Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2013: Scattergories

I'm belatedly signing up for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge at My Reader's Block. The challenge is to complete one book from a minimum of 8 different categories. The categories I hope to complete (although I might add more later) are:

Amateur Night: a book with a "detective" who is not a P.I.; Police Officer; Official Investigator (Nurse Keate, Father Brown, Miss Marple, etc.)

Leave It to the Professionals: a book featuring cops, private eyes, secret service, professional spies, etc.

Jolly Old England: one mystery set in Britain

Yankee Doodle Dandy: one mystery set in the United States

Dangerous Beasts: a book with an animal in the title (The Case of the Grinning Gorilla; The Canary Murder Case; etc.)

Wicked Women: a book with a woman in the title--either by name (Mrs. McGinty's Dead) or by reference (The Case of the Vagabound Virgin)

Malicious Men: a book with a man in the title--either by name (Maigret & the Yellow Dog) or by reference (The Case of the Haunted Husband)

Scene of the Crime: a book with the location of the crime in the title (The Body in the Library, Murder at the Vicarage, etc.)

Locked Rooms: a locked-room mystery

Country House Criminals: a standard (or not-so-standard) Golden Age country house murder

Murder on the High Seas: a mystery involving water

Murder Is Academic: a mystery involving a scholar, teacher, librarian, etc. OR set at a school, university, library, etc.

Things That Go Bump in the Night: a mystery with something spooky, creepy, gothic in the title (The Skeleton in the Clock, Haunted Lady, The Bat, etc.)

The Butler Did It...Or Not: a mystery where the butler is the victim, the sleuth....(gasp) the criminal....or is just downright memorable for whatever reason.

 A Mystery By Any Other Name: any book that has been published under more than one title (Murder Is Easy--aka Easy to Kill [Christie]; Fog of Doubt--aka London Particular [Christianna Brand], etc.)

Dynamic Duos: a mystery featuring a detective team--Holmes & Watson, Pam & Jerry North, Wolfe & Goodwin, or....a little-known team that you introduce to us.

Psychic Phenomena: a mystery featuring a seance, medium, hypnotism, or other psychic or "supernatural" characters/events

Killed in Translation: Works that originally appeared in another language and have been made available in English

Blondes in Danger: A variation on "Colorful Crime". Books that feature a blonde in the title role, like The Blonde Died First, or Blonde for Danger.

Genuine Fakes: Authors who wrote under a pseudonym

Get Out of Jail Free: This is a freebie category. One per customer. You tell me what special category the book fits ("It's got an awesome cover!"..."First book I grabbed off my shelf") and it counts


Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Study Lamp Reilluminated

Q: What is "The Red Scar"
A: An Anthony Wynne mystery novel or the end result of surgery I had last year which pretty much shut down this blog in the second half of the year. Lethargy and a lack of concentration were definitely not my friends. However, I was able to start reading more toward the end of the year so I'm hoping things will be back to normal...

I thought I'd start this year's blogging with a post about 2012 in review (which everybody else did some weeks ago). I'd set three challenges for myself in the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge--8 books in the Golden Age Gals challenge, 8 in the Cherchez le Homme challenge and 8 in a custom challenge which I called Pocket-sized Murder. The first two I completed early, the last I completed as time ticked down on New Year's Eve. Here's a list of what I managed to complete in each challenge. An asterisk denotes a book which I reviewed on The Study Lamp.

Golden Age Girls

Marjorie Boniface-Murder as an Ornament (1940)
Marjorie Boniface-Venom in Eden (1942)
Carol Carnac-Death in the Diving-Pool (1940) *
Rae Foley-Where is Mary Bostwick? (1958) *
M.V. Heberden-Murder Follows Desmond Shannon (1942) *
Kathleen Moore Knight-Death Blew Out the Match (1935) *
Kathleen Moore Knight-Exit a Star (1941) *
Virginia Perdue-The Case of the Grieving Monkey (1941) *
Mabel Seeley-The Crying Sisters (1939) *

Cherchez le Homme

Anthony Abbot-About the Murder of the Clergyman's Mistress (1931) *
Hugh Austin-Murder in Triplicate (1935)
Bill S. Ballinger-Formula for Murder (1958) *
Francis Beeding-The Norwich Victims (1935) *
Henry Bellamann-The Gray Man Walks (1936) *
Ben Benson-The Affair of the Exotic Dancer (1958) *
Christopher Bush-The Death of Cosmo Revere (1930) *
Frederick C. Davis-He Wouldn't Stay Dead (1939) *
Jefferson Farjeon-Thirteen Guests (1936)
Richard Hull-The Ghost It Was (1936)
Eugene Jones-Who Killed Gregory? (1928) *
Sherwood King-Between Murders (1935) *
Victor MacClure-Hi-Spy-Kick-the-Can (1936) *
Stanley Hart Page-The Tragic Curtain (1935) *
Stuart Palmer-The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1933) *
Milton Propper-The Divorce Court Murder (1934) *
John Rhode-Hendon's First Case (1935) *
C. St. John Sprigg-The Six Queer Things (1937) *
S.S. Van Dine-The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1938) *
S.S. Van Dine-The Winter Murder Case (1939) *

Pocket-sized Murder

George Harmon Coxe-Four Frightened Women (1939)
Spencer Dean-Murder on Delivery (1957) *
Brett Halliday-She Woke to Darkness (1954) *
Brett Halliday-Stranger in Town (1955)
Frank Kane-Syndicate Girl (1958) *
Harold Q. Masur-Tall, Dark and Deadly (1956)
Harry Olesker-Now Will You Try for Murder? (1958)
Craig Rice-Innocent Bystander (1949)

I also read a few other books (and a bunch of gothics which I'm not going to list) which didn't fit into any of the reading challenges:

Edith-Jane Bahr-A Nice Neighborhood (1973) *
Mark Cruz-Dead Wrong (1975)
Mark Cruz-Voyage of Death (1975)
Ralph Dennis-Working for the Man (1974)
Paul Kruger-Weave a Wicked Web (1967) *
Isobel Lambot-A Taste of Murder (1966)
Judson Philips-The Twisted People (1965)
Daniel Stashower-The Floating Lady Murder (2000)
Hal White-The Mysteries of Reverend Dean (2008)

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Acquisitions--Canadian Style!

Normally I don't post about new paperback purchases (the vintage purchases are so much more interesting) but it's Canada Day and these acquisitions might hold some interest for the Canadians who read this blog.

Indigo, a Canadian bookstore chain, is currently having a sale on Arcturus Crime Classics, a bargain publishing line. At $2 a book, I couldn't resist buying the following:

Also available were titles from Anthony Berkeley (two of them!), Andrew Garve, Erle Stanley Gardner and Margery Allingham. So if you're in the vicinity of an Indigo you might want to mosey on over and grab a few titles for yourself.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

S.S. Van Dine - The Winter Murder Case (1939)

"You live for crime and suffering. And you adore worrying. You'd die of ennui if all were peaceful."

The Winter Murder Case, the last entry in the Philo Vance series, is a much shorter book than the other mysteries of Willard Huntington Wright (alias S.S. Van Dine), running about 160 pages. As an introductory essay explains, Wright developed each of the Philo Vance mysteries in three stages; a long synopsis, the development of the synopsis into an approximately 30,000 word manuscript, and finally a further working of character, dialogue and atmosphere resulting in the finished mystery. Owing to Wright's death on April 11, 1939, The Winter Murder Case never received the final fleshing-out so that some of the trademarks of an S.S. Van Dine title are absent, such as the pseudo literary footnotes and long-winded Vance lectures. This removes some of the insufferability and humanizes Vance (which might be an inducement for some readers, I prefer Vance's full-on conceit), although some of the events of the novel also accomplish this. It's hard to imagine the Philo Vance of the earlier novels acting as the master of ceremonies for an amateur winter carnival variety show, but he does this in The Winter Murder Case--and on ice skates no less!

In The Winter Murder Case, Vance is invited to a house party hosted by wealthy Carrington Rexon who is mistrustful of some of his other guests in proximity to his fabulous emerald collection. His suspicions are given extra weight when one of the estate guards is found dead. This final S.S. Van Dine mystery is an improvement over its predecessor, The Gracie Allen Murder Case which, like that book, was written with a specific movie actress in mind--in this case, Olympic skating champion turned movie star Sonja Henie. While there are many scenes involving skating, the winter theme is merely window dressing and doesn't play an appreciable part to the mystery (it easily could be The Summer Murder Case). Nobody is stabbed or has their throat slit with an ice skate (alas!). In addition to the shortness of the novel, the economy of the mystery itself gives The Winter Murder Case the feel of a short story blown up to novella length. A brisk read but inessential to the S.S. Van Dine canon. (The publication is also padded out with Van Dine's Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories and it's amusing to see how many of his own rules Van Dine transgresses).

I have now finished all the Van Dine novels (and basically in order. I suspect The Greene Murder Case was the only one I read significantly out of sequence) with my favourite being The Kennel Murder Case. Seeing some of the divergent opinions on that title makes me want to reread it as it's at least ten years since I completed it .

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Ben Benson

Some pictures of Ben Benson who died in 1959 while still in his forties.

Ben Benson - The Affair of the Exotic Dancer (1958)

I've enjoyed Benson's series of mysteries involving Ralph Lindsey which are a combination of police procedural and bildungsroman. Lindsey is a young Massachusetts state trooper who not only makes mistakes at the outset of his career but also pays the price for having made these mistakes. I picked up The Affair of the Exotic Dancer thinking it was a non-series mystery but soon discovered that it features Benson's other series character, Captain Wade Paris of the Massachusetts police; thirty-something, fair, diplomatic, hardened by experience, the type of police veteran into which the callow Ralph Lindsey might develop.

The shooting death of a small business owner is the crime that Paris investigates in The Affair of the Exotic Dancer. However, this novel is not a who-done-it. Rather the story alternates between the police routine work and chapters entitled The Suspect which give the killer's backstory, so that early on the reader knows the identity of the killer and eventually the motive for the crime. It is to Benson's credit that, even knowing this information, the reader's interest is held by this no-frills police story.