Apr 222014

The Chinese statuette was really quite charming, carved from fine jade. It represented a Taoist deity known as the Goddess of the Green Shiver. It was not particularly valuable. So why, among the pieces of beautiful, rare and valuable artwork on display at the private exhibition, had someone chosen to steal this particular statuette? Before that question was answered, there would be a double murder to solve - and while the police were pretty sure who had committed the crime, historian and professor Lucius Theocritus Westborough disagreed. You can get the full story in Green Shiver, a 1941 mystery by Clyde B. Clason. It's the book you'll find reviewed today on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to that review by clicking here.

Clyde B. Clason, and his detective, Professor Westborough, are probably best known for their "impossible crime" sagas, but Green Shiver, the last of Clason's ten mysteries featuring the Professor, does not really have any impossible crimes to be solved. What it does have, however, is a rather exotic atmosphere and a mystery surrounding that jade statuette, and the mystery proves to be every bit as complicated and difficult to solve as an impossible crime might be. The story was written in the year leading up to the American entry into World War II, and that war, well under way in both Europe and the Pacific, plays a significant role in the events of the book. The mystery is quite fairly clued, but the reader should expect a surprising number of twists and turns in the plot before the mystery is resolved.

It should be noted that there is a fair amount of anti-Oriental prejudice expressed by some of the characters in the book, particularly the deliberately ignorant local police. Professor Westborough, by contrast, appreciates many of the nuances of Chinese culture (and the bitter hatred at the time between the Chinese and the Japanese who had invaded China), and it is only that appreciation of Chinese history and culture which allows Professor Westborough to reach a satisfactory solution to the mystery. Bottom line: Green Shiver is, in my estimation, one of Clason's best books, and I recommend it highly.

Once again, I am submitting this post as an entry in the My Reader's Block Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge, filling the square on the Golden bingo card calling for one book with a color in the title. For those keeping score, that completes the top line on my score card, and I call "Bingo!" accordingly.


Apr 132014

Judge Dee was looking forward to his stopover in Rivertown, on his way home to his district. He was tired, and the prospect of a couple of days of fishing and rest sounded good. What he found instead was a gruesome murder, the theft of an exquisite pearl necklace from the Emperor's favorite daughter, and a court intrigue that had the potential to shake the foundations of the Chinese empire.

That's the situation we find in Necklace and Calabash, by Robert Van Gulik. Set in seventh-century imperial China, this was the next-to-last of his novels about Judge Dee, an actual statesman and detective who lived during the T'ang dynasty. Originally published in 1967, Necklace and Calabash is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

Judge Dee has barely arrived in Rivertown when he is confronted with the murder of a clerk who had worked at one of the local inns. Rivertown was a special area administered by the military because the Emperor's favorite daughter, the Third Princess, had her summer residence nearby in the Water Palace. The military authorities ask Judge Dee for his help. But he has barely arrived in town before he is summoned to the Water Palace for an audience with the Third Princess, who orders him to help locate a missing pearl necklace, apparently stolen from her room.

It's a wonderful plot. Judge Dee will encounter many fascinating characters, some helpful, some hostile. Among those characters is a Taoist recluse who calls himself Master Gourd, who travels with an empty gourd, a calabash, and who will be instrumental in helping Judge Dee solve the mysteries - in fact, Master Gourd will save the judge's life...

Necklace and Calabash is my favorite of the Judge Dee books. There are three major mysteries expertly interwoven here. Judge Dee, who is ably assisted by a team of aides in most of the other books, is on his own in Rivertown and must form new alliances. All this takes place against a backdrop of imperial China. Van Gulik, who was a Dutch diplomat, was an authority on Chinese history and culture, and his insight into what life may have been like in Judge Dee's time adds a fascinating subtext to the book. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

I'm also including this book in the My Reader's Block Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge, filling in the square on the silver score card calling for "one book with a lawyer, courtroom, judge, etc." Judge Dee will fit right in.

For those of you who might want to discuss this book further, we'll be talking about it among the 4 Mystery Addicts newsgroup on Yahoo! Groups between April 20 and April 30. If you don't belong to the group already...well, you should, no matter what kind of mysteries and crime fiction you enjoy. Come join the fun!

Apr 072014

Tracing the man should have been easy for Chief Detective Inspector Maigret. He knew exactly what the man looked like, right down to the shape of his ears. So it was a bit disconcerting, to say the least, after Maigret watched Pietr the Latvian walk off a train and out of the railroad station, to discover a dead man still on board the train who might very well have been...Pietr the Latvian.

It happens in Georges Simenon's first book about Maigret, called Pietr the Latvian, and it is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the complete review by clicking here.

The question Maigret must answer is, who is this Pietr the Latvian. Is he an international criminal, whose movements are being tracked by police all over Europe? Could he be, perhaps, that respectable, married sea captain? A drunken Russian vagrant? A murderous hit man? Or could he be that man whose body was found murdered on a train traveling through France? The answer will not come easily - and it will come at a startling high price in terms of violence and lives lost.

Pietr the Latvian first appeared as a serial in 1930 and was published in book form the next year. Simenon went on to write some 75 books and stories about Maigret. This story is pretty grim and gritty, but it is an absorbing novel, and Maigret's character is pretty clearly defined as it will continue throughout his and Simenon's careers. 

Penguin Books has announced plans to reissue all of the Maigret books. This first one, in an excellent new translation by David Bellos, is a good place to begin your friendship with Maigret.

My thanks to Sally Powers, who provided me with a copy for review and who has allowed me to cannibalize my earlier review of Pietr the Latvian for the I Love a Mystery newsletter. This review is also being submitted to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge, filling in the square on the Bingo score card that calls for one book with a man in the title.

Mar 312014

There's more news to share about the forthcoming "continuation" novel by Mike Ripley featuring Albert Campion, the gentleman detective/adventurer created by Margery Allingham.

As I posted here in January, the new book, Mr Campion's Farewell, is really a continuation of a book begun by Allingham's husband, Pip Youngman Carter, after his wife's death. Carter died after writing only a few chapters, and the manuscript was never finished or published. Now, Mike Ripley has completed it, and I believe it has just been published by Severn House in the U. K. It's scheduled to be released in the U.S. on July 1st.

Mike Ripley has done an interview with Shots Crime & Thriller Ezine about the new book, its origins, and his involvement with the project. I've been given an advance copy of the book, and I look forward to reviewing it on the blog and podcast as we get a little closer to the release date. For fans of Margery Allingham and Albert Campion, I would bet that your favorite friendly mystery bookstore would be more than happy to order a copy of Mr. Campion's Farewell for you. In the meantime, Ripley's interview answers a number of excellent questions and may whet your appetite.

Mar 312014

Every so often, a mystery writer whose work has faded into obscurity over time undergoes a sort of rediscovery, offering a new generation of readers a chance to discover that author's work. Consider the work of John Bude, a British author whose books are hardly remembered today. Now, the British Library, in its Crime Classics series, has brought back a couple of Bude's books - he wrote 30, all long out of print - for the enjoyment of new readers.

Which brings us to The Cornish Coast Murder, Bude's first mystery, published in 1935, a sort of classic English country-house murder that really does not deserve to be forgotten. The publisher provided me with a copy for this review, and it is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

In The Cornish Coast Murder, we have the murder of a local magistrate, Julius Tregarthen, in the small Cornish village of Boscawen. Although he was shot while sitting in his country home, it appears quite certain that he was shot by someone outside the house. Unfortunately, that's about the only clue police have - and so, enter a couple of amateurs, to help the police in their efforts to solve the case.

The local vicar, the Reverend Dodd, and his good friend, Doctor Pendrill love to read mysteries, and they often visit each other in the evening to discuss their reading. What more natural than that they should team up to help the police, who may be pursuing false leads in the case. After all, there isn’t much evidence – and what there is is largely contradictory. There are no footprints where footprints ought to be, and there are footprints where there should be none – that sort of thing. The victim’s niece, Ruth Tregarthen, appears to be hiding something, and her friend Ronald Hardy has disappeared, which leads the police inspector in charge of the case to suspect that the two young people may both be involved in the murder. Reverend Dodd doesn’t think so, and he sets out to prove their innocence – and to try to find the real killer.

It all makes for a very entertaining mystery, a fairly quick and enjoyable read. The new edition from the British Library Crime Classics includes a new introduction by mystery writer Martin Edwards, who notes that Bude paid more attention to his characters and his settings than many of his contemporaries did. It is good to have Bude's work brought back into print.

I'm submitting this book and review to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge (Golden version) under way at the My Reading Block blog as an example of a country house mystery. 

Mar 282014
Who would be your dream mash-up? (For instance, Sherlock Holmes thrown together with Stephanie Plum.)

By Paul D. Marks

(I think I understood this week's question a little differently. I thought mashing it up was teaming two detectives together, rather than merging them into one. So, on that basis, here goes.)

In this corner we have Kathy Mallory, Carol O'Connell's tough as her long, red fingernails, NYC police detective. And in this corner, we have Mickey Spillane's violent and brutal PI Mike Hammer. What a team.

If you're a bad guy you better watch out if these two are coming at you.

Hammer has frequently been labeled a psychopath and Mallory has been called a sociopath...by her own author, Ms. O'Connell. These two would be the solve it or kill 'em Dream Team. And any bad guy's worst nightmare as they tag-teamed them into submission.

Not only would Mallory and Hammer hammer on the bad guys, they would probably hammer on each other. And given each one's characteristics, I'm not sure who would come out on top.

Mike Hammer and Kathy Mallory – old school, brutal misanthrope vs. cold analytical not-give-a-damn-and-want-to-do-things-her-way-or-the-highway NYPD detective. Hammer is reminiscent of Dirty Harry (or vice versa as Hammer came first). Of course, now that I think about it so is Mallory. Mallory is sort of like a cat going after a mouse. She is beautiful to look at but cold and ruthless, without any remorse. Efficient and cool in pursuing her prey. She's relentless, a computer expert, who digs in deep and finds things no one else finds, sees things no one else sees, robotic in her efficiency. Somewhat emotionless, though one gets the idea that there are emotions she won't always admit to going on under the surface.

And Hammer makes Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and most other classic detectives look like kids playing cops and robbers in a playpen. For Hammer, the law is just an obstacle standing in the way of justice – or at least justice as he sees it – and one that can be gotten around by pretty much any means necessary. The end justifies the means. He has his own code and he will enforce that code, since the actual statutes and codes often let the badguys off. He doesn't give a damn about little things like laws, Miranda Warnings and other niceties. All in all you might say – and this is being kind and gentle – that Hammer is a thuggish, sexist, sadist, misanthrope. But probably a fun guy to have a beer with...

If Raymond Chandler thought of Marlowe and other detectives as modern knights errant, Spillane's Hammer is the tarnished knight, maybe the Black Knight, but he's no Darth Vader. He hasn't gone over to the dark side – he just uses dark side methods to help those who can't help themselves or who society is slow to help, if at all, find some semblance of justice.

Some readers have asked for a kinder, gentler Mallory. And the badguys would certainly like that. But O'Connell states in a Publishers Weekly interview: "PW: "Mallory’s drive remains as intense as ever, and she’s still lacking in warmth." Carol O'Connell: "Sometimes readers ask for a kinder, gentler Mallory. I explain that if I do that, I’ve got no book. These are character-driven novels, and I like the way the lady drives. In that respect, she has a vehicular-homicide way about her: always a challenge to go through a red light before it can turn green. I suppose I could try to warm up her image by giving her a dog, but the dog would be frightened all the time."

And if the question of a kinder, gentler Hammer was ever posed to Mickey Spillane I'm sure he would have thrown his drink in the questioner's face and laughed him out of the bar.

Some men, the good, the bad or the ugly, would be intimidated by Mallory. I don't think Hammer would. On the other hand, I don't think she would be intimidated by him. Wonder if they'd even find a little romance, if Hammer could tear himself away from Velda and Mallory could act human for a change.

The question I'm left with is would Mallory and Hammer beat the bad guy to a pulp or each other? Now that's a mash-up.

And I'd like to congratulate Catriona for winning The Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award for Best historical mystery novel at Left Coast Crime last weekend for "Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses." She gave a terrific and very moving and touching acceptance speech.


Had a great time at Left Coast Crime last weekend. The conference was fun and interesting. Met lots of new people and reconnected with old acquaintances. And Monterey and the drive up and back is nothing short of stunning.

Mar 242014

Asey Mayo was probably the only person on Cape Cod who didn't care about the big charity auction. Everybody else was eager to bid on the items up for sale - largely because they had heard rumors that the late John Alden had hidden a lot of cash inside something that would be sold at the auction. Asey didn't care. He didn't think much of those rumors and he hated auctions. He just wanted to go fishing. So it was just his bad luck to be on hand when one of those auctioned items was opened - and turned out to contain a corpse.

Welcome to the auction in Going, Going, Gone, a 1943 Asey Mayo Cape Cod mystery by Phoebe Atwood Taylor. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries website. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

Because Asey Mayo, also known as "the codfish Sherlock," is on the scene…and because it is wartime and a lot of the usual authorities are busy elsewhere…he finds himself stuck with the job of investigating the murder. That proves to be difficult and fairly dangerous. Poor Asey finds himself knocked out when he tries to catch someone prowling around at night and very soon after that finds himself tied up and dumped unceremoniously in the woods right next to the equally trussed policeman who had been left on guard.

All this is told in a surprisingly cheerful manner. Phoebe Atwood Taylor was very good at making the events in her Asey Mayo books light enough so that the humor never seems out of place. She manages to keep a smile on the reader’s face no matter what seems to be happening. Asey Mayo, who stars in two dozen of Taylor's books, is a wonderful character, and the Cape Cod background provides a first-rate setting for these mysteries. If you haven't met Asey before, Going, Going, Gone would be a fine introduction.

This is another entry in the My Reader's Block blog Vintage Mystery Bingo reading challenge, filling the square on the Golden score card for "a book by an author you've read before."

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