Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bachelors Get Lonely by A. A. Fair (1961)

About the author: A. A. Fair is a pseudonym of Erle Stanley Gardner.

Major characters:
  • Montrose L. Carson, a property appraiser
  • Irene Addis, employee of Montrose Carson
  • Herbert Jason Dowling, a property appraise, Carson's competitor
  • Bernice Clinton, employee of Herbert J. Dowling
  • Donald Lam, investigator
  • Bertha Cool, his partner
  • Elsie Brand, his secretary
Locale: Los Angeles


Appraiser Montrose Carson hires Cool & Lam to find out who is the leak in his office. Whenever he prepares to close on a deal, his competitor Herbert J. Dowling beats him to it at the last moment with a better price. Bertha Cool cooks up a scheme to reveal who the leaker is, by putting up a fake property deal with Donald Lam as the "seller". To help create a realistic identity, Lam moves into a bachelor apartment and secretary Elsie Brand poses as his girlfriend. Dowling's employee, Bernice Clinton, approaches Lam with a better (than Carson's) offer; and the details reveal Irene Addis as the leaker in Carson's office.

Lam follows Carson to a motel, where Carson meets a woman. After she leaves, Lam looks in the window to see Carson dead on the floor, and a bullet hole in the window.


With A. A. Fair you are always guaranteed skulking around looking in windows, and secret meetings at cheap motels, with every woman in the cast throwing herself at Donald Lam; and this one is no different. It is a fun romp with a clever trap set by Bertha Cool to find the leaker. The repartée between Lam and Elsie Brand is always enjoyable. I always find A. A. Fair works to be best taken at either one or at most two sittings, as everybody assumes various alias' throughout, and it's hard to keep it all straight over more than two days!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

There Is A Tide by Agatha Christie (1948)

Major characters:
  • Gordon Cloade (deceased) and his widow, Rosaleen
  • Dr. Lionel Cloade (Gordon's brother), and his wife Kathie, a spiritualist
  • Jeremy Cloade (Gordon's brother), a lawyer, and his wife Frances
  • Rowley Cloade (Gordon's nephew), a farmer (engaged to Lynn Marchmont)
  • Adela Marchmont, Gordon's widowed sister
  • Lynn Marchmont, Adela's daughter, just out of the service
  • David Hunter, Rosaleen's brother, an adventurer
  • Robert Underhay (presumed deceased), Rosaleen's first husband
  • Enoch Arden, a blackmailer
  • Major Porter

Locale: Warmsley Vale, England

Synopsis: Wealthy, childless widower Gordon Cloade had always ensured his two brothers, one sister, and nephew they would be well taken care of when he died. Then he married a much younger woman, Rosaleen Hunter Underhay, widow of Robert Underhay, believed dead in Africa. Not long after the marriage, Gordon is killed in the London blitz bombing.

Now the Cloades: doctor Lionel Cloade, lawyer Jeremy Cloade, farmer Rowley Cloade, and Adela Marchmont are in an awkward position. All struggling financially, they had placed their hopes in a large inheritance. But now Rosaleen is his only heir; and she is burning through the fortune with her wild and crazy brother David Hunter. 

Enoch Arden shows up with a blackmail offer: How much is it worth to the Cloades for proof Robert Underhay is still alive? If he is, Rosaleen's subsequent marriage to Gordon is invalid, and the Cloade brothers are again heirs. This is worth quite a bit. On the other hand, how much is it worth to Rosaleen's scheming brother David Hunter not to reveal the information, since it would cut off his source of money? Place your bids. A dangerous game - Enoch Arden is found dead in his hotel room with no leads as to Robert Underhay at all. Suspicions are aroused that Enoch Arden is not his real name, as it is really the name of a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson which has a similar plot. But who is he?

Hercule Poirot visits to investigate a murder in which everyone has a motive.

Review: A very tight Rubik's Cube of a novel. Each person has a motive for murder and they all interlock. One interesting plot element is the path of inheritence depending who dies in what order. Several twists and turns occur with a big surprise at the end. I had a bit of trouble figuring the family relationships out, with one enigma remaining: If Rowley is Gordon's nephew, who are his parents? Not Jeremy and Frances, it is stated they had only one child (Anthony) who was killed in the war. Not Lionel and Kathie, since he refers to her as his aunt. Not widowed Adela, since he is engaged to her daughter (who would then be his sister). Not essential to the plot, but still a naggy loose end.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

El Rancho Rio by Mignon Eberhart (1970)

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:
  • Craig Wilson
  • Indian Joe, Craig's confidante and our primary investigator.
  • Rhoda Wilson, Craig's first wife
  • Guy Casso, who had affair with Rhoda
  • Susan Wilson, Craig and Rhoda's teenage daughter
  • Mady Wilson, Craig's current (second) wife
  • Boyce and Edith Wilson, Craig's brother and his wife
  • Mirabel, Craig's aunt
  • Jim Marsh - Mady's previous lover
  • Walter Banner - a lost tourist, or is he?

Locale: the Nevada desert

Synopsis: Craig and Mady Wilson, wealthy from mining discoveries, have a ranch, El Rancho Rio, in the Nevada desert. During his previous marriage to Rhoda Wilson, Craig and she had a daughter, now 12-year old Susan. Their marriage fell apart after Rhoda had an affair with Guy Casso. Craig had remarried, to our protagonist Mady Wilson.  One night Guy enters their home and assaults Mady, then runs away. The next day Mady is out riding and finds Casso's body in the desert, dead from being struck with a piece of souvenir railroad rail from their home. Indian Joe, Craig's assistant and confidante, is pressed into service as the de facto investigator.

Rhoda arrives with a deal for Mady - essentially to swap their men. Mady can have her former lover, Jim Marsh, back if she gives up Craig to Rhoda to remarry, so she (Rhoda) can again have custody of her daughter. Meanwhile a snowstorm comes in to trap the Wilsons along with Rhoda, Jim Marsh, Boyce and Edith Wilson, and lost stranger Walter Banner all in the same house - knowing one of them is a killer. And of course, the power goes out, and a gun is missing. (This is essentially the same plot setup as in Deep Lay the Dead by Frederick C. Davis.)

Edith Wilson mentions knowledge of Casso's killer, and she too is killed by someone on the ranch.

Review: Eberhart's stories are always enjoyable with the female protagonist who is always getting in trouble - as we follow her thoughts as she tries to get out of it. Eberhart excels in her place descriptions - this time the desert of Nevada (being from New England, this is a place I would not normally associate with snowstorms!). The desert locale is described almost as well as Erle Stanley Gardner. The character of Susan as a precocious 12-year old is well done and serves to move the plot along. Written in 1970, we see how far treatment of minorities in fiction had come (albeit with a long way still to go). Indian Joe (never dignified with a last name) is cast as Craig's confidante and our primary investigator. While some stereotypical language and mannerisms remain, it is also noted Joe has a Master's degree in Philosophy.

Friday, July 19, 2019

And So To Murder by Carter Dickson (1940)

About the author: Carter Dickson is a pseudonym of John Dickson Carr.

Major characters:

  • Monica Stanton, author and now script writer
  • Thomas Hackett, producer
  • Howard Fisk, director
  • Bill Cartwright, script writer and investigator
  • Frances Fleur, actress
  • Kurt Gagern, Frances Fleur's husband, assistant director, a.k.a. Joe Collins
  • Tilly Parsons, script writer
  • H.M., Sir Henry Merrivale

Locale: outside London

Synopsis: Monica Stanton, daughter of a parson, has written a spicy book, Desire, which has become a best seller, and is now being made into a movie. She is hired by producer Thomas Hackett, assuming it is to work on the movie version. To her surprise, she is not assigned to write her own script, but instead a detective story by Bill Cartwright; who will, in turn, write her script. 

She meets her idol Frances Fleur who will star in Desire. Everyone is on edge following a theft of acid, and its accidental spillage on a set. Then Monica is summoned to a deserted set where an attempt is made on her life using more acid; thwarted at the last moment by Bill Cartwright. Monica receives threatening letters as the pressure mounts. Who wants to kill her, and why?

Review: This is what you would get if Manning Coles wrote Sunset Boulevard. It is a slam-bang thriller (not a murder mystery, despite the title) featuring H.M., Sir Henry Merrivale. It begins with the young girl-next-door getting a job as a script writer at an exciting film studio and falling in love with another writer, our leading man. Then the mayhem begins: poisons, shootings, windows breaking, people thrown into the lake. Most of the legwork is done by our leading man Bill Cartwright, and he manages to pull H.M. in, unwillingly, toward the end. Unlike most of Carr/Dicksons, this one has no locked rooms; just a string of unsuccessful murder attempts. The descriptions of the studio workings are well done. An enjoyable page turner.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Episode of the Wandering Knife by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1949)

This is a collection of two novellas and a short story:
Episode of the Wandering Knife (novella - 1943)
The Man Who Hid His Breakfast (short story - 1949)
The Secret (novella -1950)

My edition is Rinehart & Co., 1949, hardcover. I could not find an image of the dustjacket so have shown the paperback cover above.

Episode of the Wandering Knife (1943)

Major characters:
  • Judith Shepard, our narrator
  • Mother Shepard, her mother
  • Larry Shepard, her brother
  • Isabel [née Leland] Shepard, Larry's wife
  • Andrew and Emily Leland, Isabel's parents
  • Alma Spencer, friend of Mother
  • Jim Barnes, a policeman
  • Captain Tony King, investigator
  • Don Scott, old flame of Isabel Shepard
Locale: unspecified

Synopsis: Judith Shepard's high society mother, only named as Mother, is hosting a party for the local Mayor at her mansion. Judith's brother Larry Shephard and sister-in-law Isabel [née Leland] Shepard live in another house on the grounds. After it is over, Isabel is found stabbed in her house. Mother sees the knife on the floor, knows it belongs to her son Larry, and sits down on it so the police won't see it. She gets away with it, and she and Judith begin moving it to a series of hiding places; and it disappears and reappears a couple of times. Policeman Jim Barnes who was on duty during the party, acts suspicious himself and won't reveal his knowledge of the crime. Three other murders follow Captain Tony King tries to unravel the motive behind it all.

Review: An enjoyable novella with our narrator walking the tightrope between assisting in the investigation, yet being an accessory by hiding the weapon. The wandering knife earns its name, and is a key element in introducing the players. I was surprised that four murders could occur with such a small cast and short book. Captain Tony King's role is unclear, he is not with the police yet he is quite cozy with them. The final solution reminds of a Perry Mason novel, with hidden family secrets revealed as the motive.

The Man Who Hid His Breakfast (1949)

Major characters:
  • Mrs. Ingalls
  • Joy Ingalls, her daughter
  • Ken Townsend, her fiancée
  • Harry Ingalls, her cousin
  • Maud Ingalls, Harry's wife
  • Inspector Tom Brent
  • Hotel detective Carver

Locale: unspecified

Synopsis: Mrs. Ingalls has been found strangled (with one of daughter Joy Ingall's nylon stockings) in her bed. She had strongly opposed Joy's upcoming marriage (giving Joy and fiancée Ken Townsend motives). She had also had left a substantial amount in her will to destitute nephew Harry Ingalls (giving him and his wife Maud Ingalls motives). All four have solid alibis. A chance remark by Inspector Tom Brent's friend, hotel detective Carver gives Brent a clue as to how it was done.

Review: A nice tight short story which introduces a puzzle and solves it in 30 pages. 

The Secret (1950)

Major characters:
  • Mrs. Nina Rowland, in bed with a slight arm ailment
  • Mr. Charles Rowland, her husband, serving in the Pacific
  • Antoinette "Tony" Rowland, a strange acting young lady with a secret
  • Miss Alice Rowland, Charles' sister, recovering from a fall down the stairs
  • Johnny Hayes, was to be married to Tony
  • Mrs. Arthur Hayes, Johnny's mother
  • Delia Johnson, Tony's former maid in Hawaii
  • Herbert Johnson, Delia's brother, hanging around ominously
  • Nurse Hilda Adams, nurse for Miss Alice
  • Aggie and Stella, two servants

Locale: maybe New York City

Synopsis: Something strange is going on in the Rowland household. Tony Rowland's upcoming marriage to Johnny Hayes is cancelled at the last minute. Then someone, apparently Tony, takes two shots at her mother, Nina Rowland - and missed both times. Then her aunt, Alice Rowland, falls down the stairs - or was she pushed? Nurse Hilda Adams is planted in the household to care for Alice, and try to prevent more unpleasantness.

Review: A good short story, revolving around a mysterious secret which is finally revealed at the end (but I didn't guess it). Lots of little aspects to this story which I thought would turn out to be red herrings, but everything fit into place neatly at the end. Hilda Adams is her usually crusty self with a bit of a pining for Inspector Fuller.

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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Hollow by Agatha Christie (1946)

Published in the USA as Murder After Hours.

Major characters:
  • John Christow, a doctor
  • Gerda Christow, his wife
  • Sir Henry Angkatell, master of The Hollow
  • Lady Lucy Angkatell
  • David Angkatell, a student
  • Edward Angkatell, master of Ainswick
  • Midge Hardcastle, clerk in a dress shop
  • Henrietta Savernake, a sculptor/artist
  • Doris Sanders, model for Henrietta, partially(?) blind
  • Veronica Cray, actress, John Christow's long-ago fiancée
  • Hercule Poirot

Locale: The Hollow, home of the Angkatells

Synopsis: John Christow is a tired doctor, with too many women in his life - a love quadrangle: He is married to the simple, plain Gerda; having an affair with sexy artist Henrietta Savernake; but cannot get his old flame Veronica Cray out of his mind.

The Christows are invited to a weekend at The Hollow, home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. Henrietta Savernake is one of the guests, and Veronica Cray and Hercule Poirot are staying at nearby cottages. One of the activities is target shooting. Hercule Poirot is also invited, and arrives just as John Christow is found dead by the swimming pool, with Gerda standing over him with a gun in hand.

Poirot finds a conspiracy of silence - the Angkatells all know more than they are saying.

Review: The characters are quite fascinating: Sir Henry Angkatell - quiet and a bit vacant - and his wife Lucy - manic and scattered. The Christows are the opposite - John, overworked and frantic; and his wife Gerda, simple and worrying. Toss in an ingenue - sculptress (is that a word?) Henrietta (having an intense affair with John) and Veronica (John's former fiancée), and what would be a fun activity for all? Target shooting, of course! Pass out the guns and let's have at it.

The plot revolves around an apparently staged murder scene into which Poirot walks arrives - with Gerda holding the "smoking gun" yet for a (reason withheld here) she cannot be the murderer. What is the truth? It takes several visits of the various persons to Poirot's cottage before he can tease out the truth. A very enjoyable read with an unexpected ending.