Sunday, November 11, 2018

No Hands on the Clock by Geoffrey Homes (1939)

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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.


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.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Bronze Hand 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:

  • "Oily" Oscar Cox, oil magnate
  • Hudder, his odd butler
  • Max Trent, writer of detective stories, the reluctant investigator
  • "Polly" Pollard Nash, the reluctant Watson
  • Maisie Forman, the reclusive I-want-to-be-alone "princess"
  • Harold "Hal" Mallory
  • Sherman Mason, lawyer, reprobate, old friend of Maisie's father
  • Owen Camper
  • Amy Camper, hs wife
  • Lily Gibbs
  • Captain Van Winkle
  • Stanhope, the quiet one
  • Fleming Stone, detective

Locale: aboard the S.S. Pinnacle, en route from New York to Liverpool

Synopsis: A handful of well-to-do embark on the liner Pinnacle bound for England. The most remarkable man is "Oily" Oscar Cox, wealthy oil magnate; and Maisie Forman, a reclusive pretty little thing who just wants to be left alone. Cox shows off his prized possession, a life size bronze casting of a hand, which he regards as his lucky charm. The next morning of the voyage, Cox is found murdered on deck, bludgeoned by the bronze hand. The apparent motive is theft of jewelry for his new wife, whom no one can track down, not even knowing if the marriage has happened yet.

Captain Van Winkle is at a loss what to do next, and appoints Max Trent to investigate - being the most qualified by virtue of being a writer of detective stories. Trent enlists the aid of friend Pollard Nash and they proceed to investigate.

Meanwhile Sherman Mason is making moves on Maisie, who is disgusted and because she and Max Trent are now a thing.


Review: Oh, the virtues and complexity of 1920's etiquette! Say person A and person B wish to converse, they must not do so until they are Properly Introduced by a mutual acquaintance C; otherwise all they can do is raise their eyebrow and sniff "Are we acquainted?". If you have no mutual acquaintance, you are out of luck. Since all the passengers are unknown to each other at the beginning of the voyage, this raises an immediate Dilemma and many pages go by before they gradually become Properly Introduced and can Function as a Society by Speaking to Each Other.

Series detective Fleming Stone finally shows up for a cameo appearance on page 270. Where has he been? Didn't people buy this book to read about him and here we are only 50 pages from the end? It is revealed, but I won't spoil it. Good book to bring on your next sea cruise and enjoy in your deck chair.






Monday, August 6, 2018

Inspector Queen's Own Case by Ellery Queen (1956)

queen.spaceports.com


The full title of this book is Inspector Queen's Own Case: November Song. Technically, too late for the "Golden Age" (between WWI and WWII) but Ellery Queen's writing began in that period.

Major characters:

  • Inspector Richard Queen, New York Police (retired), widower
  • Abe Pearl, Chief of Police, Taugus CT
  • Beck Pearl, his wife
The Humffrey household:
  • A. Burt Finner, shyster attorney, seller of babies
  • Alton K. Humffrey, millionaire resident of Nair Island
  • Sarah Humffrey, his wife
  • Michael Humffrey, "adopted" (purchased) child of the Humffreys
  • Jessie Sherwood, RN, 49 year old nurse for Michael 
  • Mrs. Charbedeau, cook
  • Mrs. Lenihan, housekeeper
  • Rose Healy, upstairs maid
  • Marie Tompkins, downstairs maid
  • Stallings, gardener
  • Henry Cullum, chauffer
  • Sadie Smith, laundress
  • Ronald Frost, Alton's nephew, ne'er do well with big gambling debts
  • Charlie Peterson, guard at the island gatehouse


Locale: Nair Island, off the Connecticut coast; a part of the town of Taugus

Synopsis: The wealthy Humffrey family has a summer home on Nair Island, part of Taugus, CT. There are five other homes on the island, which connects to the mainland by a causeway. Alton and Sarah Humffrey are childless and aging, and arrange a shady purchase of a newborn from shyster attorney A. Burt Finner, whom they name Michael Humffrey. The child is cared for by nurse Jessie Sherwood, 49, single - having lost her fiance at Normandy.

Richard Queen (Ellery's father) has just been forced into retirement, having reached the age of 63. He is somewhat despondent at that, and takes a summer vacation at the home of his friend Abe Pearl, chief of Taugus police.

There is tension from Ronald Frost, Alton's nephew. Ronald runs up gambling debts to which Alton has bailed him out in the past, but no more since Michael has arrived. Ronald had planned to be Alton's only heir, but now that is no longer the case.

One night, someone enters the nursery and smothers Michael with a pillow. Investigation begins by Abe Pearl, along with Richard Queen. Queen and Jessie Sherwood hit it off and a romance blossoms. While searching for a motive, attorney Finner is murdered, and his adoption records stolen.

Review:

Besides the story line, there are two other big themes lurking here. First, the murder of a baby - and children in general - has long been off-limits for mystery writers - but in 1956 that was still happening, so we must overlook the revulsion factor. Second, the theme of persons being seen as outdated and useless to society as they age is ever present in Richard Queen's thoughts; as he considers being pushed out of his organization to make room for younger ones; and collects up his other retired buddies to operate a sub-rosa investigation.

This novel shows the turning point in writing away from the Golden Age style, and into the gritty too-much-detail 1960's style. The Golden Age never discusses things like the appearance of bullet holes, or menstruation! This is what attracts me to the writing of this era. 

The case progresses and is somewhat predictable, with the obvious suspect being eliminated at the last minute. The steady progression of the Queen/Sherwood relationship is handled well and leads to a satisfying conclusion.





Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Patient in Room 18 by Mignon Eberhart (1929)

dustjackets.com

Major characters:

  • Nurse Sarah Keate
  • Nurse Maida Day
  • Dr. Louis Letheny, head doctor, and victim #2
  • Corole Lethany, his cousin
  • Dr. Balman, assistant to Dr. Letheny
  • Dr. Fred Hajek
  • Jim Gainsay, visiting civil engineer
  • Mr. Jackson, victim #1 
  • Higgins, janitor, victim #3
  • Lance O'Leary, detective


Locale: St. Ann's Hospital, locale not defined

Synopsis:

St. Ann's hospital is a former large residence which has been converted into a hospital. Dr.  Louis Letheny lives in the "doctor's cottage" on the grounds, with his cousin, Corole Letheny. She hosts a dinner party there one evening where the main topic of conversation is the extravagant spending by the hospital administration. An example is the recent purchase of 1 gram of radium for $65,000. (And this is in 1929, when an entire ambulance costs $8000).

Nurse Sarah Keate returns to the hospital for the midnight shift after the dinner party. A sudden storm rolls in, and she is surprised by seeing some object fly out a window nearby - then the power goes out. By candlelight, she discovers elderly Mr. Jackson dead in Room 18 - he had been receiving a radium treatment (which consists of taping the radium to the skin for a while, a bit cruder than today's radiation treatments). The precious radium is missing. 

Attempts to find Dr. Lethany are unsuccessful, and he is initially suspected - until his body is found in the locked closet of Room 18 - victim #2. Debonair detective Lance O'Leary arrives on scene to head up the investigation.

Everyone is on edge. Janitor Higgins confesses to Sarah Keate that he saw the murderer, but rushes off without naming the person. Then the lights go out again, a shot is heard, and Higgins is found dead .. in Room 18. 

Sarah Keate stumbles across the missing radium, and gives it to O'Leary. Before he can get it to the police station, he is hit on the head and it is stolen again.

Quotes:

"Here is the coffee," she said huskily. "As coffee should be: black as night, hot as hell, and sweet as love."

Review:

The action is page-turning Mignon Eberhart. Storms, fog, people lurking in and out of windows, dark corridors, strange noises. Suspicion points at each person in turn, until Lance O'Leary sets a trap for the murderer with the aid of Nurse Keate. This is the first Nurse Keate novel, and sets the stage for further episodes of the two. A little longing-from-afar from Keate's perspective, but she is much too professional to let anything romantic progress along that line.

The hospital takes us back to an earlier day when nurses wore caps, capes, crisp white uniforms, and stockings - no ugly baggy scrubs here. The facility is certainly laughable by today's standards (open doors, no emergency lighting, loose radium, each nurse has her own personal hypodermic syringe, lots of morphine and ether, one telephone per floor, open unscreened windows) but remember this is 1929.

One thing I like about her books, and this one especially, is the limited cast of characters. Other authors load us up with throwaway 1-dimensional red herrings just to fill out the suspect pool, but not Eberhart. Each character is here for a purpose.

Speaking of red herrings, there are a few and I was convinced they were the real deal; but I was fooled. The denouement reveals the killing/radium theft was a complex shell game - I confess a bit too complex for me to follow without mapping it out - but it comes to a satisfactory conclusion.

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

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Orient Express by Graham Greene (1932)

photo: abebooks.com

Major characters:


  • Carleton Myatt, a wealthy Jewish businessman
  • Coral Musker, a chorus girl
  • Richard John, retired doctor, hiding his identity as Dr. Czinner
  • Mabel Warren, hard-drinking lesbian journalist
  • Janet Pardoe, her girlfriend
  • Josef Grunlich, burglar
  • Quin Savory, author
  • -- Stein, Myatt's business associate, and uncle of Janet Pardoe



Locale: Ostend, Belgium > Cologne, Germany > Vienna, Austria > Subotica, Serbia > Constantinople

Synopsis:

Carleton Myatt boards the Orient Express on a business trip. He gives up his compartment to chorus girl Coral Musker, who falls ill en route. She is attended to, rather unwillingly, by Dr. Richard John. Journalist Mabel Warren boards the train and seeing Dr. John, remembers him from a trial years before; in which he was a witness for the prosecution but disappeared during the trial. His real name is Dr. Czinner, and he is returning home to Belgrade to lead an uprising.

Josef Grunlich is burgling a home near the Vienna station, and is surprised by the owner. He shoots and kills the owner, and escapes by boarding the train which is in the station.

Myatt becomes affectionate for Coral Musker and they become lovers.

At Subotica, troubles begin. The area is under martial law after an uprising, and troops search the train looking for Czinner, who was to be a leader of the uprising. Czinner, Coral, and Grunlich are taken from the train and given a military tribunal trial. They escape, but Czinner is fatally wounded in the attempt. Coral is rescued by Mabel Warren, who dreams of her as her new lover.

Myatt continues to Constantinople - not knowing what happened to Coral. He and Janet Pardoe meet with his business associate Stein, also Pardoe's uncle; and plan their future.


Review:

This book is a bit hard to follow at times, as the author follow's everyone's thoughts, and not always identifying who is doing the thinking. Some of thoughts are fantasies of better days and faraway places, and they tend to distract from the story line.

There are two distinct story lines here. Up until Subotica, the novel is reminiscent of Christie's Murder on the Orient Express (which was based on this book), and we are just follow the characters as they pair up and get to know each other. Once at Subotica, it becomes a grim story of martial law, a token tribunal trial, escape, and death.

After leaving Subotica, the story returns to our main character Carleton Myatt as he pursues both women and his career.

It was surprising that a book written in 1932 would devote so many pages to Mabel Warren and her relationship with her lover Janet, and yet when Myatt and Coral consummate their affair in the sleeper car, it is all over in one sentence.





Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Let the Tiger Die by Manning Coles (1947)

goodreads.com

Major characters:
  • Tommy Hambledon, of British Intelligence
  • James Hyde, of British Intelligence
  • Johannis, Hambledon's friend in Rotterdam
  • William Forgan, modelmaker
  • Archibald Henry Campbell, modelmaker

The "Middle Europeans":
  • Isidore Skutnas, temporarily called "Brown"
  • Lukas Olgar, temporarily called "Jones"
  • Moritz Wenezky, temporarily called"Robinson"
The Germans:
  • Horaz Kenrade, of the SS (56) aka Kalvag
  • Col. Leonhard Torgius of the Afrika Korps, manager of the Hotel Bienvwnida, aka W. Martin
Captain Dirk Gielink of the Melicent Myrdal

Locale: Sweden > the Netherlands

Synopsis:

Tommy Hambledon is in Stockholm, Sweden. He observes a German abducted by three "Middle Europeans" whom he calls Brown, Jones, and Robinson (BJ&R) - not knowing their real names. He follows i a taxi. The German attempts to escape. In the fracas, Brown, Jones, and Robinson shoot the taxi driver, and the German - who hands Tommy a mysterious packet before he dies, whispering the words "Santa Brigida".

BJ&R tell the police it was Tommy who shot the others, and now Tommy is wanted. He boards the boat rented by the trio, which sets out. The ship's engineer attempts to throw Tommy overboard but falls out  himself. The boat becomes disabled, Tommy gets a tow from the Melicent Myrdal to Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

There is great confusion upon arrival. Skutnas gets arrested. 

Hambledon, travels to Paris. He is followed by Olgar and Wenezky, who are after the packet. Hambledon crosses into Spain and winds up in a prison. His old friends William Forgan and Archibald Henry Campbell, track him down and contrive to wind up in the prison as well. The local communists attack the prison and the three of them escape. Finally they arrive at Santa Brigida to find various Nazis taking over a hotel and planning the comeback of the Third Reich. 

Review:

Any Manning Coles novel is a delight. Tommy Hambledon is an adventurous agent, always jumping into conflicts with little planning, hoping that, as his favorite saying goes, "some scheme will doubtless present itself." These schemes always involve impersonations, sketchy border crossings, chases, escapes, making general fools of the enemy, chaos, and explosions.

His friends Forgan and Campbell can always be counted on to jump to his side and assist. The chase across Europe occupies most of the book, with the Nazi encounter not occurring until the end. The Nazi meeting is disrupted in a most satisfying manner with the help of a friendly dog and a not-so-friendly fish.


Friday, July 20, 2018

The Needle's Kiss by Austin J. Small (1929)

dustjackets.com

Major characters:

  • Gilan Maxick, the body in the river
  • Erich Maxick, his brother
  • Toby Essex, owner of the Spindrift
  • Hilary Kittredge, his girlfriend
  • Johnny Kittredge, brother of Hilary
  • Sir John Kittridge, their father, newly appointed Police Commissioner
  • Grosman, Chinese captain of the Yangtse freighter
  • Manning, of the Thames River Police
  • Proctor, his assistant
  • Chinky the Junk, a junk dealer
  • Engleberg, a.k.a. "The Hamburger", a keeper of chickens
  • Blind Rudley, a seller of matches
  • Graham Lingard, a drug dealer



Locale: the Thames River, London

Synopsis:

Toby Essex and Hilary Kittridge are aboard the Spindrift as they observe the Thames River Police fish a body out of the river, while the Chinaman Grosman watches them and makes threatening gestures from the freighter Yangtse. The body is later identified as Gilan Maxick, and the cause of death is a Chinese dagger tipped with poison. 

Manning and Proctor of the Thames River Police are being pressured to find the source of cocaine being smuggled into London via the river. Grosman is their prime suspect, but they have no evidence.

Hilary Kittridge, daughter of the newly appointed Police Commissioner, visits a local night club with her brother, Johnny Kittridge. She is an adventurer, and decides to board the Yangtse to see if she can find evidence linking Grosman to the murder, but she is caught and held captive aboard ship. Grosman seeks to control her by forcibly addicting her to cocaine. Meanwhile, Manning manages to turn Erich Maxich, brother of the dead man, to provide evidence.

Review:

Dark foggy nights along the Thames River? Perfect setting for a murder mystery, what? As Chapter 1 opens: "Dank river smells, cold and clammy, and as transient as the dawn itself, hung faintly on the air and fused into the sharp tang of the mist wraiths that swirled about likes wisps of torn gossamer above the fast-running tide." Makes "It was a dark and stormy night" look like a Kindergarten exercise.

This is more a police procedural than a mystery - the culprits are known right away, and the action focuses on finding evidence to make an arrest. Hilary Kittridge is a Nancy Drew-like adventurer, lurking around the docks in evening dress and heels with her trusty flashlight, investigating on her own and winding up in big trouble. 

The details of the cocaine trade are detailed and could be taken from today's news. The descriptions of reactions to cocaine, and its withdrawal, are very specific and scary. 

One chapter seems a bit theatrical as a dying stabbing victim repeatedly gets up to argue the entire case with his assailants. After Hilary is kidnapped, she disappears from the narrative for many chapters, leading us to wonder what happened to her. Not to fear, she eventually reappears.

All in all, excellent scenes and descriptions.