Saturday, October 18, 2014

IN A DARK HOUSE by Deborah Crombie

I found Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House hard to follow.

Superintendent Duncan Kincaid works a case involving a murdered woman. Rose Kearny, a new firefighter, found the nude body of the murdered woman in a burned-out warehouse. The fire could well be arson.

Kincaid’s live-in lover Detective Inspector Gemma James searches for another apparently missing woman. The woman is a friend of a parishioner of Gemma’s sister, the substitute minister in a local parish.

At one point, at least four women appear to be missing.

Someone has kidnapped nine-year-old Harriet Novak and is keeping her in a dark house.

To top it off, Gemma and Duncan are about to lose custody of Duncan’s son.

In many mystery novels, disparate cases dovetail into a single solution. This book is different. Some crimes dovetail and some don’t. Some are separate crimes which happened to coincide.

I found the parts of In a Dark House interesting, but the characters smushed together for me. The new firefighter Rose was the most intriguing character. I also liked Gemma’s sister, the compassionate minister.

I read this book on my Kindle. I wished the publisher had enabled the x-ray function of many Kindle stories. That way, I could have looked up who the characters were when I lost track. 

In a Dark House ends with excitement, as these kinds of books often do.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Nicola Upson’s The Death of Lucy Kyte is a strong, tragic story.

The book mixes history and fiction.

Upson bases The Death of Lucy Kyte on the 1827 red barn cottage murder in Suffolk, England. A century later, Josephine Tey learns the hidden details of the murder.

Tey’s godmother wills her the red barn cottage. That cottage has a violent history. William Corder, the son of a disintegrating upper class family, impregnates his lower-class lover, Maria Marten.

Maria had been a servant in the red barn cottage. Corder came from his larger estate to have trysts with Maria in the red barn near the cottage.

To cover his indiscretion, Corder murders Maria in the red barn.

Someone later burns the barn.

The terror of the one-hundred-year-old murder still haunts the property and the village.

Actors, including Josephine’s godmother and her husband, have become famous dramatizing the story.

Maria’s friend Lucy Kyte (a wholly fictional character) chronicles the original events. Her diary also tells her own tragic story.

Lucy’s ghost haunts the cottage. Josephine suspects her godmother's death may have been a murder too.

One climactic scene takes place on the night of King Edward’s abdication. Josephine Tey had previously seen King Edward and Wallis Simpson during a tryst at a resort.

Josephine Tey, the central character, is a fictional evocation of the well-known mystery writer of the same name.

So the book weaves history and fiction in an indescribably tragic way.

Few people in the story end up happy, though Josephine makes her peace with red barn cottage. She still has a strong relationship with her lover.

I found the story fascinating. I expect to read more of Nicola Upson’s Josephine Tey Mysteries.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A NOTE FROM JOE--My top ten books

It is a fad right now. People list their top ten favorite books.

I’ve seen all kinds of lists on Facebook. People seem to do it so easily.

I couldn’t do it.

Because of what I’ve just read, I’ve been thinking about it.

I think I could list three (at least for right now) and a few other possibilities.

Right now, number one on my list would be Josephene Tey’s A Daughter of Time. That book, based on Sir Francis Bacon’s comment that truth is the daughter of time, has to do with the nature of reality. What we think is real isn’t.

There would be a fight for numbers two and three on my list between the Bible and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Interestingly, both books live in the truth of Josephene Tey. Their meanings are relative.

My thinking has also gone to other books I might put somewhere on the list, and so far, I’ve come up with three--Reginald Hill’s On Beulah Height, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

So I guess I’ve got a start, but every book on the list is shadowed by the first book’s insights. Truth is the daughter of time.

Monday, October 6, 2014


If you had told me I’d become engrossed in a book about whether a relatively modern detective (1951) could determine who killed Richard III’s nephews 400 years ago, I would have said you were wrong.


Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time hooked me. Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant is laid up with a leg fracture. To pass the time, he fastens on Richard III and whether he killed his two nephews to assure his otherwise illegitimate claim to the throne.

After Grant determines Richard did not commit or enlist others to commit the crime, Grant finds other historians have agreed. But those historians are well after the fact.

The current historians including the one Bryant sarcastically refers to as Saint Thomas More, are pandering to Henry Tudor.

King Henry Tudor has reason to smear Richard and his claim to the throne.

History is unreliable. That is one theme of this book. At one point, Bryant’s Sergeant Willis says, “I’ll never again believe anything I read in a history book, as long as I live, so help me.”

The credibility of witnesses is another theme. “The point is that every single man who was there knows that the story is nonsense, and yet it has never been contradicted,” Brent Carradine, Bryant’s helpful researcher says. “It will never be overtaken now. It is a completely untrue story grown to a legend while the men who knew it to be untrue looked on and said nothing.”

And then Carradine adds, “Give me research. After all, the truth of anything at all doesn’t lie in someone’s account of it. It lies in all the small facts of time. An advertisement in a paper. The sale of a house. The price of a ring.”

And Bryant replies, “This is the first time I’ve seen you look like a policeman.”

One other point. The media and arts contribute. Richard III is Shakespeare’s “my kingdom for a horse” king. Shakespeare bought into Saint Thomas More’s myth and made it famous.

So clearly, for me, this was a great book.

How did I come upon it? I ran across a modern mystery novel which uses a fictional Josephine Tey as its main character. (Josephine Tey is the pen name of Elizabeth MacKintosh).

I thought I should read a Tey book before reading that modern book, and when I read about Josephine Tey, I found many people see The Daughter of Time as her mystery classic.

Who am I to avoid reading a mystery classic?

If you haven’t read The Daughter of Time, you might want to do as I did--indulge yourself in a mystery classic.


Last night was fun.

My wife and I watched the first of three new Inspector Lewis stories on PBS' Masterpiece Mystery (8 p.m. Sunday for us.)

The story involved Lewis, Hathaway (now an Inspector), and DS Lizzie Maddox (a new character).

We had watched all six seasons of Inspector Lewis by streaming them.

It was great to see old friends again.

Friday, October 3, 2014


If you only have time to read one new story this Christmas season, I recommend Sharyn McCrumb’s novella Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past.

The 160-page story has two threads. Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and Deputy Joe LeDonne set out to arrest an elderly man on Christmas Eve. The man committed a hit-and-run, dented a senator’s car. The senator insists the old man be arrested even on Christmas Eve.

The Arrowood-LeDonne thread works out in an unexpected way.

In the core thread, Nora Bonesteel agrees to help her neighbors, an outside wealthy woman and her husband. They decided to spend Christmas in their summer home in the east Tennessee mountains.

The couple comes from Florida. They bring the kind of Christmas tree a Floridian would bring. The tree stirs up the spirits in the old historic mansion.

Nora uses her “second sight” to help set things straight.

As always, McCrumb sprinkles the book with folklore and history.

It is hard for me to express how much I like Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad Novels. McCrumb fills them with history and real people.