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.