Halfway House (1936) by Ellery Queen

Halfway House by Ellery Queen

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

Truth is a curious thing. It will not be denied, but one can hasten its inevitability.”

Halfway between Trenton and Philadelphia, convenient to nowhere, the house clings forlornly to the edge of a swamp. It is “a random, dilapidated affair of weather-beaten clapboards, with a sagging roof half-denuded of its shingles and a crumbling chimney…In the shadows of near night, there was something repellent about the place.” Bill Angell doesn’t understand why his brother-in-law Joe Wilson has asked to meet him in such a desolate spot, especially late at night. But someone else has beaten Bill to the house. To his surprise, a hysterical woman runs out the front door, driving off at top speed. Inside the tumbledown shack, Joe lies dead.

Joe Wilson’s life has been cut in half by murder. As police soon learn, however, Joe’s life was cut in half long before that dark night in New Jersey. And unless Ellery Queen can solve the mystery, Bill will be forced to choose between his career, his family, and the woman he loves. Continue reading “Halfway House (1936) by Ellery Queen”

The Gazebo (1955) by Patricia Wentworth

The Gazebo by Patricia Wentworth

6 stars (6/10 stars)

If people can only prolong their lives by being vampires and sucking the last drop of blood out of everyone around them they would be a great deal better dead.”

No one can say Althea Graham isn’t a dutiful daughter. She has given up everything to care for her invalid mother, even her engagement to Nicholas Carey. Althea has had five years to think about that decision. Sometimes she wonders whether she made the right choice. Her mother only seems to have her “heart attacks” when Althea disagrees with her. The rest of the time, she seems perfectly healthy; well enough, even, to dream of pulling up roots and leaving Grove Hill altogether, wandering the globe in search of new audiences for her pallid charms. Althea doesn’t want to sell their house. It would mean cutting the last ties binding her to her lost love.

When Nicholas returns, Althea must weigh her own happiness against her mother’s life. The two lovers have always met in the gazebo behind Althea’s home. They feel safe there. As it turns out, however, that gazebo is the most dangerous place of all. Continue reading “The Gazebo (1955) by Patricia Wentworth”

The Barclay Place (1975) by Rae Foley

The Barclay Place by Rae Foley

6 stars (6/10 stars)

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? At least when you can forget what happened here.”

After three years in Europe, Maggie Barclay is coming home. She has decided that it’s time to face reality. To do that, she must return to the family home in Barclaysville where her parents died, one of two identical houses deep in the snowy woods. Maggie has always believed her parents’ deaths were a tragic accident. Now she’s not so sure—the closer she gets to Barclaysville, the more “accidents” she herself experiences. They say you can’t go home again, and someone seems determined that Maggie never will. Continue reading “The Barclay Place (1975) by Rae Foley”

The Bride Wore Black (1940) by Cornell Woolrich

The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

“The really clever woman is all things to all men. Like the chameleon, she takes her coloring from his ideal of her. It is her job to find out what that is.”

Men are dying all over the city. Inspector Wanger is convinced that a single killer is responsible, but these murders are unlike any he has ever encountered. For the suspect is a woman, a woman who insinuates herself into the lives of her prey before vanishing into the night. Who is she? Why does she kill? And how many more men will have to die before she is satisfied? Continue reading “The Bride Wore Black (1940) by Cornell Woolrich”

Somber Memory by Van Siller

Somber Memory by Van Siller

6 stars (6/10 stars)

There’s something screwy going on, and I’m going to try and find out what before it’s too late.”

Too late for what?” Minnie asked.

Murder,” said Eric. “Too late to stop another murder.”

Winter is coming to Lost Ranch. In any other year, this would mean hordes of skiers eager to hit the Montana mountains, but now wartime travel restrictions are keeping the crowds away. That’s all right with the ranch’s owner Eric St. John, however. Winter at Lost Ranch can never be the same again, not since the mysterious death of longtime guest Barbara Stuart. Nothing seems right to Eric now that Barbara is gone.

As the season’s guests gather, Eric realizes something strange—everyone who was present when Barbara plunged from her balcony has returned to the ranch. Could this be merely a coincidence, or is history about to repeat itself? Continue reading “Somber Memory by Van Siller”

The Pleasure Cruise Mystery (1933) by Robin Forsythe

The Pleasure Cruise Mystery by Robin Forsythe

6 stars (6/10 stars)

Death in any circumstances has a tendency to put the wind up you, but when you stumble over it on a pleasure cruiser’s deck you get panicky. Comparable to meeting the devil in Paradise.”

Being an amateur detective isn’t always easy. Sometimes you don’t solve the case. Even worse, sometimes the police beat you to it. Algernon Vereker has recently gone through this humiliating experience, and the memory still stings. His best friend Manuel Ricardo is convinced that the cure for everything is salt water—in this case, a Mediterranean cruise on the S.S. Mars. The moment they step off the gangplank, however, Vereker’s interest is piqued by the strange behavior of the passengers in the next cabin. Rough waters lie ahead, and this time there will be no Scotland Yard coming to the rescue if Vereker fails to spot the killer. Continue reading “The Pleasure Cruise Mystery (1933) by Robin Forsythe”

Sad Cypress (1940) by Agatha Christie

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“It is not I that twist things round; they come round of themselves. It is like the pointer at the fair. It swings round, and when it comes to rest it always points at the same name: Elinor Carlisle.”

Elinor Carlisle on trial for her life, accused of murder. Elinor is the only one with the means and opportunity to have committed the crime, and she certainly has the motive. Yet despite Elinor’s desperate position she refuses to assist in her own defense. Is it because she is guilty—or is Elinor hiding some other secret? Even Hercule Poirot cannot be certain. Continue reading “Sad Cypress (1940) by Agatha Christie”

The Ebony Stag (1938) by Brian Flynn

The Ebony Stag by Brian Flynn

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

“Tell me, Doctor, could the wound have been made by the antlers of an angry stag? The possibility intrigues me.”

In life, Robert Foster attracted no notice. A retired civil servant living on a modest pension, he lived quietly in the seaside village of Upchalke with his niece, Winifred. No, there is nothing extraordinary about Robert Foster, until the day he is found murdered in a locked house, the figurine of a stag lying smashed on the floor beside him. The wound in his chest does not seem to match any known weapon, but that is only the first of many riddles facing Anthony Bathurst as he tackles this baffling crime. Continue reading “The Ebony Stag (1938) by Brian Flynn”

The Golden Box (1942) by Frances Crane

The Golden Box by Frances Crane

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“What can we do? All we’ve got is the knowledge in our minds and hearts that it was murder. But what else? There isn’t anything. It’s one of those perfect crimes.”

After a close brush with love and murder, Jean Holly is eager to retreat to a simpler life back in her hometown. What she finds is a community on the brink of war. It is November of 1941, and tiny Elm Hill, Illinois, is bracing itself for the country’s possible entry into World War II. Meanwhile, wealthy matriarch Claribel Fabian Lake is determined to seize control once and for all—not only of Elm Hill, but also of her three daughters.

Mrs. Lake’s sudden death is ascribed to natural causes. But Jean isn’t so sure, especially when rumors circulate that the dead woman was found clutching a golden box, a box which has now vanished. Even more disconcerting, her old flame, private investigator Pat Abbott, is in town. It’s hard to know what has Jean more flustered: the murder next door, or the handsome detective investigating it. Continue reading “The Golden Box (1942) by Frances Crane”

The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1934) by Ellery Queen

The Adventures of Ellery Queen by Ellery Queen

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

“Mr. Ellery Queen, watching the world rush by in a glaring Long Island sunlight, mused that life was like a Spanish wench: full of surprises, none of them delicate and all of them stimulating. Since he was a monastic who led a riotous mental existence, he liked life that way; and since he was also a detective—an appellation he cordially detested—he got life that way.”

An excellent short-story collection highlighting some of Ellery Queen’s most unusual cases. These stories are all from Queen’s first period, with a strong emphasis on detection and elaborate solutions. The shorter length plays to the authors’ strengths, allowing for airtight plotting against a striking backdrop, without time for the doldrums that sometimes afflict their full-length novels during this period. Continue reading “The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1934) by Ellery Queen”