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Mystery Monday – Cargo of Eagles

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Cargo of Eagles by Margery Allingham

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Last novels by a writer often show a falling off of powers. But I can’t say this is true of this last Albert Campion mystery by Allingham. It was in fact finished by her husband after she passed in 1966.

Allingham observed changing times, but she loved the old England of out-of-the-way places with insular cultures as portrayed in her 1948 mystery More Work for the Undertaker. In this one she includes two youth gangs, the Mods and the Rockers. They were past their 15 minutes of fame by 1965, but their being out of place is balanced by the excellent portraits of the secretive inhabitants of Saltey and its long history of smuggling.

PI Campion has been asked by the Yard to look into a killing that may or may not be linked to the release of a prisoner. The ex-inmate may know the whereabouts of stuff of great interest to the government. The murder victim left her house to a woman doctor who was an outsider to Saltey. The old whodunit stand-by of poison pen letters adds to familiarity.

The wrap-up is based on notes that Alingham had made until she could not write anymore. I thought the ending worked quite well and could not identify where another author had to take the reins.

Recommended especially to readers who put Allingham in their Top 5 of Fave Mystery Writers.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Lord Mullion’s Secret

Monday, April 26th, 2021

Lord Mullion’s Secret by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Charles Honeybath, a painter with a detective’s talents, heads to Mullion Castle to paint the portrait of Lady Mullion, wife of his old schoolmate. After arriving at the large country house – which is open to (pick one) tourists, travelers, gawkers on Wednesdays and Saturdays – Honeybath encounters an entrancingly eccentric community in which, oddly enough, eccentric things happen. On top of the title echoing another sensational Gothic novel, Aunt Camilla (after Lefanu’s vampire story) wanders about the place at night. In a transgressive romance even for the late 1970s, Mullion’s daughter and a smart young gardener fall for each other.

Why, for example, has a valuable miniature been exchanged for a less than deft reproduction, and who has taken such a risky action since an artist like Honeybath would surely notice such a substitution? And what of this self-confident gardener’s assistant, in whose apartment the Italian watercolors of Lord Mullion’s old and somewhat quirky Aunt Camilla are rediscovered completely unexpectedly? What of the vicar, Dr. Atlay, a close confidant of Miss Camilla in their halcyon days? The whole family seems enveloped in mystery and unanswered questions such as what happened to Aunt Camilla in Italy in the 1920s.

The inevitable murder is missing in this mystery, making it a lighter than air entertainment perfect for a post-pandemic summer read. The characters are highly entertaining in the Dickensey style, with funny dialogue, intelligent turns of phrase, and learned references and allusions. Innes likes the twist that throws both characters and readers for a loop. Besides this one, Innes wrote only five mysteries – all of them light – starring the artist detective, The Mysterious Commission, Honeybath’s Haven and Appleby and Honeybath.

 

 

 

 

Thriller Review – An Awkward Lie

Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

An Awkward Lie by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Sir John Appleby, Innes’ detective series hero, plays a only cameo role in this 1971 thriller. Playing the hero is his son, Bobby, a college kid.

Getting in a round of golf before breakfast, Bobby discovers a dead guy who’s missing his right index finger. The missing digit stirs something in Bobby’s memory but he is distracted by the sudden appearance of The Girl. As one of Innes’ typical capable, brainy and comely lasses, she sends Bobby to call for the police while she minds the crime scene.

But when Bobby returns with the cops, both corpse and The Girl have gone missing. The unfolding of the relatively short story and the abrupt ending are as enjoyably far-fetched as other Appleby mysteries.

Bobby is an interesting character, a Robbe-Grillet type novelist and ex-star athlete. The Girl, however, is not as keenly drawn as other game Innesian heroines and the usual comic characters that make Innes so much fun are nowhere to be found. Fans of Innes will tolerate a lesser effort while Innes-newbies should read the more entertaining Seven Suspects (wacky dons), Hamlet, Revenge! (wacky actors) or Appleby’s End (wacky aristocrats).

Mystery Monday – Red Threads

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Red Threads by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The Barnes & Noble website touts its e-book version as “An Inspector Cramer Mystery” as if Stout made the hard-boiled head of NYPD homicide a series hero. Cramer was never a series hero. Cramer usually played the flatfoot foil in Stout’s classic mysteries starring the PI duo of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. And in this 1939 novel, he merely assists the heroine trap the perp.

This mystery contains the prototypical elements of a story from the so-called golden age of detective fiction. The reader catches a whiff of the spiritualism and mysticism that was common in the 20 years after World War I. The color prejudice – involving American Indians – is about what we would expect for the late Thirties. The whodunit snobbery is on display. The glamorous characters are well-off and famous in the arts, design and technology. The victim is a millionaire, killed in the ostentatious tomb of his wife, which is located on the grounds of his swanky country estate. As for the last check-box, what can we say about the prose:

He stopped, gazing at her, and put out a hand and took it back again. “No,” he said. “I’m not going to plead with you. I did that, and what good did it do? But all the same, I won’t tolerate it – what you’re doing with Guy Carew. Now that the fortune is his – the wings for your ambition. I know you can do it – he’s a half-primitive infant – may be you’ve already done it – but I won’t tolerate it and I won’t allow it. I won’t, Portia! You’re mine! By God, you are!”

Pee-yew, is what I’d say, but not unamusing in small doses. To be charitable, he wrote this in 1939, just after the excellent outing with Wolfe and Archie, Some Buried Ceasar. Too much to expect two home runs in a row.

On the credit side, Stout is an old-school feminist whose female characters work hard and enjoy success on their own terms. A textile artist and fashion designer upstages Inspector Cramer by using a peach pit, a red thread from an antique weave, and the call of a whippoorwill to solve the mystery. Stout’s wife was in the cloth business so there’s always smart references to fabric.

In the tradition of Golden Age mysteries, the reveal tests patience and credulity in terms of to what degree will we accept silly and over the top. I can recommend this one only to hard-core fans who have already read a fistful of Nero Wolfe mysteries and, bless us reading gluttons one and all, even reading an Alphabet Hicks or a Doll Bonner or a Tecumseh Fox.

 

 

Mystery Monday – The D A Calls It Murder

Monday, April 5th, 2021

The D.A. Calls it Murder by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This is the first book featuring DA Doug Selby who appeared in nine mysteries from 1937 to 1949. It opens with Selby and his friend Sheriff Max Brandon flushed with victory in their recent election to office in Madison City, about 100 miles north of Hollywood. As Brandon is a faithful pard right out of pulp Westerns, Selby’s GF Sylvia Martin is a typical Gardnerian heroine along the lines of Della Street: shrewd, ready for action, and devoted.

A corpse is discovered in a hotel. Besides getting involved in the homicide investigation, Selby takes up detecting duties to gather details about an envelope containing $5,000, a lawsuit over an estate, and a movie scenario of an unintentionally hilarious melodrama titled Lest Ye Be Judged (for us cynics who assumed Gardner didn’t have satire in him). Also involved are a high-tech camera and a poisoned dog (take it easy – Gardner was a dog lover so the pooch is going to be okay).

Selby questions a movie star who lays a lot of New Age California woo-woo on him. Selby also comes within an ace of being hypnotized by the motion picture actress. The scene in which they come to an agreement about where their relationship is going will call to mind scenes between, say, Ida Lupino and Ronald Colman.

The subplots get tangled, the characters act improbably. Happily, Gardner’s readable prose drives the story. We readers can always trust his stories to hustle.

 

 

Contemporary Fiction Review – Red at the Bone

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Red at the Bone: A Novel

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

Red at the Bone is my first experience with author Jacqueline Woodson.  While the format isn’t what I typically gravitate to, I found the novel to be almost lyrical, as if I was reading music instead of a book.  Red at the Bone opens at Melody’s coming out party for her sixteenth birthday. The dress she is wearing is one that was meant for her own mother’s sixteenth coming out party, but it was never worn. Woodson moves the reader back and forth through time, giving us the full story of Melody’s background by revealing the rise and fall of her parents’ relationship and Melody’s own relationship with each of her parents.

Told through multi-character perspectives, the reader sees how a teenage pregnancy impacts different generations of different families.  But Woodson takes the story deeper; there are socioeconomic, racial, familial, and cultural forces at work.  How do all of these forces affect the choices that people make and how does it shape us into the people we become? There are so many competing elements in our lives that it can be difficult to block out the ‘noise’ and think about who we really are and what we think our place is in the world. I think Woodson delves into this journey of self-exploration and self-identity that we all experience at some point in our lives.

As I mentioned at the start, this is my first experience reading a book by this author.  Even though it was structurally different than what I usually enjoy, I found myself engrossed quickly and read it through on a quiet Sunday. I give Red at the Bone 4 stars for being well-written and interesting, carefully blending different character experiences into a strong plot.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Dreadful Hollow

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

The Dreadful Hollow by Nicholas Blake

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

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 the 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 desperate 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.