Tag Archives: Mystery Maven Marilyn

MINING MARILYN’S MYSTERIES: APPRECIATING POE

“Our Ms. Brooks,” mystery novel afficionado and SGL, writes a weekly blog focusing on titles and authors both new and “seasoned.”  As I explored her “Masters and Mistresses” collection, I happened on this tribute to Poe and thought you might enjoy it.  Thank you, Marilyn!

(Clicking on Marilyn’s title below will take you to her website and a deep well of material!)

EDGAR ALLAN POE: An Appreciation

Well, a bit of an apology is in order.

Last December 28th I wrote an appreciation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  In it I said that “To me, he is the father of the modern mystery story (apologies to Edgar Allan Poe, but that’s my opinion).”

One of my readers wrote last month to suggest that I write an appreciation of Poe.  He said that writing a post wouldn’t necessarily mean that I liked Poe, only that Poe shouldn’t be excluded.  And Mr. W. R. B., you are right; Poe certainly is a worthy Master.

Of course I had read many of Poe’s stories, as I imagine most people have, either in high school or in college.  In my mind Poe was quite old-fashioned, and his stories were not up to the caliber of Doyle’s.

I have just re-read two of Poe’s stories, “The Murder in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter.”  While I still think that Poe’s stories are harder for the modern reader to find engrossing than Doyle’s, I was struck by something unexpected.  I had not realized how much Sherlock Holmes owed to Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin.  The similarities are too numerous to be coincidental; I believe that Doyle read Poe’s works (Doyle was fifty years younger than Poe and was born ten years after Poe’s death) and took several of his devices and plots and made them his own.

First there is the obvious pairing of a brilliant, eccentric detective with a not-as-astute narrator (Auguste Dupin/the unnamed narrator vs. Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson).  Of course, this device came to be used by many other authors, including Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot/Captain Arthur Hastings) and Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin).  In fact, avid mystery readers are familiar with the fact that the vowels in Sherlock Holmes are repeated in their exact order in Nero Wolfe.  A very clever homage, in my opinion.

Second is the way each author shows the brilliant reasoning power of his detective.  In “Rue Morgue,” Dupin and the narrator are taking a stroll.  There has been no conversation between them when Dupin says, “He is a very little fellow, that’s true, and would do better for the Theatre des Varietes.”  After a moment, the narrator realizes that Dupin has exactly followed his thought process since, in fact, he had been thinking that the particular actor was better suited to comedy than tragedy because of his extremely small stature.  The narrator insists that the detective explain, which Dupin does, showing how seven steps have enabled him to follow his friend’s thoughts perfectly.

In “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” Holmes and Watson have been seated in silence for several hours when Holmes remarks, “So, Watson, you do not propose to invest in South African securities?”  Admitting his total astonishment at Holmes’ statement, Watson asks how Holmes came to that conclusion.  The detective tells him, showing how in six steps he went from seeing chalk between Watson’s fingers to deducing that Watson had decided against the investment.

And third is the “coincidence” of plot.  In “The Purloined Letter,” Dupin visits a man suspected of having an incriminating letter he plans to use for blackmail hidden in his apartment.  When a shot is heard outside, the shot having been arranged by Dupin as a diversion, the man rushes to the window and Dupin is able to substitute an identical-looking letter and leave with the original.

In the plot of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes tricks his way into Irene Adler’s home to find out where she keeps the photograph of herself and her former lover, the photograph the lover has hired Holmes to find.  The detective has arranged for a fake call of “fire” from outside to force Irene to reveal where she has hidden the picture, her most valuable possession.

Even granting that some of Doyle’s writing owes a great deal to Poe, I believe that Doyle comes out ahead.  His style is much more natural, his characters more realistic.  So, although both men were gifted writers, my vote still goes to Doyle.  In my opinion, it’s a case of the student surpassing the teacher.

Our MYSTERY MAVEN Marilyn Brooks

I’ve always been a reader and, starting with Nancy Drew (my favorite, of course), I became a mystery fan.  I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful.  And, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending!

My blog, published every Saturday, can be found at:   www.marilynsmysteryreads.com.

 

 

 

MINING MARILYN’S MYSTERIES “OLDIES”: THE INCREDIBLE SCHLOCK HOMES

THE INCREDIBLE SCHLOCK HOMES

by Robert L. Fish

(Marilyn Reviewed on April 15th, 2017)

And now for something completely different, as Monty Python would say.  In this book, the late Robert L. Fish created the most clever and enjoyable pastiche I’ve ever read.

The Incredible Schlock Homes deconstructs and “destroys” twelve of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved stories featuring Sherlock Homes.  In the process the reader, or at least this reader, is completely captivated by Fish’s word play, his twisted logic, and his obvious devotion to the most famous detective in fiction.

Do the stories’ titles–“The Adventure of the Adam Bomb,” “The Adventure of the Spectacled Band,” and the “The Adventure of the Artist’s Mottle”–give you a clue about Fish’s style?  In “The Adventure of the Adam Bomb,” Homes arranges a fake funeral for himself because his disappearance is essential to solve a crime.  When his colleague Watney questions the amazing disguise Homes needs to wear while presumably dead and yet be able to investigate, Homes explains.  The body in the casket?  “An excellent example of Madam Tussand’s art.”  The “corpse’s” extra weight?  “One of Mrs. Essex’s pillows.”  His present stature, at least a foot shorter than Homes’ actual height?  “Special shoes,” responds the detective.  Are you beginning to get the idea?

True to the style of Sir Arthur, Fish begins each story with the year it takes place and a brief history of other cases the celebrated detective solved.  In the intro to “The Adventure of the Spectacled Band,” Watney describes the mystery of a gang of Parisian cabbies as “The Adventure of the Taxi Drivers’ Métier.”  Honestly, I was laughing and rolling my eyes at the same time.

The two men live at 221-B Bagel Street (truly) on the second floor of Mrs. Essex’s boarding house.  While trying to get to the location of the house featured in “The Adventure of the Artist’s Mottle,” Homes and Watney need to decide what train to take.  “There is a train that runs on even days that fall on odd dates,” Watney complains.  “Besides, it has the notation M-W-F listed above, which I frankly do not understand.”  “Milk, Wine, Food,” replied Homes curtly.  “It has a combination restaurant car and bar, is all.”

“But that one is annotated T-T-S,” Watney continues.  “What can that mean, Homes?”  “Most probably, Tewksbury Temperance Society, indicating that on that train the bar is closed,” is Homes’ thoughtful explanation.  Who wouldn’t come to that same conclusion?

With the brilliant introduction by Anthony Boucher, for whom the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention is named, the reader is swept away into the nineteenth-century world of telegrams, hansom cabs, and veiled women.  Boucher is quick to point out Fish’s other, more serious achievements–winning the 1962 Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America for the best first novel of the year (The Fugitive), penning police procedural short stories and novels, and his completion of Jack London’s unfinished The Assassination Bureau, Ltd., in which Boucher contends it’s impossible to detect any difference between the writings of London and Fish.

In his closing paragraph, Boucher writes, “Robert L. Fish, I am by now pretty thoroughly convinced, can do anything….but I shall never forgive him if his unpredictably assorted output does not continue to include, from time to time, a fresh triumph/fiasco of Schlock Homes.”

I will leave you with this from Robert L. Fish:  “Author’s note:  The characters in this book are all real, and any similarity to fictional characters is strictly coincidental.”  Want to have a feel-good hour or two?  Start reading The Adventures of Schlock Homes asap.

Our MYSTERY MAVEN Marilyn Brooks

I’ve always been a reader and, starting with “Nancy Drew” (my favorite, of course), I became a mystery fan.  I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful, and, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending!

 

My blog, published every Saturday, can be found at:   www.marilynsmysteryreads.com.

MINING MARILYN’S MYSTERY “OLDIES”: LINDSEY DAVIS

Mining Marilyn Brooks’ popular blog, Marilyn’s Mystery Reads, for some of her past reviews yielded another gem:   Lindsay Davis.  As a longtime fan of novels taking place in ancient Greece and Rome, I was, for some time, very much caught up by Davis’ host of mysteries featuring “detective” Marcus Didius Falco (of which there are 20).  Davis’ books are well-written, featuring inventive situations, engaging characters, and good, solid suspense.  Somehow, though, I missed the fact that she eventually provided Falco and wife Helena Justina with an adoptive daughter who is carrying on in the family tradition–so glad to have a new “old” favorite to follow.  She reviewed this one in March of 2014.

THE IDES OF APRIL  – by Lindsey Davis

                                             A Review by Marilyn Brooks

 “The glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome” are the lines that Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1845.  There is grandeur in Lindsey Davis’ The Ides of April, and there are also appealing characters, great writing, and a terrific plot.

Flavia Albia, the heroine of the story, is a private informer, what today we would call a private eye.  She is the adopted daughter of the well-known Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco.  Abandoned as an infant, Flavia knows nothing of her biological family.  Marcus and his wife Helena Justina found her wandering the streets of Londinium, Britannia, and brought her to civilization, to Rome.  Flavia is now twenty-nine, a full Roman citizen, a widow, and following in her father’s business.

What brings Flavia into the case at the center of the book is the tragic death of a three-year-old boy who was run over by a builder’s cart.  Flavia is hired by the owner of the building company to thwart the boy’s mother’s demand for compensatory payment.  Although unsympathetic to the owner Salvidia, a female informer can’t be too choosy when it comes to jobs, so Flavia takes the case.

After doing so, she reads a notice asking any witnesses to the accident to come forward.  Intrigued, Flavia goes to the Temple of Ceres, the headquarters of Manlius Faustus, the aedile (magistrate) for this area of Rome, to get more information.  Not having any luck at the Temple, she goes to his office where she meets Andronicus, the aedile’s clerk, and sexual sparks fly between them.  Andronicus tells her the aedile won’t assist her, but he lets her know that he’ll keep his eyes open to try to help.

Not having gained any insight into the case and disliking her client more and more, Flavia returns to the construction company to tell Salvidia that she is quitting.  When she gets there, she is told by the woman’s servant that Salvidia is dead, having come home from the market, gone to bed, and then stopped breathing.  Looking at the corpse, the only unusual thing the informer can see is a slight scratch on one of her arms, certainly nothing to cause death.

At Salvidia’s funeral the next day, Flavia meets the deceased’s neighbor, an elderly woman who concludes their conversation by saying, “You do what you can for her, dearie,” a statement Flavia interprets as the neighbor thinking that Savlidia died under suspicious circumstances.  And the following day, the neighbor is dead.

The writing in The Ides of April is excellent, always told in Flavia’s voice.  She can be empathic, as when she meets the family of another possible murder victim.  “Lupus the oyster-shucker would not easily be forgotten; I thought never,” she says to herself as she sees the family’s grief.  She can also be wry.  “…and (the man) could only come if his son was not using the false leg that day.  Assume I’m joking, if that comforts you.”

The Ides of April is the first in the Flavia Albia series.  The Marcus Falco series by this author is twenty novels long, and I’m hoping for at least that many for Flavia.  She’s a delight.  Hopefully, she’ll keep poking her nose into Rome’s secrets.

You can read more about Lindsey Davis at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads blog at her web site

Our MYSTERY MAVEN Marilyn Brooks

I’ve always been a reader and, starting with Nancy Drew (my favorite, of course), I became a mystery fan.  I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful.  And, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending.  My blog, published every Saturday,  can be found at www.marilynsmysteryreads.com.

MINING MARILYN’S MYSTERY “OLDIES” — ONE CORPSE TOO MANY

Mining Marilyn Brooks’ popular blog, Marilyn’s Mystery Reads, for some of her past reviews, yielded this gem.  Ellis Peters’ memorable medieval sleuth, Brother Cadfael.

 Review by Marilyn Brooks – From March 31, 2012

A truly fascinating look into medieval life in England comes through in the series featuring Brother Cadfael of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at Shrewsbury.

The series begins in the twelfth century at the border between England and Wales.  Brother Cadfael, born in Wales, had traveled the world as a soldier in the first crusade and a sailor in the years following but now has found his calling as a member of the abbey. He is in charge of the abbey’s garden and herbarium, an important position at a time when home-grown medicines were almost the only ones available.

As the novel opens, a civil war between two cousins, Stephen and Maud, has been going on for three years; it eventually lasted nineteen. Henry I, Maud’s father, had named her his heir after the death of his only son, but many nobles rebelled at the thought of a woman leading the kingdom and thus supported the claims of Henry’s nephew, Stephen.  As Stephen comes to Shrewsbury with his forces, aristocrats and soldiers loyal to Maud flee the town to join her in France.

A fellow monk introduces Cadfael to Godric, a “young man” who is willing to help in the garden, but it doesn’t take Cadfael long to realize that Godric is actually a young woman, Godith Adeney by name.  Her father fled to France to support Maud, and if Godith is discovered she will be imprisoned and held for ransom in order to bring her father back to face Stephen.  Cadfael, although not taking sides in the fight for the kingdom, vows to keep Godith’s secret and protect her.

After a battle in which ninety-four of Stephen’s enemies are killed, the abbey’s abbot requests that the men be prepared for a proper Christian burial.  The abbot sends Cadfael to the castle to handle this task, but when the monk counts the dead, he discovers that there is one more body than he had been told. And this man was not killed in battle but strangled by a thin wire from behind.

In One Corpse Too Many, we are introduced to Hugh Beringar, a soldier who, in later novels, becomes a close friend of Cadfael’s, and the woman who becomes Hugh’s wife, Lady Aline.  In addition, a number of Cadfael’s fellow monks whom we meet here, continue to appear in other novels while new members of the monastery join the cast of characters in later books.

The late Ellis Peters (real name Edith Mary Pargeter) created the character of Brother Cadfael when she needed “the high equivalent of a medieval detective, an observer and agent of justice in the center of the action.” She was a writer of some renown as a translator of Czech literature, but today she is best known for her mystery novels.  Unfortunately, Ms. Peters died shortly after the BBC television series got underway and thus did not see all the books made into television programs, but she was a strong supporter of Derek Jacobi, who played Cadfael with great wit and charm.

There is not a dedicated page for Ellis Peters, but there is a brief biography about her and a summary of all Brother Cadfael’s novels at Philip Grosset’s Clerical Detectives  web page located at  http://www.mysteryfile.com/Clerical.html

Our MYSTERY MAVEN Marilyn Brooks

Marilyn’s very popular mystery blog can be reached at marilynsmysteryreads.com   When there, consider becoming a subscriber, receiving each new post in your email.  And Marilyn will also be offering a mystery course for BOLLI members during the Fall 2017 term. 

APRIL’S MYSTERY MAVEN MARILYN: ONE PERFECT LIE

ONE PERFECT LIE

I really don’t know how Lisa Scottoline keeps writing one excellent mystery after another, but she does.  Her latest had me completely fooled until the author revealed the secret she’d kept for more than a third of the book.

One Perfect Lie opens with Chris Brennan interviewing for a position at the high school in Central Valley, Pennsylvania.  He’s made it his business to know exactly the type of substitute teacher the school administration wants, and he presents himself accordingly.  He’s observed the male high school staff and is dressed the way they are in what might be termed “school casual;” he’s even had his hair cut locally so that nothing about him will stand out or seem unusual.

His resumé is perfect, and the reasons he gives for the many moves he’s made in his life ring true.  It also helps that the school needs a substitute Government teacher at once, as the regular teacher left suddenly due to a family emergency.  Chris gives the principal, the only member of the school’s administration he hasn’t met previously, all the answers she wants and needs to hear, and so, he gets the job.  Then he thinks to himself, “It was time to set (the) plan in motion, commencing with step one.”

Step one is finding out about renting a truck from a local man who’s not too fussy about legalities.  The man assumes the vehicle is needed for a move, but Chris knows that the available twelve footer is the perfect size for transporting an ANFO bomb, an explosive with ingredients that are easy and safe to assemble.

During his first class Chris sets out to win over all the students, especially the boys.  He’s already deciding who the leaders and who the followers are, and he’s narrowed down the ones he’s interested in to just a handful.  He plans to cull the handful even more until he finds the perfect boy.  Between his teaching assignment and agreeing to be the assistant coach of the school’s baseball team, he expects to find just the right one; he’s in a hurry because the bombing is only six days away.

Lisa Scottoline is a master storyteller.  She brings to life the three teenagers in whom Chris shows the most interest.  There’s Evan Kostis, the handsome, smart student from a wealthy but unhappy family; there’s Raz Samatov, bereft over the recent death of his father; there’s Jordan Larkin, whose single mother is guilty over how much time she needs to work in order to provide for the two of them.  So what exactly does Chris want from the boy he decides to choose?

All of these characters, and many more equally well done and believable, inhabit the pages of One Perfect Lie.  Ms. Scottoline has written one more thriller that will keep you guessing until the end.

You can read more about Scottoline at: https://scottoline.com/

AND check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at:  marilynsmysteryreads.com  

Our MYSTERY MAVEN Marilyn Brooks

I’ve always been a reader and, starting with Nancy Drew (my favorite, of course), I became a mystery fan.  I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful.  And, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending!

 

 

FROM MYSTERY MAVEN MARILYN: MEET FLAVIA DE LUCE

MEET FLAVIA De LUCE

Speaking from Among the Bones

In case you haven’t met her already, allow me to introduce Flavia de Luce.  The third daughter of an impoverished British former army officer, she’s a delightful character who appeared fully formed in the first book of Alan Bradley’s series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  Now she’s back in Speaking from Among the Bones.

The de Luce family traces its roots back hundreds of years in England, but they have fallen on hard times.  The estate of Buckshaw, the ancestral home of Harriet de Luce, the girls’ late mother, is in arrears for back taxes that Colonel de Luce is unable to pay.  Harriet went missing, as the British expression goes, on a trek in the Himalayas shortly after Flavia was born twelve years ago.  Although Buckshaw is no longer the elegant country estate it once was, it’s the only home that Flavia and her two sisters, Daphne (Daffy) and Ophelia (Feely) have ever known, and the thought of having it taken away by Inland Revenue is casting a dark shadow over the family.

The village of Bishop’s Lacy, home to the de Luces, is preparing for the five-hundredth anniversary of the death of its patron holy man, St. Tancred.  Exactly why this should necessitate digging up his coffin and removing his bones is unclear, unless it is, as Daffy says to Flavia, to see if his body remains uncorrupted, if he has “the odor of sanctity.”  Whatever the reason, the Church of England authorities gave the vicar of St. Tancred permission to remove his coffin, but now they want to revoke that.   The vicar protests that plans have gone too far, but when the crypt is entered (and Flavia, of course, is present) to unearth the casket, the group finds the much more recent remains of the church’s organist, Chrispin Collicutt, who has been missing for several weeks.

Flavia, of course, wants to be in the midst of everything, reflecting that her past successes with local crimes should entitle her to assist the local police whether they want her help or not.  And her vast knowledge of poisons will come in handy, she is sure, in solving any and all crimes in the village, including that of the murder of Mr. Collicutt.  Astride her trusty bike, Gladys, there’s no stopping her.

Bishop’s Lacey is filled with fascinating characters.  There’s  the church’s vicar and his wife; Miss Tanty, a middle-aged member of the choir who suddenly fancies herself as a detective; Adam Sowerby, a friend of the colonel’s with a business card that identifies him as a horticulturist, flora-archaeologist, and investigator (the last under the somewhat misleading wording of “inquiries”); and the two remaining members of the once-grand Buckshaw staff:  Mrs. Mullet, cook and housekeeper; and Dogger, gardener and general handyman, formerly in the service with Colonel de Luce.

Alan Bradley has written the fifth novel in this delightful series with the same wit and verve as he did with the previous four.  You can read more about him at this web site:  alanbradleyauthor.com

BOLLI’s Mystery Maven, Marilyn Brooks

My son Rich told me the world needed a mystery review blog written by me.  Next, my husband Bob suggested that, after writing the reviews, I write to the authors to alert them to these posts.  I was sure none would respond to my emails, but much to my surprise, more than half do, sending short notes of thanks or longer items about themselves and their work.  

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site:  marilynsmysteryreads.com   When there, you can subscribe to Marilyn’s blog so that you are notified whenever she adds a new post.

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