The Tragedy of Y is Drury Lane's second outing as recorded in print and it brings him in contact with the Hatter family--the Mad Hatters as they are k...moreThe Tragedy of Y is Drury Lane's second outing as recorded in print and it brings him in contact with the Hatter family--the Mad Hatters as they are known. The Hatters are not just mad...but they are thoroughly nasty people. The family is ruled by the imperious Emily Hatter--a woman who sowed plenty of wild oats before marrying poor York Hatter. York had been a brilliant scientist before Emily got him in her clutches--sucking the life out of him and making him bend to her every whim. She rules the rest of the household--three grown children, one daughter-in-law, two grandsons, a cook, a maid, and nurse--with an iron fist. The only one she seems to have any feeling for is her fourth child--a young woman born with certain disabilities and who has acquired more. Louisa is deaf, blind, and mute.
The old lady's preference for Louisa only ensures that the woman will be hated by the rest of the family. And it isn't long before the family's madness and vicious streak takes hold. York is the first to go--drowned at sea and an apparent suicide. What follows is a rash of poisonings...all attempts to get rid of Louisa...and then, finally, murder when Emily is killed with the oddest of weapons--York's mandolin. The police are baffled and call in Drury Lane to help them get to the bottom of the mystery. There are clues and false clues and the first thing that must be determined is who was the real target? Were the attempts on Louisa genuine and the old lady killed to prevent the murderer from being caught too soon? Or will someone be wiping out as many of the Hatters as they can? Lane discovers that there is a detailed plan being followed...but whose plan is it? And why are there references to York Hatter when the man was the first to die?
I am enjoying these mysteries featuring Drury Lane very much. The plots are nice and intricate and there are plenty of clues to be had. For a fair amount of the book it looks like a dead man may be responsible and the explanation of the plot is very pretty indeed (in the short form). My one complaint has to do with Lane's methods--he plays that brilliant amateur keeping clues from the police role just a little too well. There are real dangers in his secrecy. The other problem with Lane is his tendency to drag out his wrap-up. An explanation that should take--at most--four or five pages goes on for almost twenty. Another three and 3/4 star adventure.
The Tragedy of X is Drury Lane's debut novel. Lane is a Shakespearean actor who was forced into retirement due to deafness. As compensation for his he...moreThe Tragedy of X is Drury Lane's debut novel. Lane is a Shakespearean actor who was forced into retirement due to deafness. As compensation for his hearing loss, he has developed an extraordinary skill at lip-reading and his acting background has given him plenty of practice at the art of disguise. He will use both skills as he helps Inspector Thumm and District Attorney Bruno track down a ruthless killer intent on evening old scores.
The story opens with Thumm and Bruno driving up to Lane's fortress estate on a mission to solicit his help with their latest murderous puzzle. Reference is made to the help he gave on "the Cramer case" but we, the reading public, are never enlightened with the details of that mysterious outing. The current victim is Harley Longstreet, a wealthy stockbroker, who has been killed on an enclosed streetcar in the company of his nearest and dearest. The method? A piece of cork stuck with dozens of pins laced with deadly poison. And who did it? One of the people on the that streetcar. But there is no evidence and not even a clue to point the police in the correct direction.
Enter Drury Lane. Like Sherlock Holmes, he sees and "hears" everything that the police do--but he observes all the finer points that the officials miss. He thinks to interview those that the police miss--or give only a brief once-over. Before long, Lane knows who the culprit is, but has no proof. Two more men will die before Lane can help the police put the cuffs on the villain.
The story is an interesting variation on the locked room mystery. The streetcar's windows are all shut and the doors were not opened once Longstreet collapsed. None of the passengers were allowed off the car until the police arrived to question and search them. And yet Lane insists that there is a certain item that must have been found if that is true. How did the murderer kill in full view of a carload of passengers and how did she or he dispose of the crucial item? Solve that and you'll be ahead of the police...and Drury Lane.
An interesting mystery with clues galore and twists and turns throughout. A good fair play story--it's all there, if you're nimble enough to spot it--with (in my opinion) just one weak spot. The wrap-up--Drury Lane gives a marathon session monologue to explain the murders. It would seem necessary to tell us every little thought process along the way--even explaining the bits that the reader was privy to (and the police were not). Twenty-four pages of smallish print is rather a lot of explanation. Three and 3/4 stars...nearly 4
It's Vintage Mystery Sunday and time to step into my vault of classic mysteries and choose one to feature that I read and loved before blogging took o...moreIt's Vintage Mystery Sunday and time to step into my vault of classic mysteries and choose one to feature that I read and loved before blogging took over my life and I began reviewing everything I read. This week's featured book is The Silver Leopard by Helen Reilly. Reilly's career reached from 1930-1962. She was one of the first authors to feature police procedure in her work and she based her novels on research she had done on the New York homicide squad. Inspector Christopher McKee is her central detective and she shows him at work with a full complement of supporting officers--from fingerprint men to detectives ordered to shadow suspects. The Silver Leopard leans a little more towards the suspenseful Had I But Known school of her later works, but McKee still has a major role.
In this mystery Inspector McKee faces a knotty problem involving the members and friends of one of New York's oldest and most prosperous families. They are all privileged, suave, and used to getting their own way. At the center is Catherine Lister whose uncle passed away several years ago, but who still has ties to her Aunt and two cousins. Aunt Angela announces that she plans to remarry--her intended is an old family friend, the famous portrait painter Michael Nye. Catherine is then summoned to Nye's studio where she walks into a situation destined to make her the prime suspect in Nye's murder. The door is on the latch and there is a trail of clues leading straight to her and the silver leopard statue that Catherine's uncle had sent to her just before his death. When McKee becomes involved, his investigation will lead from downtown NYC to an old, run-down country inn and a lonely house in another state. The District Attorney begins to pressure him to arrest Catherine, and McKee has to walk the tightrope between keeping the girl's freedom and protecting her from the danger of her own death.
There is a lot of suspense in this one...and a definite atmosphere intended to imply that if Catherine had just paid attention to a few details then she might have known that someone would be desperate enough to at least frame her for murder if not murder her as well. But this is all nicely balanced with the clear, well written police procedure scenes with McKee. McKee follows the book, but also allows his compassion and humanity to see through to the real culprit.
A shell-gathering vacation in Florida nearly lands Bill Stuart in the local jail...and before he's done, he may wind up in the morgue instead.
All Stu...moreA shell-gathering vacation in Florida nearly lands Bill Stuart in the local jail...and before he's done, he may wind up in the morgue instead.
All Stuart wants is to spend some time on the beach--collecting rare shells and admiring the lovely scenery (of the bathing beauty variety). It gets more than he bargained for when he discovers a beautiful young woman hiding under a fishing pier near his favorite stretch of beach. She tells him a rather fishy story (all in keeping with her locale), but he doesn't let it phase him. He offers her a ride back to town and she begs to drive his convertible.
Thinking nothing of it, Stuart agrees and soon they're off on a wild ride. A mysterious gray sedan starts following them and Valerie swerves and dodges and drives the wrong way down one way streets to lose it. She pulls into a bus station and manages to disappear before Stuart can ask too many questions. From there on, Bill has beautiful girls and corpses popping in and out of his life like so many jack-in-the-boxes. When he tries to get the local police chief interested in the missing girl and the mysterious sedan, the Chief is more interested in the traffic violations his little green convertible has collected.
Even the high-powered investigator from up North, doesn't seem very interested in Stuart's story, so he goes on a little hunt of his own. It leads him back to the beach and a cabin near the pier where he met Valerie. And inside....is the body of a recently murdered man. The Chief and his northern counterpart show up just in time to try and fit Stuart for the part of first murderer. But when the few stray prints in the place don't match Stuart's and DO match Valerie's (via a compact that she happened to leave with Stuart), the Chief gets much more interested in the missing girl. Stuart knows he didn't do it and he doesn't believe Valerie did--but can he find the missing girl, the mysterious sedan, and the right culprit before he winds up in jail or worse?
This is another 1950s, fast-paced, humorous mystery with a B-movie feel. There's the hometown copy who doesn't quite know what to do when the crimes are worse than someone feeding slugs into the parking meters. There are tough, gangster-types. There's the hapless hero who seems to be suspected no matter what he does...and he does it all for the sake of a beautiful dame. Lots of fun, lots of hi-jinks, and lots of misdirection. Three stars for a nice, enjoyable read.
Okay...so it really shouldn't take four days to read a book of short stories. But Maigret's Christmas by Georges Simenon certainly needed the time. It...moreOkay...so it really shouldn't take four days to read a book of short stories. But Maigret's Christmas by Georges Simenon certainly needed the time. It doesn't help that things get crazy around the holiday season--both at home and at work. Goodreads is now gleefully telling me that I'm three books behind (like I don't know that I haven't been reading fast enough)...
That's a long-winded way of telling you all that I'm not going to spend a lot of time on most of my reviews for the rest of the year. Read more or write up reviews....hmmm. Think I better get reading so I can meet the last six challenges on the list.
So...Maigret's Christmas didn't really flow for me. I enjoyed all of the stories save the last one ("Maigret in Retirement") well enough, but the collection just didn't knock my socks off. The best ones were those that focused on children...from the little girl who is sure that she had a visit from Father Christmas to the choirboy who helps Maigret solve a murder to a father's son who is willing to track a villain through Paris to prove his father is NOT a murderer and to collect a large reward in the bargain. I particularly enjoyed the last one. The boy has been learning from the pulp detective stories he reads and uses police call boxes to mark his trail as he pursues the culprit.
Simenon is excellent at description and captures the atmosphere of Paris exactly. He also gives us good psychological studies of his characters--both the pursuer and the pursued. Decent mysteries and clever solutions. Three and a half stars.
Unthinkable by Richard Cibrano is a book that I expected to like. It had a lot of things going for it...Time Period: early 20th Century. Subject: the...moreUnthinkable by Richard Cibrano is a book that I expected to like. It had a lot of things going for it...Time Period: early 20th Century. Subject: the sinking of the Titanic. Mystery: was there more to that tragedy than meets the eye? It involved the Pinkerton Detective Agency and a cross-Atlantic conspiracy. What was there not to like?
Item One: The Present Tense narrative--that's what. I guess I'm picky--but if you're telling me a story, then the story has already happened. You went here. You did that. You talked to those people over there. I just don't get the recent craze with present tense. I've read quite a few new releases that seem to think telling it like it's happening right now is the best thing since sliced bread. It's not. It's awkward. It makes the narrative ungainly. It feels laborious. It just doesn't work. It especially doesn't work when that's your primary narrative tense and then you throw in several quick-changes to past tense. That's even more uneven.
Item Two: There is way too much telling and not enough showing going on. We get tons of narrative telling us what Pinkerton, or his operatives, or Ismay, or J.P. Morgan and company, or British Intelligence or whoever did off-stage. Then a bunch of dialogue mixed in with what's happening (currently, right now, present tense). Then more telling about stuff. Just let the characters do--let the reader follow along and see what actually happened.
Item Three: Minor point--but the word is used repeatedly and it began to bug the crap out of me. The word scam, according to every website I can find as well as my good, old-fashioned hardbound dictionary, was first used in mainstream America in the 1960s. Fifty years after the events in this novel. No wonder Pinkerton and company sometimes sound like private investigators from the James Bond era.
There...I got all the complaints out of my system. Now, let me tell you what I liked about this novel. First and foremost, kudos for the sheer audacity of the idea. Here it is: So, what if the sinking of the Titanic wasn't just the unfortunate run-in with an iceberg that we've always thought? What if there was this huge plot to take the ship down and start an international incident? Maybe even war? Wow. And the thing is Cibrano really made me believe it could have happened. It's scary to think it could have happened--that men could be so ruthless in the pursuit of their own goals. The investigation is logical and the events that lead up to what could have been the greatest confidence scheme in recent history make such an event seem perfectly plausible.
The Pinkerton Agency is contacted by former President Theodore Roosevelt to investigate just such a possibility. Roosevelt has received a letter from his former adviser, Major Archibald Butt, which was mailed just before the Titanic set sail. Since assisting Roosevelt, Butt has been serving current President Taft and was on his way back from a diplomatic visit to Italy. Butt writes that a representative from Italy had told him in confidence that there were rumors of a plot to bring about world war. This plot would focus on the sinking of a passenger liner and the pomp and circumstance surrounding the launch of the mighty Titanic made her a prime target. Now that the White Star's pride has indeed gone down, Roosevelt wants Allan Pinkerton and his men to discover whether there is any truth to the rumors from Italy. What they find is even worse than what is first suspected.
The other very strong component of this novel is the characterization. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Allan Pinkerton, Francis Dimaio, and the fresh-from-Dartmouth, young detective Oswald Mogg. They are well-defined, genuine men of action with very human sides. Cibrano also does very well with his representation of the already larger-than-life Roosevelt. He uses the President's well-known phrases and mannerisms to emphasize his character without making him a caricature.
Overall, a fantastic story idea that could benefit from a little bit better delivery. Still--very enjoyable at 2 and 3/4 quarter stars. Almost 3 and I will round up on Goodreads.
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[Disclaimer: My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate....The book was offered to me for impartial review by the author's publicists and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.](less)