Edmund Crispin – Swan Song (1947)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Rope/Hangman’s Noose
Date Finished: February 16, 2016
TBR #13

Oh, it is a joy to read a Edmund Crispin mystery. It is well written, humorous, clever, literary, and well plotted. A very welcome treat. In Swan Song, Gervase Fen is involved with an opera company putting on a production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger at Oxford. The difficult bass singer is found hung in his dressing room. No one could have been with him at the time of his death, yet Fen and the coroner’s jury are not convinced that it is suicide. Attacks on other characters and another death follow. These serve to cloud the mystery, but in the end it is not very difficult to figure out the solution. That is the only demerit this mystery earns. Fen is a quirky, impolite, hilarious figure. Wouldn’t it be nice to stick him in one of Ngaio Marsh’s dull Alleyn outings.

The cover of this 1981 Avon edition earns many more, however. The same artist did others in Avon’s Crispin reprints, but this one is extraordinarily poor. The cartoonish main figure in these is supposed to be Fen, one assumes. Here at least he is not dressed as Sam Spade, though is he holding a very stiff handkerchief to his face or is that something else? For no reason, two extraneous characters are pictured to the bottom left, while the murder victim, the most dramatic portion of the picture, is so obscured that you have to study it before you can spot the rope. A giant tea cup and bottle of poison fill out the picture. Terrible. Someone’s relative needed a job, I presume.

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Rex Stout – Bad for Business (1940)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Knife
Date Finished: February 14, 2016

The second mystery in the three-mystery Tecumseh Fox series, this one barely mentions Fox’s menagerie of odd-ball humans living in his country house, nor does it have much in the way of unusual characteristics for Fox, showing him just as a clever private detective. Stout’s female detective, Doll Bonner, does show up, but only briefly, as one of her operatives, a young woman finds herself knocked unconscious next to her murdered uncle. That uncle is the head of an old food company firm that is dealing with an unknown figure putting quinine in their jars of food. Our young woman has been sent by Bonner’s firm to investigate a rival firm, and of course she has fallen in love with the young executive. Her cousin also appears as a suspect, as do some old employees of the firm. The writing is well done to Stout’s usual standards, but the mystery is not difficult to solve. The end reveal where all the characters are gathered together is very similar in style to Nero Wolfe’s usual procedure, but it fizzles without Wolfe’s idiosyncrasies.

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Ed Lacy – Visa to Death (1955)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Photograph
Date Finished: February 12, 2016

From the other Ed Lacy books that I’ve read, I expected this one to be a bit more violent, racy, or seamy, I guess. It feels more like a William Campbell Gault Brock Callahan mystery. An auto mechanic, who has gotten into private detective work through his late wife’s urging to deal with auto-related thefts, is asked by a young widow to help investigate the murder of a cop. The cop was shot in the back, along with another somewhat innocuous character. This is way outside of his area of investigation, but he agrees. A fairly easy-going detective trying to take care of his little girl while doing late night work, he comes up with some clues and insights that have escaped the police. The Point-of-view switches back and forth between the detective and the criminals, so you are a bit ahead of things and aren’t completely in the dark as to suspects, but even though there is nothing earth-shattering here, it is well done and a shame that the detective, Barney Harris, does not appear again.

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Robert H. Kelston – Kill One, Kill Two (1958)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Performer (Dancer)
Date Finished: February 10, 2016

Robert H. Kelston seems to be largely a mystery himself. He seems to have just a couple of books to his name, including this half of an Ace Double. In this mystery, a dam engineer has just finished a project in Monterrey, Mexico and is off to his next project in Guadalajara. On the road in his Jaguar, a man appears suddenly in front of him. He swerves but cannot avoid hitting him. Was it an accident or was the man pushed in front of him? Trying to avoid entanglement with the Monterrey police, our engineer tries to dig deeper in the criminal underworld associated with the dead man. This includes the widow, the dancer (stripper) pictured on our cover, who is also involved with our engineer, along with her brother, her husband’s lover, and assorted other characters. Very complicated. With only a 112 pages to work with, Kelston tries to jam as much beating, conniving, drinking, loving, and fighting in here as possible. Although no great work of art, he is moderately successful in showing a few wild, violent few days in Mexico.

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Elisabeth Sanxay Holding – Net of Cobwebs (1945)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Spiderweb
Date Finished: February 10, 2016

Witness? Murder? Or Sucker? Did he see what he thought he saw or is he going crazy? A sailor returned from the war with shell shock/combat stress is living with his brother, his brother’s wife, her sister, and their aunt. Suddenly the aunt drops dead and he may or may not be responsible. Then others start dying or disappearing. Can he trust his own eyes? This is an interesting little book, told from the point-of-view of someone who is not quite certain what is reality and what is not. You don’t really get to know the other characters very well, but that is reflective of the fogginess the main character feels in his own head. Perhaps the ending was a bit abrupt, but still very satisfying.

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Adam Knight – Stone Cold Blonde (1951)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Blonde
Date Finished: February 9, 2016
TBR #12

This starts off ok, with a nude blonde found stabbed to death in the office of pint-sized private detective Steve Conacher. It then seems to go off track somehow as he is hired to track a missing husband who is on the run from the police after a Florida jewel robbery. The best part is Steve’s relationship with his buddy and fellow detective, Abe Feldman, but he soon is also killed in the office. The missing husband, wife, lawyers, etc. all turn out to be tied in with the dead blonde. Not much mystery and all too convenient. Conacher is also offensively anti-gay and pretty rude to almost everybody else. Sure, I suppose he is a product of his time, and trying to out-tough Mike Hammer, but it loses him all sympathy. People tend to overuse the term “dated,” applying it to the lack of cell phones as if that would make a story unreadable, but Conacher’s attitudes are dated here.

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Ngaio Marsh – Overture to Death (1939)

overture-to-death (1)

Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Musical Instrument
Date Finished: February 7, 2016

Well, this is definitely a British Golden Age-style mystery. Unfortunately the puzzle is not very puzzling. In a small English village, eight people are involved with the production of a play in the church hall. Two are very difficult old spinsters, both rivals for the affections of the village rector. Someone murders one of the spinsters with a gun hidden in a piano, but who is the intended victim and who set up this death trap? The first 60 or so pages set up the scene with all the characters and situations, as Marsh liked to do. Although this drags on a bit when you are waiting for the mystery to begin, it is the best part of this novel. Then the murder and investigation change the tone of the work. Alleyn and his Scotland Yard crew are comfortable, though unexciting, and the mystery is certainly not suspenseful. The murderer is fairly obvious with 50 or more pages to go. This was the problem with Death in a White Tie, as well. I’ve got to keep plugging on with these as I have more on the bookshelf, but the blandness does not call out to me to pick them up.

As Alleyn states at one point, “Fox, did you ever know such a case? One cranky spinster is enough, heaven knows; and here we have two, each a sort of Freudian prize packet, and one a corpse on our hands.” Yay, cranky spinsters. Fun stuff.

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Edward S. Aarons – Million Dollar Murder (1950)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Dog
Date Finished: February 4, 2016
TBR #11

A jilted young man sails to the island where his former lover, who is now married to his own brother, awaits. On the way he finds an adrift boat containing a badly injured man. While trying to find help for the man on the island, our hero becomes embroiled in intrigue, betrayal, greed, love, etc. — the usual in these post-war suspense novels. I enjoy Aarons’ work and this one is quite gripping with plenty of villains present.

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Richard Ellington – Shakedown (1953)

File Jan 31, 7 27 25 PM

Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: A Town Scene
Date Finished: January 31, 2016
TBR #10

And wrapping up January, which has been a good reading month, with 18 finished, is Shakedown, originally published in hardcover as Just Killing Time, by Richard Ellington. There is some interesting information on Ellington at mysteryfile. He was involved with Old Time Radio, including credits as a writer on The Fat Man and its J. Scott Smart follow-up, The Top Guy. Only five mysteries are listed for Ellington, all featuring his former actor turned detective, Steve Drake. This one is his final appearance, unfortunately. According to the cover blurb, Broadway is his beat, but here he is involved with the very brief window of live TV drama productions coming out of New York City, as well as the communist infiltration into the entertainment business. Perhaps in hindsight, more attention should have been devoted to those subjects by Ellington, but the focus here is on Drake’s dealings with a blackmailer and murderer. The comments on various sections of New York City are also interesting. Perhaps not the greatest hardboiled detective novel, it is well written and moves along quickly.

I’ll credit this one as a Town Scene for the scavenger hunt. If you look closely at the cover you’ll see the stylized highrises featured in this very New York mystery.

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Agatha Christie – Murder in the Mews (1937)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Moon
Date Finished: January 30, 2016

I don’t know if you can see it, but that little Cairo stamp down in the lower right has a moon. I could have gone with an airplane here, but I wanted to save that.

Four Poirot novellas/short stories comprise this work, which has plenty of reviews and summaries online. They are good, not great, and naturally don’t have the character development of her novels, though still more than many other novelists are able to include in their own novels. One of these has a suicide that was really a murder and a murder that was really a suicide. The trickiest is probably the shortest.

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