Monday, November 20, 2023

A New Stark House double feature: Too Young to Die/The Time of Terror, by Lionel White


Stark House Press, 2023
270 pp


(read earlier)

Lionel White (1905-1985) was a rather prolific author whose writing career lasted well over two decades.  He got his start as a police reporter and editor of a true crime magazine before moving into the realm of fiction, where his work eventually earned him the title of  "the king of the caper novel."   White wrote nearly forty books  before his death, making his print debut in 1953.  Over the span of his career,  a few of his novels were made into films, one of which, Clean Break became Kubrick's The Killing, 1956, and Quentin Tarantino  listed White in the credits of his Reservoir Dogs (1992) as his inspiration.   Stark House has just released this double feature of two of White's novels, making it the tenth two-book volume in their Lionel White repertoire.  

1958 Gold Medal edition, from ebay

 Let me just say before launching into my thoughts here that it's probably a good thing that White used his powers to produce fiction, considering the way he planned this crime, down to the most minute of details.   Too Young to Die (1958) finds Quentin Price fresh out of prison on parole.  He has come to "One great big tremendous truth" during his time behind bars: 
"...there isn't a damn thing in the world more important than money. With it you have everything, without it you are nothing." 
His friend Tammie O'Neill (who, despite the first name is actually a guy)  tries to remind him that he's just out and that "it was that business of wanting money, thinking you needed money, that put you in the clink."   It just so happens that Tammie is an accountant who works for a firm keeping the books of Levinson and Sons, a wholesale diamond and jewelry dealer with offices in New York's diamond district, which is "supposed to be immune to burglary."  As Tammie explains, "there is isn't one chance in ten million of knocking over a score up there. Not one in ten million."   But Quent disagrees, and eventually a plan is concocted that actually might have every chance of succeeding, due to clockwork precision and the smallest attention to detail. However, White throws a  big monkeywrench into his story with Cindy, seventeen and the fianceé of Patsy Frocetti (also a guy despite the name), a mechanic and stock car racer whom Tammie brings into the plan for his knowledge of cars. As with the other characters in on the job, Patsy is sworn to secrecy, prevented from telling even Cindy because "Quent Price don't trust no girls to know."  But Patsy isn't very good at secrets, and between his loose lips and Cindy's growing attraction to Quent and vice versa, the plan could very well be in jeopardy.  

As far as the caper in this story is concerned, as I said earlier, White's plotting was downright meticulous, with the job planned down to the minute and even the smallest details taken into consideration.  I have to say that while I haven't read many books of this sort (capers and heists), I got seriously caught up in the setup for the robbery because it was done so well. But from the opening chapter, which begins just a hair's breadth from the ending of the story before going back in time to answer the questions of a) what's going on and b) how did we get here, I knew that things evidently had not gone to plan, and that Quent was not going to be walking away in the sunset, pockets jingling with his ill-gotten gains.  But, and a SERIOUS caveat lector here,  the Cindy-Quent subplot, on the other hand, made me completely uncomfortable with the fact that an older guy was attracted to a teenager, but then the author took things waaaaayyyyyy too far with a scene where she's fighting him off, this "man suddenly insane," not hearing hear pleas to stop, where she's crying out "in agony as the pain shot through her."  That's bad enough at any age, but with a seventeen year-old girl, it's especially disgusting and uncalled for.  Without that, Too Young to Die would have made for near-perfect crime reading -- I have no idea exactly why the author felt it would add to the story.  

from Goodreads

Imagine my reluctance then to proceed on to the next book, The Time of Terror (1960).  As it turns out though, I needn't have worried.  From the outset we learn that Elizabeth Farrington Dobie (Bet) finds herself "again and again" reliving some sort of horrific event from a "tragic period."  The day that things happened was June tenth, with its beginning  a "bright, clear, fresh morning."  Bet is married to Chris, and the two have two children, Marion (Midge) and little Christian, aka Christian Dobie III, and they live next door to Christian Dobie Sr., Chris' dad in an upscale neighborhood.  Christian works for the Dyna-Electro Corporation, a company he had founded with two people from his days in the Navy, while Bet is a stay-at-home mom. She has a helper in Grace Williams, whom Bet found at a Catholic Protectory and who had been in some sort of trouble earlier in her life.  Now Grace works as a sort of housekeeper and nanny, taking "marvelous care of the children."    The Dobies live a good life, and on June tenth, Christian is on his way to Washington DC for work.  As we learn,  "It was like every Monday morning."   Bet, with children and Grace in tow, leaves to do some shopping, although an earlier phone call  had left Grace upset and wanting to watch the children at home.  Bet, however, knew the kids looked forward to the ride, and she needed Grace to take care of them in the car.  Off to the shopping center, and after a twenty-minute period of shopping, Bet returns with purchases in hand, watching Grace and Midge at the nearby merry-go-round in the parking lot, but little Christian is nowhere to be found.  

Meanwhile, in the neighborhood known as Shadydell Estates,  Frank Mace has found himself in a jam, in "serious, desperate trouble." His wife and kids have left and he'd lost his job three months earlier, which made a huge difference for his family, who always just "got by" on his salary.  The buyers like Frank who'd moved into Shadydell hadn't counted on all of the extra expenses of home ownership, and with children and a wife to support, the living hadn't been easy to begin with.  Frank, as the breadwinner, soon finds himself in despair, wondering how he's going to make it.  One night when the "troubles and worries and all" had pretty much "driven him out of his mind," he got really drunk and let his friend Barney talk him into letting another woman console him.  Bad idea -- his wife Ruthie, who had stuck by him through the money woes, wasn't about to hang around after he'd confessed to her.  Now he's got creditors chasing him, and he wants Ruthie and his kids back.  All he knows is that "Money was the key," and that "he'd get it no matter what he had to do," even if he "had to rob and kill for it."   On that very same beautiful Monday,  Frank decides on a plan, although opportunity changes things up a bit when he comes upon a little boy alone in a car parked next to his in a shopping center parking lot.  

While the Dobies live through every minute that follows in absolute terror,  Frank's friend Barney discovers what Frank has done and takes charge of things. As the blurb for this book notes, " And that's when the real trouble begins..."

I really enjoyed The Time of Terror.  Frank's utter desperation translates very well from pen to page here as does the horror of the Dobies having to live through the kidnapping of their child.  As Matthew Sorrento notes in his introduction to this volume, the author becomes a "sharp social critic," as he "dissects the flight to the suburbs as a financial trap."   His commentary, says Sorrento, explores "suburban decay hidden beneath the veneer of old money and exploitative practices," a topic beyond relevant more than seventy years later in our own time, another factor in making it a worthy read.   So for me, this two-books-in-one volume as a whole is a mixed bag, with the terrific caper plot in  Too Young To Die completely marred by the unnecessary rape of a teenaged girl while  The Time of Terror kept me turning pages.  

One more thing: Sorrento's introduction will definitely be appreciated by film buffs -- I spent time looking online through each and every description of each movie he mentioned and I was just in awe at his wealth of knowledge.   My (as usual!! ) many thanks to Stark House for my copy.  

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Double Murder at the Grand Hotel Miramare, by Elena and Michela Martignoni


Kazabo Publishing, 2023
originally published as Doppio delitto al Miramare, 2015
178 pp 


I really enjoy reading translated fiction, no matter the genre.  My last couple of reads (outside of crime) came from Argentina and Mexico, and I'm always delighted when something new in translation comes along.   I'm not quite sure who specifically translated this book, Double Murder at the Grand Hotel Miramare, but there is a baker's dozen of translators listed as being on the translation team, which is something I hadn't encountered before.    According to goodreads, this book is number five of the thirteen in the series featuring Deputy Assistant Chief of Police Luigi Berté,  written by these two women under the name of Emilio Martini.  [sidebar:  one of the books on the goodreads list is shown as number 4.5 so I have no idea what that means, exactly -- how do you write half a book?  It's always tough starting a series that's obviously well underway,  and  although the authors allude to some past events in Berté's life (a messy breakup, some sort of trouble in Milan and a move to his current location in Lungariva along the Ligurian coast),   I feel like I didn't quite have the entire story, which was a wee bit frustrating;  on the other hand, the holes in my knowledge didn't exactly hinder my reading experience too much so it was okay.  

It's Easter Monday, and Berté has his heart set on both a wonderful lunch at the Pensione Aurora and seeing Marzia, the married woman with whom he is in a secret relationship.  But, as he says after a phone call from his sergeant,  "a double murder has a way of distracting you from your thoughts, as well as ruining your plans."  Called to the luxe Hotel Miramare, he finds the two victims, "permanent guests" there,  together in bed in one of the hotel rooms, evidently shot while sleeping by someone  in a "blind rage" who was neither a professional nor someone too familiar with the use of weapons.  Both of them are employed by Countess Licia Trevisan, a very wealthy woman whose husband, the Count Van Der Meer, had made his fortune in South Africa. She is, as the manager notes, "one of our most important clients."   The male victim is Roberto Sommariva, an accountant, while the female victim, Ornella Ferrari, is the Countess' secretary.    After talking to his boss, Berté learns that along with his regular colleagues Pasquale Parodi and Francesca Belli, he has been assigned help from a homicide unit and a forensics team from Genoa.  He will need it -- not only is the hotel packed with guests who are all potential suspects,  but the Countess, who may just be a suspect herself, is being rather tight lipped with the police.  And quite frankly, she rubs Berté the wrong way from the start.  As the two teams get to work,  they discover that there is plenty of motive to go around; the further they get into the investigation, they realize that there are also plenty of secrets being kept that need to be unraveled if there is any hope at all of catching the killer. 

from Corbaccio

I enjoyed this book so much that when I'd finished it, I asked Chiara from Kazabo if any more of these books had been translated.  I got a no for an answer, but the point is that I was ready to hit the buy button if they had.  There's a lot to like here, beginning with the main character, who banters with his conscience that he's named "The Bastard" (whose words appear in italics), who is constantly razzed about this ponytail, and who has a good working relationship with his two main colleagues as well as with the team from Genoa.  Berté has a temper, can get angry in his job and likes to do things his way; at least he's smart enough to realize that in this investigation at least, there are times when he's walking on thin ice.  Like his father, also a member of the police force,  he is a huge fan of detective novels, and the authors have scattered different titles and writers throughout the novel that shed light on Berté's favorites (and obviously, their own influences in crime writing).    I also want to highlight the fact that the core mystery itself connects distant past with present, which I love in a novel of any genre.   And while there is romance involved here, it's not so distracting as to mess with the investigation/crime solving narrative, which I've seen happen all too often.  Finally,  Double Murder at the Grand Hotel Miramare is a nicely-plotted,  old-fashioned murder mystery written without gore or gratuitous sex,  making it a pleasure to read.   How often does that happen these days if you're not a cozy reader? 

I would like to thank Chiara for offering me the opportunity to read this novel and sending me an e-pub version, which I promptly forgot about until her much-needed but gentle nudge made me feel so guilty about sitting on it that I actually bought a copy.  I love what Kazabo does, offering crime fiction (and other books)  in translation from authors whose work has not yet reached an English-speaking readership.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of translated crime/mystery fiction, as well as to readers who just want to curl up with a good mystery novel where the focus is actually on the mystery itself.  

Thursday, November 2, 2023

and now we come to the end -- The Four False Weapons, by John Dickson Carr


Berkley Books, 1957
originally published 1937
217 pp

mass market paperback
(read earlier in October)

It's truly a pity that the British Library Crime Classics series (as of right now)  doesn't include the final Bencolin mystery, because until they do, I'm sort of stuck with this cover, which was probably very cool in 1957 but doesn't hold a candle to the covers from the British Library.   This book lives in one of many baskets of old, beat-up, barely- read mass market paperbacks that I probably bought at yard sales or library sales over the last god knows how many years, while my British Library books live on their own shelves.  It will likely go back in its basket now, and hopefully the British Library will publish a new edition and I can add that one to the other four that came before.  I really hate when things are incomplete.  

In terms of tone, The Four False Weapons is absolutely unlike the other Bencolin novels.  Gone are the sort of grand guignol theatrics and the supernatural-ish/macabre elements Carr flirted with to give his books a different edge, and alas, gone too is Jeff Marle.   I have to say that I missed all of these things while reading Four False Weapons, just as I'll miss Bencolin now after having finished this book.  

The mystery doesn't present itself right away as in the previous books.  Instead, we meet Richard Curtis, who works as junior partner in a law firm whose "professional dealings" are mainly with "the more conservative families of Great Britain and certain English families abroad."  What he does isn't particularly exciting but more on the "humdrum" side, leaving him with the feeling that there has to be more out there and dreaming of something along the cloak-and-dagger lines.  He dreams of the day when his boss will tell him that he has a "mission for you to undertake," and as this novel begins, to his great surprise, today is that day.   As it happens, his boss is sending him off to Paris to meet and take care of Ralph Douglas, a wealthy client whose brother is in the Diplomatic Service, and whose fiancée is the daughter of a highly-esteemed head of a well-known travel bureau.  It seems that there is "something very, very fishy" going on at Ralph's home in the Forest of Marly, the Villa Marbre, that is connected to his former mistress, Rose Klonec (actually, the phrase Carr uses here is "poule-de-luxe" which translates out to something like "kept woman").   Before leaving,  Curtis gets advice from his boss to get in touch with Bencolin, whose might be "very useful" to the business at hand.    Once he meets with Douglas, his client tells him about "three queer incidents" starting with an offer to buy the Villa Marbre.  The second came about when Douglas had gone out to the now-empty villa (where he'd lived with Rose before they broke things off), and found things locked up, dusty and "undisturbed" as he'd expected, but with lights and water working, which he hadn't expected since he'd ordered them to be shut off.   And finally, while taking a look around, upstairs he'd discovered that in Rose's room there were pillows and new linens on the bed, followed by the discovery of a full refrigerator.  All of the above adds up in Ralph's eyes to "something damned funny going on," but there is absolutely nothing funny about the discovery of Rose's body and the maid's unbreakable insistence that Ralph had been there with Rose the night before when he swears he hadn't been near the place.  Enter Bencolin, who just happens to live nearby, and who finds too many clues that seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with Rose's death.    

the original 1937 Harper Sealed edition, from AbeBooks

I have to be honest here -- while it's another fun Bencolin entry, it falls heavily on the convoluted side when it comes to the French detective actually solving the case, in my opinion making the book longer and the ending more complicated than it needed to be.  There was one point where I'd thought the story was over, only to count the remaining pages and discover that it couldn't possibly end there.  And I was so right -- Bencolin had more than a few tricks left up his sleeve, none the least of which was an antiquated card game at a private gaming house.

I think this was my least favorite of the five books, yet despite the unnecessary over-complicatedness of it all, the twists and turns in the plot kept me engaged throughout.  More than anything, I was sad to see the end of the weirdness in the basic plots of the first four novels, but having said that, it's clear to me that those four Bencolin stories were the work of an author trying to find his footing; judging by what I've read by Carr outside of that series, The Four False Weapons is the closest in style to his later books.  

So, it's adieu to that series, but not to Carr -- I have every book the man has written, which will likely keep me going for some time.  As far as this novel, I'd recommend it in general to fans of this era of British mystery fiction, to hardcore Carr enthusiasts, and to those readers who must read and finish their mystery/crime series in order.    It's been a good series run. 

The Lost Gallows, by John Dickson Carr


British Library, 2020
256 pp


(read earlier)

In this installment of the Bencolin series, Carr offers up a bit of detective fun that blends British lore, a bit of  Egyptian flair and an intriguing mystery from the past, all of which together make for a crafty whodunit.   

Bencolin and Marle are in London to see a play, and there they are staying with one of Bencolin's old friends, Sir John Landervorne, the former assistant police commissioner of the Metropolitan police.  Landervorne lives at the Brimstone Club (which right away brought to mind the legendary Hellfire Club ) and our two friends are his guests there.   Over tea hanging becomes the topic of conversation, as Bencolin recalls a story about the "odd murder" of a man discovered by the Paris police  "dressed in the sandals and gold robes of an Egyptian  noble of four thousand years ago," who'd been shot in the head."   The sequel, Bencolin notes, was that while in a French prison, an "Englishman" had hanged himself, using the sheets of his bed."  From there, Landervorne launches into his own hanging story, about a man who recently had become involved in "some queer business" after having had one too many and getting lost in the fog.  It seems that the man had seen "the shadow of a gallows and a rope," and that "the shadow of Jack Ketch was walking up the steps to adjust the rope."  Sir John dismisses it  as a "cock-and-bull" story, but Bencolin wants to know more.  Just as Bencolin is remarking the strangeness of seeing a gibbet "under one's own window,"  Sir John calls his attention to a chair in the room, on which a model of one sits:

"no more than eight inches high ... made of cedar wood painted black. Thirteen steps led up to the platform, to a trap held in place by tiny hinges and a rod. From the crossbeam dangled a small noose of twine."  
The lounge steward identifies it as belonging to another resident of the Brimstone Club, a certain Nazem El Moulk,  who had received it earlier that day in the mail.   

The core mystery of this book actually begins after Bencolin, Marle and Landervorne leave the play and Marle is nearly run down by a limo driven by a dead man, whose throat had been cut "ear to ear."  Marle realizes that the limo belongs to El Moulk, and that his chaffeur is the unfortunate driver.  Back to the Brimstone they go, just in time to see the car come to a stop. Although Marle had seen El Moulk get into the car and be driven away, he is nowhere to be seen.   When the police arrive, the inspector reveals that earlier that evening, a call had come in reporting that "Nezam El Moulk has been hanged on the gallows in Ruination Street."   The problem is that there is no such place in the city -- so where is El Moulk?   As they head out into the dark city streets to try to find him, Bencolin and Marle find themselves in a race against time and a modern-day, would-be Jack Ketch intent on upping the body count.

1947 Pocket Books edition, from AbeBooks

As with the other books I've read in this short series,  The Lost Gallows narrowly skirts the supernatural without actually going there.   Carr does a great job of enticing the reader into the story pretty much right away, raising the tension and darkening the atmosphere little by little as the investigation goes on. There's also a bit of meta going on here, as the author delves into the subject of writing crime fiction and the pitfalls faced by writers in the genre when it comes to pleasing their audiences.   Once again, I didn't guess the who, which made me a very happy camper, but I did enjoy the journey, and spent quite a bit of time down the rabbit of hole of researching Jack Ketch and the history of British executions in general.   While modern readers may find these books a bit on the tedious side, I never get tired of them ... I've grown used to Carr's long-winded style by now, and quite honestly, I'm always impressed with the way in which he puts his mysteries together.   And, as I've said before about this series, the books are just plain fun and provide solid entertainment for a few hours when I need an escape.  

Recommended for diehard readers of mysteries of this period, as well as for fans of the British Library Crime Classics series, which is absolutely awesome.  

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Castle Skull, by John Dickson Carr


British Library Crime Classics, 2020
originally published 1931
240 pp

(read in September)

I read this book earlier, and I'm still making my way through the bag of finished books that need posting about.  

 I have three Bencolin books under my belt so far and I'm working on a fourth (The Lost Gallows)  right now.  I've been highly  entertained with the tinge of weirdness each entry has brought with it, as well as the uncoventional and out-there crimes that need solving.  So far It Walks by Night offered more than a touch of Grand Guignol,  The Corpse in the Waxworks, which I read out of series order,  leans into the grotesque, and the book on offer today,  Castle Skull, comes with more than a hint of the Gothic.  While it seems like he might be heading into supernatural territory with his plots or his titles, the books don't actually go there, something  I admit to being happy about.

Book number two of five in the Bencolin series begins with dinner for three at a restaurant on the Champs Elysées.   At the table are "Belgian financier" Jerôme D'Aunay, "one of the richest men in the world,"  the Inspector and Jeff Marle.  D'Aunay is there with a proposition for Bencolin:  he wants him to solve the murder of  English actor Myron Alison, whose "blazing body" had been seen running on the battlements of Schloss Schadel or Castle Skull eight days earlier.    Once the property of famous magician Maleger, who had mysteriously disappeared on a train from Mainz to Coblenz and somehow wound up dead, its  name is "not a fancy,
"Its central portion is so weirdly constructed that the entire façade resembles a great death's head, with eyes, nose, and ragged jaw. But there are two towers, one on each side of the skull, which are rather like huge ears; so that the devilish thing, while it smiles, seems also to be listening.  It is set high on a crag, with its face thrust out of the black pines."

Below the castle is the Rhine, and it is a "sheer drop" from castle to river.   

1947 Pocket Books cover from Thriftbooks

Alison, it seems, was shot three times, but still managed to run even after his killer had doused him in kerosene and set him on fire.  D'Aunay believes that Alison's death is somehow connected to Maleger's  strange demise and he wants to hire Bencolin to investigate, for "not one sou," believing that the Inspector will take on, as he says to the detective, "the strangest affair you have ever handled."  All of the people present at the time of Alison's death are at Alison's summer home, and an investigation is already in progress under the auspices of the Coblenz police.   Bencolin takes up D'Aunay's offer, and he and Marle make their way to the scene of the crime.  But once they arrive, strange things start to happen, and Bencolin finds himself in a literal  competition with an old acquaintance, chief inspector of the Berlin police Herr Baron Signfried von Arnheim.  

 1964 Berkeley Medallion edition, ebay

Strange deaths, bizarre occurrences and above all the setting of the old castle all provide nonstop atmosphere, which I easily fell into from the beginning.  More than a few startling discoveries are made along the way, and I couldn't help rooting for Bencolin against von Arnheim as in their battle of wits, even though each was nearly equally as verbose as the other.  

1957 -- from ebay

Once again, I did not guess the solution (yay!)  and once again, I offer a tip o' my hat to anyone who did.  It's so bizarre and so unexpected that  I have to wonder if anyone has ever guessed the solution, going back to the days of its first appearance as a Harper Sealed Mystery.  At the point of the seal inviting readers to solve the case without going any further, as Martin Edwards notes in his introduction, the publishers' blurb says the following:
"Surely never was there more fantastic, hideous gaiety than at this banquet.  The guests of honor are Death and his henchman Murder.  The fearful climax is approaching. Will Von Arnheim win? Will Bencolin? What fiend in human form will be revealed as the murderer?"

Above all, even though a bit on the verbose side (a standard Carr trait, evidently), Castle Skull is a fun read.  If you're looking for something out of the ordinary in your crime/mystery reading,  or in your  crime/mystery reading particularly from this era, you can't go wrong with this series.   The three I've now read were simply unputdownable, and I'm finding the same to be true with the fourth.  

Friday, October 6, 2023

A Woman Possessed/Prime Sucker, by Harry Whittington


Stark House, 2023
216 pp

paperback (my copy from Stark House -- thanks!)

It's  Booker Prize season, which has nothing at all to do with this section of my reading journal, but I've been reading some pretty heavy hitters lately, and I've taken a few badly-needed brain breaks in between.  Crime fiction from yesteryear has been the ticket, and I don't mean country house murders.  The author of both tales in this book is Harry Whittington (no, not the guy who Dick Cheney shot in the face back in 2006), and according to the bibliography of his work at the end of this volume, to say that he was a prolific author is an understatement.  Sheesh! I gave up counting after a while.  There is a brief bio of this writer included in the informative introduction written by Cullen Gallagher; there's also a longer essay that you can read online by Woody Haut at his blog.  

 Originally published in 1961,  A Woman Possessed was published under one of Whittington's many psedonyms, Whit Harrison.  The original cover touts "strange lusts, ... wild desire, ... sadistic excesses," and all of those are definitely included here.  When it comes right down to it though, this is a story about revenge, sweet and otherwise. 

original 1961 Beacon edition, from Amazon

Dan Ferrel is working with fellow prisoners in a road gang alongside the highway in the midst of "slash pine and cabbage palmetto country."  He's tense -- the blue car that's he's been anxiously awaiting is late.  It's the vehicle that's going to take him away from prison  and he knows that if his escape doesn't  go as planned, "he would never get another chance."   It's a huge risk, for sure:  Hawkins, one of the guards overseeing the prison crew  has "an itch to pull down on his gun and shoot a man... so bad it's killing him."   His sadistic impulses are kept in check only by the fact that ten convicts are currently involved in "civil rights trials," testifying about the "inhuman treatment" they'd received from six prison guards and the powers that be given orders for the guards to "Walk easy with these cons."  Like Hawkins, Ferrel is also a man with an itch ... as one of his fellow inmates notes, he "ain't got the itch to kill," but "you just got an itch."  He really needs to get away because he urgently has to see his brother Paul, who, as rumor has it, is about to quit med school because he'd become involved in "chasing a dame, wrecking his life," and Dan knows all about the woman, most especially that she's bad news.    Keeping Paul on the straight and narrow is Dan's raison d'être;  Dan may have "fouled up, but Paul was not going to, not as long as Ferell was breathing."  Needless to say, there wouldn't much to talk about here without success on Dan's part, at which point the story takes more than a few unexpected turns before heading straight into revenge territory.  It's an awesome and action-packed read; as Gallagher describes the book in his introduction, it's "Sweaty, grimy and relentless," and it kept me turning pages.  A Woman Posessed is my first foray into the world of Harry Whittington, and despite the often cringeworthy, eye-roll inducing descriptions of sex, I was hooked for the duration.  

An earlier version of the next novel,  Prime Sucker (which Beacon would publish later in 1960)  had initially appeared in 1952, paired in a Universal Giant edition along with Idabel Williams' The Hussy from 1933.   

 1952 Universal Giant edition; photo from ebay

It seems that in the eight years between 1952 and 1960 (according to the introduction),  Beacon's reprint edition had been "spiced-up" as "...publishers could get away with a lot more lurid passages than in 1952 -- and their audience had come to expect as much."  It looks like even the cover art for this book became more lurid in the intervening years as well.  

Beacon edition, 1960, from Abebooks

Prime Sucker starts with a friendly poker game among work colleagues.  The poker game is hosted by George, who works under Hank Ireland at the Thompson Company.  The author wastes no time letting his readers know that Hank "wanted George's wife. It was like being drunk, the way she made him feel."  He's pretty sure that Amy wants him as well -- that "she wanted whatever he wanted."  In fact, he reads in her eyes that she wants "whatever any man wants. Any man." Between the drinks he's downed, the cigarette haze and the lust oozing out from Amy's eyes, he's distracted and woozy, unable to concentrate on the game.   Feeling sick, he goes into the kitchen for ice water, followed by Amy whose job all night has been to get drinks for the poker players.  He feels sick and knows he should go home,  that he needs to get away from her,   but instead he kisses her.   It's not just any kiss but one that solidifies Hank's feeling that he has to have this woman, and the way she reciprocates lets him know she feels the same way.   And while he doesn't realize it, that kiss is about to change his life completely.    He does the smart thing and goes home to his wife, and although he gets a cold reception there, he makes up his mind the next day that he will never see Amy again.   What he doesn't know is that there are forces at play that conspire to bring the two together.    I really can't reveal more about the plot, except that in this story, at least for the first several chapters,  nothing is as it seems.    It takes a while to get down to the jaw-dropping nuts and bolts of this story, but by that time, Hank is pretty much a lost soul, but a lot of that is his own fault --  he won't even try to save himself, refusing the lifeline time and again. 

 Of the two books I preferred A Woman Possessed -- the story was a bit more straightforward and there was less melodrama involved, whereas I had to wait a lot longer for the payoff in Prime Sucker.   It's also very apparent that both books were written well before #metoo, so reader beware.   The sleaze factor is also high between the two novels but I've read way worse so that wasn't a big issue for me, although it was hard sometimes not to cringe; seriously, if the steam coming off these stories had been  real I would have had to stop and clean my reading glasses many times.  I suppose the big question is whether or not I'd read any more books by this writer and now that I've taken that plunge,  "headfirst and deep down into Whittington's world of warped desires" I'm definitely down for more.   I can't help myself, really.  I love pulp.  Great literature it's not, but who cares -- it's so much fun. 

Once again, my many thanks to Stark House Press, whose books have introduced me to authors I didn't even know existed and who have provided me with hours of great reading.  I've had the privilege to read one of their new books coming out next month, another two-books-in-one edition, this time by another previously-unknown (to me) author, Lionel White: Too Young To Die/The Time of Terror, both of which I sat glued to.  I've also just bought two more of their books, short story collections from Robert Hichens, whose work deserves to be brought back into the light. 

It Walks by Night, by John Dickson Carr

I read this novel some time back, but I seem to be continuously playing catch up with posts.  Better late than never, I guess.  I have a large tote bag filled with finished books, so before I start reading any more, the plan is to whittle down that pile. 

British Library, 2019
259 pp

(read in September)

Published in 1930, It Walks by Night is the first novel in the series featuring Carr's French detective M. Henri Bencolin, "juge d'instruction, the adviser of the courts, and the director of the police."  As revealed by Martin Edwards in his excellent introduction,  it had started out life as a novella entitled "Grand Guignol," anonymously published in 1929 in an issue of The Haverfordian, "Haverford's first literary magazine."  Carr went on to rework his novella into a novel called With Blood Defiled, which Harper & Brothers wanted to publish, changing the title to It Walks by Night for its 1930 publication.   While the title may have changed, there is a sort of Grand Guignol vibe to this book; as a brief paragraph in The Paris Review notes, when ownership of the original Grand Guignol chapel was taken over by Max Maurey in 1897,  he saw it as the perfect venue for "straight-up horror."  Under his leadership, the plays appearing there "began focusing on tales of insanity, hallucination, and above all terror."  Given that bit of history, and after finishing this book, Carr's original title actually makes more than a bit of sense, but renaming it as It Walks by Night was definitely a good move.  

The story here is narrated by Jeff Marle, a young man who has known Bencolin his entire life, since the detective was Marle's father's best friend, having met during college in America.  Marle, who serves in the role of Bencolin's partner in crime solving (akin to Holmes' Watson)  describes Bencolin as having a "thin and aquiline nose,"  a "small moustache and  pointed black beard," and greying black hair, "parted in the middle and twirled up like horns."   As an aside here, just for fun I did an image search on Bencolin and found this one, and I'll be damned if it doesn't fit Marle's description to a T.  


Marle has come to Paris from Nice after receiving a wire from Bencolin, which said that "there was danger ahead," and asking if Marle was interested.   Even though Jeff has no clue as to what's going on, he sends a telegram back saying only "yes."   Once he meets up with Bencolin, he is told that there's a man "in the greatest danger of his life," who has appealed personally to the detective to "oversee his protection."  Naming a certain  Raoul de Saligny, "the athlete, the beau sabreur, the popular idol," at first there is very little conversation except for a strange "reference to danger from werewolves."  As it happens, the reader has already been introduced to the idea of werewolves in a passage from a 15th-century book (opening Chapter One) that  Bencolin had sent Marle describing 
"a certain shape of evil hue which by day may not be recognized, inasmuch as it may be a man of favored looks, or a fair and smiling woman; but by night becomes a misshapen beast with blood-bedabbled claws"

and I have to admit to wondering from the outset if perhaps we were going to be in for a bit o' the  supernatural here, an idea that later seemed to be cemented by more than one mention of Poe, and of course, werewolves. 

From dinner the two move on to the popular Fenelli's, a tourist hotspot featuring dining, dancing and, by invitation only, gambling, while the more covert activities going on there conjures up the era of French decadence.   It is there that Bencolin and Marle position themselves so that they can keep an eye on the Duc de Saligny, who on that very day had married the former Louise Laurent.  Her former husband, Alexandre, had attacked her with a knife and shortly thereafter had been committed to an asylum for the criminally insane.  Unfortunately, after making his escape, he had moved on to Vienna where he'd undergone plastic surgery; after killing the surgeon and cutting off his head, he vanished. His escape, it seems, had coincided with the announcement of his ex-wife's marriage, which she had postponed until such time that Laurent could be captured, but de Saligny did not wish to wait.  As Bencolin relates to Marle, just two days earlier the Duc had  received a letter from Laurent, telling him not to marry Louise, and even creepier, that he is watching and that he has put himself close to de Saligny.  Laurent's plastic surgery may have completely altered his appearance making that possible, but even worse, Laurent is obviously in Paris, and now de Saligny feels his best chance is in "public places" until the police can finally lay their hands on his nemesis.   That may take a while, especially after the bridegroom is discovered not only dead, but decapitated in a room at Fenelli's that was being guarded at the time by one of Bencolin's men.   The crime is definitely one that can be labeled as  "impossible" -- as Bencolin notes after examining the murder scene, 
"... there are no secret entrances; the murderer was not hiding anywhere in the room; he did not go out by the window; he did not go out the salon door under my watching, nor the hall door under François' -- but he was not there when we entered.  Yet a murderer had beheaded his victim there; we know in this case above all others that the dead man did not kill himself." 
 It's difficult enough for  Bencolin and Marle to try to wrap their collective heads around this murder, and when more ghastly crimes follow, Bencolin comes to the realization that they are facing
"a murderer who is utterly cold-blooded and cynical, and who firmly believes that these acts are done justifiably, to avenge wrongs.  The crimes are the means of venting on the world a spite too deep for ordinary expression." 
The armchair detective in me did not solve this crime (did not get anywhere even close), and if there is anyone out there who actually figured out the entire solution ahead of the big reveal, my hat is off to you.  Carr's biographer Douglas G. Greene  said (as quoted in the introduction) that there were "many clues to the solution,"  but evidently I missed a few; I think my jaw dropped down to the floor when all was made known.   Still, as with the best mysteries, it's the getting there that counts, and I did not put this book down until the journey was over.  

I read this book in September, but thematically it also fits into October reading with its emphasis on damaged psyches, the darker side of human nature and of course,  more than one grisly crime.   I've already read books number two and three (Castle Skull -- my thoughts coming soon on that one --  and The Corpse In the Waxworks ) both of which share with this book, as Douglas H. Greene stated, "the art of the magician."   Bencolin (and Carr) can certainly go on and on in some cases so you will need a bit of patience, but I can most certainly recommend It Walks by Night for readers who enjoy impossible crimes and the concomitant piecing together of the puzzle.  

Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Devil's Flute Murders, by Seishi Yokomizo


Pushkin-Vertigo, 2023
originally published 1973 as Akuma ga kitarite fue o fuku (悪魔が来りて笛を吹く)
Translated by Jim Rion
256 pp

paperback (read earlier this month)

I really love these Kindaichi novels -- over the years I've become a huge, huge fangirl.  According to Wikipedia, it looks as if this book first appeared as a serialization that ran from 1951 through 1953.  It was later published in 1973 in book form, and now the good people at Pushkin Vertigo have published it in an English translation, thanks to Jim Rion.  Going with that same article in Wikipedia, The Devil's Flute Murders is number fifteen in the series starring Yokomizo's detective Kosuke Kindaichi; it is the fifth of the Kindaichi books to have been published in English by Pushkin Vertigo.  Just a heads up here: at the Wikipedia page for Seishi Yokomizo,  I noticed that there is another translation coming from Pushkin Vertigo in 2024, The Little Sparrow Murders.  I will be grabbing that one as well, of course.  

As I've said many times, I love mysteries based on events of the past and this one did not disappoint.   

Very briefly, the action begins  in Tokyo in 1947, and much of the city and other parts of the country are still in ruins after World War II.  It is also a time when the aristocracy class as a whole is marking the last of its days, a phenomenon, as the author notes, examined that very year by Osamu Dezai in his work The Setting Sun (1947)It would be later that year that the peerage came to its official end with the establishment of the new Japanese constitution, but when Viscount Hidesuke Tsubaki was found dead, he was still officially a member of the "sunset class." Before then, he had been a quiet and unassuming man with no cares about influence or ambition. He was also an accomplished flautist whose recording of "The Devil Comes and Plays His Flute" was quite popular.  His home in Tokyo had survived the firebombing of the city, but unfortunately that wasn't the case with his brother-in-law's residence, which was destroyed, prompting him to move into Tsubaki's home.   This relocation caused no end of stress for the Viscount; the addition of his wife's uncle Tamamushi coming to live at the estate only worsened the situation.   Then on March 1, Tsubaki simply vanished, leaving home "without a word of explanation to his family," never to return.   Some time passes before his body is discovered, identified by his daughter Mineko and other family/household members.   As this novel begins in earnest, in September Mineko has made her way to see private detective Kosuke Kindaichi  with a bizarre story that immediately captures his attention.  It seems that after Tsubaki's death, her mother Akiko, her maid Otane and her uncle's mistress Kikue had gone to the theatre where Kikue had clearly seen the Viscount sitting in the front row of the balcony.  He was gone by the time they had the courage to go and check it out, but seeing him had sent Akiko into a panic.  Kindaichi agrees to go to the Tsubaki home when Mineko mentions a "divination" (sort of like a séance) that is about to be held there.   He enters into a most surreal and strange experience resulting from that event that surprises everyone else as well, but that's just the beginning:  it is there for the first (but not the last) time that he hears the sound of Tsubaki playing his  "The Devil Comes and Plays His Flute," which, together with sightings of Tsubaki walking in the estate grounds, rattles everyone in the household.  From that point, Kindaichi is fully involved; what he can't possibly predict is that the deaths will pile up before he can get to the core of this mystery based on secrets that go well back in time. The Inugami Clan continues to remain at the top of the list of my favorite Kindaichi novels, but The Devil's Flute Murders definitely comes in a very close second.  While there is a solid mystery at its core, Yokomizo also examines the deleterious effects of wealth, social status and privilege, and in this case it's not just ugly, but deadly. 

 I've purposefully  offered only a barebones description  here since the book itself is quite involved with a level of complexity I haven't yet seen in this series; after having finished it, I can see why the serialization of this novel lasted so long.   Yokomizo obviously took his time,  allowing  Kindaichi to unravel each and every strand (and there are many) of this perplexing case until the detective can get to the bottom of it all.  It might be worth noting here that if you're someone who wants their mysteries solved quickly with a standard cut-and-dried, formulaic approach to a solution, you won't find that here.  Another thing:  the huge cast of characters is listed in the front in a sort of dramatis-personae type thing, but I became pretty frustrated at flipping back to that list time and again so I finally ended up just making a copy to leave nearby while reading.   And speaking of characters, at one point I actually said to my spouse that I believe this is the first time in reading a book where there were  only two people  I liked, and that was Kindaichi and the dead Tsubaki.    Reader beware -- if you're someone who has to like the people inhabiting your books, you might be a bit disappointed.    

I am beyond happy to report that I did not guess the who until nearly the end when Yokomizo almost hands it to the reader,  although I will say that I did sort of figure out the underlying why in a vague way a bit earlier.   If I explain what it was that made me get that far,  it wouldn't be fair to people who may decide to read this book, so we'll leave it there.  Bottom line: when all is said and done, The Devil's Flute Murders is a solid and compelling mystery that regular readers of Japanese mysteries in translation or regular readers of the Pushkin Vertigo Kindaichi series novels should absolutely not miss, although it is very different in many ways from its predecessors.   


As the book was winging its way to me, I had purchased a copy of the 1979 film adapted from this novel, but after  some research, I found at least two more adaptations, the earliest dated 1954.  If there are more I haven't found them yet so if anyone has any info, please let me know.   Toshiyuki Nishida has the role of the very, very scruffy Kindaichi, and while the movie is quite good, had I not read the novel prior to watching the film I think I would have been lost. The powers that be who put this movie together made several changes that detracted from the essence of the book, but it was still an entertaining film, complete with subtitles.

The version from 2018 (available with subtitles on YouTube) is the better of the two, with Hidetaka Yoshioka as a very angsty Kindaichi.  This adaptation was an NHK TV movie, and the storyline was 
clear and straightforward, making it easy to pick up on what's happening even if you haven't read the

from ho-lingnojikenbo

 book.  This was even better than the Kindaichi films I've watched that were done by Kon Ichikawa, which for me is saying a lot.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The Mill House Murders, by Yukito Ayatsuji


Pushkin Vertigo, 2023
originally published as Suishakan no Satsujin Shinsou Kateiban, 1988
translated by Ho-Ling Wong
253 pp


The Mill House Murders is apparently the second of several books by this author in what Wikipedia refers to as the "Bizarre House/Mansion Murders" series. I've previously read his The Decagon House Murders (also published by Pushkin Vertigo),  the first in the series and a really good mystery that cinched the deal when it came to preordering this book. And while I had the inklings of a solution to this mystery vaguely floating on the periphery of my brain, The Mill House Murders still managed to seriously stump me as I couldn't figure out either the who or more importantly, the how.  

The novel begins at 5:50 a.m., September 29, 1985, within a prologue in which we learn that it is nearly dawn, and the group of people staying at the home of Fujinuma Kiichi have had a very bad September 28th night. While a typhoon raged outside, things inside the Mill House had taken a horrific turn -- a woman had fallen from the tower room,  a painting had vanished, and one of the guests had simply  disappeared.  As if that's not bad enough, things are about to get worse, with the discovery of a dead man in the incinerator, "cut up in pieces and burnt."  It was, to quote Fujinuma, "a blood-soaked night."   Flash forward exactly one year later, and once again a major storm is making its way to the area, and once again guests are expected at the Mill House. Aside from a caretaker and a housekeeper,  Kiichi lives in the house along with Yurie, whose father's dying request was that Kiichi take her in.  Not too long after he had done so, Kiichi had been involved in a car accident that had left his limbs damaged along with his face, leaving him with the desire to withdraw from the world. He had Mill House built, and he and Yurie spent a rather solitary existence, with Yurie spending most of her life in the house's tower room until the two eventually married.  The Mill House is named for its three water wheels that provide the house with its electricity; as one of the guests remarks about them, they
"...  almost look like they are turning against the flow of time, keeping the house and everything in this valley frozen in a never-ending moment." 

It seems as though this is precisely what the reclusive Kiichi desires, but as idyllic as it sounds, it is evidently not meant to be.  

It seems that every year on September 28th,  a small group of Kiichi's acquaintances make their way to his home to view his collection of his famous-artist father's paintings, which he kept only for himself and not for public consumption in an exhibition.  It seems that these well-known paintings have strange effects on the viewer, often to the point of producing a hallucinatory reaction, but there is one that Kiichi will allow no one to look at known as "The Phantom Cluster," making his guests want to see it all the more.    This year there will be an extra, uninvited guest by the name of Shimada Kiyoshi who is not only interested in the events of September 28th of the previous year, but also a friend of the man who had disappeared at the time, who was thought to have been responsible for the theft of the painting and most likely for the death of the incinerated man.  As Shimada says to his host, "something about the case bothers me. There's something not right ..."   And yes indeedy, there is something very wrong in this house, beginning with the first death, bringing back fresh memories of that night a year earlier, as well as the question of  whether history might be repeating itself once again.  

2008 Japanese cover (which I must say beats PV's cover by a mile) from Amazon Japan

Shimada's theory is that the police investigation of the 1985 events was flawed, and he is there to try to find out "with my own eyes and ears" what had happened.   He is not there in any official capacity, nor is he there to catch the killer; his mission is to simply discover the truth.   As they say in Japan, 頑張ってね, -- ganbatte ne -- good luck.  He'll need it.  As he notes at one point, 
"... solving a problem is a lot like solving a jigsaw puzzle. However, in this case we don't have a picture of the completed puzzle, nor do we know how many pieces there are in total. And of course, the pieces of our mystery might not be flat, but three-dimensional, or perhaps they even have four or five dimensions. So depending on who is putting the pieces together, we could all end up with completely different pictures, or perhaps I should say 'shapes.'
 Given what's going on at the Mill House, solving this particular puzzle is  definitely not going to be easy. 

There is seriously nothing like reading a book that takes place during a major storm while in real life there's thunder and lightning at play all around you, making The Mill House Murders atmospheric and a bit creepy at the same time.   This story begins in the past, moves into the present, and continues in this way throughout the novel. At most points both timelines are set as a mirror of the other, as Shimada's questioning goes on and he gains more information and more clues as to what had happened in 1985.  That is not to say that 1986 doesn't have a few surprises in store; as I said at the beginning of this post,  I thought I had at least a sort of outline of the solution in my mind (I actually sort of did in a vague way guess a small part of it) but by the end, the various twists and turns taken throughout this story brought things to a level at which I would never have guessed.   The truth is that I'm always so happy to end a book with a with a huge gasp when all is revealed; this is twice now that it's happened with this author.  

At Pushkin's website, there is a short bio blurb that says that Ayatsuji is a 
"Japanese writer of mystery and horror novels and one of the founding members of the Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan, dedicated to the writing of fair-play mysteries inspired by the Golden Age Greats. He started writing as a member of the Kyoto University Mystery Club, which has nurtured many of Japan's greatest crime writers."

I do hope that Pushkin Vertigo will go on to publish at least a few (if not all) of the remaining Bizarre House/Mansion Murders books by this author -- for me The Mill House Murders was very well done, highly satisfying and really quite ingenious.  I happen to love these sort of mysteries;  they aren't always for everyone but I thrive on puzzle solving of any sort and these books are definitely puzzlers, in a very good way. 

 Recommended to regular readers of Japanese crime fiction/mysteries.  

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Continuing on in catch-up mode: Death of a Stray Cat/ An Affair of the Heart, by Jean Potts


Stark House, 2023
236 pp

paperback (my copy from the publisher -- thanks!)


I love reading the works of women crime writers of yesteryear.  Jean Potts is the author of fourteen novels in this genre, one "mainstream" novel called Someone to Remember (1943) and a huge number of short stories.  Quite a few of the latter were  published in  Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and at least one in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  In short, she was an incredibly prolific author; thanks to Stark House, her work is being brought back for modern readers to enjoy.  This volume contains two of her mystery stories:  Death of a Stray Cat from 1955 and An Affair of the Heart, published in 1970.

Very briefly, because there are two books at play here,  Death of a Stray Cat is a fine whodunit that begins as bookseller Alex Blair and his wife Gen arrive in the small New York community where they have a beach house: "on one side of the road W. Gertz, Meats and Groceries, and across from it the filling station and Rudy's Bar and Grill."  It's Labor Day weekend, and the two of them are looking forward to a happy, leisurely three-week getaway; along for the ride is "a preposterous pair," Mr. Theobald and Vonda, who will be staying at a cottage owned by Dwight Abbott, a friend of the Blairs.  When they stop for groceries, the proprietor lets them know that a young woman had stopped there earlier in the day, wanting to know where Alex's house was.  Neither of the Blairs can figure out who it might have been, and sort of brush it off, not giving it another thought.    Vonda and Mr. Theobald take the Blair's car to drop off the groceries while  Alex and Gen go to have drinks and dinner at nearby Rudy's, a local favorite.  They've just settled in at their table when Rudy's daughter takes a phone call that leads Alex, Gen and local police chief Ed Fuller to the Blairs' beach house, where they find the body of a young woman, apparently strangled. Gen has no idea who she is, but Alex recognizes her as Marcella Ewing.   He can't believe it --  of all the people in the world, he thinks, "it was hard to imagine anybody less dangerous than Marcella."  With only a small group of people as potential suspects, the focus is on the victim herself -- why would anyone want her dead?   I have to say that I didn't guess the identity of the killer, always a plus, but even more to the point, when that person was unmasked I had  a true "whoa!" moment.  The author's brilliant plotting shines through in this story, but even better is the way in which she managed to imbue her characters with such unexpected life. Mystery readers will LOVE this one.   Another thing:  while her Edgar award-winning novel Go, Lovely Rose was awesome,  Death of a Stray Cat beats that one by a mile.  Definitely very highly recommended.  

I really love these old, lurid covers.  This one's from Biblio

After finishing the second book, An Affair of the Heart, it dawned on me that the title can easily be taken as a sort of double entendre, especially because the dead man at the center of this novel has a heart condition.  By the way, this fact isn't a spoiler, since it's right there up front in the book blurb.  This book is much shorter in length than Death of a Stray Cat; although it comes in at less than one hundred pages, there's still plenty of whodunit mystery here to enjoy.  Kirk Banning is only forty-nine, but he's been told that he needs to take things easy in order to stave off another heart attack or an even worse fate.  For some time the younger Lorraine Walsh has been "the other woman" in his life, a role that once she had "leapt into so gladly and blindly," but lately she's had not only regrets, but since meeting Kirk's wife Hilda, she has also developed a conscience about the whole situation.   Things get intense when Kirk actually proposes, something that would have made Lorraine "raptuously happy" a year earlier, but not any more.  He plans on telling his wife about everything in three days' time.  The problem is that Lorraine can't find a way to tell him how she feels now, because the shock just might kill him, given his heart condition.  As she tells her sister Mary, that's not the worst of it -- suppose Kirk had another heart attack and died in her apartment?  How could she possibly explain everything?   As one might guess, on a day Lorraine is away, the inevitable ends up happening, forcing Lorraine, Mary and their good friend Teddy to go into cover-up mode.  All goes okay with the police, and Lorraine has a perfect excuse for his being there to offer to the family.  Kirk's daughter Isobel, summoned to the site of her father's death, realizes that he doesn't have his medication on him like he always does.   Lorraine also  notices that Kirk's medication isn't in the usual spot on her bedside table, leaving Mary to wonder whether or not she and Teddy "might have blundered into something quite different from what they had bargained for."  Evidently, someone wanted Kirk Banning dead, but who?  And how?  What none of the three could possibly know is that there will be a terrible price to be paid when all is said and done.   

a rather bland cover for this one: Gollancz UK first edition hardcover, 1970.  From Dead Souls Bookshop

Once again it's the characters that really make this story, and once again, the plot focuses on a small number of people at its core, all of them with closely-guarded secrets that add an element of tension and a darkish sort of intensity into the reading.  It's not quite on the level of Death of a Stray Cat in my opinion, but it's still pretty good story with more than a couple of surprises along the way. Unfortunately, I did figure out the who in this one, but I think it's likely because it wasn't nearly as involved or written as in depth as the other. Despite that, An Affair of the Heart still makes for a good read, and taken as a whole, this two-novel volume is well worth your mystery-reading time.  I enjoyed this volume so very much that I've just bought three more (so I suppose that makes six in total)  books by Jean Potts directly from the publisher.  As long as they keep putting them out, I'll continue reading them.

My many thanks to the powers that be at Stark House, along with major apologies for taking so long to get to this book and the others they've sent -- we've had a hell of a year here at home and it's only just recently that the pall has begun to lift.  Thank you so very, very much.