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.

Aug 042014
 

The Greek philosopher Aristotle is still regarded today, nearly 2400 years after his birth, as the father of Western philosophy. According to the brief biography found in Wikipedia, Aristotle's writings covered many subjects, such as mathematics, physics, biology, zoology, logic, politics and government. As far as I know, however, there is no record that - in real life - he was a detective, in the sense that we use the word in discussing crime fiction. That little oversight, however, is resolved in a thoroughly enjoyable mystery written in 1978 by Margaret Doody entitled Aristotle Detective, and it is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the full review by clicking here.

In Aristotle Detective we are introduced to a young Athenian named Stephanos, a landholder and a former student of Aristotle, who is our narrator for this story. Stephanos is shocked when his neighbor, a respected citizen of Athens, is murdered, apparently by an arrow shot from a bow. Stephanos is even more deeply shocked when his cousin, Philemon, who had already been banished from Athens, is accused of the crime. Stephanos turns to his former teacher for help. And Aristotle draws on his own knowledge of logic and rhetoric - and human behavior - to help discover the truth of what happened.

Along with the story, the reader is given some idea of what everyday life may have been like in ancient Athens in what I must admit is a regular page-turner of a story. It's not really what I'd consider a "fair-play" puzzle; Aristotle does not always reveal his thoughts, plans and clues to Stephanos (or to the reader). That said, however, it is a thoroughly enjoyable book. Margaret Doody is a literature professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of additional mysteries featuring Aristotle. The University of Chicago Press has republished Aristotle Detective and provided me with a copy 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 set anywhere except the US or England. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here!

UPDATE (Posted August 13): My bad. This book was first published in the 1970s, making it eligible for the silver challenge, but not the gold. I still need a book set anywhere except the US or England. I have one...and will review and post on it eventually...

Aug 032014
 

At the Deadly Ink banquet tonight in New Brunswick, NJ, the conference presented this year's David Award for the best mystery novel of 2013 to Dark Music, by E. F. Watkins. The award is named for David G. Sasher, Sr. For full details and a list of the nominees, please click here. Congratulations to the winner and to all the nominees.

Aug 022014
 

The Deadly Ink conference in New Brunswick, NJ, is nearing the end of its first day.

20140802_111347

Guests of honor, Renee Paley-Bain and Donald Bain are interviewed by Toastmaster (or Toastmistress) Donna Andrews

This is a fairly small conference, but it has the advantage of giving everybody in attendance the chance of meeting and talking to just about any other guest. Still to come Saturday Night, the banquet and the David Award for the best mystery published in 2013. There may be some other surprises as well.

Jul 312014
 

Getting ready to spend the weekend in not-too-distant New Brunswick, New Jersey with more mystery readers and mystery writers. It's Deadly Ink, and while it's relatively smaller than, say, Malice Domestic, it's just as enthusiastic about the mystery genre and its various sub-genres. The guests of honor this year will be Donald Bain and his wife, Renee Paley-Bain, authors of - among other things - the continuing series of about two dozen novels (so far) based on the characters from Murder She Wrote. Jessica Fletcher may share the bylines, but the Bains have the responsibility.

Also in the spotlight will be Toastmaster Donna Andrews, another award-winning author and one of the funniest people I know. I'm very much looking forward to seeing and hearing her again this weekend.

And for full disclosure: the Deadly Ink folks have been kind enough (or misguided enough) to name me as their Fan Guest of Honor this year.

At Saturday night's banquet, the group will announce the winner of this year's David Award, for the best mystery published during 2013. The award is named for David G. Sasher, Sr., and the nominees this year are:

  • Lethal Treasure, by Jane Cleland;
  • There Was an Old Woman, by Hallie Ephron;
  • Condemned to Repeat, by Janice MacDonald;
  • The Wrong Girl, by Hank Phillippi Ryan;
  • Dark Music, by E. F. Watkins.

There will, as always, be panels, book signings, and the usual continuing opportunities for schmoozing with other fans about mysteries, which is really the best part of these things. I hope I'll see some of you there!