The third annual game of Booklikes Halloween Bingo starts 9/1/18! Join us and play!
First published in 1946, Fire in the Thatch takes place in immediately post WWII Devon. The victim, Nicholas Vaughn, former soldier invalided out with serious injuries, leases a small farm, called Little Thatch, complete with the titular thatched cottage, from Colonel St. Cyres.
He was not the only person who wanted the lease for Little Thatch, however. There were at least two others, including Mr. Gressingham, a nouveau riche fellow from London who is in Devon visiting with the Colonel's daughter-in-law, June. Gressingham is quite put out that Colonel St. Cyres has chosen Nicholas to rent the small tenancy instead of allowing him to, as the Colonel says, "turn it into a rich man's plaything."
Lorac takes her time introducing the murder, allowing the reader to get a good sense of the Devon community. Vaughn moves into the cottage on a ten year lease and starts putting the property back into good order, planting the fields, repairing the cottage, pruning the orchard and generally acting like a farmer, which endears him even more to the Colonel and his daughter, Anne.
There are definitely two different styles of characters in Fire in the Thatch. On the one side, we have the traditionally British rural characters, such as the Colonel, Anne and Nicholas. This group is reserved, blunt and hardworking. On the other side, we have the more modern, urban characters, including June, who is a bit of a party girl living in the back-of-beyond only because her husband, Colonel's son, is a POW in Burma, and Gressingham and his hangers on. This group is fashionable, shallow and prone to misbehavior (in the eyes of the first group, especially). It is clear which of the types E.C.R. Lorac finds worthy of respect.
The main investigator in Fire in the Thatch is Inspector MacDonald - this was Lorac's 26th mystery featuring him. Inspector MacDonald is dispatched to Devon when Vaughn's commanding officer takes an interest in the case which has previously been ruled an accident, from a fire that started from some exposed wiring. The commanding officer is insistent that Vaughn, a naval engineer who was raised on a farm and is handy around buildings, chimneys, and the like, would not accidentally burn himself up.
The mystery in this book is quite complex. It takes awhile for Inspector MacDonald to determine if it is a murder, and then awhile for him to solve it, although solve it he does. He is a likeable protagonist who gets along well with the other characters, and who takes a methodical, but not plodding, approach to solving the case. I really liked the setting a lot. Overall, I found it enjoyable enough that I'll take a look at her only other book available from British Library Crime Classics Bats in the Belfry, which is set in London.
Woohoo! Fear the Drowning Deep gets me bingo in two directions!
Classic Horror; Cryptozoologist; Cozy Mystery; New Release; Southern Gothic, Terrifying Women, A Grimm Tale, Modern Masters of Horror, Creepy Carnivals, Relics and Curiosities; Murder Most Foul; Genre: Suspense; Supernatural; Ghost Stories; Shifters; 13; Terror in a Small Town; Darkest London, Gothic, Genre Horror, Fear the Drowning Deep; Spellbound
Called + read (white cat)
Classic Horror: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
New Release: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
Cryptozoologist: Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire
Southern Gothic: The Ballad of Frankie Silver by Sharyn McCrumb
Terrifying Women: The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
Free Square: Crocodile Tears by Anthony Horowitz
A Grimm Tale: Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
Relics and Curiosities: The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett
Creepy Carnivals: Madball by Frederic Brown
Diverse Voices: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
Shifters: Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz (wild card)
Supernatural: The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Ghost Stories: The Walker in the Shadows by Barbara Michaels
13: The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie
Terror in a Small Town: The Lost Island by Phyllis Whitney
Genre: Suspense: Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz
Doomsday: Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz (wild card)
Gothic: Houses of Stone by Barbara Michaels
Fear the Drowning Deep: The Sea King's Daughter by Barbara Michaels.
Spellbound: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Read + waiting for a call (yellow moon)
Deadlands: Midnight Crossroads by Charlaine Harris
Slasher Stories: I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan
Baker Street Irregulars: The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer
Country House Mystery: Penhallow by Georgette Heyer
Modern Noir: Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
Since we listened to four Alex Rider books on my vacation, I am using Anthony Horowitz as my wild card author!
I've added my second, black out only, bingo card to the game:
I haven't made any decisions beyond blacking out the first card. I usually lose steam part way through October, so it's unlikely I'll actually manage to black out the entire second card, but it's always fun to try!
New Release: The Clockmaker's Daughter
Terror in a Small Town: The Saltmarsh Mystery by Gladys Mitchell
Darkest London: The Silkworm by Robert Galbrait (JK Rowling)
Spellbound: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Murder Most Foul: The Eternity Ring by Patricia Wentworth
Amateur Sleuth: The Devil at Saxon Wall by Gladys Mitchell
Terrifying Women: Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie
Gothic: The Brooding Lake by Dorothy Eden
Genre: Suspense: The Waiting Sands by Susan Howatch
Country House Mystery: The Clock Strikes Twelve by Patricia Wentworth
Modern Noir: Career of Evil by J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith)
Free Space: Fire in the Thatch by E.C.R. Lorac
This book felt like it took forever for me to finish. I read the first 1/3 pretty quickly, and that the second 1/3 felt like pushing through cement, the last 1/3 flew by.
I was incredibly frustrated by the characters, most particularly Robin, throughout most of this installment. Her behavior was straight up irritating a lot of the time - her relationship with Strike was fraught and her relationship with Matthew was dysfunctional. The ending was the culmination of a series of misjudgments that made me want to slap her upside the head.
The mystery was a particularly grisly and disturbing, and the bits and pieces of insight we get from the mind of the killer were interesting. Rowling did a good job hiding the murderer in plain sight - her plotting is, as always, ingenious. There were points were I suspected pretty much everyone who showed up in the book, except for Strike and Robin.
I even had a few minutes where I thought "could it be Matthew?" before rejecting that possibility out of hand. But it's a testament to Rowling's ability to keep me off balance that I considered it.
I'm still thoroughly annoyed by Robin's behavior, but I can't wait until Lethal White shows up at the library with my name on it!
This has some mild spoilers, so read at your peril. I doubt that many people will end up reading this book, though, so I figured why not?
I had a unique perspective on this book - it was a book that made an indelible impression on me when I was around 12 years old. I had found it on my mom's bookshelves, she was a fan of these old-fashioned gothic romances, or maybe at the used book store, and I remember staying up late one night and reading it. The climactic scene on the Cluny Sands etched itself on my memory quite deeply.
I didn't remember the name of the book, or the author, or even a single character name (how could I forget Decima or Rohan?), but I remembered the sense of brooding suspense and the horror of being trapped in quicksand. I actually looked for this book for several years before stumbling on The Waiting Sands in one of my random searches. I initially thought that it was probably The Shivering Sands, but reading it ruled it out for me. If I had reviewed this when I was 12, I would've given it a breathless, terrified five stars.
But, as the expression goes, you can't read the same book twice. I'm not 12 anymore, drawn to unhealthy, and emotionally abusive, relationships. Things that I skipped right over when I was a girl were unable to ignore as a woman. I'm still giving it three stars, mostly for nostalgia's sake and because the writing was quite good and that climactic scene in the quicksand was still pretty intense.
The romance, though, was just a total no go for me. I was astonished when I read Rachel's self-confession of undying love for Daniel after knowing him for all of perhaps 36 hours, both because she barely knew him and because he'd been a monumental asswagon to her. And then her decision to, in essence, pledge herself to eternal celibacy because some guy that she thought was hot for about two days, who was all mixed up in a murder and whom she actually believed WAS the MURDERER, was no longer available to her made me snort aloud.
I've known a fair few murderers, guys. None of them are worth three minutes of celibacy, much less a lifetimes worth.
All of the characters were basically vile. Howatch tries to redeem Daniel, and at least partially succeeds, but it's a bit too little too late for my taste. Rachel is a wet mop.
This is a test: You find yourself on the edge of quicksand with someone you believe to a be a murderer. You are in a completely isolated spot and there is no one else for miles. He has fallen asleep and you are able to grab the gun. Do you:
a. Scamper away and dump the bullets into the quick sand and then pretend you were asleep, too or
b. Hold the motherfucker at gunpoint until you can get back to the boat and escape
If your answer is a, you might be the heroine of a gothic romance. Because heaven forfend that you might try to save your ownself.
It was fun to reconnect with that moronic tween who used to think that guys like Daniel were romantic. I'm really glad I grew the hell up before I picked a spouse.
The heroine is dumb as a box of hammers, and all of these characters are vile.
I agree with Linda about the dog - it's a St. Bernard and better not get harmed or killed. I am thinking that this is the book I was thinking of - the reference to quicksand is very familiar. It scared the crap out of me when I saw about 12!
This is the cover on my copy of The Waiting Sands - totally lame. Also, it doesn't look anything like Scotland to me. What do you all think?
I'm getting ready to start this one, although I also need to buckle down on The Career of Evil and get it finished as it is due back to the library quite soon! I'm going to work on both of them tonight.
1944 was quite a year for Agatha Christie. She published Towards Zero and Sparkling Cyanide, as well as Death Comes As The End and Absent in the Spring under her romance nom de plume, Mary Westamacott. Interestingly, none of these books involved either of her main two sleuths, Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple. Towards Zero is a Superintendent Battle book, Death Comes as the End is her sole foray into historical fiction, and Absent in the Spring is one of six romance novels that have been mostly lost to the sands of time – by which I mean they are available, but largely ignored.
Sparkling Cyanide was a reread for me – my first experience with the book was an audiobook on a trip with my family, which everyone enjoyed. This time around, I read the Pocket Book edition which I picked up for $3.00 at a bookstore in Newport, Oregon, which has, sadly, permanently closed. It was one of those lovely bookstores which has a cat, a fireplace, and teetering piles of books in which treasures are often buried.
While I do love both Poirot, with his leetle grey cells, and Jane Marple in her fuzzy cardigans, I am also a huge fan of both Superintendent Battle and Colonel Race, as I have probably mentioned before. Sparkling Cyanide is a fantastic example of Agatha Christie’s skills in plotting and misdirection, and is the fourth in the Colonel Race series.
The plot begins with Rosemary, the empty-headed, pretty and very, very rich, young woman who has died of cyanide poisoning at a birthday party at the Luxembourg in London, surrounded by her husband, George Barton, her sister, Iris, her husband’s terrifyingly efficient secretary Ruth, Stephen and Alexandra Farraday, a Member of Parliament who is also her secret lover and his wife,and Anthony Browne, another of Rosemary’s erstwhile lovers. The death is ruled a suicide due to depression after influenza. About six months later, however, George begins to receive poison pen letters claiming that Rosemary’s death was no suicide.
It was murder.
The middle, longest section of the book deals with the six suspects. Each of them is given his/her own chapter and narrative where Christie lays out their motives. Rosemary was one of those careless, beautiful women who’ve long profited from being lovely, who breaks things and people simply because she can’t conceive that they might have needs that are different from her own. Everyone had motive to murder her, and her death almost universally profited her friends and family. Iris inherited her wealth, George was the cuckolded husband, Alexandra the cuckolded and devoted wife to Stephen, Stephen fears the truth of the affair being revealed, Ruth is in love with George, and Anthony is a cipher.
Colonel Race makes a brief appearance in the book as a friend of George’s father, who has known George since boyhood. He has been off in exotic places, far away, staving off threats to the British empire and arrives back in London to learn that George, on the heels of the letters, has scheduled a reenactment of Rosemary’s birthday party on the anniversary of her death, a spectacularly dangerous and terrible idea.
The solution to Sparkling Cyanide, or Remembered Death as it was called in America, is ingenious. All of the clues are there, but they are nearly impossible to put together until the end, when the answer comes together. It’s Agatha at her most brilliant, and I highly recommend it for fans of golden age/classic mysteries as well as fans of Agatha Christie.
This is the 7th of the Miss Silver mysteries, which I read for the #1944 club on my blog. It is my favorite of the Miss Silver mysteries to date, better even than Latter End, which I also really liked. In fact, this is my sixth Patricia Wentworth - I've read fiveof the Miss Silvers (Grey Mask, Latter End, Poison in the Pen, The Eternity Ring, this one) and one stand-alone (The Dower House Mystery) - and it's my favorite of all of them. Grey Mask is still the weakest, and I wonder how many people have been put off Patricia Wentworth forever by reading that one first. Tragic, really.
For me, this was a near perfect Golden Age mystery. It had the closed circle, and the country house feel. The entire mystery takes place over a couple of days, from New Years Eve, where it all begins, to a few days later, when the mystery is solved and the murderer is revealed. We start with a brief interaction between James Paradine, patriarch of the family, and Elliot Wray, when James summons Elliot to the Paradine house over some stolen aircraft plans. He informs Elliot that one of the family has taken them, he knows who it is, and requires that Elliot remain in the home for the evening so he can put his plan into motion.
The plan is to announce at News Year Eve dinner that he knows that someone in the family has been disloyal, he is not going to expose them at dinner, but he will be in his study until midnight, and the guilty party must come and confess their misdeed to him or suffer the consequences. At the dinner we have all of the members of the Paradine family: Aunt Grace, the spinster sister, Phyllida, Grace's adopted daughter and Elliot's estranged wife, Elliot, Frank & Irene Ambrose (son of James's first wife & his spouse), Mark Paradine, the heir, Richard, a cousin, Lydia, Irene's sister and Andrew, the odd man out, who is a shirt-tail relative of some sort and is also James's secretary. The characterizations were really well-done. James himself is a bit of a Simeon Lee /Penhallow type patriarch, but he was much nicer than either of them.
As a sometime romance reader, I've become convinced that Wentworth actually walks that line between romance and mystery better than any of the other golden age women - better, even, than Christie. She creates convincing romantic subplots that work with the mystery but don't subvert it. Heyer loses the mystery for the romance and Christie loses the romance for the mystery, but Wentworth balances them almost perfectly. The only issue with this is that it does make her mysteries a bit easier to solve, because the primary romantic coupling is pretty well removed from suspicion - part of the solution always involves moving the obstacle out of the way for their happiness.
I've definitely concluded at this point that it isn't necessary to read Miss Silver in order, and I would advocate for skipping Grey Mask altogether. I'm just pleased as punch that, since I've read about 90% of Christie's full length mysteries, and all of Sayers, that I have at least 50 more Wentworths before I've read them all.
One of the interesting things about these mid-century gothic romances is the surprising amount of time it takes to read a book that is so slender. This book was originally published in 1953 under the title "The Lamb to the Slaughter." This is actually a bit earlier than most of the gothics I read, which are generally from the 1960's.
In The Brooding Lake, Eden, who was born in New Zealand, returns to New Zealand for her story. Alice, the heroine, has been summoned to a tiny community near the small town New Zealand town of Hokitika by her friend Camilla, where she is meant to be a teacher for the small school there.
By the time Alice arrives, however, Camilla is no where to be found. Alice installs herself in the rundown cottage in the woods where Camilla has been living, finding no one there but a (very hungry) cat and a magpie who yells random concerning things like "lend it to me" and "get out." Alice finds a letter from Camilla joyously informing her that she is getting married.
Upon arrival, three men present themselves as possible suitors for our fair Alice: Dalton, the enigmatic, wealthy man who lives in a beautiful home with his friendly sister, Katherine, Dundas, and older widower who lives in a small house with his daughter Margaretta, and Felix Dodson, who is an old flame of Alice's who just happens to be a bus driver in the area.
As the book proceeds, things get weird as they do in gothic romances. On an exceptionally dark and stormy night, Alice is trapped in Dalton & Katherine's home when someone(show spoiler)
punctures the tires so Dalton can't drive her home. One of the servants, Tottie, whispers to Alice that she should lock her door. Alice fails to heed the advice and someone comes into her room at night, ties her hair to the bed post, and whispers creepy stuff like "Camilla is here" as she flees in terror into the night.
The relationship with Dundas takes a turn as well, when Alice is clonked on the head with a branch during the storm and ends up in his home with Margaretta in charge of nursing her back to health. Dundas declares his love for Alice with a disturbing focus on her petite size - the whole thing was weird as all get out, and at one point had me convinced that Eden was going to make Dundas a cross-dresser, which would have been shocking indeed to the 1953 mind. Alas, that was not what was going on.
Anyway, the book comes to an emotional climax in a boat on the brooding lake, with a rather Ripley-esque few moments that Alice must handle. As is also the tradition with gothic romance, the story wraps up very quickly, in a few pages, with one of the suitors proving his love by saving the heroine, one of the suitors being exposed as a murderer, and one of the suitors leaving town.
Things just got super-creepy with Dalton and Katherine. Classic dark and stormy night, with disembodied voices whispering in the dark.
Still no brooding lake. However, the fair Camilla has been keeping at least four men dancing attendance on her. Somehow, I suspect that she has not eloped. I fear she has come to a bad end, and that Alice's digging around will not go well.
I am making a guess here. Don't look under the spoiler tag unless you have read it!
Aaaah! I'm already second guessing myself!
On the extreme right of the terrace a flight of steps led down to a little lawn from whose farther side a rustic path wound to the river’s edge, sometimes running straight for a yard or two, sometimes breaking into wooden steps, slippery now with the wet. He came down it with accustomed feet. It was a path to tread in sunny weather, going down to the boathouse on a summer afternoon—not like this, not in the dark of a January morning. He remembered that it was New Year’s Day.
And then he came out on the river path and focused the torch on that dark, sprawled shape. It was James Paradine, and he was dead.
Oh, this is just sooo good! No sign of Miss Silver yet, but this is a delicious family mystery with the overbearing patriarch and the familial hangers-on, in the vein of Penhallow and Simeon Lee from Hercule Poirot's Christmas- although James Paradine wasn't as despicable a person as either of the above.