Vane Pursuit by Charlotte MacLeod is one of my loosely contrued academic mysteries. MacLeod has two sets of series characters: Professor Peter ShandyVane Pursuit by Charlotte MacLeod is one of my loosely contrued academic mysteries. MacLeod has two sets of series characters: Professor Peter Shandy & his lovely librarian wife Helen and Sarah Kelling & Max Bittersohn. Both series are very literate and very funny and feature an eccentric cast of supporting characters.
Peter Shandy teaches at the fictional Balaclava College and Helen is one of the college's librarians. They manage to get into all kinds of non-academic scrapes and Vane Pursuit is no different. Helen has been asked by the Balaclava Historical Society to document and photograph all of the remaining weathervanes designed by the county's very own Praxiteles Lumpkin. She is also to write up a report for the Smithsonian Institute. However, Helen's job becomes dangerous when a gang of ruthless robbers decide to steal the priceless antiques. It seems that Praxiteles's handiwork has become a hot commodity among collectors--collectors who don't care how they acquire the desired object. It soon becomes apparent that somebody has been using Helen's researches to lead them to the valuable vanes. After a local weathervane which used to grace the Lumpkin Soap Factory is stolen and the factory is burned to the ground, Helen travels to Maine to get a photograph one of the last remaining vanes. Once the photos have been taken, she and her friends decide to relax with a bit of whale-watching--only to have their boat commandeered by the vane-snatchers. Meanwhile, back on the farm (almost quite literally--Balaclava College is an agricultural institution), Peter is getting into trouble of his own. In an effort to get to the bottom of the factory arson and the local vane thefts, he and Cronkite Swope have a run-in with a group of shaggy and demented survivalists. He manages to escape their clutches, rush off to rescue Helen, and then finger the mastermind behind the thefts and arson.
Just so you know, this isn't meant to be a serious, life-like mystery. This is meant as good clean fun and will need a good dose of belief suspension....but it's well worth it. Lots of extraordinary circumstances paired with delightful literary references and witty interactions. Some of the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. I love the doings of Peter Shandy and the rest of the Balaclava county residents. The only thing missing in this one is President Svenson wading in and taking on the bad guys single-handily--Svenson loves nothing so much as a good brawl with a group of ruffians. Three and a half stars. ...more
A little-known academic mystery (I love discovering those). It was fairly decent and I understand the author has another one...I'll be on the look-outA little-known academic mystery (I love discovering those). It was fairly decent and I understand the author has another one...I'll be on the look-out for it and will definitely grab it and read it if I find it. (three and a half stars, actually)...more
**spoiler alert** I have a feeling that I missed a memo somewhere. Or the boat. Or something. When I look at Goodreads, the average rating on Charlott**spoiler alert** I have a feeling that I missed a memo somewhere. Or the boat. Or something. When I look at Goodreads, the average rating on Charlotte Armstrong's "mystery" novel A Dram of Poison is 4.04/5 stars. The text reviews that have been given are pretty rave-y. It was the winner of an Edgar for Best Mystery novel of 1957. It's listed by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association as one of their favorite mysteries of the 20th century. And, I'm all, like, um....yeah. Whatever. I mean it's a nice little story about this shy, introspective academic-type who has taught poetry (You'd think I'd be hooked right there--I mean, come on, it's got an academic in it for crying out loud. I love those.) and has been all dependable and reliable and what-not and is now 55 and never been in love and then it happens. He meets the girl....only he doesn't know it yet. He just thinks he's being helpful and marrying her to help her out after her crazy father's death--and she needs someone to take care of her and to give her time to regain her strength and actually eat something, for heaven's sake. So, good, old, dependable Kenneth Gibson is right there to save Rosemary's day--bacon--something.
She blossoms--gets all nice and healthy--and he suddenly notices how lovely she is and....zap! Cupid zings him a good one and he falls in love with his wife. Happy ending, right? And where's the mystery? Ain't got one yet. But that's okay, 'cause we're only half-way done with the book and when you turn two or three pages you'll find the happy couple in hospital. Car accident....on the way home from celebrating Rosemary's blooming health and the beginning of love's middle-aged dream. Ah-ha! You say. Now we're getting down to cases. Somebody's trying kill one or both of them off. There's a secret fortune hidden in Rosemary's crazy father's effects and the secret heir wants it. OR somebody's lusting after the newly-beautiful and radiant girl and wants to bump off ol' reliable. Yeah, no. Just an accident. Really.
Then....Kenneth's sister shows up to take charge while he (who got the brunt of the injuries) recovers. Sis is an amateur psychologist and starts spouting her theories hither and yon and making both Kenneth and Rosemary doubt themselves and their motives and each other. Kenneth is filled with sis's doom and gloom psycho-babble and decides that Rosemary never cared and could never possibly care for a middle-aged, stuffy old academic like himself and decides to kill himself --'cause, that's a logical thing to do, you know. He traipses off to pick up some handy tasteless, do-the-trick-in-a-flash-and-with-no-pain, unnamed poison that his neighbor has conveniently displayed to him way back in chapter one. He dumps it in a bottle of olive oil (the better to slide it down the hatch), stuffs it in a green bag, climbs on a bus......and somewhere along the way manages to lose the darn stuff.
Ah ha! You say again. This is one of those inverted mysteries. You know who the killer is (albeit an unintentional one) and you know how it was done. All we do now is wait for someone to drop dead from tainted olive oil and watch the fun while the cops try to figure out who had it in for Mr./Ms. X. Yeah, no. Nobody dies. There's no mystery as far as I can see.....except the mystery as to why this was categorized as a mystery. And maybe, if you want to stretch a point, you could label it as suspense.....because, after all, you--the reader--are on the edge of your seat wondering when the heck the mystery is going to show up.
Charlotte Armstrong is hit or miss for me. I hated The Chocolate Cobweb; I loved Lay On, MacDuff! I'm just plain at a loss with A Dram of Poison. This book has some really delightful, comic dialogue in the second half--which might have done a lot more for me if I hadn't been searching high and low for a mystery hidden somewhere. I think I might have liked the characters if it had been billed as a straight fiction novel. I'll never know. No rating....I have no idea what I want to give it.
This review is mine and was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks....more
This week I'm going way back to one of the first vintage mysteries I discovered after Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. Bodies in a Bookshop by R. T. CThis week I'm going way back to one of the first vintage mysteries I discovered after Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. Bodies in a Bookshop by R. T. Campbell. At the time, I'd never heard of R. T. Campbell and the Dover edition that the public library carried was new to me too. I'd never seen these slim reprints anywhere else. But how could I resist a mystery with a title like that? A mystery and a bookshop? I was sold even before I read the synopsis.
R. T. Campbell is another author who wrote detective novels at the time of WWII. Ruthven Cambell Todd was a Scottish-born poet, scholar, art critc, and fantasy novelist who turned his hand to a series of detective novels under the pen name R. T. Campbell. Unfortunately, he soon abandoned mystery writing for other literary projects and was quickly forgotten as a mystery novelist. At the time Dover came out with the reprint of Bodies in a Bookshop, his detective novels were nearly impossible to find.
And what a treat this reprint is. I was ecstatic to find a copy when rummaging through one of the local used bookshops. Not unlike the protagonist of our story. Botanist Max Boyle visits a "curious little shop in a side-street off the Tottenham Court Road" in London and is himself ecstatic with the bookish treasures he finds there. But then he finds something much more disturbing...two bodies in a back room filled with gas fumes. Boyle seeks help from "The Bishop," Chief Inspector Reginald F. Bishop of Scotland Yard. Bishop winds up asking for assistance from Professor John Stubbs, another botanist and amateur criminologist. The play between the professor, the protesting Boyle, and skeptical, world-weary Bishop is entertaining in itself. But the friction between them propels the trio to find the puzzle's solution.
This is a very witty mystery populated with entertaining characters and brisk dialogue. It also contains some of my all-time favorite quotes about bookshops and books. This one in particular:
The trouble with bookshops is that they are as bad as pubs. You start with one and then you drift to another, and before you know where you are you are on a gigantic book-binge.
If that isn't the truth. At least for me. I highly recommend that if you can get your hands on this mystery that you do so. A thoroughly enjoyable vintage mystery read....more
No Case for the Police by V. C. Clinton-Baddeley is an almost-vintage mystery. First published in 1970, it doesn't quite make my arbitrarily-chosen 19No Case for the Police by V. C. Clinton-Baddeley is an almost-vintage mystery. First published in 1970, it doesn't quite make my arbitrarily-chosen 1960 cut-off for the genre. But the feel of the mystery is very Golden Age. We have an older amateur sleuth--one Dr. Davie, an Oxford academic with a penchant for solving puzzles. In this particular outing, Dr. Davie is headed back to the village of his youth to attend the funeral of one of his oldest friends. So, there we have the standard British cozy set in the small country village. It's a set-up straight out of Agatha Christie.
Dr. Davie has been appointed literary executor for his friend Sir Robert Cassillis and while he is sorting through Sir Robert's papers and biographical manuscripts he finds an odd little notebook. Odd, because only four pages have any writing on them and because those notations reflect Sir Robert's disquiet over the "accidental death" verdict advocated by the local police and solemnized by the coroner's jury for his late neighbor Adam Merrick. Merrick took a fatal fall over the side of a local quarry. As Davie spends more time in the village and hears bits and pieces of the story from various residents, it becomes plain that it was rather strange for Merrick to have taken that particular route so late at night. What brought him to the path near the quarry? And if the fall really were accidental what could possibly have induced him to peer over the edge at a time when there was no chance of seeing anything? As the questions multiply, so do the motives...there are affairs to be covered up and blackmail to be stopped. There are antiques concealing mysterious little packets. And the number of people who were actually out and about at the same time Merrick met his death does seem just a bit....coincidental.
This is a fun, light British mystery. Dr. Davie is a very engaging character--I know him well from two previous outings. He knows his limits and often has to rest a bit and have a quiet "think" (read nap). No super-human genius here, just an nice, amiable academic mind that loves to get to the bottom of things. Davie has a way of getting people to talk to him and often leaves them wondering just why they did. Clinton-Baddeley sticks very close to the fair-play rules of the Golden Age and observant readers should be able to guess the solution right along with Davie. Very nice read--three and a half stars. ...more
From the back of the book: "The gentle don detective Dr. Davie broods over the murder of a young actor committed during a drama-school production of aFrom the back of the book: "The gentle don detective Dr. Davie broods over the murder of a young actor committed during a drama-school production of a commedia dell'arte play. The actor appears to have been killed in the wings, but Davie establishes the precise movements of everyone on stage and behind the scenes and comes to the conclusion that no one could have committed the crime! Davie persists in an investigation that takes him throughout his beloved London, and in a brilliant and teasing search he explores one lead after another until he hits upon a splendidly ingenious solution."
A terrific academic mystery series. I'm glad I've discovered it and can't wait to find more.
Thanks to the Follow That Blurb Reading Challenge I have discovered a new academic mystery series starring tenured professor Bel Barrett and her mid-lThanks to the Follow That Blurb Reading Challenge I have discovered a new academic mystery series starring tenured professor Bel Barrett and her mid-life detective sidekicks. In Hot & Bothered by Jane Isenberg citizens of Hoboken, New Jersey are trying to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the horrifying attacks on the World Trade Center. Bel is determined to continue life as before and not to live in fear. As she moves on with her life, she is bothered by a seemingly never-ending kitchen renovation and dismayed to find herself coping with her partner Sol's steady disintegration from post traumatic stress. There is also the annual neighborhood block party to plan, arguments to settle over the disbursement of a local scholarship, and her new Faculty Development Seminar to organize and run. Then one of her colleagues and fellow scholarship judge is found stabbed to death. Eunice Goodson was a young, promising new instructor at the River Edge Community College in Jersey City and a member of Bel's seminar. She was also moonlighting as an exotic dancer at a club in Manhattan.
With a police force still coping with the aftermath of 9/11 as well as many false alarms over anthrax and other terrorist "sightings," little time is given to the death of a stripper. And the cops seem ready to take an easy suspect--the disgruntled young woman who did not receive the scholarship and who believes Eunice was to blame. Bel is determined to seek the truth--not only because she wants her friend's killer caught and doesn't want an innocent girl charged with the crime, but also because Sol is taking an interest and she hopes it will help him with recovery. With the help of her friends--Illuminada Guttierez, a private detective, and Betty Ramsey, the Executive Assistant to RECC's president--Bel begins examining Eunice's connections both at school and in the city. Their search will lead them to a clergyman with a secret, a sister with a problem, a jealous scheduler at the club, a faculty member doing a little extra "research" at the cub, and a neighbor who may not be what he seems.
This was a fun, fast read. Very likeable characters and even though I've managed to dive in right in the middle, I felt right at home with Bel and her friends. Having a loved one who has gone through post traumatic stress, it was easy to sympathize with Bel and Sol and the struggles they faced. This made the characters very real to me. The mystery was complex enough to keep me interested...although the solution seemed a bit forced. A few more clues dropped along the way would have helped. But overall, a good solid mystery. Three and a half stars....more
I do love me an academic mystery. And Edmund Crispin's delightful series starring Gervase Fen--the Oxford don and quirky amateur detective--is a marve I do love me an academic mystery. And Edmund Crispin's delightful series starring Gervase Fen--the Oxford don and quirky amateur detective--is a marvelous example of academic mysteries done right. There is witty, sparkling dialogue. There is intellectual name-dropping--"There goes C. S. Lewis," said Fen suddenly. "It must be Tuesday." There is unashamed references to fellow Golden Age sleuths (H.M., Mrs. Bradley and Albert Campion). There is the entertainingly mad brother of the deceased. There is brilliant humor--it's worth the price of admission just for the description of Fen driving his sporty little red car, "Lily Christine." Oh...and, incidentally, a cleverly constructed "impossible" crime. Impossible, that is, if it's murder and not suicide.
Swan Song gives us murder at the opera. An Oxford opera house is putting on a production of Die Meistersinger and while the star of the show, Edwin Shorthouse, may sing like an angel most everyone who knew him thought his origins were from a much warmer climate. His drunken advances to every available (or even unavailable female) doesn't do anything for his popularity with the ladies...or their male friends and spouses. And his insistence on misunderstanding direction hasn't won him any points with the conductor. So, it's no surprise that few tears are shed when Shorthouse is found swinging at the end of a hangman's noose in his dressing room late one night. The trouble is that while there are plenty people with motive, there just doesn't seem to be any way that someone could have murdered him. The police are prepared to accept a case of suicide. But a stubborn coroner's jury will have it as murder. And then there are attacks on the wife of one of the other singers. A second member of the cast will die and a third will be attacked before Fen will reveal how a man can be murdered by hanging with no one else in the room--and how revenge can extend beyond the grave.
This is great fun and Crispin's writing is a delight. Very reminiscent of Dorothy L. Sayers--which probably explains why I like it so much. Four stars.