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review 2018-04-23 13:00
Murder Off Miami: Updated -- Case Notes and Final Comments
Murder Off Miami - Dennis Wheatley

Sooo ... turns out I correctly guessed the solution.  Though as MbD said in her review, it pretty much turns on one particular item of conjecture presented fairly early on, so I toyed with some more elaborate options for a while because initially I couldn't believe it really should be that easy. -- That said, like MbD I missed a few of the minor clues (and didn't entirely think through, or put a slightly different construction on some of those that I had seen); but ultimately none of that really mattered.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Case Notes, as posted on April 22, 2018, 00:05 AM CEST:

 

OK, I've finished it and formed my theory, but since MbD had pity on me last night (her time) and didn't exploit her world clock-generated advantage, I'll put all of my case notes (except for the corresponding headlines) in spoiler tags just to be on the safe side.  Though I do have a feeling we're on the same track as far as the solution is concerned.  But anyway!

 

Bolitho Blane and Nicholas Stodart

 

Who are they really, anyway??? 

 

* No verifiable third-hand information from any indisputable source (Scotland Yard, British armed forces, British colonial administration, etc.) on either. 

 

* Stodart's personal background especially re: the war years (WWI) is sourced only through S. himself. The British authorities don't even know him (i.e., he doesn't even have a birth certificate at Somerset House??)

 

* Ditto essentially Blane, who styles himself as a recluse and conducts even his business affairs chiefly "at the remote" -- by telephone and cable / correspondence.

 

* Both Blane and Stodart surfaced in Britain suddenly, at some point after the end of WWI, with a vague background of having come from "the colonies" (Australia / India / South Africa).

 

* Nobody, not even Rocksavage and the yacht's captain saw Blane / Stodart come on board (as per Rocksavage's testimony, you can't see the gangway from the bridge).

 

* Nobody saw Blane immediately after boarding; even the steward was kept out of his suite.

 

* Only one person on board knows what Blane looks like -- the Bishop, who wasn't in the lounge with the other passengers (minus Blane) before dinner on the fateful night and promptly has a fainting fit when Stodart enters the room where he is being interrogated.

 

* Similarly, nobody knows what Blane's handwriting looks like (or Stodart's for that matter).  The alleged suicide note is produced by Stodart.

 

* In fact, the entire suicide theory originates with Stodart.  (BUT: If you're staging a suicide, then why also stage a murder (tracks on the carpet, blood stains)?)

 

* Blane not only owns Argus Suds but (as per Jocelyn, who ought to know) also Redmeyer Synd shares, which at least before Blane's "exit" seem to have been faring considerably better than Argus Suds -- and better than Rocksavage Con, even if not as well as the other stocks associated with Rocksavage (Denton Bros, Grandol Soaps, and Sen Toilet Preps).

 

* Why the sudden need for a secretary / assistant on Blane's part, shortly before this trip?!  Explanation given isn't convincing.

 

* What is the meaning of Stodart's toothache / ill-fitting dentures?  Something to do with blood?

(spoiler show)

 

New York (Blane & Stodart's Travel to and Stay There)

 

* Blane's luggage has tags for the Ritz, Stodart's doesn't (at least not visibly).

 

* Stodart's luggage has "Cunard Line" tag, Blane's doesn't (at least not visibly).  (NB: As per internet research, the R.M.S. Berengaria really was a Cunard ship in the 1930s.)

 

* Letter to the Bishop written on Adlon Claridge paper.  That seems to have been the Bishop's hotel in N.Y.:  The Adlon Claridge match found later suggests that the letter wasn't sent to the Bishop as part of the mail delivered on board, but already conveyed to him in N.Y. in some fashion.

 

* Interpretation that letter to Bishop contains a veiled threat and is intended to hush him up is probably correct.

 

* Blane's luggage contains dirty / used clothing for 2 days.  So was there a laundry on the R.M.S. Berengaria?  (N.B.: Blue riband winners in the mid-1930s clocked in at roughly 4 days' travel time.  So the voyage from England would easily have taken that long, if not a day or two longer.)  But wouldn't the Ritz have offered laundry services, too?

 

* Stodart's luggage not inventoried.  (Presumably because police consider him a witness?)

 

* By letter to Bishop, we know that Blane / Stoddart were (was?!) in New York on March 5.

 

* Then [t]he[y] found an excuse not to travel to Florida with the rest of the passengers, and only board the yacht there at the very last minute on March 8.

(spoiler show)

 

Crime Scene

 

* If Blane was shot, where is the bullet?  Why wasn't it recovered (near one of the blood stains or anywhere else)?

 

* Crime scene photos at the very least don't suggest bullet has entered the wall.

 

* No odd number of bullets found in Blane's possession (25 bullets sounds like a number that B. could have counted off and brought with him from home).

 

* What caused that blood stain's black rim -- possibly black ink?

 

* "Suicide note" written in blue ink.  Comment on the back of the stock price listing written in black ink, like the stock price listing itself.

 

* Writing set on the desk seems to be missing one (the middle) pen.

 

* What color is the ink found in Blane's personal possessions -- black or blue?  The inventory doesn't say.

 

* Where did whoever wrote the suicide note (if it was written on board) sit while doing so?  There is no chair anywhere near the desk.

 

* Additional notes on ink / paper:

(a) Both of Hayashi's notes are written in blue ink as well.  As per his and the steward's testimony, immediately after boarding no foolscap / writing paper and no ink available in his cabin (only after the main on-board store had been reopened and cabins could be reprovisioned from there).  Lacking writing materials in his own cabin, Hayashi had to resort to materials provided in the ship's writing room.

(b) No odd number of sheets of yellow writing paper on the block contained in Blane's possessions.  25 sheets sounds like this could be the complete block brought by Blane from home.

(c) 68 pages of foolscap suggests use of some of the foolscap paper, though.  But for what purpose?

 

* In Blane's room, no change of daytime or evening clothes seems to have been unpacked / laid ready for dinner (only his pyjama and dressing gown). -- Stodart, OTOH, has had a change of shoes and socks at the very least.

 

* What is the black spot at the far end of the bathtub in Blane's suite?

 

* If the steward was in the adjacent room to Blane's suite, why didn't he hear anything?  (The shot may have been silenced, but literally nothing -- no commotion, not Blane's / Stodart's voice(s), no sounds of something falling (the body?!)?  May be the fault of the nearby carpenter's work, though.

(spoiler show)

 

Time of the Murder

 

* See above: Why can't the murder (if such a thing occurred at all) have been committed right after boarding?  We only have Stodart's word for the assertion that Blane was alive then in the first place -- and Stodart, by his own testimony, was alone in the room with him until 7:30 pm.

 

* At and after 7:00 pm (even more so, between 7:30 and 8:30 / 8:45 pm) it would have been dark outside, so presumably nobody would have seen what, if anything, was tossed out of the porthole of Blane's suite at that time.

 

* But: According to the page torn from Stodart's calendar, full moon at 4:15 am.  (Where exactly does that get us?  What, if anything, was planned for that time?)

 

* Stodart is the only person who was always in somebody's view and therefore has a perfect alibi during the entire time when Detective Kettering believes the murder was committed (i.e., after 7:30 or even after 7:45 pm). -- As Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey have all said on many a similar occasion: "There is nothing I distrust so much as a seemingly unbreakable alibi."

(spoiler show)

 

Relationship Blane / Hayashi

 

* Is Hayashi's note really about Blane's supposed intent to come to an agreement with Rocksavage?  I don't think so -- rather, the wording suggests a specific action being contemplated by Blane, and of which he has given Hayashi advance notice; maybe in order to sway H. in his (Blane's) own favor.

 

* We know from Slick, aka the Count, that Blane had exposed Slick's card-sharping on a previous occasion, much to Slick's detriment.  Could Blane not have told Hayashi that if H. didn't grant the Japanese monopoly to him (Blane), he'd expose the bribery scheme to which Rocksavage had more or less already agreed?

 

(spoiler show)

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

This particular volume qualifies for square / chapter 4 of the Detection Club bingo, for which I've already read Freeman Wills Crofts's Hog's Back Mystery, but I'm happy to say that I have since found affordable copies of two more books by Dennis Wheatley, as well as Q. Patrick's File on Fenton and Farr online, which I take both from MbD's reviews of Murder Off Miami and File on Fenton and Farr is more intricately  plotted, and which will qualify for the "Across the Atlantic" square.  Anyway, this was great fun -- and I'm very much looking forward to my next "crime files" adventure!

 

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review 2018-04-21 15:39
Nothing too terrifying I'm sad to report
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey

I picked up Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey with the hope that it would be like the 13 Alabama Ghosts books I remember so fondly as a child (they still have the first in the series at the public library in my hometown). I don't fully believe in ghosts but I do fully enjoy reading ghost stories. Tales of haunted places in particular are fascinating because they're usually told with a kernel of truth at the center. However, Dickey seems to contradict himself at every turn in this book by retelling these ghost stories and then almost immediately debunking them. Further compacting the confusion, each chapter ends with a somewhat mystifying takeaway about why there seems to be so many 'ghosts' and 'haunted places' in the United States. (And this is despite the U.S. as we know it being a relatively young country.) He covers the gamut of places that could possibly be haunted. There's the typical cemeteries and old houses but there's also factories and even the rarer entire city haunting (Detroit for example).  Overall, I didn't feel satisfied because I think I was hoping for less analysis and more storytelling. I suppose this might be of interest in terms of a tour guide for places to check out yourself but it wasn't my cup of tea. 4/10

 

Of possible interest: Dickey is a member of the Order of the Good Death started by Caitlin Doughty which I'm sure you'll all remember from earlier blog posts. I have to say that I didn't find his writing nearly as compelling as hers. :-/

 

What's Up Next: Fly on the Wall by Emily Jenkins

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-04-20 01:12
CAST TWO SHADOWS: THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN THE SOUTH by Ann Rinaldi
Cast Two Shadows: The American Revolution in the South - Ann Rinaldi

Cast Two Shadows: The American Revolution in the South

Ann Rinaldi

Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 1st 2004 by HMH Books for Young Readers (first published October 1st 1998)
ISBN: 0152050779 (ISBN13: 9780152050771) 

 

I was browsing the shelves when I found this book. Usually, an author sticks with the big events of the American Revolution, but Rinaldi sets this book in the south.  Caroline, the main character, is 14 years old and sees how the war has separated her family's loyalty, as well as how it has affected her friends. The British have taken over her family's plantation; her father is thrown in jail for supporting the patriots; the brother is fighting for the British. She sees some horrors on both sides and learns some secrets about herself as well. At some points, the reading is a little dry. Overall, a good book, though, YA readers who like historical fiction.

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review 2018-04-19 20:51
Little Soldiers by Lenora Chu
Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve - Lenora Chu

This is a really interesting book that offers a firsthand view of the Chinese school system from a mostly-American perspective. Lenora Chu is a daughter of Chinese immigrants who was raised in the U.S., her husband a white American who volunteered in China with the Peace Corps. After moving to Shanghai for work, they enroll their son in a prestigious Chinese preschool. Concerning incidents at the school spark the author’s journey to learn more about the Chinese school system: she observes classrooms in China and the U.S., talks to experts, and gets to know Chinese high schoolers and parents.

So the book is part memoir, part nonfiction. From an American perspective it’s a fascinating comparison; so much of what I tend to view as going wrong in current American ideas of education and child-rearing seems to be heightened in China, from overscheduled kids (in China it’s usually tutoring or extracurricular classes rather than swimming, gymnastics etc.), to an unwillingness to let kids play freely and explore because they might hurt themselves (other parents judge Chu for letting her son run around the living room jumping off chairs, etc., and the school states that kids aren’t allowed to talk during lunch because they might choke), to a heavy emphasis on testing. Regarding that last one, pressure for the high school and college entrance exams in China is so intense that in one town a crackdown on cheating resulted in parents and students rioting.

Which actually leads to one of the positive features of the Chinese system: Chinese families tend to treat academics the way American families treat sports, to the point of huge crowds of people gathering outside exam sites to see their kids off and shout well-wishes. While Americans face a social penalty for being “nerds” and tend to view academic success as a matter of inborn talent (so if you don’t have it, why bother to try), the Chinese have valued brains – and judged people by their test scores – for centuries, and believe that success is largely a matter of effort. They aren’t afraid to demand work from kids or to ask them to memorize. This is especially noticeable in math: while American schools tend to wrap up simple math in verbally complicated “word problems” in an attempt to make the work “relevant” to kids who won’t have a professional job for a decade or more anyway, Chinese schools forge ahead and have young kids doing more advanced problems. This is helped by the fact that Chinese teachers specialize in their subject matter from the first grade, while American elementary school teachers are generalists (who by and large don’t like math and weren’t good at it themselves). Of course it’s also helped by Chinese schools’ making no attempt to integrate kids with special needs into regular classrooms, which American schools must do.

It’s evident from Chu’s writing that all of these issues are complicated: each school system has its advantages and disadvantages, but many of the advantages come with their own negatives or are bound up with the culture and therefore hard to replicate, while the disadvantages can also have silver linings. And of course no huge country has a uniform school system: just as the U.S. has both great and failing schools, China too has huge disparities, with many rural schools being shafted.

There's a lot in the book that I haven't even discussed here: politics in the classroom, the social position of teachers, the encouragement of creativity or lack thereof, and how all this affects students in the long run. But the book isn’t a treatise. Chu keeps it lively and interesting with accounts of her own family’s experiences, and with a clear, journalistic writing style. I imagine some readers might criticize her parenting decisions – at times it felt as if she were trying to claim a high-minded rationale for a choice of school that ultimately came down to cost, while she and her husband seemed willing to accept (if unhappily) a certain amount of what many Americans would consider abusive treatment of preschool kids (such as forcefeeding, or threatening to call the police on them when they misbehave) in the interests of having a disciplined and well-behaved child. But for the American reader it’s a fascinating window into a very different school system, and into Chinese culture as a whole. It is balanced and thoughtful, and the author comes across as open-minded, curious and willing to adapt rather than pushing an agenda. I do wish it had endnotes rather than a chapter-by-chapter bibliography, for readers to follow up and learn more. But I learned a lot from this book, enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it.

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text 2018-04-19 14:40
MbD: It's Here!!

 

Sooo ... are we still on for a buddy read, um, exercise in crime solving?

 

And it's even in a damned fine condition, given its age ... there's the odd cuff, and the pages are yellowed, as was to be expected (and for once I wouldn't want them any other way -- this is a "historic" crime file after all!), but other than that, not a splot or a scratch or a tear ...

 

 

 

 

... and almost the best part is, the seal over the solution part is unbroken!  Woohoo!

 

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