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.

Vintage Travel Poster

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

As murder stalks the corridors of a snowbound train, Hercule Poirot faces his most formidable opponent yet. An all-time classic.

The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts

For one miserly uncle, the first airplane flight of his life will be his last. This inverted mystery follows the would-be killer as they craft their plan. But even the best-laid plans can go astray, especially with Inspector French on the case.

The Puzzle of the Silver Persian by Stuart Palmer

Schoolteacher Hildegarde Withers is looking forward to starting her summer vacation by unwinding on a transatlantic ocean liner. The crossing soon becomes rocky, however, when one of her fellow passengers winds up dead in a lifeboat.

The Lesser Antilles Case by Rufus King

After the sinking of a luxurious yacht, the survivors insist it wasn’t just a shipwreck—it was murder. Only Lieutenant Valcour can solve this Caribbean mystery.

Noir 2

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

A drifter and a dissatisfied wife begin an affair so scorching that it threatens to destroy everything in its path…including the two lovers.

Criss-Cross by Don Tracy

To win back his former love, and revenge himself on the man who stole her, Johnny agrees to take part in an audacious double-cross. But who’s playing who?

Classic Detection (UK)

Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham

Albert Campion hopes to paint a portrait of a murderer as he goes head-to-head with a cunning killer in London’s art world.

The Plague Court Murders by Carter Dickson

Hundreds of years ago, a hangman built Plague Court. Now some of his ancestors fear that his spirit has returned. As they gather for a seance, one of their party is murdered, in a crime so impossible that it could only have been committed by a ghost.

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

A picturesque English village is plagued by mysterious deaths, and Lord Peter Wimsey is sure they have something to do with the bells of the local church. He must discover for whom the bell tolls, before it tolls for him.

The Ha-Ha Case by J. J. Connington

Johnnie Brandon is the life of the party on the eve of his twenty-first birthday, and why not? He will finally have full control of his inheritance. But someone wants the estate for themselves, and soon rabbits aren’t the only things being hunted at this weekend shoot.

For the Defense: Dr. Thorndyke by R. Austin Freeman

How does an innocent man become the prime suspect in two separate murders—including his own? Dr. Thorndyke must unravel a baffling question of identity.

Comic Crime

Quick Curtain by Alan Melville

Most fathers and sons would be dismayed to have their evening at the theater disrupted by murder, but not when the father is a Scotland Yard inspector and the son an ambitious reporter. This pair soon learns that the drama unfolding onstage is nothing compared to what’s going on behind the curtain.

Mr. Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard by David Frome

Though little Mr. Pinkerton always minds his own business, murder just seems to find him. Today, for example, he was simply sitting on a park bench when the women next to him began talking about poison. Even if Scotland Yard is skeptical, Mr. Pinkerton is determined to crack the case in this gentle comic mystery.

The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

Edward just wants to be left alone with his books, but his aunt is always interfering. Wouldn’t it be nice if he could have the money without the aunt? A hilariously dark inverted mystery.

Classic Detection (US) 2

The Case of the Howling Dog by Erle Stanley Gardner

Perry Mason is used to dealing with strange requests from clients, but he’s never been asked to deal with a noisy dog. As it turns out, this seemingly mundane request is only the first stop on the way to murder.

Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout

The first Nero Wolfe novel finds the orchid-loving gourmet and his wisecracking assistant Archie Goodwin looking for possible connections between the disappearance of an Italian laborer, the sudden demise of a college president, and a poisonous snake delivered to Wolfe’s brownstone.

The Line-Up by Helen Reilly

Inspector McKee investigates the mysterious death of an elderly recluse whose blueblooded family wants the incident hushed up. Are they simply trying to avoid scandal, or are they hiding something more sinister?

The Casino Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

As members of a wealthy family start dropping dead one by one, Philo Vance wonders if the crimes could have something to do with the casino they own. He soon learns that this family is hiding some very unusual secrets.

The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G. Eberhart

Not only does Susan Dare write mysteries, she solves them as well, in a series of short stories that follow her path from reluctant amateur sleuth to accomplished investigator.

The Death Wish by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Mr. Whitestone and Mr. Delancey are neighbors. They have something else in common as well: they both wish their wives were dead. This psychological suspense novel explores what happens when that wish becomes an obsession.

 

 

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.

  • Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham
  • Out Went the Taper by R. C. Ashby

Death of a Ghost by Margery AllinghamOut Went the Taper by R C Ashby

  • Mr. Pidgeon’s Island by Anthony Berkeley
  • Plan XVI by Douglas G. Browne

Mr Pidgeon's Island by Anthony BerkeleyPlan XVI By Douglas G Browne

  • The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
  • The Eight of Swords by John Dickson Carr

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M CainThe Eight of Swords by John Dickson Carr

  • Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective (aka Parker Pyne Investigates) by Agatha Christie
  • Murder in the Calais Coach (aka Murder on the Orient Express) by Agatha Christie

Mr Parker Pyne Detective by Agatha ChristieMurder in the Calais Coach by Agatha Christie

  • Murder in Three Acts (aka Three-Act Tragedy) by Agatha Christie
  • Death in the Quarry by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole

Murder in Three Acts by Agatha ChristieDeath in the Quarry by G D H and Margaret Cole

  • End of an Ancient Mariner by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole
  • The Brandon Case (aka The Ha-Ha Case) by J. J. Connington

End of an Ancient Mariner by G D H and Margaret ColeThe Brandon Case (The Ha-Ha Case) by J J Connington

  • Wilful and Premeditated (aka The 12.30 from Croydon) by Freeman Wills Crofts
  • The Plague Court Murders by Carter Dickson

Wilful and Premeditated by Freeman Wills CroftsThe Plague Court Murders by Carter Dickson

  • The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson
  • The Cat Screams by Todd Downing

The White Priory Murders by Carter DicksonThe Cat Screams by Todd Downing

  • The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G. Eberhart
  • Sinister Inn by J. Jefferson Farjeon

The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G EberhartSinister Inn by J Jefferson Farjeon

  • For the Defense: Dr. Thorndyke by R. Austin Freeman
  • Mr. Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard by David Frome

For the Defense Dr Thorndyke by R Austin FreemanMr Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard by David Frome

  • The Case of the Lucky Legs by Erle Stanley Gardner
  • The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Case of the Lucky Legs by Erle Stanley GardnerThe Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

  • The Hand of the Chimpanzee by Robert Hare
  • The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

The Hand of the Chimpanzee by Robert HareThe Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

  • The Lesser Antilles Case by Rufus King
  • Settled Out of Court by Ronald Knox

The Lesser Antilles Case by Rufus KingSettled Out of Court by Ronald Knox

  • Still Dead by Ronald Knox
  • The Manuscript Murder by George Limnelius

Still Dead by Ronald KnoxThe Manuscript Murder by George Limnelius

  • The Greenwell Mystery by E. C. R. Lorac
  • The Chianti Flask by Marie Belloc Lowndes

The Greenwell Mystery by E C R LoracThe Chianti Flask by Marie Belloc Lowndes

  • The Clue of the Dead Goldfish by Victor MacClure
  • Give Me Death by Isabel Briggs Myers

The Clue of the Dead Goldfish by Victor MacClureGive Me Death by Isabel Briggs Myers

  • The Puzzle of the Silver Persian by Stuart Palmer
  • The Divorce Court Murder by Milton Propper

The Puzzle of the Silver Persian by Stuart PalmerThe Divorce Court Murder by Milton Propper

  • The Adventures of Ellery Queen by Ellery Queen
  • The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

The Adventures of Ellery Queen by Ellery QueenThe Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

  • Poison for One by John Rhode
  • The Robthorne Mystery by John Rhode

Poison for One by John RhodeThe Robthorne Mystery by John Rhode

  • The State vs. Elinor Norton by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

The State vs Elinor Norton by Mary Roberts RinehartThe Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers

  • Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout
  • For the Hangman by John Stephen Strange

Fer-de-Lance by Rex StoutFor the Hangman by John Stephen Strange

  • The Talking Sparrow Murders by Darwin L. Teilhet
  • Richardson’s Second Case by Basil Thomson

The Talking Sparrow Murders by Darwin L TeilhetRichardson's Second Case by Basil Thomson

  • Criss-Cross by Don Tracy
  • The Casino Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

Criss-Cross by Don TracyThe Casino Murder Case by S S Van Dine

  • The Visiting Villain by Carolyn Wells
  • Fear by Night by Patricia Wentworth

The Visiting Villain by Carolyn WellsFear by Night by Patricia Wentworth

  • The Case of the Gold Coins by Anthony Wynne
  • Death of a Banker by Anthony Wynne

The Case of the Gold Coins by Anthony WynneDeath of a Banker by Anthony Wynne

There were also quite a few notable titles that, as far as I can tell, were UK-only releases that year—including a number of future British Library Crime Classics.

  • The Case of the 100% Alibis by Christopher Bush
  • Insoluble by Francis Everton

The Case of the One Hundred Percent Alibis by Christopher BushInsoluble by Francis Everton

  • Death at Broadcasting House by Val Gielgud and Holt Marvell
  • The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer

Death at Broadcasting House by Val Gielgud and Holt MarvellThe Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer

  • Murder at the Bookstall by Henry Holt
  • Obelists En Route by C. Daly King

Murder at the Bookstall by Henry HoltObelists En Route by C Daly King

  • A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh
  • Henbane by Catherine Meadows

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio MarshHenbane by Catherine Meadows (UK)

  • Quick Curtain by Alan Melville
  • Scarweather by Anthony Rolls

Quick Curtain by Alan MelvilleScarweather by Anthony Rolls

  • Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg
  • Constable Guard Thyself by Henry Wade

Death of an Airman by Christopher St John SpriggConstable Guard Thyself by Henry Wade

It’s honestly mind-boggling how many great books were published in this single year. With summer, and therefore the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, just around the corner, my plan is to immerse myself in 1934 reading. The only question is which twenty to choose…

A Year in Books 2019

Stork Club postcard illustration by Albert Dorne

2019 has been an amazing year, with so many great reads that it’s created the best possible problem: my top ten list for 2019 actually has fifteen books on it, and cutting it down even that far was a struggle. But why hold back, when New Year’s celebrations are all about glorious excess?

Best of 2019: Honorable Mentions

Lady-Killer by Anthony Gilbert (1951)

A wonderfully acerbic inverted mystery about a modern Bluebeard, his victims, and their efforts to fight back.

Cat of Many Tails by Ellery Queen (1949)

During a hot New York City summer, Ellery Queen hunts a serial killer while coming to terms with the emotional burdens of a life spent fighting crime. It’s a cliche to say that the city is a character…but the city is totally a character here.

Sleep with Strangers by Dolores Hitchens (1955)

Tough yet elegaic private-eye novel in which the search for a missing woman leads a middle-aged detective to confront his own memories and mortality.

The Evil Wish by Jean Potts (1962)

Two sisters struggle with the consequences of a murder not committed in this intense psychological crime novel.

A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstrong (1956)

Combines nail-biting suspense with a wonderfully humane worldview, as a group of strangers come together to help a suicidal man find a missing bottle of poison. This is the rare mystery that focuses not on death, but on how to live a life.

Top 10 of 2019

10)  Mr. Splitfoot by Helen McCloy (1968)

Come for the impossible murder in a haunted room, stay for the touchingly realistic portrait of adolescence.

9)  The Blackbirder by Dorothy B. Hughes (1943)

Visceral noir of murder and espionage among refugees from Nazi Germany, featuring a fiercely complex female protagonist.

8)  The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin (1975)

Poignant, often hilarious tale of a widow’s efforts to mourn a husband whose grave is far from quiet.

7)  Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin (1959)

An ominous exploration of family and marriage is sparked when shadows of violence from the past threaten a beach holiday; equal parts comic and profound.

6)  Wax by Ethel Lina White (1935)

Dripping with atmosphere and suspense as a feisty girl reporter must expose the dark underbelly of a seemingly idyllic town. The climax, in which Sonia must survive a night in the town’s decrepit old wax museum, is a masterpiece of suspense.

5)  Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie (1941)

A summertime read that’s perfect year-round, with audacious crimes unfolding at a resort hotel. The killer is truly despicable and the crime plot is one for the ages.

4)  The Hollow by Agatha Christie (1946)

Something very different for Christie, who skillfully explores the psyches of suspects and victims in depth before plunging them into a murder that may not be what it seems.

3)  In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (1947)

Chilling portrait of a man who is possibly a serial killer, but is definitely a misogynistic psychopath. Despite the strong flavor of postwar Los Angeles, it sadly remains just as relevant today.

2)  Till Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr (1944)

A tour-de-force of impossible crime that simply cannot be put down as Gideon Fell spins one ingenious solution after another.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

1)  Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (1937)

An old favorite, and still the champ! One of Christie’s masterpieces, Death on the Nile has everything: murder beneath the pyramids, a deadly love triangle, a bold shipboard crime, and a solution that is both fiendishly clever and emotionally affecting.

Happy reading, and here’s hoping that 2020 will be the best year yet!

The Imaginary Bookshop, 1946

Bookstore The Big Sleep

For my 100th post, I thought I’d do something a little different: time travel. What could be more fun than to roam the bookstores of the past, snapping up all those vintage first editions that are now so difficult to obtain?

Since 1946 is the average publication date of books reviewed on this blog so far , let’s do a little fantasy window-shopping at a totally imaginary, very well-stocked bookstore in the United States during that year. The price of a new hardcover book was $2.50 to $2.95, which sounds great until you realize that minimum wage was $0.40 an hour.

  • The Unsuspected by Charlotte Armstrong
  • The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin

Book cover of The Unsuspected by Charlotte ArmstrongThe Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin

  • The Last Twist of the Knife by Margerie Bonner
  • The Case of the Seven Sneezes by Anthony Boucher

The Last Twist of the Knife by Margerie BonnerThe Case of the Seven Sneezes by Anthony Boucher

  • The Crooked Wreath (aka Suddenly at His Residence) by Christianna Brand
  • Kiss the Blood Off My Hands by Gerald Butler

The Crooked Wreath by Christianna BrandKiss the Blood Off My Hands by Gerald Butler

  • He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr
  • Stranger than Truth by Vera Caspary

He Who Whispers by John Dickson CarrStranger than Truth by Vera Caspary

  • Spanish Blood by Raymond Chandler
  • Red Wind by Raymond Chandler

Spanish Blood by Raymond ChandlerRed Wind by Raymond Chandler

  • The Hollow by Agatha Christie
  • The Shocking Pink Hat by Frances Crane

The Hollow by Agatha ChristieThe Shocking Pink Hat by Frances Crane

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund CrispinAs Good as Dead by Thomas B Dewey

  • My Late Wives by Carter Dickson
  • Five Passengers from Lisbon by Mignon G. Eberhart

My Late Wives by Carter DicksonFive Passengers from Lisbon by Mignon G Eberhart

  • The White Dress by Mignon G. Eberhart
  • The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis

The White Dress by Mignon G EberhartThe Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis

  • Halo in Blood by John Evans
  • Crows Can’t Count by A. A. Fair

Halo in Blood by John EvansCrows Can't Count by A. A. Fair

  • The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing
  • The Pigskin Bag by Bruno Fischer

The Big Clock by Kenneth FearingThe Pigskin Bag by Bruno Fischer

  • Winter Kill by Steve Fisher
  • Death and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt

Winter Kill by Steve FisherDeath and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt

  • The Case of the Backward Mule by Erle Stanley Gardner
  • The Case of the Borrowed Brunette by Erle Stanley Gardner

The Case of the Backward Mule by Erle Stanley GardnerThe Case of the Borrowed Brunette by Erle Stanley Gardner

  • The DA Breaks a Seal by Erle Stanley Gardner
  • Dark Passage by David Goodis

The DA Breaks a Seal by Erle Stanley GardnerDark Passage by David Goodis

  • Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham
  • The Innocent Mrs. Duff by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Nightmare Alley by William LIndsay GreshamThe Innocent Mrs. Duff by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

  • Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes
  • The Double Take by Roy Huggins

Build My Gallows HIgh by Geoffrey HomesThe Double Take by Roy Huggins

  • Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes
  • The Dancing Detective by William Irish

Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B HughesThe Dancing Detective by Cornell Woolrich

  • Blood Is a Beggar by Thomas Kyd
  • Pick Your Victim by Pat McGerr

Blood Is a Beggar by Thomas KydPIck Your Victim by Pat McGerr

  • Trouble Follows Me by Kenneth Millar
  • Deadly Weapon by Wade Miller

Trouble Follows Me by Ross MacdonaldDeadly Weapon by Wade Miller

  • Cats Don’t Need Coffins by D. B. Olsen
  • To the Queen’s Taste edited by Ellery Queen

Cats Don't Need Coffins by D B OlsenTo the Queen's Taste by Ellery Queen

  • Puzzle for Fiends by Patrick Quentin
  • The Silver Leopard by Helen Reilly

Puzzle for Fiends by Patrick QuentinThe Silver Leopard by Helen Reilly

  • Death in Harley Street by John Rhode
  • Secret of the Lake House (aka The Lake House) by John Rhode

Death in Harley Street by John RhodeSecret of the Lake House by John Rhode

  • Beware the Hoot Owl by Nancy Rutledge
  • Stranger at Home by George Sanders

Beware the Hoot Owl by Nancy RutledgeStranger at Home by George Sanders

  • Death’s Old Sweet Song by Jonathan Stagge
  • The Silent Speaker by Rex Stout

Death's Old Sweet Song by Jonathan StaggeThe Silent Speaker by Rex Stout

  • Pilgrim’s Rest by Patricia Wentworth
  • Make with the Brains, Pierre by Dana Wilson

Pilgrim's Rest by Patricia WentworthMake with the Brains, Pierre by Dana Wilson

Of course, there are some 1946 titles published in the UK that did not make their way across the pond in a timely fashion (or at all). No worries, the imaginary bookshop would no doubt welcome special orders.

  • Words Have Wings by Norman Berrow
  • The Cat Jumps by Miles Burton

Words Have Wings by Norman BerrowThe Cat Jumps by Miles Burton

  • Situation Vacant by Miles Burton
  • The Cockroach Sings by Alice Campbell (okay, this one actually did get a US edition that year, as With Bated Breath. But how can you resist the original title?)

Situation Vacant by Miles BurtonThe Cockroach Sings by Alice Campbell

The Striped Suitcase by Carol CarnacDeath of a Train by Freeman Wills Crofts

  • The Oval Table by J. Jefferson Farjeon
  • Peril in the Pyrenees by J. Jefferson Farjeon

The Oval Table by J Jefferson FarjeonPeril in the Pyrenees by J Jefferson Farjeon

  • Murder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars
  • The Spinster’s Secret by Anthony Gilbert

Murder Among Friends by Elizabeth FerrarsThe Spinster's Secret by Anthony Gilbert

It’s surprising to see how much hard-boiled crime fiction and psychological suspense is already in evidence. Traditional detective stories are still well-represented, but mostly by already-established authors, while newer talents are branching off in other directions.

The overachievers of the year are Erle Stanley Gardner/A. A. Fair and Miles Burton/John Rhode, each with four works published (though it’s interesting that the two Rhode titles crossed the Atlantic promptly, while the Burton books did not).

Also worth noting is Gerald Butler’s ultra-gritty noir Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, making its American debut six years after initial publication in the UK. The jacket boasts that it’s “The first contemporary novel we’ve heard of that already has a past!” Pilgrim’s Rest by Patricia Wentworth is on the other side of the coin—the US got this one first. Wentworth’s later novels tended to be published in the United States well ahead of their UK first editions, perhaps suggesting that Americans had an even greater appetite for these cozy English mysteries than the English themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 Books of Summer 2019

20 Books of Summer 2019

I had a lot of fun doing 20 Books of Summer last year, so I’m excited to tackle it again for 2019. There’s nothing better than spending a lazy summer day with a pile of books, taking vicarious vacations around the world. Here are some of the literary destinations I’ll be visiting this summer.

Britain in Summer Travel Poster

Till Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr

A village fête turns violent when a shot rings out in the fortune-teller’s tent. Is Lesley an innocent victim, or a brazen killer?

The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton

High Eldersham looks like a sleepy, picture-perfect English village. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin

A  family’s seaside holiday is shadowed by the return of one sister’s former husband, fifteen years after her testimony sent him to prison for murder.

Die in the Dark by Anthony Gilbert

A wealthy widow looking for a new home gets more than she bargained for.

Loire Valley France

The House above the River by Josephine Bell

A group of holidaymakers are forced to take shelter in a French chateau that may prove more deadly than the fog outside.

The Crime Coast by Elizabeth Gill

A young Englishman hunts for a missing man among the artists’ colony of the French Riviera, with the aid of an eccentric new friend.

Egypt and the Nile

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot must investigate a boatload of suspects when murder unexpectedly joins a cruise down the Nile.

Mexico Travel Poster

Vultures in the Sky by Todd Downing

It’s death in the tunnel when a passenger dies mysteriously on the train to Mexico City. Customs agent Hugh Rennert must solve the crime before the killer strikes again.

Wings of Fear by Mignon G. Eberhart

A young woman’s efforts to help her friend lead to a dead body in her apartment and a frantic flight to Mexico.

Natchez Mississippi Postcard

Murder with Southern Hospitality by Leslie Ford

The gardening club’s trip to Natchez, Mississippi, is more eventful than expected, as a romance between star-crossed lovers ends in murder.

Catalina Island Vintage Postcard

The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree by Stuart Palmer

On a trip to Catalina, irascible spinster Hildegarde Withers finds there’s no holiday from murder when one of her fellow airplane passengers dies in mid-air.

New York City Vintage Travel Poster

Cat of Many Tails by Ellery Queen

If the heat doesn’t kill you, the Cat might, as Ellery and his father stalk a serial killer through the dark streets of New York City.

The Chinese Chop by Juanita Sheridan

Chinese-American sleuth Lily Wu solves a baffling murder in postwar Greenwich Village.

The Swimming Pool by Mary Roberts Rinehart

An upper-crust family doesn’t have much patience for the antics of their drama-queen sister—until a corpse turns up in the swimming pool of their country house.

Minnesota

The Chuckling Fingers by Mabel Seeley

After a wealthy widower marries a younger bride, strange things start happening at the family’s isolated lakefront mansion.

New Orleans Mardi Gras Vintage Travel Poster

Waltz into Darkness by Cornell Woolrich

A mail-order bride brings danger into the life of her new husband, as sinister events seem to follow them wherever they go.

Hawaii Vintage Travel Poster

The House without a Key by Earl Derr Biggers

Charlie Chan is on the case as the murder of a longtime resident rocks 1920s Honolulu (as well as the victim’s very proper Bostonian family).

New Mexico Vintage Postcard

Murder Begins at Home by Delano Ames

Hijinks ensue when Jane and Dagobert Brown meet murder on a New Mexico ranch.

The Forbidden Garden by Ursula Curtiss

Mrs. Marrable is protective of her property…with very good reason, as lethal secrets flourish even in the desert.

The Blackbirder by Dorothy B. Hughes

A French refugee travels to Santa Fe to evade a murder and help her cousin escape from a Nazi prison camp. Then things get really complicated…

A Year in Books 2018

Woman celebrating New Year's Eve

2018 has obviously been a big year for this blog, because starting it was my New Year’s resolution at this time last year! Obviously, things can only get better in 2019, and I’m looking forward to another year of great reads.

Best of 2018

10)          The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle

The touching story of a house haunted by a grieving mother. Will the ghostly mother and her living daughter be able to find peace, or will a vengeful spirit destroy them both?

9)            Hasty Wedding by Mignon G. Eberhart

Bad enough that Dorcas’ ex is murdered the night before her wedding, but everyone thinks she killed him, including her new husband. This is just peak Eberhart, pairing florid romantic suspense with a puzzling mystery.

8)            The Iron Cobweb by Ursula Curtiss

Top-notch domestic suspense that makes a woman’s conflict between home and career terrifyingly literal. A series of strange events threaten to destroy Elizabeth’s marriage and children even as they drive her further into her home.

7)            Too Late for Tears by Roy Huggins

A seemingly harmless housewife is actually a cold-blooded psychopath, willing to do anything to achieve her version of the American dream. A rare noir that seriously considers women and their aspirations, conventional and otherwise.

6)            The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein

A group of journalists vie for promotion by capturing a serial killer. This blistering, yet darkly funny, satire of the “modern” media of the 1950s is just as apt today. It’s also a bit of an inverted crime story, as we are privy to the thoughts of the killer, but the book is at its strongest in exploring how the lives of other characters are affected by his crimes, some in unexpected ways.

5)            The Woman on the Roof by Helen Nielsen

An unusual and affecting protagonist, Wilma finds herself accused of murder due to a history of mental illness and must struggle with both police and her own demons to help unmask the real killer. Her journey is all the more meaningful because it is presented so unsentimentally.

4)            Through a Glass, Darkly by Helen McCloy

Psychiatrist Basil Willing faces the baffling case of a young woman with a ghostly double. One of them may have committed murder, but which one, and how? A wonderfully ominous and atmospheric tale of supernatural mystery.

3)            Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry

A rich wife learns that her husband and his lover are planning to murder her. What to do? Kill them first, of course. One of the darkest and most impeccably plotted crime novels I’ve encountered.

2)            The Burning Court by John Dickson Carr

A typical American businessman tries to solve the impossible murder of his neighbor while struggling with the possibility that his wife might be a reincarnated witch. (I expect this gritty reboot of Bewitched any day now.) All is sorted out very nicely in the end, but Carr has one last surprise in store…

Vera Caspary Laura 2

1)            Laura by Vera Caspary

A detective falls in love with a murder victim, a woman who comes to life for both him and the reader as he investigates her death. Laura and her world are compellingly portrayed by a variety of narrators before a killer twist changes everything you thought you knew about the mystery.

Worst of 2018

Where there are highs, there must also be lows; while I’ve been very fortunate in my reading this year, one title does stand out as a major disappointment:

Book Cover of The Red Lamp by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Red Lamp by Mary Roberts Rinehart, a book I did not even manage to finish (and therefore did not review). Rinehart is one of my favorite authors, so this was a real letdown. The Red Lamp is structured as the diary of a fussy Harvard professor whose wife begins experiencing psychic phenomenon. When they spend the summer at the home of their recently deceased uncle, a house that is already rumored to be haunted, the stage seems to be set for a spooky mystery.

Unfortunately, the diary format sucks any possible suspense from the scary events, which are usually reported at second or third hand anyway. It’s also a challenging structure because something has to happen every day, without time for much resolution. There are over ninety chapters (daily entries for three months!), and I made it through forty before bailing. Rinehart’s facility with language is certainly present, and the narrator shows some dry wit, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to keep me interested.

Best wishes to all for the year to come!