Dean Street Press mines the Golden Age

death-in-the-dentists-chairDeath in the Dentist’s Chair by Molly Thynne; Golden Age mystery; republished by Dean Street Press; list price, $2.99 (USD) for Kindle – but FREE when posted.

Why some mysteries are perennially popular and others fall out of favor is a mystery to me, and always has been, but one of the greatest advantages of digital publishing is the opportunity to rediscover such Golden Age gems as Molly Thynne’s six classic mysteries.

I picked up four of the six for free, thanks to my friend Cindy, who brought both Dean Street Press and Thynne (pronounced “thin”) to my attention recently, but any of them would have been a bargain at the $2.99 (USD) list price, and I recommend all six without reservation.

If you don’t like Golden Age fiction, you wouldn’t like these.  But, if you do, you’re in for a treat!

This week’s free offering is Death in the Dentist’s Chair – a popular place for murder in Golden Age fiction, as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers also disposed of victims in a dentist’s office. Marian Babson did, too, decades later, in her In the Teeth of Adversity. This one is as every bit as good.

It’s a locked-room mystery, a favorite theme in classic crime fiction, returning Dr. Constantine and Detective-Inspector Arkwright, whom Thynne introduced in Death at the Noah’s Ark. Thynne created a challenging mystery with an intriguing cast of characters in a delightful setting, and wrapped it up in well-written prose for a satisfying story – and I could and do say the same about the other five mysteries she wrote.

The only complaint I can possibly make is that she only wrote six. I’d like to read more.

NOTE: Sis borrowed this title from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, then bought her own copy.  The publisher not only made no attempt to influence her review – the publisher doesn’t even know she has reviewed it!

Description: Constantine reflected on the various means dentists have at their disposal should they wish to silence their patients … Mr. Humphrey Davenport, society dentist, has an embarrassing problem – he has managed to get locked out of his own surgery. And to make matters worse, Mrs Charles Miller is locked inside, minus her false teeth. When the door is finally opened, the patient is found with her throat cut. Dr. Constantine, a fellow patient at the clinic, is a witness to the gruesome discovery. He lends his chess player’s brain to solving a locked room mystery with a difference, ably assisted by Detective-Inspector Arkwright. Was the murderer the theatrical Mrs. Vallon? Or little Mr. Cattistick, who recognized the fortune in jewels around the dead woman’s neck? Or perhaps it was Sir Richard Pomfrey, the subject of an unusually venomous look from Mrs Miller shortly before her demise? Death in the Dentist’s Chair was first published in 1932. This new edition, the first in many decades, includes an introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.

Also recommended without reservation:

The Crime at the Noah’s Ark: “There’ll be blue murder here before Christmas!” A number of parties heading for a luxurious holiday spot, are forced by severe winter weather to put up at the ‘Noah’s Ark’, a hostelry they will share with Dr. Constantine, a shrewd chess master and keen observer of all around him. Other guests include bestselling novelist Angus Stuart, the aristocratic Romsey family, a pair of old spinster sisters, and a galloping major whose horseplay gets him into hot water – and then gets him murdered. Who is the masked intruder who causes such a commotion on the first night? Who has stolen Mrs van Dolen’s emeralds, and who has slashed everyone’s (almost everyone’s) car tyres? And are the murderer and thief one and the same, or are the guests faced with two desperate criminals hiding in plain sight in the snowbound inn? Dr. Constantine, aided by two of the younger guests, is compelled to investigate this sparkling Christmas mystery before anyone else ends up singing in the heavenly choir …

The Draycott Murder Mystery: There was something about those hands, with their strangely crisped fingers, as though they had been arrested in the very act of closing, that somehow gave the lie to the woman’s attitude of sleep. A howling gale … A lonely farmhouse … the tread of a mysterious stranger … and then the corpse of a beautiful blonde, seemingly stopped in the act of writing. This is all a bit much for local bobby PC Gunnet, especially when it seems the dead – and aristocratic – woman shouldn’t even have been there in the first place. But nonetheless the owner of the farm, John Leslie, is convicted, and his guilt looks certain. Certain, that is, until the eccentric Allen “Hatter” Fayre, an old India hand, begins to look more deeply into the case and discovers more than one rival suspect in this classic and satisfying puzzler.





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A flawless Diamond?

summonsThe Summons sums up why readers love Peter Diamond, the erstwhile detective chief inspector of Avon and Somerset who solves crimes the old-fashioned way.

“. . . but at least he pursued the truth, whatever the cost. That was what had kept him from being kicked off the force all the times he’d traded aggro with people like Farr-Jones. His values were right,” Peter Lovesey writes, as the third in this 16-book series nears its climax.

Diamond’s values are right, and here he pursues the truth at considerable cost. This story opens with Diamond, now working as a bag boy at a London supermarket, and his wife, Stephanie, in bed late at night when two cops arrive with orders to drag him back to Bath. Diamond has begun to realize how badly he misses police work, and how unsuited he is to any other job, but he’s not quite ready to come to the aid of the assistant chief constable who yanked him off his last case. But, the ACC’s daughter has been kidnapped by a man convicted four years earlier of a brutal murder, on the strength of Diamond’s investigation, and who demands that Diamond and only Diamond reopen the investigation and find the real killer.

Soho Crime, celebrating 25 years of publishing international crime fiction, is promoting the series in a reading challenge, and this is a challenge I’ve accepted and enjoyed. I have two months to read the whole series, and I’m more than game.

The detective is definitely a rough diamond, if you’ll forgive the pun, but Peter Lovesey continues to provide the polished prose that would make any story a pleasure to read. The characters are deftly drawn, from the convict who escaped from a prison on the Isle of Wright to the variety of police officers and officials who are working to capture him. And he shows us Bath as Jane Austen never did, highlighting one of the outstanding features of this Soho list:  Settings from cities and towns around the world.

This story is much more tense than the first two, which should please readers who don’t care for a leisurely approach. The violence is, perhaps, more intense, yet its depiction so restrained that it is unlikely to offend. The cast includes convicts and “crusties,” but, while some of the language is quite vulgar, indeed, it is free of the vulgarities that offend some sensibilities. The deceptions are devious, so I was never quite sure if I had solved the case or netted another red herring, so I remained fully engaged even as the denouement unfolded and the end grew near. This is definitely one I’d like to read again.

Details:  The Summons by Peter Lovesey; 304 pp; first published in Great Britain in 1995 by Little, Brown and Company; this edition published by Soho Crime, Kindle list price currently $4.99 (USD), paperback edition, list $15.95 (USD) but selling today at $15.27 at Amazon.com. Book 3 of a 16-book series. Edgar Award Nominee for Best Novel (1996), The Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction (1995). Those who missed last week’s sale may be interested to know that The Last Detective is again discounted to $1.99 and several of the stories are discounted to $4.99.

NOTE: Sis received a complimentary copy of The Summons from Soho Crime via NetGalley for her participation in the publisher’s 25th anniversary reading challenge.  Neither the publisher, nor any of its authors, have challenged her integrity in regard to her reviews.  They remain uniquely hers.  She is, however, most grateful to Soho Crime for the opportunity to read and review this series!

Description:  John Mountjoy has escaped from prison and taken a hostage, and the only person he’ll talk to is Detective Peter Diamond, who arrested him four years earlier for the murder of a young journalist. Diamond must follow a cold trail to find another killer and clear Mountjoy’s name before another life is lost.

LoveseyPETER LOVESEY wrote the 16 Peter Diamond mysteries, known for their use of surprise, strong characters and hard-to-crack puzzles. He was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000, the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, the Anthony, the Ellery Queen Readers’ Award and is Grand Master of the Swedish Academy of Detection. He has been a full-time author since 1975. Earlier series include the Sergeant Cribb mysteries seen on TV and the Bertie, Prince of Wales novels. The Diamond novels, set in Bath, England, where Peter lived for some years, feature a burly, warm-hearted, but no-nonsense police detective whose personal life becomes as engaging to the reader as the intricate mysteries he solves. Peter and his wife Jax, who co-scripted the TV series, have a son, Phil, a teacher and mystery writer, and a daughter Kathy, who was a Vice-President of J.P.Morgan-Chase, and now lives with her family in Greenwich, Ct. Peter currently lives in Chichester, England. Visit his website at www.peterlovesey.com for more.

Soho Crime has been publishing atmospheric crime fiction set all over the world for the last 25 years. The publisher’s popular series take readers to France, China, England, Laos, Northern Ireland, Australia, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Italy, Denmark, and Palestine, among other locales, with entire range of crime fiction—detective fiction, police procedurals, thrillers, espionage novels, revenge novels, stories of thieves, assassins, and underworld mob bosses.


 

Saturday Savings

P.D. James’s The Private Patient is on sale

private patientDescription: Cheverell Manor is a beautiful old house in Dorset, which its owner, the famous plastic surgeon George Chandler-Powell, uses as a private clinic.  When the investigative journalist, Rhoda Gradwyn, arrives to have a disfiguring facial scar removed, she has every expectation of a successful operation and a peaceful week recuperating.  But the clinic houses an implacable enemy and within hours of the operation Rhoda is murdered.   Commander Dalgliesh and his team are called in to investigate a case complicated by old crimes and the dark secrets of the past.  Before Rhoda’s murder is solved, a second horrific death adds to the complexities of one of Dalgliesh’s most perplexing and fascinating cases.

The late P.D. James wrote intricate detective stories with such polished prose that they deserve to be called literature rather than genre fiction, and the Kindle edition of The Private Patient, a bestseller originally published in 2008, is discounted today to $1.99 — a bargain to my mind as I cheerfully ordered the hardbound edition at a list price of $25.95.

I re-read this one recently, and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time, but it is definitely dark. James explores, and exposes, evil, in a way that disturbs me if I read too many of her novels without taking a break into something lighter, though often less satisfying.  Yet, I have to read them and read them again because the writing itself is so good, the characters so complex, the insights so enlightening. Many critics complained that this isn’t James’s best . . . yet they agreed that it outranked most crime fiction. That should tell you how very good James was, and how much you owe it to yourself to read this one, if you have not already.

P. D. James was the author of more than 20 books, most of which were filmed and PD Jamesbroadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent 30 years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of Great Britain’s Home Office. She served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. In 2000 she celebrated her eightieth birthday and published her autobiography, Time to Be in Earnest. The recipient of many prizes and honors, she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991 and was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame in 2008.

 

Deep Waters swirl into the ’60s

Recommended:
Severn House, U.K., in hardcover and Kindle.
Severn House Publishers Ltd., U.K., in hardcover and Kindle.

Patricia Hall’s Deep Waters pulls London Metropolitan Police Detective Sergeant “Flash” Harry Barnard and his girlfriend into the undertow of an old crime that churns up new victims in the Swinging Sixties of London’s East End and its environs.

The story focuses more on Harry than on Kate O’Donnell, his photographer girlfriend, and Hall crafts a complex mystery using Harry’s wartime childhood, his national service during the floods that devastated England’s East Coast in 1953, and his assignment on the CID’s Vice Squad more than a decade later.  I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read the previous mysteries in this series, but Hall provides sufficient background and this story stands on its own.

The writing is strong, with a literary style that maintains just the right amount of tension while bringing just enough of the past into the present.  This is no Austin Powers parody, swamping readers with references to cultural icons. Hall tosses out a few references to Lennon and the Beatles, the Kinx, the Rolling Stones and Cilla Black.  She also tosses in a few phrases from Sixties’ slang, like dolly bird, but younger readers and U.S. readers ought to be able to follow along without any real difficulty even if, unlike me, they haven’t previously encountered these.

For me, learning about different places and different times is part of the fun of reading fiction – and I’ve been reading British literature nearly as long as I’ve been reading American literature.  Those who are well-versed in Brit lit won’t find any obstacles.  Those who are not should enjoy the exposure to different spellings and new words.

The ending might disappoint some readers, as Hall doesn’t mop up every single storyline.  It’s no cliffhanger, but neither is it neat and utterly complete.  The crimes are violent – it is, after all, a murder mystery – but the depictions are no real threat to the reader’s sensibilities.  The dialogue does include some of the vulgar words to be heard in London’s East End, both then and now, but Hall doesn’t drown the reader in them.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House and NetGalley, for which she is grateful.  This review reflects her opinions and only her opinions.

Deep Waters by Patricia Hall; 208 pp.  Severn House.  Hardcover $28.95 (USD); Kindle  list price $22.91 (USD), pre-order price $14.99. Hardcover available now; Kindle edition scheduled for release 1 July 2016.

Synopsis:  A past crime leads to new murder in the latest O’Donnell mystery

It’s 1964. Detective Sergeant Harry Barnard has been ordered to track down notorious Soho club owner Ray Robertson, who hasn’t been seen for several days. The case takes on a greater urgency when a battered body is discovered at the gym Ray owns. Is Ray the killer … or is he a victim? Photographer Kate O’Donnell works on a feature about the rebuilding of Canvey Island after the devastating East Coast floods of 1953. But as Kate and Harry are about to discover, the Canvey Island floods, the murder and Ray Robertson’s disappearance are connected in more ways than one …

Highly recommending: The Red House Mystery

A.A. Milne’s classic locked-room mystery is was free today Friday, from Mysterious Press

Red House MysteryA hot, drowsy afternoon at Red House, home of wealthy Mark Ablett. Downstairs the servants are resting. Outside the secretary is reading. Then the peace is shattered by a piercing cry for help and a gunshot. Minutes later, Robert Ablett’s body is found in a locked room with no possible means of entry or exit.

A.A. Milne’s classic manor house mystery is one of my all-time favorites, as much a delight to read today as when I first found it on my grandmother’s bookshelves. I know it by heart, yet I still enjoy reading every word of it.

The Mysterious Press edition of The Red House Mystery is free today on Amazon.com, as well as from Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, Indiebound and Kobo, in an optimized for e-reader version.  It’s still a bargain at its list price of $0.99 (USD).  (My apologies to any who missed out!)

Milne, of course, is best known for his Winnie-the-Pooh stories — which I adore — but he was an avid mystery reader and I think he wrote one of the best ever, beginning with the dedication to his father, John Vine Milne. In many respects, it is a typical Golden Age mystery. The setting is an English manor house, the home of an unusual snob and the cousin who acts as his secretary, land agent, business advisor and companion. The snob, Mark Ablett, is fond of house parties — but prefers guests who cannot repay his hospitality — and the house is full when his previously unknown brother arrives unexpectedly from Australia, only to be found murdered behind a locked door in Mark’s office.

All typical . . . yet not at all typical with Milne’s witty writing, pleasing plotting, and a (mostly) charming cast of characters. If you haven’t read it, here’s an exceptional opportunity. If you have only a print edition or the public domain digital edition, here’s an excellent opportunity to upgrade to a properly formatted edition.  Enjoy!

From the publisher: Mark Ablett is not really a snob—not the worst kind of snob, at least. He simply prefers artists to everyone else, and the discussion of his own creative abilities to any other talk whatsoever. His vanities are easily forgiven especially since he is generous with his money—inherited not from his clergyman father but from a neighborhood spinster who took a liking to him—and he is always willing to play the host at the Red House, his delightful country estate.

One lazy summer morning, as his guests enjoy breakfast before a round of golf, Mark opens a surprising letter. His brother Robert, the black sheep of the family, gone some fifteen years now, is back from Australia and plans to call at the Red House that very afternoon. It is the first that Mark’s friends and servants have heard of a brother, but that shock is nothing compared to what happens next: After being shown into an empty office to wait for the master of the house, Robert is shot dead. Mark is nowhere to be found, not unlike the pistol that fired the fatal bullet. It is up to Tony Gillingham, man of leisure, and his young friend Bill Beverley to assume the roles of Sherlock and Watson and solve a crime so clever that Alexander Woollcott pronounced it “one of the three best mystery stories of all time.”

Beloved children’s author A.A. Milne was a great fan of detective stories. MilneHis first and last attempt at the genre is an absolute delight—one of the most original and charming novels of the Golden Age of crime fiction.

Quick and the Dead

Highly recommended — despite reservations

Scheduled Publication Date 1 May 2016
Scheduled for release  1 May 2016

Introducing outspoken female sleuth Alex Quick in the first of a new mystery series by Susan Moody. When her business partner, acclaimed art historian and university professor Dr. Helena Drummond, disappears, Alexandra Quick is consumed by guilt. Shortly before she vanished, Helena had complained of being menaced by a stalker, and Alex had dismissed her fears as groundless. Now Alex, a former police detective, is determined to use her finely-honed investigative skills to find out what’s happened to her friend and colleague.  But the more she uncovers, the more Alex realizes how little she really knew Dr. Helena Drummond. As it becomes increasingly clear that the woman she thought she knew so well has been keeping a great many secrets from her, Alex must decide: is Helena a victim . . . or is she a killer?

Susan Moody’s Quick and The Dead is exactly the kind of mystery I want to fling in the face of my more intellectual friends who decry my preference for “frivolous” fiction – or, as they scathingly condemn such books, “mind candy.”

First, you won’t find anything “frivolous” about Alex Quick, a former high-ranking homicide detective who left the force after finding out about her husband’s infidelities . . . and suffering a heart-rending miscarriage of the child she hadn’t known she carried.  Second, no one who reads Quick and The Dead with a mind even partially pried open could dismiss this as “mind candy.”

Instead, this is the highly literate fiction for which British mystery writers, in particular, are so well known – and well regarded.  Think P.D. James, although I am not suggesting that Moody’s style is anything other than her own.  Not for a moment.  No, this is literature that just so happens to involve murder and other mysteries.

The murder is disturbingly violent – and readers need to know that the initial depiction of the murder scene is disturbingly detailed as well.  This is no comfortable cosy!  Yet, I strongly recommend Quick and The Dead to readers who even think they may be able to handle it, and they can thank Moody’s deftness in dealing with the scene from there on out for that recommendation.  Quick herself is so deeply affected by the violent killing that she cannot (and Moody does not) continue to dwell on these details.  Instead, the restraint employed by the character and her creator serve to heighten the sense of heinousness without subjecting the reader’s mental imagery to further violence.

Readers should also be prepared for a bit more than a sprinkling of four-letter words, in particular one that is usually considered the most objectionable by those of us who dislike them.  (That includes me.)  And yet, I still think readers who can possibly overlook their objections to graphic violence and obscene words should and would enjoy this novel.  Some can’t, and those won’t.  And that’s a pity, because this is a stunning read.

Alex Quick is both tough and tender.  It’s not just “cop-speak” when she blurts out such words.  This is who she is, and that is how she would speak.  Moody has created a complex, multi-dimensional character who fascinates, and I look forward to getting to know her better.  I also look forward (and plan to look backward, too) to more from Moody.  I like her way with words, even if I don’t like all of the words she employs, and I like her sense of story.

The mystery begins when Quick discovers a dead woman in her colleague’s flat . . . and quickly realizes how little she knows about the woman with whom she works.  Helena Drummond, the art historian with a body in her bed, is as much a mystery as the identity of the killer.

“She comes across as so open and let-it-all-hang-outish, but in fact she gives almost nothing away.  So I don’t know anything about her background or her family situation.  Nothing.  Apart from the fact that she’s been married twice,” Quick tells another character as she begins her search for her missing partner.  She’s immediately stunned to learn that one of those husbands is a painter whose work she has long admired and has urged Helena to include in one of the compilations of pictures and text that they have published to much acclaim and some profit.

The police, not surprisingly, want to find Helena, too.  One does tend to wonder about the disappearance of a woman when another woman’s body is found, brutalized, in her bed.  Quick is sure Helena couldn’t be involved . . . but the more she searches for answers, the more questions she finds.  About Helena.  About the victim.  About herself.

The intensity builds, as Moody layers mystery upon mystery, pulling the reader further and further into the story, swiping page after page until there is nothing left to discover.  And that’s just as well, because, by then, the reader should be thoroughly satisfied, even satiated.

One final warning:  Readers may very well have a hard time settling on what to read next because, I promise, they will not want to settle for less.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House and NetGalley.  This review reflects her opinions and only her opinions.  The book is for sale, but Sis is not – nor has the publisher nor anyone else connected with this or any other book attempted to corrupt her.

Hardcover $28.95 (USD), pre-order price $23.01 as of 30 March 2016; Kindle list price $22.36 (USD), pre-order price $14.99 as of 30 March 2016.  Scheduled for release in the U.S. on 1 May 2016.featured

False Wall by Veronica Heley, Severn House

Highly recommended, without reservation

featured

False Wall CoverVeronica Heley has a unique – and beloved – voice in the world of British cosy mysteries, as well as Christian cosy mysteries, because she manages to blend the two without blemish to the other.  Once again, her gift is apparent in False Wall, the 10th volume in the Abbot Agency Mysteries series.

The story, and the mystery, open with Bea’s garden wall suddenly collapsing, almost on Bea herself, as an amateur attacks the ivy that has covered the wall in his family’s garden.  The disaster destroys Bea’s mature sycamore tree, the one that she has enjoyed gazing upon when perplexed, as well as the wall separating her back garden from the newly purchased home of her friend, and would-be fiancé, Leon Holland.  The destruction then sets off an inexplicable hostility between the owners of the garden wall that fell, as well as equally inexplicable attacks on Bea and the Abbot Agency itself.

The reaction to each succeeding event falls fast and furiously, distracting Bea from her efforts to think things through and see what is really going on and why.  And that’s no coincidence, but part of the plan to keep her off balance and unable to respond to the efforts to undermine not only her, but also Leon.

I love double entendres and puns, equally, so the title delighted me.  It refers not only to the wall separating so many back gardens, but to the walls between Bea and Leon – the false walls that have kept Bea from accepting his many proposals of marriage – as well as to the walls between others.  In fact, this is as much British cosy mystery as it is as novel about the relationships between families and friends, although the latter certainly serve to promote the former.

Like both of Mrs. Heley’s mystery series, these books are best read in order – because the relationships between the characters have as much to do with the mysteries as the mysteries themselves.  The mysteries do stand on their own, but one would lose so much without understanding the growth and development of the relationships between the recurring characters in the Abbot Agency Mysteries, as well as the Ellie Quicke Mysteries.

I believe this book will appeal most to fans of clean, comfortably cosy mysteries who are not hostile to Christianity.  As always, Mrs. Heley writes with a deft hand that makes the Christian fiction part merely a natural part of the stories’ backgrounds, and this is especially true with the Abbot Agency Mysteries, where Bea, a 60ish widow, is herself a fairly new Christian.  Readers who are absolutely hostile to Christianity won’t like the book, because some of the characters, including Bea, are portrayed as the average practicing Christian.  To all except those, this is a book I highly recommend.  Personally, I couldn’t read it fast enough . . . and then I wanted to read it all over again.

I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a review reflecting my own, original and unbiased opinions.  For what it’s worth, I have yet to read a book written by Veronica Heley that I did not absolutely love, and I bought most of them, regretting only that the exchange rate at the time made me buy them over a longer period than I would have preferred!

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