Friday, December 7, 2018

From This Dark Stairway by Mignon G. Eberhart (1931)

photo: eBay seller maclinhaven

About the author: (from Goodreads): Mignon Good (1899-1996) was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1929 her first crime novel was published featuring 'Sarah Keate', a nurse and 'Lance O'Leary', a police detective. This couple appeared in another four novels. Over the next forty years she wrote a novel nearly every year. In 1971 she won the Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America. 

Dec 7 2018: Currently reading. Please check back. I fill this in as I go along!


Major Characters:

Hospital staff:



  • Nurse Sarah Keate
  • Nurse Lillian Ash
  • Nurse Nancy Page
  • Surgical Nurse Fannie Bianchi
  • Student Nurse Ellen Brody
  • Miss Jones
  • Ellen --
  • Nancy --
  • Dr. Felix Kunce
  • Jacob Teuber, orderly
  • Dr. Harrigan, surgeon

The patients:


  • Peter Melady (in 309, scheduled for an operation), head of Melady Drug Company
  • Dione Melady (sunburn*), Peter's daughter
  • Ina Harrigan (broken arm*), wife of Dr. Harrigan
       *hospital seems to have a low threshold for admissions - gotta keep those beds filled!

The visitors:


  • Courtney "Court" Melady, husband (and cousin!) of Dione

Locale: somewhere in the midwest

Synopsis: It is a hot, sultry night in Melady Memorial Hospital. Nurse Sarah Keate is in charge of patient Peter Melady, grandson of the founder, hospitalized and scheduled for an operation by Dr. Harrigan the following morning. He is rather irascible, smoking cigars in bed, and sending Nurse Keate to his home to retrieve his favorite little blue snuff bottle.

Nurse Keate returns from break to find, her surprise, her patient is gone. The nurse on duty reports Dr. Harrigan had come in, and decided that Melady's operation needed to be done immediately. Nurse Keate goes to the operating room, but no one is there. Melady cannot be found, and she discovers Dr. Harrigan murdered, in the elevator.

Review:

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Waylaid in Boston by Elliot Paul (1953)



About the author:  Elliot Harold Paul (1891-1958), was an American journalist and author. Here is a Wikipedia article about him.

Elliot Paul


Major characters:

Homer Evans
Finky Maguire
Leverett "Levie" Bengay
Mirak Mirakian, a dapper young Armenian
Angus Ferguson, a Scottish wool broker
Ephraim Poole, an accountant
Julio Etchgaray, an Argentine
Madamoiselle Solange de Lassigny, a mysterious, elegant Canadian
Senorita Erica Strella, a guest in hotel room 607
Elbridge "Edgy" Gerry
Blaise Laneer, "pointed face man", a bank clerk
Dr. Rodolfo Gonzalez
Sergeant Aloysius Ryan
Captain Moriarty


Hotel staff:
Bozo Shafter, elevator operator
Clothhead Muldoon, parking lot attendant
Jellyroll Morton, lounge pianist
Elsa, a maid

Locale: Boston MA

Synopsis: Biblio.com states "Paul, the author of "The Last Time I Saw Paris," also wrote a series of humorous mystery novels featuring a pair of intrepid private detectives, Homer Evans and Finky Maguire. This, the tenth book in the series, is set in Boston, where Homer, consulting with a botanist in order to complete his research on meat-eating plants and Oriental poisons, is suddenly chasing one murderer, or is it two?"

Boston natives Homer Evans and Finky Maguire stop in to the Lantern Room lounge of the Dorsetshire Hotel for a drink. Music is provided by pianist Jellyroll Morton. Evans' friends, Angus Ferguson and Leverett Bengay stop in. Together they discuss a magazine article about the challenges of detectives shadowing subjects, and this leads to a bet: can one of them follow a complete stranger for 48 hours, and learn enough about the subject to compile a report? Canadian Solange de Lassigny joins the group, and the bet.

The bet is agreed upon. Jellyroll Morton will select the stranger. He selects a man sitting in the bar, name unknown, his only distinguishing characteristic being a pointed nose; so for lack of a name, he is referred to as "the pointed-face man". Leverett Bengay will be the follower.

As soon as the subject leaves the bar, Bengay follows. At the same time, Angus Ferguson disappears. The subject is found to be Blaise Laneer, a bank clerk, who then is murdered in his apartment at 14 Newbury Street, across the street from the hotel. While investigating that murder, Dr. Rodolpho Gonzalez is poisoned. It becomes clear there is an Argentinian connection to the murders. The action moves to the Arnold Arboretum where Homer exposes the murderer.

Review:


Humorous murder mysteries are hard to pull off, but this one works. Homer Evans has minimal appearances, and Finky Maguire does all the legwork. Nonstop action with a large cast of colorful characters, in the style of Manning Coles. It was bit difficult keeping track of the names even while documenting them above. Persons familiar with Boston will enjoy the familiar places around town where the action occurs. The final scene in Arnold Arboretum was both humorous and cringe-worthy at the same time, an odd feeling! This was my first Elliot Paul book, and I will look for more.

If you enjoy mysteries set in Boston, also see They're Going to Kill Me by Kathleen Moore Knight. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Silver Key by Edgar Wallace (1930)

dustjackets.com

About the author (Goodreads): Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was a prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals.

Edgar Wallace

Nov 25 2018: Under construction. Check back soon!


Major characters:

Dick Allenby, inventor of a silent air-powered gun
Gerald "Jerry" Dornford, of Half Moon Street, man about town, gambler
Mike Hennessey, theatre manager 
Mary Lane, actress, fiancee of Dick Allenby
Leo Moran, of 17 Naylor Terrace, banker and speculator
Horace Tom Tickler, burglar
Washington Wirth, a party-giver with an eye for the young ladies
Hervey Lyne, rich, moneylender, disabled, guardian of Mary Lane, uncle of Dick Allenby
Binny, Hervey's assistant
Chief Inspector Surefoot Smith, C.I.D.


Locale: London

Synopsis: Horace Tom Tickler, a small time burglar, is hanging around rich Hervey Lyne's place, plotting to get in. Chief Inspector Surefoot Smith encounters him and moves him along. Later that night, Smith is looking for a cab for put actress Mary Lane, in - and the cab he chooses has Ticker dead inside; and the cab is found to have been stolen. An anonymous note suggests he go talk to banker Leo Moran to find out about the killer.

Moran has been dealing in some shady financial transactions, and flees to parts unknown. While Surefoot investigates, he comes across a curious large silver key. Hervey Lyne, while in the park in his Bath Chair (type of wheelchair), is shot. 

Mary Lane takes on the role of a private investigator and sets out to find where the silver key fits, and runs into danger.

Review:

Edgar Wallace has thrown in plenty of traditional mystery plot elements: secret rooms, secret identities, secret keys, disguises, stolen cars, and secret hideaways. Surefoot plods along, making progress; but Mary Lane takes the initiative to go find the lock to which the silver key fits. An enjoyable Wallace, with the culprit being revealed well before the end; then the task is finding him!

The vacant room which Surefoot locates - having just the silver key and a wardrobe of clothes - is a similar plot element to Ellery Queen's Halfway House. which would follow in 1940.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

No Hands on the Clock by Geoffrey Homes (1939)

dustjackets.com

About the author (gadetection): Geoffrey Homes was a pseudonym for Daniel Mainwaring (1902-1977), an American novelist and screenwriter. He was born in California, and attended Fresno University. He held various jobs, including migrant fruit picker, private investigator and reporter, before turning to writing in the thirties. He subsequently became a screenwriter for movies. Homes's series characters were Jose Manuel Madero, LA reporter Robin Bishop and PI Humphrey Campbell. Bishop eventually marries Mary Huston, a secretary at the Morgan Missing Persons Bureau detective agency.

Major characters:
  • Humphrey Campbell, 28, works for Oscar Morgan
  • Oscar Morgan, age 65, 310 lbs, owner of Morgan Missing Person Bureau of Los Angeles
  • Warren E. Benedict, millionaire
  • Dale Benedict, his son, disappered
  • Rose Benedict, ward of Warren Benedict, fiancee of Dale
  • Mrs. Billie Toker, a.k.a. "Gypsy", waiting out her divorce interval in a Reno bar
  • David Paulson, the bar's piano player, who knows everything and everyone
  • Irene Donovan, the redhead last seen with Dale
Locale: Reno, Nevada

Synopsis: In the opening, workers are installing a strange clock on the outside wall of the Darwin Mortuary - a clock with no hands. Leon Darwin explains it is because "death is timeless".

Humphrey Campbell is in a bank when it is robbed, and one of robbers mentions that Campbell is familiar. The robbers escape. Campbell and Oscar Morgan work as private "heir finders", and are hired by millionaire Warren E. Benedict of Lake Tahoe to locate his missing son, Dale Benedict, last seen in Reno. Dale is engaged to Warren's ward, Rose Benedict.

Campbell and Morgan head to Reno. Campbell meets up with "Gypsy" (Mrs.  Billie Toker), who is waiting out the residency requirement to obtain a divorce by hanging out in a bar, where David Paulson plays piano and knows everyone and everything. Paulson tips him off that Dale had left with redhead Irene Donovan. Campbell heads to her place, only to find her murdered. Then a ransom note arrives for Dale Benedict.

Review:

This book reminds me of the writings of Erle Stanley Gardner, when he wrote at A. A. Fair. There are no long descriptions, but nonstop tough guy action on every page. We have the wisecracking P.I. who is, of course, irresistable to women. Much of the action takes place out in desolate desert at night, again reminiscent of Gardner. 

There are a couple of odd aspects: every character gets named, no matter how brief their appearance in the story. When someone pops in for a moment, the reader wonders if he will have to remember this character for future reference. The other odd aspect is the clock with no hands installed at the mortuary - from its appearance in chapter one, one expected it would have a central point in the story - much like the various clock and candle gimmicks in Gardner - but it was carefully described at the beginning and that was that. There was only one additional passing reference to it near the end. And I was looking forward to hearing more about it.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1942)


Major characters:
  • Nurse Hilda Adams, "Miss Pinkerton"
  • Inspector Fuller
  • Eliza Fairbanks, 72, the widow 
  • Carlton Fairbanks, her son
  • Susan "Susie" Fairbanks, nee Kelly; his wife
  • Marian Fairbanks Garrison, 38, her daughter (divorced)
  • Francis "Frank" Jarvis Garrison, Marian's ex-husband
  • Eileen Garrison, 35, Frank's second wife, pregnant
  • Janice Garrison,  19, daughter of Frank and Marian
  • Dr. Courtney Allen Brooke, 28, Eliza's doctor and neighbor
  • William, butler
  • Amos, handyman who lives above the garage
  • Margaret "Maggie" O'Neil, the cook
  • Ida Miller, 40, the maid
Helpful hint: If you get confused about the relationships of the players, refer to Chapter 16 which has a police report and full bio on everyone.

Locale: New York City

Map: The Dell Mapback provides this handy map for us (click to enlarge):



Synopsis: Frail, paranoid widow Eliza Fairbanks complains to the police that bats are getting into her bedroom, although there are no obvious apertures. She wants a police officer to resolve this, but Inspector Fuller sends Nurse Hilda Adams ("Miss Pinkerton") over instead, to stay with her and calm her down, and see what can be done about the bats. Nurse Adams does indeed come across a bat, and an occasional rat also. Although she searches the room thoroughly, she cannot find how they got in.

Eliza also states someone attempted to poison her with arsenic and there are also rats in the house in addition to the bats. Both statements are confirmed - Dr. Courtney Brooke (quite friendly with Eliza's granddaughter Janice Garrison) identified the arsenic, and Nurse Adams saw a rat herself.

Drama comes along: Frank Garrison is visiting to see his daughter Janice, and his ex-wife Marian Garrison disappears. His 2nd wife, pregnant Eileen Garrison, shows up at the door. She is not feeling well and is put to bed in Marian's bed, wearing Marian's nightgown. (Oh, this will be most awkward when Marian gets home!)

Hilda goes in to check her patient to find she has been murdered in her bed. Suspicion immediately falls on son Carlton, last person to enter her bedroom.

Review: It seems as if we have been here before. The dark old family manse, ruled by a frail, elderly (wait a minute - she's only 72!) widow dowager with loads of money in the bank - and inhabited by sniping relatives (don't these kids ever move out?); most of them impatient to get to the reading of the will. Mysterious sounds in the night, and doors that open and close by themselves add to the atmosphere.

We shall overlook the fact that having rodents in the house is not a police matter, and furthermore insufficient to justify placing an RN in residency*; when a cat would be the more appropriate choice. But Nurse Hilda is our investigator, and here she is. Mary Roberts Rinehart's signature "Had I But Known" teasers abound, pointing us to clues to remember as we go along.

Nice unexpected twist at the end reveals the murderer whom I did not suspect.

*This writer is fortunate to have an RN in residency, and she is adamant that rodent control is not in her job description.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

This Fortress by Manning Coles (1942)


About the author (wikipedia): Manning Coles is the pseudonym of two British writers, Adelaide Frances Oke Manning (1891–1959) and Cyril Henry Coles (1899–1965), who wrote many spy thrillers from the early 40s through the early 60s. The fictional protagonist in 26 of their books was Thomas Elphinstone Hambledon, who works for the Foreign Office.

Major characters:
Tom Languish, soldier and owner of garage
Griggs, his first mechanic
George Mathews, his second mechanic
Dimmock, his cook/housekeeper
Baron Alberich von Rensburg
Hildegarde von Rensburg
Otto von Rensburg, their son
Jessica Casey, local resident

Locale: England and Germany

Synopsis: While Tom Languish is serving in occupied Germany, he is billeted at Schloss Rensburg; home of Baron Alberich von Rensburg and his young wife Hildegarde. Tom becomes close friends with Hildegarde. He is demobilized and returns to England, and opens a small garage with his mechanic Griggs and housekeeper/cook Dimmock. He keeps in touch with Hildegarde by letter, learning that she and the Baron now have a son Otto.

The Baron eventually dies. Tom visits Hildegarde. They discuss marriage, but cannot agree on where to live - Germany or England - and have an uneasy parting due to that disagreement.

The borders close, and Tom loses touch with Hildegarde. He is occupied with his garage, and strikes up a friendship with Jessica Casey while England is enduring air raids from Germany. Mechanic Griggs is called up, and he hires George Mathews as a replacement. Mathews renovates a room above the garage and moves in. During an air raid, Mathews rescues two twin girls from a collapsed house and becomes a local hero.

Review:

This is one of Manning Coles' non-Tommy Hambledon books. Not quite a mystery, nor a thriller, but a captivating tale of life in England during the war; and all the privations that came with it. Suspense comes in when there is suspicion of a German spy in the village. The events take a number of surprising turns at the end, with the final ending quite poignant and satisfying. It is easy to imagine reading this book with airplanes droning overhead as searchlights look for them.



Sunday, October 21, 2018

This Death Was Murder by March Evermay (1940)

No dust jacket photo found.

About the author (from encyclopedia.com): Pseudonym of Mathilde Eiker (1893-1982). As March Evermay, Eiker wrote three detective novels. Like British contemporaries, she minimizes brutality to emphasize motive and intellectual process. In They Talked of Poison (1938), scrupulous, sentimental Inspector Glover patiently solves a murder for a university seminar of expert suspects. In This Death Was Murder (1940), he explains three suspicious deaths despite the jealous quarrels and loyal deceptions of five sibling heirs. A final mystery, Red Light for Murder (1951), ended Eiker's writing career See also this biography.


Major characters:


Marcella Humphrey

Erich Humphrey, her 2nd husband
Zunella, Humprey's maid

Marcella's five children:

  • Teresa Haskell, the sweet innocent one
  • Rachel Haskell Dunlop, the nasty one
  • Millicent Haskell Remington, who stayed in Miami instead
  • Frederick Thomas Haskell, a drunk waster
  • Raymond Blair Haskell
Anna Humfried, a.k.a. "Freida", a strip club dancer
Curtis Anderson, attorney
Richard Hollis, attorney
Inspector Glover

Locale: East coast of US


Synopsis: We follow the actions of our protagonist, Teresa Haskell. Her mother, Wealthy Marcella Humphrey of the lavish estate Pine Acres has just died as the story opens. Teresa and her four siblings gather for the funeral. It is awkward for them, as their mother had recently remarried - to Erich Humphrey - and had converted to his Catholic faith; of which they are unfamiliar. 


After the service, they gather for the reading of the will. They knew each would receive 1/5 of her substantial estate. All are surprised when Marcella's long-time attorney, Curtis Anderson, announces she had made a later will with a different attorney, Richard Hollis. When this later will is read, each of her children now only get $20,000 each, with the remaining $3 million going to her husband, Erich Humphrey.


The shocked siblings discuss whether they should contest the will - and whether she was influenced by Humphrey to make it in his favor. Influence seems unlikely, Humphrey is a kind man of simple tastes, having moved from the estate to a small house and eating beans and bacon every day. His only plan for his windfall is to make some modest renovations to his home to allow him to paint as a hobby.


Humphrey phones Teresa and asks to meet with her to discuss the fate of the Pine Acres estate. She goes to his home and finds him dead of a gunshot wound. While they consider the effect this will have on their inheritance, rumors surface that Humphrey was keeping a mistress on the side. An additional murder throws the inheritance-chain into confusion for the money-grubbing relatives.


Review:


Oh, this was a looooong book. It could have been improved by editing it down to half the length. The unnecessary initial story line of the mother being poisoned was abandoned and faded away. After this false start, things slow down. The tedious middle portion of the book (with chapters subdivided into numbered subchapters) examines all possibilities in great detail. We are teased with the Teresa Haskell / Richard Hollis relationship which doesn't go anywhere. The denouement goes into far too much detail. The critical clue which breaks the case is pretty clever though. 


Tip for the reader: Anna Humfried and Frieda are the same person. Anna is her real name, Frieda is her stage name. This is not stated anywhere and it took a while to determine they are one person.