Another Review!

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Home Sweet Homicide – Craig Rice

Amber’s Review: So here’s the thing, I’ve never read a Craig Rice mystery, well other than Home Sweet Homicide. So in preparation for writing this review, I did some research on Rice and her writing style.

This is where things got interesting.

Well more interesting, as her book was entirely engrossing.

At first blush Home Sweet Homicide doesn’t appear to be a typical Craig Rice novel. Her primary detectives are three kids, ages 14, 12 and 10. There isn’t a drop of alcohol anywhere to in the pages which, according to my reference books, is unusual. As Rice’s detectives typically spend an inordinate time throwing the sauce back. In addition, the kids work loosely with the police, which her hard-boiled detectives rarely consider a worthwhile option.

However.

Digging further into her other mysteries, I began to glimpse Rice’s genius for the absurd and her flair for recycling old tropes into fresh plot devices.

Need an example of her absurd literary recycling? When short of the necessary pocket change, our junior detectives in Home Sweet Homicide would hit up the owner of the soda fountain for a malt on credit. Then pay off their debt when they managed to get two nickels to rub together. Archie, Dinah, and April were also not above hustling an unsuspecting mark to obtain a free malt or two or three.

This complicated relationship with the soda fountain, its owner and malts – bears all the hallmarks of Rice’s most famous detective of John J. Malone. Who favors whiskey over malts and Angel’s City Hall Bar over the dimestore on the corner.

And it works!

Another intriguing facet of this work is Archie, Dinah and April’s mother Marian Carstairs.

Marian Carstairs is considered by most an imperfect self-portrait of Craig Rice herself. Both were at one point crime reporters, freelance writers, and mystery novelists – who published under several nom de plumes. Even more telling? Their writing style. Both women simply rolled a blank sheet of paper into their typewriters and started typing. Neither woman constructed outlines, character lists, the major plot points, or even the solution until they punched it out. They just sat down at the typewriter and typed until they reached the end!

(btw- I’d be lost without an outline.)

This mystery was witty, smart, and fun to read.

I would recommend this zany mystery to anyone who could enjoy a plot which at one point or another – rests of a band of grubby boys, a mother’s day present and an impromptu dance party.

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P.S. – The picture, above my review, is of a Rue Morgue edition I bought at the shop years ago and is unfortunately out of print now.

But never fear! Otto Penzler has reissued this great mystery in his American Mystery Classic series. So you click on the green cover above the postscript to go to Otto’s site and grab yourself a copy of this great book!

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P.P.S. – Don’t forget to check out this week’s edition of Finder of Lost Things – Penny In The Air!

Both Wood and Orin come clean about the shenanigans they both pulled on Phoebe this evening!

An Extra Review!

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(The cookies in the picture are garam-masala chocolate gingerbread cookies – I use a different recipe than the one Nancy Atherton put in her book because it required nuts and I’m allergic!)

Aunt Dimity & the Heart of Gold 

by Nancy Atherton

Did you ever wonder how Miss Marple honed her investigative abilities? Or in fact, how she remained so sharp in between each case?

I believe she kept her wits keen through continual practise. Miss Marple not only investigated the occasional murder that crosses her path – but all the little mysteries that popped up in her village of St. Mary Mead as well.

Now you shouldn’t confuse the word little with unimportant.

As Miss Marple’s learned the small mysteries (and therefore their solutions) are often analogous to the bigger mysteries, like murder and blackmail.

Which I think explains how Miss Marple was able to solve Colonel Protheroe murder in her first full-length mystery, Murder At The Vicarage. She’d already had decades worth of parallels to draw from and years of practice finding answers to prickly questions.

Now you might be wondering why on earth I am talking about Miss Marple in a review for an Aunt Dimity mystery.

The answer is this: Lori Sheperd (our sleuth), in many ways, reminds me of Miss Marple.

Go with me for a minute here.

Married with three children, an American and decades younger than the Grand Dame herself – I know superficially, Lori doesn’t appear to resemble Miss Marple in the slightest. However, if you take a closer look at their traits, striking similarities start popping out of the text.

Both women are fixtures in their community, volunteer their time, help their friends, and enjoy a good chat with their neighbors.

This “chatting” is where we find one of the most significant similarities between these two extraordinary women – their marked partiality to obtaining and occasionally disseminating village gossip. This “newsgathering” allows them both to acquire a richer view of the villages in which they reside and a better understanding of human nature – which is essential in solving mysteries.

The other important trait Lori shares with Miss Marple is her love of solving little mysteries. Any curious puzzle that pops up in Finch – Lori wants to solve it. From a quilting bee that ends with a revelation of a widow’s curse to a mysterious wishing well – very little can stop Lori from pursuing the truth.

And by keeping this murderless mystery series, Nancy Atherton has successfully avoided the Cabot Cove Syndrom which oftentimes plagues series of this length (24 books and counting). Meaning? We aren’t left wondering why anyone would live in the small village of Finch if people keep getting shot, stabbed, poisoned or garrotted in it.

Similarly, Agatha Christie was able to neatly sidestep this Syndrome by only penning twelve full-length titles and of those she set a fair few of those outside the borders of St. Mary Mead. (Atherton’s done this as well only her mysteries are set outside Finch – though wouldn’t it be fun if Lori visited St. Mary Mead? Or is that to on the nose you think?)

The most notable difference between these two ladies that I think needs addressing is their outlook on life. Miss Marple’s take on the world is one of pronounced pragmatism. Over the years, Miss Marple’s heard a plethora of rumors and solved a multitude of crimes. This knowledge has lead to the understanding that while not always pleasant, the dimmest view of someone’s motives is often the most accurate. While Lori, who hasn’t seen nearly as much, holds a far more upbeat vision of the world and the people in it. Perhaps in time, Miss Marple and Lori’s world views will align, but only time will tell.

Until then Lori will continue to hone her skills (much as Marple did) solving every niggly little puzzle that creeps up in Finch.

Such as the latest installment, Aunt Dimity & The Heart of Gold. A lovely mystery which uses Christmas/winter as a backdrop/springboard to propel this mystery forward. Where a mysterious motorist crashes a Christmas party, then discovers a Hindu alter hidden in a priest hole no one, including the homeowners, knew was there!

Lori really has her hands full in this one…

I thoroughly enjoyed every page in this book. Atherton does a great job in balancing the mystery with the Christmastime theme. Happily, she never succumbs to the syrupy sweetness that often plagues book set in December! Again using the time of year to move the mystery forward – not stall it under a ton of garland.

Now, if Atherton’s backlist daunts you, don’t worry. So long as you understand you are not starting with the first book and are willing to roll with it, you’ll be fine. As it was, I was a few books (six) out of date and had no problems picking up the thread of the series again. Now I normally recommend you start with the first book first, so you understand the hint of magic eddying around the fringes of this series, but it’s not required.

All that being said, I must say I couldn’t put this book down until I finished the very last (and highly satisfying) page. And the only reason I didn’t finish it in one sitting is that I needed to get some sleep!

I would recommend this book to anyone like me who loves a great mystery and/or enjoys reading Christmas books in July!

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Don’t Forget to check out my other blog – Finder of Lost Things!

This week, Dourwood decided is the perfect time to execute The Brace Affair…what could go wrong?

June

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      Odds~n~Ends

Purges, Bloodletting and the Evil Eye: The Bizarre Case Notes From ‘Quack’ Doctors in the 17th Century

From Rare Historical Photos:

The bookmobiles – Vintage photos of traveling libraries, 1910s-1960s

The Old Cincinnati Library before being demolished, 1874-1955 

Lost Weegee Crime Photos Revealed! Hiding in a junk-store box, unseen for 82 years. Historians, journalists astounded! 

The Spy Case That Made Adam Schiff a Russia Hawk

Paranoid and Madcap, The Manchurian Candidate Is Our Timeliest Novel

From the June 2019 issue of The Atlantic: Female Spies and Their Secrets  “An old-boy operation was transformed by women during World War II, and at last the unsung upstarts are getting their due.” A review of four new books on the topic.

Ten Women Mystery And Thriller Writers You Should be Reading

From The Atlantic: ‘Serial Killers Are a Uniquely American Phenomenon’ 

Long Read: Who killed the prime minister? The unsolved murder that still haunts Sweden.

Bentley’s $250,000 book is the Bentley of books

      Coupla Podcasts!

From Slate: The Queen: Linda Taylor committed abhorrent crimes. She became a legend for the least of them. A new podcast on the life of America’s original “welfare queen.”

From NPR: White Lies: In 1965, a white minister was murdered in Selma, Alabama. For more than 50 years, witnesses buried the truth about what happened.


From Chris Pavone: The morning when normal ended: A personal account of September 11

      Words for the Month

Dude: “Before there was ‘bro’, there was ‘dude’: that informal address that slaps you on the back with one hand, gives you a White Russian with the other, and says, ‘hey, I woke up at noon too, man’. For the past 20 years, Jeff Bridge’s portrayal of The Dude in the Coen Brothers’ film The Big Lebowski (1998) has epitomised the seductive spirit of dudeness. Dishevelled, stoned and disorientated, The Dude’s laid-back attitude is difficult to square with the artsy origin of the word itself, which seems to have entered popular discourse in the early 1880s as shorthand for foppishly turned-out male followers of the Aesthetic Movement – a short-lived artistic vogue that championed superficial fashion and decadent beauty (‘art for art’s sake’) and was associated with ostentatiously-attired artists such as James McNeill Whistler and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

It’s thought that ‘dude’ is an abbreviation of ‘Doodle’ in ‘Yankee Doodle’, and probably refers to the new-fangled ‘dandy’ that the song describes. Originally sung in the late 18th Century by British soldiers keen to lampoon the American colonists with whom they were at war, the ditty, by the end of the 19th Century, had been embraced in the US as a patriotic anthem.

By then, an indigenous species of fastidiously over-styled popinjays had emerged in America to rival the British dandy, and it is to this new breed of primly dressed aesthetes that the term ‘dude’ was attached. Over time, the silk cravats and tapered trousers, varnished shoes and stripy vests worn by such proponents of the trend as Evander Berry Wall (the New York City socialite who was dubbed ‘King of the Dudes’) would be stripped away, leaving little more than a countercultural attitude to define what it means to be a Dude (or an El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing).”

thanks to the bbc

      Author Events

June 3: Owen Laukkanen, Third Place/LFP, 7pm

June 5: Sujata Massey, University Books/Mill Creek, 7pm

June 6: Meg Tilly, Village Books, 7pm

June 6: Leslie Budewitz, Third Place/LFP, 7:pm

June 7: Cara Black, Third Place/LFP, 7pm

June 12: Thom Hartmann, Powell’s, 7:30pm

June 18: James Ellroy, Powell’s, 7:30pm

June 19: James Ellroy, Seattle Town Hall, 7:30   [ Ellroy is getting lost of coverage these days: James Ellroy: ‘I’ve been canonised. And that’s a gas’and James Ellroy thinks he’s a moralist – do you agree?]

June 23: Thom Hartmann, Seattle Town Hall, 7:30pm

      Words for the Month

gavel (n): A “small mallet used by presiding officers at meetings,” 1805, American English, of unknown origin; perhaps connected with German dialectal gaffel “brotherhood, friendly society,” from Middle High German gaffel “society, guild,” related to Old English gafol “tribute,” giefan “to give” (from Proto-Indo-European root *ghabh “to give or receive”). But in some sources gavel also is identified as a type of mason’s tool, in which case the extended meaning may be via freemasonry. As a verb, by 1887, from the noun. Old English had tabule “wooden hammer struck as a signal for assembly among monks,” an extended sense of table (n.). [thanks to etymonline]

      Links

April 30: Final chapter for a Mar Vista bookstore — and its unique community

April 30: Spying whales and other undercover animals

May 1: How The SF Chronicle decides which books to review

May 1: Graves of British couple murdered in Guatemala in 1978 found

May 2: ‘You are loved’ – the power of an anonymous note and gift

May 3: The Troubling Obsession with the “Sexy Psychopath”

May 3: Matthew McGough on how an LAPD officer hid a murder for nearly 30 years

May 3: Seven simple ways to boost your creativity

May 4: New details of Harper Lee true crime book revealed as briefcase mystery solved

May 4: With its second generation taking ownership this year, Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville keeps the past in mind as it heads into the future.

May 4: The working poor in the Hamptons: I cleaned a rich author’s swimming pool while writing my own novel

May 5: Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan review – a man of no mystery

May 7: Dickens novel that joined Captain Scott on doomed expedition goes on display

May 7: 30-year-old murder of a hiker is yet another case solved due to a Genealogy Site

May 8: ‘Furious Hours’ Tells The Tale Of Harper Lee And Her Unfinished Work

May 8: A Night at James Bond’s Favorite London Martini Bar

May 9: Publisher David Godine to step down from his namesake publishing house

May 10: The real experiments that inspired Frankenstein

May 11: Did Ernest Hemingway copy his friend’s ideas for Cuban classics?

May 11: Anna Sorokin: Why do con artists and fraudsters fascinate us?

May 11: The children’s bookshop selling diversity

May 11: Brazil National Museum: ‘Little surprises’ salvaged from the ashes

May 14: Crossbow German deaths

May 15: Classic Ferrari worth millions stolen on test drive

May 16: Couple goes fishing, catches burglars’ bag containing guns and sorority pins stolen 26 years ago

May 16: From Agatha Christie to Gillian Flynn: Women mystery writers list 50 great thrillers by women

May 16: 10 Must-Refer to Spots for Mystery Fans

May 16: French doctor charged with poisoning 17 patients

May 17: How the FBI Cracked the GozNym Malware Case

May 18: Lost volume sheds new light on Tolkien’s devotion to Chaucer

May 20: Who said indie bookstores are dying? Not in the Bay Area, thank you

May 20: Why the New York Public Library Has 7 Floors of Stacks With No Books

May 21: Patrick Marks’ eco-conscious bookstore celebrates a decade of greening books

May 21: New Coke Was a Debacle. It’s Coming Back. Blame ‘Stranger Things.’

May 22: How the CIA tried to train cats to spy on the Russians: the strange, true story of Acoustic Kitty

May 24: How the stories of Jack the Ripper’s victims are finally being told

May 25: By Her Own Hand showcases rare books and manuscripts by women

May 26: Hannibal Lecter author Thomas Harris: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever made up anything’

May 27: Can Reading Fiction Really Improve Your Mental Health?

May 27: Quarry to be drained in 40 year police hunt

May 28: $42,000 worth of comic books stolen in smash-and-grab from Denver store

May 30: Cartoon scavenger hunts brighten Portland

      R.I.P.

May 11: Alvin Sargent, Spider-Man screenwriter, dies at 92

May 12: Peggy Lipton, star of “The Mod Squad”, dead at 72

May 13: Doris Day, Hollywood actress and singer, dies aged 97

May 14: Legendary comic Tim Conway dead at 85

May 17: Herman Wouk, Best-Selling Novelist With a Realist’s Touch, Dies at 103

May 24: Navajo Code Talker, New Mexico Sen. John Pinto has died at 94

      Words of the Month

gawk (v.): “stare stupidly,” 1785, American English, of uncertain origin. Perhaps [Watkins] from gaw, a survival from Middle English gowen “to stare” (c. 1200), from a Scandinavian source akin to Old Norse ga “to heed,” from Proto-Germanic *gawon, from Proto-Indo-European *ghow-e- “to honor, revere, worship” (see favor (n.)); and altered perhaps by gawk hand (see gawky). Liberman finds this untenable and writes that its history is entangled with that of gowk “cuckoo,” which is from Scandinavian, but it need not be from that word, either. Nor is French gauche (itself probably from Germanic) considered a likely source. “It is possibly another independent imitative formation with the structure g-k” (compare geek). From 1867 as a noun. Related: Gawked; gawking. (thanks to etymonline)

      What We’ve Been Doing

   Amber

Version 5Finder Of Lost Things: 

Don’t forget to check out my weekly serial blog! This week Phoebe finally figures out who exactly her mystery passenger really is! Hint: it’s not great news…

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Dim Sum Of All Fears – Vivien Chien

Okay for those of you who enjoy lighter mysteries but dislike the cute titles and themes – I suggest you remove the cover & title page of this book and read on.

Seriously.

Chien does a beautiful job of making sure the theme is the foundation her mystery is set on, but never overwhelms the narrative. By keeping her book squarely focused on the murder mystery at hand and our detective Lana Lee, Chien successfully avoided the pitfalls, which normally plague this style of writing. Because never once while I was reading did the Noodle Shop theme ever once overwhelm or distract from the case our heroine was trying to solve (BTW- I’m not sure the description of ‘noodle shop’ is accurate anyways – as I think of ramen or pho places not family style Chinese restaurants, but that’s just my opinion) .

In fact, I enjoyed reading this book so much I sat down and read it all in one go – and it’s been a very long time since I’ve done that!

What kept me riveted to the pages for an entire afternoon was Lana Lee. An imperfect woman with bills to pay, a fondness for doughnuts, a pug, who still bickers with her older sister and who’s unexpectedly good at running her family’s Chinese restaurant (much to her sister’s dismay) while her mom’s off dealing with her own mother in Taiwan.

Plus – I have a weakness for amateur detectives who are constantly told to keep their Nancy Drew impulses in check yet cannot help themselves!

I would recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a mystery with a bit less blood and a great atmosphere!

   Fran

Because I will always be an indie bookshop supporter, lately my go-to bookstore is Page 2 Books in Burien, because it’s within walking distance of my job, and let’s face it, it’s the place Jayne Ann Krentz went to for her signings after we could no longer help her out, so it’s obviously a cool shop. And believe me, it is!

They know me there, and of my former life here, so when I went in to order a couple of books (the new Patricia Briggs, because it’s Mercy Thompson after all, and the debut Juliet Grame, because she’s the publisher at SOHO who helped us out and has been just a gem, so of course I’m supporting her debut novel), the owner’s face brightened – I can’t remember her name right this minute, but I will, and I’ll add it in – and then dropped when I said I was there to order books.

Yes, she looked sad because I was ordering books. She wanted me to be in to ask for a job. She wanted to hire me, and honestly, has wanted to for a while now.

I come with impeccable credentials, after all, and a fairly comprehensive knowledge of how the book world works. And I do have contacts, even now.

They’re moving into a bigger space (yay, them!), and could use my knowledge and help. I flashed on the idea of setting up a packing station so we could get back to doing the Krentz ship-outs the way they need to be done, and imagining bringing in authors for signings, and generally helping amp up the profile. Not bragging; I know my worth here.

But I had to say no, and not just because our household has gotten used to me having a real paycheck complete with benefits, and an 8 – 5, Monday through Friday schedule, which bookstores simply can’t do. Either part, actually.

No, it’s more than that. I miss selling books, I seriously do. JB, Amber and I have been comparing dreams we’ve had over the course of this couple of years being out of the business, and we’ve all three dreamed of being back in the life. It’s compelling, it’s addicting, and it’s so often heartbreaking.

I’m fairly adaptable, and I could handle another shop’s routines, but I don’t know that I’d be able to compromise my grading of books. Could I bring myself to sell a true collector a book I knew was a C, when SMB prided itself on having the best? NOTE: I’m not saying Page 2 Books has lesser standards – not by a long shot! Everything I’ve gotten there has been great, but until you’re on the inside, you don’t truly know, y’know? And I absolutely have been in other bookstores where SMB standards were not met!

One of the things I love about my current job with the Department of Corrections is that I don’t have to deal with money. I kinda blew out my financial give-a-damn circuits worrying about SMB’s finances, especially at the end. I don’t even have to make change, and it’s a bigger relief than you might think.

Page 2 Books is a general bookstore, and I have no idea how one goes about stocking such a critter. It was hard enough with a specialty shop; the nuances of managing salable titles for a general shop just boggle me, but these folks do a great job! Still, it’s another skill set that I’m not sure I’m ready for.

And there’s figuring out who you can order from, how long it’ll take to get something in, juggling all the variables, not to mention merchandising and publicity. Running a bookstore is more work than most people think, and it’s certainly not as glamorous as we made it look! 🙂

If I was going back into the book world, it would be at Page 2 Books. They’re good people, and we think in the same ways. I like them. They’d be a good second home.

Well, okay, I’d seriously consider working for Jenny Lawson – yes, THAT Jenny Lawson – who’s opening up a bookstore in her hometown, and I’d be strongly tempted to work at Nowhere Bookshop, but that would have the added disadvantage to me of having to move to Texas, which definitely isn’t happening.

I miss the book world, I do. And part of me will always want to go back. Maybe after I retire from the DoC, if they still want me, I’ll think about it. But for now, the hurt is still too real, and I need to keep my distance. Oh, but someday, I’d love to be back again!

   JB

I WANT ONE!

Aston Martin is selling 25 limited-edition DB5s for $3.5 million each. They come equipped with all the spy gear 007 used.

unfortunately, this is the only one I will ever be able to affordc235c206-e91e-11e5-93c8-aaeda8637a98

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Another April Review!

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Amber Here!

Don’t forget to check out my other blog Finder of Lost Things! This week Phoebe nearly kills herself running up a mountain chasing possibilities!

Anne Bishop – Wild Country

Fran reviewed this novel in the April newzine – but because I love this series (and this book) so much I must add my review on top of hers! So here it is…

What do you get – when you mash together Stephen King’s The Stand with a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western populate the town with werewolves (and every other kind of were-predator you can think of) and a fringe of humanity?

Anne Bishop’s Wild Country.

This book invokes such a feeling of the old west that all I could think of was Aaron Copland’s Rodeo while I was reading it (and if you aren’t familiar with the Copland click here – ignore the first few seconds where there’s a woman speaking and focus on the music – the ballet – meh – but the music is one of my all-time favorite works). From the saloon run by Madame Sythe – complete with alcohol, gambling, and flirty girls (who ONLY flirt) to livery stables, cattle ranches and mounted police – Bishop did a great job of establishing the old west feel without taking it over the top. It was wonderful!

And here’s where I must echo Fran’s review – the events that occur in Wild Country happen concurrently with those in Etched in Bone – so in order to eke out every nuance from this story – you must read both books. You don’t have to if you don’t want to – I think you can pick up a lot in context – but not every event will make complete sense (and again you’ll miss the subtlety in Bishop’s plot). But if you mainline the entire series, starting with Written In Red, you’ll be in good shape! (And in for a treat – I adore every one of Bishop’s books.)

Either way, this book is an excellent read and distracted me from finishing my work so entirely I finally had to sit down and finish it in one marathon session so I could get things done – and because it was so good, I didn’t even feel guilty!

(And I feel guilty about virtually everything!)

The New Flavia de Luce!

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      Amber Here!

Here’s another review that I just couldn’t wait until the March Newzine to share with you! 

And don’t forget to check out my penny dreadful, Finder of Lost Things! This week we find out who our mysterious passenger, Miss Eighties glam might be!

   Alan Bradley – The Golden Tresses Of The Dead

Flavia’s back! Woot!

And she and Dogger are investigating their first case – who put a severed finger in her sister’s wedding cake!

Even if you have never read a Flava de Luce novel, you can start with this installment. While not precisely a stand-alone, as there are a number of references to previous books, The Golden Tresses Of The Dead feels more like the first step in a new story arc. Allowing a new reader to step into the series without HAVING to read the previous nine stories (though if I’m honest there’s a good chance you’d want to go back and read them anyways – but it’s not necessary).

I loved this book! Not only did the mystery capture my interest from the outset, but the way Bradley incorporated real facts into the narrative, made it feel effortless! For instance, the London Necropolis Railway, a line dedicated to carrying mourners and the deceased to Brookwood Cemetary (the largest cemetery in the United Kingdom) between 1854 and 1941. A railway I’d never dreamt existed previously (and will be researching shortly on my own) featured prominently in the story – but its presence never felt forced and description didn’t feel akin to a regurgitated Wikipedia page. As I said above – I loved it, and Bradley sewed it into his mystery seamlessly.

On a side note, while reading this mystery, I finally realized who Flavia reminded me of – and it’s one of my favorite fictional female leads – Wednesday Addams (from the Addams Family)! With Flavia’s love of poisons and churchyards coupled with her reticent nature and unique world view – I think these two girls share some significant similarities. However, I doubt they’d ever get along as Flavia doesn’t possess Wednesday’s sadistic streak and Wednesday doesn’t contain Flavia’s natural empathy. But I think they could come to appreciate one another (from a sheer intellectual standpoint) from opposite sides of the line much in the way Sherlock and Moriarty did.

Perhaps Undine is Flavia’s Moriarty? Only time will tell.

Either way, this parallel struck me while reading, which made the book even more fun to read!

So go out and purchase this mystery post haste! If you’re a fan of classic British mysteries, I seriously doubt this book will let you down! I certainly wasn’t!

Hallowe’en Party: Part Two – Snapdragon

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      My 52 Weeks With Christie:

Hallowe’en Party

   Random (And Almost Relevant) Facts: 

Anyone out there ever heard of Snapdragon before? Yes? No? Well, prior to reading Hallowe’en Party I never had. The only reference point I had was the British tradition of dousing a Christmas Pudding with brandy and setting it alight at the end of Christmas dinner. But Snapdragon, from Christie’s description, sounded far more boisterous, chaotic and merry compared to my single point of reference.


Fun Fact: Apparently Christmas/Plum Puddings never caught on on this side of the pond due in large part to the U.S.’s Puritan & Quaker roots, as they considered it, “the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon”. Which seems a rather harsh view of a pudding.


Anyways…

Since Snapdragon played such a crucial role in Hallowe’en Party, by giving the murderer the perfect distraction/opportunity to commit their dastardly deed, I decided to investigate.

And much to my surprise I discovered this description in an 1855 party guide called:

Home Games For The People: A Collection of Family Amusements For The Fire-Side, Parlour, or Pic-Nic Parties; Consisting of Games of Action; Games simply taxing the Attention; Catch Games, depending on the assistance of an Accomplice; Games requiring the Exercise of Fancy, Memory, Intelligence and Imagination. For The Use of the Old and Young.

(Yes, that’s the title.)

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This guide’s instructions (along with several others I discovered) tallies with Christie’s description of events at that fateful Halloween Party attended Ariadne Oliver – pretty blue flames which posed a slight risk of injury, alcohol saturated raisins which cause a mess when plucked from the bowl and participants who enjoyed the diversion immensely.

However, what I found most surprising, after reading the lengthy title page, was the fact the publisher was located in New York! So with a bit more perusing, I discovered Snapdragon was played from about the 16th to 19th centuries in England, Canada, and the United States. (Apparently, the Puritans and Quakers found fault with a pudding but filling a bowl full of spirits, raisins and fire then sending their children to play in it was fine.)

Raisins were the preferred treat. However, currents, figs, grapes, plums or almonds could be substituted if needed or suited the audience better. Originally a Christmas Eve activity it eventually evolved into a Twelfth Night and Halloween diversion as well – which Christie’s mystery illustrates.


Fun Fact: Our esteemed authoress keeps great literary company, both Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll mention Snapdragon in their works as well.


Three guesses why this tradition died out…and the first two don’t count.

While the liquor, flames, and fruit delighted the younger set and made holiday parties a smashing success, these very same elements often made the day after a bit of a misery for the unlucky. Who wants to spend Christmas Day nursing singed fingers and blistered mouth? (And depending on how quick you snatched the raisins out, the younger participates might get a slight hangover – the spirits don’t burn off as quick as you’d think.) So around the beginning of the twentieth century the observance of this custom begun dying out.

Interestingly, its decline in popularity coincides when Christie was growing up – so perhaps she played Snapdragon as a child? No clue. But due to its waning popularity, it explains why the none of the Halloween party-goers notice the killer leading their victim from the room – because Snapdragon could indeed have been a rare treat by 1969!


Fun Fact: According to Atlas Obscura, Snapdragon had an adult variant called Flapdragon. In Flapdragon a lit candle was dropped into a mug of ale, then the individual attempted to down the contents without setting their mustaches, beard or hair on fire.


Now to give you guys a complete picture of this Victorian holiday tradition, I took it upon myself to play a game of Snapdragon.

Purely for due diligence purposes, you understand.

I did, however, decide against playing Flapdragon. Which either proves I am now an adult with an iota of common sense or am merely reluctant to explain to every ER doctor/nurse/lab assistant on duty that I sustained my burns by willingly drinking a beer with a lit candle in it – could go either way.

Plus I already have enough outrageous emergency room anecdotes, thank you.

When I proposed my thrilling new Wednesday night adventure, my husband regretfully declined my invitation. Stating that watching me dip my fingers into fire, popping something on fire into my mouth, while undoubtedly standing to close to the fire was incompatible with one of his primary drives – my safety.

He did not find Snapdragon a safer alternative to Flapdragon.

So while he sat in the other room playing video games, and definitely not making sure the fire extinguisher and car keys were handy – I played Snapdragon on our balcony!

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The flames were lovely. And even better? No burns or blisters to report! Though I am glad, I decided to light the bourbon (we didn’t have any brandy) outside, because a little bit goes a long way, and I used a bit too much! The flames got a bit higher than anticipated but other than that it went great!

I can definitely see why both the children & adult’s full attention was on the Snapdragon in Hallowe’en Party! It’s entertaining and scary all at the same time!

*BTW – Don’t try this without a Responsible adult present! Fire is still dangerous, the Victorians were just plain crazy or bored, either way, while this post (is hopefully) funny – this activity is not to be taken lightly. Burns and/or real fires can result. So be it on your head if you try it!

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Hallowe’en Party: Part One

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      My 52 Weeks With Christie: Hallowe’en Party

   First Published:

November 1969

   Series:

Hercule Poirot with Ariadne Oliver & Superintendent Spence

   Summary:

During the preparations for a Halloween party Joyce Reynolds (thirteen), trying to impress Ariadne Oliver, brags that she witnessed a murder. But that she didn’t know that it was a murder at the time, because she was, “…quite young at the time.” 

Everyone agreed at the time that Joyce was just telling tall tales again – but when she’s murdered a few hours later, Ariadne isn’t so sure she was. Disturbed by the child’s murder, indeed enough to swear off apples, she descends on Poirot asking for his help in solving this mystery.

   My Review:

In school did you ever have a teacher who assigned a report with a minimum page count? You do your research, write it out and print it up – only to discover your draft is eight pages, and the minimum is twelve?

Rather than rewriting a substantial section of your paper, you employ the time-honored tactic of padding. You add superfluous examples, extra quotes from primary sources and tangentially relevant information to your final draft. Which allows you to make your required page count – but unintentionally weakens/dilutes your thesis.

This is precisely how Hallowe’en Party felt to me. The entire time I was reading it, it felt like a short story padded out with extra bits until it reached the required length of a novel.

Which, after some research, I discovered is pretty much what happened.

Hallowe’en Party’s main plot springs from a 1935 Poirot short story called How Does Your Garden Grow?. With its keystone firmly in place, Christie then engaged in more literary recycling by stitching in elements from Dead Man’s Folly, published in 1965, to impart a sense of urgency to her narrative.

Christie then moved onto her cast of characters, Poirot’s there (obviously) but she also included two previously introduced detectives; Ariadne Oliver (who’d appeared in five other novels prior) and Superintendent Spence (who appeared in two others himself). Both easing her writing burden because we already knew who they were and allowed Christie to achieve more depth in her story through the further fleshing out of established characters.

Further augmenting the book’s length Christie embroidered in a sliver of the atmosphere from her 1961 classic The Pale Horse thru one oblique and one overt reference to Macbeth (which is a vital element of the 1961 classic). She also dedicated several paragraphs to our detective’s recollections of four previous cases and two other characters (beyond our writer and retired policeman). And to round out her page count Christie placed in some commentary on the stated of the world and the British legal system.

All of these tricks allowed her to transform an eight-page short story into a two-hundred-and-sixty-six-page novel (I am using the page counts of my editions). It wasn’t a bad story, but it’s nowhere close to the brilliance of Endless Night, or The Pale Horse both penned in the same decade as Hallowe’en Party.

However.

What I ultimately think sinks this book to the bottom of the Potroast Level is the same thing that keeps it out of the Meringue Level. (If unclear about these levels read my review from last week, I detail them there.)

I think Hallowe’en Party is a Miss Marple mystery dressed in Poirot clothing.

Stick with me here.

Despite all the Poirot-ness crammed into Hallowee’en Party, from the reprocessed plot to the upcycled cast of detectives, I think the bones of this book actually lie in the Miss Marple canon (which made this an odd read since it took me a while to put my finger on exactly what was going on). But it started to clear up the night Oliver and Poirot drank brandy before his warm fire while she recounted the elements of the mystery to him, which sent echoes of The Tuesday Night Club thru my mind.

What clarified everything for me was Poirot’s summation of the case, which showed me that the real foundation of Halloween Party lies not with Poirot’s short story Where Does Your Garden Grow? but in Miss Marple’s “last case” Sleeping Murder.

Because it’s not the financial/inheritance shenanigans which set events in motion in Hallowe’en Party – but the eyewitness claims of a thirteen-year-old girl.

Still skeptical? Well, compare the two books. Both feature little girls who’ve witnessed a murder but due to their age don’t understand what they’ve seen until much later. When this revelation finally comes to light the killer, who up until that point believed themselves free from suspicion, murder again to cover up their initial crime. Additionally, the two stories also feature victims who supposedly ran off never to be seen again but are eventually discovered to have met grisly ends, then end up buried in places of natural splendor.

Now before you start shouting at me thru your computer, saying what about Dead Man’s Folly? It was published thirteen years prior to Sleeping Murder and contains these same elements!

But here’s the thing not everyone knows (and which I find vastly irritating about most Marple reading lists), that while Sleeping Murder was published after Christie’s death, she penned it well before its publication, somewhere about the mid-1940s to early 1950s then held onto it for posthumous release. In reality, Sleeping Murder is a mid-series book while Nemesis is the real end of Marple’s series. Published two years after Hallowe’en Party, Nemesis features similar underpinnings and literary padding techniques but is a far more sound book – I believe – in part because the correct detective is at the helm.

Either way, whether you think Hallowe’en Party a padded Poirot short story, based on the Sleeping Murder or a practice run for Nemesis I think this quote from Hallowe’en Party sums the book up best, “The past is the father of the present…” (pg. 128).

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      Don’t Forget

Check out my other fiction blog: Finder Of Lost ThingsThis week Beatrice is “helping” Phoebe out!