Jul 202014

The beliefs in Spiritualism and the occult attracted the attention of a great many people in Victorian England. For some, it was a system of religious beliefs mixed with scientific fervor, a system that might offer the possibility of finding some real basis for the manifestations of ghostly spirits allegedly taking place during seances. For others it was a convenient mask to hide all sorts of criminal activity. That is how Sergeant Cribb first became involved in A Case of Spirits: A Sergeant Cribb Investigation, which is the title of Peter Lovesey's book being reviewed today on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the complete review by clicking here.

Peter Lovesey is a marvelous British author who continues to turn out first rate mysteries. He began his mystery-writing career with a series of books set in the Victorian England of the 1880s. They featured Sergeant Cribb, a tough but fair and intelligent detective from Scotland Yard. The books give readers a good feel for what late-nineteenth century London must have been like, the same sense of atmosphere that we can enjoy in a Sherlock Holmes story.

And then there was Spiritualism, a belief (or at least, for some, the hope) that the spirits of the dead could communicate with the living, usually through a person acting as a medium. As we see in A Case of Spirits, Sgt. Cribb had little patience for Spiritualism - like the great magician Harry Houdini, Cribb had seen far too many frauds and charlatans to believe very much of what he observed at seances. He is sent by his superiors to investigate some peculiar burglaries and thefts at the homes of some influential people involved in psychic research. The victims whose homes were robbed were all upper-middle-class people who had been dabbling in séances and Spiritualism – and, in fact, the robberies appeared to have been timed to occur when the homeowners would be safely out of the house, attending another séance. Cribb has a pretty good idea about what has been going on - but he is confronted suddenly by a seance that ends in murder. 

Lovesey writes with humor and wit, and Sergeant Cribb is a remarkably likeable investigator. The reader will also learn a good deal about some of the tricks used by less-than-scrupulous mediums to produce the effects of "spirits" at their seances. There will be some interesting and enjoyable run-ins with some of these characters before Cribb pursues his clues leading to a surprising conclusion. A Case of Spirits is available both in paper and as an e-book, and it is very much worth your time.

First published in 1975, A Case of Spirits will be my entry into the so-called "Silver" Bingo scorecard at the My Reader's Block Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge, filling the square for "One book with a professional detective." (The Silver card covers mysteries first published between 1960 and 1980.) Once again, I urge you to visit that blog to see the many different books being submitted there.



Jun 252014

The newest edition of the bimonthly I Love a Mystery newsletter has just been posted for your reading pleasure. For 20 years, this newsletter has provided readers with reviews of all kinds of mysteries. Whatever genre or sub-genre you prefer, you'll find something here that will intrigue and entertain you. I review classic books and classic authors for the newsletter, but I assure you that there are a great many other reviewers and a huge selection of other books to tempt you. Give it a try - it's free!

May 032014

While I'm off gallivanting about at Malice Domestic, you can and should keep up with the latest news from the mystery world, with emphasis on what's happening in the U. K., by reading Mike Ripley's latest monthly column for Shots ezine. You'll find the usual mix of facts, humor and general stuff. It's worth reading regularly.

Now...exactly what is "gallivanting about," and how does one do it?

Apr 282014

There's a new issue available online of the I Love a Mystery Newsletter, a bimonthly collection of reviews of books in just about every mystery sub-genre. This month, I count over a hundred reviews available for your reading pleasure online, and I suspect that everyone should be able to find some new book and/or new author among all those reviews. For once, I don't have any new ones of my own in this issue, but there are so many other gems here, I doubt anyone will miss me. Enjoy!

Apr 252014

My friend Margot Kinberg, who blogs about mysteries of all kinds over at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, has written an excellent, thought-provoking post today on the subject of blurbs - those "teasers" printed on the backs or dust jackets of books and meant to entice readers inside to enjoy the full book.

Margot actually set up an admittedly small experiment, where she picked a handful of titles in several sub-genres and compared the books with the advertising copy found in the blurb. She found a surprisingly high percentage of the blurbs were misleading at best - and a disturbing number of them included plot "spoilers" as well.

By all means, go visit her blog and read this article - and please leave comments there. Misleading blurbs are unfair to everyone - unfair to authors, who may lose readers; unfair to readers, who may be either put off a good book or enticed into a poor one by these misleading advertisements. Well done, Margot!

Apr 222014

As some of you have noted, comments appear to be down at the moment. Typepad, the service which hosts this blog, has been the victim of a criminal "denial of service" attack for several days. This has knocked our blog (and thousands of others) offline. Typepad has scrambled to get things fixed, but - at the moment - the comment function appears to be down. We're hoping everything returns soon. And, to be clear, the problem lies with the criminals who are trying to disrupt the system, NOT with Typepad, which is struggling to fix things. Your patience is appreciated. Note, by the way, that the podcasts (the audio versions of the reviews) are NOT affected - only the blog.

Mar 202014

Hangin' out with the squid this week - Calamari Crime, this year's Left Coast Crime conference kicks off this morning in Monterey, California. There will be about 800 people here - mystery authors and hundreds of their fans. These are people who read mysteries, lots of mysteries ofall types, and love to talk about them.

The book room (the dealers to us book addicts) was only open for five minutes before I had picked up two treasures: one non-fiction: The Fiction of Ruth Rendell: Ancient Tragedy and the Modern Family, by Barbara Fass Leavy, who will be on a panel with me on Saturday to discuss the books we read and why we read them; and John Dickson Carr's long out of print second novel, The Lost Gallows, a 1931 classic which I haven't read in several decades, featuring his first series detective, Bencolin. I snatched that one off the table of one of the used book dealers here, shouting "MINE! MINE!" and nobody thought I was at all strange...

If you've never been to a mystery conference and love to read mysteries of any kind and talk about them, you are missing a chance to have a wonderful time. Keep that in mind, particularly for Bouchercon, in November this year. I'd love to see you there.

Feb 272014

Love mysteries - any and all genres - and looking for new ones to read and enjoy? The latest bi-monthly edition of the I Love a Mystery Newsletter has been posted by editor Sally Powers. It includes (by my count) 94 separate reviews of new or newly-reissued mysteries. There's something here for just about any taste.

Yes, I have some reviews there as well - three of them this time, all grouped together in the Classic Corner section of the newsletter. If you haven't visited yet, use one of the links. It's free, and you're almost certain to find a new mystery and/or new author who would appeal to you. Please give it a try!

Feb 042014

Dorothy Salisbury Davis is a first-rate American author - one who, happily, is nearing her 98th birthday. The e-book publishers at Open Road Integrated Media just announced that 22 books by Davis - 21 novels and an anthology of short stories - are being made available as e-books.

I am not all that familiar with Davis's work - much of it done in the 1950s and 1960s - but she is very widely regarded as one of the leading American mystery writers, having received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, not to mention lifetime achievement Anthony and Agatha awards from Bouchercon and Malice Domestic respectively.

The one work of hers that I have read recently is the short story "Lost Generation," which was included in Sarah Weinman's recent anthology, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. It is a profoundly disturbing and powerful story, and I do recommend it. I believe it is also contained in the anthology, Tales of a Stormy Night, which is one of the books being republished by Open Road. You can find most of them on her Open Road author page.

I have said many times that one of the things I hope will be accomplished by the widening availability and acceptance of e-books is the return to "print" of a great many fine authors in all mystery genres, for the enjoyment of a new generation of readers. It's a goal I'm happy to see being achieved by Open Road.