Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: A Vintage Assortment.

Scottish Painter Fyffe Christie - The Artist's Wife Reading, 1953 - source

I don't know why but lately I am definitely in a vintage sort of mood. I pick up newer books and put them down, then pick them up again and for whatever reason I put them down again and move on to vintage. (I know this too shall pass, but for now, I am indulging my whims.)

Lately read:

WHILE THE PATIENT SLEPT (1930) by Mignon G. Eberhart - a Nurse Sarah Keate book.
CLOUDS OF WITNESS (1926) by Dorothy Sayers - A Lord Peter Wimsey book.
MURDER IS SUGGESTED (1959) by Frances and Richard Lockridge - A Mr and Mrs North book.
MURDER BY THE BOOK (1963)by Frances and Richard Lockridge - A Mr and Mrs. North book.
THE FINAL DEDUCTION (1961) by Rex Stout - A Nero Wolfe book.
FEAR COMES TO CHALFONT (1942) by Freeman Wills Croft - an Inspector French book.

While I enjoyed all these books, I'm only reviewing two - briefly - since I am falling behind while working on another couple of posts to debut next week. Work. Work. Work. This was NOT supposed to be work. I know it doesn't seem like so much, but you know, occasionally it feels like it is. Whine. Whine. Cringe.

1) WHILE THE PATIENT SLEPT (1930) by Migon G. Eberhart 

This is the second novel by Mignon G. Eberhart featuring private nurse and aging spinster (with gumption) Sarah Keate and boy does the book revel in the achy breaky creaking style of its long ago time. But despite that, I liked it very much. Why? Because it has the murder in a dark and spooky house routine down pat. Truth is, after awhile you don't even care who committed the murder, you're just enjoying all that malevolently mysterious and oh-so-sinister ambience. It's all over the top sinister and creepy and ominous and forbidding, the stuff that makes life worthwhile. Ha! Not to mention the cast of unpleasant characters which greet Nurse Sarah Keate on her arrival at out in the middle of nowhere Federie House on a dark and spooky night.

Sarah's patient is a wealthy old man who remains abed, asleep, for the entire book (well, at least until the very last couple of pages) - that's kind of creepy in itself because the murder takes place in the same room - hence the title of the book. So the murder occurs in full view of the nurse who's half asleep at the time. Commotion ensues, half-dressed suspects pour into the room, shadows jump, curtains move of their own volition, disbelief, suspicion, fainting, trembling, noises in the night. Not to mention a disappearing elephant. Well, a jade elephant carving which holds the secret to the entire thing, but an elephant nonetheless.

This book has everything: dark visages, dark doings, dark rooms, dark halls, dark stairs, (no ELECTRIC LIGHTS only candles of course because the owner of the house - the patient - doesn't believe in new-fangle). There is also a dark storm raging outside - needless to say - plus dark and dire circumstances within, all accompanied by requisite alarming noises. Hey, even the nurse heroine inserts a ghastly scream here and there. She's not immune to atmosphere. Neither was I. A very creepily enjoyable book. Oh, and the cop's name is Lance O'Leary. What more could you want?

2) CLOUDS OF WITNESS (1926) by Dorothy L. Sayer

This is the second book by Dorothy L. Sayers featuring her wonderfully irreverent detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. While his elder brother the stuff-necked Duke of Denver is being held for the murder of a n'er-do-well engaged to the Wimseys' young sister Polly, Lord Peter must rush to find the clues (even going so far as to fly across the Atlantic) which will exonerate Denver who has, so far, refused to speak in his own defense. The why and the wherefore of this are evident fairly soon to the reader, but it takes Lord Peter a rather longer time than one would think to figure things out. Perhaps if he hadn't been so emotionally involved?

Speaking of emotionally involved, this is the book in which Wimsey's policeman friend Parker displays his obvious feelings for said younger sister Polly. They will marry later on. As Wimsey insists, after Polly's misadventures with, first, a Bolshevik twerp and second, a card sharp who keeps a French mistress, his exalted family would welcome a policeman swain with open arms.

The Duke of Denver being a peer of the realm, cannot be tried in regular criminal court like everybody else. He must be tried by his peers (fellow titled gentlemen) in the House of Lords and to read about that august if arcane and fussy body coming together to try one of their own is one of the main pleasures of this book. The ensuing trial with Lord Peter bursting in at the last moment with the final clue clutched in his hand is a joy to read about.

There is also a harrowing to read, but brilliantly written life or death struggle in a fog-enshrouded bog which almost has Lord Peter and the faithful Bunter breathing their last gasp.

The trial and the bog incident make this a not to be missed Peter Wimsey book. I've since ordered a couple more titles from the library and they're waiting for me even as we speak. I'll be heading on down there tomorrow. I read these all many eons ago, but since I don't remember, it's like reading them again for the first time. You know how that goes.


Additional notes: 

I fully enjoyed the two Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries, MURDER BY THE BOOK and MURDER IS SUGGESTED (perfect warm weather reading) and will be looking for more since I've exhausted my library's pitifully few copies. These are the sorts of books one can read with half an eye on a sandwich and half an eye on the page. I'm also thinking, one of these days, of watching the episodes from the b/w television series starring Richard Denning and Barbara Britton which I think are available on youtube. Watched them when I was a kid and thought them the height of sophistication. Plus I had a crush on Richard Denning.

THE FINAL DEDUCTION was a Nero Wolfe book I'd forgotten completely about. In fact I really thought I hadn't read it until I began reading it. Not my favorite (the murder motive isn't very compelling) and not the best written of the lot. But still, any Nero Wolfe is better than none. I never regret dropping in on Wolfe and Archie, no matter what.

FEAR COMES TO CHALFONT was part of a three novel omnibus (sandwiched between the perfectly awful CASE OF THE DROWNING DUCK by Earl Stanley Gardner and MURDER IN THE WOODSHED, equally awful, by Anthony Gilbert) and because any Freeman Wills Croft is so hard to find these days, I probably enjoyed it more than I would otherwise. The style is pretty ancient and the plot sort of reminded me of Trent's Last Case which had similar characters and a similar kind of crime. I liked it as a curiosity and also because once upon a time my late ex-husband and I had a great deal of fun reading a bunch of Freeman Wills Croft train mysteries. Wouldn't mind getting my hand on some of those again.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books other bloggers are talking about today. Patti has all the links.


  1. Yvette,

    I loved the trial scene in the _Clouds of Witness_ film version: the costumes, the rituals, the formulas, and then the absurd last-minute entrance with Wimsey bursting in with evidence in hand. . .

    It's marvelous that they can do it with a straight face.

    OT--I see you're reading Tuchman's _A Distant Mirror_. A great book. I shall have to dust it off one of these days for a reread.

    1. Well, it's all the more inviting and funny with those straight faces. If they were not taking it seriously it wouldn't be funny.That's how I look at it anyway. I love all that pomp and circumstance anyway. Why not? I guess you can call me a Royalist from way back. Ha. I think I'm going to buy the DVD of this one. SO enjoyable.

      As for A DISTANT MIRROR, well, actually, I'm listening to it. Audible has a mighty fine unabridged version read by a wonderfully voiced woman whose name escapes me at the moment. At any rate, I'm listening in small doses so who knows when I'll finish.

      I'm supposed to be finishing up the John Buchan book which I have in a 'kindle' version to read online. But I so hate reading online that I keep finding other things to do.

  2. What a great haul Yvette - Other than the Sayers I've not ready ANY of these so this was all exceedingly enjoyable to hear about (even the Eberhart, not my usual copp of java) - I want to chase all of these up right now - thanks chum!

    1. You're welcome, Sergio. :) I hope you find at least a couple. I"m going to track down all the Mr. and Mrs. North books little by little. Fun to read. And if I trip over a Freeman Wills Croft book or two, I'll be even happier.

  3. One thing I am continually amazed when I read these blogs and people write abuot vintage mysteires is the number of paperback editions of certain titles I never knew existed. That bizarre cover of the Eberhart book is one I've never seen. Judging by the 95 cents price I'm guessing this is a mid 1970s reprint. There was a resurgence in reprinting all the old mystery writers' books back in the "Christie craze" right after MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS was released, but I don't recall Eberhart being one of those targetted for massive reprinting. Apparently she was.

    The first Eberhart book I ever read was FROM THIS DARK STAIRWAY. I was pretty darn impressed with Nurse Keate and Lance O'Leary. WHILE THE PATIENT SLEPT was one of about seven Eberhart novels that became a movie, each time with a different actress playing the nurse turned sleuth. In a couple of cases Nurse Keate was completly removed from the story.That great character actress Aline MacMahon played Sarah in the movie of WTPS and I think she's perfect. If you can believe it, glamour gal Ann Sheridan also played Nurse Keate in two movies. Could any actress be more completely wrong for the dour spinster nurse!

    1. I want to read them all - Mignon Eberhart, I mean. As well as the Mr. and Mrs. Norths and Freeman Wills Croft, etc, etc, etc. Just got back from the library with a pile of vintage. A couple of Dorothy Sayers among them. No more Mignon Eberhart at the library. Jeez.

      Ann Sheridan? No. Hard to fathom. But who played Lance O'Leary??? I could see Aline MacMahon in the part. Maybe I'll find it online somewhere. Thanks for the tip, John.

  4. Clouds of Witnesses: As a Peter Wimsey fan I would have picked this one first out of your collection. Actually my favourite Wimsey is 'Five Red Herrings' - what a fab read that book is!

    1. Hi Kirk, welcome back. I just recently watched FIVE RED HERRINGS on dvd and enjoyed it but it was not my fave. (Great minds can disagree.) My fave is CLOUDS OF WITNESS. And maybe, MURDER MUST ADVERTISE which I'll be watching again at some point. But really, you can't go wrong with any Sayers, DVD or book.

    2. Very true, Yvette. Mind you, I have never seen any of the DVDs. I prefer the books so that my mental images on Wimsey, Bunter and the rest remain uninfluenced…
      Murder must advertise is good. I like the Nine Tailors as well - I read that in my late teens and this was the book that introduced me to the Sayers world.

    3. Oh you must give Ian Carmichael a looksee one of these days, Kirk. I don't think he'll disappoint you. I think my first Wimsey was THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT THE BELLONA CLUB - the dvd of which was ruined for me by one casting decision of a very grumpy unpleasant looking actress. At least she came across as such in the dvd. So maybe you ought to stay away from that one too. Ha.

  5. Yvette, I haven't read any of these vintage books though I once almost read an ebook by Dorothy L. Sayers, which remains unread as yet. I love vintage fiction too and it's eating into my reading of books from the second half of the 20th century and contemporary fiction.

    1. Oh me too, Prashant. All my vintage reading always seems to take precedence (at least lately) over my more contemporary books. Can't say why specifically, but that's the way it works out. I'm just having a lot of fun reading all the old good stuff that I can find.

  6. Yvette, I have to read While the Patient Slept! Sounds yummy. And to think I let someone else walk away with a copy of it at my library book sale! It didn't have that cool cover though. I do have a couple of her books on my shelf to read though. Last year was my 'vintage year' I seem to be spending all my time in Scotland this year:)

    1. Isn't that always the way? :) I've been reading up a vintage storm lately and just yesterday brought home a bunch from the library, mostly non-mysteries, but I'm eager to try them. I'm near the end of a most entertaining book my Helen MacInnes, ASSIGNMENT IN BRITTANY. Can't wait to write about it.

  7. FWIW, Yvette, a number of the Crofts mysteries are available as e-books for the Kindle (and probably other formats as well)...not the same as holding the book while trying to follow one of Crofts's convoluted alibi-busted-by-train-schedule plots, but I'll take what I can get. I still have some of his in those great Green Penguin Paperbacks...

    1. Oh how I envy you your Penguin paperbacks, Les! :) I love those green and white books. I don't have a Kindle yet but I download the occasional book to read on my computer. Needless to say, not my favorite way to read. But I might make an exception for Croft.

  8. When I first started reading mysteries during my teen years, way back in the Middle Ages, I read books by Rex Stout, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey.

    Since my interest in crime fiction rebegan several years ago, I haven't been interested in vintage books, although several titles jump out at me on various blogs. But many are very hard to get.

    My library puts older books in the main building, noncirculating and stops circulating copies. It makes it impossible to read them, and I am so frustrated about this.

    Even with Stout's The Rubber Band, there is no paper copy circulating.
    I buy some books, but I'm afraid of tiny fonts in older paperbacks, "fontophobia," I guess.

  9. 'Fontophobia' - HA! Perfect. That happened to me with an old copy of a J.R.R. Tolkien book. The type is miniscule. I will probably have to order another copy. Still, it was only a couple of bucks so I'm not too disgruntled. I have duplicates of a couple of the Rex Stout books, Kathy. I'll be happy to send them to you. Not sure is THE RUBBER BAND is among them, but I'll check. Whatever I have extra is yours for the keeping if you like.

  10. Yvette, thank you so much. The Rubber Band would be great. Please send me your email and I'll send you my address.

    That is very kind of you.

    I could scream about the library keeping one copy and not circulating it. I just tried to find The Virago Book of Women Gardeners, the library has one copy at its main branch, noncirculating, of course. I went to Abe Books' website and ordered a used copy for under $4, free shipping.

  11. You're welcome, Kathy. But I don't have your email address. At any rate, here's mine:

    Send me the particulars when you have a moment. I'm still in the process of going through my book shelves so give me a bit of time to get organized so don't expect a package immediately. Let's say within the next couple of weeks. :)


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