Excellent Intentions
October 7th, 2018 by diane92345

Herbert Cargate is a very unpleasant man. He is also soon to be poisoned on a train in the English countryside in Excellent Intentions.

Starting a murder case at the end, in the courtroom trying to prove a mysterious person’s guilt, is an unusual plot structure. Published in 1938, fifteen years before Agatha Christie’s more famous courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution, Excellent Intentions also uses a courtroom setting to obscure the face of a murderer. While I enjoyed the change, it did make playing armchair detective much more difficult. The point of view makes quick jumps between people and time periods. The author uses excessive and mostly meaningless detail as a red herring. The effect is rather like jet lag. Eventually, you are resigned to it and are just reading to find out whodunnit.

Excellent Intentions is an interesting golden-age British curiosity. However, it doesn’t work very well as a mystery. Therefore, it is recommended only for readers interested in the historical underpinnings of mysteries. It would be an unusual structure for a modern mystery writer to use and improve upon. However, even with the unexpected twist at the end, I can’t recommend it to regular mystery readers. To those people, I recommend the much better example of the author’s work, Murder of my Aunt. Excellent Intentions is rated a scant 3 stars.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Malice Aforethought
September 15th, 2018 by diane92345

Malice Aforethought is a great British golden-age mystery with a killer twist.

Mrs. Julia Bickleigh was born into wealth and minor aristocracy. When her father blew the family fortunes before his death, Julia was forced to marry a common doctor. She never let her husband, Dr. Edmund Bickleigh, forget he was a worm well below her status.

“Dr. Bickleigh’s reactions to his wormhood were perfectly normal. He accepted it as one accepts a scar on the face. It was a pity, but there it was and it could not be helped.”

One day, the worm turned and the doctor began plotting his wife’s murder. He already had her replacement in mind, the extremely rich Miss Madeleine Cranmere. But first he must rid himself of his mistress.

Malice Aforethought was originally published in England in 1931. It had innovative plotting for its day with the whodunnit resolved on the first page leaving only the how to the rest of the book. After watching years of Columbo, the plot device seems rather creaky. However, the powerhouse ending makes up for it. If you like British golden-age mysteries, this is an excellent choice. It is also recommended to fans of Alfred Hitchcock films. 4 stars!

Thanks to Dover Publications and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Murder of my Aunt
September 3rd, 2018 by diane92345

In an unpronouncable town living with a devilishly clever aunt, Edward Powell is convinced his life would improve immeasurably after the “Murder of my Aunt”.

Edward decides to play a battle of wits to the death with his Aunt Mildred. However, Edward is playing with only half a deck, if you know what I mean.

Edward hates Wales, hates the countryside but hates his aunt most of all. His dream is to write light poetry, which he expects no one will read, while living in Paris or Rome. To reach his goal, Edward only has to murder Aunt Mildred and not get caught. Easy, right? He daydreams constantly about how to do it: leave an obstacle in the road for his aunt to crash into, set her car on fire while she is already dead within it, or use an electrical device to set her car’s fuel tank aflame. He settles on tampering with the car’s steering and brakes in the hope that Aunt Mildred will careen off the mountainous road near their home. To ensure the accident occurs on the steepest part of the road, Edward plots how to have his beloved dog, So-so, cross the road in front of his aunt at the highest point. Of course, his plan goes hilariously awry.

Watching hapless Edward try and kill his much smarter aunt is laugh-out-loud funny. Any fans of Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder gang will certainly see parallels between Murder of My Aunt and the Hot Rock. Literally everything that could go wrong does.

Watching pretentious Edward make mistake after mistake is fun. Murder of My Aunt was originally published in 1934. It is a great choice for British golden age mystery fans who want a lighter look at murder. It would also be a good choice for Stephanie Plum devotees because it has the same madcap seat-of-your-pants feeling. 4 stars!

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Weekend at Thrackley
August 8th, 2018 by diane92345

Jim Henderson, unemployed for three years since WWI, gets an invitation from a friend of his father for a free Weekend at Thrackley. The mysterious owner, Edwin Carson, has something rather different planned than a typical country house weekend.

The residents are Mr. Carson’s daughter, Mary; his butler, Jacobson; and four other burly male servants. The guests are Freddie, Jim’s rich club mate; Lady Stone, a wealthy socialite; Raoul, a beautiful female entertainer; and finally poor—but still maintaining the facade—twins, Marilyn and Henry.

Weekend at Thrackley is a British debut mystery originally published in 1934. At the time, it was a best seller. It hasn’t held up as well as the Christie canon unfortunately. There are many long and irrelevant descriptions of people, places and bridge games that can safely be skimmed with no impact to the main plot. The biggest issue is that the plot itself has been remade a countless number of times since 1934. Think of the movies Clue and Murder by Death without the humor. Overall, even though I adore British golden age mysteries, I can’t recommend Weekend at Thrackley. 2 stars.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Keep It Quiet
June 27th, 2018 by diane92345

Keep It Quiet is a witty British golden age mystery chock full of curmudgeons complaining about minor issues while members are being killed in their club’s easy chairs.

The chef at a London’s men’s club may have accidentally poisoned a member to death. The club’s secretary, Ford, wants to Keep It Quiet to avoid bad publicity. He enlists the help of a member, Dr. Anstruther, to put the cause of death as heart failure. Thus begins a comic farce of blackmail, threats and other crimes.

This book is hilarious! I enjoyed the hunt for the blackmailer. Despite guessing basically everyone in the book at various times, I still failed to guess correctly by the end.

Overall, highly recommended to armchair detectives and anyone looking for a droll golden age mystery. 4 stars!

Thanks to the publisher, Ipso now Agora Books, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Bats in the Belfry
May 3rd, 2018 by diane92345

Characterization is sacrificed for plot in Bats in the Belfry.

There are a multitude of characters in Bats in the Belfry. Most are only vaguely fleshed out.  We first meet the main players at a funeral where they begin to discuss how they would hide a dead body.  Old Agatha Christie paperbacks always included a cast of characters at the beginning of the book.  However, this book doesn’t have one so here is my own:

  • Bruce Attleton, former bestselling author but now nearly destitute
  • Sybilla Attleton, wife of Bruce, famous actress and family breadwinner
  • Elizabeth Leigh, Bruce’s ward
  • Debrette, a mysterious foreigner who wants to speak desperately to Bruce
  • Thomas Burroughs, rich family friend perhaps too interested in Sybilla
  • Neil Rockingham, another family friend who is worried about Bruce’s reaction to Debrette
  • Robert Grenville, hopeful suitor of Elizabeth who is willing to check into Debrette for Neil

The plot has so many twists that admittedly I gave up trying to decipher the victim much less the murderer by the mid-point. If you wait until the end, the murderer is easily determined by seeing who has not either been killed or at least wounded yet.

Written in 1937, the convoluted plot in Bats in the Belfry holds up well for modern audiences. The best part was some of the 30s slang like ker-wite, bally-nix and prosy.  I was surprised that most of the words were found by my Kindle simply by clicking on the word so I would recommend reading this book on a Kindle just so you aren’t constantly looking up words on your phone. I was also surprised by the use of nouns for verbs (that practice that drives me crazy now) like corpsed for killed. The reverse was also true. For example, bury-ee is used for corpse.

Bats in the Belfry was a good, not great, golden-age British mystery. It is recommended for those readers that look more for plot than characterization in their fiction.  3 stars.

Thanks to the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Charity Ends at Home
April 20th, 2018 by diane92345

Fifth in the Flaxborough Mystery series, Charity Ends at Home is another late Golden Age small English village cozy.

The village coroner, constable and editor of the local paper each receive an identical unsigned note stating that the writer is fearful of being murdered. The note references a photo of the writer but the photo is not included in any of the notes.

The plot and characters within Charity Ends at Home are unique. The mystery is great and unusual. This 20th century police procedural is worth 4 stars.

Thanks to Farrago and NetGalley for a copy. #FrugalFriday Short Review

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Seven Dead
February 9th, 2018 by diane92345

Seven Dead has a great premise that is not followed by a good story.

A burglar finds a supposedly empty house filled with seven emaciated dead bodies. The room the bodies were in was locked from the outside with the window shutters nailed shut. An old cricket ball is found atop a vase. A picture in another room has a gunshot through it. A note is found in one of the dead’s hands implying the deaths were suicides. If so, why were they locked inside the room and by whom?

Seven Dead starts with such an intriguing mystery. Unfortunately, the rest of the plot is a muddled mess. Coincidences pile up faster than bodies. A romance takes up a lot of time without moving the mystery forward. It is obvious who the murderer is from the first quarter of the book. Characters appear to think their remarks are extremely witty but are not to modern readers. There are large sections of dialog in pidgin French that are impossible for most readers to understand. The conclusion, for some reason, is told in exposition by the inspector, which kills any immediacy.

Seven Dead is strongly not recommended. 1 star. Instead read this excellent golden age mystery, Death Makes a Prophet, by the same publisher, or some Agatha Christie.

Thanks to the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Murder has a Motive
January 3rd, 2018 by diane92345

Something wicked this way comes.

Something evil is loose in small British village of Dalmering. A woman is stabbed in a wood right before her wedding. What could be the possible motive for killing someone liked by the entire village? Could the murderer be her last dinner companion with whom she didn’t share romantic feelings? A mysterious stranger seen lurking about the village? Why didn’t her roommate of many years call the police when she failed to return after her dinner?  

The village is putting on an amateur production of a play called Murder has a Motive. Could the murderer be only acting like a concerned friend or neighbor?

Murder has a Motive was written in 1947. It is the first Mordecai Tremaine detective series but second to be republished, after Murder for Christmas (review here). Between the two books, this is clearly the lesser story. Murder for Christmas had a twisty pseudo-Christie plot that this book did not. The ending was not surprising and the clues were too obvious to be missed by most readers. Murder has a Motive is a good, not great, lesser golden age mystery. 3 stars.

Thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, and NetGalley for an advanced review copy.

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Death Makes a Prophet
January 2nd, 2018 by diane92345

Originally published in 1947, Death Makes a Prophet is one golden age mystery that deserves to find a new audience.

The Children of Osiris, or Cooism for short, is a church/cult based on a mishmash of Egyptian gods, astral bodies, meditation and vegetarianism. Its founder, Eustace Mildmann, is the High Prophet. One of Cooism’s highest members, Mrs. Hagge-Smith, donates substantial funds to the church including a 5,000 pound annual stipend to the High Prophet.  However, she is entranced by the dynamic personality of the Prophet-in-Waiting, Peta Penpeti. So rapt that she creates an additional annual stipend of 500 pounds for him. Penpeti and Hagge-Smith plot a coup on Cooism: hoping to overthrow Mildmann if favor of Penpeti. Several church members remain loyal to Mildmann and tell him of the rebellion. Meanwhile, Terrence, Mildmann’s son, is attracted to Mrs. Hagge-Smith’s secretary, Denise, but the romance is thwarted by both his father and Mrs. Hagge-Smith.

Death Makes a Prophet is bursting with plots.  It is one part Preston & Child and two parts Agatha Christie. The plot synopsis above is only from the first 10% of the book. There is a cauldron of attempted murder, mistaken identity, murder, suicide, theft, sex without benefit of marriage, blackmail and more within the storyline. It is genuinely awesome how all of these disparate puzzle pieces magically transform into a clear picture by the end of the book. Mr. Bude was a master at misdirection and it is a treat to read this book. It kept me guessing until the end. However, the book is best read on a Kindle as some of the words may be unfamiliar to modern audiences (e.g. toper, rissoles, abeyance, paucity, surfeit). Some of the phrases also take a little detective work to figure out.

“I’ll cut the cackle and come to the goose, eh?”

seems to mean I’ll get to the point.  Some phrases are rather racist and one contains the n-word so sensitive readers may not enjoy this book. However, for all other mystery lovers this book is highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, and NetGalley for an advanced review copy.

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Murder for Christmas
October 4th, 2017 by diane92345

Splendid British Golden Age murder mystery.

For several years, Benedict Grame, a rich eccentric billionaire, has invited his friends to celebrate a traditional Christmas celebration in his mansion in a remote British village. However, this year he has also invited celebrated amateur detective Mordecai Tramaine. On Christmas Eve, a woman’s scream rends the night.  Santa is found sprawled dead under the Christmas tree.  Will Mordecai be able to assist the local Constable to solve the crime?  What is the meaning of the mysterious footprints to and from the murder scene? Does the secret passage between rooms impact the murder? What secrets are hidden among the guests, residents, or even Benedict himself?

The fun in this novel is trying to determine where all the clues lead.  Some lead to the solution.  Some lead to other activities unrelated to the murder.  Some are pure red herrings.  All are explained by the finale, which is challenging to determine prior to the last ten pages in the book.

This novel, which was previously published in 1949, is the second in the Mordecai Tremaine series of five books. Murder for Christmas can be read without any further exposure to the series. The language is easily understood by modern readers.

This book is highly recommended for fans of Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout and John Dickson Carr.   Anyone who enjoys a good mystery and especially readers who like playing armchair detective will enjoy Murder for Christmas.

Thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, and netgalley for an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review. Murder for Christmas (Mordecai Tremaine Mystery) will be published on October 10, 2017.

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