Category Archives: 10. Events

Great American Road Trip: Nevada

The Princess of Las VegasThe Princess of Las Vegas
by Chris Bohjalian
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: March 26, 2024
Genre: fiction
Pages: 400
ReRead?: No
Project: great American road trip

A Princess Diana impersonator and her estranged sister find themselves drawn into a dangerous game of money and murder in this twisting tale of organized crime, cryptocurrency, and family secrets on the Las Vegas strip.

Crissy Dowling has created a world that suits her perfectly. She passes her days by the pool in a private cabana, she splurges on ice cream but never gains an ounce, and each evening she transforms into a Princess, performing her musical cabaret inspired by the life of the late Diana Spencer. Some might find her strange or even delusional, an American speaking with a British accent, hair feathered into a style thirty years old, living and working in a casino that has become a dated trash heap. On top of that, Crissy’s daily diet of Adderall and Valium leaves her more than a little tipsy, her Senator boyfriend has gone back to his wife, and her entire career rests on resembling a dead woman. And yet, fans see her for the gifted chameleon she is, showering her with gifts, letters, and standing ovations night after night. But when Crissy’s sister, Betsy, arrives in town with a new boyfriend and a teenage daughter, and when Richie Morley, the owner of the Buckingham Palace Casino, is savagely murdered, Crissy’s carefully constructed kingdom comes crashing down all around her. A riveting tale of identity, obsession, fintech, and high-tech mobsters, The Princess of Las Vegas is an addictive, wildly original thriller from one of our most extraordinary storytellers.

Stop 5/50: Nevada

This was possibly the perfect book for my stop in Nevada. A book narrated by a Princess Diana impersonator, who performs in a seedy, off-strip casino, and gets mixed up with cryptocurrency-gangster bros.

I have somehow managed not to read a book by Bohjalian, even though he has written more than a dozen and several of them have been on my list for a long time. I enjoyed this one enough that I plan to continue to dip into his back list.

This book did have flaws. The middle section dragged. The main character, Crissy, and her sister, Betsy, made some frustratingly terrible decisions – even if they were necessary to move the plot forward. And the ending was abrupt and convoluted.

Overall, though, I enjoyed my visit to Las Vegas and felt that this book really nailed the slightly tawdry aesthetic of the less savory parts of the city.

Where I am going next: Utah, to begin my exploration of the Four Corners states: Utah, Arizona, New Mexico & Colorado.

Great American Road Trip: Idaho

by Emily Ruskovich
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 2017
Genre: fiction
Pages: 320
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard, great American road trip

One hot August day a family drives to a mountain clearing to collect birch wood. Jenny, the mother, is in charge of lopping any small limbs off the logs with a hatchet. Wade, the father, does the stacking. The two daughters, June and May, aged nine and six, drink lemonade, swat away horseflies, bicker, and sing snatches of songs as they while away the time.

But then something unimaginably shocking happens, an act so extreme it will scatter the family in every different direction.

In a story told from multiple perspectives and in razor-sharp prose, we gradually learn more about this act, and the way its violence, love and memory reverberate through the life of every character in Idaho.

Stop 4/50. I have had this book on my TBR since it was published in 2017.

My Washington book was a bust. This book more than made up for it.

I can’t say that it was an “enjoyable” read in the traditional sense of the word, because in many ways, this book left me gutted. But, it will be a long time before I forget May and Wade and Ann and Jenny and especially June, or the house on Mt. Iris, near Priest Lake in Idaho.

I read Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson in January, 2023, another strangely beautiful book that is set in Northern Idaho. As I was reading this book, I was reminded of Robinson’s writing style. When I read the afterward, this made a lot of sense to me. Ruskovich studied at the well-regarded Iowa Writer’s Workshop, under a list of luminaries that included Robinson.

The writing in this book is gorgeous. Each character is delineated with precision and delicacy. The book begins with an act of inexplicable violence – Jenny, wife of Wade, murders her youngest daughter, May, with a hatchet. June, the older daughter, is lost when Wade takes Jenny and May into town and leaves June behind so she doesn’t have to share a backseat with her dead sister, promising to return for her. By the time he returns, June is gone. She is 9.

The reader is transported back and forth between the narratives of Wade, who has lost his entire family in one terrible day and who, because of early onset Alzheimer’s is losing his memory of his family bit by inexorable bit.  Ann, Wade’s second wife and a former teacher who dwells upon her memory of the single time she saw June as she grapples with the reality that soon, she will carry the burden of a past tragedy that Wade has forgotten. Jenny, who spends the next three decades in prison, frozen in a sort of stasis, her life ending on the day she murdered her daughter just as surely as she ended her daughter’s life. And Elizabeth, who becomes Jenny’s cellmate, surrogate daughter and friend.

This book is all about the characters. It is strangely luminous for a book that is so dark, and the humanity shines through in a way that I can neither understand nor explain. I don’t know if I would recommend it, beyond saying that I loved it. It has been seven years since this book was published. Whenever Emily Ruskovich publishes her next book, I’ll be first in line to buy it.

Where I was last: Washington
Where I went next: Nevada

Great American Road Trip: Washington

Blackberry WinterBlackberry Winter
by Sarah Jio
Rating: ★★½
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Genre: historical fiction
Pages: 286
ReRead?: No
Project: great American road trip

In 2011, Sarah Jio burst onto the fiction scene with two sensational novels--The Violets of March and The Bungalow. With Blackberry Winter--taking its title from a late-season, cold-weather phenomenon--Jio continues her rich exploration of the ways personal connections can transcend the boundaries of time.

Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator's.

Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 "blackberry winter" storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways...

Stop 3/50 was Seattle, Washington, in 2011 and 1933.

Unfortunately, this book was a disappointment, although I could absolutely see how it would work really well for a different reader.

I had two significant issues with the book, and both are related to the dual-timeline narrative structure. I find that this type of book is very hit-and-miss for me. There are books where I feel like it really works – Kate Morton’s books leap to mind for me here. But, there are also many more books and authors where I don’t feel like they really pulled it off.

This one fell into that category for me. Often when I read a dual-timeline book, I find myself absorbed in one of the timelines – almost always the historical one – and much less interested in the other one. In this book, I really wasn’t interested in either timeline. I selected it because I felt like it had a lot of potential, but when it came right down to it, Jio didn’t succeed in making me care about either of the main characters. Sitting here, writing this review, I can’t even remember the name of the present-day narrator and I just finished the book about nine hours ago.

The other major issue I had with the book was its “Lifetime Movie of the Week” quality of using massive coincidences to tie the two timelines together. These elements, to me, were simply laughably convenient and entirely unbelievable.

Seattle is a metropolitan area of 4 million people and the whole “hey, my bestie’s aunt just happens to have incredibly crucial information about an unsolved abduction from the 1930’s that I, a newspaper reporter, am looking into” was too much for my credulity to bear. It would have been fine – great, even – for a reporter to have solved an unsolved abduction without needing to incorporate that level of intertwined absurdity. I think that authors do that to try to heighten the investment of the reader, but for me, those sorts of machinations really take me out of a story and make me doubt the author’s confidence in her storytelling ability.

And, as a bit of an aside, another thing that bothered me about the book was the way that the author used the fact that a blackberry was growing on a grave as some sort of folky metaphor for being specially chosen. The thing is, though, as someone living in the PNW, I am all too aware blackberries are an invasive weed here. There is nothing selective about where blackberries grow – they grow fucking everywhere, as anyone whose neighbor has frustratingly allowed a huge goddamned blackberry bramble to take over their property line would know. Because it is a constant battle to avoid your (ahem, my) property turning into a replica of Sleeping Beauty’s castle once they have a foothold. I am speaking from real life irritating experience here. So, even though this is a really small thing, it just annoyed the hell out of me. I kept wanting to yell at the author “Trillium. Trillium is the metaphor you are looking for here…” even though it didn’t tie in with the whole blackberry theme.

I did enjoy the Seattle setting. I live in the Portland area, and I have always loved Seattle, and would spend more time there if my husband didn’t have such an irrational aversion to the University of Washington from his time as an Oregon Duck. So, even though the book was a bit of a dud for me, I enjoyed hanging out at Pike Place Market and other Seattle hot spots for a few hours.

Next destination is Idaho!

Great American Road Trip: Oregon

The Book of Cold CasesThe Book of Cold Cases
by Simone St. James
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: March 15, 2022
Genre: gothic, supernatural
Pages: 344
ReRead?: No
Project: great American road trip

In 1977, Claire Lake, Oregon, was shaken by the Lady Killer Murders: Two men, seemingly randomly, were murdered with the same gun, with strange notes left behind. Beth Greer was the perfect suspect--a rich, eccentric twenty-three-year-old woman, seen fleeing one of the crimes. But she was acquitted, and she retreated to the isolation of her mansion.

Oregon, 2017. Shea Collins is a receptionist, but by night, she runs a true crime website, the Book of Cold Cases--a passion fueled by the attempted abduction she escaped as a child. When she meets Beth by chance, Shea asks her for an interview. To Shea's surprise, Beth says yes.

They meet regularly at Beth's mansion, though Shea is never comfortable there. Items move when she's not looking, and she could swear she's seen a girl outside the window. The allure of learning the truth about the case from the smart, charming Beth is too much to resist, but even as they grow closer, Shea senses something isn't right. Is she making friends with a manipulative murderer, or are there other dangers lurking in the darkness of the Greer house?

A true crime blogger gets more than she bargained for while interviewing the woman acquitted of two cold case slayings in t

Stop #2/50

Oregon is my home state, which makes it interesting that I struggled a bit to decide on a book to read. The books that my home state is known for – Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey, The River Why by David James Duncan – didn’t appeal to my current mood. When I was searching around for a book, this one came up & I remembered that I had already bought a copy a couple of years ago.

I’ve read a couple of other books by Simone St. James, and find her reliably entertaining. This might have been the scariest of all of her books so far. It is very ghost-y, and uses the scenery and climate of the setting well, with lots of cliffs, a plunge into the cold Pacific Ocean, and drizzle. Lake Claire is a fictional town on the coast, and I kept trying to figure out the real analog for it. I never did place it firmly in the coastal geography, but that’s just fine.

To be completely truthful, this is not a book I would usually read in May. I am always very attracted to books like this in the darker months, especially October. This would be a GREAT October read. But, I still enjoyed it, and from here, I am planning to continue my fictional drive north, to the State of Washington.

Great American Road Trip: California

Girls and their HorsesGirls and their Horses
by Eliza Jane Brazier
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: June 6, 2023
Genre: fiction
Pages: 400
ReRead?: No
Project: great American road trip

Set in the glamorous, competitive world of showjumping, a novel about the girls who ride, their cutthroat mothers, and a suspicious death at a horse show

When the nouveau riche Parker family moves to an exclusive community in the heart of Southern California, they believe it’s their chance at a fresh start. Heather Parker is determined to give her daughters the life she never had—starting with horses.

She signs them up for riding lessons at Rancho Santa Fe Equestrian, where horses are a lifestyle. Heather becomes a “Barn Mom,” part of a group of wealthy women who hang at the stables, drink wine, and prepare their daughters for competition.

It’s not long before the Parker family is fully enmeshed in the horse world—from mean girl cliques to barn romance and dark secrets. With the end of summer horse show fast approaching, the pressure is on, and these mothers will stop at nothing to give their daughters everything they deserve.

Before the summer is over, lies will turn lethal, accidents will happen, and someone will end up dead.

I decided to start my road trip in California because there is no better start to the Great American Road Trip than California, unless it’s New York, and I decided on California.

I ran across this book because I have been mainlining a podcast with Anne Bogel called What Should I Read Next. She also runs an internet “book club” called the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club, which is reading this book for May. It’s $15 a month to join, but I decided to go ahead and pay for a month to figure out if it is worth my time, which is where I ran across this book.

I’m not sure if I loved it or hated it, but I read it in one day.

It’s definitely a modern thriller mystery. Told from the perspective of various characters, we start after the murder, but spend about 2 pages there and then go backwards, to four months before. And the author does not fill the reader in on the identity of the victim. Until about 95%.

I spent most of the book periodically looking up and asking my dog “WHO THE FUCK IS DEAD.”

I thought I had an inkling at about 70%, but turns out I was wrong. And because this is a modern thriller, all of the characters suck. Like, I hated them all. Maybe I liked one. No more than two. Probably only one.

I will say that my daughter was a horse girl, and she competed at the 4H horse fair, but her experience in a barn in Oregon was worlds away from the cutthroat world and million dollar horses of this book. Thank god, because these people had more money than sense. Or character. But I was thoroughly engaged, and I was wrong about the ending, and that’s satisfying.

Summer Reading 2024

In the summertime, I often enjoy coming up with a theme for my reading. Past themes have included Summer of Spies (courtesy of a bookish friend) and the 20 Crimes of Summer. For the past few years, I haven’t had the energy to indulge myself in any sort of a theme.

This year, though, feels different. It is my first full summer as a retiree, and I am having a great time with my reading right now. I’m already 110 books in for 2024, 33 books ahead of schedule to finish the year at 204, which was my reading goal.

So, I decided that a summer reading theme would be a great idea for this year.

So, here it is: the Great American Road Trip.

My plan is to read as close to 50 books – one set in each U.S. state – as I can between May 16 and the end of summer on August 31.

I actually started the themed reading a few days ago, & have already made a virtual trip through four states: California, Oregon (my home state), Washington and Idaho. I’ll be getting posts up for those books in the next day or so.

Even though the four states I’ve visited so far are geographically adjacent, I’m not going to be travelling in any specific order.  I have already identified some library books that I’ll be reading, and my plan at this point is to hit a few more western states, and then I’ll be (virtually) flying to Florida and renting an imaginary car to explore the Southern US.

This is going to be a mood reading project. I am going to try to find books that have a strong sense of place attached, but all genres are fair game. There may be a few states where I linger for more than one book, if that is where my mood takes me. And while I’m hoping to hit all 50 states, if I find myself growing tired of this project, I will strand myself wherever I am and move on to other reading without a second thought!

This Week in Books: 12/3/23 – 12/9/23

by Susan Scarlett
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1941
Genre: fiction
Pages: 282
ReRead?: No
Project: dean street december

"I thought we were allowed to sit. I mean I thought it was the Shop Act or something that we had to have something to sit on."

Jenny laughed.

"So they say, but it doesn't work out that way. You won't get sacked for sitting, but if you sit you'll get the sack."

Lovely Beth Carson is just out of school and beginning her first job at Babbacombe's department store. She is pure as the driven snow, and knows her "place", but she can hardly be blamed for tripping over a charming young man's dog, can she? And how could she help being trapped in an elevator with the same man a few days later, and giving him a piece of her mind before learning that he just happens to be David Babbacombe, the ne'er-do-well son of the store's wealthy owner? How could she possibly have known that her careless words would inspire him to take a new lease on life? Along with vivid supporting characters, wholly believable family dynamics, and fascinating details about the inner workings of a department store, we get here a delightful frolic packed with humour, unlikely romance, and even a store detective.

Babbacombe's, first published in 1941, is the sixth of twelve charming, page-turning romances published under the pseudonym "Susan Scarlett" by none other than beloved children's author and novelist Noel Streatfeild. Out of print for decades, they were rediscovered by Greyladies Books in the early 2010s, and Dean Street Press and Furrowed Middlebrow are delighted now to make all twelve available to a wider audience.

This was already my third Dean Street December book – and it was completely delightful. It’s the first Susan Scarlett that I’ve read, although I’ve been admiring them since DSP published the whole tranche. This one had my favorite cover of the bunch.

Susan Scarlett is a pen name for Noel Streatfeild, of the children’s series that starts with Ballet Shoes. She also wrote adult fiction under the same name, and I picked up one of those books, The Winter Is Past, a few years ago. Based on my extremely small sample size of one (each), it seems like her Noel Streatfeild adult fiction is more serious than her Susan Scarlett adult fiction.

I loved everything about this book. The characters are lovely, the London department setting is fun and the chaste romance is sweet. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of her reissued books.

Such Bright DisguisesSuch Bright Disguises
by Brian Flynn
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Anthony Bathurst #27
Publication Date: January 1, 1941
Genre: mystery: golden age (1920-1949)
Pages: 230
ReRead?: No
Project: a century of crime, dean street december

“Murder? Is that how you see it? Well—I don’t! Justifiable homicide more like it!”

Hubert Grant is a fairly unpleasant man. He also thinks he is happily married. Dorothy Grant despises her husband but finds consolation in the handsome Laurence Weston. In order for the lovers to be happy, however, the intolerable Hubert needs to be cut out of the picture. Permanently. Dorothy and Laurence start plotting. But the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley and by the end of the scheming, there will be more than one body. Enter detective extraordinaire Anthony Bathurst . . .

Such Bright Disguises was first published in 1941. This new edition features an introduction by Steve Barge.

I had a few of these Anthony Bathurst mysteries on my kindle. I think that this was the fourth or fifth that I’ve read. It’s an interesting plot – a bit of an inverted mystery, with a long lead-in. Anthony Bathurst shows up very late in the book, maybe at around the 75% mark, and doesn’t really do much beyond interviewing a few people and then solving the mystery.

I found it intriguing, though. There are some interesting character studies and justice is delivered in a rigorously fair, albeit somewhat shocking, way. Hoist by their own petard, they were.

The White LadyThe White Lady
by Jacqueline Winspear
Rating: ★★★
Publication Date: March 21, 2023
Genre: historical mystery
Pages: 321
ReRead?: No

The White Lady introduces yet another extraordinary heroine/sleuth from Jacqueline Winspear, creator of the best-selling Maisie Dobbs series. This heart-stopping adventure follows the coming of age and maturity of former wartime operative Elinor White—veteran of two wars, trained killer, protective of her anonymity—when she is drawn back into the world of violence she has been desperate to leave behind.

I’ve read a couple of Winspear’s books from her Maisie Dobbs series. I liked them, but there was something sufficiently off-putting that I didn’t pursue it after about book 3. I was at the library last week, and this one was available in the “Lucky Day” section, so I decided to grab it.

Again, it was enjoyable, but there seems to be something about Winspear’s writing that doesn’t work for me because I never really invested in the story. Once I return this to the library, I doubt that I will pursue her writing further.

Piece of My HeartPiece of My Heart
by Peter Robinson
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Inspector Banks #16
Publication Date: January 1, 2006
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 448
ReRead?: No

The year is 1969. Rock 'n' roll, psychedelic drugs, and peace-loving hippies are thriving in Britain. But in the aftermath of a rock music festival, cold reality strikes when a woman is found murdered in her sleeping bag, callously left among the debris in the concert's wake. Detective Inspector Stanley Chadwick is the hard-headed, straitlaced copper assigned to the case who must reluctantly enter a counterculture world to find a killer. When clues lead him to an up-and-coming rock band, the Mad Hatters, with whom the victim was connected, Chadwick experiences firsthand the dangers of this dark new world of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

In the present day, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks is called to the scene of a murder victim who turns out to be a freelance journalist working on a piece for MOJO magazine about the classic rock band the Mad Hatters. Since the sixties, the band has gone through a number of tragedies, losing one member to madness and another to the shallow end of a swimming pool. Putting their checkered past behind them, the Mad Hatters have now revamped their sound and are set to celebrate their forty years in the biz by embarking on their first big concert tour in years.

Banks and Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot discover that the dead journalist was onto something big hidden in the band's past, and had stirred up some very serious trouble. As Banks and Annie dig deeper into the phenomenon of the Mad Hatters, they find more than they bargained for, and soon realize that their generation's former free-love lifestyle often comes with a deadly price.

In the course of twin narratives, Robinson expertly weaves the stories of two interconnected murders that occur decades apart. As only he can, Robinson has created a novel that is as explosive as your favorite rock album and a plot that moves at breakneck speed, traversing through the tumultuous swinging sixties to present day and back again. Piece of My Heart is an extraordinary thrill ride that uncovers the gritty and violent underbelly of the generation of peace, love, and harmony.

Still continuing with my journey through the Inspector Banks series. This was a particularly enjoyable installment for me – I really enjoyed the music connections. It’s a split narrative between 1969 and the present, and Banks is investigating a current murder with ties to a murder at a 1969 music festival. If the timelines are well done, as they are here, this can be one of my favorite book themes.

Currently reading:

I’m still plugging away at The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein. I’m about midway through the book, and there is no way that I am going to finish it before my digital hold expires. Rather than wait for the digital hold to come back up, which would be a couple of months, I put the print edition on hold and will pick it up this week.

I’m also reading Green Money by D.E. Stevenson, which is a DSP Furrowed Middlebrow reissue. I am at about the 50% mark of that one and should finish today. My current audiobook is Below Zero by C.J. Box, which is one of the audiobooks I picked up in the big Audible sale last week. It’s a reread for me. I always enjoy checking in with Joe and Marybeth Pickett.

Dean Street December: Book 2

Who Killed Dick WhittingtonWho Killed Dick Whittington
by E. & M.A. Radford
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Doctor Manson #6
Publication Date: January 1, 1947
Genre: mystery: golden age (1920-1949)
Pages: 226
ReRead?: No
Project: a century of crime, dean street december

“I think you had better telephone for the police,” he said. “This woman has been poisoned.”

Norma de Grey, the Principal in the Christmas pantomime Dick Whittington, was not popular with the rest of the Pavilion Theatre company. But was she hated enough to be killed by prussic acid, during the performance itself?

Suspicion immediately falls on the Cat, her fellow actor in the fatal scene. Until it transpires that the Cat too has been poisoned – and his understudy has a solid alibi. But someone must have donned the disguise and appeared on stage incognito. Detective-Inspector Harry Manson, analytical detective par excellence, is on the case.

I had been planning on alternating a Golden Age mystery with a Furrowed Middlebrow title, but when I saw the plot summary for this one, I had to go with it as my second DSP book of the month. This was my first by M.A. & E. Radford, and I was fairly impressed.

Technically, this is a Christmas mystery, although it is pretty sparse on the Christmas details & even sparser on Christmas cheer. It’s set in a third-rate theater company that is performing Who Killed Dick Whittington as a Christmas pantomime. I’m a U.S. reader, so the British tradition of “panto” was pretty much its own mystery for me. I had to go down a few internet rabbit trails to find out more about it, as well as about the pantomime itself. I was deeply confused when the “principal boy” was a girl.

Pretty clear that Christmas panto is not going to be allowed in Tennessee, where they have outlawed performances where individuals pretend to be other than their birth gender. Isn’t reactionary America just terrific? (No. The answer to this rhetorical question is no, it is not).

I thought that the writing in this one was quite good. One of the characteristics of the golden age mystery can be writing that is a bit turgid – this is one of the things that (in my mind at least) separates Agatha Christie from the pack. Her books are so readable. There are three interludes where the authors broke the fourth wall to address the reader directly, encouraging the reader to follow the clues. I generally don’t try to figure out whodunnit, but I if someone is looking for a fair play mystery, this one would qualify.

I also loved the fact that the sleuth, Dr. Mason is essentially forensic scientist working within a rudimentary crime lab. I had no idea that the technology for a mass spectrometer went all the way back to the 1940’s, when this was written. Science is heavily used in the solution for this mystery.

I think I may have one more Dr. Mason mystery on my kindle (Murder Jigsaw – the one with the fish). Not sure when I will get to it, but I will definitely get to it.

Next up is definitely something from the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint – Babbacombe’s by Susan Scarlett.

Dean Street December – the Main Post

I know that I’m a little bit out of order here, having published my first DSP-D review, even before I put together the main post. But this is what happens when I’m excited about something . . . read first, plan later. As a reminder, Dean Street December is the brainchild of Liz at Adventures in Reading . . . and you can find her main post here.

So, I dug around in my kindle library to see what I had all ready purchased that I can read this month. DSP publishes two distinct genres of books that I enjoy – their Furrowed Middlebrow line & their vintage mysteries. I have some of each on my account!

Vintage mysteries:

  • In addition to The Invisible Host, which I already finished, I have several of the Anthony Bathurst mysteries by Brian Flynn, including Such Bright Disguises and Exit Sir John. I have no idea how I ended up with #27 and #34, in addition to 1-7 (minus #6, which seems to have gone missing) which I had previously bought and read. If I had to guess, they probably went on sale, or were offered for free. Anyway, I’ll likely read at least one of them.
  • Who Killed Dick Whittington by E & MA Radford – this is a Christmas mystery!
  • Death Has No Tongue: A Mr. Moh Mystery by Joan Cowdroy has been in my library since 2019.
  • Death in the Grand Manor by Anne Morice. This is a later series – launching in 1970. There are a bunch of them, so if I like it, it will open up a whole new bunch of books for me to dig into.

Furrowed Middlebrow:

  • I have a lot of these waiting for me, because I am constantly buying them! To start with Babbacombe’s by Susan Scarlett (pictured in Liz’s graphic) is at the top of the list because I love the cover.
  • The Weather at Tregulla is the only Stella Gibbons that I have bought that I haven’t already read. It looks like the only one I am missing is A Pink Front Door, which I intend to snag before the end of the month.
  • I also bought 4 by Margery Sharp when they were released, and haven’t read any of them. My vague plans are for Harlequin House, again, mostly because of the cover. DSP published a total of 6 of Sharp’s books, so I will also be purchasing the remaining 2 before the end of the month.
  • Finally, I absolutely cannot resist D.E. Stevenson – I’m choosing between Green Money, The Tall Stranger and The Fair Miss Fortune. But I will eventually buy them all.

I am very sad about the future of DSP. It was (and is) one of my favorite small presses, and the fact that it has closed down as a result of some personal tragedy is such a bummer.* (See the comment on my post for a bit of additional news – and thank you to DSP for popping in to post!) There is no way for me to buy all of the vintage mysteries that they have published, but it’s likely that if it sticks around for a few years I may be able to buy up the Furrowed Middlebrow collection. And, as long as they continue to hold the copyright and make what they’ve previously published available, I will be buying & reading their books.

Dean Street December kick-off

The Invisible HostThe Invisible Host
by Bruce Manning, Gwen Bristow
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1930
Genre: mystery: golden age (1920-1949)
Pages: 129
ReRead?: No
Project: dean street december

Guests at a New Orleans party face a mysterious and deadly host in the widely suspected inspiration for Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

When eight guests arrive for a party at a luxurious New Orleans penthouse, their unknown host is nowhere to be found. Then, speaking to them through radio broadcast, he informs them of the evening’s chilling theme: every hour, one of them will die. As the host’s prophecy comes horribly true, the dwindling band of survivors grows desperate to escape their fate. To discover their tormentor’s identity, they must each reveal their darkest secrets and find the common thread—but confessions may not be enough when they realize that one of them may be the killer.

First published in 1930, this classic mystery was adapted into the Hollywood film, The Ninth Guest. It bears a striking resemblance to Agatha Christie’s bestseller And Then There Were None—which appeared nearly a decade later.

To kick off Dean Street Press December, I decided to go with a book that I acquired in December, 2021. I am pretty sure that I heard about from reading this post at Classic Mystery Blog. I also recognized Gwen Bristow’s name – I’ve been planning to read Jubilee Trail for years, since it was reissued by Open Road Media. So, I bought the book and then promptly failed to read it. For two years.

Liz at Adventures in Reading’s decision to reprise Dean Street December gave me the perfect opportunity to dive in – you can find her main post here.

It’s a treat of a vintage mystery. The setting – a penthouse high above New Orleans – is a treat, and it was published in 1930, dead center (no pun intended) of the Golden Age of Mystery, and 9 years prior to Christie’s masterpiece. The plot is convoluted and, ultimately, deeply implausible but who cares. It kept me guessing and I didn’t even remotely begin to guess the culprit.

It is, in fact, a lot like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which is the superior book in every respect, but then again, of course it is, given that ATTWN has claim to being the greatest mystery novel ever written. Invisible Host relies far too heavily on weird technological devices, while ATTWN is more straight up misdirection.

None of that mattered, though, while I was reading it. It moves swiftly, at only 129 pages, it’s probably technically a novella. There are some loose ends left, but when I finished, I was satisfied.