Mar 292015

"If there's one thing we can be certain about in the business, it's this: Mrs. Wainright and Mr. Sullivan walked out to the edge of that cliff, and they didn't come back."

...And as I can see now, what he said was quite true.

The evidence was very clear: the lovers must have committed suicide. There were only two sets of footprints leading across the sand to the edge of the cliff, from which they had jumped. There was even a suicide note.

Only it didn't happen that way. When the bodies were recovered from the sea, it became very clear that it had been murder.

Only the murderer would have had to be lighter than air and left no footprints anywhere.

Impossible? No. Not for John Dickson Carr, writing as Carter Dickson, at the peak of his game with She Died a Lady, originally published in 1943. 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.

John Dickson Carr, of course, was the acknowledged master of the impossible crime mystery, the locked room, the unbroken expanse of snow or sand, the invisible murderer. If you take a look at this blog's backlist page, you'll find a pretty hefty list of reviews I've done of books by Carr. She Died a Lady features Sir Henry Merrivale, the character about whom Carr wrote when using the pen name "Carter Dickson." As readers of Carter Dickson’s mysteries know, Merrivale was brilliant in his ability to explain impossible crimes – and wildly eccentric and often quite funny in almost every other way. In She Died a Lady, H.M., as he is known, is visiting an artist who lives nearby and who is painting H.M.’s portrait. There are some very funny scenes, particularly one involving Sir Henry, a motorized wheelchair, and what seems to be all the dogs in the village – but the overall tone of the book is anything but funny. Can those impossible murders be explained? It was almost enough to fool Sir Henry Merrivale. Almost.

I don't want to say much more about it, because I want you to have the real pleasure of being misdirected and manipulated by the expert in impossible crimes. She Died a Lady is very very good. It's currently available both in paper and as an ebook. Either way, get a copy and enjoy it.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, She Died a Lady is my entry for the square (fourth row, first column) calling for one locked room or impossible crime.

Vintage Golden Card 2015

Mar 292015

My friend Jeffrey Marks reminds me that I have inadvertently omitted Frances Crane, the author of the Pat and Jean Abbott mysteries, from my post about husband-and-wife detective teams (above). Let me correct that by calling your attention to The Indigo Necklace, a 1945 entry in the series. This one is set in New Orleans and manages to evoke the feeling that is still present today in the old French Quarter of the city - in fact, our detectives have a number of fine meals in some classic New Orleans restaurants that survive and thrive to this day. Here's what I wrote about it on this blog when I reviewed it a couple of years back. Recommended!

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 162015

To those at the scene, it was quite clear that the death was a suicide. The victim, an extremely unpleasant person, would almost certainly have qualified as insane, with the ability to spread misery everywhere. The death was undoubtedly a blessing for everyone, the victim included. Even the police were inclined to look on the matter from that point of view. Only Roger Sheringham spotted the one impossible fact that made it clear that they were dealing with murder. And he was rather inclined to hide it. Could he?

That's the basic question in Anthony Berkeley's 1933 mystery, Jumping Jenny. 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.

It's a curious book - and I'm a bit reluctant to share too much of it because there are too many first-rate twists that make it difficult for me to avoid spoilers. Berkeley's amateur detective, Roger Sheringham and his efforts to conceal the fact that the victim was murdered, apparently by one of Roger's friends, are at the center of the mystery; what makes it more fun for the reader is that the reader - not the detective - is given certain additional facts about the murder which Sheringham does not know.

In Berkeley's novels, facts can indeed be tricky things. It's worth noting this comment from Roger Sheringham, talking to a friend:

“It’s so easy to think of a feasible explanation of a fact, without knowing in the least whether it’s the right one, and without probably realizing how many other feasible explanations of the same fact there may be. That was the trouble with the old-fashioned detective story…One deduction only was drawn from each fact, and it was invariably the right deduction. The Great Detectives of the past certainly had luck. In real life one can draw a hundred plausible deductions from one fact, and they’re all equally wrong.”

Keep that in mind as you enjoy the surprises in Jumping Jenny, by Anthony Berkeley. It is available both in a print edition and as an e-book, and it is worth seeking out.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, Jumping Jenny is my entry for the square (top row, second column) called "TBR First Lines." The idea of this square is for the reader to choose, from among his/her pile (or mountain) of books To Be Read, one whose first line captures his/her attention. Jumping Jenny opens with this line:

"From the triple gallows three figures swung lazily, one woman and two men."

Grabbed my attention all right. By the way, that woman's figure is the "Jumping Jenny" of the title. At any rates, that completes the square for me!

Vintage Golden Card 2015


NOTE - This is being published a few hours early this week, as much of my Monday will be spent on board assorted planes, returning from Left Coast Crime. Back to normal Monday publication next week.

Mar 152015

At the 25th annual Left Coast Crime conference in Portland Oregon this evening, the annual Left Coast awards were presented at the group's gala banquet.

The winners (highlighted) and the runners-up:

The Lefty Award (most humorous mystery published in the 2014 print year)

  • Herbie's Game, by Timothy Hallinan
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Emus, by Donna Andrews
  • January Thaw, by Jess Lourey
  • Dying for a Dude, by Cindy Sample
  • Suede to Rest, by Diane Vallere

The Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award

  • A Deadly Measnure of Brimstone, by Catriona McPherson
  • Queen of Hearts, by Rhys Bowen
  • From the Charred Remains, by Susanna Calkins
  • City of Ghosts, by Kelli Stanley
  • Cup of Blood, by Jeri Westerson

The Rose (best mystery novel set in the LCC region)

  • Pirate Vishnu, by Gigi Pandian
  • One Kick, by Chelsea Cain
  • Glass Houses, by Teri Nolan
  • Deadly Bonds, by L. J. Sellers
  • Plaster City, by Johnny Shaw

The Rusebud (best first mystery novel)

  • The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens
  • Kilmoon, by Lisa Alber
  • Ice Shear, by M. P. Cooley
  • the Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day
  • Mistress of Fortune, by Holly West

As always, congratulations to all the honorees. The winners are determined by votes from the more than 600 readers and authors attending the annual LCC conference.

Mar 122015

While we're talking about mysteries that offer some insight into earlier cultures - not to mention archaeology - let me point out a young, relatively new author who is now writing very good, traditional mysteries that include some fascinating insights into remote cultures. I recently read Gigi Pandian's first book, Artifact, which is the first of her "Treasure Hunt" mysteries featuring historian Jaya Jones, whose ancestry - Indian and Scottish - comes into play in Artifact. 

To quote the blurb:

"When historian Jaya Jones receives a mysterious package containing a jewel-encrusted artifact from India, she discovers the secrets of a lost Indian treasure may be hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj. But she's not the only one on the trail."

It's an interesting traditional mystery, with some thriller/chase elements as well, well-clued, with a lot of very interesting details about both Indian art treasures and Scottish folklore. There are some interesting twists in the story as well. It's a light and entertaining read. Artifact, published in 2012, was the first book in a series which is continuing (as far as I know), and I'll be looking for her other books as well.

Mar 112015

The troops are gathering in Portland, OR, for this year's Left Coast Crime conference, also known as Crimelandia. There are awards to be presented, books to be given away, more books to be autographed, and hundreds of authors and fans eager to renew old friendships and start new ones. Mystery people are a remarkably congenial crowd, and I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that so many attendees know lots of interesting and undetectable (at least in fiction) ways to get rid of you...

At any rate, I'll try to check in from time to time to update you all on the events at Crimelandia. Off now to help stuff the book bags to be given away at registration. If any of my readers are attending, please come visit!