I forget where I read this quote, but I remember reading a brief outline on Craig Rice, where the author described her as having written the binge, but lived the hangover. I cannot think of a more perfect way to sum up the work of an extremely funny mystery author who led a tragic and far too short life. Rice’s mysteries are often drowned in alcohol from start to finish, with detective teams that get a lot more talented after a few drinks…
The usual alcoholic drinks are replaced with chocolate malts and cokes in Home Sweet Homicide, but the result is just as hilarious and wonderful, and ultimately, Home Sweet Homicide is a true masterpiece.
The story revolves around the three Carstairs Children: Dinah, 14 years old, is the brains of the operation. April, 12 years old, uses her charms to extract information. Archie, a strapping lad of 10, is the only member of the family able to save money, and acts as the banker. (He also has a group of friends known as the Mob ready to help the kids out— for a price, that is…) Their mother, Marian, is a mystery author who is constantly pounding away at her typewriter, unfortunately neglecting her children in the process.
First and foremost, I must take the time to applaud the efforts of James Pritchard, Agatha Christie’s great-grandson, who has created his own company, The Langtail Press, and has busily been resurrecting lost classics from the void of obscurity back into print—particularly those written by Anthony Berkeley.
I had previously read only one Berkeley novel, The Poisoned Chocolates Case, which was a brilliant tour-de-force in which at least half a dozen false solutions are proposed. I enjoyed the novel tremendously, as it was written with intelligence and wit, and I could hardly wait for the chance to read another Berkeley novel. At last, I selected Jumping Jenny and ordered it from The Langtail Press’ impressive catalogue.
Here I am in a Comfort Inn in Beloit, Wisconsin. And, as luck would have it, it turns out that there is access to the Internet here! So the blogging community can be treated to a post today after all!
Kelley Roos was the penname chosen by the husband and wife collaboration team of William and Audrey Roos. They took William’s last name and combined it with Audrey’s maiden name to create this literary alias. And it was under this name that they wrote a series of mystery novels starring the husband-and-wife team of Jeff and Haila Troy. I have just finished my first Roos novel, The Frightened Stiff, and it was such a delight it single-handedly guarantees that I will read more!
“It has become a game, a mere game like chess, this writing of murder mysteries. While in real life, it is no game, but something quite simple and savage, with about as much mystery wrapped round it as that piano leg. And that’s why I’ve no use for detective fiction. It’s false. It depicts the impossible.”
“That may be so. But I enjoy the game. It has, as you say, become far more subtle lately, and no one can guess the murderer till the last few pages. But after all, we expect fiction to transcend life, and a murder in a book to be more mysterious than a real one.”
—Alec Noris and Sam Williams in discussion, Case for Three Detectives
When I wrote my review of Paul Halter’s novel Le Tigre Borgne, I was convinced that it would be my last review before I left for a three week vacation on Monday morning. But, as it turns out, my next read, Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce, was such a delightfully quick one, it simply flew by!
It seems so horrible, doesn’t it, to discover one’s hostess dead? Yet that is precisely what happens to Mr. Townsend, the narrator of the story, who along with a group of his fellow guests, have a discussion on the merits of detective stories. It seems like an innocent discussion, but things take a dark turn when Mary Thurston, Dr. Thurston’s wife, is found in her room, with the door bolted shut and the windows closed, murdered… From then on, Townsend is thrust into an investigation involving ingenious false alibis, ropes, rats, apples, box rooms, and the like, as three detectives found their way onto the scene of the crime to do some proper investigatin'.
— Oui, et la réponse est bien simple: j’ai une sainte horreur du mystère, je ne supporte pas l’inexplicable. Le moindre tour de passe-passe m’empêche de dormir.
( "Yes, and the answer is simple: I am terrified of mystery, I can't stand the unexplained. The smallest conjuring trick keeps me awake at night.")
—Patrick Mallory, Le Tigre Borgne
My previous forays into the work of Paul Halter were both flawed, but fascinating. Le Roi duDésordre and La Tête du Tigre both had very interesting ideas at heart, but both had problems—Roi more so than Tête in my opinion. But it was with eagerness that I started reading Le Tigre Borgne (The One-Eyed Tiger). The choice was a strategic one: I’ve already sampled one work from both of Halter’s series: the Owen Burns series (Roi) and the Dr. Twist/Inspector Hurst series (Tête). So, I thought to myself, why not see how Halter can handle himself without a series character? It was either this or Le Brouillard Rouge (The Red Fog), and I’m glad I made the choice I did.
Le Tigre Borgne is an unusual novel. It takes place in the 1870s, and much of the action is confined to India. This is not the realistic (yet colourful) India of H. R. F. Keating’s The Perfect Murder; rather, Paul Halter throws realism to the wind and paints a portrait of a magical place where anything can happen, and where a sensible young man like our hero, Patrick Mallory, can witness things that will rock his most elementary beliefs. Halter is actually surprisingly successful in terms of atmosphere this time around—while his Indian setting is extremely romanticized, it’s effective, and it is fascinating. Halter makes an actual place out of his setting; he managed to transport me somewhere else, and captivated me thoroughly.
Paul Halter impressed me considerably with his highly imaginative and interesting book, Le Roi du Désordre, which was flawed, but at the same time offered two really good impossible scenarios with a plot that kept my interest all the way into the wee hours of the morning. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I was anxious to read another Halter, and I finally settled on La Tête du Tigre (The Tiger’s Head).
I chose this book on the strength of an introduction penned by Roland Lacourbe to my Paul Halter omnibus, which contains Le Roi du Désordre and four other books. In the excellent aforementioned introduction, Lacourbe talks about Halter’s two main characters in his longest series: Inspector Archibald Hurst and Dr. Alan Twist. According to his introduction, when Paul Halter wrote La Malédiction de Barberousse, he was hoping to resurrect the career of the great Dr. Gideon Fell, but John Dickson Carr’s estate categorically refused to permit him to use the characters. So, with a bit of tweaking, removing the more obvious references, Dr. Fell became Dr. Twist, and Inspector Hadley became Inspector Hurst.
This is the third time I’m reviewing a novel by Bill Pronzini, and it’s a surprisingly recent title: Schemers was published in 2009. (What's next? Reading P.D. James and Dan Brown?) I’ve had several people recommend this book to me, and by coincidence, it was one of the two Nameless titles I checked out after I read Hoodwink. I just registered the words “locked library” and “ultrarare detective fiction titles” and thought to myself “Sold!”
Actually, this is an interestingly different book for Pronzini, from what I've read at least. Three different plotlines chase each other throughout this book, and they are told through four points of view. At the start of the chapter, there will be a name (unless Nameless is narrating, in which case it’s left blank). Throughout that chapter, everything will be told from that person’s vantage point. And so, we get four different characters participating in three different plot lines.
Paul Halter is a French author who has gotten considerable praise, with comparisons left and right telling you he’s the reincarnation of John Dickson Carr. However, the modern American mystery market is flooded with the kind of modern mysteries that I hate— emphasis is no longer laid on the story, but on “literary” elements of writing (which often aren’t that hot to begin with). I’ve given this rant many times already, so I’ll spare you having to listen to the whole thing again. Paul Halter, who unashamedly clings on to Golden Age ideals, has found it rather difficult to get his books published in the English-speaking world, despite rave reviews for the translated La Nuit du Loup (Night of the Wolf). Therefore, John Pugmire, a relentless soldier in the cause to get Halter translated and published in English, decided to publish Le Roi du Désordre (The Lord of Misrule) himself. However, understanding French rather well myself, I read Le Roi du Désordre in its original French. This was my first full-length Halter novel, and it’s a good one. While far from perfect, it is a good showcase of Halter’s strengths and weaknesses, and it has made me a Halter fan.
(Note: I’ve now enabled Anonymous commenting—so if you hesitated to say anything because you didn’t want to register, you no longer have to! On a more sombre note, Blogger has experienced technical difficulties, and as a result, my post from Thursday on the Bill Pronzini novel Scattershot has been temporarily lost. Because of this, I’ve delayed posting a review of Margery Allingham’s The Case of the Late Pig. But, since I have no patience and I also wanted to post the following message, I’m going to put these posts up and sincerely hope that my Scattershot review will return. If not, I will just have to repost it myself— turns out backing it up was a smart thing to do.)
Today, May 14th, I turn 18. Funny, the words have only just managed to sink in… Some of you may not have known how old I am. For some it may come as a surprise— I’ve often been told I sound a lot older in my writing. 18 years—and hopefully, there will be many more, full of mystery and mayhem, ahead!
Although The Case of the Late Pig has points of interest, I’m not entirely convinced it is a great starting point for newcomers to Margery Allingham. It is an enjoyable read, and in many ways a black comedy. It is a remarkably short book, barely over short story length. The edition I have is a 138-page Penguin. So the book practically flies by, and it’s amusing and so on. So what’s wrong with it?
Well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what, if anything, is wrong with the book. But I do know this: it was a confusing introduction to the Allingham universe. Perhaps it is because this is such an uncharacteristic novel for her. From what I can discern, it is the only time a book is narrated by Albert Campion, Allingham’s sleuth. He’s a fun enough type, who feels rather like a parody of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, but something about his narration is just… off. Then there are the various supporting characters, and some of their roles still have me confused. I’m not sure if they’re recurring characters, one-offs, or what. Allingham’s stylistic traits, as recounted by her sleuth, just seem odd and ended up confusing me in a few segments.
Catherine Aird is an author who intrigues me. Ever since browsing the excellent catalogue of The Rue Morgue Press, I’ve wanted to try her work. The Religious Body sounds like a riot— with a murder taking place in a convent and the nuns being forced to have contact with the outside world. All it sounds like it needs would be an elderly nun detective and a priest, both mystery enthusiasts, sitting down trying to figure everything out. Well, I might get to The Religious Body someday, but I decided instead to start off with His Burial Too.
It is an interesting book at first. It starts with a bizarre opening, as a fellow named Richard Mallory Tindall does not return home, worrying his daughter and the housekeeper. The police send out Inspector Sloan to investigate, against his will— he insists, after all, that it’s not a crime to not show up at home for the night. Sloan, much to his despair, is paired up with Constable Crosby, a fellow who gives you the feeling that the lights are on, but nobody’s home. The opening feels rather pointless, to be frank, but things get really interesting when the man’s car is discovered in the garage. Something must have happened to prevent him from entering his house! But what?
You know, I’m worried that after today’s review, it will seem like I’m stealing my reading list directly from the blog Detection by Moonlight, penned by fellow mystery aficionado TomCat (a.k.a. LastCenturyDetective). But believe me, when I saw him post about the Bill Pronzini novel Hoodwink, I was quite shocked. It was the same novel I plucked off my library’s shelves merely a day or two before! I read a short story by Pronzini a while back (which dealt with an impossible crime), and I liked it enough to want to get acquainted with Pronzini in novel form. I was hoping the choice to review Hoodwink would come as a surprise, but once again, LCD has jumped the gun on that one, in another brilliant post on his blog. “Curses!” I cried, convinced that the ghost of Harry Stephen Keeler had played a nasty practical joke on me. The book remained unread a little longer than I’d originally planned. But that’s enough of that— let’s get to the main event, my fifth review in as many days: Bill Pronzini’s Hoodwink.
When I read Doug Greene’s brilliant biography of John Dickson Carr, The Man Who Explained Miracles (my library seriously runs the risk of not getting its copy back one of these days), I also looked in the appendices, which included a comprehensive list of works authored by Carr. In this list, Greene also devoted a section to parodies of Carr, and one title caught my eye: Hocus Pocus at Drumis Tree by Norma Schier. I was intrigued by the idea of parodying Carr while making the names anagrams—“Drumis Tree”, for instance, is a clever anagram of “Murder Site”.
However, for quite some time, I was unable to find a copy of the story to read. I finally decided to buy a copy of The Anagram Detectives, an excellent collection of stories written by Schier. In this collection, she takes cracks at everyone from Agatha Christie to Ellery Queen to Michael Innes, and she manages to create clever mysteries as well! (Sometimes, after all, the joke in a parody is how ridiculous the solution is, or how the solution is never told, but endlessly delayed. Well, not to worry- that isn’t the case here.)
Wow, this is my third review in as many days. I’m almost surprised at myself. Anyhow, let’s get to the point: today’s review will be slightly different than usual, because I will be reviewing my first short story collection here, so I will be discussing each story individually and then look at them as a whole. Today’s book is by Hal White, author of The Reverend Dean Mysteries, a book which seems to have gotten considerably favourable reviews. I was intrigued: a modern-day author writing impossible crime stories starring a reverend? (Inconceivable!) I actually communicated with Mr. White through his website before placing an order on this book, and was reassured that the stories didn’t just go for unfair explanations. This encouraged me to order the book, and now I will share my opinions on these tales.
William L. DeAndrea has quickly become the most reviewed author so far on this (still rather young) blog, but can you really blame me? DeAndrea knew how to tell a good story without uselessly padding it out. He was clearly influenced by Rex Stout, and in this book, Killed on the Rocks, I noticed more than ever the way the detective, Matt Cobb, spoke in that unmistakable voice used by Stout’s Archie Goodwin.
Killed on the Rocks is a highly entertaining read, where DeAndrea seems to have combined the style of Rex Stout with a plot that John Dickson Carr at his most ingenious could’ve come up with. This combination is the stuff of dreams, something mystery fans like me thought they could only wish upon a star about. But as it turns out, it is possible to reach out and read it! No, this isn’t a hallucination, a lie, or a dream! Egad!
The copy of Death at the Opera that I read is introduced by Clare Curzon, who makes an excellent point that there are two ways to react to Gladys Mitchell. The first is an exclamation of delight along the lines of “Ah, Mrs. Croc!”, and the second is the same exclamation, but with exasperation instead. Having finished my first novel by Gladys Mitchell, I think it’s safe to include me in the first group of readers.
From what I can discern, Mitchell’s books tend to have wildly imaginative plots, as her reptilian sleuth Mrs. Bradley investigates this-or-that, but the flaw everyone seems to point out is her tendency to go for poor, weak conclusions.