Day 1272: Beast in View

Cover for Beast in ViewHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge!

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Beast in View is quite the creepy tale. One of the novels in my 1950’s Women Crime Writers collection, it makes a departure from the others.

Miss Clarvoe has been leading an isolated life since her father died. She fled her home after inheriting most of his money, but she has been too reserved to do much with it except sit in her apartment. That situation is about to change.

Women Crime Writers coverMiss Clarvoe receives a phone call from Evelyn Merrick. She cannot remember Evelyn, but Evelyn begins to abuse her on the phone and threaten her if she doesn’t give her money. Miss Clarvoe is too embarrassed to go to the police, so she turns to Mr. Blackshear, her investment counselor, and asks him to find Evelyn Merrick.

While Mr. Blackshear investigates, we follow Evelyn as she commits a series of malicious acts. We soon realize that Evelyn is mad. Eventually, a murder is committed.

This novel builds up a terrific amount of suspense. It also has a mind-boggling conclusion. I have not been disappointed in this collection. All of the novels included in it have been excellent.

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Day 1270: Red Bones

Cover for Red BonesHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge!

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In this third book of Ann Cleeves’s Shetland series, Sandy Wilson, an officer at the Lerwick station, is visiting his parents on Whalsay Island when he discovers the dead body of his grandmother, Mima. The death appears to be an accident. A neighbor out hunting may have hit her in the dark. But what was she doing outside in the first place at that time of night?

Jimmy Perez comes over briefly to look into the death, but although he feels something is wrong, he has no evidence to indicate that anything different has happened. After he returns to Lerwick, though, he gets a call from Hattie, an archaeology student working on a dig on Mima’s property. She says she must talk to him and asks him to return. When he gets back, she too is dead of an apparent suicide.

To Jimmy, it just doesn’t make sense that she would make an appointment with him and then commit suicide. In fact, most people who knew her said she seemed happier than usual.

Jimmy is waiting for carbon dating of some old bones found on the site. But he begins to feel that the island is full of secrets.

This was another good mystery in the Shetland series. The series has an appealing detective and an evocative setting. I’m enjoying it.

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Day 1264: Telling Tales

Cover for Telling TalesHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge!

In addition, I have just read the Get Your Goth On Dare at Classics Club, so I have decided that I will take up that dare. During the month of October, I will read The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins for the dare. I picked it for obvious reasons.

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Ten years ago, Abigail, a fifteen-year-old girl, was discovered dead by her best friend, Emma. Abigail’s father’s spurned lover, Jeanie Long, was found guilty of the murder. Police have now received belated testimony confirming Jeanie’s alibi. She was not guilty. It is too late for her, though. When her request for parole was turned down a few days earlier, she hung herself.

Vera Stanhope is called in to find out how the investigation could have gone so wrong. Right off the bat, she finds that Jeanie was convicted on no forensic evidence. Looking further, she finds indications of conflict of interest in the case.

On hearing the news about Jeanie, Emma’s younger brother Chris returns from university. He seems to be visibly upset and tells Emma he followed Abigail everywhere the summer she was killed. The next day, he is found murdered. Vera guesses that he must have witnessed something ten years ago that made him realize now who the murder was.

As the villagers’ secrets begin to come out, Vera finds several people to suspect of murder. This novel is truly suspenseful at times, and I never came near to a solution of the crime. This is proving to be a good series.

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Day 1246: The Crow Trap

Cover for The Crow TrapThe Crow Trap is Ann Cleeves’s first Vera Stanhope mystery, set in the North Pennines in Yorkshire. It is unusual in that Vera is barely a character until halfway through the novel.

The first half is narrated by three different women who are doing an environmental impact study for a proposed quarry. They are staying in a remote cottage called Baikie’s that is used by students doing research.

Rachel is the head of the project, and she arrives to discover the body of her friend, Bella, in the barn of the nearby Black Law Farm. Bell has apparently committed suicide and left her body in a place where it would be discovered by Rachel rather than by her invalid husband, Dougie. Rachel is disturbed by this suicide, because she can’t think of a reason for it.

Anne is at the cottage to survey plant life. But she is already involved in a way that may be a conflict of interest with Godfrey Waugh, the married man who will decide whether to excavate the quarry. She is irritated by both other women, especially with Grace.

Grace is there to survey wildlife and has been reporting an astonishing number of otters, to the point where Anne is suspicious of her numbers. Grace is very quiet, sharing almost nothing of herself with her work mates, sleeping little, and hardly eating. Then Grace is found murdered nearby the cottage.

Vera, an eccentric-looking woman, begins investigating the women and the quarry deal. But she views the two women still working in the cottage as a crow trap, a cage containing a crow that is there to attract another crow. She thinks the killer will strike again.

Although this mystery spends so much time on background that some may find it a little slow moving, that is one of the features that makes it stand out. There is some information about the killer that the reader can have no way of knowing, but there are hints enough that it is possible to guess the right person. In any case, I thought this was an excellent mystery, complex and interesting. The characters seem real. The Yorkshire setting that is so evocative in the TV series isn’t vividly evoked, nor are the accents, but that’s a slight fault.

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Day 1244: The Blank Wall

Cover for Women Crime WritersThe Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding is the last novel from the 1940’s in my first volume of the Women Crime Writers collection. (I skipped Dorothy Hughes’s In a Lonely Place as I have reviewed it before.) I must say that all of them have been excellent.

Lucia Holley is an ordinary upper-middle-class housewife trying to cope while her husband is away at the war. She has been having difficulty with her seventeen-year-old daughter, Bee. Recently, she found out that Bee was seeing an unsavory character, Ted Darby, who is 36. When she visited him to ask him not to see her daughter anymore, he refused. Bee has found out and is furious.

That night, Lucia spots someone in their boathouse and catches Bee on the way out to see Ted. She refuses to let Bee out, and her old father, Mr. Harper, overhears. Later he tells Lucia that he went out to tell Darby to leave and pushed him into the water.

Early the next morning, Lucia goes out for a swim and finds Darby dead in the bottom of the boat. He has fallen on the anchor, which has pierced his chest. Determined to protect her father and her daughter’s reputation, Lucia disposes of the body. But horrible events are just getting started.

At first, I was a bit impatient that Lucia’s fear for her daughter’s reputation has her cover up what is, after all, an accident. However, this story pulled me along, so that soon I was completely immersed in Lucia’s problems. I just felt that it wouldn’t have hurt Lucia’s spoiled daughter to find out the troubles her little rebellion caused.

Overall, I am so far impressed by the quality of the novels in this collection. They are not as well known as contemporary thrillers and crime writers written by men, but they are better than many of them.

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Day 1238: Raven Black

Cover for Raven BlackTo our delight, our local PBS station airs a lot of British and Australian mysteries. Even though most of them are older, we have not seen them before, so we are happy. Two series we have begun watching (and getting older ones from Netflix) are Vera and Shetland, both from the novels of Ann Cleeves. So, I looked for the first book in each series. Raven Black is the first novel of the series set in the Shetland Islands.

Magnus Tait is an old man hoping for visitors on Hogmanny. He hasn’t had any for years, though, ever since he was suspected in the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl years ago. But this year is different. Two drunken teenage girls, Catherine and Sally, stop by on their way home from a party.

The next day, Magnus sees Catherine on the bus, and she walks home with him. The day after, her body is found lying in a field by a neighbor. She has been strangled with her own scarf.

Immediately, the islanders, even many of the police, assume Magnus killed her. Inspector Jimmy Perez isn’t so sure there are similarities in the cases, but he’s not in charge. Instead, it’s Inspector Taylor, over from the mainland.

Who could have killed Catherine? Was it Mr. Scott, her teacher, who invited her over after school to discuss extracurricular reading? Robert Isbister, a grown man that Sally likes, has been asking questions about Catherine. She was seen talking to Duncan Hunter, an ex-school friend of Perez’s, at one of his wild parties. Or was it Magnus?

This novel is absorbing, although I thought it could have been more atmospheric, given the setting. I liked Jimmy Perez, though, and I never guessed the murderer or the motive. (I missed the first episode of this series on TV, which was this one.) That, I have to tell you, doesn’t happen often.

As an aside, I love the theme music for Shetland, and just rereading this review before publication has brought it to mind.

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Day 1200: Magpie Murders

Cover for Magpie MurdersMy husband and I love Midsomer Murders. The program has not been broadcast in Austin for years, so we began collecting the DVDs. After our move, we were happy to find that the Portland PBS station periodically airs the older series, which we’ve been watching. So, I was delighted to learn that Anthony Horowitz, the author of Magpie Murders, had written some of the screenplays. How could I go wrong?

Alan Conway, the author of the successful Atticus Pünd mystery series, has sent his latest manuscript, Magpie Murders, to his publisher. After a brief introduction by his editor, Susan Ryland, we’re plunged directly into his Christie-esque whodunnit.

But the novel comes to an abrupt end before it is finished. The last few chapters are missing. Before Susan can contact Conway, she learns he is dead from an accidental fall off the tower in his home.

The publishing house hasn’t been doing that well recently, so Susan begins looking for the final chapters. They have been erased from Conway’s computer, and the manuscript is not with his others. Susan’s boss’s copy is missing the same pages.

Susan begins to suspect that Conway’s death was not an accident. As she investigates, she finds that Conway borrowed characters, settings, and ideas from his real life and liked puzzles and anagrams. Susan thinks that the key to Conway’s death may lie in his manuscript.

I enjoyed Magpie Murders and thought that its novel within a novel structure was clever, but I also didn’t think that the Pünd novel was all that important to the plot. That is, it was important, but it wasn’t necessary to include the entire novel. Of course, this structure gives you two entertaining mysteries for the price of one, but I thought that there were too many characters in the Pünd novel, and it was confusing. Also, too much was told in narrative rather than in action and dialogue.

I did not solve the Pünd mystery, but I did somehow sense who the murderer was in the “actual” mystery despite not knowing the motive. When the motive was revealed, it seemed weak to me.

This seems like a severe review, but I actually enjoyed the novel very much. So, I guess I am carping at small things. The action moves forward nicely, the interior mystery has a pleasant old-fashioned feel, and the “real” mystery has an engaging heroine.

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