Hardly a Man is Now Alive – Herbert Brean (1950)

HardlyAManI wasn’t going to let more than a few months go by without catching back up with Herbert Brean.  My first encounter with him was with Wilders Walk Away; seemingly the only book that people connect with his name.  There’s good reason for it.  The blend of small town New England with a clever tale stacked high with mysteries does more than give the best of Ellery Queen’s Wrightsville novels a run for their money – it flat out beats them.

The only other Brean novel that seems to get any press is Traces of Brillhart, which was a logical next step.  However, a few comments pointed me towards Hardly a Man is Now Alive, suggesting it was a hidden gem.  Having finally laid my hands on both, I had to give in to the one with the vintage cover style that I so love.

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Policeman’s Evidence – Rupert Penny (1938)

PolicemansEvidenceRupert Penny has been on my radar for a while courtesy of JJ at The Invisible Event.  Penny seems to divide readers into camps who think he’s a long lost craftsman of the golden age, and those who feel his writing is the literary equivalent of hard tack.  I tend to trust JJ on these points, and so Penny was at the top of my birthday wish list recently.

Despite JJ clearly laying out a “best of Penny” post, I somehow got mixed up and put Policeman’s Evidence at the top of my list.  My mind inexplicably translated “fifth best” into “the best”, and so here I am.  I guess on the positive side, there are even better books to look forward to.

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And So to Murder – John Dickson Carr (1940)

andsotomurderThis was the final novel that I had left in what I regard to be Sir Henry Merrivale’s classic run from The Plague Court Murders (1934) through Nine – And Death Makes Ten (1940).  Many would argue that Merrivale’s best two stories were yet to come, with She Died a Lady (1943) and He Wouldn’t Kill Patience (1944), but for me, the first 11 novels are an unbroken run of quality, puzzle, and atmosphere that would go unmatched in Carr’s career.  Rooms that kill (The Red Widow Murders), invisible assassins (The Unicorn Murders), murder via teleforce (The Reader is Warned) – these plots provide some of the author’s gnarliest puzzles, to say nothing of the quintessential locked room murder (The Judas Window) and equally definitive footprints in the snow mystery (The White Priory Murders).

It’s funny then that I close this chapter with And So to Murder – a book that has none of those snazzy hooks and brain teasers.  It’s a surprisingly straight forward mystery involving some deadly antics on the grounds of a film studio – something that I could imagine any number of GAD authors putting forth as a plot.  But this is John Dickson Carr, and as vanilla as the story may sound, it still dazzles.

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Ten Days’ Wonder – Ellery Queen (1948)

TenDaysWonder1Ellery Queen returns to the New England town of Wrightsville in Ten Days’ Wonder, and that’s good news for me.  The previous two titles in the Wrightsville series – Calamity Town and The Murderer is a Fox – were by far the most consumable that I’ve put down by the author duo who shared the pen name.  While they weren’t the strongest mysteries (who didn’t see the end of Calamity Town coming?) the Queen storytelling was in top form and miles away from the excruciatingly dull earlier works.

The opening passages of Ten Days’ Wonder may well be the best writing that Queen ever put to paper.  I’d give you some quotes, but I just don’t know where I’d stop.  If you have the book on your shelf, I know you don’t plan on reading it right now, but just pick it up and give the first few pages a once over.

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The List of Adrian Messenger – Philip MacDonald (1959)

ListOfAdrianMessenger“It will hold you breathless until you have reached its utterly unpredictable climax.”  “Do not look at the end!”  “The dramatic, utterly surprising final chapters of The List of Adrian Messenger will haunt you long after you’ve finished this unique novel.”  Thus blares the large text plastering the front and back cover of my 1961 Bantam Books edition of The List of Adrian Messenger.

As much as The Maze by Philip MacDonald didn’t do it for me, I’ve been intent to come back to the author.  Recognizing that The Maze was more an experiment in conveying a mystery purely through raw court testimony, I was interested in seeing what MacDonald could do in the more traditional form.  I’m not sure how The List of Adrian Messenger worked its way into my mind as one I should try, but here I am.

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Poirot Investigates – Agatha Christie (1924)

PoirotInvestigates1As my next step for reading Agatha Christie’s first decade in order, I decided to scoop up Poirot Investigates – a collection of her short stories first published in The Sketch magazine.  I could have gone straight on to her next novel, The Man in the Brown Suit (1924), but it seemed worthwhile to understand what Christie was putting out in the year leading up to it.  The stories of Poirot Investigates were released between March and October of 1923, unless you factor in the three stories included in the US edition, in which case they stretch on an additional month to November.  In that way, this overlaps nicely with my recent reading of The Murder on the Links (1923).

Poirot Investigates doesn’t include all of the short stories that Christie published in The Sketch throughout 1923.  For that, you’d need to factor in Poirot’s Early Cases, which wasn’t released until 1974 (although the stories had already been released in various other collections – The Regatta Mystery, Three Blind Mice, The Under Dog, and Double Sin).  Nor are the stories in order of release; rather, they’re somewhat randomly scattered. Continue reading “Poirot Investigates – Agatha Christie (1924)”

Spider House – F Van Wyck Mason (1932)

SpiderHouseF Van Wyck Mason has been on my radar ever since Tomcat reviewed The Fort Terror Murders roughly a year ago.  The wacky map included in the book caught my attention, as did the off-the-wall treasure hunt plot.  That kind of pulp appeals to me a bit and brings back memories of the old books I used to stumble upon at my grandparent’s house when I was a kid.  Mix in some sort of golden age murder mystery and I’m game.

There’s a lot to choose from when it comes to Van Wyck Mason.  His library rivals the likes of Carr and Christie, although much of it seems to have focused on spy thrillers and adventure laden retellings of America’s bloody past.  A tip I stumbled upon in the comment section of the review for The Fort Terror Murders was to keep an eye out for books with “murder” in the title from the 30’s – apparently that was the run where Van Wyck Mason was doing his mystery bit.  While I struck out on finding an appealing copy meeting that criteria, I did snag this killer Handi Book Mystery edition of Spider House with a truly vintage cover.

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