The Greek Coffin Mystery

A couple nights ago I finally finished Ellery Queen’s The Greek Coffin Mystery.   Never read Ellery Queen before and I thought at first I was going to really enjoy it.   (I started last spring, but left off for the #20booksofsummer and only just got back to it.)  It is reminiscent of Dame Agatha, there’s an extended family with issues all living in this mansion all dependent on the titular Greek who’s in his coffin.   The death is natural, they can’t find the will.   Then they figure there’s only one place the will could have been hidden and voila!  there’s a second body buried with the Greek.   Not a bad start.   I’m still bothered by the author and the main character being called Ellery Queen, although it’s not told in the first person.   What’s up with that?   They couldn’t think up two names?    They thought it was such a great name they couldn’t stop using it?  At any rate, Ellery Queen is the son of the chief inspector.   All he does all day is hang around and help investigate, although his help is not always that helpful.   He also smokes like a chimney.   I don’t see how he’s going to live to 30.   So, I enjoyed the beginning, but then…

[Spoilery bits below]

…it’s just too darned long.  Three false solutions is too many.    And the foofaraw about the teacups made no sense in either solution.   Maybe he didn’t know the pot held 5 cups of water?   Rich people who have servants just pour out the water they need and if it’s not enough they ring for more.   But then it emerges someone somehow made extra cups of tea with cold water?   Um, no.   Not buying that.    Why the hell didn’t the servants clear that out the next morning anyway?   There’s the real question.   So are they all like that?   Solutions to mysteries hanging on such slender threads of not-even circumstantial evidence?   And I never did get the significance of the ties being put into the wardrobe.   They were on the table – then they were in the wardrobe.   How is that a clue to anything?   I did not guess.   Though I still prefer my solution.   The final, real solution makes no more sense than the ones that went before.    Why would the murderer kill his partner only to turn around and take a new partner?   Grimshaw was in prison for years.   Maybe during that time he got a new partner.   One he liked better than his old, troublesome partner…   That doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone.  And the moral of the story is don’t go into art theft if you don’t know anything about art.

[/spoilery bits]



Another thing is these cousins  were not ahead of their time as far as attitudes toward women and other people go.   There are a lot of eye-roll worthy lines about feminine psychology and it’s disconcerting to read everyone calling Khalkis cousin (or brother?  I can’t remember) an idiot.   He’s got some sort of mental incapacity, what it is exactly is not clear and presumably not known at the time, but still, it seems very rude to refer to him as the idiot.

Overall, I will probably try more Ellery Queens not gonna bail on him over one iffy book, but I kept thinking how clean a writer Dame Agatha is compared to Queen.  Her books are generally about 2/3 the length of Greek Coffin Mystery and that’s about how long they should be.   Dragging things out with a bunch of false solutions really doesn’t make it more enjoyable.

N or M?

Let’s talk about poor impulse control, shall we?  I again watched the second part of a new Tommy and Tuppence show.    Again, it was a mistake.   They’re dull, they’re bitchy, they’re not bright, and they’re following some impossibly convoluted plot that has little to do with the book.   So, I read the book again.   It must have been shortly before I started blogging I last read this.  And memory was somewhat hazy.   I did not remember them sneaking into some sort of military ball.   And that’s because they didn’t.   There was a major, but he was not named Khan and spoiler! he didn’t kill himself.   I have often thought the plots of her thrillers are so bad that substituting a new one would be no loss, but the plot of N or M?  isn’t so bad.   Instead of a nebulous conspiracy, she had Nazis to write about because it was 1941.  There’s a war on and T and T are anxious to do their bit, but everyone thinks they are too old.   Until a Colonel comes along and tells Tommy about a search for a Fifth Columnitst (an expression meaning, in this case, home-grown Nazis) at a boarding house in Leahampton.   Tommy is a good choice because none of the current people know who he is.   Tuppence, of course, manages to join in.  She’s not one to sit at home knitting balaclavas when there is spying to be done, so she too goes to Leahampton and knits balaclavas there.



At the boarding house, everyone is normal-seeming, but somehow suspicious just like in her usual detective stories.   The owner with a mysterious background, the Irish woman who’s too observant, the invalid man and his waffling wife who previously spent a lot of time in Germany… and so on.  Tommy and Tuppence fit right in and start investigating and they are charming and clever and good at what they do.   The plot isn’t dull or confusing and there is no military ball.   Despite Robert Barnard’s panning of it “The Beresfords contribute their intolerable high spirits to the war effort.”   He sounds like a real cranky-boots.   I enjoy their high spirits and it’s exactly what I miss in these abominable adaptations.   Why didn’t they do it with Francesca Annis and James Warwick a few years ago?

Wikipedia mentions that Christie herself was investigated because she named the Major in the book Bletchley – like Bletchley Park – they were worried that she Knew Too Much.  She didn’t.    She named the Major after some place she was stuck on a train journey at some point.   And that would be a good story to adapt, I think.


The Limehouse Golem

Or The Trial of Elizabeth Cree.   Or Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.   All titles this book has borne at different times and places.   Peter Ackroyd wrote this in 1994 and I was reminded of it by someone reviewing another of his books.   I read Hawksmoor and liked that (there’s a great new cover for it — had to buy it so I’ll probably reread it) and couldn’t remember if I’d ever read this one.   I have now and don’t think I ever did before.  I would’ve remembered some of it I feel sure.   It’s a creepy Victorian historical horror/mystery with real people like Karl Marx, George Gissing and the titular Dan Leno mixed with fake people including the titular Limehouse Golem  — a murderer who precedes Jack the Ripper by eight years or so, but has a number of similarities to that gent.   I did not know when I bought it that they’ve made a movie of it with Bill Nighy, but I think I must see it now.   Although it might be gross to watch – there’s a fair amount of dismemberment.

It opens with Elizabeth Cree being hung for the murder by arsenic of her husband.  But did she do it?  Or did he do himself in?   We then go back and learn her story, his story and quite a bit about Gissing, Leno and a bit about Marx.   The scenes in the music halls made me long to be able to go back and see them.  Dan Leno was considered the funniest man in the world and he’s a great character in this.

Dan Leno as a pantomime “dame” in Jack and the Beanstalk (1899).

You can find a few very old recordings on YouTube that’ll give you an idea.    I think though to find him the funniest man in the world, you had to be there.

I’m very fond of neo-Victorian type books and books that mix up history and fiction and I enjoyed this very much.  It’s my second RIP book.   I guess it could also count as something you hunt for in the Wild Goose Chase Challenge.

Northanger Abbey

Before I read this I thought it would be much more R.I.P. than it is.  Can’t really count it for that.  I saw a version of it years ago which was filmed to be more like an Ann Radcliffe horrid novel.   I’m thinking if I saw it now I probably wouldn’t think much of it.   The Gothic moments in Northanger are few, but it is a charming book.   Probably second only to P & P, although I haven’t read Emma yet.   The likable characters are highly likable, the dislikable characters are amusingly dislikable,  the flawed heroine is forgivably flawed.  The descriptions of  social life in Bath are excellent.  Thank goodness we live in a time when we can talk to people without an introduction.  Overall, just a really charming book.   I was not expecting that as there seem to be a lot of people who dismiss Northanger as a lesser accomplishment.


Jean at Howling Frog had the idea to read one of the ‘horrid novels’ listed in the book.  She has chosen The Castle of Wolfenbach and I’m reading along during this R.I.P.   The horrid novels are in a cheap collection on Amazon.   So, if you want to join us, do!  This sort of reading can be a lot of fun – Castle of Otranto – or extremely painful – Mysteries of Udolpho.   Odds are Wolfenbach will be more painful than entertaining since it was lost to the mists of time and Otranto was not, but you never know.   Sometimes quite good books get lost to the mists of time until someone rediscovers them.   I also have no idea how long it is.   Hopefully, shorter than Udolpho.   Should be fun.   I realize I haven’t sold this well, but the more the merrier, so if you have any inclination join in!

Northanger Abbey counts as a Classic by a Woman for Karen’s Books and Chocolate Back to the Classics challenge.

The Valley of Fear – RIP #1

So, I’m off to a pretty good start, finished The Valley of Fear last night.  Of course, it is very short, but that doesn’t always matter with me.   I can still take forever if I’m not enjoying it.   It starts off at a stately home in England with the mysterious death of the owner named Douglas.   It appears that someone from Douglas’ mysterious past has caught up with him and blown his head off with a sawn-off shotgun.   Very American thing to do.   But who was it and how did he get away?   Or was it someone in the house?   The police are willing to admit they need help, so Sherlock and Dr. Watson are on the scene early.   I, also, solved the mystery.   I thought perhaps I’d seen it as a Jeremy Brett episode, but no, they didn’t make it into one, so I guess that was legit.   Then the second part whisks us off to the hard-bitten, rough-and-tumble Valley of Fear, America.   Somewhat reminiscent of A Study in Scarlet, but with a more natural transition, we learn Douglas’ back story.   The valley is a mining area with a town in it called Vernissa and an evil secret society making the lives miserable of all law-abiding souls.   This part was entertaining, too, but the epilogue is a bit of a head-scratcher.   But that’s a minor quibble.


So, not much to report.   An entertaining story, a quick read, though not quick enough to make ten books of summer.   I also don’t think this fulfills any other challenges. My first R.I.P. book.

Still Life

Argh.   First I caught this on TV, the first Inspector Gamache book made into a movie after only 12 years or so.   Louise Penny is still writing Gamache books and since this was her first I should probably be more charitable, but it isn’t in me.   The movie was terrible.   Okay, half terrible.   Gamache isn’t a bad character and the characters in the movie seem less like stereotypes than the ones in the book.   But both book and movie have some of the same problems.   I will probably have to write a spoileriffic review to explain why, but some of it I can talk about without that.   The stereotypes.   Her schizoid attitude about food – writing such lovely cozy descriptions of this B&B you want to drive off and find one and eat all the comfort food, then snarking on her characters that overeat, including the black, earth-goddessy wise woman.   I’m sorry, you can’t have an earth-goddessy wise woman who’s skinny.   There are no clues.   You can guess the killer maybe, because there aren’t many suspects, but you can’t figure it out with logic because there are no reasons for it.  None, at least, that are clued beforehand. At one point she says murders sometimes make sense only to the murderer, which may be true in real life, but if you’re writing a mystery, the murder ought to make some sense to the reader.    This book won 5 awards.   Why?  Why, why, why??


Here there be super spoilers:

If you are a supposedly intuitive artist who’s just figured out whodunnit, do not go talk to the killer by yourself.   Why did she do that?  Alone in the middle of the night.   Stupid.

The murderer’s motive is pretty thin and revealed in retrospect.  Timmer was already dying, why kill a dying woman?  And then they’re apparently too stupid to realize that lots of people are in the painting who weren’t actually at the fair.

The book gives at least some reason for the crazy niece of the dead woman to have papered over a whole house she wasn’t inheriting.   But it seemed like she did this because the author wanted all the painting covered over and couldn’t figure out how else to do that.

Nichol is completely unbelievable as a cop.   I’ve known a few people who are so emotionally confused they can’t acknowledge when they’ve screwed up – but they wouldn’t have made it through police training let alone been recommended to homicide.  Nichol is bizarrely contradictory in her character doing whatever Penny needs her to do – sometimes being too nice, like to Suzanne Croft, but mostly being a stone-cold bitch.  She utterly fails to do one thing assigned her and shrugs it off.   She just doesn’t make any sense.   Make her too sensitive or too insensitive.   Not both.   And I’m supposed to find it funny I guess that when she reads the words ‘The problem is in the mirror’ she looks past her own reflection.   Ha, ha.   Ha.  Ha….

The humor is sometimes cute, but more often rather misplaced.   In the book at the end, they all fall down the stairs like the Keystone Kops all comically breaking their bones.  Hilarious.

Many, many scenes of family interactions, trying to train Nichol, other scenes which have nothing whatever to do with the case.   Just bits of real life thrown in which stretch what should be about a 150 page book over 300 pages.    Two funerals, lots of sitting around and staring, attempted heart to heart talks with wayward sons, and so on and on.   I’m not interested in any of that.   And there’s a lot.   A whole lot.

Is this everything?  I don’t know.  It just didn’t set right.   I liked Gamache and Beauvoir and Nichol could have been good.  Know-it-all young female cop who’s too often right to get rid of, but too bull-in-a-china-shop to work with is a good idea.   Making her smart sometimes and rock stupid others just didn’t work.

Maybe I should skip a few ahead and see if she gets better.  Obviously lots of people have enjoyed her work and I enjoyed parts of it.

At any rate, I made it through and I probably shouldn’t do that any more.   Reading a painful book for what?   To count on my #20booksofsummer?  To grind it under my heel here?  In this case, to see if the book was as bad as the movie.   Why do I want to do that?   What is wrong with me?    Don’t answer that.   I will try, moving forward, to drop bad books.   There is always the worry that they’ll get better and I’ll miss out, but how often does that happen?

In any case, it is my ninth #20booksofsummer.   There is just a chance I can finish ten if I choose something short and that is all I could expect of myself if I were honest.  I’m not an eighty books a year reader.  It doesn’t fit any other challenges.

Happy Happy Happy Ann-i-ver-sa-ryyyy!

To me!   Four years.   And I want to thank you, my loyal readers, both of you.   And all the other bloggers who keep my TBR from getting too short.  And the people who run the events like R.I.P. and the 24 hour-read-a-thon.   A bit over four years ago I had no idea these things were out there and have enjoyed them a lot.  My reading kind of took a nose dive in my 30s.  It was two things that pulled me out of years of slumpage.   The book bloggiverse and re-reading Agatha Christie.   I don’t read as much as I did in my youth, but finding other people out there reading classics has meant I’ve actually read a lot more classics than I probably had since college.  Group reads make it easier and I’ve enjoyed some of them so much.   Even those I haven’t I’m glad to have done.   I’m hoping to continue in this vein, reading a few more classics every year, figuring out a balance of challenges to free reading would be good.   I feel this year that there’s no time to read stuff that isn’t for a challenge, but when I don’t do them I find I’m sort of rudderless and reading stuff I don’t enjoy any better.     I wonder sometimes if I should just jettison more and move on to something better?  Is it better to finish 5 mediocre books or read 2 really good ones and parts of 8 not good ones?   It certainly wouldn’t be fair to review all those DNFs, but isn’t life too short to read crap?   I debate this as I’m working my way through Louise Penny’s Still Life and not enjoying it much.   But then it was her first.   Most writers get better.   I like Gamache.   The character of Nichol makes no sense to me at all.  Supposedly she’s ambitious and not a team-player.   Seems a bit autism spectrum or something.   No social skills.   Except she does in the first scene.   And later one of her worst mistakes, disobeying a simple order, is because she suddenly has social skills.   I shouldn’t be writing all this yet.

Anyhoo.   Some of the best books I’ve read since starting this blog, just off the top of my head:

Wilkie Collins – The Moonstone (Thanks, Alice!)

All Quiet on the Western Front

The Luminaries

Eugene Onegin (Thanks, Marian!)

Bleak House

Dorothy Sayers – All the Wimsey mysteries

Moby-Dick (Definitely not for everybody)

A Walk in the Woods


Shirley Jackson

The Goldfinch

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

The Plague (Thanks, Cleo!)  (Though apparently non-plussed at the time, this stays in memory better than most.)

Eighty Days – Matthew Goodman – two badass women race around the world

The Norths Meet Murder – not brilliant, but fun

Quick Curtain

Hamilton – Ron Chernow  (Thanks again, Alice!  Great, great book.)

Master and Margarita – a re-read, also, Alice.

The Monk – ditto

Lady Audley’s Secret – ditto


Much better than the old days and if I can even stay steady at this in the future, I’m doing a lot better than I did for a while.  So once again, thanks, everyone!  Keep blogging, some of you.   I like reading not watching videos and podcasts.   I need a few of you to keep writing!