Halloween Bingo: Amateur Sleuth

I’ve completed my discussion of the first row, and have realized that I am going to run out of time before Bingo begins. No worries, though. I’ll just keep going until I lose interest!

This is a really easy square for me to fill – it’s mystery, first of all, which is my favorite, and most read, genre, and then it’s also a sub-genre that I read a lot of, in any case. I’m not actually a huge cozy mystery fan, which works well for “Amateur Sleuth,” but a lot of my favorite Golden Age series, and even some of my modern series, do have P.I. or other amateur protagonists.

Which brings me to the definition – I take a “broad” approach to amateur, allowing any sleuth who isn’t actively employed by a police department or other government sanctioned agency (FBI, sheriffs, prosecutors, etc). So, with my definition, P.I.’s and retired police officers fit, and even Sherlock Holmes is an “amateur sleuth,” notwithstanding the fact that he would be deeply, deeply offended by the characterization!

I’m not going to list all of the books I’ve read in past bingo games that would have fit this square because the list would be long, indeed. Looking back over past cards, I’m surprised to note that I have never actually played this specific square before. In any case, I’m just going to mention a few books/series that are on my radar for this HB season!

I will definitely be reading both of these books, as they are my Appointment With Agatha reads for September and October. They are also both Poirot books, and much to his irritation, he is also an “amateur sleuth” under this square’s definition.

If I decide to apply both of those books to alternative squares, however, I have some other ongoing vintage mystery series that I could dip into for this one: Brian Flynn’s Anthony Bathurst series, currently being republished by one of my favorite small, independent publishers, Dean Street Press, Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs. Bradley series, most of which are available through the Kindle Unlimited Library, the Miss Silver series by Patricia Wentworth, which I mostly own for kindle, or Ellis Peter’s delightful Brother Cadfael books, which I have also collected over the years.

The choices are, truly endless.

Halloween Bingo: Noir

The last of my top row squares is Noir, an  updated square that combines Classic & Modern Noir into a single category: mystery with noir elements, including authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James Ellroy, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Henning Mankell, and anything that is described as Nordic Noir, Tartan Noir, Granite Noir, etc. Noir itself is defined by Wikipedia as “a subgenre of crime fiction. In this subgenre, right and wrong are not clearly defined, while the protagonists are seriously and often tragically flawed.”

I myself am rather a fan of noir crime fiction. In one of my favorites modern noir series, the protagonist of Michael Connelly’s long-running series, Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, provides an example of the use of a flawed protagonist. Harry is a veteran detective with the LAPD, insubordinate, aggressive, and a brilliant investigator. He is passionate about justice – everybody counts or nobody counts is his motto – but doesn’t mind cutting a few corners on the way there. He is also deeply damaged, the son of a prostitute who grew up in foster care after his mother was murdered – a murder that went unsolved for decades. While he sees murder in black and white, there are a lot of shades of gray in these books.

Connelly uses Los Angeles as another character in the novels, and something about Southern California seems to lend itself to the noir sensibility. Los Angeles is the birthplace of the classic noir crime novel, which features hardboiled P.I.s like Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, operating in the shadowy confluence between the glitter and glamour of wealthy L.A. and the dark and sometimes grim underworld of drug dealers, prostitutes and violence operating just under the surface.

In past Halloween Bingo games, I’ve filled various spaces, including Classic Noir, Modern Noir, and other mystery squares with this type of book:

  • The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
  • The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich
  • Fallen by Karin Slaughter
  • Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I recall being underwhelmed by the Nesbo book – so much so that I’ve never gone back to try another. The Bride Wore Black, by Cornell Woolrich, was a highlight of the year that I read it. I still remember how atmospheric it was and the twist, while not quite as shocking to today’s sensibilities as it was when this book was published, was still startling. I’ve read a lot of Karin Slaughter over the years, and while I do enjoy her plots, sometimes the violence, and especially the sexual violence, that permeates her books can be too much. Fallen is the fifth book in her Will Trent series, set in Atlanta, Georgia. Dark Places and Sharp Objects may or may not truly qualify as noir, being more consistent with psychological thrillers. But Gillian Flynn’s imagination is a dark place, indeed.

This year, I will be choosing from

I recently started reading Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books. This year so far, I’ve read The High Window and The Lady in the Lake. I’m pretty sure that I will fill this square with one of my remaining installments in the series, possibly the first, The Big Sleep. Alternatively, I am considering one of the Lew Archer mysteries, by Ross Macdonald, or, if I decide on a more modern selection, I have the fifth Dublin Murder Squad book, The Secret Place by Tana French, available.

I’ll be working through Row 2 of my card next.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Plot Summary: This swashbuckling epic of chivalry, honor, and derring-do, set in France during the 1620s, is richly populated with romantic heroes, unattainable heroines, kings, queens, cavaliers, and criminals in a whirl of adventure, espionage, conspiracy, murder, vengeance, love, scandal, and suspense. Dumas transforms minor historical figures into larger- than-life characters: the Comte d’Artagnan, an impetuous young man in pursuit of glory; the beguilingly evil seductress “Milady”; the powerful and devious Cardinal Richelieu; the weak King Louis XIII and his unhappy queen—and, of course, the three musketeers themselves, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, whose motto “all for one, one for all” has come to epitomize devoted friendship. With a plot that delivers stolen diamonds, masked balls, purloined letters, and, of course, great bouts of swordplay, The Three Musketeers is eternally entertaining. 

Published in 1844, this book has achieved that sort of cultural status in which pretty much everyone has at least heard of it, and most people have a familiarity with the plot and/or characters. Because of that, I’m not going to concern myself about spoilers. If you care about spoiling the plot of a book that was published 160 years ago, perhaps do not read on.

I had high expectations of this book – I love a good swashbuckling story and I expected to be charmed by our protagonists. 

There were parts of the book that I enjoyed. Overall, though, I think that the book suffered from two things: the overwhelming dickishness of the main characters and the fact that I am not a nine-year-old boy. 

I spent much of the book bemused about the fact that the characters (basically all men) kept pulling out their swords (that is NOT a double entendre – I mean pulling out their actual long, metal, pointy weapons) to hack at one another for the most trivial of insults. If duelling was as prevalent as this book made it seem during 17th century France, I cannot imagine how any of the local aristocrats were able to maintain a standing army. The soldiers kept murdering one another for the most ridiculous slights.

In addition, I was thoroughly annoyed by the bad behavior of the “Three Musketeers.” There was far too little swashbuckling and heroism and far too much stealing, gambling (things belonging to other people) and refusing to pay one’s bills. No wonder the French went about chopping off the heads of the aristocrats during the French revolution. Those people were such massive assholes – Porthos, for example, checks into a hotel and refuses to either pay or leave. 

I can certainly understand why the book appeals to people. I am, however, not one of those people. I wanted to slap the protagonists into the 21st century, where they would inevitably get #MeToo’d into oblivion. 

I know, I know, we can’t judge characters in a book written in 1844 by current cultural standards. Nonetheless, I certainly don’t have to like them. In terms of enjoyment, I’d rank this at middling enjoyable. Not bad, but not nearly as good as I had expected.

I was planning to put this in the 19th century classic category in my Back to the Classics challenge, but I have decided to move it to Classics in Translation, as that is typically a more difficult category for me to fill, and I play to read something by Mrs. Oliphant later this year.

First World Problems: Heyer style

And, this is the second review that has been sitting draft forever – it was originally published January 24, 2015.

Title: Death in the Stocks
Author: Georgette Heyer
Published in 1935

Summary from Goodreads: A Moonlit Night, a Sleeping Village, and an Unaccountable Murder…

In the dead of the night, a man in an evening dress is found murdered, locked in the stocks on the village green. Unfortunately for Superintendent Hannasyde, the deceased is Andrew Vereker, a man hated by nearly everyone, especially his odd and unhelpful family members. The Verekers are as eccentric as they are corrupt, and it will take all Hannasyde’s skill at detection to determine who’s telling the truth, and who is pointing him in the wrong direction. The question is: who in this family is clever enough to get away with murder?

“Miss Heyer’s characters act and speak with an ease and conviction that is refreshing as it is rare in the ordinary mystery novel.”–Times Literary Supplement

Heyer is better known for her romances than her mysteries, and for good reason, honestly. This was a reasonably entertaining mystery, but was really nothing special. It is very much a class-based mystery, as are many of the golden age mysteries.

The book begins with the grisly discovery of a body in the stocks in the village of Ashleigh Green – Arnold Vereker has been stabbed. Arnold is the wealthy eldest brother of the Vereker family, and the prime suspects are his two siblings: the smashing Antonia, who is engaged to Rudolph, and employee of Arnold’s and not a particularly suitable partner for Antonia, and Kenneth, the artistic freeloader who is engaged to the beautiful and expensive Violet. It’s obvious that Arnold has been murdered for his money. The question is which of the suspects, all of whom loathed Arnold, is the guilty party.

I get the sense that Heyer was a bit of a snob, mostly from reading biographical stuff about her, but also from her books. This mystery – along with the one other mystery I’ve read of hers – relies heavily on the “Bright Young Thing” trope that is common in golden age mysteries. The BYT is a young, generally extremely attractive, female character who is a bit bohemian, who always ends up marrying someone whom she will enliven, at the same time that he will steady her. She is sort of a precursor to the MPDG (manic pixie dream girl) character trope that we’ve seen more recently.

The BYT is always desirable, and is the “heroine” of the piece. She is usually attached to someone who is not good for her – as Tony was at the beginning of this story. Giles is the perfect foil for the BYT – he is steady, but not staid, and head-over-heels for the girl. He is a Mr. Knightley, as opposed to a Mr. Wickham or a Mr. Willoughby. Not interesting enough to carry the book on his own, he’s the classic nice guy who deserves to win the hand of the cool girl. As soon as Giles ends up in the same room with her, we KNOW that he is the guy for Tony.

Violet, on the other hand, is NOT a BYT. First of all, she’s not that bright. And she’s a gold-digger – she is not sufficiently light-hearted or bohemian. It isn’t Violet’s lower class roots, but her actual lack of class, that excludes her. Being a BYT wasn’t actually dependent on having money – it was all about attitude. One could sponge off others, but not be a gold-digger, as long as one was convincingly able to maintain the fiction that money was unimportant. I know this makes no sense, but this is the sense I make of the trope after reading tons of these books.

Ultimately, the relationship with money in books of this time period can be really conflicted (as it was for Heyer herself!). Having money is perceived as admirable, but making money is grubby and greedy. So, Tony & Kenneth could live off of Arnold’s labor, and still feel his superior because, you know, they didn’t care about money. Even though the money that allows them to eat comes directly from him. It’s schizophrenic at best, hypocritical at worst.

Unfortunately, this trope has not worn well in the modern era of rising inequality. I found Kenneth deplorable, and Tony annoying. I wanted them both to get off their underwhelming, overindulged asses and do something – anything – useful. Arnold was awful, but he was no more awful than the people around him. He might have even been less awful. At least he was capable of feeding himself.

Tying this back to Heyer, she was involved in a tremendous conflict with Inland Revenue during her lifetime. She wrote because it paid the bills, but was constantly fighting about taxes, and at one point set up a LLC to try to lessen her tax burden, then basically got caught treating the LLC like it was her bank account, and the tax authorities got pissed and told she owed a bunch of money. Which I believe she ultimately paid, but she was not happy about it. She, herself, was more like Arthur (probably) than like either Violet or Antonia/Kenneth, but I think that she clearly sympathized with “the gentry” and the “leisured class.”

Over all, this is a reasonably enjoyable golden age mystery, although I never find Heyer’s mysteries as well-plotted as Christie’s or as enjoyable and quirky as Sayers. She’s definitely a second tier mystery novelist. And all of the characters could have used a swift kick in the ass.

The Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt

This is a very old review that was originally published on a different blog all the way back on October 26, 2014. It’s been sitting my draft reviews since I shut that blog down and copied it over. I decided that it was time to empty the draft folder of all of the really old stuff. There are only a couple that I decided to keep and publish here. This is one of them.

Title: The Mistress of Mellyn
Author: Victoria Holt
Published in 1960

Summary from Goodreads: Mount Mellyn stood as proud and magnificent as she had envisioned…But what bout its master–Connan TreMellyn? Was Martha Leigh’s new employer as romantic as his name sounded? As she approached the sprawling mansion towering above the cliffs of Cornwall, an odd chill of apprehension overcame her.

TreMellyn’s young daugher, Alvean, proved as spoiled and difficult as the three governesses before Martha had discovered. But it was the girl’s father whose cool, arrogant demeanor unleashed unfimiliar sensations and turmoil–even as whispers of past tragedy and present danger begin to insinuate themselves into Martha’s life.

Powerless against her growing desire for the enigmatic Connan, she is drawn deeper into family secrets–as passion overpowers reason, sending her head and heart spinning. But though evil lurks in the shadows, so does love–and the freedom to find a golden promise forever…

There is basically a straight line from Jane Eyre to Rebecca by du Maurier, to Victoria Holt.

When I was just a girl, it was the 1970’s, a time of great change. The first wave of feminism – concerned with legal/structural barriers to inequality like suffrage and property rights – had largely ended, at least in the Western world, and the second-wave had begun. The second wave of feminism broadened the debate to other barriers to gender equality: sexuality, family, reproductive rights, education and the workplace.

I bring this up for a reason. And that reason is that Victoria Holt’s gothic romances were huge in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the tropes which are present in those books are oddly anti-feminist. The Mistress of Mellyn, her first gothic romance, was published in 1960. In addition to the Mistress of Mellyn, I’ve also recently read The Bride of Pendorric (1963), The Shivering Sands (1969), and The Pride of the Peacock (1976). She published a total of 32 of these stand-alone gothics, with 18 of them being published in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Do I think that Eleanor Hibbert, who wrote under the name Victoria Holt, was anti-feminist? No, absolutely not. She was an incredibly prolific writer who wrote under 8 separate pen names, including her most well-known: Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr.

But with her Victoria Holt gothics, she tapped into something. She was not the only writer of gothic romance publishing during this time period. Other well-known writers include Phyllis Whitney, Dorothy Eden, Barbara Michaels, and Mary Stewart.

A few observations about gothic romance.

1. The covers were remarkably similar, typically featuring a castle or a manor of some sort, with a young woman running from it. Some examples:

2. The setting is of critical importance: it is typically a place that is both exotic but remains well-trod ground. Cornwall – the Cornwall of du Maurier and Rebecca – is a common setting, as are Yorkshire moors, which is familiar to readers through Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The settings have a darkness to them. The setting is historical, and the story typically conforms to well-established gender norms of the historical time period.

3. The main character is always a young woman of small means and dependence, similar to the unnamed narrator in Rebecca. She is often a governess, or a companion to a much wealthier woman. Typically youthful, her most significant characteristic is her powerlessness. She is generally not particularly beautiful – beauty being a characteristic that affords a woman with power – nor wealthy. She can be a widow or a virgin, but she is never sexually autonomous, and she never has children.

4. The male lead is a man of stature. Sometimes he is a widower, the father of a child that she has been hired to educate. He is always a man of property and is always above her station. He is aspirational, but she does not aspire to him, always acknowledging to herself that, while she has fallen in love with him, she cannot have him.

5. And it is the property that is, generally, the key to the story, as evidenced by the covers and the titles. These books are an offshoot of the literature of the English Country House. As Jane Eyre was focused around Thornfield Hall and Rebecca had Manderley, a great manor house is the foundation upon which these books are built.

6. Finally, these books often have a female villain, which is the entire point of this discussion.

The suspense in these books is built around the young woman coming to the manor house and falling in love with the eligible lord of the manor. Often there is a mystery associated with the man, or the house. A former wife who has disappeared, or a suggestion of murder, that places the heroine in physical danger. We are always meant to believe that it is the man who is the source of the danger.

However, that is typically not the case. There is confusion about the source of the danger, and the reason for that confusion is: the villain is a woman who is committing the villainy because of some ambitions either toward the master, or, more commonly, the house itself.

This is why I titled this post the corrosive effect of female ambition. Because in these books – at least the ones I have read recently – female ambition isn’t merely unwomanly, it is positively corruptive. It causes the woman who experiences it to devolve into a deranged murderess.

The Mistress of Mellyn is a case in point (and here, spoilers will abound). Our heroine is a Martha Leigh, a young woman who comes to Mount Mellyn as governess to Alvean TreMellyn, putative daughter of Connan TreMellyn (although we find out early on in the story that Alvean is actually the daughter of Alice’s lover, the neighbor). Connan himself is a widower, his deceased wife Alice having died in a railroad accident on the very night that she left him for his neighbor, her body so badly burned that it could only be identified by the locket she wore.

Drama ensues, and the reader begins to believe that there is something bizarre going on with the manor house. There are ghostly sightings, and a mute sprite of a child who seems to be terribly frightened for reasons which are unclear. The home itself is full of nooks and crannies and secret chambers, along with peeps that are cleverly hidden in murals so that the individuals in one room won’t know that they are being watched from another room.

As in many of these books, it turns out that the villainess is a woman: the sister of the neighboring man whom Alice was thought to have run away with and who died in the railroad accident. When Martha marries Connan, she becomes the target of the murderer, and is lured into a secret chamber, where she will be left to die, as was Alice so many years prior. The murderess is foiled by the child that Martha has befriended.

But, here is the thing. Celestine Nansellick isn’t actually interested in Connan TreMellyn. This isn’t a story of female rejection which ends with the rejected removing the victorious competition from the picture. This is all about the house – Celestine Nansellick covets Mount Mellyn, not Connan TreMellyn, and Martha gets in the way of those ambitions by marrying Connan and potentially producing legitimate heirs which will disinherit Alvean who is not Connan’s child. She wants the house, not the guy.

This is the same motive behind the murder attempt in Pride of the Peacock (deranged female housekeeper who wanted the aspirational hero to marry her daughter) and The Shivering Sands (deranged daughter of the housekeeper who believed herself to be the illegitimate child of the heir of the estate). In each of these books, the villain is a mirror image of the heroine, with one distortion – unlike the heroine, who is not ambitious and who accepts her place, the villain is prepared to dogfight her way out of subservience. She cannot marry her way out – unlike the heroine – but she can manipulate and maneuver and even murder her way out. And it is her very refusal to accept her place that marks her as unworthy of elevation.

This is completely retrograde, right? This book is published at the exact same time that women are becoming increasingly independent, able to control their own fertility, plan their families, get the same education as men, qualify for the same jobs, and yet we have a wildly popular type of book in which the heroines accept their lack of equality, and the villains reject it. And the women who reject this lack of independence and autonomy become criminals – murderesses.

Halloween Bingo: Diverse Voices

It’s important to me to make an effort to include diverse voices in my reading. Because I read so much older fiction, this can sometimes take extra effort – publishing has been largely under the control of the white establishment, and while writers of color have made significant inroads, ensuring that I experience diverse perspectives still takes some attention.

This is why there are, actually, two ways to encourage the bingo players to look for diversity in their reading – the Diverse Voices square and the Amplification spell card, which allows any player to substitute in a book written by an author from a historically marginalized group to fill any square on their card.

Over the years, I’ve had Diverse Voices on my card several times. For people who are interested in genre fiction written by authors of color, the following is a list of possibilities:

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I read this one for In the Dark, Dark Woods, using the Amplification Spell. In addition to having a glorious cover, it was an interesting Lovecraftian gothic tale. It was also everywhere last year, and was Moreno-Garcia’s breakout book.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. Victor Lavalle is an author I am not familiar with and, interestingly, this novella also had Lovecraftian themes, as a retelling of the Lovecraft short story The Horror at Red Hook. After I read the novella, I found and read the source material. I am not a Lovecraft fan, and can say unequivocally that, in my opinion, Lavalle’s rendering blew the doors off the original. Sorry not sorry.

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke. I recently got into Attica Locke – a black author who is also an accomplished screenwriter. She is best known for her Highway 59 series, featuring Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger. This was her first novel, and was really enjoyable – an interesting environmental mystery. I have read everything she has published, and am waiting, excitedly, for her next Highway 59 novel. Word is that the series may be adapted for television.

Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older. Somewhat oddly, there isn’t nearly as much urban fantasy set in New York as there is in London. Nonetheless, this intriguing offering about an “inbetweener,” a partially resurrected from a life he doesn’t remember, is worth reading. There are two other books in the series. So many books, so little time.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. This was such a fun read – a magical farce set in Regency England. I really need to reread it, and then get my hands on the second book in the series.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. I remember that I read this one, but it must have been after I blacked out my card, because I can’t find it in my records. Anyway, this is a piece of urban fantasy written by a Native American author, with Native American mythology at the center. Really good.

This year, I’m planning to read at least a couple from this list:

  • The Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark. I have this on hold at my library and I am hopeful that it will be available before Halloween. If I don’t get to read it this year, I’m sure I’ll be able to get my hands on it next year.
  • Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse. Also on hold, although I may actually buy this one since I bought the first in the series.
  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. Alternate history set during the Civil War with a young black woman as protagonist taking out zombies with her weaponry? Yes. Right now.
  • Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley. This has been on my TBR for at least a decade. I have a paperback copy stuffed in a bookshelf somewhere.
  • The Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. This is a YA thriller that takes place in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, at Lake Superior State University.
  • Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby. I recently read S.A. Cosby’s second book, Razorblade Tears, and was riveted by his characters. I’ve heard good things about this one, too.

Appointment with Agatha

October of 2020 was the 100 year anniversary of the publication of Agatha Christie’s first whodunit, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which featured her beloved Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, who appeared in 33 full length mysteries, and several short story collections.

I had been planning to reread Agatha Christie’s full-length mysteries in publication order for a few years, after successfully concluding my first-time-through Agatha Christie read in February, 2019 with Why Didn’t They Ask Evans. This was mostly documented on my now defunct Booklikes blog. I had planned to immediately start over at the beginning, but got bogged down.

So, when the 100th anniversary rolled around, it seemed a propitious time to begin. I started looking for a Goodreads group to join, but soon realized, disappointingly, that all of the existing groups were well into their read-throughs.  No matter, I decided to start a new Goodreads group for my readthrough, to be scheduled at one per month beginning in October. We spent a couple of months reading short story collections, gathering members, until the full re-read began with The Mysterious Affair at Styles. We have now read the first eleven Christies (one per month), along with 11 vintage mystery side-reads. I haven’t written blog posts about any of them yet.

I did previously review The Mysterious Affair at Styles way back in August, 2012,  when my first Christie read accidentally began (you can find that post on my old Classics Club blog here). My daughter had become a fan of Christie after reading And Then There Were None for a high school English class, and her love of Christie reminded me how much I had also enjoyed reading Christie over the years. I started collecting the Black Dog and Levanthal editions when I would visit my local Barnes & Noble, which was the start of my obsession with all things Christie.

I plan to catch up on all of the Christies that I have previously read, and then will try to stay current as the group reads move forward. The book for this month was The Sittaford Mystery, which is a stand-alone, and is a favorite of mine. So far, we have finished:

  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles
  • The Secret Adversary
  • Murder on the Links
  • The Man in the Brown Suit
  • The Secret of Chimneys
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
  • The Big Four
  • The Mystery of the Blue Train
  • The Seven Dials Mystery
  • The Murder at the Vicarage
  • The Sittaford Mystery

Our September read is Peril at End House, which is also a personal favorite (I suspect that this will be a very overused phrase throughout these posts), and is vastly underrated, in my opinion. In addition, we are through the period in which Christie is alternating relatively weak mysteries with very weak thrillers (with the exception of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Murder at the Vicarage) and beginning the period where she is publishing some of her Best Work.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a remarkable debut mystery. It combines a lot of the elements that Christie will use again and again in her mysteries – the closed circle, the country house, her knowledge of poisons, the double bluff, the faked alibi. It ends up, in my opinion, being a middling Christie, and if it had happened in the middle of her career, it would be rather meh, I think. But because it’s the first, it’s noteworthy for that reason alone. The interactions between Poirot and Hastings are priceless.

My goal is not necessarily to write up traditional reviews for each Christie mystery, but rather to focus on the ways in which a specific book resonates with me this time around, since I have read all of Christie’s mysteries at least once, and in many cases, four or five times. I almost always remember the solutions, but can still admire her elegance, cleverness and wit all the better for knowing what’s coming. In addition, I have created a page to rank the Christies as I go along, from best to worst (in my estimation only), which can be found here.

Halloween Bingo: Vintage Mysteries

This is a newish square for 2021. There was a suggestion from fellow blogger and long-standing HB player, Themis-Athena for a Golden Age Mystery square, or a Queens of Crime square, to focus on Agatha Christie & some of her contemporaries. Vintage mysteries is a journey(wo)man square that can take on all of the roles above. In order to qualify, the mystery must have been published prior to 1975. 

I read so much vintage mystery that I have endless possibilities for this square:

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie is the Appointment with Agatha group read for the month of September, and Lord Edgware Dies is the group read for October, so either of those can stand in here.

In addition, I’ve been really into the Inspector Littlejohn mysteries recently, which are available through the Kindle Unlimited library, or possibly a Maigret. My library has what appears to be a complete collection of the new Penguin translations available as kindle books for online checkout. I have been reading one or two of these a month in no particular order. I also have a near complete collection of the 87th Precinct mysteries, by Ed McBain – I’m up to Give the Boys a Great Big Hand, first published in 1960.

While this is a new square, I have read a number of vintage mysteries in years past for other squares, including:


  • Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton (Genre: Mystery)
  • Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie (Pumpkin)
  • The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux (Locked Room Mystery)


  • Behold, Here’s Poison by Georgette Heyer (Cozy Mystery)
  • Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie (Terrifying Women)
  • The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie (Terror in a Small Town)
  • Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey (Murder Most Foul)
  • The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich (Classic Noir)


  • The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie (Terrifying Women)
  • The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie (13)
  • Penhallow by Georgette Heyer (Country House Mystery)


  • The Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie (Dark Academia)
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe (Classic Horror)
  • The Hollow by Agatha Christie (Country House Mystery)


  • Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie (Country House Mystery)
  • The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie (International Woman of Mystery)(yes, I apparently have read this TWICE for Halloween Bingo)
  • The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr (Grave or Graveyard)
  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (wildcard)
  • Corpse at the Carnival by George Bellairs (Creepy Carnivals)

If you didn’t already know, I am a huge Agatha Christie fan. Not only does she figure prominently in all of my past Halloween bingos (as she will again, I’m sure), but she is without question the author I have read the most throughout my life as a reader.

Five Things I Loathe About the Block Editor

  1. I hate THE WHOLE DAMNED THING on principle. But, there are also specific things that I hate about it beyond its general suckitude.
  2. The fact that the only way to not start a new block every time I hit return is, apparently, to turn whatever I am trying to do into a list. Sometimes I don’t want bullets or numbers, though, but I still don’t want my post to have a goddamned extra space between lines. There is no way to fix this without getting some sort of a degree in coding.
  3. Working with images and trying to change their alignment. This often does not work. I have been trying to center the image in my last post for thirty minutes. Yeah, not happening. Now it is asymmetrical and it bugs me. With the classic editor, I just changed the HTML. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.
  4. I like to draft my posts on my google drive because of issues with site crashing. This screws up the formatting when I paste them into a post, and it is completely unfixable. THIS WAS NEVER A PROBLEM WITH THE CLASSIC EDITOR.
  5. In order to get the Classic Editor plugin, I have to upgrade my site. This is bullshit. I already pay for a domain name. I do not make money off of my blogging, nor do I want to. This is a hobby. It should be easy. It used to be easy. Before you assholes made us all accept your lame new editor.

The ONLY reason that I haven’t relocated to Blogger is because I am lazy and I actually hate it more. But dammit, did they bribe you to make your editor suck so that people would leave?


Halloween Bingo: Spellbound

I’m going to discuss the top row of my bingo card over the next several posts – the spaces and what I have planned for them.

The top right corner of the card is the Spellbound square. This square, in some capacity or another, has been around basically since the beginning of Halloween Bingo, back in 2016, although we just called it “Witches” that year. The definition is: books containing witches, warlocks, sorcerors and witchcraft;

I’ve previously read for this square on a number of different occasions: 

2016: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
2017: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
2018: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
2019: Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs
2020: The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Until I just looked back over my cards, I did not remember that, first, I’ve had it on my card in some incarnation for every single Halloween Bingo game, and, second, that I revisited Harry Potter three times for this square.

Anyway, this has long been a favorite square for me, and not just because Harry Potter is a beloved series. I love books which center on witches and witchcraft.

So, this year, there are at least three books I’m considering reading for the Spellbound square:

The 13th Witch by Mark Hayden: This book popped up on the GR feed of one of my friends and it looks really delightful. It is also, as a bonus, available on the Kindle Unlimited library, so I can read it for free. One of my goals for this year is to minimize the amount of money I spend buying books for HB, so that’s excellent.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman: This would be a reread for me. I read the prequel, The Rules of Magic, for the Relics and Curiosities square in 2019. I am a fan of magical realism generally, and Alice Hoffman specifically. This would be a library check-out for me. It’s in my holds list, and should pop up right around September 1.

The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox: This is a piece of historical fiction set in Maine, 1846. It’s been on my Halloween Bingo shelf for a couple of years, having been published in 2019, and there are 2 copies available from my library.