Apr 202015
 

The private hunting lodge of the Kingery family was called “Hunting’s End,” and it was located out in the middle of the desolate Sand Hills of Nebraska. It was certainly no place to be stuck in the middle of a howling blizzard, with no way to get out or to communicate with the outside world. And there was the added complication that one member of the gathering at Hunting’s End was a murderer – a person who, it was increasingly clear, would have no qualms about killing again.

Welcome to The Mystery of Hunting’s End, by Mignon G. Eberhart, a tremendously popular and prolific writer of mysteries and romances whose career ran from the 1920s through the 1980s. The Mystery of Hunting’s End, her third mystery, published in 1930, is the subject of today’s audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

Five years ago, the owner of Hunting’s End, Huber Kingery, was shot and killed at Hunting’s End. The people who were present at the time, members of the Kingery family and other friends, managed to cover up the murder. But Kingery’s daughter, Matil, wants the killer uncovered. So, on the fifth anniversary of the murder, she has invited all of the guests who were present at the time to come back to the lodge. Unknown to the guests, who rather grudgingly agree to return to the lodge, Matil also invites Lance O’Leary, a private detective, to join the guests. And, at O’Leary’s suggestion, Matil hires Nurse Sarah Keate to look after Matil’s elderly Aunt Lucy Kingery, an unpleasant old woman. O’Leary and Nurse Keate have worked together before – or, more accurately, have both been involved doing secret investigative work, usually at least nominally on the same side.

But on the very first day that everyone arrives at the lodge, a November blizzard blows in and completely isolates Hunting’s End from any possible contact with the outside world for several days. The people at the lodge very quickly come to realize that they are trapped there – and that, if Matil is correct in her insistence that her father was murdered, one of them must be the killer and will undoubtedly not hesitate to kill again to protect his or her secret.

Mignon Eberhart manages to give her readers a real sense of the near-panic and claustrophobia among the guests at Hunting’s End, all of whom know each other – but do not like each other. Some of this, to be sure, is in the “had I but known” viewpoint which we are offered repeatedly, but it’s also in the keen observations of our narrator, Nurse Keate.

Nurse Keate is certainly among the “Had I But Known” school of narrators, popularized by such writers as Mary Roberts Rinehart, and there’s a great deal of narration along the line of, had I but known the horrors that awaited us behind those locked doors, I would never have gone there alone in the middle of the night. That sense of foreboding was a strong suit for Mignon G. Eberhart as well. Her characters are quite well-defined – and many of them are quite unpleasant. As our narrator tells us, at one point:

It was quite natural, I suppose…that the little cloaks of conventionalities to which we had clung so desperately during the preceding days and nights should finally and completely escape our clutches and vanish. I have never before or since that time seen men and women in their primitive, selfish state, and I never wish to again, for it is singularly disillusioning. Our treasured little masks of customs and behavior were gone entirely, and the sight of what was left was not pretty.

 The Mystery of Hunting’s End is an enjoyable and thought-provoking mystery. It’s available in a trade paperback edition from Bison Books, with an introduction by editor, Jay Fultz, who notes that Eberhart was able to create “an atmosphere of all-encompassing dread, a polished style that barely puts the lid on the underlying barbarism of some social sophisticates.” I think you’ll like the book.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader’s Block blog, The Mystery of Hunting’s End is my entry for the square (second row, sixth column) calling for one book with a place in the title.

Vintage Golden Card 2015

Apr 132015
 

“An academic life, Dr. Johnson observed, puts one little in the way of extraordinary casualties. This was not the experience of the Fellows and scholars of St. Anthony’s College when they awoke one raw November morning to find their President, Josiah Umpleby, murdered in the night. The crime was at once intriguing and bizarre, efficient and theatrical.”

And there is so much more to come! What we have here is the opening of Death At The President’s Lodging, by Michael Innes, the first recorded case of Inspector John Appleby. Originally published in 1936, and known in the U. S. by the title Seven SuspectsDeath at the President’s Lodging is the subject of today’s audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the complete review by clicking here.

It is invigorating to find the problem set out for the reader this way in the very first paragraph of the book, but it is, of course, only the beginning of a very complex mystery indeed. For the events leading up to Umpleby’s death will prove to be a considerably more difficult and perplexing puzzle than might be posed by a simple, straightforward shooting.

Appleby finds himself assigned to investigate Umpleby’s murder. Umpleby has been shot to death in his residence, which is one of the college buildings located in a portion of the campus which is securely locked at night, when the murder was committed, and only a handful of senior scholars have keys. So the field of suspects would appear to be severely limited.

And it is also true that the murder itself was surrounded by very peculiar circumstances – not least of which is the fact that the President’s body is lying in the midst of human bones, scattered across the floor of his study. There are a great many clues – too many of them, perhaps, and yet, although Umpleby was nearly universally disliked, it proves to be extremely difficult to find a scholar with a motive for the murder who would, in fact, have had the opportunity to commit the crime.

It is up to Appleby, of course, to get everything sorted out. And I have to warn you that the ultimate solution, when Appleby explains it, is likely to induce dizziness on the reader’s part. But it is eminently satisfying. Innes is one of my favorite authors, whose writing manages to include a great deal of wit and humor along with a splendidly complex plot. This was his first mystery. It’s highly entertaining.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader’s Block blog, Death at the President’s Lodging is my entry for the square (third row, sixth column) calling for one book published under more than one title.

Vintage Golden Card 2015

Apr 092015
 

No fictional detective is as widely known or widely read (or viewed) as Sherlock Holmes. Since his first appearance in 1887, Holmes has fascinated mystery lovers. He continues to do so today, as a character in movies, television series, books, even plays. I don’t think there’s an opera version, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’m wrong.

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I came to mysteries through Sherlock Holmes when I was just 10 years old. I was given a book containing all the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories about Holmes – all 4 novels and 56 short stories. I fell in love with those classic mysteries, and I’ve never looked back.

But who really was Sherlock Holmes? There’s an interesting new book by B. J. Rahn, a professor of English Literature at Hunter College, called The Real World of Sherlock which goes into that question in some detail. Professor Rahn looks at the literary influences that produced Holmes, particularly Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, and at some of the real-life people who obviously influenced Doyle, especially his medical mentor at Edinburgh University, Dr. Joseph Bell. But the main influence was Conan Doyle himself, and Professor Rahn shows us how much of Doyle may be found in Holmes.

The book also looks at some of the developments in the real world of criminal investigation during the years of the original Holmes stories. Ever think of Sherlock Holmes as one of the earliest forerunners of CSI? Well, maybe, in his intensive observation of crime scenes that figures so strongly in the stories.

It’s an interesting book, quite well researched, and – particularly for today’s newcomers to Sherlock Holmes who want to find out more about the world’s first scientific detective and his creator – it deserves a place on your mystery reference shelf.

UPDATED – I should have mentioned that the publisher – Amberley Publishing – provided me with a copy of the book for this review.

Apr 062015
 

Scan_20150406Ramble House has delivered on its recently promised reference book about John Dickson Carr. The John Dickson Carr Companion was compiled and written by James E. Keirans. To cite the blurb, which sums it up pretty well:

“This reference book covers everything that John Dickson Carr published, including his novels, short stories, radio and theatrical plays, poems, essays, and book reviews. It also includes major and minor characters found in these works, Latin translations, omnibus editions of Carr’s work, London pubs, restaurants, underground stations, English and American country houses (a favorite murder locale), and numerous other entries. In short, it is a source for all the essential information relating to one of the Grand Masters (awarded 1963) of detective fiction.”

Yes, it appears to be all that and more – with nearly 400 pages of entries plus a complete index, ranging from “Aaronson” (a character in And So to Murder), to Zia Bey, Mrs. Estelle (who may be found in Nine – and Death Makes Ten). 

Obviously, I haven’t had time to even begin looking through all the material here, but as a long-time fan of John Dickson Carr, certainly high on my list of favorite authors, I think it’s going to be very useful to me – particularly as I’m getting forgetful enough to find myself in need of reminders about certain otherwise memorable characters. 

If you enjoy classic mysteries, if you love having the wool pulled over your eyes by an author who was one of the world’s finest artists of misdirection, then you probably want to get a copy of this book. While it’s available from Amazon.com for $24, Ramble House is selling it direct for $18 for the paperback and appears even to have some e-book versions available (though I’m not sure I’d like trying to wade through it on my Kindle).

Apr 062015
 

Since before the Norman Conquest, Herediths had lived at the estate known as the Moat House. The Herediths, to be sure, were nobility – but there was an undercurrent of violence, and their relations overall with the neighbors of their country home were not always smooth. Certainly when Philip Heredith brought his young bride to live there, it was not really surprising that the young woman, used to the pleasures of London, didn’t very much like the place. And then, one night, when most of the residents and their guests were seated together uncomfortably at dinner, there was a scream and the sound of a shot…

Melodramatic? Perhaps. But it is the opening of a very good Golden Age mystery from an author I did not know, Arthur J. Rees. It’s called The Hand In The Dark, first published in 1920, and it’s the subject of today’s audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

It is indeed murder at the Moat House – but virtually the entire household was at dinner, so the possible suspects certainly are limited. Nobody is hiding, and nobody is missing, so perhaps it is not surprising that the police, in the person of an eager young Scotland Yard detective named Caldew and his superior, Superintendent Merrington, quickly form a theory and arrest a suspect.  Merrington and Caldew are persuaded that they have solved the case and arrested the likely perpetrator. And, if they can be faulted, it is primarily for following their instincts and – once new clues have been uncovered – resolutely refusing to pursue the matter further.

But the Heredith family is not persuaded, and they engage a private investigator, named Colwyn (not given a first name in this book) to look further into the case. He quickly uncovers additional clues – clues which, in fairness, were discovered AFTER the police had concluded their investigations. And these new clues suggest a very different direction that needs to be explored before Colwyn will be able to solve the mystery.

What makes this book work so well, I think, is Rees’s ability to write excellent descriptions of the places and people involved in The Hand in the Dark. His view of both the Herediths and of the police is, to put it mildly, somewhat jaundiced. Rees has many observations to make – about the enormous gulf between the people living in the moat house and their servants, about the bureaucracy of the police, and about the impact of what we now know as the first world war on the characters of the story.

The Resurrected Press has reissued The Hand in the Dark and some other books by Arthur J. Rees. There’s also a good and useful introduction to Rees and his work by The Resurrected Press’s editor in chief, Greg Fowlkes. I definitely recommend the book to you.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader’s Block blog, The Hand in the Dark is my entry for the square (first row, fourth column) calling for one country house mystery.

Vintage Golden Card 2015

Apr 012015
 

So here we are at April 1, when, we were assured by Mike Ripley, we would see his final “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots eZine.

Not so fast there, pardner. That “final” column – column 100 – has just been published. And Ripley isn’t going anywhere. He explains:

“Well if Richard III can make a triumphal comeback after 500 years, so can I, although I admit the circumstances are slightly different. After all the weeping down a hundred telephones, the thousands of letters (many in green crayon) and a petition with almost a million signatures demanding that Jeremy Clarkson be given my job (surely some mistake – Ed), I have decided to continue to write this monthly missive for the outstanding organ that is Shots.”

May I see the hands of all those who are shocked and surprised? (Yes, thank you, Mrs. Ripley.) For the rest of us, however, who have become used to this entertaining monthly melange of news and gossip about the crime fiction scene, particularly in the UK, it is welcome news.

This month’s column includes news and brief reviews of some new thrillers and other mysteries, including a couple of books based on (and written for) the actor George Sanders, short lists for a number of relevant awards, some intriguing-sounding spy thrillers by Alexander Wilson published before 1940, some thoughts on a recipe in the new Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, a new serial killer book being blurbed by Lee Child, previews of some more books due for publication in May, and republication of a 1953 “lost” pulp novel by Cameron Kay – a pen name for Gore Vidal. 

Whew. Can’t wait to see what he’ll have for next month – and glad he’s sticking around to show it to us.

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.