Sunday, October 31, 2021
Please welcome author Tom Mead to the blog…
5 UNDERRATED LOCKED-ROOM MYSTERIES
by Tom Mead
I make no secret of the fact that I’m obsessed with locked-room mysteries. I love to read them, I love to write them, and I love discovering books that offer new spins on the classic tropes and tricks of the subgenre. For those who aren't in the know, "locked-room mystery" is typically a sort of umbrella term for "impossible crime" fiction. That is, fair play puzzle mysteries in which the question is not only whodunit but also how.
John Dickson Carr was the most prolific and accomplished writer of locked-room mysteries, as many genre fans know, and some of his most famous titles include The Hollow Man and He Who Whispers. He churned out a string of masterpieces, and needless to say I devoured them all- as I do with pretty much every story I can find which tackles the locked-room or the impossible problem.
But with such a niche subgenre, you will inevitably encounter repetition of the same trick from time to time. Speaking as someone who has attempted to come up with locked-room problems for my own stories, I can tell you originality is a major challenge- that’s part of the fun. It makes me admire the work of Carr and Ellery Queen and Clayton Rawson all the more, as well as the other authors who are rightly celebrated for their creativity in a very demanding sphere of the crime writing world. So here are a few titles that don’t get enough acclaim, but are well worth rediscovering.
(A quick disclaimer: I don't claim that these are the best locked-room mysteries, though they ARE very good. Simply that they’re underrated, and that they retain the potential to surprise even the most well-versed reader of puzzle mysteries. As such, they’re well worth seeking out.)
Blood on his Hands by MAX AFFORD (1937)
The work of Australian author Max Afford is often overlooked in studies of golden age mystery (which is a mystery in itself). Just about everything he wrote- with a couple of notable exceptions- was an impossible crime. His series sleuth, Jeffery Blackburn, appears in a string of complex and atmospheric novels. But I’ve picked Blood on his Hands as it may be the most gruesome and macabre of the bunch; a perfect showcase for Afford’s creativity and his very dark sense of humor.
Hard Tack by BARBARA D’AMATO (1991)
Barbara D’Amato’s Hard Tack is a seafaring mystery featuring series detective Cat Marsala. In the vein of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, it places the sleuth on a ship whose passengers are positively seething with hidden resentment beneath a veneer of society savoir faire. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before a murder takes place- this time in a locked cabin. The solution here is surprising, gruesome and fiendishly practical. What more could you want?
You’ll Die Laughing by BRUCE ELLIOTT (1945)
Bruce Elliott is an anomaly in the world of mystery fiction. As far as I know, You'll Die Laughing is his only published novel. It's a sort of madcap caper in which a group of strangers are gathered at the mansion of a sadistic recluse for reasons unknown. A classic set-up, but the solution to the apparently impossible locked-room murder is completely original. This is a short and briskly-paced book that is punchily written and dexterously plotted. Elliott also just happened to be a professional stage magician, which no doubt explains his knack for literary sleights-of-hand.
Mr. Splitfoot by HELEN MCCLOY (1968)
I’m a huge fan of Helen McCloy's "Basil Willing" series, and like many critics I would rank her novel Through A Glass Darkly up there with the very best of Carr, Christie and Queen. While that book is her masterpiece, it’s by no means her only contribution to the realm of impossible crime. Mr. Splitfoot was written long after the end of the so-called golden age of mystery fiction in which locked-room mysteries thrived. But at the same time it is crammed with so many of the features that made the golden age great. This time, Basil is faced with a fascinating conundrum involving an apparently cursed room, where those who spend the night are seldom seen alive in the morning.
More Dead Than Alive by ROGER ORMEROD (1980)
More Dead Than Alive is another magic-themed mystery, this time by a very prolific author of traditional puzzle mysteries. Roger Ormerod managed to carve out a lengthy career long after the golden age was over. He had a knack for twisting the conventions of the genre, and More Dead Than Alive makes the most of its gothic setting in an English castle where a stage illusionist has been unceremoniously hurled from a window in the locked room at the top of a tower. The solution to this one is completely fair play, but I bet you won't see it coming...
So there you have it: five more mysteries for your teetering TBR piles. Hopefully you’ll find something here to puzzle, beguile and confound you- as all good mysteries should.
Tom Mead is a UK-based crime writer specializing in locked-room mysteries. He has written short fiction for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous others. Recently, his story “Heatwave” was included in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021 (edited by Lee Child). His novel Death and the Conjuror is forthcoming from the Mysterious Press in July 2022. You can find Tom at his website or on Facebook.
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Up in KRL this morning a review and paperback giveaway of "The Witch's Child" by Susan Van Kirk along with an interesting interview with Susan https://kingsriverlife.com/10/30/the-witchs-child-by-susan-van-kirk/
The above plot blurb barely touches what is going on in the very complicated read. If anything, the book is too complicated as there are so many factions and conflicting motives, one could use a diagram or chart explaining all of it. The book has so many characters that some characters get the short end of the stick such as Carter’s adopted daughter. There are so many characters with their own agendas that several antagonistic characters with a lot of storytelling potential end up getting very little page time. There is a lot of set up for the next book in this book.
It is very similar to the first two books so, if you liked the first two books, you will like this one too. Personally, I found it to be the weakest of this book series. This was true throughout the read but was really brought home with the ending as that fundamentally changed this series from what I expected. As the murders are based in magic and there is little evidence, Carter and Ajax sit around discussing theories for much of the book with little action.
While I still enjoyed Titan Song (The Carter Archives: Book Three), it was not nearly as good as the first two. Interested readers should definitely read the first two books in the series before attempting to read this one and should be prepared for an ending here that changes the series to something different than what readers would expect based on the other books.
The books in the series and my reviews:
Scott's Take: Titanshade by Dan Stout (March 2020)
Scott's Take: Titan’s Shade (The Carter Archives Book 2) by Dan Stout (January 2021)
Titan Song (The Carter Archives: Book Three)
Daw Books (Penguin Random House)
Hardback (also available in eBook and Paperback formats)
My reading copy came by way of the Skillman Southwestern Branch of the Dallas Public Library System.
Scott A. Tipple ©2021
Friday, October 29, 2021
Publishing.... and Other Forms of Insanity: 75 Calls For Submissions in November 2021 - Paying Markets
Conspiracy in Death
opens in January 2059 and technology drives nearly everything. As always in
every society, there are the haves and have nots. The haves have the access to
needed medical care and can avoid cancer, catch diseases early, and live lives
far beyond the current normal life span length. The poor do not have that
ability as money always drives everything.
For the homeless in New York, the January cold brings with it an extra burden. The extreme cold means that some slip from this mortal coil real during the dark and cold hours. A death of a homeless person from the cold would not normally call for NYPSD Homicide Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her assistant, Officer Peabody, to respond to the scene. However, this is not a normal death of a homeless person.
Upon arrival, it is clear that the scene is not being managed properly by Officer Bowers and her rookie trainee, Officer Trueheart. Once Dallas gets that addressed, she turns to the reason for the call. The man known as “Snooks” did not have much to steal in terms of possessions. The killer or killers left his tent and the few items he had. They did take something he literally could not live without. They took his heart and did so with surgical precision.
What follows is a complicated case of murder, organ harvesting, and more. All the usual caveats apply as the head hopping pov, sometimes multiple characters in the same paragraph, graphic sexual content, and others apply here. This read is also just flat out fun and entertaining just as the previous books in the series. As long as you, the reader, do not take the books seriously, they are a fun and fast read.
The series to this point and my reviews:
Naked in Death: Eve Dallas Mysteries (Book 1) March 2021
Glory in Death: Eve Dallas Mysteries (Book 2) April 2021
Immortal in Death: Eve Dallas Mysteries (Book 3) May 2021
Rapture in Death: Eve Dallas Mysteries (Book 4) June 2021
Ceremony in Death: Eve Dallas Mysteries (Book 5) July 2021
Vengeance in Death: Eve Dallas Mysteries (Book 6) September 2021
Holiday in Death: Eve Dallas Mysteries (Book 7) October 2021
Conspiracy in Death: Eve Dallas Mysteries (Book 8)
J. D. Robb
eBook (Available in audio and various print formats)
My copy came via the good folks at my branch, Lochwood Library. Scott, once again, made the Libby App work for Dad.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2021
Thursday, October 28, 2021
Please welcome Laura Ware to the blog today…
THE POWER OF A WRITING STREAK
Over the past few years, I struggled with the most basic part of being a writer – sitting down and actually writing. It was a frustrating situation for me because I wanted to write. It’s something I believed I might be good at and knew I enjoyed.
For a while, life kept getting in the way. I provided care for both my husband’s parents over those years, which drained me in all kinds of ways. Six months after my mother-in-law passed away, while I was still trying to figure things out, the pandemic hit. Again, I was knocked for a loop.
On June 29th, 2020, I found myself participating in a “writing week” with some fellow wordsmiths. According to my records, I wrote 710 words that day.
And sometime during that day I asked myself, “What if I just did this every day?”
At first, I felt apprehensive. I’d tried a streak before, and it eventually petered out. How long could I go? And would it really make a difference this time?
There was only one way to find out.
I cut myself some slack by not having a minimum word count at first. If I got words on the page, it counted whether it was 10 or 1,000. One day in July I only eked out sixty-eight words. But they were new words, so they counted.
What did I write?
I worked on a novel or two, not finishing them but making progress. I revisited my love of short fiction and wrote short stories. I worked on my weekly column, something I’d maintained for over 20 years.
And I noticed I wasn’t stopping.
One thing I discovered in this adventure is that a streak, when it gets long enough, applies a kind of pressure on you. “You’ve written 100 days in a row,” it whispers to you when you’re tired and just want to go to bed. “You don’t want to quit now, do you?”
And I’d grumble and gripe but head to the laptop anyway. And I made words.
At the beginning of 2021, I decided to up the ante. I participated in a program from a mentor of mine called The Great Challenge. The challenge? To write a short story a week for 52 weeks in a row.
I’d written short stories in a week before. But could I maintain that? Over a year? Was it possible to come up with fifty-two ideas in a year?
Again, one way to find out. I took a deep breath and signed up.
The short story challenge gave me words to write every day. Getting words done every day helped me get the stories done, though there have been more than a few late Sunday nights trying to meet the deadline.
As I type this, I’ve written 477 days in a row. I’ve written when life was good, and when my father passed away. I’ve written when the words flowed and when I struggled to express myself. I’ve written during trips. Day after day I’ve managed to get words in – these days at least five hundred before I quit for the day.
And I just turned in my 42nd short story for the challenge. Some of the stories have come to me with no trouble. For some I’ve had to beg my muse to give me something. But I’ve pulled it off forty-two times without a miss.
What have I learned from this?
For one thing, there is always time to write if I look for it. It may be as little as 15 minutes, but it’s there. The pressure of the streak helps motivate me to find that time and get those words typed.
I’ve also learned I tend to write at night when it’s quiet in the house. Finding your ideal time to write is a useful tool in getting words out every day. Nighttime usually works for me, though I also want to train myself to write a little in the morning to get things started. But writing every day tends to show a pattern.
And the words add up. My goal for 2021 was to write 200,000 words. I passed that goal sometime in August or September. My current goal is to hit 300,000 and based on my average word counts for the month I will probably pass that, too.
A streak isn’t for everyone. But if you’re interested in trying it out, here are some tips to get you started.
n Start small. If I had begun by pledging to write 1,000 words every day, I would have bailed on the streak within a week. Maybe you just want to write 10 minutes a day. Or you want to do a page (about 250 words) 5 days a week. The trick is to find something within reach and build on it as your streak grows.
n Make it a priority. There will be all kinds of distractions to take you away from the page. Let those around you know this is important to you. Guard that time the best way you can.
n Build a team. A
team helps with tip #2 tremendously. Involve your family and friends. Let them
keep you accountable. And pick people who will cheer your success.
I’m fortunate in that my husband is totally behind me in this. Before he goes to bed, he’ll ask if I’ve written yet, reminding me to get to the laptop. He even helped me at a family gathering by informing them that we would return in a couple of hours after I finished a story that was due. It helped that he backed me up in that, and my family had no issues with it.
n Keep track. There
are all kinds of way to keep track of your progress. I use two that work for
The first one is a spreadsheet designed by a fellow wordsmith that allows me to track my word count daily. It has columns for words written and time spent and calculates total words by month and year. It also lets me know my average daily word count and time spent and is helpful in charting my progress.
I also have a paper calendar that is on the wall across from my laptop. For every 250 words I write in a day, I get a foil star for that day. On days I write several thousand words, I put a few stars and pen in how many others I’d earned. It is cheering to see those squares fill up with stars day by day, knowing they represent new words.
There will probably come a time when my streak will end (my daily streak, that is. I’m determined to write those last 10 short stories) despite my best efforts. Life happens, and something could come up that totally derails me. I will be sad when it happens. Then, after a day to have a pity party, I’ll start a new streak, hoping to beat the old one. And who knows? Chances are I will.
Streaks can be a powerful tool, and helpful to any writer trying to kickstart their production. If you have questions about it, or just need someone to tell you that you can do it, email me at email@example.com. And happy writing.
Laura Ware’s column, “Laura’s Look,” appears weekly in the Highlands News-Sun and covers news items or ideas she can talk about for 600 words. She is the author of a number of short stories and several novels. Her short story collection Five Female Gumshoes recently came out. Her essay, “Touched by an Angel,” appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness. Laura lives in Central Florida. Check out her website and sign up for her newsletter at www.laurahware.com
Wednesday, October 27, 2021
Bookblog of the Bristol Library: Nevermore: Cattle Kingdom, Boop and Eve's Road Road Trip, Perestroika in Paris, Denali
Short Story Wednesday Review: The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From The Panhandle To The Piney Woods Editor Michael Bracken
The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From The Panhandle To The Piney Woods opens with a very short introduction by Editor Michael Bracken before moving on to the stories. First up is “Chasing The Straight” by Trey R. Barker. Derrick Kruse is a bit different than most private investigators and knows more than he would like about domestic violence and abuse. His latest case involving Billie Vogan is a case that came to him during the weekly poker game. Now that he knows about it, Derrick and the voices in his head have a problem that must be fixed.
William Dylan Powell takes readers to 1984 in Corpus Christi in his tale “The Haunted Railcar.” Our private investigator has his own boat and is working on it when Dell McClendon shows up. Not only does Dell arrive in full clown make up which will set the dog off, as he knows, he really should have stopped walking up the pier when told to stop. Sure, he would still have the problem that caused the visit to the boat, but Dell McClendon would also still have his own nose fully intact.
A murder is rare in Robertson County. They have one this Thursday morning in November at the Camp Hearne Historical Site. In “The Yellow Rose of Texas” by Josh Pachter, the local High School English Teacher, Elsie Jordan, is dead and probably from strangulation. Helmut Erhard, a private investigator, found the body while on another matter. Finding the body made it very personal for him and he is not about to just let the local law handle it.
Like her father before her, Nicky Moran is a private investigator based in Fort Worth who uses a special bar stool at the legendary Billy Bob’s as the office. “In Cowtown” by Robert S. Levinson the client is one Mr. Jergens who likes to be referred to as “Slim.” The client believes that somebody is out to murder him and is very sure about the identity of the suspect. The suspect has one heck of a motive and the local law is not moving on the case. Nicky does not come cheap, the client is more than willing to pay and has the funds, and she is soon on the case.
Houston is the setting for “Harvey and the Redhead” by Debra H. Goldstein. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It is not necessarily a good thing to be carrying around the name of “Harvey.” Yet the detective is, and while pretty much everything the detective owned has been destroyed, the bills still must be paid. The latest client is Olive Twist, part of the legendary Twist Realty and Developments. A family with money, contacts, and resources, she wants a painting returned to her and wants it done discreetly for numerous reasons.
The former Texas Ranger works now and then as a process server and/or private investigator after more than thirty-two years as part of the legendary local law enforcement agency, Texas Rangers. Huck Spence is just trying to stave off boredom in “See Humble And Die” by Richard Helms. His latest case is to find “Ralph Oakley” and it should be easy enough to find him.
Sitting surveillance on a place deep in the night gets boring as one fights to stay awake and focus on the matter at hand. Such is the situation for the private detective in “No One Owns The Blues” by Scott Montgomery. The years have passed, and a lot has happened, but Sharon Turner, still has a hold over him. A singer and a good one, she has a complicated relationship with her current financial backer. She wants him checked out in this tale set in Austin.
Colt Colton just got hired to trace the history of some cars recovered from the Houston area in the aftermath of the Hurricane. He’s from Gary, Indiana originally. But, eight years in the Dallas PD working in the Auto Theft Division means he is very good at tracing cars and finding owners. Tracking down Porter Shackleton of PS Services in Hempstead should be easy enough though the recovery company has tried the easy way in “Shaft on Wheels” by Mark Troy.
Michael Boone sees her long before she makes it to his office. The lady has a problem and needs a private detective in “Triangles” by John M. Floyd. She separated from her husband awhile back. More recently, she used her house key and went into the house to take an item that her husband is very serious about getting back. Since the item in question may have been acquired by her husband in the less than stellar fashion, the police are not an option. This remains true even though she believes her husband is trying to not only get the item back, but have her killed for what she did.
It is back to Austin as a setting in “Purple And Blue” by Stephen D. Rodgers. Our narrator is sitting surveillance on a certain car owned by Gregory and the client. Based on some evidence, apparently somebody else believes the car is owned by somebody named “Cynthia.” This misplaced identity has led to a serial tire killing spree by party or parties unknown and Gregory needs it stopped now.
Houston and the immediate area is the setting of several stories in the anthology. Hurricanes by name and not serve as a backdrop to several stories in one way or another. Such is the case with “Lucy’s Tree” by Sandra Murphy. Hurricane Harvey is unloading on the area and reminding our narrator of another powerful storm and his late wife. In the here and now, neighbors need help and, in so doing, a long ago murder is finally solved.
Unless you are an attorney licensed to practice in the great state of Texas, or a police officer, it is best to avoid and all visits to the jail. In “Unwritten Rules” by Chuck Brownman, private investigator Rafe McAlister is at the jail because it is hi job to be there as he is an investigator for an attorney by the name of Bobby Williamson. Their latest client is Tommy Nguyen who is in jail on a murder charge in the death of Vic Mallory. Racism, the history of the war between Texas and Vietnamese shrimpers, and more are at work in this tale.
Andy Wilkins came to Jefferson, Texas, in search of one specific person. In “Blackbirds” by Graham Powell, his search for Jack Lynch brings the attention of the local police chief and quite a few other folks. Not all of that attention is of a positive nature, but Andy Wilkins drove all the way in from Fort Worth and he has a job to do.
Riley is in the flood waters and pounding storm of Hurricane Harvey by way of a small aluminum fishing boat. She sits in the bow with Donald at the tiller as they navigate flood streets and drowned wreckage in the hunt Carl Vincent Farlow. Known to the locals as a storm chaser, she believes him to be a serial killer. A serial killer who uses severe weather events as a cover for his killing spree over the last twenty five years. In “Weathering The Storm” by Michal Pool, there are victims to be saved and a killer to be found and stopped.
The weather is quite a bit dryer in “Trip Among The Blue Bonnets” by James A. Hearn. Trip is at a certain diner south of Lampasas looking for the spouse of his niece, Tammy. Everybody in the family hated the guy and that was before Tammy, his niece, got worried he was cheating on her. Now that he found him a very long way from home, Trip must figure out exactly what is going on with him as well as a couple of other things.
West Texas, specifically the town of Odessa, is the setting for “West Texas Barbecue” by Michael Chandos. Every town has their own homegrown mobster type and Mr. Oxnum is the one for Odessa. His wife took cash and some important papers out of his safe before she run off a couple nights ago. Mr. Oxnum, who prefers to go by “Mr. Ox” is only really interested in the papers. He wants them back and wants them back now. He has a very good idea where Mr. Taylor can go to find her and get them.
Ms. Amanda Treviño needs the help of private investigator Benjamin Kane in “The Patience Of Kane” by Bev Vincent. She is far along in her pregnancy and would like to know the real reason her husband, father to their child, died in a recent car accident. The crash report blames driver inattention and she believes that to be nonsense. She also does not understand why he would have been driving where the car crash happened. She wants to know what did really happen and is not worried as to what he will find as she has faith in her husband and knows he wasn’t running around up to no good when he died.
Short biographies and several ads for other books by Down & Out Books bring the read to a close.
Edited by Michael Bracken, The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From The Panhandle To The Piney Woods is a very entertaining mystery anthology. All the stories here are on point and very good. Unlike many anthologies that have a bit of a rollercoaster effect due to the inclusion of some weaker stories, here there is not a weak tale in the bunch. Settings are varied, cases are always complex, and the authors in the anthology skillfully weave interesting tales. The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From The Panhandle To The Piney Woods is a mighty good read.
My reading copy came as an autographed gift by way of many of the involved authors who presented it to me at Bouchercon 2019 in Dallas. I was stunned to be gifted the book and am very appreciative of the authors who did this for me.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2020, 2021
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
UTube: Inspector Mislan and the Emancipatist Conspiracy by Rozlan Mohd Noor is the third read in the police procedural series based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Inspector Mislan and Detective Sergeant Johan are brought into an ongoing case when a friend of a sexual assault victim dies.
That is the second attack in a case that starts when Era Amilia was sexually assaulted. The attack was video recorded and shared on the internet via UTUBE. Hours later, she died after a fall the balcony of her ninth-floor apartment at the condo tower. Was she pushed or did she jump? While The sexual child abuse investigation division intended to handle that case by themselves as it was tied into the rape case, when a second rape attack results in an obvious murder of a friend of the victim, Special Investigations is brought in and that means Inspector Mislan and Detective Sergeant Johan.
That means the independent take charge MIslan is forced to work with Inspector Sherry and her squad. Not only does he have to work with her, the powers that be have decreed he has to take orders from her. Mislan’s reputation is known to all and with the intense media focus and political factors, he is not going to be in charge. Inspector Sherry She is very much by the book and Mislan isn’t. She also is not going to jeopardize her career by letting Mislan have his usual free reign.
With pressure mounting and additional attacks and recordings being posted online, the chase is on to stop at least two, if not more, rapists who believe they are correcting wayward behavior. Things are very complicated and the case has many angles to pursue as the officers involved try to find a way to work together.
This is the third in the series that began with 21 Immortals: Inspector Mislan and the Yee Sang Murders and DUKE: Inspector Mislan and The Expressway Murders. Personal details of the lives of Inspector Mislan and several others away from the job continue here in various established secondary storylines. Therefore, it is best to read these books in order as previous case are mentioned along with continuing secondary storylines.
As always in this series, things are very complicated. UTube: Inspector Mislan and the Emancipatist Conspiracy is one of those books there is hard to explain in greater detail without ruining the read. Suffice it to say, these police procedurals are complicated and solidly good reads with interesting cases and plenty of detail on sights and sounds that the reader feels like they are there working the case and eating the food. As in earlier books, there is a lot of mention of food so be prepared.
UTube: Inspector Mislan and the Emancipatist Conspiracy
Rozlan Mohd Noor
Hardback (also available in eBook format)
My copy came via the Martin Luther King JR Branch of the Dallas Public Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2021