Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!


Hope you all have a wonderful holiday with family and/or friends. I'll be on hiatus for a few days. See you next week.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: MYSTERY OF THE DEAD POLICE (1933) by Philip MacDonald


A few of you may know that I'm a huge fan of Philip MacDonald's books (when I can find them) featuring super suave sleuth Anthony Gethryn. But that doesn't mean I don't also enjoy the author's stand alone thrillers as well. Though in truth MYSTERY OF THE DEAD POLICE makes me wonder where Gethryn was during this particular grave crisis in which a madman caused such an uproar that he almost succeeded in bringing down the British government. Well, maybe Gethryn was busy elsewhere.

At any rate, here MacDonald has created another smooth sleuthing fellow, this time named Nicholas Revel. He is an elegant, attractive, clever man with a mysterious past and present (no visible means of support) but cut from a similar cloth as Gethryn in his brilliance, cunning and charm. Though what Revel puts those talents to on a regular basis is something the practitioners of law and order would frown upon if only they knew. Nevertheless it's up to Revel this time out, to help save the government and halt the brutal killings of police which have the police themselves, baffled.

To the plot:

We learn early on that the police are being targeted by a mysterious killer who gleefully keeps a diary of his nefarious actions and shares them with the reader. So we know going in who the killer is if not WHO the killer is - if you know what I mean. We switch back and forth between so-called 'X's' enthusiastic bragging and the helplessness of Scotland Yard and others (the Prime Minister is kept abreast) who are charged with keeping the peace and putting a stop to this sort of thing.

As the slaughter of random patrolmen continues, civil unrest grows. The public demands action. Who is there to stop the murdering madman who kills without leaving any clue?

Let's back up a bit. The insertion of Nicholas Revel into the plot occurs by happenstance when one afternoon, while having a drink in a restaurant lounge, he notices a beautiful (of course) young woman seemingly laboring under great strain. There is a folded newspaper on the table in front of her, the front page of which has apparently upset her. (The keenly observant Revel is excellent at picking up these sorts of clues.)

He overhears her last name and is immediately intrigued. For the damsel in apparent distress happens to be Jane Frensham, the daughter of Sir Hector Frensham head of  Scotland Yard. Revel decides then and there that it would be a good thing to get to know Miss Frenshaw. And this he does, by smoothly worming his way into her confidence and fabricating an alibi for Jane's ex-fiancee Sir Christopher Llewellyn De'Ath Vayle who had been arrested the night before for the death by strangulation of a police officer. (This is the story, the headlines of which, had caused Miss Frenshaw such distress.)

Vayle had been drunk and carousing with his friends but all he is guilty of is stealing a cop's helmet to use as a drinking vessel. (He was very drunk.) Still, the police are sure he is responsible for the dead policeman - case closed. But it is not to be when Revel steps in and supplies a handy alibi (corroborated by a taxi driver) for the incarcerated young baron.

Once Vayle is released, Jane is necessarily under a bit of an obligation to the attractive stranger whose timely alibi has saved the day. We assume (as she does) that he will sooner or later pop up in her life once again. My only fault finding with Revel is that he is not especially likable, but that's probably a minor thing is such an active murderous plot. In truth the most likable character turns out to be Sir Hector Frenshaw, the beleaguered head of Scotland Yard on whose shoulders rest the troubles of a great city besieged by a killer. He, at least, is willing to think outside the box and turn to an unlikely source for help.

Meanwhile as the killings continue, questions are raised in the House and insults hurled. The city of London is on edge and the press is fanning the flames of unrest. The constabulary and other officials wrack their brains to come up with a plan - any plan, that might put a stop to the carnage.

"Very well," said the Prime Minister. "The...steps which I was going to put forward for consideration were - and this is your province, Knollys - that we should call upon the military arm to assist the civil arm. You are as well aware as I of the fact that Frensham would like to double his duty posts - and has, in fact, done so in a few places - but that he cannot do this generally for lack of men. What would be simpler really than to double or even treble his man power by the use of the military?"

The Prime Minister halted and looked down at his colleague. Spencer Knollys lay back in his chair; his pipe was out and his eyes were closed. The Prime Minister waited, knowing his man.

Knollys opened his eyes. "No!" He shook his head. "No, it won't do, Campbell. It won't do at all. It'd be fatal!"

"Oh," said the Prime Minister, crestfallen. 

"Not a bit of good," said Knollys. "I'll tell you why: in your own phrase, these murders are undermining the prestige of the law. You're right. But how much more would it be undermining the prestige of the law if you called out the army to help the bobbies protect themselves? See what I'm driving at?"

"Yes," said the Prime Minister. "Yes. A point of view. Certainly a point of view."

"It's a damned sight more than a point of view! It's the truth! You can't say to London: 'Look here, you've been bamboozled for years into thinking policemen can look after you. I'm sorry but they're so far from being able to do that that they can't even take care of themselves, so I think we'll have to spend a bit more money and the army to help 'em!' It won't do, Campbell!"

In one amusing chapter titled, 'Kaldidoscope,' we flit through relevant and irrelevant incident after incident which include newspaper clips and quick conversations captured on the fly. These are mixed in with a dry snipe or two at the English temperament and even an unexpected comment on the author's pseudonym, and the unfortunate death of a citizen by an over-eager cop - all jumbled together in the most entertaining fashion.

This is not, despite the plot being littered with bodies, a long narrative, it's quick, it's entertaining if a bit graphic in parts, and it's fast-moving - in fact, in paperback it's only 192 pages. The perfect evening pastime for a reader who likes this type of thing, especially after a long day of whatever you're up to at this time of year.

I do so wish that Philip MacDonald's books were more readily available. He really should be as well known as any of the other big names in vintage thriller writing - and not just for THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER.  The books show a bit of their age but otherwise they are, in my view, just about perfection - mainly because they do not require heavy duty thinking on the part of the reader while at the same time supplying just the right amount of puzzle, action and relaxation. And additionally, these sorts of books supply exactly the right ambience. For those of us who love slightly old fashioned tales set in the Britain of once upon a time, ambience is key to our reading happiness.

It's Friday and this week Todd Mason is hosting the Forgotten Book meme in place of author Patricia Abbott. So don't forget to check in at his blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers will be talking about today.


Martin Porlock was a Philip MacDonald pseudonym so I'm assuming he used it on the earlier editions of MYSTERY OF THE DEAD POLICE. This over-the-top cover seems to be the Spanish edition. Love it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: STAIRWAYS OF DOOM

Uh-oh, a frazzled someone is about to get caught up to no good. I like Farjeon's stories, though MYSTERY IN WHITE was a total dismal dud.

I know nothing about this book (there's not much online) except that the sinister young girl on the cover looks like Patti McCormack in THE BAD SEED. I thought maybe this was the book the film was based on, but the author is different. Who knows? Obviously they were trying to capitalize on the film in some underhanded and not very subtle way. Still, it's a great cover.

I've read most of Mary Roberts Rinehart's output, but not this one. However, if I stumbled across it in some used book pile, I'd buy it in a minute even if it does say 'a love story - with just enough mystery.'

This is on my TBR Carter Dickons aka John DIckson Carr reread list. As in: I know I read this eons ago but can't remember a thing about it. Another great cover and less histrionic than most of the artwork usually found on Carr covers. Well, I'm a sucker for a man in top hat anyway.

Never heard of this one, but still how could I pass up this cover AND the title. It fits in so perfectly.

This title is also known as POIROT LOSES A CLIENT which I like much better. One of Christie's more character driven stories and a fabulous treatise on mystery mis-direction.

Never heard of this one either but the cover caught my eye and fits perfectly in today's theme. One wonders why the young woman at the top of the stairs is so bent out of shape.

Shadows and a staircase. What could be better? I've never read any Lorac, I have a feeling this is sort of like Edgar Wallace? Not sure. Someone will correct and set me straight.

I've heard of Bellairs, but never read him either. If I saw this cover, I'd buy the book, no question.

Probably my favorite of the Nancy Drew books as well as favorite cover art. Naturally enough I've read all the early Nancy Drews, but ask me a question about plots and whatnot, and I would draw a blank. Old lady memory is cruel. I only know that these books led me to Agatha Christie mysteries and the rest as they say, is history.

A terrific Peter Wimsey book with some pretty sordid people in it. The ending is not wonderful. The Ian Carmichael video version, if you can find it, is outstanding though again, the ending is unsparing. By the way, if you can get your hands on the audio versions of Sayer's books read by Carmichael, do so. (P.S. the staircase in the story is actually a spiral one, but picking a nit is not on the docket today.)

I used different cover versions for this book in my previous post, but I didn't find this one (which I love) until recently. My favorite cover and my favorite Rinehart book. The audio version too, is terrific.

I've recently begun re-reading some selected Ellery Queen books, but I'd never heard of this one. Somebody tell me if it's worth looking for. Queen's books do not age well, but the ones that were excellent then are usually excellent now if you make allowance for the creaky. (It's funny how some authors from the same period hold up with all their idiosyncrasies better than others. ) Or maybe it's just that some idiosyncrasies hold up better than others.

Never heard of this one either. But it fits in very nicely with today's motif.

I'm currently re-reading BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY and enjoying it yet again. It turns out to be one of my favorite Peter Wimsey's, possibly because he is happy in this one - being on his honeymoon and all. If possible, try and listen to the audio version narrated by Ian Carmichael - it is superb.

Found this other CIRCULAR STAIRCASE cover at the last minute and what the heck - it's perfect for today's theme. In an oddly surreal sort of way, it's kind of comical too and maybe that's not what was intended (there's little funny about the plot) but it's certainly eye-catchy enough.

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I've done one other Stairways of Doom posts - link - pointing out how many vintage mystery books had staircases on their cover art, but still there are more. Don't ask why I'm so fascinated by the 'theme' idea, I just am. My brain runs on quirk and melodrama is my middle name.

It's Friday once again and time to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other authors are talking about. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: FREE FALL (1993) by Robert Crais


Jennifer Sheridan, the young and impressionable, innocent and plucky heroine of Robert Crais' fourth Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel is just the kind of girl that Elvis was born to protect. After all Elvis is the ultimate self-confessed, knight-in-shining armor in the guise of a Los Angeles-based private eye -  someone to turn to when your life begins to go down the tubes. He is the original gun-carrying, bone-crushing, boy-scout; a self-admitted Peter Pan who, for a two thousand dollar advance, will come to your rescue with a quip and an elbow to the gut. He is (in his own words) 'the world's greatest detective." Or at least, that's how he answers his phone. World's Greatest to the rescue.

If you can read this book and NOT fall in love with Elvis, then, well, you are beyond mortal help.

Back to the story: Jennifer Sheridan is sure that her fiance Mark Thurman is in some sort of deep trouble but since he won't talk to her about it, she can't help him. She wants to help him. She loves him. He lover her - that will never change. No matter what. Her earnestness is infectious.

"On the phone you said something about your boyfriend."

"My fiance. I think he's mixed up in some kind of criminal thing. I've asked him, and he denies it, but I know that something going on. I think he's scared, and that worries me. My fiance is not scared of very much."

I nodded again and tucked that away. Fearless Fiance. "Okay. What kind of crime are we talking about.?"

"I don't know."

"Is he stealing cars?"

"I don't think so."

"Is he embezzling?"

"No. It wouldn't be that."

"How about fraud?"

She shook her head.

"We're running out of choices, Ms. Sheridan."

.....I took out a yellow legal pad, a black SenseMatic pencil, and made as if I were poised to copy the rush of information she was about to provide. I drew a couple of practice marks on the page. Subliminal prompting. "I'm ready. Fire away."
She swallowed.

"Anytime."

She stared at the floor.

I put the pad on the desk and the pencil on the pad. I put my fingertips together and looked at Jennifer Sheridan through the steeple, and then I looked at the Pinocchio clock that I've got on my wall. It has eyes that swing from side to side as it tocks, and it's always smiling. Happiness is contagious. It was twelve twenty-two, and if I could get down to the deli fast enough, the turkey would still be moist and the baguette would still be edible. I said, "Maybe you should go to the police, Ms. Sheridan. I don't think I can help you."

She clutched the purse even tighter and gave me miserable. "I can't do that."

I spread my hands and stood up. "If your fiance is in danger, it is better to get in trouble with the police than it is to be hurt or killed....Try the police, Ms. Sheridan. The police can help you."

"I can't do that, Mr. Cole." The misery turned into fear. "My fiance is the police."

"Oh." Now it was my turn. I sat down.

So begins this very tricky case.

Turns out Mark is a 'special forces' L.A. cop and cops have 'codes' they live by - Jennifer understands that. But Mark has NEVER kept anything from her before. Jennifer is worried. She wants to hire Elvis to find out what's going on.

Elvis isn't crazy about the idea of checking into a cop's private life - they don't usually like that.

Sure enough, almost as soon as Jennifer  Sheridan has left his office, Mark Thurman and his quarrelsome drunken lout of a partner, Floyd Riggins show up, with attitude. (Obviously they had been waiting and watching outside.) The meeting doesn't go well. Floyd is a pain in the ass from the get-go. Mark calms him down and explains to Elvis that the 'trouble' Jennifer senses is of a 'personal' nature and Elvis needs to give him [Mark] time to set things right.  It's personal, he insists. Okay, sounds reasonable.

So Elvis has another go at disentangling himself from what has the appearance of turning into a very messy business. He meets Jennifer for lunch near her office, to let her down gently.

What follows is a very funny restaurant scene when Jennifer refuses to let Elvis off the hook. Every time I read this book I can't wait to get to this moment. And every single time I laugh out loud. It's one of those perfectly paced sequences RC is famous for. Elvis is such a sucker for a dame in distress. Especially for a dame who won't stop crying in a crowded restaurant with diners nearby ready to spring to her aid.

AND before you get the idea that this is all fun and games, please think again. It's just that life is occasionally funny (it would have to be for us to stand the rest of it) and Robert Crais makes the most of it. This is one of the things I love best about his writing.

The plot of FREE FALL swirls around L.A. racial troubles, wayward cops and gang violence. But somehow, RC makes it all work together in a new way. (The book is over twenty years old but the same type of troubles, unfortunately, are still pretty much on-going.)

Once he finally accepts the case Elvis finds himself up against a rogue unit of the fearsome L.A. police. Within days, calling on his partner, the enigmatic, taciturn, sunglasses-wearing man of few words, Joe Pike, seems like a good idea. Pike is a man of, shall we say, 'reputation.' Everyone treads carefully around Pike, an ex-cop who doesn't suffer fools lightly and is afraid of no one.

The first phone call between Elvis and Joe:

I used the payphone there to dial a gun shop in Culver City, and man's voice answered on the second ring. "Pike."

"It's me. I'm standing in a 7-Eleven parking lot on San Pedro about three blocks south of Martin Luther King Boulevard. I'm with a black guy in his early twenties named James Edward Washington. A white guy and a Hispanic guy in a dark blue 1989 sedan are following us. I think they've been following me for the past two days."

"Shoot them." Life is simple for some of us.

"I was thinking more that you could follow them as they follow me and we could find out who they are."

Pike didn't say anything.

"Also, I think they're cops."

Pike grunted. "Where you headed?"

"A place called Ray's Gym. In South Central."

Pike grunted again. "I know Ray's. Are you in immediate danger?"

I looked around. "Well, I could probably get hit by a meteor."

Pike said, "Go to Ray's. You won't see me, but I'll be there when you come out."
Then he hung up. Some partner, huh?


These books are not comedies, not cozies, not anything but great private eye stories with their fair share of action and violence, but that not especially overdone. The duo's sense of justice and the rightness of things is especially acute and I like that no matter how difficult the situation, there is never any idea that Elvis and Pike won't do the right thing.

From the moment Pike comes on board, he and Elvis will take on the whole LA Police force AND a bunch of heavily armed lethal gang bangers. As the violence escalates, they find themselves on the other side of the law, (my favorite part of the book), on the run from desperate bad cops, misinformed good cops and a bunch of murderous punks - ugly, nasty dudes who will stop at nothing, to hang onto their turf. It is especially satisfying to read about bad cops getting their comeuppance but it is also especially disturbing reading about cops who have compromised their souls and in the process lost themselves.

But despite the constant sense of danger, there are still moments of pure delight as the relationship between Elvis and Joe is always a joy to read about. These books are basically at their heart all about the strength of their friendship - how Elvis and Joe react to the world around them. A world that isn't  easy. A world in which each man relies completely on the other. There's never any question in my mind that Joe would die for Elvis and vice versa. Though not related, they are brothers. I love that about these books. There are certain 'absolutes' that I enjoy reading about - Elvis and Joe's friendship is one of them. 

Robert Crais loves the city of Los Angeles and knows it like he knows the back of his hand. This comes across in his books as the setting is an integral part of each story. I don't know L.A. at all, but somehow, sometimes, reading R.C., I feel as if I do.

This is a series that should probably be read in order. (Always remembering that Joe and Elvis grow richer and stronger in tone and depth of character as the series goes on almost as if Robert Crais didn't actually realize what he'd created until the series took deeper hold of his imagination.)

My favorites going in:

THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT 
LULLABY TOWN
FREE FALL
VOODOO RIVER
INDIGO SLAM
L.A. REQUIEM

I recommend reading at least two of these BEFORE you read L.A. REQUIEM which is, to my mind, a genre masterpiece. REQUIEM is very much enhanced if you already know the depth of Elvis and Joe's friendship and Elvis's relationship with attorney Lucy Chenier whom he met in VOODOO RIVER. After that, as you please. It's difficult to go wrong with Robert Crais at the helm. Sequence is not absolutely necessary, after all I began with VOODOO RIVER and then worked my way around the series. Not every book is a keeper, but those that are will remain in my library (to be read and reread) forever.

There are also some quite wonderful books written later on from the point of view of Joe Pike - not to be missed.

Since this is Friday once again (funny how that works) it's time to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other writers are talking about today.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE PALE HORSE (1961) by Agatha Christie


"And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death and Hell followed with him."
Revelation 6:2-8

Some readers are not too impressed with Agatha Christie's output in the swinging 60's but I am not one of them. Sure her best work was behind her (though she did manage another classic and one of my favorite Poirot books ever, CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS in 1959, just one year before the onset of the 60's) but Dame Agatha still had something left in reserve and she managed in the next decade to write several terrific books: THIRD GIRL (yes, not many people like this one, but after listening to it on audio, I changed my view and now I like it very much indeed), HALLOWE'EN PARTY, A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY and today's choice: THE PALE HORSE.

The book has a devilishly cunning plot which shifts back and forth between two narratives - one the cop's, one the hero's - though the murders themselves are pure simplity - more or less. Let's just say that the 'how-to' is probably due to Dame Agatha's work in a hospital dispensary during WWI.

There is a kind of dread which hangs over the story precisely because the instrument of evil is so cleverly hidden and so darn mystifying. Then there's the chatter of voo-doo death spells and occult happenings woven throughout the narrative as people wonder if death by remote control is feasible.

But there is also the spectacle of three ridiculous witches in an English village who muck up the works and upon first reading of THE PALE HORSE years ago almost made me stop reading. One began to think Christie had perhaps gone too far. I mean, butchering fowl? But once you realize it's all window dressing, you see the brilliance of it. You will probably also figure out mid-book who the mastermind is. Doesn't matter - it's the HOW to, that keeps this book moving and the nicely developing love story, not to mention the likable heroine with the bright red hair.

This is one of Dame Agatha's stand-alones since it doesn't feature Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, though Ariadne Oliver, the mystery writer, gets involved. Instead the sleuthing and most of the narrating is done by a historian (researching the Mogul or Mughal era) named Mark Easterbrook who enters the fray tangentially after witnessing two girls' hair pulling fight in a dingy Chelsea restaurant.

Later Mark reads the name of Thomasina Tuckerton in the newspaper death notices and remembers that that was one of the girls involved in the altercation. File those incidents in the back of your mind as we move forward.

One night Father Gorman, a Catholic priest, is called out to hear a confession from a dying woman. She reveals the ominous outline of an evil plot together with a list of names. But before he can return to his church and decide what to do next, the priest himself is struck down dead in the street.

Fortunately for the police, the killer did not get the list of names since the priest had a hole in his pocket and had folded the list and inserted it in his shoe for safe-keeping. But the list tells the police exactly nothing - it's just a bunch of names.

In the meantime, Mark Easterbrook has had a request from his cousin Rhoda. Could he ask Mrs. Ariadne Oliver (a friend of Mark's) to attend an afternoon church fete in the village of Much Deeping. He heads on over to Mrs. Oliver's apartment and after much amusing chit chat (those of you familiar with the character of Mrs. Oliver will know what I mean), she says she'll think the invitation over because the last time she'd attended a fete, a murder occurred. "I've never quite got over it." So, she'll let him know.

On another night Mark goes to the theater with his fiancee Hermia (about whom the less said the better) to see a new version of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Afterwards they go to dinner and meet up with a couple of friends. The conversation turns to the three witches in Macbeth, then onto the idea of real witches still existing in villages in England (which Mark scoffs at), then onto death and murder and how convenient it would be if you could get someone to cast a spell and the job would be done.

The young woman half of the other couple mentions that there is actually something like that.  'The Pale Horse' is a place one goes to if one wants to arrange a murder. But when questioned, she clams up and seems embarrassed. Later in the case when Mark tries to pry some details loose, she appears frightened and pretends not to know what he's talking about.

"One of the oddest things in life, as we all know, is the way that when you have heard a thing mentioned, within twenty four hours you nearly always come across it again. I had an instance of that the next morning.

My telephone rang and I answered it.

"Flaxman 73841,"

A kind of gasp came through the phone. Then a voice said breathlessly but defiantly:
"I've thought about it and I'll come!"

I cast around wildly in my mind.

"Splendid," I said, stalling for time. "Er - is that - "

"After all," said the voice, "lightning never strikes twice."

"Are you sure you've got the right number?"

"Of course I have. You're Mark Easterbrook, aren't you?"

"Got it!" I said, "Mrs. Oliver."

"Oh," said the voice, surprised. "Didn't you know who I was? I never thought of that. It's about that fete of Rhoda's. I'll come and sign books if she wants me to."

"That's frightfully nice of you. They'll put you up, of course."

"There won't be parties, will there?" asked Mrs. Oliver apprehensively. "You know the kind of thing," she went on."People coming up to me and saying am I writing something just now - when you'd think they could see I'm drinking ginger ale or tomato juice and not writing at all. And saying they like my books - which of course is pleasing, but I've never found the right answer. If you say 'I'm so glad' it sounds like 'Pleased to meet you.' A kind of stock phrase. Well, it is, of course. And you don't think they'll want me to go out to the Pink Horse and have drinks?"

"The Pink Horse?"

"Well, the Pale Horse. Pubs, I mean. I'm so bad in pubs. I can just drink beer at a pinch, but it makes me terribly gurgly."

"Just what do you mean by the Pale Horse?"

"There's a pub called that down there, isn't there? Or perhaps I do mean the Pink Horse? Or perhaps that's somewhere else. I may have just imagined it. I do imagine quite a lot of things."

Fortuitously Mark later runs into an old Oxford friend named Corrigan who happens to be a police surgeon and through him Mark learns of the list in Father Gorman's shoe. They go over the list together and Mark notices not only the name of Thomasina Tuckerton, but the name also of Mark's godmother Lady Hesketh Dubois who has recently died of natural causes. The name of Corrigan is also on the list and Mark's friend says "I've a feeling it's unlucky to have your name on that list."

Suddenly bored with his Mughal researches, Mark embarks on his own check of a few other names on the list and finds that they're all dead - died of natural causes one and all. So why was Father Gorman killed? If for the list, why? They're just the names of people who have died of a variety of natural causes.

Shortly thereafter, Mark's cousin's fete came and went and Mrs. Oliver's fears were unfounded. Nothing much happened except the usual.

"The party consisted of my Cousin Rhoda, and her husband, Colonel Despard; Miss Macalister; a young woman with red hair, suitably called Ginger; Mrs. Oliver; and the vicar, the Rev. Caleb Dane Calthrop and his wife. The vicar was a charming elderly scholar whose principal pleasure was finding some apposite comment from the classics. This, though often an embarrassment and a cause of bringing the conversation to a close, was perfectly in order now. The vicar never required acknowledgement of his sonorous Latin; his pleasure in having found an apt quotation was its own reward.

"As Horace says..." he observed, beaming around the table.

The usual pause happened and then:

"I think Mrs. Horsefall cheated over the bottle of champagne," said Ginger thoughtfully. "Her nephew got it."

Mrs. Dane Calthrop, a disconcerting woman with fine eyes, was studying Mrs. Oliver thoughtfully. She asked abruptly: "What did you expect to happen at the fete?"

"Well, really, a murder or something like that."

Mrs. Dane Calthrop looked interested.

"But why should it?"

"No reason at all. Most unlikely really. But there was one at the last fete I went to."

"I see. And it upset you?"

"Very much."

The vicar changed from Latin to Greek.

After the pause, Miss Macalister cast doubts on the honesty of the raffle for the live duck.

"Very sporting of old Lugg at the King's Arms to send us twelve dozen beer for the bottle stall," said Despard.

"King's Arms?" I asked sharply.

"Our local, darling," said Rhoda.

"Isn't there another pub around here? The - Pale Horse, didn't you say," I asked turning to Mrs. Oliver.

There was no such reaction here as I had half expected. The faces turned towards me were vague and uninterested.

"The Pale Horse isn't a pub," said Rhoda. "I mean, not now."

"It was an old inn, " said Despard. "Mostly sixteenth century I'd say. But it's just an ordinary house now. I always think they should have changed the name."

Turns out the the house is owned and lived in by three odd old ladies much invested in the occult, spiritualism and trances and such. And when Mrs. Oliver says she'd love to meet them, the group  decides to visit the next day.

Eventually Mark (with the occasional flash of disjointed wisdom from Mrs. Oliver) will uncover the connection between the three old 'witches' who love putting on a good show, The Pale Horse, a surprising book-making establishment, wholesale death on demand, a wealthy reclusive man whose fortune comes from unknown sources, and a witness who won't take no for an answer all the while slipping comfortably into a relationship with Ginger aka Katherine Corrigan (yes, another Corrigan) the red haired young woman helping him in his investigation (Hermia having decided that it was all a bunch of nonsense.)

All this makes for a terrific convoluted thriller, the sort in which everything comes together at the end nice and neatly - but not before nearly costing Ginger her life.

Since this is Friday again, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Salon: My Kind of Halloween Movies

A fun/scary movie even my daughter approved of way back when we watched it though she doesn't quite understand my continued and undying devotion. She grew up. I didn't. (P.S.Willie Best practically steals the movie out from under Bob Hope's famous nose.)

For me, this is the best of the haunted house movies especially since the director understood that less is very definitely more when it comes to ghostly apparitions. The movie's undercurrents of illicit love and strange obsessions works well too. Cornelia Otis Skinner makes for an elegantly demented villain.

My favorite of the Frankenstein movies though there are two more on my list which I love to watch when the mood strikes which is usually around this time of year. In this film, Lionel Atwill and the set designer/decorator are the scene stealers. And again I ask, as I always do, why would the child of an English couple have an American southern accent? This continues to be one of the great movie imponderables.

How Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and the Wolfman all wind up in America and get to attend a masquerade party. Still creepily hilarious and, in my book, a classic.

Eeky, slimy Dr. Praetorius and his wierdly off-putting 'tiny' people - need I say anymore?. And I also like the bride's two tone hairdo. James Whale's brilliant direction, the sinister sets and gorgeous photography, make for a truly atmospheric monster fest.

The first and still the scariest of the mummy franchise primarily because of Boris Karloff's eerie persona and compelling mummy presence. You can almost smell the fetid odor of decaying flesh and rancid linen.

The second of the 'scary' Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard pairings. While not as good as THE GHOST BREAKERS, it does have Gale Sondergaard and George Zucco and lots of spooky atmosphere as the characters are stranded overnight in an isolated Bayou mansion.

A fabulous Frank Capra film with just about the worst movie posters of all time. Can't find a single one that has any hint of what the movie is about. At any rate, this is a classic movie with a fabulous cast and one of the best beginnings - a raucous fight on the field during a game at Ebbits Field where the  Brooklyn Dodgers played once upon a time. Everyone in the film is a hilarious scene stealer and all work together to lunatic perfection. Cary Grant should have been nominated for an Oscar for his manic performance - here was a handsome man not afraid to make himself ridiculous on a grand scale.

 A movie saved from banality (well it stars Kent Smith and Jane Randolph) by the captivating presence of Simone Simon whose feline features and foreign accent seem perfectly in tune with the whole idea of cursed exotic females in distress. And Tom Conway all but steals the movie with his portrayal of a really sleazy psychiatrist. Another entry in the 'less is plenty more' sweepstakes of film making in which most of what you think you see isn't really there but in your imagination.

I was going to include Lon Chaney Jr.'s werewolf movie which is the better known, but that one always makes me sad. I don't like being sad on Halloween. So here is Henry Hull's werewolf movie which has a dark and shadowy beginning in a foreign land and Warner Oland NOT playing Charlie Chan. And if the wolfie make-up isn't up to modern day standards, so what - it still works for me.

These are the films I love to watch when the spooks and goblins are abroad in the land. No blood and guts for me, thank you very much. Just creepy crawlies, a few scary moments and the occasional mindless joviality.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE FRIGHTENED STIFF (1942) by Kelley Roos


Yet again I cannot remember who recommended this book to me, but whoever you are/were, THANK YOU! Husband and wife detecting teams aren't all that prolific in the annals of vintage mystery fiction though there are a few (besides Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, my stand-out favorites are the Jane and Dagobert Brown books by Delano Ames and the Mr. and Mrs. North books by Francis and Richard Lockridge) so when I stumble across a 'new' Mr. and Mrs. Detecting Duo, I am thrilled. Haila and Jeff Troy now join my list of favorite marital sleuthing teams.

Husband and wife authors Audrey and William Roos aka Kelley Roos, are not as talented as Christie or Delano Ames , but they seem quite on par with the Lockridges and that's quite good enough for me. Based on THE FRIGHTENED STIFF, I'll definitely be looking for the rest of the books in the series.

Apparently the Kelley Roos combo is another of those authors whose books mysteriously vanished from sight over time. But then Rue Morgue Press stepped up and re-published some of the titles a few years ago and VOILA!

THE FRIGHTENED STIFF should especially resonate with readers who lived in New York and have memories of the city of once upon a time. (I grew up there in the 40's and 50's and to me, Manhattan was a fabulous theme park.) Even if you don't have the actual memories, you will probably have seen movies set in the city of that time so you'll have an idea of what I'm talking about. There was a neighborhood feel to the city then but also a sense that adventure was just around the corner. And nowhere in the city was adventure more likely to happen than in Greenwich Village, the artistic enclave of eccentrics which still, to this day, carries its own unique cachet.

The pleasure of being young marrieds moving into an atmospheric basement apartment on a great street in The Village is dampened somewhat by the unpleasantness of a dead man in the garden out back. But there's always something - right? The zest of living in the city of eight million stories is captured wonderfully by the authors - even if this particular story is pretty much confined to one building and its surrounding streets. A second dead body would have added more 'oomph' to the plot and considering the eventual solution and explanation of plot mechanics, I'm surprised there wasn't one, but still I enjoyed what the authors did with this cozy NYC mystery of the early 1940's.

When the aforementioned body is spied by a neighbor from a second floor window, the cops are called in and as they begin tramping in and out of their apartment, Jeff and Haila Troy are put in a difficult position. They have to explain that though the victim is lying nude in their garden, the body literally stripped of any identification - they have no idea who he is. But it turns out (once Haila gets a closer look) that the corpse is the same guy they'd noticed acting suspiciously the night before at a neighborhood restaurant.

It also turns out that Haila had overheard the dead man's half of a strange phone conversation. He was making a midnight assignation to meet someone in, of all places, their new apartment. (The Troys had not been expected to move in until a week later so their sudden appearance had obviously upset some nefarious plan.) Then Jeff had almost gotten into an altercation with the guy who'd turned belligerent. But both Troys assumed he'd just been drunk.

Next thing you know, the same shady character winds up dead in their garden. Naturally, the cops suspect the Troys of knowing more than they're telling. So to keep from being arrested for the crime, Jeff decides to solve it. I mean, wouldn't you?

The building is chock full of quirky folk. All seem uneasy, but then having a dead man show up in the building's garden might make anyone uneasy. Especially since it's obvious that the killer has to be one of them.

The tenants:

1) An old friend of Haila's (who now doesn't seem quite so friendly) and her handsome hubby who if he isn't guilty of anything, sure acts like it.

2) Two sisters, one of whom is sickly and spends most of the day in bed (when she isn't staring white faced and spooky out the window) while the other one assiduously mans the entrance to their apartment fending off even the police who want to chat.

3) A coquettish restaurateur with a watchful eye, a secret and a surly brother.

4) A guy masquerading as an art expert.

5) The landlord who isn't above acting suspiciously himself.

6) And last but not least, the dead man who, unknown to Jeff and Haila, had also lived in the building - top floor rear.

Most of the action takes place within the confines of the building, often in the shadowy hallways where odd noises and surreptitious footsteps make Haila very uneasy as well, not to mention that the landlord keeps dragging his feet about getting them a new lock for the busted in front door. (The cops having been a bit too enthusiastic.) Also not to mention that when Haila learns that the dead man was killed inside their apartment in their bathtub (!), she refuses to bathe and immediately wants to abandon their lease and get the hell out. Sort of the same reaction I'd have.

Noises, bumps in the night and the claustrophobic atmosphere of a West Village brownstone which had once been a speakeasy work very well to enhance the logistics of a most engaging whodunit. Likable and amusing main characters, breezy dialogue and a puzzling mystery make for the kind of story I seem to be in the mood for these days. There's just something comforting about this sort of thing, especially if you have a fondness for the setting and the whole improbably idea of young, energetic marrieds solving a murder that stumps the cops.

"You won't find their [Audrey and William Roos] names among the giants of the genre but their contribution to what that other Allentown mystery writer - John Dickson Carr - called the 'Grandest Game," deserves not to be overlooked. They showed, as son Stephen puts it, what it was like to  be young and in love in New York of the 1940's and, perhaps even more importantly, that mysteries were meant to be fun." From the introduction by Tom and Enid Schantz.

And since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked authors other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Show of Hands
























Didn't much feel like writing about any one book this week, so I'm doing pictures. I've posted book cover themes before (and will continue to do so) primarily because I do enjoy looking at covers from the golden age of mystery even if I've not always read the book. I wish it were easier to find out who the various illustrators were. At any rate, I believe these books qualify for our Forgotten or Overlooked Books weekly meme.

And since it's Friday, time to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, September 29, 2017

THE RIGHT SIDE by Spencer Quinn


This is the prolific Spencer Quinn's (aka Peter Abrahams) newest novel and perhaps the beginning of a new series, this time out with a moody, damaged female protagonist. Quinn is the mastermind behind the brilliant on-going Chet and Bernie books (which I love) and is also the author of a middle school series which I will probably be looking to become familiar with so I can share it with my grandchildren.

In THE RIGHT SIDE, we meet a fascinating new character, a nearly-ex soldier named LeAnne Hogan, a bitter and disoriented Army officer (awarded a Bronze Medal) with PTSD currently recuperating stateside at Walter Reed hospital. She has lost an eye to an i.u.d. explosion while serving in Afghanistan and has the appropriate unsettling scars which she hides behind an eye patch and large sunglasses. She also has an inoperable piece of shrapnell lodged in an inoperable spot in her skull. Prosthetic eyeballs come into play early on, but not till mid-book does LeAnne bother with one.

Disinclined to play nice, she is a suicidal handful of resentment, grief and simmering anger. As the story evolves we get more and more into her earlier life and how she's arrived at this particular moment in time. This is a woman seemingly born to be a soldier and now that's been taken away. LeAnne Hogan is having to re-introduce herself to herself with all the touchstones removed.

After her hospital room-mate and new friend Marci (who had lost a leg in Iraq) dies suddenly from a blood clot, Leanne takes off on her own, temporarily leaving the world of authority behind. This is not the easiest character to learn to care about because she doesn't give a damn whether anyone likes her or not, but she does become a person whose future concerns us and eventually, yeah, we come to like and understand her.

After ambling around the country by bus and then by beat up used car - she gets a brief visit out of the blue from her worried mother (the army had been tracking Leanne's phone) and they sort of arrange for LeAnne to move in with her and her husband. (LeAnne's parents had divorced years before.) But the idea doesn't grab LeAnne and she takes off again. Eventually she winds up in Belleville, Washington where she remembers that Marci's 8 year old daughter lives with her grandmother. Some vague unfinished business has drawn her there though Leanne isn't sure what that might be, her memory being shot to hell.

While staying at a motel's cabin in the woods, a large black dog shows up one night and adopts an unwilling Leanne - can't put it any better than that. There is a kind of mystical aura surrounding all this which works very well in the context of the story. Especially in the episode where the dog saves LeAnne by valiantly upsetting her suicide attempt. I think if I were the author I would have played up the mystics of dog meets woman even more. But why quibble, it works pretty good as is.

When LeAnn goes to visit the grandmother, she finds out that Marci's daughter is missing - has been since the day before - the day, coincidentally, of Marci's funeral. Despite the fact that the local constabulary dislike her butting in, LeAnne decides that she needs to look for the child.

With the help of Marci's first ex-husband (she had two) and the slightly intimidating presence of husband number two, LeAnne investigates and soon makes a startling discovery.

At the same time, the past comes calling in the form of Captain Stallings, army intelligence, who drops in (literally) to 'request' LeAnne's help (yet again) in ferreting out the truth of who was to blame for the incident in Afghanistan which not only wounded her but killed several others including her commanding officer. This episode which entails a quick flight to Kabul doesn't work as well as it should because it stops the previous story and in an odd way, seems almost pointless (unless it's going to be picked up in a sequel). But again, I kept reading because no matter what I was engaged.

 Men writing women doesn't always work, but in truth works better than women writing men (I don't know why) and here, we instantly forget that the author is male. He gets this woman and how her interior operates and that's that.

If you're not familiar with Spencer Quinn, that's too bad. He's a wonderfully inventive writer and if all he'd ever done in his life was create Chet the dog and Bernie the private eye, that would have earned him a trip to Valhalla in my view. This new character he's trying on for size is definitely someone I will want to visit in future if and when another book featuring LeAnne Hogan appears.

It's Friday once again, so don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what forgotten or overlooked books other writers are talking about today.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: DEATH HAS DEEP ROOTS (1951) by Michael Gilbert


Remember when I went on a Michael Innes tear? Well, I'm kind of doing the same thing with Michael Gilbert, so bear with me. This is the sixth (or maybe the seventh) of Gilbert's books I've read so far - and I'm currently also in the middle of some of his Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens short stories.  Though there was one clunker back in the beginning right after SMALLBONE DECEASED (a brilliant classic), the rest have been excellent in varying degrees. Kind of a revelation really, because for a writer this good to have languished undiscovered by me for so long is odd, considering that Gilbert wasn't entirely unknown by everyone else AND he'd already written one classic. You'd think I would have stumbled over him at some point or other. But better later than not at all - right?

Michael Gilbert is kind of unique in that he didn't write the same book over and over -  not that that's always a bad thing, in fact there are some writers I return to over and over precisely because I know what to expect story-wise, but not Michael Gilbert. With this author, you just never know what you're going to get. He writes more in the thriller style than whodunit but somehow manages both equally well. Not all his protagonists are cut from the same cloth though all, so far, have been English, reasonably pragmatic and competent. A bit like Eric Ambler, but maybe not as dry and removed.

DEATH HAS DEEP ROOTS is set a few years after WWII and concerns the plight of a young French woman, Mlle Victoria Lamartine - a minor player in the Resistance - on trial in London, accused of the murder of Major Thoseby an ex-lover and father of her deceased child. Thoseby too had worked for the Resistance, though in a more important capacity and it was during that work that he is supposed to have hooked up with Mlle Lamartine at a lonely farm in the then dangerous French countryside teeming with partisans and Nazis.

But the accused denies any involvement with Thoseby and in fact, claims that the real father of her child was a young English flyer named Wells who was last seen in the clutches of the Gestapo on the same night as the residents at the farm were betrayed and rounded up. Later that same night, an unsuspecting Mlle Lamartine had stumbled right into the Germans on her way back from an errand. Yet somehow she survived incarceration and wound up storm tossed and jobless in London after the war. Very sympathetically a French refugee service found her a job as a receptionist at a small hotel providentially owned and staffed by people from the same area of France as the accused.

When Major Thoseby turns up dead in his room at the hotel (having gone there to meet Mlle Lamartine for reasons unknown) she is almost immediately placed under arrest by the officious and short-sighted Inspector Partridge. Later, the case will receive guidance from the author's series detective, Inspector Hazelrigg,  who hesitates to show up Partridge, but wants to see justice done. His presence in this book is minor but important.

Up front, the accused looks guilty. She seems to be the only one with any previous connection to Thoseby and she's the only one who could have gone into his room and stabbed him at a time when everyone else is accounted for. In fact, no one could have gone upstairs and entered Thoseby's room without having been seen by staff and/or guests. This almost seems like a locked room murder, except that it isn't. Mlle Lamartine insists she had no motive to kill Major Thoseby as he was not the man who had abandoned her and her then unborn child.

But it's obvious that the present crime harkens back to the past in Basse Loire during the war at the French farm when all were betrayed and rounded up by the Gestapo.

After a short postponement when new counsel is brought on board at the accused's last minute request, the case develops a kind of back and forth rhythm between antics in court and the actual nuts and bolts of the investigation. The trial moves swiftly forward with the tenacious Mr. Macrea in charge for the defense and the law firm of Markby, Wragg and Rumbold, Solicitors of Coleman Street in the energetic personification of junior partner Noel Anthony Pontarlier Rumbold (known as Nap) traveling to France to track down any possible leads. The sense of France just a few years after the war is well established as is the notion that old crimes are not dead and done for.

I am not a huge fan of shifting stances and points of view and the back and forth of locales, except when it's handled expertly. Michael Gilbert is a master at this sort of sleight of hand.

Intrigues, lies, shifting alibis and courtroom theatrics abound in London while in France, Nap follows various and nebulous leads at the risk of his life. In the meantime back at the office, his father Rumbold senior, frets in very British stiff upper lip style. Author Michael Gilbert is so good at creating these sorts of competent men who aren't flashy but have just enough charisma to entertain. He's not bad at fashioning intriguing women either.

What can I say? A terrific book set in a time that still fascinates me.

It's Friday and this week, Todd Mason is doing Forgotten Book hosting duties at his excellent blog,
Sweet Freedom.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Salon: The Astounding Work of Contemporary Canadian Painter Judy Garfin






























Judy Garfin is an extraordinary Canadian painter whose majority of work reveals the close-up entanglement and odd scattered beauty of nature, often mixed with a kind of hard-edged fantastical twitch - as when she adds birds to the mix. She specializes in dense detail and texture and elusive hints of mysterious forces at work.

To my mind, she seems the perfect painter for those of us who enjoy reading mysteries.

"In 1990, I returned to canvas for large works and painted on panel for the smaller ones. I painted images of dried and living plant forms to describe an interior world rather than to represent external nature. These gardens, in their concrete description and diversity of forms, textures and patterns, are fictions that tell stories about living things....

My method of working is fused to the content of my painting. I work on a white surface, finishing each element before moving on to the next. There is no underpainting or sketch. Each work grows into its own presence, element by element, on an undifferentiated field." 

Judy Garfin


I discovered Garfin's paintings online (as I have done with many other artists whose work had remained unknown to me until recently) which is why I say, thank goodness for the internet (is it still called that?). If it were good for nothing else but helping us find hidden works of art by brilliant artists, the thing would have been worth all the other angst attached to it. Almost without my consciously knowing it, I also seem to have widened my knowledge and experience of art and find that the most thrilling things of all.