Day 1159: A Christmas Party

Cover for A Christmas PartyThis is the second time recently that I’ve thought a new book by Georgette Heyer has been published, only to find it has not. instead, some of her existing work is being republished under different titles. In this case, Envious Casca, one of her mysteries, has been republished as A Christmas Party.

Fortunately, I always enjoy Heyer, and I read Envious Casca so long ago that I didn’t remember it. However, I didn’t really need a second copy of the novel, so here’s a warning to you.

Wealthy curmudgeon Nathaniel Herriard has no interest in Christmas, but his brother Joseph thinks it would be nice to have an old-fashioned Christmas house party. In an inept attempt to heal family rifts, he invites his nephew, Stephen, whose fianceé Nathaniel disapproves of, and that fianceé, Valerie. He also invites his niece, Paula, who has been badgering Nathaniel to back a play she wants to star in, and Paula brings the playwright, Willoughby Roydon. Also attending is Nathaniel’s business partner, Mr. Mottisfont, who has been arguing with Nathaniel about something. Mathilda Clare, Stephen and Paula’s cousin, has arrived uninvited, and of course Joseph’s placid wife, Maud, is present.

On Christmas Eve, after several tiffs with the various guests, Nathaniel is found dead in his locked bedroom, having been stabbed. Inspector Hemingway cannot find any way that the murderer could have entered or left the room. That being said, things don’t look good for Stephen, who is Nathaniel’s heir.

I was immediately suspicious of one character, and my instincts proved right, but I still couldn’t figure out how the murder was committed. There was a broad hint about that, however, in something trivial that keeps being mentioned. I knew it was a hint but was too lazy to look it up. I don’t really think, though, that the puzzle is the point with Heyer’s mysteries. Instead, it is her entertaining characters and her wit. I enjoyed this mystery, and Inspector Hemingway seems to be a worthy successor to Inspector Hannasyde.

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Day 1145: By the Pricking of My Thumbs

Cover for By the Pricking of My ThumbsBy the Pricking of My Thumbs is one of the books I read for the 1968 Club. It is one of Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence novels.

Tommy and Tuppence are a witty and urbane middle-aged couple who used to be involved in some sort of secret service organization.  The novel begins with a visit to Tommy’s Aunt Ada at a retirement home, where Tuppence makes the acquaintance of a Mrs. Lancaster. Mrs. Lancaster asks Tuppence if it was her child and talks about a child hidden behind a fireplace.

After Aunt Ada dies a few weeks later, Tuppence asks after Mrs. Lancaster only to learn that she was abruptly removed from the home. Before she left, she gave Aunt Ada a painting of a house that seems familiar to Tuppence, and she uses the excuse of trying to return the painting to find Mrs. Lancaster. For some reason, she fears that the woman is in danger.

1968 club logoTommy is away at a conference when Tuppence begins trying to track down Mrs. Lancaster. The address left for her at the retirement home is a hotel, which has no record of her. All inquiries seem to dead end, so Tuppence begins looking for the house.

Although Tommy and Tuppence are vibrant, I did not feel that the other characters showed Christie’s usual talent for adroit characterization. Even though they eventually connected, the two strands that the investigation uncovers make the novel overly complicated. I could have done without the crime syndicate angle and thought it was unnecessary to the story. Besides, the other thread was much more chilling. Still, I enjoyed reading this Tommy and Tuppence novel.

Other Books for the 1968 Club

Aside from the reviews I’ve published this week, here’s a list of other books published in 1968 that I previously reviewed:

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Day 1120: They Found Him Dead

Cover for They Found Him DeadThe wealthy Silas Kane is celebrating his sixtieth birthday, but the party is anything but jolly. His business partner, Joe Mansell, is trying to talk him into a deal with an American company for Australia, but he thinks it’s too big a risk. His cousin Clement’s self-obsessed wife, Rosemary, is considering leaving Clement for Trevor Dermott. Betty Pemble, Joe’s daughter, can only talk about her obnoxious children.

That night Silas goes for his customary walk along the cliff top. The next morning it is clear that his bed was never slept in. He has apparently fallen off the edge of the cliff.

Clement Kane is now the heir to the estate and company, but he doesn’t seem to be any more inclined to the business deal than Silas. His wife, however, decides to stay with him because she needs money. Emily Kane, Silas’s mother, is angry that the property is going to Clement rather than to her grandson, Jim Kane.

As the businessman from America, Oscar Roberts, appears on the scene, Joe Mansell and his son Paul pressure Clement to agree to their deal. But soon Clement is also dead, shot in his office just as Patricia Allison, Emily’s companion, was about to show in Oscar Roberts for an appointment. To Jim’s surprise, he is the next heir, not his female cousin in Australia, as the estate is entailed to the male heir.

No one knows whether Silas was murdered or not, but Clement certainly was. And soon someone appears to be trying to murder Jim.

Detective Inspector Hannasyde has a plethora of suspects and doesn’t even know how many deaths to look into. Could the Mansells have committed murder for a business deal? Is someone really trying to kill Jim, or is it a blind?

I guessed the murderer and the motive almost immediately, but the puzzle isn’t the point of an Heyer mystery. Instead, it’s the characters and the amusing dialogue. This mystery isn’t very mysterious, but it’s a pleasure to read.

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Day 1109: The Sussex Downs Murder

Cover for The Sussex Downs MurderJohn Rother sets off from Chalklands Farm for a holiday, but later his car is discovered not far from home. There is evidence of a struggle, and his bloody cap is found next to the car. But has John been kidnapped, attacked? There is no way to know.

Superintendent Meredith can’t help suspecting that John’s brother, William, had something to do with John’s disappearance. The two brothers co-own the farm and a lime-burning concern on the property, and rumor has it that John was flirting with William’s wife, Janet. But Meredith can’t prove John has been harmed.

Then one of the Rothers’ lime customers reports finding a bone in the lime. The bone is found to be a human tibia. When Meredith’s men go through the lime shipped since the murder, they find more bones. Moreover, Janet was spotted taking a package out to the lime kilns.

From the minimal information they start with, the police begin to collect more, but it doesn’t make sense. A strange man is seen fleeing the area where John’s car was found. Was he an accomplice? A bogus message lured William out on the night of his disappearance. Still, it looks like William murdered his brother, and Meredith is about to arrest him when he is found dead, an apparent suicide.

This mystery is fairly complicated, but I had an inkling of what was going on almost from the beginning and never changed my mind. I turned out to be right. As with the other Bude mysteries, the emphasis is on the puzzle. The characters, except for Meredith, are cyphers.

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Day 1099: The Moving Toyshop

Cover for The Moving ToyshopI am sure I previously read one of Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries and was not impressed, but lately several bloggers I enjoy have recommended The Moving Toyshop. So, I decided to try him again.

Richard Cadogen has decided to give himself a holiday in Oxford. When he ends up stranded partway because of the cancellation of a train, he decides to hitchhike the rest of the way. So, he arrives in the outskirts of Oxford at 1 AM.

Curiosity makes him investigate a toy shop that he finds unlocked. Upstairs in the living quarters, he discovers the dead body of an older woman, strangled. Then someone hits him on the head.

When he awakens, he is locked in a closet. He gets out by the window and reports the crime to the police. However, when they arrive at the store, it’s a grocery. The apartment is different than the one he remembers and there is no body. The police think he is crazy.

Cadogen turns to his friend, the eccentric Oxford don, Gervase Fen. Their inquiries begin to turn up a plot to defraud the victim of her inheritance. The problem is, first they have too many suspects and later too few.

This novel has a complicated, fairly unbelievable plot, but it is characterized by a wacky sense of humor, as Gervase and his pals chase bad guys all over town. At one point, he is assisted by a hoard of undergraduates, and the novel ends with an exciting chase on a fast-moving carousel, a la The Third Man. I found the novel fun to read and the characters engaging.

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Day 1072: The Cornish Coast Murder

Cover for The Cornish Coast MurderI have to admit, I’ve been picking out these British Library Crime Classics by their beautiful covers. The last couple I’ve read have been based on vintage travel posters.

The Reverend Dodd is the vicar of the village of Boseawen. Each Monday he and Doctor Pendrill have dinner and exchange library books, mostly mysteries. But this evening is interrupted by a terrific storm off the coast. Then the doctor is summoned to the house of Julius Tregarthan.

When the doctor arrives, he sees there is nothing he can do. Tregarthan has been shot from outside the window. Reverend Dodd notices that there were three shots at different heights through three different windows.

When Inspector Bigswell arrives to investigate, he quickly surmises that the shots must have come from the cliff path. This idea makes things look bad for the victim’s niece, Ruth Tregarthan, who was one of only two people whose footprints were found on the path and who argued with her uncle that night. More suspiciously, her lover, Ronald Hardy, has gone missing.

This novel shares the Golden Age fascination with puzzles and doesn’t focus much on characterization. Unfortunately, I was about 100 pages ahead of Dodd on one of the biggest puzzles. I would also say that there is a cheat in the murderer’s identity, but I don’t want to say what it is.

So, not the best of the classic mysteries I’ve read recently, but certainly one for those who like puzzles.

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Day 1066: The Lake District Murder

Cover for The Lake District MurderIf I was thinking ahead, I would have read something for today that commemorated the Norman Invasion, but oh well . . .

The Lake District Murder is John Bude’s first mystery featuring Inspector Meredith. Golden Age mysteries seem to be divided between adventure novels and novels that focus on the puzzle. This one focuses on the puzzle.

A farmer stopping for gasoline finds the gas station owner, Clayton, an apparent suicide, with a mask over his face where he has funneled carbon monoxide from the engine of his car. But Meredith sees discrepancies at the scene. Why would the man have fixed himself a tea but not eaten it before committing suicide? And how could his hands be clean after he affixed the dirty hose?

Moreover, the victim was engaged to be married and had plans to emigrate to Canada with his bride. These plans are ones his partner in the garage, Higgins, claims not to know about.

Meredith’s investigation leads him to surmise that something illegal is going on involving the oil company and a chain of garages. As a result, the book focuses on this problem for most of the time, and it involves examinations of tank trucks, calculations of pumping speed and tank capacity, timetables, and lots of other details that are, frankly, boring.

When the solution comes, both to the illegal activity and the murder, it is so overly complicated that it’s hard to believe anyone would think of it. This is not one of the classic mysteries that I enjoyed. It focuses almost exclusively on the puzzle with little bother toward characterization or other literary elements.