Saturday, June 5, 2021

Jerusalem Inn by Martha Grimes (1988)


About the author: This is #5 of 25 books featuring Richard Jury. See this Wikipedia article for biography and list of the 25 Richard Jury books. Click this Martha Grimes label to see all my reviews of this series.

Major characters:

  • Helen Minton, a bulding tour guide
  • Richard Jury
  • Melrose Plant
  • Aunt Agatha, Melrose's aunt
  • Vivian Rivington


Synopsis: Richard Jury is en route to his cousin's for the Christmas holidays, more out of a feeling of obligation than desire. He stops in the village of Washington and while wandering around encounters a young woman, Helen Minton, in the churchyard cemetery. She is studying some gravestones and making notes. She feels faint upon standing, and Jury is concerned and offers to escort her home. They have a visit and drinks; and set up a dinner date upon his return. 

Jury continues to his cousin's place, and stops in Washington again on the return. He finds the authorities present at Old Hall, a historic site in which Helen was a tour guide. She had been found dead in the upstairs bedroom, a vial of pills at hand.


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

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Day the World Ended by Sax Rohmer (1929)

About the author: Arthur Henry "SarsfieldWard (1883 – 1959), better known as Sax Rohmer, was a prolific English novelist. He is best remembered for his series of novels featuring the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu. (wikipedia)

Major characters:
  • Brian Woodville, correspondent for The Daily World, our narrator
  • Mme. Yburg
  • Marusa Yburg, her daughter
  • Gaston Max of the Surete, a.k.a. M. Paul, a flamboyant Frenchman
  • John Lonergan, US Secret Service, a.k.a. Aldous P. Kluster, Rev. Josiah Higgins
  • Anubis, master of Felsenweir castle, and cult leader
  • Nestor, a chemist
Locale: Baden-Baden, Germany

Synopsis: Brian Woodville, correspondent for The Daily World (and our narrator), is in Baden-Baden, Germany to investigate a story of giant bats haunting the local cemetery, and rumors of vampires. He is awaked at 3AM in his hotel by a voice warning him he has three days to leave Baden-Baden.

His first day he makes the acquaintance of:
  1. a mysterious woman, Mme.Yburg. 
  2. a flamboyant Frenchman, M. Paul
  3. a typical US tourist, Aldous Kluster
and initially considers all three of them adversaries. He meets an enchanting young lady, Marusa. He visits the cemetery to find Mme. Yburg has a key, and he sees a giant bat descend on the mausoleum of the Felsenweirs.

The second day he journeys into the Black Forest and finds a spot overlooking the Felsenweir castle, supposedly empty. But he sees guards in armor patrolling the grounds.  He then finds Aldous Kluster is really John Lonergan of the US Secret Service, and M. Paul is really Gaston Max of the Surete. They form an alliance.

They discover the castle is the source of mysterious energy fields, and that these fields had been previously reported disrupting radio communications in New England, coinciding with a visit there by Mme. Yburg.

Their attempts to infiltrate the castle are hindered by the energy fields surrounding it, and they wind up prisoners of Anubis, master of the castle; who has a plan to destroy all life in world (except for him and his followers). Woodville's love interest Marusa is in the castle also, and now she appears to be one of the enemy. Now it is up to Woodville, Lonergan, and Max to thwart Anubis' plan.

Review: I always thought Sax Rohmer, being author of the Fu Manchu books, was an inscrutable oriental himself - and I was astounded to find he is a regular guy named Arthur Ward (bio). But Oh, what fun! This book is more a science fiction adventure/romance than a mystery, featuring the mysterious Black Forest, cemeteries, mausoleums, giant bats, a castle complete with drawbridge and guards in armor. 

Some interesting aspects are the foreshadowing of inventions we take for granted today - remember, this is 1929 - remote controls, miniaturized cell-phone like radios, tracking of people by tags (similar to our RFID) worn on the wrist, and aerial (drone-like) surveillance.

One loose end left hanging was the explanation of the failed experiments in Hartford, Connecticut. It is mentioned they failed, and although disrupting radio throughout New England, no explanation is provided nor is it tied into the plot in any way. That story line was simply dropped.

If you really enjoy stories featuring giant flying bats, be sure to seek out The Curse of Doone by Sydney Horler (1930), a Mystery League title.

Monday, May 31, 2021

A Deadly Vineyard Holiday by Philip R. Craig (#8 -1997)


This is Martha's Vineyard mystery #8.

About the author: Philip R. Craig (1933 –2007) was a writer known for his Martha's Vineyard mysteries. He was born in Santa Monica and raised on a cattle ranch near Durango, Colorado. In 1951 he attended Boston University intending to become a minister, and got a degree in 1957. He taught English and Journalism at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts from 1962 to 1965, and at Wheelock College in Boston until 1999, at which point he retired to become a full-time writer. (Wikipedia)

Major characters:

  • Cricket Callahan a.k.a. Debby Jackson, daughter of the president
  • Joe & Myra Callahan, the president and first lady
  • Karen Lea a.k.a. Karen Jackson, Secret Service agent
  • Walt Pomerlieu, Secret Service agent
  • Ted Harris, Secret Service agent
  • Joan Lonergan, Secret Service agent
  • Jake Spitz, FBI agent
  • Burt Phillips, writer for a scandal sheet
  • Kenneth Eppers, a retired spook
  • Barbara Miller, a retired spook
Locale: Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Synopsis: The president, Joe Callahan; first lady, Myra Callahan; and teenage daughter Cricket Callahan are vacationing on Martha's Vineyard. J. W. Jackson encounters Cricket while surf fishing. She is frustrated with the constant surveillance by the Secret Service and wishes to get out by herself. She winds up at J. W.'s house with the Secret Service keeping an eye in the background.

J.W. notices a car stationed at the end of his driveway. It is occupied by Burt Phillips, a writer for a scandal sheet, The National Planet. J. W. flattens his tire to strand him until the authorities can take a look at him. Phillips walks up  the drive to the neighboring wildlife refuge, where he is later found dead from a broken neck.

J.W. learns there is concern about a possible attack on Cricket, and it is suspected that one of the Secret Service agents may be in on the plot; and may have been responsible for Phillips' death. This makes returning her to the compound unwise. Cricket changes her appearance and assumes a false identity of Debby Jackson, a cousin; and enjoys some time on the island as an un-famous teenager.

Review: A good adventure if you can suspend disbelief a bit, and envision the Secret Service A). losing track of one of the presidential family, and B). allowing her to stay with unknown J.W. Jackson instead of in the secure compound. The Secret Service agents come off as thugs, and I am sure they are much more professional in dealing with the public than portrayed. I hope so.

Those things aside, a good page-turning read of the "if you can't trust the government, who can you trust?" situation. It is amusing when J.W. learns a presidential visit to his home is imminent. What to do first? Mow the lawn? Shave? Put on clean clothes? Fix something to eat? I read 3/4 of the book in one sitting, only stopping as I was getting sleepy.

PS. There is no particular holiday - as mentioned in the title - involved. Think of holiday meaning "presidential vacation."

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout (1966)


About the author: Rex Stout (1886 – 1975) was an American writer noted for his detective fiction. His best-known characters are the detective Nero Wolfe and his assistant Archie Goodwin, who were featured in 33 novels and 39 novellas between 1934 and 1975. (wikipedia). (bibliography)

Major characters:

  • Isabel Kerr, the doxy
  • Avery Ballou, Isabel's sugar daddy
  • Orrie Cather, private investigator
  • Jill Hardy, Orrie's fiancé
  • Stella Fleming, Jill Hardy's sister
  • Barry Fleming, Stella's husband
  • Dr. Theodore Gamm, an internist
  • Amy Jackson, a.k.a. Julie Jaquette, a night club singer
  • Archie Goodwin, private investigator
  • Nero Wolfe,  private investigator

Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Nero Wolfe's contract investigator, hotheaded Orrie Cather, is engaged to Jill Hardy. He previously had a fling with Isabel Kerr, who lives large but has no visible means of support. Turns out she is a doxy, a kept woman by sugar daddy business mogul Avery Ballou.

Isabel wants Orrie for herself, and tries to hold him by grabbing his P.I. license and stashing it in her room. Orrie, busy on another job, has Archie Goodwin visit her apartment to retrieve it. Archie finds her dead, hit on the head with a heavy ashtray.

The police find Orrie's license in her room. Orrie winds up held as a material witness, with a murder charge expected. The only way to get Orrie out of trouble is for Wolfe to find the killer. Wolfe enlists the aid of Julie Jaquette, night club singer and Isabel's best friend, to force the killer's hand. It works, the killer takes a few shots at Julie to show it.

Review: This had sat on my shelf for 24 years since the last reading, and I had forgotten how good it is. Bev's review (link below) spells it out in detail, but suffice to say Wolfe gets enamored with a night club singer, and elevates her to a place of honor in his home. Wolfe's method of exposing the killer is clever, and Archie adds a unique tweak to solve multiple problems all at once; including earning a substantial fee. Inspector Cramer only has a couple brief appearances, as Wolfe and Archie do most of the legwork. Great characters, and now I know what a hedgehog omelette is (it has almonds stuck in it which resemble the hedgehog's spines). 

See also this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Pattern by Mignon G. Eberhart (1937)

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:
  • Nan Bayne, our protagonist
  • Reginald Preedy, a lawyer, Nan's host
  • Maud Preedy, Reginald's wife
  • Olga, the Preedy maid
  • Alec, the Preedy boatman
  • Freida Tredinick, Nan's aunt
  • Ted Tredinick, Freida's son?
  • Jerome Cable, Nan's former fiancé
  • Celia Cable, Jerome's wife
  • Marietta Beauparle, Celia's French maid
  • John McHenry, sheriff
  • Jacob Wait, detective on vacation
Locale: Tredinick Island and adjacent Haven Island, on a lake near Chicago

Synopsis: There are two adjacent islands on a lake, Tredinick Island and Haven Island. Tredinick Island is home to the Preedys and the Tredinicks. Haven Island is home to the Cables.

Nan Bayne, a niece to the Tredinicks, is visiting the island and staying with Reginald and Maud Preedy. This is her first return to the island in three years - since she had left when fiancé Jerome Cable suddenly dumped her and married Celia.

Jerome meets Nan on the beach and he explains that he still loves her, and that the broken engagement was the result of a deception by Celia. Jerome insists he will get a divorce in order to marry Nan. Celia refuses to give him the divorce, and mentions something vague about her "pattern". Nan goes to Haven Island that night to confront Celia about her deception but cannot find her. On her way back to Tredinick Island, her rowboat bumps into a drifting canoe. Later the canoe is found to contain the body of Celia, shot to death.

The authorities want to arrest Jerome. Meanwhile, Nan has several encounters with black widow spiders, and since one is found in a closed jar, it appears someone is planting them near her.

Review: This has an interesting setup with two islands, and the body found in between. This has the usual Eberhart plot line of lovers wrongly accused. The setting is well done, with much activity occurring an night on the two islands -  and in between. 

The leave-me-alone-I'm-on-vacation detective, Jacob Wait, is just annoying. He lurks in the background for most of the book while people get his name wrong (Mr. Mate) and when finally he does speak up, he wants to hurry everyone and get it over with; sort of a gruff version of Carolyn Wells' Fleming Stone. He could have been dropped from the story and Sheriff John McHenry could have handled it on his own easily.

One aspect that was a bit jarring was the introduction of a new character, Frank Duro, near the end of the book. He is an essential part of the murder mystery and it seemed unfair to wait until the end to bring him in.

I thought here could be some loose ends but everything was tied up, including the spiders, the second light by the boathouse, and what the "pattern" is.

Overall, a great book to read in your lake cottage on a rainy weekend.  Watch out for spiders.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

About the author: Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894 – 1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. He was also a screenwriter and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse) and the comic strip character Secret Agent X-9. (wikipedia)

Major characters:
  • Sam Spade, private eye
  • Miles Archer, his partner
  • Effie Perrine, their secretary
  • Brigid O'Shaughnessy, a.k.a. Miss Ruth Wonderly
  • Joel Cairo, a slippery Greek
  • Casper Gutman, the fat man
  • Floyd Thursby
  • Iva Archer, Miles' widow
  • Detective Tom Polhaus
  • Lt. Dundy

Locale: San Francisco CA

Synopsis: Private Eye Sam Spade is approached by Miss Ruth Wonderly, who hires him to follow Floyd Thursby, who has run off with her sister. Miles Archer goes out on the tail job and is quickly shot dead. Hours later, Thursby himself is shot dead. Lt. Dundy of the police immediately suspect Spade of having shot Thursby in revenge.

The next day, Archer's widow, Iva Archer, comes to Spade's office and a romance between them is revealed. Miss Wonderly is found to be Brigid O'Shaughnessy, who is looking for a black statuette of a falcon. She is one of a group of three who all want it, the others being slippery Joel Cairo and fat man Casper Gutman.

Brigid admits her initial story about her sister was all a fabrication, she really wanted Spade to locate Thursby, who had hidden the falcon somewhere. Spade agrees to try to locate the falcon, but insists on the gang agreeing on a fall guy to take the blame for two murders.

Review: Despite the detailed description of Sam Spade, Joel Cairo, and Casper Gutman; my mind's eye can only see them as Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet as cast in the 1941 film version.

The best way to enjoy this classic book and film is as a duo. Read the book FIRST, then watch the 1941 film. The bulk of the film's dialog is taken verbatim from the book, so you can follow the story easily. The characters - all except Bogart - speak so rapidly (as was the custom then), there is no way you can follow their dialog unless you had an advance inkling of what they are saying. Plus, on my DVD version, Bogart is the only actor who can be heard with adequate volume - all the others are much quieter, likely due to microphone placement issues.

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

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Preying Mantis by Nancy Rutledge (1947)

About the author: Nancy Rutledge (1901-1976) was the author of ten works of crime fiction between 1944 and 1960 under her own name, two of them published only in England. She also had one mystery novel published as by Leigh Bryson in 1947. Rutledge had eight mystery novels serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, and one in a 1960 issue of Redbook. (gadetection) (bibliography)

Major characters:

  • Curtis Hilton, civil engineer
  • Horatia, his housekeeper
  • Douglas Trevor, his cousin
  • Barbara Sandine, society reporter for The Blade, Trevor's fiancé
  • Ricki Anthony, Trevor's spur-of-the-moment bride
  • Paulo Murdock, Ricki's philanthropist uncle
  • Lutz Walters, Paulo's secretary / strong-arm man

Locale: The midwest

Synopsis: Curtis Hilton receives a call from his cousin/roommate, Douglas Trevor, but he can hardly make him out. Trevor is badly injured in a hotel room somewhere. The next day, Hilton receives a telegram informing him Trevor is dead in a fall off a train, and his widow is accompanying his body home for burial.

This is a double surprise for Hilton - not only is his cousin dead, but he had been engaged to someone else: Barbara Sandine, society reporter for The Blade. 

Hilton meets the train carrying the body and meets the new bride: Ricki Anthony, now Ricki Anthony Trevor. She is accompanied by her uncle, millionaire philanthropist Paulo Murdock. Hilton also finds that Ricki is totally blind. Things do not add up - why had Doug suddenly dropped Barbara to marry a stranger?

Paulo and Ricki begin to work on Curtis. They are looking for a small jeweled preying mantis, but will not reveal why. Douglas had it and was sending it to Curtis, but Douglas was killed for it.

Paulo and his secretary/strong-arm man Lutz Walters take Barbara hostage to force Curtis to give up the mantis. In return, Curtis takes Ricki hostage to force the release of Barbara - a standoff. 

Review: This story involves everyone seeking a jeweled preying mantis, for reasons not stated until late in the story. It is clear, however, it has some mysterious use and is not being sought for the intrinsic value of its jewels. It reminded me immediately of The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929), which preceded it by 18 years. Perhaps it had some influence. 

The most interesting aspect - and one that I enjoyed immensely - is the style of the writing. Curtis Hilton is our protagonist. The story is told in the third person, but interspersed are sections set in italics, which represent Curtis’ voice in his head - his thoughts at the moment as he ponders developments and makes choices. This made it easy to follow his reasoning and actually does a lot of the reader’s work us, allowing us to follow the story effortlessly.

It is known the preying mantis is concealed somewhere. It was clear to me from the beginning where it was, as the location is mentioned several times by the author as the story develops, without apparent reason. But that did not detract from the enjoyment. 

This story led me to look up Nancy Rutledge’s bibliography (below) and seek out other titles, and get The Maltese Falcon off my shelf for a long overdue re-read.

Beware the Hoot Owl (1944)
Blood On the Cat (1946)
THe Preying Mantis (1947)
Murder For Millions (1949)
Easy to Murder (1951)
Cry Murder (1954)
Murder in Disguise (1956)
The Frightened Murderer (1957)
Death Stalks the Bride (1958)
Escape Into Danger (1959)
Forgotten World (1960)
Alibi For Murder (1961)