Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Books of 1932: Keeper of the Keys by Earl Derr Biggers

In Keeper of the Keys, Charlie Chan is working on a case in California. He has been invited to the home of Dudley Ward on Lake Tahoe. Ward was the first husband of the famous opera singer Ellen Landini. Chan arrives at Ward's home along with Luis Romano, opera conductor, and fourth husband of Landini. He finds that he is joining a gathering of all of Landini's husbands, past and present. And Landini just happens to be in Reno, across the border in Nevada, waiting to get a divorce from Romano. An interesting setup, which leads to murder.

This book, the last in the series, has plenty of atmosphere. Much is made of the cold weather and snow, which Charlie has never experienced. Because it was written in 1932, I was surprised to see that a charter airplane and its pilot feature prominently in this book. The picture of the sparsely populated area around Lake Tahoe in the early 1930's is intriguing. Chan takes the train to Truckee; he and other guests are driven to a tavern on the lake, then taken by motor boat to Ward's home across the lake.  His home is very isolated.

There are six novels featuring Charlie Chan, and many movies. Most of the movies are not much like the novels, but they are a lot of fun. And in the movies, Charlie Chan is known for his pithy sayings. The first book, The House Without a Key (review here), is set in Hawaii. Charlie Chan does not show up until later in the book, and he seems to be in the background during most of the investigation. He doesn't speak English very well, and does not use the aphorisms for which he is known in the movies. In the second book, The Chinese Parrot (review here), Charlie is on a special case for a friend in California. In that one, he does use aphorisms, but sparingly. By this last book in the series. Charlie is spouting aphorisms very frequently and just about as much as in the movies. Each motto fits the scene though; they are not just there for effect. Some may even contain clues.

I found that of the three books I have read, each is very different. The first one involves a romance, and Charlie plays a smaller part. The second one seems more to be a classic puzzle plot. This book does fit the traditional mystery form, and there are clues. But this one was more entertaining for me than the second one, which was set in the desert. Maybe it was the location or the different set of characters involved. Although Charlie is a policeman in Hawaii, in most of the books he is outside of Hawaii working for an individual.

Charlie is easygoing and pleasant, but he never loses sight of his goal, to catch the murderer and prevent further crimes. In this book he is working in tandem with the sheriff. The rustic sheriff makes this clear:
It's going to be pretty unpleasant for all of us, I guess. I'm Don Holt, sheriff of the county, and I don't aim to cause no innocent person any unnecessary trouble. But I got to get to the bottom of this business, and the shorter the route, the better for all of us—well, most of us, anyhow. I've asked Inspector Chan, who's had more experience in this line than I have, to give me a hand here, an' I want to say right now, that when he asks, you answer. That's all, I reckon.
Don Holt is a nice guy and he and Charlie work together well. All in all, a very enjoyable book.

Two years ago I read my first Charlie Chan book, and I read it for the first R.I.P. event that I participated in. I submit this review for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX. This book is also for the Books of 1932 challenge at Past Offences.


Publisher:    Academy Chicago Publishers, 2009 (orig. pub. 1932)
Length:        251 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Series:        Charlie Chan, #3
Setting:       Lake Tahoe, California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I own a Dell Mapback edition but I read my husband's reprint edition.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Death of a Hollow Man (TV episode)

This episode of Midsomer Murders centers around the amateur theatrical group in Causton, of which Joyce Barnaby, wife of Inspector Tom Barnaby, is a member. The members of the group are a motley group, and seem to be very true to the types who take part in amateur theatricals. These individuals have known each other so well and so long that there are petty resentments and misunderstandings simmering. All of this builds up to murder while working on the current play, Amadeus. Barnaby has done volunteer work for this group over the years, so he knows all the suspects well.

I recently reread the book that this episode is based on and my review is here. I enjoyed it just as much this time around.

The episode is faithful to the book, for the most part. It includes the preparations for the play, the in-fighting among the various members of the theatrical group, the performance of the play itself. Some of the characters in the book have been cut and relationships changed. The adaptation also differs in that there is a murder that occurs at the beginning of the episode. Personally I did not find that this added anything to the story. Initially it is unclear what the link is between the Causton Amateur Dramatic Society and this death. Caroline Graham wrote the screen play, so she must have felt theses changes were needed or at least beneficial for adaptation as a TV episode.

The TV adaptations don't have the same depth of dissection of English village life as the books did, but I enjoy them all the same. I love the characters, even the boorish Sergeant Troy. The book spends much more time explaining why Joyce has given up her budding career as a singer to be the wife of a policeman. This is just one example of how the character development can have more depth in a book. But each entertains in its own way.

Only five of the seven books in the Inspector Barnaby series by Caroline Graham were adapted for television. Death of a Hollow Man was the second book in the series and the fourth episode in the TV series. The episode first aired in 1998. It stars John Nettles as DCI Tom Barnaby and Daniel Casey as Sgt Troy. Joyce is played by Jane Wymark. Cully Barnaby (Laura Howard) plays a significant part in this episode, as she does in the book.

This TV adaptation is submitted for the 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Planned Parenthood Book Sale, Part 3

My son purchased 14 or 15 books at the book sale. Most of them were in the fantasy or sci fi genres. He was lucky to find all the books in one trilogy and some books from series he had already started.

Two of the books he found were cross-genre mysteries. The PI in these books is a zombie. Unfortunately, he found books 2 and 3 and wants to read book 1 first.

A brief description of the series at TV Tropes:
A horror-comedy detective series by Kevin J. Anderson, chronicling the cases of Dan Chambeaux, private investigator in the Unnatural Quarter. Shot dead while seeking his girlfriend's murderer, Dan returns to "life" as a zombie: one of countless "unnaturals" spawned by the supernatural upheaval of the Big Uneasy.
The series is also described at The Thrilling Detective Web Site.

Some of the other books he found:

One book that intrigues me is The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove. I have not read anything by this author and this is also the first time my son has tried a book by Turtledove.

Three of the books my son purchased were in the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy. They have beautiful covers. Description of the first book in the series on Wikipedia:
Foundling is the first book of Monster Blood Tattoo, a children's/young adult's fantasy trilogy written by Australian author, D.M. Cornish. It tells the story of Rossamünd, a boy unfortunately christened with a girl's name, who has lived his entire life in a foundlingery (kind of an orphanage) before he is chosen to become a lamplighter in a far away city. The book's action takes place entirely on the Half-Continent, a Dickensian world run by arcane science and alchemy, and plagued with deadly (and not-so-deadly) monsters. It also won Best Young Adult Novel at the 2006 Aurealis Awards.
I personally don't go much for young adult fiction, but the best young adult fiction is enjoyed by all ages, so I may give this series a try one day. My son has read the first in the series, Foundling, and did like it. You can see from the photo above that the books get longer as the series continues, but each book has a good portion of back matter to explain the world and the terminology. There are also some very nice illustrations by the author sprinkled throughout the books, 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Books of 1932: The Saint vs. Scotland Yard by Leslie Charteris

The first book featuring the Saint, Meet the Tiger! by Leslie Charteris, was published in 1928. The Saint vs. Scotland Yard, published in 1932, is the eighth book published in the series. I found this book recently at a book sale. Serendipitously, it fit perfectly into the Books of 1932 challenge at Past Offences.

The Saint, aka Simon Templar, is not new to me. I have read books about the Saint and I am sure I have watched various adaptations over the years, but I don't remember a lot about any of them. So I was surprised at what I found in this book. I honestly don't know what I was expecting. This book consists of three novellas, so was a perfect re-introduction to The Saint.

The book was originally titled The Holy Terror, and that is exactly what the Saint is. The stories are lighthearted, sprinkled with songs written by the Saint. He has a female side-kick and lover in this book, Patricia Hall, who fully participates in the shenanigans. And that is how I would describe the Saint's adventures in this book. He doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. Throughout the novellas in this book, the Saint is feuding with Claude Augustus Teal, Chief Inspector of the C.I.D.

The bottom line is I enjoyed these three novellas, and I want to read more of the earlier books. John's review of The Avenging Saint at Pretty Sinister Books motivated me to look for books in the Saint Series. Sergio at Tipping My Fedora reviewed a later book of short stories, The Saint in Europe, and also covered the TV adaptations of those stories.

Quote from the introduction to this book, titled "Between Ourselves":
Then come with us.... the Saint and I will inspire you.
     We will go out and find more and more adventures. We will swagger and swashbuckle and laugh at the half-hearted. We will boast and sing and throw our weight about. We will put the paltry little things to derision, and dare to be angry about the things that are truly evil. And we shall refuse to grow old.
     Being wise, we shall not rail against the days into which we have been born. We shall see stumbling blocks, but we shall find them dragons meat for our steel. And we shall not mourn the trappings and accoutrements of fancy dress. What have they to do with us? Men wore cloaks and ruffles because they were the fashionable things to wear; but it was the way they wore them. Men rode horses because they had nothing else to ride; but it was the way they rode. Men fought with swords because they knew no better weapons; but it was the way they fought. So it shall be with us.
     We shall learn that romance lies not in the things we do, but in the way we do them. We shall discover that catching a bus can be of no less adventure than capturing a galleon, and that if a man loves a lady he need not weep because the pillion of his motor-cycle is not the saddlebow of an Arab steed. We shall find that love and hate can still be more than empty words. 
Some biographical facts from
Born Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin in Singapore (then a British colony) on May 12, 1907, Leslie legally changed his name by deed-poll to Leslie Charteris in 1926. He died in Windsor, England on April 15, 1993 at age 85. His father, Dr. S. C. Yin was a wealthy Chinese surgeon, a direct descendant of the emperors of China during the Shang dynasty; his mother was English.
In 1952, Leslie Charteris married an actress, Audrey Long. The couple remained married until he died. She died recently, on September 19, 2014. Long had roles in many movies between 1942 and 1952. See this post at The Hollywood Reporter for more information.


Publisher:   Charter, 1980 (orig. pub. as The Holy Terror, 1932)
Length:       274 pages
Format:      Paperback
Setting:      London
Series:       The Saint
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Purchased.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Planned Parenthood Book Sale, Part 2

My husband bought eleven books at the book sale. He is much more in control of his book buying impulses than I am. But he was very happy with most of the books he got. This is a sample.

Whispering Bodies by Jesse Michaels

About the author:
Jesse Michaels is an artist, musician and writer from Berkeley California. Over the years he has played in bands, created fanzines and illustrations, and written fiction. He was the singer of the punk bands Operation Ivy, Big Rig, Common Rider and Classics of Love. He has created art for Neurosis, Green Day, Christ on Parade, Filth, The Criminals, Spencer Moody, Pretty Girls Make Graves and many others.
Description of the book at the author's website:
Whispering Bodies is a comic novel which employs a mystery frame to tell the story of a reclusive man who must leave the safety of his isolated world to clear the name of a woman he has fallen for.
A comment on the back of the book suggests this book is like The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien, so Glen picked up a copy of that one also.

Unfortunately, Glen did not enjoy that book at all. Here is his review at Goodreads:
The unnamed narrator of this book is a failed farmer and pub keeper who finds himself increasingly under the thumb of John Divney, a hired man who - over time - considers himself part owner of the farm and pub. Divney needs money and his solution is to enlist the (very passive) narrator in murder and robbery. The murder takes place and so far so good. Then the book decides it will be an "Alice and Wonderland" - with a quest for a box possibly filled with loot, nonsensical and surrealistic dialog, a visit to eternity, and endless discussions on bicycles - and it is then that it becomes a slog (and only 206 pages!) for me. Many readers really (really!) like this book but I'm afraid I found it a great struggle to finish.

London After Dark

From Kirkus Reviews:
Addenda to his earlier Fabian Of The Yard fills in the picture of crime in England and works its way from general exposition on various types of illegalities to specific cases. From night haunts, guarding royalty, gambling, dope, sex, perverts, unlawful pictures and satanic practices, he goes on to the crooks themselves, the informers, the rackets, and winds up with 14 examples of the painstaking police activities that untangled varying iniquities. This dossier has a very moral tone to its yarning, and its expertising, by an ex-superintendent of the Yard, offers solid, dependable -- and interesting material for the true crime fancier.

Ghosts by Gaslight

From a review at Deseret News:
Ghosts by Gaslight: Stories of Steampunk and Supernatural Suspense edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, is a collection of all new ghost stories, inspired by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. The stories, by established authors, infuse a modern fascination with old-fashioned technology into a Victorian setting in a genre called steampunk. While not every contributing author is a short story specialist, each story has some unsettling or haunting aspect to it.
From the reviews I read, the biggest criticism of this book was that not all stories had steampunk elements. As in any collection of short stories, some are better than others, and this depends on the reader's taste.

Blackmail by Parnell Hall
This is the ninth book in the Stanley Hastings series.

From Goodreads:
Complications arise when Stanley Hastings handles a blackmail payment involving pornographic pictures. Not only does he fail to stop the blackmailer, but everyone he talks to dies.
“Every page quivers with comic frustration and the result is an absolute joy.”—Kirkus (starred)
“Parnell Hall succeeds in making Stanley Hastings one of a kind …. BLACKMAIL is pleasantly reminiscent of an earlier era, when detectives like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin brought some humor to their chores.”—The Wall Street Journal 

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

The description below is from Boing Boing. There are also lots of photos at that post of WW II workers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians — many of them young women from small towns across the South — were recruited to this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war—when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed.
Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it—women who are now in their eighties and nineties — The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity.

Friday, October 10, 2014

New (to me) Authors: 3rd Quarter 2014

At the end of every quarter, Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise hosts a meme for the best new-to-me crime fiction authors. Check out other posts for this quarter.

These are the books by authors that are new-to-me this quarter:

All of these authors wrote books that I enjoyed reading, and I will continue to read books by most of them. Often when I do these summaries for three months worth of reading, the most recently read books are the most memorable.

Most enjoyable was:

The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman. This novel combines a mystery and the supernatural. The characterization is wonderful. All of the main characters are well fleshed out. The characters are realistic; all have flaws. They are mostly likable but far from perfect. Very, very long, though.

Not so enjoyable, but a very good book:

Lie in the Dark by Dan Fesperman. This book is a police procedural set in the midst of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict. It describes the daily life of homicide inspector Vlado Petric as he tries to do his job. The siege has been going on for two years, and Petric's wife and child have escaped to Germany. His job seems to be useless in times of war when so many are dying and suffering.

Quotes from the book:
    The same two motivations which had kept him going before the war could still sustain him. Or at least he hoped they could.
    One was the small, slender promise that beckons to all homicide detectives-that someday, something worthy and noble would come of his work. For the clever and the persistent, perhaps something larger lurked behind the daily body count. In the way that an epidemiologist knows that a single autopsy can provide the key to a pandemic, Vlado clung to a belief that, now and then, one murder offered a portal to machinations far greater than the pulling of a trigger or the plunging of a blade.
    But could this still be true in wartime? ...
    Yet Vlado couldn't help but marvel at the enduring popularity of murder. He knew from his history texts what war was supposed to do to people. In Stalingrad they ate rats and burned furniture to stay warm, but they stuck together. Even in London, fat and soft London, suicides dropped and mental health soared. But now he wondered if it hadn't all been some great warm lie of wartime propaganda. Because, if anything, people succumbed more easily now to the passions that had always done them in. And as the siege grumbled on, spurned lovers still shot each other naked and dead, drunks stabbed other drunks for a bottle, and gamblers died as ever for their debts.
This is not the darkest book I have ever read, but it is not a fun read or uplifting.