Nov 192014
 

Regular visitors to this blog know that stories about crimes committed inside locked-and-bolted rooms, or other impossible locations such as murders where the killer left no footprints in the snow, are among my favorites.

One of the panel discussions at the recently-concluded Bouchercon in Long Beach this year was "Murder in a Locked Room: Solving the 'Perfect' Crime." Moderated by Bill Gottfried, the panel of authors included Janet Dawson, Jeffery Deaver, Laurie R. King, Marvin Lachman and Gigi Pandian. Those of us who attended the discussion were given a list of recommended locked room books for our own reading pleasure. It is NOT all-inclusive - it is intended as a starter-guide and contains some of the panel's favorites. Bill Gottfried kindly allowed me to put it here for my readers.

Here are their suggested books with links, where available, to Amazon; if you have a local bookstore, PLEASE let them get it for you or find you a second-hand copy:

Again, that's far from an inclusive list. Personally, I would add Hake Talbot's brilliant and frightening Rim of the Pit and another "Carter Dickson," The Plague Court Murders. Also The Burning Court isn't one of my favorites, and there are a couple on there I don't know - yet. And for those who would like to start (or finish) with some short stories about impossible crimes, I would have to add the newly-published The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original), edited and with an introduction by Otto Penzler, which includes 937 pages-worth of classic locked room mysteries. According to the front cover, it is "the most complete collection of impossible-crime stories ever assembled." I'm looking forward to cold winter nights and a lot of locked doors.

Nov 172014
 

When you pick up a Margery Allingham mystery for the first time, you can never be sure exactly what you'll get - a traditional puzzle-plot mystery, a thriller, a psychological drama, or something indescribable. In the case of Look to the Lady, her third Albert Campion book, published in 1931, Allingham gave us a thriller combined with some other, less easily described moments. Look to the Lady is the subject of today's Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

At the heart of this book is a plot to steal a priceless, ancient relic, a chalice, a treasure that has been held on behalf of English royalty by the Gyrth family for a millennium or so. A gang, working on behalf of a nameless unscrupulous collector, will stop at nothing to steal the Gyrth Chalice. There seems to be some terrible family secret concerning the chalice – and the locals do talk of a supernatural guardian that helps to keep it safe. Enter Albert Campion, the rather vague young man who seems to know a great deal about the effort to steal the chalice – and who may be the last, best hope of averting the national disaster which would accompany the theft of the priceless relic.

In the course of this duel to the death between the defenders and the thieves, we will be treated to – in no particular order – murder, kidnappings, art forgery, a cross-country car chase, a dramatic ride to the rescue on a wild and dangerous horse, witchcraft, gypsies, a gang of thugs, some horror that hides in the woods on the family estate, hidden rooms and panels, an elaborate secret family ritual and an ultimate resolution that may or may not have supernatural overtones. And I’m quite sure I’ve missed several elements in that list.

Quite clearly, Look to the Lady is more of a thriller than a traditional puzzle mystery. We learn the identity of the primary villain about two-thirds of the way through the book. The real fun, and it is real fun, comes in seeing the battle between the villain and the chalice's defenders. It's delightfully silly, as any good thriller should be, and we are introduced to several memorable characters. Originally published in the United States as The Gyrth Chalice Mystery, Look to the Lady has been republished by the Felony & Mayhem Press under its original name. I think you'll enjoy it.

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 woman in the title. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Nov 162014
 

The Anthony Awards for 2014 were presented tonight at Bouchercon 45, in Long Beach California. Attendees at the conference voted to present the awards. (Winners are in bold print below):

Best Audio Book:

  • Deborah J. Ledford, Crescendo, read by Christina Cox
  • Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo's Calling, read by Robert Glenister
  • G. M. Malliet, Death and the Lit Chick, read by Davina Porter
  • Lisa Brackmann, Hour of the Rat, read by Tracy Sallows
  • Sean Ferrell, Man in the Empty Suit, read by Mauro Hantman

Best Television Episode Teleplay First Aired in 2013:

  • "Pilot" - The Blacklist, Jon Bokenkamp
  • "Felina" - Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan
  • "Dark Descent" - The Fall, Allan Cubitt
  • "Pilot" - The Following, Kevin Williamson
  • "Hole in the Wall" - Justified, Graham Yost

Best Children's or Young Adult Novel:

  • Joelle Charbonneau, The Testing
  • Margaux Froley, Escape Theory
  • Chris Grabenstein, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library
  • Elizabeth Kiem, Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy
  • Penny Warner, The Code Busters Club: Mystery of the Pirate's Treasure

Best Critical or Non-Fiction Work:

  • Maria Konnikova, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
  • Cate Lineberry, The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines
  • Josh Stallings, All the Wild Children
  • Daniel Stashower, The Hour of Peril: the Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War
  • Sarah Weinman (ed.), Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives

Best Short Story:

  •  Craig Faustus Buck, "Dead Ends"
  • John Connolly, "The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository"
  • Denise Dietz, "Annie and the Grateful Dead"
  • Travis Richardson, "Incident on the 405"
  • Art Taylor, "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants"

Best Paperback Original Novel:

  • Chris F. Holm, The Big Reap
  • Darrell James, Purgatory Key
  • Stephen King, Joyland
  • Alex Marwood, The Wicked Girls
  • Catriona McPherson, As She Left It

Best First Novel:

  • Matt Coyle, Yesterday's Echo
  • Roger Hobbs, Ghostman
  • Becky Masterman, Rage Against the Dying
  • Kimberly McCreight, Reconstructing Amelia
  • Todd Robinson, The Hard Bounce

Best Novel:

  • Robert Crais, Suspect
  • Sara J. Henry, A Cold and Lonely Place
  • William Kent Kreuger, Ordinary Grace
  • Hank Phillippi Ryan, The Wrong Girl
  • Julia Spencer-Fleming, Through the Evil Days

In addition to the literary awards, the David S. Thompson Special Service Award was presented to Judy Bobalik.

As always, congratulations to the winners and to all the nominees. Bouchercon will wrap up with its final sessions Sunday morning.

Nov 122014
 

We have arrived in Long Beach for Bouchercon 2014. We'll spend today helping with part of the setup - stuffing bookbags - and then get ready for four days of talking and breathing fine mysteries. We've already seen some of our old friends from prior conferences. I think we're supposed to have about 1500 or so this year. I'll try to post updates as things really get rolling. I'm moderating a panel Thursday afternoon (4:30 PM) about mystery authors who are/were journalists and write about journalists as protagonists, and I'll be part of another panel Friday morning called Collecting 101 (at 8:30 AM), to help readers build a collection of books they want to own. Add in a Wolfe Pack banquet Friday evening and, of course, the Anthony Awards (and others) on Saturday, plus a great many old and new friends, and it should be a great week. Will you be there? If so, please stop by and say hello!

Nov 102014
 

A candle most certainly can be an invaluable tool for providing light in dark places. Sometimes, too, it can shed light on an otherwise mystifying crime. That's certainly what happens in The Case of the Crooked Candle, an Erle Stanley Gardner mystery from 1944 featuring one of fiction's most famous lawyers, Perry Mason. The Case of the Crooked Candle 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 story begins with what seems like a routine, minor accident: a collision between a truck and a passenger car. Nobody is seriously hurt, but the truck driver refuses to let the driver of the other car write down any information about the truck. So the driver goes to Perry Mason. Then a curious thing happens: a lawyer representing the truck driver (or his company) calls Mason offering to settle the case quickly, out of court - and agrees to pay an enormous, unjustified, amount of money to settle things.

This, of course, intrigues Mason, and he launches his own investigation. Before you know it, there is a murder, on board a millionaire's yacht, and Mason winds up representing the man accused of the murder. The solution will only appear when Mason discovers the significance of that crooked candle, and the enormous impact it has in explaining the solution of a seemingly impossible crime. It all concludes with one of those brilliant courtroom scenes for Perry Mason, scenes which Gardner excelled at writing.

The Case of the Crooked Candle has all the elements that made Perry Mason such a popular character – and, according to Wikipedia, made Erle Stanley Gardner the best-selling author in the U. S. at the time of his death in 1970. It has a very complex plot, and the usual assortment of familiar characters from the series is augmented by the interesting and well-developed characters caught up in the mystery. This one can be highly recommended. It is out of print, but available as an e-book; there seem to be a number of used copies for sale as well.

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 lawyer, courtroom, judge, etc.. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Nov 012014
 

The start of another month brings a new "Getting Away with Murder" column from Mike Ripley, for the Shots Crime & Thriller eZine. As usual, it's an entertaining update on the U.K. crime fiction scene, with occasional - all right, frequent - side trips. Ripley covers a great many sub-genres, although remarkably few among my own "classic" favorites, and it remains a good way to keep up with what's going on out there in the criminal literary world. Or is the literary criminal world?

Oct 272014
 

Philip Marlowe is not the sort of private eye to flinch or shy away from troublesome clients. When he gets a phone call from a young woman who thinks she wants to hire him - although she doesn't approve of his drinking or smoking and doesn't think he's a gentleman - he hangs up the phone on her. That, he muses, was a mistake: "It was a step in the right direction, but it didn't go far enogh. I ought to have locked the door and hid under the desk." Instead, he finds himself drawn into a dark and violent search through the glitz of Hollywood in the late 1940s. You'll find the story in Raymond Chandler's 1949 novel, The Little Sister, and believe me, Marlowe should have followed his instincts. The Little Sister 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 woman who telephoned Marlowe about hiring him turns up at his office and does, in fact, hire him. Her name is Orfamay Quest, she has come to Los Angeles from her home in Manhattan, Kansas, and she wants Marlowe to find her younger brother, who left home to take a job in Los Angeles but who has failed to communicate with his family. The trail leads Marlowe to Hollywood and the definitely tarnished glamor of the movie industry.

Sound pretty straightforward? Well, no. This is Raymond Chandler, after all, and it isn't long before the bodies are piling up, Marlowe is finding that just about everyone has secrets to hide and is lying to him, and his client is turning out to be...well, let's just say, difficult. The plot is complex, with a fair number of twists and turns, violent and very dark indeed.

All of that is redeemed, for me, by Chandler's clever writing; he can come up with one-line descriptions that make any writer jealous. Of one Hollywood actress, for example, he says, “She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight.” Or consider this description of a night-time drive through Los Angeles and Studio City:

"I drove on past the gaudy neons and the false fronts behind them, the sleazy hamburger joints that look like palaces under the colors, the circular drive-ins as gay as circuses with the chipper hard-eyed carhops, the brilliant counters, and the sweaty greasy kitchens that would have poisoned a toad."

My edition of The Little Sister quotes a New Yorker magazine review that says Chandler wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered. Readers looking for a happily-ever-after ending won’t find it here; in this world, everyone and everything is damaged. But they will find an intense but ultimately pleasurable reading experience.

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 size in the title. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Oct 212014
 

Hake Talbot's 1944 masterpiece, Rim of the Pit, is one of the best "impossible crime" mysteries ever written (at least in my humble opinion). It's the subject of the current book discussion under way among the members of the "4 Mystery Addicts" group at Yahoo. I'm the question master; between now and October 30, I'll be posting a total of six questions for the group to consider and discuss. The first question is already posted; the second will be going up there tomorrow. If you've read the book, I invite you to come discuss it in conversation with the group - I'd love to know what you think.

If you're not a member of the group yet, by the way, I strongly encourage you to join (you can do it at the link above) - it's free, of course, and you'll find discussions there about every possible sub-genre of the mystery field and the very latest books by your favorite authors.

For those who may have missed what I had to say about Rim of the Pit in the past, here's a link to an earlier post.

Oct 202014
 

Methinks there's dirty work afoot...

"On the Saturday morning at twelve o'clock he left England, on the wildest chase that any man had ever undertaken. And behind him, did he but know it, stalked the shadow of death."

Cue the organ music. Get the monsters and misfits ready offstage. Could that melodramatic bit of writing have originated with anyone other than the master of the early English thriller, Edgar Wallace? Of course not. It is, in fact, a key development in the rather confusing but thoroughly entertaining plot of The Door With Seven Locks, first published in 1926, and a fine example of the kind of book which made Edgar Wallace one of the most popular novelists of his day. The Door with Seven Locks is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to that full review by clicking here.

The plot is difficult to sum up in a few well-chosen words. It begins with a Scotland Yard detective who is about to retire from the force. He becomes involved with a small-time crook, an expert at picking locks, who tells him about a recent lock-picking job that has made him quite nervous. Before he can pass along details, the lock-picker is murdered. Next, our retiring detective gets involved in a couple of seemingly unrelated incidents – the theft of an obscure book from a lending library (whose librarian, a young woman, will be the heroine of the story), and an assignment to go chasing around the world after a very rich and very elusive young heir who is rarely seen. That assignment leads to the departure I quoted at the beginning of this post.

In the midst of all this chasing about, we discover that there is a desperate search under way for seven individual keys which, when all used together, can open a mysterious door in a family's tomb. We meet a doctor – clearly an unsympathetic and sinister character – who is suspected of carrying out unethical medical experiments, to say the least. And we get glimpses of some powerful and dangerous creatures who may or may not be linked to the doctor. Add in our heroine’s unfortunate habit of getting herself into dangerous situations and you have a very fast-moving, easy-to-read and easy-to-enjoy – if not very easy to summarize - thriller. The Door with Seven Locks is certainly Wallace in fine form.

Wallace's popularity has endured, by the way: more than 160 movies have been made from his work, more than have been made from any other author's books. In fact, this book was made into a movie which was given a new but entirely appropriate name: Chamber of Horrors. They don't write 'em like that any more, do they?

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 has been made into a movie. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Oct 192014
 

Exciting news about one of my favorite authors, Arthur. W. Upfield, the creator of Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte of the Queensland, Australia, police. Upfield has long been nearly impossible to find in print - in the U. S., I believe only The Bone Is Pointed and The Bachelors of Broken Hill have remained in print out of the 29 novels featuring Bony.

Apparently, Upfield's estate has released e-book versions of all 29 of the Bony novels, in a variety of popular formats. According to Wikipedia, this website (with links to the available books) is maintained by Upfield's grandson, William Upfield, and it promises that all 26 of the Boney television series which was made from the novels will be made available as downloads.

If you're not familiar with Upfield and/or with Bonaparte, you should be. Bony (note that the TV series did add an extra "e" to the name "Boney" to make it clear how the name should be pronounced) was a half-White, half-Aboriginal detective. Writing at a time when such characters were rare, Upfield made Bony a wonderful, warm character, a man who never failed to solve the most difficult case because of his abilities inherited from his White father and Aborigine mother. He has been out of favor among the politically correct in Australia and elsewhere, which merely reinforces my low opinion of political correctness. 

I've reviewed five of the Bony books on my podcast over the years, and you can find those reviews on my backlist page (just scroll down to "Upfield"). I haven't done more because they have been so hard to find - I didn't think it would be fair to my readers. Now that they have all been released as e-books, I intend to go back and review several more of my favorites. If you like traditional mysteries, made more exotic by the Australian outback setting of so many, with a wonderfully warm and charismatic central character, you will love Arthur Upfield's books about Bony.

This is exactly what I have believed e-book publishing should be about: making great books available to a new generation of readers (and, I hope, generating some additional income for the authors' estates as well). Bravo, Mr. Upfield, bravo!