Saturday, March 31, 2012

Die Hard with a Vengeance

“Richard Stark writes a harsh and frightening story of criminal warfare and vengeance with economy, understatement and a deadly amoral objectivity—a remarkable addition to the list of the shockers that the French call romans noirs.”
—Anthony Boucher, New York Times Book Review

The Outfit now knows that Parker has a new face. They don’t have a very pleasant relationship of late – for details see The Hunter and The Man with the Getaway Face. And so, when The Outfit begins, a hired assassin is sent to kill Parker, interrupting him in bed. Furious, Parker extracts information from the killer, and from that moment on, he declares war on The Outfit. First, he goes after the guy who fingered him and sent for the assassin. Next, he’ll hit The Outfit where it hurts most: in the wallet.

This is how he’s going to do it: he spends time writing letters and visiting old colleagues in the business. He lets them know what the score is. Historically, professional thieves leave The Outfit’s operations alone. They don’t bother The Outfit, and vice versa. But now, The Outfit is overreaching itself, making trouble for Parker. And Parker’s friends don’t necessarily have a huge loyalty to Parker, but they know just how easy it would be to pull off Outfit heists. Many of them have been walking around with plans in their head for years. Now they have an excuse to pull the trigger and hit The Outfit for all they’re worth.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ten Little Indians: And Then There Were None

It was in January that I had the idea, and I eagerly shared it with the Golden Age Detection group on facebook: a ten-part series of articles examining each of the guests on Indian Island in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. It seemed like a perfect idea: not only could I directly tackle many of the misconceptions about Agatha Christie (especially those terrible ones perpetuated by P. D. James in Talking About Detective Fiction!) by arguing the opposite, but to the best of my knowledge, nobody had ever done something like this before.

But the enthusiastic reception of the group members really surprised me, in an altogether pleasant way. In particular, mystery scholar extraordinaire Curt Evans jumped on the idea with excitement. Before I hardly knew what was going on, we were messaging each other and brainstorming, and dividing the guests among us to see who would tackle who. Once somebody wrote a piece on one of the guests, the other person would write another bit in response. And thus, Ten Little Indians was born!

It’s been a fun ride—although working on these articles was exhausting at times! But I’m very pleased with the ultimate result. The finale also coincided with the end of March, and the end of my one-year-anniversary celebrations. (A coincidence, or the work of Harry Stephen Keeler’s ghost? You decide.)

Thanks a lot to Curt for being such a good sport about this and for joining me as eagerly as he did—I’m not sure whether I’d have made it through the series if I was working on it alone! And thanks to everybody who joined us whenever we posted a new article—these posts are among the most highly-viewed on my blog, and they have only started popping up in the last few months!

With this post, I’d like to make a sort of victims’ gallery—this marks not only the conclusion of “Ten Little Indians”, but it is also a directory to all our articles, using as a template an excerpt from And Then There Were None.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Silence please! (…) You are charged with the following indictments:

Edward George Armstrong, that you did upon the 14th day of March, 1925, cause the death of Louisa Mary Clees.

Emily Caroline Brent, that upon the 5th November, 1931, you were responsible for the death of Beatrice Taylor.

William Henry Blore, that you brought about the death of James Stephen Landor on October 10th, 1928.

Vera Elizabeth Claythorne, that on the 11th day of August, 1935, you killed Cyril Ogilvie Hamilton.

Philip Lombard, that upon a date in February, 1932, you were guilty of the death of twenty-one men, members of an East African tribe.

John Gordon Macarthur, that on the 4th of January, 1917, you deliberately sent your wife's lover, Arthur Richmond, to his death.

Anthony James Marston, that upon the 14th day of November last, you were guilty of the murder of John and Lucy Combes.

Thomas Rogers and Ethel Rogers, that on the 6th of May, 1929, you brought about the death of Jennifer Brady.

Lawrence John Wargrave, that upon the 10th day of June, 1930, you were guilty of the murder of Edward Seton.

Prisoners at the bar, have you anything to say in your defence?”

Ten Little Indians: Vera Claythorne

One little Indian boy left all alone
He went and hanged himself and then there were none.

This article contains spoilers, which have not been blurred out. Do not read on if you have not read Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.

Patrick: Vera Claythorne is the original Final Girl—women like Laurie Strode in Halloween or Sidney Prescott in Scream, who manage to survive all the way to the end of the flick after all the other cast members (often predominantly male) have been killed off. That can often lead to a one-on-one fight with the killer, but in Christie’s book, the ending has a far more psychological twist. Either way, fans of slashers have much to thank Agatha Christie for— she practically invented what would turn into the slasher genre.

But let’s tackle the character of Vera Claythorne. I vividly recall my impressions when I first read this book, finishing it during a break in Monsieur Weston’s religion class back in Grade 9— I considered Vera to be Evil Incarnate. Of all the guests invited to Indian Island, Mr. Owen judges her to be one of the ones who deserve the most mental anguish, and so she is allowed to live. Her crime is one of the most heinous on the entire island—The Voice of U. N. Owen accuses her “that on the 11th day of August, 1935, you killed Cyril Ogilvie Hamilton.”

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Madness! Madness!

Hello everybody and welcome once more to another (and this time, the final) special edition of At the Scene of the Crime! Today, I am joined by TomCat, fellow blogger and for today, partner in crime. Our blogs are somewhat similar— we review, we occasionally make up clever ways to be lazy by posting things that pose as articles or lists… and we tend to stay in the “good old” days of crime. So naturally, what could be better to review than a novel by Margaret Millar, an author I’ve come to adore?

Except… the timing for that didn’t really work out and it didn’t seem likely TomCat would be able to get a Millar novel. So how about a novel by her husband, the famous creator of Lew Archer, Ross Macdonald? Except… well, in a mix-up right out of a Donald E. Westlake novel, the book turned out to have gone AWOL.

But wait— Ross Macdonald and Margaret Millar were married authors, and Ross Macdonald wrote a series of novels about a private eye… so where on earth can we find a modern-day successor to Macdonald? Why, in the work of Bill Pronzini! Pronzini truly is a gem—I have never walked away from one of his books disappointed. He always impresses me with the quality of his writing and the way he plots his books, all while drawing out sharp characters. He is one of the best mystery writers at work in modern day. I was all set, and at last, we decided on a book: Savages, a Nameless Detective novel.

TomCat, thanks a lot for joining me!


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Yippee ki-yay!

Throughout this blog’s history I have eagerly taken advantage of any opportunity to discuss Westerns. Although I’m miles from being an expert (my knowledge of the genre is superficial at best), I really do admire it and love watching old Westerns on TV, especially starring John Wayne. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of my all-time favourite films. I highly enjoy Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range tales, and I love the two novels William DeAndrea lived to write about Lobo Blacke and Quinn Booker. But how else can I sneak a Western into a blog devoted primarily to mysteries?

Well, for the answer, I am thankful to TomCat of Detection by Moonlight. Ever since buying a copy of Robert Adey’s Locked Room Mysteries, he’s struggled to resist the urge to buy every book mentioned in that (extremely expensive!) volume. (I have countered as best as I can by getting the French equivalent, Chambres closes crimes impossibles—but only time will tell who will win this round.) And one of the books mentioned is Six Shooter Showdown by one William Colt MacDonald.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Man Who Was Dr. Fell: A Close Look at G. K. Chesterton

Hello and welcome everyone to another special edition of At the Scene of the Crime! Today, I’ve asked a very special guest to join me: Chris Chan, who often goes under the moniker of “GKCfan”. Chris, thanks ever so much for joining me!

Back when I had finished reading all of Agatha Christie’s works, I flopped around from author to author trying to find new mysteries to read. Eventually, Chris suggested that I read G. K. Chesterton. (His chosen alias of GKCfan should have told me what I was getting myself into…)

And so I found a Father Brown collection (The Innocence of Father Brown) and sat down to read… I’ve been an addict ever since, and discovering Chesterton was one of the many things that propelled me into discovering the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. (So Chris can take part of the blame for creating this out-of-control literary monster.)

It thus seemed to me appropriate that we should discuss G. K. Chesterton, who is still a very popular author today. Many have read the Father Brown tales but are entirely unaware of his other efforts, such as the books Four Faultless Felons or The Club of Queer Trades. But Chesterton was more than a mystery writer, he was also an eloquent philosopher who eventually converted to Catholicism and was one of the great defenders of his faith. (And as a Catholic myself, there are many wise things Chesterton wrote that I keep in mind while living my everyday life.)

So Chris, now I’ve shared how I became acquainted with Chesterton… how did you first come about him?


Monday, March 26, 2012

Spiral of Death

Ever since “discovering” him last year, I’ve been a devoted admirer of Paul Halter. Over the last few months, three new books have been planned for release, and I’ve been excitedly keeping track. Le Voyageur du Passé (The Traveller from the Past), a brand-new Dr. Alan Twist adventure, is due to be released next week. Another was Halter’s second short story collection, La Balle de Nausicaa (Nausicaa’s Ball) which I reviewed soon after its release. The third book, Spiral, was released earlier this month.

Spiral marks an interesting departure for Halter—it is a young adult novel set in the modern day world, a setting he has avoided in novels and used sparingly in short stories. When I had the honour of interviewing him a while back, I took the opportunity to ask him why he chose to write a novel set in modern day. The answer was simple: the publisher, Rageot, commissioned the book as part of its brand-new “Thriller” line of books, and one of the conditions was to set it in modern day. “I considered it my duty to initiate young readers to the locked-room mystery!” M. Halter said at one point. But did he succeed in doing that?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jiminy Cricket!

It was supposed to be a regular, run-of-the-mill burglary. All John Dortmunder had to do was pry his way into the place and walk out with a bunch of furs. And then… Andy Kelp shows up. After the events of The Hot Rock and Bank Shot, Dortmunder is somewhat understandably horrified. He doesn’t want to subscribe his way into another Andy Kelp special. So instead he starts shouting at Kelp to get away. Before he knows it, he’s woken up the entire neighbourhood and everyone is yelling at each other, with the police on their way to deal with the outburst.

Andy Kelp is hurt that Dormunder would react in such a way, but he immediately sets about proposing a brand-new plan—one that’ll definitely work this time! See, Kelp was recently in jail for a few days before being released due to an illegal search. But behind bars, he came across some books by a some guy named Richard Stark. He discovered Stark’s novels about master thief Parker (“He'll remind you of Dortmunder,” he tells Stan Murch) and he particularly loves the book Child Heist—particularly how the crooks get away with it in the end!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ten Little Indians: Captain Philip Lombard

Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

Curt: And Then There Were None--a novel, in which, like the play “Hamlet,” everybody dies--is singularly lacking in the typical restorative happy ending people tend to expect from their Golden Age mystery literature. 

Imperceptive readers of And Then There Were None may hold out some hope that our remaining pair of Indians, Philip Lombard and Vera Claythorne, will survive to provide the traditional happy ending, with church bells and wedded bliss just around the corner; but in fact the reason that these two are still around at all is not that they are destined  to fulfill the traditional function of providing love interest and a happy ending, but that they have been deemed the most deserving of mental torture by our sadistic mass murderer, Mr. Owen—and his assessment seems fair enough to me.  These two are the worst of the bunch.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Showing Off Recent Acquisitions

I recently made many new acquisitions to my book collection, many of them in French. Those of you who read this blog regularly will by now know that I regularly read and review French mysteries on here, especially the work of Paul Halter. But there are some other authors whose books I’ve acquired recently, and I’d like to take this time to show off the new books—these are French mysteries you can look forward to my reading and reviewing in the near future, with a few more in the mail that I expect next week. What is the point of all this? Well, I want to show off, and since I have a blog, I can do it. The regularly-scheduled programme will be back soon enough.

First up, we have the work of Paul Halter. I bought a used copy of Le Mystère de l’allée des Anges (The Mystery of Angels’ Lane; right) as well as a copy of his brand new young adult novel Spiral.

Next is an author I am not familiar with: Martin Méroy. From right to left, the books (with titles translated into English) are: Lead for the Family, Silence—We Kill!, Murder in a Dark Room, and A Knife in the Wound. Blogger TomCat has reviewed two of these books on his blog, and one (Murder in a Dark Room) even made it onto his list of best locked-room mysteries. (Of course, the list’s reliability is challenged by the inclusion of What a Body! and The Curse of the Bronze Lamp… I’m kidding, I’m kidding!)

TomCat also reviewed the next author featured here: Maurice-Bernard Endrèbe. His review of Elvire à la tour monte (Elvire Climbs the Tower) was far from enthusiastic, however, and he tore its impossible crime to shreds. (I’ve since found out what the ending was, and I must agree it’s a complete let-down.) Endrèbe was far more prolific as a translator, famously translating John Dickson Carr’s The Burning Court. But he did write some of his own books—one of these, at the far right, is his only other ‘impossible crime’ novel, La Vieille dame sans merci (The Old Lady without Mercy). The other two are Danger Intime (Intimate Danger) and Gondoles pour le cimitière (Gondolas for the Cemetery).

Finally, we move on to the work of a personal favourite author of mine—René Reouven, who has a new page on this blog devoted to his work. The four books pictured here from left to right (with titles translated into English) are: Grandfather is Dead, The Best One’s Will is Always the Strongest, Six Characters in Search of a Murder, and Death to the Jury. (I’m also awaiting Reouven’s newest book, a young adult novel.)

Last, but not least, is a book I’ve been eager to find for a long time. It is the French equivalent of Robert Adey’s classic bibliography Locked Room Murders. Titled Chambres closes|crimes impossibles (Locked rooms|Impossible Crimes), it is a French-language survey of the impossible crime sub-genre. Not all of these books are French—in fact, quite a fair chunk I’ve seen are English-language novels—but it promises to portray quite a bit of the French impossible crime landscape with spoilers very cleverly hidden while being stated. (It’s a long story.) My copy is also inscribed by one of the authors, M. Philippe Fooz—I’m very grateful to him for having pointed out several French novels I would enjoy, and his list of suggestions played a major role in these recent acquisitions.

April Fools

Hello good readers and welcome to a special edition of At the Scene of the Crime! Today, I’d like to welcome back Sergio, who holds the current record for most appearances on this blog (this is his third appearance). When I asked Sergio if he was interested in a crossover review to commemorate my one-year anniversary, he was enthusiastic about the idea. But what to review?

Well, to come up with an idea, I looked back at our previous two collaborations. In our first, we read and discussed George Baxt’s The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case. I had written Baxt off as a hack after reading The Affair at Royalties, but Sergio’s enthusiastic review of A Queer Kind of Death piqued my interest, and that led to a re-evaluation of Baxt from my part. When Sergio dropped in for a second time, we discussed Julian Symons and his book Bloody Murder, holding a long debate about its merits and flaws. In both cases, Sergio helped to broaden my mystery horizons as I learned to appreciate something I’d earlier dismissed.

So how could we keep this tradition going? Well, I started thinking: Sergio has been reading and reviewing the work of Ed McBain, specifically his 87th Precinct novels. I had never read a McBain novel before, but I distinctly remember coming across some of his novels in a box of books once. I deliberately ignored them, allowing them to be given away. Naturally, I had to atone for my sins somehow (especially due to my Catholicism). Suddenly, the idea dawned on me: I was far more familiar with Craig Rice, Sergio was the man to see about Ed McBain. What better place to begin acquainting myself with McBain than the novel he finished for Craig Rice, The April Robin Murders?

Sergio, thanks for joining me today!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The ghastly priest doth reign

One of the greatest masters of the Golden Age mystery was Alfred Walter Stewart, alias J. J. Connington. I fell in love with his work last year when I read the brilliant The Case with Nine Solutions. And I am delighted that Connington is back in print! This is due to the folks at Coachwhip Publications, a print-on-demand publishing house that has recently reprinted Murder in the Maze, The Tau Cross Mystery, and The Castleford Conundrum. I’m very grateful to Chad Arment for sending me review copies of the last two books—and I decided to start with The Tau Cross Mystery, which coincidentally fits in with one of my themes for the 2012 Vintage Mystery Challenge!

The Tau Cross Mystery is the tenth novel featuring Sir Clinton Driffield, Chief Constable. And this book takes place not in the country house, but in modern-day suburbia, a setting that is quite effectively portrayed. There’s been a murder: an unknown man has been shot in a supposedly-empty flat. Sir Clinton is given too much evidence, and yet none of it seems to lead anywhere: there’s an overturned paint pot, a bloody handkerchief, an altogether mysterious business involving an unnecessary pair of shoes… and the titular “tau cross”, a gold ornament shaped like a cross modelled on the Greek letter Tau.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reservoir Dogs

The last time we saw Parker in The Hunter, he was out to kill a man named Mal Resnick, who had betrayed him and left him for dead. Mal did this in order to pay a debt he owed to an organization known as The Outfit—after paying back what he owed, the organization was only too glad to welcome him back into their ranks, and before you knew it, Mal was part of their management in New York. When Parker went after Mal, he went after The Outfit as well. They didn’t like that.

So as this next book, The Man With the Getaway Face, opens, Parker has just gotten himself a new face. This is thanks to the skill of one Dr. Adler, a man who has been publicly disgraced due to his support of the Communist Party as a young man… but he has not been delisted. Still, America is paranoid about those pinko commies, and so the only way Adler can really get profitable work is to give his services to less-than-reputable clients like Parker.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cat Among the Pigeons

Welcome once more, good readers, to a special edition of At the Scene of the Crime!

In this ongoing series of crossovers, I have managed to convince my fellow mystery bloggers, somehow or another, to join me in discussing a book/author/etc. Today’s victim is Steve, better known as The Puzzle Doctor. This rogue mathematician blogs at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, and has appeared on this blog before, in a crossover review of Paul Doherty’s An Ancient Evil that celebrated my reaching 100 posts.

So when we decided to team up again for another review, the first question to pop up was: what should we review? An initial suggestion was The Poison Maiden by Paul Doherty, seeing that our reaction to The Cup of Ghosts was so different. But this idea was scrapped due to the book’s length and my having midterm exams at around this time of year.

But suddenly, an idea galloped onto the scene, when I recalled that Steve here had a very—unorthodox, shall we say?— reaction to Ellery Queen’s Cat of Many Tails. It’s a book that I consider a personal favourite, and which many believe is the finest work penned by the EQ writing team. And wouldn’t you know it—one of Steve’s on-going projects is to read all of Ellery Queen’s output and review it!

So the elements were set in place for a potentially controversial review. Would I enjoy Cat of Many Tails upon a re-read? Just as (and arguably more) important, would the Doc’s opinion stay the same? There were at least three ways to find out, but the most feasible one was to simply read the book. So here we are today!

Steve, thanks so much for joining me today!


Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Justice League

Your Excellency—
The Bill you are about to pass into law is an unjust one (…) Therefore it grieves us to warn you that unless your Government withdraws this Bill, it will be necessary to remove you, and not alone you, but any other person who undertakes to carry into law this unjust measure.

“IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO BE THRILLED BY EDGAR WALLACE” proudly declares the back of my edition of The Four Just Men. Indeed, back in his day, Edgar Wallace was a wildly popular author. Even Hitler was a fan of his work—although you’ll never see that on a dust jacket! An enormously prolific author, Wallace holds the record among 20th century authors as the one with the most film adaptations based on his work. He’s even more known today for the role he played as the co-creator of King Kong… and then there’s the Four Just Men series, which began with The Four Just Men in 1905.

Julian Symons might scoff at this point—Wallace can’t be a real writer! He was too popular! And he has a point, in that Wallace’s output is so immense that the quality is highly variable. But one thing remains constant, and that is the factor of unadulterated fun that goes into reading an Edgar Wallace adventure. The Four Just Men is just that—incredibly fun. There’s even an impossible crime thrown into the mix—but more on that later.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ten Little Indians: William Henry Blore

Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.

This article contains spoilers.

“It would have been equally impossible for [Golden Age detective novelists] to have created a policeman who beat up suspects, although this was a time when American newspapers wrote about the Third Degree.  Acknowledging that such things happened, they would have thought it undesirable to write about them, because the police were the representatives of established society, and so ought not to be shown behaving badly.”
 —Julian Symons, author of Bloody Murder

“Blore...was a bad hat!”
—Sir Thomas Legge, Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard

Blore in 1987's Desyat Negrityat
Curt: William Henry Blore is charged by Mr. Owen with having “brought about the death of James Stephen Landor on October 10th, 1928.  William Henry Blore is a former policeman, ex-C.I.D. (he’s now running “a detective agency in Plymouth”). 

But who was James Stephen Landor?  When queried about this after Mr. Owen has made his phonograph charges against his guests, the following exchange occurs:

Friday, March 16, 2012

From a View to a Kill: A Discussion on Margaret Millar

Hello everybody and welcome to another special edition of At the Scene of the Crime!

I’m glad to announce the return of Jeffrey Marks to the blog today. If you’ll recall, Jeff joined me recently in a long discussion on Craig Rice (and I’ve since read his excellent biography, Who Was That Lady?). We both enjoyed collaborating and so we’ve been brainstorming ever since on ideas for a cheap sequel. Well, the sequel has arrived, but the topic of conversation is anything but cheap. Jeff has agreed to join me again to discuss the work of Margaret Millar—and who better to do so, since Jeff devotes an entire chapter to Millar in his book Atomic Renaissance?

I only got acquainted with Millar’s work last year, after many writers and bloggers collaborated in a conspiracy that transcended space and time to get me to read How Like an Angel. To put it briefly, I fell in love, and have since read two more of her books, which even at their lowest points did not dispel my enthusiasm. (That took some doing, mind you—The Devil Loves Me is one of those books that you forget very quickly, apart from some its funnier elements.)

My impression of Margaret Millar, before reading any of her work, had been of a pure “psychological suspense” author—someone who would write a 1000 page book set in a mental hospital, where most of the book takes place in a patient’s mind over a five-minute period before the patient kills one of the guards. But as I found out for myself, Millar was anything but that! She managed to write fairly-clued mysteries that can leave you guessing until the final sentence. Her characters are (usually) very good and her sense of humour is absolutely delightful. My favourite in Millar’s work thus far is in How Like an Angel, when Joe Quinn has a discussion with cult member Brother Crown of Thorns:

“We got to be saved from ourselves and the devil that’s in us. We all carry a devil around inside us gnawing our innards.”

“So that’s it. I thought my liver was acting up again.”

Come on, how can you not like an author with such a sense of humour?

Jeff, thanks a lot for joining me today!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Further Adventures of Bigfoot

When Bud Turley strolls through the doors of the Blacklin County police station, Sheriff Dan Rhodes knows that something is up. His suspicions are confirmed when Bud shows him an enormous tooth he has found, suspecting that it belong to Bigfoot. Rhodes is sceptical, but Bud insists that Rhodes must guard the tooth until a palaeontologist from the community college can examine it.

But this quickly turns from a semi-comic tale of a hunt for Bigfoot into a sordid affair involving murder. Bud’s best friend Larry Colley is found dead in the woods (although—and this threw me completely off guard—the book insists that it’s Bud who’s found dead). The man who discovers the body insists that he saw Bigfoot nearby, and that’s proof enough for Bud. Off he goes posting ads on the Internet, and before long the Bigfoot brigade shows up, determined to find the mythical creature. Meanwhile, the tooth Bud discovered turns out to be part of a prehistoric animal and a research team is quickly formed to find the rest of the skeleton.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Inverted Murder à la française

« Pourquoi? » répéta Chaubard, dans sa dernière lueur de conscience.
L’individu chuchota : « Je pourrais vous répondre que c’est parce que vous êtes vulgaire et parfaitement antipathique, mais ce ne serait pas exact. C’est surtout parce que vous vous appelez Chaubard, et qu’à ce titre vous devez être trouvé mort sur le pont des Arts à cinq heures du matin. »


“Why ?” Chaubard repeated, in his last glimmer of consciousness.
The person whispered: “I could answer you that it is because you’re vulgar and perfectly unsympathetic, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Above all, it is because your name is Chaubard, and as such, you must be found dead on the pont des Arts at five o’clock in the morning.”

— René Reouven, Souvenez-vous de Monte-Cristo (Remember Monte Cristo)

That's not Raymond Chandler...
Good morning (or afternoon, or evening—it’s all relative, really) everyone and welcome to yet another special edition of At the Scene of the Crime! Today I am joined by blogger extraordinaire Xavier Lechard, who writes At the Villa Rose.

It’s hard to believe that this blog has already been around for an entire year, and I’ve made my fair share of discoveries in that time. I’ve found out, for instance, that Raymond Chandler wasn’t the St. George who slew the dragon of Golden-Age-style plotting, despite what many critics will tell you. I’ve also found out that there is an entire world of mysteries that was hiding in plain sight: the world of the French-language mystery. We Anglophones are often led to assume that Georges Simenon was the only non-English speaking writer of mysteries out there. Folks, we are being swindled—the truth couldn’t be any more different!

This journey of mine started back in May, when I read and reviewed Le Roi du désordre (The Lord of Misrule) by Paul Halter. I had read much about this French author, and I glowered in misery when I couldn’t find any of his novels to read in the original French. But finally I managed to convince my parents that it was a perfectly reasonable idea to spend $30 on an omnibus that contained The Lord of Misrule… and the book served a dual purpose. It reminded me why I love mysteries, but it also warmed up my French and my desire to find out more about French-language mysteries.

Fast-forward to today. My bookshelf contains 22 of Halter’s novels. My Kindle has four more titles. I’ve got an entire page running on this blog, devoted to his work! But my interest in French detective fiction goes even further. I’ve suddenly got books like L’ingénieur aimait trop les chiffres (translated as The Tube) by Boileau-Narcejac on my shelf. I’ve got two omnibuses of works by S. A. Steeman. And finally, I own three omnibuses of works by René Reouven.

It is this last author I’d like to bring your attention to. Earlier this year, I read Reouven’s fabulous book Tobie or not Tobie, where he rewrote the Book of Tobit as a mystery, complete with an impossible crime! It was a triumph on every level that left me hungry for more. I made up my mind to buy something else and I ended up purchasing Souvenez-vous de Monte-Cristo (Remember Monte Cristo). The choice was a strategic one— I have always loved the Alexandre Dumas novel.

René Reouven discussing Sherlock Holmes.

But time is a cruel mistress, and I hadn’t read any more Reouven since December. When I was planning these crossover reviews, I suddenly realised that the best possible thing to do was to invite Xavier for a cross-blog review! As a native French speaker, Xavier has known about the French mystery landscape for years, while I am just starting to discover it. His knowledge far eclipses mine—and hey, he’s a fan of René Reouven! So the idea was pitched, and Xavier agreed to come here today. As luck would have it, he hadn’t yet read this book, so we would both read it for the first time…

I apologize for the extremely long introduction, but I am very excited to reacquaint myself with Reouven and to welcome Xavier to this blog! Xavier, the floor is yours!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Evil Lies in Wait

Arlena Stuart Marshall is a beautiful woman, and she flares up passionate emotions wherever she goes. Men adore her, or at the very least, admire her beauty. Women despise her. It’s not the most harmonious atmosphere she brings with her to the Jolly Roger Hotel, where the great Hercule Poirot is coincidentally staying. She seems to have her sight set on young Patrick Redfern, recently married to Christine, and this relationship is tearing apart the young marriage.

Someone at last decides to stop Arlena for good, by strangling her at Pixy Cove. Hercule Poirot is asked by the local police to help out with the investigation. And thus, he begins to question everyone. There’s no shortage of suspects, he soon discovers: there’s Arlena’s husband Kenneth and his daughter Linda; there’s the dressmaker Rosamund Darnley, something of a childhood sweetheart of Kenneth Marshall’s; Patrick and Christine Redfern, whose marriage was being threatened; Revered Stephen Lane, a religious fanatic convinced Arlena was the incarnation of evil… and there’s plenty more where that came from!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Life of the Party

One of the best things about the e-book format is that it is so very versatile. For instance, thanks to e-publishing, an author can release an individual novella inexpensively. Perhaps this author will succeed in luring some readers in with the price—and if the reader likes what he sees, he (or she) may be persuaded to check out some of the author’s novels. (And thus addicts are born…)

Steve Brewer’s Party Doll is a perfect example. It’s far too long to be considered a short story, but it’s far too short to be considered a novel. So it’s given a “novella” label, priced at $1.99 for the Kindle, and offers readers a glimpse into the world of private investigator Bubba Mabry. This was my first time reading a story with this character, and I was rather looking forward to it.

Friday, March 09, 2012

An Air That Kills

Hello, readers, and welcome back to another special crossover-edition of At the Scene of the Crime! It was not long ago that I participated in a podcast hosted by Bill of Traditional Mysteries, where the topic of discussion was Sherlock Holmes. At one point, fellow blogger John Norris brought up the book The Breath of God, a novel by Guy Adams starring none other than Sherlock Holmes. I wasn’t in the room when the book was initially mentioned (there was a doorbell), but I later mentioned it and commented that it seemed far more like a supernatural novel. Any sane person would stay away, right?

Well, that ought to give you some insight into my character, because a great idea struck me: John had mentioned owning the book and I remembered picking it up at my local independent bookstore. The book sounded a lot like a supernatural novel, but was it really an ingenious impossible crime mystery in disguise? There was only one way to find out, and I managed to convince John (with a minimum of Chinese Water Torture) to join me for the ride. My one-year anniversary was coming up and besides, I like to support the local store when I can. So back to the store I marched at the first opportunity (that Tuesday, as it happens) and I walked out with The Breath of God in my bag.

So what was this book? A supernatural story that pilfers Holmes to sell more copies? An impossible crime with supernatural overtones? A mystery into which supernatural elements are integrated? There was a positive-sounding quote from Christopher Fowler on the cover, and yet that didn’t set me quite at ease… There was only one way to find out what I had gotten myself into…

John, thanks a lot for joining me today!


Thursday, March 08, 2012

Ten Little Indians: Dr. Edward Armstrong

Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

Dr. Armstrong in Desyat Negrityat
Curt: I don’t know whether I’m alone, but I’ve always felt sort of sorry for Dr. Armstrong. 

Sure, he’s pompous and conventional (Justice Wargrave at one point contemptuously thinks of Armstrong: “These doctors are all the same—they think in clichés.  A thoroughly commonplace mind.”).  And he likes his money and his standing in society.  But these are characteristics of many of us, to some degree or another.

Yet of course the reason Edward George Armstrong was invited to meet his death on Indian Island was not for any minor character flaw or quirk he might possess, but for his having “caused the death of Louisa Mary Clees.”

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Capitalism: A Crime Story

John Dortmunder is a serious crook—he doesn’t go after small fry. No purse-snatching or anything of the sort for him. But times are tough and he’s forced to run the encyclopaedia racket, going door to door pretending to represent an encyclopaedia company and getting people to pay a $10 down-payment on the whole set. So it’s understandably humiliating when his newest target turns out to be wise to the whole game and calls the cops on him. He runs out of the place while she’s on the phone and manages to run smack into Andy Kelp, who sits in the car blabbering at him, nearly allowing the duo to get caught by the police car headed their way, siren wailing…

But if the duo was caught in the opening chapters, we’d have no book, right? So they do manage to get away in one piece, but Dortmunder might just wish he’d gone back to brave the fuzz. Because Andy Kelp has got another brilliant scheme—to be more precise, it’s his nephew Victor who came up with this one. See, the Capitalists’ & Immigrants’ Trust is a bank undergoing renovations, and so for the construction period, their temporary location is in a trailer—a mobile home, to be more exact. On Thursday nights, there’s little time between closing time and opening time the next morning, so the bank leaves the money in the vault and seven security guards keep watch over the place. The idea is to rob the bank. And the robbers really mean it—when they set out to rob the bank, they intend to take the whole thing, trailer and all!

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Most Mysterious Suicide-- Maybe...

Hello everybody and welcome to this brand-new, special edition of At the Scene of the Crime! Today, I’m very pleased to participate in the first cross-blog review of the one-year anniversary celebrations. And what better co-blogger than Les Blatt of the prolific Classic Mysteries podcast?

But what to review? Les usually tackles classic mysteries that are either in print or easily obtained, so that ruled out books like the ever-so-obscure (I wonder if that’s because it’s fictional) novel by George Van Hooligan, The Case of the Murderous Monk.

But wait! Thanks to Faber & Faber, several novels by Cyril Hare have been brought back into print! This seemed like a perfect choice. Cyril Hare is such a respected mystery author and was a member of the prestigious Detection Club— plus he had experience as a judge, which lends a touch of authenticity to his work. And after some thinking, we settled on Suicide Excepted as a good book to read together!

Thanks a lot for joining me today, Les!


Oh, that’s right. I nearly forgot. As I’ve said before, Les’ reviews are in podcast form. That means there’s only one way to do this review properly, and that’s to go invade the Classic Mysteries podcast!

Sunday, March 04, 2012


When Maude Slocum walks into Lew Archer’s office, it looks like another typical case. She’s intercepted a nasty letter that was intended for her husband’s eyes—one that would cast more than a shadow of doubt on her fidelity as a wife. As it happens, her husband James will be a very rich man one day (when his mother dies) and she isn’t particularly keen on going through divorce proceedings. Plus, there’s a child to consider: Maude’s daughter Cathy. Maude went through a divorce as a child and doesn’t want Cathy to experience the same things.

And so Lew Archer gets ready to investigate. He rides to the scene but Death hitches a ride on the way, and very soon a body is discovered. The multimillionaire matriarch of the Slocum family, who kept rule over her son and his family with an iron fist, is found dead. She’s been drowned in the swimming pool. But was it an accident? Did she simply slip? Or was it murder?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Riding the Rails

If I were not before the bar
Something else I’d like to be
If I were not a barr-is-ter
An engine driver me!
John Cleese, Monty Python’s Flying Circus

The last time we saw Gustav “Old Red” Amlingmeyer and his brother, Otto “Big Red” Amlingmeyer, they had just solved a major mystery on a ranch, which got started with the apparently-accidental death of a supervisor. All this was chronicled in the wonderful book Holmes on the Range, a book where elements of a classic Western went toe-to-toe with elements of a classic mystery. The result was not one genre beating out the other, but a solid blend of the two. Now we’re back with On the Wrong Track.

The time is 1893 and Old Red has got it in mind to become a Pinkerton agent. Unfortunately, he and his brother go from town to town only to meet with the same scepticism and mockery. But at long last they seem to have gotten their lucky break—sort of. See, it’s complicated, but as cowboys, Big Red and Old Red are none too fond of the railway companies. So their feelings are somewhat mixed when they at long last get hired as detectives for the Southern Pacific Railway company. It’s particularly surprising how insistent Old Red is on the job—he even sells their horses!—since he’d rather ride the trail than the railway even if trains could get him to his destination in a fraction of the time.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Ten Little Indians: Justice Lawrence Wargrave

Five little Indian boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Wargrave in 1987's Desyat Negrityat
Patrick: Mr. Justice Wargrave is very much a respected pillar of society. As a retired judge, during his career he has condemned many men to death. From such a position, murder would be quite easy and 100% legal. And that is what Mr. Owen accuses Wargrave of having done, allegedly abusing his power as a judge and sending a man by the name of Edward Seton to his death.

Thus far in the article series “Ten Little Indians”, we have covered a remarkable amount of the victims of And Then There Were None. To paraphrase Curt, now I know how Mr. Owen felt! But at about this time, starting with this character, analyzing characters without spoilers becomes insanely tricky. So tricky, in fact, that I haven’t the slightest intention of trying to do so. This article contains shameless amounts of spoilers— please read Agatha Christie’s novel if you haven’t already done so. The reader is warned.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

"At the Scene of the Crime" Officially Kicks off its One Year Anniversary!

This post was meant to be made yesterday, to coincide with March 1st, but YouTube was stubborn and refused to upload the video below properly, forcing me to do so in two parts. Here they are now and I've managed to manipulate Blogger into temporarily agreeing with me that today is yesterday. So hopefully that all works out.

Welcome everybody to March, and here At the Scene of the Crime, we've got a special treat in store for you! That's right, I've pulled out the royal "we" as we get ready to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the blog! Technically, I didn't create the blog until the end of this month, but I uploaded a video far sooner and wrote some articles before creating this site. And so, as a reasonable person, I decided to simply devote the entire month to the celebration.

Below, in two parts, is a Q&A video where I take time to answer some frequently asked questions and some questions that you asked me to mark the anniversary occasion. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you will join me throughout the month for the festivities!