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!

Another February Review!

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      Amber Here!

This came out mid January and I couldn’t wait another week to tell you guys about this book! 

Don’t forget to check out my other blog – Finder of Lost Things! This week you learn why Phoebe learned as a child to loathe sheds…

      Behold A Fair Woman – Francis Duncan

It’s been a while, five years in fact since I used my Christie rating system, but I think its applicable to Francis Duncan’s Mordecai Euripedes Tremaine mystery series.

Now let me remind you of the three categories…

My highest accolade, Shrimp Level. Which hearkens back to a wonderful dinner in which I ate shrimp sauteed with a delicate steak in butter. Seriously, years later I can still picture the plate and almost remember the taste! Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd, A Murder Is Announced, Crooked House and Endless Night all fall within the Shrimp category (and many others besides).

Still superior, but not achieving the dizzy heights of Shrimp is the Potroast Level. Lovely warm and filling, I’ve never eaten a bad bite of this comfort food. For Christie, this category helps to level out the towering heights and bottom scraping lows of her long career. Peril At End House, Sleeping Murder, The Man In The Brown Suit and Cards On The Table fall into this category for me.

Then there’s the Meringue Level. Which are all fluff and no substances an ultimately disappointing type of cookie. I do not care for meringue in any form, whether baked as a cookie or topping a pie. This level is where I place Christie’s Passenger To Frankfurt, Destination Unknown and N or M.

Now, why am I speaking of Christie during a review of an entirely different author?

(Besides the fact I’ve been devouring some of Christie’s works again?)

Because I feel Duncan’s books can stand toe to toe against any of the books in the Potroast Level (one or two even hovering just under the bottom line of the shrimp level) of the Christie canon! Francis Duncan’s books are all an excellent read.

Each of the five Mordecai mysteries fall within the purview of the classic British mystery Christie helped to evolve. A closed cast, multiple suspects who often possess “unshakable” alibies and each one interestingly enough occurs on a holiday of one kind or another. One fascinating feature of Duncan’s mysteries are the motives. Often stemming from the same emotion, the author is able to show the nuances found within that single emotion and how each may or may not lead to murder. Which I find fascinating to read.

Now onto Behold A Fair Woman.

I am bereft, as this is the final Mordecai Euripidies Tremaine mystery! Francis penned five in total, and I relished reading each one. I cannot recommend them highly enough! Perhaps Source Books will discover other titles, possibly written under another pseudonym, and republish them as well? Please?

But in any case back to Behold A Fair Woman – where Mordecai is taking a holiday away from his hobby of murder. The sorrow left in his heart after a successful investigation always weighs on him, despite the succor his other secret passion, romantic tales, brings him.

But as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men…Soon Mordecai is embroiled in a murder investigation when he discovers the body of a local hotel owner in the water tank of a neighboring tomato grower.

What I found most astonishing in this installment was how fair Duncan plays with his reader and yet is still able to pull off a bait and switch in the end – which makes complete sense with the evidence compiled by our intrepid amateur sleuth! It has been a very long time since I’ve read anything which pulled this feat off so well, perhaps dating all the way back to my Christie reading.

Which is why I pulled out the Christie rating system because I felt the classic nature of Duncan’s mysteries, deserved to be tallied against The preeminent classic British mystery writer!

I would recommend Behold A Fair Woman, or any of his other titles, to anyone looking for a lively classic mystery!

February’s Newzine!

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      Podcasts

LeVar Burton Reads: The Best Short Fiction, Handpicked by the World’s Greatest Storyteller – Literally LeVar Burton (of Reading Rainbow & Star Trek fame) reading short stories (all kinds) to you!

Netflix has released a new series that IS interesting and certainly IS grisly: Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.  It is also full of period film of Seattle in the 70s.

      Word of the Month

supergrass (n): supergrass is a British slang term for an informant who turns Queen’s evidence, often in return for protection and immunity from prosecution. In the British criminal world, police informants have been called “grasses” since the late 1930s, and the “super” prefix was coined by journalists in the early 1970s to describe those who witnessed against fellow criminals in a series of high-profile mass trials at the time…

The first known use of “grass” in that context is Arthur Gardner’s crime novel Tinker’s Kitchen, published in 1932, in which a “grass” is defined as “an informer”. The origin of the term “grass” being used as signifying a traitor, a person who informs on people he or she knows intimately, ostensibly can be traced to the expression “snake in the grass”, which has a similar meaning. The phrase derives from the writings of Virgil (in Latin, latet anguis in herba) and has been known in the English language, meaning “traitor”, since the late 17th century.

An alternative claim is made for the term originating from rhyming slang, whereby “grasshopper” is defined as “copper”, meaning “policeman”. The rhyming slang version was supported in 1950 by lexicographer Paul Tempest. (wikipedia)

      Book Events

February 4: April Henry, 7pm Powell’s

February 9: Mike Lawson, 1pm Barnes & Noble, Silverdale

February 14: Mary Daheim AND Candace Robb, 7pm Third Place/LFP

February 16: Mike Lawson, 3pm, Magnolia Bookstore

February 24: Jasper Fforde, 6pm Third Place/LFP

      Links of Interest

January 1: Books are good for your brain. These techniques will help you read more.

January 2: Australian police respond to spider death threats

January 3: Can An Auto-Immune Disease Explain The Salem Witch Trials?

January 4: Manson family murderer Robert Beausoleil recommended for parole

January 5: ‘Kidnapper’ chased out of North Carolina karate studio

January 6 (from the UK): Independent bookshops grow for second year after 20-year decline

January 7: ‘The Sopranos’ at 20: How did the show change TV — and us?

January 7: David Chase on ‘The Sopranos,’ Trump and, Yes, That Ending

January 8: A woman’s murder in Peking and a literary feud

January 8: How true-crime podcasts find clues the police miss

January 9: ‘The Millions’ Will Live on, But the Indie Book Blog Is Dead

January 10: Woman fined after bragging about illegal hunt on dating app

January 11: Some Dos and Don’ts from Famous Authors

January 11: ‘Hugely heavy’ hippo sculpture stolen

January 11: Can Romance Novels Save Heterosexual Sex?

January 11: British sarcasm ‘lost on Americans’

January 12: Can a fugitive remain on the run forever?

January 13: True Detective’: Three Real-Life Cases Behind the Show’s Central Mystery

January 13: After Stephen King Tweeted at a Maine Paper for Cutting Book Reviews, It Gave Readers a ‘Scary Good’ Offer

January 14: The Hunt for the Nazi Loot Still Sitting on Library Shelves

January 15: The Homeless Man Who Set Up A Book Club

January 15: ‘Most famous’ banned book to be sold

January 16: TV series based on Portland writer Chelsea Cain’s novel premieres on WGN America

January 16: The Villainous Bitch Has Become the Most Boring Trend in Literature

January 17: The Library Of Forbidden Books

January 17: New York’s Secret Travel Club

January 17: Nancy Drew is Still Influencing – Well the covers are at any rate

January 17: Sherrilyn Kenyon~Bestselling author accuses husband of poisoning her in ‘Shakespearean plot’

January 18: Earliest Fragments of the English Language Revealed

January 21: How ‘Sherlock’ went from super-sleuth to the Baker Street Men Behaving Badly

January 22: ‘Sopranos’ Prequel Film Finds Young Tony: Michael Gandolfini Is Chip Off Old Block

January 23: An infamous mobster’s home was up for sale in Vegas. Buyers made an offer. Who could refuse?

January 23: ‘Buffy’ returns with a modern comic book reboot

January 23: Guillermo del Toro leads drive to save horror bookshop Dark Delicacies

January 23: San Francisco’s Aardvark Bookstore Closes after 40 Years

January 23: ~ If I Hate Violence So Much, Why Do I Love Writing About It?

January 23: Don Winslow ~ I Write Fiction About Border Crime, But Unlike Trump I Tell the Truth.

January 23: A week in the life of a London murder detective

January 24: Medieval book coffer shows appetite for mobile reading ‘is nothing new’

January 24: Times reporter pens book about mystery of missing Skelton brothers

January 24: 7-year-old’s book accepted into Library of Congress

January 24: Amanda Knox ~ European court orders Italy to pay damages

January 25: Penguin Random House Closes the Prestigious Imprint Spiegel & Grau

January 27: Booker Prize Looses Sponsor

January 27: The Knotty Nostalgia of the Hardy Boys Series

January 28: The tiny library bringing books to remote villages

January 28: Book explores old murder mysteries in Lorain County

      Word of the Month – Continued

croodle (v): To cower or cuddle together, as from fear or cold; to lie close and snug together, as pigs in straw. (thanks to wordfinder)

      R.I.P.

December 29: June Whitfield – The wonderful voice of Miss Marple on BBC Radio

We say farewell to Ed Kennedy, a customer who went back to the early daysimage-69068_20190102 of the shop. He’d bop in with a big smile and a friendly “Hey, Man!” He bought books for himself, mysteries and special orders for himself and relatives. Ed had a deep, smooth voice and would often be on his way to or from a session of taping a book for the Washington Talking Book. This seemed to be one of his great pleasures, reading a book aloud for those who couldn’t read themselves. With that voice he must’ve been one of their stars.

Thanks, Ed. Vios con dios!

January 4: Edgar Winner Brian Garfield, dead at 79

January 20: Tony Mendez, Mastermind of the Rescue of the US Hostages in Iran

January 31: Dick Miller, Gremlins and Terminator actor, dies aged 90

      Word of the Month – Lastly

Rivulose – adjective – marked with irregular, narrow, sinuous, crooked lines or furrows resembling rivers marked on a map.

While they may use this word primarily to describe the irregular, surfaces of bugs, fishes, and mushrooms (for purposes entomological, ichthyological, and mycological), you can apply it as you wish. It can, for example, do the job of describing the wrinkles on your typical lexicographer’s shirt. The word is Latin in origin, tracing back to rivulus, meaning “rivulet,” and the English suffix –ose, meaning “possessing the qualities of.” Something that is rivulose is marked with lines reminiscent of those made by a rivulet—that is, a small stream—as viewed from far above.

(thank-you to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

      What We’ve Been Doing

    Amber

Don’t forget! Check out my mystery blog!

 Finder Of Lost Things

After an eventful night which included a mysterious FLYT fare, the discovery of Little Ben’s ill conceived pet cemetery plans and getting chewed out by Joseph at Nevermore. Phoebe’s on her way home for a quiet snack and then bed…

But her night’s not quite over yet!

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No Wind Of Blame by Georgette Heyer

So this mystery is a bit of a conundrum.

Because, for one reason or another, until the murder of Wally Carter I disliked every character Heyer introduced into the narrative. Since the deed wasn’t done until page one-hundred-and-thirty-one…well let’s just say it took me a while to work my through the cast’s hysterics, dramatics, whining, and martyrdom to the meat of the matter.

But two things kept me from shelving the book permanently, neither Heyer nor her foil, Inspector Hemingway has ever let me down.

And as you’ve guessed, (since I’m writing a review) my patience was rewarded, because the last half of the book was excellent.

Even better?

Through Hemingway’s investigation, observations, and dry wit, you come to understand exactly who these people are and their motivations, which shed an entirely new light on the first half of the book, making it infinitely more interesting – and well worth a reread.

Perhaps not the best of Heyer’s mysteries (it is definitely not the worst), the solution straining the boundary of credulity, it is still a satisfying read.

You just need to stick with it!

BTW – Source Books has reissued all of Georgette Heyer’s mysteries! So if you couldn’t find them previously, they are easy to find now! And I highly recommend a read thru of her mysteries, if you enjoy classic 1930s-1950s British mysteries!

My favorites: Death In The Stocks & Why Shoot A Butler?

    Fran

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Okay, let me just say up front that I adore Amber and trust her implicitly. Therefore you have to understand the sorrow with which I tell you, Amber lied.

Amber lied BIG TIME.

Okay, first of all, go back and read her review of Brandon Sanderson‘s book, LEGION. It’s okay, we’ve got time. I’ll wait. It’s back in December, so you won’t have to scroll far.

Done? Groovy.

I’m not going to recap the synopsis; you just read it. But what you’re not getting is how BADLY SHE UNDERSELLS THIS BOOK!

Holy cats.

Granted, if you’re looking for Sanderson’s telltale fantasy story, you’ll be disappointed, but only briefly because the writing is incredible! It’s a suspense story, yes, and it’s told in three parts, but once again, it’s the characters that make it. And Stephen Leeds’ “aspects” are so fully formed, so incredibly wonderful, that you can’t help but get involved with them.

And if you have an artistic friend, perhaps a writer, this helps you understand how complex characters can be created.

I’ll be re-reading it, I have no doubt. It’s the kind of story that is multi-layered, and psychologically complex.

And I do wish we were still working together because Amber would have had me read this much sooner than I did, and that would have been wonderful. So now, listen to her, listen to me, and go read Brandon Sanderson’s LEGION!

Why are you still here? Go!

    JB

Coming in April is a fascinating history of the Allies’ use of women to work with the Resistance during World War II in preparation for the invasion of Europe.

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Sarah Rose’s D-Day Girls is a heady mix of mission and personality as you get to know these women – Rose takes pain to note that the women involved did refer to themselves as “girls” – the men in charge of the missions in London, and the men hunting them in France.

Rose details the resistance within the Allies to allowing women to have a role in the fight, partly due to the usual, age-old sexism that women can’t or shouldn’t go into battle, partly due to racism (one woman was Jewish and could she be trusted!!), and partly due to real qualms about possible sexual torture if captured. There’s a pageant of humanity in this story – fear and courage, hope and frustration, passion and fury, good and evil – all told with a lively writing style that is somewhere in-between Ben McIntyre, Eric Larson, and Alan Furst.

In one of those strange quirks of history, the man in charge of these heroes was Captain Selwyn Jepson. It was his job to find people to insert into France and it seemed only logical to him that if men were in short supply send women. Jepson was a well-known mystery novelist and screenwriter before and after the war.

It’s a fascinating story with details and dates. I guess I’d always thought that the French Resistance took place throughout the war but Rose shows that the Resistance as a nation-wide organization really only started in 1943, with the women spending ’42 being trained in tradecraft. It was due to the approach of the invasion that the Allies used the Resistance to bedevil the Nazis so that they couldn’t respond well to an invasion. Luckily for us all it worked well enough to allow Normandy to succeed.

Thank god the men got out of the way and let these women do their jobs!

The author notes that the indignities these women went through before going into enemy territory didn’t end then. After the war, they were not awarded to the same extent as the men who did the same thing, their medals were of lesser levels. And then, of course, they were ignored by historians for the last sixty years.

I’m glad Sarah Rose has stepped in to redress this contemptuous treatment.

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January Newzine


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HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL! WELCOME TO 2019!

      Awards!

2018 Nero Award Winner Announced:

Winner: Stephen Mack Jones, August Snow  (Soho Crime)

The 2018 Nero Finalists:

Warren C. Easley, Blood for Wine  (Poisoned Pen Press)
Loren D. Estelman, The Lioness is the Hunter  (Forge)
Matt Goldman, Gone to Dust  (Forge)
Kathleen Kent, The Dime (Mulholland Books/Little, Brown)

November 27: MWA Announces 2019 Special Edgar Awards – Grand Master, Raven and Ellery Queen Award Recipients

      Podcasts

Michael Connelly is starting a podcast called Murder Book. Sounds like fun! It starts January 28th.

      Word of the Month

nick-fidge: a child who is always getting scolded  (thanks to Says You, episode #815)

      Book Events

January 9: Christopher Sandford, Third Place Books/SP

January 11-20: Tasveer South Asian Literary Festival

January 12 and Jan. 16.: Jayne Ann Krentz

January 18: Lindsay Faye, Powell’s

January 18: Gail Carriger, UBooks

January 29: Ian Rankin in conversation with Phillip Margolin, Powell’s

      Links of Interest

November 30: Powell’s Books CEO reflects on her career, reading habits and why she loves books

November 30: Books are back: Indigo CEO talks the future of book stores, new Robson Street store

December 2: When he feared communists were infiltrating America, Congressman Larry McDonald took extreme measures — building his own intelligence-gathering arm.

December 2: Jeeves And Wooster, But Make It A Modern Spy Novel

December 2: Is Your Holiday Gift Spying On You?\

December 3: In Love With Teen Lit: Remembering The ‘Paperback Crush’ Of The ’80s And ’90s

December 3: Spoiler Alert! The Psychology Of Surprise Endings


December 3: 2018 Bad Sex Writing

~ Bad Sex in Fiction Award: James Frey ‘honoured’ to win 2018 title for novel ‘Katerina’

~ Bad Sex in Fiction Award: Haruki Murakami, James Frey and Gerard Woodward among all-male shortlist

~ Bad Sex awards: 20 of the worst shortlisted extracts from Morrissey to Stephen King


December 5: Former Guild Theatre in downtown Portland will become home to Japanese bookstore

December 6: How We Got Hooked On Grisly True Crime Murders

December 6: Val McDermid’s ‘Broken Ground’ Balances Location, Character And Props In Perfect Proportion

December 6: What Kind of Monster Tears the Pages Out of Books? Aquaman!

December 7: The worst things about working in shops at Christmas

December 7: The Paper Publishing a Holiday Books Guide since 1851

December 8: Is Listening to a Book the Same Thing as Reading It?

December 9The Man Making Art From Government Surveillance

December 10: Starving The Watchdog: Who Foots The Bill When Newspapers Disappear?

December 10: John le Carré’s Next Novel to Land in 2019

December 11: Mystery Blast Sank The USS San Diego in 1918. New Report Reveals What Happened

December 11: Brazilian Booksellers Face Wave of Closures That Leave Sector in Crisis

December 11: What’s eating this 400-year-old painting?

December 12: Chocolate meltdown closes German road

December 12: 25 Movies Added To National Film Registry

December 12: James Patterson made $86 million in 2018, topping the list of the world’s highest-paid authors

December 12: When out-of-date code causes chaos

December 13: Roald Dahl’s war medals finally arrive, 73 years on

December 13: New Zealand anger over Google naming murder suspect

December 13: New York Times London crime Twitter appeal backfires

December 14: The inside story: How police and the FBI found one of the country’s worst serial killers

December 15: Oregon library halts book-discard effort after list revealed

December 17: Amazon faces boycott ahead of holidays as public discontent grows

December 18: She swiped her co-worker’s Coke can. Police say it cracked a 28-year-old murder case.

December 18: “Making a Murderer” detective sues Netflix for defamation

December 18: Cate Blanchett Disappears in the Trailer for “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”

December 19: Lee Child on HARDtalk

December 20: Third of rare Scotch whiskies tested found to be fake

December 21: Why this Tokyo book shop is charging customers an entry fee

December 22: True-life treasure hunt that turned into a comic book

December 23: Bottleneck at Printers Has Derailed Some Holiday Book Sales

December 27: James Lee Burke ~ By the Book

December 28: This American Life ~ The Room of Requirement: “Libraries aren’t just for books. They’re often spaces that transform into what you need them to be: a classroom, a cyber café, a place to find answers, a quiet spot to be alone. It’s actually kind of magical. This week, we have stories of people who roam the stacks and find unexpected things that just happen to be exactly what they required.”

December 28: Notes from the Book Review Archive: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Thought Sherlock Holmes Was ‘a Lower Stratum of Literary Achievement’

December 28: How paperback redesigns give publishers a second chance at winning readers

December 28: Glasgow’s LGBT book shop a ‘wonderful success’

December 28:  Josephine Baker’s secret life as a World War II spy

December 29: The Krull House by Georges Simenon review – a dark masterpiece

December 29: New Life for Old Classics, as Their Copyrights Run Out

December 30: Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: A Deep Dive Back Into ‘The Sopranos’

      Word of the Month – Continued

Murdermongress – (nonce-word) A female writer of murder stories.

Origin: From murdermonger + -ess. Earliest use found in Ogden Nash’s (1902–1971) description of Agatha Christie in a 1957 work.

Pronunciation: /ˌməːdəmʌŋɡəˈrɛs//ˈməːdəˌmʌŋɡ(ə)rɪs/

(Thanks to Oxford English Dictionary)

      R.I.P.

December 14: Sondra Locke: Any Which Way You Can actress dies aged 74

December 18: Penny Marshall: US TV star and director dies aged 75

December 27: Seattle loses its chronicler of vice: journalist Rick Anderson6a00d8341e589c53ef0134896f4661970c-500wi This is a photo from our old blog: “Journalist, columnist and all-around-writer Rick Anderson was in to sign ‘Seattle Vice’. The sub-title says it well: ‘Strippers, Prosititution, Dirty Money and Crooked Cops in the Emerald City’. 11.20.10”

      Word of the Month – Lastly

scot-free (adj.) Old English scotfreo “exempt from royal tax,” from scot “royal tax,” from Old Norse skot “contribution,” literally “a shooting, shot; thing shot, missile” (from Proto-Indo-European root *skeud- “to shoot, chase, throw;” the Old Norse verb form, skjota, has a secondary sense of “transfer to another; pay”) + freo (see free (adj.)). First element related to Old English sceotan “to pay, contribute,” Dutch schot, German Schoß “tax, contribution.” French écot “share” (Old French escot) is from Germanic. (thanks to etymonline)

      What We’ve Been Doing

    Amber

Don’t forget to check out my original mystery! Finder Of Lost Things

This Friday Phoebe meets her mystery during an unexpected FLYT fare!

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Murder At The Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

Murder At The Brightwell is a rare treat, a contemporaneously written mystery which feels as if it were penned during the nineteen-thirties. A closed caste of characters, subtle violence, and with the very glamorous upper-crust class of English society – all of which are hallmarks of the era (of writing).

What I find fascinating is the author’s ability to slip in complex emotional ties without ever detracting from the story: the not-so-subtle marital issues, the love triangles and a finely illustrated double standard applied to husbands & wives of the period – all of which concern, in one way or another, our band of vacationers. But Weaver does such an excellent job of using these same motives in a variety of ways it adds to the underlying tension without ever once becoming monotonous.

I loved it.

Her styles reminds me a bit if you crossed Georgette Heyer’s mysteries with Agatha Christie’s. Not romance as such portrayed on the page, but the detailing of complex relationships shared by people which can give rise to all kinds of unresolved or unexpressed feelings which in turn can lead to happy endings if hammered out or dangerous, dark emotions if left to fester.

This understated attention to the interpersonal relationships and social mores makes for fascinating and rich reading.

Because our detectives are suffering the woes of marital strife, much of the book feels a touch melancholy. Which is not usually my cup of tea, but because the mystery and the people are so interesting, for once this didn’t bother me. Which is a huge tribute to the author, because the prose never tipped into the trap over overstated sadness or despair – or having the heroine witter on about what a bad wife she thinks she is (taking on blame that isn’t her own trying to justify her husband’s bad behavior is an irritating read, in my opinion).

In any case, I would recommend this first in series to anyone who enjoys reading a great classic/historical mystery set in England!

    Fran

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If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine. Of course, I always thought of it as “Way Back” machine, but it did make history interesting.

Fun Fact (before I actually start talking books): For a long time, nobody knew what WABAC meant, just that computers of that period generally ended in AC – ENIAC, UNIVAC, which lead to “brainiac”, where AC stood for Analog Computer – so of course WABAC had to end in “AC”. It was theorized at one point that WABAC stood for “Wormhole Activating & Bridging Automatic Computer”, but in 2014, DreamWorks created the “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” movie, and they announced that WABAC actually stands for “Wavelength Acceleration Bidirectional Asynchronous Controller”. So now you know.

Anyway, we hop into the WABAC machine, and we head to the 1970’s, which is farther back than I’d prefer to remember it being, and the sentence that always led to brainiac exercises was, “How do you justify your existence?”

That was the question that was asked of guests at every meeting of the Black Widower Society, a fictional monthly meeting of men who were based on the real life society Isaac Asimov belonged to at the time, although the cast was never based on his compatriots.

Tales of the Black Widowers and More Tales of the Black Widowers are frequently overlooked by both science fiction and mystery lovers, which is unfortunate because they are some fabulous little mysteries. At each meeting of the Black Widowers, a puzzle is presented, whether deliberately or not, and all of the wildly intelligent members of the Black Widowers takes a turn at trying to solve it. In the end, it’s the waiter, Henry, who comes through, because he sees things simply and straightforwardly.

Okay, before someone starts shouting at me about sexism and whatnot, remember the time this was written. Yes, it’s sexist. Not necessarily misogynistic, but definitely sexist. My response is that’s the time it was written, it’s a period piece – you’ll notice no one has cell phones either – and just enjoy the puzzles. The personalities of each of the characters is well-defined, and as a treat, in one of the stories in the sequel, Asimov inserts himself as a guest, although he uses the pseudonym “Mortimer Stellar”.

Seriously, take a trip back to the mid 70’s and have a few evenings with the Black Widowers, if you can. The books are largely out of print, to the best of my knowledge, so you have the added delight of tracking them down, like the detective you know you are!

(BTW: Amber Here – I read all these short stories at Fran’s urging and she’s right – as always – these are Fine mysteries! Which are well worth the extra effort of tracking down!)

    JB

I’ve read most of the books by Ben MacIntyre. I missed the book on the formation of soldiers during WW2 of what would become the SIS. That came out when the shop was closing and I just didn’t get to it. His newest is The Spy and the Traitor. It’s a very timely book as it deals with Soviet espionage and the Russian spy who became an important double agent for the West at the end of the Cold War. 9781101904190

It’s full of Soviet aims and Soviet skills, as well as the mixed efforts of their side. For every die-hard Soviet agent intent on defeating the West there was one who didn’t care and worked more for themselves. This story of Oleg Gordievsky is illuminating because he was from a KGB father and had accepted the entire Soviet line about the decadent West. While he did see as much decadence in the West as in his own country, he was staggered by the freedoms, the art, the music, and the happiness of the West.

In an age where Russia seems to be turning back to Soviet life under Putin, MacIntyre lays out the fruitlessness of this. It’s all about control at the top and power and those who suffer are those ordinary citizens, not the elite. In this, the mirror is held up to the West these days and we have to ask where we are going.

The truly alarming section of the book deals with the Andropov era and how he steered the Soviet world into a concrete belief that the West under Reagan was about to preemptively launch a nuclear attack against the Warsaw Pact and orders were sent out to be alert for certain signs that the attack was near – signs that largely were of everyday actions and policies of the West that had no part of an attack. It’s a chilling account that I had not heard about before.

I highly recommend this book, indeed, any book by Ben MacIntyre. You can’t call them “true crime” but fascinating history told well they are.

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A Gift Idea

Amber Here!

With December in full swing, most of my spare time is taken up with shopping, crafting or baking commitments. Leaving me very little time for reading and reviewing books for you guys.

However, back in the beginning of November while killing some time in Bellevue Square I ran across a toy I think any mystery lover would enjoy!

Lego’s Detective’s Office !

With a suspicious barbershop (which has a secret exit), hoods playing pool & drinking beer in the Highlander and a femme fatal, this Lego set answers the question: Does Lego Town contain a seedy side? And the answer is yes!

(Though it is a kids toy so it’s rather tame.)

So if you are looking for a gift idea for someone who already has enough mysteries to read (like that’s even possible) and enjoyed Legos as a kid, I highly suggest this build!

BTW the finished product is nowhere close to the size of the box all the pieces come in, I promise! It fits comfortably on an IKEA bookshelf!

One other thing, it takes 2,262 bits and pieces to build and if you’re great at following instructions, then you shouldn’t find this build to intimidating (even if you haven’t played with Legos for over thirty years). However, younger less patient builders may find the set frustrating if assembling it on their own – so I’d recommend building it with them.

Seriously I forgot how much I enjoyed playing with Legos as a kid until I picked up this Lego set and assembled it over several weekends while watching football. It even inspired me to purchase another set, the Ninjago City, which reminds me of the cityscapes in Total Recall (the new version), Firefly and Bladerunner.

I cannot wait to start putting it together!

My Other Blog:

And don’t forget to check out my weekly penny dreadful – Finder Of Lost Things!

This week the crew’s recounting unfortunate roommates over pizza and Phoebe discovers she might not be the oddest one in the house!

Yet Another November Review!

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Amber Here!

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!? Is that a thing?

(And btw how is it Thanksgiving time already? Next thing you know it will be Christmas! I swear someone pushed the fast forward button on the calendar.)

Well to celebrate this tangential holiday I give you a beer…..mystery review!

Hope you guys enjoy reading reading it, and don’t forget to check out this week’s installment in Finder Of Lost Things! This week Morticia (aka Phoebe) meets the Lavender Lady!

Oh and if you like listening to podcasts and drinking beer check out the Pico Dudes! A couple of home brewers who brew & then review their beers (with hilarious results).

Ellie Alexander – Death On Tap

When I was a kid, my family would head over to my grandparent’s house for burgers and fries every Saturday night. And every Saturday night unlabeled, blue capped, brown bottles of beer would be ingested by my grandfather and any other adult who wanted one. I thought the no label thing was weird, but since I wasn’t allowed to drink it, the question didn’t bother me often. Eventually, I did ask why my grandfather why his bottles didn’t look like the ones I saw in the store. That’s when he took me downstairs into the basement and showed me his homebrew & bottling set up.

Trying to instill the passion for homebrewing into me early, we brewed several batches of root beer together. Unfortunately for my grandfather, I was (and am) a cream soda & sarsaparilla girl and my attention soon wandered onto other unsolved mysteries in my universe.

I’d completely forgotten about this early episode of my life until I read Ellie Alexander’s Death On Tap! Then it all came flooding back to me, the light turquoise wall, buckets, tubes, yeasty smell and stacks of brown bottles in the corner of the laundry room. So I must thank the author for helping me recall good times with my grandparent!

Now, why did this mystery remind me of my grandfather’s beer (which FYI I never got a taste of, because he stopped brewing by the time I was old enough to drink)?

The clue is in the title of the book.

This cozy mystery is set around the word of brewing, both macro & microbreweries, hops, and beer. Which really works, since the book is set in Leavenworth, Washington where Octoberfest is bigger than Christmas (but not by much)! So it’s easy to meld the brewing theme in without distracting the reader from the mystery, which is the most important part.

Now here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter if you’re into beer or not (I’m a vodka & juice box girl myself) because Alexander gets just technical enough to keep a brew enthusiast interested while not boring the pants off non-brewer cozy aficionados. Plus after reading so many cozies themed with – books, baking and candlestick making (okay I made up that last one – I liked the rhythm of it), it’s nice to read a mystery which deals with a different kind of craft!

I also appreciate the deftness which Death On Tap deals with a cheating husband (and the complications which arise from said deed), motherhood (and trying to stay adult about the aforementioned zipper challenged spouse with your kid), a new job (because working at the family business, even if you love his parents to pieces, is out of the question since the ex and his partner The Beer Wench both work there) and solving a mystery (aka clearing your ex-husband’s name, despite what he did)!

Plus I was pleasantly surprised with the complex layering of mysteries which Alexander was able to achieve in just one book – while still hoodwinking the reader and having them make complete sense in the end!

Death On Tap is a well written themed mystery which I would recommend to anyone looking to read a mystery on the lighter side to escape (for even a moment) from these uncertain times. The characters are well rounded, the plot’s engrossing and the beer isn’t overwhelming. In fact, after I finished the first book, I went immediately out and purchased the second installment, The Pint of No Return.

That’s how much I enjoyed it.

An Additional November Review

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Amber Here!

Seriously this Fall is full of wonderful new releases which cannot wait for our monthly newzine! So here a great historical mystery I couldn’t wait until December to share.

Don’t forget to check out my original mystery blog, Finder of Lost Things

Shelley Noble – Ask Me No Questions

One interesting fact about readers of the nicer (but not cozy) mysteries – they are a bloodthirsty lot. If a body doesn’t drop within the first three chapters of a mystery, they are often disappointed. Many readers confessed to quitting book entirely if the mystery didn’t smack them in the face immediately. Which seems counter-intuitive I know, they want the mystery, just not the blood and gore associated with it.

For those of you who count yourselves amongst this lot, I found a book for you!

Shelly Noble’s Ask Me No Questions, an excellent historical mystery which deposits its first body on page five – right into the lap of a bottled blond chorus girl. Which is extremely embarrassing for his wife, who ends up witnessing the entire tableau, screeching mistress and all, while picking up her old school chum (and our heroine) from the docks (as she’s just arrived from England). From this point onwards the book continues at a brisk pace, making it extremely hard to put down – because you want to know what twist is coming next!

Noble does a wonderful job of making you feel like your in the time and place of Ask Me No Questions, tackling the challenges of the day. Such as staring down the barrel of a police investigation (for the murder of Reggie Reynolds) in 1907 New York. Meaning? Our heroine Lady Philomena must contend with the two opposing faces of the NYPD. The honest cop, who believes in Teddy Roosevelt’s vision of what the police body needs to espouse to serve New York to its fullest potential, whose conducting the investigation. Then there’s the old guard, which Roosevelt only partially excised during his stint as police commissioner, famed for their corruption and thuggish methods – who horn in on the case. This dichotomy provides exciting plot points and heightens the underlying tension to the story. Plus, if your interested in the history of New York, gives you a nice (fictional) first-hand taste of what this situation may have looked like, which I thoroughly enjoyed!

Then there’s our amateur sleuth herself, Lady Philomena Dunbridge (Phil to her friends), whose witty, savvy, sophisticated, clever and rankles under the title of Dowager at the ripe old age of twenty-six. Who absolutely refuses to be pigeonholed, for the rest of her life, by her first (bad) marriage. Also, thru her internal and external dialogues, exposes the reader to the realities of marriage in 1907 for women amongst the upper class – so their families can gain wealth, prestige or a title. Then expectations foisted onto them if they become widows. But never fear, while this theme is present, Noble does a beautiful job of working it seamlessly into the plot! Making it propel the book forward without ever bogging it down!

About the only real criticism, I can level at this Ask Me No Questions is the with Phil’s maid Lily. And not at the girl herself, but at the fact that Phil repeatedly, hammers at the fact that Lily’s past is a complete enigma. She can speak at least three languages, refuses to tell Phil her real name and knows how to pick locks. Yes, these all add up to a mystery, but to bang on about them was unnecessary. I know this sounds nit-picky (because it is, I think I need to eat something) but it is the only flaw I found in the book!

But really, other than a trivial (and superficial flaw) this book was a lovely read, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading historical mysteries who are looking something a bit different from the English country house mysteries (this one is a New York brownstone mystery). Or looking for something to read between Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series (only set a bit earlier) or Dianne Freeman’s Countess of Harleigh series (just set a bit later). I cannot wait (fingers crossed) for the next book, as I adored Phil and the other cast of characters!