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Archive for June, 2017

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Dangerous Dowager

Monday, June 26th, 2017

 

The Case of the Dangerous Dowager by Erle Stanley Gardner 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Self-styled “hard bitten old hellion,” Matilda Benson hires lawyer Perry Mason to obtain IOU’s from the operator of a gambling ship, Sam Grieb. The IOU’s were signed by her impetuous granddaughter Sylvia. Her brute of a husband, Frank Oxman, wants the IOU’s to prove that Sylvia can’t manage money or her impulsive gambling so she can’t possibly raise their daughter properly. Matilda wants to scare and thus save Sylvia.

When Mason gets to the floating casino, he finds Matilda Benson on board. He also finds Sylvia in the waiting room of an office where Sam Gieb is slumped behind his desk, dead from a gunshot to his head. There are two witness that have seen a woman throw a handgun thrown overboard. Is Sylvia or her dowager granny a murderer?

This is worth reading because it is a locked room mystery, one of the few in the 70 or so Mason mysteries. Though the number of suspects is small, the reveal is a genuine surprise. This novel was published in the 1930s so Perry Mason plays very fast and loose as an officer of the court. There is no courtroom climax. Instead – surprise! – all but one of the suspects are gathered into a room. Gardner was not usually strong on describing people, places, or atmosphere. But in this he does get in nice atmospherics: the fog, the garish lights, the speed boats plying between shore and gambling ship.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Doomsters

Monday, June 19th, 2017

The Doomsters by Ross Macdonald

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

I’ve been reading and re-reading Ross Macdonald’s mysteries since I was a teenager in the middle 1970s. I think that Macdonald could do things in the mystery genre which Raymond Chandler couldn’t. In contrast to Chandler’s too convoluted plots, Macdonald constructed well-crafted plots with no extra screws lying around. For Macdonald, plot unfolds as characters struggle toward their goals, dogged by their fallibilities. The Doomsters covers three kinds of psychological pathologies, various sins like lechery, gluttony, despair, and lesser failings such as social envy and social climbing.

Most importantly, Macdonald’s PI Lew Archer has a heart and soul compared to man-device Phil Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s stories. In the climax of The Doomsters Archer says to the perp “I don’t hate you,” and thinks “I was an ex-cop and the words came hard. I had to say them, though, if I didn’t want to be stuck for the rest of my life with the old black-and-white picture, the idea that there were just good people and bad people, and everything would be hunky-dory if the good people locked up the bad ones or wiped them out with small personalized nuclear weapons.” For Macdonald, the source of pain and pathology lies not in lousy neighborhoods or bad friends, but in family history.

The Doomsters is a turning point in the Archer novels. After this novel, Macdonald was to return again and again to large themes of justice, choice, and alienation. Released in 1958, but the theme that families and their troubles are never what they seem is timeless. Unhappy in their own fashion, indeed.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Private Wound

Monday, June 12th, 2017

The Private Wound by Nicholas Blake

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Yessir, from page one we get Anglo-Irish poet and classicist meets The Postman Always Rings Twice:

When I remember that marvelous summer of 1939, in the West of Ireland almost thirty years ago, one picture always slips to the front of my mind. I am lying on a bed drenched with our sweat. She is standing by the open window to cool herself in the moonlight. I see again the hour-glass figure, the sloping shoulders, the rather short legs, that disturbing groove of the spine halfway hidden by her dark red hair which the moonlight has turned black. The fuchsia below the window will have turned to gouts of black blood. The river beyond is talking in its sleep. She is naked.

I’m always game for a mystery melodrama if it is as well-written as this. And the writing ought to be fluent and engaging since Nicholas Blake was the pen-name of Cecil Day-Lewis, who wrote this, his last novel, while he was Poet-Laureate of the UK in 1968.

Last novels are occasionally sad products of exhausted creative energies, but this is worth reading and savoring. A young writer wants to save his pennies and pounds so he rents a house in rural Eire. He knows the war is inevitable and he wants to get one more book out. He meets his neighbor’s wife, an attractive, sexually insatiable and deceitful woman.

I’m saying as little about the story as possible. But know that the local scenery, the national character of the Irish at the time, and the theme of being a foreigner (aka the object of intense curiosity) all contribute effectively to the mystery story.

 

 

 

And the Winner is…..

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

 

 

Jennifer F. (jfarr5)

Congratulations Jennifer! Your books will be on the way to you soon.

Thank you Mary Potter Kenyon for your interview and for providing the books for this give-away!

Mary Potter Kenyon Book Give-Away!

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

You have until tomorrow to comment on the Interview with Author and Member Mary Potter Kenyon to be entered to win our Book Give-Away.

 

Mary Kenyon Potter has generously offered a brand new copy of each of her four books to a member who comments on the interview.

 

You can see the interview and leave a comment here: Link

 

A winner will be chosen at random, tomorrow, June 7, 2017 at 12 noon, EDT.

 

Mystery Monday – The Pew Group

Monday, June 5th, 2017

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The Pew Group by Anthony Oliver 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This genial whodunit was the 1980 debut novel of an art historian who was an expert in pottery. Oliver literally wrote the book on The Victorian Staffordshire Figure. Before his early death in the late Eighties, he wrote four mysteries, in which he used his knowledge of the business and obsession of collecting antique pottery.

More lust and bawdy couplings than is usual in a cozy mystery do lead to lapses in taste. However, far outweighing this quibble is that this is a genuinely British comic mystery. That is, it features eccentric characters in the English village of Flaxfield, an irrepressible Welshwoman, and a scamp of an Irish tinker. Other funny characters in the Dickensy tradition include a vicar that does spend awful lot of time in conservations with the Creator; a randy spinster; a widow who got that way through murder; gay partners in an antique shop, one of whom is nicknamed “Betsey” Trotwood; and an American millionaire who’s mad about a fabulously valuable Staffordshire figurine called The Pew Group.

The Pew Group goes missing during a wake, which in my English is the feasting and drinking held after the funeral and burial, not the vigil held at the bedside of somebody who has died. Inspector Webber, born in Flaxfield, has returned there for a rest cure and a vacation from a shaky marriage. He teams up with Mrs. Thomas, the incorrigible woman from Cardiff, to identify the thief.

In the first quarter or so of the book the tone is more tetchy and acerbic than I like. The waspishness brought to my mind Robert Barnard, whom I don’t read anymore because his parodies of the conventions of the cozy mystery seem mean-spirited. However, to my relief, Oliver’s tone got more amiable as the book went on. It’s more in the English spirit to be nice, as this reader is totally down with Big Bang Theory Bernadette’s motto, “Being mean is lame, what’s cool is being nice!”

Oliver is a clever, imaginative, and first-rate storyteller. I highly recommend this literate mystery.