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”

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 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”

An Afternoon to Kill (1953) by Shelley Smith

An Afternoon to Kill by Shelley Smith

9 Stars (9/10 stars)

“People never recognize sin in themselves, do they? We are always innocent in our own eyes.”

Lancelot Jones is way off course. Not only has his plane been forced to land in the middle of the desert due to mechanical difficulties, but it’s the wrong desert altogether. The landscape seems utterly desolate. The building in the distance must be a mirage; this is the last place in the world anyone would choose to build a home.

The lady of the house, Alva Hine, is happy to welcome a stranded traveler. Over the course of the afternoon, this seemingly harmless old woman tells Lancelot the story of her life. “It is all so long ago now,” she tells him. “It cannot matter.” It may be the last story he ever hears. Continue reading “An Afternoon to Kill (1953) by Shelley Smith”

The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) by Ellery Queen

The Spanish Cape Mystery by Ellery Queen

3 Stars(3/10 stars)

“Don’t you folks realize what you’re up against? What the devil does a little personal trouble mean when it’s a case of life or death? This is murder, Mrs. Godfrey–murder!”

Normally, there is no more peaceful spot for a beach vacation than Spanish Cape. That is why business tycoon Walter Godfrey has built his summer home there. One night, however, that peace is unexpectedly shattered by a modern-day pirate. Walter’s daughter Rosa and her uncle David Kummer are snatched from the terrace of the mansion, and Rosa must watch in horror as her uncle is dragged away to meet an unknown fate. By the time she is rescued by Ellery Queen, David Kummer has vanished without a trace.

When Ellery arrives at the Godfrey home, he discovers an even more bizarre crime: the nude corpse of houseguest John Marco sitting on the terrace. Ellery learns that nearly everyone at the house has reason to want Marco dead. When it comes to identifying the killer, however, the naked truth is much harder to find. Continue reading “The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) by Ellery Queen”

The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934) by Ellery Queen

The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“I find homicides quite stimulating.”

Not even Ellery Queen has ever encountered a crime scene quite like this one. Everything about the murder is topsy-turvy—quite literally. The dead man’s clothes are on backwards, furniture and paintings have been turned to face the wall, and a pair of African spears have been thrust up the victim’s trouser legs. The only other clue is a discarded tangerine peel. Ellery and Inspector Queen will have to turn themselves inside out if they hope to stamp out this killer. Continue reading “The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934) by Ellery Queen”

Murder Rides the Campaign Train (1952) by the Gordons

Murder Rides the Campaign Train by The Gordons

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“I want to win this election as much as you do, but I don’t want to arrive at the White House with a corpse.”

Governor Wallace X. Martin knows his presidential campaign won’t win over every voter. Still, he never expects one of them to take a shot at him during a speech. Even worse, however, is the discovery that the shot was fired from his own campaign train. As election day draws nearer, the Martin train speeds across the country, carrying the Governor’s family, campaign staff, supporters, press…and at least one killer. Continue reading “Murder Rides the Campaign Train (1952) by the Gordons”

A Case in Nullity (1967) by Evelyn Berckman

A Case in Nullity by Evelyn Berckman

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

“Think of being hated that much, by a man that warped. Like some infection. All around you.”

Auriol isn’t quite sure how she ended up married to Ivor Hailes. Not that it matters very much; after the loss of her fiance, she doesn’t expect to fall in love again. Auriol does long for companionship, however, and Ivor will do just as well as any other man. Even better, really. Her new husband is handsome, wealthy, and brilliant, with exquisite taste in everything. Marriage to him should be easy. At least, it should be.

Instead, Auriol finds herself bound to Ivor–not by love, but by the dreadful secret they share. The only way she can escape is by revealing this secret to the world…but how far will Ivor go to keep that from happening? Continue reading “A Case in Nullity (1967) by Evelyn Berckman”

20 Books of Summer 2020

20 Books of Summer 2019

As much as I love making New Year’s resolutions, I feel much more capable of actually keeping resolutions when the sun is shining, which is why 20 Books of Summer is one of my favorite reading challenges. And this year, a little structure is even more welcome than usual. For no very good reason, all of the books on my list this year are classic mysteries published during the same year, 1934. Continue reading “20 Books of Summer 2020”

The Imaginary Bookshop 1934

Walking Library 1930s

For my 200th post, we’ll be traveling all the way back to 1934. Despite (or perhaps because of) the Depression, this was a banner year for mystery fiction that would see the publication of many future classics, most notably Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, and Fer-de-Lance, the debut of Rex Stout’s iconic detective Nero Wolfe.

Orient Express is only one of three novels Christie published in 1934—one of which, Three Act Tragedy, actually appeared in the United States prior to its UK publication in 1935. (The UK got its revenge this same year, as Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? made its debut there well before American readers got their hands on it.) Since the covers below are American editions, representing what a reader like me might be able to find in their local bookstore that year, it becomes especially obvious how many titles were changed for the US market during this time.

The year’s other prolific authors include John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, who produced three books under two different names; Erle Stanley Gardner’s three Perry Mason novels; and grand champion John Rhode/Miles Burton with four. Not all of these titles are pictured below due to their repetitive cover designs, but they would certainly have tempted any discerning book buyer of 1934. Continue reading “The Imaginary Bookshop 1934”