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.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Murder by the Clock by Rufus King (1929)

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About the author: Rufus King was an American author of Whodunit crime novels. He created two series of detective stories: the first one with Reginald De Puyster, a sophisticated detective similar to Philo Vance, and the second one with his more famous character, the Lieutenant Valcour. (from Goodreads). Also see this article.

Major characters:


  • Herbert Endicott, the victim
  • Mrs. Endicott, his wife
  • Mrs. Siddons, their gaunt housekeeper
  • Miss Roberts, a maid
  • Dr. Sanford Worth, their personal physician
  • Nurse Murrow
  • Nurse Vickers, who chose a bad time to go make coffee
  • Marge Myles, the other woman
  • Madame Miramar Velasquez, her mother
  • Thomas Hollander, the old war buddy, Herbert's only friend
  • Jerry Smith, Hollander's roommate
  • Lieutenant Valcour, police detective
Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Mrs. Herbert Endicott fears for her husband Herbert's safety, although he has only been gone two hours - but to see his girlfriend Marge Myles. Mrs. Endicott calls the police and Lieutenant Valcour stops in. He looks around and discovers Endicott's body stuffed in his closet, the door closed. Mrs. Endicott takes it quite calmly, as if it happens every day.

Dr. Sanford Worth is summoned to pronounce him dead, and he attributes the death to his poor heart (but if so, how did he get shut in the closet?). Apparently someone startled him, causing his death. They move the body to the bed. Dr. Worth decides to try to revive him with a shot of adrenaline to the heart, which works.

Endicott's old war buddy, Thomas Hollander, is called in to sit at bedside until Endicott regains consciousness. The police keep a close watch, and Hollander produces a stiletto and begins to approach Endicott with it. The police shoot and wound Hollander. Endicott is found dead - again - this time from a gunshot wound. Hollander didn't have a gun, and it wasn't a police bullet, so what happened?

Review:

Well, this was my first read of Rufus King, and hopefully not my last. This book is a lot of fun with some crazy happenings, plus exquisite use of language:

"There it was again: that wretched wave of hearsay showing its baffling crest above the placid sea of established fact."

and this one wins the Best Simile award: "Her voice was as disagreeable as the clash of dishes in a cheap restaurant."

The entire story takes place over a 24-hour period, as we watch the authorities deal with an investigation instead of getting some sleep. First the police respond to a call from Mrs. Endicott because her husband has been missing for two hours - plus she knows just where he is - with the "other woman" (try that and see what happens).  Then Endicott is found dead, revived, and murdered all in the space of a couple hours. His wife isn't too concerned about it anyway, just another day. It takes a long time for the doctor to prepare for the "operation" which consists of giving the dead man a shot; and requires a big cast of nurses and others to administer.

It is enjoyable to follow the thoughts of Lieutenant Valcour, whose mind wanders away a lot. He likes to challenge suspects with made-up explanations just to see their reaction.

The ending is quite ironic and enjoyable, and brings up deja vu for the reader.

The "Murder By The Clock" title only refers to the various time stamps on the chapter titles, and has nothing to do with the plot.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Second Shot by Anthony Berkeley (1930)

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About the author:  Anthony Berkeley Cox was an English crime writer. He wrote under several pen-names, including Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley and A. Monmouth Platts. One of the founders of The Detection Club (from Goodreads)

Major characters:

  • Cyril "Pinkie" Pinkerton, our narrator
  • John Hillyard, the host - farmer and detective story author
  • Ethyl Hillyard, his wife
  • Elsa Verity - a "charming pretty little thing"
  • Eric Scott-Davies, a cad - and the victim
  • Armorel Scott-Davies, his cousin
  • Sylvia de Ravel, wealthy society woman
  • Paul de Ravel, her puppy-dog husband
  • Roger Sheringham, a private investigator



Locale: England

Synopsis: This is a story-within-a-story, as narrator Cyril "Pinkie" Pinkerton is writing a novel describing how a murder mystery party goes wrong with one of the guests actually winding up murdered. His novel, which he calls the 'manuscript' comprises the text of this book, which he had buried in a box but the police recovered and are reading as we go along. This manuscript is bookended by a prologue and an epilogue, in which he describes to the reader the setup for his writing it; and delivers the denouement at the end. Once you get your head around this awkward concept, it progresses as follows.

John and Ethyl Hillyard operate Minton Deeps Farm - which, not being too profitable, is supplemented by John's writing of detective stories. At a gathering, it is suggested they put on a murder mystery evening for fun. Our narrator, Cyril 'Pinkie' Pinkerton, is one of the guests.

Eric Scott-Davies, a wealthy ne'er do well, being a thoroughly annoying bully and disliked by all, is cast as the victim. Just before the play acting begins, he announces his engagement to girl-next-door Elsa Verrity - stealing her away from Cyril. The play acting begins, and, surprise, after two gunshots are heard he is found dead. John Hillyard admits fired one innocent shot into the air as part of the theatrics, but who fired #2 which took out Scott-Davies?

It turns out that all the guests had motive to do away with him. Since the body was found by Cyril, and he has the strongest motive (the engagement to Elsa Verrity), suspicion points at him. He calls in old friend investigator Roger Sheringham to help clear him. His love interest gets complex as he now ignores Elsa and begins taking up with Armorel Scott-Davies, cousin to the deceased Eric.

As the investigation gets under way, we are treated to confessions from no less than four of the guests!

Review:

It takes a bit of concentration to follow which of the account is the play-acting script, and which is the actual murder; but once we get the concept the book moves right along. I call Roger Sheringham a private investigator, but it is never stated who he really is. Since he is a series character, perhaps this occurred in an earlier novel. 

The narrowing down of suspects involves figuring who-where-when, and fortunately a sketch map is provided in my 1931 Crime Club edition.

The retrospective narration in the prologue/epilogue is a precursor to the same technique in a couple of favorite noir movies: Double Indemnity (1944) and Sunset Boulevard (1950). If you enjoy those films, you will love this book!

I am looking for more by this author - inexpensive paperback reprints are widely available but the original hardcovers are scarce. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Tragedy of Z by Barnaby Ross (Ellery Queen) 1933

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About the author/series: Barnaby Ross is a pseudonym of Ellery Queen. This is the third of four books in the Drury Lane series, the remaining three being The Tragedy of X, The Tragedy of Y, and Drury Lane's Last Case.

Major characters:

  • Inspector Thumm, retired and now a private investigator
  • Patience "Patty" Thumm, his daughter, and our narrator
  • Governor Walter Bruno, former district attorney
  • John Hume, current district attorney
  • Aarow Dow, convict at Algonquin Prison
  • Elihu Clay, owner of Clay Marble Quarry
  • Dr. Ira Fawcett, his silent partner
  • Fanny Kaiser, a mannish madam
  • Honorable Joel Fawcett, Ira's brother, a state senator
  • Jeremy Clay, Elihu's son
  • -- Carmichael, Joel Fawcett's secretary
  • Drury Lane, retired Shakespearean actor
Locale: Leeds, NY

Synopsis:

Elihu Clay is suspicious of his silent partner, Dr. Ira Fawcett; believing he is behind possible corruption in getting state contracts for materials from his quarry. Clay hires private investigator Thumm to look into it. Thumm and his daughter, Patience (our narrator) travel to the Clay mansion in Leeds, NY. 

Soon after their arrival, Senator Joel Fawcett is found stabbed to death in his library. He had been receiving threats from prisoner Aaron Dow, who had been released earlier that same day. Dow is arrested for the crime. Drury Lane is consulted and proclaims him innocent. Despite this, Dow is convicted on circumstantial evidence and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Dow is placed on an outside work detail, and escapes. While on the run, Dr. Ira Fawcett is murdered. Dow is captured. Again, Drury Lane proclaims him innocent. He is sentenced to death. 

Review:

It is refreshing to have a woman narrator appear - Patience Thumm. Her point of view adds a new element to the series. Drury Lane does not even appear until about halfway through the book. Lane assures us the obvious suspect is innocent, so we know right away who is not the murderer. Lane discovers the obscure motive, much like in The Tragedy of X. Another good Barnaby Ross read. It would have been good for the series to have more titles.

In the Author's Note, it is poignant to read the teaser "In the intervening period [between Tragedy of Y and Tragedy of Z] Drury Lane solved many strange and perplexing cases, the more interesting of which will be recorded at some future time." It is sad that prediction did not come to pass, and we must be content with only four titles in the series.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Tragedy of X by Barnaby Ross (Ellery Queen) 1932

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About the author/series: Barnaby Ross is a pseudonym of Ellery Queen. This is the first of four books in the Drury Lane series, the remaining three being The Tragedy of Y, The Tragedy of Z, and Drury Lane's Last Case.

Major characters:

  • Harley Longstreet, a broker
  • John O. DeWitt, his partner
  • Mrs. Fern DeWitt, John's wife
  • Miss Jeanne DeWitt, their daughter
  • Louis Imperiale, a foreign visitor
  • Michael Collins, a politician
  • Charles Wood, a streetcar conductor
  • Juan Ajos, consul from Uruguay
  • Martin Stopes, organized a mining expedition in Uruguay
  • William Crockett, one of the mining speculators
  • Walter Bruno, district attorney
  • Inspector Thumm
  • Drury Lane, retired Shakespearian actor
  • Quacey, his familiar

Locale: New York City

Synopsis:

Drury Lane, retired actor, maintains a lavish Shakespearean-themed estate on the Hudson River north of New York City. District Attorney Walter Bruno and Inspector Thumm consult him on a puzzling case.

Broker Harley Longstreet and a handful of friends took a crosstown Manhattan streetcar on a rainy night. He put his hand in his pocket, immediately collapses and dies. A cork ball loaded with poisoned needles is found in the pocket. The authorities narrow the suspects to those on the streetcar. Each companion is investigated for motive, the leading suspect being his partner, John O. DeWitt, known for having an affair with Longstreet's wife, Fern; as well as making advances to their daughter, Jeanne.

An anonymous letter arrives, promising information about the killer, who they term "X". On the way to meet with the writer aboard the NJ/NY ferry, a man is killed - Charles Wood, the conductor of the streetcar. John DeWitt happens to be on board, and the only passenger who was also on the streetcar that night.

Drury Lane investigates to find the killing has its roots in a earlier mining syndicate in Uruguay, comprising Martin Stopes, William Crockett, Longstreet, and DeWitt.

Review:

I read the four Barnaby Ross books periodically to immerse myself in the eccentric world of Drury Lane in his Hudson estate, the same environs of Philo Vance of the S. S. Van Dine series. I been been fortunate in finding copies of all four. The novel is straight police procedural, until the police get bogged down and resort to consulting Drury Lane. Several obvious suspects, but they, of course, turn out to be red herrings. Lane uses his theatrical skills to engage in some sleuthing of his own and find the ulterior motive behind the murder. As always, reading the four books in the proper order (Tragedy of X, Tragedy of Y, Tragedy of Z, Drury Lane's Last Case) is always recommended, as each tends to refer to previous exploits. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Endless Night by Agatha Christie (1967)




Major Characters:
  • Michael Rogers, narrator
  • Fenella "Ellie" Guteman, a.k.a. Ellie Goodman
  • Cora Van Stuyvesant, her stepmother
  • Andrew Lippincott, an attorney, her uncle
  • Frank Barton, her uncle
  • Greta Andersen, Ellie's companion and assistant
  • Claudia Hardcastle, a neighbor
  • Rudolf Santonix, architect, brother to Claudia Hardcastle
  • Mrs. Esther Lee, a fortune-telling gypsy
  • Major Phillpot
Locale: England

Synopsis: Michael Rogers, our narrator, is a wanderer who picks up odd jobs, mostly driving wealthy people in Europe. He is curious about an estate auction of an abandoned, run down property and runs into "Ellie" Guteman on the property. They fantasize about buying it. They marry and do so, despite warnings of a curse by gypsy Esther Lee. It turns out Ellie is quite wealthy.

They commission their dream house from ailing architect Rudolf Santonix, who hopes to complete it before his death. Michael and Ellie move in and try to keep the grasping relations at bay.

Ellie is found dead from an apparent riding accident. More tragedies quickly follow. Are they the result of the curse?

Review: A slow start to this novel as much time is spent with organizing and placating the relatives. Ellie is found dead, and everything unravels from there. There is a startling twist to the plot as additional deaths follow quickly. I did not see the twist coming, and it completely turns the plot on end. An exciting read.

Also see these reviews on The Passing Tramp and My Reader's Block

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Vanity Case by Carolyn Wells (1925)

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About the author: Carolyn Wells (1862-1942) was married to Hadwin Houghton, the heir of the Houghton-Mifflin publishing empire. Like Mary Roberts Rinehart, being in a publishing family created an easy pipeline for getting her works into print. She wrote a total of more than 170 books, including 61 Fleming Stone detective stories. See this Wikipedia article.

Carolyn Wells


Major characters:

  • Myra Heath, 29
  • Perry Heath, her husband
  • Herrick, their butler, head of the servants
  • Lawrence "Larry" Inman, her distant cousin
  • Berenice "Bunny" Moore, 21, the cute little blonde
  • Mrs. Emily Prentiss, the nosy, insomniac neighbor
  • Todhunter "Toddy" Buck, Emily's nephew, self-appointed detective
  • Alexander Cunningham, amateur detective appointed by the Country Club
  • Sam Anderson, Country Club member
  • Detective Mott, of the police
  • Steve Truitt, a private detective



Locale: Gaybrook Harbor, A seaside town on Long Island, NY

Synopsis:

Myra Heath runs her Gaybrook Gardens bungalow home in precise and exacting manner. She and her husband, Perry Heath, an artist, have two house guests: Her distant cousin Larry Inman, and little ingenue Bunny Moore. Meanwhile, Larry Inman is in love with Myra; and Perry (knowing this), courts after Bunny - "All were of broad and tolerant views", indeed! Myra also collects old bottles.

One night the Heath marital problems come to a head when Perry catches Myra and Larry together. The next morning, Myra is found dead on the studio floor, struck down with one of her antique bottles. Perry is nowhere to be found. Adding to the mystery: Myra - a non-user of cosmetics - is found quite painted up and decorated, and the vanity box containing the cosmetics missing.

The neighbor, Emily Prentiss, couldn't sleep and while watching the Heath home out her window, had observed lights in the night when the murder occurred. Her nephew, Todhunter Buck, becomes quite taken with Bunny.

Buck decides to solve the crime for himself, and teams up with Alexander Cunningham, appointed by the nosy Country Club who wonder where their member Heath went. Police Detective Mott questions people without result, and Buck brings in his old pal, private detective Steve Truitt.



Review:

The first chapter describes the locale of Gaybrook Harbor, which is clearly divided in two sections: Harbor Park, where the posh uppity old-money live; and Harbor Gardens, a Bohemian artist community in their eclectic bungalow homes. The descriptions sound exactly like so many coastal communities in Maine, and the description of the bungalow home is completely familiar.

There are only three possible suspects: Bunny, Inman, and Heath; and suspicion flips to each many times. When it appears that only one remains viable, a surprise turn explains everything in a satisfying manner. 

The only drawback of the novel is the plethora of detectives (four!): Mott, of the police; Truitt, a P.I.; and the two amateurs Buck and Cunningham.