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!

Jun 182014

For those of you who may live in the northeastern U. S. - particularly in New Jersey and/or New York - there's another event coming up a little more than a month from now which ought to interest you: a conference of mystery writers and readers called Deadly Ink. It's not a huge gathering, like Bouchercon, or a fair-to-middling-sized one like Malice Domestic or Left Coast Crime. As a result, it might be a good introduction to these conferences for those of you in the region who have never tried one before and are looking to get your feet wet at a relatively small event. It happens August 1 through 3 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Brunswick, NJ.

Small in size, but large in talent. Guests of honor this year will be Donald Bain and his wife and co-author, Renee Paley-Bain, who are responsible, among other achievements, for nearly forty "Murder She Wrote" books whose characters are based on the TV series.  Toastmaster for the event will be Donna Andrews. (Disclosure: The group has named me as their Fan Guest of Honor this year, which is flattering, to say the least.) There will be a banquet Saturday night, August 2, to announce the winner of the group's David Award, presented in memory of David G. Sasher, Sr., for the best book published during the last calendar year. This year's nominees 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 Eric Watkins.

Attendees will vote for the winner during the conference.

I've attended Deadly Ink before - I enjoy the intimacy of the event and the chance to get to know some of these talented authors and ardent fans a little better. There's a lot happening here for all the attendees. You'll go home with new reads - and new friends. I hope to see some of you there!

Jun 052014

Here's another newly-written book that should gladden the hearts of classic mystery lovers: I've recently finished reading a  new mystery by historian, English school headmaster, and amazingly prolific writer Paul C. Doherty. Candle Flame is the thirteenth addition to his series of historical mysteries set in London during the reign of King Richard II. The books are known collectively as "The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan."

In Candle-Flame, Brother Athelstan, who is the assistant to the royal coroner, Sir John Cranston, is called upon by a furious and frightened Regent, John of Gaunt, to solve a series of bloody murders - including the massacre of nine people in and around a sealed and bolted tower that could not possibly have been entered or exited. As the dead include Gaunt's tax collectors - and their collections are missing - Gaunt wants Athelstan and Sir John to find the killer and the treasure. It is possible that the killings were the work of a shadowy killer known only as "Beowulf," a sworn enemy to Gaunt.

All this is set against the sights and sounds - and, most definitely, the smells of London. And it is very much in the classic tradition of puzzle mysteries, with memorable characters, set in a London in deep turmoil, where the downtrodden population appears to be on the verge of bloody revolt against the crown. All that - and a great impossible crime mystery as well!

The official publication date for Candle-Flame is July 1 of this year, and the publisher, Severn House, kindly provided me with an advanced e-book version for this review. It's an excellent read. There's more blood and violence than I'm usually comfortable with - but, in fairness to Doherty, there are excellent reasons for his presenting the murders and executions in the way he does present them. I think anyone who enjoys a fine traditional locked-room mystery - particularly a historical one set in a very turbulent time in English history - will enjoy this one,

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 042014

 The 2013/14 Agatha Awards were presented this evening at a banquet at the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, MD. Winners are noted in boldface:


Best Contemporary Novel

  • The Wrong Girl, by Hank Phillippi Ryan
  • Through the Evil Days, by Julia Spencer
  • Pagan Spring, by G. M. Malliet
  • How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny
  • Clammed Up, by Barbara Ross

Best Historical Novel

  • A Question of Honor, by Charles Todd
  • Heirs and Graces, by Rhys Bowen
  • Death in the Time of Ice, by Kaye George
  • A Friendly Game of Murder, by JJ Murphy
  • Murder in Chelsea, by Victoria Thompson

Best Children's/YA Nominations

  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein
  • The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Traitor in the Shipyard: A Caroline Mystery, by Kathleen Ernst
  • Andi Unexpected, by Amanda Flower
  • Code Busters Club: Mystery of the Pirate's Treasure, by Penny Warner

Best Nonfiction

  • The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War, by Daniel Stashower
  • Georgette Heyer, by Jennifer Kloester
  • Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova
  • Not Everyone's Cup of Tea: An Interesting & Entertaining History of Malice Domestic's First 25 Years, by Verena Rose and Rita Owen (editors)

Best First Novel

  • Death Al Dente, by Leslie Budewitz
  • You Cannot Die Once, by Shelley Costa
  • Board Stiff, by Kendel Lynn
  • Kneading to Die, by Liz Mugavero
  • Front Page Fatality, by LynDee Walker

Best Short Story

  • "The Care and Feeding of House Plants" in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, by Art Taylor
  • "Evil Little Girl" in Don't Get Mad, Get Even, by Barb Goffman
  • "Nightmare" in Don't Get Mad, Get Even, by Barb Goffman
  • "The Hindi Houdini" in Fish Nets, by Gigi Pandian
  • "Bread Baby" in Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold, by Barbara Ross

In addition, Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to Dorothy Cannell, Joan Hess and Margaret Maron. The Poirot Award went to Tom Schantz, the publisher behind the Rue Morgue Press.

Congratulations to the winners and to all the nominees.