Locked Room Mysteries Omnibus

The Locked-Room MysteriesThe Locked-Room Mysteries
by Otto Penzler
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780307743961
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Pages: 941
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Vintage Crime / Black Lizard

In this definitive collection, Edgar Award-winning editor Otto Penzler selects a multifarious mix from across the entire history of the locked room story, which should form the cornerstone of any crime reader's library.

Virtually all of the great writers of detective fiction have produced masterpieces in this genre, including Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Dorothy L. Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, G.K. Chesterton, John Dickson Carr, Dashiell Hammett, Ngaio Marsh and Stephen King.

The purest kind of detective story involves a crime solved by observation and deduction, rather than luck, coincidence or confession. The supreme form of detection involves the explanation of an impossible crime, whether the sort of vanishing act that would make Houdini proud, a murder that leaves no visible trace, or the most unlikely villain imaginable.


 

My last square on my bingo card this year that needed to be read for was Locked Room Mystery.  I had several books that qualified, but none that appealed, so it was time to pull out my trusty omnibus, Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries edited by Otto Penzler.  I chose two previously unread stories: one I was sure to like, featuring The Saint, and one completely unknown to me but considered to be a locked room classic up there with The Hollow Man.


The Man Who Liked Toys by Leslie Charteris: four-stars

I liked this one about as much as I expected to – maybe a little less.  And I probably should have given it 3.5 stars instead of 4 because at its core it’s more a snapshot of a story than an actual story.  But the method of murder is ingenious.  I have to say though, The Saint isn’t nearly as dashing on paper as he is when he looks like Val Kilmer.


The Two Bottles of Relish by Lord Dunsany: five-stars

Well, I can see why this is one of the most re-printed locked room stories.  It has a Poe-esque quality to it, as it starts out a very normal, even vanilla, narration by someone who considers himself a Watson, and rapidly escalates towards the end into a mini-horror story.  I saw where it was going but now quite, and the ending … ends perfectly.  Any more would have diluted the effect completely, even with the superbly done writing.

 

I read these for 2021 Halloween Bingo, specifically for the Locked Room Mystery square.

The Filigree Ball

The Filigree BallThe Filigree Ball
by Anna Katherine Green
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1903
Pages: 418
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

 

I just finished this book and I have to forgo sleep to get this review down so I don’t forget any details overnight.

5 star read.  My first this year, I think.  Absolutely amazing story from start to finish, but oh man!  The finish!

I’ve been enjoying Anna Katherine Green’s books since first discovering her The Mayor’s Wife; I was entranced by how such an old story could rivet me, the reader, with what would have had to have been the birth of many tropes we get jaded about it today’s mysteries.

I admit to buying this one with some hesitancy though.   I assumed, by the title, that the mystery would involve a grand ball, someone being killed during a waltz, or over dinner, or perhaps just after an illicit assignation in the garden behind the ballroom.

HA!  I could not have been more wrong!  From start to finish, I had a creepy house with a history of death in the library, always by the same mysterious means; a house considered haunted by its history if not its actual ghosts.  Dark, abandoned mid-wedding, when the last body was found, right down to leaving the food on the tables and the cake on the floor where it was dropped during the stampede to escape the house’s curse.  It’s all very gothic.

Then there’s the bride, dead by seemingly her own hand, just a fortnight after her marriage, but surrounded by inconsistencies that make murder a possibility. Her heartbroken husband and her distraught sister, both of whom have shaky alibis and strange reactions to the events as they unfold, making them look more suspicious than bereaved.

Then there’s the narrator, who at times I swear foreshadows the Noir genre, with his quiet investigations on the side, to try to prove his theory that more was going on than met the eye.  His dedication to doing so to save the woman, who is, throughout the book, put upon a pedestal of all that is perfect in woman: beautiful, proud, self-sacrificing, suffering with utmost dignity.   Alas, we were missing just a bottle of whiskey and possibly the use of “Dame” in the narrative and we could have credited AKG with the first noir mystery.

The puzzle pieces come together, disjointedly, as our nameless narrator plod through, putting clues together, ferreting out further information and even chasing one witness to Tampa, Florida.

And the ending, omg the ending was so good.  So well crafted, and such a sucker punch.

The books perfection might have been heightened, in my opinion, by the exclusion of the final chapter, chapter 27.  It’s truly extraneous to the book in all ways except for those readers who want their loose ends tied up in a HEA bow.  I did not mind it, I would not have missed its absence either.

Truly, one of the best mysteries I’ve read in ages, vintage or otherwise.  I’d happily recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good vintage mystery (with the caveat to expect a few offhand and cheerful references to the casual racism that was part of the times in which this book was written.)

 

I read this because I’ve been meaning to for the last few weeks anyway, but also because the new Halloween Bingo 2021 square Vintage Mysteries is one of the re-vamped squares that has lifted its restrictions on what constitutes a qualifying mystery.  As AKG predates the Golden Age, it wouldn’t have necessarily qualified before.  I’ll be using it for Vintage Mysteries but if anyone else is interested, it would also qualify for Gothic, and I think, given the questions concerning all the murders that take place in the book, it would also work for Locked Room

The Cannonball tree Mystery (Crown Colony, #5)

The Cannonball Tree MysteryThe Cannonball Tree Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781472132031
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #5
Publication Date: June 3, 2021
Pages: 313
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Constable

 

Blame it on being written, and punished during a pandemic, maybe, but this one wasn’t nearly as good as the last, The Mimosa Tree Mystery.  There were serious issues with editing and continuity, both within the story and with the overall series.  In the previous book, Hideki tells Su Lin her mother was the youngest of the cousins, but in this book he is said to have looked upon her as “an older sister or mother figure”.  The first murder victim in this book is the sister of Su Lin’s aunt by marriage, but the victim is referred to several times as Su Lin’s Aunt and as ‘being married to your uncle’.

There are at least half a dozen more instances where a character does or says something on one page and then is said to have said/done the exact opposite a page or two later.  I don’t know if this is poor story editing, or if it’s meant to reflect the hysteria of war time in an occupation where anybody could be shot for simply now bowing deeply enough.  If it’s the latter, then the editing still failed as the narrative left me confused about my confusion.

The storyline itself also failed to compete with the compelling storyline of Mimosa Tree, which involved war time codes, rebel forces, POW’s, treasures and a murder that happened just hours before the story started.  In this one, the first murder didn’t take place until well over 100 pages of household drama – pretty horrific household drama, I’ll grant, but overall, not worth the 100+ pages it was written on.  The last 200 pages have moments that are far more interesting, but not enough to really shine; I kept reading because I kept waiting for interesting things to happen, and they rarely did.

Most disappointing of all was the absence of Le Froy, a primary character of the series, obviously modelled after Sherlock Holmes.  While absent for 99% of Mimosa Tree he was a guiding and motivating force for Su Lin and the plot.  Here, his name was barely mentioned and only then in passing introspective thoughts.  It’s as if with the absence of Le Froy, the story – and the author – lost it’s focus, organisation, and its logic.

But then again, this book takes place in 1944, when the axis countries started to fall apart, and perhaps this books disorganisation is a reflection of the unraveling  of the Japanese Empire towards the end.  Who knows?  I only know it wasn’t nearly as good a story as I know the author is capable of.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021.  I’m using it for my Truly Terrifying square by invoking my Amplification spell card.  Ovidia Yu is a Singaporean author and qualifies as a diverse voice from an historically marginalised community.

The Mimosa Tree Mystery (Crown Colony, #4)

The Mimosa Tree MysteryThe Mimosa Tree Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781472132024
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #4
Publication Date: June 4, 2020
Pages: 311
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Constable

 

Even though I’ve enjoyed the previous three entries in this series, I hesitated over this one.  The first three were pre-WWII, but The Mimosa Tree Mystery moves the series into Japanese occupied Singapore.  I couldn’t see how Yu would be able to write a story that maintained the gentility of a traditional mystery in the middle of a Japanese occupied war-torn setting and maintain any semblance of authenticity.

Yu not only managed, she outdid her previous efforts.  There’s no sugar-coating the atrocities perpetuated by the Japanese during that time – Su Lin and her family are Chinese, and the story starts in the middle of a roundup into a killing field – but by focusing on Su Lin and the murder mystery the author avoids the story being overwhelmed by the horror of the times.

I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this story.  I liked the previous ones, but I had a hard time becoming invested in the characters.  This time around it wasn’t a problem – the story was riveting enough and the pace fast enough that whether I became wholly invested in the characters didn’t matter.  My only complaint was the denouement scene.  I understand that the point was the murderer wasn’t rational, but Yu did the job too well and it became extraordinarily difficult to follow along with who supposedly was working with whom and who ordered what, etc.  It was a small thing in the overall enjoyment of the story, but it was at the end, so it stuck.

I now find myself eager to dive into the next book, The Cannonball Tree Mystery to find out what happens next with Su Lin, her family, and (former) detective, now POW, Le Froy.

 

I read this for 2021 Halloween Bingo.  It fits the Tropical Terror square rather well, as it is set in Singapore (Tropical) during the WWII Japanese occupation (Terror).

The Virgin in the Ice (Brother Cadfael Chronicles, #5)

The Virgin in the IceThe Virgin in the Ice
by Ellis Peters
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780708825839
Series: Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #5
Publication Date: March 12, 1984
Pages: 220
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Futura Books

Not the best Brother Cadfael I’ve read, but Hugh was back and that was worth 1/2 a star.  I might just even be in a grumpy reading mood, because, really, the mystery was crafted well enough, if the resolution was a tad weak.  The murderer had very little in the way of evidence against him, and yet Brother Cadfael and Hugh were quick to be certain.

Mostly, I disliked the protracted capture and battle scenes, especially as the captured was a 12 year old boy.  A different time and place, to be sure, but still not my cup of tea to read about the torture of children.

The ending was rather sweet though.

This was my third Christmas mystery in a row, and I’m beginning to feel like I should put a tree up.

 

The Vanishing Museum on the Rue Mistral (Provençal Mystery, #9)

The Vanishing Museum On The Rue MistralThe Vanishing Museum On The Rue Mistral
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780143135296
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #9
Publication Date: April 13, 2021
Pages: 323
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books

I never know how to describe these mysteries; they’re written just a little bit differently than the standard traditional or cozy fare, and they’re one of the few written in third person.  They’re much closer to golden age in writing style than anything contemporary; no internal dialogs, no tedious descriptions of … well, almost no tedious descriptions of random things.  The Bonnets are gourmands, so there’s rather a lot of eating going on, and they’re in Aix-en-Provence, so it all sounds rather amazing.  But otherwise, sparse and efficient writing.

Someone has stolen an entire museum.  True, it’s a small museum, but nonetheless no small feat, with no witnesses and no clues.  Then a main suspect is murdered and another grievously injured and still the police are left frustrated.  It comes down, in true mystery style, to pieces put together not by the police themselves, but by their family members and friends, and the while the ending isn’t shocking, it’s clever and satisfying.  Enough clues are there for the reader to see the general direction things are going, but details are left for the big reveal.

These books are comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable reads.

Death in the Vines (Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery, #3)

Death in the VinesDeath in the Vines
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780143122449
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #3
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Crime

Better than the last book; the multiple POVs here work better and Death in the Vines didn’t feel as slow to start as book 2.

Three brutal murders just 1 week apart, all women.  Two of them identical attacks of young women, but the third is an old woman showing signs of dementia.  Proximity and timing make all three related but no one can find the connection.  This series is, at its heart, a police procedural so the story moves along in stops and starts as new evidence is collected and more information is run-down.  The unmasking was a little bit abrupt, but perhaps that’s how some cases end up, who knows?

In the midst of this we have little vignettes of the supporting characters that are mostly charming; an odd twist with Marine Bonnet didn’t quite work for me, but I suppose it worked to move their relationship a bit.  But the biggest non-plot news is Verleque’s mysterious secret in his past is revealed – and it’s a doozy; in a completely unexpected way.  Very interesting ground the author is treading here; the big reveal doesn’t really happen until almost the end, and it’s not followed up on, so I don’t know where she’s going to go from here, if anywhere.

But I have book 4 ready to go, so I won’t have to wait long to find out.

The Gazebo (Miss Silver Mystery #27)

The GazeboThe Gazebo
by Patricia Wentworth
Rating: ★★★★½
Series: Miss Silver Mystery #27
Publication Date: January 1, 1958
Pages: 255
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Hodder And Stoughton

For Althea Graham, suffering the whims of her malevolent invalid of a mother, the old family home is a prison. So when two strangely competitive offers for the Graham's house are made to her it suggests that house may hold some dark rewarding secret.

Then old Mrs Graham is found murdered in the gazebo . . .


Best Miss Silver I’ve read yet!  Though, to be fair, I’ve only read 2-3 others, so I’m not in a position to judge too objectively thus far.  Still, a great mystery with rational characters (unlike her earliest books) and while there’s still a romance at the hinge of the story, it’s not a soppy one.  Mostly.

There were obvious references to previous books, but no spoilers; tangential characters in earlier mysteries are now the focus of this one.  The murder could not have happened to a more deserving victim, and generally, the plotting was rather weak, not that I think about it.  The murderer becomes rather obvious so that there’s no real reveal, just a crises averted and justice served.  There’s also a connection to the Gordon Riots which lends an air of fun to the story, though when I write it like that it doesn’t make sense.  Nothing fun about the Gordon Riots, except the link to the present day story is, but I can’t be more specific than that without spoiling.

A fun, traditional mystery.

Shake Down (Elliott Lisbon Mystery, #5)

Shake DownShake Down
by Kendel Lynn
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781635115871
Series: Elliott Lisbon Mystery #5
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
Pages: 224
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

Ballantyne Foundation Director and PI-in-training, Elliott Lisbon, is enjoying her idyllically slow life on Sea Pine Island, South Carolina. It’s the week before the annual Beach Ball and she’s sipping Bellinis on the sidelines. Her committee involvement is limited to securing the centerpieces: scrumptious masterpieces from the Cake & Shake. But when the head baker goes missing, Elli’s calm life gets a major shakeup. She takes the case and soon learns that missing is a relative term.

As Elli walks the delicate line between a woman finding herself and a woman needing to be found, the days speed up and she knows something’s about to go down. From drug runners to whistleblowers to sea turtle sabotage, Elli stirs up secrets and inadvertently whips a desperate killer into a frenzy. If she doesn’t find a way out of the heat, she’s going to get burned.


I’m always excited about a new Elliott Lisbon mystery being released; Kendel Lynn doesn’t publish on the typical once-a-year schedule, so you just never know when or if the next one is coming.

But they’re worth the suspense – these are well-written mysteries with solid plots and while definitely cozy, there’s nothing cutesy or twee about the characters or the plots.  Shake Down starts off slow and builds slowly, with the search for a missing woman.  Is she missing?  Did she just take off?  Was there foul play involved?  Elliott Lisbon is a PI in training, putting in her required hours before receiving her license and she’s hired to find the woman, or find out what happened to her.

For spice, and possibly levity, there’s a reality tv show involved in the plot, but the ending is unexpected and, well, unexpected.  This one isn’t going to keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will offer you a satisfying mystery.

A Noël Killing (A Provençal Mystery, #8)

A Noël KillingA Noël Killing
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780143134060
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #8
Publication Date: November 12, 2019
Pages: 286
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books

Just as the holiday cheer is in full swing, a man is poisoned, sending the community into a tailspin. The list of suspects, Verlaque and Bonnet quickly discover, almost fills the church itself, from the visiting vendors at the Christmas fair to the victim’s unhappy wife and his disgruntled business partner. In A Noël Killing, with the help of an ever-watchful young woman named France, the pair must solve the murder while the spirit of the season attempts to warm Verlaque’s stubborn heart.


In general, this series has been excellent in every way, but this one wasn’t its strongest entry.

The narrative meandered.  A lot.  It took several chapters to get a grip on what was going on, and who was doing what to whom.  There’s a slow build up to the crime, which I don’t mind, but because everything else was slow too, it was a battle to keep my attention on the book.

Once things did start moving, they felt scattered and disorganised, though this improved quite a bit as the story progressed.  Still, of the books I’ve read this month, this is the one I’m struggling most to remember anything about.  It wasn’t unpleasant or badly written, it just wasn’t a strong plot and it lacked the usual strong writing, or perhaps strong editing.

I’m happy to blame it on Covid and hope that the next one measures up to the first 7.