Saturday, January 28, 2017

Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case Of The Deadly Toy

The Case Of The Deadly Toy came out in 1959 as the first of three Perry Mason novels that year. The television series had already started. My general feeling, based on reading a bunch, but not all--how many people have really read all the Perry Mason novels? and it must be asked, why would you?--is that the later ones are hastier and less strong than the early ones.

But I thought this one was pretty good.

The initial exposition is blunt but brutally effective and takes up sixteen pages in my edition. Norda Allison (her interesting name seems to have been simplified to Claire for the TV episode) discovers her fiancee Mervin Selkirk is a bit of a thug when he slaps his son from a previous marriage for little cause. She breaks it off; her new boyfriend has his jaw broken by her ex-fiancee, and she's lured from San Francisco to LA for a scheme by Selkirk's ex-wife to wrest custody of the son from Selkirk. She's sympathetic but almost immediately she recognizes there's something screwy going on, and goes to Perry Mason.

At that point, of course, you know she'll be accused of murder and that's she's innocent.

There are signs of sloppiness: Della Street sees Norda Allison and gives 'the visitor the benefit of a swift and professional appraisal.' A few pages later, Paul Drake sees Norda Allison for the second time, and flashes 'Norda Allison a keen glance of professional appraisal.' Everyone in Perry's office is clearly capable of professional appraisals, especially of good-looking women.

Even worse from the very first page, I knew who the murderer was. The Perry Mason novels typically give a cast of characters at the very beginning. From that two line description it was obvious who was the murderer, I'm afraid, and I wasn't wrong.

But none of that matters. One comes to Perry Mason mainly for the wit in the dialog, but also for the completely ridiculous, probably illegal, turns that Perry pulls to confound Hamilton Burger. Both were successful in this case, and Perry's shenanigans did double duty in that they irritated the rich and obnoxious father of the victim as well as Hamilton Burger.

And speaking of double duty, this novel works for me both as an item in my scavenger hunt, and as clearing out my TBR list. Even though there's not supposed to be any blood on the toy printing kit pictured on the cover, there clearly is, so we'll count it for that:

Golden Age. Bloodstains. My Reader's Block Mystery Scavenger Hunt.

Both of the books I've read so far the TBR challenge came into my library in 2016. That hardly feels like backlog, but by the rules of the game it counts, so this is also for My Reader's Block Mount TBR Challenge. But the next one might have to be been hanging around for a bit longer. And that's only two out of thirty-six, and January is nearly over. I may need to pick up the pace...

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Edmund Crispin's The Moving Toyshop

It's dark days, both literally--it's overcast and rainy here in Toronto this week--and metaphorically, in the world at large. What better time for a comic mystery?

The Moving Toyshop, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the best.

I've read it, oh, a few times before, but the cover shown is the copy I got from the library. All the rest of Crispin is safe here on the shelf, but The Moving Toyshop has gone AWOL. No doubt I'm the guilty party who pressed it on somebody somewhen as a novel sure to please. If you don't already know it, let me press it on you.

The novel starts with poet Richard Cadogan in a funk and needing adventure, or at least a vacation; he wheedles an advance from his publisher to fund a brief getaway (from London) to Oxford. Train schedules fail him; he hitchhikes and finally walking into Oxford, where he arrives after midnight. He finds a toyshop where not everything seems right: it's unlocked, and he enters, hoping to find the owner and tell him his awning was untied and the shop was open. Instead, he finds the body of a woman, apparently strangled. He's knocked unconscious and locked in a closet. In the morning when he wakes up, the only exit is the window. He uses it.

"'Well, I'm going to the police,' said Cadogan. "If there's anything I hate, it's the sort of book in which characters don't go to the police when they've no earthly reason for not doing so."

Cadogan actually says that later, but he acts on his strongly felt sentiment. The police take him round, but the toyshop has moved, and there's no sign of a body, and rather pityingly, the police suggest he have that bump on his head looked at.

Half-convinced he is losing his mind, Cadogan goes to see his old friend, Professor Gervase Fen of Oxford. Enter the hero detective of the novel:

"He was a tall, lanky man, about forty years of age, with a cheerful, lean, ruddy, clean-shaven face. His dark hair, sedulously plashed down with water, stuck up in spikes at the crown. He had an enormous raincoat and a carried an extraordinary hat."

That must be Fen on the cover, I guess; there's the spikes in the hair and the hat.

This is the sort of novel that involves a crazy will, a lorry driver who reads Lawrence, a schoolteacher who defends Jane Austen in a bar, suspects with nicknames derived from Lear limericks, and more than one chase scene involving bicycles and drunk undergraduates.

The solution is improbable in the extreme, and perhaps not entirely convincing, but that isn't why one enters The Moving Toyshop. Come for the toys.

And an extraordinary hat.

Golden Age. Hat. My Reader's Block Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Gladys Mitchell's The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop

Well, I had higher hopes.

The Passing Tramp recently wrote about a different Gladys Mitchell novel and I thought from the description that she would be my sort of thing: an absurdist story, funny, and with a suitably eccentric detective. This week I'm feeling the need for a good comic mystery. I thought I'd begin at the beginning, but this was the earliest one my library had. It's the second in the series.

Mrs. Bradley, the psychologist detective is eccentric in a take charge kind of way. She has just taken Stone House in Wandles Parva when Rupert Sethleigh, the owner of the Manor House has just supposedly run off to America. At around the same time most of a body, but not the skull, is discovered in the local butcher shop: it takes the local inhabitants an astonishing large of number of pages to convince themselves what we of course know from the start: that the body is that of Sethleigh.

There are a number of people who confuse the thread of events on the night of the murder and the next day for reasons of their own; a number of the complications felt excessive and insufficiently amusing. The dialog also felt a bit stilted, with the accents, both the toffs and the plebs, a bit too much each in their own way, and not really convincing.

Oh, well. It's possible I'll read another, but if so, I will try the one The Passing Tramp recommended in particular as a good start.

There's that missing head right there on the cover. Boiled down to the bone and planted in weeds as it first appears.

Golden Age. Skull. My Reader's Block Mystery Scavenger Hunt.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Rex Stout's Over My Dead Body

I've read all the Nero Wolfe mysteries at least once, and I started last year rereading them in order. So, I guess you can say I'm a fan. This one strikes me as particularly strong.

I'm very impressed with how much Stout achieves just in the first few pages. Nero and Archie are still fairly new creations, and they're reintroduced succinctly and amusingly. The client--or is she?--is sketched quickly, even without her name, which may or may not be her real name, and isn't given for several pages.
"'Pliz,' she said, 'I would like to see Misturr Nero Wolfe.'
Or you might have spelled it plihz or plizz or plihsz. However you spelled it, it wasn't Middle West or New England or Park Avenue or even East Side. It wasn't American, and naturally it irritated me a little."

There's also a bit of byplay involving a book that seems like it might be just standard chaff by Archie of Nero, but isn't. Shortly after that there's an FBI agent who introduces another bit of something to wonder about, and before long there's a body.

There are agents of foreign governments, a second body, and Nero never leaves the house in this one, though he's invited to a couple of times. It moves along nicely.

The other thing that struck me particularly about this novel is that it came out in 1940, and is very much a novel of its year. The emphasis on Americanness above, the foreign agents, and the concern over what's happening in Europe. This is the novel that reveals Nero Wolfe's Montenegrin ancestry, and troubles in the Balkans are probably in everybody's mind.

I never need a reason to read Rex Stout, but this does qualify for the Golden Age Mystery Scavenger's Hunt. There's a couple of brunettes and a dead body on the cover, but for now I'm using it for the knife, the weapon of the second murder:

"'The weapon?'
'Hasn't been found. He was stabbed in the left breast with a blade long enough to reach the heart, and it was withdrawn in a few minutes, but not immediately, judging from the amount of bleeding.'"

There it is. Long enough to reach the heart.

Golden Age. Knife. My Reader's Block's Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt Challenge

Since I'm in for a penny...I figure I can also take a stab at My Reader's Block Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt. I'll aim for at least six for both Gold and Silver eras, though I expect given my usual reading habits, I'll do better with the Gold era.

Golden Age

Knife. Rex Stout's Over My Dead Body
Skeletal Hand or Skull. Gladys Mitchell's The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop
Hat. Edmund Crispin's The Moving Toyshop
Bloodstains.  Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case Of The Deadly Toy
Bird. Rex Stout's Where There's A Will
Policeman. E. R. Punshon's The Diabolic Candelabra
Shadowy Figure. Bioy Casares and Ocampo's Where There's Love, There's Hate
Flowers. Rex Stout's Black Orchids
Suitcase/Briefcase. John Dickson Carr's The Case Of The Constant Suicides
Glove. Patricia Wentworth's Touch And Go
Jewelry. Winifred Peck's The Warrielaw Jewel
Hand Holding Weapon. Ross MacDonald's The Doomsters
Damsel in Distress. Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep
Cat. S. S. Van Dine's The Gracie Allen Murder Case
Building. Graham Greene's A Gun For Sale
Revolver. John Dickson Carr's The Man Who Could Not Shudder
Moon. Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Car/Truck. Leslie Charteris' Enter The Saint
Train. Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express
Any Other Weapon (Bomb). Leslie Charteris' The Last Hero
Tombstone. John Dickson Carr's To Wake The Dead
Blonde. Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case Of The Lonely Heiress
Hangman's Noose. Ellery Queen's Ten Days' Wonder
Brunette. Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case Of The Rolling Bones

Car/Truck. Chester Himes' All Shot Up
Written Document. Simon Brett's Situation Tragedy 
Map or Chart. Carolyn Keene's The Quest Of The Missing Map
Bird. Simon Brett's Murder Unprompted
Any Other Weapon (Pistol). Simon Brett's Murder In The Title
Bottle Of Poison. Simon Brett's Dead Giveaway
Body Of Water. Janwillem van de Wetering's The Mind Murders
Snow/Snowy Scene. Ngaio Marsh's Tied Up In Tinsel

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Guy Gavriel Kay's A Song For Arbonne

A few years ago the cable guy was here, saw I had a lot of books, and said I must like to read. He recommended, very highly, Kay's Fionavar Tapestry. He had said he'd identified with the one of young people in it, I don't remember which one, and it was a special book for him. I take my book recommendations from nearly anywhere and his was very enthusiastic, and I know that sensation he describes. I got a copy and read it.

None of the characters was me. I enjoyed it, kept in the back of my mind that Kay was somebody I might read more of, but didn't do anything about it. Then six months ago, Kay's agent's firm was moving office--I live near there--and they had a bunch of books for free on a table out front. Though I should be one to pass up free books, I'm not, and I came back, among other things, with two of Kay's novels. One of them was A Song For Arbonne.

It's a high fantasy novel set in a medieval, but pagan, Provence. The kingdom of Arbonne is devoted to both a goddess Rian and a god Corannos, but their geopolitical rival to the north, Gorhaut, sees only Corannos in their pantheon, and their current leaders celebrate a particularly savage and intolerant vision of the god. Arbonne's southern ways and their tradition of love and song, their troubadours, are an abomination to Gorhaut.

There are a number of well-delineated characters; there's a subtle intertwining of the personal and the political in the story of these two (and other) nations; its pacing is superb. I was a little unhappy with the psychology of the most important family of the north, two brothers and their father. It seemed heavy-handed. And at the end, though as a reader I generally like this, the effort to bring all the characters back on stage for a last bow was a little too obvious. But on the whole, I charged right through this, in the best way.

Very enjoyable. The other Kay I picked up for free has moved much higher in my TBR list...

Read for the My Reader's Block Mount TBR Challenge.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

I've thought about doing some reading challenges for a couple of years. This is the year! The pile of TBR books around here is a perennial problem, though hopelessly unsolvable, since I've already bought three books this year. They're now available for next year's TBR challenge. (Though maybe I'll read them right away. Ha!)

For this year, I'll aim for 36 books in the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. Mount Vancouver, half in the US and half in Canada, is suitable enough symbolically for me, and going over my reading list from last year, 36 previously unread books from around the house is enough to be a challenge, but not an unsurMOUNTable one.

I may try a couple of other challenges, but I'll do one per post.

1.) Kay's A Song For Arbonne 
2.) Gardner's The Case Of The Deadly Toy
3.) Greeley's Happy Are The Meek
4.) Household's Rogue Male
5.) Sebald's The Rings Of Saturn
6.) Bioy Casares and Ocampo's Where There's Love There's Hate
7.) Himes' All Shot Up
8.) Carr's The Case Of The Constant Suicides
9.) Kay's The Lions of al-Rassan
10.) Royko's Boss
11.) Hoffer's The True Believer
12.) Brett's Situation Tragedy
13.) Warner's The Sea and the Sword: The Baltic 1630-1945
14.) Strube's Planet Reese
15.) Fitzgerald's Six Tales of the Jazz Age and Other Stories
16.) Brett's Murder Unprompted
17.) Forster's A Room With A View
18.) Munro's Open Secrets
19.) Desani's All About H. Haterr
20.) Wilson's Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
21.) Peake's Gormenghast Novels
22.) Cicero's De Amicitia
23.) Brett's Murder In The Title
24.) Fitzgerald's Human Voices
25.) Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet
26.) Fitzgerald's Innocence
27.) Carr's The Man Who Could Not Shudder
28.) Brett's Dead Giveaway
29.) Ionesco's Hugoliad
30.) Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad
31.) Charteris' Enter The Saint
32.) Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago
33.) Forster's Where Angels Fear To Tread
34.) Carr's To Wake The Dead
35.) Gardner's The Case Of The Lonely Heiress
36.) Queen's Ten Days' Wonder

Bonus!

37.) Kraus' The Last Days of Mankind
38.) Heinlein's Time For The Stars
39.) Marsh's Tied Up In Tinsel
40.) Tuchman's The Guns of August
41.) Pratchett's Hogfather
42.) Gardner's The Case Of The Rolling Bones