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.