problem and its solution.

The late Edward D. Hoch was just such an exceptional writer, a prolific author of short stories who saw one of his tales published in every monthly issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine from 1973 until his death in 2008. You do the math. Hoch created many series characters. One of the most popular was country doctor Sam Hawthorne who invariably was called upon to tackle seemingly impossible crimes - and who, invariably, came up with a rational solution to the mystery.

Crippen and Landru Publishers have been republishing Hoch's Dr. Sam stories in a series of anthologies. The latest, released this Spring, is Nothing Is Impossible: Further Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne, and it is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, which you can hear by clicking here. Nothing Is Impossible contains fifteen short stories with impossibly marvelous puzzles for Dr. Sam and the reader to solve. Among the problems:

  • A man's throat is cut with an apparently invisible weapon;
  • A circus trapeze artist disappears from his trapeze in mid-act;
  • A teenaged girl rides her bicycle around a corner - and vanishes;
  • Someone is stabbed to death in a cabin surrounded by unbroken snow.

You get the idea. These are tremendously entertaining. Hoch was proud of his ability to vary these puzzles; I seem to recall reading somewhere that he never repeated the same solution. This is the third anthology of Dr. Sam Hawthorne stories reprinted by Crippen and Landru. There's still material for several more, and I hope that those stories too will be brought back for new readers to enjoy. The editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Janet Hutchings, provides an introduction to this anthology, offering more background about both the author and this marvelous series. I recommend the package very highly indeed.

Jul 022014
 

Two announcements in the past few days from The Wolfe Pack, that intrepid organization of fans devoted to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, are worth repeating.

First, there are the Nero Award finalists, nominated by the group's judges as the best American mystery of 2013 written in the tradition of the Nero Wolfe books. This year's nominees are:

  • Ask Not, by Max Allan Collins;
  • Three Can Keep a Secret, by Archer Mayor;
  • Murder as a Fine Art, by David Morrell;
  • A Study in Revenge, by Kieran Sheilds;
  • A Question of Honor, by Charles Todd.

The winner will be announced at the Wolfe Pack's annual Black Orchid Banquet, held in New York City on the first Saturday in December.

The Wolfe Pack has also announced that the Ninth Annual Black Orchid Novella Award competition, sponsored jointly by the Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, is now accepting submissions for next year's BONA award. Full details about length and requirements may be found here. The winner of the 2015 award will receive a $1000 prize and publication of the novella in a future issue of AHMM

Hat tips are due to Janet Rudolph at Mystery Fanfare and Jeff Pierce at the Rap Sheet blog, both of whom got to this before I did!

Jul 012014
 

Another month, another update on what's happening in and around and somewhat in the vicinity of crime fiction in the U.K. and the rest of Europe. It's another monthly report from Mike Ripley in the Shots Ezine column "Getting Away with Murder," and - as always - it's worth your reading, if only to see who has been hanging out at the parties Ripley attends. But there's so much more - reviews, comments, even photos. Go enjoy it.

Jun 252014
 

The newest edition of the bimonthly I Love a Mystery newsletter has just been posted for your reading pleasure. For 20 years, this newsletter has provided readers with reviews of all kinds of mysteries. Whatever genre or sub-genre you prefer, you'll find something here that will intrigue and entertain you. I review classic books and classic authors for the newsletter, but I assure you that there are a great many other reviewers and a huge selection of other books to tempt you. Give it a try - it's free!

Jun 242014
 

Some very fine modern mysteries will be up for awards this fall: Janet Rudolph, the editor of Mystery Readers Journal, has announced the nominees for this year's Macavity Awards, which will be presented in November (along with this year's Anthony Awards) at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California.

The Macavity Awards are presented for Best Mystery Novel, Best First Mystery, Best Mystery Short Story, Best Non-Fiction and the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award. For a complete list of the nominees, click here. The awards are nominated, and voted upon, by members and friends of Mystery Readers International and subscribers to Mystery Readers Journal

The Macavity Awards are named for Macavity the Mystery Cat, one of the cats celebrated by poet T. S. Eliot in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats:

Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw
For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!

Well, at least I learned something as an English major.

Congratulations to all the nominees - it looks like a very rich field!