Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Peril at End House: Agatha Christie

Description from the back of my paperback edition:
End House was most appropriately named. Its young mistress nearly met her end… three times in three days. It was the fourth near-fatal “accident”, witnessed by Hercule Poirot, that convinced Miss Buckley that someone was trying to kill her. But who, and why? Now the celebrated crime-solver is dedicating himself to crime prevention. That is, until an unexpected—and successful—murder attempt carries Poirot’s investigation to the bitter end…

Captain Arthur Hastings is companion and friend to Poirot in some of the earlier novels. In this one he is also the chronicler of the tale. Poirot and Hastings are staying at a Cornish resort, the Majestic Hotel. Hastings describes the area:
No seaside town in the south of England is, I think, as attractive as St. Loo.  It is well named the Queen of Watering Places and reminds one forcibly of the Riviera. The Cornish coast is to my mind every bit as fascinating as that of the south of France.
In one of my earlier reviews of a novel featuring Poirot, I said: "I find the Poirot character to be smug and irritating..." At this point, having read several more, I no longer feel that way. He is much more charming in this one.

I enjoyed this one especially because Arthur Hastings was narrating it. I loved some of the scenes between Hastings and Poirot. Poirot says, in response to a question about his retirement:
To step from your pinnacle at the zenith of your fame – what could be a grander gesture? They say of me: “That is Hercule Poirot! – The great – the unique! – There was never any one like him, there never will be!” Eh bien – I am satisfied. I ask no more. I am modest.
Hastings thinks:
I should not myself have used the word modest. It seemed to me that my little friend’s egotism had certainly not declined with his years.
Inspector Japp shows up late in the book to help with the investigation. In my  recent rereads of Christie's novels, I have not read many books with Inspector Japp, so that was a pleasant surprise.

This is the sixth novel featuring Hercule Poirot that I have read since I started blogging. It is probably the one I have enjoyed the least, and I think it was mostly that it seemed such an obvious ending and left me less satisfied. However, even though I felt that the culprit was obvious almost from the beginning, the motivation behind the crimes was well hidden (from me, at least), although there were definitely clues.

Yet that is just a minor quibble; the book was still entertaining. Sometimes I wonder if what is obvious to an experienced mystery reader would be obvious to someone who is new to mysteries. And it also depends on what one is looking for in a mystery.

Robert Barnard says in A Talent to Deceive: "Some creaking in the machinery, and rather a lot of melodrama and improbabilities, prevent this from being one of the very best of the classic specimens."

See other reviews at: Mysteries in Paradise, The Game's Afoot, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, and Letters from a Hill Farm.

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Publisher:  Berkley Books, 1991. Orig. pub. 1932.
Length:     182 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot, #7
Setting:     UK, Cornish coast
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, Sept. 2007.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Ways of the World: Robert Goddard

Paris of 1919 is full of spies and intrigue. Following World War I, a peace treaty is being negotiated, and Sir Henry Maxted is present as an adviser to the British deputation. While there he falls off a building to his death; the authorities and the politicians are anxious to call his death accidental, and the proximity to a possible mistress in Paris makes the event embarrassing to his family.

Sir Henry's two sons go to Paris to claim the body. The elder brother, now Sir Ashley, wants to accept things at face value and get back home. James “Max” Maxted, recently released from his assignment as a pilot in the  Royal Flying Corps, has a feeling that the truth is being covered up and feels a duty to follow up on his intuition.  He and his friend, mechanic Sam Twentyman, had planned to run an air field back in the UK but he feels he must put those plans on hold.

The remainder of the book follows Max's adventures in Paris as he looks into his father's involvement in the peace talks and the machinations and double-dealing going on among representatives of various nations. Sam Twentyman joins him in Paris and gets a job as a mechanic for the British delegation to help out behind the scenes.



The plot seemed to wander at times and there were a lot of names and nationalities to keep track. Usually this doesn't bother me, but some of the relationships never became clear to me. At times, the story seemed too melodramatic. On the other hand, I like that Max was not willing to toe the family line and hide the true facts of his father's death (which will not be clear without some digging into the facts). I liked the division in the family, with the elder brother's wife, Lydia, trying to influence events in her favor and Max's mother rooting for him.

The book has a definite cliffhanger ending. Since the book has been marketed as the first part of a trilogy, that did not surprise me. In this case, although the ending was abrupt, it was the ending I expected and it did not bother me. I feel like I have enough closure with this book that I could read on to the next book or not, and the reading experience would still be satisfactory. Other readers have complained strongly about this aspect of the story, so I feel I should include a warning.

In summary, I found this to be a light, entertaining espionage story, fine if you don't mind family drama and a bit of romance included. Of course I enjoyed the setting in time and place and the connection to World War I. This type of historical mystery is a favorite type of read for me. This is the first book by Robert Goddard I have read. I expect to follow up on book 2 in the trilogy eventually, and I have three other books by this author to read.

As far as I can tell, only this first book in the trilogy has been published in the US; the second and third books have been published in the UK.

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Publisher:   Mysterious Press, 2015 (orig. pub. 2013)
Length:      416 pages
Format:      e-book
Series:       James Maxted, #1
Setting:      Paris, France (primarily)
Genre:        Thriller, Espionage
Source:      Provided by the publisher for review via NetGalley

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Johnny Under Ground: Patricia Moyes

Patricia Moyes wrote nineteen mysteries starring Inspector Henry Tibbett between 1959 and 1993. Inspector Tibbett and his wife Emmy were a well-known fictional sleuthing couple at that time, and many readers still enjoy the books. I read most of the books during that time period, and loved them all. Rereading this book was a joy.

If I remember correctly, most of the mysteries in this series do not start out as normal police investigations. Often they originate during or from some event in the Tibbett's lives.  They may be on vacation and a murder occurs, that type of thing. That is not always true, however, as in Murder a la Mode (covered here and here by Moira at Clothes in Books).

In this mystery, Johnny Under Ground, Emmy Tibbett plays a much larger part than usual. The mystery revolves around an event in her past. Emmy attends the reunion of officers, RAF and WAAF, who served at Dymfield. She was just nineteen when she was stationed there, and had a crush on one of the RAF officers, who later died tragically. After the reunion, Emmy is asked to help write a history of Dymfield. Her partner in the writing project dies, possibly a suicide but maybe not. It is assumed that someone is trying to keep a secret from the past buried. Henry, of course, is concerned for Emmy's safety and gets involved in the investigation.

This book is one of my favorite of the series because of the the focus on Britain during World War II and how the war affected peoples lives. The book was published in 1965 and looks back at a time twenty years earlier.

The review of Johnny Under Ground at In Reference to Murder gives some of Patricia Moyes' background, including her work during the war as a flight officer in the WAAF. Obviously Moyes used her experiences in writing this book. At Rue Morgue Press, there is an article with even more information about her life, written by Katherine Hall Page.

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Publisher:  Henry Holt and Co., 1987. Orig. pub. 1965.
Length:     253 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Inspector Henry Tibbett, #6
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Concrete Angel: Patricia Abbott


I found this book challenging to read; the subject matter was chilling. Because this story and its subject matter are outside of my normal reading, I can only hope that I can do it justice in a review.  I cannot compare it to other books of the same type because I haven't read many.

The story is told mostly in first person by Christine, daughter of Eve Moran. She tells the story of her mother, her mother's illness and evil behavior, and her own life as a result of being used by her mother for most of her childhood. The events are set in and around Philadelphia in the 1960s and 1970s. I have never been to the state of Pennsylvania, but I did live through those decades and the depiction of the time period seemed very authentic to me.

In the opening chapters, Eve kills a man and insists on treating it as an accident; and then proceeds to let Christine, at twelve years of age, take the blame. From that point on, Christine relates the background of Eve's problems, how her parents met and married, and how Eve's mental problems and behavior mold Christine's life.  Thus this book has elements of crime fiction, but it is primarily a character study and the study of a very disfunctional family.

Eve Moran is an example of an unlikeable person who is interesting. To put it simply, without going into all the possible background for Eve's problems, she is narcissistic and has as extreme need to acquire objects and hoard them. At times I had sympathy for her plight because she does not know (or allow herself to see) that her behavior is evil and hurtful, and when she gets medical treatment, no one treats her problems in any helpful way.

Christine is an intelligent child in an impossible situation, often protecting her mother from discovery. The older she gets,the more she comes to understand that her situation and her relationship with her mother are abnormal, but it seems impossible to pull away from her influence.

About a third of the way through the book, I stopped for the night and went to bed. Thoughts of the book were swirling in my mind and sleep was difficult; it was like I had to process it before I could go further. But at no time did that deter my desire to continue reading the story; it was almost addictive and I did not want to stop reading. Eve's adventures, though extremely unpalatable, were fascinating. And I continued to have hopes that there would a positive resolution for Christine.

One of the best things about this book is the description of the abuse that Christine receives from Eve. It is not physical, and often not even verbal. Eve uses her daughter in any way she can to achieve her aims and very rarely has any consideration for Eve's well-being or her needs growing up. It is very chilling to hear the story from the victim's point of view. I think it important for people to realize that not all child abuse is physical and that it has lasting effects.

It is almost as uncomfortable to read about the people in Christine's life who turn a blind eye to what is happening to her. Her father, who for the most part participates in her life only marginally; her mother's mother, who tries to help in her own way; her father's parents, who don't realize the extent of the situation and don't really want to know; and various other adults in her life.

I recommend this book highly. I found it an excellent read, and I look forward to more from Patti. She is the author of many published short stories, several of which I have read and enjoyed. Also check out this article and interview by J. Kingston Pierce at Kirkus Reviews.

Check out other reviews and interviews at Patti's blog, Pattinase.

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Publisher:   Polis Books, June 2015
Length:      309 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      Philadelphia, PA
Genre:        Psychological suspense
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Book of 1987: The Skeleton in the Grass by Robert Barnard


It is 1936 and Sarah Causeley has been hired as a governess for the Hallams, who have three grown children and one "afterthought," six-year-old Chloe. The family, with their open and affectionate behavior, is a new experience for Sarah, whose parents showed little emotion and were not supportive in her desire to explore the world beyond their village.

We see the events of 1936 through Sarah's eyes, but also via the educated and well-read Hallams, and the villagers. The King is spending time with a divorced woman. Civil war is breaking out in Spain. One of the Hallam sons goes to Spain to take part in the fighting. And during all of this, because the Hallams are pacifists, malicious pranks are carried out on the grounds of Hallam House. The last prank results in a death and the Hallams are the logical suspects. From that time on, life at Hallam House is less idyllic.

This is my submission for the Crimes of the Century meme at Past Offences, and the year for this month is 1987. However, since this novel is historical fiction, set mainly in 1936 and occasionally a decade or two later, I learned more about the 1930s than 1987.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It is a quiet story and is really more about the times and the people than a mystery, but that type of novel appeals to me. I did like how the culprit was revealed in the end. Publisher's Weekly said: "Remarkably inventive British author Barnard recreates England in the mid-1930s in this spellbinding mystery."

Some have compared this book to another of Barnard's novels, Out of the Blackout, a story about a man who grew up in London but was evacuated to the country during the 1940s. His parents never came to pick him up after the Blitz ended, and, as an adult, he has strange memories of his childhood in London. I have read that book and liked it but honestly cannot remember how it compares to this one.

I have been a fan of Robert Barnard for years. I like his standalone books and his series books, and fortunately I still have many unread. At the Gregory & Co. website, there is a remembrance written by Martin Edwards.

Two other very good reviews are at Letters from a Hill Farm and Mystery*File.

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Publisher:   Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987
Length:      199 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      UK, 1936
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Positive Vetting" by Stephen Murray

I am behind on my short story reading and also on my posts for the Deal Me In Challenge. Every other week I draw one card from a deck to randomly pick from a group of short shories. This has been a very successful experiment to see if I will grow to appreciate short stories. This is the 13th story I have read out of my planned 26 stories for the challenge. (My list of short stories for the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge is here. Jay at Bibliophilopolis hosts the challenge.)


"Positive Vetting" is another great story from 1st CULPRIT: A Crime Writer's Annual, edited by Liza Cody and Michael Z. Lewin. And this time I was introduced to an author that is totally new to me: Stephen Murray.

This story is set in London and features a narrator telling about a murder he investigated back in 1944. The story is as much about how the war affected those involved, whether on the home front or in the fighting, as it is about the murder. A fine story with some twists and turns along the way.

Stephen Murray is the author of six crime fiction novels featuring Chief Inspector Alec Stainton, published between 1987 and 1994. Other than that, I don't know that much about him. Martin Edwards at Do You Write Under Your Own Name? is a fan. There are two posts at his blog featuring Murray: Susan Moody and Stephen Murray and Forgotten Book - Death and Transfiguration.