Chalk up another winner for Carol K. Carr and her fabulous Madame of Espionage, India Black! In India Black & the Shadows of Anarchy Carol has onc...moreChalk up another winner for Carol K. Carr and her fabulous Madame of Espionage, India Black! In India Black & the Shadows of Anarchy Carol has once again provided an excellent Victorian-era adventure--this time taking us among the spies and anarchists intent on over-throwing (if not eradicating) the privileged establishment.
India's partner in the spying business, French, has disappeared on a top-secret mission for Dizzy, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, and it's up to India to find a way to infiltrate the Dark Legion--the latest anarchist cell to spring up in London's underbelly of spies, malcontents, and Russian/French/German ex-patriots who are seeking a way to vent their spleen on the heartless rich who keep the common man under their boot heels. It's time for the workers and the poor to throw off their shackles, blow up a few government buildings, assassinate one or two peers of the realm, and generally create chaos & make mayhem. Dizzy and Inspector Stoke recruit India to make contact with the Dark Legion and to find a way to capture the elusive leader, Grigori. Her first order of business is to steal a strumpet from Mother Edding's establishment...for rumor has it that Martine, the "lady" in question has connections to the anarchists.
Soon India finds herself committed to blowing up a bandstand full of London dignitaries and making preparations for an even more daring scheme. Before the dust settles, she and French will face an old enemy and death--all in the name of queen and country. Along the way, India takes time to follow up clues that will tell her more about her past and her mother and she continues her quest to find out French's first name and any other tidbits about his life beyond the world of espionage.
India is her usual sharp-witted, cheeky, brazen self. She easily matches wits with foreign spies, home-grown anarchists, and hired ruffians out to end her career. She holds her own in a fight, shows she can handle her Bulldog, and takes care of the wayward girls in her house that get out of line. But then she can also charm the secrets out of unsuspecting engineer and dazzle a few guards along the way.
This story has everything from explosions and roughhouse fighting to clandestine meetings and hidden bombs. There are assassination attempts and near-drownings. We learn some of India's secrets and also a few of French's....and there's even a hint of romance in the air. And it's all told with Carr's marvelous gift for witty dialogue and incredible characters. Four and a half stars!
The Silence of Herondale by Joan Aiken is one of my rare forays into the world of gothic suspense mysteries. I don't do these often....and I suppose t...moreThe Silence of Herondale by Joan Aiken is one of my rare forays into the world of gothic suspense mysteries. I don't do these often....and I suppose there's a reason. They're just not my thing anymore. I went through a nice little phase of them back when I was a pre-teen and teenager when thrilling to the mysteries of isolated damsels in distress and dreaming of the brooding, irritable lord of the manor who's really a romantic sweetie was just the ticket. I certainly read my share of Victoria Holts and Phyllis A. Whitneys....
This one as you can see has the obligatory dark, castle-like manor house and the misty moors and the damsel in distress--windblown and all--on the cover. And, of course, she takes on the job of governess/teacher to a thirteen-year-old play-writing prodigy who winds up being co-heir to the castle-like manor along with the brooding irritable lord of the land. There are evil doings afoot--attempted murder by pump-weight and faulty car brakes, escaped convicts roaming the moor, greedy relatives, and dour villagers galore.
Deborah Lindsay (said damsel in distress) has come to England from Canada to escape memories of a town where her parents died as well as memories of a love affair gone wrong. She had been a teacher and is now looking for work. She applies for the job of governess/teacher to Carreen Gilmartin, the aforementioned play-writing prodigy. Carreen has been under the care of her aunt Mrs. Morne. Deborah no sooner takes the job than Carreen disappears from the hotel where they are staying. She goes off in search of her Uncle John--who she hopes will help her force Mrs. Morne to allow her a break from play-writing. Deborah is sent to track her down. But Uncle John is dead and Herondale Hall (the family home) is empty. Carreen's cousin Jeremy arrives (the brooding lord of the manor) and Mrs. Morne and Carreen's entourage follow. The will is read--revealing that Uncle John has left Herondale Hall and most of the family fortune to Carreen and Jeremy. That's when all the evil doings begin.
As far as I'm concerned, it wasn't a great feat of deduction to figure out who was behind all the evil doings. No great mystery here. Fortunately, the characters of Deborah, Jeremy and Carreen, as well as some of the supporting villagers, are interesting enough to carry the story. Great atmosphere and the characterization make for a decent three-star read.
The Temple of Death is billed as ghost stories (or "Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural") by A. C. And R. H. Benson. These are the lesser-known (for...moreThe Temple of Death is billed as ghost stories (or "Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural") by A. C. And R. H. Benson. These are the lesser-known (for good reason, I think) brothers of E. F. Benson of Mapp and Lucia fame. The back of the book says that these weird and chilling ghost stories have been undeservedly neglected for too long. But I can't say that I think that's necessarily true. I probably could have gone on just as well without ever having read these. Oh, they're decent enough stories....particularly those by A. C. Benson. But they're not strictly ghost stories--religious ghost stories, perhaps. So, I guess "tales of the supernatural" would describe these best. All of the stories have a very religious, moral tone. In each, you have an element of good needing to triumph over evil--whether that be the evil of paganism and the Dark Arts or the evil doings of the human heart.
The stories of R. H. Benson have far less substance than those of his brother--fortunately, there are fewer of them. A. C. Benson's tales (synopses below) have more narrative and more depth. The former's tales range from the "killer instinct" of a man compelled to shoot a thrush ("The Watcher") to two boys lost on a road who encounter a gypsy ("Blood Eagle"). There isn't much haunting to be found and I can't say that R. H. does much for me in the story-telling line. Of A. C.'s stories, the best by far are "Out of the Sea," "Basil Netherby," and "The Uttermost Farthing." I don't say that you need to run out and find this collection, but if you do happen upon it then be sure to read these three if you read no others. Three stars. Just.
Stories by A. C. Benson: "The Temple of Death": Paullinus, a Roman follower of the Christian faith, gets lost on his travels and finds himself at the pagan "Temple of Death." Will his faith help him overcome the dreadful beast that is lord of the temple?
"The Closed Window": The evil Sir James de Nort died under mysterious circumstances in the turret room. Since that time, the window has never been opened. What will happen if his grandson and grand-nephew decide to do so? What odd vision of the world will be revealed?
"The Slype House": Anthony Purvis, owner of the Slype House, dabbles in the Dark Arts...and winds up in a battle for his very soul.
"The Red Camp": Walter Wyatt inherits the ancestral home. On his land, there is a dense wooded area known as the "Red Camp"--so-called because of the terrible battle that took place there. Wyatt must lay to rest the souls killed on this terrible spot.
"Out of the Sea": A ghastly beast comes out of the sea to haunt a wealthy fisherman and his son--a fate they must endure because of their actions towards a survivor of a shipwreck.
"The Grey Cat": A young boy is in a fight for his very soul....with of all things, a harmless-seeming grey cat.
"The Hill of Trouble": Gilbert is happy in his life as a scholar at Cambridge--he's close to finishing the book that has been his life's work. But then he goes visiting in the country, wanders onto the "Hill of Trouble" and has his future revealed to him by the spectre of the hill.
"Basil Netherby": Basil is a musician of some little talent. He takes up residence at a house with evil connections. His music changes--and so does he. Can his friend help rescue him from the evil influence of the house's former owner?
"The Uttermost Farthing": Three men race against the ghosts of two evil men to uncover hidden secrets. Are the secrets better revealed or destroyed?
In Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Bat, Cornelia Van Gorder, a spinster who has longed for adventure, takes herself, her Irish maid Lizzie, and her neice...moreIn Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Bat, Cornelia Van Gorder, a spinster who has longed for adventure, takes herself, her Irish maid Lizzie, and her neice Dale off to the country to escape the city's summer heat. She rents a country home that has recently become available when Courtleigh Fleming, a local bank manager, died. She's bemoaning her quiet, unadventurous existence when suddenly the countryside becomes the center for some very mysterious activity.
Cornelia begins receiving anonymous notes meant to frighten her away from the house. There are rumors that The Bat, a notorious criminal mastermind, is in the area. And...in the wake of the bank manager's death, it is discovered that a large amount of bank funds are missing--as well as one of the bank clerks. Cornelia's neice begins acting strangely, her maid Lizzie is nervous as a cat, and her butler Billy is inscrutable (as all Chinese men of the time are represented). Dale brings home a new gardener who isn't what he seems and Cornelia decides to request that a detective be sent to help her get to the bottom of the nasty notes. Who on earth could possibly care if she spends her summer in the banker's abandoned house?
That's when the excitement begins. There are mysterious people popping in and out of rooms. Strangers on the roof and bats flying through the rooms. The detective seems ready to round up and use the rubber hose on anyone who even looks at him cross-eyed. Billy the butler scurries around seeing ghosts and Lizzie is screaming at the drop of a hat. Before long, the banker's nephew is dead, a secret room is discovered, and the missing money is found. Cornelia gets her adventure....and even gets the satisfaction of outwitting The Bat.
Great fun. This book (which is based on the play The Bat, which in turn was based on Rinehart's The Circular Staircase) reads like a serial story. Just about every chapter ends in a cliff-hanger moment and there is more action going on in this old house than you'd believe. Four stars.
I did it...I went and visited Manderley again. I didn't just dream it. Re-reading books that one has read and loved over twenty years ago is something...moreI did it...I went and visited Manderley again. I didn't just dream it. Re-reading books that one has read and loved over twenty years ago is something of a crap shoot. One never know how the older self will view the beloved story. Since I've started blogging and joining in on various reading challenges, I've done fair amount of rereading this year. The French Lieutenant's Woman? Re-reading that was a huge mistake. Jane Eyre? Loved it then and love it now. So, it was with some uncertainty I took up Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca again. Perhaps with the same timidity that the unnamed heroine feels when stepping into Rebecca's shoes at Manderley.
...And found that I still love it. But for different reasons. When I read it twenty years ago, I was all over the gothic romanticism. I enjoyed the plight of the unnamed second wife of Max de Winter--waiting to see what the real terror was that overshadowed that stately mansion. I drank in the evil undertones, the suggestion of Rebecca everywhere. This time I was more interested in du Maurier's writing. Having recently read The House on the Strand and Castle Dor, I was very taken with her descriptive powers. The opening chapter where she describes the Manderley of the dream is incredibly powerful. I absolutely love her descriptions of place and setting. She also sets the mood well...I still enjoy the gothic feel of the novel, but now I am appreciate her power to communicate that mood--I am not so wrapped up in it that I'm feeling the shivers along with the narrator.
I did find the narrator a bit taxing this time around. I understand the circumstances that led to her timid nature. After all, she has married above her and has never had the experiences necessary to allow her to fit securely into the place of lady of the manor. But I was definitely relieved when she finally stood up to Mrs. Danvers and began to show some backbone. More of that would have gone a long way with me.
Du Maurier's skill as a writer amazes me. Even knowing the ending, I still felt the thrill of the building pressure on de Winter. It still seemed that they would find out the facts behind Rebecca's death. The twist at the end is brilliant and I can understand why this book has won the Anthony Award for best novel of the century. I gave this novel four stars for my first reading. That rating still stands.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks.(less)
Beast in View is a suspenseful psychological thriller by Margaret Millar. Winner of the 1956 Edgar Award for Best Novel and also named one of the Top...moreBeast in View is a suspenseful psychological thriller by Margaret Millar. Winner of the 1956 Edgar Award for Best Novel and also named one of the Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time by the Mystery Writers of America, the novel may be a bit dated in its views of homosexuality and use certain psychological terms but it still packs quite a punch.
At thirty, Helen Clarvoe may be rich but she is lonely. Her only visitors are the staff at the hotel where she lives and her only phone calls come from a stranger. A stranger whose quiet, compelling voice lures the aloof and financially secure Miss Clarvoe into a world of pornography, vengeance, madness and murder...A stranger who winds up being not so unknown after all. And soon Miss Clarvoe is not the only one to receive the disturbing phone calls--her mother and brother become targets as well.
Miss Clarvoe calls upon the family lawyer to help her track down the voice on the phone. At first Paul Blackshear is reluctant to get involved, but something about Miss Clarvoe and the atmosphere surrounding her pulls him in. He finds himself following a trail through a modeling school and a photography studio which eventually leads him to an old school friend of Miss Clarvoe's--Evelyn Merrick. One time best friend and, more recently, short-term wife of Helen's brother Douglas. Has Evelyn decided that she must take revenge for Helen's supposed betrayal and her unfulfilled marriage?
Millar weaves a very convincing tale of the disintegrating mind. She plainly shows her hand--revealing the seeds that will grow into the full-fledged psychological trauma and yet she still fooled me. I didn't see the final twist coming and I should have. It was all there. A masterful tale that fully deserved the Edgar--and fully deserves to be read today for the classic it is.(less)
It started with little things, with things of no real significance.
And so opens Catch as Catch Can by Frances & Richard Lockridge. The whole myst...more It started with little things, with things of no real significance.
And so opens Catch as Catch Can by Frances & Richard Lockridge. The whole mystery starts with the little things....Linda Parks comes home to the apartment she shares with Joyce Holbrook expecting to share a dinner of pork chops and salad with her roommate. She finds the door unlocked (expected) and the apartment empty (not). She's not too concerned at first--after all the women have a rule that if something else comes up (like a casting call or a man), then "something else" comes first, and so she believes that something else must have come along. But then she finds the note. A note addressed to "Lindy," a name that no one has ever used for her--ever. A note which makes a big deal about Joyce going away for the weekend with Nicholses, a couple that Joyce emphatically believes Linda remembers. Only she doesn't--she doesn't believe she's ever met anybody by the name of Nichols. And it seems that Joyce has packed her autumn suit for a weekend away during a summer heat wave. And Joyce has grabbed Linda's robe by mistake, a robe that couldn't possibly fit the taller, bigger boned woman. As more and more little things add up, Linda becomes very uneasy about her missing roommate and decides to consult someone unofficially.
She decides to lay all her little things before Geoffrey Bowen, a young man who works in the District Attorney's Office and whom Linda definitely does remember meeting at a party. She contacts Bowen and, after overcoming his reluctance to get involved (he's afraid that this will be one of "those" situations), they arrange to meet at the train station so she can ride out to the country with him and tell the story on the way. That's when the real fun begins--because somebody does not want Linda to talk to Bowen and that somebody will go to a great deal of trouble to make sure she doesn't. What happened to Joyce? Why did a Fuller Brush man stop by their apartment and only their apartment? Who is the man masquerading as Linda's father? And why does he think Joyce told Linda something before she disappeared? These are all questions that must be answered before the mystery is solved.
This is one of the few non-series mysteries of the more suspenseful type written by the husband and wife team. Most of the stand-alone titles were written by Richard after Frances passed away in 1963. This, I think, is also one of the best stand-alone titles with the Lockridge name on it. Richard tended to write the stand-alones with a lot more of a thriller flavor once he was writing on his own. While Catch as Catch Can does have a bit of the thriller feel to it, it is still owes quite a bit to the cozy. I really like Linda Parks as the heroine, particularly in the last half of the book. Not to spoil anything, but Geoffrey comes to her rescue only to find that (for a 1950s kind of girl) Linda is perfectly capable of helping rescue him when needed.
A light, fun, very engaging read. Easily managed in one sitting. And I enjoyed every minute.
I've been working steadily on the Robert Louis Stevenson collection. I had forgotten how much I loved The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. T...moreI've been working steadily on the Robert Louis Stevenson collection. I had forgotten how much I loved The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. This is Stevenson's classic tale of man's inner struggle between his "evil" self and his "good" self. The description of Jekyll's last few days and hours...how he tried very hard to get his old self back and vanquish the evil Mr. Hyde was quite effective. It showed exactly how difficult it is sometimes for our better nature to win out.
And I had forgotten Stevenson's descriptive powers--particularly showcased in the short story "The Merry Men." I could feel the sea spray on my face and hear the howl of the wind and mad, chanting of the "merry" waves. "The Body Snatcher" (the most recently finished) is a tale worthy to be included in one of Hitchcock's spine tingling collections...perhaps it has been. It has one of the best surprise endings so far.
*Later* Now, I return to RLS...next story: "The Beach of Falesa." I don't think I've heard of this one before.
Okay, so "The Beach of Falesa" wound up being a tad long-winded for my tastes. I know I said I like RSL's descriptive powers--and I do, but only when they are well-employed. This story took way to long to get to the point and the descriptions did not set the mood as well as had been accomplished in the previous stories. However, the "Story of the Young Man with the Cream Tarts" was bang on. Terrific, mood-setting descriptions and the denouement was perfect. And I love this quote: "There is every reason why I should not tell you my story. Perhaps that is just the reason why I am going to do so." As well as: "My acquaintance with French was sufficient to enable me to squander money in Paris with almost the same facility as in London. In short, I am a person full of manly accomplishments." Going from cream tarts to a Suicide Club is a superb move on the part of Mr. Stevenson. Following on the heels of the cream tarts story was "Adventure of the Hansom Cab"--a bit of a sequel and every bit as delightful as its predecessor. I have fallen for Prince Florizel and Colonel Geraldine. I hope that there are more stories out there that feature them. The final story, "The Isle of Voices," was a bit of a let-down. Good premise, but there's something about his stories on the Hawaiian Islands (and close neighbors) that I just don't get into. The best of his stories that revolve around this area is "The Bottle Imp"--but that one focuses more on the the story itself and less on describing the islands and inhabitants. (less)
Again, not my usual read. But I picked it up because of the historical appeal and was hooked. Portions of it seriously creeped me out and when a novel...moreAgain, not my usual read. But I picked it up because of the historical appeal and was hooked. Portions of it seriously creeped me out and when a novel goes that route the storyline and/or writing has to be very good to keep me reading. This book does that.(less)
We've all had those time when we're searching for something lost...car keys, our glasses, etc. But have you ever gone looking for a day? That's what D...moreWe've all had those time when we're searching for something lost...car keys, our glasses, etc. But have you ever gone looking for a day? That's what Daisy Harker is doing in Margaret Millar's A Stranger in My Grave. Well. Not literally, of course. But Daisy has had a dream, a very disturbing dream. She dreams that she has died and she is faced with her tombstone. The date of death reads December 2, 1955--four years before the present day. The dream is so vivid and haunting that she almost feels like it (or something equally traumatic) has really happened When she tells her dream to her mother and her husband, they both tell her she's overreacting. That's it's just a dream. Nothing to worry about.
Daisy is determined to find out if anything really did happen four years ago and she hires private detective Steve Pinata to help her reconstruct December 2, 1955. At first, he thinks she's just a bored little housewife with too much time on her hands. And maybe just a little bit crazy. But the deeper they dig the more apparent it becomes that something really did happen...and it was traumatic enough that Daisy has forgotten it. Her estranged father keeps appearing and disappearing. There's a young woman named Juanita whose name keeps popping up. And Daisy's mother and husband both seem to be keeping things from her. They say they're protecting her or keeping her from worrying about things she needn't. But she's not so sure. Whom can she trust? And who will tell her the truth?
I hate to disagree with my friends John (Pretty Sinister Books) and Sergio (Tipping My Fedora), but this one just wasn't quite the knock-it-out-of-the-park that I expected. It was very good, but my favorite is still Beast in View. Millar, as usual, does a really good job building the suspense and keeping us guessing about what's really going on--and pulls a rather nifty twist at the end just keep us thoroughly off-balance. I didn't plug into the themes of "childlessness, orphans, and parenting styles" the way John did when he read this one earlier this year. But I did get a lot of oppressive, smothering vibes from Daisy's mother (and to some extent her husband). Going on about how close she and Daisy always were and "why won't you talk to me now, Daisy?" Wanting to know everything about why Daisy feels the way she does and, yet, trying to keep Daisy from knowing anything that might explain the feelings. Keeping important knowledge about her father from her as well as important information about her childless state.
The suspense builds steadily throughout the book and it's a credit to Millar's skill that she can keep the tension at such a high pitch without feeling the need to break it with unnecessary humor. And she deftly uses the prejudices of the time period to help set up the grand finale. A book about relationships and deceit that makes the reader wonder how well we really know those we think we know the best. Three and a half stars.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting. Thanks. (less)