Jan 262015
 

Damon Gaunt had developed quite a reputation among criminal investigators as a detective who never failed to reach a successful conclusion in a murder case. That's pretty amazing when you realize that Gaunt had been blind since birth - although he had developed his other senses to the point where they told him more about the world around him than mere sight ever could. So perhaps it wasn't surprising that when Garret Appleton was shot and killed in his own house, members of the Appleton family called on Damon Gaunt to help them uncover the truth about the murder. They probably got more than they had bargained for. The story is told in At 1:30, by Isabel Ostrander, a classic first published 100 years ago, in 1915. 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.

In At 1:30, Garret Appleton's mother and brother call in Gaunt because they have no faith that the New York police will solve the crime, and they are hopeful that Gaunt can solve it and, at the same time, keep any scandal at bay. He is welcomed by Inspector Hanrahan of the police, though Hanrahan is hardly the not-very-bright police investigator of too many period novels. It appears at first as if an outside intruder must have committed the crime – the body clearly was robbed after the murder. It will come as no surprise to any mystery reader to learn that Gaunt quickly demolishes that theory - and that family members are less than pleased by what he finds. And we are off on an investigation which will peel away layer after layer of deceit and lying on its way to the ultimate solution.

Gaunt's blindness is central to the book. It was quite common in detective stories of the day for authors to endow their protagonists with some unusual and readily apparent trait. Gaunt's blindness serves that purpose for Ostrander's novel, just as other detectives of the period might be "psychic," or solve crimes by analyzing dreams. At 1:30 appears to have been the only book Ostrander wrote to feature Gaunt, although she did write a number of other books. It holds up surprisingly well after a century. It's available primarily as an e-book, along with a few of the author's other works in a single package. I'd be happier with it if the publisher had managed to get rid of some of the very many typographical errors that probably crept in when the book was converted to e-book format. But it's still an interesting read with an unusual detective.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

I have already mentioned that I am participating in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. The Bingo card has 36 squares to be filled by reading a book appropriate to each square's instructions. At 1:30 is my entry for the square (second row, fifth column) that calls for a book with a time, day, month, etc., in the title.

Vintage Golden Card 2015

This post is also entered into another challenge. Rich Westwood, of the Past Offences blog, has begun the new year by challenging his readers to review a mystery book or film (or plurals thereof) that are 100 years old - meaning they first appeared in 1915. That's the original publication date of At 1:30, and it is my entry in that challenge. There are some interesting entries there this month - be sure to follow that link above and see what others have been reading and/or viewing.

Jan 212015
 

It is with considerable pleasure that I report that I have now been published, in the current (March) issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The magazine has a feature called "Mystery Classic," and I was invited to choose a classic short story and to write an introduction to it. The story is "Red Dot," by Samuel Hopkins Adams, featuring "Average" Jones, who investigates fraudulent or misleading advertisements. Adams himself was a journalistic "muckraker," and he was a driving force behind the establishment of the agency that eventually became the Food and Drug Administration. "Average" Jones's exploits appeared in book form in 1911. For full details, please check out my intro and "Red Dot" in AHMM.

Jan 192015
 

If I may be permitted to toot my own horn for a moment, today's podcast of Death in a White Tie is the 400th podcast in this series of reviews. Yes, at the rate of one a week, that accounts for nearly eight years' worth of podcasts.

I hope to continue bringing you these weekly audio reviews, in the hope that you'll share my pleasure in finding new (or, more precisely, new old) books that are worth your reading time. More and more small publishers have been stepping up to revive many fine works by authors who should not be allowed to slide into oblivion. I hope you'll all keep visiting with me here - and let me hear from some of you when you find a book that you enjoy!

Jan 192015
 

The brilliant glitter of a London social season acquires badly tarnished edges when a blackmailer goes to work against some of England's most notable social lions and lionesses. Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn turns to one of his friends, Lord "Bunchy" Gospell, known as everybody's favorite uncle and a very smart investigator in his own right, for help in uncovering the blackmailer.

And then there is a murder. And Alleyn finds himself deeply involved in the hunt for a ruthless killer and determined blackmailer in Ngaio Marsh's 1938 Golden Age classic, Death in a White Tie. 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.

To me, this is one of Marsh's strongest books - only the seventh she wrote about Alleyn and his investigative team. Her characters are strong, her setting, the "coming out" parties of London's high society, is beautifully described and envisioned. Marsh could be a very good writer indeed, and readers will find a good deal of pleasure in her prose.

What we have in Death in a White Tie – as is so often the case with Ngaio Marsh’s best novels – is something of a grand comedy of manners mixed with a murder investigation and more than a touch of blackmail. It is a potent mix. Death in a White Tie has been reprinted by the Felony & Mayhem Press, and I do recommend it to you.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge


I have already mentioned that I am participating in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. The Bingo card has 36 squares to be filled by reading a book appropriate to each square's instructions. Death in a White Tie is my entry for the square (sixth row, sixth column) called Eat, Drink & Be Merry: featuring food, drink or a party.

Vintage Golden Card 2015

Jan 082015
 

Let's take a nice, quiet, after-dinner stroll through the little village of Frazer's Mills, New York. We'll stay off the main street, I think - it's easier and more private to walk down the little lanes and paths behind the houses, near the woods. Somebody else has been this way tonight. The walker tried to open old Mrs. Norbury's door at the rest home, which scared her - but there was nobody there when she finally peered out. At the library, the walker frightened the librarian, Hattie Bluett, and at the Bay Horse Tavern, apparently tried to get into Mr. Compson's room, only he was out. The walker did leave a small hatchet outside the door, though. And the next stop, apparently, was the Carrington place. That's where somebody got murdered. And that after-dinner quiet was pretty thoroughly shattered...

That's the picture we're given in Elizabeth Daly's 1947 mystery, Night Walk. Is the murder, as some believe, the work of some transient lunatic passing through town? Among those who aren't buying that story is Daly's detective, bibliophile Henry Gamadge, who occasionally investigates crimes on behalf of his friends, or friends of friends. Night Walk is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

I like Henry Gamadge. He's deceptively quiet, very smart, and hard to rattle or to fool, as antagonists generally learn to their sorrow. He is invited to Frazer's Mills by one of the possible suspects, who is a friend of a friend, and it doesn't take him long to work out what's going on - though it may not be in time to prevent another murder. As always with Daly, there are a lot of surprises in the plot; it is easy to see why Agatha Christie had such a high opinion of Daly's work.

The Felony & Mayhem Press has been reissuing Elizabeth Daly's books, both in printed versions and as e-books. You really should get to know Henry Gamadge.

 

The 2015 Bingo Challenge


I have already mentioned that I am participating in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. The Bingo card has 36 squares to be filled by reading a book appropriate to each square's instructions. Night Walk is my entry for the square (fifth row, fifth column) that calls for a book set in England or the U. S. In this case, it's the U. S.

Vintage Golden Card 2015

Jan 052015
 

One of the most exciting announcements of 2014 concerning classic mystery novels came to us from Australia, where the family of the late Arthur W. Upfield is in the process of re-releasing and re-publishing all of Upfield's work, including 29 mysteries featuring Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte. This is going to give me the opportunity to write about more of Bony's appearances - something I had been reluctant to do while the books were out of print.

So let me start today with one of my favorites: Man of Two Tribes, one of the later books, first published in 1956. 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.

Man of Two Tribes begins with the disappearance of a woman named Myra Thomas. She had been accused of killing her husband, but a jury had acquitted her of murder. Now, Myra Thomas herself had gone missing. She was last seen on board a train that crossed the Nullarbor Plain, a vast desert wasteland in southern Australia. A search along the train line and in the few small villages where the train had stopped turned up no clues.

Six months later, Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte got off a train and began another search for Myra Thomas, setting out across the enormous and dangerous plain with only the company of two camels and a dog. He is puzzled by what appear to be efforts to throw him off the trail – to send him searching in the wrong direction. But when he eventually does find out what has happened…well, that introduces some elements that even Bony had not expected. That includes a murder, of course, and a group of possible suspects – all of whom had murdered someone earlier in their lives. And, ultimately, Bony will have to help them all make their way – on foot – across literally hundreds of miles of the Nullarbor Plain…and the plain itself may be the greatest threat to their survival and their sanity.

If you're familiar with Bony - and, as all his friends call him that, you and I may do so as well - you know that he is half-White, half-Aborigine and has inherited critical skills from both his parents. He will need both those sets of skills to survive in this book.

I really welcome the decision to re-release these books. So far, they have been released in hard-cover (at a not-unreasonable price), but they are also available in a variety of e-book formats at less than half the price. I can't recommend them highly enough. And Man of Two Tribes, even though it's relatively late in the series, is an excellent starting place.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge


I have already mentioned that I am participating in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. The Bingo card has 36 squares to be filled by reading a book appropriate to each square's instructions. Man of Two Tribes is my entry for the square (second row, second column) that calls for a book with a number or quantity in the title. We're off and running!

Vintage Golden Card 2015

Jan 032015
 

My friend Rich Westwood, who blogs at the admirable Past Offences blogs, is welcoming in the new year of 2015 by challenging the readers among us to locate and review a mystery first published a century ago, in 1915. As I can also use such a book to "fill" one of the squares on my bingo card in the 2015 My Reader's Block Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge, I am entering Rich's challenge with a book called At 1:30, by Isabel Ostrander, an author quite prolific in her day but virtually unknown today. Look for the review here in a couple of weeks.

Jan 032015
 

If you enjoy classic mystery books and want to contribute to often-lively discussions about them, and you belong to Facebook, may I suggest joining the Golden Age Detection group? It's a closed group - that is, you need to ask to join and be accepted by any of the administrators over there, but that's mostly to be sure the spammers don't barge in to tell us about all the money we could be making by "just clicking this link." Er, no. If you're human, and not a robot, and you enjoy mysteries, this is the place for you, and you'll be welcomed there.

The group has a lot of very smart members who have studied, and often written books about, the Golden Age and the authors who made it golden. You'll find discussion of Christie, sure, but also of Carr, Rhode, Brand, Mitchell, Taylor, Queen, Van Dine, Rice, the Coles, Stout - you get the idea. It's free. Come on over and talk with us. Just do a Facebook search for Golden Age Detection and ask to join.

Jan 012015
 

I'm not sure I would elevate any of these thoughts to the status of a "New Year's Resolution," but I do intend to try a few new things with this blog and podcast, to keep the blood flowing and prevent hardening of the mysterious arteries.

First, although I'm participating in the Vintage Mystery Bingo Golden Challenge again, I will try to include some additional mysteries - ones that were not necessarily written before 1960. I need 36 mysteries to fulfill my challenge commitment, but that still leaves 16 other weeks, not to mention that there's no rule that says I can't do more than one a week, at least on the blog.

While I'm at it, since the podcast is now 7 1/2 years old, I think it's time I go back and bring some of the original reviews to your attention. As I didn't really start the blog until the podcast was nearly a year old, and since I started by reviewing some of my all-time favorites, I think it might be good to call some of them to your attention. I'll do this sporadically, and they'll usually be headlined "Looking Back."

Oh, and there are a lot of other, smaller challenges out there. I may jump into some of those from time to time.

I hope you'll come along for the ride. I'm very grateful to all of you who visit here, and I hope you enjoy the reviews - and that you'll enjoy the books themselves even more.