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review 2017-09-25 06:50
Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries
Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries - Martin Edwards

One of the British Library Crime Classic anthologies recently published, this is a collection of - as the title says - short mysteries that take place at country houses of the nominally wealthy.  I haven't read the whole of the collection, but what I have read was almost uniformly excellent.

 

Below the list of stories I read, along with a few quick thoughts about each:

 

 

The Copper Beeches - Arthur Conan Doyle:  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It's Sherlock Holmes, of course it's excellent.  It's one of the more far out story premises, but it's fantastic.  If you haven't read Sherlock Holmes yet... um, why?

 

The Problem of Dead Wood Hall - Dick Donovan: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

One of two I liked the least.  It's an inverted mystery, so really, not a mystery as far as I'm concerned.  There was no puzzle to be solved here, only what feels like an opportunity for the detective to boast.

 

Gentlemen and Players - E.W. Hornung - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ok, I'm going to kind of contradict myself now, because there's no mystery here either, but it's Raffles!  I've been wanting to read a Raffles story for ages, and I've finally got my chance.  It was fun, the writing was amusing, the pace quick and lively and the ending... I saw that ending coming but it was still everything I hoped it would be.  I need more Raffles in my life.

 

The White Pillars Murder - G.K. Chesterton - ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The other one I liked the least.  Chesterton and I are not destined for the author/fan dynamic.  I did not like The Haunted Bookshop because it took me forever to figure out that it wasn't a ghost story, and that what little plot it did have was drowning in the author's exposition.  I didn't like this one either; the prose was less superfluous, but the plot was... I don't know what the plot was.  I don't know what his point was in writing this, honestly; a cautionary tale to all P.I. hopefuls?  A slag off at Holmes?  Who knows, but it's strike two against this particular Golden Age writer for me.

 

The Same to Us - Margery Allingham - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

More 4.5 stars.  Very short story, and again, less mystery than a satire, but it was incredibly well written and humorous. There was never any doubt in my mind from the start what the ending was going to be, but that last 1/2 star was purely for the last line of the story.

 

The Murder at the Towers - E.V. Knox - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Martin Edwards mentions this story in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books in the chapter "Making Fun of Murder" and it's one of the stories I particularly wanted to read.  It did not disappoint.  It was hilarious; Knox doesn't try to be subtle, his humour is... well, to quote the first line of the story:

 

"Mr. Ponderby-Wilkins was a man so rich, so ugly, so cross, and so old, that even the stupidest reader could not expect him to survive any longer than chapter I. Vulpine in his secretiveness, he was porcine in his habits, saturnine in his appearance, and ovine in his unconsciousness of doom. He was the kind of man who might easily perish as early as paragraph 2."

 

I was in love from the start - and laughing.  The rest is also pure farce, but Knox manages to get a humdinger in at the very last line, and it left me laughing and shaking my head.

 

There's a few other stories in this collection that I want to make a point of reading in the near future; some authors that I'm only learning about whose work I want to check out.  I'll definitely be coming back to this one soon, and I'm looking forward to reading the other anthologies Edward has put together.

 

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review 2017-09-12 05:32
It's in the Book by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Bibliomysteries: Stories of Crime in the World of Books and Bookstores - Otto Penzler

When Halloween Bingo was kicking off, and we had to submit the seven squares we didn't want included on our card, I was a little bit flummoxed, because there were 9 squares on my list.  I knew I wouldn't be able to convince Moonlight Reader to just give me three cozy mystery squares instead, so I had to pick the 2 lesser evils.  Classic Noir was one of them.  I'm generally not a fan of the sub-genre as it's all a bit too 'dame' and 'broad' for me; the slang wears on my nerves after awhile and feels too affected.

 

But I'd just received Bibliomysteries: Stories of Crime in the World of Books and Bookstores;  it's the (presumably) first collection of the Bibliomysteries Otto Penzler commissions from authors each year, which he then publishes to offer first as gifts to his good customers, then to sell to the general public.  One of the stories is It's in the Book; originally started by Mickey Spillane before his death, it was found amongst his papers and Max Allan Collins finished it for Penzler.  I don't know if Spillane meant for it to be a short story, but it certainly works beautifully as one.

 

Hammer is hired, first by the NYPD, then by the mafia. Both want the same book:  a ledger allegedly used by a recently passed Don to record every nefarious deed and transaction he ever undertook.  Names are named and nobody wants it to see the light of day, although a few would kill to use it themselves.

 

It was a lot of fun riding along with Hammer as he makes short work of finding the book, and while the noir was thick, it wasn't overdone (perhaps by virtue of being a short story).  The ending is purposefully foreshadowed early on, making me think that it was more about the action and savoir-faire than about the conclusion of the 'mystery' itself.  Collins did offer up a slight, pretty comical twist at the end, and it had me smiling as I closed the book last night.

 

I won't rush out to read more noir, but I definitely had a good time with this one!

 

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review 2017-09-11 10:43
Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes
Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes (British Library Crime Classics) - Various Authors,Martin Edwards

I've read three of the short stories in this collection so far, and I'd say 2 out of the three were excellent, with the third being worthy of note for just how transcendently bad it is.

 

The first story I read was, of course, Doyle's The Lost Special.  It wasn't a mystery in the sense of a puzzle to be solved, but instead as a solution presented after the fact.  Still, it was good and made better by the small touches that include a riff on Holmes' quote of "...when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth..." and the small uncredited cameo Homes himself makes by way of 'an amateur reasoner of some celebrity'.  I must admit that I guessed how it was done, although not what the special's ultimate fate was.  Harsh.

 

The next story I read was The Case of the Tragedies in the Greek Room by Sax Rohmer, which caught my attention because I saw in the introduction where Edwards chose it because it was the best example of what he inferred was a rather bad lot.  It features a psychic detective named Moris Klaw.  It was notable for being hilariously bad from start to finish; truly overblown and completely unbelievable, but in the manner that leaves you amused rather than disgusted (mostly).

 

The third story was Nicholas Olde's The Invisible Weapon which is built around that (now) classic motif of... read it to find out.  No spoilers here.  But it was written well enough to be enjoyable, if not 'oh wow' memorable.  

 

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of these stories - hopefully soon.  But that's the great thing about anthologies like these, they keep on giving for ages afterwards if you want them to.

 

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review 2017-07-21 04:18
The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories
The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories - Michael Sims

Up front, I didn't read all the stories; there are 22 stories in this collection, and I didn't have time to read the whole thing, so this review only represents a small percentage of them. 

 

But, of the stories I read, none of them were bad.  In fact, they were all uniformly excellent and I'm looking forward to reading more of the collection at a later date.

 

Quick thoughts about each of the stories I read:

 

The Secret Cell by William E. Burton - The story itself is not only great, but so is its backstory:  Burton, the author, wrote it in 1837, before Poe wrote what is widely regarded to be the first detective story, Murders in the Rue Morgue. He wrote it for the magazine he himself founded, The Gentleman's Magazine, and the editor he hired was a certain Edgar Allan Poe (who published Rue in 1841.  While Dupin's standing as the first genius detective is safe, it's likely Poe read this story; whether or not it served as an inspiration can only be guessed at.  But it's a fun story with strong writing, lots of detective legwork, fisticuffs, disguises, abductions, nuns, asylums and hidden rooms.

 

On Duty with Inspector Field by Charles Dickens - Dickens and I are fair weather friends at best, but for downright vivid descriptions of poverty-stricken Victorian London, I'm not sure you could find better.  Not really much of a plot to this one at all - just a 'tour' through the dregs of London in the middle of the night as the police go about their rounds.  This story does not disprove my suspicions that Dickens was paid by the word.

 

The Diary of Anne Rodway by Wilkie Collins - As the title suggests, this story takes the form of diary entries, but the narrative is very smooth.  There's a real mystery here and it's engaging, but the solution felt somewhat abrupt and the coincidences verging on supernatural (a device, I'm guessing, Collins enjoyed using). 

 

You Are Not Human, Monsieur D'Artagnan by Alexandre Dumas, pere - This is an except from the final Three Musketeers book, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, but it feels fairly complete as it stands alone, even to a reader for whom the general story of the Three Musketeers comes strictly from the movies and popular culture.  In this short piece D'Artagnan plays the part of Sherlock Holmes as he uses sharp observations, empirical evidence and genius detecting to shed light on a shooting.

 

The Dead Witness; or, The Bush Waterhole by W.W. (Mary Fortune) - I didn't set out to read this one, but as I was flipping through, a mention of Australia caught my eye, so I stopped.  Turns out this is the first known detective story ever written by a woman.  Fortune was a prolific writer in Australia, although sexism being what it was, she was forced to write under a pseudonym kept so tight a secret that no one knew Mary Fortune was W.W. until decades after her death.  Her life was not a happy one, but it was not for want of talent if this story is any judge.  It's a short one, but it's vivid and well written and the end, while a bit fantastic, is also deliciously grotesque.

 

The Assassin's Natal Autograph by Mark Twain - Another except, this one from Puddin' Head Wilson.  This one is slightly harder to follow, as there are characters named that are obviously important, but missing any backstory at all, but in most aspects it works really well.  It's Twain, so the setting (a courtroom) is full of detail and suspense; the focus of the scene is the power of fingerprints and the denouement, even without the backstory is climatic.

 

The Stolen Cigar-Case by Bret Harte - Another one that caught my eye, this time because I saw "Sherlock Holmes" in the introduction.  This is a parody of the Greatest Detective of all time, as well as a parody of his long suffering Watson.  It started off hilarious - laugh out loud funny - but by midway, it felt a bit hateful.    Parodies are supposed to mock, but reading this one gets the impression that Harte really hated Watson and Holmes both.

 

An Intangible Clue by Anna Katherine Green - The author of the first known detective novel by a woman (Mary Fortune, above, wrote only short stories) and the author of The Leavenworth Case, this was my first introduction to her work and Miss Violet Strange.  I hope it won't be my last; Miss Strange has claims to Sherlockian abilities in her own right, and I found the story both intricate and slyly funny.  The mystery itself was complete enough, but I was left wanting more when it came to Miss Strange and her mysterious employer.

 

If you're a fan of the old-style detective stories, I don't think you can go wrong with this collection. They just don't write them like they used to.

 

I read this for BookLikes-opoly and completed a total of 202 pages.

 

 

 

 

 

Total pages read:  202

$$: $6.00

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review 2017-06-18 06:57
The Circular Staircase
The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart

My second read of this book and it's almost as good as the first.  

 

I continue to like Rachel; I'd like to think she comes closest to how I'd act in a parallel situation.  The humour held up too and I still marvel at Rinehart keeping all the plot points of her story straight.  I've read too many contemporary books that have half the plot complexity and holes you could drive a train through.

 

But the racism is still confronting enough to take me out of the story; Thomas might have been well respected by the characters, and the story a product of its time, but the descriptions and use of vernacular were the bruises on what would have been a perfect peach of a story in my time.  And on this second read, I marvelled at how anyone believed so pitiful a disguise could have worked so thoroughly for so long.

 

Still, this is a great story; a gem that shows some things transcend time (in this case almost 110 years): there have always been crafters of labyrinthine plots, there have always been strong women with resourceful intellects, and there is always a place for humour and wit, even in the most extraordinary circumstances. 

 

I'll continue to heartily recommend this book to lovers of a great mystery.

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