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 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."

Mar 032014

If there was one point on which many of the long-time residents of the Hotel Richelieu agreed, it was that the Richelieu was a good place to live. That, of course, was before someone began turning it into a better place to die. Violently. And as the police were struggling to figure out what was going on, it was going to be a self-proclaimed "old battle-ax," Adelaide Adams, who would play a central role in solving Murder á la Richelieu, a 1937 mystery by an author virtually unknown today, Anita Blackmon. Murder a la Richelieu is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

Anita Blackmon wrote only two mysteries, which is unfortunate. She is very much a highly-skilled member of the Had I But Known school of detective fiction made popular by American author Mary Roberts Rinehart. Her narrator, Adelaide Adams, has a fair amount of fun with that particular convention. I mean how can you resist a book whose protagonist observes: "Had I suspected the orgy of bloodshed upon which we were about to embark, I should then and there, in spite of my bulk and an arthritic knee, have taken shrieking to my heels." I think it's the arthritic knee which makes that such a fine parody of the genre.

In any case, Adelaide Adams proceeds to tell us about the murderous events at the Hotel Richelieu, a residential hotel located in an unidentified city in the American south (apparently Little Rock, Arkansas).  As for the events she goes on to describe…well they begin with the murder of a man found hanging in Adelaide’s room with his throat cut, and go on from there. By the time it is over, we will be dealing with multiple killings and a number of other serious crimes, along with some wholesale blackmailing. And the police will note - as will the reader - that it is usually Adelaide Adams who finds the latest body...

It's a complex mystery, with a fair number of subplots that suddenly twist and fall into place, though that place is not always where the reader might have expected. It is an engaging mystery, with enough humor and plot twists to carry the reader through some fairly grim events.

I am indebted to mystery scholar Curtis Evans for my first exposure to Anita Blackmon. Evans wrote the introduction to the new Coachwhip Publications edition of Murder a la Richelieu, as well as a lengthy post on his blog, The Passing Tramp. He calls Murder a la Richelieu an example of "The twentieth-century HIBK tale at its best." I agree completely.

This review is another entry in the My Reader's Block blog reading challenge 2014 Vintage Mystery Bingo - it is an example of "one book with a place in the title." For full details about the challenge, be sure to check out the reading results pages at the blog.

Feb 242014

It would be fair to say that Bill Tracy was not having a good day. Tracy, an ex-reporter now writing soap operas for radio, was not happy to pick up a newspaper and read about the murder of his boss, shot by some loon wearing a Santa Claus suit (in New York City in August). The problem for Tracy was simple: the killer had stolen the whole idea of the murder from one of Tracy's new radio scripts. One of his newly-written and still unpublished radio scripts. That was not going to make the police - or Tracy - very happy...

That's the start of a very funny and rather outrageous book called Murder Can Be Fun, by Fredric Brown, first published in 1948 under the title, A Plot for Murder. You can find a full audio review of Murder Can Be Fun on the Classic Mysteries podcast this week, and you can listen to it by clicking here.

As if that murder cribbed from one of his unpublished scripts weren't enough to give Bill a major headache, it quickly got worse: there was soon another murder - this time in Bill's own apartment building - where, once again, the method of murder was one taken directly from another of Bill Tracy's new scripts that had never left his apartment.

If you’re at all familiar with Fredric Brown's mysteries, most of which, sadly, are out of print, you should realize that he had a bizarre sense of humor, and this kind of plot is the kind that he did really well. Tracy, of course, will get deeply involved in the case – the police, after all, are kind of interested in how anyone but Bill might have known what was in his manuscripts. There are all kinds of complications arising from Bill’s "regular" work on the scripts for the soap opera called Millie’s Millions, particularly when he gets an attractive young stenographer to help him write the shows.

And then there's the drinking. Bill (and the other characters, to be sure) put away enough liquor among them to account for the output of a pretty good-sized distillery. I'd say he makes Nick and Nora Charles look like teetotalers. Tracy's usual condition might be described as ranging between slightly inebriated and "good and stinkingly drunk." 

What we have, overall, is a fine, complex comic mystery. I think the solution ultimately is a bit weak – but frankly I was laughing too hard to care very much about that. I think you'll enjoy Bill Tracy's company, share his fully justified concerns and fears - and read the book to find out just how the killer DID manage to steal those ideas from Bill's manuscripts.  Murder Can Be Fun has been reissued as a Print on Demand trade paperback by Blackmask Online. I think you'll enjoy it.

Murder Can Be Fun is another entry in the My Reader's Block blog Vintage Mystery Bingo reading challenge, fulfilling the requirement on the "Golden" score card for "a book published under more than one title."


Feb 172014

Writing at the Golden Age Detection group on Facebook, Jeffrey Marks reminds us that today is the 126th anniversary of the birth of Fr. Ronald Knox, a classic writer from the Golden Age of English Detective Fiction. Father Knox is perhaps best remembered as the author of the "10 Commandments of Detective Fiction," a list which is frequently more honored in the breach than in the observance (including by Knox himself). (And a hat tip to Jeff for the link.)

I reviewed one of Knox's mysteries, The Viaduct Murder, on this blog several years ago including a full review on the podcast. It's an entertaining book, quite in keeping with the Golden Age tradition of fair play puzzles. It is still available (at the link) as an e-book for the Kindle, although I'm pretty sure it's out there in other electronic formats as well.

Feb 052014

It was a beautiful morning for a horseback ride through New York City's Central Park. Too bad it ended in sudden - and most unnatural - death for the rider. As a result, the very considerable talents of schoolteacher Hildegarde Withers and her good friend, Inspector Oscar Piper proved to be essential in solving The Puzzle of the Red Stallion, by Stuart Palmer. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

Stuart Palmer wrote more than a dozen novels and a fair number of short stories about schoolteacher Hildegarde Withers, whom he referred to as "that meddlesome old battleaxe." Hildy generally teamed up with her friend (and more than occasional rival), New York City Police Inspector Oscar Piper to solve mysteries which very often appeared impossible at first viewing.

The Puzzle of the Red Stallion, which was first published in 1935, was the sixth book to feature Hildy and Piper. It begins with a murder – a murder in which Miss Withers quickly becomes involved. The victim, a glamorous fashion model, had been riding her horse, a beautiful red stallion and former racing horse named Siwash. At first, there appears to be no good way to explain her death, as there is no evident wound on the body, though there is blood in Siwash. Miss Withers helps Piper solve that problem only to discover that, while there are plenty of suspects who might have had good reason to want the victim dead, none appeared to have had an opportunity to commit the murder. There is a great deal about horse racing in this book, and the sport does play a very important part in the solution of the mystery. There is more than one murder – and, I would have to say, a really nasty method for committing murder that almost evades detection.

While The Puzzle of the Red Stallion is not the strongest entry in the series, there are a couple of murders and some interesting characters. It was made into a movie called "Murder on a Bridle Path," but I don't think it's available for viewing at the moment. The book is a fairly quick, enjoyable read. There are used copies available from the usual sources, but it's also been published as a low-cost e-book from the Mysterious Press and Open Road Integrated Media.

This book is another entry for this year's Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge at the My Reader's Block blog. The challenge this year is to fill our "Bingo" - type cards with vintage mysteries (Gold = pre-1960 or Silver = 1961-1980) mysteries. On my Gold card, this book counts os "one book with an animal in the title.


Dec 092013

The good people at the Felony & Mayhem Press have sent me an email announcing that two of my favorite authors will have their vintage series mysteries offered at AT LEAST a 25% discount this month. The authors are Margery Allingham, one of the so-called "Crime Queens" of Britain's Golden Age and creator of the gentlemanly sleuth Albert Campion, and Edmund Crispin, whose books about Gervase Fen are funny, cleverly plotted - and fairly clued (for the most part, anyway).

You can read more about it at the Felony & Mayhem site. In addition to the 25% discount, F&M says it will be discounting individual titles even more deeply, on a rotating basis, all through December. Great gifts, especially for your own bookshelves...

Dec 092013

On the surface, it seemed like a fairly ordinary crime - a man murdered in his study by someone using the proverbial "blunt instrument." But there were a number of peculiarities which worried Superintendent Hannasyde and his assistant, Sergeant Hemingway. For example, the fact that the murder weapon - whatever it was - seems to have disappeared...

It happens in a Georgette Heyer mystery titled, appropriately enough, A Blunt Instrument, a Golden Age mystery first published in 1938, and one which stands up quite well despite having been written 75 years ago. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to that entire review by clicking here.

The murder of Ernest Fletcher appeared to police to have been nearly impossible to have happened at all.  The deeper Hannasyde and Hemingway probe into the case, the clearer it becomes that the murder must have taken place in a very limited period of time…and that the murderer was very fortunate not to have been seen and recognized. In fact, the local policeman on the beat, Constable Glass, apparently did see someone leaving the victim's house. Was it the murderer? Difficult to say. And that missing blunt instrument is a major sticking point for the police – the absence of the weapon, as Sergeant Hemingway points out repeatedly, wants a bit of explanation. The man seen leaving the house by the constable did not seem to be carrying anything like a heavy walking stick – or anything else that might have been used as a weapon.

Heyer has a great deal of fun with this situation - it's one of those lovely cases where virtually everyone in the book turns out to have had a good reason to murder the victim. But the very limited time in which the murder could have been committed - and the problem of that missing weapon - make it a very tricky case. Tricky indeed!

Georgette Heyer is best remembered, of course, for her Regency romances, but she was also a fine writer of classic, puzzle-oriented mysteries, filled with interesting and enjoyable characters. A Blunt Instrument is a very good example. It's not my favorite among her mysteries - but it's very good. 

Nov 182013

We're doing something a bit unusual this week on the Classic Mysteries podcast: for once, we're reviewing something that's quite new - in fact, it has just been published this month.

The reason for writing about R. T. Raichev's new mystery, The Riddle of Sphinx Island, is that it really looks back at the great classic mysteries - in particular, one of my all-time favorites, Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None." Raichev uses the Christie novel as a jumping-off point for a book that quite lovingly pokes fun at many of the classic mystery conventions - and does so with a great deal of respect.

The story? Well, it features a librarian-turned-detective-story-writer, Antonia Darcy, and her husband, Major Hugh Payne. They are invited to travel to Sphinx Island, a remote and isolated island in Devon. They are told that their presence is needed there to prevent a murder from happening.

Now Darcy and Payne are pretty well acquainted with the classic mystery plots. To them, "Sphinx Island" sounds a great deal like Christie's "Indian Island," where the isolated guests found themselves cut off from the outside world with a murderer who appeared bent on killing all of them. Darcy and Payne are - to put it politely - skeptical; they are pretty sure they are being set up by their friends for some kind of murder mystery game, one of those "murder weekends" perhaps where a murder is play-acted. Nevertheless, they go.

What do they find when they get to Sphinx Island? You're going to have to read the book to find out. Suffice to say that it certainly isn't what they expected...and the reader will find a great many twists along the way; just when you think you know what's really going on...well, you don't.

What's really important here, though, is the tongue-in-cheek and rather loving look at the classics of mystery fiction. Even the chapter titles are taken from the names of classic mysteries (although I really never had thought of Kafka as a classic mystery writer).

I'll have more to say about The Riddle of Sphinx Island on the podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.

This book is the eighth in a series of cozy mysteries featuring Antonia Darcy and Major Payne, and I'm told there are more on their way from their publisher, The Mystery Press. The book is distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing, which provided me with a copy for this review.


Sep 022013

The trouble in Saltmarsh began when the vicar's wife discovered that the housemaid was pregnant, with no prospective husband in view. The maid, kicked out of the vicarage, found refuge at the local pub. But when the baby arrived, the new mother refused to name its father - or, for that matter, to show the baby to anyone. Then there was a murder. Then someone disappears...

But you get the idea. Saltmarsh is another of those lovely, peaceful, idyllic English villages so dear to Golden Age mystery authors and readers - and, when you look a little more closely, you find that it is perhaps not so lovely, peaceful and idyllic. It is the scene for some remarkably bizarre and darkly funny goings-on in The Saltmarsh Murders, by Gladys Mitchell, the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, which you may hear in its entirety by clicking here.

The Saltmarsh Murders, originally published in 1932, was the fourth book by Gladys Mitchell to feature her psychiatrist protagonist, Mrs. Bradley. And, believe me, there is a great deal for a psychiatrist to observe in Saltmarsh. I don't think I can sum up the plot very easily for this one, because it is quite complex and fairly outrageous. Perhaps the best I can do is cite the introduction by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan, written for a 1984 edition of the book. They describe the village of Saltmarsh and the book this way:

"Adultery, high jinks, horseplay, an illegitimate birth, a hidden baby, rumours of infanticide, exhibitions of lunacy, a couple of murders, a lost corpse, an illicit trade in pornography, even a spot of incest all keep things lively for Gladys Mitchell's benighted villagers before Mrs. Bradley gets to the bottom of the imbroglio."

As for Mrs. Bradley herself, the vicar's daughter, Daphne, describes her this way: “a most fearful and wonderful creature, just like a lizard or something quite scaly and prehistoric, with a way of screeching with laughter which makes you jump.”

While The Saltmarsh Murders is generally highly regarded by fans of both Gladys Mitchell and Mrs Bradley (myself included), I must admit that I wouldn't suggest it as your first introduction to Mitchell's books. While there's a lot of humor in it, Mrs. Bradley seems even more eccentric than usual, which is saying something. And while the mystery is fascinating, and the characters really unique, it's a little over the top. But if you've already read other books featuring Mrs. Bradley, you really owe it to yourself to try The Saltmarsh Murders.

Now a complaint: when I first decided to review The Saltmarsh Murders a couple of months ago, it was easily available in an e-book edition for the Amazon Kindle. That one has disappeared from the catalogue, and the book is out of print; if you follow the link to the Amazon page, you'll find plenty of second hand book dealers are offering inexpensive copies of the printed book. That would appear to be your best chance of obtaining a copy, though it IS still available as an audiobook (also at the link). It's worth the effort.


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