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Old 08-01-2010, 12:40 PM   #91
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As I work my way through Peter Robinson's Aftermath, I caught up with Agatha Christie's first collection of Hercule Poirot short stories, Poirot Investigates. These 11 stories were collected together for the UK edition in 1924; the US edition added three more tales (which I have not read). By this date, numerous writers -- GK Chesterton and Conan Doyle being among two still read enthusiastically today -- had "perfected" the detective short story. I found this collection a bit hit and miss although a pleasing diversion. I think I really prefer the pacing of the novels.

No such qualms for Agatha Christie's first Miss Marple novel, The Murder at the Vicarage which has long been a favourite. Between various TV and radio productions, I can "hear" the voices of the characters, particularly the Vicar (Paul Eddington in a BBC TV edition) and Miss Marple (June Whitfield being an ideal "voice" in the BBC radio productions). The story is narrated by the Vicar, a classic "locked room" murder, and the parish of St Mary Mead filled with delightful eccentrics. It's a wonderful summer (or anytime) diversion.
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Old 08-05-2010, 07:34 PM   #92
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Peter Robinson's Inspector Alan Banks has appeared in 18 novels to date; the 19th, Bad Boy, will be released later this month. In Aftermath, the 12th in the series and published in 2001, a serial killer in a small Yorkshire town is discovered to have bodies in the cellar. How much does his wife, Lucy, know? She is found inthe front-hall bleeding from a head wound when the police show up. Maggie, who has fled Canada from an abusive husband, is an illustrator of children's books, lives across the street and has been watching the drama unfold. It was she who called the police reporting a domestic abuse.

Part thriller, part police procedural, and definitely a number of mysteries to solve, Aftermath is compelling from the opening pages (or page turns ...). It not for the feint of heart; some of what goes on is gruesome ... but then a serial killer is at the heart of the story, right? This is about as far from a "cozy" mystery as you can get -- and it's cozy that I tend to gravitate toward.

Robinson is highly celebrated among readers, authors and those who bestow awards like the Arthur Ellis Best Novel from the Canadian Crime Writers Association. A long, very worthwhile, read. But, keep the lights up or you might have a fright when you unexpectedly hear footfalls on the stairs ....
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Old 08-08-2010, 04:47 PM   #93
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If you like classic mysterys of a more off-beat nature you should check out Ramble House press. They always make the 1st chapter available free and, though it's not posted on the Web site, they sell pdfs for $5 a shot. I've been reading their William Masterman reprints, which are sort of on the border between horror and mystery fiction. I'd also recommend Gelett Burgess (although most of his books are available free on Google books), Joel Townsley Rogers, & Hake Talbot.

Here's their Web site
http://www.ramblehouse.com/

Max
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Old 08-12-2010, 07:36 PM   #94
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Thanks for the tip, Max. I just couldn't find any ebooks there and I hate pdfs for e-readers.
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Old 08-12-2010, 07:54 PM   #95
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There's a Canadian publishing house called Dundurn Press (http://www.dundurn.com/) which I can recommend as well. It publishes, among other things, a line of crime and mystery titles (http://www.dundurn.com/books/browse/category/FIC022), many under the "Castle Mystery" imprint. It's author roster includes Michael Blair, Don Easton, Jack Hawkins, Marc Strange, Eric Wright and several others. All of the titles appear to be available as e-books from Kobo at around the $7 mark.

In 1984, Eric Wright published the first of eleven Inspector Charlie Salter novels, about a Toronto cop in mid-life whose career has been sidelined. When a Toronto University professor turns up dead in Montreal, the local police ask for assistance (they are too busy) and Salter gets the job because no one else is interested. As Salter continues to investigate, his joy in police work returns, and he redeems himself, personally and professionally, from the dead-end he thought he was destined for. The Night the Gods Smiled won the Arthur Ellis Award for best novel from the Crime Writers Association of Canada. This is light fiction, with some wry humour, and a few quirky characters.

Dundurn has reissued this with two other Charlie Salter stories in an Omnibus edition.
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Old 08-15-2010, 09:20 PM   #96
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As a fan of espionage fiction, I was excited to discover the Anglo-American John Lawton in the Agents of Treachery anthology of short spy/intrigue fiction. Lawton's crime series set in wartime Britain and aftermath sounds great, and I can't wait to get to them. If I'm getting my hopes up too high, please someone steer me right. I don't think I can go wrong here though since I like my crime in a historical setting, well-written and compelling.

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Old 08-23-2010, 12:47 AM   #97
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Thanks, Steve, for adding your tips about John Lawton. Three ebooks are available from Amazon; unfortunately none in Canada.
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Old 08-23-2010, 01:23 AM   #98
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For her third Inspector Roderick Alleyn title, The Nursing Home Murder published in 1935, Ngaio Marsh creates a cunning puzzle. The British Home Secretary has been receiving threatening letters, from the Soviet-inspired socialists ... and from a women he dallied with and the man that women loves. When appendicitis strikes suddenly, the Home Secretary is operated on by the doctor who is the jilted women's lover, and the woman herself, a nurse, is in the operating theatre. But the anesthetist, the Home Secretary's own sister, and two others in the operating room are also suspect. Death, it seems, was from the poison hyoscine -- administered during the operation or shortly before. It could even have been suicide ...

It's a great set-up but it didn't flow as smoothly as her previous book, Enter a Murderer. This third installment was entertaining but perhaps 3.5 stars instead of the 4.5-5 that the earlier work deserved.

More satisfying, and clicking along at a different speed, is Robert B Parker's third Spenser novel, Mortal Stakes published in 1975. The Boston PI gets hired on a private tour of duty by the Red Sox GM to check up on his star pitcher, Marty Rabb, of whom he's heard whisperings ... Rabb might be blowing an inning or a whole game, here and there ... is he not playing ball? Spenser encounters Rabb's mysterious wife, Linda, who is not entirely what the team's bio says; and Maynard, a loud mouthed telecaster who works for the team but can make or break careers; and Frank Doerr, who may be behind blackmail with the muscle of the mob behind him.

Parker's prose is economical, witty, engaging and though there is violence, nothing is ever gratuitous. Spenser's character continues to be fleshed out with each installment; he's no cardboard single dimension figure that some PIs are portrayed ... his job costs him in a very personal way. He follows his instincts, uses his brain and sometimes throws a punch. Parker's craft is in every line; you'll find yourself wanting to underline the often surprisingly memorable bits of spoken dialogue or, more likely, Spenser's inner musings, especially the off-the-wall funny ones. Recommended strongly.
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Old 08-23-2010, 11:35 AM   #99
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SensualPoet View Post
Thanks, Steve, for adding your tips about John Lawton. Three ebooks are available from Amazon; unfortunately none in Canada.
Hey, you're welcome. I should have checked availability before recommending though. John Lawton's first three aren't on Kindle yet -- I had to go buy a print version. Egads!
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Old 08-26-2010, 09:46 PM   #100
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By 1950, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe was a mainstream hit character and his 16th novel, Three Doors to Death, marked 16 years since the debut of his delightful series of tales of orchids, gourmet food, murders and a little sleuthing, all narrated wryly by Wolfe's side-kick Archie Goodwin. For this book, three novellas are included, each of which had appeared in "The American Magazine" in separate issues in 1947, 1948 and 1949.

Man Alive is about a fashion designer who has apparently commited suicide by jumping, naked, into a geyser at Yellowstone Park. His niece, set to inherit half of an upscale women's clothing fashion store, and herself a budding designer, brings in Wolfe when she thinks she sees her uncle very much alive a year later. For Omit Flowers, Wolfe is invoked by an old friend whose own friend is a chef charged with murder. But there are too many members of the family restaurant chain the accused worked for who stand to gain from his being put out of the way ... was this an inside job? Finally, Door to Death finds Wolfe outside his home with possibly the only thing that could lure him past his front door: orchids, and the need to find a new man to tend his collection whilst Theodore Horstmann, his own orchid man, is unavailable. Alas, Wolfe's preferred orchid tender alternative has just been charged with the murder of his fiancée ... she was poisoned in a nursery.

Fun stories; I enjoyed Man Alive the best. There were a few more typos than I'd like to see for a so-called commercial effort. "FU" appears a few times in place of what Rex Stout wrote: "I'll". Sigh. Recommended in any case and a no brainer for anyone who is already hooked on Stout.
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Old 08-28-2010, 07:59 PM   #101
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Old 08-29-2010, 06:52 PM   #102
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Thanks, tocrax, for the recommendation of Michael Robotham.

For those who don't know, Robotham is an Australian (he turns 50 in November), who at 19 became a "cadet journalist" in Sydney. By the late 1980s he had become a feature writer at UK's Daily Mail but quit in 1993 to write books full time. He started with non-fiction -- as ghostwriter to various politicians and celebrities helping them pen their autobiographies. His first work of fiction (not counting the biographies -- LOL) was Suspect ... it's been translated now into 22 languages. No less an author than Tess Gerritsen called it "ne of those rare literary gems, a beautifully written thriller that is both moving and relentlessly suspenseful. This is a debut not to be missed!". He's since written about one book a year including The Drowning Man, The Night Ferry, Shatter and Bombproof. His latest work, Bleed for Me, was out in a in June (including in a Kindle edition but not in Sony or Kobo just yet).
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Old 08-29-2010, 07:09 PM   #103
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It was inevitable that I would finally break down and uy one of the Penguin ebooks of the truly gifted writer Georges Simenon who created one of the 20th century's most memorable detective characters, Maigret. One of Simenon's first Maigret tales is Lock 14 and is reissued in a translation by Robert Baldick. (The French title, "Le Charretier de la 'Providence'" is arguably a better title as it refers to the barge workers central to the story; but it has also been issued in English as "The Crime at Lock 14", "Maigret Meets a Milord" and "The Triumph of Inspector Maigret", each title becoming less and less relevent. But I, too, digress.)

Simenon's stark prose, and dark settings many of us never encounter -- in this case the barge workers along the Marne river in France around 1930 before modern shipping replaced them -- is wonderfully bleak. I think it's raining almost the entire story, with mud everywhere. In the opening pages, a women, otherwise tastefully dressed and ready for cocktails, is found half buried in a stable under some hay; two barge workers, into their cups before retiring, slept beside her all night without discovering the corpse. As Maigret attempts to unravel the mystery, barges -- including perhaps a murderer -- are passing the scene daily as they progress through the lock system of the river.

It's not a long read but it is compelling and every page digs us deeper into this rough and shabby world dangerously balanced on the edge of disaster that could strike at a moment's notice. It isn't until a second body turns up that Maigret begins to turn the clues into a vision of what might have happened and how events long past have come to haunt the present. Highly recommended.
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Old 09-07-2010, 07:24 PM   #104
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I am delighted to report on my latest read, Laurie R King's Locked Rooms, the eighth installment of her Mary Russell, wife of Sherlock Holmes, series. In this mid-1920s adventure, Mary and Sherlock have ventured back to San Francisco, and her family home, where Mary at age 6, and her family, endured the mighty 1906 earthquake. Some of the tale is told in first person of Mary's voice; other sections in thirrd person, mainly from Sherlock's point-of-view.

Anyone who has been to San Francisco in modern times will recognize the landmarks; and anyone who has seen footage of San Francisco -- from 1930s movies like the stock footage in the Perry Mason film The Case of the Curious Bride -- will feel right at home. In fact, King has thoroughly done her homework: invoking the 1906 earthquake, ten years later when Mary's family are murdered, and the present day 1920s with equal detail. What a cracking good tale it is, as onion layer after onion layer is peeled back. And there are other delicious twists: such as invoking Dashiell Hammett as a private eye to help Sherlock Holmes; or a newspaper report of Conan Doyle in transit who found San Francisco lacking in spirituality and much preferring Los Angeles.

But after all the fluff is pulled away what's left is a darn good story, evocative settings and likable characters with a "locked room" puzzle to sort out. It hardly ever gets better than this. Well, in this case even better: it's under $6 at both Amazon and Kobobooks -- so it's a bargain to boot! Deeply recommended.

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Old 09-18-2010, 09:26 PM   #105
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SS Van Dine, the psuedonym of Willard Huntington Wright, created the popular fiction detective Philo Vance. His first appearance was in The Benson Murder Case, which was published by Scribner's in 1926. Another 11 novels appeared, about one per year, until his early death in 1939 at the age of 51. The edition I read was put together by fellow MR contributor HarryT (thanks, HarryT!).

There are some, like the current Philo Vance wiki author, who believe "Vance's character as portrayed in the novels might seem to many modern readers to be supercilious, obnoxiously affected, and highly irritating" and, actually, that's true. Throughout this tale, I heard the unmistakable inflected accent of Lord Peter Wimsey, without his corresponding business-like masculinity. As Ogden Nash quipped: "Philo Vance / Needs a kick in the pance".

But that's really unfair. Yes, the book is a little padded, and the explanations at times wearyingly long-winded, but there's also terrific charm. And, without question, the work is an expression of its time: the period shortly after WWI when New York was re-emerging from the chill of war and for the first time feeling its strength as a true International capital -- and before the devastation that would hit four years later as the markets crashed. It was a time of much greater class delineation, and certainly an era where being called an immigrant was not yet pejorative. Much of this tale inhabits the privielged class of which Vance was securely, and proudly, a member.

So, there's my own long-winded way of putting it: a charming bon-bon of classic early American detective fiction that's well worth devouring.
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