Review 1699: Two-Way Murder

The night of the Hunt Ball is a foggy one indeed. Nick Brent gives visitor Ian Macbane a lift to the dance. On the way home, though, he has a far different companion, Dilys Maine, a beautiful young woman whose strict father did not give her permission to go to the ball. In the fog, the car nearly runs over something huddled in the road. When Nick finds it is a body, he urges Dilys to run home by herself so she won’t have to give evidence.

Nick can’t turn around or back all the way down the narrow lane, so he goes to the nearest farmhouse to call the police, that of Michael Reeve. Finding no one home, he breaks in through a pantry window to make the call. However, someone comes in and attacks him.

Things don’t look good for Reeve. An older constable identifies the body as his brother Norman, who left ten years ago, but Reeve denies it is him. The body was almost certainly driven over by Reeve’s car, but Reeve says he often parks it on the verge with the keys in. His family having past run-ins with the police, he’s not inclined to cooperate.

But Inspector Waring of the C. I. D. thinks things are more complex than they look. He believes they center around Dilys Maine and the rivals for her affection.

The Introduction to this novel informs us that this is the first time it has been in print, the unpublished manuscript having been part of the author’s estate. That makes it a real prize for the British Library Crime Classics series. The Introduction further comments that for many years E. C. R. Lorac’s novels were only available to collectors. I’m enjoying them very much and am glad they are being republished.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1698: Bad Debts

My husband and I binge-watched all of the Jack Irish series and movies early during the pandemic. That led me to look for the first Jack Irish book, Bad Debts.

Jack Irish is a lawyer who has moved from high-powered cases to investigations and more mundane law work after the murder of his wife. He doesn’t immediately return the call of an ex-client, Danny McKillop, because he frankly doesn’t remember him. He misses another phone call from McKillop saying he’s in trouble and asking Jack to meet him in a pub parking lot. Jack looks up his file and finds that McKillop was found guilty of a hit and run of a political activist, while he was drunk. When Jack tries to contact McKillop, he learns he is dead, having been shot by police in the parking lot where he asked Jack to meet him.

Jack figures he probably didn’t do a great job of defending McKillop, since he was drunk most of the time after his wife’s murder. The evidence against him seemed solid: McKillop was found passed out in his car with Jeppeson’s DNA on the hood. But when Jack talks to Danny’s brother, he says that Danny was seen passed out some distance from his car shortly before the hit and run. McKillop’s wife says he had been a model citizen since he got out of jail, contrary to the police explanation of the shooting.

Jack decides to investigate the original incident, opening up a big can of worms.

This is an enjoyable novel, tightly plotted, full of action yet witty and well-written, a little more hard-boiled than I usually read but with appealing characters. The setting is a gritty Melbourne, Australia. Unlike most investigators in fiction, Jack has a well-developed other life, working horse-racing deals with Harry Strang and his colleague Cam, hanging out with the guys at the local, and learning woodworking from a master. And he meets Linda Hillier, an attractive reporter. I will definitely read more.

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Review 1691: The Norths Meet Murder

Mysterious Press has recently started bringing back the Mr. and Mrs. North series, which was extremely popular in the 1940’s and 50’s. Other bloggers’ reviews finally convinced me to try the first in this entertaining series.

Pam North has decided to have a party, and she thinks the empty apartment upstairs in their building would be a perfect place to have it. So, one afternoon Jerry and Pam North go up to look at it. There they find a man’s naked dead body in the bathtub.

Lieutenant Wiegand has some difficulty identifying the body, but it turns out to be that of Stanley Brent, a lawyer. Brent was a man disliked by many, part of a social set that intersects with that of the Norths. Pam North soon finds a clue, a paper with the name “Edwards” inserted into the mailbox to make it look as if the upstairs apartment is occupied. Wiegand is also able to find Clinton Edwards, a businessman and part of the same social set as Brent. Edwards claims to know Brent but to have few dealings with him.

But there are other suspects—Brent’s wife Claire; the Fullers, as Brent has been behaving as if he’s having an affair with Jane Fuller when he is not; maybe Mr. Berex or even Kumi, Edwards’ houseboy.

Mrs. North is an interesting character whose mind seems to always be ahead of her tongue. Mr. North is adept at interpreting what she means. There’s an awful lot of drinking going on in this novel, but it is humorous and engaging. It had fun reading it.

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Review 1689: The Sleeping and the Dead

I have to say that it’s very unusual for me to guess the murderer in an Ann Cleeves mystery. For this standalone mystery, however, I guessed the culprit almost immediately, although not from any clues. Nor could I figure out how the person was connected to the murders.

The lake at an adventure camp is unusually low when one of the instructors takes her canoe out. It is so low that she can see a body underwater next to what used to be a pier. When the body is examined, it is deemed to have been in the water at least 10 years.

When Detective Peter Porteus’s team finally identifies the body, it belongs to a teenager named Michael Grey. Although he disappeared in the 1970’s, he was not even reported missing until his elderly foster parents died a few years later, leaving him their house. What is odder is that the team can find no evidence that he even existed before he attended school in Cranford.

Hannah Morton, now a prison librarian, was Michael’s girlfriend in school. The last time she saw him was at a cast party for the school play just before A level exams. But Porteus knows there is something she’s not telling him.

It is not too long before there is another death, but how can Porteus connect these two murders 40 years apart? Another good one from Cleeves.

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Review 1688: The Chianti Flask

Did she or didn’t she is only part of the concern of this psychological drama that is more of an apres-crime novel. Or was it a crime?

The novel begins with Laura Dousland on trial for the murder of her much older husband. But whether he was murdered or committed suicide is really the question. It all seems to hinge on a missing Chianti flask that the police think may have been used to deliver the poison. Laura says they were out of Chianti, but their Italian servant says a Chianti flask was on the table during dinner. A search for the flask finds nothing.

Laura is found not guilty but is overwhelmed by the attention she continues to get. She has been left nearly penniless with only a gloomy and poorly maintained house to sell, as Fordish Dousland notoriously only spent money on his own interests and his income was only for his life. All the money Laura saved during her years as a governess was spent trying to maintain the household and feed them.

Laura just wants to be left alone after the trial, but her well-meaning but insistent ex-employer, Mrs. Hayward, thinks Laura would be better off engaged in society. Left ill from imprisonment, Laura begins to get worse.

Dr. Mark Scrutton, whom Laura knew slightly before the trial, makes it his business to get her out of the Hayward’s home and into an isolated seaside cottage owned by his family. But soon there is another conflict when Scrutton tells her he is in love with her.

The Chianti Flask is an effective psychological novel that really gripped me. I got so caught up in the couple’s difficulties because of Laura’s notoriety that I almost forgot I was reading a mystery.

I received this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1683: The Chalk Pit

Forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway is asked to look at some human bones that were discovered in old chalk mining tunnels below Norwich. Although at first glance she believes they may be medieval, they also show signs of having been boiled. Tests show them to be more modern, perhaps 10 years old or less.

Around the same time, a homeless man named Eddie visits DCI Harry Nelson because he is worried about his friend Babs, who has not been around for two weeks. As the team asks around for Babs, Judy talks to another homeless man named Bilbo, who says Babs may have gone underground. Within a day Eddie is found stabbed to death in front of the police station and Bilbo has disappeared.

The team’s attention is taken away from these events by the disappearance of Sam Foster-Jones, a suburban housewife who vanished from her home after someone came to the door, leaving her four small children alone. Nelson has a feeling that this disappearance is related to that of Babs and the deaths of Eddie and Bilbo.

This series, always entertaining, has improved steadily, especially in regard to the difficulty of guessing the solution. Ruth remains a likable character, and I still enjoy all the secondary characters in the series.

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Review 1680: The Darkest Evening

During a blizzard just before the winter solstice, Vera Stanhope misses a turn on the way home and encounters a car off the road with its door open. Inside is a baby. Vera realizes she is near the drive to her cousin Janet Stanhope’s stately home, so she takes the baby and goes to the house.

Once Vera has established that neither the Stanhopes nor their housekeeper Dorothy knows who the child is, she summons Holly to open up a case. Then Neil Heslop, the tenant farmer, comes in to inform them that he’s found a dead woman in the snow.

The woman, Lorna Falstoner, has been brutally struck in the head. She is established as the baby’s mother, but no one knows what she is doing on the property. She is unmarried, and the team can find no one who knows the identity of the baby’s father. Vera becomes convinced that finding this information will lead them to the killer.

With its frozen setting, The Darkest Evening is atmospheric and mysterious. I had no idea of the identity of the murderer. Cleeves is becoming a master of the red herring.

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Review 1663: The Woman in Blue

Elly Griffiths is getting much better at fooling me than she was in the first few Ruth Galloway books, so that is all to the good.

Ruth’s friend Cathbad is house- and cat-sitting in Walsingham when the cat gets out one night and runs into the cemetery. There, Cathbad sees a young blond woman wearing a blue cloak. He is about to offer help when the cat trips him up and the woman disappears. The next morning she is found strangled.

That day Ruth has an appointment to meet Hilary, an old school friend, for lunch in Walsingham. She is astonished to find that her friend has become a priest. Hilary shows her some threatening letters she’s received, apparently because she’s a female priest.

When Ruth gives DCI Nelson the letters, he seems inclined to think they might be connected to the murder. A few nights later, the women priests, who are attending a conference, go out to dinner, a dinner to which Ruth is invited. Afterwards, one of them is found strangled.

Although Ruth uncovers a clue, she is not directly involved in the solution of the murders. That’s okay, though, because Griffiths has created an ensemble cast of strong characters. If Ruth isn’t out there sleuthing in every book, Griffiths gets around the problem of the unlikelihood of an amateur sleuth being involved in so many murders. The Ruth Galloway series continues to be interesting and engaging.

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Review 1659: The Less Dead

When Margo gets in touch with her birth family, her Aunt Nikki, Nikki tells Margo that her mother, Susan, was a prostitute and a junkie who was murdered in an alley at 19. Then she tells Margo she knows who did it and tries to get her to help find evidence. She is asking Margo to break the law and endanger her position as a medical doctor. Margo is horrified by the story and the request and gets away as fast as she can. What she doesn’t know is that meeting Nikki has brought her to the attention of Susan’s murderer. Soon, she has received a threatening letter like the ones Nikki has been getting.

Although set in the gritty neighborhoods of Glasgow like most of Mina’s fiction, The Less Dead is less grim than her earlier work, populated by likable characters such as Margo’s ex-boyfriend Joe and her bestie Lilah, as well as, eventually, Nikki and her friends. It is definitely creepy, though, and a satisfying thriller. Mina always knows how to spin a tale.

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Review 1649: The Hoarder (aka Mr. Flood’s Last Resort)

Best of Ten!
Let me just start out by saying I hate the trend of changing the name of a book from the British edition to the U. S. edition. In this case, I got caught out buying both versions of this novel just because I didn’t realize they were the same. I loved this novel, but I don’t need two copies of it. If they are going to do this, the least they could do is warn us in really big letters on the cover.


As with Things in Jars, it took a bit of time before I plunged myself into the eccentric world of The Hoarder. But when I did, I was all in.

Maud Drennan is a care worker whose job it is to feed the difficult Cathal Flood and attempt to make some headway in cleaning his house, for the old man is a hoarder. There are odd rumors surrounding Flood, not only about his recent behavior—he is supposed to have tried to brain carer Sam Hebden with a hurley—but also about his past—his wife died after falling down the stairs.

Maud herself is a little eccentric. She is followed around by the ghosts of saints, particularly St. Dymphna and St. Valentine, and her best friend is Renata, an agoraphobic transgender woman with an elaborate wardrobe. It is Renata who suggests that perhaps it was Cathal Flood who pushed his wife down the stairs.

Certainly, something is going on, because Maud is approached by Gabriel Flood, Cathal’s son, who is looking for something in the house. Then, Renata and Maud discover that Gabriel had a sister, Maggie, who disappeared as a teenager. Maud’s sister, we learn, also disappeared, so Maud becomes immersed in an investigation and attempts to search the blocked-off portions of Cathal Flood’s house.

This novel is a bit gothic, a bit funny, a bit haunting, and Kidd’s writing is brilliant. Love this one. Need more.

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