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 Big Over Easy Re-read (Nursery Crimes, #1)

The Big Over EasyThe Big Over Easy
by Jasper Fforde
Rating: ★★★★★
Series: Nursery Crimes #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 398
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

 

My original review pretty much sums up my general feelings about this book.  I still think it’s the most highly quotable book I’ve read, I still think the satire is spot-on, both of the media and murder mysteries and I still think Prometheus adds just that little something of surprise depth to the narrative, if only briefly.

Re-reading it, it’s held up perfectly.  Fforde’s amazing at writing these intricate plots and clever dialog, but it’s all the small details that continue to leave me gobsmacked.  The excepts at the opening of each chapter, the small jokes and wordplays scattered in the text, and the “ads” at the back of the book all are unnecessary to the plot, but make the book all the richer for their inclusion.

Though I gave it, and stand by doing so, 5 stars, the heinous plot revealed in the mystery is gross in that way that British humor excels at.  Gross and sublimely silly.  Which makes the story better, in spite of the “UGH, yuck!” moments towards the end.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Noir square.  It’s not a traditional fit, but there’s a clear argument that along with satirising mysteries and the press, there’s a very noir-satire vibe in the story,

Paper & Blood (Ink & Sigil, #2)

Paper & BloodPaper & Blood
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780356515243
Series: Ink & Sigil #2
Publication Date: August 12, 2021
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit

 

Well, this was fun.  The follow up to the first book, Ink & Sigil, takes place in Melbourne, Australia, my current residence of record.  Specifically, in the Dandenong Ranges, one of my favorite places here, as it’s primarily rain forest.

This is not a mystery in any sense, but more a quest.  Al and Buck arrive in Melbourne to assist the apprentice sigil agent there with finding her master, who felt a disturbance in the wards, went to investigate, and never returned.  On their way to her last known location, they pick up a hitchhiker, Al’s receptionist, who should be in Scotland but isn’t, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite, and meet up with Connor, a/k/a Atticus, the Iron Druid.  Once they get to the trail, they pick up a few more adventurers, some old friends and some new.

This is the rag-tag band that goes out to save the missing sigil agents, if they can be saved, and battle the ever stranger beasts, unimagined chimeras, that spring up in their path.  The only unanswered questions are how the entity arrived and why, but those are answered 2/3rds of the way through rather matter-of-factly, so there’s really no buildup of suspense – just a few minor skirmishes, a perilous passage, and finally the epic battle royale and showdown with those responsible.

Quests have never been my jam, so there was an element of unmet expectation for me.  By dint of my reading tastes, I unconsciously kept waiting for a climax or big reveal.  But other than that, which the setting more than made up for, I enjoyed the story.  The characters felt less over-the-top for me this time around and the humor slightly less adolescent-male, though the hobgoblin, Buck, made up for the quantity with some stunning quality here and there.  I could wish that were toned down a bit more.

I happened to read the Acknowledgments that are at the end, first, and noted that Hearne had every intention of visiting Australia to do the research for this book until the Pandemic we all know and love (to hate) reared its ugly head.  He was forced to get the details second hand and I have to say, having been to all the places he’s mentioned, he and his sources, did a bang up job of getting it right.  The only two tiny details I caught, and only because they vexed me when I arrived here 14 years ago, was in the scene at the Healesville Hotel.  The first is that, unless things have changed, there is no table service at the bar.  The vast majority of casual dining/drinking establishments here don’t have table service.  You order at the counter and then pay at the counter before you leave.  The second is that Ya-ping ordered an iced tea.  I’d kill to be able to order iced tea here – the flavoured stuff is becoming popular here now in a niche way, but they still think iced black tea is a sacrilege.  Both of these things are entirely inconsequential, and I mention them only for the opportunity to vent about them.

I suspect I’m not strictly the target demographic for this series, but I enjoy it anyway and I’m looking forward to the third book, where, hopefully, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite will once again play a role.  I like her.

I read this for Halloween Bingo and it is the perfect book for In the Dark, Dark Woods as you can see in the above pictures I took in the Dandenong Ranges. It would also work for Cryptozoologist, as the story is littered with chimeras that include a dragon-turtle-spider and a cassowary-cobra to name but two.

Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2)

Bayou MoonBayou Moon
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441019458
Series: Novel of the Edge #2
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
Pages: 480
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

I’d been told ages ago that The Edge series got better as it went along.  And this second entry was certainly different from the first.

We start off with just one of the characters that played a part in On the Edge, the werewolf, William.  He’s approached by the Weird’s version of the CIA to retrieve something from another clan in another part of the Edge, in the Louisiana territory, where shifters are killed on principle.

Cerise’s family is old and used to part of the aristocracy of the Weird, but was banished generations ago.  They live in a constant state of feud with another old family, and her parents have been kidnapped in the feud’s latest volley.  But there’s another hand running this latest skirmish and it’s after the knowledge Cerise’s grandparents took with them to their graves.  Or maybe not.

This book has a much more sci-fi feel than any of Andrews’ other books save for the Innkeeper series, which came along later.  It’s not science fiction in the strict sense, because what’s done by the antagonist of the story is done entirely with magic, but the scientific processes are applied to these magical ‘experiments’.  The results are cryptozoological creatures that are a horrifying mix of plant, animal and human.  I’m not, generally, a fan of this kind of thing, and it was the part of the book I liked the least.

The characters overcame this though.  There was just something about Cerise’s huge family that was endearing; all of them vastly different from each other and as a whole a lot of fun to read about.

The final battle was … unsatisfactory.  The thing they overlooked seemed too big a thing to overlook, especially for William who fought this antagonist twice before. And the ending was too fairy tale for my tastes, coming within sight of being twee.

It’s sort of a weird book for me, because I was enjoying it as I read it, but after finishing remembered as many of the bits that I didn’t like as I did the bits I did.  But overall, a good read.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 and it definitely fits the Cryptozoology square, with its characters that are human/plant/animal hybrids.  It would also work for Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses, as well as Terror in a Dark Town, and Shifter.

Carpe Jugulum (Discworld series)

Carpe JugulumCarpe Jugulum
by Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780857524157
Series: Discworld #23
Publication Date: November 22, 2016
Pages: 412
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday

 

It’s done; I’ve read the whole thing.  Which really isn’t saying much because at only a little over 400 pages it’s not like it’s a door stop.  But, and I say this as one who thoroughly enjoys Pratchett, reading the discworld books is hard work for me.  I love the characters, and I laugh out loud at the jokes, and I welcome the footnotes, but something about Pratchett’s narrative style doesn’t flow effortlessly for me, and because of that I’m always looking at them and thinking up excuses to put off reading them.

This was the case with Carpe Jugulum although once Granny Weatherwax finally got involved, the story started moving along enough for me to ignore the effort.

On the surface, the story is a hilarious one that follows the efforts of Count Magpye and his family to overcome the stereotypes of being vampires, or vampyres, as they prefer.  It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen when the wrong mix of intelligence and self-help books come together.

Underneath that are some pretty dark musings, in my opinion.  How much of my opinion is coloured by the knowledge of Pratchett’s early onset Alzheimer’s I’m unable to say, but must be mentioned; there are also shades, I’m sure, of my own current and likely permanent cynicism about humanity.

The book starts off with Granny in a dark place; she’s feeling invisible and forgotten by her friends and her community, and an accident with a cow left her forced to make a difficult choice for someone else.  I’m not sure if we’re meant to believe that’s why she takes herself off to the gnarly moors or if I missed the moment when her true purpose was foreshadowed.  Either way, Granny puts her affairs in order and leaves without a word to anyone, in the throes of a dark depression.

Meanwhile, in an effort to be modern and embrace a modern tolerance for all beings, King Verence invites the vampires into the castle to celebrate the naming of his newborn daughter.  Tolerance taken too far is a touchy topic these days, when everybody is supposed to embrace inclusiveness in all forms but naïveté and inclusiveness aren’t a good mix and it wasn’t hard to draw a line from Pratchett’s vampires being invited in to today’s ‘open-mindedness’ that leads to widely accepted conspiracy theories and general apathy about all the ways the world is currently going to hell.

Then there’s the theological battle that takes place throughout the book.  This felt very auto-biographical to me, as if Pratchett used Oats and the witches to vent his spleen – a very bitter spleen from the feel of things.  So while I was laughing at the numerous moments of hilarity and sly humour, there was a stain over it of … sadness, I guess.  The idea that this genius of storytelling was at his core quite possibly an unhappy man.  And I don’t say that because I claim that without faith in a higher being it’s impossible to be happy, but because to spend so much time elucidating the reasons why such faith is misplaced doesn’t seem like something a person at peace with his personal philosophy, and fundamentally happy, would spend his time doing.  I don’t agree with him about the higher being, but I do agree with him (and Oats and Granny) that one can find the sacred everywhere.

The ending is both simplicity itself and a perfect reflection of the one-way thought processes of humanity.  Not to mention that justice and mercy don’t always come wrapped in bows and happiness.

 

I read this book, which had been on my TBR for years anyway, on the advice of Themis Athena as a good book for the Splatter square on my 2021 Halloween Bingo card.

On the Edge (Novel of the Edge, #1)

On the EdgeOn the Edge
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441017805
Series: Novel of the Edge #1
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

Well, it just goes to show you: people change and you should never say never.  I read this book back in 2016 and my review from that reading was … unfavourable, ending with my declaration that I’d never read the book again.

Shows you what I know.  I not only read it again, I liked it better than I did the first time.  It’s still a little too PNR for me, but I found it easier to get into the story, the setting and the characters.  Maybe because I’d already read it and had a vague recollection of not liking the romantic interest, I found him less unbearable than I expected to, and the non-consent issues didn’t feel as egregious this time around, only typically arrogant.

I can’t really say why, except maybe I’ve read more Ilona Andrews’ since, or my mood was more receptive to the story.  Who knows?  But I went from rating this 3 stars and never reading it again, to rating it 4 stars and buying a copy of it for my shelves.  Along with the other 3 book in the series.

 

I’ve been intending to read this since I ordered it back in July, but its arrival during Halloween Bingo was fortuitous;  it’s a great fit for the Relics and Curiosities square.  The story line centers on a powerful artefact from a previous civilisation that eats magic and spits out something very akin to a demon hound.

Scourged (Iron Druid Chronicles, #10)

ScourgedScourged
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780525486459
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #9
Publication Date: April 15, 2018
Pages: 268
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray Books

 

I bought a signed copy of this book around the time it came out, before I heard that the general conclusion of other readers’ was disappointment.  It sat on my TBR shelf neglected ever since.  But recently I read a review for the second book in his new series, which is winging its way to me as I write this and in that review it’s mentioned that Atticus and Oberon play a part and they get the ending they deserve.

Well, in order to appreciate the ending they deserve, I needed to know about the ending they got, so, being in a very bad mood yesterday anyway, I grabbed this book and thought “let’s get this over with”.

And it turned out, I guess because I was braced for the worst, that I didn’t think it was so bad after all.  Yes, if you agree with the premise that not all promises are meant to be kept, Atticus’ ending was pretty dire in consequence of keeping that ill-fated promise.  And no, I didn’t really enjoy all the self-flagellation Atticus had going on, nor did I think Granuaile’s reaction at the end entirely proportional.  But over everything else was kind of fun.  I enjoyed seeing all the pantheons show up, and I liked the humour and the ever-so-subtle oneupmanship between them.  And as much as I love Oberon, I wasn’t unhappy with his smaller role in this book.  There’s a fine line, I think, between Oberon being adorable and funny, and Oberon being insanely obnoxious, and this book found that line before it crossed it.

I’m not sorry to see the series come to a conclusion, though I’ll miss the characters.  I am glad I read it too, because I’m really looking forward to what I can only guess is Atticus’ redemption in the new series, Blood and Ink.

 

I read this book not really thinking how it would fit on my Halloween Bingo 2021 card.  And it really doesn’t, although it would work for Gallows Humour.  But I have a Wild Card I can use, and a square I don’t like, Plague and Diseases so I’m going to use Kevin Hearne and this book to take care of that space.

Schott’s Original Miscellany

Schott's Original MiscellanySchott's Original Miscellany
by Ben Schott
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780747563204
Publication Date: November 4, 2002
Pages: 159
Genre: Non-fiction, Reference
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

 

I love these types of books.  I picked it up on a whim at a neighborhood tag sale, and when I got home, and opened it, I was giddy with the eccentric variety of useful facts contained within.

A page of English Public School plan, the solution to the Hampton Court Maze, English/Continental glove size conversions … all on two facing pages.  Then there’s seriously useful stuff, like the molecular structure of caffeine, the Glasgow coma scale, and how to read Hazmat warning plates.  And the generally useful stuff, like an egg sizes scales (both traditional and modern), clothing care symbols, and clothing/shoe size conversions between British, American and European standards.

MT and I laughed at some of the silly things it includes too, like Scottish clan war cries, WWII Postal Acronyms and the degrees of Freemasonry.

I delight in collections of useful and less-than-useful information; as this book has a bit of both, it’s a gem of a find for me and my personal library.  And of course, I’m curious about whether or not there’s an updated edition.

How About Never? Is Never Good for You?

How about Never - Is Never Good For You? My Life in CartoonsHow about Never - Is Never Good For You? My Life in Cartoons
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250062420
Publication Date: December 8, 2015
Pages: 288
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Picador

 

My life waiting for Halloween Book Bingo to begin has been frustrating.  I’m in the tail end of a weird book slump that feels like it’s lasted forever (over a year to be sure), and my recovery still feels precarious, like it could go either way.  Because of this, I’m not doing any pre-planning for Bingo, but I still know there are a few books I’m waiting to read that will fit, so I’m trying to hold off.

Last night, I was sooo bored with this plan that I almost scrapped HB all together and just started in on the small stack I’m trying to wait on, and in a last ditch effort to find something else on my TBR to hold my attention, I found How About Never? Is Never Good for You? on a very small outlier of my TBR pile.  I’d forgotten all about it, and honestly can’t remember where I bought it, only that I did so because I like most of the New Yorker’s cartoons, and I’d read Mary Norris’ Between You and Me which I thoroughly enjoyed, leaving me with a positive feeling about the staff’s extracurricular writing.

How About Never? Is Never Good for You? turned out to be a very engaging, and very fast read.  I knew nothing about Bob Mankoff before reading it and therefore had no expectations.  The subtitle is My Life in Cartoons which is a nice double play on words, as this memoir covers almost exclusively his career as a cartoonist and cartoon editor for The New Yorker, and the book is liberally sprinkled with cartoons, both his and others’ works, which is, along with the engaging writing, the reason the read goes so fast.

He discusses the rise of the periodical cartoon as an art form, the genesis of The New Yorker’s cartoons, the process by which the magazine chooses the cartoons each week, and the advent of, and the fiendish difficulty of, the “add a caption” contest and how not to win it.  And he does it all with a charming brevity that is just long enough to be interesting and just thorough enough that the reader gets something out of it.

All in all, it turned out to be a delightful way to kill 3 hours or so last night.

This is Improbable

This is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens, and other WTF ResearchThis is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens, and other WTF Research
by Marc Abrahams
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781851689316
Publication Date: September 6, 2012
Pages: 299
Genre: Non-fiction, Reference, Science
Publisher: Oneworld

 

I had high hopes for this book, coming from the founder of the Ig Noble Prizes, but alas it wan’t quite the chatty, easy to read format I’d expected.  This is, in fact, a collection of his columns from The Guardian, slightly expanded upon and cited out the wazoo.  This makes it an excellent reference for those times when you’re specifically looking for bizarre, twisted or otherwise outlandish research, but rather less excellent if you’re looking for an enjoyable sit-down read.

Still, it’s a comprehensive (one would hope) collection of some of the most head-scratching research being done out there in the name of science, and if you’re willing to read through the dry reportage, a few amusing facts.  My two favourites were the patent issued in the USA in 1977 for the comb-over – yes, the one you’re thinking of, that oh-so-sexy and not-at-all-obvious disguise for male pattern baldness.  And an Australian patent in 2001 for a “Circular Transportation Facilitation Device”.  Which is, you guessed it, the wheel.

A more timely and relevant invention for us in these pandemic days is the US patent awarded in 2007 for a “Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks”.  A/K/A a bra, that in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of protective face masks.  It was awarded an Ig Noble prize in 2009 for Public Health, but one has to wonder just how Ig Noble the invention remains?