Bitter End – Rex Stout

bitter endStout, Rex. Bitter End (Annotated): The First Nero Wolfe Novella . I read the Kindle Edition of the original story published in 1940. A classic who-dunit mystery. The clues are there to follow for the observant.

The story starts out where someone has evidently tampered with a jar of pate at the residence of one Nero Wolfe. Poison is suspected and an outraged Wolfe vows to find the dastardly culprit behind this assault on his palate. As fate would have it, Miss Duncan, niece to My Tingley of Tingley’s Tidbits who makes the pate, arrives to engage Wolfe to investigate the product tampering. Among the close knit circle of suspects is: Miss Yates, in charge of production; Mr Cliff, a VP of a competing firm; Philip, Mr Tingley’s adopted son; Mr Judd, a mysterious banker who is also looking to buy Tingley’s Tidbits; and Miss Murphy, assistant to Miss Yates.

The investigation takes a turn for the worse when Mr Tingley is found murdered in his office and Miss Duncan apparently struck unconscious at the scene. The homicide brings Wolfe’s foil Inspector Cramer into the story. With the looting of papers at Tingley’s office, the murder may not be related to the product tampering, but rather the curious birth and adoption of Philip who may be set to inherit the business.

But in the end, deductive reasoning and a careful examination of the facts presented soon turns up the guilty party. And the description, the narrative… its first rate!

It sure was a ramshackle joint. From a dingy hall a dilapidated stair went up. I mounted to the floor above, heard noises, including machinery humming, off somewhere, and through a rickety door penetrated a partition and was in an anteroom. From behind a grilled window somebody’s grandpa peered out at me, and by shouting I managed to convey to him that I wanted to see Mr. Arthur Tingley. After a wait I was told that Mr. Tingley was busy, and would be indefinitely. On a leaf of my notebook I wrote, “Quinine urgent,” and sent it in. That did it. After another wait a cross-eyed young man came and guided me through a labyrinth of partitions and down a hall into a room.

Seated at an old, battered roll-top desk was a man talking into a phone, and in a chair facing him was a woman older than him with the physique and facial equipment of a top sergeant. Since the phone conversation was none of my business, I stood and listened to it, and gathered that someone named Philip had better put in an appearance by five o’clock or else. Meanwhile I surveyed the room, which had apparently been thrown in by the Indians when they sold the island. By the door, partly concealed by a screen, was an old, veteran marble-topped washstand. A massive, old-fashioned safe was against the wall across from Tingley’s desk. Wooden cupboards, and shelves loaded down with the accumulation of centuries, occupied most of the remaining wall space.

“Who the hell are you?”

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The Woman Aroused – Ed Lacey

woman arousedPublished in 1951 I read the PlanetMonk Pulps Book 8 Kindle Edition. This is the first novel by Ed Lacy who, up to this point was mostly a short story writer, and this does read a lot like an extended short story. Although a death by mysterious circumstance does take place in this novel, I wouldn’t consider it a mystery… nothing about the death is really investigated, and questions about the death are not formally resolved. However, like the protagonist George, we do have a strong circumstantial case against one of the other characters.

And that is really what this story has going for it, characters. Characters up the Wahoo as we would say; distinctive, quirky and varied. Though not a mystery its more a slice of life story told in a tight first person narrative that has a short story feel to it. You can almost hear George sitting across from you telling you this account about his fall from grace and possible redemption by means of a young woman, the widow of a childhood friend from the neighborhood just returned from overseas Army duty.

And its this friend who has George hold some money for him so that his wife wont get it should they divorce as he anticipates. However, he falls out of the window of his fifth story apartment before he can divorce his wife. Now, George finds himself entangled with this wild foreign woman.

I really did enjoy this story particularly for the realistic sense of New York City in the post world war two late forties with the experiences of the veterans, those who served during the war, The character Eddie (whose political views seem very autobiographical to Mr. Lacy) who is George’s ex-brother-in-law, and the experiences of those who served in the time just after the war Walt, the son of George’s friend and co-worker Joe.

And then of course, there are those classic ‘pulp’ descriptions peppered throughout the book:

   I went into the kitchen and I heard them kissing, then Joe told her,

“I’d best go in and help Georgie boy.” He came in and put a heavy arm around my shoulder, turned on the water in the sink so she couldn’t hear, said, “Jeez, what a night. I tied a big one on. Hey what do you think of Stella? Some sex-boat.”

“Not bad,” I said, pouring the beer. I knew all about Stella – all the Stellas: with a husband someplace in the background, maybe a kid or two, a busted marriage, a routine job during the week, and the frantic week-ends with any guy who treated her “nicely,” as she tried to regain her illusions of bright romance and youth over some bar; a dozen drinks fogging reality.

For a short Bio on Ed Lacy click here ED LACY

Blonde Bait – Ed Lacy

blonde baitPublished in 1959 I read the PlanetMonk Pulps Book 8 Kindle Edition published in 2013.

A brief pulp book coming in at 147 pages it’s a novella written in a first person narrative style , that really has an authenticity to its voice. A pulp from the late fifties, a guy meets a buxom blonde bombshell, with a suitcase full of cash and not big on telling us the wheres and whys of having it, not to mention a gun, out sitting on a deserted Florida key. The story has a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ but the clipped nature of the story still has a good bit of action and fisticuffs leading to its climax. I look forward to spending a little more time with this author… and of course, being Ed Lacy, the reason for the mystery behind the money… yeah, its political…

It’s a story about a vagabond guy living on a boat who comes across a woman apparently stranded on a deserted spit of an island. This woman it seems had baggage in more than one way, apparently she doesn’t want to talk about the suitcase full of cash she has, nor why she needs the gun in her hand bag. Eventually, as these two characters interact and get to tell each other their life’s story they forge a relationship and appear to live a rather idyllic life on a small island in the Bahamas. But although they are accepting of each other, there is this wall between them.

Micky has a yearning to return to the US, not permanently just an excursion to see the sights but Rose is on the run from people trying to kill her. As she begins to tell Micky more of her story and how she came to have the money. Micky thinks that, since its been two years, perhaps the people looking for her have giving up. So they set sail for Jacksonville and work their way up to Atlantic city. But it seems that while they were out and about, the people looking for Rose haven’t given up yet. She’s more on the radar than ever, and while Micky and Rose as having diner at a club, a person who claims to be a federal agent notices her. Rose is able to slip the agent as Micky creates a distraction. Now he’s become the ‘person of interest’ facilitating her escape!

The Keys were full of boats , big and small yachts , so I crossed over to the Bahamas , found myself a quiet little island . A hunk of sand and a couple of ragged bushes . No place to live and no way of getting there without a boat – a sea boat . I anchored late in the afternoon , about thirty or forty feet offshore . I didn’t do much of anything but fish for my supper , put in sack time . In the morning I saw this girl on the beach . I’d never seen anything like her before , except in the movies . A tall platinum – blonde , with a face and shape … well , you see the snap . She was calmly sitting on a suitcase , peeling off her stockings and a ritzy summer dress . There was a bathing suit under the dress . I went down into the cabin and put my little telescope on her – through a port hole . Up close she looked even better . She also had a cloth – bag pocketbook , and I could see the heavy outline of a . 45 automatic in the bag .

For All Our Sins – T.M.E. Walsh

for all our sinsI’m on chapter nineteen of this train-wreck, almost one third through… and I just had to shelve it at this point.

I don’t know if the author intended this story to be ‘Young Adult’ fiction, but based on the childness of the main characters, and other dysfunctional relations within this police office, I just can not take it anymore.

This snippet below, an exchange between the team lead Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Claire Winters and her subordinate Detective Sargent (DS) Michael Diego is a typical one for these two… its petty, vindictive, antagonistic, its like watching spoiled children… we are introduced to these characters in this state, and it isn’t getting any better. There appears to be no adult in this police station. Detective Inspector (DI) David Matthew outwardly gloats over having a current case reassigned from DS Diego like a child being given another child’s toy.

I’m one third into this soap opera and I feel I’ve given it a fair shot. It opens with a young woman killing a priest with her switchblade and that opening chapter closes out with a line of such promise “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to so so for them.” And I thought the chapter well done. But then… we meet DCI Claire Winters smack in the middle of some ‘mysterious’ undefined sub-plot and being called into work because of the homicide. Then we meet more of the cast and the characters come onstage antagonistic and unnaturally confrontational right from the start.

Then we get to interviewing a person of interest, and following up on their dysfunctional family life with runaway daughter and ‘mysterious’ foster children… there is the questioning of the daughter, and then thrown into this mix is an aside… a chapter with an inmate escaping from a local asylum for the criminally insane… and since that scene has none of the main characters in it… it stands as a well written chapter, much like the promising first chapter, but right after that, its back to the juvenile detectives.

So, being that there is so little time and so many more reading options, I’ve shelved this book in favor of starting the third DCI Erika Foster novel…

  She called Michael to her office.

She stared at him as he sat in front of her desk, his hair messy and his face unshaven. He had dark circles under his normally clear eyes and his shirt didn’t look like it’d seen an iron in a long time.

‘Nice weekend?’ she asked. ‘Or should I say, eventful?’ She eyed him up and down. He shot her a sleepy look but ignored her question. ‘Judging by the look of you shirt, I’d say eventful.’

He stared down at his notepad, vacant expression on his face. Claire grew annoyed.

Leaning forward she clicked her fingers in front of his face. ‘Are you even fit to be in work, Diego? I’ve called a team briefing in twenty minutes and you’re looking fucked.’

‘Sorry,’ he managed. ‘I guess I overdid it.’

She stared hard at him and felt the slight twinge of jealousy.

She remembered that look of his. It hadn’t been that long ago that she’d been on the receiving end of his wild nights out. It was obvious to her that this weekend he’d been showing someone else a good time, and she hated the thought of it.

The Oxford Murders – Guillermo Martinez

oxford murdersI’ve read the Penguin Press 2005 paperback edition translated from Spanish to English.

This is the third novel by Argentinian mathematician Guillermo Martinez. The story is a nice, compact (197 pages) page turner on a classic mystery reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel. I enjoyed this story, its narration was clear and to the point, no barrel of red herrings that you would get from Colin Dexter.

Our narrator, an Argentinian mathematics student come to Oxford to further his studies, tells this tale of events that happened in the past… it unfolds nicely at a leisurely pace on the bucolic suburb of Oxford. Shortly after settling into a room he lets from an elderly lady, she is murdered, and a mathematical clue is left with his mentor Professor Seldom, who discovers the body with our narrator.

I like the opening to this story. Its narrated in a journal or a diary tone that seems somewhat intimate and old fashioned… I can picture the then young, now older man reflecting back a what would probably be one of the most memorable highlights of his life. A grand adventure!

The story touches on several mathematical topics and theories, as well as several philosophical themes as the two gentlemen work to solve what may be a series of murders, each laid out in a mathematical sequence. As I finished this book, there was something that I had remembered from somewhere else… the best place to hide a murder, is in a series of murders.

One of the draw backs to this book being so brief, is that although we are taken to several different locations within Oxford while taking this pursuit, we never really get to stop and admire our surrounding all that much. Surely Kaminsky would have shown us more of the sights.

Now that the years have passed and everything’s been forgotten, and now that I’ve received a terse e-mail from Scotland with the sad news of Seldom’s death, I feel I can break my silence (which he never asked for anyway) and tell the truth about the events that reached the British papers in the summer of ’93 with macabre and sensationalist headlines, but to which Seldom and I always referred – perhaps due to the mathematical connotation – simply as the series, or Oxford Series. Indeed, the deaths all occurred in Oxfordshire, at the beginning of my stay in England, and I had te dubious privilege of seeing first at close range.

Stranger In Paradise – Robert B Parker

stranger in paradisePutnam publishing February 2008, 304 pages, crime novel by Robert B. Parker, the seventh in his Jesse Stone series.

 

Gang-bangers, mobsters and gunmen oh my! Welcome to Paradise. Crow has arrived. The last time he was in Paradise was ten years ago and any crimes he may have committed back then have reached their statute of limitation. He’s back, and looking for a girl… a mobster’s daughter. Seems the dad wants his little girl back with him in Florida and has commissioned Crow to accomplish this task.

 

The daughter happens to be seeing something of a local gang leader. After an altercation or two in a rough little town just outside of Paradise where the gang calls home, Crow has his flighty juvenile. Having contacted his employer for instructions, the boss wants his ex-wife rubbed out. At this point we see Crow’s core values, and it seems murdering helpless, alcoholic ex-wives is not part of his warrior ethics.

 

By not acquiescing to the boss’s wishes a hit-team is dispatched from Florida with Crow as their target. The daughter is taken to Chief Stone who takes her in while Crow deals with the gunmen. As it would seem, killing armed gunmen is within his warrior ethics.

 

Eventually with a gang on the loose chasing him and the remaining gunmen hunting him, Crow agrees to hand over the girl to her father, but not without some late minute fireworks. A bend in the road by the sea with a nice wall and setting sun to shield them a handoff is proposed, to one group of trigger happy gunmen, the other group of trigger happy sociopaths don’t know about this arrangement… Will this hand off work, is it some sort of ploy, is Jessie going to watch as this goes down?

 

And what is it about Crow that reminds me of another bird man Parker has written so enigmatically?

“I wish to speak with my attorney,” he sad without inflection.
Jessie nodded. Everyone was quiet. The only sounds were the movement of the ocean, and the sound of the rain falling, under the low, gray sky.
There is no quiet like the one that follows gunfire.