Thursday, July 23, 2015

Visit Us at Mary Reed & Eric Mayer

M.E.Mayer is the husband and wife writing team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, soon also to be Eric Reed with the January 2016 release of The Guardian Stones a mystery set in WWII England.

Yes, it even confuses us!

So to simplify things for everyone we've decided to blog jointly at Mary Reed and Eric Mayer.

Mary will continue to post her reviews there every week on Golden Age Mystery Sunday.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Review: The Three Hostages by John Buchan

by Mary

Having recently reread Greenmantle, I'm now rereading some of the other Hannay novels. While some will certainly disagree, I view The Three Hostages as a mystery-thriller because there is a mystery to be solved: where are the three missing people and who is behind their abductions?

The book opens a couple of years after WWI. Sir Richard Hannay and Mary Lamington are now married with a young son. They reside in Fosse Manor, a nice touch given they first met when she was staying with her aunts at the Manor while engaged in a bit of undercover work herself.

One evening the Hannays' friend Dr Greenslade visits and their conversation turns to how to write a "shocker". Dr Greenslade's theory is the author should take three apparently unconnected things, invent a connection, and dream up a problem to solve involving the connection. His example: "an old blind woman spinning in the Western Highlands, a barn in a Norwegian saeter, and a little curiosity shop in North London kept by a Jew with a dyed beard."

In the real world ugly international doings are afoot and eventually they intrude into Hannay's household. Members of the families of three great men -- "the daughter of the richest man in the world, the heir of our greatest dukedom, the only child of a national hero" -- have been kidnapped and are being held as hostages by a "combine" whose members are outwardly respectable but which is using the disaffected across Europe and elsewhere to further their own concerns, including fraud, profiteering, and even murder. Though known to the authorities, if members of this combine are captured too soon the hostages will doubtless be executed and certain delicate political matters in the balance upset.

By a twist of fate Dr Greenslade's literary example serves to aid Hannay and his friends get on the track of the villains in a race against a deadline at which they can only guess.

My verdict: Was Buchan following Dr Greenslade's advice, I wonder? Hannay has quite a puzzle to solve and the first half of the book follows his attempts to make sense of the sole clue: six lines of doggerel sent to each of the three great men. There is more intelligence work and less physical action in this novel and the slow working-out of the mystery is convincing. Mary Hannay, while mostly off the page, plays a role near the end that is both gripping and believable and received a loud hurrah from here!

Etext: The Three Hostages by John Buchan

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Review: Number Seventeen by Louis Tracy

by Mary

When writer Frank Theydon emerges from a theatre, he notices a beautiful girl and a distinguished man who is evidently her father waiting for their car. A minor accident delays Theydon's taxi home to Innesmore Mansions by ten minutes, and he notices the man, who had told his daughter he was dropping in at his club, outside the building.

Theydon occupies Flat 18 on the top floor, opposite the titular 17. Much to his surprise the man enters the building. By the sound of his footsteps Theydon deduces the stranger visits 17, the home of Edith, widow of Arthur Lester, for about five minutes, and then leaves.

Next day Theydon is off to dine with millionaire James Creighton Forbes to talk about the latter's campaign urging the peaceful use of airships. Not long before this engagement Theydon learns Mrs Lester was murdered the previous night. Yet another shock awaits him: Forbes turns out to be the man he saw enter the block of flats. And what's more, Theydon is followed home from Forbes' house by a mysterious grey limousine.

After being interviewed that evening by Chief Inspector James Leander Winter and Detective Inspector Charles Furneaux, an unlikely pair who appear to be constantly at each other's throats but are *far* shrewder than they seem, Theydon becomes involved willy nilly in their investigation of the murder and its ramifications.

And so the reader is off to the races with numerous twists and turns involving, among other things, an American tourist, a motorcycle chase, kidnappings, shots through windows, pea-sized ivory skulls -- and the return of the grey limousine.

My verdict:

Number 17 might best be characterised as a mystery-thriller with a dash of romance. I liked the sparring police partners, straightforward Winter and imaginative Furneaux, who pop up unexpectedly all over the landscape. There's plenty of action and a bit of suspense and in fact as Furneaux remarks at one point, "Oh, it's a plot and a half, I can assure you", and indeed it is, Oscar, it is.

Etext: Number Seventeen by Louis Tracy

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: The Daffodil Mystery by Edgar Wallace

by Mary

Odette Rider loses her cashier job after she indignantly rejects a suggestion from Thornton Lyne, owner of the large store where she works, that they cohabit without benefit of clergy. As a result Lyne, a thoroughly mean-spirited man, plots to frame her for embezzlement of company funds even though he knows the real culprit is a departmental manager, Mr Milburgh.

Lyne's cousin Jack Tarling, late of the Shanghai Detective Service, has just opened an investigative agency in London's Bond Street and visits Lyne to discuss the Milburgh matter. When Tarling learns Lyne wants to pin Milburgh's defalcations on Miss Rider -- Milburgh of course being more than happy to go along with the idea -- he refuses to have anything to do with it.

As part of his general posing as a charitable fellow, Lyne has become acquainted with Sam Stay, burglar and jail bird, who is due to be released from prison next day. As usual, Lyne meets him, gives him breakfast and twenty pounds, and tells such outrageous lies about Miss Rider that he succeeds in getting Stay interested in helping his benefactor "get even" with her.

Tarling warns Miss Rider of the possibility of Lyne taking revenge in some way. The next morning Lyne is found murdered, his body laid out in Hyde Park with a pad formed from one of Miss Rider's nightgowns and some of her hankies used in an attempt to staunch his gunshot wound -- and a bunch of daffodils laid upon his chest. He is wearing slippers, and a small piece of red paper with Chinese characters written on it is in his waistcoat pocket, although that garment, his coat, and his boots are in his car l00 yards away from his body. Tarling interprets the writing as saying Lyne brought trouble upon himself.

Tarling goes to visit Miss Rider, who had supposedly gone to her mother's house in Hertford the previous evening. Things look bad for her, not only because of the nighty and hankies but also because a shot was heard in her flat the night before. But she is not in Hertford and has in fact disappeared. A warrant is issued for her arrest and Tarling, who has fallen for Miss Rider, embarks on a quest to find her, establish her innocence, and discover who was responsible for the murder of the odious Lyne -- and the motive behind the crime.

My verdict: Readers' notions of likely suspects are cleverly led along until a plot twist turns them on their heads, while the machinations of Mr Milburgh will make some almost admire his cleverness -- until they learn the nasty depths of his nature. The murderer is the person most readers will least suspect. And will any of them be able to look a daffodil in the trumpet again without recalling their mental picture of the corpse in Hyde Park?

Etext: The Daffodil Mystery

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow by Anna Katharine Green

by Mary

Published in 1917 and set in l9l3, the novel opens with the death of a young girl on an upper floor of a New York museum. She's been killed by an arrow and even stranger, while the museum has arrows aplenty, no bow is anywhere to be seen.

Detective Ebenezer Gryce, now 85, and his assistant Sweetwater arrive to investigate. Was the death an accident or murder? But who would be foolish enough to loose an arrow in a museum? On the other hand, what motive could there be for doing away with a girl barely in her mid teens?

After Gryce arrives everyone in the building is sent to stand in the same spot as they were at the time of the incident. Suddenly an extra man appears. Where has he sprung from?

The plot immediately begins to thicken. How does an English visitor, a stranger to the victim, know her name? Why has the girl's travelling companion hastily left their hotel without leaving a forwarding address? For that matter what was this well-bred young lady doing going about without a chaperone? Where is the bow? How could the arrow have been shot without someone in the open galleries noticing?

Readers will need to refer to the floor plans more than once, because the plot is very dense and the movements of those in the museum at the relevant time are vital in solving the mystery. Time and again the investigation comes to a screeching halt, only to be picked up again after a bit of cogitation and/or legwork by Gryce, Sweetwater, and others. The real problem is linking the various prime movers to each other and particularly finding the motive. Sweetwater's use of carpentry skills aids the investigation in an unexpected way!

Etext: Gutenberg at

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Review: The Paternoster Ruby, Charles E. Walk

by Mary

The Paternoster Ruby may not be bang in the middle of the generally accepted dates for the Golden Age but don't let that stop you from reading this novel. For those who like them -- and I do, very much -- it features a second floor plan and a reproduction of a cipher of several numbers, oh frabjous day! Not to mention colour illustrations. Can't beat such riches with a big stick!

But what of the plot? Well, the narrator, Inspector Knowles Smith, remarks at one point he believes "the reader will unhesitatingly admit, by this time, that the Page affair presented many remarkable aspects".

And so it does.

As the book opens on a January day in 1892, Inspector Smith is investigating the murder of wheat king Felix Page, who had recently made a killing on that grain and in the process trounced hated rival Alfred Fluette. There are two immediate suspects: the murdered man's two overnight guests, these being his private secretary and a young man sporting a fresh black eye who initially refuses to say what business brought him to Page's mansion the night before. However, the secretary reveals the latter's visit has to do with the titular ruby. Naturally, the ruby was involved in two deaths, three if you count the man hanged for murdering its owner Paternostro, who gave his name to the gem.

And so begins a convoluted tale in which the narrator, then in his 20s, tells of the twists and turns of his investigation. There is more to the situation than murder and the theft of the fabulous ruby, and much of the action takes place in the dead man's mansion which at one time or another has a number of unexpected visitors while Smith and a colleague are in residence seeking clues and the missing ruby.

My verdict: The novel is written in a surprisingly modern style and moves along like all get out. There's a twist at the end completely demolishing my theory about the gem, who pinched it, and Page's murderer. I suspected just about every possible culprit except the person who confesses and even then...but no spoilers here. I'll be looking out for more of Walk's works.

Etext: The Paternoster Ruby

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: The Jacob Street Mystery by R. Austin Freeman

by Mary

Tom Pedley is a painter of landscapes. However, on this particular day in May the work on which he is engaged needs more than a little imagination, for he is in a small copse in Gravel Pit Wood, whose bosky dells are being rapidly gobbled up by developers. Concealed by shrubbery from the casual glance, he observes a woman creeping along the path through the wood. Her odd behaviour shows she is eavesdropping on a pair of men who have just walked past. One man returns and is furtively followed by the woman, and the intrigued Pedley checks the far end of the path but sees no sign of the second man.

Pedley lives in a studio in Jacob Street, which has a number of houses favoured by artistic types, and while eating his tea that afternoon decides to create a work based on the strange incident. He will call it The Eavesdropper and use his keen artistic eye to recreate the three strangers as actors in the scene. About a week later, he is working on the painting when his friend Mr Polton -- they first met in a Soho antique shop -- calls with a gift, a pewter tankard purchased in a shocking state from a Shoreditch junk stall and refurbished by the handy Mr P. Nor is this the only skill Mr Polton displays in the course of the mystery. Indeed, if he had ever turned to a life of crime he would have been difficult to catch. It is from Mr Polton that the artist, who has no wireless and does not read the papers, learns a murder by forcible administration of poison was committed in the wood during the very time he was painting the sylvan scene, and that from a description circulated in print and on the airwaves he is obviously the man being sought for interview by the police.

Enter Inspector Blandy, not to mention the brassy Mrs Schiller, a modernist artist separated from her husband and now living next door to Pedley, and Mr William Vanderpuye. He is studying with Dr Thorndyke and thus known to Mr Polton, who introduces him to the artist. It is while visiting the studio to arrange for a portrait sitting that Mr Vanderpuye meets Mrs Schilling, who pops in for a visit most days. The pair strike up a close friendship and Mr Vanderpuye is the last person seen with her before her disppearance. For while a dead woman is found locked into Mrs Schiller's room, she is not its tenant.

We now leap forward a couple of years. Mrs Schiller is still missing, but Drs Thorndyke and Jervis become involved in the case due to a large bequest which would be hers if she is still alive. A presumption of death has been requested but the solicitor feels uneasy about the circumstances. Is she alive, and if she is, why has she not been found despite sterling efforts by the authorities and a vast amount of publicity in the press? Who is the woman found dead in her room and what is the connection between them?

My verdict: Readers of this book learn another way to open a door locked from the inside. Doubtless most are familiar with at least two of them, the turn-key-from- the-outside-with-the-sugar-tongs and the push-key-out-on-to-a-piece-of-paper-shoved-under-the- door-and-pull-carefully-to-your-side. The latter works as I discovered when locked in my bedroom in a 1930s vintage flat as a witty jape, but you need a door with a gap under it. The method used in this case needs a particular type of key, common at the time so fair enough, and its use helps point up the fact that, despite appearances, the dead woman found in Mrs Schiller's room was not a suicide.

There are sufficient and fair clues, and the investigations are described in lively fashion. It turns out to be a more complicated case than it seems at first glance. I guessed part of the solution but not the whole, and all in all found this novel one of the better Thorndyke outings.

Etext: The Jacob Street Mystery by R. Austin Freeman