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Archive for January, 2014

Mystery Monday – The Devil Loves Me

Monday, January 13th, 2014

The Devil Loves Me by Margaret Millar

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

 

Dr. Prye, I have arranged a little surprise for you. Knowing how interested you are in murders, I have decided to give you one on your own doorstep, as it were. I am leaving this note in a friend’s pocket. (Unsigned).

 

What good wishes to receive on one’s wedding day. Worse when psychiatrist-detective Dr. Prye’s wedding is stopped and postponed by a queasy, fainting bridesmaid, who turns out to have been poisoned. She pulls through but two ax murders and a fatal shooting ensue.

In this early Forties mystery, Dr. Paul Prye, Millar’s series hero, should not to be confused with Erle Stanley’s Gardner’s Paul Pry, a short-lived PI in the pulps, or the proverbial Paul Pry, any inquisitive meddlesome guy. Dr. Prye does not ask many questions. His manner seems rather above it all. Luckily he teams up with Millar’s other series hero, Detective-Inspector Sands. The Toronto sleuth is more used to upper class crimes such as scions forging checks or wealthy manufacturers suffering convenient lucrative fires in their factories. The opposite of the quietly charming Pry, Sands is “an odd little man … the type who encourages you to talk by his very quietness, until you talk too much.”

On the positive side, Millar is a graceful and vivid writer. For instance, of a character descending into a basement: “The cold air swept past her like ghosts clammy and chill from their graves, laying damp fingers on her cheeks. The steps sighed under her weight.” The dialogue is funny in a waspish way. Since the tragic destiny of the characters inexorably comes out of their flawed personalities, one can tell Millar studied the classics while she lived in Toronto.

However, despite the vibrant but not showy writing and amusing talk, the characters are not differentiated clearly. Prye’s fiancée and her mother don’t have much to do. The mystery side of things is slighted. Even I, always dense about clues, was able to guess the culprit. I could see many readers becoming bored with the urbane barbs traded by what sour old Kirkus Reviews called “morally questionable characters.”

This was Millar’s third novel. She had been working in the Craig Rice tradition of the comic mystery. But with this 1942 book, probably because of her education in those darn classics and the utter seriousness of WWII, she took up heavier themes than we’d expect in a lightweight genre. Millar went on to have a successful career as a writer of suspense stories and novels. She was granted the well-deserved Grand Master award for lifetime achievement by the Mystery Writers of America in 1983. As time goes by, she is becoming a neglected writer.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Too Much of Water

Monday, January 6th, 2014

 

Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This 1958 mystery is set on a small steamer going from Liverpool to Barbados, carrying mainly cargo and a number of passengers. The unusual setting would be easy to visualize for readers who’ve been on a cruise. Ditto for people like me who have travelled on ferries or smaller ships for short runs. It might be hard to envision for readers who have no experience travelling on the ocean.

The main character is orchestra conductor Edgar Carrington. In his mid-fifties, he is intelligent and avuncular, but not sickeningly so. The characters – that is, suspects — vary from a classics master, a Barbados planter, a chemist, an architect, a drunken major, a counter-tenor, a YMCA organizer and a socialite. Hamilton effortlessly helps the reader visualize the characters in terms of appearance and personality. For instance, to introduce a character at table: “He dived instantly into the menu, rather in the manner of a hen investigating her feathers, so that almost all immediately visible of him was a satisfying bald head.”

The mystery plot, clues and solutions all play fair. Aside from the clear and pleasant prose, Hamilton appeals to thinking readers with asides about serious music, bridge, and the culture of Barbados such as the hospitality of the planters and the mania for cricket. The writing and the story never bog down and the reveal is satisfying. All in all, a good read.

Bruce Hamilton (1900 – 1974) was the brother of the better-known novelist, Patrick Hamilton, who wrote a play called Rope that Alfred Hitchcock made into an interesting if flawed movie.

Martin Edward, British crime writer said, “Hamilton’s policy of avoiding formula in his writing meant that his career as a crime novelist never had the success that I, at least, think he deserved.” It’s true – I think a mystery writer with a formulaic series character is more likely to be remembered. Like many writers of his generation, Hamilton’s writing career was interrupted by WWII. I could not find any details about his professional life apart from the bare fact that he wrote well-regarded detective thrillers. Too Much of Water was his last mystery and is listed on Roger Sobin’s “The Essential Mystery Lists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s My Resolution and I’m Sticking to It!

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

By Mirah W. (mwelday)

 

Oh, the New Year. How quickly it did approach. And, thus, arrives one of the banes of my existence: New Year’s resolutions. Every year I balk at those who set New Year’s resolutions. Every year it happens (and now, thanks to social media, resolutions are shouted from the digital mountain tops)…people make resolutions, they are committed to their resolutions for a few weeks (if we’re lucky), then they cast the resolutions to the sidelines and life continues on as it did in the previous year. It appears that life change really wasn’t all that important after all. I decided years ago (so long ago I can’t remember when) I wouldn’t set resolutions. It’s great to look forward to things or set goals but putting them under the resolution cloak just irritates me. Why wait for a new year? I suppose I should have posted a ‘Snarky Comments Ahead’ warning at the beginning of this post. Sorry about that.

 

But I confess to you all that I now realize I’m a hypocrite. I, the denier of resolutions, have been making resolutions without even realizing it. I’ve engaged in book challenges for several years. There have been all kinds…reading a specific number of books, reading books with specific words in the titles, reading books from specific genres, reading books by specific authors, etc. I’ve called them challenges but that’s just a disguise for what they really are: resolutions. The truth shall set me free and, much to my chagrin, make me eat crow. And it’s not tasty; those ebony wings are a choking hazard.

 

But it gets worse. Don’t worry; I hear your chuckles and mutterings of ‘serves her right’ and I agree. Now I’ve become what I loathe because this year I failed to reach my challenge. I am a resolution failure. I didn’t read as many books as I said I would/could in 2013. I won’t get into the details of numbers; it’s embarrassing enough that I have to admit my failings.

 

I suppose I should do what typically comes next and provide you with the reasons (not excuses, I wouldn’t do that) for my admitted failure…. working more than recent years, taking on more responsibilities with my job, getting through my husband’s deployment, moving to another state, spending time with family and friends, feeding my cat. Now I’ve sunk to new lows and I’m blaming my cat for my resolution failures. What have I become?

 

So this year I’m done. No more. I’m kicking the bucket. I’m leaving those challenges (ok, resolutions) behind. I don’t want to pick books because they meet a challenge quota or requirement. I want to read. Just read. I want to choose what I want, when I want. I want to take my time if want or read a book in a day if I want or not finish a book if I want. I won’t be bound by rules. I am a free reading spirit. So I guess in a way that’s a resolution, too. But that’s one I can live with. That’s my resolution and I’m sticking to it.