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review 2017-12-16 08:02
Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries
Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries - Various Authors,Martin Edwards

On the whole, it's pretty much a safe bet that just about any anthology collection is bound to be hit or miss: some stories will hit all the marks, while others will be, at best, 'meh'.


Silent Nights is one of the rare ones where even the weaker stories are better than average. I reviewed the first 4 here, but here are my thoughts concerning the remaining stories.


Stuffing by Edgar Wallace - ★★★  There was a definite The Blue Carbuncle vibe to this story.  It was short, and amusing, and was amongst the stories in this book with the most Christmas spirit.  It was short and told in third person so even though I really enjoyed it, it was hard to rate it higher.


The Unknown Murderer by H.C. Bailey - ★★★1/2  This one was just plain weird, but oddly satisfying.  Twisted story / mystery, but the ending was unsatisfactory.  I wanted more information.


The Absconding Treasurer by J. Jefferson Farjeon - ★★★  I'm not sure I'm destined to be a Farjeon fan.  This is the second story I've read by him and I'm left feeling short changed.  I liked the writing, but the mystery was really non-existent.  The investigator doesn't share his thoughts with the reader - or the clues - so you're with him for almost the entire story, and then suddenly he goes for a walk, finds a body and voila! knows the solution to the entire mystery.  The writing saves this from a 2 star story though.


The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers - ★★★★  I'm a fan of Whimsey, so even though Sayers pulls something of a Farjeon in this short story, I find I didn't mind quite as much.  Even though I don't think the reader gets enough information to solve the mystery, we do at least get all the elements, making it easy to see where Whimsey is going.  And the crime's concealment was freaking ingenious.


The Case is Altered by Marjory Allingham - ★★★  The fact that I had to look this one up again because I remembered nothing about it probably says more than I can for the story.  It's not bad, nor badly written, it just wasn't memorable.


Waxworks by Ethel Lina White - ★★★★★  I was sure I was going to dislike this one when I read the author intro, where Edwards highlights the author's focus on writing suspense stories.  But oh man this one was so good!  Even though I knew how it was going to turn out - really, everything about the first part of the story made the ending inevitable - I had no idea how that ending was going to happen.  I was expecting something far less subtle than I got, and that subtlety, and the twisty bit, was what made the story so good.


Cambric Tea by Marjorie Bowen - ★★★  This story started out promising to be another 5 star, but in a gothic vain, but lost steam at the very end, with a disappointingly weak ending that felt the result of the author writing herself into a corner and then copping out.


The Chinese Apple by Joseph Shearing - ★★★  Oddly enough, as this is written by the same author as Cambric Tea under a pseudonym, this story's problem was the exact opposite of Cambric Tea's:  weak build up and a solid ending.   What is supposed to be the plot twist was obvious to me from the start; but the ending was so satisfying it scored extra points from me.


A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake - ★★★★1/2  An Encyclopaedia Brown type of mystery!  I had a very hard time at the start figuring out the characters - the author gave them all nicknames, then two pages in gave them their proper names, confusing me to no end.  But Blake gives the reader all the clues and then doesn't give the solution - it's at the back of the book, allowing readers to try to guess whodunnit without being influenced.  (I haven't had a guess yet, because I need to re-read it again now that I have a better idea of who is who.)


The Name on the Window by Edmund Crispin - ★★★★  I really enjoyed the writing in this one an awful lot, which made the abrupt ending to the 'locked room' mystery easier to put up with.  I'll definitely be reading more Crispin.


Beef for Christmas by Leo Bruce - ★★★★1/2  I've read Bruce's other series involving the Professor and I like him as a main character better, but Beef's a very clever man and the writing was top notch.  The reader doesn't get all the facts, but the story compensates; this one felt far more complete than a lot of short stories often do.


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review 2017-12-07 08:23
Reading progress update: I've read 80 out of 256 pages.
Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries - Various Authors,Martin Edwards

I'm reading this with BrokenTune and Themis Athena as a buddy read and since it's a book of short stories, I'm marking my status updates as reviews for the individual stories I've read to date.


My 4 stars is a sorta/kinda average of the three stories, which I've rated individually below.


I skipped The Blue Carbuncle - well, I skimmed it, because it's one of my favourite ACD/Holmes stories - as I've read it several times before and I like to save it for re-read right at Christmas.  But if you've never read it and would like to experience Sherlock Holmes, and want something seasonally appropriate, start with this one; it's fun and an excellent mystery!


Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer - ★★★  Edwards (the editor of this anthology) believes this is the first time this short story has ever been reprinted after it's first appearance in a Christmas Annual of 1930.  Nothing is known of the author.  It's a short story and it has a suggestion of cleverness to it, but mostly I found it just o.k.  It's very short and one of those stories that start in the middle of things, leaving the reader to struggle to figure out who is who and what is happening.  Just about the time that's all sorted, the story is over.  


A Happy Solution by Raymond Allen - ★★★★  I admit, when I saw in the introduction that the story used chess as a plot point I expected to be bored.  Because like all things space related, chess is one of those things I should like, but don't.  I get bored.  I suspect if I'd been taught to play speed chess I'd like it better, but never mind.  The point is, I was wrong - this story was pretty good!  Chess figured in, but other factors play into the plot too; factors that are much more interesting to me.  Allen also does a very good job drawing the characters, making this a much more satisfying short story.


The Flying Stars by G.K. Chesterton - ★★★★½  Confession:  a few months ago I announced I could not read any more Chesterton because I'd read two of his works and both left me feeling like he was just entirely too flowery and verbose for my tastes.  But something felt a bit... off, after I wrote that and I soon figured out why:  I'd mentally conflated him and Christopher Morley.  Which is absolutely as embarrassing as you'd imagine it would be.  It would be nice to take the easy out and blame it on age, but honestly I've always done this - someone in the mists of my adolescence tried to teach me memory tricks and it backfired, and now I get odd connections 'stuck' in my head. 


Knowing this, I was sheepish, but determined to read this story, and I'm glad I did.  It's my first Father Brown story, and even though I did not like the other short story of his I'd read, The White Pillars Murder (and yes, I'm certain that one was his - I checked), I did like this one.  It was all the things White Pillars wasn't: focused, concise, well-plotted, and interesting.  Father Brown's presence is subtle, but never sidelined, and the plot was really well done.  Even though I felt like the characterisations spotlighted the guilty party, the story never felt predictable.  I'll gladly read more of Chesterton's Father Brown.  Although I'm still not going near Morley's other stuff.

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review 2017-11-29 06:54
The Moonstone
The Moonstone - Ronald Pickup,Sean Barrett,David Timson,Wilkie Collins,Dale Brown,Jonathan Oliver,John Foley,Fenella Woolgar,Joe Marsh,Jamie Parker

What can I say other than the book is worth the hype?  


I wasn't sure at the start; I listened to the audiobook version - which was excellently done - and Gabriel Betteredge's opening narrative is... trying.  I loved his character the best and the narrator who played his part played it to the hilt, which meant it felt like there was an amiable, loveable, old man telling me a story by taking the longest possible route.  I was charmed, while at the same time wanting to prod him along, and honestly, if I had to hear much more about Robinson Crusoe I might have started pulling out my own hair.


Once we get past Betteredge's ramblings (which take up the first 40% of the book), the story moves along much quicker and the story becomes far more interesting, as the twist at the midway point was riveting.  I only ever listen to audio while I'm in the car, because I'm so easily distracted, but I found myself carrying my phone and portable speaker out to the garden to listen to The Moonstone while I weeded, and found 3.5 hours disappeared in a blink.  I got so close to the end today by the time I got home, I came straight in and grabbed my print edition so I could finish it. 


I guessed who the villain was at the start, but then the twist came in and I had NO idea where he was going with the mystery; subtle misdirections were everywhere in the narratives and so, while I never really gave up my notions of who was guilty, I was entirely ready to believe I had the wrong end of the stick until the end. 


The Moonstone is excellent and I highly recommend it; it's not a light, breezy read to be done in one or two settings, but it does reward the reader's commitment at the end.  


Book themes for Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day: Read anything where the main character has servants (paid servants count, NOT unpaid) or is working as a servant him-/ herself.


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review 2017-11-01 21:57
Death on Allhallowe'en
Death on Allhallowe'en - Leo Bruce

I've been trying to read more Golden Age of Crime authors recently, and I came across this book. The story itself is not from the Golden Age of Crime, but the author is considered one of the original Detection Club members. He's also known for writing slightly more lighthearted mysteries, so that definitely made him a must read for me.


This was my official Halloween read and it was perfect; it was creepy, with its isolated, small village atmosphere, and it was a little chilling at times with the use of black magic and satanism being part of the plot. The events are told in retrospect, so while they are a tad disturbing, it's at a remove, making the read more enjoyable than confronting.


According to what I can find on the Internet, this is the 20th Carolus Deene mystery the author wrote. I had no problem however, with starting at this point; the book works perfectly fine as a standalone mystery.


I'm not sure what to say about the writing; it was good, and I found myself wanting to pick the book up, but the style is different; a lot of the information in the dialogue and story we are used to having nowadays is absent. Between this and being told in the third person, this is not a character driven book, but purely about the mystery, old-school style.


I'm also not sure about the plotting; the author seems to think that the reader had everything they needed to solve the mystery, but I think he is assuming an understanding of the characters' psychology, something that does not translate well over time. So when Carolus Deene performs his end of book explanations, it feels like he makes a lot of assumptions without actual physical clues, although by the end there are plenty of those too. In other words, it was good and I had no idea whodunit, but I'm not sure that was a failing on my part or his.


Either way, I'll definitely read more from this author.


I think this book might work really well for the first task in the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season, for the Welsh holiday, Calan Gaeaf.

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review 2017-10-22 04:15
The Red House Mystery
The Red House Mystery - A.A. Milne

Before there was Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robins, Eeyore and Piglet, there was murder most foul.  Before there was murder most foul, there was a stint as editor of Punch, a British weekly magazine of humour and satire published until 2002.


Now I don't see a huge influence of the murder most foul at the house on Pooh corner, but Punch definitely left its mark on The Red House Mystery.  A.A. Milne set out to write a traditional mystery following all the 'rules' of fair play, and he took the plotting very seriously, but that did not keep him from planting his tongue firmly in his cheek while he wrote the story.  It's alive with small jokes aimed at Holmes and Watson, mysteries in general, and at the characters themselves.


As such, it's a great mystery - heaps of fun to read, if sometimes it felt a tad long.  I thought to only give it four stars for this reason, but I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt for two reasons:  I read this while flat out with hideous, unrelenting back pain, and I read the introduction.  The former might be more obvious than the latter, but Milne was very careful in his introduction, to state his desire to play fair and make sure the reader had all the same clues as the amateur detective.  So I might have over-focused on recognising the clues instead of enjoying the ride.


Not that it did me an ounce of good.  By the time the denouement arrived I had no idea who did it or why.  I can't say the ending was a massive ::gasp:: shock, but it was definitely not anti-climatic.


I wouldn't' suggest for a moment that the world could have done with less Winnie-the-Pooh, but it is a shame that Milne didn't write more than this one murder mystery.  I can't help but wonder if this was his first effort, what future bafflement, wonder and entertainment he might have achieved with a bit more practice.


(For the Golden Age of Crime bingo, this could be used for Singleton, or Birth of the Golden Age of Crime)

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