Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie (1950)

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Major characters:

Locale:

Synopsis:

Review: This is Christie's 50th mystery novel.



Monday, October 14, 2019

The Broadway Murders by Edward J. Doherty (1929)

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About the author: Edward J. "Eddie" Doherty (1890 – 1975) was an American newspaper reporter, author and Oscar-nominated screenwriter. He is the co-founder of the Madonna House Apostolate, and later ordained a priest in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Wikipedia) full article.

Major characters:

  • Big Joe Carozzo, owner of the Corsairs Club
  • Marcia Caponi, a.k.a. Snake Eyes, Big Joe's girlfriend
  • Anthony Sommers, Big Joe's mouthpiece (lawyer)
  • Pietro Bonofiglio, a.k.a. Spots Larkin
  • Pio Mora, night club performer
  • Monica Lane, night club performer
  • Molly Sommers, a.k.a. Eileen Drew, Anthony's daughter
  • Ted Morehouse, Molly's fiancé
  • Anson Keen, deputy D.A.


Locale: New York City

Synopsis: The Corsairs Club is Big Joe Carozzo's night club in a penthouse on the roof of the Allegheny Building in Times Square; complete with dancing, gambling, and bootleg liquor (this was, after all, written in prohibition times). Big Joe's lawyer, Anthony Sommers, meets with Spots Larkin in the office, arranging purchase of a large diamond. Then Larkin is found dead, the diamond missing, and Sommers passed out drunk outside the door. Sommers is arrested and goes to trial.

Sommers puts on his own defense, but is convicted and sent to prison. His daughter Molly Sommers heads to New York to infiltrate the Corsairs Club as a singer "Eileen Drew", to learn who the real killer is. She stays in a rooming house along with Monica Lane, a singer, who claims to know who the killer is; but is found dead by poison. Molly reasons that whoever has the diamond must be the killer.

Molly's fiancée Ted Morehouse comes to New York to find Molly. He is shocked to find her with Big Joe Carozzo, who claims they are to be married, and spirits her away his penthouse. Ted goes after her by climbing an unfinished skyscraper and crossing the gap sixty stories over Broadway.



Review: This 1929 novel is straight from the tough-guy world of Guys and Dolls, with hoodlums who carry guns in each hand, cocaine fiends, and gamblers with names like "Mickey Finn" and "Flat Wheel". It is interesting that an author who becomes a priest has such insight into the seamier side of Times Square night life! Anthony Sommer's court defense seems crazy, yet he has a reason, and it is well presented - reminding me of Erle Stanley Gardner's courtroom scenes. Molly's mother presents an actual sermon(!) to Molly - based upon the Book of Judith*, which fits quite nicely into the plot to provide Molly's incentive to become the investigator; at which point she becomes our protagonist.

The climax of the book is Ted's climb up the under-construction skyscraper - in the snow - with the police behind. This turns into a thriller similar to The Saint series. Once past that, the denouément is long and involved, and full of Italian-accent phonetics which get tiring ("He ees theenk Larkin geev heem the doubla-cross"). Overall, a good thriller typical of the period.

*The Book of Judith is one of the apocryphal books of the Bible. It appears in the catholic Bible, but is not included in the protestant Bible. You can read it online here.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Men Who Explained Miracles by John Dickson Carr (1963)


About the author:

This is a compilation of six short stories and a novelette, all but one in the usual locked room / impossible crime theme.

Synopses:

The Department of Queer Complaints stories

William Wilson's Racket - Lady Patricia seeks the help of Colonel March. Her fiancé, Francis Hale, has disappeared. She tracked him to a prestigious office, and walks in to find him locked in embrace with the secretary! She huffs out to the hallway (through the only door), then decides to let him have it and goes back inside. He has vanished, yet his clothes remain!

The Empty Flat - Douglas Chase is bothered by a loud radio playing downstairs. He visits the apartment of Kathleen Mills below his (#10), but it's not coming from there. He and Kathleen find the radio is going in the empty flat next door, #11, and turn it off. The next day a body is found in #11. How did it get there?



Dr. Fell stories

The Incautious Burglar - Marcus Hunt has three valuable paintings on display in plain sight, where they may tempt a burglar. One night a burglar enters, and is killed in the act of stealing them. When the burglar's mask is lifted, his identity is quite a surprise.

The Invisible Hands - Brenda Lastrange goes for a swim every morning. One morning she is found dead on the sand, strangled with her own scarf. Yet the only footprints in the sand are her own!



Secret Service stories

Strictly Diplomatic - M. Dermot is taking a vacation at a French spa. There he meets Betty Weatherill. They are enjoying dinner outside. There is a tunnel-like arbor between the hotel and the dining patio. She gets up suddenly and enters the arbor, yet does not emerge from the other end; which is verified by a witness, diplomat Dr. Vanderver. Only a bloody knife remains. Where did she vanish to?

The Black Cabinet - In 1868 Paris, a woman seeks to assassinate Napoleon III. A mysterious man intervenes to prevent it. 


Novelette All in a Maze - Sir Henry Merrivale sets out to assist Jennifer, who is being receiving anonymous death threats. The first threat comes in a cathedral's whispering gallery, and the action moves to a climax in a hedge maze.


Review:

Six quick little stories - only three are murder mysteries. Fun quick reads. All are of the locked room / impossible crime genre, except The Black Cabinet, which is more of a historical exercise and not as enjoyable.

The novelette All in a Maze is fun and takes us to some exotic places. The challenge here is to find how the whispering gallery trick was worked. This will be more meaningful to those who have actually experienced a whispering gallery.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Museum Piece No. 13 by Rufus King (1945)


Also published as Secret Beyond the Door

About the author: See this Wikipedia article.

Major characters:

The Blaze Creek household:
  • Lily Rumney, formerly Lily Constable, 2nd wife of Earl Rumney
  • Earl Rumney, wealthy newspaper owner
  • (the late Eleanor Rumney - Earl's first wife)
  • (the late Wilbur Constable, Lily's first husband)
  • Aderic Rumney, teenage son of Earl and Eleanor
  • Diana Goff, Earl's sister
  • Silas Goff, Diana's husband
  • Dillon Sobolenski, a dour composer and house guest
  • Zelma McQuillan, Earl's personal secretary, who conceals her face
  • Mrs. Lovelake, creepy housekeeper
  • Mildred, Lily's maid
  • Griswold, chauffeur
Others:
  • Hubert Coache, bank VP, Lily's old friend and confidante
  • Leona Drumm, news columnist
  • Dr. Lawrence Russack, a psychiatrist
  • Dr. Harley Linder, a physician
Locale: Lebanon Falls, New York; near New York City

Synopsis: 

Our protagonist Lily Constable is newly married to Earl Rumney and moving to her new mansion home, Blaze Creek. It is a second marriage for both - Lily's first husband, Wilbur Constable and Earl's first wife, Eleanor Rumney, are both dead. Earl has a teenage son, Aderic, by his first wife. 

Blaze Creek is a big mansion with a big staff, 12 women and six men. It is run by housekeeper Mrs. Lovelake, with business affairs handled by secretary Zelma McQuillan; who partially conceals her face with scarves.

Already there is belief that Earl has only married Lily for her money. His newspaper needs a lot of capital, and Lily is quite wealthy. Lily is barely moved in when Earl has her sign a power of attorney (red flag!).

Earl has told her he has a hobby of decorating certain rooms in the mansion. In fact, there are 13. It turns out that each room contains a tableau of a murder (with no bodies, just the rooms staged as they appeared). 12 of the rooms are "public" and he happily shows them to guests. But room 13 is his secret room, and no one, including Lily, is allowed to see inside. Lily is concerned about his mental health, as her psychiatrist friend Dr. Lawrence Russack has warned her to beware if Earl keeps any of the rooms a secret. Russack urges her to get a copy of the key and look inside.

Review: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." If you can identify that opening line, you will enjoy this book. This story is a parallel to Daphne DuMaurier's 1939 novel Rebecca. The second wife coming to be mistress of a creepy mansion with a cold husband, the ever-present memory of the former mistress, and a creepy housekeeper is right out of that novel; although our protagonist Lily Rumney is quite a bit more assertive than the wife in Rebecca (who even lacks a name).

Then it gets interesting, with the addition of the secret rooms (taken from the French folktale Bluebeard). 

There are 13 rooms, but we only get a peek into a couple. The content of the secret room is easy to predict, but still an enjoyable read as Lily seeks to solve the mystery in some daring escapades.

My only criticism is that the author has made quite a word salad in this book, full of long complex words which may send you to the dictionary repeatedly. There were some paragraphs which just defy understanding completely.



Friday, October 4, 2019

Death in the Air by Agatha Christie (1935)

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Major characters:

Seat 2. Marie Morisot, a.k.a. Madame Giselle, moneylender to the society set
Seat 4. Mr. James Ryder, director of a cement company
Seat 5. M. Armand Dupont
Seat 6. M. Jean Dupont
Seat 8. Mr. Daniel Clancy, mystery writer
Seat 9. M. Hercule Poirot
Seat 10. Dr. Bryant
Seat 12. Norman Gale, a dentist
Seat 13. Countess Cecily Horbury, cocaine addict
Seat 14. Miss Jane Grey, hairdresser
Seat 17. The Hon. Venetia Kerr
Henry Mitchell, steward
Albert Davis, steward
Anne Morisot, daughter of Madame Giselle
Hercule Poirot
M. Fournier, of the Sûreté

Locale: aboard the airplane Prometheus, en route from France to England

Synopsis:
Hairdresser Jane Grey has won a small amount in a lottery and splurges on a vacation to Le Penit, where she meets dentist Norman Gale and strikes up a friendship. They both wind up on the same flight back to London.

Aboard the rear section of the airplane Prometheus, there are 11 passengers, 2 stewards, and one annoying wasp making the flight from Le Bourget in Paris to Croydon in England. The wasp buzzes around until it is killed by M. Jean Dupont. Madame Giselle seems to be sleeping in her seat, but upon inspection, is really dead. Hercule Poirot finds a poison dart on the floor, matching a puncture in Madame Giselle's neck. Upon landing, a search of the plane finds the matching blowpipe, stuffed down beside M. Poirot's seat. Poirot and his counterpart M. Fournier, of the Sûreté seek to find who the killer is.

Review: If nothing else, this demonstrates how air travel has deteriorated. Windows that open! Ordering a meal from the menu - on a flight of less than one hour! But as to the review, a mystery that has Poirot - and the reader - befuddled until the very end. Clues are set out for the reader, but their significance? A dead wasp and a spoon are vital to the solution. The mystery takes a turn and seeks answers in the past, and in faraway Québec; in order to be solved. Of course, the unexpected ending will tickle your little grey cells!

Also see this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie (1936)

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Major characters:

The unfortunate victims:
  • A. Ascher, a convenience store owner
  • Elizabeth "Betty" Barnard, a waitress
  • Sir Carmichael Clarke
  • George Earlsfield, a theatre patron
The Special Legion:
  • Mary Drower, niece of A. Ascher
  • Megan Barnard, sister to Betty Barnard
  • Donald Fraser, fiancé of Betty Barnard
  • Franklin Clarke, brother of Sir Carmichael
  • Thora Grey, secretary to Sir Carmichael
The prime suspect:
  • Alexander Bonaparte Cust, a door to door salesman
Hercule Poirot
Captain Arthur Hastings, our narrator

Locale: various locations in England

Synopsis: The book is written in two parallel accounts: by our narrator, Captain Hastings; and another account by salesman Alexander Bonaparte Cust.

Hercule Poirot receives a letter from "A.B.C." notifying him of an intended murder in Andover. Ms. A. Ascher is struck down and killed. A second latter notifies him on an intended murder in Bexhill. Betty Barnard is found strangled. A third letter notifies him of an intended murder in Churston, and Sir Carmichael Clarke is struck and killed.

Authorities scramble to stop the killer, but are unable to get ahead of him as he speeds through the alphabet. The account by Cust describes his visit to each of these communities.

A fourth letter predicts a murder in Dorcaster. A man is killed in a theatre, but his name does not contain a D. However, the patron next to him does have a 'D' name, so it is assumed the wrong person was attacked in the dark.

Poirot's strategy to find the killer is to learn as much as he can about him. He forms a Special Legion consisting of persons connected to the victims, and has them search their minds for clues - and then they find a commonality to the murders.

Review:

The format of two parallel accounts is intriguing, and we are led to believe we know who the killer is right away. Don't be too confident. The series of murders in alphabetical order is reminiscent of some of the Ellery Queen mysteries in which serial murders occur. The use of the Special Legion is interesting, and shows that deep questioning and reflection may sometimes reveal the needed clue.

See also this review by Bev Hankins on her blog, My Reader's Block.


Sunday, September 22, 2019

Fair Warning by Mignon Eberhart (1935)

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Major characters:

The Godden household:
  • Marcia Godden, our protagonist, wife of...
  • Ivan Godden, just home from the hospital
  • Beatrice Godden, Ivan's sister
  • Emma Beck, cook
  • Ancill, chauffeur
  • Delia, housemaid
The Copley household, next door:
  • Robert Copley, Marcia's secret love
  • Verity Copley, Robert's widowed mother
  • Stella, housemaid
And:
  • Galway "Gally" Trench, Marcia's cousin
  • Dr. Graham Blakie
  • Jacob Wait, detective
  • Lt. Davies


Locale: Baryton, a tony suburb of Chicago

Synopsis:

Marcia Godden is dreading the return home of her husband, domineering Ivan Godden, after a hospital stay of a month following a car accident. He is now in good health but has a bandaged foot. Ivan is bad to her. She longs for her love, Robert Copley, next door; but has refrained from any sort of affair in loyalty to her marriage.

The Copleys host a dinner party on the evening Ivan arrives home. Marcia dresses and comes downstairs, one of the last to leave. She looks in the library and finds Ivan on the floor, a knife in him. He urges her to pull it out - as she attempts to, he dies. His sister Beatrice Godden walks in to see Marcia kneeling over him, both hands on the knife.

Marcia knows she didn't do it, and believes Robert has done this to get Ivan out of the way. They share that motive, and Robert had penned a love letter to Marcia which is stashed in the library as the police search the premises. Another murder will follow as suspicion points to Marcia.

Review:

The signature Eberhart love triangle is set up immediately. Protagonist Marcia is trapped in a bad marriage to a bad man, with much-better-choice Robert Copley lined up right next door. This is classic Eberhart at her best. The descriptions of the household, and particularly the library, are perfect. The case builds against a certain person - but then, that person is murdered also. This has a small cast of characters, and even a loose end at the end (what happened to Ancill?) does not detract from it.