This story brings up important questions of female independence in the 1920’s. Of course, a female author extraordinaire like Carolyn Wells would like to voice her opinion on the matter. Eunice Embury is upset at her husband because he won’t give her any pocket money. She is not altogether without purchasing power. Instead, her husband allows her to buy anything and everything on credit. For some strange reason, he won’t give her any cash. She fumes at this restriction which is the only major gripe in their marriage because she knows that there are a million small social uses for cash. The ability to tip servants, send for a cab, donate to a cause, buy small trinkets or clothing at a friend’s house, or buy a newspaper on the street all hinge on having money ready and at hand. She sees his refusal as a refusal of her independence which she holds dear. Nowadays it may seem funny for people to quarrel about money like this. Time reveals changing attitudes; it is useful to look back to see the difference.
Another genuine locked room mystery is at hand. Mr. Embury has been murdered, poisoned through his ear like in that Shakespeare classic. But the murder occurred behind a solidly locked door on the tenth floor of an apartment complex without a balcony. Only three people slept behind the locked doors: Eunice Embury, Aunt Abby, and the murdered man. Eunice Embury had a large fight with her husband over the usual disagreeable topic, pocket money. But she doesn’t necessarily seem like the murdering type and as Fleming Stone acknowledges many marriages are unhappy but relatively few lead to murder. He dismisses the possibility of Eunice being a suspect. Aunt Abby is harmless and even though the dropper full of poison was found near her bed she likely wasn’t involved at all. The vital clue to this mystery might just be red, tasty Raspberry Jam.
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Detectives are persistent, determined people. Or, at the very least, all successful detectives have those two qualities. I enjoy detectives novels more than most people but I don’t think I would make a good detective. I am not a persistent or determined person. Puzzles and other problems quickly becoming tiring to me. The idea of searching a room for an hour for a thread, literal or figurative, which might reveal the murderer is beyond my comprehension. In five minutes, I would be planning what I’d like to do next and within ten minutes I would have quit looking altogether. It takes a special type of person to follow clues enjoying the moment of not knowing, the frustration of being stuck, and finally feel the effort was worth it once arriving upon the only possible solution.
The main characters are Miss Prall and Mrs. Everett to feuding old ladies who have lived near each other for decades. Each finds the other untrustworthy, rude and frustrating company. However, the next generation is in love with each other. Miss Prall’s nephew, Richard Bates, and Mrs. Everett’s daughter, Dorcas, have been meeting secretly and have already discussed marriage. The only hold up is their elders feud which will not allow love to triumph over decades of bickering and ill will. Sir Herbert Binney, Richard Bate’s English uncle, approves of the match so long as Richard agrees to take over management of the family baked good business called Binney’s Buns. At two in the morning, Sir Herbert is murdered in the onyx lobby of their apartment building with no witnesses around. Richard immediately inherits his uncle’s great wealth which would normally make him a prime suspect. However a note written by Sir Herbert immediately before death reads: “women did this…” complicating the case and confusing the detectives. Bring your magnifying glass, fill your pipe and search for clues In The Onyx Lobby.
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Criminals frequently think themselves clever. Not only do they hope to get away with murder or robbery but they intend to do it without any suspicion under the scrutinizing eyes of the police. There is immense hubris in this attitude. One has to work much more carefully to break rules than to follow them. To think that one is above rules and can masterfully weave a convincing story to fill in the lying gaps shows an absurd level of confidence. I admire criminals for their bold and uncompromising attitudes but I don’t admire their endeavors. I admire criminals the same way I admire people who attempt to eat five pound burgers in one meal. They are ambitious yet foolhardy and are prone to failure. If they succeed, it will be a close scrape and fun to watch.
A murder is committed in a English manor house out in the countryside. Friends from London had been invited down to the old moat-house. This house is full of many people who would normally be suspects. In this case, they all seem to have alibis. The shot was heard while all were listening to a fantastic story of adventure set in the far off land of New Zealand while passing the time after dinner. Each person can account for everyone else because they all waited at the dinner table to hear the end of the story. When the tale ended, a scream quickly followed by a shot came from upstairs. Rushing up the stairs Violet, the newly married lady of the house, is found shot through the lung causing internal bleeding, hemorrhaging, and finally death. The police are immediately called in to investigate. Watch out for a late appearance from well-known crime solver Grant Colwyn. Will Colwyn and the police find the true murderer or will they be grasping about blind like The Hand in the Dark?
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Murder mysteries make death engaging and amusing. That is an amazing feat. Death especially in the states is almost a taboo thing. It has deep emotional and religious ties which make it hard to talk about seriously. If death is difficult, murder should an impossible conversation piece. One could reasonably argue that murder is the worst form of death. Murder exist in a dark cloud of resentment, revenge and fear. Yet I declare that murder mysteries are fun and entertaining. Somehow by focusing on the means and motives of murder we create the illusion of a puzzle and obscure the actual macabre nature of the killing. I have no doubt that a personal brush with murder would leave me confused and drowning with fear. Why then do books featuring brilliant detectives excite me? My hypocrisy is fascinating.
Antony Gillingham accidentally stumbles into a murder the same way you might accidentally step in a puddle coming home on a rainy night. A man is killed in a locked room without any indication of suicide or motive. The brother of the murdered man is missing and so is the revolver. Antony decides in a flippant way to try his hand at detecting. Convincing his friend Bill to play Watson while he channels Sherlock the pair attempt to get to the bottom of The Red House Mystery.
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Another superb comedy authored by Mr. Wodehouse. Just when a thread starts to tangle it gets stitched back in seamlessly making you wonder how you didn’t see its inevitable conclusion earlier. The dialogue is quaint, quick, snappy and a real treat. No chapter feels forced and everything moves along at the pace of a happy golden retriever. Jill the Reckless is a ripe and refreshing little tale.
You begin at the beginning with Jill slated to meet her fiances mother, a cruel and usual woman. Through a series of mistakes and mishaps Jill makes a dreadful mess of this introduction and all of Mrs. Underhills fears are realized in the tiny stature that is Jill Mariner. From here we glide to and fro following Jill as she tries to make her way in the world. Jill must rely on her sharp wit and reckless instinct to make the best of every unforeseen situation. Quickly sneak out the back with Jill the Reckless.
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I feel kind of bad writing about this book. Not that the book is bad. In fact, it is fantastic and I loved every moment I spent reading it. On the other hand, it feels too easy to recommend an Agatha Christie book since she is one of the greatest selling authors of all time. But I digress. I loved it and that’s that.
Tommy and Tuppence are a wonderful one, two punch precisely because it is impossible to tell who is one and who is two. They are comrades and companions that rely on each other unlike say the Holmes and Watson pairing. I always felt that Holmes had the ability to solve any case by his lonesome and in many cases he did. But what makes it all the more wonderful is that the running dialogue between Tommy and Tuppence is fantastic. I’m always a sucker for witty dialogue and this is just about the best. They remind me vaguely of another witty and conversational couple: Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. To not be outdone the story itself is also thrilling and leaves the best mystery until the end. So pick up a copy of The Secret Adversary.
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