The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Pages: 317
Recommended Ages: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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All hail, Holmes!

The Stories.

A Scandal in Bohemia. The King of Bohemia has come to Holmes in great distress. Unless Holmes is able to recover a compromising portrait from one, Irene Adler, not only will the King’s marriage be jeopardized, but all of Europe will suffer from the repercussions. Will Mr. Holmes take the case?

The Red-Headed League. Mr. Jabez Wilson is in some distress. He was accepted into the League of Red-Headed men and appointed a job in the club – with a tidy remuneration – only to receive word this morning that the club has been dissolved without a trace. What is this league all about, anyway?

A Case of Identity. Miss Mary Sutherland is entirely confused. Against her domineering step-father’s will she has become engaged to marry a Mr. Hosmer Angel. But on the morning on which they were to be married, Mr. Angel disappeared and has not been seen since. Where can he have got to?

The Boscombe Valley Mystery. A man, Charles McCarthy, has been found lying in a pool of his own blood. The obvious suspect – indeed the man the police have arrested – is McCarthy’s own son, James, who was engaged in a savage argument just minutes before McCarthy was killed. But Miss Turner, who has known James since he was a boy, is convinced that he could never commit murder. So Holmes is called in to sift the clues, to weigh the facts, to name the murderer…

The Five Orange Pips. John Openshaw is scared. Scared out of his wits. And the horror of it is, he doesn’t know exactly what he scared of. All he knows is that it exacts death – mysterious death – of its victims. See, his uncle died shortly after receiving an envelope containing five orange pips. The experience was repeated with his father. And now, he has received five orange pips of his own…

The Man With the Twisted Lip. Several days ago, Neville St Clair disappeared. His wife is frantic to find him and is certain that she saw him in the upper story of a shady business. But when she entered there, fully expecting to see him and demand an explanation from him, he wasn’t there. Instead, an old, decrepit beggar greeted her. Has St Clair been murdered? Or is he still alive?

The Blue Carbuncle. ‘Tis Christmas – the season of happiness and goodwill. But it’s also the season of mystery and robbery. For a shabby hat and goose have thrust upon Mr. Holmes – complimentary of a squirmish in which the owner of both took to his heels – and a priceless blue carbuncle has been stole from the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Will Holmes be able to draw any connection between the two?

The Speckled Band. Two years ago, Julia Stoner stumbled out of her bedroom and collapsed upon the floor writhing in pain. The only words she managed to utter before dying were these – “the speckled band!” All of her doors and windows had been locked from the inside at the time that she was seized, and the only clue to her mysterious death was her previous mention her hearing whistles in the night. Imagine then, her twin sister, Helen’s, horror when, after being moved to Julia’s now vacant room so that repairs may be done in her own room, she hears whistles in the night. What does it mean, Mr. Holmes?

The Engineer’s Thumb. It is not often that Watson is able to bring an interesting case to Holmes’ attention. But in this instance, the case is not only interesting, it is unforgettable! It involves a mysterious mansion, a gang of very clever forgers, and an engineer with a missing thumb…

The Noble Bachelor. Holmes never bothers to read the society papers. But this case comes straight out of society gossip. It seems that Lord Robert St. Simon has been deserted – jilted – by his wife just hours after their wedding ceremony was completed. She has completely disappeared! Can Mr. Holmes track her down?

The Beryl Coronet. Mr. Alexander Holder of the banking firm, Holder & Stevenson, is distraught. He was entrusted by an illustrious client with the invaluable beryl coronet as security for a loan. But several of the gems have been stolen from the coronet while in Mr. Holder’s possession – and the only suspect is his own son!

The Copper Beeches. A young lady, Miss Violet Hunter, wants to consult Mr. Holmes on a very important matter. She wants to know if she should accept a position as governess at the Copper Beeches. Although Holmes is initially disdainful – considering such a problem to be below him – he changes his mind when he hears what is troubling her. It seems that amongst her employer’s requirements are that she would cut her beautiful hair quite short and occasionally wear a dress of electric blue. Holmes foresees danger in Miss Hunter’s future!

Discussion.

I love Holmes. I love his world. I love his art. I love his cold calculation, his indefatigable spirit, and his mysterious languid spells. I love his sometimes snobbish but ever companionable relationship with Watson. And, of course, I love 221b Baker Street.

It was so good getting back into the Holmes canon. I’ve watched so many adaptions of his character in the past few years that I’d somehow lost sight of the real Holmes. Because every adaption only presents a facet of the true Holmes – the full complexity of his character somehow eludes the screen.

This particular collection of short stories – one of five – is, I think, the happiest of them all. It occurs before Conan Doyle kills Holmes, and presumably while he still likes him. Holmes isn’t quite as light-hearted as he was in A Study in Scarlet, but neither is he so brooding as in the later stories (His Last Bow, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes). And the stories themselves are fine.

I don’t mean fine as in ‘okay’. I mean fine as one means ‘fine china’. These stories are finely crafted and populated with believable characters. One thing that I love about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon is that it proves that a mystery need not be based around a murder to be intensely fascinating. Of the twelve mysteries contained in The Adventures, only three deal directly with murder.

In fact, the whole book is remarkably clean. Really the only story of the lot which parents need be concerned with is the first, which concerns the indiscretions of a king. But even here, the word mistress is used only once – the relationship is referred to as an ‘entanglement’, not an affair. It is, considering the topic itself, clean.

Various forms of God’s name are used a total of eighteen times, most in serious situations which could be considered forms of prayer.

Conclusion. Excellent! Buy it – read it.

Six Against the Yard

Title: Six Against the Yard
Author: Various
Pages: 218
Reading Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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So, the tagline for this book is ‘Who Better to Commit the Perfect Murders than the World’s Greatest Mystery Writers?’ but from the description on the back, I couldn’t tell if these stories were written by the ‘world’s greatest mystery writers’, or were about them. I bought it anyway. Turns out they were by. ; )

Before I dive into the stories I ought to explain the concept behind the book. The idea was for six great detective writers – Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Father Ronald Knox, Dorothy Sayers, and Russell Thorndike – to write mysteries which they considered to record the perfect murder.  These mysteries would then be turned over to Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Cornish who would try to prove why and how the murderer could be captured. An intriguing idea…

The Stories.

So there are six stories in this collection.

It Didn’t Work Out – by Margery Allingham. Polly Oliver never was a top-liner in the show business, at least not like her friend Louie Lester, who the crowds adore. But Polly isn’t jealous of Louie; on the contrary, she considers Louie to be her best friend. That’s why she is horrified when Louie marries a conceited little peacock who does nothing but mooch off of her fame and borrow her wealth. But Polly will not just stand by and watch this horrid little man ruin Louie’s life. She will stop him – even if it means murder…

The Fallen Idol – by Father Ronald Knox. It is the night of a grand celebration. Enrique Gamba the most powerful man in the Magnolian Commonwealth and the idol of his people has just erected a statue of himself so that he may be celebrated in stone as well as in person. After a glorious speech, he retires to his bedroom. He is never again seen alive.

But how could the murder have been done? There were guards on duty everywhere! And how did the mysterious fire break out in Gamba’s chapel? Could it have been started by the murderer?

The Policeman Only Taps Once – by Anthony Berkely. The only reason Eddie married the old woman is because he is short of cash and, being hunted by policemen on both sides of the Atlantic, he can think of no quicker way to collect funds than to marry some rich old corker. Imagine Eddie’s horror when he discovers that the ugly woman he married has no money after all! Still, if she had not been such a pesky old bird, he might not have decided to do her in…

Strange Death of Major Scallion – by Russell Thorndike. Major Scallion must die. His disgusting, hedonistic life style has caused an unquenchable hatred to arise in the man that Scallion has been blackmailing for years. And not only will Scallion die, he will die a horrible death, a death at the hands of his most disgusting indulgences…

Blood Sacrifice – by Dorothy Sayers. Playwright John Scales hates Garrick Drury, the main actor in his new play, with as much passion as he can muster. Not only has the man destroyed Scales’ play by changing its cynical theme to a sentimental one, but he has the gall to think that Scales should be grateful to him for it. Still, Scales would have never dreamed of murdering Drury – not until an unexpected but perfect opportunity is offered up to him…

The Parcel – by Freeman Wills Crofts. For three years, Henry Blunt has blackmailed Stewart Haslar for a crime committed in his youth. At first, when the demands were small, Haslar was able to cope with them. But now, as the demands escalate, he is afraid that he will no longer be able to meet Blunt’s demands – and, even worse, that his wife will discover his conduct. So Haslar decides that it is time to do away with Blunt.

But how can he do it in such a way that he is completely free from suspicion? What is the perfect murder?

Praises.

I loved the concept of this collection – first-rate detective novelists going head-to-head with a genuine inspector from Scotland Yard. I enjoyed the mysteries- I thought parts of them were ingenious – but I found Superintendent Cornish’s ruminations to be far more interesting. This paragraph was an especial favorite of mine.

There are certain sentimental people who always feel sorry for the convicted murderer- so much so that they have no pity to spare for his, or her, victim. There are others who, while horrified by certain murders, find excuses for others. But there is no excuse – there can be no excuse for murder. Human life is sacred, unless it has been forfeited to the law and is taken, after due legal process, for the protection of society. But no private individual can be allowed to assume the functions of judge and executioner. That way lies anarchy. [pg. 37]

I was a little annoyed by the fact that the Superintendent refused to admit that any of these crimes may have been committed and gotten away with. But I suppose he felt it his job to reassure the public of the Yard’s abilities. ;)

I also found this statement from ‘actor’ Garrick Drury to be insightful.

“When all’s said and done,” he remarked, “the box-office is the real test. I don’t say that in a commercial spirit. I’d always be ready to put on a play I believed in – as an artist – even if I lost money by it. But when the box-office is happy, it means the public is happy. The box-office is the pulse of the public. Get that and you know you’ve got the heart of the audience.” [pg. 157] (emphasis mine)

Discussion.

As is obvious from the above synopses, several of these stories was told in the first person – from the perspective of the murderer. Now, this made the stories very interesting, I’ll grant you. But they also presented a moral dilemma.

It is the natural tendency of a reader to identify with the protagonist – to glory with him in his triumphs, to experience despair in his failures. When the protagonist is a murderer, this can be dangerous, because it encourages the reader to think along the same lines as the murderer – “This man is a blackmailer – he doesn’t deserve to live!” I admit that I fell into this trap several times myself. I would catch myself agreeing with the murderer about how much the victim deserved what was coming to him (often the victim was a vicious, evil man). Usually the man did deserve punishment, but by judgment of a jury, not a private affair.

As a collection of murder mysteries, Six Against the Yard naturally dealt with some violence. But only one out of the six murders – Strange Death of Major Scallion – went too far with its descriptions. And that one went way too far. It was so disgusting that I do not feel equal to outlining its particulars. Sufficient to say, I found it appalling and gross. Yuck.

The very first story involved an unhappy marriage situation in which the husband treated the wife with cruelty. The murderer tries to separate the two out of pity for the wife, but when she refuses to leave, kills the husband instead.

In one story *SPOILER* a man marries a woman for her money and then plots to kill her. In the end, she discovers his plan and kills him instead.

In a different story, a man hits a woman who has been taunting him. She admires him for his pluck to hit her. (?!?)

Conclusion. I loved the concept behind this book, but would have been better pleased had it been differently executed.

Half-Priced Books / Goodwill

On Tuesday, my mother and I assigned ourselves to an important mission. That mission was to replenish our stock of materials concerning the major battles of the War Between the States as a preparation for Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference, which we are attending next week.

My mother was strictly disciplined in applying herself to the operation. I, alas, fell into several distracting skirmishes along the path of duty. This may best be explained when I note that of the thirteen books that I purchased, two concerned the War Between the States…

The Spy of the Rebellion – $ 3.59 I am in a state of absolute staggeration at this find. The Spy of the Rebellion is the personal memoirs of Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, who lived in the middle of the nineteenth century. I can’t wait to read these true tales of espionage!

Gladys Aylward – $ .90 A biography of the Chinese Missionary from the Christian Heroes: Then and Now Series.

Alexander Graham Bell – $ .90 A simple, though not childish biography of Alexander Graham Bell, the great inventor. I don’t have any other resources on Bell, and have never read a serious biography of him.

Great Expectations – $ 2.99
Little Women – $ 2.99
Goodbye, Mr. Chips & Other Stories – $ 2.99
I already own copies of each of these stories, but these were the Reader’s Digest edition. I’m so happy that my Reader’s Digest collection is growing!

Poetry of the Scottish Borders – $ .90 A collection of poetry from the Scottish brilliants.

The Great American Gold Rush – $ .90 A children’s account of America’s pursuit of mineral prosperity.

The Story of the Battle of Antietam – $ .90 The battle of Antietam is called the single bloodiest day in the War Between the States. This is a simple, yet comprehensive account of that battle.

Great Detectives – $ .90 I can’t believe I found this great, big whoppin’ collection of detectives stories for only ninety cents! Christie, Sayers, Queen, and Chesterton – they’re all here!

The Nine Tailors – $ .90 Dorothy Sayers, creator of the supremely British detective, Lord Peter Wimsey (Whose Body?, Five Red Herrings), penned this work, the eleventh installment in the Lord Peter Wimsey series.

My Friend Mr. Campion – $ .90 Margery Allingham, author of this book, is rated alongside Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie as Queens of the Golden Age of Crime. I look forward to experiencing her detective, Mr. Campion.

The Wisdom of John and Abigail Adams – $ 1.99 This book contains excerpts from the Adams’ writings, mostly their letters.

Total Spent: $ 21.75

Total Value: $ 91.20 (four hardcovers have no original price) :[

Next Literary Acquisition: ???

 

Whose Body?

Title: Whose Body?
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
Pages: 212
Reading Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I felt pretty smart when I managed to snatch Whose Body? up for free last June…

The Story.

Lord Peter Wimsey feels downright sorry for Alfred Thipps. Poor man, it would be rather a jolt to walk into one’s bathroom and find a naked corpse lying in the bathtub. But as to who the man is – who he could possibly be – ah, now that is the mystery. A bit strange, too, don’t you know. Usually the problem is to find out who killed the dead man, not to find out who the dead man actually is. But it’s true. It seems that no one has ever seen or heard of this man before. But he must have come from somewhere!

Across town, another mystery is developing, this one for Lord Peter’s friend, Parker. It seems that a rich and famous Jewish banker, Sir Reuben Levy has popped off to nobody knows where on the day before an important business meeting. The two men put their heads together: is there any possible connection between Sir Reuben’s disappearance and the body in the bathtub? And if so, what?

Praises.

I might as well admit it – I really like Lord Wimsey. You want to know why? Because he’s the detective version of another of my favorite characters, Sir Percy Blakeney. Like Sir Percy, Lord Peter pretends to be idiotic and harmless – he improvises poetry with a vengeance! – but this is merely a cover, a ruse to conceal a sharp brain and an immense spirit. Like Sir Percy, Lord Peter is adept at presenting the ridiculous with debonair – all the while enjoying himself immensely.

Another thing I enjoyed about Lord Peter was his frequent disparaging comparisons between himself and Sherlock Holmes.

“Hurray!” said Lord Peter, suddenly sparkling. “I’m glad I’ve puzzled Parker. Gives me confidence in myself. Makes me feel like Sherlock Holmes. ‘Perfectly simple, Watson.’ Dash it all, though! This is a beastly business.” [pg. 153]

He also refers to literature with ease and fluidity.

“Excellent, Bunter,” said Lord Peter, sinking with a sigh into a luxurious armchair. “I couldn’t have done better myself. The thought of the Dante makes my mouth water – and the ‘Four Sons of Aymon.’ And you’ve saved me £60 – that’s glorious. What shall we spend it on, Bunter? Think of it – all ours, to do as we like with, for as Harold Skimpole so rightly observes, £60 saved is £60 gained, and I’d reckoned on spending it all. It’s your saving, Bunter, and properly speaking, your £6-. What do we want? Anything in your department? Would you like anything altered in the flat?”

“Well, my lord, as your lordship is so good” – the man-servant paused, about to pour an old brandy into a liqueur glass.

“Well, out with it, my Bunter, you imperturbable old hypocrite. It’s no good talking as if you were announcing dinner – you’re spilling the brandy. The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. What does that blessed darkroom of yours want now?” [pg. 14]

Only Lord Wimsey could fit Dante, Bleak House, and the book of Genesis all into one dialogue! When Lord Wimsey first hears of Sir Reuben’s disappearance, he describes it to Bunter thusly,

“Mr. Parker has a new trick: The Vanishing Financier. Absolutely no deception. Hey, presto, pass! and where is he? Will some gentleman from the audience kindly step upon the platform and inspect the cabinet? Thank you, sir. The quickness of the ‘and deceives the heye.” [pg. 19]

As he and Parker proceed to swap cases back and forth, Lord Peter proclaims,

“I say, Parker, I think this co-operative scheme is an uncommonly good one. It’s much easier to work on someone else’s job than on one’s own – gives one that delightful feelin’ of interferin’ and bossin’ about, combined with the glorious sensation that another fellow is takin’ all one’s own work off one’s hands. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, what?” [pg. 44]

This to Parker.

“Have you any Scotch blood in you, Parker?” inquired his colleague, bitterly.

“Not that I know of,” replied Parker. “Why?”

“Because of all the cautious, ungenerous, deliberate and cold-blooded devils I know,” said Lord Peter, “you are the most cautious, ungenerous, deliberate and cold-blooded. Here am I, sweating my brains out to introduce a really sensational incident into your dull and disreputable little police investigation, and you refuse to show a single spark of enthusiasm.”

“Well, it’s no good jumping at conclusions.”

“Jump? You don’t even crawl distantly within sight of a conclusion. I believe if you caught the cat with her head in the cream-jug you’d say it was conceivable that the jug was empty when she got there.”

“Well, it would be conceivable, wouldn’t it?” [pg. 51]

This bit from a secondary character (you might even call it a thirdary character if such a thing existed).

“One demands a little originality in these days, even from murderers,” said Lady Swaffham. “Like dramatists, you know – so much easier in Shakespeare’s time, wasn’t it? Always the same girl dressed up as a man, and even that borrowed from Boccaccio or Dante or somebody. I’m sure if I’d been a Shakespeare hero, the very minute I saw a slim-legged young page-boy I’d have said: ‘Odsbodikins! There’s that girl again!’” [pg. 123]

I must admit, I’ve felt that way on more than one occasion. : )

One thing that tickled me had no real bearing on the story. Lord Wimsey is discussing literature with a witness who says, “I never read much except Henty and Fenimore Cooper at school…” [pg. 64] *chuckles*

 Cautions.

There was a running theme of sexual innuendo in Whose Body. However, this comes entirely in the form of indiscreet comments – there are absolutely no romantic scenes. The word sex is used several times.

The strongest (and most objectible) reference was a tiny paragraph  right towards the end of Chapter 10 describing the exploits of Edmond de la Pommerais and George Joseph Smith. You’ll have to go elsewhere to find out what those were, as I do not wish to rearticulate OR quote them…

The corpse in the bathtub is found naked and is referred to several times as such.

God’s name is used in vain fourteen times, ‘damn’ is used ten times, ‘by Jove’ six, and ‘hell’ once. ‘Ass’ is used seven times to describe unintelligent persons.

Conclusion. Much more enjoyable than Five Red Herrings, Whose Body? was a fine mystery, even if it was resolved a little too early.

The World of Mystery Fiction

Title: The World of Mystery Fiction
Author: Various
Pages: 441
Recommended Ages: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I was super-excited when I found The World of Mystery Fiction at a Goodwill. I grew up reading children’s mystery series and started in on Sherlock Holmes when I was thirteen. Of late my expeditions into classic detective fiction have expanded to greater realms – Sayers, Christie, Chesterton, etc. – and my enjoyment has been amply multiplied.

The World of Mystery Fiction, then, was a treasure indeed when I found it. For it is exactly what it calls itself – a world. And it introduces its readers to a world – a world of mysteries and their architects.

The World of Mystery Fiction begins with one of the earliest stories in the detective genre – Victims of My Craft, written in the early eighteen hundreds by Francois Eugene Vidocq, and moves forward from there. It includes stories by Dickens, Poe, Doyle, Chesterton and others as it moves into the 20th century. Commenting on the stylistic progressions and differences between each epoch of mystery writing, The World of Mystery Fiction winds its way through murders and puzzles, each written by a master of crime, and ends with the most modern detective writers, such as Agatha Christie and Jorge Luis Borges.

Cautions.

The World of Mystery Fiction deals with many murders. They are described at various lengths; some barely at all, while others are replete with gory details. The relationships between the murderer and victim often lent to the horror of the crime – for example, one man murders his nephew because the boy makes him nervous. This story is told in the first person. Another story, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, also told in the first person, includes the pointless murder and dismemberment of an old man by an insane murderer.  Another story – Murders in the Rue Morgue, also by Poe, outlines the gruesome murder of two defenseless women. Not pretty.

Others among the collection were brilliant. Of course, Holmes was there (though not in what I consider to be his best cases), and Poirot made an appearance. But the highlight of The World of Mystery Fiction for me was being introduced to Jacques Futrelle’s detective, ‘The Thinking Machine’. He appears in a story called The Problem of Cell 13 in which he lays a bet that he can escape from any prison cell simply by applying his brain to the situation. In a hilarious adventure, the bet is taken and he completely befuddles his jailor with his shenanigans. If you ever get the chance to, read it.

As far as romance goes… It’s the typical stuff. It’s actually a little less than what usually happens in classic literature. There are a few references to mistresses, one to seduction. In a brief bio, it is said of Poe that “he became involved in a number of more or less unhappy love affairs”. That sort of thing.

This is the worst (and only) scene of a romantic sort. It occurs at the end of an Alice-in-Wonderland themed mystery and is when the detective is explaining the case to a young woman.

“She regarded him for so long and in such silence and with such supple twisting of her boyish figure that he stirred uncomfortably. “And what, if I may ask,” he said lightly, “brings that positively lewd expression to your Peter Pannish face? You must be feeling –“

“As Alice would say,” she said softly, leaning a little toward him, “curiouser and curiouser.” [pg. 290]

There were several cultural observations/religious statements that I disagreed with, but nothing that older students couldn’t take in stride.

A woman tries to kill a man by making a wax figurine of him and sticking it with needles. The man does die, but it is proven that she was not involved in his death.

God’s name is used in vain thirteen times, while ‘Mon Dieu’ was used twice and ‘by Jove’ once. ‘Damn’ is used eleven times, ‘hell’ four, and ‘what the devil’ two.  The word ‘ass’ is used six times to refer to stupid people.

Conclusion. From reading the above cautions, you may wonder why I am still giving The World of Mystery Fiction three stars. Although the cautions are serious, they occupy less than a quarter of the book, and as such, are not pervasive. I consider The World of Mystery Fiction to be excellent as a cursory introduction to the history, development, and style of detective fiction, but I would recommend it only to fellow fanatics who are willing to wade through a little mud, not to those who are just looking for a good mystery to enjoy.

Five-Minute Mini-Mysteries

Title: Five-Minute Mini-Mysteries
Author: Stan Smith
Pages: 96
Reading Level: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I’d never heard of either Stan Smith or his fictional detective Thomas P. Stanwick before picking up Five-Minute Mini-Mysteries from a Goodwill a couple of months ago. But I’m always willing to try new detectives…

The Story.

The stories, really. There were twenty-five separate mysteries, covering such puzzlers as arson, robbery, murder, forged wills, smuggling, and logic problems. Only nine of the twenty-five mysteries actually dealt with murder and these were done very mildly. Below is one of the mysteries that I enjoyed the most from this collection.

“So – have you found yourself a minivan yet?” asked Stanwick as he took off his coat and sat down.

“Still shopping,” said Walker from across his desk. “It’s a pain, but my family needs the space. Not like you singles.”

It was a Tuesday morning in winter, and Stanwick had dropped by the inspector’s office at police headquarters.

“A surprising number of singles get them too,” remarked Stanwick.

“Actually, that’s true,” replied Walker. “I’ve discovered that in one of my current cases. That hit-and-run last Friday night.”

“Oh? Tell me about it.”

“It was about quarter of eleven.” Walker leaned back in his chair. “A pharmacist named Susan Levine, age 27, left the skating rink on Harpwell Avenue and started to cross the street to get to her car in the opposite lot. According to our witness, a dark minivan that had been parked up the street, with its motor running but its lights off, suddenly peeled out and ran her down. Then it turned on its one working headlight and roared off.”

“Who was this witness?” asked Stanwick.

“Fellow named Townley. An electrical engineer in his early sixties. He was walking to the rink to pick up his granddaughter. After the incident, he ducked into a convenience store to tell the clerk to call 911 and then went out to Levine. Nothing could be done.”

“Could he describe the van?”

“Not in any detail, but he swears he got the license number: N68SXH. A genuine in-state plate, too, he says: the background color and glint were right. A streetlight was in just the right position. Trouble is, the Department of Motor Vehicles has no such number in its database.”

Stanwick fingered the tip of his mustache. “Did the convenience store clerk see or hear anything?”

“Blind and deaf. At least where trouble was concerned. He did make the call, though. We found broken glass by the victim, apparently from one of the van headlights. We also found tire marks where the van peeled out from the sidewalk, but no brake marks.”

“So it looks like deliberate murder.”

“Exactly.”

Stanwick shifted in his wooden chair. “Levine and the driver probably knew each other, then,” he said.

“That’s our working theory,” said Walker. “And that’s where the point about singles having minivans comes in. We checked the address book in Levine’s apartment and found two people listed, both single, who happen to own dark blue vans that had body work done on them this past weekend.”

“Really! That’s remarkable. Quite a coincidence even if there had been no crime. Who are they?”

“One is Judy Magee, a research chemist and a college friend of Levine’s. Works at Genotrom. Says she was watching TV in her apartment Friday evening. She tells us she has a minivan because she likes taking her sister’s kids to events on Sundays when she can. According to her, she dented the van in a parking lot recently. Hatch talked to the sister, who says Magee hasn’t taken the kids anywhere for three or four weeks.”

“Maybe it’s her busy season,” said Stanwick.

“If chemists have them.” Walker continued. “The other repaired van belongs to Michael Caponette, an assistant at an advertising agency. He claims to know Levine from high school, though we haven’t confirmed that yet. Says he was seeing a movie alone at the Cineplex on Friday evening. His minivan, which he bought cheap from a cousin, slid on some ice last week and banged a post, he says.”

“I suppose you have the good Sergeant Hatch out checking with the body shops,” said Stanwick.

“And on a few other leads,” Walker replied. “We have our eye on the pharmacy where Levine worked. It may be involved in a prescription drug ring.”

Stanwick suddenly leaned forward, wrote on a pad of paper on Walker’s desk, tore off the sheet, and handed it across.

“By any chance,” he asked, “is this the license plate number of either of Levine’s friends?”

Walker stared at the number and looked up at Stanwick in astonishment.

“Why, yes,” he said. “This is Caponette’s tag. Tom, how did you know that?”

“Just turning things over in my mind.” Stanwick chuckled. “Caponette’s your man.”

How did Stanwick know the killer’s real license plate number?

You’ll have to guess, too. Can you figure out the killer’s real license plate number? [If anyone comments and begs for the solution, I’ll *think* about posting it.] : )

Cautions.

One of the mysteries is a question of whether or not a woman’s son has won a scholarship. She says,

“If so, he probably won’t tell me,” sighed Amanda. She was divorced, and her son was in high school. “He keeps everything to himself these days.”

“That goes with his age,” Stanwick reassured her. “It’s not you.” [pgs. 59-60]

Since when is reasonable for a son to not communicate with his mother?

One of the murders is proven to have been committed by the victim’s daughter.

Three of the illustrations depict the murdered victims. They aren’t violent pictures, but it’s obvious that they’re dead.

‘My Lordie’ is used once.

Conclusion. Five-Minute Mini-Mysteries isn’t high class literature, but it’s very fun and fairly innocent. Purchase your copy here.