The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith (1964)

Patricia Highsmith Two Faces of January 01

3 Stars(3/10 stars)

“I don’t want to be challenged on my morals by a murderer. I don’t like being married to a murderer, if you want to know the truth.”

The Minotaur of Greek mythology was half-man, half-monster, condemned to wander in a maze, devouring any human he encountered. The three central characters of Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January look like ordinary tourists enjoying a vacation in Greece. But they are entering a labyrinth of crime and betrayal that will lead them to places they never imagined.

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The Balcony by Dorothy Cameron Disney (1940)

Dorothy Cameron Disney The Balcony

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“I used to think how curious it was that Father should spend his youth to free the slaves, and then employ his maturity to enslave his children.”

It’s supposed to be a heartwarming family Thanksgiving for the Hieronomos, the last one in their ancestral home. After the recent death of her father, Anne is especially excited to meet her relatives for the first time.  Then iron-willed Aunt Amanda turns up dead in Anne’s bedroom. Anne soon realizes how little she knows about these strangers who share her blood.

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Road to Folly by Leslie Ford (1940)

Leslie Ford Road to Folly 01

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“I’m going to get even with all these people,” she said quietly. “So that you won’t even find a daisy where they’ve been.”

“If there’s anything I can do to stop you, let me know, won’t you?” I asked.

“Nobody can stop me, darling. I’ve found my life’s work.”

Folly is an island just south of Charleston and the Ashley River plantations where Road to Folly takes place. Folly is also a foolish mistake, and all the characters are rushing headlong down that road.

When spoiled heiress Phyllis Lattimer married gentleman farmer Rusty, she expected more of a gentleman and less of a farmer. With her third marriage on the rocks, Phyllis summons her friend Diane Baker to help her through the crisis.

It’s odd what Charleston society will and won’t talk about. Everyone knows that Rusty is in love with Jennifer Reid, that Jennifer has been going around with Phyllis’s ex-husband Bradley Porter, and that Jennifer’s brother killed their father all those years ago. Yet no one discusses these things openly, until Phyllis tears through their lives on a mission of vengeance.

Everyone also knows that there is no divorce in the state, repeatedly telling Diane, “Death is the only release from marriage in South Carolina.” And they’re dead right.

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The Cat Screams by Todd Downing (1934)

Archie with The Cat Screams

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“There is something evil in too much beauty…”

Americans are dying in Taxco, Mexico. The expat community of this charming artists’ retreat has been rocked by a series of suicides and unexplained deaths. Tourism is down, thanks to a scaremongering article in “a smart New York weekly,” but Hugh Rennert sees no reason to avoid his favorite vacation spot.

On the trip down, he discusses the magazine article with a fellow train passenger, an agitated young man named Stephen Riddle. The article also speculates about Broadway actress Gwendolyn Noon, who abruptly retired from the stage to marry a wealthy man. Then, just as abruptly, she moved to Taxco—the engagement seems to be off. The author, Donald Shaul, hints darkly about Gwendolyn’s life in Mexico. No points for guessing that Riddle is Gwendolyn’s fiancé, journeying south to investigate her exile.

Madame Fournier’s pension is the best in Taxco, so it’s only natural that Rennert, Riddle, Shaul, and Gwendolyn are all among her guests. It’s also quite natural for Riddle and Shaul to argue over the muckraking article. Riddle punches the writer, knocking him out. Later that night, Shaul is found dead in bed, having never woken up. The doctor is surprised; the head injury did not seem serious enough to kill him (even though he was unconscious for hours!) Rennert is more than surprised: he’s suspicious.

Then a second death takes place at the pension, and Rennert find himself under quarantine with a killer.

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The Woman on the Roof by Helen Nielsen (1954)

Helen Nielsen - The Woman on the Roof

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

Even a crazy woman should have a chance to speak for herself. How else could anyone tell the sane from the insane?

Ever since Wilma Rathjen came to work at the bakery, she’s been in trouble for one thing or another. She tries hard, but it always seem to go wrong. Now her neighbor Jeri Lynn has failed to pick up an expensive birthday cake she ordered. For once, it isn’t Wilma’s mistake. She knows that Jeri has been dead in her bathtub for two days.

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In Cold Pursuit by Ursula Curtiss (1977)

Ursula Curtiss In Cold Pursuit Cover 01

4 Stars (4/10 stars)

[He] looked bitter and dispossessed, like a man who had had something precious snatched away from him. It wasn’t grief; it had nothing to do with grief. Was that why any compassion she felt for him was purely in the abstract? Because he had said “my wife” in the same tone he might have used to refer to his horse, or his car?

The murder down the street barely registers for Mary Vaughan. After all, the killer was arrested right away, and she has a lot going on in her own life. Not only has she recently broken off an engagement and quit her job, but Mary is also responsible for her teenage cousin Jenny, whose parents sent her to Santa Fe to escape a violent older boyfriend. When Mary learns that Jenny’s ex is in the area, they need to get out of town in a hurry. A long weekend in Juarez should do the trick.

What Mary doesn’t know is that the murder victim’s husband David is very aware of her. This possessive man has been nearly undone by his lack of control surrounding his wife’s death. The police are keeping him at arm’s length, and the swift arrest of the culprit robs him of a proper outlet for his rage. The police don’t know that David’s wife spoke to him before she died. She told him that she sought help from a blonde neighbor, who closed her door against the dying woman.

David believes he has found his wife’s true murderer: Mary Vaughan. And he is following her to Mexico to kill her.

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The Sign of the Ram by Margaret Ferguson (1945)

Margaret Ferguson - The Sign of the Ram 01

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“Aren’t we all rather frightened of Leah? I’m beginning to understand something about Leah that I didn’t before. Naturally she’s a terribly active, strong-willed person, and she’s got nothing to vent her energy on—except us.”

Sherida is apprehensive about working  for the St. Aubyn family, but soon she feels right at home. Her new employer Leah couldn’t be kinder. Leah is an inspiration, confined to a wheelchair after rescuing her stepchildren from drowning. Her husband Mallory and the children worship her in return.

But beneath her smiling surface, Leah is like the wind from the sea—beautiful, savage, and strong. She knows exactly what’s best for her family, and if they happen to disagree, there are ways of making them see reason.

When her now-adult stepchildren, the very ones she crippled herself to save, become involved in romances, Leah feels abandoned. Aided by her youngest stepdaughter, the fanatically devoted Christine, Leah will go to any lengths to break up the two couples. Then Sherida and Mallory strike up a friendship, pushing Leah over the edge. She begins a subtle but brutal siege against her entire family, determined to keep them by her side forever.

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