Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The D.A. Holds a Candle by Erle Stanley Gardner, 1938

dustjackets.com

#2 of 9 in the Doug Selby series

The full series is:
  1. The D.A. Calls It Murder (1937)
  2. The D.A. Holds a Candle (1938)
  3. The D.A. Draws a Circle (1939)
  4. The D.A. Goes to Trial (1940)
  5. The D.A. Cooks a Goose (1942)
  6. The D.A. Calls a Turn (1944)
  7. The D.A. Breaks a Seal (1946)
  8. The D.A. Takes a Chance (1948)
  9. The D.A. Breaks an Egg (1949)

Major characters:

Locale:

Synopsis:

Review:



Sunday, January 5, 2020

Call the Yard! by Hugh Clevely, 1930

First Place books
About the author: Hugh Clevely (1898-1963), who wrote also under the pseudonym of Tod Claymore, was born in Bristol, England. He obtained a pilot's license, was active in the RAF and finished the war as wing-commander. Clevely was one of the dozens of authors who wrote for the story paper The Thriller in the 1930s. Clevely wrote more than thirty titles for this influential paper and in addition several novels with serial characters, among them John Martinson “the Gang-Smasher" and Inspector Williams of Scotland Yard. As Tod Claymore, he wrote another nine mysteries, all with a series character named Tod Claymore. After the war Clevely contributed about a dozen titles to the hugely popular Sexton Blake series. (Condensed from this bio at gadetection.com)


Major characters:
  • Philip Cavanagh, doctor and attorney; our protagonist
  • Corinna Lesley, artist, his love interest
  • Valerie Morris, a lodger of Corinna Lesley
  • Roland Piquar,  a lodger of Corinna Lesley
  • Ralph Montgomery Vincent, a flabby bohemian art collector
  • Stephen Tracey, friend of Philip Cavanagh
  • Jimmy McCrow, dancer and lounge lizard
  • Garbrielle Fleur (dead prior to the story)
  • Chief Inspector Williams
Locale: England

Synopsis: Philip Cavanagh is a medical doctor and attorney, practicing only law. He has a casual friendship with artist Corinna Lesley. Corinna lets a flat and takes in two lodgers: Valerie Morris (heroin addict and party girl) and Roland Piquar (checkered past).

No sooner has Piquar moved in when he makes a pass at Corinna. She rebuffs him and retreats to her room. When she comes out again, she finds him stabbed in the hallway. She tries to treat him and calls Philip Cavanagh for help, who determines he is dead. She claims she didn't kill him, but there was no one else in the apartment.

A photo found in his wallet of Garbrielle Fleur bears a family resemblance, she had died previously from a heroin overdose. Cavanagh takes matters into his own hands to solve the murder and prove Corinna's innocence. This leads him to the seedy Apollo Club and the world of drug dealers.

Review: This was a disappointment. It was almost a DNF (Did Not Finish), but halfway through I moved to skim mode to see how the almost-locked-room murder was done.

Cavanagh is a rough and tumble character, clearly borrowed from Clevely's writings for the 1930's pulp magazines; and is not believable. His solution to every issue is to beat someone up, kidnap them, toss them out of moving vehicles, and force information out of them - not in line with either of his alleged professions. 

The romantic sub-plot between him and Corinna shows what a cad he really is. He tricks her into accepting his marriage proposal. Then he invites her to his place - not for a romantic interlude - but so she can prepare his dinner.

Oh, yes, the murder ... the murderer is revealed at the end (no surprise there), but the specifics are not mentioned. How the murderer got in and did the deed remains a mystery.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers, 1923

dustjackets.com


About the author: See this Wikipedia article.

Major characters:
  • Alfred Thipps, an architect with a bath
  • An unnamed body found in his bathtub
  • Sir Reuben Levy, a missing Hebrew financier
  • Sir Julian Freke, doctor in charge of the hospital dissecting room
  • Inspector Sugg
  • Inspector Parker
  • Lord Peter Wimsey
  • Mervyn Bunter, Lord Peter's butler
  • The Dowager Duchess of Denver, Lord Peter's mother
Locale: England

Synopsis: Lord Peter Wimsey is informed of a strange event by his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver - being the finding of a naked (except for a pair of pince-nez glasses) man in the bathtub of architect Alfred Thipps; who has no idea who it may be. Meanwhile, Sir Reuben Levy, a Hebrew financier, disappeared at the same time - leaving evidence that he walked out of his house naked.

Hmmm. The authorities (Inspector Sugg and Inspector Parker), as well as Wimsey, immediately try to connect the two. Is the man in the bathtub Sir Reuben? There is a superficial resemblance but they can't quite make the connection.

They eventually confirm the bathtub body is not Sir Reuben. Unfortunate. Now they have two mysteries, not one. Wimsey tries to trace the bathtub body, and Parker tries to find Sir Reuben. No dice. They swap tasks, that doesn't help either.

Review: My first delve into Dorothy Sayers. Oh, my, I am still out of breath. Prepare yourself for paragraph-length sentences, and page-length paragraphs! Some are just astounding:

"Of course, we're all Jews nowadays, and they wouldn't have minded so much if he'd pretended to be something else, like that Mr. Simons we met at Mrs. Porchester's who always tells everybody that he got his nose in Italy at the Renaissance, and who claims to be descended somehow or other from La Bella Simonetta - so foolish, you know, dear - as if anybody believed it; and I'm sure some Jews are very good people, and personally I'd much rather they believed something, though of course it must be very inconvenient, what with not working on Saturdays and circumcising the poor little babies and everything depending on the new moon and that funny kind of meat they have with such a slang-sounding name, and never being able to have bacon for breakfast." - The Dowager Duchess

And after "listening" to Lord Peter Wimsey. I just knew that voice from somewhere - then it hit me - he talks just like Philo Vance! (See my S. S. Van Dine blog):
  • The terminal letter "g" hasn't been invented yet, since he drops every one of them (havin', bettin', goin', gettin' etc). 
  • Statements of fact turned into rhetorical questions by appending 'what'? (It's ten o'clock already, what?)
  • Favorite phrase (same as Philo's): "Thanks, awfully."
  • Strange contractions: "S'pose" and not-quite-APA: "ain't"
  • Commenting by use of poetic quotations
But perhaps everyone talked like that in the 1920's. This book preceded the Philo Vances by a few years, so she certainly didn't copy him.

This is a rollicking story which does not let up. There are plenty of humorous asides and random references to people outside the story which adds to the general confusion.

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

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The D.A. Calls It Murder by Erle Stanley Gardner, 1937



wikipedia

#1 of 9 in the Doug Selby series

The full series is:
  1. The D.A. Calls It Murder (1937)
  2. The D.A. Holds a Candle (1938)
  3. The D.A. Draws a Circle (1939)
  4. The D.A. Goes to Trial (1940)
  5. The D.A. Cooks a Goose (1942)
  6. The D.A. Calls a Turn (1944)
  7. The D.A. Breaks a Seal (1946)
  8. The D.A. Takes a Chance (1948)
  9. The D.A. Breaks an Egg (1949)
Major characters:
  • Rev. Charles Brower - the deceased - or is he?
  • Mary Brower, his widow - or is she?
  • Shirley Arden, the wealthy femme fatale actress
  • Doug Selby, D.A.
  • Amorette Standish, his secretary
  • Sheriff Rex Baldwin
  • Chief of Police Otto Larkin
  • Sylvia Martin, crime reporter for The Clarion

Locale: Madison City, California

Synopsis: Doug Selby has just won election to District Attorney, and Rex Baldwin also just won election to sheriff. The populace is divided, and the election was close. The Clarion supported Selby and Baldwin, and rival paper The Blade opposed them. They have just taken office when a minister, Charles Brower, is found dead in a hotel room. Circumstances point to suicide, but Selby suspects foul play. An autopsy reveals the death is due to morphia (morphine). 

The widow, Mary Brower, is notified - but when asked to identify the body, says it is not that of her husband. Either the body is not Charles Brower, or the widow is not Mary Brower - which is it? The deceased is also found to have been fascinated with actress Shirley Arden, who resides in the same hotel.

Review: This first Doug Selby story shows Selby a bit uncertain in his new role as D.A. There is a lot of emphasis on the pressure of the press. Reporter Sylvia Martin is a puzzle, she is sometimes a hard-boiled Brenda Starr with her feet up on his desk, and sometimes she comes to tears as she begs Selby to give her an exclusive story. Which is she? I do like the Brenda Starr version better. 

There is a side story occurring about the "Perry estate" - this is a typical Perry Mason puzzle in which a couple die in a car accident, but who inherits depends upon which one died last. It seems unconnected to the main story until the last few pages when it is tied in.

Secretary Amorette Standish has a minor role. I was hoping she would be a Della Street but she is only marginal to the story. Perhaps she is developed more later in the series.

Overall, a good start to the series. Selby is not so confident and assertive as Perry Mason, and is bewildered at times by clues unravelling all about him as the press pounds at his door.





Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Portcullis Room by Valentine Willliams (1933)

dustjackets.com




About the author: Valentine Williams (1883–1946) was an English journalist and writer of popular fiction. Williams was awarded the Military Cross as a soldier and wrote two autobiographical books about his war-time experiences. In the aftermath of war, he travelled widely as a reporter.  It was during this period that he began writing thrillers and around 1926 he gave up his post at the Daily Mail to pursue a full-time career as an author. (Wikipedia)


Major characters:

The new arrivals:
  • Stephen Garrison, wealthy American
  • Philip Verity, Stephen's European manager
  • Mrs. Dean
  • Phyllis Dean, her daughter, Stephen's girlfriend
  • Captain Donald McKenzie, captain of the Ariel
Residents and locals:
  • "Toray" McReay, the laird (lord) of the castle
  • Flora McReay, his daughter
  • Andrew Jamieson, "The Factor" (McReay's financial agent)
  • Old Duncan, major-domo of the castle
The bad guys:
  • Vicomte Raoul d'Arenne
  • Oscar Berg, head of a gambling ring
  • Major Carlos Mansard
  • Nick Boldini
Long dead prior to the story, but important to it:
  • Hugh MacNeil, enemy of the Torays
  • Ronald McReay, son of Toray, killed in the war
Locale: Hebrides Islands, off Scotland

Synopsis: Wealthy American Stephen Garrison has a whim to buy a Scottish castle. He and his accountant, Philip Verity; girlfriend Phyllis Dean, and her mother Mrs. Dean arrive at Castle Toray by boat. Toray McReay, laird (lord) of the castle welcomes him - the place is way too big for him to deal with any more. His daughter, Flora McReay, is not quite so sold on the idea of selling.

Toray's son, Ronald McReay, was killed in the war. But he did manage to pass a pile of worthless checks while gambling, and now snarky Vicomte Rauol d'Arenne shows up to collect from his father, bringing along his tough guys Oscar Berg, Major Carlos Mansard, and Nick Boldini. Stephen remembers the Vicomte, they had come to blows a few years earlier.

The castle has a big bedroom called the Portcullis Room, as it was situated above the old portcullis (long gone) which shut the castle off from the sea. Generations ago, an enemy of the McReay's, Hugh MacNeil, sought shelter from a storm and they put him up for the night in the Portcullis Room. Come morning, he is found stabbed to death, his blood permanently staining the floor. His ghost is said to walk the castle every year on the anniversary of his death (Sept. 29), which happens to be Michaelmas.

Here is it Michaelmas again. Vicomte d'Arenne is put up in the Portcullis Room. He is then found stabbed with McReay's dirk (dagger), lying on the very spot where High MacNeil died.

Tidal conditions and storms delay arrival of authorities. First, Oscar Berg takes on an investigation. Then the laird appoints Philip Verity to take over. Meanwhile, things are not going well between Garrison and Phyllis, as he has his eye on Flora.

Review:

What's not to like about a stormy night in a dark old castle on an island, replete with a scary history, and secret passages? Once you have the cast figured out (see list above), it moves right along. It is a bit predictable as you just know who is going to get it, how, and where. It is interesting how one of the "bad guys" (Oscar Berg) takes the role as the initial investigator, serving a good purpose nonetheless.

I had to look up definitions a few times - to save you the trouble:

  • a dirk is a ornate jeweled dagger
  • a factor is a financial agent
  • a laird is a lord, as in lord of the castle

We also see the "ugly American" theme present, when the Americans arrive with unlimited money to just buy up a castle sight unseen just because they don't have one.

Dialects (English with a Gaelic accent, and Italian) are rendered in phonetics and difficult to read and understand.



Friday, December 13, 2019

Mysterious Miss Morrisot by Valentine Williams (1930)

Also published as Mannequin

Valentine Williams

About the author: Valentine Williams (1883–1946) was an English journalist and writer of popular fiction. Williams was awarded the Military Cross as a soldier and wrote two autobiographical books about his war-time experiences. In the aftermath of war, he travelled widely as a reporter.  It was during this period that he began writing thrillers and around 1926 he gave up his post at the Daily Mail to pursue a full-time career as an author. (Wikipedia)

Major characters:
  • Miss Jacqueline "Jack" Morrisot, executive for The Great Victor
  • The Great Victor, famous clothing designer
  • Oliver Royce, laid-off journalist, our protagonist
  • Mousie Hersent, a past-her-prime high-mileage widow
  • Don Luis "Neque" Ribeira, a wealthy Argentine
  • Doña Isabella, Ribeira claims she is his sister
  • Esteban Pinedo, Doña Isabella's husband
  • Harvey Nolan, wealthy American idler
  • Harriet Bronstein
  • Henri Laurent, murderer
  • Inspector Dufour
Locale: Cannes and Paris, France

Synopsis: As the story opens, we learn that Jacqueline "Jack" Morrisot, as a child, witnessed her mother's murder by Henri Laurent, who is believed to have drowned shortly afterwards. The whereabouts of Jacqueline's father is not known, the only clue a letter she has signed "Vin."

Fast forward many years. Jacqueline is an executive assistant to famous dress designer 'The Great Victor'. Oliver Royce, our protagonist, loses his journalist job in a buyout; takes his savings to rub elbows with the wealthy at Cannes. He meets and becomes fascinated with Jacqueline.

Quickly running out of savings, Oliver grudgingly accepts lodging with wealthy widow Mousie Hersent, and reluctantly takes the role of a gigolo - escorting her to society events. Jacqueline finds out and insults Mousie Hersent, which results in her (Jacqueline) losing her job. Oliver quits the gigolo gig in disgust.

Jacqueline is approached by wealthy Argentine Don Luis "Neque" Ribeira, who offers her a position as traveling companion to himself and his sister, Doña Isabella; and they drop from sight. Meanwhile, Oliver finds work as a steward aboard the luxury yacht of bored-stiff idler Harvey Nolan. Oliver and Harvey become friends in spite of their employer/servant relationship; with Harvey providing the resources for Oliver to find Jacqueline.


Review:

This is a thriller, with two mysteries woven in: Is murderer Henri Laurent still alive, and where is he? And where is Jacqueline's father?

I was immediately struck by deja vu with the writer-gigolo theme. The 1950 film Sunset Boulevard casts the identical triangle of lead roles:
  • Down-on-his-luck writer turned gigolo: Oliver Royce (Sunset Boulevard's Joe Gillis)
  • Wealthy widow: Mrs. Hersent (Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond)
  • Rebuffed love interest: Jacqueline Morrisot (Sunset Boulevard's Betty Schaefer)
It gets a bit dizzy with the characters constantly zooming between Paris and Cannes. Once they get to Mousie Hersent's Paris home, Les Charmettes, the action picks up and becomes an exciting thriller as the parties all converge.

Inspector Dufour has a minor role, primarily at the cleanup.

Readers who enjoy the knight-errant stories of Leslie Charteris' The Saint will enjoy this book, as it moves from the glittery gaming tables of Cannes to a damsel-rescue in Paris. 

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Clue of the Rising Moon by Valentine Williams (1935)

dustjackets.com


Valentine Williams

About the author: Valentine Williams (1883–1946) was an English journalist and writer of popular fiction. Williams was awarded the Military Cross as a soldier and wrote two autobiographical books about his war-time experiences. In the aftermath of war, he travelled widely as a reporter.  It was during this period that he began writing thrillers and around 1926 he gave up his post at the Daily Mail to pursue a full-time career as an author. (Wikipedia)

Major characters:

At the lake house:
  1. Victor Haversley, rich Illinois brewer
  2. Graziella Haversley, his wife
  3. Miss Barbara Ingersoll, his secretary
  4. Dave Jarvis, engaged to Sara Carruthers
  5. Sara Carruthers, engaged to Dave Jarvis, Edith Lunsden's niece
  6. Peter Blakeney, playwright, our narrator
  7. Charles Lumsden, owner of the camp and host
  8. Edith Lumsden, his wife
  9. Dickie Lumsden, their teenage son
  10. Cynthia Lumsden, their teenage daughter
  11. Buster Leighton
  12. Myrtle Fletcher
  13. Dr. Oscar Bracegirdle, retired physician
  14. Miss Janet Ryder
and...
  • Jake Harper, local hillbilly farmer
  • Fritz Waters, Graziella's old flame
  • Eben Hicks, an old hunter
  • Ed Wharton, a New York gunman
  • George Martin, escaped convict
  • Hank Wells, sheriff
  • Detective Sergeant Trevor Dene of Scotland Yard
Locale: Wolf Lake, in the Adirondack mountains of New York

Synopsis: Charles and Edith Lumsden have a sprawling lakeside "camp" in the Adirondacks, consisting of several individual cottages as well as their main house. Wealthy Victor and Graziella Haversley are there, and their marriage is already on the rocks. Graziella seems quite interested in old flame Fritz Waters who is hanging around.

Playwright Peter Blakeney (our narrator) has the guests stage a reading of his latest play. He wants to test his theory that Graziella and Waters are lovers, and assigns them the lovers' roles. When the big kiss moment comes, Victor is enraged, argues with Graziella, and injures her. Fritz threatens to kill him. He's not the only one out for Victor - he has enemies from the labor unions who represent workers at his brewery.

A shot is heard at 11 PM, and Victor is found dead in the "Trapper's Cabin". He is initially thought a suicide. Sheriff Hank Wells and Detective Sergeant Trevor Dene find the scene was "tidied up" after the shot, therefore it must be murder. Motives abound - an estranged wife, her lover bent on revenge, labor unionists, and a couple of random toughs - an escaped convict and a shadowy gunman.

Review:

It is a bit odd to have a Scotland Yard detective at a New York wilderness camp, but it does work out. We have the isolated camp populated with drama, and the added complexity that the village (and the sheriff) are only accessible by boat - although there is a road to the village as well; but the boat is the preferred mode of travel. 

The solution rests in building a timeline of the crime and verifying alibis one by one. This gets a bit tedious but it does slowly narrow the suspect pool. Measuring the oil remaining in the oil lamp is a bit of fine-combing of clues, the sort that would be put to use later by Erle Stanley Gardner and his routine examination of candles and lamps in his stories. 

A map of the camp would have been helpful. Perhaps the original has one, but my Collier reprint does not. Here is a sketch made from the text which seems to fit:


click to enlarge

Overall, a good mystery to take to your camp on the lake!