Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Salon: The Many Guises of Santa

Vintage Illustration via

Vintage illustrationvia

Anne Yvonne Gilbert - via

Susan Mitchell - via

Gennady Spirin - via

Haddon Sunblom - via

Inge Look - via

Lisi Martin - via

Andre Francois - via

William Joyce - 'Santa Calls' - via

Raymond Briggs 'Father Christmas' - via

J.C. Leyendecker - Saturday Evening Post 

Edward Sorel - via

Ina Hattenhauer - via

I love these Santas in all their guises by all these artists in all these different styles.

This is my last post of the year - Rocky and I will be away for the holidays, visiting with family. This coming week will be devoted to cleaning, packing, wrapping and last minute shopping. When I return, stay tuned for my Favorite Books of 2015.

In the meantime, MERRY CHRISTMAS and a very HAPPY NEW YEAR, m'dears.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE HOG'S BACK MYSTERY (1933) by Freeman Wills Croft

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, my then husband and I went on a Freeman Wills Croft reading binge. There my familiarity with this British Golden Age author ends. If you ask me which books we read and what did I think of them (other than the fact that I must have enjoyed them or I wouldn't have kept reading) I couldn't tell you.

But recently, Croft's name began popping up in online conversation and I determined to reread some of his books once again if I could find them. (Not as easy as one might think.) As luck would have it, THE HOG'S BACK MYSTERY is currently available as part of the British Library Crime Classics reprint series. But I opted for the audio version narrated by the wonderful Gordon Griffin. For me, audio works just fine as an alternate. I listened to it a few days ago while in the middle of wrapping Christmas presents and other assorted holiday chores.

Croft was the grandfather of the police procedural mystery (at least that's how I think of him). He was also a proponent of the Golden Age detection strategy of 'play fair' with the reader (which never mattered to me, but I'm probably in the minority there) so in this particular book you should be able to figure out the killer unless your eyes glaze over from the minutiae of forming a perfect alibi. Near the end, I lost track of who was doing what to whom at what time and just agreed with Inspector's French's summation. I never did accept that such a finely tuned alibi would have worked in real life. But then, books aren't - necessarily - real life.

For me, the excruciatingly detailed split-second timing of the alibi was the only weakness in a nearly perfect procedural mystery. But then, I'm not numbers oriented so there is that to consider as well. You might have a totally different reaction.

Otherwise THE HOG'S BACK MYSTERY is a fascinating case - 10th in the Inspector French series - which begins with the confounding disappearance (seemingly into thin air) of a doctor from his study (while still in his house slippers) and culminates, all told, in the especially cold blooded murders of four people. An almost tangible underlying atmosphere of unease fairly clings to the pages of this book, but don't ask - I couldn't put my finger on any specific thing. There's just that sense of inexplicable menace which can be self-generating in a good mystery.

I don't want to give too much away because the rewarding part of this sort of story, besides the atmospherics, is the step by step, clue by clue, chapter by chapter mounting of the case by the indefatigable Inspector and his police cronies. If you love that sort of thing - as I do - then this is the book for you.

My rating: 4 Stars (Would have been five but for the ending.)

Since it's Friday, you will want to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: Four by Hare

I've recently discovered the books of Cyril Hare, aka Alfred Gordon Clark .  If you know my style, you won't be surprised to learn that I acted with my usual reckless abandon. Hare immediately zoomed into favored status in Yvette Land and I'm hoping to read every mystery of his that I can find. In the meantime, here are the four I've read and recommend:

1) THE WIND BLOWS DEATH(1949) aka When the Wind Blows

The mystery of the disappearing and reappearing clarinetist during a concert, obfuscates the murder of a visiting violinist moments before a major performance.This is the baffling problem facing the police and barrister Francis Pettigrew, author Cyril Hare's charming amateur sleuth. Pettigrew is plunged into the mix by his status as honorary treasurer of the Markshire Orchestral Society, a post he only reluctantly has accepted and see what comes of it. Now that he's on the scene, he might as well go ahead and help solve the murder.

I gave the book 5 Stars, so I must be in agreement with whoever it was that listed this as one of the 100 best mysteries ever written.

Belated apologies to John and Ron who correctly corrected me on my initial confusion re: the who and the where of the murder. I went back to the source, which I should have done immediately. Thanks, guys. 


Who murdered Lord Warbeck's heir? The victim had Fascist leanings so I say, well deserved, but still one cannot allow killers to vent unchecked. This is a murder that takes place over Christmas at a snowed-in country house peopled with the usual cast of eccentric upper crust Brits with problems (I know, what more could you ask for?). This is the perfect story to cuddle up with in front of a roaring fireplace (real or pretend) during the holidays.

4 Stars.


Police Inspector Mallett is on holiday at Pendlebury Old Hall Hotel when a fellow guest, Leonard Dickenson, is found dead - suicide the probably cause. The night before, Mallett had had an odd conversation with Dickenson wherein the man revealed that the rather shabby hotel had once been the family home. Moreover, Dickinson had seemed despondent and gone on at length about death and other assorted grimness. Not a fun evening for Inspector Mallett. Hence, the Inspector is inclined to accept the coroner's verdict of suicide. But he has second thoughts once he meets the Dickenson family who are at daggers drawn over the idea that suicide will nix the large insurance payment they were expecting.

I gave this one 3 Stars because I didn't like anyone in the story except Mallett. Still, the ending was a clever surprise.


Set during WWII, this is the first book to feature barrister Francis Pettigrew who has been sent to ply his legal talents on behalf of the Pin Control Ministry (?). A faction of government which has been relocated to the seaside resort of Marsett Bay in the north of England. (I never did figure out what the Pin Control Ministry actually was and what they did but got the feeling this was Hare being satirical about government pettiness and let it go at that - assorted pin business being rather droll to read about.) Anything in aid of the war effort.

Here we're introduced to a disgruntled group of civil servants busy shuffling papers around while indulging in office gossip and spite and putting up with over-crowded accommodations - a nice cast of suspects when murder strikes. The crime itself is tantalizingly close to a locked room mystery event and it's up to Pettigrew (with the help of Mallett who shows up mid-book) to save the day for the Pin Ministry.

3 Stars.

I like Cyril Hare's deliciously serene style of writing, his devious plotting and his knowledge of British law which comes in handy. Though not as prolific as other Golden Age mystery writers, Hare certainly deserves to have his work read, remembered and/or discovered. I plan on getting my hands on more of his books in the new year.

Michael Edwards and Philip L. Scowcroft have a nicely done tribute to Cyril Hare, his life and work, at this link.

Friday is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book day over at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase. So don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: WARRANT FOR X (1938) by Philip MacDonald

First off: If the plot sounds familiar, this is the book upon which the so/so Van Johnson movie 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET was based. The screenplay made drastic changes including getting rid of Anthony Gethryn's charismatic presence and making the American playwright hero (played by Johnson) blind. So let's forget about it and concentrate on the source material today.

I'm really fond of the work of Philip MacDonald (of THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER fame), having recently read (for the first time) and enjoyed, THE RASP, MURDER GONE MAD, and MYSTERY OF THE DEAD POLICE. And now, WARRANT FOR X, which is the 11th in the Anthony Gethryn series and for me, so far, the very best of a pretty good bunch. (I gave it five stars in my listing.)

Link here for a complete listing of Philip MacDonald's books.

So, here we go:

I read WARRANT FOR X aka THE NURSEMAID WHO DISAPPEARED recently and enjoyed every moment. I'm crazy about stories that draw me in and don't want to let me go. I only wish the book was twice as long, but maybe then I wouldn't have been able to stand the excitement.

WARRANT FOR X begins in the company of a successful American playwright alone in London with not much to do. Sheldon Garrett celebrates his 34th birthday alone and reading for the first time ever, a story by the eminent philosophical and mystery great G.K. Chesterton. Thus, influenced by the author, Garret takes a bus and finds himself wandering the lonely streets of Notting Hill where, lost in a maze of dark and unfamiliar byways, he finally stumbles into an empty tea shop near closing time.

When two women enter the shop and head for a booth nearby, Garret overhears a whispered conversation which convinces him that a crime involving a child is about to be committed. Luckily the two women remain unaware of Garret sitting in the shadows.

He decides to follow the two when they leave but soon loses them in the throng of London. What to do next? Well, he goes to Scotland Yard, but without much more to tell them that what he'd heard, they dismiss his story as being unlikely.

Fortunately, Avis Bellingham, the nice society woman Garret has fallen in love with (though they are currently mired in one of those foolish misunderstandings which only seem to occur in books) happens to know Lucia Gethryn, wife of the brilliant Anthony. He, of course, is the well-known solver of crimes and interpreter of puzzles too complex for the official police. A dinner invitation is issued.

After hearing Garret's tale, Anthony Gethryn agrees that a dastardly plot is certainly afoot. And before you can say hop, skip and/or jump, they are on the trail of some very dangerous people. What follows is an intriguing hodgepodge of blackmail, suicide, several nasty murders - actual and attempted murder - a kidnapping, more attempted murder, all amid the kind of inspired misdirection we haven't seen (or at least, I haven't) since I don't know when.

Of course, the book was published in 1938, so there is some creakiness at the joints, but on the whole, nothing to bother about. Philip MacDonald's writing is intelligent, fast-paced and mostly to the point. We hang on for dear life as Gethryn and Garrett, along with the police (finally) attempt to prevent a heinous crime from taking place. Clue after clue is unraveled, often times making things more complex rather than less. Time is of the essence as page after page, things seem darkest before the dawn and their prey remains more elusive than ever. What a thrilling tale.

WARRANT FOR X is definitely my kind of book. Perfect (and easy enough to get online for very little cash) if you're mired in the winter doldrums or soon enough will be. I might save it for January when things always seem dull and dreary. (I know, do as I say, not as I do.)

P.S. Don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about on this Friday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF by Martha Grimes

This is the first Richard Jury mystery and the one which introduces us to the nicely neurotic inhabitants of Long Piddleton. The setting is a snowy picture postcard English village, cozily nestled on the banks of the River Piddle. It's the Christmas season but that hasn't stopped a murderer from going about his nefarious duties.

When a dead body is found stuck in a keg of beer at The Man With A Load of Mischief pub (all Jury books are titled after existing English pubs), followed by yet another dead body later found tucked in the mechanical sign above the front door of the Jack and Hammer (Long Piddleton's not so friendly neighborhood pub), well, it's time for Scotland Yard in the form of Richard Jury to make an appearance. Not that that puts paid to the killings in this small village in Northants.

Detective Chief Inspector Jury is tall, handsome, languid, lonely, given to intuitive flashes and incapable of finding the right woman (no matter if she is right in front of his nose). Yet he possesses a smile which is supposed to stop women (and anyone else) in their tracks. Go figure. He is also a man whom children instinctively trust and divulge their secrets to. An especially important trait in a Martha Grimes book.

Here we also meet, for the first time, the charming and very cavalier Melrose Plant, a man who, for reasons which become obvious over the length of the series, has given up his title as Earl of Caverness. Given up the title, yes, but not the mien. Still, he is pretty down to earth for a man of luxurious lifestyle complete with mansion and butler. Now if only he could get rid of his annoyingly batty aunt, all would be perfection. 

So who is responsible for the rather unsightly Long Piddleton killing spree? 

One would immediately jump to the conclusion that I'm talking about a series of cozies, but one would be wrong. Author Martha Grimes has invented a style of story which should be discordant, but to my mind is not; she has managed to combine the ambience of the cozy (along with the requisite cast of assorted eccentrics) with the deeper, darker ambience of the police procedural/thriller. The crimes themselves are often ugly and the solutions never pat. Happy endings for all involved do not abound except very occasionally. One just never knows how a Jury book is going to turn out. If you cannot acclimate yourself to this sort of thing, then the series is not for you. 

Too bad because for wit, intelligence and imagination, you can't top Martha Grimes.  In so many ways she is unique in the world of genre (if you care to describe it like that) fiction.

I've read THE MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF a couple of times and have also listened to the audio version narrated superbly by Steve West. It's up to you how you choose to begin this series (not that it really needs to be read in order), if you choose to begin it and I say: please do.

I've written about Richard Jury before since he remains one of my favorite characters in fiction (and one of my huge crushes) and over the years I've read every single Jury book. (But don't ask me for synopsis of plots please, the spirit is willing but the memory banks are depleted.) You must trust me when I say that on the whole, I've enjoyed almost every single one and it is a series I recommend highly. 

(And no I don't mind the inclusion of dogs and cats of varying personalities, names and antics. I like the element of other-worldliness they add to the stories.)

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked holiday-themed books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A repeat post: Friday's Forgotten Book: REED'S PROMISE by John Clarkson

I've written about REED'S PROMISE before (this is a repeat - more or less - of a post from 2012) and I'll probably write about it again. It is a book that makes other thrillers seem tame by comparison, a fabulous feat of writing by a novelist who I'm still not all that familiar with. (Primarily because he doesn't have a lot of books on the shelves at the library.) He has a spotty publishing history and doesn't turn out books on a regular schedule far as I can tell.

But if you have any affinity for thriller writing at all, make note of John Clarkson's REED'S PROMISE and promise yourself you'll read it. This book continues to be one of the best of its kind, though I suspect there aren't really many of 'its kind' around. It surpassed my expectations going in as it was one of those serendipitous reading events.

The book begins at breakneck speed - we're suddenly thrown into the middle of a motorcycle accident in which the rider, Bill Reed will lose a leg and become an embittered amputee lying in a hospital bed feeling sorry for himself. He is a private eye and ex-FBI agent with a talent for forensic accounting - tracking illegal money back to its original source.

In the middle of bemoaning his fate, Reed receives a note from his cousin Johnny Boy Reed. Johnny Boy has been institutionalized at the Ullmann Institute in upstate NY, since he was a kid. He is severely retarded but able to function enough to put together a note to his private eye cousin asking for help.The note is cryptic enough (a series of numbers and bits of paper glued together), but Bill deduces from it that something is wrong and maybe he should go take a look - if for no other reason then that Johnny Boy is family. Guilt is a great motivator.

With a prosthetic leg in place, and a cane, Bill heads up to the Ullmann Institute.

REED'S PROMISE resonates with a crushing sense of dread from the beginning of Reed's quest to ferret out the truth and perhaps redeem himself in his own eyes.

First of all, Reed is a man minus a leg - can he stand up to physical attack? Can he fight if he has to? Just how strong is he? Can he be undermined by his handicap? All these thoughts ran through my mind as I continued to read.

Also, I didn't want his cousin Johnny Boy - whom we come to know and like - physically harmed in any way. So from the very beginning I was worried and that worry only grew.

When Reed arrives at the Ullmann Institute, and realizes almost right away that something bad is going on, you do wonder whether he will be able to 'fix' things.

Matthew Ullmann and his wife Madeleine run the institute like some sort of fiefdom (and have made themselves rich in the process) and they are, no question about it, a fiendish duo. We know they are the enemy Reed will have to vanquish if he wants to save Johnny Boy - yet it doesn't weaken the suspense angle one bit.

While reading REED'S PROMISE I remember having to stop and take breathing breaks, tension breaks, while I acclimated my emotions and took deep breaths to calm myself. That's how overwhelmed I was by the increasing fear of what would happen to the two main characters. Up until that moment (a few years ago) I'd never read a book in which the 'hero' was an amputee taking on evil all by himself - using his wits, his smarts and yes, his physical abilities to thwart some especially nasty characters.

I don't know how else to say this except that it's own unique way, this is a brilliant book. Clarkson, who is also a screenwriter, has a knack for visual scene creation which adds immeasurably to the suspense. If your library doesn't have REED'S PROMISE, booksellers online do. Get a copy, read it and see if I'm exaggerating.

Unfortunately, the book has two major strikes against it: One: no one ever heard of it. (The publishers were obviously asleep at the switch.) Two: It has a horrible cover. I say: IGNORE the cover! Read the book.

Recently I learned that Clarkson finally had a new book, another stand-alone: AMONG THIEVES. 
I was really looking forward to it. But it was, ultimately, a disappointment. Good suspense but the violence seemed over the top and the characters had few redeeming qualities. I'd say stick with REED'S PROMISE. (It's entirely possible that AMONG THIEVES is a man's book and I was just the wrong audience, being a frail woman.)

Friday's Forgotten Books is the weekly meme hosted by the oh-so-talented author Patricia Abbott at her blog, Pattinase.Lots of forgotten (or overlooked) books mentioned today so don't forget to go take a looksee.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happy Veteran's Day!

Herbert Andrew Paus (1880 - 1946) - via 

If you get a chance, remember to thank a veteran for their service.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Saturday Salon: American painter, illustrator and muralist Grant Wood (1891 - 1942)

American Gothic - 1930 - via

Most of us know Grant Wood's rather grim American Gothic painting which has become an iconic piece over the years. But obviously there's more to Wood than one painting, no matter how famous.

Thanks to Poul Webb's art blog, I discovered some of Wood's early work and much to my amazement I realized immediately that there was much more to Grant Wood than I'd suspected. I'd always liked Wood's tightly woven farm and landscape paintings evoking a sort of mythical mid-western ideal, but his early work (influenced by his study in Europe) is much freer and impressionistic in tone. It's always interesting to see the routes that painters make on their way to an eventual style. Take a look:

Courtyard in Italy - 1924 - via

Old Stone Barn - 1919 - via

Statue in Paris - 1920 - via

Cafe in Paris - 1920 - via

The Shop Inspector - 1925 - via

At the Gate 1926 - via

To learn about Grant Wood and see more of his work, please check out Poul Webb's art blog.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: WHEN LAST I DIED (1941) by Gladys Mitchell

Originally published in 1941, this is the 2005 re-issue by Rue Morgue Press. 

Thanks go out to Sergio over at his fabulous blog, Tipping My Fedora, for getting me interested in reading Gladys Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley books. His enthusiastic review of DEATH AT THE OPERA did the trick.

(DEATH AT THE OPERA was my first choice, but it quickly became apparent that nobody had this book unless I wanted to pay big bucks and no I didn't.)

I had originally been put off reading Gladys Mitchell because of the television series starring Diana Rigg (whom I like) which I never cottoned to, though I did like the interaction between Mrs. Bradley and her neat chauffeur. And I loved the fashions.

At any rate, I've now read two Mrs. Bradley books: one I really liked and one I didn't finish. So I suppose I'll be reading more - one out of two isn't bad. But the next one had better be one I finish.

WHEN LAST I DIED begins with a note from the author:

To you, American Reader, whoever you are, affectionately.

I am a Londoner. Proud, too, of it. Whilst this book was being written,the Jerries made rings round it. They picked off seven houses, a railway bridge, and a block of flats. We put the Union Jack up on all these sites. They they wiped out shops, factories, and the main road. It took time to put back the gas mains alone on that main road. Then they dropped high explosives in the garden six doors away. Still, here is the book.


How anyone can continue to write under those conditions, I just cannot even imagine. I feel humbled by Mitchell's grit and steadfastness.

On with the review:

WHEN LAST I DIED makes use of a good plot ploy - the found diary. I do have a weakness for cold case type murder investigations.

Now, it says here in this book that Mrs. Bradley is a psychologist though, to my mind, a very strange one. She is so weird herself that it would make one pause before going to her with any problems of the mental sort. I never got a clear sense of what she looked like - I know she's old and kind of 'reptilian' and has an odd propensity for cackling (?) but that's about it. Just for a lark, I began to envision her as a lizard in a serviceable suit  and hat. Not that that was what the author intended I'm sure.

I also noticed that in the books, the chauffeur, up front and center in the television series, is hardly on the scene when most of the action is taking place. He doesn't show up at all in the second book (the one I didn't finish), at least not in the pages I read. Too bad. I like the idea of a chauffeur as associate crime fighter.

At any rate, Mrs. Bradley decides to rent a house by the sea for a few weeks as part of some sort of psychological experiment resulting from her professional involvement with a school for delinquent boys. Her seven year old grandson occasionally comes to stay which I found a bit odd to begin with, since there had been sinister doings at the school and the experiment involves short term stays at the Bradley house by various boys. A kind of break from their normal routine.

The rental had, several years before, been the property of a young woman named Bella who was tried and acquitted for the murder of a cousin, a ghost hunter who'd been investigating a local haunted house. The woman had since committed suicide and the house passed to a servant who is happy to let the place for the summer.

In the meantime, Mrs. Bradley gets her hands on a diary written by Bella outlining events prior to the murder and the strange disappearance of two boys from the aforementioned school at which Bella herself had once worked. Then there is the suspicious death of Bella's aunt, a well-to-do old woman who'd choked to death on some grated carrots (?).

Mrs. Bradley is almost immediately suspicious of what she reads in the diary and decides that there's much more here than meets the eye. And as she goes nosing about it is soon obvious that she is correct, there is something rotten in this pleasant little village by the sea.

I was completely taken in and spent most of a night reading and trying to get to the bottom of a rather convoluted tale of twisted lives and ugly death.

Admittedly I found Mrs. Bradley hard to take - especially the cackling part - and as I mentioned, I had trouble visualizing her. She just didn't seem real to me if I can call anyone in this sort of story 'real' - but you know what I mean. But other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

The other Mitchell book I began (my local library only had the two titles) was THE RISING OF THE MOON, a book I thought I'd like but didn't bother finishing. This one had Mrs. Bradley entering the fray very late in the story which was okay but leading up to her involvement, the tale was told from the point of view of two young, adventurous boys living in a village who come across a murder or two or three. Sounded good, but for whatever reason, wasn't.

But as I say, WHEN LAST I DIED is worth a look, if you can find a copy. And I'm still hoping to come across DEATH AT THE OPERA. Maybe an inter-library loan will do the trick.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten (or overlooked) books other bloggers are talking about today.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Book Review: RADIANT ANGEL by Nelson DeMille

The only thing I didn't like about this book and it's only because I'm squeamish, were several scenes of disturbing violence, other than that I'm highly recommending RADIANT ANGEL to any reader who loves a suspenseful, thrill packed adventure yarn where all the good guys are working towards a common and worthy goal, in this instance, saving Manhattan from annihilation. Not telling you too much, all this is pretty evident in the quickly moving early chapters. Besides, the title and cover really say it all.

Re: the violence - you can always skim, i.e. look the other way. That's what I do.

The bad guys in this, one of Nelson DeMille's more fast-paced books, are not those whom we might have expected which makes for a nice break in the action. Know what I mean? And again, no I'm not revealing too much.

There is an enviable knack, maybe even a genius, to telling a good rip-roaring story that makes it almost impossible to put a book down until you get to the end and Nelson DeMille has it. I read RADIANT ANGEL in two large bouts of reading late into the night. Luckily this was not the usual lengthy tome we normally get from DeMille (not that there's anything wrong with that), no, this is slightly shorter and more action condensed DeMille and the story doesn't suffer for it. This is atypical DeMille, but still excellent.

Before we go any further let me just add that I've read most of Nelson DeMille's fiction except three -and the ones written under various pseudonyms which I never knew existed until recently - and I've enjoyed and admired everything of his that I've read except two. Nah, I'm not gonna' tell you which two. Cause who am I to diminish your possible enjoyment? And besides, I'm definitely in the minority.

Of all DeMille's many protagonists, my favorite is John Corey whom we meet again in RADIANT ANGEL. We initially came across (now former) NYC homicide detective Corey on his way to bust up a frightening conspiracy in PLUM ISLAND, the first book. Since then there have been five more with RADIANT ANGEL being the very latest.

Corey has worked for several government agencies including the FBI but seems constantly to be moving about from job to job since he is known for being a maverick (that's why his bosses try and try and try to keep a tight rein on him). He is also an unorthodox thinker, a screw-up, and occasionally a loose cannon. Most of all, I think, the higher-ups despise Corey for his refusal to go along to get along, his complete lack of political awareness (the source of some of his funnier and more wince-inducing epitapths) and his wicked and totally inappropriate sense of humor - he has that in abundance.

These are some of the main reasons why I love this character - that and the fact that he gets things done when others are still fumbling about trying to figure out what to do. Corey can reason quickly and has an uncanny knack for linking a and b and correctly deducing z. In an out of control world filled with evil doers, this is a mighty welcome talent - you'd think.

In RADIANT ANGEL, Corey is now back in NYC (his wife still works for the FBI and commutes between the city and Washington D.C.), working for the DSG (Diplomatic Surveillance Group) keeping an eye on Russian diplomats working at the U.N. This job is thought to be a nice quiet dead end resting place for Corey after his run in with the CIA while battling terrorists in Yemen in the last book. But you know, where John Corey goes, trouble always seems to follow. Thank goodness.

While on a routine weekend surveillance Corey and his fellow watchers are scooped up into a quickly escalating crisis of the sort that might seem fanciful if not for the fact that the world today is what it is.

"I was parked in a black Chevy Blazer down the street from the Russian Federation Mission to the United Nations on East 67th Street in Manhattan, waiting for an asshole named Vasily Petrov to appear. Petrov is a colonel in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service - the SVR in Russian - which is the equivalent to our CIA, and the successor to the Soviet KGB. Vasily - who we have affectionately code-named Vaseline, because he's slippery - has diplomatic status as Deputy Representative to the United Nations for Human Rights Issues, which is a joke because his real job is SVR Legal Resident in New York - the equivalent of a CIA Station Chief. I have had Colonel Petrov under the eye on previous occasions, and though I've never met him he's reported to be a very dangerous man, and thus an asshole."

Corey has a way with words.

Read this only if you have a few hours to set aside because I guarantee you will not (or at least not until the wee hours of the morning) be able to put this book down until you get to the nail-bitingly fabulous end.

And yes, you may read this even if you haven't read any of the others books in the series. You can always go back and see what happened when and why Corey's marriage is a bit rocky right now.

I hope there will be more of John Corey in the future because I am definitely not ready to say goodbye.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: DEATH OF AN AIRMAN (1935) by Christopher St. John Sprigg

A British Library Crime Classic - this nicely packaged book (with a forward by Martin Edwards) is one of several Golden Age mysteries brought back for our delight by Poisoned Pen Press. It's a wonderful thing to make available little known and/or scarce Golden Agers for those of us who love this sort of book and yearn for more and MORE and still many more. These are the sorts of books we love to read and reread alongside Christie and Sayers and Marsh and Tey and the rest of 'em. I'm very fond of comfortable murders solved by people with manners. Just because someone is lying dead at your feet doesn't mean you can't say please and thank you.

Christopher St. John Sprigg wrote several mysteries (as well as other books under a pseudonym) and died fighting in the Spanish Civil War before his 30th birthday. Afterwards his work faded into obscurity, but now, thanks to Poisoned Pen Press, we can become acquainted with a book that Dorothy Sayers herself (then critic at the Sunday Times), enjoyed and recommended.

DEATH OF AN AIRMAN is a sprightly and intriguing mystery set mostly at a British airfield where professional and amateur pilots go about their daily flying routines and where shortly two murders will throw a monkey-wrench into the proceedings. Baston Aero Club is a flying school run by the unfortunately named Sally Sackbut (yes, I know, but that's her name), it is where we first meet the Bishop, a rather nice provincial chap who has a habit of noticing things and will, before long, be instrumental (in a kind of peripheral way) in helping Scotland Yard solve two brutal murders.

'A young woman with a reddish face and horn-rimmed glasses appeared suddenly out of a door marked "Manager, Baston Aero Club."

"Well, young man, what do you want?" she asked sharply.

The middle-aged man in grey flannels who was standing in the club hall looked around to see who was being spoken to, and then perceptibly started when he realized that it was he who was being addressed.

"Are you the manager of the Baston Aero Club?" he asked.

"Manager and secretary. In fact, I run the place," she answered.

"I see." The speaker, though obviously not shy, had not quite recovered from the surprise of being addressed as "young man" by a woman some years his junior.

"The fact is, I want to learn to fly. That is," he added diffidently, "if I'm not too old for that sort of thing." His diffidence contrasted with a certain deep richness of voice - the kind of voice which inevitably suggests public speaking.

The young woman beamed. "Don't you worry! We'll teach you if it kills us - or you." She rummaged over a table in the hall which was littered with papers and picked out a form.

"We'd better make you a member before you lose your nerve. Are you a British subject? We're not particular, but if you aren't British we don't get a subsidy for teaching you, so we charge you more."

"I am an Australian."

The red-faced young woman peered at him anxiously from behind her glasses. "I hope you don't get fighting drunk? Our last Australian smashed every glass in the place the day he went solo."

The stranger cleared his throat deprecatingly. "I think it unlikely that I should do the same. I am the Bishop of Cootamundra."

The plucky Doctor Marriott, or as he much prefers, just plain 'Bishop', will soon be up in the air in one of the school's planes doing his very best to follow the rather odd sounding (at least to me) instructions issued by his instructors, an enigmatic scar-faced flying ace named Furnace as well as the aforementioned Sally.

When Furnace, flying solo, crashes and is killed in full view of those on the ground the unfortunate event is first thought to be a suicide. But when something about the body itself bothers the Bishop, he decides to ask a few questions.

What follows is a locked room sort of mystery in which the 'locked room' is actually the cockpit of a small two-seater plane and 'the how' of a murderous attack remains unexplained until the last couple of chapters.

After the perturbed local police call in Scotland Yard, there follows an exhumation where a sickening fact emerges. Slowly a far reaching criminal conspiracy is uncovered which leads to a horrible second murder and a rip-roaring ending which, inadvertently involves the Bishop in a high flying death defying trip. I don't, normally, like books where drugs are involved, even tangentially, but when written this well in a style that I admire, I'll put up with it. I love when a whole new world is opened up to me by a writer, especially a writer I've never read before.

But we mustn't forget that this is a book set in and of its time.

It is the kind of thing where, in the end, the bad guys make full confessions and explain everything that needs explaining - nobody does that sort of thing much anymore, but back in the day, bad guys spilled their guts for the edification of the reading audience.

This contrivance is the only weakness (and really, it's not annoying just overly familiar in hindsight) in an otherwise very entertaining book which brings to light, if a shade dramatically I suppose, a bit of the comings and goings of a flying industry still in its infancy. A burgeoning industry in which both male and female pilots were dashing figures whose adventures were followed by the media. A by-gone age where local air shows and races were exciting occurrences and pilots were treated as celebrities.

P.S. There's also a nicely done and totally unexpected development in the very end which left me smiling.

Luckily and surprisingly, my library had a copy of this book, but if your library is not as accommodating, you can certainly find copies of DEATH OF AN AIRMAN online. I'm currently looking for used copies of the rest of the British Crime Library Classics titles.

Since it's Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book day, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's website, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Review: THE QUESTION OF THE UNFAMILIAR HUSBAND by E.J. Copperman aka Jeff Cohen

I'm a big fan of Jeff Cohen's work all the way back to 2002 and his hilarious Aaron Tucker mysteries set in New Jersey. I love to laugh while reading and Jeff Cohen makes me laugh.

An aside: Lately I've been reading up a storm and several of the books will be reviewed as the days go by primarily because I've loved almost all of them and I want to share my enthusiasm while it lasts. Last few weeks, I've needed cheering up and happily, most of the books that have come my way have done their bit to enliven my mood one way or another.

Back to the topic:

THE QUESTION OF THE UNFAMILIAR HUSBAND is another humorous mystery - second in a captivating new series by Jeff Cohen aka E.J. Copperman - featuring a likable hero who happens to have Asperger's Syndrome and thus, the books' sub-title: 'An Asperger's Mystery'. (In reality, Jeff has a son with Asperger's and is the author of  'The Asperger Parent: How to Raise a Child with Asperger's and Maintain Your Sense of Humor'.)

Samuel Hoenig's business, Questions Answered, operates out of an ex-pizza joint in a NJ strip mall where Samuel (never call him Sam) answers questions put to him by clients who don't have the time or the energy or the know-how to find things out themselves. Yeah, it sounds like a private detective thing, but it sort of, kind of, isn't. Samuel is only interested in the answer to a specific question - if along the way he happens to unmask a killer or two, well that's almost beside the point. Samuel is not a savant, but he does have a way with details that might elude others. He is never remotely apologetic about his Asperger's, even when his linear thinking hampers communication but is self-aware enough to know that his lack of empathy might occasionally be a social problem.

That's where Janet Washburn comes into the picture. She is the young woman Samuel had earlier hired (in the first book) as an associate, who has since declined further employment with Questions Answered. Why? Well, because her husband is not happy about the more dangerous aspects of working for Samuel - in the first book there was that nasty incident of the missing head.

Too bad. Since the two worked fine as a team and Samuel likes to turn to Janet for insight into the often mysterious workings of things some of us might take for granted, like marriage and relationships and the proper meaning of chit-chat and metaphor.

However, to keep hubby happy, Janet has refused to return to her job.

When Samuel's newest client comes in one day and poses the question, "Who is the man in my bed who calls himself my husband?"  Samuel realizes he will need Janet's help again.

The mysteries of marriage - Samuel hasn't a clue. Again he tries to get Janet to join the Questions Answered team which consists of Samuel and occasionally, Samuel's mom. Again she refuses, but we sense she's weakening.

Especially when the latest 'question' put to Samuel takes a sudden ominous turn: the client's husband (?) is found dead on the floor of the Questions Answered office/ex-pizza joint and naturally, the police are suspicious.

Another unconventional mystery (with a touch of the absurd - a Jeff Cohen specialty) featuring characters you can't help but like and want to root for and that's half the battle right there. I hope there will be many more installments in this series and oh by the way, the books themselves are nicely done (with wonderful covers) in trade paperback style which is my preferred paperback size for reading comfortably in bed.

A terrific series, Jeff...uh, E.J. Oh, whoever. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Few Favorite HALLOWEEN Movies

CAT PEOPLE (1942) starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph and Jack Holt.

THE UNINVITED (1944) starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Gail Russell, Cornelia Otis Skinner and Alan Napier.

THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940) starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Willie Best, Richard Carlson and Anthony Quinn.

THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Vincent Price, Nan Grey, John Sutton and Cecil Kellaway.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill and Josephine Hutchinson.

THE WOLF MAN (1941) starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles and Maria Ouspenskaya.

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN(1948) starring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange and Lenore Aubert.

THE THING From Another World (1951) starring: Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, Margaret Sheridan, Douglas Spencer, Dewey Martin and James Arness.

THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939) starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Gale Sondergaard, Elizabeth Patterson, John Beal, Douglas Montgomery and George Zucco.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944) starring Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, Jack Carson, Edward Everett Horton and James Gleason. (This is the Italian poster since all the other posters online are pretty bad.)

I watch two or three or more of these favorites every year around this time and truth be told, other times as well. Far as I'm concerned there's never a bad time to watch a creepy classic. (Though falling leaves and howling wind do add a bit of atmosphere.) Nothing in color, you'll notice. No ugly 'real-life' frights. No gruesome blood-letting in vivid Technicolor for me. Sorry. I'm fairly specific when it comes to my chills and thrills preferences: I prefer my chills in black and white. I also like some humor thrown into the mix whenever possible. I have a very low thresh hold for blood and guts and nightmare stuff.

The most 'modern' film in the post is 1951's THE THING. Obviously I'm living in the past. And why not? It's very comfortable there.

Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, hosts Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, Television and/or Other Audio-Visuals, so don't forget to check in to see what what's today.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday Forgotten Book: THE MESSAGE OF THE MUTE DOG (1942) by Charlotte Murray Russell

Rue Morgue 2001 edition

Oh how I wish authors (then and now) would get it into their heads that having three names makes for confusion on the part of the reading public – namely me.

Except for Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe and maybe one or two others, it’s always best to simplify. Two names were good enough for the likes of Jane Austen and Rex Stout and for goodness’ sake, William Shakespeare.

Simplify. Simplify. Otherwise risk being forgotten or confused in the stacks with someone else or forever having to be looked up since most three name appellations do not slip easily off the tongue or lodge comfortably in memory.

But I digress.

In THE MESSAGE OF THE MUTE DOG, a pleasant if slightly long-winded whodunit set during WWII (raging in Europe) we are introduced to the usual coterie of small town America types, among whose ranks lurks a murderer and saboteur. In fact, if not for the cunningly suspicious mind of busybody spinster detective, Jane Amanda Edwards (three names!), all might have been lost and the blueprint for a newfangled military widget handed over to the Nazis.

Jane Amanda Edwards is your typically officious, eccentric type – a shrewd middle-aged spinster burdened with a brother and sister of the sort perpetually stumbling into trouble and interfering with Jane's detecting activities. Brother Albert is actually a fun character – totally idiotic, but engaging in the sort of bumptious way that old character actors in movies of that era often were. (He reminds me of the loony-toony trumpet playing brother in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE).  The sister, Annie, is exasperating but what the heck, she’s Jane Amanda Edwards’ burden. I could see a Billie Burke type in a movie version which might give flibbertigibbet Annie an added charm missing from the book character.

But don’t get me started on Theresa, the disagreeable Edwards family cook. Jeez. The only reason anyone puts up with her is because she is such a darned fine cook. (There are recipes in the book.) I’ve discovered that in the good old days of mystery, cooks often got away with all sorts of obnoxiousness because of their culinary skills. Yeah, I guess a good cook is a good cook and lots will be forgiven in pursuit of a happy stomach.

Jane and her family are basically caricatures but so vividly sketched by the author that it’s very easy to visualize them, and fortunately their antics and much of the dialogue is amusing when not downright funny. These are people that in real life would drive you batty, but in a whodunit of this type, they are welcome and comfortably familiar.

When the owner of the local manufacturing plant (involved in the war effort) is killed in his office and a fire started to try and cover up the crime, it’s up to Jane Amanda Edwards to step in and solve the mystery most especially since the local constabulary is hapless and clueless against suspected saboteur activity.

As she appears to be the only person in town with any brains, Jane picks up on most of the clues overlooked by the cops and is soon hot on the trail of a murderer. Jane is apt at putting two and two together, hording nuggets of relevant information and generally making a nuisance of herself, and last, but certainly not least, she apparently has a knack for breaking secret codes. The cops are laughably absurd, but they would have to be.

It's not just the cops who are laughably absurd, there are several funny incidents including one that borders on farce when in the dark of night, Jane and her brother and sister show up (unbeknownst to each other) to hunt for clues in a small house trailer belonging to a suspect and wind up hooked to a car, haplessly tugged along by a driver who has no idea the trailer is occupied.

The odd thing is that everyone in town knows who Jane is and what she's up to (more or less) and yet she continues to get away with it and continues to make George Hammond, the local cop in charge, look like a fool as she almost single-handedly takes over the investigation. He, in turn, is very fond of sitting down at Jane's dinner table and feasting on Teresa's culinary creations so perhaps there is method to his madness.

A question: how is a guy with the peculiar name of Jappy Carillo to be taken seriously as a person of Austrian nationality? It occurs to me that the author may not have realized that Carillo is not, necessarily, a Germanic name. But maybe I'm being too picky.

At any rate, this is a fine, fun tale to be read (in this instance, re-read) on a crisp Autumn night – I seem to be saying that a lot lately, but this is my favorite reading weather and lately I’ve been reading up a storm.

If you look at the Recently Finished books list and/or the books read in 2015 column on the left hand side of my blog, you'll see that I tell no lies. I have been reading up a storm. Lots of good books I hope to be talking about over the next couple of weeks or so.

Charlotte Mary Russell (despite the three names) wrote at least 16 books that I'm aware of - see title list at goodreads here - but I've never come across any (besides THE MESSAGE OF THE MUTE DOG). However, I remain hopeful. I'm big on plucky spinster detectives taking care of business.

And since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday Forgotten Book: THE UNFINISHED CLUE (1934) by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is best known for her sparkling Regency romances which are read, reread and loved by millions - myself included - but she also wrote several mysteries which (in my view) rival Agatha Christie and the rest of the Golden Agers. The only problem is that she didn't write enough of them.

However, those that exist are a delight if you, like me, love a good cozy British mystery with a dastardly murder (usually of the wealthy head of the family whose money everyone covets) and a cast of the usual country house suspects.

Over the years I've read all the Heyer Regencies and all the mysteries and lately I've been listening to both on audio and enjoying them again as if for the first time. (One good thing to be said for faulty old lady memory.)

My enjoyment of THE UNFINISHED CLUE is due, of course, to the terrific writing of Heyer, but also to the wonderful reading performance by Clifford Norgate - most especially in his incarnation of Lola, the Mexican gold digger fiancee of the family's young and extraordinarily foolish scion. But where would country house mysteries be without one or two foolish youths?

Though Heyer didn't infuse her mysteries with the same exorbitance of wit and lighthearted humor that help make her Regencies so memorable, the books do have their own individual charm - but first and foremost, they are whodunits.

This time out, it is General Sir Arthur Billington-Smith, an odious man whom no one loves, who will be murdered in his own study in his own home over a country house weekend. The victim will, of course be surrounded by his nearest and dearest, none of whom are especially grieved by the foul deed. The set-up to the murder (by stabbing) is a series of scenes in which the General's beastly behavior is highlighted as is the anguished cringing of family and 'friends'.

Among the suspects are Billington-Smith's young, rather wimpy, long-suffering wife, Fay, and the stalwart, long-suffering man who worships her from afar, longing for a stealthy elopement to the Continent.

The wife's sister, Dinah, who has dropped in for moral support. Of the two, she is the one with gumption and pluck, two attributes Fay lacks in abundance.

The aforementioned feather-brained young scion who has shown up with a gold-digging cabaret dancer in tow planning to announce their forthcoming marriage convinced that all his father has to do is take one look at his intended and he will be charmed into submission.

An impecunious married couple who have been invited to stay primarily because the General has the hots for the wife who, in turn, hopes to cadge some money off the old geezer.

An enigmatic widow, old friend of the old geezer who knew him when and seems to be the only one whom the General will listen to.

And, of course, the vicar and his wife, both of whom are simply shocked, shocked at all the goings on.

Once the murderous deed is done, in will step the tenacious (and attractively debonair) detective, Inspector Harding, to solve the crime. But besides digging up clues and putting two and two together, the Inspector will find himself rather more involved with one of the suspects than he'd bargained for.

The whole thing is a frothy (if murder can be said to be 'frothy') confection, an old fashioned mystery which is the perfect antidote to chilly autumn nights spent (in my case) wearing flannels and cozying up with a nice cup of tea and a couple of ginger cookies.

As I mentioned, I'm enamored of the audio version of THE UNFINISHED CLUE and delighted that most of Heyer's mysteries seem to be available as audiobooks. They are just so much fun to listen to. But I'm not disparaging the printed versions at all. They too are are perfect in their own way. Either/or, you can't go wrong if cozy Golden Age country house murders are your cup of tea.

Link here for a list of all of Georgette Heyer's mysteries. 

And since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My FAVORITE Mystery Book Series

Vanessa Bell - source

The idea for my list sprang from a post over at Fred's Place. His list inspired mine. Thanks again, Fred. As you might expect I was a bit more garrulous when composing my own favorites.

I tried for some order, but I'm not overly strict about these things - so without further fuss, are my 10, no my 15, okay make it my 20 Favorite Book Series:


Lately I listen to the audio versions and find Simon Vance's vocal interpretations most satisfactory. What in literature is more thrilling than: "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!" ? Not much.

2) SHERLOCK HOLMES and MARY RUSSELL in the series of adventures by Laurie R. King. My favorites: THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE, O JERUSALEM, THE MOOR and JUSTICE HALL.  King takes Holmes into the realm of flesh and blood man and invents a woman just quirky and brilliant enough (equally brilliant which takes a bit of daring) to get and keep his attention.

The age difference between them might raise an eyebrow or two, but I quickly got used to it - I could see how Russell might be attracted to the much older Holmes, especially since she would never have appreciated someone who would have expected her to behave like other women. No, Russell is Jewish (though non-practicing), a brilliant scholar and problem solver, not to mention, a specialist in Middle Eastern history. She is also not averse to masquerading as male when the occasion calls for it.

3) The AMELIA PEABODY series by Elizabeth Peters, aka Dr. Barbara Mertz, Egyptologist and mystery author. My favorites in this series set in the late 19th, early 20th century and in which the beginning four books must be read in order: CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK, THE CURSE OF THE PHARAOHS, THE MUMMY CASE, LION IN THE VALLEY, THE DEEDS OF THE DISTURBER, THE HIPPOPOTAMUS POOL, THE SNAKE, THE CROCODILE and the DOG, A RIVER IN THE SKY.

This is a delightful historical series set in the early days of Victorian style archaeology, it is full of outrageous good humor, satirical wit, mysterious doings in Egypt and elsewhere and enormously engaging characters. Amelia Peabody and her crazed (in a good way) archaeologist hubby, Radcliffe Emerson are the king and queen of wildly eccentric crime-fighting Egyptologists.

P.S. I was never a big fan of Nefret, so the books in which she is featured are not among my favorites, though I read them all. However I may be in the minority so don't let me sway you from reading the second half of the series. Any Amelia Peabody is better than no Amelia Peabody.

4) (Vintage)The HERCULE POIROT series by Agatha Christie. I fell in love with the 'little' Belgian detective with the charming manners and luxuriant mustache when I was a kid and never fell out. My favorites: THE ABC MURDERS, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, CARDS ON THE TABLE, CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS, ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE, EVIL UNDER THE SUN, MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD, subject to change as I reread the books year after year.

5) (Vintage)The JANE MARPLE series by Agatha Christie. "There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands." My favorites: A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY, A POCKET FULL OF RYE, 4:50 FROM PADDINGTON, A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY, also subject to change as I reread the books year after year.

6) (Vintage)The NERO WOLFE series by Rex Stout. My favorites: MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD (the Wolfe book I reread most), MURDER BY THE BOOK, PLOT IT YOURSELF, OVER MY DEAD BODY, THE RUBBER BAND, THE DOORBELL RANG, THE SILENT SPEAKER and BEFORE MIDNIGHT. Of course I reread all the others as well, including the short stories, but I have to stop somewhere. Reading and rereading the Wolfe books is almost the same as a journey back in time to Manhattan when the city was fun and familiar and the comfortable brownstone on West 35th Street seemed the perfect place to live.

7) The ELVIS COLE and JOE PIKE series by Robert Crais. My favorites: LULLABY TOWN, FREE FALL, VOODOO RIVER, INDIGO SLAM, L.A. REQUIEM, THE WATCHMAN and THE SENTRY. The books are all about the close friendship between two men working together, Elvis Cole, a wisenheimer private detective and his partner, the taciturn Joe Pike, an ex-cop turned mercenary.The strength of this friendship is what, for me, holds the books together. These two men are just so vividly etched in my imagination.

There's lots of snappy dialogue and humor, not to mention, heinous crimes and vile bad guys. The series is set in L.A. though occasionally we venture to the east coast and even down south to Louisiana.

This is one of the few series set in this country that I read religiously and love enormously. One of the few series in which bits of dialogue and action remain in my mind, year after year, never quite disappearing.

8) (Vintage)The CHIEF INSPECTOR JOHN APPLEBY series by Michael Innes. My favorites: THE SECRET VANGUARD (The Appleby book I reread most.), OPERATION PAX, SHEIKS AND ADDERS, APPLEBY'S END, THE AWKWARD LIE (though in this one it's Appleby's son who takes the lead), DEATH ON A QUIET DAY, THE CRABTREE AFFAIR, and THE OPEN HOUSE, interspersed with two of my very favorite Innes stand-alones: THE JOURNEYING BOY and FROM LONDON FAR. Currently I'm still attempting to read all the Appleby books I can find. Just discovered APPLEBY'S ANSWER hidden away on one of my shelves - hooray!

This is a series steeped in literary quotations and allusions (everyone in these books is apparently well and classically read) so the new reader must get used to that. Truth be known, I often don't know exactly what the heck Appleby is alluding to but that never seems to dampen my enthusiasm. I'm mad for these whodunits especially when they are laced with Innes' impish phantasmagoria of strange characters and weird happenings.

9) The CHIEF INSPECTOR RICHARD JURY series by Martha Grimes. My favorites: THE OLD SILENT, THE MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF, THE LAMORNA WINK, THE STARGAZEY, THE OLD WINE SHADES, I AM THE ONLY RUNNING FOOTMAN, THE ANODYNE NECKLACE, THE DIRTY DUCK, VERTIGO 42, etc. These books are a rather odd combo of contemporary (and often brutal) mystery and old fashioned cozy - never strictly one or the other. That, on first reading, can be hard to get used to since, to my mind, no other writer does this sort of thing in quite the same way. The stories are peopled with decidedly quirky customers and though the crimes committed are often horrible, strangely enough there are occasional laugh out loud moments betwixt and between. It can make for an uneasy experience.

But there is a surreal quality to these books which fascinates me and there is nothing I like more than getting my hands on the latest Jury book. Obviously up to you if you want to put up with this odd juxtaposition.

In fact, for a modern day cop, Jury and his non-cop cohort Melrose Plant, a filthy rich upper class type (he drives both a Bentley and a Rolls, though not at the same time), are given to flights of reminiscent fancies which somehow in someway are meant to help solve the mystery - or maybe not. This is not like any other mystery series out there, occasionally, a dog or a cat take center stage so that takes getting used to as well. I've read every book so I can hardly be expected to be rational about Jury, a character I am crazy about. And let's not forget that it was a small dog that saved Jury's life once when all seemed lost and I was about to tear my hair out. I can say no more.

10) (Vintage) The JANE and DAGOBERT BROWN series by Delano Ames. My favorites: CORPSE DIPLOMATIQUE, MURDER MAESTRO PLEASE, FOR OLD CRIME'S SAKE and DEATH OF A FELLOW TRAVELER. I'm still trying to track down other Dagobert Brown mysteries, but some titles tend to be rather pricey. I dream of a day when they will all be re-issued. Jane and Dagobert Brown (don't you love that name?) are a young English couple who always seem to stumble across murder every time they go off on holiday, though occasionally the murders are closer to home.

Jane Brown is a struggling author and her hubby Dagobert is fond of not looking for work and having no fixed source of income except for his wife and some vague monthly stipend. Fun series. I love the few books I've read so far. Too damn bad that they are so hard to track down. P.S. This would make a terrific television series - pay attention Masterpiece Mystery!

11) The BRYANT AND MAY 'PECULIAR CRIMES' UNIT series by Christopher Fowler. My favorites: FULL DARK HOUSE, BRYANT AND MAY OFF THE RAILS, THE BLEEDING HEART, THE INVISIBLE CODE, BRYANT AND MAY ON THE LOOSE, THE TEN SECOND STAIRCASE, etc. In fact, I loved them all. (And I still haven't gotten to the graphic comics version.) Another unique series (yeah, I use that word a lot, but that's the sort of series I like best), set in modern day London but which has the feel of a much earlier time.

The two chief detectives of the peculiarly named Peculiar Crimes Unit are elderly (Bryant is VERY elderly and curmudgeonly and May is three years younger and not so impossible), egregiously eccentric and perfectly at home in the sort of weird police unit no one is comfortable admitting exists. You will be required to have a willing suspension of disbelief all the while reading these books, but that's part of the fun. Yes, the books are peculiar, but you knew that going in.

I began rereading THE TEN SECOND STAIRCASE last night and was soon laughing out loud. Couldn't help myself.

"Arthur Bryant took a deep breath and folded his notes back into his jacket. 'I see nothing wrong with speaking my mind. After all, it is a special occasion.' He fixed his DS with a beady, unforgiving eye. 'I rarely get invited to make speeches. People always think I'm going to be insulting. I've never upset anyone before.'

'Perhaps I could remind you of the mayor's banquet at Mansion House? You told the assembly he had herpes.'

'I said he had a hairpiece. It was a misquote.'

Not that the series is lighthearted and full of foolish fun, not at all. Fowler writes about a London that has changed enormously and not for the better. But there are moments in between the mayhem. And after all, the office cat is named Crippen.

12) The JACK REACHER series by Lee Child. My favorites: WITHOUT FAIL, PERSUADER, ONE SHOT, 61 HOURS and WORTH DYING FOR. Haven't read the very latest one, MAKE ME, but am on the reserve list at the library. This is one of the very few thriller series I read and here's the reason why: ex-Army military cop, Jack Reacher. He is the ultimate competent man, a modern day itinerant knight in shining armor who steps in when things need saving and bad guys need putting down. I like the way we're invited into Reacher's analytical thought processes and the quietly self-assured way he goes about his business. Lots of dead bodies in his wake, but hey, you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Also, which is nice, there's very little if any unnecessary foul language. At least on Reacher's part.

13) The WESTERMAN and CROWTHER series by Imogen Robertson. My favorites: INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS, ANATOMY OF MURDER, CIRCLE OF SHADOWS. Haven't read the latest, THEFT OF LIFE. Hard to get series since her books seem not to be published in the USA. Very strange since they are absolutely brilliant English historical mysteries (set in the 18th century). And you know how much we love our Brit mysteries here in this country.

I am devilishly picky about 'historicals' and these are very definitely top of the trees. Gabriel Crowther is a mysterious 'anatomist' who works with Mrs. Harriet Westerman, an eccentric (meaning independent in thought and deed in a time when most society women weren't), inquisitive woman/mother/wife/adventurer. I recommend this series very highly - if you can find it.

14) (Vintage) The RODERICK ALLEYN series by Ngaio Marsh. My favorites: DEATH IN A WHITE TIE, ARTISTS IN CRIME,  DEATH AT THE BAR, DEATH OF A PEER aka SURFEIT OF LAMPREYS, DIED IN THE WOOL, SINGING IN THE SHROUDS, SPINSTERS IN JEOPARDY, A CLUTCH OF CONSTABLES and DEATH AT THE DOLPHIN aka KILLER DOLPHIN. Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn is the handsomest cop in the C.I.D. He is also an elegant gentleman (his brother has a title or some cushy government job or both - can't remember), but best of all, he is a finely-tuned detective. As the series progresses, he will meet and fall in love with his future wife, painter Agatha Troy (whom he calls 'Troy'). But that won't hamper Alleyn's crime solving career in any way.

Golden Age author Marsh was also a theater producer and playwright (in New Zealand) so several of the Alleyn tales are set in a milieu she knew very well and many more are set in the upper-crust and murderous English countryside we all love.

15) The FRED TAYLOR series by Nicholas Kilmer. My favorites: HARMONY IN FLESH AND BLACK, MAN WITH A SQUIRREL, DIRTY LINEN and A BUTTERFLY IN FLAME. An art mystery series set in and around Boston's exclusive Beacon Hill. Fred Taylor is an ex-Vietnam vet who works for the very eccentric art collector Clayton Reed, a man paranoid about his privacy and art collecting proclivities.
Though Fred is thuggish in appearance, he is an art aficionado whose girlfriend is a librarian. And when not out solving crimes and running down lost art treasures, Fred checks in at the home he keeps for troubled veterans.

The author of this series is an art historian and painter so there's lots of interesting art stuff woven throughout the tales. Who knew the cultured world of art was rife with such skulduggery?

16) The JONATHAN ARGYLL series by Iain Pears. My favorites: THE RAPHAEL AFFAIR, THE TITIAN COMMITTEE,  THE LAST JUDGEMENT, GIOTTO'S HAND...actually, all the books in the series are pretty much favorites - there are only seven. This is another art series that I recommend highly especially if you, like me, love arcane art history mixed in with your murder and mayhem. Jonathan Argyll is a lovable if hapless English art historian who lives and works in Rome and I guess I'm a sucker for 'hapless English types' - most especially if they have brains and a love of Renaissance art.

When a painting goes missing or a collector or museum mucky-muck is murdered, Argyll is often to be seen cahooting with the Italian National Art Theft Squad. I love this series and wish there had been many more books.

17) The TOBY PETERS series by Stuart Kaminsky. My favorites: MILDRED PIERCED, BULLET FOR A STAR, THE HOWARD HUGHES AFFAIR, HIGH MIDNIGHT, HE DONE HER WRONG, THE FALA FACTOR, SMART MOVES, THE MELTING CLOCK, THE DEVIL MET A LADY, etc. A series set in Hollywood in the late thirties and forties, chock full of eccentric characters, famous actors and actresses and often absurdly funny plot machinations. Toby's a noir-ish type (he wears a fedora) who also happens to be a bit of a schlemiel - a guy who never quite grew up and shuns adult responsibility. Yet somehow, he always manages to solve the mystery, usually with the aid of his three quirky friends: a deranged dentist, a wrestler turned poet, and a Swiss dwarf.

Stuart Kaminsky was a prolific author who wrote several excellent series, but Toby is my favorite of them all.

18) The Detective Inspector Bill Slider series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. My favorites: ORCHESTRATED DEATH, DEATH WATCH, GRAVE MUSIC, BLOOD LINES, KILLING TIME, SHALLOW GRAVE. A contemporary British police procedural which features a bunch of mostly sympathetic (though occasionally disgruntled) London cops whom we get to know and mostly like, from book to book (which is why the series should be read in order). Though it is Bill Slider's personal life which is most often in the forefront - when the unit isn't chasing down murderers that is. While serious about his job, Detective Inspector Bill Slider is still an engaging and likable character, not at all in the bullying, irascible mold of most modern day cops, which is one of the main reasons I like him and this series so much - especially the earlier books.

19) The JANE WHITEFIELD series by Thomas Perry. My favorites: DANCE FOR THE DEAD, SHADOW WOMAN, THE FACE-CHANGERS and BLOOD MONEY. Jane Whitefield is an Onondaga Indian (her mother was white, her father Native American) who lives in upstate New York. Her profession is uniquely her own and has made her many deadly enemies - if only they knew where to look for her. Jane is a self-described 'guide'. She guides people in danger into new lives under new identities and she is very good at what she does. Unfortunately, with the onset of technology as it is today, the work is becoming harder and harder and Jane has mostly given it up, knowing that she is that much closer to being found out every time she undertakes a new mission.

Always cognizant of her roots and the legends of her tribe, Jane is one of the more intriguing heroines in modern day thriller lit.

20) The CORMORAN STRIKE series by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). My favorites: THE CUCKOO'S CALLING and THE SILKWORM. Waiting for CAREER OF EVIL. The series is only three books along but I am already smitten and waiting breathlessly for the latest: CAREER OF EVIL. Another series set in contemporary London, so obviously I must be fond of books with an English setting. Right. You think?

I've left off several other series I read all the time because I have to end this list at some point. But you all know I read the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, and the Spenser books by Robert B. Parker and the Gideon Oliver books by Aaron Elkins and the Chet and Bernie books by Spencer Quinn and the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley and the William Monk and the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt books by Anne Perry and the Armand Gamache books by Louise Penny and the Sean Drummond books by Brian Haig and...well, see what I mean?