Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Black Heart by Sydney Horler (1928)





Sydney Horler (photo: vintage45.wordpress.com)


About the author: Here is a Wikipedia article about Sydney Horler. He also has three titles in the Mystery League series: The Curse of DoonePeril! and The False Purple.

Major characters:

Gilbert Chertsey, an author-turned-adventurer

The members of The Black Heart:
  • Sir Luke Benisty, the tall, slim aristocrat
  • Sylvester Lade, owner of the teahouse
  • Barrington Snell, writer for the scandal sheets
  • Lefarge, the square-bearded man
  • Thibau, the pale shadow
  • C. R. J. Simpson, the dead man in the closet
The good guys:
  • Ann Trentham, the violet-eyed mystery woman in black
  • Honorable William Summers
  • Napoleon Miles, a.k.a. Paul Lorenzo, club guitarist
  • Washburn Rinehart, a.ka. James Forbes, advisor to the US president
Locale: Paris and London

Synopsis:

Gilbert Chertsey, of Clarges Street, London, is a romance novel author who sets out to see Paris in search of plot ideas for his novels. He is accosted by two men, Lefarge and Thibau, who offer him a large amount of money to return to London and take up residence in a certain apartment at 712, Guildford Street. Intrigued, he accepts the offer. A mysterious woman in black (Ann Trentham), warns him not to go through with it. 

He arrives at the apartment to find a dead man (Simpson) inside. He goes out and encounters Trentham, who again warns him not to stay there. When he returns to the apartment, the body is gone. Sir Luke Benisty invites him into The Society of the Black Heart, and he decides to join - as a spy for Ann Trentham, whom he is falling for.

Chertsey is given an assignment by the Black Heart - to spy on an arriving American, James Forbes. Chertsey meets up with him to find, to his astonishment, he is really his uncle, Washburn Rinehart, travelling incognito. Rinehart is travelling on behalf of the president of the US to forestall a war in Europe.

Rinehart, Chertsey, and Trentham all wind up prisoners of the Black Heart in an old mansion.

Review:

Syndey Horler is a writer of thrillers - and thrillers they are! They are page turners from Page 1. The story begins with a beautiful mystery woman, dark tea houses on the side streets of Paris, and the streets of London.

The action continues to pick up with no letup. The story is similar to Hitchcock's plots in which the innocent man is drawn into intrigue; and there are many similarities here to Hitchcock's North by Northwest. The action comes to a climax in - where else? A dark, moldy old castle complete with secret passages, sliding doors, and a dungeon.

I continue to seek out Horler's books. Three of his titles appear in The Mystery League publications of the 1930's. See my blog, Reading the Mystery League.


Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Perfect Crime by Ellery Queen (1942)

photo: Wildwood Antique Malls


Major characters:

Ellery Queen, detective
Nikki Porter, his secretary

Walter Mathews, young millionaire
John Mathews, his uncle, a stock swindler
Carlotta "Aunty Carlo" Emerson, Walter's maiden aunt with the on/off accent
Togo, her pet chimpanzee
Arthur Rhodes, a lawyer, partner of John

Raymond Garten, rare book collector
Marian, his daughter, fiancée of Walter
Henry Griswold, his librarian

Locale: New York City

Synopsis:

Rich Walter Mathews comes to ask Ellery Queen for his help. His uncle, John Mathews, has swindled many people with oil well stock scams; including Raymond Garten, the father of Walter's fiancée, Marian Garten.

Raymond Garten, now broke, is forced to auction his beloved rare book collection. Altruistic Walter has an idea: He gives Ellery $250k to purchase the collection for him as a third-party, so Raymond will be unaware Walter is the buyer. He plans to give it to Marian as a wedding gift, so that it will stay in the Garten family and Raymond will be unable to refuse it. Ellery buys the lot and moves it to Walter's home; next door to the Mathews home.

No sooner has this been accomplished than John Mathews is found dead in his study. 


Review:

This book is prefaced with "Based on the Columbia Motion Picture Ellery Queen and the Perfect Crime", an ominous admission that it was back-written from the movie - generally a bad sign, and one that the Queen authors (Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee) had little to do with writing it. Eye-rolling continued when I find that one of the characters is a chimpanzee who has been taught how to shoot a gun (thought this sort of thing went out with Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue).

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a respectable, concise plot; in the same vein as Queen's country-titled novels of the same era (Chinese Orange, French Powder, etc). My 1942 Grosset & Dunlap edition has a sketch map of the crime scene in Chapter 6 (p. 75), which is essential if you wish to figure out how the murder occurred, and careful study of the map itself may provide the answer for you.

A rather humorous aside is the conversations in which the investigators speculate 1). does a chimpanzee have fingerprints, and 2). if so, is it possible to take them?





Sunday, December 16, 2018

Murder in the Rain by Wilson Collison (1929)




Wilson Collison (wikipedia)


About the author: Wilson Collison (1893-1941) abandoned plans to become a scientist when he found he preferred writing. He was nine when a Columbus newspaper accepted one of his stories. His writing was largely self-developed, as he completed only one year of high school. He worked as a printer, a stenographer, an advertising writer, and as a clerk in the wholesale and retail drug business. (excerpt from wikipedia article)

Major characters:


  • Richard Trent, Assistant District Attorney, our narrator
  • Molly Vare, news reporter
  • Barry Maldon, actor
  • A. H. Heiman, theatrical producer
  • Lefty Murgan, bootlegger
  • Kyra Weldon, a.k.a. Miss Ardley
  • Carter Welson, her husband
  • Maisie Tate, a blonde ingénue
  • Henry -- , a taxi driver
  • Morton Wendover, District Attorney
  • Inspector Jason Breene
  • Captain Corrigan


Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Our narrator, Richard "Dick" Trent, Assistant District Attorney for New York, sends his wife off on vacation to California. While she is gone, he keeps platonic company with friend Molly Vane, an elegant, pushy theatre news reporter in the style of Brenda Starr. They attend a theatre opening starring Barry Maldon, latest heart-throb actor. The next morning, Maldon is found stabbed to death in his apartment. Trent is placed in charge of the investigation, and Vane worms her way in, citing her knowledge of theatre circles.

The investigation becomes an analysis of people moving in and out over the murder scene over a period of time, and witnesses' stories are compared. Meanwhile, Molly Vane pursues her own path outside of the authorities, to identify the killer and the unusual technique.

Review:

The novel is prefaced with both a "foreword" and a "reviser's note" which seek to drum up excitement about the spectacular, unique crime and and its solution.

This is a tight novel, with a very small cast of characters, deeply intertwined. I was tempted to chart out the people's movements over time, as this could have graphically led to the killer - but I did not and let the novel take its course.

The unusual technique of the murder is hinted at throughout the book, and I did foresee the technique used - but not the identity of the murderer. 

Molly Vane pops in at the dénouement and presents the full reveal - including much information which had not been shared earlier - a bit of unfairness to the reader.

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. 

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. Leo 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 (in 307, broken arm*), wife of Dr. Harrigan
       *hospital seems to have a low threshold for admissions - gotta keep those beds filled!


Others:
  • Kenwood Ladd, architect, possible love interest of Ina Harrigan
  • Thomas Wepling, Ina Harrigan's lawyer
  • Courtney "Court" Melady, husband (and cousin!) of Dione
  • Lieutenant Lance O'Leary

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. Suspicion points first to the missing Peter Melady, then to architect Kenwood Ladd, who spends a lot of time visiting now-widowed Ina Harrigan.

During the investigation, someone attempts to strangle Dione Melady, she survives. It becomes apparent the blue snuff bottle is the key to the mystery, but it cannot be found.

After the police arrest a suspect, Lieutenant Lance O'Leary (secret love interest of Sarah Keate) arrives and they collaborate on finding the killer.

Review:

This, as well as the other Sarah Keates, give us a view of healthcare in the 1930's and makes us appreciate our high premiums today! We are guests of a hospital without air conditioning, having flying insects, gender stereotypes [doctors are male, nurses are female], surgery using an Ether cone, and a rather nostalgic world where nurses wear starched white uniforms, caps, and white stockings which whisper when they walk. Makes the ugly scrubs of today downright appalling.

If you read the Sarah Keate series for the appearance of Lance O'Leary, you may be disappointed. He does not show up until the very end after Sarah Keate has done all the work. 

A troubling aspect of this title is the one African-American who plays a key role in the story, is only referred to as "the Negro" and denied the dignity of a name. He also suffers the stigma of being a case in the Charity Ward. Certainly a reflection of the 1930's. Caution: the N-word appears once in a conversation. 

As far as the mystery goes, it is a guesser right up to the abrupt end, the last two words of the book being the name of the murderer.



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.