Day 1288: Seven Keys to Baldpate

Cover for Seven Keys to BaldpateJust as a side note, the Classics Club Spin number is #1, which means I will be reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse for the end of January. That’s quite a coincidence, because I just checked it out of the library to read last week. I haven’t started it yet, though, and will be interested to see what I think of it more than 40 years after I read it the first time.

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I heard about Seven Keys to Baldpate during a news story about its namesake, Baldpate Inn in Colorado. Written in 1913, the novel was made into a successful stage play and three movies. It is not exactly a mystery as we think of it, since no detection occurs. Simply, the main character is trying to understand what is going on.

Billy Magee is a successful writer of pot boilers, but he feels he is capable of writing something more serious. To get away from interruptions, he travels to upstate New York to stay in his friend’s summer hotel, Baldpate Inn, which is closed during that season, winter.

In the train station at Upper Asquewan Falls, he falls in love on sight with a young woman. He attempts to help her find a place to stay, but after he puts her in a cab, he never expects to see her again.

He has no sooner gotten settled in his room at the abandoned hotel when people begin to arrive. Finding him there, they each tell him a story that is patently untrue to explain their presences at the hotel. Among them is the girl from the railway station. It is especially disturbing because Billy has been told he has the only key to the inn, but each successive arrival lets himself or herself in with a key.

Soon the hotel has almost a dozen people staying there, all of whom seem to understand what is going on except Magee. The mystery seems to involve an envelope of money in the hotel safe, however.

This novel is ridiculous but entertaining, written in a breezy style that is occasionally overly florid. It is meant to be ridiculous, however, sort of a satire against the potboilers that Billy writes, which is probably why it was so popular in its time. Although it is sometimes a little long-winded, it is a quick, fun read.

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Day 1277: Fool’s Gold

Women Crime Writers coverHere is another book  for the R.I.P. Challenge.

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Fool’s Gold by Dolores Hitchens is the last novel of my Women Crime Writers collection and my least favorite. Although several of the novels were noirish, this one is definitely in the noir style.

Skip and Eddie are two young men who have already served time in prison. Both are attending night school but have little hope of finding a job. In fact, Skip is already planning a robbery based on information he has received from Karen, a girl in his class. She has told him about a stack of money hidden in the room that Mr. Stolz, a frequent visitor to her aunt’s house, keeps in his room.

This crime is poorly planned, but things begin to go wrong before its execution, when Skip’s uncle turns it over to some professionals in exchange for a cut in the proceeds. Skip is determined that no one will deprive him of his big haul.

We are supposed to feel some sympathy for Eddie, who would like to go straight. Skip is the one with the big ideas, who moreover is inclined to abuse Karen. But Eddie is too easily led to feel much sympathy for, and Karen is an outright idiot.

Most of the rest of the characters are despicable, and we watch as everything goes badly wrong.

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Day 1271: Mistress of the Art of Death

Cover of Mistress of the Art of DeathHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge with a very appropriate cover!

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I recently realized that of Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar series, the only book I had not kept was Mistress of the Art of Death, the first one. This realization made me immediately buy another copy, which made a good excuse to reread it.

In 1171 Cambridge, someone is brutally murdering children. The locals have decided to pin these murders on the Jews, despite their having been locked up in the castle for safe keeping after the first death.

King Henry II has asked the King of Naples for help. An investigator is requested, as well as a Master in the Art of Death, a medical doctor who investigates the causes of death, trained by the University of Salerno. To everyone’s surprise and some dismay, along with Master Simon, the fixer, comes a woman, Adelia Aguilar, a doctor trained in Salerno.

Adelia finds herself in a relatively barbaric country where her identity as a doctor must be concealed for fear she will be accused of witchcraft. To be able to treat people, she passes off her Moorish manservant, Mansur, as a doctor, while she pretends to be his assistant and translator.

Her party enters Cambridge in the company of some pilgrims returning from Canterbury. Soon discoveries lead Adelia to fear that the murderer may be among the pilgrims she traveled with.

I think I enjoyed this novel even more this time through. The first time, I was skeptical that there were woman doctors in the 12th century. Now that I know Ariana Franklin better, I’m more confident that she did her research.

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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 1266: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Cover for The Seven Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleHere’s another book for the R.I.P. Challenge.

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I know that The Seven (or 7 1/2, depending on the edition) Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has been receiving a lot of attention, but I was unable to finish it. Looking back at some of the Goodreads reviews, I see that readers are focusing on the plot, although some complained that it was confusing and that characters kept changing identities.

Certainly when I started out reading the book, it seemed promising as a throwback mystery, with maps of the estate grounds and a floor map of the stately home where the novel is set. But I was only a few sentences in when the overwrought, highly embellished writing style with its inapt metaphors started irritating me. In short, I find it one of the worst written novels I have ever read.

Someone please tell Mr. Turton that bedrooms don’t have lips so they can’t be tight-lipped (p. 16), not even in metaphor. Similarly, sounds a character is hearing at the present time are not memories (p. 2). One’s eyes cannot roam, as they are attached to one’s head (p. 2). This is not colorful language, it’s the inept use of a thesaurus.

link to NetgalleyI also thought characters’ reactions were ridiculously unbelievable. When the main character arrives disheveled at the front door of a house and asks for a phone, and the servant gapes at him, he shakes him and says, “Don’t just stand there, you devil!” What? Then characters who appear subsequently show very little alarm at the news that a woman has been murdered in the woods.

This could be the most brilliantly plotted novel ever written, but I have no way of knowing, because I could not bear to read it. I stopped at page 21. I even stopped reading it and gave it a rest, hoping it wouldn’t bother me so much when I started again. That didn’t work.

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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 1254: White Nights

Cover for White NightsIn the small settlement of Biddista, isolated from the rest of Mainland Island of the Shetlands, an art opening is taking place. Detective Jimmy Perez is surprised by how few people attend. It is summertime, the white nights, and lots of tourists are on the island. His friend Fran is showing her work, but so is the famous artist Bella Sinclair. Further, Bella’s even more famous nephew, Roddy Sinclair, is performing.

In the gallery, there is a small scene. A man falls to his knees and begins weeping. When Jimmy takes him to the kitchen, he says he can’t remember anything. He has no identifying information on him. When Jimmy leaves the room to see if he brought a bag, he disappears.

The next morning, Kenny Thomson, a nearby crofter, finds the body of a man hanging in his fish house. Bizarrely, the body is wearing a mask. Jimmy soon identifies the body as the man he spoke to the night before. No one knows who he is, however. Jimmy discovers that a masked man was handing out flyers in Lerwick stating that the gallery show was cancelled, thus explaining the low attendance.

Why would this man have pulled such a malicious trick on Fran and Bella? Both women claim not to recognize him. In the meantime, Inspector Taylor is coming from the mainland to take over the case.

Almost immediately, I felt that this case was connected to the disappearance long ago of Kenny’s brother Laurence. I wondered, for example, if the dead man could be Laurence returned. Rumor had it that Bella rejected him all those years back, and that’s why he left.

But Cleeves completely had me fooled about the identity of the murderer. This is a really clever mystery, and I enjoyed it.

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