The Warsaw Anagrams (2009) by Richard Zimler is a heartbreaking historical thriller set in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. The story is told byThe Warsaw Anagrams (2009) by Richard Zimler is a heartbreaking historical thriller set in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. The story is told by Erik Cohen, an elderly psychiatrist, who leaves a Nazi intern camp only to discover that he is no longer alive. He is an ibbur--a spirit--and no one can see him until he makes his way back to the Ghetto. There he finds Heniek Corben, a visionary man and the only person who can see this spectre from the camp, to whom he must tell his tale. The story begins in the Ghetto, so it is fitting that it can only be told where it began. Cohen's story centers on his young nephew, Adam. Cohen, like all other Jews in Warsaw, has been forced to relocate to the Ghetto--an area surrounded by barbed wire to keep them separated from Christians. He moves in with his niece and her son and must learn to adjust to living in cramped quarters in close proximity with a young boy. Adam teaches his great-uncle much as Erik learns to love and protect his nephew and overcome his selfishness. But Adam is also savvy to the ways of the underground and risks much to bring back forbidden supplies from "The Other Side" (as life beyond the Ghetto walls is know). One night, Adam does not return home and his mutilated body is found the next morning on the barbed wire. It becomes Erik's mission to find out who did this to Adam--why was he killed and why his right leg cut off?
Erik's investigation leads him to the murders of other Jewish children--all left on the barbed wire with various parts removed and never the same parts. There are rumors that someone is taking the parts to build a golem, but Erik doesn't believe in superstition and isn't even sure he believes in God anymore. What kind of God would allow children to be brutalized like this? Erik is sure there is a darker, more horribly realistic motive behind the killing and he won't rest until he discovers it.
Generally speaking, I don't do well with books that involve violence of any sort directed towards children. Even when I know it's not real, I just can't do it--I never could and even more so once I became a mother. But this book is so very well done and the focus is so much on Erik's investigation of the murders rather than on the details of the murders themselves, that I could enjoy it. Zimler creates a very moving and intriguing story in the midst of the overall horror of the Nazis' atrocities. He also creates a sense of hope in the midst of hopelessness by focusing on the simple, everyday activities of the Jewish people within the Ghetto--from the children going secretly to school and forming a choir to the small kindnesses that neighbors extend to one another to the few Polish Christians who risk punishment by providing what they can for the Jews they know behind the barbed wire. It is an absorbing and heart-breaking story and well worth your time whether you are looking for a World War II setting or a mystery thriller.
I chose Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's The Old Battle Ax (1943) to help me fulfill my final category for the Title Fight Challenge and decided to read botI chose Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's The Old Battle Ax (1943) to help me fulfill my final category for the Title Fight Challenge and decided to read both it and the companion novel, The Obstinate Murderer in this Ace Giant edition. I first sampled Holding's work in 2014, using The Unfinished Crime as an entry for my Vintage Bingo Challenge. I mentioned at the time that while I appreciate Holding's skill in her particular method of mystery/suspense story-telling, I didn't think her style was my cup of tea any more. I enjoyed the more psychological, suspense-driven story much more in my twenties than I do now.
And this time, I found her style to be almost in the stream-of-consciousness vein. Conversations are a bit difficult to follow with various participants saying whatever pops into their heads--irrespective of how much off-target it may be. It was particularly apparent in The Obstinate Murderer. Not only were the characters having such conversations amongst themselves, but the reader is privy to the main character's (Van Cleef's) running inner commentary--which was very stream-of-consciousness. Perhaps my concentration wasn't what it needed to be, but it seemed to me that Holding was constantly presenting the reader with allusions and references hidden in half-remarks and unfinished thoughts that were never completed. I spent my time throughout each story feeling as though I had missed several pages somewhere. I absolutely get the appeal of her style for others, but she's just not for me. ★★★
In The Old Battle Ax we are introduced to Madge de Belleforte who seemed to be a loose woman in life and in death. She arrives from Paris and shocks her sister Sharley Herriot with her appearance, a tendency to knock back double martinis, and an eye for anything in trousers. She hasn't even settled in at her sister's country house before she is found dead in the street--painted cheeks, dyed hair, and all. Sharley can't believe it and tries to convince herself that Madge isn't really dead. Questioned by the police, Sharley finds herself saying she had never seen the woman before. But why does Silas, her chauffeur and the man who brought the ladies home from the dock, back her up in it? And why does Cara, Sharley's niece, daringly and convincingly impersonate the dead woman? Only Ramon Honess, a young playboy who stands to inherit a fortune from Madge's will, sees through the deception. And his unexpected appearance threatens exposure of the deception and forces a cornered killer to strike again.
The Obstinate Murderer (1938): The rich playboy Van Cleef, our hero and reluctant amateur detective, is called upon by Emelia Swan to help her with a situation. She claims that someone is trying to backmail her. Along the way, he picks up Russell Blackmon, an abrasive young man of advance intellectual capacity whom he encountered when Russell was a child. But when they arrive at the country guesthouse they find themselves in the midst of a sinister web of fear and terror that seems to hold the occupants in its grasp. Van Cleef wavers between trying to make sense of the horrible chain of events and dabbling in a bit of romance with the young woman whom Emelia has accused of the blackmail. There are several attempted poisonings--harkening back to the suspicious death of Emelia's husband, Bill Swan, but things get desperate when the actual deaths occur.
As Helen opened the door of Miss Warren's room, a small incident occurred which was fraught with future significance.
It was a dark and stormy night...As Helen opened the door of Miss Warren's room, a small incident occurred which was fraught with future significance.
It was a dark and stormy night....no, really, it was. Fortunately, Ethel Lina White was a much better author than the potboiler creators who are generally credited with starting their books in such fashion. The Spiral Staircase (1933; originally titled Some Must Watch) is a suspense thriller with a damsel in distress that makes excellent use of the dramatic storm-tossed night to provide a top-notch novel filled with Had-I-But-Known moments.
She was visited by no prescience to warn her that--since her return--there had been certain trivial incidents which were the first cracks in the walls of her fortress. Once they were started, nothing could stop the process of disintegration; and each future development would act as a wedge, to force the fissures into ever-widening breaches letting in the night.
Things start off calmly enough. Helen Capel is over-joyed to find a position as lady's help at the Summit, Professor Warren's remote estate on the Welsh border. After all, apart from the loneliness of the locale, the post is a very good one--offering her a very nice room and sitting room of her own, good food, and she's even allowed to take her meals with the family. It is a bit worrisome that there is a murderer loose in the countryside. A mysterious killer who has chosen as his prey young women who work for their living. Some think he may be a man who believes these women have taken jobs away from men.
But, reasons Helen, all the girls who have been killed have been alone. And the murders have taken place at a good distance from the Summit. Surely she, and the others in the house, will be safe if they keep the place shuttered and bolted at night and they all stay inside. Yes, she's sure of it. Until a victim is strangled in a house just five miles away. Until the next victim is found murdered just on the other side of the estate. Death and terror creep closer to the Summit, but still Helen feels safe...until the stormy night when she bolts herself in the house only to find that the danger was somewhere inside and had chosen her as the next target.
White also provides the typical suspense-thriller heroine in Helen Capel, a self-identified independent-minded young woman who none-the-less does remarkably silly things for someone who suspects she's in danger. Through various plausible-sounding means, several of the inmates leave the house, a few of them are drugged, drunk or otherwise incapacitated, and Helen promptly goes about alienating one of the few people who couldn't possibly be the killer--thereby setting herself up to slip into the maniac's clutches.
White manages to bring about a quite nifty ending--I won't spoil it by giving even a hint of what I mean. The book is a classic example of good suspense done right without blood and gore or explicit scenes. It is also a terrific character study with plenty of misdirection to allow the reader to question each person's motives and whether they are really what they seem. A very good read for a dark and stormy night of your own. Just make sure to lock all the doors. You might want to check under all the beds first, though.
Just not a fan of the "Had I But Known School." So, I know, why did I buy it and read it? Because I'm a book-aholic and can't resist a first edition pJust not a fan of the "Had I But Known School." So, I know, why did I buy it and read it? Because I'm a book-aholic and can't resist a first edition pocket size mystery. ...more
Edward Logan is a stuffy, predictable, highly respectable businessman. His manservant says you can set your watch by him and he always knows what to eEdward Logan is a stuffy, predictable, highly respectable businessman. His manservant says you can set your watch by him and he always knows what to expect from Mr. Logan. But then, on the day Edward decides he's been a fool over a young woman and, on the advice of his lawyer, goes to ask for his letters back and to tell her good-bye, he becomes impulsive.
EL: I've been a fool...what are you laughing at? F: I thought you were going to say that. There is a faintly sheepish aspect about you this afternoon which is immediately recognizable to any experienced solicitor. It is almost invariable accompanied by the form of words you have just uttered. Or some equivalent synonym. (Edward Logan, Fenchurch; p. 12)
She is not at home when he arrives at her apartment, but her door is unlocked so he walks on in. He finds a note which asks someone (quite probably the suspected other man in the case) to wait as she'll be right back. As he stands looking out the window and tries to decide what to do, he sees a man walking purposefully towards the apartment. When the man comes into the building and his footsteps can be heard on the stairway, Logan is again impulsive and dashes into a closet.
His suspicions about Betty Alton's relationship to the man are put to rest when she arrives home to find her brother (!) in her apartment. But Logan has barely breathed a sigh of relief before Stephen Alton reveals that he's managed to get his hands on some top secret plans, is attempting to avoid the authorities, and wants to sell the plans back to the Russians. And then the Russians show up--demanding the plans and searching the apartment and the occupants for their precious secrets with no success. The Russian spies are quite amused to find a secret lover hidden in the closet and they appear to discard Logan as a prime player in their particular drama. They exit with Alton and Logan runs away from the scene.
He becomes convinced that it might be a practical idea to leave London for a bit...just in case the Russians don't find what they're looking for and decide that he might have it. So he arranges with Greene, his manservant, for his bags to be packed and tickets to be bought for an unexpected trip to France. He then calls his twin brother Laurence, who lives in Paris, and asks him to meet him at the Gare du Nord and put him up in a hotel for a bit.
Laurence is baffled by the odd request. Every time his brother has visited, it has been arranged long in advance, down to the last detail. His brother never does anything on the spur of the moment. Edward is very mysterious and will only tell him that it's a matter of life and death and that all will be explained when he sees Laurence. Laurence's bewilderment increases when he arrives at the station late to find an almost empty train and no sign of his brother. He heads to Edward's compartment and finds his luggage, passport, tickets, and hotel reservations laid out for custom inspection but Edward has vanished without a trace! Before he can decide what to do, the conductor comes and addresses him as Mr. Edward Logan.
Certain signs among his brother's things (items out of place, slits in the lining of the suitcases) and his brother's ominous statement cause Laurence to be a little impulsive himself. He assumes his brother's identity, determined to discover what happened to the normally unadventurous Edward...and avenge him if necessary. Laurence was a member of the French Foreign Legion and the French Resistance during the war so he has no problem with a little adventure. He just wishes he knew what it was all about.
Enter Tommy Hambleton and Inspector Bagshott. Hambleton is attached to the Foreign Office and interested in the fate of a certain German doctor, known to have been carrying secret plans for a device that could play havoc with enemy troops. Bagshott is with Scotland Yard and wants to know who had it in for Stephen Alton. He also knows that Herr Muntz disappeared overboard while on a Mr. Stephen Alton's ship and the papers may or may not have gone over the side as well.
Muntz--let's call him that--was carrying a briefcase containing papers which he said were worth vast sums to the Russians and when the British Government saw them they would dance ring-o'-roses round Nelson's Column. So said the second engineer. (Bagshott; p. 55)
Hambleton gets on the track of a trio of Russians and follows the trail to France while Bagshott investigates in England. Things really get interesting as Laurence, the Russians, and Hambleton all race to find each other and the missing plans.
This is another fun outing by Manning Coles, the neighborly writing duo of Adelaide Frances Oke Manning and Cyril Henry Coles. Spy thrillers aren't my usual fare, but this particular series is breezy, witty, and humorous. There are more coincidences and unlikely events than you can shake a stick at--but you don't care, dead bodies accumulate at an alarming rate, and there is, of course, no real mystery about who did what to whom, but it's a rollicking good yarn. The only real mystery is what did Alton do with those darn plans?