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.

Aug 182014
 

It is all very well for a detective - real or fictional - to discover, by brilliant deduction and/or careful police work, who committed a particular crime, but it is quite another matter to be able to prove the point to a jury. I suspect we can all think of real-life examples, but as this blog is devoted to fiction, let's consider one particular work of mystery fiction that revolves around a murder in England's beautiful Lake District. The book is The Lake District Murder, a 1935 mystery by John Bude, a prolific and popular author whose books have almost completely disappeared. The Lake District Murder 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 Lake District Murder begins with the discovery of the body of a man in a car at a remote garage along an infrequently-traveled road in the Lake District, that magnificently scenic part of England which has long been a magnet for tourists. The dead man, one of the garage owners, was dressed in a peculiar suit that appeared as if it had been designed to funnel the car's exhaust directly to the man's head, where the fumes would kill him very quickly. Suicide? Perhaps. But Inspector Meredith, who is called on to investigate, quickly determines that he is dealing with a case of murder. As he asks more questions and digs more deeply into the mystery of the young man's death, he becomes convinced that he can identify the murderer. The problem is that there is little or no evidence which would convince a jury to convict the killer.

What we have, then, is a tightly-plotted mystery in which Inspector Meredith tries to track down the evidence he will need to prove his case. To do that, Meredith and his superiors must try to determine a motive for the murder - and also try to shake some pretty firm alibis. The Lake District Murder is part procedural, part puzzle mystery, set against the beautiful backdrop of the Lake District's scenery. 

John Bude, the pen name of Ernest Elmore, is credited with thirty crime novels, all of which, according to the book's blurb, are very rare. British Library Crime Classics has now brought back a couple of Bude's books, including this one, and they are fine examples of Golden Age plotting and writing. Mystery writer Martin Edwards has supplied an introduction to this new edition which provides additional background about John Bude and his similarities to other Golden Age authhors. The publisher supplied a copy of The Lake District Murder to me for this review.

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 written by an author with a pseudonym. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Aug 132014
 

I suspect that many seasoned readers of historical mysteries may have been drawn to the genre by the marvelous Brother Cadfael mysteries written during the last quarter of the 20th century by Ellis Peters. Set in the England of nearly nine hundred years ago, they are the chronicles of Brother Cadfael, a Benedictine monk who is also a marvelous detective. There are 20 novels and one book of short stories in the series - almost all of them long out of print.

Now, Open Road Integrated Media and The Mysterious Press have brought back all 21 of the Cadfael books as e-books. If you like clever mysteries with a marvelous historical setting, written with style, grace and humor, you really need to read these books. You can use my Amazon search box on the upper right side of the page here for Kindle format (and thank you) or order them in other ebook formats from The Mysterious Press.

Looking back over my own reviews, I see that I only reviewed one of the Cadfael mysteries - the correctly-titled An Excellent Mystery - several years ago, before starting this blog. You can still listen to my review by clicking here. I still recommend this book wholeheartedly; it is a beautiful and dramatic story, and it moves me to tears even on re-reading it.

It has been quite a while since I read many of the books in this series, and I'm looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with these memorable characters.

Aug 102014
 

Elspeth McGillicuddy was quite sure what she had seen. While riding on a train, the elderly woman was looking out her window as another train passed slowly by hers. And through the window in one of the carriages on that passing train, she had seen a man murdering a woman. She reported it, of course - but, as no dead bodies were discovered on any train that afternoon, and as nobody else had seen the crime, they assumed that the elderly woman had fallen asleep and dreamed it all. That's what everyone said.

Everyone, that is, except Miss Jane Marple, a good friend of Mrs. McGillicuddy. When Miss Marple heard about her friend's experience, she decided that some more investigation was in order. What she found out is revealed in , by Agatha Christie. The 1957 mystery, originally published as What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.

I have always enjoyed 4:50 from Paddington, which I think is one of Christie's better Miss Marple novels. The puzzle is fascinating - how could that body have disappeared? And Miss Marple's way of dealing with that problem is quite clever. The book is full of Christie's usual subtle - but fairly clued - misdirection, and I think newcomers are likely to be surprised by the eventual solution of the murder.

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