Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

A most mysterious murder occurred during a bridge party given by Lady Haddington at her house in London.  Of course, it was a very large bridge party - forty people or so were attending. Dan Seaton-Carew was strangled with a length of wire while seated in a room by himself and talking on the telephone. There were those at the bridge party who were very important for the narrative. There was Lady Haddington and her very beautiful, spoiled and selfish daughter Cynthia. It was said that Seaton-Carew was very interested in Cynthia. There was Beulah Birtley, Lady Haddington's secretary, who had some mysterious connection to Seaton-Carew. Beulah did indeed have a secret, and was not in the upper levels of society, but she was in love with Timothy Harte who was in an upper level and who was in love with her.

Also present was highly strung Sydney Butterwick who really seemed to mourn the death of Seaton-Carew, hardly anybody else did. It seems that Sydney was gay, but this term is not used in this book. There was Lady Poulton-Nest who also seemed to have a connection to the dead man. One which her husband, Lord Nest, did not seem to know any thing about. There were also the servants who were present. The butler always seemed a bit suspicious to me.

Chief Inspector Hemingway and his assistant Inspector Grant were called to investigate the case. First they had to figure out how the murder was done since nobody was seen to enter the room where Seaton-Carew was using the phone. Then they, of course, had to question a large number of people in order to find out who the murderer was. Then another murder took place in just the same manner as to duplicate the first. In a way, this narrowed down the list of suspects, and Chief Inspector Hemingway determined the identity of the murderer.

This book was published in 1951. I have always enjoyed Georgette Heyer's mystery novels. They are well written and have a good bit of wit. It is a shame that her regency romances were preferred by the reading public. I do wish that she had written more mystery novels.  I have read this book for the 2019 Just the Facts, Ma'am mystery challenge and it will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of Where - In a Capitol City (London).

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

With a Bare Bodkin by Cyril Hare

Francis Pettigrew was a lawyer in London, but the war was going on, and he had been drafted to be the legal advisor at the Pin Control at Marsett Bay. The novel did not define what the pin was that was so important to the national security of Great Britain, but I consulted the dictionary and found that a pin could be a connector for electrical devices as well as a sharp little piece of metal with a sharp pointed end for holding things together.

Anyway, Pettigrew went to Pin Control and met his fellow workers who were a varied lot. His secretary, Miss Brown was a very nice young woman. Some of the others were not so nice, and some just plain stood out as being rather strange. There was Miss Danville who was very shy, very incompetent, and very religious. There was Mr. Wood who turned out be be a mediocre detective story writer named Amylas Leigh. The presence of Mr. Wood caused some of the others to come up with a scheme to plan a mystery novel for him to write. This became know as the Plot. It was necessary that the Plot be located in the building in which they were working, and it had to include characters just like them. Working on the Plot became a regular evening activity for the employees of Pin Control.

Then there was the Blenkensop file. This file actually drew the interest of New Scotland Yard whose members suspected that something illegal was going on at Pin Control. Inspector Mallett arrived in Marsett Bay to enlist the assistance of Pettigrew in the investigation of the suspected illegality. It was fortunate that Mallett was there, because shortly after his arrival there was a murder with a bodkin. The victim was really the last person one would suspect of being a victim of murder. A bodkin is a sharp pointed instrument which was used at Pin Control for punching holes in papers so that they could be joined together. Everybody at Pin Control had a bodkin. Needless to say, the murderer was found and the book had a very happy ending for Pettigrew.

This book was written in 1946. It should be noted that "with a bare bodkin" is mentioned in Hamlet's "to be or not to be" speech. In this instance, the bodkin is a small dagger. I enjoyed this book very much. Hare is a good writer and he maintains the suspense and keeps the reader interested in his characters.

I have read this book for the 2019 Golden Mystery Challenge and it will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of Why - Read by a Fellow Challenger. it was reviewed in August by The Puzzle Doctor.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Inspector French and the Box Office Murders by Freeman Wills Crofts

A young woman named Thurza Darke came to Scotland Yard to tell Inspector French about some very suspicious events in her life. She worked at a box office of a cinema in London and really didn't earn a lot. A new friend had told her about a way she could earn some extra money. It was a small gambling scheme in which Thurza would bet a small amount and her friend told her that she was sure to win. At first Thurza did win and then she started losing money until she was in debt to the gambler. Then she borrowed money to pay off the debt and got deeper and deeper into debt. Then she was told there was a way, that she could earn money to pay off her debts. This last method made her really suspicious, and that was went she decided to talk to someone at Scotland yard.

Inspector French was interested in her story, and decided to investigate. After a few days, he wanted to talk to her again, but found that she hadn't shown up for work and was not at her lodging. Then the body of a young woman was found in the ocean. The local police considered it a suicide, but French looked at the body and found it was Thurza. French believed she had been murdered. He believed that the people she was in debt to had found out that she had gone to Scotland Yard, and decided to kill her before she could tall more.

Inspector French began a very methodical investigation and found other deaths of young women who had worked in cinema box offices. He had a very difficult time figuring out just what kind of crime was being committed. I will admit that he used some unethical methods (no search warrant, breaking and entering) to investigate the crimes, and even enlisted the young son of a police officer in his pursuit of evidence. If you happen to have a map of London, you will be able to follow along.

This is a very detailed investigation of a rather complex criminal activity. Freeman Wills Crofts was a master of the police procedural, and the reader is taken along every step of the investigation. This book was published in 1929. It has an alternate title The Purple Sickle Murders. I have read this book for 2019 Golden Just the Facts, Ma'am mystery Challenge, and it will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of Who - Professional is the Main Sleuth.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Crossword Mystery by E. R. Punshon

Young detective-constable Bobby Owen believed that he had received a very nice assignment. Mr. George Winterton, a retired stockbroker, believed that someone was going to kill him. His twin brother Archibald, had recently drowned during his morning swim, and George believed that he had been murdered although there was no evidence that this was the case. Bobby Owen was assigned to spend a month or six weeks with Mr. Winterton to determine if someone was really trying to kill him. Bobby was to pretend to be a young protege of Mr. Winterton, and never to admit that he was a policeman.

Upon his arrival, Bobby met the occupants of Mr. Winterton's house on Snuffby Cove. There was his nephew Colin Ross who had a fondness for gambling on horse racing.  Winterton had another nephew Miles who was not presently staying there. There were Mr. and Mrs. Cooper who cared for the house and the grounds. Mrs. Cooper appeared to be a very intelligent woman who managed both the house and George Winterton. Her husband did not seem to be very clever. There was also Miss Raby who was George's secretary. George Winterton was writing a book on maintaining the gold standard. He and Miss Raby were quite keen on crossword puzzles - both in solving and writing them.

Bobby became acquainted with the neighborhood and with Winterton. It seemed that someone had come up with money making plan to convert some of the area into a summer recreation site. Both Archibald and George were opposed to the idea, but this seemed to be the only motive that Bobby could find for killing them. Then one night, Bobby became very worried about George Winterton's safety. He made sure that Winterton locked his bedroom door and window. Bobby was so worried that he slept in the hall way outside of Winterton's door. The next morning, George Winterton was found dead outside on the lawn underneath his bedroom window. It seemed like a locked room, but it proved to be easy to explain.

Then Bobby took a serious look at the crossword puzzle which George Winterton had been writing. The puzzle and the clues are included in the book in case the reader wants to try his hand at it. Bobby found that the solution of the puzzle proved a great help in providing the solution to the reason for the murders and from the reason, he deduced the identity of the murderer of both George and Archibald Winterton.

This book was published in 1934 and is the third in the series of 35 novels in the Bobby Owen series. 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 How - Death by Drowning.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Three Women in Black by Helen Reilly

Naomi Shane was impatiently waiting for her divorce from her cruel husband Doctor Gilbert Shane. She had spent part of this time with Pamela Crewe who was the fiance of Michael Bonnard,  the son of well to do socialite Irene Bonnard. During that time, Naomi fell in love with Michael. She told no one including Michael because she did not want to upset her friend Pamela. Then Naomi found out that she was expected to attend a fund raising event hosted by Irene, and her husband, Gilbert would be there and would be performing magic tricks to help raise money. When Naomi encountered Gilbert, he told her that he was no longer willing to give her a divorce, and that he intended to send her to a sanitorium until she came to her senses. Gilbert also had photographs of Naomi and Michael together. Naomi was panicked, and afraid of Gilbert, and she could see no reason at all why Gilbert had changed his mind about the divorce.

Then the fund raising performance began, and Gilbert was on the stage alone doing his tricks when he was stabbed in the back and died. The stage lighting for the tricks was set in such a way that anyone wearing black could not be seem. Gilbert had been wearing a white suit, but his assistant was dressed in black. Anyone wearing the assistant's costume could have killed him. Naomi knew that Gilbert had put the envelopes with the photographs into the pocket of his suit jacket. When she got a moment alone with his body, she removed the envelope from his pocket, and found it to be empty.

Inspector McKee was given the case, and he set about interviewing the people present during the magic show. One he could not interview was Gerard Ferris, Naomi's lawyer, who seemed to have completely disappeared. Naomi had been staying with the Bonnards, but she felt that she should return to the apartment she and Gilbert had been living in. Possible here, she could find the photographs. Instead she found another dead body. Inspector McKee would succeed in finding the murderer in this rather tangled plot.

The book was published in 1941 by Helen Reilly.  She was a prolific writer who emphasized police procedure in her books, and was an early writer to do so. Her characters are well off financially and she does mention how all of the women dress. Although this book has a young woman in distress as a main character, the book is not really a had-I-but-know novel. There is some romance but it is not overwhelming.

I found the book to be interesting, and I really liked the rather surrealistic cover of this Dell Mapback. I have read this book for the 2019 Just the Facts, Ma'am Golden Mystery Challenge. It will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of What - Color in the title.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Dr. Sam Johnson, Detector by Lillian de la Torre

Lillian de la Torre wrote a series of short stories which featured detection by British lexicographer, Dr. Sam Johnson. These stories were, of course, recorded by his biographer, James Boswell. These stories would have taken place during the later years of the 1700's. de la Torre published the stories in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The first collection of nine of these stories was published as Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector in 1946. These stories would be part of the very early development of the historical mystery story and the mystery story in which a famous person acts as a detective which are still being written today.

In these stories, Dr. Sam Johnson tackles a variety of crimes. In the story of the "Flying Highwayman", Johnson and Boswell join the blind magistrate Sir John Fielding and together they catch an elusive highwayman. Dr. Johnson proves that a woman who claims to have second sight really doesn't. Lord Monboddo finds a wild boy who has been living in the woods on nuts and berries. Dr. Sam Johnson proves that he is no such thing.  In "Prince Charlie's Ruby" they meet bonnie prince Charlie. In "The Stolen Christmas" box they find a Christmas gift which had been stolen and make a young woman very happy. In the story "The Great Seal of England" Johnson and Boswell recover the great seal which has been stolen from the Lord Chancellor. de la Torre ends the book with a description of how she combined history and fiction with each story.

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 When - Set pre 1800.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Murdock's Acid Test by George Harmon Coxe

Kent Murdoch and his wife were visiting the island of Barotique while he was taking time off from his job as a newpaper photographer.They were guests of Sir Stanley Bannister, a retired Colonial Service official who had purchased the island after his retirement. They had been invited by Margaret Grant who was Sir Stanley's daughter. The island had a large house for Sir Stanley and his wife, and six smaller cottages for visitors.

Kent and his wife were soon to find that their fellow guests were some really annoying people. There was Carl Anderson and wife flo. Carl was hiding out after carrying out a kidnapping five years before. With them was Joe Endicott, who was wanted for shooting a policeman. Essentially he was acting as Anderson's body guard, and was pretending to be Flo's brother. There were good looking Nigel Porter and his wife Lucy. It was believed that Nigel abused Lucy. Bruce Porter, Nigel's brother, was also there. Hubert Coleman and his wife Nina were in one of the cottages. He was jealous about Nina, and she was afraid on him. Kay Joslin, the niece of Bruce, was there and was in love with Ralph Coleman, the son of Hubert. There were also the Macphersons, a father and daughter, who were East Indians. Sir Stanley didn't like then because he felt that they had rented their cottage under false pretenses. Only whites should have the name Macpherson.

Murdock's visit started off with a bang when Nigel Porter was shot dead in his cottage. When Murdock arrived there he saw Lucy kneeling over the body with a gun in her hand. Sir Stanley Bannister asked Murdock to take over the investigation of the case which he declined pleading a lack of experience. Eventually Murdock accepted, and carefully interview all those on the island. Another death occurred, and Murdock continued his investigations until the solution of the case was found.

This book was published in 1936 and was the second mystery to feature Kent Murdoch. This is not really my favorite kind of mystery novel, and I may be too critical because of this. Murdoch interviews everybody so much that I found the story got rather tedious. The men are tough guys or are weak and wimpy. The women in the story really do not do much and are judged on how attractive they are. They are taken away from the crime scene because it may too much for their womanly eyes. In other words, I do not recommend this book

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 Who - photographer.

Monday, July 8, 2019

My Late Wives by Carter Dickson

Roger Bewlay appeared to be a serial killer. He had married Angela Phipps, and a short time later, she disappeared. Two years later, he married Elizabeth Mosnar who later disappeared. Then he took up residence with Andree Cooper who had little money so they did not marry. She also disappeared. Bewley took different name for each of the women he was attached to so he was know as Roger Bewlay, Roger Bowdoin, and Richard Barclay. Chief Inspector Masters was in charge of the investigation but he never found Bewlay and he never found the women either. The police could not investigate any farther if there were no bodies. Then Mister R. Benedict and his wife moved to Torquay. One month later, R. Benedict left Torquay, and Mrs. Benedict disappeared. This time there was a witness who saw R. Benedict and his wife. Miss Lyons was a typist who had done some letters for Benedict, and he had paid her with a bad 10 shilling note. When she returned in the evening to get a good one, she saw the dead body of Mrs. Benedict on the couch through the window. Miss Lyons turned away and left. She told all this to Chief Inspector Masters who thought they would immediately find Roger Bewlay, but after ten years, the police still had not done so.

Now after 10 years, a new approach is taken to this story. Dennis Foster, a young lawyer, goes to see a play and to see his friend, the director, Beryl West. This play was due to close shortly, and the star of the play, the handsome actor Bruce Ransom, was planning to take a month off for rest and relaxation. However, Ransom had received a copy of a new play which seems to present a fictional version of the Roger Bewlay murders. Ransom would not reveal the name of the author. Beryl says that the ending is just not believable, and she does not want to present it. Ransom comes up with the idea of using his month off to go to a small village, pretend to be Roger Bewlay, and make love to a young woman. Beryl and Dennis tell this idea to Chief Inspector Masters and Sir Henry Merrivale. At first, Masters is opposed, but Sir Henry Merrivale says he will not help with the Bewley case unless Masters agrees to Ransom's imposture.

So now it really does get complicated. There are those who believe that Bruce Ransom is carrying out his plan to pretend to be Roger Bewlay, and there are those who believe that Bruce Ransom really is Roger Bewlay and has written the play himself. A dead body shows up and is carefully hidden in a place where people will look at it and not see it. Then there will be a rather dramatic ending which will really tell you who the real Roger Bewlay is.

This book was written in 1946 which makes it one of the later John Dickson Carr books. I have read this book for the Golden Just the Facts Mystery Challenge. It will be entered in my detective notebook in the category Who - an actor.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Prescription for Murder by Hannah Lees

Caroline Faine, director of nursing at City Hospital, lay seriously ill from her diabetes. The best doctors in the hospital were at her bed side. They had done the best that they could do, but it seemed impossible to control her blood sugar level. When a new type of insulin was given, the blood sugar would go down, but then it would go up again. Finally nothing seemed to work,  and Caroline Faine died in a diabetic coma. All of the hospital staff was quite upset by this death.

Young intern, Cyrus Harvey was quite perturbed by this case. He acquired a bottle of the insulin which was last given to her. He tasted, it and it had no taste. He took it to the hospital laboratory for tests. The bottle they tested proved to be insulin, but Cyrus found that the bottle that he had given for the test had been removed and another had been substituted in its place. Cyrus went to Dr. Elliott, the director of the hospital, with his suspicions about Caroline's death, but the director would not listen to him. Cyrus also had suspicions about Dr. Willoughby, his chief at the hospital and a doctor whom Cyrus really admired.

Cyrus tells his suspicions to Sally Pepper, who is the Social-Service investigator for the hospital, and rather good looking. Together they carry out an investigation of Caroline Faine's death. As they came closer to the truth, there was even an attack on Sally's life. They arrive at the identity of the murderer through their own investigation. No police in this book. The reader may find the ending of the book rather controversial.

Overall I found this to be a very interesting book. Hannah Lees is the pseudonym for Elizabeth Head Fetter. She lived in Philadelphia and was the wife of a doctor. She wrote articles on health, and was a freelance writer. She taught writing at Bryn Mawr College, and she wrote five mystery novels. This book was published in 1941. I have read this book for the 2019 Golden Mystery Challenge, and it will be entered in my detective notebook in the category of Where - in a hospital/nursing home.

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.