Dewey in Summer — Yaaas!

This is a thing I’ve hoped for for a long time.  It’s such a long time between Dewey’s.  They are hosting a lower key (no prizes), 12 hour earlier, 24 hour readathon.  I imagine this will make some folks happy.   It will start for those on the east coast of America, July 27th at 8:00 pm and at the same time around the world, so if you’re in Japan or Australia, it’s sometime Saturday morning.  I am only sorry I’ve got some plans so won’t be able to participate fully, but I will do what I can and I think you should join me!

Click to sign up!

This weekend is the 24-in-48 Readathon which I will also be attempting despite plans which make it pretty certain I will not hit 24 hours.   These readathons should help with the 20 Books of Summer.   Join me for either or both!


The Golden Child – Book 6 of the #20BooksofSummer

This has, as far as I know, nothing to do with the old Eddie Murphy movie, although that’s what you’ll find if you Google ‘Golden Child’ without ‘Fitzgerald’.   It was Penelope Fitzgerald’s first book, written to entertain her dying husband in 1977.   I hope it did.   It entertained me.   She was also inspired by the King Tut exhibit.   The Golden Child of the title is a mummy of a people called the Garamantes.   This was a real tribe in Africa which had an empire referred to by Herodotus.   I don’t know if any of the rest of her description of the tribe and its customs is true or not, but the setting of the book is an exhibit of their golden child mummy and other golden treasures is so huge people are lining up for hours like they did for Tutankhamun.   The museum is run by a smooth, mostly admired man named Sir John Allison.   He became director so young that there are a few department heads who resent his rise and especially the fact that an expected legacy to the museum will probably be spent by him on all his favorite things and ignore their departments.   This legacy will come from Sir William, an eccentric, lovable archaeologist who is the equivalent of Howard Carter, if he hadn’t died.   Decades ago, he found the treasures.    The main character is Waring Smith, a lower level display expert, who, because of his friendly relationship with Sir William, is returning a tablet to the exhibit late at night and is nearly strangled.   Is it the Curse of the Golden Child?   Has one of the museum staff lost their mind?   Why strangle Waring?   Did he interrupt a robbery?   Other mysterious events follow and poor Waring, who has enough to worry about with his crumbling marriage and his mortgage, is borne along like flotsam from one to the next.



This cover, while handsome, is far too Egyptian.  It’s a short book and an entertaining one.  I was worried the end might be a let down, but I need not have worried.   While I have a tendency to think that people should behave in certain ways — like report crimes to the police — I’m also not overly concerned with How Things Look, which is all in all to some of the characters in the book.   Understandable, they are museum men.   And they are all men.   The only women are secretaries and Waring’s wife is heard about.   But that is how things were.   Overall, a highly entertaining read, if like me, you’re into an academic atmosphere with a bit of absurdity thrown in.


Forgotten Fatherland

Jean @ Howling Frog thought she may have read Ben MacIntyre’s Forgotten Fatherland : The True Story of Nietzsche’s Sister and Her Lost Aryan Colony  and I’m sure she did because it seems to be the only book on this subject.   There’s a couple of biographies, but none with a lot of the focus on this Aryan Colony in Paraguay the remains of which MacIntyre sought out in 1991.    I think it was his first book.  Still in his 20s, there’s an awkward phrase or two, but overall it’s an extremely well-written and fascinating yet repellant story of Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth, who was a real piece of work, her fellow anti-semite and husband Bernhard Förster, the colony they founded , and her other great work, the Nazification of her brother’s philosophy.   


Elisabeth was courageous, strong-minded, stubborn, dishonest, racist, a bully, a liar, pretty much capable of anything to get her own way.   She was close to her brother when they were young, but as she got older her anti-semitism and marriage drove a wedge between them.   Nietzsche, an extremely passionate and nearly unread philosopher, went mad in 1889 and never recovered.   His sister made it the second great work of her life (after the founding of the extremely unsuccessful colony) to promote his work and control it.  She was so successful at this that decades later a completely misunderstood Nietzsche became the darling of the Nazi party and Elisabeth, the grand dame lauded by Nazi officers up to and including Hitler himself.

As I said earlier, a fascinating though painful story.   A well-told interweaving of the history of Elisabeth, the history of Paraguay and the Nueva Germania colony and MacIntyre’s expedition to find whatever remained of it.    This was my 5th of the #20booksofsummer.    I seem to be sticking with my list, much to my own astonishment.   Perhaps it was choosing mostly recent aquisitions?   My enthusiasm hasn’t waned as much as usual?   I don’t know, but so far, so good.

The Red Widow Murders – Book 4 of the #20booksofsummer

John Dickson Carr sometimes wrote as Carter Dickson.   I believe he wrote the Sir Henry Merrivale mysteries as Dickson.   The Red Widow Murders is the third HM mystery.   He doesn’t seem all that different from Dr. Fell, but I haven’t read many of them.  Large body, large brain, large personality, and a bit of a temper.  Or maybe I should just say cranky.  Sir Henry is one of a few people invited as witnesses to a ‘game.’  Lord Mantling’s house is condemned and that means he can open up the secret room which was nailed shut because it had a propensity to kill people.    Only people left alone and only 3 in about 70 years, but still, that’s three too many.   Bad room!    So the game is to pick a card and whoever gets the highest card gets a free two hours in the murder room.    What could have caused the deaths?   And could it still work?   Apparently, yes.   A young man named Bender, supposedly an artist, draws the high card, enters the room and two hours later is discovered to have died an hour earlier.    How the heck did he call out every 15 minutes after he died?   How did curare get into him with no source of poison and the only wound a little nick from shaving?

redwidow2 This was a fun mystery which kept me guessing.   And guessing.   Because everything I guessed was soon proved to be wrong.   Except one or two little points which were almost incidental.  It was the first Carr I’ve read I didn’t find a completely unbelievable solution, so points for that.  If you can find this for not much money, it’s a good read.

As to the Follow the Clues, it has one thing in common with Cut Throat – dead domestic animals.  This is not a theme I hope goes on.  As for Just the Facts, I think Sir Henry counts as an amateur detective.

The Red Widow Murders Chapter-by-Chapter – C. 16-End

Happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans!   I am on the home stretch of this chapter-by-chapter reading and the closer I get to the end, the more annoying it is to stop and write down what passes for thoughts in my head.  If you’ve read thus far, you’ll have learned I’m not very good at this.

Chapter 16 – HM lunches at his club with Tarlaine, his Watson.  Tarlaine does something very un-Watson-like.  He points out that given Guy’s position at the shutter, he must only have been able to see a small part of the room, so whatever happened must’ve happened there.  HM yowls, calling himself  an ass and a fool, but really calling any reader who hasn’t figured it out these things.  He yelled out corns!, blood in a bowl, chicken soup.  I can’t remember anything about chicken soup.   Meanwhile, back at the ranch, they’ve found a hypodermic in the mattress.  Fortunately no one seems to have been stabbed with it.  It belonged to Guy.

Chapter 17 –  If Dr. Arnold wants to do in Guy and frame Mantling, he really should have waited until he was married.    And yes, curare is scrapable.  Or dissolvable which amounts to the same thing.  Maybe Isabel got tired of primogeniture, but then she shouldn’t have left the hypodermic in the mattress.  No one should have.  And why they didn’t treat it as a crime scene and search it properly, I don’t know.

And then Isabel has a story to tell — how she was so terrified she couldn’t move and she couldn’t possibly tell it again and oh!  you won’t arrest him, will you?!   If she’s faking it, fine.   If it’s real, she’s a drip.   Pathetic.   They’re all sort of pathetic except Judith.   And I find I can’t tell you what she said because it’s just too spoillerrific.   If it’s true, case is apparently solved.   If she’s lying or mistaken somehow, well there’s still 3 chapters to go.  And if neither of them did it, how will they live with each other after this?   If true, it’s extraordinarily stupid.   And the explanation for that would be, I suppose, madness, but that’s ridiculous because the murderer has been clever enough to do away with someone in a locked room in such a manner that even the method is a mystery.   Would that person then keep all the evidence in an obvious place?  Unlikely.   I think we’re down to Dr. Arnold here.  Or Sir George.   Though why Sir George would do anything I have no idea.   It’s all done with hypnosis.   Yeah, that’s it.

Chapter 18 – Everyone goes to dinner.   And now, finally, HM the scarlet fool, will tell howdunnit.   All are to gather at the family manse and he reveals…   Bender had some dental work done.   And that’s why there was blood in the bowl!   I remembered the chicken soup after HM pointed out Bender took no solid foods at dinner.  So, ingesting curare would have been problematic for a man with bleeding gums, but it’s still too quick working to have been in the soup.

Why did the post-mortem not mention there was a cut in his mouth?   Misleading I call it.  The whole time they go on about how there’s not a mark on him except the nick from shaving.   Bit of a cheat.

Chapter 19 – “What post mortem man would ever spot a little thing like that”?   Okay, I don’t know.   Any medical examiners reading this?  Would you find a lanced gum?  Not that I’ve heard of that, so maybe they don’t do it anymore.

Okay, here’s a first.   A Carr solution I can actually… believe.

Chapter 20 – Well, the final wrap-up takes place in HM’s attic.   This plot involved a heck of a lot of luck, but that’s not really a flaw.   Okay, it feels like a flaw.   I like a villain that almost succeeds because he or she is clever, not because they get lucky, but that’s a personal preference, not really a problem with the story.

It is tricky to try to write all one’s thoughts as one reads a book.   Since it takes days to read, one doesn’t only think while reading and even those thoughts captured while reading aren’t complete.   But I do think this is pretty much how it goes with most mysteries I read.   I have an inkling or two.   Sometimes I guess part of a plot.  But largely it’s a lot like this.   I think of the person whodunnit because I think about everyone, but I don’t know whodunnit.   Nor how it happened in this case.   Until HM (or whoever it happens to be) reveals all.

If you were hoping to find out the end without having to read it, I suppose I could email you, or it might be in Wikipedia.  It’s an enjoyable book, I’d recommend it, but not spending too much on it.   Hopefully, someone will reissue them.

The Red Widow Murders Chapter-by-Chapter – C. 11-15

For those of you not following along at home, this is a read-along in which I write my thoughts after each chapter of The Red Widow Murders.   It’s all JJ’s fault.   It will be chock full of spoilers, but being Carr/Dickson, I will probably not guess whatever hare-brained solution there is.   You may have gotten the impression that I don’t respect Carr from this.   Just his solutions.   I enjoy his writing until the end when, for me, it all becomes completely unbelievable.   This is my fourth Carr, so I’m fairly confident about that.  Don’t read on unless you’ve read it, or don’t care.

Chapter 11 – HM takes Tairlaine home and makes him play board games until 5:30 in the morning.   By 10:00 they are all at the Inspector’s.   I may not think of myself as elderly yet, with brittle bones and all, but I certainly can’t stay up until 5:30 AM and then nap, go home, change and be anywhere by 10:00.   The Inspector has found a thread and a photograph.   He has also confirmed a pane of glass is not only missing, it’s been cut out.   Guy has apparently been out at this window looking in through the shutters.   His fingerprints are there.   So, it shows that it could have been done with a blowpipe, and if the dart were on a string, might carefully have been reeled back in, and the bit of parchment blown in, but it also shows that it wasn’t, because we’re only a little over halfway.   That is, of course, a cheaty sort of deduction.   The characters can’t look at the pages left and say, this must be a false solution, which is why I’m relying on HM to say so in the next chapter or so.


Chapter 12 – Brad was right — Guy has been killed.  Is he also right that Sir George dunnit?  Guy being at the window makes the one possible way of doing it impossible.  They are in HM’s office — I said the Inspector’s earlier, but that was wrong.Masters demonstrates how the thing could have been done only to have a call informing them of Guy’s demise blow the whole theory out of the water.  Brad’s choice of Sir Guy gets another point when it is pointed out the British Museum has a collection of South American poisons and weapons.   Judith still seems least likely and therefore most likely except Carr seems to be setting up a romance with Carstairs.   It would be very convenient if Dr. Arnold managed the whole thing leaving the field clear for Carstairs.  However, the only way he might have done it that I can think of is if he hypnotized Guy into doing it.

Chapter 13 – They all go to Mantling’s house and haul poor Guy’s battered corpse out from under the bed.   His head has been bashed in some time around 4 in the morning.  He had presumably sneaked into the death room to get the silver casket.   Ravelle is also doing that about half an hour later, but is stopped by Carstairs who sneaked back in to catch the criminal doing just that.   HM reveals that the reason they both wanted this box is that it has a hidden compartment full of jewels given to the hangman back in the 18th century.   It doesn’t make sense for Ravelle to have attacked Guy then gone back upstairs only to come back down 20 minutes later.  Carstairs could be lying and have done Guy in and then attacked Ravelle.   Mantling could have.   Sir George lives just up the street, though presumably he doesn’t have a key.

Chapter 14 – HM reveals where the jewels had been and that it once was a poison trap.  Ravelle reveals that his father wasn’t very bright and only took the biggest stone.   Perhaps he just wasn’t greedy.  It isn’t surprising once they reveal the trap, that people only died when they were alone.   It doesn’t seem to explain why people couldn’t stay there and survive.  Most didn’t know about the treasure.   Surely some of them could have slept in this weird bedroom off the dining room and survived?   I wonder if the layout will be a factor.   It’s the most ridiculous layout for a house.   Double doors off the dining room lead to a passage.   Down the passage is this room.   That’s it.   Like a lollipop sticking off of the rest of the house.    Personally, I would have turned the chair upside down and shaken the jewels out.   Stupid to try and poke your fingers down a dark hollow in a chair trying to pull jewels out with your fingers.  Guy polished the room and pretended to be Bender because… reasons.   This all leads HM to conclude it was done with some sort of trick that could be worked while the murderer was away.  And the final excitement is that Ravelle reveals he saw Judith stealing the blow gun and darts.   Finally some evidence against Judith.

Chapter 15 – Judith admits she took the darts and sent them to be analyzed.   She’s planning to play a joke on Carstairs and wanted to be sure there was no poison on the darts that she took.   There was a bit on one and they kept that one, but she got the others back and hid them.   HM then asks Mantling if he’d seen Bender with a notebook.   He had.   Right before he saw him cut himself shaving.   So, there’s no poison darts unaccounted for, so where did the curare come from?   There’s the cut accounted for and no other to admit the poison.   Though couldn’t you apply poison to a recent cut?   So here we are: three-quarters of the way through and pretty much we’re at square one.   It couldn’t have happened and no one could have done it.   I should declare something.   Some thoughts or something.   I don’t really think it’ll be Judith because of the whole I-can’t-abide-that-Carstairs when everyone can see she loves him.  So, hello, the young lovers must get together which lets Carstairs out of it, too.   Dr. might be able to get curare.   Sir George probably could.   Anyone in the house might have scraped it off the two darts.  It sounds like it’s scrapable from the description, but I don’t know.   If it is, then anyone could have gotten it.   I have zero bright ideas on who or how.

The Red Widow Murders Chapter-by-Chapter – C. 6-10

Chapter 6 – Interviews.   What were Isabel and Guy up to?  Sitting in the sitting room from 10:30 until midnight.   Now everyone has an alibi.   Inspector Masters interviews Miss Isabel in the creepy room.   She’s very nervous.   While questioning her, it is revealed that 1) the shutters are solid and rusted shut, you would need a blowtorch to get in that way, 2) the woman who died in the room was going to marry a jeweler named Bettison who was ruined after she died, 3) there is a box that looks exactly like the Caliogstro poisoning box HM has dealt with before.   This one does not have the same mechanism the other does (which does not mean it has no mechanism), but it was in a drawer and you’d be a complete idiot to go mucking about with it if you were Bender.  It was designed, it seems, by Martin Longueval in the late 18th century.   Longueval was Ravelle’s great-great-great uncle.   So the French connection to the room goes all the way back.

Chapter 7 – Going along, tickety-boo.   Progress will slow when I’m back at work tomorrow.   We now meet Guy.   Carr doing his best to make almost everyone seem possibly mad.   He had a conniption when they were playing around with the box.  Some of the furniture was made by Longueval, but Guy doesn’t know what.   Neither Guy nor Judith realized who Bender was, though they maybe should have as he appears not to have been subtle in his questioning.   Judith seems solid and sensible except she doesn’t bat an eye when Guy reveals her dog was killed, which she allegedly did not know.   I have now moved my money to Judith.   No, she couldn’t have done it, but she does seem least likely.  We know Guy is smart because he beats HM to the conclusion that Bender deliberately stole the ace earlier to make sure it was he who entered the room.  Presumably because he thought he could outfox the murderer.  He was wrong.

All of this somehow goes back to the French Revolution. The room is named for Mme. Guillotine, the red widow.

Chapter 8 – So theories are being offered up and shot down.   The Inspector thinks the bit of parchment could have come out of Bender’s pocket as the card did, but somehow landed on him as he hid the notebook.  Judith thinks this is silly, but Guy is not so sure.  HM takes them to Mantling’s study, presumably to look at the darts, but the police took them away after Isabel made a ruckus about them.  HM springs the question of putty on them which Guy had mention earlier.  Guy is unfazed, but Ravelle has a shock and then pretends not to know the word.  Guy is about to tell them all something when he (accidentally-on-purpose?) reveals a ventriloquist’s dummy and adds that Mantling is an expert.

Chapter 9 – Long family history of the first victim’s youth in France and his wife whose family were chief executioners to the King and then during the Revolution.   They had a weird relationship which was sometimes okay and sometimes full of hate.   Probably there is a vital clue or two in this, but I don’t know what it is.

Chapter 10 – Blowpipes.   Well, one blowpipe.   Missing.   3 darts covered in curare.   Missing.    What would the murderer have done if they hadn’t been?   Can one tell without lab equipment?   Maybe they were tested on the pets?   Seems to me you’d only need to test one.   Mantling makes it clear that ventriloquism could’ve made it seem like Bender was still alive.   I can see how you might use a blowpipe through the shutters, and you could maybe blow the parchment into the room, too, but I don’t see how you abstract the notebook and the dart.   Being first in the room and palming the dart seems pretty risky and downright impossible with a largish notebook.

The more I read the more likely it is I won’t think much of the solution .   But being halfway through I can now read Pt. 1 of Brad’s GADzooks! Chapter-by-Chapter Extravaganza.

Phinnea's Book Blog List

Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.