Unsolved! II: More Famous Real-Life Mysteries

Title: Unsolved II
Author: George Sullivan
Pages: 119
Recommended Ages: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I find mysteries absolutely fascinating. So, when I found this book of unsolved real-life mysteries, I was more than intrigued.

The Cases.

Murder at Random. On September 29, 1982, a man named Adam Janus took the prescribed dose of Tylenol to relieve chest pain. He died before the doctors could determine the cause of his illness. Later that same morning, Mary Keller felt a cold coming on and took the proper dose of Tylenol to ward off the symptoms. Minutes later she was taken seriously ill and she too died before the day was out. There was a rash of similarly mysterious and unconnected deaths. Unconnected, that is, until someone noticed that each of the cases involved Tylenol… Could someone have slipped poison into the capsules?

The Brief Life of a Superhero. Bruce Lee, the King of Kung Fu, was beloved by millions when he unexpectedly died on the set of his latest film. A few doctors thought that they had explanations – all contradictory – but each explanation left questions unanswered. Why did Bruce Lee really die?

The Hindenburg Disaster. It was a glorious moment. The Hindenburg, the biggest airship ever built, was preparing to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Its passengers were waving from the windows, the press was gathered in force to observe the landing of the giant aircraft. And then, the unthinkable happened. While still hovering in the air, the craft burst into flames! How was this fire started?

Movie Star Mystery. Natalie Wood was not an unhappy woman. And she had no enemies – at least none who would’ve had the opportunity to push her off of her husband’s yacht and leave her to drown. But that’s exactly how she was found – floating in the water, dead. Was it an accident? Murder? Suicide? No one knows.

A President’s Mysterious Death. President Warren G. Harding, the first president to be elected after the completion of World War I, found himself in an administration that was being engulfed by corruption and scandal. Rumor had it that he, Warren Harding, was involved in the dishonorable intrigues. Two years into his presidency, Harding was taken violently ill and died. The official report was that he had died from food poisoning, but his wife, a power-seeking woman, refused to allow an autopsy on his body. Many still believe that she poisoned her husband to avert guilt being placed upon him.

Vanished! Helen Brach was a wealthy woman. One day she traveled from a hotel in Minnesota to her home in Glenview, Illinois. Her caretaker, Jack Matlick, reports that he picked Mrs. Brach up at the airport in Chicago and brought her to her home. She remained there for four days before catching a flight to Florida. He is the last person to claim to have seen Mrs. Brach – no one else saw her during the time that he claims she was at home. After her disappearance, the police investigation discovered that Mrs. Brach had written several large checks out to Matlick; but when examined, the signatures proved to be forgeries. Was Matlick responsible for Mrs. Brach’s disappearance?

Death of a Big Shot. Sam Giancana ruled the Mafia in Chicago before being imprisoned in 1965. When he was released in 1966, he found that his power was gone – he had been replaced on the syndicate – no one was afraid of him now. But when the government offered Giancana immunity in exchange for revealing all he knew, the gangsters began to get uncomfortable. The only solution was to get rid of Giancana…

“Remember the Maine!In 1898, the American battleship, Maine, exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. While the cause of the explosion was unclear, it was clear enough to send America into a war with Spain. But experts still wonder – was the explosion of the Maine accidental or purposeful?

Who Killed Karyn Kupcinet? Karyn Kupcinet was an actress; sweet, happy, and definitely not of a suicidal bent. But when she was discovered, dead, in her apartment, there were no signs of a struggle. Therefore, either it was suicide, or her murderer was someone she knew…

Discussion.

As a lover of mysteries, I knew I was going to love this book. And did I? Yes and no. I love the idea of real-life mysteries – real people, real actions – instead of entirely fictional ones. However, in this case, they were unsolved. Yes, that was obvious from the title. No, I didn’t fully realize what that would mean.

For some people, the lack of resolution would fire their imagination, which would thence race at once to seventeen different possible conclusions. (I’m looking at you, Sherlock.) But for me, it just left me feeling a bit unfulfilled. There’s no possible way I can solve the mysteries – experts have tried and failed, I’d have to wade through pages and pages of evidence, conjectures, reports, et cetera, and in the end, I don’t think I’d be smart enough to come up with a theory to fit the facts. However, children love this pursuit of the unknown.

Of the nine mysteries, only two really captured my attention – Murder at Random and Vanished! I would love to do more reading about these two cases.

Cautions.

In the Bruce Lee case, a film is described in which “a murdered rock star, through supernatural power, takes the form of a bird to avenge his girlfriend’s death and his own.” [pg. 25]

In Vanished, it is mentioned that Helen Brach was interested in “automatic writing” – communication with the spirit world.

In Movie Star Mystery, it is mentioned that Natalie dated several famous men and was divorced.

The words ‘hell’ and ‘God’ are each used once. These are in quotations from the actual cases, not inserted by Mr. Sullivan.

Conclusion. Interesting – conspiracy / mystery oriented children will enjoy it.

Poirot Investigates

Title: Poirot Investigates
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 245
Recommended Ages: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I had thought of Poirot as a detective only of novel-length cases. I did not realize that he was also featured in short stories. Yay!

The Stories.

1.      The Adventure of “The Western Star”. A famous movie actress has been receiving mysterious notes which threaten to steal her precious diamond, the Western Star. Can Poirot determine from whence these notes come? And can he forestall the robbery?

2.       The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor. A man’s body has been found. It was the body of Mr. Maltravers, a middle-aged man who had recently fallen on hard times and had just taken out a large insurance on his life. So the question is – death by natural causes, suicide, or murder?

3.       The Adventure at the Cheap Flat. Mr and Mrs. Robinson have just snapped up a flat in one of the most fashionable parts of town for the price of £80. They are ecstatic over their good luck, but Poirot is suspicious. Why would anyone let out a flat for £80 when they could have easily charged £350?

4.       The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge. An old man is dead. The only people who would seem to have a motive all have air-tight alibis – or do they? With Poirot sick in London, it is Hastings and Japp who do all of the footwork, but the magnificent Poirot who solves the case!

5.       The Million Dollar Bond Robbery. Mr. Phillip Ridgeway is in deep trouble. Specially commission by his uncle’s bank, he was sent to America with a million dollars worth of bonds in a suitcase, only to have them stolen before ever reaching the shore. Was this robbery incidental, or was it specially planned beforehand?

6.       The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb. For years the natives dared not to open the tomb of King Men-her-Ra for fear that the terrible curse would fall upon them. But now several Englishmen have excavated it and one by one are dropping dead. The sacrilege must end! Or perhaps the curse is only a cover…

7.       The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan. The beautiful – and extremely valuable – pearls of Mrs. Opalsen have been stolen right from under the very nose of Mrs. Opalsen’s maid, Celestine. Or could they have been stolen by the maid? It might even have been the mistress…

8.       The Kidnapped Prime Minister. It is of the utmost importance that David MacAdam, England’s Prime Minister be present at the Allied Conference tomorrow evening. His presence there may make the difference between war and peace. But he has disappeared! Where can he be? And who could have taken him? It is up to Poirot to apply his grey cells to the problem!

9.       The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim. Mr. Daveheim has disappeared from his luxurious coutry home, The Cedars. Shortly after his absence, the house was burglared. Are these two events unrelated, or are they part of a complicated web woven by the criminals?

10.   The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman. Count Foscatini has been found dead in his own flat – his head smashed in by a marble statuette. From the testimony of Foscatini’s valet, it would seem that blackmail was somehow involved in the case. But who was blackmailing whom? And what were the stakes?

11.   The Case of the Missing Will. Miss Violet Marsh’s foxy old uncle played one last trick before he died. He made a will stating that his estate and fortune would go to charitable institutions unless Violet could employ her wits to find the second will, a will which would make Violet his heir. Violet immediately turns to Poirot – who else could have the brains to outsmart the sly Andrew Marsh?

12.   The Veiled Lady. Poirot is in despair. It seems that all of the criminals in London are hiding, hiding from his grey cells. There are simply no cases any more! But then, a beautiful young lady comes to him for help. She is being blackmailed by a man who holds a compromising letter penned by her hand. Can Monsieur Poirot recover it and save her from utter financial and marital ruin?

13.   The Lost Mine. A Chinese man of great financial importance has suddenly disappeared from the very heart of London. Can Poirot find the man – or his murderer?

14.   The Chocolate Box. A French statesman has died – the cause is believed to be heart failure. But a beautiful young lady appeals to Poirot; will he investigate to see if the man was done away with by some political enemy? In this case, Poirot takes us on a journey to the beginning of his career as a detective to the one case in which he “made a fool of himself”.

Cautions.

In one case, Poirot is trying to trap a woman into making a confession. He does so by discussing spiritualism/séances to get her into the right mood, then hires a man to dress up as the ghost of the victim. In a different case, several men die back to back after opening an Egyptian tomb on which there was supposedly an ancient curse. Poirot goes along with this perspective, even studying Egyptian magic in the hopes of lulling the murderer into a false sense of security.

While interviewing a woman, Poirot encourages her to tell him of the love affairs of a suspect, but she refuses.

One woman explains her reason for killing the victim by saying, “He had a strange and terrible power over women. I saw it coming. I was powerless to prevent it. He had no intention of marrying her. The time came when she was ready to yield everything to him. Then I saw my path clear.” [pg. 242] She apparently felt that it would be better to kill him than to allow a young girl’s virtue to be destroyed.

The opening case involves a couple who had once spent time in California. While there, each had committed indiscretions of a romantic nature, and now the wife is being blackmailed on account of a few letters she wrote.

Poirot has no qualms about lying to achieve desired ends. He often lies to suspects and witnesses so that they will become frantic and tell all they know.

God’s name is used in vain under different forms a total of nine times. ‘By Jove’ is also used once and Poirot himself uses ‘mon Dieu’ seven times. ‘Damn’ and ‘hell’ are each used once, and ‘ass’ is used four times to refer to stupid people.

Conclusion. I do not think that Poirot Investigates is quite as brilliant as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but it is very good. I enjoyed Poirot’s little community – himself; Captain Hastings, companion and narrator; Miss Lemon, secretary and supplier of information; and Inspector Japp, secondary detective and good friend. They make a fun team, although the mysteries that they solve are not so well developed as Mrs. Christie’s larger novels. I actually solved one of them on my own! *shocking*

The World of Mystery Fiction

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

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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.

The Sign of the Crooked Arrow

Title: The Sign of the Crooked Arrow
Author: Franklin W. Dixon
Pages: 214
Recommended Ages: 8-12
Star Rating: ★★★

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I purchased The Sign of the Crooked Arrow without realizing that it was a part of the Hardy Boys series. (No, guys, it did not say ‘THE HARDY BOYS’ on the front cover – my copy has a different cover. [:) I was a little disappointed when I discovered the fact, but decided that I would buckle down and read it instead. I was surprised by how pleasant it actually was.

The Story.

A car has been left at Slo Mo’s garage for two months. No one has called to claim it. But someone has tried to steal it. A tie clasp has been found in the car – molded in the shape of a crooked arrow. But what does it all mean? It means a new case for the Hardy boys!

As Frank and Joe dive into the case, they draw connections between the recent rise in crime in Bayport and this crooked arrow, which they are determined is the sign of a gang. When their father further investigates their findings, he is shot and wounded. Shot by an arrow.

Also, their Cousin Ruth’s ranch has been facing hardships and many of her ranch hands are vanishing without a trace. Is there some sort of connection between the two cases?

This is no small plot the Hardys are up against. Will they be able to capture the criminals, or will the gang of the Crooked Arrow triumph in their nefarious designs?

Discussion.

I was actually impressed with the conduct of the Hardy boys. They are upright, hard-working, fearless young men. They take on any problem by its horns and fight for justice. However, because of their very impetuosity, I felt that they sometimes overstepped their bounds and treated adults too familiarly. (teasing them, etc.) Also, although I appreciated the fact that they were being sent out on missions by their father (who is a detective himself), once out of his presence they act as free agents, often giving directions to older men, and providing all of the intelligence that is needed.

This lends itself to the other criticism that I have which is the stereotypical exaggeration of the Hardy boys’ talents. Both boys are expert riders. Frank is an expert mechanic “as a result of having taken so many jalopies apart and put them back together.” (?!?) They both pick up judo like that *snaps fingers* and later take out three hardened cowboys with ease. [:O]

Three more unbelievables:

1)      The Indians in the story speak horribly chopped English.

2)      Joe and Frank assume that it was an Indian who tried to kill their father because he used a bow and arrow. [!!!!!!!]  *horror*

3)      The Hardys genuinely believe that their arrow shooter will be lured into revealing his identity by entering an archery contest for the sake of its fifty dollar prize. (Say Robin Hood, anyone?)

F. Dixon states that Joe was “rather fond of Iola”. He says that as far as Frank was concerned, Callie Shaw was “as nice a girl as any fellow would like to know.” They joke and laugh together, but nothing truly romantic ever happens.

On one page, a chemist comments that “Every race has its own peculiar scent.” [pg. 22] I do not know how true this statement is, nor what its racial / socio-ethical implications are.

On one occasion, not wishing to worry their aunt, the Hardys tell a half-truth. It is not an actual lie, but it is still practicing deception on an authority. Not horrible.

‘Gosh’ is used twelve times, ‘golly’ three, ‘gee’ twice and both ‘Gol hang it’, and ‘dickens’ are used once.

Conclusion. I would assign The Sign of the Crooked Arrow to the realm of filler fiction – not horrible, not wonderful. It has fewer harmful elements than many books out there, but it was also unrealistic. All in all, it will be up to you, the parent to decide how concentrated you want your child’s reading to be.

Note: This is a review of The Sign of the Crooked Arrow, not the entire Hardy Boys Series.

Five Red Herrings

Title: Five Red Herrings
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
Pages: 286
Reading Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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Is there anything more fun than a mystery novel? (Mystery movies won’t be counted as answers to this purely rhetorical question.) Seriously, though, mysteries are good for logical and analytical thinking and moral convictions, not to mention whiling a few hours away in fun and excitment!

The Story.

When Campbell’s body is found lifeless in the burn by Minnoch River, the police have no reason to suspect that his death was aught but an accident. It would be very easy for a man painting so near the cliff (as he was) to take a few steps back to admire the view and accidentally tumble over the edge. So far, so simple. That is until Lord Peter Wimsey arrives on the scene.

Wimsey is something of a detective – purely amateur, rest assured – and while nosing around in the dead man’s satchel, he notices something peculiar. Or rather, he notices that something is peculiarly missing. He sets the officers to look for it, but they return empty-handed. Wimsey is sure that it is in the possession of the murderer. Yes. The missing item means that Campbell has been murdered.

As far as Lord Wimsey and Inspector Macpherson (the official detective assigned to the case) know, there are six people who might have wished Campbell dead. Here is how they stand.

Matthew Gowan whom Campbell has publicly insulted and who refused to speak with Campbell before he died, Henry Strachan who is known to object so strongly to Campbell’s character that he turned Campbell off of the golf course, Michael Waters who quarreled savagely with Campbell the previous night and threatened to break his neck, Hugh Farren who believed that Campbell was taking an illicit advantage of his wife’s loving nature and kind hospitality, John Ferguson who was Campbell’s neighbor and whose garden wall Campbell had destroyed, and Jock Graham who purposely fishes just under the wall of Campbell’s house to annoy him and who once ducked Campbell into the Fleet after being insulted by him.

There are tenable explanations for how each may have killed Campbell. But which is it? And how will Lord Wimsey ever unravel the complicated web of clues?

Discussion.

Five Red Herrings was very clever – ingenuous you might say. It has billions of clues, billions of theories to interpret the clues, and six suspects who all have plausible reasons and opportunities to have murdered the victim.

When I was little I would get all involved in mysteries, trying to guess who did it, adjusting my theories along with the detective’s to fit the facts. As of late, when reading mysteries, I haven’t even bothered trying to figure out who the criminal was, I just enjoy the intellectual maneuvers of the detective. However, for this book, I felt that I ought to pick a suspect. So I did – quite randomly. And the hilarious thing is that I randomly and for no reason in particular picked the right one. ;)

There is no doubt that Dorothy Sayers is the most scholarly murder mystery writer that I have ever read. That said, I must admit that I don’t really like my murder mysteries to be scholarly. Mind you, I DEMAND that they be intelligent and demand intelligence on the part of the reader, but I don’t enjoy them very much when they drone on for pages and pages about painting equipment and time-tables. Five Red Herrings was intricate – very intricate, and while I appreciated that, it sometimes seemed as though nothing was actually happening. Perhaps this was just a bit of realism; whatever it was, it wasn’t my favorite. I like my mysteries to be mostly cliché and stereotype with just a little variation.

There were some very funny moments. Here are a few of the funniest.

‘This,’ said Lord Peter Wimsey, ‘is the proudest moment of my life. At last I finally feel like Sherlock Holmes. A Chief Constable, a Police Inspector, a Police Sergeant and two constables have appealed to me to decide between their theories, and with my chest puffed like a pouter-pigeon, I can lean back in my chair and say, “Gentlemen, you are all wrong.”’ [pg. 243]

Wimsey and Inspector Macpherson have just decided that they have been chasing down another red herring when Wimsey declares,

‘I must run away now. I’ve got two artists straining at the leash. Cry havoc! and let slip the dogs of war. It’s curious how blank verse seems to come natural to me today. It just shows how blank my mind is, I suppose.’ [pg. 205]

Gotta love that analysis of blank verse… Here is another of Wimsey’s attempts at verse, this time as he and the Inspector are searching for a spanner in the grass.

“Wimsey found himself versifying after the manner of the old man sitting in a gate.

‘But I was scheming to devise
A wheeze to catch the spanner,
With magnets of uncommon size,
And sell it for a tanner,
Or train a pack of skilful hounds
To scent it like a rabbit,
And something, something, something – ounds
And something, something habit.’

He paused and straightened his spine.

‘Not very lively,’ he mused; better, I think, for a Heath Robinson picture.

 Or purchase half a ton flints
And hurl them in the dark
And something or the other ending in glints,
And a last line ending in see the spark.’ [pgs. 110-111]

This after another theory has been debunked.

‘Bunter,’ said Wimsey, ‘this case resembles the plot of a Wilkie Collins novel, in which everything happens just too late to prevent the story from coming to a premature happy ending.’ [pg. 138]

Wimsey has been spying on a suspect and manages to injure himself in the process. His man-servant’s reaction is positively Jeevesian.

‘Somebody’s just made a moonlight flitting,’ said Wimsey. ‘I’ve been round to tell the police. At least,’ he corrected himself, ‘not moonlight, because there is no moon; in fact, it’s beastly dark and I fell over some confounded steps, but the principle is the same and have you got any arnica?’

Bunter’s reply was memorable:

‘My lord, I have already taken upon me, in your lordship’s absence, to acquaint Sir Maxwell Jamieson with Mr. Gowan’s project of escape. I have every reason to anticipate that he will be detained at Dumfries or Carlisle. If your lordship will kindly remove your garments, I will apply suitable remedies to the contusions.’ [pgs. 131-132]

Just one more quote before I release you to my cautions…

It was a marvellous day in late August, and Wimsey’s soul purred within him as he pushed the car along. The road from Kirkcudbright to Newton-Stewart is of a varied loveliness hard to surpass, and with a sky full of bright sun and rolling cloud-banks, hedges filled with flowers, a well-made road, a lively engine and the prospect of a good corpse at the end of it, Lord Peter’s cup of happiness was full. He was a man who loved simple pleasures. [pgs. 16-17]

Cautions.

My biggest actual problem with Five Red Herrings was the amount of cursing it included. As best as I can calculate, damn was used fifty-seven times, hell fourteen times, bastard once, and different variations of taking God’s name in vain thirty-seven times. Now, this book was almost 300 pages, but I still thought this was far too many times.

One of the suspects seems to think that Campbell was having a romantic relationship with his [the suspect’s] wife, however, the wife makes it clear that this was not the case.

A woman hopes to guilt a man into marrying her by providing a false alibi for him. (The alibi is that he could not have murdered Campbell, because he spent the night with her.) The suspect later repudiates the alibi and the woman in no uncertain terms.

Conclusion. While Five Red Herrings was clever, funny, and intricate, it wasn’t my favorite. I acknowledge that this may have been due only to my taste, and reading preferences.

The Carlton Treasure

Title: The Carlton Treasure
Author: Various
Pages: 95
Recommended Ages: 8-11
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I have read eight books in the Highlights series. I think this one is my favorite so far.

The Stories.

1)      The Carlton Treasure in which Ted finds a note written by his Uncle Abel which speaks of a vast treasure somewhere in their ancestral home. Will Ted be able to find it?

2)      Island Mystery in which Sarah and Libby, while spending the night on Indian Island, must unravel the mystery of Caccio, the name they discovered on a gravestone there. Just who is Caccio?

3)      Inspector Hector in which Inspector Hector and his client Jenny work side by side to recover her Grandma’s missing rose bush.

4)      Key to the Fair in which Michael has lost the key to Mr. Chun’s fish market, and it’s up to his sister, Lisa to figure out where he left it!

5)      The Orchid Mystery in which an orchid bush is missing from the science room at Erin’s school… and Erin thinks she knows who stole it!

6)      The Case of the Flyaway Parakeet in which Tommy, Marcus, Sam, and Brutus (Sam’s dog) help Jason track down his aunt’s lost parakeet.

7)      The Secret of the Flashing Light in which Dana wakes in the middle of the night and sees a light flashing next door. What can it be? Robbers? A signal for help?

8)      The Mystery of the Missing Newspapers in which Mrs. Stout is complaining that she hasn’t been receiving her newspapers and Ally is certain that she has delivered them. What is happening to the newspapers?

9)      Alone on Misery Island in which Jeff is supposed to be visiting his Uncle Bill, but because of the fog, he cannot locate his uncle’s house. Will he wander in the fog forever?

10)   The Gold Cat Lady Mystery in which David, Susan, and Darren Bradford must find a way to sabotage Sam Jaffe’s attempts to distress a former movie actress. But what can they, three children do?

11)   The Tiger Hunt in which little Marybeth claims that she is going on a Tiger hunt when she returns home, and maintains that she is not lying. But how could this be true?

12)   The Case of the Missing Redhead in which Mitchell and McMurphy’s detective agency help little Becky track down her missing doll.

13)   Mr. Master’s Mystery in which no one admits to having planted the mysterious plants in Mr. Master’s garden. Can Jenny and Pam solve the mystery?

14)   The Zoo Detective in which Sammy is certain that he and his sister B.J. are being followed at the zoo. What can it mean?

15)   The Talking Cat in which Jed must overcome his fear of Old Pete who has injured his leg and needs help taking care of himself.

Discussion.

In all of the stories, the main character exhibits a caring attitude towards those that surround him. Instead of seeking merely their own happiness, they seek to promote the happiness of others.

One brother and sister tease each other about their habits. In the end, they are friends.

Another brother glares at his sister who has just told him something insulting. They too are reconciled.

One girl jokes that certain vines are magical “like in ‘Jack in the Beanstalk’.” [pg. 80] Her friend quickly repudiates her suggestion.

Conclusion. Not amazing, but perfectly innocent. Purchase your copy here.

# 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: ★★★

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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.