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!

—–

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.

Cards on the Table

Title: Cards on the Table
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 213
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!

—–

The little Belgian with the mustachios returns.

The Story.

An interesting man, Monsieur Shaitana. A man most enamored of himself – a man who derives an obsessive delight from his bizarre collections. He is an eccentric – not a benevolent one, but a dangerous one. A scheming one…

His newest collection, he informs Monsieur Poirot, is a collection of murderers. He now has four of them who frequent his home for parties and dinners. They are not professing murderers, no, no nothing so obvious as that. But he, Shaitana, great perceiver of the sins of others, he can tell. And he has an idea for a little game.

He invites Monsieur Poirot and three other detective friends – Ariadne Oliver, Colonel Race, and Superintendent Battle – to join him for a dinner. His four murderers – Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Larrimer, Major Despard, and Miss Meredith – will be there as well. Together they can enjoy an exciting evening together.

All eight guests duly arrive at Shaitana’s mansion. As they visit over dinner, it is hard to imagine that half of the guests are murderers. But it is not until the guests are divided to play bridge that the real adventure of the night begins. Because when the games are over, Monsieur Shaitana is found – murdered.

All of Shaitana’s pet murderers – and no one else – were present in the room from the moment that Shaitana seated himself near the fire to the time that his corpse was discovered. But which of these murderers has returned to the game of murder?

Discussion.        

As Christie herself says in the Foreword to Cards on the Table, it is easy to approach a mystery novel from the perspective that the ‘least likely’ person to have committed the murder is probably the murderer. I admit to having operated that way myself – Who is the author trying to keep in the background of this scene? Who hasn’t been mentioned in a while? So-and-so hasn’t appeared for several scenes. I bet SHE’S the murderer!

But Cards on the Table rebelled against such a simplistic reading. It is a story which boasts four suspects – suspects who have each murdered before, who each had opportunity to commit the murder, and who each had a desperate motive for killing the victim. The solution of this case lies, not in the discovery of clues, but in the background and psychology of each of the suspects. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so uncertain when trying to pin down the murderer. But Poirot managed to. Magnificent little man!

I really enjoyed meeting Mrs. Oliver. She’s hilarious. She is reputed to be a tongue-in-cheek portrait of Christie herself, and I can easily believe it. I have included a quote from Mrs. Oliver later in my review, which I am sure is straight from the heart from Christie. Now, Mrs. Oliver is an interesting character. She is reputed to be a “hot-headed” feminist, and she does occasionally vociferate upon the superiorities of women. But her character – a combination of down-to-earth bluntness and dunder-headed oblivion – almost mocked at her position. While she occasionally blunders upon an important piece of evidence or a freakishly accurate character assessment, she usually is far wide on her predictions.

The question of justifiable murder pops up several times in this story. Mr. Shaitana, the early victim of the story, calls murder “an art” and says that he believes that a “really successful murderer” should be celebrated. Monsieur Poirot, although agreeing that there are some people who deserve to be murdered, nevertheless, disapproves of all murder because of the effect that it has on the murderer. He believes that it is dangerous for a man to “exercise the right of private judgment” in the punishment of a crime because then one has “usurped the functions of le bon Dieu.” [pg. 134]

Quotes.

What I love about Poirot is that although he is a proud little man of great brain, he behaves and speaks exactly like a child on some occasions.

“We all make mistakes, Monsieur Poirot.”

“Some of us,” said Poirot with a certain coldness possibly due to the pronoun the other had used, “make less than others.”

Despard looked at him, smiled slightly and said:

“Don’t you ever have a failure, Monsieur Poirot?”

“The last time was twenty-eight years ago,” said Poirot with dignity. “And even then, there were circumstances – but no matter.” [pg. 106]

: ) Quite. Others are less impressed with Poirot’s skills. This after Poirot summons Anne to an interview.

“I don’t see why he wants to see me.” Anne was obstinate.

“To put one over on the official police, of course,” said Rhoda impatiently. “They make out that Scotland Yard are all boots and brainlessness.”

“Do you think this man Poirot is clever?”

“He doesn’t look a Sherlock,” said Rhoda. “I expect he has been quite good in his day. He’s gaga now, of course. He must be at least sixty. [pg. 160]

When Superintendent Battle points out a few inaccuracies in Mrs. Oliver’s latest novel, Mrs. Oliver responds thus.

“As a matter of fact I don’t care two pins about accuracy. Who is accurate? Nobody nowadays. If a reporter writes that a beautiful girl of twenty-two dies by turning on the gas after looking out over the sea and kissing her favourite Labrador, Bob, goodbye, does anybody make a fuss because the girl was twenty-six, the room faced inland, and the dog was a Sealyham terrier called Bonnie? If a journalist can do that sort of thing I don’t see that it matters if I mix up police ranks and say a revolver when I mean an automatic and a dictograph when I mean a phonograph, and use a poison that just allows you to gasp one dying sentence and no more. What really matters is plenty of bodies! If the thing’s getting a little dull, some more blood cheers it up. Somebody is going to tell something – and then they’re killed first! That always goes down well. It comes in all my books – camouflaged different ways of course. And people like untraceable poisons, and idiotic police inspectors and girls tied up in cellars with sewer gas or water pouring in (such a troublesome way of killing anyone really) and a hero who can dispose of anything from three to seven villains singlehanded. I’ve written thirty-two books by now – and of course they’re all exactly the same really, as Monsieur Poirot seems to have noticed – but nobody else has; and I only regret one thing, making my detective a Finn. I don’t really know anything about Finns and I’m always getting letters from Finland pointing out something impossible that he’s said or done. They seem to read detective stories a good deal in Finland. I suppose it’s the long winters with no daylight. In Bulgaria and Roumania they don’t seem to read at all. I’d have done better to have made him a Bulgar.” [pg. 55-56]

Cautions.

Mild innuendo – several of the previous murders committed by the suspects were related to romantic situations, but nothing along those lines happens within the story.

‘Damn’ is used seven times, ‘hell’ twice. Several versions of God’s name are used a total of four times.

Conclusion. Fun, fun, fun, and (I thought) cleaner than most of Christie’s stories.

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: ???

 

Great Detective Stories

Title: Great Detective Stories
Author: Various
Pages: 124
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!

—–

Mysteries! Yay!

The Stories.

The Boscombe Valley Mystery – Arthur Conan Doyle. A man, one Charles McCarthy, has been found murdered at Boscombe Pool. All of the circumstantial evidence points towards his son, James McCarthy, which whom he had a violent quarrel just minutes before being murdered. But the son denies the charge. Can Sherlock Holmes ferret out the truth with his deductive powers?

Mr. Bovey’s Unexpected Will – L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace. Mr. Bovey has left a singular will. It seems that there are three claimants to his estate – Mr. Wimbourne, Mr. Graham, and Mr. Tyndall – and the will states that whichever amongst these three men’s body weight is nearest to the weight of Mr. Bovey’s fortune shall inherit the lot. It’s a queer proceeding, but Miss Florence Cusack, the most acute lady detective in the whole of London, is there to see that proceedings are fair!

A Bracelet at Bruges – Arnold Bennett. Kitty Sartorius’ beautiful little gold and diamond bracelet has been lost – accidentally dropped into the river by Madame Lawrence, Kitty’s friend and a maker of Belguan lace. Kitty immediately calls the police and they agree to drag the river first thing in the morning. But after a thorough search, no bracelet appears. Where could it possibly be?

Who Stole the Black Diamonds? – Baroness Orczy. The magnificent Black Diamonds have been stolen from their owners – stolen out of a house which was swarming with dinner guests at the only time that they could possibly have been stolen. So who stole them? And how was the theft accomplished so that no one saw the thief?

The Blue Sequin – R. Austin Freeman. Edith Grant is dead. She was violently struck on board a train while traveling from London to Worthing. The only person who had opportunity – or motive – to kill her is Harold Stopford, an artist, who disembarked from the train only minutes before Miss Grant was found dead. But Harold’s brother, Edward, is determined that Harold is not guilty, so he calls in Mr. Thorndyke to see if he can free Harold from these ghastly accusations…

Discussion.

Great Detective Stories was a remarkably clean book. Out of the five stories, only two of them concerned a murder, and these were non-violent.

Obviously, I knew the outcome of The Boscombe Valley Mystery, but I enjoyed refreshing myself as to the details of the case. Also, I was delighted to find this little nugget.

“We have got to the deductions and the inferences,” said Lestrade, winking at me. “I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies.”

“You are right,” said Holmes demurely; “you do find it very hard to tackle the facts.” [pg. 21]

I had read Who Stole the Black Diamonds? from Baroness Orczy’s collection of short stories The Old Man in the Corner. However, it has been such a time since I read it, that I didn’t remember the outcome, although I remembered it being extraordinary.

The Blue Sequin seemed very familiar to me as I read it, and, looking back on my archives, I find that I did read it in June of 2011. It was probably my least favorite of the lot – I felt a little cheated by its conclusion – but I enjoyed Dr. Thorndyke’s shenanigans.

Mr. Bovey’s Unexpected Will and A Bracelet at Bruges were new to me. I enjoyed them, even though they had more levity and felt more light-hearted than Holmes’ and Thorndyke’s cases.

Cautions.

In A Bracelet at Bruges, characters consult a planchette to determine if the bracelet will be recovered. Its response was accurate.

‘Good God’, ‘Lord’ and ‘heavens’ are each used once.

Conclusion. Exciting, clean stories, Great Detective Stories reacquainted me with old friends and introduced me to new ones.

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!

—–

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!

—–

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.

Where in Europe is Carmen Sandiego?

Title: Where in Europe is Carmen Sandiego?
Author: John Peel
Pages: 96
Reading Level: 8-11
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!

—–

Where in Europe is Carmen Sandiego? is a solve–it-yourself detective book. But how exactly does that work?

Carmen Sandiego and her gang have managed to steal four valuable objects from different places in Europe; it’s up to you to track down the thief and recover the loot. You are provided with suspect cards (which include physical descriptions and other useful information about each gang member) and set off to track down your criminal. This excerpt is an example of how this works.

You’re in Paris, the famous city of sights and delights, tiny sidewalk cafes, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre, Museum – so much to see and do. But, sadly, you’re here to work, not to sightsee. The local lady from Interpol arrives and greets you.

“We’ve discovered three people who saw the thief you’re after, and three places where she may have gone.” She hands you a slip of paper.

If you want to stay in Paris and look into:

          The lunch room of Notre Dame – go to 44 
          The Eiffel Tower flower girl – go to 73
          Madeline the orphan – go to 106

If you’re ready to depart for:

          Berlin, Germany – go to 150
          Warsaw, Poland – go to 16
          Edinburgh, Scotland – go to 97

(The numbers tell you which page to flip to.)

After ‘interviewing’ the witnesses, you use the clues to identify the thief and to choose which location to travel to next. At the next location you are provided with more clues and more locations until finally you track down the thief.

I would have found Where In Europe more interesting if the suspect cards hadn’t been removed. Because they were missing, I was unable to link clues to suspects and thus could only guess at who the criminals really were. I was also a little unsure about how the point system worked.

Other than being entirely simplistic and unrealistic, there was nothing really wrong with Where In Europe Is Carmen Sandiego? Obviously it’s not really a reading book with a coherent story – you jump around from page to page – and its only real value is the small amount of critical thinking that it involves.

Conclusion. Overall, Where In Europe Is Carmen Sandiego is an okay book. I didn’t see much of a point to it, but it’s not defiling.

Note: This is a review of Where in Europe is Carmen Sandiego?, not the entire Carmen Sandiego Series.

# 2 Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch

Title: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch
Author: Donald J. Sobol
Pages: 86
Recommended Ages: 9 – 12
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!

—–

This book, Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch, is the second in the Encyclopedia Brown series which follows the exploits of Encyclopedia Brown, America’s Sherlock Holmes in sneakers.

The Stories.

This volume was comprised of ten stories.

1)      The Case of the Secret Pitch in which Bugs Meany has committed a forgery, but only Encyclopedia knows how he did it.

2)      The Case of the Balloon Man in which Mr. Potts accuses the innocent Izzy of kidnapping Bobby Tyler.

3)      The Case of the Ambushed Cowboy in which Encyclopedia must prove that a tale told eighty-five years ago is false.

4)      The Case of the Forgetful Sheriff in which Encyclopedia must discover why a sheriff was arrested along with the gang that he captured.

5)      The Case of the Hungry Hitchhiker in which Encyclopedia and his father chase down a gang of bank robbers.

6)      The Case of the Two-Fisted Poet in which Encyclopedia hints that perhaps Percy isn’t such a great fighter after all.

7)      The Case of the Wounded Toe in which Charlie Stewart is shot in the foot and Bugs’ Tigers Club are immediate suspects.

8)      The Case of Excalibur in which Bugs Meany tries to blame Encyclopedia for the theft of his pocketknife.

9)      The Case of the Glass of Ginger Ale in which a famous violinist stands to lose his Stradivarius unless Encyclopedia can prove that his opponent cheated.

10)   The Case of the Stomach Puncher in which Encyclopedia investigates whether Biff Logan really stole Herb Stein’s bicycle.

Here are the top two interesting similes from Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch.

 Sally stamped her foot. “Ooooh, that Bugs Meany!” she cried. “Don’t trust him, Encyclopedia. Drop the case!”

“I don’t trust Bugs any farther than I can throw a cheesecake under water,” replied Encyclopedia. [pg. 56]

“One morning Speedy Flanagan, the shortest fast-ball pitcher in the Idaville Little League, walked into the Brown Detective Agency. He wore a face longer than the last day of school.” [pg. 4]

Cautions.

I’ve said before that there are the three recurring themes in the Encyclopedia Brown series. True to form, they made their appearance here in The Case of the Two Spies.

1)      Encyclopedia’s father, Chief Brown brings home all of his most difficult cases home for Encyclopedia to solve because he’s so much smarter than all adults.

2)      Sally Kimball is described not only as the prettiest girl in fifth grade, but also as the best fighter. She punches out boys whenever she feels they deserve it.

3)      Children call each other names.

In one of the cases, Sally goes to the theater with a boy. They hold hands. Their story ends by her getting mad at him and punching him.

‘Gosh’ is used twice.

Conclusion. Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch is what I would call ‘filler fiction’ – not especially wonderful, but not especially damaging. It will not promote serious thinking, but will provide safe enough literature for voracious readers. Not the best, but not noxious. Purchase a copy here.

Note: This is a review of Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch, not the entire Encyclopedia Brown Series.

# 3 Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues

Title: #3 Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues
Author: Donald J. Sobol
Pages: 113
Recommended Ages: 9-12
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!

—–

Although I’d read Donald J. Sobol’s Two Minute Mysteries and Still More Two Minute Mysteries, I’d never read or even heard about his Encyclopedia Brown Series. Then a friend told me that I would really enjoy Encyclopedia’s escapades. I promptly followed her advice and found an Encyclopedia Brown book at the next library sale.

The Story.

As soon as summer comes around, Encyclopedia Brown hangs out the sign he made to advertise his detective agency. Not only does it provide his name and address, but it also enumerates his practicing fee – $ .25 per day plus expenses. Over the course of the summer, he and his sidekicks, Danny and Sally, solve ten mysteries.

1)      The Case of the Mysterious Tramp in which Encyclopedia discovers who robbed Mr. Clancy.

2)      The Case of the Rubber Pillow in which Danny Landis is sure that Bugs Meany stole his rubber pillow case, but can’t prove how.

3)      The Case of Bug’s Kidnapping in which Bugs Meany tries to frame Encyclopedia for trying to kidnap him.

4)      The Case of the Boy Bullfighter in which Encyclopedia must prove that Miguel Sebastian sicced his dog on Charlie Stewart.

5)      The Case of the Divining Rod in which Encyclopedia must prove that Ace Kurash’s divining rods are frauds.

6)      The Case of the Bitter Drink in which Encyclopedia must determine how Melvin Hoffemberger is cheating in the Daughters of the Pioneers’ Indian trial.

7)      The Case of the Telltale Paint in which Mrs. Carleton accuses Encyclopedia of stealing her purse.

8)      The Case of the Stolen Diamonds in which Encyclopedia and his father, Inspector Brown devise a scenario to test police chiefs from across the state.

9)      The Case of the Missing Statue in which Encyclopedia  must determine whether Miss Wentworth’s statue was really stolen.

10)   The Case of the House of Cards in which Benny Breslin’s new toolbox is stolen and Encyclopedia must catch the thief.

I just had to include this quote from The Case of the Rubber Pillow somewhere…

“I want you to find my pillow,” said Danny. “It’s missing.”

“I’ve seen a match box and a boardwalk, but I’ve never had to solve a pillowcase,” said Encyclopedia thoughtfully.” [pg. 16]

*gags over cheesy pun* I suppose it’s not that bad….

Cautions.

There are three recurring themes in the Encyclopedia Brown series. True to form, they made their appearance here in The Case of the Two Spies.

1)      Encyclopedia’s father, Chief Brown brings home all of his most difficult cases home for Encyclopedia to solve because he’s so much smarter than all adults.

2)      Sally Kimball is described not only as the prettiest girl in fifth grade, but also as the best fighter. She punches out boys whenever she feels they deserve it.

3)      Children call each other names.

On one page, Encyclopedia’s father makes the comment that,

“Actors aren’t like other people,” said Chief Brown. “They don’t care about what is right or wrong as long as they get attention.” [pg. 88]

I must admit that I had the same reaction as Encyclopedia to that comment. I was “angry at his father for talking like that.” Many actors (perhaps most) are flashy and immoral, but actors are not categorically so.

‘Golly’, and ‘gosh’, were used twice, ‘gee whiz’ once.

Conclusion. Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues is what I would call ‘filler fiction’ – not especially wonderful, but not especially damaging. It will not promote serious thinking, but will provide safe enough literature for voracious readers. Not the best, but not noxious. Purchase a copy here.

Note: This is a review of Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues, not the entire Encyclopedia Brown Series.