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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Mystery Series - Kinsey Millhone

Robert K Tanenbaum
photo by Mark Coggins

Sue Grafton (1940-2017) began writing the "Alphabet Series," after a fairly successful career as a screenwriter. The books are usually categorized as hard-boiled PI thrillers. However, Kinsey Millhone brings a softer touch between the adventurous parts. They are set in the fictional Santa Teresa, which is a thinly disguised verson of Santa Barbara, California.

Recurring Characters of Note:
Kinsey Millhone
Henry, her neighbor
Rosie, Henry's Hungarian sister-in-law who runs a small restaurant
Con Dolan, a cop
Cheney Phillips, a cop

A Is for Alibi (1982)
"B" Is for Burglar (1985)
"C" Is for Corpse (1986)
"D" Is for Deadbeat (1987)
"E" Is for Evidence (1988)
"F" Is for Fugitive (1989)
"G" Is for Gumshoe (1990)
"H" Is for Homicide (1991)
"I" Is for Innocent (1992)
"J" Is for Judgment (1993)
"K" Is for Killer (1994)
"L" Is for Lawless (1995)
"M" Is for Malice (1996)
"N" Is for Noose (1998)
"O" Is for Outlaw (1999)
"P" Is for Peril (2001)

Q Is for Quarry (2002)
Year is 1987. Millhone has just moved to new offices after years of sharing space in the Kingman building. Her friend, Con Dolan, is on medical leave after suffering a heart attack. He wants to privately look into a cold case with an old cop friend Stacey, who is being treated for cancer. Kinsey agrees to work with them.

This book is based on an actual case of an, even yet, unidentified body of a young girl who was murdered in 1969. Other than the basic facts of the body, the rest of the story is complete fiction.

Kinsey, Con, and Stacey travel to Lompoc to see where the body was found, and Kinsey is stunned to find it has connections to her estranged biological family. We learn how Kinsey's parents died when she was five.

"R" Is for Ricochet (2004)
"S" Is for Silence (2005)
"T" Is for Trespass (2007)
"U" Is for Undertow (2009)
"V" Is for Vengeance (2011)
"W" Is for Wasted (2013)
"X" (2015)
"Y" Is for Yesterday (2017)

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Mystery Series - Butch Karp

Robert K Tanenbaum
Robert K. Tanenbaum (b. 1942) was a member of the District Attorney staff of New York City. From this experience, he found source material for his books. The series featuring Roger "Butch" Karp and Marlene Ciampi is snarky, smart and often raunchy (although this gets toned down a bit as the series progresses). However I find the books honest and engaging. The main players are not cookie-cutter caricatures. The character development over time is superb.

The first book was published in 1987 but is set in 1970 in New York City. The main characters all work for the New York District Attorney's Office. The first 15 books were ghost written by Michael Gruber. The character of Butch is somewhat biographical of Tanenbaum.

Recurring Characters of Note:
Roger Karp, "Butch"
Marlene Ciampi, "Champ"
Raymond Guma, "Goom" - ADA
Roland Hrcany - ADA
Vernon Talcott (V.T.) Newbury - ADA
Kevin Tighe - criminal
Clay Fulton - police detective
Harry Bello - almost retired/retired cop
Ariadne Stupenagel - reporter and long-time friend of Marlene
Tran Vinh - a Vietnamese with an interesting past
Dirty Warren - a street vendor with Tourettes
The Walking Booger - a street person
John Jojola - a Taos Pueblo
David Grale - a former relief worker, now "father" of the Mole People
Ned Blanchet
Nadya Malovo

#1 No Lesser Plea (1987)
Karp is a young lawyer working in the District Attorney's office of New York City. He begins to learn the painful reality of bureaucracy vs. justice. Cutting plea deals is the way to keep the office running smoothly. However, there is one case that Karp can not let go of. Mandeville Louis and two other men were involved in the killing of a liquor store owner and his son during a robbery. Butch realizes that Louis has been committing similar crimes for a number of years and is determined to cut through the man's manipulations and bring him to punishment.

Marlene Ciampi joins the DA staff part way through the book, and she and Karp quickly become an item. He is rebounding from his wife's decision to leave him for another woman. Is his affair with Marlene just a reaction, or is it the real deal?

Butch respects the DA, Philip Garrahay, and fights for his reelection.

Then Louis sends a bomb.

#2 Depraved Indifference (1989)
The book begins with Croatian Freedom Fighters hijacking a plane. Their weapon is a homemade bomb that turns out to be a fake. However, a real bomb they left in a locker does go off, killing a policeman. This brings the full weight of the justice system to bear. At least it should, but Butch is finding that many different parties seem to want this case to go away.

Karp and Marlene are in a serious relationship, and Karp is now the Assistant Bureau Chief... until he gets fired by his ever political boss. Story date is 1976.

#3 Immoral Certainty (1991)
The title of this book comes from Butch's definition of "immoral certainty," the assurance that some criminals have that they never do anything wrong. The book begins with Felix Tighe being caught red-handed in a robbery. However he almost manages to turn the tables and get the police in trouble for hitting him even though he attacked them with a knife. He is convicted, but has jumped bail and is loose in the city.

A secondary plot deals with the murder of a small-time mobster.

The other primary case in the book involves a Satan-worshipping sex cult participating in the abuse and murder of children (well, this was set in the seventies, and there were a lot of such stories).

Butch and Marlene are seriously planning to get married, and Butch must get the consent to divorce his wife Susan who moved out before the series of books began.

Story date is 1977. Felix Tighe's first adult crime. Butch is Chief of the Criminal Courts Bureau. The recurring theme in all the books is the difficulty of bringing criminals to justice when there is no time for trials and almost every case is resolved with a plea bargain. This book is perhaps more violent and graphic than others in the series.

#4 Reversible Error (1992)
One of the two primary plots is that of a serial rapist who eludes identification because there is no way to track similarities. The book refers to a change in NY law (perhaps 1975 Federal statutes) which allows rapes to be prosecuted without a confirming witness, but requires evidence of force. This was a big improvement over the previous requirements for proving rape. Marlene works with a student who has been one of the rape victims to develop a computer program to identify patterns.

The other plot involves the systematic killings of city drug lords. One of Butch's friends, a cop, seems to be involved. Butch is being groomed to be the new DA, but things don't always work out politically, especially for Butch.

It looks like Butch and Marlene are actually going to get married, but city rules will not allow her to continue to work in the same department. She's not about to become a housewife.

#5 Material Witness (1993)
The book opens with the murder of a man who is left dead in a Cadillac. The two men who commit the murder think no one has seen them, but then they realize there was a trucker and his girlfriend in the parking lot who have to be dealt with.

Meanwhile, a mistake is made by a young ADA which releases a dangerous criminal whose conviction should have been a sure thing. Butch takes responsibility and resigns from the department.

Butch and Marlene are married, living in her industrial apartment, and their first baby is due in about four weeks. They are both free of career responsibilities. Butch takes up playing basketball again. He had been on the way to the pros when an injury permanently sidelined him.

However, it turns out that the murdered man was a pro player on the fictional New York Hustlers basketball team. The coach asks Butch to look into it, because the police don't seem to be taking things very seriously. Butch joins the team as their replacement player. Marlene stubbornly continues to investigate despite her advanced pregnancy.

Their daughter Lucy is born under interesting circumstances.

#6 Justice Denied (1994)
The Homicide Bureau of the DA Office has been reinvented with Butch as its head. Marlene is back to work as head of the Rape Bureau.

The book opens with the murder of a Turk who worked for the U.N. in New York. An Armenian is arrested for it- just one more bad story in centuries of strife between the two ethnic groups. The girlfriend and alibi for the Armenian disappears. Is this suspicious or not?

Marlene is cultivating a near-retirement, drunk cop who helped solve the Material Witness case. His name is Harry and he has cleaned himself up and becomes the godfather of baby Lucy. He begins working for her, helping to find the perpetrators of a supposed suicide that occurred after a rape.

Butch and Marlene are in danger of losing their "apartment" on one floor of an old industrial building in Manhattan.

In book time, it's still the late 1970s.

#7 Corruption of Blood (1995)
It's been 8 years the Butch has worked under Bloom so 1983 or 84. Lucy is 3, but it's supposedly 13 years since Kennedy assassination, so 1976. Thus the book timeline is pretty fictitious.

This is a straight-up fictional conspiracy theory book about the Kennedy assassination. Butch accepts an appointment to a Senate Committee to investigate the Warren Commission Report. Butch and his new boss originally think this is to be a legitimate investigation, but soon learn that what they are supposed to do is rubber stamp the original report. Butch has taken V.T. Newbury and Clay Fulton with him to staff the new investigation

Marlene is angry and refuses to go to Washington, D.C., but when D.A. Bloom pulls some of his shenanigans, she heads for D.C. and finds a legal adventure of her own, aided by Harry Bello.

They adopt a huge Neopolitan Mastiff dog abandoned by the neighbors and name her Sweety.

#8 Falsely Accused (1996)
Butch is working for a private firm where he is finally making a lot of money. He and Marlene have remodeled the loft into a beautiful apartment. Lucy is 7 and goes to PS1, where they must drop her off every day. She makes friends with a girl whose mother is being stalked. The mother hires Marlene to help her get this guy away from her. Marlene enlists the help of her policeman friend Harry Bello. They are so successful that they decide to open an agency to help women who are being stalked or abused. Marlene becomes pregnant again.

The Medical Examiner, Murray Stelig, is fired by the Mayor and the D.A. for reasons that seem completely bizarre to Butch. He hires Butch to bring a lawsuit against the city.

Meanwhile Ariadne Stupenagel is researching a story about gypsy cab drivers being held up and possbily murdered. Then she is seriously beat up.

#9 Irresistible Impulse (1997)
Butch is once again Chief of the Homicide Bureau of the DAs office. It's 14 years since he first became an ADA (stated to be in the late 60s, and the book says it is the "start of the 1980s," but book time does not flow quite like real time). James Keegan has replaced the corrupt Sanford Bloom, who was ousted in the previous book. Keegan was hoping for a judgeship, but was passed over, and is now the District Attorney of New York County.

The book opens with a doctor somewhat reluctantly issuing a death certificate for a womn when he is asked to do so by another doctor friend, Vince. Eventually, the death seems suspicious and the body is exhumed. Vince seems to be tied to Medicaid fraud, but proof is elusive

Meanwhile, Butch takes on the biggest trial of his career. A young white man has killed five elderly black women, but his family has hired the best defense attorney in the country, who is going to argue for insanity.

Marlene has expanded her security business, protecting celebrities from stalkers. With the funds these clients bring in, she can also protect low-income women who have no way to fend off unwanted attentions. She is simultaneously guarding a pro tennis player and a famous cellist. Vince turns up again, and reveals his true colors.

Marlene and Lucy usually stop at a Vietnamese noodle shop for her after-school snack. When the shop is burned by arsonists, Marlene learns that Vinh has many talents

#10 Reckless Endangerment (1998)

Karp is now the Deputy District Attorney for Special Projects. This position is a lightweight compared to his past jobs. However, he is currently content.

The book opens with the shooting of a Jewish couple by an Arab cell calling themselves Duhd el Dar al-Harb (Against the House of War). It looks like this group is nothing but four young men with a grudge and a lot of energy. However, things begin to heat up between the NY Arabs and Jews.

Two Mexican brothers are in jail for a murder related to a drug deal which also involves an Arab.

Lucy is 10, and the twins are 2. The year is given as 1981. Tran Vinh now works for Marlene, but Harry is getting worried about their near-illegal (and probably actually illegal) methods of protection. He goes to work for a bigger security firm and wants Marlene to follow. Vinh becomes something of Lucy's mentor and definitely her protector.

#11 Act of Revenge (1999)
Lucy is 12, and very much the pre-adolescent mother-hater. She's feeling particularly self-pitying because her ability to learn languages so easily has resulted in her being studied scientifically, and also because her figure hasn't begun to develop.

A double murder occurs in the back room of the Chen's retail Asia Mall. Lucy's friends witness the crime. Lucy is there but does not actually see it happen.

The alternate plot involves the mob-style murder of an upper-level member of organized crime.

When the two murders turn out to be related things get crazy.

We learn more about Tran's background. He is still serving as Lucy's protector, but he can't take too many more chances with the American's finding out who he really is.

#12 True Justice (1999)

At the beginning of the book, Marlene is forced to shoot yet another scumbag of a man, and she gives up her protection business. A rash of thrown-away newborns has hit the city and the media is in a feeding frenzy. Marlene agrees to defend one of these young mothers.

The parallel plot is the murder of the parents of a friend of Lucy, who is now attending Sacred Heart High School. The twins are 7.

#13 Enemy Within (2001)

The book begins with a police chase where the person being chased is gunned down when he flees. There is no question that that man killed is a lowlife, but there are a lot of forensic details that verify this was more of an assassination than a clean shoot. Race again becomes an issue as the policeman is white and the dead man is black.

Several street people are murdered. Again, there is no public outcry because these are invisible people. Lucy is now 17, and her fervent piety takes her into the deepest pits of despair where many of these people live. She also thinks she might be in love.

When a rich, white woman kills a person who she claims threatened her with a knife, Butch begins to believe there is a connection with the "bum slashings," as they have been dubbed.

Marlene makes a fortune when the IPO of the security company she works for rises in the market on the first day. However, she does not handle this well and may be teetering on the brink of a mental breakdown.

The best part of this book is a chase scene in the dark through the lowest levels of old subway and sewer tunnels.

#14 Absolute Rage (2002) This book is really a turning point in the series. The action becomes more violent. The title is fitting.

Lucy is now 18 and in Boston College. On the train, on the way home for vacation she is somewhat attracted to a boy, Dan Heeny, who is an MIT student. "Home" is now partly on Long Island. Marlene bought an old estate and fixed it up. There, she escapes the city and raises Neopolitan Mastiffs to be guard dogs. It turns out that Dan's family has the house next door. However, his family is from West Virginia, and they are only on Long Island to finish closing that house in preparation to sell it. The house had been in Rose's (the mother) family.

Dan's father, Red, is a mine worker in West Virginia. He has been fighting the "company union" for years, trying to get in a real union to help the working people. Dan stays on LI, and the rest of the family returns to West Virginia. Then he gets a call that real trouble has erupted at home because Red did win the election, but the company isn't going to accept that.

Marlene gets involved in the West Virginia mess as she tries to get a simple-minded patsy out of jail. Butch accepts an assignment to represent the feds in their attempt to clean up the politics of the coal-mining county. Before the end of the book, the entire family is in West Virginia.

This is an action-packed and sometimes shocking narrative, exposing many of the evil practices of strip mining in the mountain states.

The twins are ten, and Giancarlo becomes blinded at the end, but he handles it much better than anyone expected. Lucy has a crisis of faith.

This book is based on the true story of Jock Yablonski, and a labor crisis in Pennsylvania. The true crime book is also by Tanenbaum and is titled, Coal Country Killing.

#15 Resolved (2003)

Marlene is just barely sane and functional. She can't put the events of West Virginia behind her, and she is mostly living on Long Island, only coming back to their Manhattan loft occasionally.

Meanwhile, one of Butch's old nemeses, Felix Tighe (Immoral Certainty), is out of prison and determined to exact vengence. He get mixed up with a group of terrorists who plan to blow up the courthouse.

Butch becomes the District Attorney, filling out the term when Jack Keegan gets a federal judgeship.

Books from the beginning through Resolved were ghost written by Michael Gruber.

#16 Hoax (2004)

The next three books are a trilogy involving a maniac, Andrew Kane, who wants to control all of New York

You can definitely tell that the books from here on were written by a different person (Tanenbaum himself). There is an awful lot of backstory in Hoax. When the action finally gets moving, I think the story is comparable to the earlier ones, but it takes a while to get there.

As noted previously, book time is out of sync with real time. It is now past Sept. 11, 2001. The twins are eleven and Lucy is 20. Giancarlo has taught himself how to play several musical instruments, and he and Zac spend a lot of time on the streets busking for spare change. They sneak into a rap club to support a rapper friend of theirs. When the rival rapper is gunned down and their friend is charged with the murder, they become material witnesses.

Meanwhile, Marlene and Lucy have taken a trip to New Mexico to bond, and so that Marlene can try to recover from the accumulated trauma of the life she has led. Whle there, they become friends with a Taos native John Jojola, sheriff on the pueblo reservation. Four young boys have gone missing in the past six months. Marlene has no intentions of getting involved, but she seems to be a trouble magnet. Lucy falls for a young rancher, a man named Ned.

#17 Fury (2005)

This book is clearly the weakest in the story to date, although it doesn't lack for action. The use of language is not nearly so precise as in earlier books, and there is still a lot of backstory. In addition, there are many errors that no one would tolerate from an independent author. A punch to a victim later turns into a bite. Other bits of the story turn up later as something different. One event of the final courtroom scene is a blatant problem.

A rape and beating that took place ten years ago is one of the central plots. The Brooklyn DA is suing the city of New York for intimidating the confessions of the five young black men who were charged and convicted.

Two other disgruntled young men join up with an Islamist terror group, but they get more than they bargained for.

Marlene ends up defending a professor against a rape charge.

Throughout, Butch is accused of being racist, anti-police, of being soft on prosecuting crimes in his own office, but he doggedly clings to doing what is right.

The action is a bit over the top, but it includes all the interesting characters of the series, and another chase in New York's subterranean tunnels.

#18 Counterplay (2006)

The Neopolitan Mastiffs have suddenly turned into Presa Canario dogs which, though hard to believe, are even more ugly. This is not simply a change in the kind of dogs Marlene trains. Gilgamesh himself has changed breeds. Salt water taffy in the last book has changed to licorice. These are not major errors, but they are the kind of detail that I think should be caught in mainstream, best-selling books.

The earlier books, although action-packed, were somewhat believable. The three in this trilogy: Hoax, Fury, and Counterplay, have devolved into something more like a superhero comic book. They are not exactly bad, but they are quite a change from the earlier books. Characters have become more like characatures- the straight-arrow DA, the violence-loving wife, the mystical daughter, a cowboy, an Indian, a villian who seemingly has tentacles everywhere, and the mysterious shadow world of underworlders who live in the tunnels beneath New York.

Guma is persuing cold cases and decides to prosecute an unsolved disappearance that was probably a murder. The body of the missing person is found, but things are not quite that simple.

The Islamic terrorists who seem to be allied with the primary villian are planning another major assault on New York.

#19 Malice (2007)

Book year is 2006. This one is filled with political intrigue as the Karps try to figure out who has taken over the evil organization that was personified by Andrew Kane. The terrorist groups are still trying to cause havoc in New York City, and we begin to get an inkling of who is really behind all this.

Lucy is living in New Mexico with Ned, but that doesn't keep her from becoming involved when the Department of Homeland Security calls upon her to translate a message in an obscure language.

Butch is still recouperating from the attack at the end of the previous book, and he takes on a civil case in Idaho involving the brother of a college basketball friend. Of course, everything ends up being related.

From Hoax onward, the books are more like episodes in one continuing saga.

#20 Escape (2008)

One of the two parallel stories in the book is taken from the real-life case of Andrea Yates who drowned her five children in the bathtub. This part of the story does an excellent job of balancing the legal definition of insanity with the obviously deranged mother who thought God had told her to kill her children to save their souls.

The other story is the ongoing saga of the Islamic terrorists who are trying to bring down the United States, the Sons of Man who are attempting an economic control of the country, and the crazy cast of Butch Karp's family and friends who are constantly involved in preserving New York City and the country.

Although Tanenbaum (since Resolved) has written the books himself, this one is slightly less wordy, with more of the text to the point of action. I keep reading because I like the diverse and implausible cast of characters.

#21 Capture (2009)

The series continues very much in comic book mode with the unlikely cast of the Karp-Ciampi family, Ned the cowboy, Tran the Vietnamese who is now best friends with his old enemy the Pueblo Indian John Jojola, the ruthless reporter, the evil arch-enemy, the treacherous Sons of Man, David Grale with his army of homeless tunnel-dwellers, and don't forget the District Attorney's office. But it works!

The terrorists are still at it, having recovered from being foiled in their previous plot. Of course, they may only be tools of the Russians or the Sons of Man.

The courtroom secondary plot involves the trail of a Broadway producer. Did the girl in his room commit suicide or did he kill her?

#22 Betrayed (2010)

This book has one story revolving around a "Fixer," a man who makes big problems go away for rich people. This person and the man who hired him are woven through events which are purposely mis-interpreted. A young woman goes missing and is believed to have been taken into the slave trade in Mexico. "Dirty Warren" the street newspaper vendor at the courthouse is arrested for the murder of a woman he used to know.

The terrorist saga continues with the trail of the Imam at the mosque where Jojola and Tran witnessed the murder of Miriam Kalifa. But the men are under deep cover in anti-terrorist activities and can't say as much as they'd like, and the defense for the Imam is claiming that Jojola and Tran actually committed the murder. The Sons of Man are suffering setbacks.

Karp's children are less involved in this book, but Marlene chooses to defend Dirty Warren.

#23 Outrage (2011)

This book seems to be better written again with more focus. Lucy is having second thoughts about getting married to Ned. The twins are 15, over 6 feet tall, and learning to stand up for what's right. Their private school baseball team has a chance at the playoffs, but an Hispanic boy who has a scholarship is being not-so-subtly pushed off the team by the coach even though he's an excellent player.

The primary theme is that of suggestive confessions forced by police. A not-terribly-bright young man is arrested for several brutal murders across two buroughs. Karp is embarrassed and outraged when his office indicts the man who is clearly not the guilty party. The only way to save face is to find out who really is the killer.

#24 Bad Faith (2012)

The legal theme of this book is whether parents have the right to withhold medical treatment from their children for religious reasons. The reader is not forced to think about it too hard, though, because it turns out that the "Reverend" definitely has motives that go beyond the spritual.

Chechyn terrorist Nadya Malovo is still up to her tricks, having now convinced the US government that she will give up terror plots in exchange for a place in the Witness Protection Program.

#25 Tragic (2013)

This is the "calmest" book in the series, and probably the most realistic. No terrorism, just a tragic story of two young men who are minor criminals, but they are enticed to help with a killing for money. The lives that are changed forever, even though they later are sorry for what they have done, can't be altered.

The feud is between two factions of a dockworkers union. One has the best interests of the workers in mind, and the other is corrupt, stealing money from the union pension fund.

The subject of the book is loosely woven on a framework of Macbeth.

#26 Fatal Conceit (2014)

In the opening scene, Lucy is in terrible jeopardy due to her "job" with the super-secret anti-terrorism group. She and Ned are on assignment in the Middle East. When the compound is attacked, Lucy manages to get a message out on a cell phone.

Two advisors to the U.S. President are running the military response, and refuse to call up a drone strike on the attack that is taking place. Lucy is taken hostage and Ned is missing.

The President refuses to admit that Al Queda is still powerful, and this leads to the murder of the candidate for CIA director.

#27 Trap (2015)

The main theme of this book is how much can be at stake between traditional teacher's unions and charter schools. Another good read about people in power going wrong for greed, when an attempt to cover up theft leads to murder. No terrorists in this book, but there are some Neo-Nazis.

The personal aspects of Butch's life deal with his twin sons who are now almost grown.

#28 Infamy (2017)

Intrigue and black-market oil are the key elements of this book. A powerful businessman with the President's ear will do anything to prevent the truth coming out about how he has protected his own oil-production facilities. The code word MIRAGE keeps turning up as Karp tries to unravel the truth. Along the way, the businessman's beautiful wife, a decorated soldier and a dirty cop are murdered.

#29 Without Fear or Favor (2017)

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Mystery Series - Hercule Poirot

Margery Allingham (Fair Use) Agatha Christie (Fair Use)
Agatha Christie, 1890-1976, is considered one of the top four female mystery writers of the Golden Age of Mysteries (1920s and 1930s). Her works have remained popular even after 100 years. She created several memorable characters. The series here features Hercule Poirot, the small, fastidious, egocentric Belgian detective with "mustaches."

Poirot first appears in The Mysterious Affair at Styles

This is a British series which spanned the time period from 1920-1975.

Overall, almost anyone would have to give any series by Christie 5 stars. Poirot is such an annoying little brainiac that you remember him whether you love or hate him.

Recurring Characters of Note:
Hercule Poirot
Captain Arthur Hastings
Ariadne Oliver
Miss Felicity Lemon
Chief Inspector James Harold Japp

#1 The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

#2 Poirot Investigates (1924)

#3 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

#4 The Big Four (1927)

#5 The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928)

#6 Black Coffee (1930)

#7 Peril at End House (1932)

#8 Lord Edgware Dies / Thirteen at Dinner (1933)

#9 Three Act Tragedy / Murder in Three Acts (1934)

#10 Murder on the Orient Express / Murder in the Calais Coach (1934)

#11 Death in the Clouds / Death in the Air (1935)

#12 The A.B.C. Murders (1936)

#13 Murder in Mesopotamia (1936)

#14 Cards on the Table (1936)

#15 Dumb Witness / Poirot Loses a Client (1937)

#16 Death on the Nile (1937)

#17 Murder in the Mews / Dead Man's Mirror (1937)

#18 Appointment with Death (1938)

#19 Hercule Poirot's Christmas / Holiday for Murder / Murder for Christmas (1938)

#20 Sad Cypress (1940)

#21 One, Two, Buckle My Shoe / Overdose of Death (1940)

#22 Evil Under the Sun (1941)

#23 Five Little Pigs / Murder in Retrospect (1942)

#24 The Hollow / Murder after Hours (1946)

#25 Taken at the Flood (1948)

#26 Mrs. McGinty's Dead / Blood Will Tell (1952)

#27 After the Funeral / Funerals are Fatal (1953)

#28 Hickory Dickory Dock (1955)

#29 Dead Man's Folly (1956)

#30 Cat Among the Pigeons (1959)
This story takes place primarily at a prestigious girls' school founded by Miss Bulstrode. However, it begins with a revolution occuring in a small Arab nation. The prince is in danger and attempts to leave the country. However, the jewels he always carried as emergency funds go missing. The search for them ends up at the school.

Poirot does not come into the story until quite late. He is long retired, and it takes something fantastic to lure him into working.

The story is skillfully written. The reader knows almost from the beginning where the jewels are, but figuring out who is actually trying to steal them is a challenge right up until the end.

#31 The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (1960)

#32 The Clocks (1963) H

#33 Third Girl (1966)

#34 Hallowe'en Party (1969)

#35 Elephants Can Remember (1972)

#36 Curtain (1975)

Monday, August 28, 2023

Mystery Series - Albert Campion

Margery Allingham (Fair Use) Margery Allingham (Fair Use)
Margery Allingham, 1904-1966, is considered one of the top four female mystery writers of the Golden Age of Mysteries (1920s and 1930s). Her primary detective is Albert Campion, an odd character who may have been purposly developed to be the exact opposite of Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey. The first of these books was written when Allingham was only 23. Campion is tall and thin, wiry and toothy, with an overbite and a receeding chin. He doesn't appear to be mentally competent, let alone intimidating. In short, I find him hilarious.

Campion matures over the course of the series, but in the beginning one is not sure whether he's a freelance adventurer, a crook, or a police agent. He appears to be a man-for-hire to do any sort of dangerous task. There's a hint that he's the younger son of a famous British family.

This is a British series, and some of the books use a fair amount of period Brit slang that is a bit incomprehensible, but one can usually figure it out.

Overall, I give this series 5 stars. I like it that each of the books is quite different from the others. They are not formulaic. Allingham's understanding of human nature is excellent. The characters have real and unique personalities.

The collection of stories, The Return of Mr. Campion, includes a tongue in cheek biography of Campion by Margery Allingham. She also explains how he came to be in her books.

The dates of most of the short stories are uncertain, but I've tried to place them in the generally correct era.

Recurring Characters of Note:
Albert Campion
Magersfontein Lugg, his servant/companion
Inspector (becoming Superintendant) Stanislaus Oates, Scotland Yard
Lady Amanda Fitton
Captain Charles Luke, Scotland Yard

#1 The Crime at Black Dudley/The Black Dudley Murder (US title), 1929
This first in the series is told mostly from the point of view of George Abbershaw, a medical examiner who occasionally does work for Scotland Yard. He has wrangled an invitation to a party because the girl he thinks he's in love with is going to be there. The party is in a huge old castle of a house in the middle of nowhere. The guests are mostly young people except for an uncle of the young owner, Wyatt. The uncle was a war veteran and wears a mask to hide his disfigured face. There are also two other silent and hulking men in the party.

The young host tells a tale from the family history involving an ancient dagger and a game played in the dark. Everyone wants to play. During the 15 minutes of darkness, the uncle dies of an apparent heart attack.

Following this, the two strangers take over the house and demand the return of some papers that also went missing during the game.

This story is extremely well done. The old house has everything it should-- secret passages and rooms, no electricity, a remote location. There is a continual challenge for the reader to figure out what is really going on underneath what the characters say. There is the romance of George and Meggie.

The figure of Campion is introduced, although he's not a major character. Following this book, the public wanted more of this strange little man, and Allingham complied.

#2 Mystery Mile, (1930)
Mystery Mile is the name of a village out on the salt flats of a peninsula. The "mystery mile" is a bank of fog that always fills a long valley, rendering it dangerous at various stages of the tide.

Campion is friends with the owners of the manor house, and takes it upon himself to "hide" an American judge there whom the criminal mob is trying to kill, or at least warn off. The American has a son and daughter who get along famously with the young man and his sister who own the manor house.

But somone is still stalking the judge. A completely annoying art dealer is trying to buy one of the family paintings, and an itinerant fortune teller shows up for an evening of amusement. The vicar commits suicide. Then the judge completely disappears!

(It's hard to believe that Allingham was only in her 20s when these first few books were written. She gets the young people right, but she also gets all the characters right.)

#3 Look to the Lady/The Gyrth Chalice Mystery (US title), 1931
This book is brimming with all sorts of British midaeval traditions, a tower with a secret door, faeries, monsters, and witches. Or maybe not!

Campion has now stopped taking any sort of cheap assignment he can find. An uncle has left him money, and he is now free to choose the sorts of jobs he likes. The assignment this time is to protect a chalice that was supposedly made before 1066 AD that has been entrusted to the care of the Gyrth family throughout British history. Campion befriends "Val," Percival Gyrth who will be inducted into the family secrets surrounding the chalice on his upcoming 25th birthday.

Meanwhile, his aunt has decided to take on her role as "Maid of the Cup," an assignment that has been downplayed in recent years. She shows the chalice in public, much to the embarrassement of the family. Organized crime is trying to steal the chalice and is currying favor with Aunt Di.

Several days later, she is found dead in the faerie ground, apparently having died of fright at seeing something dreadful. Then Campion's servant sees it too!

This is a wonderfully improbable plot, but it's enticingly easy to believe in old legends.

#4 Police at the Funeral, 1931
Campion now calls himself a Deputy Adventurer. He agrees to meet a young woman as a favor to a friend to discuss the disappearance of one of her uncles and gets sucked into one of the most dysfunctional families you can imagine. Great-Aunt Caroline rules the collection of close and distant relatives with an iron hand, and she can get away with it since she supports them all.

Members of this family group begin to die, and it really looks as if one of the other persons in the family is doing the killings.

Short #1 The Hat Trick, date uncertain but September 17 was a Wednesday, so it must be either 1932 or 1941 (because of leap year there was no such combination between these). Since Albert is not married, it must be 1932. In the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Campion is given a small onyx pocket charm of a top hat. When he accidentally displays this item, he receives deferential treatment and is considered a special person. He tries the charm in several other places with the same effect. What is going on?

Short #2 The White Elephant, date uncertain but Oates is still an Inspector. In the collection Mr. Campion and Others
A girl who is a friend of Campion's is gossipping about some recent robberies taking place among her smart friends' families. The hired man has a record and he is sent to work for the girl's boyfriend's aunt who has a big charity event called the White Elephant each year.

Short #3 The Old Man in the Window, date uncertain but Inspector Oates is promoted to Superintendant. In the collection Mr. Campion and Others
At Oates celebration of becoming inspector he becomes drunk. There is an embarrassing scene with several people Campion knows while an engagement is broken. Oates predicts that there will be serious consequences of the actions they witness.

#5 Sweet Danger/Kingdom of Death/FearSign (US titles), 1933
This book has everything expected of a Brit mystery from the "transitional" time period. To me, that means the changes from the older, days of earls ruling over areas from a mansion with its accompanying village and days of hard beliefs in the supernatural to the more modern concepts of freedoms for women and scientific methods.

The line of the Earl of Averna has apparently ended, yet the humble Hal, whose family runs the near-defunct mill, believes he is the rightful heir, but no one can prove that his father actually married his mother before going off to World War I and losing his life. Albert and friends set about to find the items mentioned in a riddle which will restore the earldom, but some shady characters are also hard on the trail for reasons of their own. The local doctor also has an agenda that doesn't suit anyone.

Young Amanda, Hal's sister, shows tremendous spunk and wins Albert's admiration. The bad guy meets a classic fate.

Short #4 (The Case of) The Man with the Sack, date uncertain but it appears to be while Campion was still quite young, in the collections Allingham Minibus and My Friend Mr. Campion
Campion is urged by a young friend to come spend Christmas with her family. The boy she loves is there, although his father is in jail. There is also a family that are friends of her mother, although they don't seem to fit in very well. The situation is tense, and in the midst of a children's Christmas party, a theft occurs.

Short #5 The Widow, date uncertain but it appears to be while Campion was still quite young, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Superintendant Oates has been trying to find proof of crime against a known criminal for some time. Campion is called to stand in for a wine seller at an important business meeting where he and other men in the same business are shown a remarkable scientific experiment.

#6 Death of a Ghost, 1934
The famous painter, John Lafcadio, died several years ago, but he has left a series of painting to be unveiled, one per year, to keep his name in the public eye, and to boost the value of his works.

His family and friends are the eclectic bunch you would expect of an artist. The widow is a holdout for an earlier generation, although she still manages to function as the matriarch. In her household live the former "inspiration," Beatrice, a woman of shocking honesty who sees auras around people, the granddaughter, a young artist herself who was planning to marry another young artist. However, he married an Italian woman, only for convenience, so he could get her into the country to be his model.

There is also the man who used to mix the master's paints and his wife, who more or less serve the family but are also somewhat independent.

The other major character is Max Fustian, who is the man left in charge of the yearly presentations of the Lafcadio paintings.

The lights go out, and one of the players is stabbed. Max confesses, but things are not as they seem.

The fate of the guilty party is a classic cop-out, but then... I've used it myself. It is classic, after all.

#7 Flowers for the Judge/Legacy in Blood (US title), 1936
This is not one of my favorites of the series.

The story revolves around a family publishing business which is now run by one son and several grandsons of the founder. The other son disappeared years ago and has never been found. One of the grandsons dies, and it is soon revealed to be murder. His cousin is arrested because of his friendship with the dead man's wife.

The story is a bit far-fetched, but I could live with that if the ending were more complete. It didn't seem to me that it was clearly established who the actual guilty party was. I guess you could say that Allingham has confidence in the intelligence of the reader, but I found it unsatisfactory.

Short #6My Friend Mr. Campion, 1935, in the collection My Friend Mr. Campion
This is the transcript of a monologue given by Allingham explaining how Albert Campion came to be in her books. Humouous

#8 The Case of the Late Pig, 1937
On the very morning of reading a funeral notice for a schoolmate, Albert Campion receives an anoymous note about this same person. The schoolmate was not well liked, in fact his nickname was Pig. Campion attends the uneventful funeral and forgets all about it.

Six months later, the same man appears to die again, and not by accident. However, it is quickly determined that this man is Pig's brother. These two deaths can't be coincidence. Then the brother's body disappears!

This story is told by Albert in the first person. This is not as good a read as some of the others. .

#9 Dancers in Mourning/ Who Killed Chloe? (US title), 1937
Allingham is back to full, excellent form in this story. The main characters are mostly members of a stage troupe of a highly successful musical. Members of the cast, the producer, the songwriter/musician, and family members are all staying at the country home of Jimmy Sutane, the star. A worn-out dancer shows up and is mysteriously allowed a dance number in the 300th performance of the musical. She also comes to the house to stay. Jimmy claims to have not previously known her, but she says they are old friends. Then people start dying.

Murders set among theater people are always good because you can't tell who is acting oddly and who is simply being an eccentric thespian.

Campion's "Uncle William's" patently fictional memoirs served as the inspiration for the musical, so Campion becomes involved with the group, but he doesn't like the solution he is forced to arrive at.

And, incidentally, Albert falls in love!

Short #7The Definite Article, around 1937, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
This story is very similar to The Black Tent. Campion takes on a seemingly impossible case to find a blackmailer. The funniest part is that he was driven to seek out Oates to get away from an old lady gossip who simply won't shut up.

Short #8 The Black Tent, 1937, in the collection The Return of Mr. Campion
Despite being written in 1937, this story did not appear in original form until this collection was published in 1987. Shorter, reworked versions under the title "Definite Article" were published earlier.
Campion sees a teenage girl sneaking something out of a dresser. He is later approached by an American to help him find a man who drove his wife to suicide through blackmail. Albert sees a connection.

Short #9The Case is Altered, 1938, in the collection The Return of Mr. Campion, and also The Bedside Book of Murder
Campion is traveling to a party with acquaintances of his on a train. One who is a friend receives a note, he supposes from a pretty girl, to meet him late in the evening. Meanwhile, Campion finds some intereting papers.

Short #10Safe as Houses, 1938, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Campion's Great Aunt Charlotte is insisting that someone was in her house while she was away, although nothing was taken. Instead there is a stack of writing-paper bearing an address that does not exist. She wants Albert to figure out what happened. Then a young woman shows up asking for the same non-existent address.

#10 The Fashion in Shrouds, 1938
This is another excellent addition to the series. This time, the fashion industry is the setting for the story, and Albert's sister is involved, not always looking squeaky-clean when it comes to behavior.

One of the models. Georgia, begins carrying-on with a man who is not her husband. But the husband, not to be so easily put off, finds another model who looks strikingly like his wife, pays for designer dresses to match his wife's and parades her around town. The second time he does this, he takes her to the club where his wife is dancing with her new interest!

Albert has come to be entiwined in this matter only because a former boyfriend of Georgia's had disappeared three years ago. His body had recently been found, and the death was a suicide. The man's father has hired Albert to try to discover why his son did this.

People begin to realize that the boyfriend disappeared after Georgia started dating her current husband. And now, the husband may become inconvenient. Is he in danger?

Albert marries Amanda Fitton.

Short #1q The Dog Day, 1939, in the collection The Return of Mr. Campion, and also Circumstancial Evidence
Campion overhears a conversation on a beach and notices the somewhat unusual dog.

Short #12 The Name on the Wrapper, date uncertain but Campion is said to be 35, and is still single, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Campion comes upon an overturned car that has been abandoned. He finds a lady's ring in the road nearby. The police arrive and think that Campion has stolen the car! As it turns out, there was a jewelry heist at a nearby party the night before. Campion neatly solves the problem. For a short story, this has a nice twist in it.

Short #13 The Frenchman's Gloves, date unknown, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Date uncertain, but Oates is already a Superintendant, so it also has to be in the middle years.
A French jewel broker comes to London to meet the parents of his potential son-in-law. However, after checking into the hotel he disappears.

Short #14 The Longer View, date unknown, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Date uncertain, but Oates is already a Superintendant, so it also has to be in the middle years.
Campion and a friend end up exploring a derelict building where the friend used to live. In a large closet they find very recent writing, in lipstick, saying "O Let Me Out" written over and over around the walls.

Short #15The Meaning of the Act, date unknown, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
This is another espionage tale, beginning with the lady friend of Campion's chum Lance becoming concerned that her uncle is suddenly traveling all over England to see a somewhat sleazy dance act wherever it is performed.

Short #16A Matter of Form, date unknown, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Oates and Campion are enjoying a drink together when Oates spots a known crook at the bar. The man is tipsy and brags perhaps a bit too much to Oates.

Short #17The Danger Point, date unknown, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Campion is at a dinner party given by his godmother. A young man he knows is carefully watching his girlfriend whose company is being dominated by an older man. However, the emotion Campion detects is not jealousy, but fear.

#11 Traitor's Purse/The Sabotage Murder Mystery (US title), 1941
Set in war time, this book involves espionage and national crimes. Other than that, I don't want to say too much because even telling the very beginning gives away some of the suspense.

It is a very unusual trope for a mystery. In fact, I had not encountered a book quite like this before. I tried to look it up, and may have found a few other titles with a similar technique employed. I may have to read a couple of them to compare.

One thing I can say is that if you are a lover of books with passages in caves under mountains, you will like this book.

Short #18 Mr. Campion's Lucky Day, date unknown, in the collection The Allingham Minibus
Although I could not find a known date for this story, Campion and Inspector Oates are named as great friends, so it has to be in the middle years. This is a very short story.
The inspector is called to a murder scene. Campion is with him, and although a man who is a very likely suspect is on the premises, he has a certain alibi for the time of death. The dead man played the horses, and was likely a blackmailer, although Oates has no proof of that. The doctor who lives upstairs found him dead at ten o'clock. Within a very few minutes, Campion solves the crime by logic.

Short #19 The Question Mark, date uncertain but Campion is still unmarried and taking young ladies to lunch, but he is friends with Oates. In the collection Mr. Campion and Others
A young lady who is a friend of Campion's has hired the boyfriend of her maid to play at being a detective. She thinks this is the cheapest way to keep him occupied until her maid tires of him. Her motive is to keep the maid. However, the "detective" uncovers the loot from a major heist of heirloom silver.

Short #20 The Unseen Door, date unknown, in the collection The Allingham Minibus
Although I could not find a known date for this story, Campion and Inspector Oates are named as great friends, so it also has to be in the middle years. This is another very short story.
Oates calls in Campion to help him solve what appears to be a closed-door mystery. There is the body of a man who was the informant in a huge scandal several years earlier. The man he testified against was just released from prison, but no one has been in or out of the club building where the murder took place except the doorman and a small cripple, both too old and frail to have strangled the man. Campion's logic to the rescue again.

#12 Coroner's Pidgin/Pearls Before Swine (US title), 1945
I have to say that I don't understand the British title of this book. Pidgin has only one meaning that I can find, which is just what I thought- it's a simplified version of a language used by people who need to be able to understand each other. OK, there was a scene at the end where the coroner managed to keep the inquest moving by being very vague, but it seemed like this was pretty minor to the plot.

This book is also set in war-time London, and gives an interesting insight into the mentality of the young people of the era in contrast to the older generation. Young adults took the attitude that one had to live right now, because you might not be alive in ten mintues. However, the upper class of the previous eras were still determined to keep the social heirarchy intact.

The basic story has to do with ways in which so many art and cultural treasures ended up in the hands of the Nazis. Campion has just come home from an implied long-term assignment doing espionage. He is looking forward to a long leave and some relaxation. However, within minutes of his arrival he is thrown into a new mystery, coshed and dumped in an alley!

#13 More Work for the Undertaker, 1948
I found this book difficult to follow because there is so much period slang in it that I often could not follow the dialog even through context. But the plot is cunningly complex and satisfactory.

Campion is summoned by his friend Lugg to come to Apron Street and figure out what's been going on in an old estate. It's an ancient London neighborhood with alleys and mews, shops, and one grand home. That family was in its heyday in the 1890s and would like the world to remain as it was then. However, it's now just post-WWII and the world has changed considerably. The house is lived in by a group of adult siblings. The family has fallen on hard times, and there is very little money left. One brother dies of a stroke, and then a sister dies of poison. Suicide is believed until the chemist's report comes in. Will the exhume the brother?

The youngest sister is eccentric, always brewing up natural concoctions with herbs she finds in the park. The housekeeper has some strange hold over the family. And a neice keeps sneaking out over the rooftops to visit with her boyfriend.

Amid all this mayhem, the undertaker across the street seems to have something going on the side, but no one can figure out what. And the old, private bank at the other end of the street is also committed to keeping things as they were a half-century earlier.

#14 The Tiger in the Smoke, 1952
One of the things I like about this series is that the characters age. Although Campion is probably not twenty years older than in the first book of the series, he is certainly no longer the young adventurer with total confidence in his own abilities. He's now usually working with the police. This story touches his own family.

Meg, a young cousin of his, a war widow, is engaged to marry a man who is very much in love with her, and she with him. Then, suddenly, she begins receiving notes that report sightings of first husband. His body had not been found, but he had been listing as missing in action. She is dismayed. Her fiance does not know quite how to react, but discovers that he is intensly jealous.

Then grainy photographs are sent with the notes. They look very much like her husband. The police decide to trap this man and discover if he is an impersonator. But this is all in the very beginning of the book. What is going on?

Adding to the mystery is a two-day London fog that covers everything with a gray and yellow pall. The descriptions are perfect. A band of disabled veterans who live on the streets and care for each other provide a grotesque but realistic element of suspense.

Of course, Allingham manages to connect the story back to pre-war lifestyles and values with ease.

#15 The Beckoning Lady/The Estate of the Beckoning Lady (US title), 1955
The Beckoning Lady is the name of a pub in the region where Campion grew up. He and Amanda have returned to the area for a Midsummer's Party at the home of friends. This is the first book in which their son, Rupert, gets more than a passing mention.

The party takes place not long after the non-unexpected death of Campion's "Uncle" William. There are a lot of characters to keep straight in this story which adds to the general confusion.

However, the primary mystery in the story is the murder of a man who is introduced in Chapter 1 as he is hit over the head and falls off a bridge. However, his body is not found, and his identity is not revealed until later in the book.

As usual, Allignham manages to make each of her books different from the others, a feature I really like. And the solution to the crime? It's wrapped up nice and neathly.

Short #21 The Curious Affair in Nut Row, 1955, in the collection The Return of Mr. Campion

#16 Hide My Eyes/Tether's End/Ten were Missing (US titles), 1958
This is an astonishingly timely trip into the mind of a serial killer. Despite the setting in a pocket of decaying pre-war London, the reader sees the events either through the eyes of the criminal himself or the man who spends most of a day with him and smells a rat.
Campion is part of the audience as Detective Luke reminisces about a case he had solved years before. The man who lives in an attic above the Society of Marine Research reports to the police that Martians have been landing on the roof and coming up the stairs.

Short #22 What to Do with an Aging Detective, 1958, in the collection The Return of Mr. Campion
This is a tongue-in-cheek interview between the author and Campion, and then his "man," Magersfontein Lugg.

Campion is involved in the solution, but his role is relatively minor.

#17 The China Governess, 1962
Unlike some authors, Allingham's stories seem to improve as she ages. This is another excellent entry in the Campion series. One of Allingham's standard sources of tension is the difference between the way the world was perceived by an older generation and the way young people want to live. In the pre-World War stories, the older generation wants the class system and the Victorian formality to contine with ramifications of every action rippling down through decades, while the unsettled world of the young made them want to live life in the moment because the whole country might be blown up the next day.

In this story, the young adults are the babies born to that generation who seized the present. In fact, the bones of this plot are based on the fact that many babies born in the early days of the bombings in Britain had no papers, or the wrong papers. Some of them were lucky to be alive and to have been cared for by any decent family. And yet, that stodgy British protection of family decency still lingers and haunts.

Basically, a young man who want to marry his underage love is shocked that her father will not give permission until he can prove who he is genetically, not just the adopted son of the prestigious family who has raised him. However, that family has more skeletons in the closet than just the young man's credentials.

#18 The Mind Readers, 1965
This is a straight-up cold war espionage tale, a very interesting twist on the collection of Campion stories.

the series was continued by other authors, and there are a number of short stories to be added to the list.

Mystery Series- Lord Peter Wimsey

alt text Dorothy L. Sayers (Fair Use)
Dorothy L. Sayers, 1893-1957, is considered one of the top four female mystery writers of the Golden Age of Mysteries (1920s and 1930s). Her primary detective is Lord Peter Wimsey, an English gentleman who likes to solve mysteries as a hobby.

A number of the Wimsey tales are short stories, which by design are much simpler than novels. Such stories are so noted below.

Of the Golden Age detectives, Lord Peter is my least favorite. But you may not agree.

Recurring Characters of Note:
Lord Peter Wimsey
Mervyn Bunter, his batman
Charles Parker, his brother-in-law
Harriet Vane

#1 Whose Body?, 1923

#2 Clouds of Witness, 1926

#3 Unnatural Death/ The Dawson Pedigree (US title), 1927

Lord Peter Views the Body, 1928, short story collection

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, 1928

Strong Poison, 1930

The Five Red Herrings, 1931

Have His Carcase, 1932

Hangman's Holiday, 1933, short story collection

Murder Must Advertise, 1933

The Nine Tailors, 1934

Gaudy Night, 1935

Busman's Honeymoon, 1937

In the Teeth of the Evidence, 1940, short story in the collection of the same name
Lord Peter is visiting his dentist when the man is summoned to examine the teeth of a corpse for identification purposes. Of course, Wimsey envigles his way into the scene. The identification appears to be straightforward.

Absolutely Elsewhere, 1940, short story in the collection In the Teeth of the Evidence
Wimsey's brother-in-law, detective Parker has asked him to help with a crime where all the good suspects were elsewhere at the time. An unpleasant and financially tight-fisted man is found murdered at the dinner table. Phone conversations place the man's nephews miles away. There is a man waiting in the library who might like to kill him. There is the butler and the cook. The solution of this mystery depends upon an understanding of the technology of the time period.

Striding Folly, 1972, short stories collected posthumously

Lord Peter, 1972, short stories collected posthumously

Thrones, Dominations, 1998 published posthumously and completed by Jill Paton Walsh

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Mystery Series - Roderick Alleyn

alt text Ngaio Marsh
(Edith) Ngaio Marsh was a New Zealand writer in the golden age of crime fiction. She is considered one of the top four of the era (with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham). She lived from 1895-1982.

In my opinion she's in the running for the best of the lot. Her forte is collecting a large cast of characters with relationships, animosities and ulterior motives. She usually has scenes with rooms filled with people, and the reader must pay close attention to who is saying what to whom in order to have a glimmer of the solution to the crime.

Inspector Alleyn is the police presence in all her mysteries. All but four of the books are set in England. The others are in New Zealand.

Recurring Characters of note:
Inspector (becoming Chief Inspector) Roderick Alleyn
Agatha Troy, his wife
Inspector Fox, his assistant

#1 A Man Lay Dead, 1934

#1 Enter a Murderer, 1935

#1 The Nursing Home Murder, 1935

#1 Death in Ecstasy, 1936

#1 Vintage Murder, 1937

#1 Artists in Crime, 1938

#1 Death in a White Tie, 1938

#1 Overture to Death, 1939

#1 Death at the Bar, 1940

#1 Surfeit of Lampreys/ Death of a Peer (US title), 1941
The Charles Lampreys are a family whose immediate head, Charles, is the younger brother of a peer, George. Consequently, he keeps going through money in the way he's been accustomed to live, but George is the one who inherited the family fortune. Several times, the Charles Lampreys have needed to be bailed out of financial hardship by George. Now George says (apparently), "no more."

The family is a lively bunch, currently living in a double apartment in England (after we first meet them in New Zealand). There are a pair of twins who have spent their lives joking/lying about which is which. The oldest daughter is an actress, and two younger children round out the group. Their favorite passtime is playing charades and they keep a large closet full of props and costumes. Of course there are servants.

George angrily visits after the next request for funds, but he is found in the elevator, seriously wounded by one of the famous props.

This is one of the best examples of Marsh's ability to confuse everything with a huge group of people who are experts at play-acting, and the twins make it even more complex.

#1 Death and the Dancing Footman, 1941

#1 Colour Scheme, 1943

#1 Died in the Wool, 1945

#1 Final Curtain, 1947

#1 Swing Brother Swing/ A Wreath for Rivera (US title), 1949

#1 Opening Night, 1951

#1 Spinsters in Jeopardy/ The Bride of Death (US abridged version), 1953

#1 Scales of Justice, 1955

#1 Off With His Head/ Death of a Fool, 1956

#1 Singing in the Shrouds, 1958

#1 False Scent, 1959

#1 Hand in Glove, 1962

#1 Dead Water, 1963

#1 Death at the Dolphin/ Killer Dolphin (US title), 1966

#1 Clutch of Constables, 1968

#1 When in Rome, 1970

#1 Tied Up in Tinsel, 1972

#1 Black As He's Painted, 1974

#1 Last Ditch, 1977

#1 Grave Mistake, 1978

#1 Photo Finish, 1980

#1 Light Thickens, 1982

Mystery Series - Roger Sheringham

alt text Anthony Berkeley Cox (public domain)
Anthony Berkely Cox was an early writer in the golden age of mysteries. His first book, The Layton Court Mystery, was published in 1925. He was one of the founders of the Detection Club, a group to which most of the famous authors of this period belonged, including Agatha Christie. The last Sheringham story was written in 1943. He wrote several non-series books under the name Frances Iles.

I had to ask myself why I had never heard of this author. And I still don't know the answer to that, except that his stories have not retained the popularity of Christie or Dorothy Sayers, for example. I've learned that he wrote ten books and a number of short stories featuring Roger Sheringham, amateur detective. At least one of these, The Poisoned Chocolates Case, is considered a classic.

One of the things I like best about this series is that they are not formulaic. Berkeley manages to find a different way to tell a story in almost every book. One of the things I like least is that the solving of the case is done largely by discussion of the facts, evidence, suggestions, and possibilities. There isn't a lot of action, although this improves as the series continues. To be honest, this type of story was a novelty in the 1920s, and much more exciting than it seems today in our age of "show don't tell."

Berkeley's strong point is the ability to pose as many different solutions to a mystery as there are people on the scene. He builds a strong logical case against every suspect. His weak point is open prejudice against Jews. I guess you'd have to say that this comes from his characters, but since it's not essential to the plot, it seems likely to reflect the opinion of the author.

Berkeley was only 32 when the first book was published. His characters are largely young adults, and readers who love Brit expressions and slang will have their wishes satisfied. Due to his talent for spinning multiple scenarios, the reader is always kept guessing until late in the stories.

Another amusing aspect of the books is that Sheringham's occupation is that of a writer of detective stories. He continually pokes fun at writers of detective stories, with perfect dry English wit.

Sheringham's character is that of a clever sleuth but one who thinks a bit more of himself than he should.

Although the writing style is dated, these books are a fascinating look into the time period of transition from the Victorian standards to "modern" lifestyles. It's also interesting to note how scientific police methods already were by that time, although obviously the technology was less advanced. They also provide a study of the evolution of detective novels.

Recurring characters of note:
Roger Sheringham: writer of mysteries and amateur sleuth
Chief Inspector Moresby of Scotland Yard: Sheringham's sometimes nemesis and sometimes friend

The Roger Sheringham Books/Stories

#1 The Layton Court Mystery, 1925
This is an early example of a locked-room mystery. An eclectic group of people are invited to the home of XXX. In the morning, their host's body is discovered in the library, with all doors and windows locked. He obviously committed suicide. Or did he? Of course Roger Sheringham doesn't agree with the police. For a first book, this is fine, although obviously the writer is less experienced. The mystery is solved almost entirely through discussion between Sheringham and a friend of his who becomes his "Watson."

#2 The Wychford Poisoning Case, 1926

#3 Roger Sherringham and the Vane Mysteries/ At Lover's Cave (US title), 1927

#4 The Silk Stocking Murders, 1928

#4 The Poisoned Chocolates, 1929

#5 The Top Storey Murder, 1931
A murder occurs in an apartment on the top floor of a house with eight units. It appears to be a robbery gone bad, as the victim was a woman who was rumored to hate banks and to have a small fortune hidden in her rooms. The police have their scientific theory, and Roger Sheringham has his psychological theory. This is a recurring theme of the series. It's impossible to tell which solution is the correct one until the very end.

#6 Murder in the Basement, 1932
In modern definitions, I would call this one a police procedural. Sheringham's role in intermittent, although he is the one who solves the mystery in the end. The badly decomposed body of a young woman is found under the floor in the basement of a house purchased by a newlywed couple. Inspector M applies all the power of police investigation to the problem, but there is little actual evidence pointing to anyone. The victim can not even be identified for several months. Hard work and luck eventually produce that bit of information. The Inspector calls on Sheringham to provide some psychological insights since he had briefly worked in the same place as the murdered girl. In response, Sheringham gives the Inspector a copy of a "novel" he has been working on which features the key suspects, giving insights into their personalities. Cold evidence and the application of psychology vie for top honors in reaching the solution.

#7 Jumping Jenny/ The Dead Mrs. Stratton (US title), 1933
This begins with a tongue-in-cheeck biography of Roger Sheringham. One can't help but wonder if it's a bit biographical of Anthony Berkeley.

The trope is the costume party (with a murder theme) gone awry. Each guest is to be dressed as an historical murderer or victim. It gets confusing if you don't have a handy list of such historic facts. I had to look up a bunch of them, and then had to try to remember who was dressed as whom. But this is a typical problem with the "party" setting- a lot of characters to keep straight. One of the guests commits suicide, or does she?

#8 Panic Party/ Mr Pidgeon's Island (US title), 1934

I have not yet been able to find this book.

There are a number of short stories published post-humously.