Beasley's Christmas Party (1909) by Booth Tarkington is a sweet tale of the Midwest. It opens by introducing us to a young man who has recently come tBeasley's Christmas Party (1909) by Booth Tarkington is a sweet tale of the Midwest. It opens by introducing us to a young man who has recently come to Wainwright to work on the Wainwright Morning Despatch as a cub reporter. He has high hopes of interviewing Mr. David Beasley, a well-known and well-respected local politician who may have the governorship in his sights. But Mr. Beasley is a quiet, retiring gentleman who doesn't care much for talking and doesn't interview well. Our reporter hero just happens to live next door to Beasley's residence and begins to notice some odd goings-on. Mr. Beasley talks to people who aren't there and holds athletic contests with invisible foes. What's happened to him--has he quietly gone off his rocker? And then Beasley arranges for a grand gala at his house for Christmas. When his political enemies get wind of it, they are determined to spy on the proceedings and make trouble for him among the townspeople. After all, what kind of man would hold such a gala and not invite any of his good neighbors? They're in for quite a surprise.
This is a very sweet and warmhearted story--just right for the Christmas season (yes, I'm a little early!). There is just a hint of mystery, but the story is primarily a romantic little slice of Midwestern life in the early 20th Century. Nice and short--it is a quick and enjoyable read.
Beverly Gray's Mystery (1948) by Clair Blank features an intrepid girl detective in the mold of the original Nancy Drew. Unlike Nancy who seems to forBeverly Gray's Mystery (1948) by Clair Blank features an intrepid girl detective in the mold of the original Nancy Drew. Unlike Nancy who seems to forever be in her mid- (earliest version of her stories) to late-teens, Beverly's story is a progressive one. Her fictional career begins in college, takes her through some adventures post-college, and then finds her taking on a job (as a reporter) and becoming a government agent at times. Having stumbled upon Beverly during one of our antique mall rambles, I've landed in the middle of her series at a time when she is already established as an investigative reporter.
In this adventure which occurs around the Christmas holidays, Beverly sets out to interview an Indian prince who is visiting the United States and who has given a valuable horse named Star of the East to his American friend, Mr. Mengle. She has her friend newspaper photographer Lenora Whitehill with her to take pictures of the horse and the two friends. But before Beverly can ask her first question, the prince's groom discovers that the Star of the East has disappeared. A weekend feature turns into an investigative piece as Beverly and Lenora look into the mystery of the missing horse. Things turn a bit ugly as Max Mengle is hit over the head and hospitalized, a young actress disappears (thought to be kidnapped), and Beverly finds herself nearly run over by a car and locked in an abandoned house. Did the horse-nappers attack Max? Was it the prince's groom? Or perhaps it was his younger brother--in an argument over his engagement to the actress? It all becomes clear to Beverly in the end--she finds the horse...and, incidentally, a valuable stolen jewel in the process. And the story wraps up with Christmas in Beverly's apartment with TWO Santa Clauses!
Beverly Gray is another heroine that I wish I had met when I was young. She's resourceful and independent and a good role model for young girls. From what I read of her online, she's a bit more realistic than Nancy Drew--going to work and living away from home in the big city. Of course, she still has way more adventures than most of us do in everyday life, but the stories wouldn't be nearly as exciting without them.
Beverly uses her investigative skills to get to the bottom of this mystery--following clues, asking penetrating questions, and tracking down the missing people and the horse. It was fairly obvious to me what happened to the animal, but Blank did a good job spreading the suspicion around so it wasn't as clear who the culprit was. A fun read that would have been even better if I had read it when I was younger.
Carter Brown's A Corpse for Christmas (1965) isn't your usual Christmas fare--though there is a Santa Claus involved. Because, you see, it looks for aCarter Brown's A Corpse for Christmas (1965) isn't your usual Christmas fare--though there is a Santa Claus involved. Because, you see, it looks for all the world like jolly old St. Nicholas is a murderer at a fancy dress party in the days leading up to Christmas.
Dean Carroll, dressed up like Robin Hood, wasn't exactly the beloved leader of a band of merry men. In fact jest about everybody at the party had good cause want him out of the way--from Toni, his dishy wife who hated his guts and would inherit a bundle when he was gone to Iris, a delectable little blonde who was his playmate on the side...until someone else caught her eye and Carroll didn't want to stop playing to Janice, Carroll's plump ex-mistress who didn't like being a has-been to Greg who was having a hot affair with Carroll's wife.
So, when the guests decided to play a round of the Murder Game, no one was particularly surprised to find that they had a real live corpse instead...especially when the corpse was Dean Carroll. Enter Lieutenant Al Wheeler--called to the scene of the crime by Greg Tallen who discovered Robin Hood stuffed under a bed like a bag of discarded loot. Tallen also mentions that he and Toni just happened to see Santa Claus waltz out of the bedroom just before they went in for a little of their own brand of fun and games. There's just one problem--no one at the party was dressed like Santa. So who dressed up like St. Nick and gave Carroll a surprise Christmas gift--a shiny new bullet?
Buckle up for a 1960s ride--with swingers and fast-talking cops and a very stereotypical gay costume rental dude thrown in for color. Al Wheeler has more slick one-liners than you know what to do with. Brown does provide a solid mystery which, considering the tough guy style, is pretty fairly clued. A very middle-of-the-road read, but good for an afternoon's entertainment.
The Angel Doll by by Jerry Bledsoe is a Christmas story set in the early 1950s in Thomasville, North Carolina. Sandy Black is a four year old girl whoThe Angel Doll by by Jerry Bledsoe is a Christmas story set in the early 1950s in Thomasville, North Carolina. Sandy Black is a four year old girl who is the victim of poverty in the small, furniture-manufacturing town...and a victim of the polio epidemic. She loves her older brother, Whitey, and all things angelic--especially a book called The Littlest Angel. Then, right before Christmas, she makes it known that she wants an angel doll for her present. Whitey and his best friend--both ten years old--set out on a mission to get Sandy her doll. The only problem? There are no angel dolls to be had in Thomasville. The boys find the perfect doll and ask the mother of one of their friends if she can help transform an ordinary doll into an angel for Sandy. Through their quest the boys learn the value of friendship and the power of love.
This is a moving story that not only tells of the love and sacrifices of two boys during one Christmas, but also shows how the events that year affected them and changed how they would live their lives. While the book is tinged with sadness, it is still a very touching and heartfelt Christmas story.
Forget about Grandma getting run over-by a reindeer. Did Santa really murder Sir Osmond Melbury, the difficult family patriarch, during the ChristmasForget about Grandma getting run over-by a reindeer. Did Santa really murder Sir Osmond Melbury, the difficult family patriarch, during the Christmas festivities at Flaxmere, home of the Melburys?
Sir Osmond, not usually known for his good will, had decided that this year Santa Klaus (none of that Father Christmas nonsense for him) would deliver the toys to the grandchildren during the annual family gathering. So, he orders up a suit and invites Oliver Whitcombe, his preferred suitor for his youngest daughter, Jennifer, to join the country house gathering and dress up for the children. The suit doesn't arrive on time and another is ordered in time for the gift-giving.
But after the presents have been distributed--to grandchildren, children, and staff alike--Santa returns to the study for final orders from Sir Osmond only to find Flaxmere's lord and master shot through the head. When Colonel Halstock, the Chief Constable, and Detective-Inspector Rousdon investigate it appears that everyone but Santa (Whitcombe) had plenty of reasons to want the old man out of the way, but nobody but Santa had an opportunity to do the deed. But then, everyone is hiding a secret or two and nearly everyone has told a few lies. Once the evidence has been sifted, the secrets have been uncovered, and the lies have been traded in for truth, it looks like Santa really did kill Sir Osmond. But it wasn't Whitcombe. Who had time to don a second Santa suit and shoot him while the Christmas crackers were popping? And whose motive was great enough to drive them to murder?
In The Santa Klaus Murder Mavis Doriel Hay provides readers with a fine example of that Golden Age standard--the country house murder. We've got the overbearing, difficult patriarch who holds the purse-strings and likes to make his children dance to his tune and punish them when they don't. We've got his children--grown-up with lives of their own and a desire for dear old dad to pass the family wealth along to help make those lives more comfortable. And a fear that dear old dad may be too fond of his faithful, devoted secretary and be silly enough to marry her or at the very least leave her a sizable chunk of the cash if he decides to change his will. Jennifer, the youngest, just wants to be able to leave home and marry the man she loves (NOT Oliver Whitcombe, by the way). The servants are even hoping for a bit of an inheritance to help make their lives more comfortable as well. In other words, the place is simply bursting with motives.
As mentioned, we also have all kinds of misdirection--through outright lies or a reluctance to tell everything one knows. There are red herrings and planted clues and mysterious messages and the phone call that never came. There's the disappearance of a former chauffeur. It all makes for great fun and a rollicking good tale of murder and mayhem just in time for the holiday season.
My first review for the Christmas Spirit Challenge is going to be a mini-review for a mini book. Michelle, our lovely hostess, sent me Paul Auster's AMy first review for the Christmas Spirit Challenge is going to be a mini-review for a mini book. Michelle, our lovely hostess, sent me Paul Auster's Auggie Wren's Christmas Story as part of my prize package for a previous year's challenge. It is a slim volume with a lovely Christmas fable--without Santa or reindeer or snowmen or Christmas trees. The most holiday-type thing in the story is a very unconventional Christmas dinner. How can this be?
It is a tale about a writer who has been asked by The New York Times to write a Christmas story to be featured on Christmas morning. But he doesn't want to write one of those mushy, gushy, sentimental stories that serve as "wishfulfillment dreams, fairy tales for adults." He wants an unsentimental Christmas story even though he knows it is "a contradiction in terms, an impossibility, an out-and-out conundrum. One might as just as well try to imagine a racehorse without legs, or a sparrow without wings." So, the next time he ventures into his favorite cigar store, he tells his friend Auggie Wren his troubles. Auggie tells him that if he'll buy him lunch, he'll tell him the best Christmas story ever. The best because it's absolutely true.
This is Auggie's story about a shoplifter, a lost wallet, a blind grandmother, and that unconventional Christmas dinner that I mentioned above. It is a fable that encourages us to question whether a lie can ever serve as the truth and who is the giver and who is the taker. Auggie learns a little something about himself and what Christmas might really mean. ★★★★ for a surprisingly lovely unconventional Christmas story.
In Do Not Murder Before Christmas (1949) by Jack Iams somebody doesn't heed that advice. Toymaker Piet Van Der Vant, known as Uncle Poot to children wIn Do Not Murder Before Christmas (1949) by Jack Iams somebody doesn't heed that advice. Toymaker Piet Van Der Vant, known as Uncle Poot to children who have grown up in Shady Hollow's underprivileged neighborhood, is killed on Christmas Eve--apparently for the wads of cash he has trustingly kept stuffed in the drawers of his toy shop. Uncle Poot's toy shop is a favorite of all the kids--because his store is the first place their parents take them and because each year on Christmas Day he opens his shop for a Christmas party and lets the kids from the town's poorest families pick out any toy that is left in the shop after the Christmas buying rush.
Uncle Poot has a quaint ritual for the kids when they come to visit--they either sign their name in his registry books or leave some other mark if they can't write (fingerprints and sometimes even sweet little kiss marks from tiny lips). And upon each visit the kids make he records in those books whether the children have been good or not (for Santa). But when Uncle Poot is found dead in his shop late Christmas Eve, it becomes apparent that he must have known a little too much about somebody. There is a hint of a connection to a wealthy family, but these are the days where money could buy anything, including a quick hushing up of inconvenient stories...and, of course, it helps that a pipe with the fingerprints of a dim-witted young man is found to be the murder weapon. A quick, easy solution that will permanently hush up the wagging tongues.
Enter Stanley "Rocky" Rockwell, crusading newspaperman with a permanent grudge against the wealthy, but corrupt Malloys. Originally, sent to Shady Hollow to interview the new social worker at the Malloys' "generously" gifted community center--given to the poor section of town, he remembers stopping by to see Uncle Poot and the old toy maker's comments about a mysterious visitor to whom he may have said too much. Rocky starts digging and with the help of Lt. Bill Hammer, the only policeman who's not in the Malloys' pockets, he manages to find evidence that Loppy (the poor, dim-witted young man) has been framed. But with pressures on Hammer from above and a street brawl between Rocky and Marty Malloy threatens both Hammer's badge and Rocky's freedom. Will they be able to catch the real killer before Hammer is out of job and Rocky finds a temporary home in the local jail?
There is also a nice little love interest (and romantic triangle--Rocky-->Jane Hewes-->Marty) to distract our crusading hero and add a bit of suspense. At one point Jane disappears, apparently held captive. But it isn't Rocky who comes to her rescue--it's Debbie Mayfair, the society columnist (also known as Mrs. Pickett, 40-something and not nearly as staid as people might think). Mrs. Picket hides in a rumble seat and beards lions in the den of iniquity (a local hot-spot with nearly naked show girls) in order to rescue our damsel in distress. It's worth the price of admission just to hear Mrs. Pickett's story of her adventures.
Jack Iams is a brand-new author for me and I'm glad I have two more of his titles sitting on my TBR stacks. I plan to savor them. This is an extraordinarily fun American mystery from the 40s. I caught on quickly to the motive behind the murder and the culprit, but Iams does such a good job with his characters and the narration that it doesn't matter so much. This is a perfect mystery for the holiday season--set at the right time and a quick, fun read that fits nicely between all the seasonal activities--present-buying, card-writing, decorating, etc. Highly recommended for those looking for an interesting, light mystery for the holidays.
The Night Before Christmas Profusely Illustrated is a collection of stories and poems for and about children. It includes Moore's "The Night Before ChThe Night Before Christmas Profusely Illustrated is a collection of stories and poems for and about children. It includes Moore's "The Night Before Christmas" and lesser known Christmas-themed works by others as well as non-holiday stories and poems about childhood. It is designed along the lines of the MacGuffey Readers that were used as school primers long ago and far away (I have a couple of those around here somewhere as well). The stories and poems beyond the famous Moore poem are obviously intended to teach and remind children of strong moral values such as friendship, family, giving, studying, and helping. The works are charming in their old-world flavor and a nice peek at the world of yesteryear.
The Finishing Stroke is devilish little classic mystery story set primarily at Christmas-time, but bookended by a prologue set twenty-some years priorThe Finishing Stroke is devilish little classic mystery story set primarily at Christmas-time, but bookended by a prologue set twenty-some years prior to the main events and a wrap-up that takes place over twenty years later. The set-up: In 1905, John Sebastian, Sr. takes his pregnant wife for a New Year's fling in New York before her "confinement" to bring forth an heir. When the weather turns bad (and a bit of looting takes place in the city), he stubbornly insists on taking her home. The result? An auto accident and his wife going into premature labor. She manages to successfully deliver a son--John Jr.--and then the doctor surprises the new father with word that another baby is on the way. But giving birth to another baby is too much for his young wife and she does not survive. In a fit of misplaced anger (heaven forbid that the man admit that it was his stubbornness that forced them out onto roads unfit for driving), John Sr. blames the death on the innocent baby and refuses to acknowledge him as his own. He gives the boy to the attending physician--a man whose wife has been unable to have children--and heads home with his new (and only) son. But the father doesn't last long himself and dies within a week, having made a new will leaving everything to John, Jr. but without arranging a promised trust fund for the unwanted baby.
Fast forward to Christmas 1929. John Jr. has put together an extended Christmas party at the home of his guardian, Arthur Craig. He has invited his best girl, Rusty Brown, and her mother; an old flame and wanna-be actress, Valentina Warren, and her current escort, an angry young musician named Marus Carlo; his long-time friend Ellery Queen and Ellery's publisher, Dan Freeman; Sam Dark, the family doctor; Roland Payne, the family lawyer; and the Reverend Andrew Gardiner. Sebastian immediately announces that some important events will happen during the party. Item one: his book of poetry is being published by the House of Freeman. Item two: January 6th is twenty-fifth birthday and he'll come into the trust fund that his father set up for him in his will. Item three: He's going to marry his beloved Rusty--and that, by the way, is why the good pastor is among their number. And item four....well, he's going to save that one for later.
However, someone has a few surprises of their own. On Christmas Day when Sebastian leads them all to the Christmas tree in the living room for gifts, they find the presents have all vanished. As they are musing over this, suddenly a fully costumed Santa Claus appears from the hallway, hands them all gifts, and vanishes just as suddenly. They all assume that Felton, the butler, had been talked into performing and they go ahead and open their gifts--items that match the zodiac sign of each guest. But when Felton--and then all party members and the rest of the servants--denies any knowledge of Santa, Ellery becomes concerned. A search through the large rambling house, reveals no extra person...and the newly fallen snow outside reveals no footprints. Later an unknown man is found dead under the Christmas tree. Then a steady campaign of mystery gifts commences. Each night a gift with a parody verse matching the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" appears with Sebastian's name. And as the gifts continue the tone becomes more and more menacing until it all culminates in a second murder. Ellery believes he has solved the mystery--but doesn't have enough confidence in the solution to put it before the police. So the case remains unsolved.
Fast forward again to 1957. Ellery receives a phone call from now-Chief Devoe (a man who had been a sergeant in the state troopers at the time) wanting to know if Queen would like a crate that contains everything gathered in the Sebastian case. [There's a general clear-out going on and Devoe hates to throw it out.] Ellery takes it and when going through all the materials, he realizes he was right--well, pretty much. He just needed to give his solution a little twist. And he goes to confront the culprit.
Provided that one is willing to suspend one's disbelief regarding the sensible actions of a few people...and one is willing to swallow an interesting twist on a central theme [can't be more specific or I'd give the show away], this is a ripping good tale. What's not to love--mysterious corpse, red herrings, large cast of suspects, isolated and somewhat snow-bound setting, lovely prose, and witty banter. This a fun mystery and I can say that I got hoodwinked (and thoroughly enjoyed it)--I was absolutely distracted by that central theme and didn't catch any of the clues that would have led me in the proper direction.
A Christmas Promise continues Anne Perry's shorter holiday mystery series with the story of thirteen-year-old Gracie Phipps and her new friend MinnieA Christmas Promise continues Anne Perry's shorter holiday mystery series with the story of thirteen-year-old Gracie Phipps and her new friend Minnie Maude Mudway. Gracie is running errands for her Gran when she runs across Minnie Maude--looking sad and lost. Minnie Maude is an eight-year-old girl on a mission to find Charlie, the beloved donkey that belonged to her Uncle Alf. Uncle Alf has just been found dead...apparently from a fall from his rag and bone cart. But the cart and Charlie have both disappeared and Minnie Maude is worried that the donkey is scared and lost.
Gracie promises Minnie Maude that she will help find the donkey. Not knowing where to go or how to set about it, they wind up consulting Mr. Balthazar, a wise old shopkeeper who warns them that there may be danger in asking too many questions. They soon discover that Uncle Alf was on the wrong route and may have picked up a valuable object that wasn't intended for the junk collector. Did someone kill to get the object back? Will the girls and their ally find the answers before Christmas--so Charlie can be home and safe in time for the holiday? You'll have to read and find out.
This is a very short and straight-forward mystery with just the right amount of Christmas charm. It is a good character study in the Victorian era and it is enjoyable to watch the girls quickly become friends. A bit of suspense and a fast-paced wrap-up make for a very solid Christmas mystery. Three stars.
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. ItOkay...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.
...I realized that the noises in the attic had stopped. The next minute I heard them all pour down into the hall, sounding like a herd of elephants, ...I realized that the noises in the attic had stopped. The next minute I heard them all pour down into the hall, sounding like a herd of elephants, as men usually do when they're trying to be quiet. (p. 113)
Black-Headed Pins is the second book by Constance and Gwenyth Little and the first in a long line of books with "black" in the title. Their first book, titled The Grey Mist Murders, might count as a shade of black but despite the somber colors of their titles, the Little books are far from somber affairs. The ladies may deal in murders, but they are humorous, madcap affairs rather than chilling, nerve-wracking adventures.
Cozy by nature, the murders happen tidily off-stage and allow for plenty of frantic rushing about and snappy dialogue by the players. The action always takes place in drafty old mansions, hospitals, boarding houses, ocean liners--in short, anywhere that the Littles could convene a gathering of eccentric characters who seem to have wandered in from a B-movie along the lines of Bob Hope in The Ghost Breakers or my Halloween-viewing experience The Thirteenth Guest with Ginger Rogers. The heroine in each stand-alone novel runs very much to type--strong-minded and always willing to speak her mind with a sense of humor and a distinct interest in finding a man who will either do his share of the housework or who is rich enough to hire help to take care of it.
Black-Headed Pins finds Leigh Smith needing a job and having agreed to play companion and housekeeper to Mrs. Ballinger. Only Mrs. Ballinger didn't tell her that she holds on to every penny as though it were the last one ever minted and that they were bound for the drafty, creaky Ballinger mansion in the back of beyond in New Jersey. It isn't long before "Smithy" (as she is known) regrets her decision--there is little food and less heat and no housekeeping funds to speak of. When Mrs. Ballinger takes it into her head to invite the nieces and nephews for Christmas, it all Smithy can do to get the old lady to part with enough cash to provide a little Christmas cheer for the party.
The family doesn't make it any easier by arriving with three unexpected guests--but Smithy does see some possibility of a pleasant weekend. She doesn't, however, anticipate the resurrection of the Ballinger family curse--which comes equipped with ghost dragging bodies back and forth across the attic floor--or that the Ballingers will start dropping like flies from "accidents." Because, you see, when the ghost starts dragging imaginary bodies around that means a Ballinger will die. And once the Ballinger is dead, someone must sit with it till it's firmly planted in the ground or it will start transporting itself around the house.
Mrs. Ballinger's favorite nephew, John (favorite because he repairs things around the house for free), is the first to go. Liking nothing better than a home-improvement project, he heads to the roof on Christmas Day to fix a few leaks. Next thing we know he's slipped from the roof and died when his scaffolding rope accidentally breaks. Or is it an accident? That "break" in the rope looks an awful lot like a clean cut....The local town cop--Joe by name--shows up to investigate, but Smithy and her two male conquests, Berg--nephew of the house--and Richard Jones, his uninvited guest--decide to play detective themselves and try to get the bottom of things. But another Ballinger will die and an attempt will be made on Berg before they finally explain the dragging noises, the scattering of black-headed pins everywhere, the bloody phone receiver, the mysterious tune on the gong, the lack of blood, and the footprints in the flower bed. Oh...and of course who engineered it all.
Like my previous read, Mayhem in B-Flat, this madcap mystery is great fun--with suspects popping in and out of rooms and dead bodies roaming through the hallways how could it not be? Smithy gets in plenty of witty one-liners and exchanges bon mots with her two beaus...all while giving the local policeman a run for his money in the detecting business. Highly entertaining and I look forward to reading the other three Little novels hanging out on the stacks.
You see, the actual fact, the crime, is now more than the act. There's always a chain of events that lead up to the crime. That chain is started somewYou see, the actual fact, the crime, is now more than the act. There's always a chain of events that lead up to the crime. That chain is started somewhere, a seed is planted. And when you start looking for that beginning, you'll find, sooner or later, a point at which somebody, either because of love, or the lack of it, out of hate, or an excess of it, for profit, or whatever, somebody, somewhere, at some time, shirked his responsibility toward his fellow man. Either consciously or subconsciously, it doesn't matter. But there you'll find the originator of the crime, the person morally responsible. (DeKok to Vledder; DeKok & the Sunday Strangler; p. 28)
Murder in Amsterdam (1981) is the book that started A. J. Baantjer's popular Inspector DeKok series. It brings together two novellas, DeKok & the Sunday Strangler (1965) and DeKok & the Corpse on Christmas Eve (1975). DeKok is an older detective, almost a relic of the past in contrast to the new breed of younger detectives, but he knows Amsterdam well and has a keen knowledge of its inhabitants. The younger men don't understand him, but are in awe of his formidable reputation for solving crimes. Each of these stories force DeKok back to work during a holiday. In Sunday Strangler, DeKok has been enjoying a vacation in the provinces with his wife and his old dog, Flip. He receives a telegram calling him away from the sunny skies and peaceful beaches to return to the cloud-covered, rainy city. Someone has strangled Fat Sonja, an Amsterdam prostitute who Dekok knew well. The killer has left behind no clues and the few leads that the police could find have led to dead ends.
DeKok is surprised to find that Vedder, one of the young detectives, specifically requested that he be called in to take over the investigation.
"Yes," he answered, "it was my idea. We weren't getting anywhere fast. We'd reached a dead end. In short, we're stuck. Then I phoned the Commissaris to get you involved. You have a lot of experience in this sort of cases."
DeKok isn't pleased, he just wants to be left alone to finish out his career. But when he realizes that Vedder is sincere in his admiration, he relents and becomes interested in the case. Then a second prostitute, Pale Goldie, is killed and DeKok begins to see a pattern. After questioning several people who knew the women--from a barman to other working girls to a pastor who was known to help prostitutes looking to leave the game, he thinks he knows who the killer is and lays a trap. But a miscalculation nearly costs the life of a third prostitute he knows well before the killer is caught.
The Corpse on Christmas Eve find Vedder on case, again--initially--without DeKok. This time a young woman is fished out of the Canal and Vedder thinks she's just another holiday suicide until the doctor on duty unwraps the scarf around her neck to reveal that she was strangled before going into the water. Vedder feels that he is out of his depth and summons DeKok for help--taking the older detective away from his Christmas holidays. It is soon revealed that the young woman recently broke off her engagement to a soldier, was pregnant at the time of her death, and may have been seeing another man while her (then) fiance was on active duty for a month. Her purse is also missing, so--was she killed for her money? Did her boyfriend resent the break-up and resort to violence? Or did Mr. X tire of her and end the relationship in the most final of ways. The emotional and hot-headed Vedder is all set to arrest the soldier, but DeKok insists that they are missing a vital clue--and he is willing to use the most unorthodox methods to find it.
This introductory book gives us a DeKok who seems far more disgruntled with his lot as detective and, yet, at the same time, far more philosophical about the job. He often gives "lectures" much like the opening quote above--musings on the way of things in the detecting business. Baantjer provides plenty of insight into what makes his lead detective tick as well as providing good descriptions of Amsterdam in the mid-60s and mid-70s. The stories are quick reads and enjoyable, entertaining stories with fairly straight-forward mystery plots. Baantjer could possibly have done a bit better in playing fair with the reader (DeKok makes a couple of leaps that I don't think are properly clued), but overall, good solid mysteries. ★★★ and a half. (rounded to four here)
The Birds' Christmas Carol (1886) is a very sweet short novel written by Kate Douglas Wiggin and illustrated by Katharine R. Wireman. It centers arounThe Birds' Christmas Carol (1886) is a very sweet short novel written by Kate Douglas Wiggin and illustrated by Katharine R. Wireman. It centers around Carol Bird--originally destined to be named Lucy until she arrived unexpectedly on Christmas. She grows to be an exceptionally happy, loving, and generous girl--despite the fact that she is diagnosed with an unspecified illness at age five and is bedridden by the time she is ten. As the story says, "perhaps because she was born in holiday time, carol was a very happy baby...she may have breathed in unconsciously the fragrance of evergreens and holiday dinners; while the peals of sleigh-bells and the laughter of happy children may have fallen upon her baby ears and wakened in them a glad surprise at the merry world she had come to live in." Just by being Carol, she manages to influence her unruly brothers to behave more generously to one another and her entire family learns lessons about the true meaning of Christmas from their very own Christmas Carol.
Carol manages to teach her family and readers alike that it really is better to give than to receive. Her fondest wish is to prepare a gala Christmas celebration for the nine Ruggles children who live in a small house behind her own. She finds a way to earn her own money to provide a Christmas dinner that the children will never forget as well as presents the likes of which they have never seen. While the story is primarily a moral tale about a very angelic child with an incredibly giving heart , it also features some very humorous scenes--particularly when the Ruggles matriarch is attempting to prepare her large brood for their first fine social occasion.
Even though it is tinged with sadness at the end, this is a truly lovely story--entirely suitable to the Christmas season. Five stars.
It's about 1977 and the night before Christmas when self-identified dog person and curmudgeon Cleveland Amory finds himself on a mission to help rescuIt's about 1977 and the night before Christmas when self-identified dog person and curmudgeon Cleveland Amory finds himself on a mission to help rescue a thin, bedraggled feline from a New York alley. The cat has obviously been on his own for a good while and someone has injured him. The rescue is just for the night...Amory offers to house the poor kitty overnight until someone can come claim him. But the unexpected happens. The cat decides that Amory is who he wants to live with and from the moment Amory finds him staring at him the next morning the die has been cast. Amory discovers what it's like to be owned by a cat....and how much he likes it.
The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory isn't really a Christmas story. It's a story about the bond between a cat and his human that just happens to start at Christmas. The story follows Amory and Polar Bear (as the naming of the cat goes) through a year of settling in to a life together. The stories about Polar Bear are charmingly told and remind me of the cats found in the Lockridge mystery series. The cat is obviously his own person and that is relayed without making the story too cutesy.
The only part that really didn't work for me was Amory's long-winded section on the history of cat's and cat names. Not that the history of cats might not be interesting in the right context. I just don't think this book was it.
Overall, a very pleasant read and a good one to finish off my Christmas Spirit Challenge reading for 2013. Three solid stars.