Monday, January 11, 2016

Five Favorite Wolfes

In listing out my favorites Nero Wolfe’s, I found a few themes that occurred in more than one book: strong, unique women. politics and Orrie. Who knew?

5. Plot it Yourself – someone is accusing playwrights and novelists of plagiarism by having copies of books typed before the best-selling books are published. How is the criminal doing this? Stout has such obvious fun with the subject matter that it’s contagious. The plagiarists start ending up dead after Wolfe gets involved and he has to solve the case. 

4. The Silent Speaker – Cheney Boone of the BPR is bludgeoned to death right before an industrial association’s meeting. Of course the association is accused of murder (indirectly) assuming that one of its members committed the actual deed. Upon calling one of his famous meetings of all involved, Phoebe Gunther doesn’t show, and Phoebe turns out to put Archie through his paces. Of course, being a match for our intrepid bachelor is a death sentence and Gunther becomes the next victim. Of all the Wolfe victims, I think I’m sorriest to see her go. She was such a good balance for Archie.

3. Death of a Doxy – Orrie’s in trouble and Wolfe has to bail him out. He’s been seeing a “doxy,” a Scrabble-player’s delight that means “mistress” as well as a supposed fiancĂ©e. Of course, the doxy had another man paying her bills. Wolfe and Goodwin have to determine who was paying the bills and likely killed her for stepping out on him. Julie Jaquette makes this book with her attitude and mannerisms.

2. In the Best Families – the last of the Zeck books and by far my favorite. I always like Wolfe encountering an environment outside of his own, and this book has that in spades. Wolfe has “disappeared” after being hounded by Zeck. Archie takes a case, which Wolfe solves quickly and efficiently after the Zeck mess is completed.

1. The Doorbell Rang – without a doubt my favorite of the series. The book has all the things I love about this series: witty banter, a worthy opponent, politics and a mention of books of interest. Wolfe goes up against the FBI and J. Edgar after he takes a case for a woman being pestered by FBI surveillance. A rather prescient look at tactics used throughout the 1960s against “enemies.”

Monday, January 4, 2016

I can't read 55

There has to be some consolation for being 55, or at least I told myself that.

To treat myself, I broke out the one Nero Wolfe I’d never read, The Final Deduction and read it for my birthday.

When I was young, I read voraciously. I would pick up 10-15 books a week to read, and my favorite genre was (of course) mystery. I’d nearly polished off all of the Wolfes, when I realized that there was one that I hadn’t read. I debated finishing the series off, but something held me back, and like a fine wine, I decided to let it sit for a while before I read it.

Forty years after that, I decided it was time. I have to say that it wasn’t the best in the series (I’ll post my top 5 Wolfes in a week or two), but it was a great one to hold back. It’s one of the few cases that involves a kidnapping, and Wolfe makes some fascinating deductions up front that help the reader going forward.

Of course, there has to be at least one or two words that I have to look up and “subdolous” was the word here. My spellcheck doesn’t even recognize it, that’s how unfamiliar it is to the modern reader.
Without giving away the plot too much, Stout used a certain device that let me know who the murderer was before the final showdown with the killer. I think it would have been a stronger plot without that particular ploy, which immediately telegraphed the killer to me. However, it was a pleasure to read, and made the sting of aging a little less this year.

I’ll have to come up with a new to me series for 60, since I’ve finished off most of the series that could probably be recommended to me. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tuesday Night Bloggers

Tuesday Night Bloggers

By now most of you are aware that I blog on the same topic as a number of Golden Age Detection aficionados. It started with Agatha Christie's birthday for the month of September, and it's kept going since then. 

They've set the schedule for next year, and I'll be participating in several months of blogging with them. 

They are:

January: Rex Stout

February: Dorothy L. Sayers

March: John Dickson Carr

April: Phoebe Atwood Taylor

May: Erle Stanley Gardner

June: Mary Roberts Rinehart

July: Arthur Upfield

August: Patricia Wentworth

September: S. S. Van Dine

I'll be starting next week with Rex Stout. Hope to see you then. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Favorite Five EQ Novels

Sorry I have been remiss in participating in the Tuesday Night bloggers, but after writing about respiratory illnesses, I came down with bronchitis and pleurisy.

So I am getting into the swing of things with the Ellery Queen blogging on its last week. I thought I'd do a top five list. I'll give reasons for each as I go along.

5) Cat of Many Tails -- one of the first serial killer novels, this is a work of art in terms of its rendition of a city in terror. Ellery is well-drawn and compassionate in this novel. His father is the typical over-worked police officer. The plot is simple and yet not seen by most readers. Definitely a

to-be-read of the Queen canon.

4) Calamity Town -- I'm incredibly fond of the Wrightsville novels. In part, I like them because Ellery does not succeed in the typical great detective fashion. While he may tell a small cadre of people what really happened, the news is not made public, so he doesn't gain the accolades that he does in other novels. This makes him more humble and human. In this case, the plot revolves around the typical calendar holidays and is tied together beautifully. I can't talk more about the plot without giving things away, but it's a wonderful combination of plot and style.

3) The Tragedy of Y -- I have a great love of books with malevolent matriarchs. Appointment with Death always ranks up there with my favorite Christies as well. I think this is in part because I grew up with a schizophrenic grandparent. It made me want to read about other, similar families. So this case has always fascinated me, and it pleased me to read that it was one of Fred's favorites as well. The family is a large one and members of the tribe start dying one by one. Who is the culprit? I lost out on a copy of this book, signed and in dj (because the seller backed out on me. I still hold a grudge on that one.)

4) The Tragedy of X -- I love a pure puzzle book for me and the first time I read this I was positively awed by the puzzle plot. It's held up well in reread. I still remember that feeling the first time I read this and enjoy it each time I come back to this.

And of course, my number one....

1) The Greek Coffin Mystery -- the book has 4 solutions and the table of contents spells out of the title and author. It's a well planned, well plotted mystery. It's the first glimpse of Ellery failing and Ellery wondering about his own abilities, things that will be probed more in later cases.

Could Have Been a Contender....
1) The Siamese Twin Mystery -- another early favorite of mine with a dying clue and all.
2) The Black Dog Mystery -- one of two books that stimulated my interest in Scottish terriers. I know it's not a true Dannay/Lee EQ novel, but I didn't know that at the time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Case of the Flu

Sorry, feeling a bit under the weather myself today, so the topic will be illness in the Christie canon, specifically flu.

The story goes that young Agatha ran out of books when she was home with the flu, and her mother indicated that if she'd completed all the books in the house that she'd best write her own. Of course, it's no small matter that one of her early links to the world of writing came from the flu.

(Sidenote: I've read this story many times about mystery authors. Of course, Boucher was sickly and read voraciously. Margaret Millar was in bed at the time she decided to write, since she could do better than the authors she was reading. Fred Dannay was in bed with an ear abscess when he discovered the world of Sherlock Holmes. Not that I'm in the same stratosphere, but I have to wonder if my own ill health and reading didn't go hand in hand as well.)

So after that impetus from disease, it's not surprising that the flu crops up in a few stories. The first is "The Case of the Caretaker," where Doctor Haydock brings Miss Marple a puzzle to contemplate. She'd been ill and not back to her usual self yet. The solution of the puzzle helps her spirits and her health.

Then of course is "Yellow Iris," the precursor for Sparkling Cyanide. In both stories the victim is originally suspected of bumping herself off. "Yellow Iris" is a Hercule Poirot short story in which Iris dies of cyanide. The death is suspected to be suicide (though no reason is given.)

In Sparkling Cyanide, it is Rosemary who "commits suicide" as a result of post-flu depression, and Iris who is the younger daughter. While it sounds like a flimsy excuse, apparently the idea has been around for over 130 years, which means the diagnosis was available at the time of the book. Of course, later it's proved that Rosemary did not commit suicide (given that this is Christie, I don't think that's a particular spoiler.)

Curran has very little to say about this book, so we can't fill in many of the details here, but it would be interesting to know if the idea of post-flu depression came from a friend who suffered from it or just her knowledge of medicine.

Again Miss Marple has been under the weather in A Caribbean Mystery, which finds her on an island recuperating. It's quite possible that she has had the flu.

Have I missed other examples of illness (specifically flu) in the Christie books?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Walk like an Egyptian

Fans typically know that Agatha Christie’s second marriage was to Sir Max Mallowan, who was a renowned archaeologist in his own right. He traveled to various Middle Eastern digs, and often Christie went with him.

Though not the spot of any digs, Christie spent a fair amount of time in Egypt, which seems to be the setting for at least five (by my count) works.

  • ·         Death Comes as the End
  • ·         Death on the Nile
  • ·         Parker Pyne – “Death on the Nile”
  • ·         Poirot Investigates  - “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb”
  • ·         Akhnaton

Christie was only 20 when she visited Egypt for the first time. Her mother had become ill while Christie was at boarding school. Like many English folk of that age, they decided to stay for three months in the warm climes of Egypt. Christie visited a number of sites, but did not show a passion for archaeology.

 Some of the sites have changed dramatically. The Aswan dam has changed the landscape. The temple of Philae is now reached by a different method than in Christie’s time. The Old Cataract Hotel, where the Ustinov version was filmed, now has a suite named for Christie.

So it really should be no surprise that a young bright young thing (this author) would want to visit the land of the Pharaohs as well. I climbed the side of one of the pyramids at Giza (though it’s frowned upon, but if it was good enough for Simon then it was good enough for me!)

Of course, I chose a Nile river cruise that mimicked the one in Death on the Nile.  I traveled by train to Luxor, the home of the Karnak Temple where some of the scenes take place. The train was an overnight trip, and I slept through most of it.

We arrived in Luxor, where we boarded the ship and then went for a tour. The temple is amazing with columns that stand far taller than any man. It would be easy to imagine some damage coming to a poor little rich girl there. However, I must say that no one died on our tour.

We traveled up the Nile from there to Edfu, which I don’t recall from the books, but our stop was at 4am, so I’ll have to be forgiven for not remembering to look.

The trip was a delight, but given the current situation in Egypt, I’m very glad that I went in 1989. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Collecting Christie

So on my 55th birthday, it seems appropriate to talk about a lifelong passion which has been to collect Agatha Christie firsts. As with many things in my life, I literally stumbled into it, but that's fine with me. The fun has definitely been in the journey.

As I've shared many times before, my love of all things Christie began with The Underdog and Other Stories, a short story collection that my dad gave me from a yard sale. Given his ways, I'm betting that he likely paid a nickel or dime for it. He gave it to me and suggested that I might like it. He was right (to say the least.)

I had yet to start reading mysteries, and that led me to begin devouring as many of the books as I could. The nearest bookstore was a place called The Little Professor, a mall bookstore with a limited number of Agatha Christie paperbacks. Since I read many of them multiple times, I soon realized that it was cheaper in the long-run to buy hardcovers. My editions of Elephants Can Remember and Passenger to Frankfort came in (special order) with the words "first edition" inside. I had to ask what those were, but the woman at the store explained to me what it meant and why those were more valuable.

It wasn't long before I was collecting in earnest. My favorite dealer was Bill Dunn. For those of you who knew him, Bill ran a mail-order business out of CT. He sent these thick catalogs out every month and I waited anxiously to see what he had and what I could afford.

I don't know where I found Bill. It may have been in the ads from one of the mystery magazines like TAD or The Mystery FANcier. I don't recall, but his catalogs became the highlight of the month for me.

Around the time of my high school graduation, which occurred slightly more than 35 years ago, Bill advertised a first edition of Styles from Lane for $100. Being flush from my graduation gifts, I bought the copy. It was the only one I ever saw advertised (until Abebooks came around.)

My oddest edition is a copy of Styles with the dj and binding for Curtain that was published around the time that Christie passed away. I also have a NZ first of The Moving Finger, which a dealer would not allow me to return (though the book was misidentified.)

I finished my collection by the time I was 30, though I've had to update things from time to time. There was a collector from AK who helped me when I learned that a few of my 1950s editions were actually book club editions (the only difference was the booklist in the front of the book). That was quickly corrected.

Currently, I'm trying to round out my collection by replacing some first with those having a dust jacket. The newest volume that does not have a jacket is Ordeal By Innocence, so if you're in the mood to get me a birthday or Christie for Christmas -- you know what to look for.