Murder Is Easy (1939) by Agatha Christie

Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“It’s very easy to kill, so long as no one suspects you. And, you see, the person in question is just the last person anyone would suspect.”

Luke Fitzwilliam is amused that the sweet old lady sharing his train compartment believes that a serial killer is operating in her village. “A vivid imagination, that’s all,” he thinks indulgently. “Rather an old dear.” It becomes much less funny the next morning, when he reads that she was killed by a hit-and-run driver on her way to Scotland Yard. Could Miss Fullerton’s suspicions have been correct?

To find out, Luke must infiltrate a quiet village and probe its deepest secrets, without rousing the suspicions of a murderer who finds it all too easy to kill. Continue reading “Murder Is Easy (1939) by Agatha Christie”

The French Powder Mystery (1930) by Ellery Queen

The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen

6 stars

“Of course the traces of the crime have been removed. The top layer, so to speak. Perhaps even the middle layer. But away down deep, underneath, we may find—who knows?”

French’s is the biggest and busiest department store in Manhattan, known for its elaborate display windows. The unveiling of the latest window always attracts eager crowds. This time, however, the spectacle is horrifying. As a model demonstrates a murphy bed, the bed folds down from the wall, revealing a corpse hidden inside. Even worse, the dead woman is the wife of Cyrus French, the store’s owner. The father and son detective duo of Richard and Ellery Queen will have to discover the most intimate secrets of the store in order to solve this very public crime. Continue reading “The French Powder Mystery (1930) by Ellery Queen”

Fear for Miss Betony (1941) by Dorothy Bowers

Fear For Miss Betony by Dorothy Bowers

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

“She supposed spinsters had their uses, but after living in the house with them for three months it was hard to see what these were.”

At the age of sixty-one, Emma Betony has nothing more to look forward to than a room at the home for decayed gentlewomen—if they’re willing to overlook her father having been a greengrocer. So when she receives a job offer from former student Grace Aram, Emma is intrigued.

She soon finds out that Grace expects much more from her old governess than a few French lessons. A poisoner is loose at Makeways School. Grace believes that Emma can solve the crime. Emma herself isn’t so sure, especially after learning about the Great Ambrosio, a fortune-teller who seems to have the whole house under his spell. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see danger in her future. Continue reading “Fear for Miss Betony (1941) by Dorothy Bowers”

The Defense Does Not Rest (1959) by Edna Sherry

The Defense Does Not Rest by Edna Sherry

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

“Our moral convictions get us nowhere. There’s a murderer here and a damned clever one. The whole thing looks like a colossal frame. If we don’t make it out in a hurry, an innocent man is going to pay.”

Max Gray could never have committed murder. His lifelong friend Steve Hargrave is convinced of that, and as Max’s lawyer, he’s determined to prove his innocence. But, as his father reminds him, that’s not what criminal law is about—it’s about getting your client off, by whatever means necessary. Forget about Max’s innocence. Can Steve’s ideals stand up to everything he will learn about his friends, and even his own father? Continue reading “The Defense Does Not Rest (1959) by Edna Sherry”

Adventure with Crime (1962) by Josephine Bell

Adventure with Crime by Josephine Bell

4 Stars (4/10 stars)

“I seem to have got into a way of expecting dreadful things to happen.”

Young widow Frances Aldridge finds it hard to move past her grief in England, where everything reminds her of her late husband. So when her American friends invite her for an extended visit, she thinks a change of scenery will do her good. Instead, it may end her life.

Eager to see as much as she can of this new country, Frances embarks on a long solo bus trip. She meets a number of friendly strangers…and at least one killer. The United States is a big country, but is it big enough for Frances to stay one step ahead of danger? Continue reading “Adventure with Crime (1962) by Josephine Bell”

Four Past Four (1925) by Roy Vickers

Four Past Four by Roy Vickers

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“There’s no room for idealism in the next twenty-four hours. This time the truth has got to be stage-managed—I’m going to set the stage and act for all I’m worth. There won’t be any room for ideals or hopes or fears, or anything but sheer showmanship.”

At four past four, Clare Charters phones neighboring Barslade Manor in a panic. She tells famed detective James Segrove that a burglar has just shot her husband.

At twenty-four past four, Segrove and his physician friend arrive at Clare’s home, to the sound of a gunshot within. They discover that her husband Herbert Dempster has, indeed been shot—but the bullet could not have been fired more than a minute ago. Clare Charters is England’s greatest living actress. Segrove must find out whether Clare is the grieving widow she appears to be, or whether she’s a cold-blooded murderess performing the role of a lifetime. Continue reading “Four Past Four (1925) by Roy Vickers”

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!