What I Read On My Summer Vacation

Foul weather curtailed any wanderings during our staycation (hot, sticky, humid, rainy, wet…bleh!). Other than the husband tricking the dog and I out of our comfy chairs with a promise of Korean BBQ for lunch, and then making us go for a walk up on the Peaks first, we went nowhere. But obviously, I did not stop reading (heaven forbid that should ever happen). So, from my comfy chair I give you a few short notes—just in case you’re interested.

How Good A Detective Are You? by H. A. Ripley (1934)

Did you ever want to see just how good of a detective you really are? Just pick up a copy of this volume and match your crime-solving abilities against a mythical professor as he presents cases his class in criminology. The book contains sixty crime puzzles, each one-page only with a question at the end. When you think you have the answer, or would rather learn the answer without first trying to solve the puzzle, just turn the page, and the book upside down, to read the solution.

I received this as a bonus book in my most recent Coffee and Crime subscription box. Kate is convinced that I should have my own fictional detective agency, and I believe sent this just to test my skills. Well, I must admit that with a solve rate of 82%, I didn’t do too bad. The author does cheat with several of his cases (nowhere do it say that the professor put red paint on the log before the crook sat on it!), but for the most part, he does well at leading the reader astray. Not to be read in one sitting, but a fun way to fill in between books. 

My Judgment – 3.75/5

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2014 Bingo—Read one short story collection

The Woman in Red by Anthony Gilbert (1942) 

Julia Ross’s desperate need for a job over-rode the instinct which warned her not to step into 30 Henrique Square. In less than twenty-four hours she’s been spirited away to a strange house in the country, and no one will listen to her pleas that she is Julia Ross—not Sheila Campbell.

While this is much more thriller than detective fiction, the puzzle behind Julia Ross’s abduction and the psychological manipulation that followed is intriguing. Gilbert has written a very well-plotted story, filled with an atmosphere of menace and building tension. Definitely need to read more of Gilbert’s work.

My Judgment – 4.25/5

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read one book that features a crime other than murder

The May Week Murders by Douglas G. Browne (1937)

May Week at Cambridge University signals the end of the academic year. This year it signaled the end for Sir Vyvyan Rowsell-Hoggs who has been found stabbed to death in King’s Lane. More murders soon follow, all tied to a group of young men who twenty years before, called themselves the “Nine Bright Shiners.”

There are two things that let The May Week Murders down. The beginning and the end. It opens with an assortment of characters just thrown out there. Determining roles and relationships took up the first couple of chapters, and diverts attention from the events of the initial murder. The end is three very long chapters (the fact that the chapters are called Opuses should have given me my first clue) of presenting theories, then confrontation, and ending in a detailed summing up. In between was…okay. A few of the characters are engaging, most notably Myra as the narrator/Watson, and Colonel Chester (Puffin) Nugent. Otherwise I’d call this a meh kind of read.

My Judgment – 3.5/5

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read one academic mystery 

Calendar of Crime—May #1: Month in the title

Little God Ben by J. Jefferson Farjeon (1935)

Ben is working as a stoker on a cruise ship when a storm leaves him shipwrecked with six others somewhere in the Pacific Ocean—on an island of cannibals. They may have a way out of the situation when the tribe mistakes Ben for Oomoo, God of Storms. Unfortunately, Ben starts taking his new job just a bit too seriously.

Although part of the “Ben the Tramp” series of mysteries, this is actually an action/thriller with a heavy accent on comedy. It’s also heavy on Ben’s Cockney accent, making it difficult to decipher what he was saying, and leading to some slow reading (and rereading) of passages when he is involved. Lightweight plot, in which the resilient Ben, who sees things in their simplest form, decides to use his new powers for the good of all—whether they like it or not. Some very witty dialogue. Entertaining, but I’m thinking that I should have started with a different book to dip my toe into the series.

My Judgment – 3.75/5

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read on book that involves clergy or religion

Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham (1936)

A director of the family firm of Barnabas publishing has disappeared. When he reappears, it is in the basement strong room—and he is very dead. Suspicion falls on another director, and cousin, known to be in love with the dead man’s wife. Luckily family friend Albert Campion is around to help. 

I’ve not read much Allingham and am trying to rectify that. On the whole, a well-done mystery, although the method of the impossible disappearance is never really explained, and the impossibility of the murder is negated by the subsequent actions of the murderer. Some fun and memorable characters including Ritchie Barnabas, Mrs. Austin, and of course Lugg, who is going through a self-improvement phase, much to the annoyance of Campion. And of all the detectives in the “silly ass” category, I’d have to say that Campion is the one with the least affectations, and that I can like as a character. More Allingham to come.

My Judgment – 4/5

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read one book with a lawyer, courtroom, judge, etc.

Murder En Route by Brian Flynn (1930)

As a bus makes its way along on a foggy, rain-soaked night, a lone passenger gets on and insists he will sit (as always) on the upper deck. And when the bus got to the end of the line, he is still sitting there, dead—strangled. The bus conductor and the driver both swear that no one else went up or down. It’s impossible, and therefore quite intriguing to Anthony Bathurst, who steps in to investigate.

An original and imaginative mystery. The small suspect pool should have made it easy, but Flynn still fooled me with this one. My one quibble is that I would have liked the “impossible” part of the murder to have played out a bit longer.

My Judgment – 4/5

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read one locked room or impossible crime

The Pit Prop Syndicate by Freeman Wills Crofts (1922)

While traveling through France, Seymour Merriman encounters a business syndicate with some questionable practices. Merriman calls on his friend Claud Hilliman, and their investigation leads them to the conclusion that the business is merely a front for some type of illegal activity. But when the syndicate resorts to murder, the professionals, in the form of Inspector Willis of Scotland Yard, step in and take over.

An interesting mystery with an original plot.  As usual with Crofts, the detection is meticulous, the clues well done, and the outcome satisfactory. The nature of the crime is quite original, and there are quite a number of twists that lead to an interesting climax. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of redundancy. So much so that, about a large part of the first half could be cut out (including an overly melodramatic romance). Definitely not top-notch Crofts, but it is only his third book—and trust me—he gets so much better!

Oh, and don’t you love the cover for this Penguin edition? Very 1960s Sergeant Pepper!

My Judgment – 3/5

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read one book set anywhere except the U.S. or England [France]

The Spirit Murder by Robin Forsythe (1936)

Eileen Thurlow is an ardent believer in spiritualism. While her uncle John is deeply interested, he still has some questions. So, when they begin to hear organ music, seemingly out of nowhere, he decides to investigate—and disappears. Luckily, Algernon Vereker is in the neighborhood, so with the help of friend Manuel Ricardo, and sparring partner Inspector Heather, begins an investigation.

Clearing out my Kindle TBR, I came upon The Spirit Murder Mystery, which I’ve had for some time. Forsythe created a good plot here, filled with lots of suspects, motives, and red herrings. Lots of witty banter throughout. Made for a lightweight, entertaining read.  

My Judgment – 3.75/5

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Something “spooky” in the title or on the cover 

5 thoughts on “What I Read On My Summer Vacation

  1. Bravo on the 82% case solving success rate! If this were the 1930s I’m Scotland Yard would snap you up and have you in charge of some kind of department.
    Of the books I have read I would say our ratings are quite similarly matched, though I probably enjoyed the Forsythe title more. It is the best of his books in my opinion. I also second your decision to read more Gilbert. Death Knocks Three Times and The Clock in the Hat Box spring to mind as good ones by her, as well as The Spinster’s Secret.
    And I think you should insist on some kind for book based compensation for the Korean BBQ trick!!

    1. My issue with the Forsythe was that — while I enjoy “silly ass” detectives — Algernon wore a bit thin over time.

      And the worst part of the Korean BBQ trick was that I had to pay for it! 🤨

      1. Triple book compensation should be lobby-ed for instead!
        I know what you mean by Algernon – his theorising does go on and on and on a bit in the earlier books. This one was actually better at reducing the amount of theorising he does.

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