Friday, October 31, 2014

The Night My Friend

Yes, I said I would do Pronzini. I also said that I would be faster with these....

Halloween is considered our creepy holiday. Probably originating as a pagan festival, it ended up getting turned into a fun time for small children, and an excuse to pig out on assorted sugary things.
Thankfully, some great writers are happy to remind us of the horror that lurks around us.

In the spirit of the holiday, I decided to take a look at yet another anthology. This time, it's Murder For Halloween. Which, surprise, surprise, has stories that focus on Halloween, or All Hallows Eve if you want to be pretentious about it. I admit that I picked this up not because I wanted to celebrate the holiday, but because Hoch and Queen were in it. Still, can the rest hold up?

Monsters by Ed McBain

If there's one part of Halloween that everyone thinks about, it's trick-or-treating. Generally, it doesn't involve knives and robbery, not a revenge that perfectly fits the Halloween theme...

Not much to say here. A nice start to the collection, but otherwise, nothing stand out.

The Lemures by Steven Saylor

In ancient Rome, a man seemingly jumps off of his balcony upon seeing the ghost of a former friend. Meanwhile,  a retired soldier spends his days in fear of ghosts from his past. Both are seemingly being tormented by creatures know as Lemures....

Well. This is strange. This is really two separate stories. One is dull and cheats horrible with its solution on multiple levels, while the other plays somewhat fair, and is actually good. I'll leave it in the air, but know that I only enjoyed the story because of said part. The other half cheats.

The Adventure of the Dead Cat by Ellery Queen

Ellery hates surprise parties, and when this surprise Halloween party has a murder game, he hates it even more. Thankfully for him and the reader, someone has the decency to make the game real, and they were even kind enough to make an impossible crime out of it! Just how did they go though a cluttered room in complete darkness...?

Ah. Quality. A fine showing from Ellery Queen with fair cluing, some decent humor, and a nice problem. Although (SPOLIERS how did Lucy know all of this in advance? The summation implies that she planned this, but everything seemed to be pretty random. The game, the choice of victim...END SPOILERS) But hey, maybe I misread it.

The Odstock Curse by Peter Lovesey

In fiction, Gypsy curses are a thing. They also tend to be very effective things, especially when skeptics are involved, a one man finds out...

Good. That's really all I can say. No real detection. Just a good Halloween story.

The Theft of the Halloween Pumpkin by His Excellence Edward D. Hoch

Nick Velvet is a bizarre thief. Most steal money, artifacts, paintings, and other valuable things. Nick steals only the  worthless, like a jack-o-lantern. He also has a habit of crime solving, like rumors of bet fixing...

For once, I don't have complete mindless praise. This is still a good story, but the clueing is weaker than normal. Other than that, good.

Halowe'en for Mr. Faulkner by August Derleth

Guy Fawkes had a plan to blow up Parliament. Like all good plans, it was foiled by stupidity, and now he is celebrated in England, Alan Moore's head, and 4chan. None of this is important to our Mr. Faulkener, until he's suddenly thrown back in time...

Er...Good? I mean, there's nothing really offensive here. It's...good?

Deceptions by Marcia Muller

A young woman leaves a suicide note and her car behind. The implication is obvious. But did she really throw herself off of the Golden Gate Bridge...?

Another "good, not great" story. The opening is good, but the rest is pretty standard. The solution is also pretty obvious. Also....what does this have to do with Halloween? I mean, there's a Halloween party mentioned, but other than that...

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

A man adopts a black cat, a cat that witnesses its master's slow decent into debauchery. The end result of this is one dead wife and the perfect crime, but cats have a habit of messing with their owners, especially when it comes to the important things in life....

Once again, good, with a nice ending. The build-up is nice, and aside from the older writing style, a very nice read.

OMJAGOD by James Brady

The usual tale of children against the forces of adults. This time, it's not just the jerk up the road, but some gangsters too...

Can I just say that this is the best title in the collection? Say it out loud, OMJAGOD. It sounds awe-inspiring, intimidating. I would think of , like, a struggle through the swamps of Louisiana, or something. Unfortunately, I probably enjoyed this story the least. It's not because of the plot; though said plot is an utter mess, but because of the writing style. It's..awful. It's trying too hard to be different, and it's just hard to read.

The Cloak by Robert Bloch

All Henderson really wants is a scary Halloween costume to shake up the fancy party he's going to. He gets one alright. The authentic article...

Just a Halloween story. Good? Nothing really spectacular... (SPOLIERS By the way, ignore that opening, This isn't a sad or depressing story at all. END SPOLIERS)

What a Woman Wants by Michal Z. Lewin

A tale of a writer, a policeman, and a very specific car thief. And the perils or love, just to make it worse...

This...really isn't that good. There's no real mystery, the seeming main premise goes nowhere, and the story itself is a let down.

Yesterday's Witch by Gahan Wilson

This is a short enough story that I'll skip a summary. All I'll say is that it involves dares and witches, always a pleasant combination. It's good, but to be honest, I felt like it could have played up some childhood fears more. Knocking on the door of what you think is a witch, not sure what will happen...There could have been more, I think. (SPOLIERS Also, this lady is a terrible witch. All she really does is mess with the kids... END SPOLIERS)

Walpurgis Night by Bram Stoker

On Walpurgisnacht, an Englishman travelling through the countryside stumbles upon a path that leads to a village where the dead walked. Ignoring his guide as well as his common sense, he sets out...

Yes. That Bram Stoker. The same Bram Stoker who wrote Dracula. This was apparently meant to be some sort of opening, and it does it's job well. The atmosphere is good, though Dracula's actions at the end seem to make no sense.

Trick or Treat by Judith Gardner

Once again, too short for a summary. Just a story that's meant to creepy you out, and it does a decent job of it. I just wish that the narrator wasn't such a jerk though..

One Night at a Time by Dorothy Cannell

He's vampire in recovery with a talent for deduction. He's a warlock chronicling his patient's adventures. And their first client? A ghost....

This had the best premise in the entire collection. A supernatural Holmes and Watson? A world with said supernatural running around? Yes! I want that!...And then the mystery falls flat due to a lack of clueing. It's a shame, as I liked the solution, you just had no chance to figure it out.

Night of the Goblin by Talmage Powell

Once again, too short to summarize. It involves a kid's diabolical plan...that really doesn't seem justified. I'm sorry, but the victim isn't fleshed out enough for this to feel like some great victory. Though I did learn how to put razor blades in candy so that's something...?

Trick-or-Treat by Anthony Boucher

Ben Flaxner is a man on the run. Still, he's managed to find a safe haven, and he might be able to resolve things. Then a small trick-or-treater shoots him. Could it really be a ghost that shot him...?

Yes, this has almost the exact same title as earlier story. I didn't make edit the thing. Thankfully, this story is far better than the last few, with a good mystery with a nice dose of humor. It's my first Boucher too...

Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

He's called Hat. He's a jazzman, a good one, and one who no one knows much about. A college student sets out to change that, and gets a tale of a Halloween night, and a night in the bad psrt of town...

I admit, I have a weakness for these types of stories. Both the story within a story, and the small child seeing things that he shouldn't. Thankfully, the story mostly lives up to its premise, with a good atmosphere and storytelling. Sure it's not a mystery, but for once, I'll let my elitism slide.

Well...This really isn't filling me with a desire to keep reading anthologies. Once again, while it has it's highs, for the most part, it never really gets above average. This may be because I'm here solely for the mystery aspect, while this anthology is more focused on horror for the most part. Can you really say that Yesterday's Witch or Walpurgis Night or The Cloak are mysteries? Or crime stories for that matter. This is primarily a Halloween anthology, and it falls short as a mystery one.

Yet, the Halloween aspect isn't all that good either. I'm no expert on horror, but these stories really aren't scary. A little disturbing in places yes, but Trick or Treat was the only one that I finished with a sense of horror. It just isn't scary.

I give this anthology a 5.5 out of 10.

Next up, Pronzini! For real this time!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Deceased Sleep In A Restless Manner

You know, sometimes I feel like I'm very atypical. I mean, here I am writing a blog meant to mainly on locked-room mysteries (I'll branch out, don't worry), and I haven't done anything about John Dickson Carr!

If you're reading this, then you probably know about Carr, but if you don't, I'll summarize. John Dickson Carr is considered to be the master of the locked-room mystery, and the writer of two of what are considered to be the best in the sub-genre, The Hollow Man and The Judas Window. Needless to say, it was inevitable that I would end up looking at him at some point, but do I start with one of those famous novels or maybe one his most popular? No, I start with radio plays!

The Dead Sleep Lightly is a collection of some of Carr's many radio plays. Really, he wrote a lost of these things, not jus mystery, but propaganda as well. This probably played a role in weakening his later novels, as he seemed to carry over some of the techniques, but that's neither here nor there. We're here to look at the stories presented here, and see if they're worth your time. Let's begin!

The Black Minute

Many, including Dr. Fell , gather for a séance held by a Mr. Riven. He claims that he will contact the wife of one Sir Francis Church. Obviously, this goes wrong, and Riven joins the dead, courtesy of a  knife to the throat. Now there's the problem of figuring out who could have stabbed him in  a locked room, where everyone in there was holding hands...

An excellent start. This is an excellent mystery; fairly clued, and with a simple yet clever solution. No complaints here...

The Devil's Saint

Lord Edward Whiteford, like all of Carr's heroes, has fallen in love at first sight. The object of his affections is Ileana, niece of Count Lorre Kohary. He object to the relationship, but will allow it if Whiteford can survive a night in the Tapestry Room, where people fall asleep and never wake up...

More of a thriller than a mystery story, this is still a great inclusion. Tension is handled well, the ending is good... Really, I only have one question (SPOILERS What will happen to Whiteford now? END SPOLIERS)

The Dragon in the Pool

Swimming pools can be very dangerous places. This is a bizarre enough statement to open a story, and it only get more bizarre form there. Revenge, a mysterious death, a vanishing weapon...All of it will be resolved at an underground swimming pool...

Decent story. Carr's used this trick before, but it's still well done, and the ending is terrifying. Although (SPOILERS I have to wonder why Tony didn't notice the huge spike in the water. Glass or not, I would think that it would be more visible. At least, the tile damage would be. But there I go, nitpicking. END SPOLIERS)

The Dead Sleep Lightly

Kensal Green 1-9-3-3. A number that won't leave George Pendelton's head. It's the number on the gravestone of an old flame of his. Eventually, he accidently calls it and hears her voice...over a disconnected telephone...

As the title story, this has a decent amount of weight to hold up, and it does pretty well. The story is pure Carr, with a focus on the apparent supernatural, a perfectly rational explanation, atmosphere, and a focus on justice than the letter of the law. Unfortunately, the solution is technical, though the intelligent reader (not me) can at least figure out part of the trick. Still a good story.

Death Has Four Faces

An unlucky streak at the gambling tables leaves Ralph Harvey hurting for cash. Lucky for him that this nice man wants him to smuggle a bottle of pills past customs, and he gets paid for it! In the end though, it's the employer who winds up in a mess, stabbed to death in an open square, with no one near him...

Can I just say that I like the scenarios Carr comes up with in his stories? Now that I've got that bit of praise out of the way, I'll say that this is another good story, though the solution doesn't appeal to me. (SPOLIERS How can you drop a knife onto someone's back with enough accuracy for near-instant death? I've read the Colonel March version of this story, and I like it better, because it's easier to buy that the killer could drop the knife onto his neck. END SPOLIERS)

Vampire Tower

"Just how far does any man trust his wife? Or his fiancée for that matter?" It's a question Carr would pose many times, here asking if a man can trust that his fiancée hasn't made a habit of poisoning people despite not getting near the drinks. Of course, one should always remember that Carr loves to twist things....

Once again, more of a suspense story than anything, but it's a good suspense story, even if Barbra's behavior is intensely bizarre. The ending makes up for a lot, though. Except for the fact that there are no vampires (expect the metaphorical kind), towers, and definitely no vampire towers!

The Devil's Manuscript

A young couple has car trouble in the woods and notice a man in a house. The same man who made a bizarre bet with a horror author that has put his life in danger. Is there really a story so terrifying that it can kill?

More suspense than anything, this is an adaption of some horror story that I've never heard of. It's still very good, but I have to wonder (SPOLIERS why Colston was still standing outside that window. It didn't occur to him to run? END SPOLIERS)

White Tiger Passage

Bill Stacey has had enough. For too long he has been Willie Whiskers of the Daily Record, nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Now he's on the something big: the identity of a serial killer. Al he has to do is figure out was his murdered informant meant in his last limerick....

Yes, a comedy with a serial killer. Whether or not you consider it good comedy will depend on your sense of humor, but this is an all-around good mystery.

The Villa of the Damned

Alan Stannard is greatly enjoying his vacation in Italy, taking in all of the sights... including a bizarre ritual that can make a whole suburb disappear in the mists of time..

A great end to the collection. All the usual praise applies, though with one flaw: the situation is audacious yes, but it leaves very little room for any alternate solutions.

All in all, this is an excellent and well-rounded collection. My only real consistent gripe is that some of these are more suspense stories than mystery stories, but they're good anyhow. Besides, they were written for a radio program called Suspense... (and an American counterpart...)

I give this collection a 7.5 out of 10.

Next time, Pronzini! Though it's not Nameless I'm looking at...

Also: I would like to apologize for the atrocious amount of time it took for this. I say that I'll have these done earlier, and then I take forever...