Murder by Death: The book that was based on the movie that inspired the blog name

Murder by DeathMurder by Death
by H.R.F. Keating, Neil Simon
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 0352397276
Publication Date: January 1, 1976
Pages: 176
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Star Books

Novelization of the screen play by Neil Simon. Various "famous sleuths" (or their somewhat thinly disguised copies) are invited by a mysterious millionaire to stay at his house and solve a who-dun-it, with the winner getting millions.


I re-read this almost perfectly brilliant book, based on the absolutely brilliant movie, for Halloween bingo’s Dark and Stormy Night square.

If you haven’t seen the movie, written by Neil Simon and released in the 1970’s, and you’re a fan of classic mysteries and oddball humor, you’re missing out on a classic.  It’s brilliantly written and brilliantly casted.  It’s an homage and a spoof, so if spoof’s aren’t your thing, skip it, you’ll be disappointed.  It’s the original Clue! only the characters are based on Nick and Nora, Miss Marple, Sam Spade, Hercule Poirot, and Charlie Chan.

The book was written to be a faithful reproduction of the movie, though H.R.F. Keating uses the opportunity of the written word to name drop additional authors like Conan Doyle and Sayers.  And it is an exact, faithful reproduction of the movie – until the last 5 short paragraphs where Keating, apparently, couldn’t help himself and changed the ending.  It’s a small thing, but it sets my teeth on edge because it’s a sop.

Still, I cherish this book as I do the movie.  I just need to stop at the fifth to last paragraph.

Capital Crimes: London Mysteries

Capital Crimes: London MysteriesCapital Crimes: London Mysteries
by Martin Edwards
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780712357494
Publication Date: March 12, 2015
Pages: 319
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: The British Library

Capital Crimes is an eclectic collection of London-based crime stories, blending the familiar with the unexpected in a way that reflects the personality of the city. Alongside classics by Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley and Thomas Burke are excellent and unusual stories by authors who are far less well known.

The stories give a flavour of how writers have tackled crime in London over the span of more than half a century. Their contributions range from an early serial-killer thriller set on the London Underground and horrific vignettes to cerebral whodunits. What they have in common is an atmospheric London setting, and enduring value as entertainment. Each story is introduced by the editor, Martin Edwards, who sheds light on the authors' lives and the background to their writing.


I’ve had this anthology on my shelves for a few years, always waiting.  Well, this year I needed to read a mystery set in London for 2020 Halloween Bingo and I finally remembered I had this wonderful stash of stories all in one spot.

For this year’s bingo, I chose – of course – Conan Doyle’s The Case of Lady Sannox.  This is not a Sherlock Holmes story, in spite of the title, and it’s closer to horror than mystery.  It’s also classic Conan Doyle style.  As such, I guessed the twist at one point, when I read a specific sentence that reminded me of Holmes:

View Spoiler »

Don’t ask me why, but with that sentence I knew how the story would end.  And I was right, and it was horrifying.  Darkest London, indeed.

2 more short stories from The Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries

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.


The Black Lizard Big book of Locked-Room Mysteries claims, on its cover, to be “The most complete collection of impossible-crime stories ever assembled.”  Whether this is true or not, clocking in at 939 pages of small, two-column print, it’s definitely a monster and one I’ve been chipping away at slowly for years.  For this year’s Halloween Bingo, I needed Locked Room mysteries, so I turned to my Big Book and chose two from the same author: The Wrong Problem by John Dickson Carr, and Blind Man’s Hood by the same author writing as Carter Dickson.  I’ve read two of this author’s full length novels so far, one as Dickson Carr (The Mad Hatter Mystery) and one as Carter Dickson (The Skeleton in the Clock), both of which I enjoyed.  The short stories though, were a mixed bag:

The first, The Wrong Problem, was frankly, weird.  I gave it 4 stars for the sheer ingeniousness of the murder method but the rest seemed pointless.  To mention anything about the story, I think, would be to spoil it.  It honestly doesn’t deserve 4 stars but that murder method was diabolical.

The second, Blind Man’s Hood, made up for the first in spades.  This one turned out to be a perfect – absolutely perfect – short story for Halloween.  Yes, it takes place at Christmas, but ignore that, it’s irrelevant.  So. damn. creepy.  I read it before I went to bed last night and when I realised what I was reading, I knew two things:  no way I was going to stop, and that I’d have to stay away long enough to read something else before going to sleep.  The locked room solution isn’t particularly clever or even surprising, but the rest of the story, for me, was.  5 stars.

As I mentioned at the start, I read these for the Locked Room Mystery square on my 2020 Halloween Bingo card.


by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780345548511
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #8
Publication Date: January 26, 2016
Pages: 224
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Random House

When a Druid has lived for two thousand years like Atticus, he’s bound to run afoul of a few vampires. Make that legions of them. Even his former friend and legal counsel turned out to be a bloodsucking backstabber. Now the toothy troublemakers—led by power-mad pain-in-the-neck Theophilus—have become a huge problem requiring a solution. It’s time to make a stand.

As always, Atticus wouldn’t mind a little backup. But his allies have problems of their own. Ornery archdruid Owen Kennedy is having a wee bit of troll trouble: Turns out when you stiff a troll, it’s not water under the bridge. Meanwhile, Granuaile is desperate to free herself of the Norse god Loki’s mark and elude his powers of divination—a quest that will bring her face-to-face with several Slavic nightmares.

As Atticus globetrots to stop his nemesis Theophilus, the journey leads to Rome. What better place to end an immortal than the Eternal City? But poetic justice won’t come without a price: In order to defeat Theophilus, Atticus may have to lose an old friend.

A couple of things occurred to me while reading Staked:  it feels like Herne doesn’t really like his main character, Atticus; at least, not judging by the amount of existential pain he dumps on him.  The other is that I can see the inspiration, right down the the scatalogical humor, of the character in his new series that starts with Ink & Sigil – clearly in Owen, the arch-druid and Atticus’ mentor. Owen is quite feral and off-putting, no matter how gold and good his heart may be.

Staked is told through the rotating viewpoints of all three druids: Atticus, Granuaile and Owen, and the meandering is epic.  We begin and end with the titular war with the vampires, but in between there’s a battle-seer-horse needing rescue, ecological retribution being wrought, treaties being hammered out in Asgard, greek gods getting vaporised, and all matter of other trivia.  It wasn’t boring but I disliked being passed off between characters, especially when I had little use for Granuaile’s daddy issues and Owen’s feral lack of expletives that didn’t include his bollocks and backside, and those of everyone else’s.

I do enjoy Atticus’s adventures and character, and I like Oberon even more when I read him, as opposed to listening to a narrator scooby-doo his voice.  I enjoy his interactions with the various deities and villains, and especially enjoy the verbal sparring between himself and Leif.  It’s a detriment to the books, if not the overall story arc, that Hearne felt it necessary to take all of Atticus’ interesting friends away from him; he suffers from the lack of intellectually challenging interactions.   Overall, though, it was a good enough story to keep me reading, and I enjoyed the ending well enough.  If one chooses, one could end the series right here and everything save Ragnarok would be tied up neatly.  At this moment, I’m content to leave the series here, but I can’t say I won’t change my mind.

I read this book for Halloween Bingo 2020, for the Dead Lands square.  In spite of all the wandering about the plot did in the middle the beginning and end were chock full of vampires.

Finding Australian Birds

Finding Australian Birds: A Field Guide to Birding LocationsFinding Australian Birds: A Field Guide to Birding Locations
by Rohan Clarke, Tim Dolby
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: May 15, 2014
Pages: 602
Genre: Natural Science, Reference
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing


In the category of “books likely to only appeal to the .01%”, I give you this solid gold publication.  As I live in Australia for now, and I enjoy stalking its amazing birds with my camera (purely amateur hour and likely even more entertaining for the birds than it is for me), and I’m rapidly running out of ‘new-to-me’ birds in my area, I grabbed this on a whim when I saw it at my local bookstore.

It exceeded my expectations, to say the least.  Broken down by state, then by region, complete with common birds, not-so-common birds, descriptions, maps and suggested road trips to bird hotspots!  I fell in love with this feature, as it includes day trips, weekend trips and dedicated bird-stalking 10 day trips.  It then capped itself with a cherry on top by highlighting areas that also included interesting non-birding things to do, for those unfortunate spouses such as mine, who like birds well enough, but don’t find the need to stalk them, yet still find themselves dragged along for the ride.

I wish I could say this was part of a larger, international publication series, so I could urge my other bird loving friends to find their locals edition, but it’s published by CSIRO, which stands for The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; it’s an Australian Government agency responsible for scientific research, so unlikely to part of a greater publishing series.  But if anyone reading this is ever in Australia and intends to add some birds to their lists, you can’t go wrong picking this book up beforehand.

Ink & Sigil (Sigil Agents, #1)

Ink & SigilInk & Sigil
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984821256
Series: Ink & Sigil #1
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
Pages: 336
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray Books

Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails—and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective—while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

The first book in a new series that takes place in the same world as the Iron Druid Chronicles, I’d heard two completely opposite views on it before I picked it up: one saying it was great, and hilarious, and the other calling it woefully juvenile.

Having read the book myself I can say: yes.   Maybe not woefully juvenile, but the humor is heavily scatalogical in places and it’s clear the author prefers his jokes to be of the earthier, less-sophisticated variety.  They weren’t my definition of funny, but I didn’t find them offensive either.

The story itself was enjoyable, though a little heavy handed thematically.  It’s a credit to the author that he uses his story space to confront a problem that gets very little serious time: the trafficking of humans, using both the fae-trafficking plot line, as well as the sub-plot of Al learning more about the human side, and doing his part to stop it and advocate for its victims.  But it, like the humor in the book, isn’t subtle.  He has a point, and a message, and he’s going to make sure his readers don’t miss it.

There’s a lot of story-building in this first book, with a couple of chapters devoted just to how Al met his business manager/battle seer, Nadia, and the flow is a bit wandering.  It works, but I noticed it; I was never actively bored while reading it, but I had mind space to notice that the story wasn’t very linear or fast-moving.

I have this 4 stars because the sum is greater than its parts.  The things I spoke about above, taken by themselves, would be turn-offs, but as a whole, the story was enjoyable.  I don’t regret buying a hardcover copy, and I’ll happily read the next one.  Though I will also hope the humor that the humor, along with the whiskey Al so dearly loves, matures.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2020, to fulfil the Spellbound square, which is not on my card, but I used my transfiguration spell card to change from American Horror Story.

A Sprig of Sea Lavender

A Sprig of Sea LavenderA Sprig of Sea Lavender
by J.R.L. Anderson
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 312753772
Publication Date: January 1, 1978
Pages: 176
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I bought this a few years ago, when Otto Penzler was selling his collection through his bookshop, Mysterious Books.  It’s a review copy of an author I’d never heard of, but the short catalog blurb made it sound interesting: mysterious death on a train, unknown works by Gainsborough, Turner and Constable found with the body, along with a  sprig of – you guessed it – sea lavender.

This is a mid-century mystery, and it suffered from the usual quirks of that age:  instant, yet chaste, romance, and a complete disregard of the fair-play rules of mystery plotting.  As such, the reader, by the end, is presented with a fait accompli in both the romance and the mystery’s resolution, without having any idea whatsoever how the main character got there, although he does explain it all at the very end.

By today’s standards, it’s all a bit thin, naive and 2 dimensional, but I had fun with it nevertheless.  It wasn’t trying to be anything other than an entertaining mystery and, while I’ve read others that are greater successes, it generally achieved its goal.

Small Magics

Small MagicsSmall Magics
by Illona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781596069619
Publication Date: December 1, 2019
Pages: 455
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Subterranean Press

An anthology of short stories in the Kate Daniels universe.

When I saw here on BookLikes that Sweep with Me was out, I went to Ilona Andrew’s website to find out more, and noticed the release of a new anthology, published by Subterranean Press.  Yes please!

This is a compilation of the short stories Ilona Andrews has written, all previously published elsewhere, and for the first time in print, all the Curren POV’s Gordon Andrews has written and posted on their website.  Interspersed are 3? full color illustrations.

It’s a nice book – not the most impressive I’ve seen put out by Subterranean, but a good solid book.  I’d read some of the stories before, but enough of them were new to me to make me appreciate having bought it.

My only gripe with the book is with the Curran POVs.  As a character, these stories don’t always flatter Curran, but that’s trivial.  What is really disappointing, though, is the poor copy-editing of the Curran stories.  On the website, they’re clear to state that the stories were written for fun, not edited, yada yada.  And that’s totally understandable.  But I’d have though when it comes to publishing a limited release, numbered, signed, illustrated edition, the publisher, if not the authors themselves, would have wanted to take the time and make the effort to correct, at the very least, the most glaring omissions and errors (lots of the, a, an articles missing, or misplaced).

Ah well, a good collection that might have been great, but still welcome on my shelves.

Sweep with Me (Innkeeper Chronicles Novella)

Sweep with MeSweep with Me
by Illona Andrews
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #5
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Pages: 136
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: NYLA Publishing

"Thank you for joining us at Gertrude Hunt, the nicest bed-and-breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, during the Treaty Stay. As you know, we are honor-bound to accept all guests during this oldest of innkeeper holidays, and we are expecting a dangerous guest. Or several. But have no fear. Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your hosts - Dina Demille and Sean Evans - will defend you at all costs. But we hope we don't have to."

Every winter, the innkeepers look forward to celebrating their own special holiday, commemorating the ancient treaty that united the very first inns and established the rules that protect them, their intergalactic guests, and the very unaware/oblivious people of planet Earth. By tradition, the innkeepers welcomed three guests: a warrior, a sage, and a pilgrim, but during the holiday, the innkeepers must open their doors to anyone who seeks lodging. Anyone.

All Dina hopes is that the guests and conduct themselves in a polite manner. But what's a holiday without at least one disaster?

Fun; brief, but it packs a punch at the end.  This one is for those who’ve already read the other Innkeeper Chronicle books, though there’s enough ‘tell’ sprinkled throughout that a first-timer wouldn’t be totally confused.  They would be totally spoiled for the others though, as there are spoilers to previous plots in the text.

A lot of the secondary cast are ‘away’ for this story, so Orro gets a bit more attention, and it appears Dina is making new friends.  Not sure if we’ll see them again, as this novella has a pretty tidy HEA ending, but they’ll be welcome additions to any future Innkeeper books.

Confessions of a Bookseller

Confessions of a BooksellerConfessions of a Bookseller
by Shaun Bythell
ISBN: 9781782835394
Published by Profile Books on August 29, 2019
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs, Literary Collections, Letters
Pages: 381
Format: Hardcover

"Do you have a list of your books, or do I just have to stare at them?"

Shaun Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland. With more than a mile of shelving, real log fires in the shop and the sea lapping nearby, the shop should be an idyll for bookworms.

Unfortunately, Shaun also has to contend with bizarre requests from people who don't understand what a shop is, home invasions during the Wigtown Book Festival and Granny, his neurotic Italian assistant who likes digging for river mud to make poultices.


The follow up to his Diary of a Bookseller, a book I enjoyed even more than I expected, so when I heard this was out, I immediately went out and bought it.

Every bit as good as the first, though where the first was primarily wacky and funny, this one had a sharper, more contemplative edge and, as far as my memory goes, this one feels a bit more personal.  The book he read/talked about made more of an impact with me in this book too, though I can’t say why.

A great read if you like books about books, or memoirs of misanthropic booksellers.