Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Happy Valley Mystery: Review

The Bob Whites (minus new member Dan Mangan, who must work hard to catch up on schoolwork so he can stay in the same class as Jim and Brian) are off to Iowa for a Spring Break adventure. The Beldens' Uncle Andrew stops by Sleepyside for a visit on his way to Scotland. When he finds that his niece, nephews, and their friends will be at loose ends during their school holiday, he offers to send them all to his sheep farm in the Midwest.

Uncle Andrew expects the kids to learn about sheep, have some fun helping out around the farm, and maybe enjoy a dance at the local high school. But as soon as Trixie hears that her uncle's sheep have been disappearing at regular intervals, she knows that she and the Bob Whites have another job to do...and another mystery to solve. There's a mysterious bearded man to check out, a hired hand who acts a bit suspiciously, and the men who are selling sheep carcasses on the cheap for the school's barbecue. And what about the mysterious lights in the dark and dangerous Walnut Woods nearby?

Trixie's curiosity lead her, Jim, and Honey into a dangerous situation when the river starts rising and the bridge washes out behind them. But the brave threesome manage to get themselves to safety atop a barn and Trixie spots the sheep-rustlers from their perch. Once she and her fellow Bob Whites are rescued, she convinces her uncle's manager to send the police after the crooks and saves the day for Uncle Andrew's farm.

This was one of my all-time favorite Trixie Belden stories when I was growing up. Iowa is close enough to Indiana that it brought the story into familiar territory for me and, of course, I loved that it ends with Jim presenting Trixie with the silver ID bracelet and telling her that she's his special girl. The added danger at the end made it all the more exciting--but safely exciting because we all knew that Trixie, Jim, and Honey would be okay in the end. When I spotted this vintage edition at an antique mall last year, I knew I had to get it and revisit the adventure with the Bob Whites. The stroll down memory lane was well worth it and I enjoyed going back to a simpler time in my mystery reading. It was a lot of fun to visit again with Trixie and the Bob Whites. ★★★★ then and now--for nostalgia's sake. 

[Finished on 8/16/17]

This fulfills the "Any Other Animal" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

The Black Dahlia: Review

The Black Dahlia (1987) is James Ellroy's fictional re-telling of the true murder case from Hollywood of the 1940s. On January 15, 1947, Hollywood was shocked when the brutally murdered body of Elizabeth Short was discovered in a vacant lot on South Norton. Ellroy uses the facts of the horrendous crime--a crime in which Short's nude body, mutilated and cut in half, was dumped like so much trash--and creates Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, two LA cops obsessed with the Black Dahlia and finding the right culprit even if it means going against the city establishment.

Bucky and Lee--known as Fire and Ice--are former boxing rivals who, after an interdepartmental boxing match, brings kudos and financial support to the department, are assigned as partners as warrant officers. One of their investigations takes them to the South Norton area on the morning that Short's body is found and Lee wangles their way into the murder investigation. Lee's obsession with the crime stems from the death of his younger sister years earlier and Bucky is concerned for his partner and obsessed with finding redemption through his work on the force and through his relationship with Lee and Lee's beautiful lover. 

Lee squirrels away files on the investigation and stretches himself to the limit (not sleeping or eating as he should) hunting down leads. When Lee disappears, Bucky continues the investigation and discovers secrets that help him find what he believes to be the solution.  But it's a solution he won't be able to produce officially and his investigation may cost him dearly professionally.

This is an intense, noir retelling of a very nasty crime. Ellroy invests a great deal of insight and intensity in his story--which is even more evident when you read the afterword to this edition and realize that Ellroy's mother was also the victim of a rather horrific crime. While noir is not my usual fare and I don't do a great deal of true crime (or even fictional true crime), Ellroy does write a compelling novel. His build-up of a case and possible solution to a crime that remains unsolved even now is convincing and well-constructed. It's easy to see why this has made one of the "1001 Books to Read Before you Die" lists even if I may not appreciate it as fully as those with a taste for noir and true crime. ★★

[Finished on 8/8/17--I'm still struggling to catch up on my reviews and I'm afraid that until I do, the reviews are going to be a little sparser than usual....]

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Big Grouse: Review

The Big Grouse (1986) comes late in the Masters & Green police procedural series by Douglas Clark. Masters's specialized detective team has long been together and gotten used to one another. But that's all going to change. Detective Sergeant Reed is given a promotion that has been due for quite a while and Masters is preparing to select a replacement when he is told by the Assistant Commissioner that a replacement has already been selected for him. Masters is a bit surprised--he's always had a pretty free hand with his team till now. But it seems that when the AC arranged for Bill Green to stay on after retirement age as a special member of the team, he agreed that the next time an opening came up he'd arrange for a qualified female officer to be appointed. And so Detective Sergeant Tippen joins the team.

There are adjustments to be made on all sides. This is the first time Masters has taken on a Detective Sergeant that hasn't been vetted by either himself or Green and it may take a while for Sergeant Tippen to get used to Master's demanding standards of meticulous memorization and brilliant, logical analysis of evidence. She doesn't have a great deal of time to settle in, though. The Assistant Commissioner drops a typically puzzling matter into Masters's lap. The AC's wife is worried about a missing relative and won't stop pestering her husband until he shows her that an attempt has been made to investigate. He intends for Masters to do a bit of simple spadework--just enough to convince the wife they given it the ol' college try. 

Masters thinks it's a perfect assignment for the new team member. Do a bit of digging, type up a meticulous report, and they can dust their hands and be done with it. Except...Sergeant Tippen does her job a bit too well and the team is pushed into a full-blown investigation. Masters becomes convinced that the relative, a lead salesman who did quite a bit of traveling, has come to a sticky end. But it's a bit hard to prove when there's no body in evidence. Sergeant Tippen gets thrown into a full-scale Masters-style investigation in which the team is expected to come up with the straw to make the bricks of a murder conviction. It isn't long before they discover that the missing man may not have been the paragon of a husband his family believes and that a motive for murder may lie in his past. Motive leads to where the murder might have taken place which eventually leads to the discovery of the body and the capture of the killer.

This late entry in the series is a fair to middlin' example of the Masters and Green police procedural. The usual ingredients are all present--Masters and company expected to produce rabbits out of hats without any rabbits in the vicinity. The team gather for frequent brain-storming sessions, Tippen gets the hang of total recall reporting, and Masters draws upon an esoteric clue that helps point the way. A generally entertaining story with a small drawback--coming in the mid-1980s, it shows us some less-than-favorable views of women detectives in the workforce and Bill Green comes across as a little patronizing with his insistence on calling the new team member "Petal." Knowing the characters as well as I do after reading so many of the books, I don't think Clark intends Bill Green to sound quite as patronizing and chauvinistic as he does--but that doesn't change the tone. I definitely don't recommend this one as a starting point. ★★ and 3/4 --I couldn't justify a full three for this particular outing. [And that cover--I mean, really, couldn't we have come up with something more interesting?]

Fellow-blogger, Noah has also given his take on this one over at Noah's Archives (along with a few others that he thinks it better to avoid)...stop by and see what he has to say.

[Finished on 8/4/17]

Monday, August 14, 2017

Challenge Complege: Clocks, Cogs, & Mechanisms

R. A. Vucci is hosting the 5th annual Clocks,Cogs, and Mechanisms Reading Challenge this year. When this challenge was first created, the world of steampunk was still fairly unknown, but not new. This is a genre that has been inspired by the works of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and H.P. Lovecraft to name a few. For those who have never experienced steampunk, a typical steampunk novel takes place in the Victorian era and involves lots of steam-powered technologies ahead of their time. There are variations and other time periods that fall into this category, but the Victorian era ones are the most common.

There were the levels to this challenge:

Brass Gears: Read 1-3 books
Flight Goggles: Read 4-7 books
Button-up Boots: Read 8-11 books
Clockwork Corset: Read 12+ book

I don't read a lot of steampunk, but I have enjoyed my brief forays into the genre. So I decided to go light and committed to the Brass Gears level. I finished that up on August 2nd (finally got my review done!). Thanks to R. A. Vucci for hosting this one.
1. The Constantine Affliction by T. Aaron Payton (5/23/17)
2. Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard (8/2/17)

Johannes Cabal the Detective

Johannes Cabal the Detective (2010) is the second novel in Jonathan L. Howard's series featuring the steampunk necromancer. I picked it up at the Friends of the Library Bookstore last December primarily so I could have a second book for the Clocks, Cogs, & Mechanisms Challenge. It helped that it was advertised as "Steampunk meets the classic Sherlockian mystery in this rip-roaring adventure where anything could happen . . . and does." The premise sounded very intriguing.

Johannes Cabal is (as mentioned) a necromancer--he knows all sorts of arcane methods to bring the dead back to "life," albeit very briefly and often (at least in this particular installment) to what seems to be very little purpose. Even in a world of steampunk, his talents are not, shall we say, fully appreciated by the average man or woman on the street and most governments find his occupation distasteful to say the least. Which would be why our first sight of Johannes in this story is of him being held prisoner by the court of of Mirkarvian Empire for attempting to steal (oh, pardon me, "borrow" indefinitely) a rare and mysterious book, the Principia Necromantica, from a local university. 

The Emperor's personal bodyguard was content to allow Johannes to rot away in prison for the remainder of his days, but then the Emperor dropped dead just as plans were being hatched to rouse the peasants into pledging their support for destroying the enemy (that would be anybody the Emperor and company pointed out to them) and taking over whatever neighboring countries they could. How handy to have a necromancer hanging out in the dungeons who can reanimate the Emperor long enough to proceed on schedule. Of course, it will then be necessary to do away with the pesky necromancer immediately thereafter.

Johannes is brought forth from the dungeon, performs a bit of necromancy hocus-pocus, and in the confusion that follows (sometimes reanimations just don't go quite as the customer plans...especially when payment will be in blood--Johannes's), he manages to out-fence the bodyguard and escape. It helps that the re-animated Emperor has somehow incited the peasants to revolt against the Empire instead of wreaking havoc in the Emperor's name. The necromancer heads to the Aeroport, spies a government official preparing to board the newest Aeroship to fly under the Mirkarvian flag--a ship that looks like a cross between a dirigible and an aircraft carrier. Most fortuitously, the government official bears a striking resemblance to our hero and Johannes puts him out of commission, swipes his travel documents and boards the Princess Hortense as Herr Gerhard Meissner, an agricultural civil servant.

He makes it on board without incident and all seems to be going well until he is recognized by the feisty Leonie Barrow--a woman with good cause to dislike him and every reason in the world to denounce him. But she doesn't. Johannes has to wonder what's up. But before he can worry about that for too long, a fellow passenger is dead. It is an apparent suicide; it looks like the man has thrown himself out the window to his death. But Johannes notices a few details that seem to add up to murder and not suicide. He's even more sure when someone tries to toss him off the aeroship as well. He and Leonie team up to try and get to the bottom of the mystery aboard the Princess Hortense. Johannes Cabal is not the only person on board who is not who he seems to be....

Howard has written an entertaining novel of adventure and intrigue filled with sly and witty humor, intelligence, and a fine sense of the absurd. He makes references to adventure, detective, and horror genres with the greatest of ease. It's true that Johannes Cabal is not a warm and fuzzy kind of protagonist. He really doesn't like his fellow human beings very much, but one can't help but like him and root for him to find the person who tried to toss him overboard and discover what's really going on aboard the Hortense. The grand finale which Johannes handles with all the panache of a Hercule Poirot denouement is terrific and the interactions between Johannes and Leonie are worth the price of admission. Overall, the characters are unique and interestingly handled. ★★ and 1/2.

[I'm still dreadfully behind on my reviews--this was finished on 8/2/17.]

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Murderer's Choice: Review

Murderer's Choice (1943) by Anna Mary Wells begins with two cousins sharing dinner at a fine restaurant. Frank Osgood has been cautiously enjoying the meal hosted by his cousin Charles. He's waiting to find out what the catch is. Because there's always a catch when it looks like Charles is being nice to him. The two cousins have been at odds since they were young--with Charles always acting superior and despising the younger boy. Nothing changed when they became men...except they saw little of each other. And now, suddenly, Charles is treating him to dinner. What does he have up his sleeve?

When the brandy is served, Frank finds out. His cousin tells him in the most pleasant way possible that he has taken out a life insurance policy and made Frank the beneficiary as well as having made a will in Frank's favor. (Now Frank knows something is up). Then--within the next six months--he plans to commit suicide and arrange it so his cousin will be tried, convicted, and executed for his murder. He even encourages Frank to tell whomever he likes; after all, who will believe him? Frank is quite sure that Charles is fully capable of arranging things just the way he wants. He knew his cousin hated him, but he never imagined he hated him enough to kill himself just so he could take Frank out as well.

Frank lives in terror, trying to imagine what his cousin's diabolical plan might be--and then Charles dies and the death is determined to be natural causes. Frank knows there must be some false evidence somewhere that points to him and rather than wait for the ax to fall, he hires the Keene Detective Agency to investigate. The Agency assigns Grace Pomeroy, formerly a psychiatric nurse, to take the case. She listens to Frank's odd story and, not quite believing it, she begins to investigate. She can find no evidence of an insurance policy or a will. She does find evidence that Charles squandered his money on something, but there's nothing to show what that something was. She's pretty sure he paid off a doctor to say he had heart trouble and set up a ruling of natural causes, but she can't find anything to show that he planted some twist that will finger his cousin as a murderer. 

The investigation digs up a woman who claims to be Charles's wife, a housekeeper who wants the money promised her  by Charles, and the possibility that Charles was poisoned. But was he? And, if so, who did it? Did Frank do it to strike early and prevent his cousin from framing him? Does that even make any sense? There are plenty of twists and turns in the Wells novel and a surprise ending where Grace employs clever questioning and her knowledge of human psychology to find the solution. 

This is an enjoyable and quick read. Grace Pomeroy is one of the few female private investigators and her background as a psychiatric nurse serves her well in her venture into the detective business. She brings quick insight and a very human touch to her work and finds a very humane solution to the mystery. ★★ and 3/4--almost four.

John has reviewed this one as well over at his very fine blog: Pretty Sinister Books. (That's where I first heard of it...I finally got my hands on it and have gotten 'round to reading it.)

This fulfills the "Flower" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. 

The Mirror Crack'd: Review

I returned to Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd (1962; APA The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side) after first reading it from the public library when I was in junior high. I've since seen the Joan Hickson version as well as the star-studded production with Angela Lansbury playing Miss Marple and have picked up my own edition of the book so I can revisit the original story.

This story takes Miss Jane Marple into the world of movie stars and a local modern Development when actress Marina Gregg buys Gossington Hall from the widowed Dolly Bantry and brings her director husband and American entourage to live in St. Mary Mead. Jason Rudd, the husband, hopes that living in the small English village will give Marina a bit of quiet and stability--something that has been missing in her life. Marina decides that St. Mary Mead is just perfect and that she wants to really be a part of village life--so she agrees to host the annual fete in aid of the St. John's Ambulance. The party is going well--lots of games and entertainment on the grounds and Marina invites some select guests to come inside to be greeted and to see the house.

It's all going well that is until silly Heather Babcock, connected to the St. John's Ambulance, is introduced to her idol, Marina Gregg. Heather launches into a long and enthusiastic story about how she has already met Miss Gregg before--long ago when Marina was entertaining the troops. Dolly Bantry notices that Marina is no longer really listening to the babbling woman--she's staring over her shoulder with a "frozen" look on her face. When she later describes the scene to Miss Marple, they are reminded of Tennyson's Lady of Shalott:

Out flew the web and floated wide;
     The mirror crack'd from sided to side;
"The curse has come upon me," cried
     The Lady of Shalott.

Just moments after finishing her story and being offered a drink by her idol, Heather Babcock is dead. It doesn't take long to discover that she's been poisoned. But who would poison Mrs. Babcock? She was a self-absorbed woman; nice enough and not at all mean-spirited, but not really thinking about how her actions or words might actually affect others. There doesn't seem to be a motive to kill her, however. Then it's discovered that her drink was spilled and the drink which had the poison in it was Marina's. As Miss Marple mentions when she first hears of the poisoning..."perhaps it was the wrong murder." Now the police are racing to find the killer before they can rectify their mistake and kill Marina after all. But they're going to need pointers from everyone's favorite spinster detective before they arrive at the right solution.

This one continues to delight even after a reread (and watching the filmed versions multiple times). It is interesting to come to it knowing the solution and to watch how Christie practices her art of misdirection. The basic plot is one used in other stories, but I'm always intrigued at the many different ways she was able to use the same idea. 

She also gives us a Jane Marple who has aged and has to come to terms with her advanced years and the changes in St. Mary Mead. The novel is as much social commentary on the post-WWII-era as it is a murder mystery. Given Miss Marple's frailer health, the doctor has suggested she have a companion and Miss Marple is driven to distraction by the woman her nephew has employed for her. She has to find a way to ease Miss Knight out and find someone to live in who won't treat her like an imbecile child. This side story provides Miss Marple with a different way to approach the murder investigation--she isn't as mobile as she once was and all the information has to come to her--through Dolly Bantry and through Inspector Craddock. It is Miss Marple doing her best armchair detective work since The Tuesday Night Club stories.

★★★★  for an entertaining read and interesting social commentary.

This fulfills the "Dead Body" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Challenge Complete: Craving for Cozies

Craving For Cozies 2017 – Reading Challenge
The challenge runs from January 1, 2017 and ends December 31, 2017
There are several levels of participation (click link above for more info or to join). I joined up for the lowest level
Peckish – 1 – 10 Cozy Mysteries 
because it fit in with the other cozy challenge I signed up for which requires 10 books. I did go a little beyond my original plan which put me in the Famished category.
My List:
1. Murder at the Masque by Amy Myers (1/16/17)
2. Zadok's Treasure by Margo Arnold (2/22/17) 
3. Nun Plussed by Monica Qull (3/30/17)
4. Death with Blue Ribbon by Leo Bruce (4/20/17) 
5. Grounds for Murder by Kate Kingsbury (4/26/17) 
6. The Vanishing Violinist by Sara Hoskinson Frommer (4/30/17) 
7. The Polka Dot Nude by Joan Smith (5/2/17) 
8. Murder at Teatime by Stefanie Matteson (5/9/17) 
9. The Ghost & the Dead Deb by Alice Kimberly (6/16/17) 
10. Publish & Perish by Sally Wright (6/22/17)
11. The Barker Street Regulars by Susan Conant (7/20/17) 
12. Lie of the Needle by Cate Price (7/28/17) 

Challenge Complete: Cruisin' Thru the Cozies

This year Yvonne at Socrates’ Book Reviews made things a little more difficult at the Cruisin’ Thru the Cozies Challenge. Instead of open cozy reading, she asked us to meet 10 cozy sub-genres in order to fulfill the basic level. There were higher levels if cozy mysteries are really your thing and you wanted to go crazy. I committed to the first level--Snoop because I thought I'd have trouble meeting all the categories with my own books. I did better than I thought--all books came from my own stacks and only one wasn't eligible for my Mount TBR Challenge as well.
Level one (Snoop) - Read one book in each of these cozy sub-genres (total of 10 books). 
Here is my list:

- One from culinary (anything dealing with food:  restaurants, baked goods, etc.)
Murder at the Masque by Amy Myers [Chef Auguste Didier as amateur sleuth] (1/16/17)
- One from animal related (cats, dogs, birds, etc.)
The Barker Street Regulars by Susan Conant (7/20/17)
- One from craft related (any kind of hobbies - knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking, etc.)
Lie of the Needle by Cate Price [sewing/antiques] (7/28/17)

- One from paranormal (witches, vampires, etc.)
The Ghost & the Dead Deb by Alice Kimberly [ghost as main character] (6/16/17)

- One from British cozy mysteries (example:  Belinda Lawrence series)
Death with Blue Ribbon by Leo Bruce [Carolus Deene, British history master as sleuth] (4/20/17)

- One career-based cozy mystery (housekeeping, wedding planner, etc.)
Grounds for Murder by Kate Kingsbury [hotel owner/innkeeper] (4/26/17)
- One holiday based (set during any holiday - Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentines, etc.)
Murder at Teatime by Stefanie Matteson [Midsummer's Night (Summer Solstice) and July 4th] (5/9/17)

- One travel mystery (character could be on a cruise, touring another area, etc.)
Zadok's Treasure by Margot Arnold [murder at an archaeological dig in Israel] (2/22/17)

- One historical mystery (any mystery not set in the present) 
Publish & Perish by Sally Wright [set in 1960s; archival researcher as amateur sleuth] (6/22/17)

- One is your choice!  (freebie!)

Nun Plussed by Monica Quill (3/30/17)

Challenge Complete: 2017 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge

Dollycas at Escape With Dollycas Into a Good Book hosted another A-Z Challenge in 2017.

January 1, 2017 – December 31, 2017

The Alphabet Soup Challenge means that by December 31, 2015
your bowls must be full of one book for each letter of the Alphabet.
Each Letter Counts As 1 Spoonful

Thanks for hosting this again! It's always a challenge to get that "X" and "Z." And here are the books that have filled my bowl of alphabet soup:

A: The Arctic Patrol Mystery by Franklin W. Dixon (6/26/170
B: Battle for Venus by William F. Temple (1/7/17) 
C: The Constantine Affliction by T. Aaron Payton (5/23/17)
D: Death at Swaythling Court by J. J. Connington (1/4/17)
E: Episode of the Wandering Knife by Mary Roberts Rinehart (2/17/17)
F: Fit to Kill by Hans C. Owen (3/22/17)
G: The Green Turtle Mystery by Ellery Queen, Jr. (3/19/17)
H: The Hidden Planet by Donald A. Wollheim, ed (1/9/17)
I: I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison (1/24/17)
J: Juliet Dies Twice by Lange Lewis (7/17/17)
K: The Killing of Katie Steelstock by Michael Gilbert (6/30/17)
L:  A Losing Game by Freeman Wills Crofts (1/31/17)
M: Murder at the Masque by Amy Myers (1/16/17)
N: Nun Plussed by Monica Quill (3/30/17)
O: The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm by James Napoli (4/14/17)
P: The Polka Dot Nude by Joan Smith (5/2/17)
Q: Quick Curtain by Alan Melville (7/14/17)
R: Room for Murder by Doris Miles Disney (7/22/17)
S: The Silent Invaders by Robert Silverberg (1/7/17)
T: They Tell No Tales by Manning Coles (4/19/17)
U: The Unconscious Witness by R. Austin Freeman (1/28/17)
V: The Vanishing Violinist by Sara Hoskinson Frommer (4/30/17)
W: A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen (2/18/17)
X: Mink Is for a  Minx by Leo Margulies, ed (6/23/17)
Y: Your Turn, Mr. Moto by John P. Marquand (7/25/17)
Z: Zadok's Treasure by Margot Arnold (2/22/17)


Lie of the Needle: Review

Daisy Buchanan is the owner of Sometimes a Great Notion, a vintage sewing notions and antique specialty shop. She's also a keen amateur sleuth who's been of help to Lieutenant Serrano on several occasions. When the Millbury Historical Society decides to save a 200-year-old farmhouse from destruction at the hands of a greedy and ambitious developer, the ladies come up with an ideal plan. Selling a risque Men of Millbury calendar--just in time for Christmas! They line up a talented photographer and talk everyone from Daisy's husband and a few firefighters to Daisy's friend Cyril and Lieutenant Seranno to baring it all (or, well, nearly all) for a good cause.

But their plans are thrown into disarray when the photographer is found dead and his camera is missing. And where is Cyril? He was the last hunky model scheduled to be captured for posterity by the murdered cameraman. Daisy is positive that Cyril didn't do in the photographer--but if he didn't, then why has he disappeared? Did he see something that has put his life in danger? When an elderly member of the Historical Society is put into a coma from a hit-and-run accident, it begins to look like the mystery has deeper roots than Daisy or Seranno thought. And what does the stitching on an antique sampler in the home of the accident victim have to do with it all?

One thing I really liked about Daisy Buchanan is that she doesn't run to type for amateur detectives in a cozy mystery series. When she finds clues--she tells Lieutenant Serrano. It doesn't matter whether he immediately believes her or not, she tells him. She doesn't run around trying to figure things out all on her own and then get into trouble because of it. I mean, sure, she still runs into trouble in the end--but it isn't because she's kept things back from the police and she gets out of danger pretty quickly without there being a bunch of "luck" involved to keep our plucky heroine alive.

The story has a nice historical background that gives an added layer of interest and Daisy and the recurring characters are well-rounded and believable. I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Millbury. ★★and 1/2.

[Finished 7/28/17. Thanks to Melissa Caldwell for gifting this to me in the 2014 Bookish Secret Santa exchange. Sorry it took so long for me to get 'round to it.]

Friday, August 4, 2017

Your Turn, Mr. Moto: Review

Your Turn, Mr. Moto (1935) is the first story in John P. Marquand's mystery thriller series starring Japan's number one secret agent, Mr. Moto. The only thing...it's not really Mr. Moto's story. Yes, he is a vital character, but the real protagonist of this early spy thriller is World War I flying ace Casey Lee. At the beginning of the story, Lee is a bit disenchanted with rhis American homeland. When he first came home from the war, he was feted and paraded and generally fawned over. But when the crowds of grateful Americans longing to hear his tales of bravery in the face of the enemy dwindled, he found that he missed the life of danger and adrenaline which accompanies combat. He then spent time as a stunt flyer and giving testimonials for various products. Which brings us to Tokyo, Japan.

A large tobacco firm offered him the chance to make a flight from Tokyo to the United States with plane and expenses provided. But the longer Lee waited for the the plane to arrive and the publicity machine to get rolling, the more he spent on drink and the louder he proclaimed his disgust for the good ol' U S of A. One night he gets word that the tobacco company has changed its mind about the flight and plans to offer him passage home and nothing else. He gets himself particularly well-lubricated, makes a bigger spectacle of himself than usual, and wakes up to find Mr. Moto attentively waiting up on him in his room. Moto asks him if he truly meant his declarations of the night before--when he declared he was through with America and tore up his passport.

Before Casey knows it, he has pledged himself to Moto's service and gotten himself involved with a beautiful White Russian refugee. They're all after top secret plans that Moto is afraid have fallen into the wrong hands. He, the Russian Sonya, and Moto set sail on a ship bound for Shanghai. Once there, Casey is meant to mix with his countrymen and see if he can discover whether the Americans have the plans. But getting to Shanghai will be a difficult task all on its own. A mysterious man comes into his cabin at night with strange messages. Then the mysterious man is killed. Everyone assumes that Casey has been given the plans and there are those who are willing to kill him for the information. It doesn't help that Casey falls in love with Sonya...even though he's not sure that he can trust her. He'll have to decide soon. Because his own fate and the fate of several nations' naval forces may depend on it.

This is a fairly entertaining spy novel that gives a very good sense of East Asia during the years between the world wars and it provides a fairly complicated look at the Japanese of the time period. Mr. Moto is a spymaster and, in some ways, a bad guy--but he is no stereotypical Fu Manchu and he is a very honorable man. When faced with the resolution which Casey provides, he accepts it and honors his bargain with the American. Were he the typical Asian villain from the time period, he would be threatening all sorts of revenge at being thwarted. 

Casey changes from the dissolute man of the opening chapters to the brave hero of World War I fame. He finds the answers to Mr. Moto's dilemma, fashions his own solution to what to do about the plans, foils a villain more dangerous than Moto....and manages to get the girl in the end. A pretty satisfactory bit of light espionage entertainment. ★★

[Finished 7/25/17]

This fulfills the "Hat" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.