Posts Tagged ‘mystery’


A Chain of Evidence

August 27, 2013

The time has probably come for me to face the facts: Carolyn Wells was not a good mystery novelist. I mean, nothing can take away from my love for Vicky Van, but it’s the exception, not the rule. The rule is a book where, when you’re told that a young woman has a domineering husband or relative, you know who the murder victim is going to be. The rule has a massively annoying narrator who is usually a lawyer, even more usually in love with the woman freed by the murder, and absolutely always an idiot.

A Chain of Evidence has perhaps the most stupid narrator of all, a lawyer named Otis Landon who has just moved into an apartment across the hall from the one occupied by Janet Pembroke, her bedridden uncle Robert, and their maid, Charlotte. Robert Pembroke is the inevitable murder victim, and he’s found stabbed in the back of the neck with a pin one morning. The catch is that the murder happened at night, after the security chain on the door was on, so no one should have been able to get in without breaking the chain. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Swimming Pool

August 26, 2013

So, obviously I don’t review things that are still under copyright very often, but and Open Road Media have put out a whole slew of Mary Roberts Rinehart mysteries as ebooks, and I know for a fact I’m not the only one who’s run out of Rineharts to read at Project Gutenberg.

Open Road very kindly sent me an ebook of The Swimming Pool for review, and it’s kind of great, in a very specific, Rinehart during the ’40s and ’50s kind of way. There’s a specific formula you don’t get in her earlier mysteries, where the heroine is the youngest daughter of an old family, usually one whose lifestyle has changed dramatically over the last few decades. She’s usually in her late twenties, and when a man shows up to investigate whatever the mystery is, he’s also her love interest. The closest public domain example I can think of is Where There’s a Will — which I’ve never reviewed, but which is kind of similar to When a Man Marries in tone, but slightly less awesome.

Anyway, considered on its own merits, The Swimming Pool is pretty good. The heroine is Lois Maynard, and yes, she’s in her late twenties, and she’s the youngest daughter of the family, and they’ve definitely seen better times. There’s even a domineering mother, although she’s dead by the time the story begins. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Mystery

April 23, 2013

Halfway through The Mystery, by Samuel Hopkins Adams and Stewart Edward White, I decided that I definitely was not going to review it. But now that I’m done, I kind of feel like I have to. It’s just so weird. At least, it seemed weird do me, but I’m not really in the habit of reading slightly sci-fi pirate-y horror stories, so. Read the rest of this entry ?


Terror Keep

February 5, 2013

Terror Keep might be my favorite of Edgar Wallace’s books featuring J.G. Reeder, but I can’t help feeling that it’s all wrong. Read the rest of this entry ?


Room 13

January 30, 2013

I am all set to go on an Edgar Wallace kick. It will actually be a delayed-onset Edgar Wallace kick. Thursday last week I was hunting around for something to read and found myself wishing I owned more Edgar Wallace. I eventually settled for one of Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise books — and then three more — but the yen for Edgar Wallace was still there and last night I went over to Project Gutenberg Australia (is it illegal for me to download post-1923 books from there? I don’t think I want to know) and read Room 13, featuring Wallace’s series detective J.G. Reeder.

So, here’s the thing about Edgar Wallace — I’ve talked about it before — every time I try to write about one of his books in particular I end up taking about his books in general. It’s like most authors’ books are individual objects, which can be discussed and compared, but Edgar Wallace’s fiction is a fairly homogenous substance to be measured out in page-lengths. I’m going to pretend for a moment that it’s not, though, and that Room 13 stands alone and has nothing to do with any other book. And when I am done, I will have described a pretty typical Edgar Wallace thriller. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Confession

July 20, 2012

Here’s an odd little Mary Roberts Rinehart mystery for you: The Confession. There are a lot of familiar elements here — a middle-aged spinster who has raised a niece and nephew, her alternately loyal and mutinous servant, a house rented for the summer — but it’s not The Circular Staircase and it’s not The Bat*. Nor is it as much of a mess as either of those, probably because it’s a lot shorter. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Four Just Men

July 7, 2012

This is probably the fourth or fifth time that I’ve tried to sit down and write about an Edgar Wallace book. And I’m not counting Tam o’ the Scoots, because that’s not the typical Edgar Wallace crime thriller thing. Although, to be fair, neither is The Four Just Men. I tend to try to explain what Edgar Wallace is about, which is difficult because he’s so casual and scattered and ridiculous. And then I end up making a lot of broad generalizations and comparisons to E. Phillips Oppenheim, and eventually I realize that I haven’t said much of anything about the book. I don’t think I ought to have to do that here, because, while The Four Just Men is set in the same milieu as Wallace’s usual crime thrillers, it’s not as crazy. Still, though. Anyway, this isn’t a review. This is me writing about Edgar Wallace and not knowing how to read it back. Read the rest of this entry ?


Short Story Series #1: The super obvious

June 14, 2012

Of all the English classes I ever had, my 7th grade one was the best. And part of it was that my teacher was great, and part of it was that I realized that grammar is equal parts fun and fascinating — although I realize I may be alone on that one — but probably the single biggest factor was that we had to write an essay on a short story each week. And I could talk a lot about how helpful it was to have to churn out essays and learn to construct an argument and stuff, but what I’m here to talk about today is how much I hated the short stories.

Middle School and High School English classes do a lot to instill in kids the idea that serious literature is super depressing, and short stories, which tend to be sort of single-minded in pursuit of an idea, make it worse — at least with novels, there’s usually time and space to put in a few scenes that will make you laugh, or, you know, offer sidelights on a character that give you hope that they have inner resources to draw on and won’t spend the rest of their lives completely miserable. If they live to the end of the story, that is.

I mean, there were bright spots: “The Speckled Band.” Dorothy Parker. Vocabulary lessons. But I came out of Middle School English with the conviction that all short stories were terrible and that I would hate them forever, with a grudging exception for detective stories.

Anyway, the point of this is that for a long time I really believed I hated short stories — until a couple of years ago when I realized that I was reading short stories all the time, and loving them. It was just that they were short story series, character-driven and funny instead of literary and depressing. These days I get really excited when an author I’ve been enjoying turns out to have a series of short stories or two. So this is the first in what I expect to be a extremely rambling series of posts about those, and how much fun they are — starting with the super obvious. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Pit Prop Syndicate

May 29, 2012

I think I’ve explained before how sometimes I find things on my kindle that I have no information about and no memory of downloading. I’ll never know why I downloaded The Pit Prop Syndicate, by Freeman Wills Crofts, I guess. It can’t have been because I’d heard good things about it, that’s for sure.

The thing is, Freeman Wills Crofts was both popular and well thought of in his day, and I cannot imagine how that could have been, because this book is terrible. The characters are wooden and moronic, and the plot is full of that thing where characters speculate wildly and their speculations end up being taken for facts. The worst thing, though, was that Crofts does little more than connect the dots; when protagonist Seymour Merrriman meets Madeleine Coburn in rural France, you know he’s going to fall in love with her, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to be convinced of it — and Crofts is singularly unconvincing. Read the rest of this entry ?


The After House

March 27, 2012

The After House is, as a whole, the most creepy and suspenseful Mary Roberts Rinehart mystery I’ve read yet. Sometimes I get irritated with Rinehart’s inevitable had-I-but-knowns, but there are cases where it really works. If fits with the conversational style of When a Man Marries, for example. And somehow, in the Tish stories, it makes the various ridiculous things that befall Tish and her friends even funnier. And it works from the very beginning here, heightening your sense that whatever’s going to happen onboard the converted cargo ship Ella is going to be really, really bad.

And it is. Mary Roberts Rinehart is occasionally called the American Agatha Christie, but this isn’t a body in the library kind of mystery — it’s a bodies hacked up with an axe in various parts of the boat one.  Read the rest of this entry ?


The Window at the White Cat

March 15, 2012

I’ve been on a bit of a Mary Roberts Rinehart kick this week, starting with The After House and moving on to The Window at the White Cat and Love Stories. The Window at the White Cat is probably the least interesting of the three, falling into a mold I associate with Anna Katherine Green and Carolyn Wells, where some rich and/or important middle aged man is murdered at his desk and the lawyer-narrator ends up falling in love with the murdered man’s wife/daughter/niece/miscellaneous young and dependent woman. And I don’t have a problem with that; it’s just not very exciting. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Cinema Murder

February 7, 2012

Consider this your warning. I am going to give away the ending of this book. And that’s probably a bad thing, because the big twist ending is kind of the point of The Cinema Murder, and I’ve yet to decide out whether there’s any other reason to read it. I actually did guess the surprise ending pretty early on, but I ignored my instincts and trusted E. Phillips Oppenheim to do it right, as he has done on other occasions.

That was a mistake.

In retrospect, of course, I realize I was meant to sympathize with impoverished art teacher Philip Romilly. And when he showed up to visit his girlfriend, Beatrice, and realized that since he’d last seen her she’d become his cousin Douglas’ mistress, I did. It’s just that when he murdered Douglas and dumped his body in a canal, I stopped. Read the rest of this entry ?


Lord John in New York

January 11, 2012

The worst thing about terrible mystery novels — the kind where the hero judges everyone on the most shallow grounds imaginable, and every tenuous connection is treated as a solid deduction — is that you can make fun of the hero all you want for assuming the Egyptian guy he’s found in the phone book (apparently this is a phone book that sorts by nationality?) is the same mysterious Egyptian guy who might have upset the girl he’s fallen in love at first sight with, but in the end you know the hero is going to be proven right. Read the rest of this entry ?


Shadow of the Rope

December 13, 2011

So, here’s a weird book. A hard one to talk about, too. The Shadow of the Rope, by E.W. Hornung, best known as the author of the Raffles stories.

Have you ever read Strong Poison, by Dorothy Sayers? This starts a lot like that, with a young woman on trial for murder. He’s her husband rather than her ex-boyfriend, but you’ve got the discussion of the evidence, the samples of popular opinion, and the faithfully attending onlooker whose main interest is in the accused. It’s similar enough — more in the way it’s described than in the details of the story — that I think Sayers must have read it, and been inspired by it.

The similarities end with the trial. Rachel Minchin is acquitted of the murder of her husband, but she finds, on her release from prison, that she has nowhere to go. The public believes her guilty, and a mob attacks her house. Not that she can stay there anyway — all her stuff’s been cleared out. She has no friends, and no one believes in her innocence. That’s when the mysterious Mr. James Buchanan Steel shows up, doing an excellent job at walking the fine line between kindly benefactor and creepy stalker. She vaguely remembers him from the trial, and she finds him kind of fascinating, so eventually she agrees to his proposal of marriage. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Prisoner in the Opal

September 13, 2011

Some authors have only one great book in them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also write a lot of other books. I think of A.E.W. Mason as one of those. The Four Feathers is a masterpiece. It’s the only proper adventure novel I can think of that is also successfully introspective and, you know, intelligent, and…”if you want any whiskey, stamp twice on the floor with your foot; the servants understand.”

But anyway. I adore The Four Feathers, but I’m never quite sure whether it’s my favorite A.E.W. Mason book, because there’s also The Prisoner in the Opal. And The Prisoner in the Opal is indisputably one of the ‘other books,’ but I love it.

I think Mason’s detective, Inspector Hanaud of the Surete, is as direct a predecessor of Hercule Poirot as you’re going to find anywhere — he’s tremendously full of himself, he uses psychology to solve crimes, and his behavior seems calculated to offend the English people with whom he comes into contact. He first appears in At the Villa Rose, in 1910. It’s not so great. I haven’t read any of the other Hanaud books, but I have high hopes for the one titled They Wouldn’t be Chessmen. Read the rest of this entry ?


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