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.