Sunday, June 17, 2018

THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE - Mary Roberts Rinehart

Rachel Innes rents a country house for the summer with her adult niece and nephew.   Strange events begin happening in the house from the time they arrive.  It starts with strange noise and then on the second night a murder. There are several mysteries to be solved and all is revealed through investigation by the main characters.

This is outstanding.  I found a write up of this book on a 'best of site..' and finally found a copy to buy.  While looking for the book I saw that on several web sites Rinehart is referred to to as the American Agatha Christie.  This is not even remotely the case, Christie should be referred to as the British Rinehart.

This book was published in 1908 , twelve years before Christie had her first book in print.  This story by Rinehart was only her second and having read a lot of Christie I can say she only ever got this good on a dozen or so occasions.

The book has it all, tension, good characters and a nice bit of humour.  Great stuff .

Thursday, June 14, 2018

CAN LADIES KILL? - Peter Cheyney

A hard bitten FBI detective is sent out to San Francisco to investigate a letter from a women who states she has serious information for the authorities.

On arrival Detective Lemmy Caution is met by a body and this segues into several confrontations with the city's underworld.

This was published in 1938, authored by a British writer which reads very much like what it is: a pulp story written in ersatz American (wiki).

The story is a not bad with the mystery being explained with a much used plot device ( much used now but it was original 80 years ago)

The only annoying thing with the book is the "ersatz American" vernacular. e.g " Listen, Terry, has this dame got you bulldozed?  Why don't you keep your mind on your business an' when swell dolls get around just think of your wife".

This is the first of Cheyney's books I've read, he also has other series with British detectives, so he will be worth while tracking down and reading.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

SWAN SONG - Edmund Crispin

When Edwin Shorthuse was found hanged in his dressing-room, there were plenty of suspects.  Shorthouse had been the most unpopular singer in the show- vain, jealous, un-coperative.

His c-star, Elizabeth hated him.  Her husband, resented the singers attention to his wife.  Peacock the musical director, feared his terrible temperament.  Joan Davis knew too much of his past and the young lovers, Judith and Boris, were bitter about the shadow he threw over their happiness.  Then another member of the cast dies a horrifying death. The search for the killer, led by Gervase Fen, professor of English language and Literature at oxford University and amateur detective, leads to only one name- Edwin Shorthouse, a week old corpse.

This has its moments with a couple of quirky characters which give a few laughs but generally  it's a weak Crispin.   It has one of the most ridiculous killings in the history of the genre.  In a genre of impossible killings this wins with daylight second, an impossible murder.

Put this at the bottom of the "to be read stack".

Thursday, June 7, 2018

GOD'S LITTLE ACRE - Erskine Caldwell

As long ago as 1933, when this world wide best seller was published, many critics forecast a place for Erskine Caldwell at the very top of American fiction.

This outrageous tragi-comedy, and the authors equally brilliant novel, Tobacco Road, are regarded as classics of American literature.

This is the story of Ty Ty Walden, his three sons, one son in law, two daughters and two daughter in laws.

Ty Ty owns a small farm in Georgia and is convinced that he will find gold on his property.  At the beginning of the book he and two of his son's have been digging holes on the farm for fifteen years  finding nothing.

One of the daughters, Darling Jill causes problems by sleeping with all and sundry, the daughter in law Griselda causes problems because all and sundry want to sleep with her.

There is also Dave the Albino who Ty Ty and two of the sons go and kidnap because they have heard that albinos have a gift for finding gold.  Dave ends up liking being kidnapped because Darling Jill seduces him.

So the first half of the book is hilarious with this groups base desires making for superb reading.

Then the book moves from farce to tragedy toward the end. Will, Ty Ty's son in law is a mill worker who has been on strike for many months and when it looks like the mill will not re-open Will organizes with others to break into the mill and turn the power back on.  Unbeknownst to them the mill owner has hired armed private police to prevent the break in.  Tragedy follows.

The title refers to the acre of his farm from which Ty Ty donates all that is produced on it to the church annually.  The only problem is Ty Ty is worried that that acre may contain the 'mother lode' of gold that he has been looking for so the acre's location on the farm changes constantly.   Ty Ty is pragmatic when it comes to his charity.

The author and his publisher were taken to Court as the book was considered pornographic due to its content and it was banned in several states right into the 1950's, again showing those who wish to ban writing are steeped in ignorance.

This is a magical read, I enjoyed it more than Tobacco Road solely because it is not so unrelentingly depressing. The themes are similar in both books but with this you get a few laughs with the protagonists rather than at them constantly.

Magical writing.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

MOONFLEET - J.Meade Falkner

Young John Trenchard lives with his aunt in the village of Moonfleet half a mile from the sea.  His peaceful existence ends dramatically when he discovers a secret passage into the vault of the powerful Mohune family, who once had control of Moonfleet.  Wild stories abound of bloodcurdling cries and horrific deaths, for here lies the notorious Blackbeard who, it is said, haunts the churchyard in search of a fabled but ill-gotten diamond.  Yet instead of glittering treasure Trenchard finds cargoes of contraband.  Drawn into the dangerous, secretive world of smugglers it is not long before he is forced to flee the country.

This is a genuinely exciting tale similar in style to Treasure Island.  Originally published in 1898 and set in the 1750's it's a story of violence and revenge with our hero travelling into Europe to escape  before the mystery of the fabled diamond is solved.

This is great fun, the ending is Dickensian but that was how things were when this was written. I'd never heard of the story prior to buying this & I see it was made into a TV series with Ray Winstone a few years back, all in all and excellent read.

Saturday, June 2, 2018


Scribbles the cat provided the first clue. Usually he was sedate and well behaved, but after drinking a saucer of milk he executed a wild dance around the room and tried to batter his brains out against the wall- before curling up asleep.

Investigating this bizarre incident, Nigel Strangeways stumbles on a sinister thread of mystery.  In a house party seething with secret fears and tensions he conducts his greatest murder hunt.

This is a locked room mystery and its clever with all the clues available to the reader if you wish to try and solve it along the way.

My only complaint is Blake's detective, Strangeways, is totally devoid of humour, not a skerrick anywhere along the way.  Strangeways is tediously straight, he doesn't even have an oddball side kick - his wife rides along but she's no barrel of laughs either.

A good story first published in 1941,but an unlovable solver of murders.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

PANIC IN BOX C - John Dickson Carr

While sailing to America on board the RMS Illyria, Dr Gideon Fell meets some exceptional passengers, among them the celebrated actress, Margery Vane, who sees a ghost and narrowly misses a .45 bullet.

Why is this desirable woman surrounded by fear and hate?  The question remains unanswered until Dr Fell and his shipboard companions are summoned to attend a rehearsal at the Margery Vane Theater in Connecticut.  Once there, ancient weapons, in furious tempo, provide the stratagems of modern murder.

This is a late career book, (published in 1966), by the master of the "locked room" murder and the explanation is a bit of a stretch compared with his earlier works, but he is the best at this type of story and his plots are clever.

What sets Carr apart from others is the detail and the stories are well written.  This is not his best but it'sa solid read.