Futrelle: The Problem of Cell 13

I’ve had this link hanging around for some time. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t read this story before last month, and located it due to a link from a blogger, which I’ve now lost.

It’s well worth reading, and a great deal of fun.

(Updated to include the link; my apologies to early readers!)

Book Notes: Cat in a Sapphire Slipper

I’m a sucker for light reading that involves cats and mystery, so how could I possibly not enjoy Carole Nelson Douglas’s Midnight Louie mysteries?

This latest book finds Max Kinsella missing and Temple Barr getting engaged to Matt Devine, while the Fontana brothers are all kidnapped, and generally all hell is breaking loose all over.

The problem is to solve the mystery before everyone’s life is ruined, and this is accomplished in a most amusing manner in the required number of pages (396). This is pure fun, though I must say if you don’t like cats you may not like it all that well. Midnight Louie encounters an old flame, and we end up with four cats working on the mystery at once.

What’s not to like?

TV Series: Campion

I love British mystery series, in just about any period.  Over the weekend I discovered a new one, to me, though it’s been around for some time and I missed it.  This is Campion, set in the 1930s, with another of those kind of standard eccentric aristocratic detectives, complete with slightly mysterious butler.

I would say this one is a somewhat less humorous (and the detective less eccentric) than the Lord Peter Wimsey stuff.  It’s less about the science of detection than the more modern series like Lynley or Alleyn, though it tends to be a bit more serious like those latter two.

I found myself thoroughly enjoying this series from the start, and I think others will as well.  I’ve created a page on which to place the Amazon.com preview widget which collects Campion and a number of other British mystery and comedy shows I have enjoyed.

DVD: Prime Suspect

I ran across the first and fifth of this series of DVDs on our local public library shelf while looking for other mysteries and took it home on an impulse. It was a good impulse!

This is not the sort of humorous light stuff that I often watch or read for relaxation, nor is it the sort of hero mystery program in which the one and only sane person in a department moves through all the troubles with perfection. The lead character, DCI Tennison, is very human, makes mistakes, but also knows how to keep going.

While her people skills may seem weak on first glance she gains the loyalty of her teams through her tenacity and dedication to the job. She expects and gets good work from them.

The scenes are somewhat gritty. We’re not dealing with “clean” crimes in someone’s parlor. These events often take place in the “worse” parts of town. In both the episodes I watched thus far, DCI Tennison is up against real evil. You definitely know who you wish would win and who you wish would lose.

This is a series I will definitely continue looking for. I rate it a 4 on my numerical scale.

Locked Room Mystery Discussion

Jason Rosenhouse over at EvolutionBlog is writing an (at least) two part series on locked room mysteries and his favorite authors, along with some less favorite ones. I usually read Jason’s blog for evolutionary science, but he also frequently writes quite vigorously on atheism, and he gets some of that in here.

I was not acquainted with John Dickson Carr, which he says exposes a large hole in my literary education. To be honest, I can’t recall any of my literature teachers pointing me in the direction of mysteries, at least relatively modern ones. I found those all on my own.

For the moment I will only add that I think often that the quality of characters in a novel is substantially in the eye of the beholder. A writer rarely writes all the details, yet sometimes we fill them out as full characters and sometimes we do not. For example, I find Dorothy Sayers’ characters more interesting than her plots, which seems to be the opposite of Jason’s view.

Nonetheless, any post that points out good authors I haven’t ever heard of is worth reading.

Book: Sacred Sins

My wife introduced me to J. D. Robb, and I have been enjoying Eve Dallas ever since. Occasionally she and I exchange books, though to be honest, our reading lists don’t overlap all that much, either in fiction or in non-fiction. A few days ago she handed me a couple of Nora Roberts books (I’m sure most readers know that Nora Roberts writes also as J. D. Robb), and said she thought Roberts was warming up for the Dallas books with these.

The first I read was Sacred Sins, which I have just finished. I will read the next book which she also gave me. I don’t like these as well as the J. D. Robb books, and a little look at the types of things I do read would probably tell you why. I’m not long on books with a great deal of characterization, and romance normally has to be kept to a minimum.

At the same time, this book would make an excellent place to discuss the difference between a mystery, and a romance that has some mystery in it. I think this is a romance with a touch of mystery. The male lead character is a homicide detective, and thus it is natural that police procedure and investigation would be involved. But Roberts doesn’t dwell as much on crime scene issues and the investigation as she does when writing about Eve Dallas, for example.

The female lead is a psychiatrist, contracted to provide a profile of a serial killer. There <em>is</em> action of the normal crime type, but the <em>real action comes between those two characters, whose nature, background, and training makes them see things differently. They are nonetheless attracted to one another. As someone married to a woman with a very different personality than mine, I can empathize.

I was surprised by the quality of the portrayal of the thinking of the characters throughout. I was also surprised by the ending, though I thought of it a few pages before it happened and then dismissed it as impossible. As soon as I had done that, it happened. So much for my guessing abilities. I’ll blame it on the romantic nature of the book, and the unsystematic presentation of evidence, and go on.

I’m not going to make a habit of reading romances, but if I were to do so, this would be the kind I’d go for. I rate this a 4.

Book: Body Movers

I could just rate this one a three, and let it go at that, but then I might be unfair to the author.  You see, the book is well written, but unfortunately had the bad luck to hit too many of my pet peeves, not about writing, but about people.  I just plain didn’t like the characters all that much, and sometimes I really don’t enjoy reading books about people I truly would not care to meet.

Basically, I felt that the action started slowly.  The first half of the book kept me busy disliking the major characters.  It got better toward the end, but I never did warm up to the people. Carlotta Wren’s parents have abandoned her and her younger brother, whom she has raised.  He’s pretty much a 19 year old obnoxious ingrate, and spends his time messing up her life.

She, of course, being his sister, continues to put up with all this and kind of babies him along, while being threatened by various loan sharks and other unsavory characters.  She is, nonetheless, the most likable character in the book.

The mystery is good, but it seems to me that the folks in the story solve it rather accidentally, which didn’t exactly excite me.

If you don’t have the same pet peeves as I do, you may well like this, because the story and the characters are built up quite well.  I do like the technique by which we become acquainted with each person and learn more of the background.  Because of those factors, I will certainly read another book in this series at some point.  I’m just not in a hurry.

Book: Cat’s Eyewitness

OK, here I am with another book with [tag]cats[/tag] in it, and another one in a series I’ve already written some about, a [tag]Mrs. Murphy Mystery[/tag]. My most recent entry was on reading The Tail of the Tip-Off, which I rated a 4. [tag]Rita Mae Brown[/tag] and [tag]Sneaky Pie Brown[/tag] are just too good not to keep on reading.

I’m getting into more contemporary times with “Harry” Harristeen now having resigned from the post office, and wondering what to do next. The kind of touch and go romance between her and Fair continues, as do her friendly collisions with the sheriff who thinks she’s going to get herself killed. As usual, by listening to their fellow creatures, the animals get ahead of the game and let the reader in on the action just a bit ahead of time.

In this case I suspected, but did not know who was actually responsible, and I missed a key point of evidence that would have confirmed the bad guy to me. The clues are all there if you read carefully and don’t assume anything that isn’t explicitly stated.

The mystery centers around a monastery, which seems an unusual setting for a murder mystery, but it turns out that the brothers are people too, with all of the potential for trouble that means in their lives. The story comes complete with a weeping statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary!

As it says on the cover, “it takes a cat to write the purr-fect mystery”–excessively cute, yes, but true and forgiven.

Again, my rating is a 4 out of 5.

Book: The Tail of the Tip-Off

I previously wrote about Claws and Effect, and though I’ve read a couple of other books in this series I hadn’t posted anything about them. So I thought I’d write a few notes on another in this series.

I want to warn you right off that this is a series in which the animals can talk, or perhaps better communicate with one another, even carrying on fairly sophisticated conversations. The humans (stupid us!) can’t understand them, though they can understand the humans. Some folks don’t like this sort of thing. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief that much, especially since the animals generally behave appropriately for their species.

We’re again in Crozet, Virginia (where else?) and someone has died in a very mysterious way. I found pretty much all aspects of the murder better than the average for this series. The method is intriguing and the motivation works for me.

I always enjoy the assortment of small town characters, and I don’t suppose I’ve mentioned more than a dozen times or so in various entries on this blog that I am a major pushover for books featuring cats. The main dog character is not bad either, but I have a soft spot for cats.

The ever curious Mary Minor “Harry” Harristeen is up to all her usual antics, regularly getting herself in considerable trouble. She always show so much more intelligence in finding clues than in comprehending the fact that some people may not be too happy she’s trailing them.

This is another light reading book; excellent mystery, but generally not requiring you to be in study mode when you read it.

Numerical rating: 4.