Tuesday 31 January 2012

Carol Carnac - Death in the Diving Pool (1940)

"How could you make a man drown without a struggle, without a bruise to tell the tale?...A blow, a shot, poison, gaseous or otherwise, a net or sheet thrown over the pool--nothing would work in the light of the evidence."

Walter Landon and Anthony Baird, two friends in their fifties, both veterans of the Forces and each having worked in the East, are now proprietors of Clerewater House, a small hotel in the Cotswolds which they have endeavoured to turn into a first-rate country house complete with well-tended grounds, a tennis court and a diving-pool for the guests, the current crop of whom includes "bright young things", city dwellers on vacation, a spinster author and, of course, suspicious characters who are either having vague ominous conversations or snooping around the house. In addition to the tennis, the swimming and the fine food, the residents enjoy discussing the current news sensation, a daring and unsolved jewel robbery and Landon hints that he has an idea about the business. No surprise then, when the next morning, during an early diving session, he is found drowned in the pool. Although he had previously complained of cramp, the investigating Superintendent can't allay his suspicion that there was some "hokey pokey" about the drowning, especially when other residents are targeted for accidents of their own.

Unsurprisingly, the best part of Death in the Diving-Pool is the mystery of how Landon's death was contrived and Carnac (aka Edith Caroline Rivett aka E.C.R. Lorac) presents a straightforward solution of how the crime was carried out. However, there isn't much in the way of humour and Carnac's series detective, Inspector Ryvet, is bland. Readers looking for sparkling conversation will be disappointed but those seeking a competent puzzle (like myself) will enjoy the book.

Good luck trying to find a copy of the book for sale. Like the other early Carnac titles it is absurdly hard to find. I guess not enough readers  responded to the encouragement to buy their own copies as the lending library stamp urged them to do.

Les enquetes de Thatcher Colt

I suppose I should tag this as "goofy purchases" or "exercises in futility"...but I couldn't resist purchasing L'homme sans femmes (par Anthony Abbot) despite having atrocious French skills. (And at sixty cents it was much cheaper than the cost of the original About the Murder of a Man Afraid of Women).

Call me foolishly optimistic, but I vow that someday I will complete a novel in French (although I made the same declaration last fall when I bought those "Harry Dickson" titles).

In what I assume to be a misprint the copyright in this edition is ascribed to Raymond Chandler (!)

Tuesday 24 January 2012


Let's hear it for interlibrary loan (whom I'm willing to forgive for screwing up on the Henry Wade mystery I requested) and for libraries which actually lend their books as opposed to secreting away in a special collection never to see the light of day again. Good show chaps!

I just picked up titles by Carol Carnac and C. St. John Sprigg from the library today so I'm in a thankful mood. One librarian always comments on the golden age mysteries I receive so perhaps I can make her into a convert...

Virginia Perdue - The Case of the Grieving Monkey (1941)

"On Monday night at eleven o'clock the monkey died."

Virginia Perdue has written two mysteries featuring Eleanora Burke, a five foot eleven, two hundred pound investigator for the district attorney's office whose size makes her a worthy adversary but who is not without a trace of insecurity and sentimentality. The first of the two, The Case of the Grieving Monkey, involves Burke in a case of attempted murder by poison. Marian Gantley, a wealthy explorer with a home in the Hollywood hills, is convinced that on two occasions someone has tried to poison her and the second attempt would have been successful had not a glass of cyanide laced milk been drunk by her pet marmoset. Adopting the guise of being an old friend of Marian's, Burke sets out to discover which member of the household could be the culprit with a penchant for poison; Julian, Mrs. Gantley's much younger, philandering husband; her secretary and Julian's mistress; her seemingly neurotic sister-in-law and her estranged husband; or Gretel, her German cousin who seems a little too admiring of Hitler. And what about Thompson, the chauffeur, who seems to be doing a little investigating of his own? It's not long before murder pays a visit to the estate's monkey house.

The Case of the Grieving Monkey features a likable heroine (whom the author thankfully did not make into a Bertha Cool-like caricature), and a brisk pace. Not a great mystery, as there's no real surprises or twists, but a quickly read, entertaining story. This was followed the following year by The Case of the Foster Father.

Incidentally the titular monkey doesn't have much importance to the story, grieving or otherwise.

Monday 23 January 2012

Sherwood King - Between Murders (1935)

"I see the murderer as a man of inordinate coldness, with a mind that moves with the rapidity of lightning, taking in every possible contingency and planning how it might be turned to his advantage all in the same split second. We have to deal here with no ordinary criminal, but with a genius."

I finally finished my first book for the "cherchez le homme" portion of my reading challenge--a book which I chose rather capriciously from the depths of my overstuffed bookshelves. "Sherwood King" meant nothing to me, until doing a search on the web, I discovered that one of his novels was the basis for the classic Orson Welles film The Lady from Shanghai.

James Durstine, a retired defence lawyer from Chicago, has just received a note from Faye Brett, a friend and glamorous singing star, warning him that his life is in danger and that he must meet her at her hotel room that night. No sooner does he leave to met her than he narrowly misses being killed in a storefront bombing. A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or is Faye's warning all too prescient? At the hotel, Durstine meets up with Thomas Webley Wilberforce, an investigator from the State's Attorney's office and, close to one in the morning, they are surprised to see Faye enter the hotel with Warren Faggity, a notorious blackmailer. She greets Durstine, seemingly under a nervous strain, tells him to come up to her room in ten or fifteen minutes and then departs with Faggity. While waiting, Tom becomes uneasy and they go to Faye's room only to discover her dead and a man scrambling down the fireplace. Has Faye been killed to stop her from talking with Durstine and has it anything to do with the newly formed Crime Committee, a group dedicated to solving crimes without the interference of political red tape or a bumbling State's Attorney. Durstine has been asked to join the group and a number of Faye's acquaintances are also members. After Faye's death, Durstine reluctantly joins and the committee embarks on solving the Faye Brett case especially when doubt is cast upon Faggity being the murderer.

Firstly, Between Murders is decidedly not a fair play mystery and it is difficult to critique the book without giving away major spoilers. I will merely mention that it not so much that the mystery is not fair play, but rather the manner in which it is not fair play that gives the book its distinction. There is also a fair bit of pulp thriller style plotting; a crime fighting group which includes a member who can decide whether an individual is guilty of a crime after a brief five minute conversation, a mausoleum with a glass coffin, a secret room, a kidnapping, and dramatic entrances and exits. All of which hold one's attention but give the book a somewhat choppy, episodic feel. I also thought Between Murders to be a bland title choice until I read the memorable closing line of the book.

Overall, I found the book to be average with the explanation of how the mystery was not fair play to be the most interesting thing about it. Normally I dislike non-fair play mysteries but I'm willing to give this one a pass.

Pictured is the circa 1970 Curtis Books printing of Between Murders which seems to be the only one currently available for sale online (and, surprisingly, only one copy of that edition is available). However, King's If I Die Before I Wake (the basis of the aforementioned The Lady from Shanghai) is still in print from Penguin Books.

Thursday 19 January 2012

So Far

This year's aquisitions....so far...

Still working on finishing my first book for the reading challenge...hmmm...guess I'm 0 and 10 on the year (and sinking fast). I'd better pick up the pace as the library seems to have granted two of my interlibrary loan requests.

Oh..and a pox on the person who beat me to that inexpensive copy of the Crime Club Compendium!

Sunday 1 January 2012

A New Reading Year: Golden Age Guys and Gals

In celebration of the new year I decided to join the mystery-themed reading challenge at "My Reader's Block" blogspot, signing up for two categories: "Golden Age Girls" (8 books by female authors or 8 books with female detectives) and "Cherchez le Homme" (8 books by male authors or 8 books with male detectives).