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 so...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 you have to borrow (you do not own)." For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Sep 272014
 

I've already mentioned the two panels in which I'll be participating at this year's Bouchercon, the world's oldest and largest conference for mystery writers and readers. I'd like to call your attention to a third significant panel. This year, to their credit, Bouchercon organizers are paying close attention to a significant question: where are today's (and tomorrow's) crime writers going to find their new audiences?

The answer, I think, is to find today's mysteries for young people - from elementary school to "young adult" - that will both entertain and intrigue them and, we hope, encourage them to find and read books by writers whose mysteries catch their imagination. So the organizers have invited my wife (A.K.A. newly-retired school library media specialist Leslie Blatt) to moderate a panel at this year's conference called "Crime for Middle Grades: Talking Pre-Teen Role Models, Crime-Solvers, and Hero(ine)s." The panelists include Keir Graff, Carol Hughes, Gay Kinman, Sarah Smith and Penny Warner. If you know (or have within your household, perhaps) a potential future reader of great crime stories, come get some ideas from this panel. It's on Sunday morning, November 16, at 10 AM.

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 142014
 

To the police, Archer Coe's death looked like a suicide - especially since it happened inside a room whose only door was bolted on the inside. To Philo Vance, the death quite clearly was murder. He was able to demonstrate his point pretty quickly - but he was far less certain about just how the murderer could have gotten out of that locked room. And while the police tried to figure out that mystery, Vance was far more curious about the presence in that house of a small Scottish Terrier. Perhaps that's why S.S. Van Dine's book is called The Kennel Murder Case. 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.

"S.S. Van Dine" was the pen name of Willard Huntington Wright, and he appears in the stories as the Watson to Philo Vance's Holmes. The Kennel Murder Case originally appeared in 1933. It has a fairly ingenious plot - even when the locked room puzzle is solved, about three-quarters of the way through the book, it still leaves the murder in a sort of impossible crime situation. Philo Vance was an enormously popular character among mystery readers, and he influenced a great many American "Golden Age" writers, such as Ellery Queen.

I must admit that I find Vance rather difficult to take at times - he has that irritatin' habit of droppin' his Gs, rather like the early Peter Wimsey, don't y'know, and he thinks nothing of interruptin' his detecting to talk for pages on end about such things as Chinese vases. Granted, they play a part in the mystery just as that small Scottish Terrier does.

I think Vance is really quite bearable, overall, in The Kennel Murder Case. There are interesting characters and a very clever plot, and I think readers will enjoy it. At the moment, it's only available in an ebook version from Bloomsbury Reader.

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 locked room mystery. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Sep 132014
 

The programming gurus for this year's Bouchercon in Long Beach, California have invited me to serve on two of the conference's many great discussion panels this year, both of which sound like a lot of fun.

The first, "Just the Facts: Journalists Solving Crimes," takes place Thursday afternoon, November 13, at 4 PM. I'll be moderating that panel featuring authors Richard Belsky, Ellen Crosby, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Susan Union and LynDee Walker.

The second, "Collecting 101: Tips and Tricks from the Experts on Building Your Collection," will be Friday morning, November 14, at 8:30 AM. This time, I'll be a member of the panel, along with Al Abramson, Bill Gottfried, Tom O'Day and Donus Roberts, and the moderator will be Otto Penzler (who is already complaining vociferously about that 8:30 AM starting time...:-).

I know most of the people on both panels, and I can promise you a good time at both of them. I hope I'll be seeing you there - you west coasters in particular should be there!

Sep 072014
 

As any regular reader of Rex Stout's novels about Nero Wolfe can assure you, it takes a great deal to move the sedentary gourmand out of his brownstone house on West 35th Street in New York City. The prospect of a great meal, however, may do the trick. That is why, in Too Many Cooks, we are treated to the spectacle of Wolfe, assisted by Archie Goodwin, traveling by train - horrors! - to West Virginia, for a banquet prepared by some of the world's finest chefs, Les Quinze Maitres - the fifteen masters.

But Wolfe's dinner plans are interrupted when somebody sticks a knife into one of the chefs, right in the middle of a sort of taste-testing contest. The police believe the culprit is one of Wolfe's friends. So it is partly to clear his friend's name - and also from some ulterior motives of his own - that Wolfe and Goodwin must solve this murder.

First published in 1938, Too Many Cooks was the fifth book to feature Wolfe and Goodwin, and it is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here. Nero Wolfe, taken outside his comfort zone (quite literally), is fascinating as he grumbles his way to a surprising solution. I think this is one of the best of the early Wolfe books, and I recommend it highly.

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 features food/cooks in some way. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Sep 052014
 

Some continuing computer problems and the need to devote some real-life detective work to figuring out how to achieve some results in Windows has caused me to fall behind in some posting. Before September gets entirely out of hand, let me make two recommendations to you.

First, there is a new issue of the I Love a Mystery Newsletter, Sally Powers's bimonthly gathering of reviews of all that is new in crime fiction of all genres. Whatever your taste - cozy, traditional, thriller, espionage, medical, procedural, serial killer, you name it - you'll find reviews here of the newest releases. If you're looking for your next book, you may well find it here.

And then there's Mike Ripley's monthly  "Getting Away with Murder" column for the Shots Crime & Thriller eZine. This time, there are several items which may be of particular interest to Classic Mysteries visitors, including a long section on the classic spy novels of E. Phillips Oppenheim, John Creasey's long and incredibly prolific career and the republication of one of those Detection Club collaborative books that was written by Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Croft, Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers and Russell Thorndike, which is a pretty powerful combination.

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.

Aug 222014
 

The police seemed to be baffled by the peculiar robbery...followed by a murder...at the Chacewater family's country estate at Ravensthorpe. The chief constable, Sir Clinton Driffield, tried to make some sense of it by applying a bit of poetic doggerel that asked seven questions:

What was the crime, who did it, when was it done, and where,

How done and with what motive, who in the deed did share?

Answer those questions, Sir Clinton told Inspector Armadale, and you'll be a long way closer to solving the perplexing case that is the subject of Tragedy at Ravensthorpe, by J.J. Connington. Originally published in 1927, it has been out of print for many years, but it is now available again in an electronic edition from Orion publishers. Tragedy at Ravensthorpe is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.

The story begins with a robbery - or robberies, perhaps - at Ravensthorpe, which takes place in the middle of a fancy-dress ball at the beautiful country house. The burglar is not only seen, he is pursued by many of the guests, all wearing outlandish and detailed costumes. The burglar disappears near a disused quarry on the estate grounds - a splash is heard - but there is no sign of the burglar and no apparent way he could have escaped. Before the situation is explained, there will be a murder as well and another disappearance - and that significant splash will prove critical to understanding the case.

It's a very good mystery and an enjoyable read - one of those Golden Age "country house" mysteries the British authors did so well. The explanation of the burglar's disappearance is likely to delight fans of the "impossible crime" mystery, being both fair and rather unusual. All in all, it's another book worthy of space on your shelves (or at least bytes on your e-book reader).

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 mystery that involves water. (Yes, that splash is certainly significant.) For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.