NOW APPEARING IN YOUR KINDLE 99¢ BIN

I had planned to title this post, “One Cranky Voice Among Many,” because today is my one-year anniversary as a blogger. But then I thought, “Okay, you made a small hoopla about your 100th post only a couple of weeks ago, so enough is enough! Plus, you’re not really cranky, just opinionated.”

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What has one year of blogging brought me? Well, first and foremost, it has given me a platform on which I can blather on about the esoteric things that interest me. Since nobody else within 100 miles seems to share my interests, I have connected with people (bonus: from all over the world!) who do. These interactions have been so delightful that I count many of these new acquaintances as friends. The Tuesday Night Bloggers, mixed with the “Verdict of Us All” group – Bev, Moira, Curtis, Rich, Noah, Steve, John, and most especially, my staunch amigos Kate and JJ, have given a whole new zing to my lifelong love of mysteries. And I have connected to others over Hitchcock and theatre and other passions. I even have thirty-nine followers, folks! These people are so insightful that, whether they agree or disagree with me, I always learn something from them. And I hope that, if I keep plugging along for another year, by next September I will have forty followers!

But enough about me! Let’s talk about my opinions! I owe the following review to Kate and Curtis, although they don’t know it. Through Curtis Evans of The Passing Tramp blog (he who inspired me to start writing this thing!), we have all discovered “new” forgotten authors whom we have praised, panned, argued over and enjoyed arguing over. The first one that really made me jump up and down with joy was Harriet Rutland, who only wrote three mysteries. The first one, Knock Murderer Knock, takes place at a hotel (well, a hydro-spa that also serves as a hotel), and I loved it so much that I bought all three of her books on my Kindle and have spaced them out so that I can savor my Rutland experience. And they only cost ninety-nine cents apiece.

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So did the works of Ianthe Jerrold, who only wrote two mysteries, although her books have since shot up in price on Amazon, one to $1.99 and the better one, Dead Man’s Quarry, to $6.15. I still need to buy these. I think I’m waiting for a sale!

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Eilis Dillon is an Irish writer whose prolific career, funnily enough included only three mysteries. Her first, Death at Crane’s Court, also takes place at a hotel. The price for her books on Kindle is $3.99 a piece which still isn’t bad! I mean, you have to hand it to the folks at Amazon who are making it easy for those of us looking to rediscover writers from the classic era of mysteries to collect new writers, at least virtually. (I did read Death at Crane’s Court, although spent much more on an actual book at The Mysterious Bookstore in NYC. I enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as Rutland’s debut.) Next, Kate heaped high praise on another forgotten female mystery writer, Margaret Armstrong, who – you guessed it – only wrote three mysteries, the first of which was Murder in Stained Glass. This does not take place in a hotel, but it sounded interesting, and guess what? All three of Armstrong’s mysteries can be found for ninety-nine cents in the Kindle bin! So I decided on a whim to purchase them all.

Of course, Amazon, always the clever marketing strategist, immediately popped some more writers on my page: “IF YOU LIKE THIS, YOU’LL LOOOOVVVE THIS!!!” “This” proved to be an American author named Anita Blackmon, who wrote – yup! – three mysteries in the late1930’s. Two of these books feature a female sleuth named Miss Adelaide Adams, who is described as “irascible.” Well, that’s a great word. Plus, the first mystery, Murder a la Richelieu (1937) takes place in a hotel! Feeling I was on a roll, I purchased the two Miss Adams mysteries, both costing – stay with me now – ninety-nine cents. (Oddly enough three different publishers handle Adams. Black Heath Classic Crime charges 99¢, while Lost Crime Classics charges $3.99. I bought the cheap copy, but I have just discovered that the more expensive one includes an introduction by Curtis himself! That might make the extra cost worth it. Curtis actually mentioned these books on his blog,  but it was a year before I discovered this virtual world of mystery fans, so I didn’t know!

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It’s fascinating how the two publishers describe the book differently. Black Heath stresses the mystery:

Adelaide Adams is a tough old spinster, living a quiet life at the Hotel Richelieu, somewhere in the southern United States. But her peaceful existence is shattered when a man is found brutally murdered in her room. More murders follow and, as suspicion falls on all of the hotel residents in turn, Adelaide teams up with the handsome salesman Stephen Lansing to solve the crime. But with a psychotic killer on the loose, they find that amateur sleuthing is not the safest of pass-times…

Sounds interesting, right? That’s the blurb that sold me. Then I found the Lost Crime Classics version, which focuses on the comedy element:

In the opening pages of “the old battle-ax” Adelaide Adams’ debut appearance, Murder á la Richelieu, Anita Blackmon signals her readers that she is humorously aware of the grand old, much-mocked but much-read “Had I But Known” tradition that she is mining when she has Adelaide declare: “Had I suspected the orgy of bloodshed upon which we were about to embark, I should then and there, in spite of my bulk and an arthritic knee, have taken shrieking to my heels.” Unfortunately, Adelaide confides: “There was nothing on this particular morning to indicate the reign of terror into which we were about to be precipitated. Coming events are supposed to cast their shadows before, yet I had no presentiment about the green spectacle case which was to play such a fateful part in the murders, and not until it was forever too late did I recognize the tragic significance back of Polly Lawson’s pink jabot and the Anthony woman’s false eyelashes.” Well! What reader can stop there? . . .

So is this book supposed to be a parody of a classic mystery from the pre-Golden Age in the Mary Roberts Rinehart tradition. Let’s look inside and see what we’ve got:

The Richelieu Hotel services both residents and transient tourists. Why tourists might come to this town we may never know as, through the entire novel, nobody seems to leave the building. Adelaide has lived off her considerable inheritance at the Richelieu for a great many years. We learn that she once gave up the love of her life to care for her invalid father, and she does not wear her spinsterhood with much charm. She devotes a lot of her narration telling us what’s wrong with everyone around her. (In all fairness, she is sometimes hard on herself as well.) She makes snap judgments about people, most of which turn out to be wrong. She throws her considerable weight around, terrorizing or annoying employees and guests alike over trivial things in her trivial life. She even has hard feelings for her best (and only?) friend, Ella Trotter, because the woman enjoys winning at cards too much. She harbors old-fashioned sexist attitudes about her own sex, agreeing with one lovelorn female character that “women are kittle cattle.” Most unpleasantly, she displays the casual racism for the African American labor force who work at the hotel, each of them depicted in gross stereotype. This was no doubt the status quo mindset for faded ladies of the South at the time. I don’t know if this is a stab at characterization on Blackmun’s part, or if it reflects beliefs founded on the author’s own upbringing (she’s from Arkansas), but it still stinks. Since there was no warning about this when I read the blurb and the five positive reviews on Amazon, consider yourselves warned.

Adelaide is surrounded by people – a lot of people – in this book. There’s the proprietress of the hotel, Sophie Scott, who used to be close to Adelaide until Sophie married the highly unsuitable Cyril Fancher, who seems to hold a dark secret in his willowy frame. Could it have something to do with the series of young waitresses who come and go through his employ at the hotel coffee shop? All of these women seem to bear some dark secret! There’s the beautiful Kathleen Adair and her addled mother, whose closeness masks dark secrets. Then there’s the gay young Polly Lawson, who lives for some reason with her Aunt Mary at the hotel. Polly used to have an understanding with clean-cut banker Howard Warren, but for some reason, she has started stepping out with the dashing cosmetics salesman and roué, Stephen Lansing. By the way, I forgot to mention that all four of these people have a dark secret. I also need to add Lottie Mosby, who also lives at the hotel and has been stepping out on her drunken husband Dan with, of all people, Stephen Lansing. There’s something dark and secretive about that couple, if you ask me. Then there’s Pinkney Dodge, the night clerk, known to everyone as Pinky because “it suited his weak eyes and pinkish hair.” His obsession with his mother puts me in mind of another hotel clerk; clearly, Pinky has his own dark secrets as well. And I would keep an eye out on Hilda Anthony, a voluptuous woman “of questionable reputation” who came to this small backwater Southern town from New York in order to obtain a divorce and then has spent all her time since living at the hotel in order to find a rich husband. Since that goal is impossible to obtain at the Richelieu, Hilda must have a dark secret! Especially as she spends all her time frolicking with Stephen Lansing! (What is the secret to your stamina, sir?)

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These people live and/or work at the hotel and never seem to go anywhere else. They eat all their meals at the coffee shop, and most of them seem to sit around the large lobby people-watching and muttering about the tourists, or entertaining each other in their rooms. It’s putters along on the strength of Adelaide’s (or Blackmun’s) writing style, which is floridly old-fashioned and includes a lot of those references to the HIBK school of mystery that are described in the Amazon blurb. This style is not really to my taste and took me by surprise. That’s what comes of reading the cheap blurb!

Into this menagerie comes a visitor from New Orleans named James Reid, who snoops around a lot and tries without success to ingratiate himself with Miss Adams. Imagine Adelaide’s distress when one afternoon she enters her room to find Mr. Reid hanging from her chandelier by a rope, his throat cut. Enter Inspector Bunyan of Scotland Yard . . . oh, I wish. No, he’s the local homicide detective, and despite his dogged efforts, people keep dying on his watch, sometimes quite literally under his nose. It doesn’t help that the suspects all refuse to cooperate until the end when a mountain of unleashed dark secrets threatens to crush the hotel – and this reader – under its weight.

I can’t help but pull out Rutland’s Knock, Murderer, Knock once again for a comparison, and Blackmon’s plotting, characterization, and prose creak a lot more. In true American style, the murders are all much gorier at the Richelieu, and the secrets revealed about many of the guests are surprisingly salacious. The plot goes a rat-a-tat-tatting along, but it lacks Rutland’s cleverness and genuine humor. The developing relationship between Adelaide and Stephen Lansing (who emerges as the true hero, no surprise there) is one of the high points of the novel, and by the end they work together to bring down a number of criminal elements. Still, Miss Marple she ain’t! If I had been a resident of that hotel at the time, I could have pointed to the killer in a jiffy, prevented three more murders, and saved everyone a lot of trouble.

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So now I find myself faced with the second Adelaide Adams mystery on my queue. There Is No Return takes place at yet another hotel, where the ghost of rich heiress Gloria Canby seems to be gunning for her surviving relatives. Luckily Adelaide Adams has joined her friend Ella for a vacation at the very same hotel, where she’s just too crabby to believe in ghosts and decides to solve a murder or two. And I’m left wondering how much I am up for another ride with this cantankerous old biddy.

But then, it only cost me 99¢.

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20 thoughts on “NOW APPEARING IN YOUR KINDLE 99¢ BIN

  1. I enjoyed the one a lot of course, but it’s very much in the American HIBK style for the time. The second one is more sinister. I think Coachwhip’s version slightly censored the racial passages in the first one. I suspect the other editions just slapped them up willy nilly. Honestly, though such passages are very common in American mystery from the period and American culture generally at that time (and looking at events this year, maybe we haven’t come as far as we like to think we have). Anita Blackmon as actually considered something of a radical by the locals in Arkanasas, at least in her portrayal of sexual matters.

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    1. I was quite surprised by the sexual frankness, too. The interesting thing was that Adelaide, the narrator, was a middle-aged prude whose own romantic disappointments made her see the worst in others but not necessarily grasp the nature of the evil. When all those revelations occur at the climax, some sexually frank stuff comes out – much of it in the “tough guy” voice of the first victim or through the Inspector. For ten pages, all Miss Adelaide can say is, “Oh my!”

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  2. Happy Birthday Brad’s Blog!
    Always great collaborating with you and reading your posts, your knowledge of Christie is seemingly endless – which is a good thing! Surely there can’t be many Christie novels you haven’t reviewed yet?
    Glad I’ve inspired your reading this year, though hopefully I recommended more good books than dud ones. Looking forward to your thoughts on Blue Murder, my favourite Rutland novel. And yes you definitely need to try Ianthe Jerrold. Your insights into Blackmon’s books are useful as I also came across the author’s name when I read the Armstrong novel, which includes the opening chapter of MALR at the end. But from what you say of this book I think I have been spared a not so good read. It is weird how so many authors seem to have only published three mystery novels – there could be some sort of murder mystery going on here, where authors get bumped off before they get the chance to write four books!
    Here’s hoping for another great year on your blog.

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    1. Thanks, Kate. Oh, I’m just getting started with Christie, but instead of tackling them one by one, I seem to attack them in clumps! The October topic for the TNB is particularly juicy where Christie’s concerned, so I’m tackling her first.

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      1. Christie clumps? Doesn’t sound as pleasant when you put it like that. Sounds far too medical. That image aside, I think you and I may be overlapping in the first week of October in terms of TNB but thankfully costume and disguise in Christie is a pretty big subject.

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  3. Many Happy Returns, Brad! Your continued travails with authors and their limited outputs reminds me of my own adventures in music at the turn of the century: I’d find a band I love, buy their second album…and then they’d split up. I’m pretty sure I own some albums by bands that the members themselves have forgotten they were in (hello, Sofa!), so I’ve given up on music for now and am instead tracking down impossible-to-find books…

    Congrats on all your great work with ASMB this year, too — it’s been great fun bouncing books off each other, steadily convincing you of the merits of some locked room mysteries (right…?), and I shall forever remain astounded at your insight into Christie…seriously, every single one of those posts has given me so much to think about. As your birthday present, I wish you the discovery of an obscure but wonderful authors who wrote, like, 80 amazing books that can be tracked down with just enough effort to make it feel rewarding.

    Here’s to many more years ahead…

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    1. Wouldn’t that be amazing, JJ? If only I liked John Rhode, right? But I still have some Helen McCloys, two more Rutlands, and I’m hoping my first foray into Elizabeth Daly- one of Christie’s own favorite authors- might yield a new crop from which to pick. Meanwhile, I started the latest Elizabeth George mystery, and as it’s seven MILLION pages long, I’ll see you around March! 😦

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      1. Well, I read The Dying Alderman, which was pretty good, and I couldn’t get through A Dying Fall, which was all about furniture. I’ve got The Hanging Captain sitting on my shelf. We’ll see . . .

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  4. By the way, Brad, I’m pleased you credit me with inspiration for the blog. That’s the kind of thing I wanted to happen when I started my blog. I was prodded to do it myself by the examples of John Norris, Patrick Ohl and Tomcat.

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  5. Happy Blog Birthday! 😀

    (I must confess, despite having read the other reviews on Eilis Dillon, it was your mention in this blog post about the availability of her novels on Kindle that made me realise my misspelling of her name…)

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  6. Congratulations on your first blogiversary, and I wish you many more, as your posts are always so scrappy, insightful, and enjoyable to read!

    I am grateful to you for discussing Harriet Rutland and Anita Blackmon here; I knew of the former (though haven’t read her yet — I must remedy that soon) and knew nothing of the latter. I do like occasional over-the-topness and satires intentional or accidental when it comes to Golden Age Fiction, so I might check in to the Richelieu at some point, although with your caveat in mind.

    Best wishes — Jason

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  7. Happy Blog Birthday. I’m new to your blog and I’m so happy I discovered another avid mystery reader. You’ve also given me a couple books to check out that I have not read, so thank you for that. I can tell I’m going to enjoy your blog posts (and Twitter) if I can find you there, just from skimming the first three blog posts on your blog. I like your unique writing voice. Glad to connect with you. I’m looking forward to reading more. I’ve been strolling around your blog (okay sort of stalking) for the past half hour, ever since I found it. I like your posts, content, style and quirky spin you add to your opinion. I know I will be back.

    Melissa Sugar
    http://melissasugarwrites.com
    Twitter @Msugar13
    sugarlaw13@live.com

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    1. Thanks, Melissa. I’m not on Twitter, but I’m considering it! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog, and I look forward to talking about our favorite writers and stories.

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