Aaron's Serpent by Emily Thorn (1962) just barely misses my arbitrary cut-off for vintage mysteries. Labeled as an "Avalon Romance-Mystery," it's an iAaron's Serpent by Emily Thorn (1962) just barely misses my arbitrary cut-off for vintage mysteries. Labeled as an "Avalon Romance-Mystery," it's an interesting little book. I originally grabbed it up because I noticed that it had an academic setting, but I didn't focus on the actual name of the institution in question--Camelot College--until I finally reached it in my TBR stacks. Yes, Ms. Thorn has managed to put together a mystery with all the trappings of Arthurian legend. Presiding at Camelot College, we have President Arthur Pendragon and his lovely wife, Gwen. President Pendragon has a half-sister Fay Morgan and a young protégé named Lance Lake (who also happens to be in love with the president's wife). We mustn't forget Elaine (Andrews) who is in love with Lance and John Mordred, the much disliked Camelot professor, who conveniently dies at Kin---er, President Pendragon's Fellowship House round table dinner. Conveniently, that is for Gwen and Lance two of Mordred's objects of blackmail. Other Arthurian characters roam in and out of the story....but when I got about half way through I suddenly wondered: But where is Merlin? Never fear, Merlin appears as a famous lawyer turned criminal investigator who helps Lieutenant Garth of the police get to the bottom of the mystery. My only explanation for the title (which strikes me as most definitely not Arthurian) is that someone at Avalon books thought Murder at the Round Table might be just a little over-the-top.
There has long been rumors that there was a love affair between Lance and Gwen back when he attended Camelot College. But Gwen married the young president, Arthur Pendragon, and Lance left town to seek his fortune and leaving his own worshipper behind in Elaine Andrews. Several years later, Lance is a lawyer and he returns to Camelot. His friend Arthur welcomes him back with open arms and intends or Lance to join the faculty of the college. A dinner is arranged to announce the plan...but before Arthur can even begin his welcome speech, John Mordred, head of the chemical engineering department, has died from the taste a of poison apple. Mordred has few friends around the table and the police later find that he had a little black book of possible blackmail victims. Did one of them do him in? Was Gwen foolish enough to kill him at her own dinner table? Many of the townspeople--including the prosecuting attorney think so. But there's that annoying little thing called proof. Lt. Garth doesn't believe that Arthur's beautiful wife has stooped to murder--but it will take all of his attention (a bit hard when one is distracted by the lovely Elaine) and some help from the famous Merlin before he can prove whether he's right.
I can't say that this was an incredibly intricate mystery. And I'm not sure that it falls into the vintage fair play mode. But it's a lot of fun trying to match up all the players to characters from the Arthurian legend. One keeps wondering, will Thorne use (insert Arthurian character)...."Of course, she does." It's a nice read--more for the references than anything. But a pleasant diversion from the "have-to" books I've been reading for a few of my challenges. Three stars for a light, fun read.
By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (Zenith Brown) is one of her stand-alone novels. Written in 1932, it is one of her earliest stories and it predBy the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (Zenith Brown) is one of her stand-alone novels. Written in 1932, it is one of her earliest stories and it predates her delightful Colonel Primrose and Grace Latham series. One of the highlights (for me) is its academic ties. It is set Landover, Maryland, home of Landover College, and several of the main characters have connection to the campus. Martha Niles, our narrator, is married to one of the instructors and both she and her husband become prime suspects in the murder of Daniel Sutton--local millionaire who has held the fate of the college and the town in his rather tight-fisted grasp.
Dan Sutton loved to exert his power over people--over his relations, over the townspeople, and over the local college. The only person who had successfully put a spoke in his wheels was "Aunt Charlotte"--a former servant who had been deeded her house and land for her lifetime (and to her descendents thereafter). When Sutton bought the land surrounding her home, he was determined to own that last bit. But she would not sell. No matter what he offered. He sets plans in motion that look to gain him his desired ends. Meanwhile, his niece has decided to defy him and marry the man of her choice--even with threats of disinheritance hanging over her. And, last of all, a Mexican has shown up who wants to get back land that Sutton owns but really belonged to his (the Mexican's family). And that doesn't even begin to represent the number of people who have a problem with Dan Sutton.
So, nobody is terribly surprised when Sutton is discovered in his library dead from a gunshot wound. What is surprising is that Tim Healy, Sutton's gatekeeper and nightwatchman, is also dead outside the library window--apparently frightened to death. When it's discovered that Martha was roaming about the place at the vital times and that there is a whopping big motive for her and/or her husband to have disposed of Sutton, she gets to work looking for alternate solutions.
I debated on my rating for this one. I set it at three stars on Goodreads and then knocked it down to two. Then I decided on a 2.5 and rounded it back up to three. As you might guess, this is a slightly unsatisfactory book. There's a hefty dose of Had-I-But-Known (in the worse possible way), a whole lot of not telling what we do know because we're just sure it will make the nasty ol' District Attorney suspect the wrong person, no real follow-up of obvious clues and yet no real trail of clues to lead to the culprit, and, worse of all, no satisfactory bit of justice at the end. I like my mysteries to end with the culprit trotted off to jail...
So what, you may ask, did I like about the mystery to give it even a 2.5 rating? Well, there's the academic slant (you know I'm a sucker for those...). And there's the characterization--particularly of Martha, our narrator. She has a very strong and likeable voice. It was an easy, breezy read (something I was ready for) and it came packaged as one of my beloved pocket-size books. A decent read--not one I'll recommend with high praise and raptures, but certainly worth a try if you happen to find it.
Four Lost Ladies is Stuart Palmer's 11th mystery starring Miss Hildegarde Withers, the school teacher who is also an amateur sleuth. In this particulaFour Lost Ladies is Stuart Palmer's 11th mystery starring Miss Hildegarde Withers, the school teacher who is also an amateur sleuth. In this particular story, Miss Withers becomes concerned when a woman who used to live in the same apartment building doesn't send her usual Christmas card. The women were never the closest of friends, but Alice Davidson was faithful about remembering her former neighbor at the holidays. Soon Miss Withers learns that not only has Alice disappeared, but so have three other women.....all after staying at the same hotel. It also looks like each of the women came into a nice sum of money shortly before they disappeared. Oscar Piper, the detective Miss Withers normally turns to for help, is facing problems of his own and is reluctant to get involved in her (so he says) wild goose chase. The intrepid school teacher believes that a Bluebeard has been wooing the women, wrangling their money away from them, and then disposing of the unfortunate ladies--permanently. She teams up with Alice's niece, Jeeps (aka Alice as well), and installs herself in the hotel amid rumors of a sudden windfall in the hopes of luring Bluebeard from his den. It begins to look like a wild goose chase after all when letters and telegrams arrive signed by the ladies in question....but Miss Withers spots the clues that indicate that someone is pulling a fast one. She takes a quick cross-country journey to prove her point and delivers the culprit into Piper's hands--just in the nick of time.
This installment in the Withers is very uneven. It starts out nicely and the interaction between Miss Withers and Jeeps is fun and an added bonus. I really like how Jeeps manages to keep working things so she can stay in the investigation. The story lags after Miss Withers's installment in the hotel until the messages which are intended to throw the police off the scent--picking up again only in the mad-dash, cross-country trip that Miss Withers takes show the police what really happened. Unfortunately the puzzle, usually a strong point with Palmer, is not as well-crafted or well-clued as others I have read. There are not really any good pointers to the villain....and no good reason why it couldn't be someone else. Not Palmer's best showing. Two stars--primarily for the conversations and action involving Miss Withers and Jeeps.
Full Review Coming SoonBernadette Pajer does it again in another electrifying installment of her Professor Benjamin Bradshaw historical mysteries. CapFull Review Coming SoonBernadette Pajer does it again in another electrifying installment of her Professor Benjamin Bradshaw historical mysteries. Capacity for Murder is the third of the Bradshaw stories and in this one he takes on death by electrotherapeutics. Bradshaw is an electrical engineering professor at the University of Washington at the dawn of the 20th Century. By now he has been involved in two major criminal cases (documented in A Spark of Death and Fatal Induction) and he and his assistant Henry have been called in on enough electrical-related cases since then that they have acquired licenses as private detectives.
In this outing Dr. Arnold Hornsby of the Healing Sands Sanitarium sends an urgent message to Bradshaw, begging him to come and help him with a terrible "accident of an electrical nature." Accident, indeed. Hornsby's son-in-law has been killed during a session of electrotherapeutics and the good doctor is on the verge of facing negligence charges at best and an accusation of murder at worst. The local sheriff is ready to accept the death as an accident, but Bradshaw is convinced that someone rigged the therapeutic chair to deliver the deadly charge. There aren't many suspects--the small staff and few patients--and there seems to be even less motive. Then one of the guests dies from poisoning and Bradshaw follows a trail into the past to find a remorseless killer who is determined that nothing--not even the professor--should stand in the way of what they want.
Pajer continues to expertly weave her research into delightful historical mysteries. She has nailed the time period and made it her own--instantly transporting the reader to the early 1900s. Deft handling keeps the intricacies of turn-of-the-century electricity from overwhelming the story. While it is an integral part of the series and the mode of murder, the details are never allowed to overshadow the characters and the plot. And the characters are what make the story--from Bradshaw to his ten year old son to his assistant Henry, to his housekeeper Mrs. Prouty, to Missouri Freemont--Henry's niece. All of these regular characters are well-drawn and interesting and distinct. I enjoy the way they interact with one another and how they fill the book out. My only quibble is with Bradshaw and his ever-lasting doubts about following through on his feelings for Missouri. Let's get that romance show on the road, shall we, Professor? Four stars.
Through a Glass, Darkly by Helen Mccloy opens with Faustina Crayle being dismissed from her post as an art instructor at an elite girls' school. The hThrough a Glass, Darkly by Helen Mccloy opens with Faustina Crayle being dismissed from her post as an art instructor at an elite girls' school. The headmistress, Mrs. Lightfoot refuses to give a reason beyond the fact that Miss Crayle "does not quite blend with the essential spirit of Brereton." She does, however, give the art instructor six months' pay after only five weeks of work. Evidence indeed that she wishes her gone and spare no expense.
Faustina confides in her only friend at the school, Gisela von Hohenems, who suggests she consult a lawyer. When Faustina demurs, Gisela tells her boyfriend, Dr. Basil Willing--famous psychologist and medical assistant to the district attorney, about it. He insists on meeting Faustina and convinces her to allow him to represent her with Mrs. Lightfoot. His interview with the headmistress is very surprising. It seems that Faustina has become the center of rumors about a doppelganger. Several maids and a few of the girls have claimed to see Miss Crayle in two places at once. A few parents have pulled their girls out of the school because of the unhealthy atmosphere. The practical Mrs. Lightfoot could find no plausible explanation for the incidents and rather than investigate or allow the rumors to create even more havoc with her school's reputation she decided to ask Miss Crayle to leave. As Willing investigates, he discovers that this isn't the first time Faustina has been dismissed from a school because of doppelganger rumors. He will have to sift the supernatural from everyday villainy as he follows a trail littered with superstition and jewels; doubles and demimondaines. There is a tale that says She who sees who own double is about to die...and despite Willing's efforts and his instructions to stay put in a hotel while he investigates, Faustina insists on making a trip to her beach cottage. A trip from which she never returns. Did she truly see her double? Or is there a more solid human agent behind her death? Willing brings us the answer...but the ending is a bit unsettling nonetheless.
McCloy's power to create atmosphere are at their strongest in this book. Even though we're quite sure that there's some human deviltry behind Faustina Crayle's plight, Mccloy still manages to make the idea of a doppelganger seem almost possible. And the ending leaves us just a little unsure that Dr. Willing has completely explained everything. Yes, it all hangs together. And, yes, I do believe that X really did orchestrate the whole thing and for the reasons given...but what if Dr. Willing is wrong? There's a nice shivery feeling to that thought.
A nicely done, atmospheric piece that also happens to be an excellent detective novel. Often thought to be McCloy's masterpiece, Through a Glass Darkly is certainly the best I've read by McCloy so far.
I found Murder on the Rue Dumas by M. L. Longworth on my last trip to the library. It's so nice once I have all the challenge-reading out of the way--I found Murder on the Rue Dumas by M. L. Longworth on my last trip to the library. It's so nice once I have all the challenge-reading out of the way--I can give in to impulse reading and just bring home books that look interesting. I don't have to think about whether it will fit into one of my zillion challenges (and hopefully more than one) or whether I have time to sneak in a non-challenge book.
And Murder on the Rue Dumas was right up my alley--an interesting-sounding academic mystery, this time set in France. We have Dr. Georges Moette, director of theology at the Université d'Aix--a very unpopular fellow with plenty of enemies. Dr. Moette has held a very prestigious position at the university--a life-time post that includes a lavish apartment in a 17th C mansion as well as oodles of money to support a career of research that requires no teaching duties whatsoever. Dr. Moette has announced his intention to retire and is all set to name his successor as well as name the graduate student recipient of an elite fellowship tied to the Dumas funds. But he has a cruel streak in him--playing his colleagues and graduate students off of one another; promising the positions to first one and then another; and then the cruelest move of all...announcing at party that he has changed his mind and won't be retiring after all.
But someone decides to take matters into their own hands and force Moette's retirement upon him---permanently. The doctor is found dead in his office with his head bashed in with an unusual blunt instrument, a 700 year-old religious statue. Judge Antoine Verlaque and Commissioner Bruno Paulik look into the matter--aided by Verlaque's girlfriend, law professor Marine Bonnet--and find that more than fellowships have been up for grabs in the university theology department.
This is the second novel in Longworth's detective series, but it is not necessary to have read the first to slip easily into the action of this one. Explanations of relationships are clear and kept short (no rehashing of everything one might have learned in the first novel) and are just enough to make new readers comfortable. The main characters are engaging and likeable and I particularly enjoyed the interactions between two of the graduate students, Yann Falquero and Thierry Marchive. It is an interesting and fairly clued mystery that holds the attention.
But....there was something about the writing. It seems just a bit too short and to the point; very matter of fact....I'm not sure. It has a j'ai ne sais quoi quality that doesn't quite meet my expectations for a novel set in France. Maybe it has something to do with reading this one so close on the heels of the Fred Vargas novel. The Vargas novel was originally written in French and had an excellent translator who instilled a lyrical quality. Longworth is a Canadian who spends a great deal of time in France and seems to be trying to write from a French point of view and doesn't quite succeed. She obviously loves France--evidenced by the descriptions of the area and the people, but doesn't quite pull off an authentic French feel. Three stars.
Murder at Cambridge has what I'm looking for in a British academic mystery: It's funny and witty. It's set at Cambridge. There are dons and students aMurder at Cambridge has what I'm looking for in a British academic mystery: It's funny and witty. It's set at Cambridge. There are dons and students and proctors and an absent-minded Master. We see our characters at class and in Hall and in their lovely, old-fashioned 'varsity rooms (which are way better than the dorms I stayed in here in the States). We get to attend a cricket match and there's mention of punting on the river. Not to mention, we've got a pretty decent 1930s campus crime spree. Q. Patrick really has it going on.
Our narrator is Hilary Fenton, American student studying at Cambridge's All Saints College. He has never been great pals with the South African student across the hall, but when Julius Baumann calls on him for help, he can't refuse. Julius asks Fenton and another man to witness a document which he then seals in an envelope and makes Fenton promise to post in the event that Baumann should disappear from Cambridge. He tells Fenton that he may have to leave suddenly and may not be able post it himself.
That very night there is a dreadful storm, the lights go out, and when Fenton tries to check that all is well with Baumann he finds his fellow student dead from a gunshot wound. There is cleaner and a rag nearby and it looks like Baumann may have accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun. "Death by Misadventure" will be the verdict at the inquest. But Inspector Horrocks doesn't believe it. Fenton knows it isn't true--but refuses to tell everything because there is evidence (he believes) that will implicate a certain Camilla Lathrop....light of his life and the girl he has just (that day as well) fallen head over heels in love with. Despite knowing that Fenton is holding back, Horrocks takes him into his confidence and between the two of them, they will bring the culprit to justice. But not before another death and an attempt on the beloved Camilla.
Q. Patrick is one of the several pen names used by various combinations of four writers (Patrick Quentin and Jonathan Stagge are two others whose mysteries I've sampled) and this is third novel using this particular nom de plume. Most of the Q. Patrick books are written by Richard Wilson Webb and MaryMott Kelley, but this one is the work of Webb only. Up till now, I have much preferred the Stagge novels to those written under the Quentin name and I was curious to see what I would think of the Patrick offerings.
If this one is anything to go by, I like them. I thoroughly enjoy Fenton's outsider point of view and his interactions with the traditional British characters. My favorite character, however, was the Master of the College, Dr. Martineau Hyssop--portrayed as the absent-minded professor, he is very quick on the uptake when the killer tries poison Camilla with a little prussic acid in her tea. It's clear that Dr. Hyssop still has it all together--even if he may not have all the names right. The clues are all there--and there are enough red herrings that I got distracted several times (just like Inspector Horrocks) before coming to the finish line just at the same time as Fenton. A good solid mystery plot with excellent characters and a nice peek at the 1930s university. Four stars.
Lake of Sorrows is the second book in Erin Hart's mystery series featuring American forensic pathologist Nora Gavin and archaeologist Cormac Maguire.Lake of Sorrows is the second book in Erin Hart's mystery series featuring American forensic pathologist Nora Gavin and archaeologist Cormac Maguire. This time Nora, who is in Ireland doing research, is called to the scene of an excavation where a very well-preserved body from the Iron Age has been discovered in the peat bog. It appears to have been a human sacrifice--slain three ways: strangled, throat cut, and drowned. The area is close to the site of an extraordinary find of Iron Age artifacts found in the past. Perhaps the sacrifice was connected to the hoard. It isn't often that such a complete body is found and Nora can't afford to pass up the opportunity to examine the remains.
She barely has a chance to look over the Iron Age find when a second body is found. But this one is wearing a wrist watch and seems to have been buried about 25 years ago. However, when the man is removed from the bog, they discover that he bears the mark of the ancient triple death--just like the Iron Age remains. This makes the police wonder if there is a connection between the archaeological finds and the more recent death. But as the investigation continues more deaths occur--bearing the same signature marks. One of the victims is an old flame of Cormac's and suspicion falls on him. So, Nora and Cormac begin an investigation of their own to try and clear Cormac's name and Nora finds herself in danger when her questions bring her too close to the killer.
My take: This installment didn't hold my interest the way Haunted Ground did. The first book started out slow, but once it took off I could not put it down and even went to bed late in order to finish it. This one never did take off. I easily put it down and had to keep urging myself to pick it up again to finish it. Not the same gripping performance at all The story was okay. The developing relationship between Nora and Cormac was okay. But I didn't feel that same need to know what happens that kept me reading before. This one also felt a bit more scattered--jumping from character to character and following each one's movements for a short while before jumping to someone else. I don't remember the flow being quite so erratic before.
There are some very good moments: between Nora and Cormac and then with Cormac's friend Michael Scully; also between Detective Liam Ward and the pathologist Catherine Friel. So, some of the characterization was very good at times--just not consistent. The mystery itself was decent, maybe not quite as fairly clued as I'd like, but okay. So...for an overall okay experience...three stars.
There are all sorts of reasons why The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor should have been a winner: it's a historical mystery; it's a historical mystThere are all sorts of reasons why The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor should have been a winner: it's a historical mystery; it's a historical mystery with academic ties; it started out so very promising and held that for about the first 100 pages. But then it just kind of lost me. And it isn't the first time that Taylor has done that to me--although I didn't realize it until after I had gotten all interested in the book (when I first heard about it last year) and put it down for a few challenges. Several years ago I picked up his book Caroline Miniscule which also had academic ties. I remember that it started out fine...only to lose steam about mid-way through. His Bleeding Heart Square is better than either of the other two.
But, back to the review....The story revolves around Frank Oldershaw, the only son of Lady Anne Oldershaw and a student at Jerusalem College, Cambridge. Frank has gotten himself mixed up with the Holy Ghost Club (read a hellfire club) and after some unpleasant experiences there, he begins seeing the ghost of the deceased wife of one of the College's members. He becomes quite violent and is tucked away in a madhouse as a result. Lady Anne Oldeshaw calls upon John Holdsworth to get to the bottom of what exactly has happened to her son and charges him with bringing the young man back to sanity. Holdsworth is no doctor and has no experience with mental disease--but that's not why she wants his help.
As the result of personal tragedy (the deaths of both his son and his wife), Holdsworth has written a book called The Anatomy of Ghosts--discrediting the idea of ghosts and the charlatans who claim to put the grieving in touch with them. Lady Oldershaw wants Holdsworth to prove to her son that ghosts don't exist and believes that this will be enough to return his reason to him. Holdworth finds that he must find out what really happened to Sylvia (the dead woman whose "ghost" was seen) before he can help Frank. But that is no easy task....and the answers may not be ones that either the College or Lady Oldershaw want to hear.
As I mentioned, this book started out promising enough. The stage was well-set and Taylor took me back to the 18th Century with very little effort. The historical details were terrific without being overwhelming. But after introducing the characters with very interesting scenes, he did not sustain the same sort of story-telling throughout. I hit the mid-way point and found that I didn't much care about these people or what really happened. I soldiered on just to find out who did it and why it affected Frank so much....but, honestly, if I hadn't needed the book for some challenges, I might not have finished. Two stars--for the promising beginning and the fine quotes I gathered.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting.
Books are not luxuries. They are meat and drink for the mind. [Ned Farmer; p. 22]
The footman had conducted Holdsworth across the hall, through an anteroom and into a long and shabby apartment at the back of the house. The books were everywhere--in cases ranged along the walls, stacked on tables, and the floor, overflowing from the doorway of a closet at the end of the room. [p. 29]
He had seen the libraries of too many men, both living and dead, to be surprised by what they contained. A man's library was like his mind: some of its contents might not be suitable for young gentlemen at the University, or indeed for his grieving widow or his fatherless children. [p. 33]
Money was a powerful thing, Holdsworth thought, the true philosopher's stone, with the power of transmuting dreams. [p. 45]
"Money makes it very serious. Her ladyship has given you all this before you have lifted a finger for her. She will expect a return. The rich always do."
Holdsworth smiled at him. "That is why they are rich." [Ned Farmer; John Holdsworth; p. 46]
Ghosts, whether real or alleged, usually have an identity, and that is, in itself, of significance. [Elinor Carbury; p. 51]
EC: ...Jerusalem [College] is a world within a world. So is any college in this University, or perhaps at any university. A college is a world with its own laws and customs.
JH: It might be a world of savages for aught I know.
[Elinor Carbury; John Holdsworth; p. 59]
Horace's recipe advises only a dash of folly in one's wisdom, and Mr. Archdale appears to have mistaken the proportions in his moral cookery. [Mr. Richardson; p. 62]...more
After all, the old kind of detection's on the way out. We've gone forward from Baker Street. I don't see how you expect to get away with a mysteriousAfter all, the old kind of detection's on the way out. We've gone forward from Baker Street. I don't see how you expect to get away with a mysterious murder, examination of suspects, digging up the clues, keeping everyone in the dark, then Bang, the big revelation. It was all right for the first fifty years or so, but it's completely outmoded now. (Priggley; p.70)
Carolus Deene, a history master at a boys school with independent means, tends to spend the school holidays sorting out murders. He spends his time away from the school at British watering holes, small villages, and even on ocean liners helping to track down killers that seem likely to elude the police's grasp. In Our Jubiliee Is Death (1959), his cousin Fay sends him an urgent letter describing how she came upon the corpse of the successfully romantic suspense author Lilliane Bomberger. Or rather, Lilliane's head, since the rest of her appears to be buried in the sandy beach.
It looked from the distance like a rock with a bit of sea-weed on it....When I got there I saw it was Mrs. Bomberger. I mean, her head. Or rather, as I found out later, she was all there, but only her head was stuck out of the sand.
Fay is worried about how the dead woman's family is reacting and asks Carolus to come down and set things right. She assures him that the family will welcome his help and she's quite sure that he will be able to spot the murderer immediately and life will return to normal. Carolus, with his interest in crime, had naturally read the newspaper articles about the crime, but it hadn't interested him at all. It didn't seem to have any features of particular interest. But when his cousin writes and then his headmaster and housekeeper, who are both ostensibly opposed to his investigations, bring up the case (hoping to keep him out of it), he decides to take it up after all if only to tweak their noses.
Before heading to Blessington-on-Sea, site of the murder, Carolus stops in to see Bomburger's publisher to get what background he can on the author. He discovers that she was a demanding, domineering woman who made everyone's life miserable--from her relatives to her household help to her publishers. She may have been the publishing house's best seller and a source of considerable income, but she was a trial to work with.
But don't think we've not earned it. We've had her for twenty-three years, and it's been like a prison sentence. She was the most insufferable human being of this century. Or any other, I sometimes think.
When Carolus arrives at the seaside town, however, he finds that no one in the house is willing to tell the truth. He meets with what he calls a "conspiracy" and despite warning them that at least one more death will follow if they don't give him the facts (and subsequently being proved right), they stubbornly stick to their concocted stories. He believes that despite their conspiracy of silence he has discovered who did it and why, but he has no proof and no way of obtaining it. Carolus, who didn't want to investigate this case in the first place, is ready to throw in the towel when his headmaster arrives on the scene insisting that Deene clear things up once and for all.
But, Deene, there is a sharp distinction between keeping yourself clear of a thing of this kind and leaving it in midstream.
Our hero is still insisting on leaving the field to the police when a final corpse is discovered and he is given no choice but to gather the interested parties and tell him what he believes to have happened. And, of course, he is right.
This is, in some ways, one of the less satisfying books in the Carolus Deene series because of his lack of enthusiasm for his investigation. Usually he is eager to dive in and get to the bottom of things, but this time he is very reluctant to get involved and doesn't particularly enjoy the investigation once he does. That isn't to say that this isn't an enjoyable mystery. It is--there is a great deal of humor and an interesting, if somewhat improbable plot (who in their right mind would dig a vertical hole to stuff a corpse in?). The opening letter from Deene's cousin, the descriptions of the dead woman, and the interactions between Carolus and his headmaster, housekeeper, and that insufferable young man from his history class, Priggley alone make it worth the reading. ★★★ and a quarter.
It looks like somebody has a real bone to pick with the nuns of St. Gilbert's College and the cast of their latest theatrical production. This season'sIt looks like somebody has a real bone to pick with the nuns of St. Gilbert's College and the cast of their latest theatrical production. This season's show is "Convent of Fear"--a murder mystery set in a convent. Certain staunch Catholic community members take exception to what they see as blasphemy--what with killing off nuns and having one nun renounce her vows for romance with the detective of the piece. But why would anyone start killing off real nuns to protest the fictional murder spree? Added to the mix is a crazy bicyclist in a yellow raincoat and red wig who has taken to running the sisters down, a vandal who tears up the stage manager's (Nicky D'Amico's) office and spray painting Bible verses on the walls, and the mob of believers who shout at the theater folk as the enter and leave rehearsals. Nicky would rather worry about stage directions and making time with with cute fellow in the chorus than to play boy detective--but with his leading woman and leading man dropping dead on stage and the homophobic State Trooper looking for ways to pin the murders on Nicky's best pal Paolo he begins to get serious about tracking down the killer.
This was a humorous and light sortof academic mystery--although the academic part is tenuous at best. I'd have to label it a theatre mystery before I'd slot it into the academic shelves. Nicky is an interesting character who just wants to do the best job he can on a really bad play. But nothing is destined to go right and when his friends Paolo and Roger (feuding lovers) show up expecting him to smooth out their relationship troubles...which are much more important than murdered nuns, by the way...the humor increases two- or three-fold. Paolo is irreverent and willing to say whatever pops into his head to whomever might be around. Roger wants to help Nicky play detective and has the computer skills to lend a hand.
The wrap-up has the feel of a Christie plot...although, I don't think it's quite as fairly clued. An enjoyable enough mystery and good for an afternoon or two of cozy reading. Three stars.
The Godwulf Manuscript (1973) is the debut novel of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. The book is narrated by our hero and private detective SpenserThe Godwulf Manuscript (1973) is the debut novel of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. The book is narrated by our hero and private detective Spenser (no first name). Spenser, who graduated from the school of hard knocks instead of picking up a college sheepskin, is called in by the president of a Boston university (named) to track down a stolen illuminated manuscript--the titular piece. The priceless work of literature is being held ransom by an unknown thief to the tune of $100,000 which must be donated to a free school run by an off-campus group. Despite the opulence of the president's office, he assures Spenser that the university cannot possibly afford to pay the ransom. As Spenser says of the room:
The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse. It was paneled in big squares of dark walnut, with ornately figured maroon drapes at the long windows. There was maroon carpeting and the furniture was black leather with brass studs. The office was nicer than the classrooms; maybe I should have worn a tie.
and the president doesn't seem to be hurting for his share of the ready himself:
Bradford W. Forbes, the president, was prosperously heavy--reddish face; thick, longish white hair; heavy white eyebrows. He was wearing a brown pin-striped custom-tailored three-piece suit with a gold Phi Beta Kappa key on a gold watch chain stretched across his successful middle.
But--if they can't pay, they can't pay. And Spenser agrees to track down the missing bit of historical handiwork.
The head of campus security suggests that Spenser start with a radical student group called SCACE (Student Committee Against Capitalist Exploitation) and suggests their secretary, Terry Orchard, as a most likely (most willing of the bunch) contact. The detective talks with Terry, but makes little headway with the suspicious young woman and her boyfriend (and fellow member) Dennis. But later that night, Spenser gets a call from Terry requesting help. Spenser arrives at her apartment to find her in a drugged state and Dennis dead with four gunshot wounds in his chest. After reviving Terry, he hears a story of two men coming to the apartment having a brief discussion with Dennis and then shooting him with her gun. The police are ready to accept the obvious--that Terry killed her boyfriend in a lover's quarrel. But Spenser believes Terry and is determined to clear her name and prove that the missing manuscript and Dennis's murder are related.
You all have heard me say before that hard-boiled, private eye novels aren't my usual cup of tea. And I'm also not a huge fan of first person narrative. That would be why I chose this one as my "out of your comfort zone" read for the Silver Vintage Bingo card. Of course, you also probably know that I have a thing for academic mysteries....that would be the small hook that got me to purchase this two years ago. But even knowing that there was an academic slant, I was still wary of the hard-boiled angle.
Fortunately, Parker (at least in this debut novel) does a good job of reeling me in. Spenser is a likeable character and I enjoy his voice as the narrator. The descriptions are very much of the hard-boiled school, but the metaphors are not so over-the-top that they make my eyes roll. Apt descriptions and a good feel for the academic world go a very long way towards making this an enjoyable read. Solid story-telling and a decent mystery--although clues are few and far between and there aren't a lot of suspects to choose from--make for a three and a half star outing.
Death Has Green Fingers by Lionel Black (Dudley Barker) has a little of everything--murder, mayhem, blackmail, gardening secrets, double lives, adulteDeath Has Green Fingers by Lionel Black (Dudley Barker) has a little of everything--murder, mayhem, blackmail, gardening secrets, double lives, adultery, and scandal. It's an academic mystery with gardening overtones....no, wait, it's a gardening mystery with academic undertones. It's got a feisty young reporter who repeatedly ignores the official warnings and gets herself caught up in the intrigue of village life...and nearly gets herself killed in the process.
Kate Theobald, the young reporter in question, travels to the village of Ashworth with her husband Henry, a barrister, to visit one of Henry's college friends. They no sooner arrive than Jonathan Sims and his wife whisk their guests off to a drinks party hosted by local academic and rose breeder, Nick Bell. Nick not only has an eye for a lovely rose, he also has an eye for the ladies--something that has gotten him into a bit of trouble. But not near the trouble that comes for him before the party can even begin. The guests arrive only to find their host sprawled in the greenhouse with a knife sticking out of his throat.
Kate is quick off the mark in the reporting stakes with Henry to help her track down clues. They soon discover that Bell had been working on a prize rose indeed--a fabled blue rose, producing a blue rose that will breed true is the holy grail for all rose breeders and it looks like Bell may have succeeded. But the plants are gone. And the question is was he killed for what could potentially be a huge money-maker or did one of his many affairs finally catch up with him in the most deadly way?
The deeper Kate & Henry dig the more dirt they uncover on the philandering flower fancier. And someone thinks Kate is getting a little too close to pay dirt. Two attempts are made on her life and a third is looming before the pieces get put together.
Lots of twists and turns and plenty of red herrings in a plot with likeable characters. Black does a great job of getting the reader right into the action and moves things along with good dialogue and clue-hunting by our main characters. A nice example of 1970s mysteries. Three and a half stars.
Our protagonist is Professor Magnus "Max" Stefansson, a history professor, and the time is the late 1980s. Max is approached by Oliver Goldsmith, a weOur protagonist is Professor Magnus "Max" Stefansson, a history professor, and the time is the late 1980s. Max is approached by Oliver Goldsmith, a wealthy big wheel in the local town whose granddaughter has gone missing. Liz had been in one of Max's classes and had mentioned how much she liked him. This is the tenuous link which causes Goldsmith to ask Max to investigate the disappearance. Max, with no detective background at all, agrees and in no time discovers the body. Amazingly enough for an ivory tower academic, he owns a gun, seems incredibly well-versed in investigative techniques, and has access to a retired police dog. This is convenient because the dog leads him to the shallow grave where Liz has been buried. Max spends the rest of his time uncovering the secrets that led to Liz's death, falling in love with Liz's aunt, and looking for justice for what the law can't touch.
I have very mixed feelings about this one. I was very intrigued by the premise....anyone who knows me knows that I can't resist a mystery with an academic twist. And Bradford has a way with characterization. All of his characters are finely drawn--I feel like these are real people and we get to know quite a bit about them and to like most of them. And for those that I don't like--there is plenty of buildup to why I don't like them. Oddly enough, the most illusive character is the grandfather. After serving as the catalyst to get Max involved in the mystery, he pretty much disappears. But Max, our hero, is very well-defined as an honest and good man. He definitely believes in trying to do what's right and seeing that justice is done. Some of his methods and philosophies may not be mine, but he is an interesting and complex character who is very believable. The supporting cast are just as well-defined. I particularly like Laura, Liz's younger sister. Bradford has done a great job fleshing out the character of a young, teen-age girl. And Max's friend's Will and Ann are intelligent and supportive people--friends I wouldn't mind having myself.
Bradford also has the makings of a great storyteller in him--obviously since despite its flaws I found it very hard to put the book down, even when I had to. There's plenty of action to keep the reader interested and lots of suspense to keep the pages turning. But....This book seems to have missed a very important element. A good editor. It is billed as mystery/thriller--right there on the back cover (those would be the only words on the back cover of the edition I was sent, by the way). But there are these long, rambling monologues (mostly by Max, but sometimes by his friend Will) that get all philosophical and go on and on and I feel like I'm experiencing a "Beth story." What is a "Beth story?" you might ask. Well, I had a friend in college who would tell us these nice, long stories. They would go on and on and when she got to the end, we'd all look at each other and her and ask, "And the point is?" Sometimes, she wouldn't even remember. Yeah, the monologues are like that. They go on and on, and I wind up wondering, "And this furthers the story how?" A good editor would have asked that question.....and probably penciled out most of it. Or at least asked for a more condensed version. The heavy philosophical bits give this book something of a split-personality. On the one hand, it's a mystery--but, wait, I have some important things for you to think about. And let me spend the next several pages making sure you do.
And, finally, the ending chapters are not for the faint of heart or delicate-minded. If you don't like to read about women being referred to by the c-word, then you won't like it. I didn't care for it myself. I can see the point with the character involved (who is pretty slimy to say the least)--but I can honestly say that had I known up front about the final chapters, I would never have picked this one out for myself. It's most definitely not my usual style.
Overall, Bradford gets high marks for characterization and a style that kept me turning pages (except for the monologue roadblocks). A very decent mystery with believable action and motives--and those who don't mind their books with a bit of gritty, street language will appreciate it all the way to the end. For me--it rates 2 & 3/4 stars, verging on three. [Rounded up for Goodreads]
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks.
[Disclaimer: This book was sent to me as a review copy by the author. My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate...This review copy was offered to me for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.]...more
Death Takes a Sabbatical (1967) is the debut mystery novel for Robert Bernard, pen name for Robert Bernard Martin, a professor of English at PrincetonDeath Takes a Sabbatical (1967) is the debut mystery novel for Robert Bernard, pen name for Robert Bernard Martin, a professor of English at Princeton University from 1951-1975 who already had several scholarly tomes to his name. A few internet sources claim that he wrote four mysteries, but I can find evidence of only three (even looking among the listing of his papers at Princeton). I was absolutely delighted when I discovered Deadly Meeting at our Friend of Library used bookstore several years ago. After all, we all know how much I love those academic mysteries.
DTaS features middle-aged American professor, Richard Halsey in the midst of his titular sabbatical. He has returned Oxford where he spent time as a Rhodes Scholar in his youth. While in England, he is actually staying at the cottage home of friends (while they spend a year elsewhere themselves) and traveling back and forth to London by train as necessary for historical research and pleasure. It is during one of his return trips that Halsey's adventures begin.
On this particular trip to London, he has rounded off his evening with a musical performance. The first leg of his journey back to Oxford takes place by underground. Halsey is drowsy after a long day and the motion of the car sets him to dozing. He takes little notice of the three drunken men at the end of his car and is startled when the fourth passenger, sitting at his side, hisses at him, "For God's sake, get off this train at once!" Halsey is hustled off the train and the stranger introduces himself as a doctor--claiming that he realized that the middle of the three "drunks" was actually a dead man. He takes Halsey address as a fellow witness--even though the professor tells him he really didn't notice much at all--and rushes off saying he will report the incident to the authorities.
Poor, innocent Richard Halsey decides to report the experience to the police as well and immediately lands himself in a mystery involving missing dead men, murders, stolen gems, and hidden secrets. The good professor comes under suspicion himself when a body finally does turn up in a trunk at the train station and to add to his troubles his cottage is burgled and he is beaten, abused and kidnapped before it's all over. Of course, there are a few perks to the arrangement...one being the lovely woman who lives close by and with whom Halsey carries on a very successful romance. He also has the opportunity to play the hero for a bit at the very end and who can complain about that?
This is a pretty light-weight mystery offering. There are few clues to speak of and I really can't see how the average reader could possibly figure out what it's all about and who is responsible based on the meager crumbs we're given. There is a very tiny clue offered up that supposedly, according to the villain of the piece, should have revealed all to Halsey (who is much ridiculed by the evil-doer for being too obtuse to get it), but I don't believe even the good professor would have deduced the grand plot had he picked up the clue and run with it.
Now, despite the fact that this is in no way, shape, or form a classic fair-play mystery, it is an enjoyable romp and as a reviewer in the contemporary Saturday Review put it "jolly good fun." I describe it more as an adventure-mystery than a straight detective novel. Lots of action and I find Professor Halsey's actions to be pretty believable (except for the portion where he tries to go into hiding....). I can certainly understand his bewilderment as a stranger in foreign country feeling like the police have fastened on him as a suspicious criminal type. Excellent central characters from Halsey to his lady and her young son to his daily help to Mrs. Levering, lady of the manor and a very refreshing character, indeed. In fact, I do believe my favorite scenes all involve Mrs. Levering.
★★★ all for character, fun, and a well-told tale--even if not fairly clued.