Archive | January 2017

Review: Murder, Stage Left: A Nero Wolfe Mystery, by Robert Goldsborough. Open Road Integrated Media.

I read all the Rex Stout Nero Wolfe books quite some years ago. In more recent years, Mr. Goldsborough has taken up the cloak for the Nero Wolfe stories. I am grateful to him for that.

 

This is a mystery in the grand tradition. We of course have all the familiar characters: Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, Saul Panzer, Fritz, and Inspector Cramer.

 

Wolfe is, as usual, preoccupied with his orchids and his fine cuisine, and is not too inclined to address a problem his friend Lewis Hewitt presents, until the offer is sweetened by the fee of some ultra-rare orchids. That is enough for Wolfe to address the issue, at least indirectly.

 

The subject is a current production of a Broadway hit, Death at Cresthaven. Hewitt friend, Roy Breckenridge, is the producer. The production is going well, reviews are good, all should be well, but Breckenridge is worried: he has a vague but strong sense of trouble ahead, and Wolfe is asked to check it out. We all know Wolfe seldom stirs from his home, but he agrees to send Archie to do some investigating, under cover, posing as a Canadian theater writer.

 

Archie goes to the theater, and we are with him as he interviews the director, stage manager, and cast. He finds nothing very noteworthy, and is all set to report that there is no problem to be found. But then Breckenridge is found dead in his director’s cubicle overlooking the stage, and we have a new situation.

 

Ultimately, Wolfe agrees to interview all the same people again personally at his home. Again we attend each interview. At the end of this series, Nero Wolfe goes into a pronounced funk for a time. Action seems at a stalemate.

 

But then, in the grand tradition, Wolfe sees the solution, and calls all the dramatis personae to assemble at his home, where we have the master detective confronting the guilty party.  Wolfe has another successful case; he also adds three new ultra-rare orchids to his splendid collection.

 

Review: The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham. Ipso Books.

I am such a fan of Allingham’s books, and it is always a pleasure to read one. But it

is not so easy to write a review, as I find myself feeling inadequate to do her writing the justice it deserves. Once I’ve said her writing is masterful, what can I add?

 

This book is notable for the return of Amanda Fitton, previously met as a flame-haired teenager in Sweet Danger. It is six years later; she is now Lady Amanda, she has completed her education and she is an engineer at Alandel aeroplane company. Quite a strong identity for a young woman at the time this book was written.

 

Besides Amanda and Albert Campion, there is a host of memorable characters in this story. Albert’s sister Valentine is a prominent fashion designer with the very successful firm of Papendeik. There is the beautiful Georgia Wells, a gifted actress who is very self-absorbed and has some difficulty distinguishing her stage world from real life.

 

We enter the world of fashion with a luncheon at the Papdendeik establishment, with Albert, Val, and Georgia Wells in attendance, along with Georgia’s larger-than-life husband Sir Raymond Ramillies, her leading man, and entertainment entrepreneur, Ferdie Paul, and Alan Dell, a genius at aeronautics.

 

The drama unfolds slowly but relentlessly as the web of relationships and life events unfolds. Center stage, as befits her, is Georgia (Lady Ramillies) and her complicated story of marriages and romantic alliances. Campion, it transpires, has been hired by the father of Richard Portland-Smith to find out what happened to his son, who was engaged to Georgia and then vanished without a trace. Subsequently, Georgia married Ramillies. When Portland-Smith’s body is finally discovered, his death is ruled as a suicide. But before too long, Ramillies is also dead under suspicious circumstances. From there, the ramifications of these two deaths have impacted most of the central characters in the story.

 

Albert Campion is challenged to unravel these mysteries and untangle the complex relationships here. In the process, the romantic lives of Valentine, Georgia, Alan Dell, Campion, and Amanda are also on view. This is an intriguing tale, a puzzling mystery, and a very satisfying read despite the negative events encountered by the players.

 

My thanks to Camilla of the Allingham Estate for providing an advance copy to read and review.

Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel. Crown Publishing.

This is a riveting story about a family and a house both named Roanoke. We start with Lane Roanoke, not yet sixteen, coping with the suicide of her mother. With nowhere else to go, she is sent by New York authorities to her grandparents in Kansas. Lane knows little of her mother’s past, and even less about Roanoke, her mother’s childhood home. But when she fantasizes about it, her suppositions are cut short by her mother’s sharp comment that if her vision was not a nightmare, it was not correct.

 

It is a little difficult to go to far in this review without putting out spoilers to this carefully constructed tale, told to us in short flashbacks and current vignettes. At the heart of the story there is a terrible secret. There is something about the Roanoke girls, her tempestuous cousin Allegra tells her: either they run or they die.

 

The author does give us a substantial clue at the beginning of the book with the family tree of the Roanoke girls. At first glance, that diagram seems somehow odd. It did to me, at least–but I went ahead and started reading.

 

The story unfolds in tantalizing, teasing, painfully raw twists and turns, alternating between “then” and “now”, interspersed with capsule biographies of each of the girls; the method of relating the tale holds the reader spellbound to the end. A warning, this book is not for the faint of heart. There is sexual content and there is profanity. As a licensed psychotherapist, I found myself reading a case history of what we would surely call a dysfunctional family.

 

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review.

Review: Bridesmaids Revisited: An Ellie Haskell Mystery by Dorothy Cannell. Random House Publishing Group – Alibi.

I have been a Dorothy Cannel fan for quite a while, so was happy to have the opportunity to preview and review this latest Ellie Haskell book.

 

I like Cannell’s writing because it is so witty and funny. This book is certainly witty, but maybe not quite so funny, although the wry humor does emerge often.

 

Ellie’s handsome husband Ben and her adorable children are away at a Memory Lanes camp, and so this story is mostly just Ellie, joined by an unlikely trio of ladies introduced early on. Some of Ellie’s past has been not so pleasant, with the early loss of her mother as well as her grandmother. Ellie has always heard the trio of Rosemary, Thora, and Jane referred to as “the bridesmaids” although she has never understood why. Out of the blue, she receives an invitation from the trio to come for a visit, as her grandmother Sophie wants to make contact with her. Now that is odd and eerie, because Sophie has been dead for quite some years. Nevertheless, Ellie is intrigued, and agrees to the visit.

 

Once at the Old Rectory, Ellie’s experiences are unsettling–voices and visions in the night, among other things. Added to the bridesmaid trio, we encounter the ladies’ faithful employee Edna, as well as a mysterious woman with black and gold hair who seems a bit of a witch. Before long, there is a nasty death to add to the mix.

 

Along the way, Ellie is given a vintage Gothic romance to read, and it soon seems to her that she is living in the midst of a modern-day Gothic. What is going on here? Getting to the bottom of all this, and finding answers, proves challenging and nearly deadly to Ellie.

 

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review.

Review: Victoria the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire, by Julia Baird. Random House Publishing Group.

This book offers a view of a woman most of us have heard of, and think we know about. Interest has been aroused in Victoria in recent years, perhaps because the current Elizabeth II has now served longer than Victoria did.

 

But Ms. Baird enlightens us early on, that Victoria’s story has been edited, suppressed, and censored by a number of means, most notably by the actions of Victoria herself. The facts about this royal lady were much muddied by efforts by Victoria and others to protect her memory. Many of her letters, diaries, and other materials were destroyed at Victoria’s own direction. What a pity!

The author has spent a good deal of time going to available original sources to discover the real story.

 

The author’s style is compelling, vivid with descriptive detail and historical perspective on the tale as it unfolds. This is a very worthy, eminently readable, and well-researched portrait of Victoria.

 

I apologize that I am late with this review. The publisher very kindly provided me with an advance copy; somehow I missed the publication date of November 22 by quite a bit. But I did want to express my appreciation and admiration for the book and the excellence of this author’s work.

 

The historical notes at the end are a valuable resource all by themselves.

 

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book to read and review.

Review: Sold to Miss Seeton by Hamilton Crane, Heron Carvic. Farrago.

This Miss Seeton story starts, unusually, in a prison; the first chapter ends with a cleverly engineered prison break. All right, but what does all this have to do with our Miss Seeton?

 

We shall see, in the fullness of time. We are finally past Christmas, where the last couple of books have been set, and now into the New Year, which is proving to be a very wet one. Miss Seeton and her good friend Lady Calvedon, unable to tend to their gardens, look for something to do while they wait. The answer is, of course, go shopping!

 

Well, actually, go auctioneering. Lady Calvedon is looking for a new barometer to replace the one broken by her irate spouse, while Miss Seeton seeks a new blue chapeau to go with her sleek new blue umbrella.

 

As ever, it seems, when Miss Seeton is involved, things do not go as planned. Miss Seeton blames her fanciful mood and visions of lost riches on The Treasure of Sierra Madre, which she had viewed the previous night. How else to explain her inexplicable urge to splurge on a mysterious locked box of exotic appearance at the auction?

 

This is another skillfully-constructed and appealing story, featuring Miss Seeton and her friends, including Scotland Yard, and of course the villagers of Plummergan. The intrigue mounts slowly, and the imaginative details are splendid. Another entertaining read!

 

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGallley for providing an advance copy to read and review.

My Name is Paulette.

Paulette is about 72 years old. Looks pretty good for her age, don’t you think?  Actually, this is a new organdy dress and a new wig, with a warm sweater over it.

I got Paulette as a Christmas gift from my Uncle Paul in 1944, when he was in the Army stationed in Monterey, California.  Originally, Paulette wore a gauzy white dress with small blue flowers on it; she had a mohair wig with long braids.  Sorry, no picture is available of Paulette’s original form.   Her companion was a small bear in a purple felt vest. Both had heads made of composition–a kind of pressed wood product often found in dolls of the early 20th century, and cloth bodies.

 

 

 

This is me with my Uncle Paul about the time he gave Paulette and Bear to me.  Bear has kept his original clothes all this time, but Paulette has been redressed several times, as the original gauzy white dress with little blue flowers is very fragile now.  Here are two  pictures of Paulette in different clothes.  The first one was taken in the 1980s with a cotton dress and matching cape.  After that, it seems Paulette was packed away until 2013. The cotton dress and cape were gone, and Paulette was in a vintage white baby dress, but it didn’t fit very well and when the green organdy dress was found, it was put on Paulette.  I like the organdy dress a lot better!

 

 

Review: Rogues’ Holiday, by Margery Allingham writing as Maxwell March. Ipso Books.

On January 27, 2017, the Allingham estate is releasing something different: one of three so-called “lost” novels that Allingham wrote under the name “Maxwell March” starting in 1931, to earn some extra money. Rogues Holiday is apparently the first of these. This book is proof that Margery Allingham could do very well indeed without the Allingham name and her most famous character, Albert Campion.

Early on, we meet David Blest, a handsome young Scotland Yard Inspector coping with the unexpected death of Eric Ingleton-Gray, a 27-7ear-old man of good family, in the august Senior Bluffs Club, St. James. Colonel Bloom, Club secretary, avers that the unfortunate gentlemen suffered an accident while in his cups after a night on the town in the company of Sir Leo Thyn, an older, long-established club member. Inspector Blest has his doubts, but after a heart-to-heart discussion with his superior officer, Superintendent McQuirk, David is persuaded not to make trouble where there is none. He takes McQuirk’s suggestion to embark on his scheduled two-week leave of absence.

That would seem to be that, but of course, it isn’t. David quietly decides to use his holiday time to pursue his inquiries at the Arcadian Hotel, Westbourne-on-Sea–which just happens to be where Sir Leo is staying. Then, David chances to meet a charming young lady who piques his interest because of her apparent ill health.

From there, the plot thickens nicely; there is another suspicious death, villains of various stripes abound. The lovely young lady, Miss Judy Wellington, turns out to be hiding a secret, including the fact that her apparent delicate health is a carefully orchestrated invention. But why?

This story just keeps gaining momentum, adding layers of complexity and eliciting our curiosity to the point that it is hard to put the book down (at least it was for me). All in all this is a corking good story with an absorbing mix of villainy, romance, intrigue, and mystery. It is less a Golden Age mystery, and more of a thriller. Without Campion, Allingham is still masterful

My thanks to Camilla of the Allingham estate for providing an advance copy f0r me to read and review.

Review: Murder on the Mullet Express by Gwen Mayo and Sarah Glenn. Mystery and Horror, LLC

This is a splendid tale set in challenging times and an interesting location.

We have two ladies of a certain age, Cornelia Pettijohn and Teddy Lawless, who served as nurses in the Great War and now accompany their eccentric inventor uncle on a trip to exotic Florida in 1926. The West Coast Development Company is offering land for sale in Homosassa, Florida, and Uncle Pettijohn thinks he might like the change of scenery.

But things don’t go exactly as planned. Their automobile breaks down, and the intrepid trio find themselves traveling on a local train dubbed The Mullet Express because its usual cargo consists primarily of fish. Travel is further complicated by two suspicious deaths en route.

Teddy and Cornelia have their hands full solving the case and keeping their adventurous uncle safe and out of trouble.

The author has provided most valuable historical background and vintage cocktail recipes at the end of the book, which makes the tale all the more intriguing. This is a fun read.  My thanks to authors, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review.

Review: Deadly Duo: Two Novellas by Margery Allingham. Ipso Books.

This book includes two tales, Wanted: Someone Innocent, and Last Act:

 

Wanted: Someone Innocent

 

In this first story, we meet the immediately appealing Miss Gillian Brayton, just twenty years old, and a recent graduate of Totham Abbey, “School for the Daughters of Gentlemen.” Gillian was orphaned when her parents were lost at sea in the Queen Adelaide disaster, but received her first-class education courtesy of her Uncle Grey, a sweet, aristocratic old gentlemen now deceased. Gillian is left with her sterling education and little else, as sadly Uncle Grey’s investments had failed before his demise.

Gillian has found employment with milliner Madame Clothilde. When Gillian receives an invitation to return to her alma mater, Madame encourages Gillian to go. Madame also insists that Gillian wear an outrageously inappropriate French hat; she is expected to sell orders to her former schoolmates.

It doesn’t look good for Gillian, but she goes. To her considerable surprise, she is greeted with great enthusiasm by Rita Fayre, a slightly older girl Gillian had barely known. Furthermore, Rita insists she wants to employ Gillian at her home right away. For Gillian, it all seems too good to be true, and her suspicions prove correct. Gillian finds herself largely ignored and snubbed. She meets a mysterious man who she subsequently learns is Rita’s husband. Just when Gillian is thoroughly mystified by it all, Rita is found dead. Now it is up to Gillian to find her way out of this mess.

This story is told with great charm, lovely descriptions and notable characters.

 

Last Act

 

This second story is quite a departure from the first. One similarity between the two stories is the appeal of the central character, a charming young woman in both instances. In Last Act we meet Margot Robert, a 24-year-old French actress of great beauty.

We enter a world of theatrical characters dominated by the larger-than-life Zoff, a very wealthy and vastly temperamental woman who became a legend on the European stage. Zoff has completely taken over the home of Sir Kit, where Margot has been invited to stay. She is welcomed first by Zoff’s faithful Genevieve. It turns out that we have another orphan in this central character, as Margot was raised by Genevieve and Zoff and is an heir to Zoff’s considerable fortune, along with Zoff’s two grandsons. But one of those grandsons, Denis, is long out of favor with Zoff and is rumored to be disinherited. Just when circumstances are becoming particularly strained, Zoff is found dead in her room. It is not clear whether the death is one of natural causes or not. The residents are considered as possible suspects, but one by one seem cleared of suspicion. How, then, did Zoff come to die? We are led to a brilliant conclusion.

Again, Allingham is a master of storytelling, description, and characterization. It seems to me her writing carries a kind of organic quality, in that the work seems to have just grown complete. One can’t imagine changing, or adding, anything; one is never aware of the effort involved, just filled with admiration. The story simply unfolds and we are led step by step through the events and the surroundings.

 

In this instance, we have a bonus: there is a cleverness afoot that reminded me of another Golden Age writer, Agatha Christie. Indeed, the denouement rivals Christie at her craftiest. Allingham never disappoints!

 

My sincere thanks to Camilla of the Alllingham Estate for providing an advance copy for me to read and review, which was my pleasure.