Friday, April 27, 2012

Taking A Break

Artwork by British Golden Age illustrator, Racey Helps.

Taking a few days off to rest and relax. Working on the 101 Master List took a lot of  time and energy and I find I need a break from self-imposed posting deadlines. I'll be around though, catching up on your blogs and leaving comments which I've been very lax to do lately.

But mainly I want to spend a bit more time reading. Life is short and my TBR pile is starting to overwhelm. I hope to be back sometime next week.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

101 Favorite Mysteries and/or Thrillers

This is not, necessarily, a list of the Best ever written so don't be perturbed if you don't see the usual critically accepted favorites here. (You're sure to find them on everyone else's list so they shouldn't feel left out.) This is simply a very personal list of MY OWN Favorites culled from everything mysterious I can remember reading.

If a book appears on this list, assume it is fabulous. Though admittedly there are various ways of being fabulous and not every book (if any) on this list classifies as great literature. But they are all, every single one, books that meant something to me if only because they enriched my reading life in some way.

Note: I know there should be more John Dickson Carr books listed, but though I read everything he ever wrote once upon a time, I simply can't remember anything about them. (I was very young.) Just assume I liked them all and since I recently re-read CASTLE SKULL, that's the one I'm listing. (At some point I know I will be rereading more John Dickson Carr and I suppose I'll have to adjust the list then.)

Notice too that I've expanded the 'favorites' tag from just Mysteries to Thrillers and beyond.

I've numbered everything to make things easier to keep track of, but the numbers don't mean much. I'm just not that organized or finicky. Though Number One is definitely number one, no getting around it. I've also included links to those books I've reviewed on the blog.

Note that I've included Dracula, primarily because I don't usually read horror (so I couldn't really make up a separate list) and if Stoker's book isn't thrilling, I don't know what is. Same goes for Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. 

100 Favorite Mysteries and/or Thrillers

1) THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1902) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Holmes and Watson on the Great Grimpen Mire - "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"

2) THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1905) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Holmes and Watson together again.
3) THE WOMAN IN WHITE (1859) by Wilkie Collins - Creepy English Victorian thriller -or- Count Fosco runs amok.
4) DRACULA(1897) by Bram Stoker - The famed blood-thirsty vampire at home and abroad. A thrilling book if I know the meaning of the word. Scary as heck. I put off reading this for years thinking I wouldn't like it. Foolish, foolish me.

5) THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE (1994) by Laurie R. King - Sherlock Holmes meets Mary Russell and his life - and hers - will never be the same. Next to Conan Doyle's books, this is my favorite Holmes series of all time.

6) THE DAUGHTER OF TIME (1951) by Josephine Tey - While lying in hospital with a broken leg, British police Inspector Alan Grant solves a true-life historical murder involving everyone's favorite villain, Richard III.

7) O JERUSALEM (1999) by Laurie R. King -  Holmes and Russell on the lam in Palestine try to prevent a major assassination on the eve of the British departure. More spy adventure yarn than mystery and oh-so-amazingly wonderful.

8) LOOT (1999) by Aaron Elkins - Ex-art museum curator Ben Revere hunts for a lost masterpiece looted by the Nazis. The painting has since turned up in a Boston pawn shop whose elderly proprietor has been murdered and the painting stolen again. Soon Ben is off to Eastern Europe. This book has unexpected touches of very dry humor which actually had me laughing out loud - the humor doesn't detract from the thriller aspect just adds an unexpected touch.

9)REED'S PROMISE (2001) by John Clarkson - Bill Reed, ex-FBI agent and recent amputee, is pitted against the unscrupulous owners of the Ullman Institute in upstate New York where Reed's mentally impaired cousin John has lived most of his life. A thrilling book full of breathless moments of terror.
10) BRAT FARRAR (1949)  by Josephine Tey -  A likable impostor shows up at a ramshackle English estate just as a large fortune is about to be inherited by the brother of a boy who committed suicide years before. One of Tey's two masterpieces.

11)  THE ABC MURDERS (1936) by Agatha Christie - Hercule Poirot must decide if he and Scotland Yard are chasing a deranged serial killer or a brilliantly devious plotter. This is the book that gave birth to the term 'abc murders' to describe a certain type of crime.
12) CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS (1939) by Agatha Christie - Hercule Poirot solves several murders at an elite school for girls. He makes his entry rather late in the story simply because he isn't needed until then. Brilliant characterizations.
13) THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD (1951) by Agatha Christie -  Stand-alone spy thriller filled with great characters, a colorful, romantic atmosphere and deadly shenanigans as world leaders 'secretly' plan to meet in Baghdad for a peace conference.

14) DEAD MAN'S FOLLY (1956) by Agatha Christie - Hercule Poirot, at mystery writer Ariadne Oliver's behest, must solve the unlikeliest of murders at an English country fete. This is one of Christie's best and most convoluted plot-lines.

15) EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1941) by Agatha Christie - Hercule Poirot at an isolated holiday resort but even there he cannot escape the grasp of 'evil under the sun'. This is the sort of plot that leaves you scratching your head and wondering just how Christie was able - yet again - to manage this sleight of hand.

16) A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED (1950) by Agatha Christie - My favorite Miss Marple book primarily because of the bucolic setting and the quirky characters. The plot is nonsensical, really, and several coincidences must occur to bring out the truth, but I love the characters and Christie's handling of the countryside ambience. This is a book in which, if you're paying attention, the solution is basically revealed in an early section of conversation. 
17) MURDER AT SHOT'S HALL (1945) by Maureen Sarsfield - Scotland Yard Inspector Lane Parry must decide if a woman's beauty camouflages a murderous soul. One of only two darkly brooding mysteries written by the mysterious Maureen Sarsfield who apparently disappeared from view and never published again. 

18) MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD (1956) by Rex Stout - Over time and after many re-readings, this has become my favorite Nero Wolfe book - one I never seem to tire of. A business man from the mid-west arrives at the brownstone wanting to hire Wolfe and Archie to look for his long missing son, wrongly accused of robbery. The detectives will shortly learn that the son who, if he didn't have bad luck would have no luck at all, currently sits in a jail cell convicted of murder. A case that will strike close to home for Wolfe and Archie.

19) DIED IN THE WOOL (1944) by Ngaio Marsh - A murderous spy thriller set in New Zealand during WWII featuring Inspector Roderick Allyn as a more than able British spy on the hunt for a Nazi agent. The title is especially apt.

20) DEATH OF A PEER (1940) aka A Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh - Murder most ghoulish occurs in an elevator when all the suspects - members of a feckless British family can be accounted for. Probably Marsh's most well-known book.

21) CARDS ON THE TABLE (1936) by Agatha Christie - Who would have the nerve to kill the devilish Mr. Shaitana during a bridge game, practically in full view of every player including Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle and Ariadne Oliver. Who, indeed.

22) THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS (1925) by Agatha Christie - A lively screwball of a book with a slew of likable characters all sequestered at the English country house known as Chimneys. Here murder and mayhem are the not-so-unexpected guests amid minor royalty while a master jewel thief skulks in disguise. This is Christie's second book and despite the many anachronisms I still love it to this day.

23) THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT (1924) by Agatha Christie - The search is on in England for 'the man in the brown suit' suspected of killing a woman found strangled in an empty house. A very plucky heroine and a darkly handsome hero on an ocean voyage - England to Africa - also on board ship an intriguing bunch of Christie characters, one of whom is a murderer.

24) THE DOORBELL RANG (1965) by Rex Stout - Private detective Nero Wolfe and his likable, wise-cracking comrade-in-arms, Archie Goodwin, take on the FBI (while Hoover is still in power) and live to tell about it. Diabolically clever.
25) OVER MY DEAD BODY (1939)  by Rex Stout - Little does Archie Goodwin know that Nero Wolfe has a daughter from the old days in Montenegro, Yugoslavia. At least not until she turns up at the front door of the Manhattan brownstone asking for the great detective's help.

26) PLOT IT YOURSELF (1959) by Rex Stout - Nero Wolfe must find a ruthless killer among a small group of authors and publishers plagued by as fiendish (and inventive) a case of plagiarism as you'll ever find.

27) MURDER BY THE BOOK (1951) by Rex Stout - The case begins with a suspicious hit and run and again Nero Wolfe must deal with the brutish side of publishing to find a murderer who will stop at nothing to prevent a manuscript seeing the light of day. In this one, Archie Goodwin gets to go to Los Angeles (a fish out of water if there ever was one) and Stout handles those scenes with brilliant dexterity while introducing us to two more fascinating characters.

28) THE ALIENIST (1994) by Caleb Carr - In 1896 New York, a brutal serial killer plies his deadly trade in an era before the term 'serial' killer was coined. It's up to psychologist (or 'alienist') Dr. Laszlo  Kreizler to put the pieces together with the help of journalist John Schuyler Moore. A devious and engrossing historical novel which has Theodore Roosevelt, then either the mayor or the governor (can't remember which) of NY, lending a hand.
29) THE CITY AND THE CITY (2009) by China Mieville - Beszel and Ul Qoma, two cities somewhere in Europe: one rich, one in decay. Two mirror cities who share a strange metaphysical reality. When a murder occurs on the dark streets of Beszel, it's up to police Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad to decipher what is at the heart of a not-so-routine case - a case which places him in a dangerous quandary which will have an unlikely outcome.

30) WHIP HAND (1979) by Dick Francis - Sid Halley is an ex-jockey whose arm was crushed during a race. Now a private detective with one good hand and one made of metal, he is called in on a case of possible tampering at the race track.  Besides learning some atmospheric bits about British racing in which, apparently, some very evil guys are up to no good, this novel is also an examination of heroism at its most basic. Halley is an unforgettable character.

31) COME TO GRIEF (1995) by Dick Francis - An Edgar award winner (Francis won three) which also features private eye and ex-jockey Sid Halley, in one of the saddest and most troubling cases of his career. Halley has discovered that a close friend (who also happens to be a well-known and well-liked sports personality), has committed a series of heinous acts of violence. One of the attached problems: no one believes Halley.

32) DECIDER (1993) by Dick Francis - Lee Morris, an architect with six sons and a distant wife (well, obviously not so distant or he wouldn't have six kids), is pulled into a violent family squabble over Stratton Park, a privately owned racecourse in which Lee has minor shares left to him by his mother. The Strattons are a nasty bunch and Lee is up against danger not only to himself but to his children. Considered by many to be Francis' best book, I too am particularly fond of it except for the ending.

33) LONGSHOT (1990) by Dick Francis - Writer John Kendall is commissioned to write the biography of Tremayne Vickers a famed National Hunt racecourse trainer. Little does Kendall know that by accepting the job he will, inexplicably, be risking life and limb. The last quarter of this book features a harrowing, breathtaking quest for survival in which a wounded Kendall must outwit and outlast a merciless killer. 

34) TO THE HILT (1996) by Dick FrancisMy first Dick Francis experience. The moment I finished this one I ran out and bought every Francis book I could get my hands on. Luckily all were in paperback. An artist living in the rugged Scottish countryside, whose specialty is painting golf courses as a kind of metaphor for life, is beaten and left for dead. His attacker's insistent refrain is the only clue to the attack: "Where is it?" 

35) RIVER OF DARKNESS (1999) by Rennie Airth - England, 1921. Scotland Yard D.I. Madden, a WWI veteran, is called in on a case: two members of one family and two servants found butchered in a quiet country home. Suspecting it's not just a robbery gone wrong, Madden is soon on the trail of a then little known type of murderer - a serial killer. A brilliant debut book slightly similar in tone to Caleb Carr's The Alienist.

36) THE OVERSEER (1998) by Jonathan Rabb - Global intrigue, political skulduggery and dark imaginings as a rare 16th century manuscript now possibly in the hands of a mysterious and powerful cabal - whose leader is known as The Overseer - puts the world as we know it in danger. It's up to government agent Sarah Trent and Columbia University political theorist Xander Jaspers to find the truth before it's too late. It's all about the inventive story-telling here.
37) LULLABY TOWN (1992) by Robert Crais - L.A. private eye Elvis Cole and his enigmatic partner, taciturn Joe Pike, head east to NYC and Connecticut (of all places) in search of a missing ex-wife and child. Their client? A spoiled Peter Pan of a movie director who is used to getting his own way in everything. When Elvis and Joe, unexpectedly, come up against a vicious organized crime family, author Robert Crais comes up with an ingenious way for them to triumph.

38) INDIGO SLAM (1997) by Robert Crais - Clark Hewitt, a sad-sack counterfeiter on the run from the Russian Mob leaves his kids behind (not for the first time) in charge of the eldest,  fifteen year old Teri. When he fails to return, the resourceful Teri goes to Elvis Cole for help in finding her father. Joe Pike's interaction with the children is reason enough to read this, but you also get a slam-bang thriller which culminates in a daring kidnapping and chase at an amusement park.

39) L.A. REQUIEM (1999) by Robert Crais - is pretty much a masterpiece of thriller writing. The best at that moment in time from Robert Crais. A young woman is brutally murdered. She turns out to be the ex-girlfriend of Joe Pike. Her father hires Elvis Cole to find the killer. When it looks like the crime might be brought home to Pike, all hell breaks loose. A book about loyalty, the depths of friendship and a deranged killer hiding in plain sight.

40) THE SENTRY (2011) by Robert Crais - A glimpse of a young woman takes Joe Pike into a world of trouble when he becomes involved in the strange plight of Dru Rayne and her uncle on the run and hiding out in L.A. five years after Hurricane Katrina. In the end, it's up to Joe's friend Elvis Cole to settle a score which Pike, uncharacteristically, appears unable to deal with.

41) PERSUADER (2003) by Lee Child - A brutal killer long thought dead turns up in Manhattan just in time for Jack Reacher to glimpse the face he thought he'd never see again. So begins one of my very favorite Reacher stories. Over the top as never before, operatic in its melodramatic intensity. Too much is never enough when it comes to Reacher.

42) WORTH DYING FOR (2011) by Lee Child - On the road, on his own, healing from wounds suffered in the previous book, 61 HOURS, Jack Reacher again finds trouble - this time in Nebraska. A long ago murder of a child and the rule by terror of a local family clan are tailor made for Reacher's unique people skills.

43) THE RITUAL BATH (1986) by Faye Kellerman - A rape in an isolated Orthodox Jewish community brings police officer Peter Decker and Jewish widow Rina Lazarus together in the first of Kellerman's uniquely conceived series. 

44) THE SECRET VANGUARD (1940) by Michael Innes - I've enjoyed many of the Michael Innes books but I agree that they are chancy. Most of Innes' books assume the reader has had an education well grounded in the classics. But I read on because the struggle is worth it.  This is my first Innes book and it still remains my favorite. The chase is on for a bunch of spies in Scotland. A very enjoyable romp with not too many opaque quotes.

45) ECHO PARK (2006)  by Michael Connelly - I am not L.A. Detective Harry Bosch's biggest fan so this book is an exception for me. It is not only great detective fiction, it is also an incredibly good mystery. A years old cold case which Bosch has never forgotten and never solved, continues to haunt him as an incarcerated killer confesses and Bosch doubts his own capabilities as a detective.

46) THE POET  (1995) by Michael Connelly - Michael Connelly's best book has a remarkably intelligent beginning as reporter Jack McEvoy begins to doubt the truth of his policeman brother's suicide. One of the few thrillers I've read twice.

47) INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS (2009) by Imogen Robertson - "Daphne Du Maurier meets CSI..." Fantastic Fiction. It's 1780 England and gentlewoman Harriet Westerman has just stumbled over a very dead body on land abutting her country manor. Being of an intelligent and inquisitive mind, she turns to the reclusive anatomist, Gabriel Crowther to help solve an increasingly deadly mystery in this fine debut.

48) BLOOD IS THE SKY (2003) by Steve Hamilton - Disillusioned ex-cop Alex McKnight is a most reluctant investigator, but everyone will keep turning to him to solve their problems. It's the icy Michigan north near the Canadian border and Steve Hamilton writes the best atmosphere in crime fiction. In this favorite, Alex and his Ojibwa friend Vinnie are stranded in the frozen Canadian woods. 

49)THE BOOK OF AIR AND SHADOWS (2007) by Michael Gruber - Jake Mishkin, a Manhattan intellectual property attorney and general nebbish finds himself in the middle of a deadly conspiracy involving the hunt for a long lost Shakespearean manuscript. Good humor, dead bodies, a voice from the past and a fabulous ending. 

50) EARLY AUTUMN (1980) by Robert B. Parker - An early Spenser and probably my favorite. When a divorced woman hires the Boston P.I. to get her son back from his low-life father, it's not as simple as the thing first appears. This is not only a heck of a well-written thriller, but a wonderful sort of treatise on how to raise a boy to be a good man. A remarkable book.

51) PAST TIME (1991) by Robert B. Parker - A sequel to EARLY AUTUMN which features some of the same characters and a life or death excursion into the woods as Spenser and his dog are trapped by an assortment of mob hoods including the son of the local Godfather. Fast-paced, thrilling, and hard to put down.

52) LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE (1980) by Robert B. Parker - When feminist, lesbian author and speaker Rachel Wallace begins getting threats, her people turn to Spenser for security protection. Unfortunately his client is not the most cooperative person in the world and when she disappears, Spenser faces one of the toughest cases of his career. A classic.

53) SMALL VICES (1997) by Robert B. Parker - While on a murder investigation, Spenser is shot and left for dead. The memorable debut of 'the gray man.'

54) MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH (2007) by Ariana Franklin - A ghoulishly dark historical mystery set in Medieval England. It features a female anatomist trained in Italy, called in by the king of England to solve a hideous murder. Far-fetched but it works because of the author's writing talent and imagination, not to mention a great cast of colorful characters.

55) DARK ASSASSIN (2006) by Anne Perry - From the prolific author of several best selling historical mystery series, this is William Monk book number 15. The brooding Monk, a taciturn, remote sort who began his series many books ago, friendless and suffering from amnesia, has recovered much of his memory. He is now a Superintendent in the Thames River Police.  When he and his men witness a young couple fall from Waterloo Bridge into the icy river water below, the resulting investigation eventually involves Monk in a government conspiracy. A book which resonates with dark, oppressive atmosphere.

56) DEFEND AND BETRAY(1992) by Anne Perry - Number 13 in the Monk series and one of the most harrowing. When General Thaddeus Carlyon is killed in what is apparently a freak accident during a dinner party, it soon becomes clear that the death was no accident - especially when his wife confesses to killing him. It's up to investigator William Monk, nurse Hester Latterly and Counsel for the Defense Oliver Rathbone to get at the truth despite a wall of determined silence.

57) ORCHESTRATED DEATH (1991) by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles - The first Detective Inspector Bill Slider mystery - a gritty London police procedural series many books along which established its credentials right off the bat with a superb first book. The easy-going, perpetually harassed and unhappily married Slider is one of suspense fiction's best creations. Weary of life and nearing middle-age, Slider is investigating the murder of a young violinist. He doesn't know it yet, but it's on this case that he will meet the woman who will change his life forever.

58) A LITTLE NEIGHBORHOOD MURDER (1989) by A.J. Orde aka B.J. Oliphant, Jason Lynx, dog lover and Denver antiques dealer has a mysterious past which will continue to plague him over several books. He must also deal with the heartbreaking institutionalization of his young son permanently brain damaged in the automobile accident which took his wife's life. Though inexplicably, her body has never been found. When a bomb goes off next door, Jason is plunged into yet another mystery.

59) ELEVEN DAYS (1998) by Donald Harstad - A savage cult murder calls on Iowa deputy sheriff Carl Houseman's wily cop expertise. The hours tick away as he and his small police force unexpectedly come under siege. A tightly wound police procedural based on a true story. What I like best about Harstad's style is the lack of histrionics as good country cops do what must be done under almost overwhelming threat. The first book in a terrific, little-known series.

60) THE EYE OF THE ABYSS (2003) by Marshall Browne - Germany in 1938 finds Franz Schmidt, chief auditor at a commercial bank reluctantly having to deal with the bank's important new client, the Nazi party. While all of Germany appears to be 'looking the other way,' Nazi brutality escalates and an act of compassion by Schmidt entangles him in a deadly game of cat and mouse.  I love this book and recommend it unreservedly to anyone who enjoys a conspiracy thriller set in the early days of WWII. Just brilliant. 

61) THE IRON HEART (2009) by Marshall Browne - The sequel to EYE OF THE ABYSS finds Franz Schmidt now working as a double agent inside the Nazi Party. Still reluctant, but determined to do his duty, the wily Schmidt must stay a step or two ahead of his ruthless bosses who tend to look upon him with suspicion because of an earlier connection with a massive fraud at his old bank. Who would ever think that two books with a banker for a hero could be this thrilling? Hard to find, but worth the effort.

62) THE OLD SILENT (1989) by Martha Grimes - Richard Jury is on holiday in Yorkshire staying at the Old Silent Inn. (All of the Jury books are titled after real English pubs.) When murder occurs he's on the scene (literally) and on the case,  beguiled by the widow of the victim. This book features several of author Grimes' specialties, an enigmatic child who seems wiser than her years, a dog and an especially dark and moody setting.

63) THE BONE COLLECTOR (1997) by Jeffrey Deaver - The first Lincoln Rhyme book and one of the best. Rhyme is an ex- NYC cop hurt on the job and now a quadriplegic. He is a forensics expert who solves complex crimes with all sorts of computer gadgetry and the help of quirky rookie cop, Amelia Sachs. She is Rhyme's eyes and ears at the crime scene and his eventual partner in life as well.

64)  ODD THOMAS (2003)  by Dean Koontz - Odd Thomas is a quiet, self-effacing short-order cook in a small California desert town. He's not keen on crowds or cities and likes to keep to himself as best he can. Here's the thing, Thomas can see the spirits of the dead. For whatever reason they seek him out. This is very much Koontz's masterpiece far as I'm concerned. The book rests on the superb characterization of Odd Thomas. The later books in the series are good but none reach the greatness of the first.

65) HOSTILE WITNESS (1995) by William Lashner - Washed up and almost washed out Philadelphia attorney Victor Carl is called upon by a prestigious law firm to help defend a councilman's aide - obviously he and Carl are being set up. But Carl takes the case and in his own cynical, dark-humored way, gets to the bottom of things. The first of the Victor Carl books and one of the best and most funny. Lashner is a very underrated writer.

66) FULL DARK HOUSE (2008) by Christopher Fowler - The first in the Peculiar Crimes Unit Mysteries featuring the wonderfully eccentric Bryant and May - two cantankerous, elderly police investigators (past retirement age) who specialize in...well, crimes that are considered peculiar - crimes that call for the self-styled, occasionally bizarre approach Bryant and May are known for. Though usually at odds with the rest of the police force, they manage, somehow, to get the job done. The books have a very Victorian feel even though they take place in the England of today.

67) THE LONG GOODBYE by Raymond Chandler Private detective and general all purpose honorable tough guy, Philip Marlowe befriends Terry Lennox, a scarred drunk he meets outside a club. Eventually Lennox embroils Marlowe in a murder (and more), a case which turns out to have the usual Chandler convolutions of plot. I could have gone with LADY IN THE LAKE, but I think I remember liking THE LONG GOODBYE just a tad more.
68) DARKNESS AT PEMBERLEY (1932) by T.H. White - The first and only mystery written by the famed author of THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING and other King Arthur and Merlin tales. I recently read this and was bowled over by the fast-paced and rather ingenious plot which begins at  Cambridge university and winds up at the house called Pemberley still in the Darcy family lo these many years later. (The story has absolutely nothing to do with Jane Austen, except for the use of the house.) We know who the killer is from the beginning, but that doesn't stop the suspense or the dark deadly doings at Pemberley.

69) THE GALTON CASE (1959)  by Ross MacDonald - My first Lew Archer book and still my favorite though I loved almost all the Archer books as a general rule. Archer is a pragmatic California private detective who carries around a lot of personal angst. He's the strong silent type who occasionally tends to over-think things, but is handy with his fists and burdened by the idea that things should make some kind of sense. When he's hired to find the long-missing son of a wealthy woman, Archer comes across the usual hard blond and a not-so-usual headless corpse.

70) POLAR STAR (1989) by Martin Cruz Smith - Arkady Renko, former top Soviet crime investigator is out of favor with the top brass. He has lost his party membership and is currently on 'psychiatric rehabilitation' in Siberia. Aboard a dark, cold and unfriendly factory ship, Renko may finally be getting a chance to redeem himself when a body is hoisted up with the day's catch.

71) THE SMOKE (2002) by Tony Broadbent - Jethro is a Cockney cat burglar with plenty of street smarts living by his talents and his wits in straitened post WWII London. When he breaks into the Soviet embassy and steals jewels belonging to the Ambassador's wife, he is coerced by MI5 to go back in and do a little job for them. A fabulous, flavorful, atmospheric read. There are only two Jethro books so far and both are maddeningly wonderful. Maddening because I wish there were more. (There may, in fact, now be a third book, but I still haven't been able to get my hands on it.)

72) THE FALLEN (2006) by T. Jefferson Parker - When San Diego police investigator Robbie Brownlaw is thrown out of a window while on a case, not only doesn't he die, but on his recovery, he finds himself plagued with a neurological condition which makes him unique; he is now, for all intents and purposes, a human lie detector. When people speak to him he sees their voices as colored shapes which make him, in some strange way, able to detect fact from fiction. 

73) BY A SLOW RIVER (2007) by Philippe Claudel - A grim, atmospheric story of three murders in a small isolated French town just a river away from the constantly pounding artillery of WWI. Told in flashback, there is a shocker of an ending which will leave you stunned.

74) A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS by Eric Ambler -  While on holiday in Istanbul, Charles Latimer, an English novelist gets caught up in investigating the nefarious life and mysterious death of a sinister criminal. I don't know why I waited so long to read this, I'm only glad I finally did.
75) THE MOVING TOYSHOP (1946) by Edmund Crispin - While in Oxford one night, hoping for adventure, the hapless poet Cadogan stumbles over a dead body in an out of the way toyshop. In the morning, the toyshop is gone and in its place is a grocery store. This is the third in the Gervase Fen, Oxford don mysteries and so far, my favorite.

76) TOUR DE FORCE (1955) by Christianna Brand - An impossible murder among a group of English tourists at an out of the way hotel in a tiny but picturesque Mediterraenan country. Among the guests is cranky Inspector Cockrill who is, at once, considered the prime suspect. The ending boggles the mind.

77) THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (1975) by Jack Higgins - As the tide of war begins to shift, a desperate Hitler orders the kidnapping (or killing) of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. A crack team of German commandos is sent in to do the impossible. A daring adventure with a great ending, even if we know that Churchill was never kidnapped.

78) THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (1971) by Frederick Forsyth - An unnamed (and very deadly) English assassin is hired to take out French President Charles De Gaulle. We follow his route as he gets closer and closer to his target. We also follow the desperate search by the police who are aware that a killer is on the way. An absolute thriller of a book. Incredibly, this was Forsyth's first.

79) THE YELLOW ROOM (1945) by Mary Roberts Rinehart - A young woman of means, Carol Spencer,  heads to Maine to open the family country house in the wake of WWII. When burnt body remains are found in a closet, she comes under suspicion. A Mary Roberts Rinehart specialty. A good old fashioned kind of mystery that I wish were still being written.

80) THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE by Mary Roberts Rinehart - Once again we have a large summer house - this time being rented for herself and her two young wards, by a well-to-do aging spinster. Almost from the very beginning the house is turned by deft writing into a spooky mausoleum where things go bump in the night and strange comings and goings keep everyone awake and wondering what will happen next. 

81) EPISODE OF THE WANDERING KNIFE (1950) by Mary Roberts Rinehart -  The murder next door of socialite Judy Shephard's sister in law appears to have no motive. But it has a murder weapon which keeps appearing and disappearing. Desperate to protect her brother who is the prime suspect, Judy and her mother confuse the issue still further for the police. Mary Roberts Rinehart was the queen of 'society' murder.

82)  MISTRESS OF MELLYN (1960) by Victoria Holt - The first 'gothic' (after JANE EYRE) I ever read and from then on there was no stopping me. A young woman of impecunious circumstances hires on as a governess for the girl child of a wealthy, aloof and forbidding man. Deep dark family secrets abound as well as the mystery of the missing first wife. Sound familiar? Well, yeah, but it still works primarily because of the characterizations and the setting, not to mention, terrific writing.

83)  FEARLESS JONES (2001) by Walter Mosley - Los Angeles in the 1950's. Paris Minton is happy enough just owning a small used book store and getting by in an era when African Americans had few rights. little legal recourse and were usually treated as second class citizens, if that. While attempting to help a beautiful woman, the hapless Paris soon finds himself beaten up, robbed, and his beloved store burned to the ground. He turns to Fearless Jones for help, but first he has to get the WWII veteran out of jail.
84) CASTLE SKULL (1931) by John Dickson Carr - This is the second Henri Bencolin (head of the Paris police and the 'most dangerous man in Europe')  book and when it comes to heavy-duty, melodramatic atmospherics, you couldn't ask for anything more. When a man burns to death on a castle parapet in the dark of night and plunges into the  Rhine river - was it suicide or murder? We're in Germany in the 1920's between world wars, visiting with an eccentric mix of colorfully sinister characters and a rather odd family.

85) THE HOUSE SITTER (2003) by Peter Lovesey - When a woman is murdered while sun bathing at White View Sands, her elusive identity doesn't seem to be of any help to police in finding her killer. What begins as one case becomes another as Bath police inspector Peter Diamond and his people work to solve as enigmatic a crime as has ever come their way. More than just a police procedural. My favorite Diamond book.

86) REBECCA (1938) by Daphne DuMaurier - "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." So begins this suspense classic. The unnamed heroine is shy, retiring, and in definite thrall to her new husband, the steely calm and charismatic  widower, Maxim de Winter. Unfortunately, once the honeymooners return to Manderley where Maxim's first wife Rebecca held sway, our heroine has a hard time dealing with her new status and the very sinister housekeeper who will stop at nothing to keep Rebecca's memory alive, even if it means destroying the new Mrs. deWinter.

87) HARMONY IN FLESH AND BLACK (1995) by Nicholas Kilmer - Fred Taylor, an intimidating ex-Vietnam vet and canny art expert works as a kind of Jack-of-all-trades, for Clayton Reed, an eccentric and very paranoid Boston Brahmin art collector. In Reed's Beacon Hill townhouse hang some very impressive works of art which Reed has cannily amassed over the years. In this debut book, Reed gets on the scent of a Vermeer perhaps languishing beneath a regulation landscape at auction and sends Fred to check things out. But is Reed telling Fred all he knows? Apparently the art world is filled with chicanery, back stabbing and murderous impulses. Who knew?

88) DIRTY LINEN (2001) by Nicholas Kilmer - On the trail of a cache of erotic drawings, possibly the unknown work of J.M.W. Turner, the finest painter England ever produced - we find Fred and his impossibly fastidious employer Clayton Reed hiding out at a sleazy motel noted for the phalanx of ladies of the night who hang around in the lobby. But soon Clayton has several of those very ladies working for him, helping straighten out a stash of drawings and running errands. He's told them his name is Mr. Degas. Fred is not surprised anymore by anything Clayton does. 

89) WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? (2008) by Kate Atkinson - Number 3 in the Jackson Brodie series. As usual with Kate Atkinson, you get disparate story-lines which eventually come together to form an exciting whole. A long ago murder of a mother and two of her children on a country lane. Years later, private eye Jackson Brodie gets on a wrong train. When the train crashes, Brodie is saved by the nanny of a Doctor Hunter who turns out to be the surviving sibling of that long ago crime. 

90) THE CHARM SCHOOL (1988) by Nelson DeMille - Deep within the Soviet heartland a group of young Russian KGB men are training to become Americanized in word, accent and attitude. They are to be the vanguard which will infiltrate the United States. The word, 'gripping' is over-used of course, but here it's the best one I can think of to describe what DeMille has created. Dated, because of course, we know what will happen to the Soviet Union, but somehow the book's inventive brilliance defies the odds.
91) WITHOUT A WORD (2005) by Carol Lea Benjamin - When savvy NYC private eye Rachel Alexander (and her pit bull Dash) accept the case of a missing wife who vanished without a word five years before,  she does so reluctantly - five years is a long time. The woman left behind a grieving husband and a young daughter who has been mute since her mother's disappearance and now stands accused of the stabbing death of her doctor. I've read all of Benjamin's books and this remains her masterpiece. It is not only a mystery of murder but a moving exploration of the complex nature of motherhood.

92) THE EDGE OF THE CRAZIES (1995) by Jamie Harrison - Blue Deer, Montana is the sort of quirky, out of the way place where strange things happen more often than not. Former archaeologist and new sheriff Jules Clement is hard at work trying to solve the murder of  philandering screenwriter George Blackwater and naturally enough turns to the much maligned wife as his main suspect. But when she too is murdered, the laconic Jules must look further afield while, at the same time, trying to come to terms with his conflicted feelings for his old home town - a place where eccentrics and eccentricities (some not so very nice) play havoc with Jules' peace of mind.

93) THE MELTING CLOCK (1991) by Stuart Kaminsky - Los Angeles in the 1940's is home to lone wolf private eye Toby Peters aka Tobias Pevsner who has, somehow carved out a niche for himself helping movie stars and other celebrities with their numerous faux pas. Not that he makes any real money at it, but it's a living for the unkempt detective and his assorted covey of very quirky friends. This time out Toby is hired by famed painter Salvador Dali and his wife, Gala, to find three antique Russian clocks and three missing paintings. The usual lunacy ensues including one scene in which Dali will wear a rabbit costume.

94) DISTEMPER (2000) by Beth Saulnier - A serial killer appears to have targeted the coeds in an upstate New York college town and local newspaper reporter Alex Bernier is on the job. "If ever a novel about serial mutilation could be called delightful, this one could. " Publishers Weekly. Couldn't have said it better myself. Saulnier has an old hand's gift for dialogue which adds to the general air of odd 'delight'.

95) THE SNIPER'S WIFE (2002) by Archer Mayor - Book 13 in the long-running Joe Gunther series set in Vermont. When Joe's taciturn co-worker, the enigmatic Willy Kunkle is called back to NYC to identify the remains of his dead ex-wife, he is troubled by what he finds. The police assume a drug overdose, but Willy thinks differently. Against regulations, the ex-Vietnam sniper hunts for the truth, confronting and coming to grips with his dark past.

96) DANCE FOR THE DEAD (1996) by Thomas Perry - Jane Whitefield is an upstate New York Native American 'guide' who helps people in danger disappear from their lives. In this, the second outing in the series, her clients are a small boy - heir to a fortune - whose family has been killed, and an on the run 'accountant' accused of helping herself to millions from some S&L banks. I've read this several times and will probably read it again.

97) DOG ON IT (2009) by Spencer Quinn - A book narrated by a dog that doesn't have a cute bone in its body - dog or book. Chet is a dog of indefinable antecedents. He is, as he reminds you often, the partner of divorced,  private eye Bernie Little (Little Detective Agency), a nebbishy, sad-sack sort of guy you can't help liking mostly because of his devotion to Chet. Needless to say, Chet is devoted to Bernie as well. If you've ever wondered how a 'real' dog looks at the world, this comes as close to what I envision as anything I've ever read. A terrific series which only a very talented, imaginative writer (and dog lover) could have created.

98) THE SHANGHAI MOON (2009) by A.J. Rozan - Lydia Chin and Bill Smith are two likable Manhattan private eyes with an uneasy partnership in this their ninth entry in a terrific series by an author who knows the city better than just about anyone. The latest case concerns a long missing jewel - The Shanghai Moon. The jewel once belonged to a Jewish refugee and was apparently stolen in the confusion of WWII when Shanghai had been a temporary safe haven for many Jews fleeing Europe. A remarkable book.

99) FOR WHOM THE MINIVAN ROLLS (2002) by Jeffrey Cohen - Aaron Tucker is a New Jersey freelance magazine writer and investigative reporter with attitude. A stay-at-home dad who, in between assignments, works on a screenplay. His wife (whom he's crazy about) is a lawyer,  his kids are sort of typical except that his son has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism - which Aaron takes in stride, more or less. Aaron is an average joe with no ax to grind but trouble will keep following him around when one of the richest guys in NJ inexplicably asks him to look into the midnight disappearance of his wife. Funny Aaron may be, but Spenser he definitely is not.

100) CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK (1975) by Elizabeth Peters - Amelia Peabody, a Victorian spinster, inherits a fortune from her deceased father and sets off to see the world. She is the managing sort so the world had better live up to her expectations - if it doesn't, Amelia will make things right or know the reason why. She is a total delight. When she and her new companion - picked up on the streets of Rome (literally) - arrive in Egypt, Amelia will meet the loony archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson and she and her new friends will be stalked by a mummy in the dead of night. The fun writing style: H. Rider Haggard meets a Victorian suffragette and lives to tell about it.

101) WHAT ALICE KNEW (2010) by Paula Marantz Cohen - I did say this list was fluid. Thankfully so because it seems I forgot one of my favorite books recently read, cherished and talked about till I was blue in the face.  Here's Henry James, his brother and sister and a slew of other Victorian notables trying to catch Jack the Ripper. Loved this book to bits and I apologize for my old lady memory in leaving it off my original master list.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: COTTAGE TO LET starring Leslie Banks, Alastair Sim, John Mills and Michael Wilding

COTTAGE TO LET (1941) is an obscure, but terrific little movie (based on a play) and directed by Anthony Asquith. It's a perfect entry for Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film day, the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason. Don't forget to check out Todd's blog, SWEET FREEDOM, to see what other films other bloggers will be talking about today.

The one drawback to COTTAGE TO LET is the film's silly title which had actually kept me from watching it until very recently. COTTAGE TO LET - does that sound like a nifty spy movie? Of course not. But doubts aside, it is exactly that.

The more suspicious among us can probably figure out early who the Nazi infiltrator is, but on the whole, the thing is really handled very well. The cast of British stalwarts is exceptional.

John Barrington (Leslie Banks) is an eccentric inventor (is there any other kind?) working on a new bomb sight which will help the British war effort. He prefers to work on his isolated Scottish estate without the interference of guards or other official types which might hinder his thought processes. 

Barrington works with the help of lab assistant Alan Trent (played by Michael Wilding) a kind of hapless, eyeglass wearing doofus, who happens to be in love with Barrington's daughter Helen (Carla Lehman) though that doesn't stop him from acting suspiciously around the lab.

Michael Wilding (sans glasses) and Carla Lehman

That's the fun of this film, most everyone behaves suspiciously and it's hard to know who to trust until almost the very end.

Michael Wilding and Alastair Sim

The 'cottage to let' of the title turns out to be a very busy place right next door to the main house in which Barrington has his laboratory. Mrs. Barrington, (Jeanne De Casalis) is the ditzy, dithery sort - in her own way as eccentric as her husband. She has agreed to turn the cottage into some sort of  evacuee refuge or war hospital even though it has been promised to a certain Mr. Charles Dimble (Alastair Sim) who explains to the flustered Mrs. Barrington that he has, after all, paid his rent in advance. The Brits are such experts at this cozy-spy-mystery sort of thing - they've turned it into a separate movie art form.

George Cole playing the evacuee, Ronald, a kid from the London streets.

The mix-up isn't helped by the addition of Ronald a young London evacuee (the delightful George Cole in his first movie) with street smarts who is determined to get in everyone's way especially once he's moved up to the big house to make room at the cottage for a downed RAF pilot, Flt. Lieut. Perry (John Mills) who has been fished out of a Loch and must share the cottage (while convalescing) with the obsequious and rather creepy Mr. Dimble. So at the beginning of the film, it's a kind of jumble until the characters sort themselves out. .

The infamous laboratory. Notice that the kid had no trouble getting in.

For a man working on a secret bomb sight, Barrington has little or no security though we learn early on that the butler is really a London copper sent in by Scotland Yard without Barrington's knowledge. 

In the meantime, there's a fete planned to take place on the grounds and inside the house (I know, it's all too preposterous but so very English) to raise money for the war effort and London officials are rightly concerned that the setup at Barrington's estate is sounding less and less likely to work out well. 

Soon there are spies passing messages and meeting in out of the way places and a suspicious looking piano tuner (!?) working inside the house only a few steps from the laboratory. 

John Mills and Carla Lehman

Before you know it, there's a marriage proposal, several characters are coshed on the head and spirited away to an abandoned mill and we get to the end of the film amid lots of gunfire and dead bodies. Needless to say, the Nazi spies are vanquished once again and a lovely time was had by all.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!

Believed born (or baptised) today in 1564 and died on the same date in 1616. The older I get, the more I seem to appreciate Shakespeare 's genius.

I found a brief but interesting post online from April 23rd of last year by Robert McCrum for The Guardian on the effect of Shakespeare on the brain. Here's the link.

A good day to share two favorite sonnets:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Link to all of Shakespeare's sonnets here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting or Two....or Three!

Lady By A Window - source

Early Morning Sunshine - At the Window, Giverny   - source

Interior - 1918  source

Dormitory Breakfast - source

Early Morning - source

Sunlight - source

Mademoiselle Gaby - source

Sunspots - Arranging Flowers - source

Louis Ritman - From Chicago to Giverny by Richard H. Love

Louis Ritman (1889 - 1963) was born in Russia, but he and his family emigrated to the United States when he was a child. He grew up in Chicago and worked as a sign painter to help support his family. Ritman began his art training with lessons at Hull House and later attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

After be began receiving commissions at home in Chicago, Ritman went to Paris in 1909 for further training. In 1910, he made his first visit to the colony of impressionist painters in Giverny, France - an event which would influence his work for the rest of his life. 

Louis Ritman - Self Portrait - source

The use of light in Ritman's paintings could easily be termed 'exquisite' and I think I'll do just that.  I like the quiet stillness and sense that we're witnessing private moments. Even in the portrait of Mademoiselle Gaby, you can see she's appears sunk in her own thoughts, almost unaware of the painter.

To learn more about the American painter Louis Ritman, please use this link.

Please pardon the wonky lay-out of today's post. Google blogger is acting up again.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Foreign Film Poster Friday

The French movie poster for the iconic noir film, 'This Gun For Hire.' starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.

Say it isn't so....!

The end of the world is here, my friends. I'll be the one lost in the crowd saying, "I don't get it."

Friday's Forgotten Books: The Joshua Croft books by Walter Satterthwait

I'm not quite sure if this is the last Croft book or not. It may be just a Brit. title change.

Today is Forgotten Books day, a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbot at her blog, PATTINASE. Every Friday we gather round and dish forgotten or overlooked books we've known and loved. Don't forget to check in over there and see today's listing. LINK.

My choice for today is not just one book, but a whole series. Author Walter Satterthwait is a prolific writer of historical mysteries as well as more contemporary fare. His keenly researched and witty historicals include characters such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, Oscar Wilde and Lizzie Borden - not all in the same book. To get a complete listing of Satterthwait's work please use this link.

My favorite books of his though, are those in the fast-paced, contemporary Joshua Croft series set in modern day Santa Fe, which he wrote in the 1990's. I read them all then and assumed he'd write some more but he never has. Too bad.

Even stranger, the Croft books seem to be out of print most of the time.

Going over the list for today's post I realized that I couldn't remember much except the setting, the two main characters and the fact that I loved the books first time around. So I suppose that's reason enough reason for a complete re-read this summer.

Joshua Croft is a Santa Fe private eye who runs a detective agency with his partner, Rita Mondragon. She is a wheelchair bound widow and the object of the rugged Croft's unrequited love. 

They are an unusual combo in a colorful setting though Croft, very often, must travel around the U.S. or into Mexico when on the hunt for bad guys. He drives a Subaru but is a no-nonsense kind of guy with attitude.

Do what I'm going to do: find these books and read 'em again or for the first time.

Good News: I'm informed by Bill Crider (author and international bon-vivant) that the Joshua Croft books have been released in e-book form by Otto Penzler's Mysterious imprint. Thanks for the tip, Bill.