The Birthday Gift (1976) by Ursula Curtiss

The Birthday Gift by Ursula Curtiss

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

“He had thought, before, in terms of a thread-end which he could not relinquish. He thought now in terms of fine and nearly invisible wire leading to what, under its look of quiescence, might just possibly be a freshly armed bomb. “

No good deed goes unpunished, as an innocent favor results in deadly consequences for Lydia Peel.  Since she is already traveling to Connecticut to attend a family wedding, it should be no trouble to deliver a birthday gift to her friend’s sister right down the road. Paula and Emmett Blake don’t seem grateful for the present, however. In fact, they can’t wait to get rid of Lydia.

More welcoming is their other guest, Mrs. Chilton. The old lady laughs over a dropped cigarette; she is such a careless smoker by day, she confides, that she doesn’t dare smoke at night. Just a few hours later, though, Mrs. Chilton burns to death in her own bed. Lydia suspects murder, and all at once a simple errand becomes more complicated, and more dangerous, than she could have imagined.  Continue reading “The Birthday Gift (1976) by Ursula Curtiss”

Bedelia (1945) by Vera Caspary

Bedelia by Vera Caspary

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“I don’t want any more of your facts!”

“Maybe they’ll seem more interesting after you’ve had a dose of poison in your boiled rice.”

All his friends agree that Charlie Horst is a lucky man. His new bride Bedelia is the perfect wife, and no one can figure out how shy Charlie managed to win her heart, least of all Charlie himself.

Once the dust settles from their whirlwind courtship, however, Charlie can’t help wondering why his wife is so reluctant to talk about her past. Isn’t Bedelia just a little too good to be true? A sudden snowstorm may reveal the truth, or bury it forever.

Continue reading “Bedelia (1945) by Vera Caspary”

The Swimming Pool (1952) by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Swimming Pool by Mary Roberts Rinehart

4 Stars (4/10 stars)

“What are you afraid of?” I demanded. “Don’t pretend to me, Jude. You’re scared to death. You’ve done something, haven’t you? Something wrong. Maybe something terrible. What is it?”

In the golden days of 1929, beautiful Judith Maynard held court over her admirers beside the swimming pool. Twenty years later, everything has changed for the Maynard family. Their father went broke and committed suicide, and siblings Lois and Paul are barely hanging on their decrepit country estate. Only Judith has remained the same, still lovely, still the center of attention.

Then Judith, too, begins to change. She abruptly divorces her rich, older husband. The darling of cafe society retreats to the isolated family house of her youth, shunning her friends and nailing her bedroom windows shut. Judith is terribly frightened of something, or someone. The swimming pool, once the site of girlhood triumphs, has become a special source of dread. When a dead body appears in the pool, mystery writer Lois must find out just what her sister was so afraid of. What she’s not prepared for is how far back into the past these sins will reach. Continue reading “The Swimming Pool (1952) by Mary Roberts Rinehart”

The Chuckling Fingers (1941) by Mabel Seeley

The Chuckling Fingers by Mabel Seeley

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

“Murder is something more than someone dead and someone a killer. I couldn’t get Jacqueline away now. Murder is a trap.”

Ann and Jacqueline are cousins who have always been more like sisters. Jacqueline’s marriage to wealthy lumberman Bill Heaton seems to promise her real happiness at last after the death of her first husband. So Ann is surprised to be summoned to the Heatons’ home on Lake Superior only weeks later, and even more shocked to find her cousin on the verge of a breakdown.

She learns that a number of strange events have been disturbing the Heatons, with the dark atmosphere centering around a rock formation known as the Chuckling Fingers. The stage seems set to repeat a decades-old family tragedy, unless Ann can save her cousin…and herself. Continue reading “The Chuckling Fingers (1941) by Mabel Seeley”

The Slayer and the Slain (1957) by Helen McCloy

The Slayer and the Slain by Helen McCloy

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“They say you never see your own face as others see it because the face you see in a mirror is more self-conscious. Just as you never hear your own voice as others hear it because its tone is distorted by your skull’s resonance. It is hard to obey the philosophic injunction: Know thyself. Perhaps a man knows less about himself than anyone else he encounters.”

He must have slipped on the ice. That’s what everyone says when Harry Vaughan wakes up flat on his back in the middle of campus, twenty minutes of his life gone. He doesn’t remember falling, but it turns out there are a lot of things he doesn’t remember well in the aftermath of the accident.

An inheritance allows Harry to give up his thankless job as a college instructor and relocate to Clearwater, Virginia, his late mother’s hometown. He hopes for a quiet life, maybe to reconnect with a lost love. Soon, however, the community is plagued by unusual events, and his peaceful retreat is growing more dangerous with each passing day. Continue reading “The Slayer and the Slain (1957) by Helen McCloy”

Die in the Dark (1947) by Anthony Gilbert

Die in the Dark by Anthony Gilbert

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“You see, Mrs. Watson, fear is a wild animal and during these last years he has been unleashed and has roamed through the world, biting and infecting.”

Of all the people who saw the advertisement, only two take special notice. To Emily Watson, it seems like exactly what she needs: a lovely home available for a woman of refinement, surrounded by a peaceful forest. Emily’s accommodating nature has led her to be taken advantage of by a sponging nephew and “temporary” roommate who won’t be dislodged. A cottage in the woods could be the refuge she is looking for.

To Arthur Crook, it looks like a murder waiting to happen. In her haste to escape a bad situation at home, Emily may be rushing headlong toward something even worse. Continue reading “Die in the Dark (1947) by Anthony Gilbert”

The Forbidden Garden (1962) by Ursula Curtiss

The Forbidden Garden by Ursula Curtiss

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

“Wanted: Mature companion to older woman in North Valley. Pleasant surroundings. Cooking, no housework.”

All the neighbors are dying to know what makes Mrs. Marrable’s poplars grow so well in the desert. That’s just one of Claire Marrable’s secrets. After the death of her husband, she decides she would rather be a wealthy widow than a poor one. The only thing holding her back is money, but that’s easily remedied. Rich old ladies are expected to hire companions, and hired companions are often alone in the world with their savings. Mrs. Marrable’s had five companions now, and there are five poplar trees lined up in her garden, all in a row.

But the sixth companion is different. Has Mrs. Marrable finally met her match? Continue reading “The Forbidden Garden (1962) by Ursula Curtiss”