The 9 Dark Hours by Lenore Glen Offord

Cover: Felony and Mayhem reprint (2018)

Originally published in 1941

It’s 1941, and San Francisco is pulsing with excitement—with hot jazz, ice-cold cocktails, and the ever-present threat of war. For Cameron Ferris, newly arrived from Tiny Town, Oregon, a seat on the sidelines is thrilling enough, so she’s delighted with her boring job as a file clerk in a warehouse. For a while. But now the while’s up, and Cameron is starting to feel like one of life’s wallflowers. For good or for ill, life is about to provide a cure, in the form of a strange man living in her apartment, kidnappers hanging out on the fire-escape, and all traces of her life scrubbed clean. Who is Cameron Ferris? Has she become so unspeakably dull that she simply disappeared? And what can an invisible person do to foil a gang of kidnappers? A highly unusual, thoroughly unnerving tale that sings with the music of the period.

Blurb – Felony and Mayhem (2018 reprint)

My Thoughts

I knew nothing about Lenore Glen Offord until a few days ago when Kate from CrossExaminingCrime mentioned how much she had enjoyed her work. Curious to learn more, I went online and discovered the absolutely gorgeous Felony and Mayhem reprints that came out a couple of years ago. Reader, I couldn’t resist. They were bought, I set aside the other books I was reading and immediately dug in.

Of the titles I picked up, I opted to start with The 9 Dark Hours in part because it was a standalone but also because I was intrigued by its setting. While I have yet to do much travel in the United States outside of the South since moving here a little more than a decade ago, I have spent time in San Fransisco which is a beautiful city. I also was struck by the idea that this would make an interesting contrast with the previous book I read, Baynard Kendrick’s Odor of Violets, as both take place at the point at which America is about to go to war.

The story introduces us to Cameron Ferris, a recent arrival in the city, who is working in a warehouse taking orders for things like ‘barswingles and Hagedorn clamps’ (these, she informs us, are not to be taken literally). It is not particularly glamorous work and she bemoans how nothing interesting ever seems to happen to her.

Cameron is persuaded to take a long weekend by her supervisor at the company who suggests a ‘quiet and decent’ place in the country that his mother had visited and highly recommended. While she instinctively wants to reject the suggestion, she finds she hasn’t the heart to and she packs herself off only to find the place a bust – quite literally in terms of the leaky roof – and so she leaves a day early.

When she returns home she is shocked to discover a ‘perfectly strange man’, just as shocked as her, inside her apartment which appears to have been refurnished…

As hooks for stories go, I felt that this was quite superb. The first chapters do a fine job of letting us get to know Cameron and experience that sense of exhaustion and confusion as she finds her life turned utterly upside down. While I had some immediate thoughts about the scenario, the author creates a sense of continuous discovery as we are presented with new details and learn more about the various characters.

I found Cameron to be a likable and sympathetic protagonist, not only because of the strangeness of the scenario she finds herself in but also because of the way she conducts herself throughout this adventure. She has an entertaining narrative voice, her reflections on the strangeness of her situation or the individuals she is interacting with often having humorous qualities to them.

Although the book might be fairly categorized as a Had I But Known-type story, Cameron’s decision-making is often good and when she does make errors of judgement, her reasons for doing so are usually quite understandable. I think what endears her most to me though is her assertiveness and her willingness to take action when she thinks it right.

I don’t want to spoil too much of what develops from this initial setup but I will say that the scenario Offord imagines is quite exciting and forces Cameron to make judgment calls and quick decisions on a number of occasions. Almost every chapter ends on some small reveal or moment that changes our understanding of the situation or that presents some new challenge, making for a very engaging reading experience.

The explanation for what is going on is quite exciting and it involves some interesting concepts that I hadn’t seen often in works from this era. It is not really the type of story where the reader is engaged with solving a puzzle – rather this is all about exploring the scenario and the action it prompts which builds nicely to a pretty thrilling conclusion. Offord does this really well, making for a very satisfying reading experience.

The Verdict:

The 9 Dark Hours was my first Lenore Glen Offord but I am sure to read more. It’s a funny, exciting and thoroughly readable thriller with a great premise.

Have you read any Lenore Glen Offord? Which of her novels would you recommend?

Odor of Violets by Baynard Kendrick

Cover: Penzler Publishing – American Mystery Classics Reprint (2021)

Originally published in 1940
Detective Maclain #3
Preceded by The Whistling Hangman
Followed by Blind Man’s Bluff

Meet Captain Duncan Maclain. Blinded during his service in the first World War, Maclain made up for his lack of vision by sharpening his other senses, achieving a mastery of the subtle unseen clues often missed by those who see only with their eyes. Aided by his dogs Schnucke and Driest, the Captain puts the intelligence-gathering techniques he learned in the Army to work, making a name for himself as New York City’s most sought-after private detective. Now it’s 1940, there’s a second World War breaking out, and Maclain is pulled into a case unlike any he’s investigated before. 

The murder of an actor in his Greenwich Village apartment would cause a stir no matter the circumstances but, when the actor happens to possess secret government plans, and when those plans go missing along with the young woman with whom he was last seen, it’s sensational enough to interest not only the local police, but the American government as well. 

Maclain suspects a German spy plot at work and, in a world where treasonous men and patriots are indistinguishable to the naked eye, it will take his special skills to sniff out the solution.

My Thoughts

For much of this week the fates seemed to be conspiring to keep me from reading my book club’s latest selection, Odor of Violets. At the start of the week I began reading a copy on my lunch break at work, only to get thrown a curveball when a COVID-quarantining situation left me unable to retrieve it, forcing me to order a second print copy. Which got delayed. Or lost. So with twenty-four hours to go, I had to switch things up, shift to a digital edition and force myself to read it in one sitting.

I mention the background to how I came to read this because I want to acknowledge that I didn’t read this in ideal circumstances and I think it is possible that my reading, particularly my ability to focus, may have been affected. Certainly the plotting was the part of the novel I seemed to absorb the least although it had been much of the draw for me when this book was selected. Whether that reflects on the complexity of the plotting or my own inattention, I cannot say.

Odor of Violets begins by introducing us to Norma Tredwill who has decided she must speak with her ex-husband, the actor Paul Gerente, after beginning to suspect that he may be having an affair with a member of her family. She visits his apartment and is buzzed inside, only to find his dead body lying on the carpet. Someone must have buzzed her inside, but who could that have been and where did they disappear to?

Meanwhile across the city private detective Captain Maclean receives a visit in his office. The visitor, identified as Paul Gerente, has a message from Naval Intelligence seeking Maclean’s assistance in identifying vulnerable points in the city’s defenses. A short while later he visits Gerente’s apartment only to discover another man inside along with the dead body. A man who admits to murdering Gerente…

Odor of Violets, written in 1940, is principally a pulpy, espionage thriller though I was quite pleasantly surprised to realize that it also has elements of the traditional whodunnit. While some developments such as kidnappings and our detective finding themselves in physical peril clearly reflect a pulpy style, there are several occasions where those developments come about because of the detection (or to enable it to occur).

I do really like the conceit of Maclain speaking with a man only to learn that he was already dead. It gets things off to a fun start by introducing the idea of impersonation and also reminding us quite clearly of the wartime backdrop to the story. The success of Maclain’s investigation will, we realize, have a huge impact on national security and it may very well affect America’s contribution to the war. These are pretty compelling stakes and I felt they helped to not only build interest in the detection process but also to introduce a bit of a race against time as we near the end of the story.

As much as I liked this initial hook, I did find the early chapters a little slow and perhaps even a little unfocused. There is a lot going on here and I initially struggled a little with the combination of a domestic and a national security focus, wanting the writer to commit to one or the other. Things pick up considerably with a second murder that uses a pretty novel murder weapon and kick into another gear entirely when, close to the end, a third body turns up in circumstances that are very memorable.

Though I struggled a little to get interested in those early chapters, two things kept me going and engaged with this. The first was that Kendrick’s pulpy writing style is entertaining and ensures that there is plenty of incident to keep the reader engaged. The second, and perhaps more important one, was the character of Maclain himself.

Maclain is a fascinating creation for a number of reasons, not least the depiction of his blindness. While Kendrick’s depiction of sensory compensation can feel a little incredible and overdone, I appreciated firstly that the author attempts to show how a dedicated individual might be able to refine their skills to still make an important contribution – in this case to the war effort.

One of the most striking behaviors Maclain demonstrates seems to be drawn straight from the Sherlock Holmes playbook. On several occasions in the story Maclain draws huge observations about a character based on some small details of their personality or manners. Some of these can be a little fantastical, much like those found in Holmes, but the core idea here is excellent. What’s more, while I think Kendrick uses it a little too often, I think the execution and explanation of those moments is very good.

After a slow start my interest picked up considerably at the time of the second murder and gained still further with the third – which is introduced in quite a wonderfully macabre way. It’s a strong image in a book that’s absolutely packed with them (Kendrick was evidently quite a visual writer) and the moment it is introduced is quite startling. By the end of the book I was quite hooked on the action and keen to see what would happen.

It is, in short, a pretty engaging read – even when I wasn’t always clear exactly what was going on (as a reminder: that may be on me rather than the novel). While I found the direction of the story to be a little unclear at times, I really enjoyed the overall conceit and felt that the idea had been executed very well. Is Maclain a character I would seek out again and again? I am not sure though I will be curious to read any thoughts from others if anyone has any recommendations!

The Verdict:

The 9 Dark Hours was my first Lenore Glen Offord but I am sure to read more. It’s a funny, exciting and thoroughly readable thriller with a great premise.

I struggled to find the thread of the story in the earliest chapter but things picked up for me considerably with the discovery of the secondary murders. Ultimately very solid and readable but the plot itself is less remarkable than its hero.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

The Verdict

Deservedly one of the most famous of Poirot’s cases, boasting one of her most interesting victims and some fascinating human drama.

Book Details

Originally published in 1937
Hercule Poirot #18
Preceded by Dumb Witness
Followed by Appointment with Death

The Blurb

The tranquility of a luxury cruise along the Nile was shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway had been shot through the head. She was young, stylish, and beautiful. A girl who had everything . . . until she lost her life.

Hercule Poirot recalled an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: “I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.” Yet under the searing heat of the Egyptian sun, nothing is ever quite what it seems.

A sweeping mystery of love, jealousy, and betrayal, Death on the Nile is one of Christie’s most legendary and timeless works.

I am the subject, Mr. Poirot, of an intolerable persecution. That persecution has got to stop!

My Thoughts

In his excellent book Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World, Mark Aldridge notes that while Murder on the Orient Express may be Poirot’s most famous case, Death on the Nile is ‘better suited for the screen than its more famous predecessor’. Part of that is the story’s exotic setting as even if Christie doesn’t spend too long describing the landscapes, there is great scope for filmmakers to create striking visual moments set against the river itself, at tombs or in grand hotels. I think the greater reason though is that this story offers some really intense dramatic scenes and a large cast of interesting supporting characters for Poirot to suspect.

The victim in this story is the beautiful and enormously wealthy Linnet Ridgeway who had travelled to Egypt on her honeymoon. Before making their trip, Linnet had expressed a belief that she hadn’t an enemy in the world but it quickly becomes clear that she was mistaken. She and her husband Simon are followed throughout their trip by Jacqueline who had been her friend, and in a relationship with Simon, until Linnet stole him away from her. While Jacqueline’s presence is upsetting to Linnet, Poirot reminds her that her former friend is breaking no law.

The couple hope to give her the slip by unexpectedly changing their travel plans to board the Karnak and take a cruise down the Nile. They are surprised then when they board to find her already waiting for them. Several attempts on Linnet’s life follow before she is found dead in her cabin having been shot in the head. The most obvious suspect, Jacqueline, had been under guard all night, leaving Poirot with the difficult task of figuring out who aboard the steamer murdered Linnet and why.

There is a lot to love here but I think it begins with the superb, complex characterization of Linnet. She has many admirable traits – her competence and understanding of business as well as her desire to be generous to her friends and yet Poirot notes that her treatment of Jacqueline was cruel. Her claims to be unfairly persecuted ring hollow when she, with everything in the world, took the only thing that mattered to her friend.

While it may seem hard to believe that such a young woman would have enemies, Christie creates a huge cast of characters and gives most a credible motive for murder (or at least for behaving really oddly). Among the most colorful of those characters are Salome Otterbourne, the romance novelist who keeps trying to push her book on Poirot, the young revolutionary Ferguson and the incredibly snobby Mrs Van Schuyler but even the more straightforward figures – such as the trustee of Linnet father’s estate – feel pretty neatly drawn.

Christie also chooses to bring back Colonel Race, a few novels after he met Poirot in Cards on the Table. I quite enjoy Race’s presence here and appreciate that he provides Poirot with an official reason to become involved though I think his reason for being on the Karnak is the novel’s least satisfying element. The subplot with the spy aboard the boat is far from convincing which is no doubt why I had completely forgotten it. It feels like an afterthought and I think Christie should and could have come up with a better reason to have him there or, alternatively, allow that matter to play out entirely in the background.

The other thing that I really admire about this book, and which I have appreciated more upon revisiting it, is how clearly Christie outlines both the various characters’ movements throughout the evening of the murder and also some of the questions that arise. Revisiting this story, I could see the clues that ought to have suggested the solution but I am pretty sure I came nowhere near working it out the first time I read this.

This is one of Christie’s most interesting murders, both in terms of the mechanics of how it was worked and also in terms of the motive behind it. Where some other celebrated Poirot stories have an audacious solution in terms of the trick being used, the one here struck me as really quite credible both in its conception and execution. On a related note, I feel that the way Poirot reaches that truth is equally convincing.

While a couple of the physical clues are a little obscure – I think particularly of a small bottle – and there is a little bit of luck involved, what impressed me most were the psychological aspects of the case. There are some excellent, subtle inferences that can be drawn from characters’ speech and behaviors and revisiting this novel, I was struck by how well those aspects of the solution are set up.

As impressive as this novel is, it is not without a few faults. One of those, the spying subplot, I have already touched on but I think that the secondary murders feel a little rushed and, in the case of the last, seem to strain credibility in terms of how quickly it seems to be carried out. Rather than reinforcing the cleverness of the crime, I felt that those developments reinforced my feeling that the killer is very, very lucky at several points in this story or to put it another way – the investigators are very unlucky. While any case will inevitably involve some elements of luck, it diminishes the sense that a solution is ingenious when you come away feeling that the killer was very fortunate to have everything come into alignment in the way it does.

Still, in spite of those issues I think that Death on the Nile is another excellent entry in what was a run of consistently very, very good Poirot stories (with a very occasional odd exception) Christie wrote in the thirties. While it may not be the pinnacle of her achievement with the character, it is not all too far off…

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards

Book Details

Originally published in 2015

The Blurb

Winner of the 2016 EDGAR, AGATHA, MACAVITY and H.R.F.KEATING crime writing awards, this real-life detective story investigates how Agatha Christie and colleagues in a mysterious literary club transformed crime fiction.

Detective stories of the Twenties and Thirties have long been stereotyped as cosily conventional. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Golden Age of Murder tells for the first time the extraordinary story of British detective fiction between the two World Wars. A gripping real-life detective story, it investigates how Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Agatha Christie and their colleagues in the mysterious Detection Club transformed crime fiction. Their work cast new light on unsolved murders whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets, and their complex and sometimes bizarre private lives.

Crime novelist and current Detection Club President Martin Edwards rewrites the history of crime fiction with unique authority, transforming our understanding of detective stories, and the brilliant but tormented men and women who wrote them.

The Verdict

A fascinating exploration of the Detection Club and the role its members played in developing detective fiction in its Golden Age. Highly recommended.

This is the perfect moment for a cold case review of the Detection Club: to unmask the Golden Age writers and their work, against the backdrop of the extraordinary times in which they lived.

My Thoughts

One of the challenges in writing about a book that has been as celebrated as Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder is figuring out how to approach it. It strikes me that if you are reading this blog (which you are), you are likely already interested in what is dubbed detective fiction’s Golden Age. It also seems to me quite likely that you may have read this already.

Nor can I say that my opinion of the book will likely stand out from the other opinions that have been offered about it. The work is a very enjoyable and well-researched history of the formation of the Detection Club and the part that its members played in developing the British detective novel in the period between the two world wars.

Odds are then that this may make for a pretty unimaginative review but I feel there is still some value in sharing some thoughts, though I will endeavor to keep them brief. After all, there may be some (like myself) who are late in coming to this work.

Edwards begins his work before the creation of the Detective Club, devoting his first few chapters to exploring the early writing careers of Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley and Agatha Christie. These three are some of the most familiar writers of this period but it is necessary to understand the personalities of the figures most instrumental in the group’s creation. Their personalities loom large in the organization’s early years and feature frequently throughout the rest of the book.

After discussing how the Detection Club came to be founded and describing some of its rituals and rules, Edwards expands his focus to feature the many other figures who were its members. Given the number of members it is natural that some are afforded more space than others. Some, such as A. A. Milne and Baroness Orczy, are only mentioned briefly, while others’ careers get more substantial coverage. It seemed clear to me that this reflects their contribution to the development of the detective fiction and I didn’t feel that there were any obvious omissions.

Edwards often groups figures together around a common theme. For example, the fourteenth chapter deals with the impact of World War I on the members, providing biographical notes for Henry Wade, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy and Christopher Bush. It was this material that often proved the most interesting to me as several of the names and the works discussed were unfamiliar to me.

More on that in a moment…

Another source of joy for me were the notes at the end of each chapter. Edwards will quote a sentence he has written and provide additional background. In some cases that means referencing the works he consulted in his research, in others it might mean providing additional reflections on a point beyond the scope of this work. I found these to be very informative and I appreciate that these are used well to provide additional detail that could otherwise slow the work down or distract from the theme of the chapter.

Overall I was impressed by the range of themes Edwards is able to explore in the book and I particularly appreciated the way he would tie developments in the genre to the bigger socio-political events happening at that time. We get to read about how members of the Detection Club responded to the Spanish Civil War, the abdication crisis and the financial turmoil of the 1930s. Some of those stories I had heard before but there was much that was new and fascinating to me. There is also plenty of discussion of the real-life crime cases that fascinated the members and the works that they inspired.

Other than wishing that sometimes there were a few more details about some of those more elusive figures, my only other complaint is a rather minor one. While Edwards usually avoids detailing plots in full, there are a few references to works that I think give a little too much of the books’ solutions or endings away either by direct comment or in comparison. While this is rare and those elements are often referenced to illustrate broader points about the development of the genre or on a theme, do take care and be prepared to skim.

Overall though I had a really good time with The Golden Age of Murder and I felt I came away from it with a stronger understanding of the Detection Club and an interest in its members many of whom I am completely unfamiliar with. That is something I would love to correct and so, as my Twitter followers may be aware, I have decided to embark on an ambitious challenge for myself to read and review at least one work by each of its members.

My intention is that I will be tackling the members roughly in the order of the year of their admission to the club. Often multiple members were admitted in a calendar year and when that’s the case I’ll tackle them in whatever order suits me best. I will try to pick a book I haven’t read that was published prior to their admission though on occasion I will settle for whatever I can afford or easily acquire.

And that brings me to the bit where I want to enlist your help. While I have pretty good ideas of what I might read for Berkeley or Carr, there are plenty of figures whose work I am less familiar with. From time to time I may be asking for recommendations either here or on Twitter and I will appreciate your input. Which starts now.

My intention is to begin this series by reading a work by the Detection Club’s first President, G. K. Chesterton. The reason I am starting with him rather than Sayers or Berkeley is that while I have read a few of his short stories, I am not particularly familiar with his work. So, what G. K. Chesterton novel or short story collection would you recommend? I’d love to hear what you think!

Murder Gives a Lovely Light by John Stephen Strange

Image and blurb from Dust Jackets LLC

The Verdict

A very solid puzzle mystery offering plenty of suspects. The ending may not shock but I enjoyed the process of reaching it.

Book Details

Originally published in 1941
George Honegger #1
Followed by All Men Are Liars

The Blurb

The death of Simeon Rede, an elderly invalid, came as no surprise to his lovely young wife and his daughter, who had long anticipated a heart attack. However, the combination of a stolen bracelet and a discharged maid, through a strange chain of circumstances, arouses suspicion in Police Inspector Honegger. Further investigation confirmed his suspicion of Rede’s murder. Unfortunately, the Rede family was an involved one and its associations many, and Honegger found himself with a surfeit of suspects. Here is one of the most cleverly plotted and ably characterized mystery stories of the present day – a story that will be read and discussed with enthusiasm for many months to come.

“Ask Mrs Simeon Rede what she put in the Ovaltine the night Mr Rede died.”

My Thoughts

One of the things I love most about my vintage crime fiction hobby is that feeling you get when you try a new author for the first time, particularly when they are someone you haven’t heard of before. There’s a sense of excited curiosity about what may lie in store, elevated when you come to them with little to no knowledge at all. That was the case with Murder Gives a Lovely Light and its author, John Stephen Strange (actually Dorothy Stockbridge Tillett) which was part of a stack of Crime Club hardcovers I received as a gift from my very thoughtful wife.

Simeon Rede had been a successful investment broker until a financial scandal involving one of his employees threatened his reputation. Though he handled the crisis with strength and determination, making up missing funds out of his own pocket, the stresses took their toll, causing serious heart issues that nearly killed him and leaving him an invalid.

It therefore comes as little surprise to his wife or daughter when, after returning from the opera, they find him dead from the heart attack they had anticipated since that day. When the police receive an anonymous note alleging that Rede’s wife had poisoned his nightly Ovaltine, Lieutenant Honegger decides that the matter merits closer examination and soon learns that there were a number of people who might benefit from his death…

The reader is ahead of Honegger in that respect as Strange carefully introduces them to each of the characters prior to Rede’s death and supplies their reasons. Some are quite obviously stated, others might be inferred, but before long we have a pretty large cast of possible suspects ranging from members of his household to friends and a former business partner.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the size of that cast of characters. On the positive side, they are sufficiently well-defined that I had no difficulty remembering who each was and the nature of their relationship to Rede. I similarly appreciated that the motives this sets up for each feel varied and I also really liked that our victim was presented in a largely favorable light with almost everyone speaking well of him. In fact I found I liked him all the more as the novel went on which is unusual for the victim.

The more negative aspect of this large cast is that there are several characters who, though defined, have little presence within the story which seems to discount them as possible murderers. I think the story might have benefited a little from trimming some of those characters’ involvement to add greater depth to others but even when a character could be discounted as a suspect, they often contributed to the plot in other ways making it hard to pinpoint where the cuts could have been made most easily.

Perhaps the least defined significant character is the detective, George Honegger. I felt that we get a very good sense of his investigative style and personality, particularly in the way he pursues this case when there is clearly political pressure on him to abandon it. Other than the brief appearance of a wife, I felt there was little sense of the character beyond his professional responsibilities.

Fortunately this is the sort of case that suits that focus on method and work rate rather than the investigator’s personality. For one thing, progress is shown to be slow and the investigation unfolds over a number of weeks – often interrupted by other cases Honegger finds himself assigned to work. Perhaps the most striking aspect of it is that the investigation occurs in spite of having little physical evidence to justify it. Indeed, we only really get something approaching proof that Rede was murdered in the last third of the novel and several stages of the investigation are defined by their lack of a piece of evidence rather than an object that has been found or a piece of witness testimony.

I enjoyed the process of following Honegger as he explores the limited evidence he has and tries to extract information from a group of individuals who initially seem to resist the notion that a murder has taken place at all. There is some nice organizational detail as we hear about the tails he puts on suspects and a second murder adds considerable interest later in the novel.

The solution did not surprise me – I had pegged the murderer from close to the start of the book based on some structural choices – but I appreciated that there were clues that I missed, one of which struck me as rather clever. I was particularly pleased that everything struck me as being properly clued when the truth was revealed, making the conclusion feel really quite tidy. Those who want to be surprised might be disappointed, but it does hang together very well.

Overall I am happy to say that my first encounter with John Stephen Strange was a rather good one. I had little challenge staying engaged with the investigation, finishing it in a single sitting. I am curious to try more of her work so I doubt this will be the last you’ll read about her work here.

Have you read anything by John Stephen Strange? I would, as always, appreciate your thoughts and recommendations.

The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh

The Verdict

Loved the hospital operation scenario but expect some bold characterizations and aspects of the ending struck me as underwhelming.

Book Details

Originally published in 1935
Inspector Alleyn #3
Preceded by Enter a Murderer
Followed by Death in Ecstasy

The Blurb

For Member of Parliament Sir Derek O’Callaghan, a simple visit to the hospital proves fatal. But as Inspector Alleyn will discover, any number of people had reason to help the gentleman to his just reward, including a sour surgeon, a besotted nurse, a resentful wife, and a cabinet full of political rivals, in this classic of detection by the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master.

“What? What’s the matter with you?”
“He’s dead – Sir Derek O’Callaghan’s dead!”

My Thoughts

The Home Secretary, Sir Derek O’Callaghan, is gearing up for a battle in the Commons over a bill to curtail the activities of anarchist groups. There is some suggestion that this may make him a target for assassination and the Prime Minister tries to convince him to accept police protection but Sir Derek rejects it as inconvenient and unnecessary.

His troubles are not confined to work however as later that day he receives a letter from a lover who does not seem to accept that their relationship was meant to have no strings attached. And then there’s the state of his health as he seems to be suffering from a nasty case of peritonitis causing him frequent pain.

Sir Derek is at the dispatch box introducing his bill when he suddenly collapses. An ambulance is summoned and he is sent to a nursing home run by Sir John Phillips, a man he had a long-standing friendship with though the pair have privately fallen out over the matter of that letter as the woman works with him as a nurse. He tries to persuade Lady O’Callaghan to let someone else treat her husband but she insists and he reluctantly agrees. While the operation initially seems successful, Sir Derek soon takes a nasty turn and within a few hours he lies dead and before long Inspector Alleyn finds himself investigating a murder…

This is the third Ngaio Marsh novel I have read, having reviewed the two previous novels in this series. For those who haven’t read (or do not remember) my reviews of those two books, I was deeply unimpressed with A Man Lay Dead while I found Enter a Murderer to be, to my surprise, a thoroughly entertaining read. This book falls somewhere between those two.

Let’s start with the positive though which, for me, is a setting that is presented with a strong attention to detail. The nursing home, its operating theater and staff struck me as very convincingly presented, giving the impression of a real working environment with tensions between colleagues who know each other well and some occasional peculiarities of practice during the procedures themselves.

Marsh does a fine job in laying out the movements of the various people involved in the operation. This is crucial because this investigation hinges as much on the question of when and how the fatal dose of a poison was administered as the question of who did the deed and why. As with Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger, attention is paid to each person in the operating room who are presented as comprising a closed circle of suspects (though it is looser – there are a couple of people outside the room who also factor into the investigation).

Some of the book’s most gripping passages take place during the operation and later, during a reconstruction of events. Part of what makes it so absorbing is the knowledge that something is almost certain to happen during that operation, prompting me to want to look all the more closely to see if I could detect a moment of opportunity or the moment at which Sir Derek would be killed.

The question of how does, admittedly, become a little logistical in nature with the reader being tasked with absorbing information about different injections and drug preparations. I felt however that Marsh makes those passages as simple as possible and explores some different possibilities clearly enough to help less medically-minded readers to follow.

Another aspect of this novel that I was struck by was its portrayal of the victim, Sir Derek. We get to know him over the course of a little over a dozen pages and I was rather surprised by how candid this book was in its discussion of his affairs. I felt I quickly got a strong measure of his personality and character in those couple of chapters which helped me better understand why some characters had such strong feelings, positive and negative, about him once the murder investigation begins.

Finally, I also really enjoyed my time with Alleyn. I remarked last time I read one of these that I finally had got to grips with him, appreciating his rather sharp and sarcastic tongue and there is plenty more evidence of that here. One favorite exchange comes with Nigel Bathgate when he passes a comment on what his friendship with one of the suspects is likely to be indicative of.

The other aspect of Alleyn’s use here that I think works particularly well is the depiction of how he slides between two different worlds, reflecting his aristocratic and professional backgrounds. This is particularly evident in his interactions with Lady O’Callaghan and, given it is the character’s background, it is nice to see it featuring more strongly here than in either of its predecessors.

The biggest problem I have with the book is that I feel Marsh sometimes paints her characters with some pretty broad strokes, making them seem quite cartoonish. Here that would be the group of anarchists and communist sympathizers whose dialog struck me as rather overblown or exaggerated. There is one chapter in particular which features an attempt to infiltrate a political meeting that struck me as quite hard to take seriously (Marsh arguably doesn’t, taking the opportunity to inject some comedic moments into those scenes).

The other issue relates to a matter of motive. A quick scan of some Goodreads reviews suggests there is a bit of a split between those who appreciate this and those who feel it is really weak. I was not surprised when the motive is revealed which I think points to it being properly clued but nor was I particularly satisfied by it. I should note that is not because Marsh handles this idea particularly badly but rather I usually have a problem with this sort of motive being employed in detective stories.

I should stress though that while I have some issues with some aspects of how this story is developed, I did find it to be a largely enjoyable read. Marsh may not be winning points for realism in some of her character work but it is nonetheless thoroughly readable. I think that phrase sums up the book pretty well overall – it isn’t the most challenging puzzle, in part because the villain’s behavior is relatively easy to detect, but the medical aspects of the scenario added interest and there are some enjoyable false leads to follow.

Last Seen Wearing by Hillary Waugh

The Verdict

Offers few surprises but I enjoyed the experience of seeing the case get pieced together.

Book Details

Originally published in 1952

The Blurb

It’s a perfectly typical day for Lowell Mitchell at her perfectly ordinary university in Massachusetts. She goes to class, chats with friends, and retires to her dorm room. Everything is normal until suddenly it’s not—in the blink of an eye, Lowell is gone.

Facts are everything for Police Chief Frank Ford. He’s a small-town cop, and he knows only hard evidence and thorough procedure will lead him to the truth. Together with the wise-cracking officer Burt Cameron, the grizzled chief will deal with the distraught family, chase dead-end leads, interrogate shady witnesses, and spend late nights ruminating over black coffee and cigars. Everyone tells him what a good, responsible girl Lowell is. But Ford believes that Lowell had a secret and that if he can discover it, this case will crack wide open.

Considered one of the first-ever police procedurals and hailed as an American mystery milestone, Last Seen Wearing—based on a true story—builds suspense through its accurate portrayal of an official police investigation. Hillary Waugh, who earned the title of Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America, went on to create several memorable series, but this classic crime novel ranks among his finest work.

“Miss Grenfell, Lowell Mitchell hasn’t come in yet and nobody’s seen her since noon.”

My Thoughts

Last Seen Wearing is a very early example of the police procedural style of crime fiction. That is a type of mystery in which the solution is less important than the means by which we reach it, with a focus on accurately replicating the types of processes and techniques used by the police services.

While I am not convinced by claims that it is the first (the introduction to the book for instance references Lawrence Treat’s V as in Victim which was published a year earlier and Dragnet while I would point to Georges Simenon and Henry Wade as two other earlier examples), it seems clear that this work was quite influential in the development of the subgenre. For example, in 1990 the Crime Writers Association picked it as one of the hundred best crime novels as did the Mystery Writers of America a few years later.

In just a couple of pages at the start of the novel Waugh outlines the background to the case. We learn that Lowell Mitchell, an eighteen year old freshman at Parker College, opted out of going to lunch with her roommate Peggy, telling her that she is feeling sick. When Peggy returned to their room a short while later, she found Lowell’s bed empty and with no sign of her friend on campus, her concerns for her friend grow until, just after the midnight curfew, Peggy decides to tell the housemother that Lowell is missing.

Miss Grenfell makes enquiries and the building and grounds are searched but with no clues as to her whereabouts, she finally makes a call to the authorities to report the disappearance. A body soon turns up and while the circumstances are suggestive of suicide, a small detail at the crime scene makes it clear that it is a case of murder…

Rather than dividing his novel into chapters, Waugh presents the story as one, long continuous narrative. There are time and date headings but while we may occasionally skip forward a little in time, we remain firmly focused on the efforts of a pair of characters. No major discoveries take place during those brief time jumps, nor are any details withheld from the reader. There is, in other words, a real sense that the reader is getting a detailed picture of an entire investigation.

One consequence of that approach is that the plot can feel a little simplistic. Readers should not come to this expecting to find twists or an investigation that seems to evolve. Here the terms of that investigation are pretty consistent from the start to its conclusion and there is little that is likely to surprise, though that may reflect that social values have shifted considerably since publication and I could imagine that contemporary readers may have been more surprised by some plot points relating to what the book terms ‘morality’.

The other consequence of the approach Waugh takes is that while there are elements of detection as the reader is not really given any opportunity to solve this crime. In fact we actually spend very little time at all with any of the suspects – at least directly – and so we don’t really get to know them as people. In other circumstances I might well have had less patience for that but I think it works here to focus our attention on questions of why and how Lowell was killed rather than who is psychologically likely to do so. The answers to those questions did not surprise me but I was interested in how the police came to their conclusions.

Waugh’s characterizations of the two lead police detectives can similarly be seen as a little simple, though I think he manages to establish them as two quite distinct types, often finding interesting contrast between them. Some of that is educational, with one character noting that he learned his profession through experience rather than through books – a familiar conflict now (see episodes of Endeavour and Daziel and Pascoe for starters) but one that would have felt much fresher at the time and which is handled quite well.

One aspect of the way these characters were written that struck me was that Chief Ford, clearly emotionally invested in solving the case, engages in some very abrasive and aggressive questioning of a young, female suspect at one point that verges on cruelty. I suspect that is intended to reflect Ford’s passion to solve the case, but it is one of those elements of the novel that feels a little stuck in its time. Similarly, I rolled my eyes several times at the way that our police protagonists discuss that question of ‘morality’.

While many of the characters we encounter in the investigation are only met briefly, a few make big impressions for reasons other than the way they were characterized. One of my favorites was Mildred Naffzinger, a character who can boast one of the most distinctive names I have come across in detective fiction.

The solution to the case is, as I suggested earlier, not particularly surprising and some may find the reveal to be a little anticlimactic. Still, in spite of feeling very confident from early in the book where it was headed, I enjoyed watching it take shape as the case was slowly pieced together over the course of the story.

The Man Who Didn’t Fly by Margot Bennett

The Verdict

A splendid, if rather unconventionally structured, mystery where the problem is identifying the victims.

Book Details

Originally published in 1955

The Blurb

Four men had arranged to fly to Dublin. When their aeroplane descended as a fireball into the Irish Sea, only three of them were on board. With the identities of the passengers lost beneath the waves, a tense and perplexing investigation begins to determine the living from the dead, with scarce evidence to follow beyond a few snippets of overheard conversation and one family’s patchy account of the three days prior to the flight.

Who was the man who didn’t fly? What did he have to gain? And would he commit such an explosive murder to get it? First published in 1955, Bennett’s ingenious mystery remains an innovative and thoroughly entertaining inversion of the classic whodunit.

Four men had arranged to travel by the aeroplane; four had disappeared; only three men had arrived at the airport, only three passengers had entered the plane.

My Thoughts

The premise of the story is a rather unusual one, though still firmly within traditional puzzle mystery territory. An aeroplane flying to Ireland is destroyed and the wreckage cannot be found. The authorities know the identities of the four men who were to be on that flight but the evidence shows that only three actually boarded that flight. With no bodies to identify, the authorities conduct an investigation to try to work out who the three men were who died on board that flight by speaking with the men’s friends and family.

Perhaps the most unusual feature of the book is that the investigation is not into anything we might consider a crime. There is no suggestion that the aeroplane met its fate deliberately. Yet in spite of that, it is clear that there is something distinctly odd going on within that group of four acquaintances both in terms of their strained interpersonal relationships and also in the secrets some were clearly harboring. By the end of the novel we will have a clear understanding of how they relate to one another as well as some more traditional crime elements to consider.

The characters are boldly drawn and, I felt, very well observed though some may struggle to find someone they like and are rooting for. One of my favorites was Harry, the charming young poet who is reckless with money and seems to rub everyone up the wrong way leading almost all his acquaintances to try to warn his girlfriend, Hester, that she ought to stay clear of him. Advice that only seems to make her dig in. I enjoyed his flippancy and felt that Bennett did a good job of walking the line between roguishness and villainy. I suspect most readers will feel Harry is not a good man and yet there is something inherently entertaining in seeing him work little cons to avail himself of a cigarette or extra round of drinks at someone else’s expense.

Perhaps my favorite of the characters was Hester’s father, Mr. Wade, who reminded me a little of some of Austen’s eccentric fathers (I thought of Mr. Wodehouse – though Wade’s malady is pecuniary rather than health, Kate from CrossExaminingCrime thought Sir Walter from Persuasion). I felt that Bennett managed to make him comic without being too ridiculous which is often a difficult line to walk and while the treatment is often designed to be humorous, his befuddlement does play an important part in the overall development of the plot.

The only bland characters in the book are the policemen who seem competent but largely anonymous. This reflects that though they play an important part in piecing together what had happened, much of the events of the novel are recounted to them, leaving them little opportunity for interaction or to steer what was happening.

While other elements, including some more overtly criminous ones, are introduced later in the novel, our focus remains almost entirely on the question of who was on board that flight. While that may seem like a somewhat suspect premise for a mystery, I found it provided a surprising amount for the reader to consider. Perhaps the most striking of these is the matter, not of who was on board, but where the person who missed the flight vanished to and why.

I was quite delighted when I recognized toward the end of the novel that Bennett had constructed several logic puzzles for the reader to solve that will identify them. A character suggests at one point that they think they could have worked out the solution if only they had a pencil and paper and they’re right – the puzzles are clear and the logic is simple. The challenge lies in recognizing the information you need to work with in the first place.

The explanation for what happened is delivered to the reader in stages, each new reveal painting a more detailed picture. Most of those reveals feel worthwhile and there were a few early surprises to enjoy. One final revelation, concerning what happened to the fourth passenger, struck me as pretty effective, even if it only confirmed something I had suspected from very early in the novel.

It makes for a great read, rich in its characters and boasting a rather unusual premise. I found the novel enormously enjoyable and was surprised at just how often I was chuckling over some remark or situation the author concocted. The effective marriage of moments of humor with the mystery elements work very well and I felt the final resolution was largely satisfying – aside from a rather unconvincing romantic beat. I was very impressed and hope to read more from this author in the future.

Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie

The Verdict

A rather uneven collection of stories. Those who feel that Christie works best as a novelist will find little here to challenge their belief.

Book Details

This was originally published in 1937 and collections four short works published between 1932 and 1937
An edition was published in the US as Dead Man’s Mirror though that edition excludes The Incredible Theft.
Hercule Poirot #16
Preceded by Cards on the Table
Followed by Dumb Witness

The Blurb

How did a woman holding a pistol in her right hand manage to shoot herself in the left temple? What was the link between a ghost sighting and the disappearance of top secret military plans? How did the bullet that killed Sir Gervase shatter a mirror in another part of the room? And should the beautiful Valentine Chantry flee for her life from the holiday island of Rhodes?

Hercule Poirot is faced with four mystifying cases—each a miniature classic of characterization, incident, and suspense.

“Good night for a murder,” remarked Japp with professional interest. “Nobody would hear a shot, for instance, on a night like this.”

My Thoughts

When I posted my review of Dumb Witness a little over a month ago I noted that I had goofed in my efforts to reread the Poirot stories in order as I had managed to overlook this short story collection. Well, such a mistake could not be left uncorrected – particularly given how much I want to get on and reread Death on the Nile – so let’s crack on and discuss the four stories that comprise Murder on the Mews.

The opening adventure lends its title to the collection and concerns a death that occurs during the height of the fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night. When Barbara Allen does not respond to knocks at her locked door, her housemate sends for the police. When the door is opened they find her lying dead of a bullet wound to the side of her head, a gun loosely in her hand. At first glance it seems like a case of suicide and yet there are some inconsistencies in the scene. How, for instance, could she hold the gun in her right hand but shoot herself in the left side of her head?

This is the first of three stories in the collection that style themselves as impossible situations and of those three, I think it is possibly the most successful of them. Though the length of the story necessitates some simplicity and the mechanics are pretty straightforward, Christie does give some thought to why this would be a locked room problem in the first place, devising a pretty convincing reason for that by the end.

There are, of course, flaws. I doubt that I will court much outrage by asserting that I think Christie was far more suited to the novel than the short story. One of the reasons for that is her writing style will often become overly economical such as in an early exchange where the flatmate casually drops into conversation, in argument against the idea of suicide by gunshot, that they had a lengthy discussion about possible methods of suicide which that she had been quite emphatic that she couldn’t shoot herself. While I understand the need for that part of the story, I do think that the writing feels very functional.

I should probably acknowledge that there is an argument concerning whether the absence of the key to her bedroom does perhaps undermine the impassability of that entrance. Still, why it may not be the purest example of the form, I do think that the story does do something interesting with it. Though I am not wholly convicted that the scheme makes sense, I do admire the story for trying something a little different and I appreciate the interesting framing Poirot puts on what the mastermind of it all was attempting to do.

I would characterize the second story, The Incredible Theft, as a pastiche or homage to the Sherlock Holmes stories (specifically The Adventures of the Naval Treaty) that we know had played an important role in inspiring Christie to write and enjoy mystery fiction. The action is centered upon the theft of some secret plans from a senior government minister’s home. The problem is that the plans had been out from the safe for just a few moments and no one was in the room at the time while each of the entrances were monitored at the time the crime must have taken place.

This is another story that seems to be an impossible crime, albeit one that is presented as an espionage story. In this case we have a room whose entrances are under observation by two different parties. In spite of that impossible setup however, I would suggest that the case underwhelms when read as an impossible crime – particularly in light of its solution.

It was this story that prompted me to muse on the difficulty of assessing the quality of a solution when reviewing a story you have previously read. It has been probably twenty years since I last read this short story and I didn’t recall much about it (unlike the other three stories which I remembered pretty well) but much of the solution occurred to me immediately. Was that because I remembered the problem, even if I didn’t recall any of the other details? I can’t rule it out. I can say though that the solution here strikes me as unimaginative and disappointing.

Dead Man’s Mirror on the other hand is a much more entertaining example of a locked room problem. In this story Poirot receives a summons from the highly eccentric Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore. Poirot journeys to his home where he meets the members of his household who, strangely, do not seem to be expecting him. When the obsessively-punctual Sir Gervase does not arrive when the dinner gong is sounded the group break into his locked study to find him dead and the word sorry scrawled on a sheet of paper. The key to the door is in Sir Gervase’s pocket and the only other entrance to the room is also locked and bolted so is this suicide or was it murder?

Of the stories in this collection, this felt the most substantial to me offering a much more developed cast of characters and a more complex solution than any of the others possess. That is reflected in some of the complexities of the various characters’ relationships, as we are prompted not only to consider the suspects’ relationships with the deceased but with one another. I enjoyed getting to know this cast of characters, several of whom felt quite boldly drawn. For instance, I would suggest that even though Sir Gervase never appears to the reader, he is far more of a personality and presence than anyone who appears in the previous story.

The solution is similarly pleasingly complex with Poirot presented with multiple clues and several aspects of the crime scene requiring explanation. While I think that there are some aspects of the crime that were not entirely convincing (the reason for the telegram being sent is particularly poor in my opinion) and the explanation of the motive felt initially quite shaky until it was given more detail at the end of the story, I appreciate that this feels a much more substantial effort than any of the other stories in the collection.

So, why don’t I find it as impressive a locked room as Murder in the Mews? I think it boils down to a matter of originality. That story, while far less complex than this, is using the locked room in an unusual way. This story does something far more familiar with it and so while the execution is fine enough, it felt significantly less ambitious and interesting to me.

This brings me to the final story in the collection, Triangle at Rhodes. This concerns two couples who Poirot gets to know while on holiday. He witnesses the couples’ interactions and anticipates what is likely to occur based on those observations. When the inevitable occurs, Poirot then explains what happened and ensures justice is done.

While each of the three previous stories could be described as a novella, this is definitely a short story. While its is the narrowest of the four stories however, I find it to be one of the more successful. That is partly because it recognizes the limitations of its page count, narrowing the focus to a matter of character and psychology. I also think it is one of the better examples of Christie anticipating the reader and engaging in a game with them.

The flaw in the story for me is a rather unexpected one: I don’t think Poirot reads like himself. There is a speech he gives where he compares what he is witnessing to other crimes he has encountered that struck me as far more the sort of thing that Miss Marple or Ariadne Oliver might say. I also think it a little unsatisfactory that Poirot abdicates himself of responsibility once he has issued a warning of sorts – while I understand why that happens to serve the plot, I think he could and should have done more to block the crime from happening. (ROT13: Uvf nethzrag gung ur unf vffhrq n jneavat naq gur pevzr vf varivgnoyr vf abg fb zhpu gur ceboyrz – engure V srry gung ur jneaf gur jebat crefba, pubbfvat gb fcrnx gb gur nppbzcyvpr vafgrnq bs gur ivpgvz.)

Still, in spite of those gripes I think the story is told at a near-perfect pace and does a wonderful job of capturing the building sense that a crime is inevitable and I do recall being quite shocked when I read this the first time around. While I think that this collection is unfortunately a little uneven, this does it end on something of a high note and it is the story that has stayed with me most strongly in the years since I last read it.

The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope by C. W. Grafton

The Verdict

An entertaining blend of pulpy, hard-boiled fiction and the comical.

Book Details

Originally published in 1943

The Blurb

Short, chubby, and awkward with members of the opposite sex, Gil Henry is the youngest partner in a small law firm, not a hard-boiled sleuth. So when an attractive young woman named Ruth McClure walks into his office and asks him to investigate the value of the stock she inherited from her father, he thinks nothing of it—until someone makes an attempt on his life.

Soon Gil is inadvertently embroiled in a classic American scandal, subterfuge, and murder. He’s beaten, shot, and stabbed, as his colleagues and enemies try to stop him from seeing the case through to the end. Surrounded by adversaries, he teams up with Ruth and her secretive brother to find answers to the questions someone desperately wants to keep him from asking.

In this portrait of America on the eve of America’s entry into World War II, C.W. Grafton—himself a lawyer and the father of prolific mystery writer Sue Grafton—pens an award-winning historical crime fiction that combines humor and the hard-boiled style and will keep readers guessing until its thrilling conclusion.

“I want you to find out for me how much some stock is worth.”

My Thoughts

The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope may, if you follow a variety of vintage mystery blogs, have cropped up on your feed several times over the past few weeks. That was because, as several of those posts noted, it was a selection for a book club and at this point I can probably reveal that I was responsible for making that selection. The reason I put it forward was not that I had any real knowledge of the author (I had never read anything by either C. W. or Sue Grafton prior to this) but because I wanted to finally get around to trying one of those Library of Congress Crime Classics I have had sitting on my shelf.

The novel concerns Gil Henry, a junior partner in a law firm, who stumbles into a mysterious situation when he is approached by a beautiful young woman named Ruth who is seeking his advice. She tells him how when her father recently died he left her some shares in the company he had worked for. Shortly afterwards she received a visit from her father’s employer who offered to buy them from her and take care of his legal papers. The curious thing is that the offer was for considerably more than those shares were valued leading her to wonder if she might be better holding onto them.

Gil begins the story fairly disinterested in the case but things quickly escalate when he learns that someone had broken into Ruth’s home while she was meeting with him and then, just a short time later, an attempt seems to be made on his life. He soon comes to the opinion that there is a mystery there to unravel though and he tries to find some answers, running into the law, resistance from his own client and several sets of fists.

If you have read some of the reviews posted you may have noticed that the book provoked some quite strong opinions from us. There were some among us who had a great time with the book, some much less so. I think a large part of the reason for that split lies in the character of Gil and the style of narration that Grafton employs here.

While I have seen some, including the introduction to the book, describe this as a work of noir fiction, I think it would be more accurate to say that it is a novel told in a punchy, hard-boiled style. The distinction here is that I feel it is a choice of style and presentation rather than offering a cynical outlook on the world. While Gil is frequently played by others and left to look a little foolish, I don’t think that the book offers anything approaching that cynical view of humanity or even the institutions we create.

This is married with some deeply sarcastic commentary on the action offered in Gil’s narration. This, along with his behavior, becomes increasingly pronounced throughout the novel until by the end of the book he is throwing himself into the action, playing hardball with the authorities and flirting outrageously with some of the female characters. I found this initially a little jarring until I realized that this is a junior, rather corporate lawyer seeing a chance to play Perry Mason, evoking that character’s earlier and rather looser approach to observing the legal niceties. Once I saw it from that perspective I found myself embracing it and relishing some of Gil’s more caustic observations, even if I found his actual voice and interactions with others a little more wearying.

Admittedly the action can get a little silly at points. Others have pointed to the string of concussions that Gil receives and just shakes off in the course of this story as being quite ridiculous. I have to concede they have a point. Still, I embraced that to an extent as a reflection of its somewhat pulpy origins and I appreciated that, while at times ridiculous, it is a pretty effective method for stopping a scene rather than letting it run on and on.

I should also probably acknowledge that the mysterious elements of the story fall short of the fair play standard. At the same time though that didn’t really bother me because I felt Grafton established much of the background to the story extremely well near the beginning. This is particularly impressive as this case involves a few rather technical ideas that are of exactly the sort that usually stump me yet are conveyed quite simply in just a handful of pages. I really respected just how well the author managed to condense that information and use it in a way that seemed both clear and logical in the context of this scenario and these characters.

The explanation for what has happened, when given, feels similarly very clear and easy-to-follow. I felt it was particularly effective when presenting reasons for why things may turn out the way that they did and I think that the book makes great use of the nursery rhyme reference in its title. It really feels quite fitting…

The only aspect of the ending that didn’t quite work for me was an awkward attempt to shoehorn a romantic development in where none really fit. While that does offer a few moments of amusement, I am not sure that I knew those characters well enough at that point to truly invest in that aspect of their lives.

In spite of those small criticisms, I do have to note that I found this to be really rather enjoyable. There are some creative and fun concepts at play making this a quick, page-turning sort of read that delivers on the action. While I might not offer it up to those who are looking for puzzle plots, this is quite readable and thoroughly absorbing overall. I might even go off in search of a copy of the next in the series!

Further Reading

Other Book Clubber takes can be found at In Search of the Classic Mystery, CrossExaminingCrime and AhSweetMystery.