Friday, April 19, 2019

The Crooked Wreath by Christianna Brand

There was a going to be a gathering of the family at Swanswater to commemorate the death of Serifita who was the first wife of Lord March. Lord March had been very much in love with her because she was so beautiful and charming. The family didn't want to be there for this dreary event, but they wished to stay in Lord March's will so they came. There were the cousins, Philip, Clare, and Pita March. Philip was married to Ellen, however Philip had decided that he was really in love with Clare and wanted a divorce. Then there was the troublesome cousin, Edward. Edward was the grandson of Belle who was the second wife of Lord March. She had been his mistress while Serifita was alive, but they married after Serifita's death. Edward Treviss was 18 years old and was convinced that he suffered from mental illness. He had seen a number of psychologists and was convinced that he suffered from fugue states in which he did things which he did not remember doing. The family was also convinced that something was wrong with Edward because he enjoyed telling them about his problems.

The family gathered at dinner. Unfortunately they launched into a discussion of their various complaints and marital complications. Lord March grew so irritated by their arguments that he announced that he was going to change his will that evening, and disinherit most of them. With his present will, Pita would inherit almost every thing with some money amounts going to the others. Lord March said that his new will would leave everything to Belle and Edward and nothing to the others.

Needless to say, the next morning, Lord March was found dead in his study, and the new will, if it had been made, could not be found. The family called upon their friend, Inspector Cockrill, to help them find the murderer. Edward thought that he had done it in one of his fugue states, and the family members seemed to believe that he had done it even if they didn't admit it out loud. What follows are a number of guesses, and hypotheses and suppositions about who in the family had committed the murder. Another murder will occur which further confuses things. The book ends on a very dramatic note with the discovery of the murderer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book especially the interactions by the family members.  It was published in 1946. I have read it for the 2019 Golden Mystery Challenge in the category of When - Timing of crime is crucial.

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

Harriet Vane, a noted mystery writer, was on trial for causing the poisoning death of her lover, Philip Boyes. He had died from arsenic poison and Ms. Vane had procured arsenic which she said was research for the mystery novel which she was currently writing. The trial went to the jury. The jury could not come to a decision, and the judge decided that another trial would be held in one month's time.

Lord Peter Wimsey was in the audience at this trial and he was determined to find the killer of Philip Boyes during that month, because he was in love with Harriet Vane and was going to marry her. She, however, did not know this, and did not really believe Lord Peter when he told her of this.

Lord Peter received a lot of help in finding the murderer from the secretarial bureau which was managed by Miss Climpson. This bureau, otherwise known at the Cattery, did indeed do secretarial work but some of its employees did undercover work for Lord Peter who was the real owned of the Cattery. First Miss Murchison was employed as a secretary for Mr. Norman Urquhart who was the cousin of Philip Boyes and the legal representative for their rich great aunt. Miss Murchison also received special training in lock picking from a reformed burglar who had found religion.

Then Lord Peter sent Miss Climpson on an especially delicate mission to find the will of Philip Boyes' aunt, because Lord Peter felt that the identity of the murderer was directly related to the terms of this will. Miss Climpson engages is a very humorous subterfuge in order to succeed in her mission. It should also be noted that Bunter, Lord Peter's man does a bit of investigating himself.

This book was published in 1930 by Dorothy Sayers and was her fifth mystery novel. It was on the list of the 100 best mystery novels of all time by the Mystery Writers of America. I have read this book for the 2019 Golden Just the Facts, Ma'am mystery challenge in the category of Why - it made a "best of" list.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Beast in View by Margaret Millar

Beast in View is a very disturbing novel. It deals with people with very disturbing mental problems which alter their views of reality. Helen Clarvoe was a very irrational person. She had money, or so people said, but she lived in a second rate apartment in a second rate neighborhood. She did not leave her apartment or have any friends because she was afraid of everybody. Then one day she received a phone call from Evelyn Merrick whom she said that she did not remember. Evelyn said that she could assist Helen with the management of her money and then made threatening statements when Helen refused her help. The call ended and Helen was terrified. She called upon the only person whom she thought could help her. She wrote a letter to Paul Blackshear  a lawyer who had handled her father's estate. He was nearing retirement and was bored, and he agreed to assist her. It is through Mr. Blackshear's eyes that we see the story develop.

He started investigating Evelyn Merrick who was trying to become a famous model and who was not doing very well, and who enjoyed phoning strangers and planting untrue gossip about their family members in their minds. He went to visit Helen Clarvoe's mother and brother whom Helen had not visited in a very long time. He found that they had no money, and the mother was extremely worried about how they would get along. Helen's brother, Douglas, had dabbled in various careers and had not continued with any of them and lived off his mother. He was currently studying photography or so he said. He had a problem which his mother did not know about, but which Evelyn Merrick did, and which she did not hesitate to use against him.

At this point, I will leave you to read the book on your own. This book has a very surprising and ominous ending, and I do not wish to ruin it for you. There is a topic in this book which was forbidden in 1956 which is now seen in a different light, and it may be useful for the modern reader to see how it was handled sixty years ago. 

The Beast in View won the Edgar Award for best novel in 1956, and is still regarded as one of the best psychological mysteries ever written. Ms. Millar was born in Canada but moved to the United States after marrying Kenneth Millar who changed his pen name to Ross MacDonald to avoid confusion about names since they were both writing mystery novels. She was named a Grand Master of Mystery in 1983.

I have read this book for the 2019 Just the Facts, Ma'am golden mystery challenge in the category of Why - It won an award.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Death and the Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh

Jonathan Royal was going to observe a drama to be enacted in his home at Highfold Manor. He explained it to his friend Aubrey Mandrake who was a very modern dramatist. Jonathan's drama would feature real people who were not aware that they had been invited to Highfold Manor for the amusement of their host. There was Mrs. Compline and her two sons who competed for their mother's attention as well as for the attention of young Chloris Wynne. Mrs. Compline's face had been seriously damaged by a failed plastic surgery and Jonathan had invited the plastic surgeon, Dr. Hart, who had done the damage. The guest list included two women who were competing owners of beauty salons. The first meeting of these seven people challenged them to do nothing else than restrain themselves from attacking each other.

The snow began falling on the second day. Aubrey Mandrake was pushed into a freezing swimming pool, and the guests starting forming hypotheses about who had done this and why. Later that evening, another guest was almost killed by a falling statue of a Buddha. The members of this hostile group continued with their suspicions as the snow fell heavier and heavier. Then the murder occurred. They were trapped in a house which they could not leave because of the snow, and the telephone lines were down because of the storm. Everyone slept in locked bedrooms and that evening the snow changed to rain and the next morning, travel was possible.

Aubrey Mandrake drove through the snow, ice, and slush to a neighboring town where he knew that Inspector Roderick Alleyn was visiting friends. He and Alleyn came back to Highfold Manor where Alleyn questioned all of the guests and investigated the crime scene before he found the solution to murder. This book does keep the reader guessing, because although most of the people in the book had reasons to kill others in the group, the person who was actually murdered was one whom nobody seemed to dislike. It should be noted that the footman who was dancing in the hall does play an important part in the solution to the murder.

This book was published in 1942, and was Ms. Marsh's 12th mystery novel. I have read it for the 2019 Just the Facts, Ma'am Golden Mystery Challenge and it will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of When - During a weather event.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Whistling Hangman by Bayard H. Kendrick

Doncaster House was an excellent and expensive hotel in New York city. until death marred its peace and tranquility. Its manager, Rudolph Bleucher, and his assistant, Thomas Fralinger, worked very hard to ensure that this luxury hotel ran efficiently. Mrs. Colling-Sand who was head of house keeping was tremendously proud of the hotel. A large amount of this novel is told through her eyes which adds human interest to the story.

It began when Dryden Winslow and his entourage arrived. Winslow was a very rich man who had made his money outside of the United States, and who had not been in the country for many years. In the hotel, he would be meeting with his daughter, Gertrude,  and his son Baxter whom he had not seen since they had been babies. Gertrude's fiance, Paul Holden, O.B.E. was also there along with the two aunts who had raised the children, Marcia and Prunella Forrest.

It was obvious from the moment of his arrival that Dryden was not a well man. Illness and age had taken their toll, and he had returned to see his family before he died. But his death arrived sooner than expected when he fell from his balcony on the 15th floor of the hotel and landed on a balcony on the 6th floor. It was assumed that it was an accident until private investigator Duncan Maclain examined the body and declared that Dryden had been hanged. The remarkable thing about Duncan Maclain was that he was blind, yet still pursued his investigations with great skill.

During the investigation of Dryden's death, Duncan Maclain demonstrated the skills which he had learned to overcome his blindness, and these skills were quite impressive. He was also accompanied by a skilled dog, and two sighted assistants. Maclain did determine how the murder was committed in quite an unusual manner, and named the killer.

Baynard Kendrick had met a blind soldier during world war I and had become quite interested the abilities which blind people acquired. He wrote 14 novels featuring Duncan Maclain. The Whistling Hangman written in 1937 was the second of the series. I have read this book for the 2019 Just the Facts, Ma'am golden challenge and it will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of Why - Author from my country.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes

The president of St. Anthony's college, Josiah Umpleby, had been murdered one November evening. He had been shot, and the body was surrounded with unusual artifacts. Beside the president's head lay a human skull, and little piles of human bones were scattered about.

Young Scotland Yard inspector John Appleby had been called from London to investigate the murder. Upon arriving, he met with Inspector Dodd who told him about the unusual aspects of the building where the president's lodging was located. Fortunately the reader is supplied with a map of the college. The lodging was only accessible after ten o'clock by those members of the college who had a key, and the number of these were limited. Furthermore, the locks and keys had been changed the day before the president had been murdered which ruled out anyone with an old key.

Appleby's investigation involved numerous interviews with the academics involved which uncovered hostilities which they held for each other. In addition, he located odds and ends of physical evidence and observed one professor painting spots with ink on his carpet. This story is intricate, and the solution involves keeping track of the numerous statements which are given in the interviews. 

This book was published in 1936 and was the first book to feature Inspector John Appleby. Michael Innes is the pen name of John Innes Macintosh Stewart who was an English academic and writer who wrote nonfiction and novels in his own name. It was a first effort and, I thought, rather too complicated. I enjoyed it anyway because of the depiction of the academics involved.

I have read this book for the 2019 Golden Just the Facts, Ma'am mystery challenge, and it will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of Who - An academic, because the murder victim is an academic and all of the suspects are academics.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Groaning Spinney by Gladys Mitchell

Dame Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley decided to spend the Christmas holidays with her nephew Jonathan Bradley and his wife Deborah at their newly purchased home in the Cotswolds. Jonathan drove her to his manor house, and along the way pointed out sites of interest. There were two cottages on his property. One belonged to Will North, the gamekeeper, and the other belonged to Abel and Harry Wooten who did gardening for Jonathan and for a local college.

The next day which was rather cold, they took a walk around the property and arrived at a narrow spinney with a gate at one end. It was local folklore that the ghost of a parson, who was murdered in 1850, hung about this gate in what was now called the Groaning Spinney. Then their walk took them to the home of Tiny and Bill who would be having Christmas dinner with them. Tiny Fullalove was the local agent for Jonathan and for the college. Deborah did not like him because he made advances to her in the past. Bill was nice and honorable, and was suspected of punching Tiny in the eye when he found out about the advances.

There were more guests for Christmas dinner. There was Miss Hughes, the college principal, Miles Obury, an expert on British mammals, and Gregory Mansell who was an archaeologist. Dinner went well even though the weather turned colder.

The snows arrived after Christmas day was over. and the snow was heavy and deep. The postman did manage to get through, and brought a very disturbing, and anonymous letter to Jonathan which he showed to Deborah. It dealt with the advances which Tiny had made and she was perturbed that anyone knew about this. The snows continued and they were house bound, but eventually it stopped, and Jonathan dug them out. Then he made his way through the drifts to the college to see if Miss Hughes was doing well. Later he went to the house of Tiny and Bill, but nobody was home. Then on his way home through the piled up snow, he passed the Groaning Spinney, and found the dead body of Bill Fullalove draped over the gate. Returning to the Fullalove cottage, he found Tiny on the floor with painful, injured knee. Their housekeeper, Mrs. Dalby Whitier, had disappeared. She had planned to go to London for the Christmas holidays, but she never arrived.

Mrs. Bradley's visit lasted much longer than she had planned. She was intrigued by the identity of the author of the poison pen letters which had been sent to many of the local residents. Then there was the mystery of the death of Bill, and the mystery of the diappearance of Mrs. Dalby Whitier. Then it get even more complicated.   

This book was publshed in 1950 and was the 23rd book to feature Mrs. Bradley. It does have a large number of characters. A great deal of the action and movement does occur in the Groaning Spinney and in the surrounding country side which is why I have entered it in my detective notebook in the category of Where - any outdoor location.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

There Came Both Mist and Snow by Michael Innes

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

 ----The Rime of Ancient Mariner
         by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Arthur Ferryman was paying his annual Christmas visit to the home of his cousin, Basil Roper,  the seventh baronet, at his home at the estate of Belrive. Belrive had a one time stood alone, but now the manufacturing town was moving towards it. From Belrive, it was possible to see the very large sign of Cudbirds's brewery. Basil was a mountaineer, and had spent a good part of his life engaged in this pursuit. Arthur met the various members of his family who were attending. (I would advise the reader of this book to make a family tree in order to keep them straight.) Also attending this Christmas was Sir Mervyn Wale, an elderly physician.  They would later be joined by Horace Cudbird, of the brewery, and   Ralph Cambrell, owner of the local mill. Basil said that he had invited an interesting young man to dinner, and that interesting man turned out to be John Appleby, a young detective.

In the evening, the shooting occurred. Wilfred Foxcroft, Basil's nephew, was shot in the right side of his chest as he was seated at Basil's desk in Basil's study. The police were called in and right from the start young Appleby took charge of the investigation. Arthur Ferryman took the position of Watson and narrated the following events and conversations. It is the conversations of the group of family members which bring out the suspicions which they have of each other. It seems that Basil was entertaining the idea of selling Belrive to one of the industrialists, Cudbird or Cambrell, in order to finance an expedition to Antarctica, and the family members divided into two camps about the sale. It should also be noted that the family had engaged in target shooting with revolvers earlier in the day, and guns were easy for anyone to find.

This is a very literate mystery with well educated family members and a well educated inspector Appleby.  They engage in a round of recalling Shakespeare quotations as a form of amusement. The mist and snow in the title is not just a literary jest, but is a important clue to the shooting of Wilfred. Think about that as you read the book.  This book was also given the title of A Comedy of Terrors ( in America, I believe) but this change is rather silly considering the importance of the title to the story).

This book was published in 1940 and was written by Michael Innes which is the pen name of John Innes Macintosh Stewart who was a professor of English, and who also published works of literary criticism and novels under his own name.

I have read this book the the 2019 Golden Just the Facts, Ma'am mystery challenge, and it will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of What - Title with a literary illusion in it.  

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace

This novel was written in the form of letters and statements written by the occupants of 15 Whitington Terrace, Bayswater to their relatives or significant others. On the first floor of the building live Mr. and Mrs. George Harrison and Agatha Milsom who is apparently a companion for Mrs. Harrison. In addition to his regular job managing construction, Mr. Harrison is an enthusiastic cook, an amateur artist and has hopes of publishing his book on woodland plants and fungi. Mrs. Harrison would like to get out of the house and get a job, but George does not approve, so she seems to spend her time reading novels. Agatha writes to her sister, Olive Farebrother, giving her views on personalities and events. George Harrison writes to his son, Paul, who is building a bridge in Central Africa.

On the second floor live an artist, Harwood Lathom, and a writer, John Munting. Munting is the correspondant on this floor. He writes letters to his fiance, Elizabeth Drake, who is a successful author. Munting has hopes of achieving a similar success. Lathom is very friendly with residents of the first floor and even paints portraits of Mrs. Harrison and Ms. Milson. He considers the portrait of Mrs. Harrison to be one of the best things that he has ever done. Munting is not gregarious, and the residents of the first floor are rather suspicious of him.

A rather peculiar incident occured when Ms. Milson accused Munting of trying to accost her, and Munting moved out of the building. Lathom remained and eventually Ms. Milson moved on to an asylum because she was becoming more and more irrational.  Lathom and Harrison remained friends, and they went for occasional short trips to Harrison's cabin in the woods. On the last of these trips, Lathom brought Munting along. When they arrived they discovered Harrison dead in the cabin. It was assumed that he died from eating a stew made with poisonous mushrooms, but this was rather peculiar because he was such an expert on the various types of mushrooms. An investigation was undertaken by Paul Harrison and Munting. A gathering of men discussing the origin of life brings the glimmer of light to Munting of how a murder was committed.

This novel was published in 1930 by Dorothy Sayers and Robert Eustace. Robert Eustace is the pen name of Eustace Robert Barton who was an English doctor who collaborated with with mystery writers by supplying scientific and medical information. Sayers is a great name in Golden Age mystery fiction, and it is an enjoyable read. She does include some snide comments about modern novelists.

I have read this book for the 2019 Golden Just the Facts Mystery Challenge. It will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of What - Includes letters.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Bedeviled by Libbie Block

Imagine that you wanted very much to kill somebody. You have a long time to contemplate the murder, and the way that you would carry it out. You would be obsessing over it every day. This is what happened to Elizabeth Beel, an attractive researcher for an author. She had been in love with John Maicey, a young composer, who was hoping to make his way in the world of classical music, and they would not marry until he succeeded. Then John's big break came. The very famous conductor, Willem Himbert, promised to conduct John's composition Scherzo.

Then Elizabeth found out about Himbert's wife, Coca Himbert, who was much younger that he was. When Willem discovered a talented new composer and promised to play his music, Coca played up to the young composer, made Willem very jealous, and the young composer never did anything else in the world of classical music. Elizabeth was very much afraid that this is what was going to happen to John. She saw Coca become friendlier and friendlier with John. She was practically on hanging on to him, and Willem was beginning to show signs of jealousy. Elizabeth wanted to kill Coca to save John's career. She fantasized about the ways in which she would commit the murder. She was so caught up in this that there were periods in her life when she had no recollection of what she had been doing for minutes or hours before.

Then Coca was murdered. Elizabeth thought that she was the murderer, and that the murder had been committed during one of those periods of her mental blankness, and just could not remember doing it. To tell you what happened next would be a spoiler.

According to Wikipedia, Libbie Block wrote over 250 short stories and novels. One of her novels was made into a film with Betty Grable. Bedeviled was published in 1947.

Quite honestly, I did not like this book. Possibly a person more interested in psychology than I am would find it interesting. I just did not find the characters believable, and the writing was full of cliches, and dreary similes and metaphors. All the characters would have benefitted from a few sessions with a psychoanalyst. I have read this book for the 2019 Just the Facts, Ma'am Golden Challenge in the category of Why - author's first or last name begin with the same letter as mine. We share both the same first and last letters of our name - LB.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Alphabet Hicks by Rex Stout

Alphabet Hicks was working as a cab driver when he was employed on his first case as a detective. Alphabet had graduated from Harvard Law School, worked one year as a lawyer, and then was disbarred. All of this had been written up in an article in The New Yorker. His passenger had read the article and wanted to employ him to solve her problem. She was Judith Dundee, and her husband, Richard I. Dundee, was a successful manufacturer of plastics. (Alphabet does ask "What are plastics? This was in 1941) It seems that Richard had accused her of giving secrets of his business to his chief competitor, Jimmy Vail, and says that he has evidence to prove it. Judith says that she knows nothing about the business, and could not have told anything.
Alphabet takes the case and a chance overheard conversation leads him to track
a woman to Katonah, New York. Katonah is the site of the Richard Dundee manufacturing factory. It is here that his chief research scientist, Herman Brager, works with Richard's son Ross. Their secretary is a young woman named Heather Gladd. One of the products they have been working on is the sonogram. The sonogram is a recording device, much like a music record, which can be used to record people's conversations both with and without their knowledge.

On the afternoon that Hicks arrives in Katonah, Martha Cooper is murdered there. She is Heather Gladd's sister, and the woman that Hicks had followed to Katonah. No motive is found for her murder, and her husband, George Cooper is suspected of the murder. Further complications follow along with another murder. Hicks does find both the murderer and the perpetrator in the industrial espionage. The high tech modern technology of the sonogram plays a large part in the solution of the crime.

This book, published in 1941, was part of an effort by Rex Stout to create other detectives beside the very well know Nero Wolfe. This is the only Alphabet Hicks book he wrote. Other detectives he would create would be Tecumseh Fox (3 books) and Dol Bonner (one book). Though the book is interesting, the personality of Alphabet Hicks is not very well developed. He cannot be distinguished from any other investigator of this period, and I can see why Rex Stout did not write another book featuring him.

I have read this book for the 2019 Just the Facts, Ma'am Mystery challenge. It will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of What - Person's name in title.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh

Barrister Luke Watchman was meeting with two of his old friends at the Plume of Feathers inn in the village of Ottercombe. On his way, he had a small traffic accident in which he hooked bumpers with a small car driven by a sullen man. Luke cheered up when he arrived at the inn and saw that his friends, his cousin Sebastian Parrish, a rather handsome actor, and Norman Cubitt, an artist, were already there. He also found that the sullen man was also there, that his name was Legge, and that he was both a local socialist and a very good darts player.

That evening Watchman and Legge competed in a game of darts with Legge winning. Legge said that he was such a good darts player that he could throw darts between the fingers of a hand held up to the dart board. The following evening all of the occupants of the bar had a bit too much to drink and Watchman challenged Legge to do his trick with the darts.  A brand new packet of darts was opened, and Watchman put his hand up against the board. The first couple of darts thrown by Legge went between his fingers, but the next went into his finger. Watchman panicked and seemed ill because he was always sickened by the sight of his own blood. He lay on the floor, the first aid kit from the bar was brought, and iodine was applied to the cut. Watchman died. A later analysis showed that he had died from cyanide poisoning.

Inspector Alleyn of Scotland Yard was called in, and he and his trusted sidekick Fox came to Ottercombe to try to figure out how Watchman could have been poisoned. Legge, who had thrown the dart, was immediately suspected, but the people in the bar that evening testified that they had been watching him the whole time and that there was no way that he could have poisoned the dart. Forensic analysis found a bit of cyanide on the tip of the dart, but Legge would have had to have the skills of a magician to put it there.

Alleyn and Fox spent one day interviewing the people in the bar, inspecting every corner of the inn, and trying to find a motive for any one wanting to kill Watchman because the reason for his death was not immediately apparent. Putting all the pieces of their research together, they figure out how the poisoning was done and who the murderer was.

This book was published in 1940. As always, Ms. Marsh has found a clever means of murder. I enjoyed this book very much. I have read this book for the 2019 Golden Just the Fact's Ma'am Mystery Challenge, and will enter it in my detective notebook in the category of How - Death by Poison.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh

The village of Swevenings was charming, attractive, and very, very small. There were three houses in the valley. At Jacob's Cottage, there was Mr. Danberry-Phinn who lived there with his cats. At Uplands, there was Commander Syce who was quite good with his bow and arrow. At Hammer Farm, which wasn't a farm, were Colonel Cartarette, his wife, and her step-daughter, Rose. On the far side of the valley was Nunspardon Manor. Sir Harold Lacklander, who was very ill, and his wife, Lady Lacklander, who enjoyed sketching,  lived there. Their son, George Lacklander enjoyed golf and visits with Mrs. Cartarette. Mark Lacklander, George's son, was the village doctor and was in love with Rose Cartarette. It is also necessary to mention Nurse Kettle, who from time to time, visited all of their homes.

As was expected, Sir Harold died, of natural causes. Before he died, he gave his memoirs to Colonel Cartarette who was to read and edit them. In these memoirs, the Colonel found something explosive which would have an effect on several in the village. Shortly after this, Colonel Cartarette was murdered as he was fishing. Lady Lacklander did not want a common policeman handling the investigation so called Scotland Yard to request that the investigation be put into the very competent hands of inspector Roderick Alleyn.

Although the characters and setting may seem familiar to readers of classic mystery novels, this book has enough complications to maintain interest, and the evidence collected is rather unusual. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
One big problem with my copy of this book, a paperback published by Berkeley in 1960, is that it does not have a map of this small community. It would be a great help to the reader to understand where events are occurring - at which river bank, which spinney or which road. On the first page of this novel, Nurse Kettle muses about the geography of the region "She was reminded, too of those illustrated maps that one finds in the Underground with houses, trees and occupational figures amusingly dotted about them". I too would have liked to have such a map.

This book was published in 1955 and it will be entered in my Detective Notebook in the category of Where - Set in a small village.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Brazen Tongue by Gladys Mitchell

The war had begun, and strange things were happening in the village of Willington. A group of young boys who had been sent for safety from London were playing near the cistern which held water to put out fires from the bombing. One of them dove in and found a body of a woman wearing a nightgown. On the evening before this, a young couple had gone to the cinema. They got caught in the rain on their way home and found refuge in a doorway where they also found a dead body. On that evening, Sally Lestrange went to her duty as a telephonist at the Town Hall Report Center. That night, Lillie Fletcher, who was working at the Report Canter, was murdered outside of the Town Hall building.

Thus, the local police were confronted with the poisoning by arsenic of town Councillor Blackburn- Smith, the death by beating of a young woman, Lillie Fletcher, and the drowning of a woman whose identity they could not establish. Mrs. Bradley, psychologist and amateur detective, was drawn into looking for the solution of these crimes because her niece, Sally Lestrade, was working at the Report Center on the night Lillie was killed. Also Sally was good friends with a Patricia Mort who was a reporter for the local paper. Mrs. Bradley and George, her chauffeur,  set out to solve the mystery. Gasoline rationing was not a problem for George because he had quite a skill in siphoning gasoline from other people's cars.

It was Mrs. Bradley's belief that the three crimes were related even though it was not apparent what the connection between the three people could possibly be. Also since the murders had been carried out in 12 hours on the same day, could one person have done all three.  It is also quite a puzzling mystery because the people who had motives for committing the crimes could not have done them. This book is an interesting look at the citizens of a village, and how their lives were impacted by rationing, black outs, and other results of the war.

This book was published in 1940. I have read this book for the 2019 Golden Just the Facts, Ma'am Mystery Challenge in the category of When - Set during World War II.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Printer's Error by Gladys Mitchell

The Carns were receiving anonymous letters, and Mrs. Carn had written for assistance from her London solicitor. Her solicitor had sent his son, Justus Bassin, to deal with the problem. She gladly received Justus and told him about her problems, her husband was not present at this interview. Her husband, Fortinbras Carn, was an author and was finishing up his latest book.  His new book, Open-Bellied Mountain, was creating quite a stir even though it had not yet been published. The letters were threatening, and, quite honestly, Fortinbras was not a popular person even with other authors and critics. She wanted Justus to take charge of one set of corrected galleys of the book which were kept in a large locked cash box. He agreed to stay another day, and went into the village to acquire a razor and tooth brush. On his return, he was shocked to find that Mrs. Carns had been murdered. Apparently by a blow on the head with the cash box which had been taken. The police immediately assumed that Mr. Carns had murdered Mrs. Carns.

A week before these events, Mrs. Adela Lestrange Bradley had gone to visit her nephew, Carey Lestrange, who was a pig farmer. Carey felt that he needed a vacation. Mrs Bradley suggested he take a much needed vacation, and do what he really wanted to do. So Carey decided to take a vacation tramping around painting inn signs. It was during this tramping, that he encountered Justus Bassin, and the two of them resolved to find out more about the murder of Mrs. Carns.

They visited the printer who was to print the book, and found that it was a very antisemitic tract which stated that Priapus was a Hebrew deity, and that Thor was a good Nazi. They also found that the printer was being visited by a Nazi agent. Then body parts began appearing. Ears went to one recipient and a hand to another. Police digging eventually revealed an earless, handless body which turned out to be Fortinbras Carn. Or maybe it wasn't Fortinbras!

Now things get even more complicated. Mrs. Bradley decided to investigate this puzzling situation. There are mad cap rides with George, the chauffeur,enjoying himself. Mrs. Bradley, Justus, and Carey were shot at. Mrs. Bradley undertook an investigation of a nudist colony. The reader must also pay attention to manuscripts, galley proofs, a published book, and the possibility of a printer's error.

This book was published in 1939. It is serious in that it involves antisemitism and Nazis, but it does have its light hearted moments. I have read this book for the 2019 Just the Facts, Ma'am Golden Mystery Challenge, and it will be entered in my detective notebook of Who - A writer.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh

The group of actors were seated around the table on the stage of the theater when the murder occurred. They were there to celebrate the birthday of leading lady Carolyn Dacres. Everyone was expressing best wishes, and a few gifts were given. Then her husband, Alfred Meyer, announced that if she would cut the red cord near her seat, she would receive her gift from him. She did so and suddenly a jeroboam of champagne rapidly descended from the ceiling and hit Meyer on the head crushing his head and breaking his neck. He was quite dead.

Among the guests at the table was Inspector  Roderick Alleyn of Scotland yard. He had met the actors on the train to Middleton, New Zealand and had become friendly with some of them who invited him to the birthday party. Of course, Alleyn immediately investigated how the murder was carried off. It seems that Alfred Meyer had designed this as a way of presenting a lavish gift. The jeroboam  was attached by a rope over a pulley to a heavy weight. When the cord was cut, the magnum was supposed to descend
slowly because of the heavy weight to which it was attached . The stage hands and Meyer had tested it 12 times that afternoon. Alleyn found that the weight had been removed causing the bottle to descend very rapidly. In addition, a little cord was attached which deflected the bottle from the center of the table where it was supposed to land to the side where Meyer was sitting. I have copied the drawing which Alleyn did showing how the whole thing was supposed to work.

Alleyn was on a working vacation, and wished to have the New Zealand police handle the murder, but when they found out who he was, they insisted he take a part in finding the murderer. The company of actors was employed by Incorporated Playhouses, Inc. which was owned by Meyer and his partner, George Mason, who was now the sole owned. Carolyn Dacres, wife of Meyer, was really in love with leading man, Hailey Hamilton, who had been hoping that she would ask Meyer for a divorce. There were also the younger actors in the company who were engaged in a dispute over some stolen money. Also there was a Maori physician. Dr. Rangi Te Pokiha, who was a witness at the death.

This is a classic Golden Age mystery which was published in 1937. There are a lot of interviews of the everyone concerned. A chart is drawn up of the times involved, and the map of the theater is studied intently. Ms. Marsh, who was from New Zealand, includes descriptions of the scenery, and also deplores the treatment of the Maori natives.

I have read this book for the 2019 Golden Just the Facts, Ma'am mystery challenge and it will be entered in the category of How - unusual murder method.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Murder Challenges Valcour in the Lesser Antilles Case by Rufus King

Wealthy Lawrence Thacker had purchased a yacht, the Helsinor, and had taken friends and family on a cruise to South America and the Caribbean. When the yacht struck a reef, and quickly sank, many of the thirty two on board went down the boat. There were 10 who made it into a lifeboat, and were headed toward an island. This party included Lawrence Thacker, his cousin Erica Land, her aunt, Miss Whitestone, Philip Hasbrook who was another cousin, Edmund Gateshead, a good friend of Thacker, and Lilian Ash, a numerologist. Also in the lifeboat were Oscar Baron and Sarah Gorin who were servants, and Wesley Paget, the first officer and Leighton Klein, the third mate.

They arrived at the island which was barren and which did not seem to have a source of fresh water. They decided to get back in the lifeboat and look for a better place. They took along a container of the drinking water from the yacht which was all of the water that they had. Along the way, they each has a small drink of water and in the heat, they all went to sleep. When they woke up, they discovered that Lawrence Thacker and Leighton Klein were no longer in the boat. The final decision was that they had fallen asleep and fell over the side.

Life went on after they arrived back in New York. Lieutenant Valcour of the New York Police department was assigned to try to find out what had happened to Thacker and Klein. There was a memorial service for the lost men and then there was a reading of Lawrence Thacker's will. Erika Land and Philip Hasbrook received quite a significant amount of money. Lilian Ash, the numerologist received one hundred thousand dollars. Lawrence Thacker had become quite interested in numerology, and Miss Ash would become a real pain in the neck of the family members. Then everyone was shocked when Edmund Gateshead was poisoned and died at a wake that he was giving for the missing men.

Valcour would solve the mystery after Miss Whitestone purchased a similar yacht, and all of the suspects took another cruise to the spot where the Helsinor sank. A diver was hired to go down and search the sunken vessel for further clues which explains the cover of this book.

This book was published in 1934. Rufus King was an American mystery writer.Though he had several detectives in his books, Inspector Valcour who appeared in 11 books was the most popular with readers. I cannot say that I was impressed with Valcour. He was a pleasant, polite detective who got along with everyone, but his detecting skills were not impressive.

I have read this book for the 2019 Just the Facts Ma'am mystery challenge in the category of How - Two deaths with different means. In this novel, people died from drowning and from poison.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Death in the Back Seat by Dorothy Cameron Disney

Jack and Lola Storm decided to leave the expensive life in New York City, and move to a small town where life would cheaper and more peaceful. Lola was an author and Jack was a painter. They found a charming cottage in Crockford, Connecticut. They rented this cottage from Luella Coatesnash, a sixty something woman, who lived in a much larger house nearby. Mrs. Coatesnash repeatedly asked them to run little errands for her - a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy. Jack and Lola did these little trips because they were basically nice people, and they didn't want to antagonize their landlady.

In February, Mrs. Coatesnash told them that she was leaving for a trip abroad. The handyman Silas Elkins would be around to help them if they needed any assistance. After she had gone, the Storms received a very strange phone call. The man calling said his name was Elmer Lewis and the Mrs. Coatenash had said the Jack would pick him up in New Haven and drive him to Crockford. Jack agreed to do this even though he had second thoughts, but did not know how to contact Elkins.

So Jack and Lola drove to New Haven in the rain, and picked up Lewis at the train station. Lewis put a suitcase in the front seat, and said that he would ride in the rumble seat, in the rain. Jack and Lola thought this a very odd arrangement, and Lola observed Lewis watching them through the back window during the trip. Jack drove back at such a speed that he was stopped on the way by police officer Lester Harkway who gave him a warning, not a ticket. When they got to Crockford, they stopped so that Jack could go to the grocery store and Lola to the drug store, leaving Lewis in the rumble seat. When they got back to the car, Lewis was dead. He had been shot.

The police were called and officer John Standish considered the evidence and seemed to decide that Jack and Lola were the murderers. This was a decision which would be changed as the investigation continued. Things was become much more complex, and Jack and Lola would take an active part in the final solution of the mystery.

I really enjoyed this book. It is well written with a remarkable number of complications and loose ends to be tied up. Dorothy Cameron Disney was born in Oklahoma in 1903. She worked as a secretary, copywriter, and night club hostess before she took up writing. She only wrote 9 novels. Death in the Back Seat was published in 1936.

I have read this book for the 2019 Just the Facts, Ma'am mystery challenge. It is entered in my detective notebook in the category of How: Death by Shooting.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Puzzle of the Silver Persian

The beautiful silver persian cat named Tobermory came aboard the passenger freighter, American Diplomat, with his human, the Honorable Emily Pendavid. She was sailing from New York to London with her son Leslie Reverson. Also sailing on the ship was Hildegarde Withers, school teacher and amateur detective who was on a well deserved vacation. They were joined by others such as young Rosemary Frasier and her traveling companion, Candida Noring, Andy Todd who was going to England on a Rhodes scholarship, and Mr. and Mrs.Peter Hammond and their son Gerald who was a chronic pest and troublemaker.
As the trip progressed, the various passengers met each other and also met the
steward Peter Noel who was quite friendly with the ladies.  All of the men took
an interest Rosemary Fraser. She apparently met one of the men in a secluded place on the deck. When this was discovered, there was quite a bit joking about this with Rosemary and she did not take it at all well. Then one evening, Rosemary was seen on the deck, and then she disappeared. The ship was searched and she was not found. The captain refused to turn around, because in the time it would take to return to the spot of her supposed disappearance, she would have drowned in the cold Atlantic waters. Still, it was questionable whether she committed suicide, had been murdered, or had found the perfect hiding place on the ship.

When the ship reached London, Scotland Yard was called in to investigate in the person of inspector Cannon. His investigations led him to suspect Peter Noel of a connection to the disappearance. When Noel was questioned, he committed suicide by swallowing cyanide. Another death would follow, and the reader learns more about Candida Noring and the Hammonds. Hildegard Withers would accept the invitation of Lady Emily to come to her castle in Cornwall. The investigation reached its conclusion in Cornwall. Hildegarde Withers, with the assistance of the cat,  discovered the identity of the murderer who was taken back to London by Scotland Yard.

This book was published in 1934. Palmer wrote 14 Hildegard Withers mysteries. I have always found the sleuthing of this prim and proper school teacher to be quite interesting.  I have read this book for the 2019 Just the Facts. Ma'am mystery challenge and it will be entered my detective notebook in the category of What - An animal in the title.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Faintley Speaking by Gladys Mitchell

Mandsell was broke. He had no money and his landlady was threatening to throw him out of his room. He was an author, and his book had been accepted for publication but he desperately needed some payment before publication. He was wandering the streets in the rain when he decided to call his publisher to ask for some kind of payment. As he neared the phone booth, he saw a man leaving it. Just as Mandsell was about to make his call, the phone rang. Mandsell answered it when he had no reason to do so. The voice on the line told him that it was Miss Faintley and she would not listen to Mandsell saying that she had the wrong person. Miss Faintley told him to go to Hagford Station and pick up a parcel on deliver it to Tomson, and ask for a receipt.

Mandsell had no reason to do this, but he decided to do it because it would give him something to do. He went to the station and picked up the package. He remembered seeing Tomson's shop so he went to the dingy shop and gave Tomson the package. He demanded a receipt, but Tomson offered him five pounds instead. To a man with no money this seemed like a very good deal, and he took the money. Finally he could pay part of his rent.

This is the opening of Faintley Speaking by Gladys Mitchell. This mysterous phone call and package would get Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley and her secretary. Laura Menzies, involved in a very complicated crime. Laura discovered the body of the murdered Miss Faintley in a deserted house. It was found that Miss Faintley was a teacher at Kindleford school. In order to learn more, Laura volunteered to take Miss Faintley's place at the school. Here she began to suspect other members of the school staff might be involved in whatever it was that Miss Faintley was doing. There are many choice comments on the behavior of school students which make for fun reading. The final solution of the crimes in this novel requires Mrs. Bradley, Laura, the police, and a even a cooperating school teacher.

This novel was written in 1954. I have always enjoyed the novels of Gladys Mitchell. Mrs Bradley is a delightful sleuth with her knowledge of psychoanalysis, and just about everything else under the sun. I have entered this book in my detective notebook in the category of Where - At a school.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Just the Facts, Ma'am Challenge, 2019

I am entering the Just the Facts, Ma'am challenge for 2019. In case you are wondering what this is, you will find this a challenging read of the mystery novels of the Golden Age (up to 1960) and of the Silver Age which follows it.

I am posting the rules of the competition below.

"As was the case (pun intended) in the 2018 challenge, participants in the 2019 version of the Just the Facts, Ma'am Challenge will be playing detective. The objective is to answer all the important questions of Who, What, When, Where, How and Why to complete cases in either the Golden or Silver Mystery Eras (or for the more adventurous, both). I have added two more spaces to each category and have changed up some of the items to check off. [Thanks to Kate from Cross Examining Crime for her helpful suggestions!] See the Detective Notebooks below.
Challenge Levels
   Constable: 6 books -- one from each category
   Detective Sergeant: 12 books -- two from each category
   Inspector: 18 books -- three from each category
   Inspired Amateur: 24 books -- four from each category
   Chief Inspector: 30 books -- five from each category
   Superintendent: 36 books -- six from each category
   Chief Superintendent: 42 books -- seven from each category
   Deputy Chief Constable: 48 books -- eight from each category
   Chief Constable: 54 books -- nine from each category
   Master Detective: 60 books -- all ten books from each category

Golden: Pre-1960
click photo to enlarge (silver card is below)

~All books must be from the mystery category (crime fiction, detective fiction, espionage, etc.). The mystery/crime must be the primary feature of the book--ghost stories, paranormal, romance, humor, etc. are all welcome as ingredients, but not be the primary category under which these books would be labeled at the library/bookstore.

~For the purposes of this challenge, Golden Age Vintage Mysteries must have been first published before 1960. Golden Age short story collections (regardless of publication date) are permissible if they fit a category and provided all stories in the collection were originally written pre-1960. Please remember that some Golden Age authors wrote well after 1959--so keep an eye on the original date and apply them to the appropriate card. Silver Age Mysteries must be first published from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive). Again, Silver Age collections published later than 1989 are permissible as long as they fit a category and include no stories first published later than 1989. Yes, I admit my dates are arbitrary and may not exactly meet standard definitions of Golden or Silver Age."

Silver: 1960 - 1989 (inclusive)

For more information and there is more, visit Bev's web site at Bev is the lady who sets these challenges for us.

I personally will be entering the Golden Challenge, and am looking forward to a fun year of reading.

 My Detective Notebook


Death at the President's Lodging  by Michael Innes, 1936, Academic

Printer's Error   by Gladys Mitchell, 1939, Writer
Alphabet Hicks  by Rex Stout, 1941. Person's name in the title.

The Puzzle of the Silver Persian   by Stuart Palmer, 1934, Animal in the title.

 The Documents in the Case  by Dorothy Sayers and Robert Eustace, 1930. Includes letters.

There Came Both Mist and Snow  by Michael Innes, 1940. Title with a literary allusion in it.


The Crooked Wreath  by Christianna Brand, 1946. Timing of crime is crucial.

 Death and the dancing footman  by Ngaio Marsh, 1942. During a weather event.

 Brazen Tongue  by Gladys Mitchell, 1940. Set during World War II.


Faintley Speaking   by Gladys Mitchell, 1954. In a school.

Scales of Justice  by Ngaio Marsh, 1955. In a small village.

Groaning Spinney  by Gladys Mitchell, 1950. Any outdoor location.


Death in the Back Seat   by Dorothy Cameron Disney, 1936. Death by shooting. 

Murder Challenges Valcour in the Lesser Antilles Case   by Rufus King, 1934. Two deaths with different means. 

Vintage Murder   by Ngaio Marsh, 1937. Unusual murder method. 

Death at the Bar  by Ngaio Marsh, 1941. Death by Poison. 


  Beast in View  by Margaret Millar, 1956. Won an award.

  Strong Poison  by Dorothy Sayers, 1930. Made a Best Of list.

 Bedeviled  by Libbie Block, 1947. First letter of author's first and last names the same as mine

  The Whistling Hangman  by Baynard Kendrick, 1937. Author from my county.

Detective Notebook Wrap-up

 We have reached the end of 2018 and this will be my final post for the Golden Mystery Challenge for 2018. I have read 36 book which are listed below. It has been an enjoyable year of reading. Once again, I will thank Bev for all that she does.

My Golden Detective Notebook

Swan Song  by Edmund Crispin, 1947. An Academic.

Murder in a Hurry  by Richard and Francis Lockridge, 1950. A crime solving duo.

Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer, 1933. An amateur detective.

 Death at the Medical Board  by Josephine Bell, 1944. In the medical field.

 The Crimson Clue  by George Harmon Coxe, 1955. A Photographer.

  The Curved Blades  by Carolyn Wells, 1915. Matriarch of family.

Head of a Traveler  by Nicholas Blake, 1949, Pseudonymous author.

The Black Curtain  by Cornell Woolrich, 1941. Color in the title.

 Murder After Hours  by Agatha Christie, 1946. Published under more than one title.

 The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen, 1933. Means of murder in the title.

   Mrs. McGinty's Dead  by Agatha Christie, 1952. Reference to a woman in the title.

 Bad for Business  by Rex Stout, 1940, Title contains two words beginning with the same letter.

  An English Murder  by Cyril Hare, 1951, During a recognized holiday.

The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie, 1932.Time/Date in Title.

  Death of a Fool  by Ngaio Marsh, 1957. During a performance.

   The Case of Jennie Brice  by Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1913. During a weather event.

    Death on the Nile   by Agatha Christie, 1937. During a cruise.

    Night at the Mocking Widow  by Carter Dickson, 1950. During a special event.

  Fire Will Freeze   by Margaret Millar, 1944, In a country house.

  Death in the Tunnel  by Miles Burton, 1936, On a mode of transportation.

 Murder on Paradise Island  by Robin Forsythe, 1937, On an island.

 The Dutch Show Mystery   by Ellery Queen, 1931. In a hospital.

Verdict of Twelve  by Raymond Postgate, 1940. Features a courtroom scene.

 Murder of a Lady   by Anthony Wynne, 1931. In a locked room.


The Dead Can Tell  by Helen Reilly, 1940. Death by drowning.

Dark Death   by Anthony Gilbert, 1953, Two deaths by different means.

Cold Poison  by Stuart Palmer, 1954. Death by poison.

 Mystery Mile   by Marjorie Allingham, 1930. Death by shooting.

 Footsteps in the Dartk   by Georgette Heyer, 1932. Death by strangulation.

 A Blunt Instrument   by Georgette Heyer,  1938, Death by a blunt instrument.

A Dram of Poison  by Charlotte Armstrong, 1956. Won an award of any sort.

 The Greene Murder Case   by S. S. Van Dine, 1927. It made a "best of" list.

  Red Harvest  by Dashiell Hammett, 1929. Out of my comfort zone.

 Scarecrow by Eaton K. Goldthwaite, 1945. An author I have never tried.

Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh, 1939. An author I have read and loved before.

What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw  by Agatha Christie, 1957. Book made into film.