Tuesday, September 06, 2005

No Crime For a Lady

I'm feeling oddly content at the moment--odd, because I'm essentially stressed out of my mind between the day job (gack!); music (Laura is suffering from a slipped disk, which puts the next three gigs in jeopardy); writing (got the copy edits on Sonnet of the Sphinx and just started a new project); and gardening (the weather has turned unseasonably chilly for September, so the race is on to get everything planted and repotted and mulched before the first frost hits). But it's a productive time, and feeling like I'm getting Things Done is the secret to my happiness.

Speaking of happiness, Ebay has been very disappointing lately. The book collections are nothing that interests me, and the Dell mapbacks are selling individually (which means shockingly overpriced). So I'm not buying, which is probably a good thing since the holidays are coming and my budget is about to go crashing out the window like a banker on the dawn of the Great Depression.

It doesn't matter as I'm still sorting through treasures previously purchased.

The Lady Regrets by James M. Fox, 1945 Dell mapback.

I bought this one based solely on the cover. This is often the case with the Dell mapbacks--the covers lure me in. Sadly the books themselves often don't live up to the promise of the artwork. The Lady Regrets takes place in 1945 Los Angeles.

Persons this Mystery is about--

Major John Marshall
Six feet plus of sophisticated, action-loving brawn and brain, has just bid four years of army routine a fond farewell. Never one to shy and mystery or murder, the young major finds himself plentifully supplied with both upon accepting a stranger's invitation to spend his terminal leave at a swank California estate.

Suzanne Marshall
The major's russet-haired bride and joy (cute!), 115 pounds of Varga Girl curves, is from Dixie way but she talks like that only for a fee. Devoted to Johnny, she is not one to stay at home and knit while her husband is out enjoying some nice danger.

Husband and wife sleuths--I love it. This one is going right to the top of the heap, although I do have a stack of contemporary stuff to work my way through first. (It helps to keep track of what the other girls are writing.)

First line:
"As far as I'm concerned it never pays to speculate about the laws and principals of fate, if any."

Five Passengers From Lisbon by Mignon G. Eberhart, 1946. Popular Library edition.

I'm very fond of Eberhart (in fact, I've got her slated for one of my Chick Fic essays one of these days), and she does a great job of creating truly death-deserving victims as well as moments of screaming tension. There's generally a nice little romance at the heart of the mystery.

"Boarding the ship was like entering a dream for Marcia Colfax. At her side was the man she loved. (Uh oh.) Awaiting them was long delayed happiness. (I'm thinking the happiness is going to be further delayed.)

"But now a bloodstained knife had slashed her plans to bits. (What did I tell you?) Now her dream had turned into a nightmare. Now her voyage to happiness had become a race against death as murder stalked the shadowed decks."

Now her...oh. Sorry. I got carried away.

First line:
"The three women sat miserably in the cramped stateroom and waited for orders to abandon ship."

Hey, that's pretty good!

Made Up To Kill by Kelly Roos, 1940 Dell mapback.

This is supposed to be one of the best of the Kelly Roos novels. Kelly Roos was the pen name for a husband and writing team writing about husband and wife sleuths, (although the books are always labeled "A Jeff Troy Mystery").

Jeff is "six feet one inch tall and handsome from any angle, pretends to be in the advertising business but has the most fun when he turns detective. Ambitious and energetic, he's trying right now to make enough money to marry his best girl."

Ah ha, so this is before Jeff and Haila were married? That could mean lots of witty repartee. Or not. Why is it, with the exception of the Thin Man movies--that married couples just do not banter as wittily as unmarried couples? What is about waking up side by side that knocks all the great comebacks out of young lovers wherever they are?

(With the real life exception of me and Mr. Thrilling, who banter just like we always did--and, of course, we find ourselves funny as hell.)

First line:
"I pushed the elevator bell and its feeble pinging sound floated up from the basement."

Yes, I seem to hear a feeble pinging myself...

The Murder of a Fifth Columnist by Leslie Ford. 1940, Popular Library. The cover offers a gun, a sword, a gold key and a crumpled envelope. Clews, my deahs!

Leslie Ford is one of my very favorite writers. Very popular in the 30s and 40s, she's somewhat underrated these days. Some people find her depiction of black characters patronizing. Interesting, because if her housekeeper had been a stereotypical Irish woman, we'd still find Leslie's work too too terribly charming. Or am I being cynical?

Leslie (pen name for Zenith Jones Brown) too is destined for an eventual chick fic essay.

"Sylvia Peele was beautiful, charming--and powerful: her newspaper column told international society things it never even dreamed about itself. Her friends were princes, millionaires and presidents; her enemies were legion.

"One particular enemy had front-page plans for Sylvia: smash her career, destroy the man she loved--and kill her with a very special vengeance."

I'm thinking we can make the funeral arrangements for Sylvia right now, since Ford prefers innocent ingenues in the romantic roles, and Sylvia sounds like a worldly career woman (always fatal).

First line:
"It was Pete Hamilton who first called the great J. Corliss Marshall the Fifth Columnist."

Maybe it was a publishing in-joke?

Skeletons by Glendon Swarthout. 1979 Pocket Books.

I was pretty sure that 'Glendon Swarthout' was a pen name, but it turns out that Swarthout was a Pulitzer-nominated writer of westerns (plays, films, books, etc.)


"The skeleton in Jimmie Butters' closet is his ex-wife, Tyler. She is beautiful and obsessed, and enjoys painting coins and men's personals with red nail enamel. Her skeletons are two long-dead grandfathers and an old Colt revolver which she carries about with her like a doll. Tyler is also brilliant in bed and after a showdown between the sheets in New York, she sweet talks Jimmie into galloping to New Mexico in his classic Rolls-Royce to track down some crimes, dig up some graves, and sample the regional cuisine."

Jimmy, it turns out, is a Gucci-wearing children's book author who is enlisted by his ex-wife when her lover is murdered after a visit to Harding, New Mexico. It actually sounds kind of intriguing.

Opening sentence:
"I love GOOD and hate EVIL." First person narration from the point of view of the city slicker Jimmy.

We used to spend summers at Lake Isabella, and some very happy times were passed in the company of cowboys. Real cowboys, just for the record--elderly gents who had terrific stories to share about the good old days. I grew up reading Zane Grey and Louis Lamour and Max Brand, but somehow the delight of gun fights gave way to sneakier and stealthy death. Your normal teenage instinct.

No Crime For a Lady by Zelda Popkin, 1942 Dell mapback.

THINGS this Mystery is about:

A shattered STREET LIGHT
A quantity of DYNAMITE
A nice shiny LIMOUSINE (come on, how mysterious is that!)
A snowstorm PAPERWEIGHT (murder weapon, I'm guessing!)
The wooden handle of a PICK (wouldn't the OTHER end be more useful?)

First line:
"I'll be glad to kill him," Mr. Dengler said."

Holy moly. That's nearly the exact line I had in mind for the fourth Poetic Death novel, as yet untitled and as yet unwritten. Except for that first line. Lordy, lordy.

Murder on the Menu by Beverly Byrne. 1980 Leisure Books.

Another relatively contemporary offering. Isn't it weird to think that the 1980s were twenty years ago!? This one is about fine cuisine and France--two things I am rather partial to.

"The search for a fabulous recipe involves a celebrated chef in a young girl's violent death!" Sounds yummy.

Opening sentence:
"The trip from New Haven to Ridgefield is made into a swift asphalt passage by using Route 84. Louis Tisserant noted that his wife chose the backroads through the spring-flecked countryside."

The chef sounds portly and middle-aged and dissatisfied. Just the right sort of person to get involved in murder.

Well, speaking of chefs, the steaks are on the barbecue and a Corona (attached to my husband) is calling my name. May as well make the most of my remaining weekend hours. Hope you are enjoying yours!