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Archive for March, 2020

Mystery Monday – The Dreadful Hollow

Monday, March 30th, 2020

The Dreadful Hollow
by Nicholas Blake

Review by Matt B. (

Poison pen letters figure largely in Dorothy Sayers’ novel Gaudy Night, Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger and John Dickson Carr’s Night at the Mocking Widow. Ditto for The Dreadful Hollow (1953). Someone is sending abusive missives in the small Dorset village of Prior’s Umborne. One of the recipients has committed suicide, another has attempted it, and yet another has had a nervous breakdown.

Not only has the tranquility of a quiet village been disturbed by the letters, but the wheels of the factory, the main employer in town, are moving more slowly too. This enrages the imperious owner Sir Archibald Blick. He hires private detective Nigel Strangeways to identify the mean epistle writing culprit. Strangeways gently questions a variety of characters in the cozy village settings of the post office, the Sweet Drop pub and inn, the vicarage and Little Manor, the home of the thirty-something sisters Celandine and Rosebay Chantemerle.

Celandine is a cornflower-blue-eyed blonde, full of vivacious charm, but wheelchair-bound. She has suffered hysterical paralysis ever since she discovered the corpse of her father in a quarry. Rosebay is younger and auburn-haired. Like her red-haired sisters, she’s a passionate soul, which means she’s a blast when she’s feeling good but a thunderstorm when she’s feeling bad. Dinny has kind of a past with Charles Blick, a son of Sir Archibald, while Bay has a present with him.

Nigel Strangeways depends on his insight, phenomenal memory, and deadpan manner in his investigations. His foil is Scotland Yard’s Inspector Blount, down to earth, candid, and tough. In the first half, the focus of the story is always on the anonymous letters. A religious manic-depressive adds to the climate of anxiety in this novel. So the setting is cozy, but the tone is decidedly rattled, though not on the same high pitch as the relentless The Beast Must Die.

Cecil Day Lewis, English poet and novelist, used the pen name Nicholas Blake for seventeen mystery novels starring this series detective. His characters and settings are always well-defined, even if the detecting side is sometimes too easy. The writing is highly intelligent and articulate without being overly intellectual. Day Lewis was a classicist so the plots have an undercurrent of Greek tragedy: mistakes come out of impulse, tormented personalities cause a lot of fussing and fighting.



Mystery Monday Review – Defending Jacob

Monday, March 16th, 2020

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Review by Cheryl G. (Poncer)

This legal thriller took me quite by surprise. As a genre, I have enjoyed reading legal thrillers and courtroom dramas for as long as I can remember. A great genre for escaping the grunt and grind of everyday life. John Grisham, Scott Truro, Michael Connelly… they have all kept me entertained. But I have to say, that Defending Jacob by William Landay has now risen to the top of the list. There is good reason that this book became a bestseller.

The book begins with testimony from a grand jury hearing; the witness being questioned is a ‘former’ Assistant Attorney. It is from his point of view that the book is written. The book continues at a good pace, not rocketing and careening, but slowly and surely building a story of meaning of this attorney and his family when personal life and work life collide.  As the reader, my sympathy was with him the whole way through the book. His character is well defined and very human, and relatable.

Through several twists, and many chapters, the grand jury testimony continues, and it is this testimony that eventually brings the book to its stunning conclusion. With the last page read, I said aloud, “Wow!” It is a book that will stay with me a while. With things to turn over in my mind. Thoughts of “What if…”, “How would I react if…”. This is a book that made me think as well as feel. And a great book to escape into during this time of social distancing.


Mystery Monday – The Case of the Grinning Gorilla

Monday, March 9th, 2020

The Case of the Grinning Gorilla
by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

At an auction in 1952, Perry Mason coughs up five bucks (about $9.00 in 2020 dollars) in order to buy the diaries of Helen Cadmus, a young woman who, the authorities have concluded, either was washed overboard or committed suicide on a yacht excursion. Whatever famed lawyer Perry Mason does, mind, is noticed by the celeb-obsessed citizens and hustlers of L.A. Soon after, in a vivid scene with a believable interview, an obvious crook Nathan Fallon visits Mason. Fallon claims that he is a distant relative of Cadmus and wants her diaries to protect the poor dear girl’s reputation. He offers Mason big bucks for the diaries on the behalf of Helen’s employer, millionaire Benjamin Addicks. His curiosity quickened, Mason refuses the offer.

Mason has his private investigator, Paul Drake, look into the background of the eccentric Addicks. In a curious wrinkle, Addicks seems like a mad scientist. Who but a mad doctor would conduct brain research that involves the use of apes, chimps, and gorillas as test subjects?

Perry Mason and his loyal secretary Della Street end up paying a visit to Addicks’ creepy and heavily-guarded mansion. In a scene right out of the pulps (where Gardner cut his writer’s teeth), Mason has a spine-tingling confrontation with a gorilla. He also finds Addicks, stabbed to death. Mason ends up defending Josephine Kempton, the former housekeeper of Addicks. She is a typical exasperating Mason client in that she figures that withholding information from her defense attorney is not really and truly lying.

Three elements distinguish this Mason story from the books Gardner wrote in the Fifties.

First, the pulpy action, settings, and antsy ambiance were hinted at above. Second, in the climax in two characters attempt to murder Perry Mason, which is unusual since Gardner usually kept violence off stage. Third, Gardner seldom went beyond the usual motivations of love, hate, lust, and greed. However, Benjamin Addicks is a tangled guy. He reportedly conducts psychological experiments with gorillas because he wants to understand the dark roots on the scalp of our souls.






Young Adult Science Fiction Review – The Demon Seekers: Book One

Thursday, March 5th, 2020

The Demon Seekers: Book One by John Shors

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

One of my favorite authors has made the leap into young adult fiction and I am thrilled! John Shors recently released his complete The Demon Seekers series and I quickly devoured Book One. I love that he released all three books just a few weeks apart so excited readers could quickly continue reading the series! (You’re the best, John!)

As a fan of both dystopian fiction and John Shors, this series immediately appealed to me. I read Book One in less than one week, even waking up a little earlier so I could read a couple of chapters before work! Set in 2171, hostile aliens have been on Earth for a century. Earth was their prison and they have practically wiped humans from the planet, hunting them relentlessly and turning Earth into a desolate place for those humans left. We are introduced immediately to Tasia in Cambodia, one of the few areas designated as a hidden stronghold for the few humans that remain on Earth. Tasia is seventeen and has grown up in the jungle of Cambodia and is comfortable there, but she is soon thrown into a journey of discovery and destiny when she begins the search for life-saving medicine for her brother.

I thought the characters were interesting and multi-faceted. Tasia is seventeen and head strong, she wants to be strong for her family and is looking to really make a difference in the fight against the aliens. In her quest to find medicine for her brother, she joins Draven, Raef, Aki and Jerico to travel to different strongholds to find what she needs. Each character fills a different need in the group and offer a different emotional element to the story.  Like all of John’s previous novels I have read, the environment practically becomes a character of its own through very detailed descriptions and level of importance to the overall storyline. The descriptions are vivid, and I could see the colors and destruction in my mind as I was reading. Due to this level of description, I think this series would be amazing on the screen.

There are current socioeconomic and political themes throughout, but they are not distracting from the story; instead these themes enhance the story and plight of the characters. I believe this would be a great series for parents and young adults to read together to discuss the plot, the characters’ decisions and how that could relate to current events. The different types of people groups in the novel (guardians, seekers, hiders) could easily be given parallels in today’s world.

The mystery of the aliens/demons and how they came to be on earth and connection to humans is still unfolding by the end of the book and I am hooked. I thoroughly enjoyed The Demon Seekers: Book One and have given it 5 stars (and I have already ordered The Demon Seekers: Book Two and The Demon Seekers: Book Three).  If you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, and dystopian fiction, I think you would enjoy The Demon Seekers.





Mystery Monday Review – Murder at the Flea Club

Monday, March 2nd, 2020

Murder at the Flea Club by Matthew Head

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The year 1957 finds The Flea Club a hot Paris night spot. This story isn’t more crowded than the usual country-house mystery. I had no problem keeping who’s who straight.

Still, I got the feeling yet that this is an over-crowded mystery because they don’t have a lot to do except talk. And talk. And talk some more. For instance, an American “confirmed bachelor,” probably with his hand stereotypically on his hip, prattles like this:

Have you been downstairs, Hoopy? …. Well do go! I mean the place is simply fantastic, these utterly tremendous holes, right in the middle of the clubroom, and the most tremendous piles of dirt. Really quite picturesque and too too archaeological! So intellectual, is the way I feel about it, so un-Flea Club. But good, you know, really good. The Institute’s been taking pictures, if you can imagine. I mean it – the Institute! Ninth century if it’s a day, Professor Johnson says. Can you imagine?

This tedium is worsened by Head’s choice to narrate half the novel as Hooper’s recounting the last couple days’ action to Dr. Mary Finney. Like the flamboyant bachelor above, the reporting seems to go on and on. Besides it’s too unbelievable that Hooper would remember conversations word for word. By the scene in which they plan to gather all the suspects in a room, I was relieved and grateful.

On the positive side, Head uses language skillfully. He’s memorable at describing sounds (“She put both hands in front of her face and made unlovely burbling sounds”) and colors (“Freddy’s face turned into shrimp-colored blubber and began to vibrate”). Better, he’s funny as when Hooper and the teenager go on a date, the girl acts abstractedly: “I was proud to be with such a pretty girl, but if anybody tried to figure us out they must have thought either that we had had a lovers’ quarrel, or been married a little too long. Or maybe they just thought we were English.”

I gather that series hero Dr. Mary Finney’s usual locale was the Congo. So maybe the writer felt wobbly away from the familiar setting. Plus, this was the last novel in the series so maybe the earlier ones are better. Head is a good enough writer that I will try an earlier book in the series if it falls in my lap.